ELIZABETH WEBSTER AND THE COURT OF UNCOMMON PLEAS

From the Elizabeth Webster series , Vol. 1

A middle schooler discovers her calling.

Elizabeth Webster is hoping to get through middle school with as little a reputation as possible, but that gets complicated when star athlete Henry Harrison approaches her one day in the middle of the crowded cafeteria for extra help with his math lessons. It’s quickly revealed that Henry doesn’t need Elizabeth for math but rather to investigate a ghost that’s appeared in Henry’s house and is asking for Elizabeth by name. As Elizabeth and Henry work to get to the bottom of things, Elizabeth discovers secrets in her own past involving a long-lost grandfather, demons, spirits, an unsolved murder, and a profession that Elizabeth might just be destined for. Former federal prosecutor Lashner brings his legal expertise to the tale, crafting a spooky legal thriller for middle-grade readers that is just technical enough to feel grounded in reality and just unearthly enough to keep readers on their toes. This blend of ghostly apparitions and legal exposition should absolutely not work—but yet it does, engaging readers in a compelling mystery and a world that functions seamlessly. Twists and turns arise, but narrator Elizabeth’s spunky attitude and earnestness provide an emotional spine that couples with the novel’s mystery, dovetailing together at the right moment, making for a very engaging read. Elizabeth presents white; her best friend, Natalie, is Latinx; and Henry is black.

A superb mystery. (Mystery. 10-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-04128-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The series keeps cruising along…though iffy casting may be an early sign that it’s losing steam.

SPY SCHOOL AT SEA

From the Spy School series , Vol. 9

In a new caper, the Spy School team thwarts a fiendish scheme on the high seas.

A fresh chance to catch up to world-class gourmand and perennial foe Murray Hill plants dogged CIA junior agent Ben Ripley and associates—including markedly more competent classmate Erica Hale and her equally able mom, Catherine—aboard the Emperor of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, for a fresh round of ridiculously destructive chases, startling twists, and repeated attempts on the hapless young spy’s life that are somehow always averted in the nick of time. Along with adding a grandfatherly, eco-conscious Costa Rican drug lord to the supporting cast, Gibbs flirts with stereotypes by trotting in, among the few characters who don’t at least present as White, a Chinese teen given to muddling her English idioms, her bling-loving mother, and a chipper shipboard event manager of Australian Indigenous descent. Still, the revved-up plot will leave readers as breathless as Ben is in the wake of a final, unexpected turn in his relationship with Erica. Finally, finally nabbing the slobby supervillain (at least for now) as well as saving the lives of hundreds of oblivious, hard-partying onboard tourists must count for something.

The series keeps cruising along…though iffy casting may be an early sign that it’s losing steam. (Thriller. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-7943-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has some standards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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