THE HAUNTING OF FALCON HOUSE

A “found” Russian manuscript recounts a late-19th-century haunting.

Prince Lev Lvov is apprehensive about leaving his beloved mother when he is summoned to St. Petersburg to take up his aristocratic responsibilities in the impossibly cavernous Falcon House. Upon arriving, the dreamy, artistic 12-year-old meets his termagant aunt and an odd assemblage of servants, all of whom remark on Lev’s resemblance to his dead grandfather—in whose creepy study his aunt insists he sleep. Lev is unsettled to discover his hand possessed when he sits down to draw to comfort himself. Those drawings, smudged and torn, provide eerie accompaniment to the text. The mysterious young Vanyousha offers Lev companionship but provokes more questions. Adding a further layer of weirdness, Yelchin positions the story in a “translator’s note” as a document he found as a child. The story is both simple—a ghost story—and as complex as the country it rises from, offering glimpses of Russia’s unique and brutal history in its examination of the institution of serfdom, just recently abolished in Lev’s time, and its exploration of the role of art as a vehicle for liberation. Middle graders unfamiliar with that history will be intrigued by the ghost story and the compelling setting, and explanatory notes both provide context and help to prepare them for such books as Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov (2014) and M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead (2015) later on.

Eerie and effective. (Historical fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9845-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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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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