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: 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: Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game

Mr. Lemoncello’s Very First Game
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library prequel
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

Long before Kyle Keeley and his friends played their first Lemoncello game, Luigi Lemoncello was the 6th child in a family of 10 kids, struggling to stand out from the rest in some way. At thirteen, Luigi already loves games and puzzles (maybe a little too much, according to some people), and in this book, we get to read about his “origin story.” From his first and worst idea for a game to the one that started it all, Luigi gets inspiration from his family, his friends, and a unique carnival barker, whom Luigi emulates as he begins to let his own colorful personality shine through.

First of all, it’s strange to think of Mr. Lemoncello as “Luigi.” But that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book! It was a lot of fun and a fresh entry into a series that I overall enjoy but does tend to be formulaic. There are puzzles just like the other books in the series have—nothing groundbreaking, but it’s fun to solve them alongside the characters. I particularly enjoyed the puzzle box storyline, though, especially inspiration that the professor/uncle got from Luigi, which I picked up on way faster than the kids, but I think readers of the age group this book is meant for might see it as a twist.

I loved seeing elements of the older Mr. Lemoncello from the rest of the series getting their start in this book, and at least one other character from the series also appears in this book (though I didn’t connect it until I went back and scanned through Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race to remind myself of what was said there about how he got his start). One thing that bothers me a little is that there is a major character in this book who, by all appearances, seems to be connected to a major character in the main series, but I can’t see any hint of that connection in any of the books. But it’s too much of a coincidence for there to not be any connection, so I would have just liked to somehow know the relationship there. Overall, though, solid entry to the series. I wasn’t sold on it when I first saw it announced, but that’s mostly just because I would rather see a continuation of the main series, given how book #5 left off. Hopefully that’s still coming, but in the meantime, I very much recommend this book for kids and those who are kids at heart!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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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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Book Review: Genius Camp

Genius Camp
The Smartest Kid in the Universe #2
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

12-year-old Jake and his scientifically enhanced, super-smart brain are invited to Genius Camp for a week by Zane Zinkle, a man who had once held the title of the smartest kid in the universe. Now he owns a large corporation (the 2nd wealthiest in the world) and has created an AI computer, which he wants to pit against Jake’s smarts.

This book was just as fun as its predecessor. I really appreciated that Jake was insecure about his newfound genius, partly because he wasn’t sure if/when it might suddenly wear off, and partly because he knew the jelly beans don’t cover every subject. I like his connection to Haazim Farooqi (jelly bean creator) and Farooqi’s involvement in this story. And I love that a certain other book series by Grabenstein is officially in the same universe as this series (I really want to say more, but I won’t, to avoid spoilers).

Kojo started to drive me a little crazy in this book, with his insistence on adding “baby” into his dialog so often. If I met this kid in real life, I’d have to walk away pretty quickly. I also was initially put off by the incredibly ridiculous immaturity of the villain, but I mentioned this to my 11-year-old daughter who had already read the book, and she pointed out that it wasn’t necessarily unrealistic, given the villain’s backstory, and I was able to look past it more easily after that. I did predict the sort-of-twist at the end, but I think that’s mostly because of a certain movie I’ve seen several times (I won’t name it, because it would spoil the ending), which I’m sure kids in the age range that this book is meant for would be a lot less familiar with. As I mentioned above, my 11-year-old daughter read it before me, and she loved it as much as the previous. That’s the strongest endorsement I can ever give for a middle grade book, so make sure to check it out for your kids (or you)!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Smartest Kid in the Universe

The Smartest Kid in the Universe
Book #1
by Chris Grabenstein

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

When 12-year-old Jake eats some jelly beans left sitting on a table, he never expected there to be consequences. Before long, though, he’s become the smartest kid in the universe, because the jelly beans were actually indigestible knowledge! Not only does he know a lot of things he hasn’t studied, he also learns faster when he does study new things. But will this newfound intelligence be enough to help him and his friends save their middle school from destruction, not to mention solve an old pirate legend?

This is an adventurous book that pushes the boundaries of modern technology in a fun way. Jake starts out as a kid who is too lazy to do much of anything, including learn new things. The jelly beans certainly give him a new outlook on life, and even though they do give him information without him having to learn, they don’t give him all information. Some things he needs to know he still has to study like the rest of us. Well, not quite like the rest of us, because his brain learns a lot faster than normal, but I do like that he’s not just handed everything he needs to save the day. I also like that he’s not the only smart one when he joins the quiz team with his friends. He may be the smartest kid in the universe, but he still needs some backup.

