Book Review: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #10
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

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

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival (and possibly others before it).

The three Baudelaire orphans are separated but must find a way to work together to save one of them from the clutches of Count Olaf and his troop. As they close in on some answers, other questions only grow more mysterious.

I don’t want to repeat myself in regards to what I don’t care for about this series, so if you’re interested, feel free to check out my reviews of the previous books. I’ll instead mention a few things that led me to give this book a higher rating than the previous one. I appreciate that the repetitiveness of the formula in the earlier books in the series is a thing of the past. No more new guardian every book, though that does lead me to wonder if Mr. Poe is doing anything to try to find these lost orphans at this point. Yes, he’s gullible enough that he probably believes the newspaper reports that they killed someone, but they were still his responsibility. I hope to see something more from him before the end of the series.

There was a twist in this book that I didn’t expect and something else unexpected happened too. Both bright spots in an otherwise un-surprising plot. I like that Sunny is growing (probably not physically, though), yet the other two siblings don’t change much. “VFD” is becoming my least-favorite acronym, considering how much Snicket forces it into the story. Three books ’til the end, and I’ll probably never re-visit this series.

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Book Review: Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s historical fiction

Annemarie Johansen doesn’t really understand why she has to pretend that her friend Ellen is her sister. Or why Ellen’s parents have to leave without her. But when Annemarie’s parents and uncle try to help Ellen’s family and some other Jewish people in Denmark flee to a safer country, Annemarie knows it’s important and will do anything she can to help, even if it’s dangerous.

I really appreciate that in so few pages and in language kids can understand and get into, Lowry not only paints a vivid picture of the danger and fear that those who lived in Nazi-occupied countries dealt with, but also touches on the resistance offered by non-Jews living in Denmark. I also liked seeing the love and loyalty the Danes had for their king, which is something most American’s can fully understand, and the way the scientific community pulled together to help save lives.

Many of us remember reading this book for school, though I didn’t remember it nearly as well as I thought (or maybe I was thinking about a different book the whole time, though if so, I can’t pin down what it was). Required reading or not, this is a good book to introduce young readers to the darkness that many in Europe faced during WWII.

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Book Review: The Alamo

The Alamo
I, Q #4
by Roland Smith & Michael P. Sprandlin

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s spy thriller

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

New step-siblings Q (short for Quest) and Angela continue to trail a ghost terrorist cell along with SOS, a team made up mostly of retired operatives from the CIA and other organizations. Angela’s mother is climbing her way toward the top of the ghost cell, but the danger is getting higher all the time. Meanwhile, something strange is going on with Boone, and is Q’s dad friend or foe?

Here we have part 4 of the series-long story, the kind of series that you really need to start from the beginning. This is the first book that is co-written by another author, but it’s not super noticeable to me. Though I will say that this is the first book that starts with a list of all of the characters and a recap of past events, which my aging memory appreciated. Overall, though, it doesn’t feel particularly new. None of the questions from the last book are answered and are really only muddied more. The characters gain a very small amount of ground, and some of the plot points feel like a rehash.

There’s still a lot of action, and I like the way that the series moves around the country to different major locations. I think there are some discrepancies regarding the relative placements of the Alamo Plaza and the San Fernando Cathedral, an area I’ve studied recently for my job (https://www.getbeyondthewalls.com/), so that brought me out of the story a little. However, I’m still really interested in seeing where the rest of this series 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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Book Review: The Silver Chair

The Silver Chair
The Chronicles of Narnia #4 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

Not only is this the first book without any Pevensies, but it sure does delve into new depths (pun intended). Jill and Eustace are an interesting combination of characters—they’re the first to go to Narnia who aren’t related to each other in any way, not that being unrelated kept them from bickering. While parts of the story were quite predictable, I still enjoyed the way it played out.

Puddleglum, though, now he’s my kind of character. He expects the worst, yet never gives up. He has 100% faith in and devotion to Aslan, and I absolutely love his words and actions when facing the evil witch of this story. I really appreciate the way C.S. Lewis brings out truths about following God in the midst of these fantastical stories.

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Book Review: Islands and Enemies

Islands and Enemies
The Imagination Station #28
by Marianne Hering

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical children’s fiction, Christian

After cousins Beth and Patrick have an argument about loyalty and betrayal, Whit sends them on an adventure in the Imagination Station. They arrive in 1521 and become part of Magellan’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe for a few days and along the way learn a little something about loyalty and betrayal.

I like the idea of the Imagination Station so much more when it’s more like a holodeck adventure. Since it’s apparently meant to be actual time travel in this series, some of the things that happen are just a bit too unbelievable to me. Still, I like the way it brings moments of history to life for young readers, and this one was no exception. Some of the details shared by Beth (who may know more than makes sense for her age, even after having just done a report about one of Magellan’s ships) were interesting to learn about.

The time travel aspect and historical characters aside, the actual characters of Beth and Patrick took a hit in this story, in my opinion. While it certainly makes sense that they wouldn’t be perfect kids and would even sometimes get into fights with each other, Beth did not know when to keep her mouth shut, and Patrick was just a little jerk at times. Overall, though, it’s a fun look at historical accounts, written for kids, from a Christian viewpoint.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: April 5, 2022

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Book Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

The Carnivorous Carnival
A Series of Unfortunate Events #9
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Hostile Hospital.

The three Baudelaire orphans continue to strike out on their own, arriving at the Caligari Carnival by stowing away in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Disguising themselves using Olaf’s own materials, can they keep their true identities secret? Can they uncover the truth behind the initials V.F.D. and whether or not one of their parents survived the fire?

