Though the title and cover are promising, the writing is muddled with too many conveniently trumped-up figures. Stick with...

BEHIND THE BOOKCASE

What is behind the bookcase? A black tunnel that is a secret portal to an adventure for a girl and her younger brother.

When Sarah’s family arrives at her grandmother’s house to get it ready to sell, strange sounds and sensations begin immediately. As she’s packing boxes, Sarah discovers an unfinished letter from her grandma with the words, “Strange things are happening behind the bookcase.” Of course, Sarah investigates the tunnel and lands in Scotopia, which is ruled by the talking King of the Cats, Balthazat. She becomes the key figure in a battle of good versus evil as dangerous creatures attempt to foil Sarah’s efforts to keep the malignant cat from unleashing the sleeping souls locked inside the house. The fantasy characters are inventive: an enormous hand on legs called Lefty; sentinels whose eyes and mouths are stitched shut and carry heads for lanterns; a boy with half his face missing; and a giant bat with a boy’s face. However, the humans are stock figures, and plot elements are derivative. The black-and-white drawings attempt to be Gorey-esque but fail to meet that standard.

Though the title and cover are promising, the writing is muddled with too many conveniently trumped-up figures. Stick with any of John Bellairs’ books for a skillful gothic tale. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-74071-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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