Jake’s best friend, Kojo, has recently become obsessed with old detective shows, which leads him to use the catchphrase of one of those old detectives a lot throughout the story. I grew up on Matlock, Columbo, and Murder, She Wrote, but Kojo was hung up on Kojak, which was a little before my time. I was just hoping for one, “Oh, just one more thing,” when Kojo was about to leave a room. Still, the way Kojo’s obsession plays out later in the book is pretty great.

I wish that this super-smart kid would have had some opponents that were a little smarter themselves; the villains were pretty stupid, especially Mrs. Malvolio. But maybe Grabenstein will step that up in the 2nd book in the series. There are also still parts of the author’s writing style (especially in dialog) that rub me the wrong way, but I did my best to ignore it. Like the Lemoncello series before it, my 11-year-old daughter strongly recommended this book to me, because she loved it! That’s the strongest endorsement I can ever give for a middle grade book, so make sure to check it out for your kids (or you)!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Full Sentence Titles

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is book titles that are complete sentences, which turned out to be a little easier than I thought it would be. Not that I found a ton of them, but I did find more than 10 and had to narrow it down. So I went with only books that I’ve read, and I’ve put them in order of lower ratings to higher ratings (as rated by me).

10. Don’t Keep Silent by Elizabeth Goddard
The third in a series, all 3 of which have titles that are complete sentences. See my review here.

9. All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen & Jory John
My husband loves this book. I thought it was okay. But the important thing is that not only is the title a complete sentence, it’s even written in sentence format on the book cover, with a period at the end and everything!

8. His Name Was Zach by Peter Martuneac
The first in a trilogy, all 3 of which have titles that are complete sentences. See my review here.

7. Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman
See my review here.

6. Hope is a Dangerous Place by Jim Baton
See my review here.

5. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
See my review here.

4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Somehow this book always makes my top ten lists… See my review here.

3. Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg
First in a series of novels about the TV detective, many of the other books in the series have complete-sentence titles too. See my review here.

2. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
In a way, one could possibly read this in a different way than would be needed for it to be seen as a complete sentence. I choose to read it as an imperative with the implied “you” as the subject. See my review here. (Another similar title is Escape from the Island of Aquarius.)

1. I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus by Sherri Lynn
This book has been in a few of my TTT posts in the past too, but come on, it fits so well! See my review here.

Looking for books for this list was more fun than I expected it to be. What’s on your list?

Book Review: Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket

Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library book #5
by Chris Grabenstein

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

Mr. Lemoncello’s game-making factory is in Hudson Hills, NY, and recently a new, top-secret building was added to the grounds. Now it’s time for another game, for the first time taking place outside of Ohio, with competitors from Hudson Hills. The playing field is inside that new building, and the prize is a titanium ticket, one of multiple that will eventually be awarded. But the real prize, what the ticket gives its holder a chance at, is the biggest one yet!

Each book after the first in this series got a little less exciting for me. A little less interesting, a little less fresh. In this fifth book, all of the excitement from the first one came rushing back. It’s different and fun again. Not that some of the formula the series has developed isn’t there, but it feels new again. It helps a lot that we step away from the Ohio kids and meet some brand new ones. Kyle makes an appearance, but he’s just a side character. And the new MC, Simon, is different in a lot of ways.

There are several things that happen in the story that caused me to mentally cheer. I so wish I could expand on that at all, but I’ll just say that there were some great moments. I love the friendship that’s formed in the story and the way that whole thing turns out. And I really love how Simon’s personal story came to fruition.

The titanium ticket angle was a little predictable, and it’s a little frustrating to have another Charles Chiltington-type character, though this new one (Jack) is different in many ways too. I suppose some of that might just be the genre and intended age group. But those very minor issues aren’t even worth a partial-point detraction for me, and I am happy to highly recommend this book to kids around 8-12 years old, as well as others who are interested in this type of book. While I did feel the last few books in the series weren’t quite as good, I would suggest reading it all up to this point. And based on the ending, it’s clear that this series isn’t over yet.

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