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: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four
Sherlock Holmes
#2
by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 34 / 5
Genre: Classic mystery

This is going to be the shortest review I’ve ever written. I’m slowly making my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories for the first time. This was not my favorite. The mystery wasn’t nearly as interesting as others have been; in fact, it was a bit bizarre. It’s the book where Watson meets the woman he ends up marrying, but that relationship didn’t grow in any particularly interesting way either. Overall, the story just felt slow and not very memorable.

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Book Review: Millstone of Doubt

Millstone of Doubt
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #2
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Both fledgling agents for the crown, Lady Juliette Thorndike and Bow Street runner Daniel Swann individually need to figure out their roles and places in the spy network as well as their “normal” lives. When Juliette’s best friend’s father is killed, Juliette is told to stay out of the investigation, but Daniel plunges headlong into it. Meanwhile, Juliette is still in the middle of her debut season, and Daniel’s lifelong patronage by a mysterious benefactor will soon be coming to an end, leaving him in an unknown position. How will they navigate these difficult situations and deal with their growing feelings for each other?

I may have rated this book a star less than the previous book in the series, but I still really enjoyed it. The overall world that Vetsch has set up in this series and the one it’s connected to, Serendipity & Secrets, is one I really hope I don’t have to leave any time soon. Juliette learning to become a spy, using her training in real-world settings while trying to get over her weaknesses, but still having to act the role of a debutante, is a fun mixture. Daniel’s combining of his police work with spycraft isn’t as much of a stretch, but it still allows for some panic moments as he tries to keep his secret. There was also a great moment when Daniel’s friend and co-worker Ed gives him a little speech about the goodness of God, even when we don’t see it in our lives, that I really liked.

The mystery was overall good. I liked the different paths they went down trying to solve it; mystery is a favorite genre of mine, and this one was enjoyable. I did guess who the killer was pretty early on, but wasn’t 100% sure I was right until a while later (but before it was revealed). There was another mysterious aspect unrelated to the murder that I also figured out early on, but I still liked the way it played out. The story slowed down enough in the middle that I detracted a star, but overall, I really liked this book. I highly recommend it for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, though that aspect is more in focus in this book than the previous.

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

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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 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 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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August in Review

I read 8 books last month, which is a tie for my lowest number of books in a month this year. Not my lowest amount by page count, though, so that’s something. I’m a bit behind in keeping up with my reading goal for the year, but I don’t think I’ve been reading nearly as many children’s books as I expected. I may need to slip some of those in over the next month to bring my total back up. As to the quality of the books I read last month…as you can see from my list below the cover pictures, it was not a great month for reading. Here’s hoping September will be better in more ways than one!

Here are the books I read in August:

The End by Lemony Snicket (2 / 5)
Freedom’s Song by Kim Vogel Sawyer (3 / 5)
A Seven Letter Word by Kim Slater (3.5 / 5)
All-American Adventure by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (2.5 / 5)
A Treacherous Tale by Elizabeth Penney (2 / 5)
The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters (2 / 5)
The Debutante’s Code by Erica Vetsch (5 / 5)
Trapped in Hitler’s Hell by Anita Dittman with Jan Markell (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs. My favorite book from August (by FAR) was The Debutante’s Code. I started 1 series, continued 1 series, and finished (or caught up on) 3 series*. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

*This includes a series I didn’t reach the end of, but decided not to continue reading, after being at least 2 books into the series.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: The Debutante’s Code

The Debutante’s Code
Thorndike & Swann Regency Mysteries #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian historical mystery

Returning to London after years away for school and just in time for her debut season, the last thing Lady Juliette Thorndike expected was to learn that her parents had been called away and that she’d have to face her debutante ball alone. On second thought, the absolute last thing she expected was to discover that her parents are spies for the British government, as is her uncle, and all of her family before them. But as she’s thrust right into the middle of a dangerous game of espionage, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann is put on the case of a stolen painting that soon becomes a murder investigation. And the supposedly untouchable aristocracy of England, especially Juliette and her family, are right at the center of it.

Oh, goodness. Coming off a month of mediocre reads, this book really had my heart soaring, and not just because of the connection to Vetsch’s previous series (more on that later). There’s so much I loved about it, like the relationship Juliette had with parents she hadn’t seen in 7 years. Through their letters, she still felt connected to them, and was receiving early spycraft instruction unawares. The way Juliette discovered the big family secret was perfect, especially since I was expecting a simple eavesdrop for her to hear the truth (it’s so much better than that!). The more she gets into the family business, the more she questions the ethics and morals of lying for a “good cause,” echoing my own thoughts exactly. And I appreciate that there are no easy answers, either for her or for the male MC, Daniel Swann.

He doesn’t get much of a mention in the synopsis, but he’s an equal part in this story, and I really enjoyed his character and backstory, his drive to figure out the truth and tenacity despite some fairly crappy odds. His personal life is a bit too much to into in the synopsis and is clearly going to stretch on to the next book in the series, and I’m really glad for that. While most books of this type, even those in a series, tend to be more stand-alone, I’m looking forward to a continuing series with the same characters, diving into the spy world of Regency England, and seeing what develops between Thorndike and Swann.

Now let me talk about how excited I was to realize that this series is taking place in the same world as Vetsch’s previous series, Serendipity & Secrets. I loved that series, and one character in particular was my favorite. Now to find him in this book as well? I can’t even express my joy! I don’t want to say too much, though if you know the other series, you can probably guess what the connection here would be. To be honest, I do believe I should have anticipated this, given the similarity of a certain aspect of both series. But I didn’t, and that made it all the more exciting when he appeared here.

Though the mystery in this book was not super hard to crack (for the reader), that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t completely off in some of my theories. I did guess some things right, but also had a few surprises near the end, one of which actually made me a little giddy (and I’m not normally a particularly emotional reader; me using that word is a testament to how much I loved this book). I confess I was pretty confused about the actual events that led to the spy work Juliette and her uncle were doing, I think due to the way certain terms were used during the explanation, but I had it (mostly) all sorted by the end. And I find myself frustrated by the official synopsis for this book (not the first time this has happened with one of this author’s works), considering that Swann’s suspicion of Juliette doesn’t actually come until more than 3/4 of the way through the book. Still, I highly recommend this book for fans of this genre and time period, whether you like romance or not, because there is some, but it’s not the focus of the book. But I would also really recommend checking out Serendipity & Secrets, and maybe even consider reading that trilogy first. You won’t be sorry.

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