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: 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: 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: Treasure Hunters

Treasure Hunters
Book #1
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

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

The Kidds are a family of treasure hunters. They live on a boat, traveling the world, recovering various kinds of items from shipwrecks. But after the separate but equally mysterious disappearances of both of their parents, the Kidd children are left on their own to deal with a band of pirates who want their treasure and local authorities who don’t want them to be left on their own. Then some clues surface that point at evidence to what really happened to their parents, and the adventure really begins.

I’m a bit torn on this book. The overall story was fun and adventurous and ends with a promise of more of the same. The main cast consists of 4 kids: the oldest is Tommy, then Storm, and twins Bick and Beck (short for Bickford and Rebecca). Bick is the narrator of the book, and Beck draws the illustrations along the way. I had to borrow the ebook to be able to see the illustrations, and I liked them, even one part when they were drawn by a different character.

However, I wrote more notes while listening, of things I wanted to remember for later, than I have for any book I’ve ever read. Not all of these notes were of issues I had with the story. For example, there was a gang of pirates that were basically surfer dudes, and the way they were voiced by the narrator gave that part of the story a major 3 Ninjas vibe, which I quite enjoyed. The narrator did a good job of sounding like a 12-year-old boy most of the time, but sounding like older characters when needed, too. Now and then, he seemed to put the emphasis in the wrong place, but overall, I liked the narrator.

What most of my notes boil down to are things I didn’t like about the way characters are presented or written. Tommy was probably my favorite of the Kidds. He’s uncomplicated and smarter than he seems. Storm is a fairly stereotypical, way-too-smart-to-be-believable character, even to the point of being overweight and socially awkward. It seems a little too much like the author(s) enjoys shaming fat people, not just because of this character (and it had to be pretty deliberate to make her this way, since it’s unlikely to me that someone living the way this family does would become so overweight), but because there are two other characters in the book that are described as ridiculously obese, and the narrator, who knows how much his sister hates to be teased about her weight, is not remotely kind in his descriptions of those characters.

Then we have Bick and Beck and their “twin tirades,” which are quick argument “squalls.” After a few of these, I realized that they’re really just a way for them to discuss opposing views, but they start out already angry. They mostly feel forced, and frankly, their parents should have put a stop to them a long time ago, insisting instead that they find a calmer and more healthy way to communicate. Also, all three of the kids were far too cavalier about the perceived deaths of their parents. They moved on so fast, it was as if they weren’t very attached to them.

This is the first of anything by James Patterson that I’ve read, but I have enjoyed books by Chris Grabenstein before. I’d really like to see where this story goes and hope that some of what I didn’t like about this book will be lessened in the future, as the series continues.

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