Unfortunate Events galore, served with relish.

THE ORPHAN OF AWKWARD FALLS

The creator of such picture books as Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (1999) and Three Nasty Gnarlies (2003) dishes up a first novel seasoned with the same delightfully twisted, ghoulish sensibility.

Immediately upon arriving in Awkward Falls, a small Manitoba town known for its canned sauerkraut and its Asylum for the Dangerously Insane (“both,” notes the narrator, “to be avoided at all costs, as one was likely to cause gas, and the other, death.”), 12-year-old Josephine meets agemate Thaddeus Hibble. Thaddeus is a scientific genius who has lived alone since infancy on an all–junk-food diet supplied by a robot butler and paid for by re-animating the dead pets of local matrons. Together the two are plunged into personal danger and worse at the clutching hands of hunchbacked lunatic cannibal Fetid Stenchley, former lab assistant and Asylum escapee. With aid from a supporting cast of colorful locals, a half-rotted corpse brought back to partial life and a ravening herd of chimerical monsters created in a secret biotechnology lab, Graves crafts a quick-moving plot composed of macabre twists. These are made all the ickier for being presented in significant part from Stenchley’s point of view. Wordless opening and closing sequences, plus a handful of interior illustrations, both fill in background detail and intensify the overall macabre atmosphere. The central characters receive just, if, under the circumstances, not necessarily final deserts.

Unfortunate Events galore, served with relish. (finished illustrations not seen) (Melodrama. 11-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7814-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back.

TWAIN'S TREASURE

From the Phantom Files series

Alex’s ability to talk with ghosts puts him in famous company when he and his mom move to Hannibal, Missouri.

Alex, 13, is driven by bitter determination to keep his lifelong ability secret, since it’s already led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia that drove his parents apart and cost his mother a decent job, but it’s not easy. For one thing, his new friend, Bones, is a positively obsessed amateur ghost hunter, and for another, ghosts just won’t leave him alone no matter how rudely he treats them. Notable among the latter is Mark Twain himself, as acerbic and wily as he was in life, who is on the verge of involuntarily degenerating into a raging poltergeist unless Alex can find the unspecified, titular treasure. Alex’s search takes him through Clemens’ writings and tragic private life as well as many of the town’s related attractions on the way to a fiery climax in the public library. Meanwhile, Alex has an apotheosis of his own, deciding that lying to conceal his ability and his unhappy past isn’t worth the sacrifice of a valued friendship. Conveniently for the plot’s needs, Clemens and other ghosts can interact with the physical world at will. Wolfe parlays Alex’s ingrained inability to ignore ectoplasmic accosters into some amusing cross-conversations that help lighten his protagonist’s hard inner tests. The cast, living and otherwise, presents as white.

A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940924-29-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Dreaming Robot

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The premise is better than the execution, but readers who aren’t bothered by arbitrary notions and unlikely situations will...

DUCK BOY

A teenager takes up alchemy where his suddenly vanished mom left off and falls afoul of police, vicious thugs and a digital intelligence determined to separate him into generic components.

Battling grief and a loser mentality (the latter reinforced by widespread derision after a quixotic attempt to save a duck frozen into a pond), Steve is electrified when his eccentric great-aunt Shannon transforms an ordinary “clock” into a “lock.” She informs him that he, too, can use words to work transformations—and perhaps discover what happened to his mother. Stronger on action than logic, the plot then proceeds to evolve into a wild tangle. On the one hand, Steve is pursued by police for a series of kidnappings and house trashings that are actually the work of rival alchemist John Dee and his murderous crew, and on the other, he travels back and forth between this plane and a “World of Pieces” where everything is made of numbers and a hypnotic voice urges him to dissolve into a protean liquid. Bunn works a predictable transformation on Steve, who rescues everybody, and caps his debut with a tidy, melodramatic, thoroughly contrived happy ending.

The premise is better than the execution, but readers who aren’t bothered by arbitrary notions and unlikely situations will enjoy the nonstop action. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-938463-60-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bitingduck Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more