Posts Tagged ‘dan cahill’

Cannonball 19: The Black Circle (The 39 Clues, Book #5) by Patrick Carman

I don't know what's cookin', but it doesn't smell too bad...

The Black Circle (The 39 Clues, #5) The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There’s an old story about how you can’t cook a frog in a kettle of boiling water — he’ll jump right out to escape the heat. But if you put him in a kettle of nice, cool water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog won’t notice the change in temperature until his po’ legs is jes’ fried and it’s too late for him to get out of his predicament.

That helps to describe how I’m starting feel about this series. When I first started reading The 39 Clues, I jumped out of the boiling water, shouting protestations and vociferously decrying the decline in the quality of children’s lit. But the series tempted me back with an installment by an author whose works I enjoy reading. I denounced the series again — but not as forcefully.

By the time I floated my way through Book #4, I could hardly muster the energy to protest at all.

Book #5 in the series begins with a mysterious telegram that sends protagonists Amy and Dan Cahill to Russia. The book is the usual slurry of travel + mild intrigue + not knowing who to trust + historical trivia + bickering. Meh. And MEH.

And, since it’s set in Russia, of course one of the bigger plot points is related to the story of Anastasia. For those unfamiliar with the story, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of Imperial Russia. She was seventeen years old when her father was deposed in the Bolshevik Revolution, and she and her family were all executed.

Speculations that she had somehow survived floated around for decades until her remains were finally positively identified in March of 2009.
Author Patrick Carman builds most of this book around that legend. I suppose it’s not his fault that the legend was debunked when the book was probably already well underway, but I can’t help feeling a little dissatisfied. Really, I think he should have built it around something else that was, I don’t know, proven to be true.
But, overall, the action was average, the mystery was average, the reveal was average – no screaming protests here, which is unusual for me.

I think that I’ve been sitting in this pot of hot water for too long. I wanna jump out, but the N kids keep supplying me with books. It’s like the water is nice and warm – and laced with roofies. I’m not going to start gushing over the books anytime soon, but I might stop whining about them. In the meantime, I’m going to just sit in this nice, warm water and relax my brain.

I guess that’s what I dislike so much about books like these. They’re not terrible, but you could easily get used to reading them. They get cranked out at breakneck speed, so there’s always a new one to read. Before you know it, you forget that just because they’re not terrible doesn’t mean they’re good, and your standard for literature could be irreparably damaged.

Hey, what smells so good? Smells like chicken…

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Cannonball 18: Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues, Book #4) by Jude Watson

Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues, #4) Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Beyond the Grave takes the Cahill kids from Japan to Egypt. They’re searching for Clue #4 of 39 (and I can only feel a faint throbbing in protest when I think of the 35 books left to go in the series) with the aid of handsome grad student Theo Cotter and his grandmother, Hilary, who was a good friend of Grace Cahill (or was she??? POSSIBLY OBVIOUS SPOILER!!! I KNOW I SAW IT COMING!! Never trust hot guys or their grandmothers!! Let this be a lesson to us all! Thanks for the tip, Jude Watson!).

Now, whenever I think of Egypt, I automatically think of my sister.

My sister is a huge archaeology geek. People always go up to her to gush about how much they, too, love the pyramids and she freezes them with an icy glare until their either stammer apologies and back away slowly or simply fall silent and wither under her gaze.

Why, you ask? Because assuming that archaeology buffs love Egypt is like assuming that all bibliophiles love Twilight — sure, everybody knows about it, and maybe it’s even a good place to start in growing a love for reading, but the truth is that it’s beginner stuff and once you’ve had a taste of something a little more sophisticated, you kinda snicker into your hand when you hear someone say that they’re a fan of books because they love sparkly emo vampires.

And I can understand a little better why my sister kind of hates Egypt after reading this book. It not only is super-basic, but it also gets so much attention that far more interesting material is eclipsed (book title pun not intended) by it.

I will say that the book does teach you some interesting facts about Egypt, if you’re into that sort of thing (Philistines!). The one thing that the series does well and does so consistently is to use the adventure as a vehicle to teach kids a little history. It’s a very little bit of history, but it’s history nonetheless.

But, in the end, are those morsels of historical trivia worth wading through 192 pages of stilted dialog, saw-it-coming-a-mile-away “twists” and mind-numbingly dull plot contrivances?

