Posts Tagged ‘grace cahill’

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 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 (www.the39clues.com) 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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