Book Review: The Librarians and The Lost Lamp

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp
The Librarians #1
by Greg Cox
read by Therese Plummer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure

In 2006, Flynn Carsen, the lone librarian, is sent to keep Aladdin’s fabled lamp from falling into the hands of The Forty, a criminal organization that has been searching for the lamp for centuries. Using Scheherazade’s The Arabian Nights as a guide, Flynn must outwit the thieves. In 2016, the new team of Librarians heads to Las Vegas to find out why a man winning the lottery is cause for concern. And they might just run into an artifact from Flynn’s past.

Let me first state that I love The Librarians. I think the show is better than it has any right to be, and a large part of that is due to the great casting. The movies were good as well, but I think the show really took the overall story world to a new level. Though I haven’t been able to find definitive proof of where in the show this book takes place, I’m calling it between seasons 2 and 3. And while the book does attempt to give some basic understanding of the overall setting and backstory of the Library and the Librarians, I think this book is best read by someone who has seen at least the TV show. Considering that half of the book takes place while Flynn was the sole librarian, a knowledge of both the movies and the show might be best.

I liked that we kinda got some of both—solo Flynn and the dynamic of the group. The movies with Flynn tend to be more epic, big-budget adventure, with him trying to track down some kind of relic that could be a huge problem in the wrong hands, and his side of the story in this book is just like that. The TV show episodes, at least the filler/MOTW (monster of the week) episodes, involve more mystery as the team has to first track down who and what is causing the problem and then figure out how to stop it. Their side of the book continues that trend.

At its best, The Librarians is campy fun, and at its worst, it’s illogical hand-waviness. This book had all of that, and I commend the author for doing a pretty good job capturing the characters pretty well. I know not everyone agrees on that, but I literally just finished watching season 3 of the show before reading this book, and I never felt like any of the characters acted all that out-of-character. And that’s considering that I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator definitely did not sound like any of the main characters (especially Stone). In fact, her tendency to be breathy during the non-dialog text and make every character sound like they were gasping at the end of every line could have ruined the story for me. But I was caught up in it enough that I was able to ignore it most of the time, and I’ll even give the audiobook another chance as I continue the series.

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Book Review: The Mummy Case

The Mummy Case
Amelia Peabody #3
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

After some time away, the Emersons are returning to Egypt for a dig, this time taking their young son Ramses along. When Amelia suspects that a suicide might actually be foul play, her husband doesn’t agree. Then strange things begin to happen in the area around their not-so-exciting dig site, and Amelia sees connections where Emerson just sees random misfortune. First Amelia has to convince him that something is afoot, and then they have to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

My synopsis probably doesn’t do the story justice, but I found myself equal parts lost and bored while listening to this installment in the series. And I think the reason I got lost at times was due to my mind wandering, because the story simply didn’t capture my attention as the books before it did. I’m not completely sure why, either; maybe I’ve already grown tired of the formula of this series? But I also think it’s partly because the mystery was super slow in getting going. After the death that Amelia suspects is a murder, it’s mostly just them getting on with their dig and meeting lots of new people for quite a while. Little things that keep the mystery in mind happen, but nothing all that exciting.

I think part of my issue is with Ramses, though. He’s an amusing character, but only to a point. I don’t honestly know how old he’s supposed to be in this book, but I’m guessing around 7. And he’s super smart, can translate ancient languages, solves much of the mystery alongside (or ahead of) his parents, and speaks with a speech impediment. And he always obeys his parents, but finds loopholes in what they tell him to do (or, more accurately, in what they neglect to say he can’t do). I also grew quite weary of Emerson’s (and Amelia’s, to a lesser degree) disdain for Christianity and Christian missionaries. There were a few humorous moments in the book, but not as many as I remember in the first two. Since much of my dislike of this book was personal preference, and it’s clear that many others enjoyed it, if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Egyptology, you might want to check this book out. If you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: The End

The End
A Series of Unfortunate Events #13
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Upon reaching the end of The End, I had a lot of thoughts. But my first thought was this: I should have just re-watched Clue if I wanted to hear Tim Curry’s voice, rather than go through this series that never interested me from the beginning and interested me even less as I was listening to it.

It’s clear that there are plenty of people that this type of fiction appeals to, and it’s also clear that I’m not one of those people. What others see as depth in the “moral” that the series brings out, I see as ambiguous and even lazy writing. I came to the realization by the end of the series that what it’s really been about is the loss of innocence and understanding (the hard way and at a young age) how complicated and difficult life is. But I feel like it was all a bit abstract and complex for the target audience; for goodness sake, it was all a bit too abstract for me, especially since I went into it expecting it to be more for kids.

I’m definitely not the right audience for the purposefully dark tone of the series. I like some good things to happen in my fiction. Life is hard enough, and I read fiction (especially children’s fiction) to escape it for a little while; why do I want to read about a world that’s even darker (not to mention ridiculous)? The whole thing reminds me a bit of Charlie Brown and Lucy—I get that it’s tradition and expected and maybe would be a let down if he finally got to kick the football, but dang it, I wanted him to finally get to kick it! And I just wanted something good to happen for the Baudelaires. What I got was a giant, cringe-inducing question mark. If you’ve enjoyed these books, I’m happy for you. I’m also happy to put the whole thing behind me.

