Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Series: The 39 Clues Series Book 5
Author: Patrick Carman
Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 2009)
ISBN: 0545060451, EAN: 9780545060455
Page Count: 168 pages
Format: Hardcover + 6 game cards (for online game or collecting)
Target Age Group: 9 – 12
My Rating: 4/5 stars a must read for those who want to find out more about Amy & Dan’s past!
Amy & Dan Cahill discovered the next ingredient in Egypt, but did not find a clue to lead them to the next location. Instead, they were presented with a mysterious message instructing them to travel to Russia – but only if they want to find out what really happened to their parents. This is the first time that Amy & Dan realize that their parents did not die in a tragic house fire, but were, in fact, murdered. They feel that they have no choice but to fly to Russia, leaving their au pair behind, and using the fake passports and disguises provided by their mysterious ally, NRR. But the truth will not be uncovered by something so simple as one location with a single clue. Instead, they have to travel all over Russia, discovering pieces of the puzzle and they are under a strict time limit. Realizing that Amy & Dan simply cannot travel the length & breadth of the country by themselves to find all of the clues, they recruit the Tomas clan representatives, the Holts.
While it is true that the Holts tried to kill them several times in the past, this time Amy & Dan feel that they have more control over the situation. To put it simply, the Tomas branch has fewer clues than any other Cahill branch and the Holts are desperate to be able to report a success – no matter who they have to work with. If each group covers 3 locations in different Russian cities, they can uncover all of the clues if they hurry. To gather all of the information they need before they confront NRR, the groups must learn more about the Romanov family, the last royal family in Russia and continue to evade the Lucian branch representatives – including their old enemy and former KGB agent Irina Spasky. Among the locations, they must visit the Summer Palace and the fantastic toy room of Alexei; the Blood Church, where the Romanov family was gunned down and it was said that Anastasia miraculously survived; and the Road of Bones, where those who died building the road were used to pave it.
There are many series that you can read out of order or skip books and not miss out on any information. This is not one of them. I strongly encourage you to begin the series at the beginning: #1 is The Maze of Bones, #2 is One False Note, #3 is The Sword Thief and #4 Beyond the Grave. Each author gives a synopsis of previous plot lines that are pertinent to the ongoing story line so you can get the gist of what is happening, but you miss out on a lot of the mystery and more subtle story lines so I don’t recommend it. Also, you will want to purchase the books yourself so that you can play the online games and collect all of the clue cards (which is half the fun!). You can only use the code on the cards once so siblings cannot share, but you can play the games and the missions multiple times online so everyone can get a turn.
In my opinion, this is by far the best book in the series (speaking of books 1 – 6, which is all that is out right now). Full of mystery, magic, and fantastic adventure, I simply could not put this book down until I read it all and found out what happened! Patrick Carman gave wonderful characterization and made me feel for one of the most unlikable villains in the series. I found myself not only liking the villains, but liking Amy & Dan a lot more than in previous books. The action was nonstop and the descriptions and historical data were inserted so seamlessly that they became an integral and vital part of the story. You will learn a lot more about Russia than you think – and you absorb the information without even realizing it! I have not traveled to Russia yet, but this book made me want to go there to see the amazing sites that Amy & Dan got to view. Simply put: Do NOT miss this book in the series! It starts to reveal the past of Amy & Dan, as well as several of the other characters in the books. It also marks the beginning of a successful collaboration between Amy & Dan and the musclebound Holt family. I see this teamwork setting the groundwork for a lot more interaction between the vying groups – especially with the children. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this book so, if you want to know what is going to happen, this book is the one to read to start making educated guesses.
This book is completely appropriate for children as it was written for children. There is a lot of intense action and many of the characters go out of their way to try to purposefully harm or kill the lead characters, but they always manage to escape. It is like an Amazing Race for children, just without the camera crew! This book contains some of the most intense action of all of the series. It deals with murderers, revolutions, assassinations and a lot different ways of dying. There is nothing that is inappropriate for children, but, as this series is so good, I highly recommend that you read this book with your children so that you can discuss whatever they have questions about. The website is also completely safe and you can leave your child happily playing unattended for hours on this carefully monitored site. A great option for both boys & girls who enjoy adventure!