There were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.” It was interesting that Olaf and his acting troupe were out in the open this time, while the Baudelaires were the ones spying. It was also nice to finally get at least one answer to a series-long mystery. And there were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.”

On the other hand, this book had whole new, over-the-top annoyances for me. The “freaks” whined constantly about their “deformities” which would have made more sense if one of them wasn’t simply ambidextrous. I’m sure it was some kind of humor that I just do not get, but the fact that both of Kevin’s legs are equally strong is something I really could have done without being reminded about all through the story. And the guests to the carnival were ridiculously blood-thirsty. But at least there’s Tim Curry. Slim consolation prize at this point.

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Book Review: The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital
A Series of Unfortunate Events #8
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

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

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Vile Village.

The three Baudelaire orphans are on their own now, but that doesn’t make them safe. In fact, now they have to be wary of anyone who’s ever read the newspaper, which is just about everyone. Fortunately, they’re able to hide in a group of volunteers who don’t read the paper and whose organization initials happen to be V.F.D. This leads them to a hospital, where they encounter Count Olaf and his associates in full force.

As we continue to progress away from the tired formula that the first half of the series followed, I find the overall story a little more interesting. I still don’t get most of the humor that others seem to like, but I’ll admit I found some of Sunny’s dialog to be funny in this book (I even laughed out loud one time). The V.F.D. mystery is gaining interest for me, and the ending was such a departure that it felt like a breath of fresh air.

In some ways, though, outside of the stand-out things mentioned above, this was still the same old story. Still, I liked it more than most of the previous ones, and Tim Curry singing the V.F.D. song throughout the book was a lot more fun than it probably should have been. (This book is brought to you by the word “spurious.”)

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Book Review: Swept into the Sea

Swept into the Sea
The Imagination Station #26
by Chris Brack & Sheila Seifert

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Biblical children’s fiction

In this second of a 3-part story arc, cousins Beth and Patrick are tasked with finding a mystery liquid for the Imagination Station as they’re thrown onto a ship during a storm at sea. The ship is carrying the apostle Paul, as he’s on his way to stand trial in Rome. Besides the storm, the cousins will have to face angry sailors and Roman soldiers if they hope to get back to their time.

I actually read part 3 of this story arc (which, in turn, is part of a much larger series) first, then decided to go back and read the preceding stories. This is my least favorite of the 3 books in this trilogy of stories. All 3 show some snapshot of history, but this is the only one that is an account from the Bible. While the authors added some fictional characters for the two (also fictional) main characters to interact with, and I assume some of that was meant to provide extra excitement and human connection, overall, I felt like they added little to the story. All of these books are quite short, but this is the only one that felt so light and shallow. I didn’t feel any kind of connection to the story or characters.

On its own, I don’t know that I could recommend this book to readers, though kids 12 and younger, the age group that it’s meant for, might enjoy it more than I did. The other books in the series I’ve read so far were good, but I honestly don’t think much would be missed by skipping this one.

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Book Review: Canyon Quest

Canyon Quest
Last Chance Detectives prequel
by Jim Ware

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

Mike Fowler hates Ambrosia, Arizona. It’s hot and dry, there’s no snow, he has no friends, and worst of all, his dad isn’t there. Even though his dad disappeared while flying a plane in the Gulf War, Mike is certain the answer to his whereabouts is still out there somewhere. And when he makes some new discoveries shortly after his twelfth birthday, he realizes the clues he needs might be out in the desert around Ambrosia.

I really like the Last Chance Detectives. I watched The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa so many times when I was younger that when I read that book for the first time recently, several of the lines from the book I could hear perfectly from the actor/actress’s mouth from the movie. This prequel is a chance to see Mike and the others before their detective club formed, even before the four of them became friends. For that, I appreciated the book. And considering how frustrated I was about Winnie’s utter lack of a personality or really any shown contribution to the group in the other 3 books I’d read before this, I really liked her as a character in this one (though it seemed like she had a crush on Mike, something I don’t recall coming up in the books that take place later).

The author made some strange choices with the story, though. From everything I could tell, and I went back to make sure I hadn’t misremembered, Mike’s dad has been considered MIA for 6 years. I don’t know how long he and his mom have lived in Ambrosia at the start of the story, though. It seems like it hasn’t been that long, since the book starts with him counting the money he’s saved up to buy a bus ticket so that he can travel back home and stay with the best friend he left behind. But wording elsewhere makes it sound like they moved to Ambrosia shortly after his dad disappeared. Either way, his dad has been gone for six years after remains of his F-16 had been discovered somewhere in the Middle East, yet Mike is absolutely certain throughout parts of this book that clues to his dad’s current whereabouts can be found in the desert in Arizona. Uh…what? It’s difficult to allow the excuse of “he’s a grieving kid” after this many years have gone by, but even still, it’s an idea with absolutely no merit. Add to that his surly attitude and how he lets his unhappiness lead him to be rude to the kids that are becoming his friends, and it wasn’t as fun to read as the other books in the series.

While I still think the main books in the series are great for kids around age 10-14, I would say there is unfortunately little benefit to reading this prequel. For those interested, though, especially for anyone who’s a big fan of the book series, movies, or radio dramas, by all means, check it out.

*Note: The entire group of 4 kids that make up the Last Chance Detectives come together in this book. This is a departure from the original edition of the first book in the series, The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa (which takes place after this prequel), in which Spence was introduced to the other 3 for the first time. However, in the recent re-release of that book, it’s changed to show Spence as already one of the group.

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