Book Review: The Ultimate Quest


Treasure Hunters Book #8
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

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

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

When the Kidd kids’ parents are kidnapped, it’s up to Bick, Beck, Tommy, and Storm to find the treasure that the kidnappers are after first, so they can save their parents.

I have hung in there for 8 books, but I think this is where I call it. I’ve grown weary of a family of treasure hunters that no longer keeps the treasure (and acts like that’s always been their m.o., even though it wasn’t that way in the early books of the series). Of the oldest son who treats every woman close to his age like an object. Of the sister who remembers everything she ever heard, smelled, or saw going back to when she was 4 years old. Of the twins that fight over stupid things at ridiculous times. Of every single person that the characters meet ultimately betraying them. It’s just…not fun anymore (it wasn’t fun by the third book, really).

In this book in particular, we also have Storm (the super-smart sibling with the “photographic” memory) flirting like Tommy does, and it made me roll my eyes. I also did not care for the “he/she/they” reference to God in a book meant for kids. I really don’t feel comfortable recommending this book or its predecessors to any age group, and I will not be continuing this series, which does appear to have another book being released at some point in the future. However, there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative, so I’m in the minority (I’m used to it). Please do check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested.

Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue
The Giver series #2
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

When Kira’s mom dies, she’s left alone in a community that doesn’t care for her or her twisted foot. Fortunately, she has an almost magical creative gift that gets her the right kind of attention and saves her life. But once she gets a glimpse into the parts of the community most people don’t see, Kira realizes that there are some things going on that she never would have imagined.

Though this book didn’t have quite the charm that its predecessor, The Giver, had, I still enjoyed it. I appreciated Kira’s attitude and willingness to work hard to take care of herself, as well as her desire to help others. That mindset is clearly counter-cultural in her world and shows how a conscientious parent can affect their child in defiance of the world around them. Of course, if this book hadn’t been listed as a follow-up to The Giver, I would never have guessed they were meant to be related, but it’s interesting to me that, where The Giver had order, Gathering Blue has chaos. It’s really amazing to me that anyone could grow up in this world and be a halfway decent person, and the truth is, I’m not sure anyone could. Still, I enjoyed this story in its own right and loved the way the book’s title came into play. I’m intrigued by the overall world Lowry has built between these two books, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series to see how it all ties together.

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Book Review: Alcatraz

Alcatraz
I, Q #6
by Roland Smith & Michael P. Spradlin

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 help SOS, a team made up mostly of retired operatives from the CIA and other organizations, track a ghost terrorist cell. The highest leaders of the cell are finally backed into a corner, but will they be defeated or live to fight another day?

This is the final installment of the series-long story, the kind of series that you really need to start from the beginning. In some ways, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the story, as answers are provided, some more surprising than others. Some pieces fell into place that made the identity of Number One fairly obvious to me and, in fact, made me realize maybe I should have guessed it sooner. But I didn’t, and I doubt most of the kids in the target age group would either, which makes for an exciting story.

There were some things that happened that I didn’t really think made much sense or weren’t necessary. And the supernatural element that developed throughout the series did not have a satisfactory explanation for my preference. By that I mean that it was fully explained, but the root of the supernatural abilities didn’t really make sense. I can’t explain very well without spoiling it, but it just sort of seemed like the author(s) didn’t put as much thought into the backstory as they should have. However, since the series was a solid 4 stars for me all throughout until this book, which was only half a star less than that, I think it’s well worth a read for anyone who is at all interested in the genre or series synopsis. I’m glad I read this series, though I doubt I’ll re-read it.

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Book Review: The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Book of Ember #1
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

The city of Ember has survived for over 200 years, a city of light in a world of darkness. But lately, the lights have been going out more and more, and no one seems to know why or how to stop it. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, both twelve years old and recently assigned jobs for the city, believe they’ve found something that might just save everyone in Ember. If only they could get people to listen to them.

This is the 2nd book I’ve read in this genre in a short period of time, and at first, it reminded me a lot of The Giver. It quickly becomes its own story with a very different theme, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did The Giver, though for different reasons. The slow falling apart of the city and the vastly varying ways the citizens respond to it are fascinating to follow along with. Lina and Doon are well-crafted characters, both with their own issues and driving desires. They even have considerably different reasons for wanting to save the city, and I really admire DuPrau’s ability to make them such well-rounded characters in a short space. I also appreciate how she explains items that are common, everyday things to us but are completely foreign to these people.

I’m looking forward to my 12-year-old daughter reading this book so we can discuss it. I think she’ll enjoy it as much as I did, and I recommend it for others around that age (or older) too.

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Book Review: The Plunder Down Under

The Plunder Down Under
Treasure Hunters Book #7
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

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

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

Mom and Dad Kidd are accused of stealing an Australian national treasure, and it’s up to the kids and their adventure-loving uncle to prove their innocence.

Though I noted several formulaic repetitions in this book, I tried to be objective in how I viewed the book. For example, if I were reading this book without having read the previous books in the series, would I have enjoyed it more? Possibly. However, it is the 7th book in a series, which means of course the authors need to write at least as much for the people who have already read the rest of the books. And really, even if I were reading this book apart from the rest, I would wonder why every treasure hunter in the book feels the need to tell everyone they encounter what they’re looking for. It seems completely unlikely, and it’s no wonder all of these treasure hunters end up tripping over each other to get the same loot.

Right off the bat, Tommy does something ridiculously stupid in the name of “love,” and though his parents could easily correct it by simply laughing off what he said and not showing the person they just met their most secret treasure room, they do it anyway, I guess because it would be rude not to? I don’t get it, but it’s not the first time I’ve felt that way while reading this series.

