Flimsy puzzles plus unsolved mystery equals unsatisfying.

THE GAME MASTER

SUMMER SCHOOLED

Sixth grade summer school turns into a scary escape room.

The six kids don’t know why they’re the only ones to show up for summer school today, but the empty building is seriously creeping them out. Can they just leave and enjoy the summer day? But something has happened to their class projects: Frankie’s “Leaning Tower of Cheese-a” has vanished, and so has Becca’s heirloom zoetrope, which is her nana’s prize possession. The classroom door slams shut and locks, and a voice over the loudspeaker tells them they need to solve puzzles if they ever want to leave the school or find the zoetrope. They’re herded by clues and shadowy figures around the building, where they’re repeatedly locked into rooms. Their antagonist escalates the challenges the more they solve: First it’s just a locked door with a code, then a chaotically furniture-filled gym, and eventually buckets of fake blood. Chapters alternate between the third-person points of view of Becca and Matt, the two White children. The other four kids—Vietnamese American Kylie; brown-skinned, bilingual Miguel (who has two moms); brown-skinned Danny; and nonbinary, brown-skinned Frankie—are just as central to the storyline, and there’s no clear narrative benefit to the alternating perspectives of the two blond children in particular. No questions are answered before the setup for the sequel. Most puzzles aren’t provided, so readers can’t join the solving process, and detail-oriented middle school readers will notice many incorrect details.

Flimsy puzzles plus unsolved mystery equals unsatisfying. (Suspense. 9-11)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-302507-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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A-mew-sing fare for readers who sometimes feel like fraidycats themselves.

SCAREDY CAT

Two shelter cats take on a mysterious puss with weird powers who is terrorizing the feline community.

Hardly have timorous (and aptly named) Poop and her sophisticated buddy, Pasha, been brought home by their new “human beans” for a two-week trial than they are accosted by fiery-eyed Scaredy Cat, utterly trashing the kitchen with a click of his claws and, hissing that he’s in charge of the neighborhood, threatening that if they don’t act like proper cats—disdaining ordinary cat food and any summons (they are not dogs, after all), clawing the furniture instead of the scratching post, and showing like “cattitude”—it’ll be back to the shelter for them. Will Poop and Pasha prove to be fraidycats or flee to the cowed clowder of homeless cats hiding from the bully in the nearby woods? Nope, they are made of sterner stuff and resolutely set out to enlist feline allies in a “quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of purrs!” Cast into a gazillion very short chapters related by furry narrators Poop and Pasha, who are helpfully depicted in portrait vignettes by Herzog at each chapter’s head, the ensuing adventures test the defiant kitties’ courage (and, in some cases, attention spans) on the way to a spooky but poignant climax set, appropriately enough as it happens, in a pet graveyard.

A-mew-sing fare for readers who sometimes feel like fraidycats themselves. (Adventure. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-49443-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Epic—in plot, not length—and as wise and wonderful as Gerald Morris’ Arthurian exploits.

KNIGHTS VS. DINOSAURS

Who needs dragons when there are Terrible Lizards to be fought?

Having recklessly boasted to King Arthur and the court that he’d slain 40 dragons, Sir Erec can hardly refuse when Merlin offers him more challenging foes…and so it is that in no time (so to speak), Erec, with bookish Sir Hector, the silent and enigmatic Black Knight, and blustering Sir Bors with his thin but doughty squire, Mel, in tow, are hewing away at fearsome creatures sporting natural armor and weapons every bit as effective as knightly ones. Happily, while all the glorious mashing and bashing leads to awesome feats aplenty—who would suspect that a ravening T. Rex could be decked by a well-placed punch to the jaw?—when the dust settles neither bloodshed nor permanent injury has been dealt to either side. Better yet, not even the stunning revelation that two of the Three Stooges–style bumblers aren’t what they seem (“Anyone else here a girl?”) keeps the questers from developing into a well-knit team capable of repeatedly saving one another’s bacon. Phelan endows the all-white human cast with finely drawn, eloquently expressive faces but otherwise works in a loose, movement-filled style, pitting his clanking crew against an almost nonstop onslaught of toothy monsters in a monochrome mix of single scenes and occasional wordless sequential panels.

Epic—in plot, not length—and as wise and wonderful as Gerald Morris’ Arthurian exploits. (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-268623-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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