OUT FOR BLOOD

From the Middle School Bites series , Vol. 3

The first year of middle school continues for Tom, the Vam-Wolf-Zom.

Tom Marks has adjusted somewhat to being part vampire, part werewolf, part zombie, and all middle schooler since the first two installments of the series, Middle School Bites (2020) and Tom Bites Back (2020). He’s even been studying the old book A Vampiric Education. by Eustace Tibbitt to learn new skills like turning into smoke and hypnotizing people. Still charming, his cheeky, self-aware narration carries the episodic, sometimes-plodding plot and brings a matter-of-fact attitude to the fantasy elements that really sells them. While the threat looms of his werewolf sire trying to steal the vampire guide, Tom’s actually much more concerned about getting his friend Annie to talk to him again, keeping a valuable action figure out of the hands of a bully, getting his band back together, finally turning 12, and attending his first comic-book convention. Apart from a few heartwarming moments with friends and family, little is resolved, and the story ends on a cliffhanger. The narrative flirts with the darkness of Tom’s condition but ultimately plays it for laughs, like when he sprints away from a bloodmobile to get himself a thirst-quenching, nonhuman-liver smoothie. Goofy grayscale spot illustrations further lighten the tone, showing Tom’s scruffy hair and freckles along with his fangs. Tom reads as White; a few supporting characters have darker skin, and two are coded as Latinx.

Another amusing entry. (Paranormal. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4616-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

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THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.

NARWHAL I'M AROUND

From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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