A terrific read for fantasy fans.

THE LANGUAGE OF GHOSTS

A young princess in exile rediscovers a forgotten magic in a charming, surprisingly nuanced middle-grade fantasy.

Thirteen-year-old Noa Marchena, along with her elder brother, Julian, and her little sister, Mite, barely escaped from the overthrow of their family’s rule of the Florean Archipelago. Now they plan to retake Julian’s throne from their mobile island base, filled with invisible cats and guarded by a cake-loving sea serpent. Fortunately, Julian is the most gifted mage alive; unfortunately, that very power leaves him vulnerable to becoming an evil Dark Lord—but not if Noa has anything to say about it. Fawcett transforms a fairly conventional premise into a sheer delight with her witty prose and sharply drawn characters. The loving bonds between the bickering Marchena siblings—melodramatic, morally ambiguous Julian; explosive oddball Mite; and brilliant, practical, bossy Noa—are the driving force of the narrative. Minor characters are almost as memorable, and even the villains have complicated, sympathetic motives. The islands make for an interesting setting, with a population representing a range of skin tones (the Marchenas are olive-skinned), gender equality, and a society accepting of different sexualities. The language-based magic system is carefully thought-out, but the Marchenas’ successes rely as much on diplomacy, clever strategy, and meticulous planning. While this volume comes to a satisfying (if not unrealistically triumphant) conclusion, there is (happily) plenty of room left for potential sequels.

A terrific read for fantasy fans. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-285454-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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