Title: Carnevil (MonsterStreet #3)
Author: J.H. Reynolds
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
I happened across the MonsterStreet books while browsing the children’s section at Barnes & Noble a couple months back. I was looking for another middle grade horror series (which I hope to review in 2020) from a different author when I noticed these covers. The pull quote from the middle grade horror maestro R.L. Stine obviously struck a chord as well. I had all three in my hand, ready to checkout, when I remembered that I should check my local library first before spending money. That’s what I did, and sure enough, all three were available there. I placed them on hold, and now, a couple months later, here I am writing a review of the third and (so far) final book of the MonsterStreet series! It’s been a fun trek through this series, but Reynolds delivers my favorite of the series with this third entry, Carnevil.
Ren and Kip are visiting their aunt for Halloween. She runs a nursing home where the boys will spend their time. As soon as they arrive, though, they notice the intoxicating scents of a carnival. They discover that a Halloween carnival has set itself up overnight, so they decide to visit the next day. Their Aunt gives them $20 to spend a few hours at the carnival, and it’s once they run out of money that things start getting strange. They run into a fortune teller, who is wise beyond her years, and she warns them to stick together. The older brother, Ren, thinks they should leave, which sparks an argument, and the two split up. Kip starts riding more rides, but how? He has no money. At this carnival, a different form of currency is accepted, one that might cost Ren everything.
Carnevil does a great job of mixing a unique story with interesting consequences. The previous two stories were following main characters without a brother or sister, so the fact that we have brothers here allows Reynolds to explore a different dynamic, and it works really well for this story. Something else that I’ve noticed with Reynolds’ stories is that we haven’t gotten a father figure yet. The first story – The Boy Who Cried Werewolf – has a single mother whose husband has passed away. We do get a grandfather, but the boy barely knows him so that doesn’t count. The second book – The Halloweeners – has no father presence either (I believe there was a divorce, if I remember right, but I honestly am not positive). In Carnevil, the main characters do have a father, but we spend time with their single Aunt only, and never meet the parents. What does this lack of a father figure mean? Not a damn thing, but it is something I noticed while reading through the series. I know Reynolds is a father himself, at least that is what I glean from his acknowledgements page, so I’m surprised we don’t get more of that presence in his work. I’m interested to see if we get this in later books as he continues the series.
Because we follow brothers in this story, the character relationship feels stronger than in the previous stories. I cared more about what happened to these two as we reached the climax. The antagonist is more interesting as well, and it gives the whole story a Something Wicked This Way Comes vibe. This also has the most autumn feel of the series, which makes this time of year the best time to read it. There is an interesting concept that is introduced that helps explain what the antagonist is, but it really isn’t explored as deeply as it could have been. Still, the ending was pretty fun, and the characters were engaging.
The MonsterStreet series has gotten better with every entry. Though these three books were released on the same day, it still feels like there is progression, which is always good to see. The fourth book is set to release in the summer of 2020, and you can bet that I’ll be reading and reviewing that one when it does. Reynolds has a knack for middle grade horror that is accessible regardless of your age, which is why I would recommend this series to anyone that has nostalgia for the Goosebumps series. There is a lot to like with these books, and I can’t wait to share them with my daughter when she gets older.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.