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Book Review: Peril at the Top of the World

Peril at the Top of the World
Treasure Hunters Book #4
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Treasure Hunters.

Now that the Kidd parents are back, the family can get back to the business of hunting treasure. When some high-profile paintings are stolen from a prestigious art museum in Russia and it appears to be just the latest in a string of major art crimes, the Kidds jump into action to save the priceless art!

This series has been mostly okay for me so far, but this one was less than that. With the parents back, the kids just get led around in this book. I was glad that the arc of the parents both being missing ended in book #3, rather than being dragged on for a while, but I really expected some kind of (hopefully different) plot device to happen to leave the kids on their own. Because the kids aren’t really the treasure hunters anymore, and in fact, often get told to stay put or stay with the parents. It’s not that I’m wishing for a story where the kids constantly disobey their parents and sneak away, but I feel like, for a story aimed at kids, the kids should really have some way to be the heroes of the books, not just sidekicks.

On top of that, this book takes a decidedly left turn away from the adventurous treasure hunting in the previous books (and in the series name) into a heavy-handed environmentalism, climate change agenda. Yes, there is still some action and adventure, and even some interesting locales. But treasure? Nope. That’s hunted “off screen,” so to speak. Plus, eldest Kidd kid Tommy, who was my favorite in the first book, has started to be a bit much with his girl infatuation, talking about making things “hot” with a girl who has shown no interest in him and doesn’t even speak English. He’s becoming more creepy than amusing.

So here is where I have to decide if this series is worth continuing with or not. For now, I think I’ll stop listening to the audiobooks, because while I appreciated the narrator initially, his tendency to say lines of dialog in a tone that’s contrary to the context is starting to bug me. And his (maybe too good) pre-teen boy voice makes the Twin Tirades (which already annoy me) even more childish. We’ll see how things go from here.

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Book Review: The Penultimate Peril

The Penultimate Peril
A Series of Unfortunate Events #12
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The Baudelaires have reached the Hotel Denouement, where they will take their places as volunteers and try to distinguish friend from foe. Old acquaintances, both friend and foe, appear at the hotel, and the Baudelaires have to make some (hopefully) tough decisions.

I can’t say this is exactly what I would have wanted from the second-to-last book in such a long series, but on the other hand, it’s pretty much what I should have expected from this particular series. The hotel is laid out in a way that is probably supposed to be clever, but I only found it silly. I did appreciate that Sunny kept being the one who figured things out and that it so often went unnoticed by others, or at least unmentioned. It added humor to what otherwise, for me, comes across as the author trying too hard to be funny.

I started listening to this series for only one reason: Tim Curry. Though I had to live with a different narration for 3 books earlier in the series, Tim Curry has been wonderful, even given some of the crazy things he’s had to say or do for the sake of the narration. I’m not particularly excited about the conclusion of the series and, Tim Curry or not, I know I’ll never re-read it.

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Book Review: Secret of the Forbidden City

Secret of the Forbidden City
Treasure Hunters Book #3
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with Treasure Hunters.

The Kidd kids didn’t get the ending they were hoping for after recovering priceless vases in Africa, but their mom’s kidnappers just want a little more, and then they’ll free her…honest. So what can they do but keep going, looking for a mysterious treasure that the smelly German villain wants them to find?

If my synopsis above sounds a bit ridiculous, that’s because the story is a bit ridiculous. The Kidds just get yanked from one country to another, while their parents’ freedom and safety is dangled in front of them. But since they can’t decide from one chapter to the next whether they believe their parents are even alive (all except Bick, the narrator, who has never wavered in his certainty that they’re both alive), I’m not sure what, exactly, they’re really chasing after. This series continues to be both enjoyable and annoying. The Twin Tirades continue to be obnoxious (#488 was the stupidest one yet—utterly pointless). And there continues to be little details that the authors don’t quite get right, like this time attributing the memory of a melody to Storm’s photographic memory.

I really don’t get what’s going on with “Aunt” Bella. Is she good? Is she bad? If “Uncle” Timothy really sent an assassin after her in the previous book, why is it still up in the air whether he is good or bad? Did I miss something, or did the book? Still, there’s something energetic about the book, and I found the treasure being hunted for the most interesting one of the series so far (though I certainly am biased). And it was a fun coincidence that there was a Sound of Music reference, when I happened to be reading The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria August von Trapp at the same time. Considering that the series is now up to 8 books, I’m relieved that this book brought the main plots of the series so far to an end. I assume the series will consist of multiple, shorter arcs and am hopeful that the next book will bring something fresh to the story of the Kidd family.

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Book Review: The Grim Grotto

The Grim Grotto
A Series of Unfortunate Events #11
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with The Bad Beginning.

We find the 3 Baudelaire orphans where we left them—in a toboggan, rushing down a stream, helpless to save themselves. As they try to unravel the mystery of V.F.D. and stay out of the clutches of Count Olaf, they’ll have to navigate dark waters and even darker intentions.

