I read the first three books in this classic children’s series last week, both for Bout of Books 6.0 and my book club meeting over the weekend. It was refreshing to visit some books that people treasure from their childhood (I hadn’t read them before). I’ve been so caught up in reading the latest new releases that I was neglecting the classics!
This first book was so much fun. The Drew kids are sucked into a mystery while on vacation in Cornwall, England – searching for the grail of King Arthur! Does it get any cooler than that? I loved the battle of these three kids against several shady adults from the Dark trying to get their greedy hands on the grail, which will tell them how to defeat the rising of ancient and perceived lost King Arthur.
Helping them along the way is their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, who functions in a mentor type role. He guides them and encourages them as they discover a secret map and go in search of the deciphering tricks that will help them interpret it to find the treasure. The action ramps up nicely, leading to a final showdown that truly delivers and leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the sequels.
Rating: 4/5 stars
The second book in the series is a marked departure from the first one. With the exception of Merriman Lyon, there are no common characters, and even takes place in a different town (and later, magical world). Given how much I loved the Drew kids in the first book, this was a bit disappointing.
This book I found to be confusing, with many jumps through time that left me uncertain from paragraph to paragraph where we were at any given moment. Will is on a quest to find six magical medallions, and he has to move through time and space to get them, often without requiring a whole lot of foresight or planning. Instead, he seems to just stumble upon them in overly convenient ways. There wasn’t a lot of tension as a result, since we just assume that the next part of the plot will deal with him getting the next medallion, and that he will do so with some ease.
The good thing to note is that the first two books do not need to be read in order, since they are so different, but they both provide vital plot elements for the third book so must be read before moving on in the series. The other good thing is that the third book was much more entertaining than this one.
Rating: 2/5 stars
The third book in the series combines the Drew children with Will Stanton, and they are tasked to return to Cornwall to retrieve the scroll lost in book one and the grail that has newly been stolen by the Dark forces. I was very happy to see the Drew kids back in the story, as they are light, comical characters that are a joy to read.
This book zips along in pace, and is the shortest of these three books at only 144 pages. The kids are again battling the Dark, trying to uncover the mystery of who stole the grail, where it went, and how they can get back the scroll that disappeared into the sea the last time they were in town. The magic of the second book comes alive in this book, with eerie scenes playing out in the streets and lots of mysterious interactions with undersea creatures and the strange Greenwitch.
I absolutely intend to finish the last two books in this series, as overall it was a lot of fun to read. Though I found Will boring, the Drew kids are so cute and clever! I want to see where the grail takes them next and whether the Light can succeed in bringing King Arthur back to life.
Rating: 4/5 stars
First impressions: Be still my beating, swooning heart! Kenneth Oppel wastes no time jumping into the action of this story, and it completely sucked me in. I so love when books do that.
Lasting impressions: Absolutely pitch perfect. Full of excitement, adventure, and mystery, this one grabs you and never lets go.
Conflicting impressions: None. Seriously.
Overall impressions: If I learned one thing from this book it’s that airships are so my thing.
Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series will love this book as much as I did. Matt Cruse, our confident protagonist, is very similar to Westerfeld’s Deryn Sharp. He is so comfortable in the air he feels as if he could fly. He lost his father to a horrible airship accident. He has to take a post as a cabin boy to help pay the bills, but he also really and truly loves working on a ship. If there’s anyone who has found his place in the world, it’s Matt.
On a routine flight across the Pacific, Matt’s ship encounters an adrift hot air balloon with a few secrets contained within the pilot’s journal. On the next flight, Matt meets the pilot’s granddaughter, Kate de Vries. Kate is precocious, intelligent, stubborn, and a bit of a princess. She comes from the upper class and has a hard time taking no for an answer. Matt, as a lowly cabin boy, soon finds himself dragged into Kate’s exploits as she pursues the mysterious creatures her grandfather had discovered.
But Matt is not all passive. Part of his journey is finding his voice and learning to exploit his own capabilities in the face of hardship. Through the course of the book, Matt faces pirates (several times) and crashes and strange flying cats (oh my!), and still manages to keep his brain on straight. Younger readers will chew through this one!
If you’ve never tried steampunk, this is a superb place to start. It’s light on complicated gadgets and heavy on interesting characters and setting. Matt is brave and quick, and his story will capture your heart.
Rating: 5/5 stars
First impressions: The short chapters and 8 POVs made it easy to get into this book. I was so anxious to see what style was coming next that I breezed through huge chunks of this novel in each sitting.
Lasting impressions: Though the book seemed gimmicky at times, it was a cute story with a fun ending.
Conflicting impressions: Some of the narrative styles made it more difficult to follow the action, and I had to read certain sections a couple of times to know what was happening.
Overall impressions: I’m not usually a middle grade reader, but something about this one drew my eye. I liked the idea of a special cat, and the POV structure appealed to me as well. I wanted to see what Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sister to Eat, Pray, Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert, by the way) could do with all of the styles – memoir, play, letters, etc.
Unfortunately, the varying styles didn’t always serve the story in the most effective way. The alternating perspectives tended to be a bit jarring with their frequency, even if they made for quick reading. The letters did give us nice glimpses into well developed characters, but the play script, in particular, didn’t tell us much we couldn’t have gotten from other points of view.
The story itself was interesting, with a cute reveal at the end that adds a little something for fairy tale lovers. I enjoyed the characters, but some added backstory would have helped me understand the political games beyond the superficial. I think this is a great book for younger readers looking for a unique narrative and an adventurous plot.
Rating: 3/5 stars