I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to freeze you with an icy glare until you see what I’m getting at. And then I’m going to recommend that you head to your local library and check out some books about the history of Persia.

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Cannonball 12: The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues #3) by Peter Lerangis

The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues, #3) The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When I was younger, I used to despise Koreans. I would get really embarrassed when all the other Korean kids started drawing Korean flags on their backpacks and notebooks and writing “KP” (“Korean Pride”) on everything they owned (I still think I was a tiny bit justified in that embarrassment. That’s pretty lame, yo).

But, as I grew older, I realized that, whether I liked it or not, being Korean was part of my heritage, and trying to cut that off was like cutting off my nose to spite my face. I learned to accept the good things that came with the culture (the emphasis on diligence, integrity, and respect) and to watch out for the bad (arrogance in achievement, undue emphasis on success in the eyes of the world, and the tendency to bury emotions and affection down where no one can find it, not even you).

Besides that, I realized that Koreans have the best cuisine in the world. Seriously, Korean food is tha BOMB.

And then I read The Sword Thief and now I hate Koreans again.

The third book in the 39 Clues series (I can’t believe I’m only one-thirteenth of the way through this series. Kill me now) contains two elements that I find absolutely repulsive. The first is a mysterious Korean uncle to two white kids (you still haven’t explained this to my satisfaction, writers), who alternates between wanting to help the kids and wanting to hurt the kids to help himself. Through it all, he’s creepy as creepy gets, and the picture of an actor posing as him on one of the collectible cards was even creepier because the book makes him sound like an old man, but the man in the picture was youngish. Creepy uncle of eternal youth? Creepy.

And his name is supposed to be Alistair Oh? Shenanigans. Strike three, writers.

The second creepy-as-all-get-out element is Amy Cahill’s crush on her COUSIN. Ew, ew, and EW. I don’t care that they’re probably not that closely related. There’s even a scene where Ian Kabra, the handsome cousin (GAG) “lightly brushes her lips with his” or some crap like that. EEEWWWW!!!! Excuse my while I puke!!! That is so not appropriate, I don’t know what to say. And the worst part of it is that it’s not even being played for laughs, or with any hint of irony. When the writers of “Arrested Development” put romantic tension between George Michael (the adorable Michael Cera) and his cousin Maeby (the also adorable Alia Shawkat), at least there was a chance she was adopted and it was all played for laughs anyway. But The 39 Clues is taking this über-seriously. As serious as the hereditary diseases that result from inbreeding.

Other than that, the adventure part of this novel was pretty much the same old schlock I’m getting used to seeing from this series. Kids race around exotic foreign location, avoid baddies, run into baddies, somehow elude their grasp and manage to be the first to find the next clue in the series.

Three down. Thirty-six to go. *sigh*

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Cannonball Read 9: One False Note (The 39 Clues #2) by Gordon Korman

One False Note (The 39 Clues, #2) One False Note by Gordon Korman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I firmly believe that writing for kids should still reflect good writing.

Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean that you should throw in a bunch of explosions or fighting to keep them interested. No, I believe that children, like adults, learn how to write from what they read. I’m not just talking about grammar, here. I’m talking about style, descriptions, expression — the whole shebangbang.

And the better the writing is now, the better it will be in the future, when today’s kids grow up and write books of their own.

This is why I’m so disappointed with this book. Gordon Korman wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall when he was only twelve — it was published when he was fourteen. The Bruno & Boots series was full of fun and energy — I wanted to move to Canada and attend Miss Scrimmage’s Finishing School for Young Ladies so that I could engage in shenanigans with the boys at McDonald Hall. His characters were believable and had a lot of depth under all the fun.

How can it be that Korman’s writing got worse as he got older?

After reading The Maze of Bones, the only things that made me read the second book in the series were that: A. my nine-year-old buddy BN was looking forward to lending it to me, and B. the second book was written by Gordon Korman. I figured that if anyone could rescue this series from a crappy second installment, it was Korman.

I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.

The second installment in the series takes the kids from France to Austria to Italy. This time, they’re chasing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We get a lot of nice Mozart factoids along the way, but I’m dubious as to the accuracy of some of them. For example, the book claims that Mozart had a twin sister. He did have a sister, but they weren’t twins. What’s up with that, Korman?

But my biggest beef with this volume wasn’t the inaccuracies. It was the lack of style.