There were some things I actually enjoyed about this book, starting with Tim Curry’s portrayal of Captain Widdershins. I’m pretty sure I would have rolled my eyes at his particular way of speaking, especially when first introduced, if I was reading it for myself, so that’s all the more reason I’m glad I’m listening to this series instead. On the other hand, if I’d been reading instead of listening, I could have skipped entire pages of repetition that I guess Snicket thought would be clever, but only made me question my own sanity. Sunny’s dialog continues to be the only source of humor in the entire series, and I did appreciate a Chekov’s “gum” moment.

I’m a little baffled by the way Snicket is hammering us with this whole, “nobody is completely evil or completely noble; everyone is shades of both” or whatever he’s trying to say, yet one character in this book is practically vilified by the main characters because of a very difficult decision that didn’t go the way the main characters thought it should, even while that character still showed shades of nobility. There were a couple of surprises near the end, though one of them left me scratching my head. Maybe we’ll learn more about that in the next two books…though the way people talk about the end of this series, I kind of doubt it. Guess I’ll find out for myself soon enough.

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Book Review: The Men We Need

The Men We Need
by Brant Hansen

read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

At a time where men and masculinity are practically being vilified, radio show host Brant Hansen shares some insight on what it really means to be a man, at least from a biblical point of view. But that doesn’t mean this book holds nothing of import for women. More than simply what to look for in a man, or what to help our significant others or sons strive to be, some of what Brant discusses in this book can easily be applied to women, too.

I think that what sticks out to me the most is the idea that passivity isn’t as victimless as we might think. By living a life of lethargy, with no ambition, we can fail to be who God wants us to be for others out there. As Brant says, no one is exactly like me, with my life, my experiences, and my placement in the world; if I don’t do what I was meant to do, who will? It does make me re-think how I spend my time.

While, overall, I didn’t necessarily connect with this book as much as I did Brant’s previous books, that’s not surprising, given the topic. Still, I’m really glad I read it, and especially that I listened to the audiobook, as Brant’s humor comes out all the more when he’s speaking the words. I’ve long enjoyed Brant’s humor and greatly appreciate his wisdom and insight as well. I recommend this book for men and women alike, though I’d imagine it makes a lot more sense for Christ-followers. Not that it’s a requirement, by any means, and is especially not for Brant’s podcast, in his podcast, The Brant & Sherri Oddcast, which I also recommend.

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Book Review: Danger Down the Nile

Danger Down the Nile
Treasure Hunters Book #2
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

The Kidd kids are still alone after the separate but equally mysterious disappearances of both of their parents. Then the family boat is taken away too, leaving the Kidds to search for treasure and hunt for their parents on dry land. With the help of some contacts of their parents, they embark on a journey that might see their mom safely returned.

Similar to the first book in the series, with this book, I enjoy the wide view, but struggle with the details. These kids are shown to be very smart, collectively, in a lot of areas, good at being on their own, yet continuously get themselves caught by people they’re trying to avoid—probably because they stop and talk or debate amongst themselves so much. Even when the rest of the kids seem to be on board with their parents being missing, rather than dead—and even when they have had numerous hints that their mom is being held captive, not dead—Storm, the book-smart older sister, is doggedly determined to believe their parents dead. I just do not get it. I’m still not a fan of the twin tirades, though they were toned down a little in this book compared to the first. Maybe they’ll just be phased out as the series continues.

I am not against things happening in a book like this that likely would not happen in real life, and this definitely requires a little more suspension of disbelief than normal, though overall, it doesn’t bother me much. However, having a shark be distracted from its prey by red liquid in the water, making it think there was blood, was a bit too much for me, since sharks smell blood; the color wouldn’t make a difference. I liked this book a little more than the first, but I’m starting to wonder if I should switch to reading the books, rather than listening to the audiobooks. The narrator does a good job sounding like the pre-teen Bick who tells the story and then sounding like an adult when needed, too, but I do think his tendency to sound too much like a petulant child is what makes the twin tirades all the more annoying to me. I know it’ll take me longer to get through the series if I read, rather than listen, though, and I want to get caught up quickly, since I have an ARC of the newest book and don’t want to jump ahead to it. For now, I’m reserving my recommendation for or against this book or series until I see where it goes.

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs (take 2)

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). However, I went back to the first book in the series, read by a different narrator, and found that I liked the different voice a lot more. So I’m continuing on with a do-over on this 2nd book too, which was as far as I got in the series before. And like with the first book, I enjoyed this one more with the different narrator. I still felt that there were some elements that were too similar to the first one and wished it had been more of a departure. However, I was able to better appreciate the repartee between Amelia and Emerson, their gruff-but-obvious adoration of their far-too-brilliant son, and the contributions from the cat Bastet.

I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series for the first time, now that I’ve found a narrator I like. I do hope that every book won’t include a beautiful woman that all of the male characters (except Emerson) wants to marry and manifestations of a curse that scares the local work force. Still, people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology might want to check this book out. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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