128.-130. Barnes & The Brains Series (Part Two) by Kenneth Oppel

In 1994, three years before Kenneth Oppel wrote his award winning, best selling YA novel Silverwing which propelled him into international success, he began publishing an early chapter book series of mysteries called Barnes & The Brains. Harper Collins Canada has reissued the six book series this year with brand new 21st century covers redesigned by the original illustrator. The first three books are already out and the last three have just been released . The books are not available in the US at this time, as far as I can tell from searching online. I reviewed the first three here. The last three are reviewed below:

128. An Incredible Case of Dinosaurs by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1994. 54 pages. Ages 7-10. - The team is hired by Miss Frost as she has seen a strange creature in her swimming pool and wants to know what it is. Fortunately Tina Quark just happens to have invented her own bathysphere from household items including a washing machine and ceiling fan and the children venture into the murky pool to discover not one but two live dinosaurs in its depths. Another fun adventure for the geniuses with some giggle inducing moments. This time around Tina takes a leave of absence from the middle of the story giving Giles and Kevin a chance to put a plan into action without her superior knowledge for a change. Not my favourite in the series but still up to par with what I've come to expect from this series. 3.5/5

129. A Weird Case of Super-Goo by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 1996. 60 pages. Ages 7-10. - When Tina tests one of her new inventions on Giles and his hair turns orange he's finally had it with the geniuses and quits the team. When he gets home he finds out his Aunt Lillian is on her way for a visit. Aunt Lillian is Mom's younger sister and drives mom crazy with her lackadaisical lifestyle, especially since Mom had to look after her all the time when they were young and Lillian was always in trouble. But Giles likes Lillian as something fun is always in the works when she's around and this time she's working on an anti-wrinkle cream. Giles helps her mix up the batch from an old recipe and when Lillian puts on the goo her wrinkles do go away but she also keeps changing until she's turned back into an 11 year old. Lillian loves it but when Giles' mum and dad have had enough of the smoking, vodka drinking, slob of an 11 year-old Lillian who refuses to give up her new found youth, they decide to treat her as an 11-year-old and take away the vices, impose a bedtime and send her to school. This one was lot of fun! Of course, Giles ends up needing to call in Tina and Kevin to help him solve the problem and the solution is a great ending. I'm only disappointed that Lillian was described as a practitioner of the occult at the beginning (tarot, seances, etc.) especially as it is not an element of the story. Lillian could have been a hippie or the like with the same results. Otherwise, the plot is one of the best in the series and Oppel keeps the series fresh by switching things around each time and here we have Giles and his Aunt featured as the main characters. 4/5

A Creepy Case of Vampires by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Victor Rivas Villa. 2002. 54 pages. Ages 7-10. - One evening Giles and Kevin are walking past an old church and they see a vampire and a lot of bats on the roof. Scared they go running to Tina with the story, but Tina does not believe in vampires though she will go with them next day to investigate. When they get there they meet the church's priest who tells them he has just recently had a bunch of bats move into his bell tower and they are scaring away people from evening mass. So he hires the geniuses to help him get rid of his bat problem ... though Kevin and Giles swear there is a vampire among the bats. This final book in the series is a fun read. All three characters are back together working as a team, getting equal time as main characters. The story has its spooky moments and is full of the usual comic situations one expects from this series. This time Giles' father even steps in and lends a hand. A fun, intelligent ending, that leaves the creepiness open. The only thing that felt off here was Tina's insistence on being so scientific as to not believe in vampires. This was out of character since in previous books she simply believed in ghosts, magic, and living dinosaurs. So why not vampires? Otherwise, this was my favourite of the last three books in the series. 4/5

*All books were review copies received from Harper Collins Canada.


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