I did give this book a little higher rating than the last few, so on the plus side, I appreciated the little bit of history of Australia and the aboriginal people that was provided. It was also nice that the kids got to do a lot more of their own adventuring (with their uncle, who gives them a lot more leeway than their parents do) this time. I also appreciate that the Twin Tirades seem to have been toned down a little, which is ironic, since they turn into “quadruple” tirades in this book…but maybe there just aren’t as many of them. Or maybe it has to do with me switching from audiobooks to reading for myself, though I did that a few books back. Though I’m not the targeted audience for this book, I feel like it is the kind of children’s book that treats kids like…well, like kids, but not in a good way. I really don’t feel comfortable recommending this book or its predecessors to any age group. However, there are far more positive reviews for this book than negative, so I’m in the minority (I’m used to it). Please do check out other reviews for the book if you’re interested.

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Book Review: All-American Adventure

All-American Adventure
Treasure Hunters Book #6
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

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

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

The First Amendment is in danger, and it’s up to the Kidd kids to save it! Along with their adventure-seeking uncle, they’ll have to prove a rival treasure hunter’s original Bill of Rights finds to be fake.

Well, at least the kids get to take more of an active role in this story, as their parents are tied down in D.C. getting a museum exhibit ready. The Kidds take off with their uncle, who is one of the more enjoyable characters in the series so far, in my opinion. While I find the idea that someone can unearth a document that proves the First Amendment that was ratified so many years ago is actually a false version, and that the original authors actually meant to remove our rights, and that anyone would believe this was true or think that it meant it would change anything in the laws today completely ridiculous, the adventure overall was more interesting than the last few series installments.

However, some things about the series and its formulaic tendencies are starting to wear on me. Will the Kidds ever manage to keep their treasure hunts a secret so that rival treasure hunters can’t always follow them or, in some cases, beat them places? Will Beck ever stop being such a bully in her drawings of her twin brother? Will Tommy (or anyone else in his family) ever acknowledge that the way he treats women is actually pretty deplorable? The answer to all of these questions is: probably not. I only have 1 book left before I’m caught up to the newest release (of which I have an ARC and is the only reason I’ve persisted thus far), and I’m really hoping to see a change of scenery, so to speak, in those books.

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Book Review: A Seven Letter Word

A Seven Letter Word
by Kim Slater

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade fiction

When Finlay’s mom disappeared, his mild stutter grew to epic proportions. He speaks as little as he can get away with, but that doesn’t stop him from being bullied by his peers and treated as ignorant by adults. He escapes into the world of Scrabble, where he can communicate with the tiles. Then, when he meets someone in an online Scrabble community, someone who he begins to suspect holds some kind of clue as to his mom’s whereabouts, Finlay latches onto the possibility for all he’s worth.

I took my time getting to this review. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with the book, but it just didn’t really stand out to me. I felt for Finlay and can’t help but feel my ire raised when reading books where the character is bullied this badly. And I liked the relationship that developed with Maryam; I’m a fan of unlikely friendships. The story that unfolded with the mysterious online entity was only part of the story, but was certainly the driving intrigue. And though I appreciated the end of the book as well, what I was left with is that it’s a decent book, but not a stand-out read. Still, I do think that a lot of fans of realistic, contemporary middle grade fiction will probably enjoy this book.

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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: Quest for the City of Gold

Quest for the City of Gold
Treasure Hunters Book #5
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

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

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

A treasure map may lead to an amazing find, though it won’t be enough on its own. Will the Kidd Family Treasure Hunters be able to decipher the clues, find the extra components, and actually keep any treasure that they find?

The answer to that question is: no, not really. We’ve really gone from Treasure Hunters to Earth Crusaders here, and while I have nothing against taking care of the environment, that isn’t what this series is supposed to be about. Though actually, since they are, indeed, hunting for a treasure in this book (though not to keep), the climate change agenda that popped up suddenly in the previous book isn’t even really a detractor in this book. What is, though, is the Kidd parents again keeping their children in the dark about major happenings, when the kids should really be the stars of the book, considering the audience it’s written for. Instead, all the kids really do is bicker, spout off useless facts, ignore their parents’ instructions, and creepily eyeball every pretty girl (and, what a shock, all girls Tommy’s age just happen to be pretty).

The rehashing of a previous plot point involving one of Tommy’s “girls” is just one of several things that make this series feel formulaic by this point. I mean, seriously, has no one in this family learned from past experience? Storm probably does the most of use in this story, but even that is getting to be the “same old, same old,” as she uses her “photographic” memory to memorize every single thing that she ever sees, smells, or hears, and magically recall it exactly what it’s needed. I continue to appreciate the variety of locations in which the series is set, but I really hope that the authors can shake out of the formula, find some fresh villains, and let the Kidds get back to their treasure-hunting beginning.

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Book Review: The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Boy
The Chronicles of Narnia #5 (original order)
by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic fantasy

The first (and, as far as I can tell, only) book in the series where the main characters are not from our world, this story shows some interesting insight into Narnia and the countries nearby. Bree’s perspective, as a talking horse living amongst non-talking horses, provides some great contrast, and I could imagine how difficult it would be for both him and Shasta to find some kind of understanding. And Hwin, though she’s portrayed as demure and submissive, still speaks her mind when the occasion warrants it.

For me, though, the highlight of the book is Aslan’s contributions, both obvious and subtle (which is still sort of obvious, to be honest), culminating in a conversation near the end of the book. For those who see a parallel between Aslan and God, it’s a reminder that God is working in ways that we can’t see and may never be aware of (as much as I’d like to sit down with Him and learn how His hand was at work after a long, difficult week). I’m not sure how I feel about Aslan’s treatment of Aravis, but overall, this was a fun read.

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