Maybe it’s because he was given such crappy characters to work with in the first place, but the book was just as two-dimensional as its predecessor. I guess I was expecting too much — if Korman read Rick Riordan’s installment and then tried to copy his (flat) style, then he did too good a job. Korman, sometimes, it’s okay to turn down a job.

Really, the only thing One False Note really does is get the Cahill kids from France to Italy, from whence they will fly off to Japan. *sigh*

Man, I miss Ellen Raskin so much.

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Cannonball 4: The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues #1) by Rick Riordan

The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues, #1) The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So, it’s already been established why I like reading children’s books.

One of my favorite book buddies is my eleven-year-old friend JN, who introduced me to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.

I enjoy borrowing books from JN because it’s fun to see his eyes light up when we talk about books together. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my street cred amongst the younger generation.

When his little brother, nine-year-old BN, wanted to lend me a book, I nearly died at how adorable it was. “Miss Jeena, you have to read The 39 Clues! It’s so good!” All italics and enthusiasm, God bless ‘im. So of course I agreed to read the first installment of the series, The Maze of Bones, so that I could see the same light in his eyes that I saw in his brother’s when we discussed our favorite parts of the books.

Alas, young BN, how will I face you on Sunday? I must give you back your book and tell you honestly that I thought it was… *gulp*… just okay.

The Thirty-Nine Clues is a mystery series by Rick Riordan. Quite frankly, it’s a sloppy re-tread of The Westing Game (still the best children’s mystery EVER!! If you haven’t read it, get your hands on a copy! Post-haste!) with a dash of The Mysterious Benedict Society and none of the style of any of its predecessors. There are clues, there is intrigue, there is sabotage, good guys and bad guys – all of the ingredients for a successful children’s mystery serious.

So what’s missing? Two words: character development.

Dan and Amy Cahill are orphans. They, along with a bunch of relatives (all of whom happen to be evil), have forfeited their $1 million (each!) inheritances in order to participate in their recently deceased grandmother’s inheritance competition. Nobody knows what the prize is, but Grace Cahill promises fame and intrigue for the winners! No money, though! But fame! And intrigue!

Since we no longer live in the days of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (another book superior to this one. *sigh*), Dan and Amy can’t very well go gallivanting off to trot the globe unaccompanied. Enter Nellie, their equally two-dimensional au pair. Nellie is half French and half Spanish. She’s trilingual and listens to loud rock music and probably cuts herself when she thinks the kids aren’t looking. She worries herself to a frazzle when they ditch her, and they ditch her quite often.

As for Dan and Amy themselves, they’re supposed to be fourteen and eleven, but they act more like they’re nine and six. Heck, Olive has more self-control than they do, and she’s supposed to be twelve.

(Sidenote: I must confess that, after reading this book, I began to wonder if Olive, Henry, and Sting argued too much. But the truth is that we did argue about stuff like this. It’s very gritty and real for elementary school kids.)

They’re constantly bickering about the stupidest stuff – and at the most ridiculous times. If you’re being chased by murderous relatives, the last thing you’re going to do is say, “Hey, I want to stop and make a charcoal rubbing of a tombstone!” It makes me think that Riordan is allowing his characters to act stupid just to move the plot along, which smacks to me of lazy writing.

And all of the villains are flat, two-dimensional evil. Why would these two supposedly smart kids fall for the obvious traps that these villains set for them? Lazy writing strikes again.

There are a few redeeming qualities to The 39 Clues. The first is that it’s fairly educational – compared to, like, Goosebumps and whatever other crap kids are reading these days (HEY! Get off my lawn!!). You learn a lot about Benjamin Franklin from this book – that is, if you never had to do a report on him in fifth grade (truth: I learned a lot more from the report. But what you learn about him in The Thirty-Nine Clues is better than nothing).

The second is that there’s an online community ( for readers of the series. Each book comes with a few collector cards in it, and you can enter the secret codes on the cards at the website and actually win prizes and money by playing! Say what you will about Rick Riordan’s writing, but this is a cool idea. If his writing wasn’t so awful, I might actually visit the website.

All in all, there’s worse crap out there that a kid could be reading. At least this series encourages a bit of critical thinking.

Sorry, BN. Wish I could say I liked it more. But crazy, old Auntie Jeena will take “well-written” over “adventure-filled” any day.

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