Saturday, June 26, 2010

YA Weekend - series grab bag edition

I am in Paris, not thinking about book reviews even a little bit. I love the scheduled posts feature, which lets me review books for future posts! It also allows me to catch up on the book blog without posting eleven posts in one day...

The 39 Clues: I have not been great about reviewing this series, and it took me a bit of pondering to figure out why. I think I haven't been taking it seriously because each book takes me less than an hour to read, and it has a definite whiff of the potboiler about it. There's also the feeling of being manipulated by a marketing department - the books are released every couple of months and tell a tiny part of the story, stretching it out into ten books AND the books are complemented by a slick website, collector's cards, and a sweepstakes. I was skeptical for the first few books, but really, this series is growing on me. I think it may be the ideal way to coax reluctant readers into picking up a book or ten. And face it, the books are fun! Not high literature by any means, but enjoyable and entertaining and even...educational. But not in an overt way. Each book takes Amy and Dan (and Nellie, their au pair) to a different part of the world, where they delve into local history and biography to solve the next Clue. The improbable villains and unlikely adventures distract the reluctant reader from the fact that he's learning something along the way. I can see a child getting sucked into the story and looking to read more about one of the historical figures he found most intriguing. The books are easier to read than, say, Harry Potter and its descendants, but high-interest to be sure. The interactive component with the cards promotes involvement for children who are more into games than reading. Each book ends with a cliffhanger that would make it difficult to avoid picking up the next book. There is definitely a place for this series, and I think it serves its purpose well.

That said, my "reviews" are going to be more reports of which location the books focus on. Too much information about the plot would ruin the suspense. The overarching plot: Amy and Dan Cahill, orphaned at a young age, find out at the reading of their grandmother's will that they are part of the powerful Cahill clan, a collection of four family branches, each with its own strengths, including most of the famous/influential figures in history. Grace Cahill's will offers each member of her family a choice: one million dollars, or a chance to join the race to uncover the 39 clues of the Cahill family - clues that will make the winner all-powerful. Amy and Dan choose the clue hunt and travel the world with their au pair, Nellie, and Grace's cat, Saladin, searching for clues and uncovering more about their own past.

Book 7: The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis: In this book, Amy and Dan travel to South Africa, where they learn about apartheid and finally discover which branch of the Cahill family they belong to. Amy and Dan also become suspicious of Nellie's motives in helping them. South African history was integrated quite nicely into the story, and the family factions continue to be unclear. Whom to trust is a constant theme in this series, with Amy and Dan forging alliances when they must, but agonizing over those decisions. The different families continue to evolve, growing in complexity from the caricatures they were in the early books to fairly interesting characters.

Book 8: The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman: The hunt moves to China, where the children travel to the Forbidden City and boy-band sensation Jonas Wizard befriends Dan. Or does he? I enjoyed this one, but I find myself not having much to say about it. The children are separated for a while, and I missed the banter between Amy and Dan, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Chinese history is fascinating, and well-integrated into the plot.

Book 9: Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park: The penultimate book in the series is a blast...and made me pre-order Book 10 immediately. Pirates. Really, that's all I need to say. Pirates are fun, and this book is a wild ride. There's a moment when Nellie muses that the clues in this adventure all have to do with "women kicking butt," and I realized that I enjoyed that element as well. This book is more revelatory with regard to the family and the Clue hunt; we learn more about Nellie, about the Man in Black, and about Amy and Dan's family branch. Linda Sue Park really did a fantastic job on this one. The history of Jamaica and of pirates like Calico Jack and Mary Bonny is fascinating. There's a very serious plot twist that I think is handled extremely well. I sometimes think of this series as superficial, but Park really delves into one consequence of the Clue hunt, giving it the weight it deserves. An excellent entry, and a fantastic set-up for the conclusion (Into the Gauntlet, August 31).

Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull: I've really enjoyed this series, but the last book was a bit of a slog. I could easily put this book down for long stretches, and I almost dreaded picking it back up again. Things are getting very dark and serious, and I missed the lighthearted fun elements that were more prevalent in the early books. On top of that, Kendra and Seth are separated for most of the book, and their sibling interaction is one of my favorite parts of the series. Plot twists like "a shocking betrayal!" were becoming stale for me. A reader can only take so many shocking betrayals before he can't be shocked anymore. This one is the most plot-driven of the series. As the characters race from danger to danger, there's little time for character development or reflection. It was rather exhausting, and while Book 5 tied up all the loose ends, making it a must-read for fans of the series, it had a perfunctory feel, as if Mull were checking off dangling threads from a list. I read this for closure, and so will anyone who read the first four books, but I was disappointed in the execution. The joy I found in the rest of the series was missing.

The rest of my Fablehaven reviews here.

Source disclosure: I purchased all these books.

1 comment:

Pragmatic Mom said...

I love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series (and so does my oldest daughter, our mother's helper and her little sister), but I had a hard time with the 39 Clue series. Didn't like the characters; they seemed mean and petty. It was a little violent. I couldn't imagine reading a zillion books to get to the end either. But maybe I am missing the boat.

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World
I blog on children's lit, education and parenting