NEVER TRUST A DEAD MAN

Murder, magic, salacious secrets, and sparkling wit immediately pull the reader into this engrossing medieval whodunit from Vande Velde (Ghost of a Hanged Man, 1998, etc.). Selwyn, 17, is condemned to death after his rival, Farold, is murdered in his sleep. Overwhelming circumstantial evidence convinces villagers of Selwyn’s guilt, so he is thrown into the burial cave to rot with the corpse. Although his fate seems grim, Selwyn is soon rescued by a hard-bargaining witch, Elswyth. She resurrects Farold’s spirit, frees them both from the cave, disguises them, and allows them one week to find the real murderer in exchange for years and years of Selwyn’s servitude. Hilarious mishaps ensue, as the bickering amateurs search out answers, exposing the villagers’ true colors along the way. The sympathetic hero, original humor, sharp dialogue, and surprising plot twists make this read universally appealing and difficult to put down. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-201899-9

Page Count: 193

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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Askew is a compelling, almost shamanistic figure (not another Skellig, but close), and both in tone and locale this powerful...

KIT'S WILDERNESS

Almond (Skellig, 1999) spins teenagers of very different backgrounds and experience into a whirl of ghosts and dreams, stories-within-stories, joy, heartache, and redemption.

In order to be able to care for his newly widowed grandfather, Kit has moved with his parents to the town of Stoneygate, perched in desolate decline on top of a maze of abandoned coal mines. He is soon drawn to follow wild, unstable, aptly named John Askew into a game called “Death” that leaves him sealed up in a tunnel; Kit emerges from the darkness with images of children and others killed in the mines flickering at the edge of his sight, and a strange, deep affinity for Askew. Inspired by Askew’s brutal family life, and gifted with a restless, brilliant imagination, Kit begins a prehistoric quest tale involving two lost children—a story that takes on a life of its own. Setting his tale in a town where the same family names appear on both mailboxes and tombstones, and where dark places are as common as sad memories, Almond creates a physical landscape that embodies the emotional one through which his characters also move, adding an enriching symbolic layer by giving acts and utterances the flavor of ritual.

Askew is a compelling, almost shamanistic figure (not another Skellig, but close), and both in tone and locale this powerful story is reminiscent of Alan Garner’s Stone Book quartet. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 7, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32665-3

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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A disorderly but free-wheeling and exuberant adventure.

DREAM WIZARD

ESCAPES!!

In Randall’s middle school novel, a boy uses insights gained from his nightmares to escape from kidnappers.

In a follow-up to Randall’s Dream Wizard: Conquers His Knight Mare(2020), the lead once again faces numerous unusual challenges. Sandy lives with his parents, sister, and dog in an old Victorian town house in Boston. He spends his time skateboarding and exploring the house’s hidden nooks and crannies. Sandy’s dog, Mr. Harris Tweed, is a fiercely intelligent border collie whose favorite pastime is taking himself down to the Boston Common and beguiling strangers into playing fetch. When Sandy falls from his skateboard, two would-be good Samaritans decide to kidnap the boy, and Mr. Harris Tweed follows after and waits for his chance to fetch help. Sandy, meanwhile, finds himself in Knight School—a shared dream environment where he and other children brainstorm ways to shape positive outcomes from their nightmares. Sandy and new friend Kat, a fellow abductee, join forces and plot their escape. Inspired by their dream epiphanies, can Sandy and Kat outwit their kidnappers and break free to rejoin Mr. Harris Tweed? Randall’s breathless mix of past and present tense can be distracting, and the plot is similarly chaotic, jumping from depictions of characters to episodes of imaginative play. Though much of this frenetic style seems unintentional, or even contrived, the prose captures, albeit imperfectly, the book’s central premise—the apparent randomness of dreams and events can be harnessed to positive effect. Randall, a professor of digital media communication at the University of the Virgin Islands, teaches classes in creative problem-solving and the psychology of sleep and dreaming. Elements of this work manifest in the open-minded resourcefulness of Sandy, Kat, and Mr. Harris Tweed. The story moves quickly, and while Randall plays fast and loose with punctuation (and foreign stereotypes), young readers will find themselves swept along. Numerous black-and-white pencil drawings from Lovely capture a child’s perspective of a world blessed with more light than shadows.

A disorderly but free-wheeling and exuberant adventure.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64803-137-3

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Westwood Books Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2022

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