Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books, Golden Gate

Perry, Adam. The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books
March 2nd 2021 by Yellow Jacket
E ARC provided by the author

Oliver Nelson and his father live in somewhat straightened circumstances after the death of his mother, and he takes a lot of solace in reading in the Garden Grove library. Ms. Fringlemeier, the librarian, always has a smile and a book for him, and he immerses himself in books like the Swordflinger Saga. When the Pribbles, who are very wealthy because of their technology business that produces the wildly popular Pribble Entertainment Goggles, realize that the library has a book they want for their collection, they buy the entire library and shut it down. Unbeknownst even to the librarian, Oliver has been stealing books from the library. He has a strict code of what he will take (it has to be in poor condition and seem unread), but one book in his possession, The Timekeeper's Children, is one that the Pribbles want. This book is a particular favorite of Oliver's, even though the last chapter is missing. He no longer has the book, but the Pribbles invite him to their home because he is the last person to have checked out the book. While there, he finds that the Pribbles have a device called a Cortexia that can harvest the book from Oliver's mind. Wearing the Entertainment Goggles, the three are thrust into the story of The Timekeeper's Children. 

Written in the 1980s and having sold few copies, this tale of adventure is one of Mr. Pribble's favorites, and he wants to program the tale into the goggles. As Oliver advances through the tale, he meets Jack and Cora, the children of the timekeeper, who are on a quest to steal the crown of the King of Dulum and deliver it to a villain called Sigil. They hope to use their father's clock to turn back time and save their mother. In order to do so, they must work with the narrator, a creature named the Nasty Rodent Eater, and work their way through the story with the Pribbles hot on their trail. They also are shadowed by a mysterious figure whom they find out is the author of the story! They must face bats, eels, the Gang of Impervious Children, and figure out a riddle in order to get to the end of the book. But what is the end? Since Oliver doesn't remember, he needs to figure out what the best ending is for Jack and Cora. 

This reminded me, in the best way, of Townley's The Great Good Thing, while being a fresh, adventure filled tale. Like Claire, who had the only remaining copy of The Great Good Thing and who had a close relationship with the author, Oliver is determined to save The Timekeeper's Children. I loved this comment that he makes (in the uncorrected proof): "This is my book, too. I created it along the way, making it different and better than the author could ever dream." Claire and Oliver both get to live in the story, make changes, and put important characters in so that they continue to live. It doesn't hurt that the title of Oliver's book is very close to a book my daughter checked out of the public library so many times that I had to buy her a copy. The cover of the 1989 The Children of Time  by Deborah Moulton is what I saw in my mind's eye as I was going through this book. 

I sometimes find fantasy hard going, and the intricate, interwoven plots were sometimes hard for me to follow, but these will enthrall fantasy readers who would dearly love to read The Swordflinger Saga if they were a real books. Oliver's love of literature is great to see, and his story is one that young readers can imagine themselves into. The Pribbles are delightful villains who are just quirky enough to be interesting and dangerous rather than annoying. The technology of the Entertainment Goggles is fascinating, and also makes a great point about imagination, and how the lure of constantly being connected to a phone or electronic device is damaging the ability of many children to enjoy books and use their imagination. 

The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books is a great choice for readers who have a good background in high fantasy books like McMann's The Unwanteds or Anderson's The Dungeoneers, but also for those who enjoy a story-within-a-story novel, such as O'Donnell's Homerooms and Hall Passes, or McKay's The Last Dragon Charmer series. There are several mentions of one of my favorite books as well: Mary Norton's The Borrowers (1952). Perhaps readers will be encouraged to pick up that series when they are finished, but I hope they check it out of the library instead of stealing it!

Ponti, James. Golden Gate (City Spies #2)
March 9th 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After a mission aboard a ship that ends with Sydney blowing things up and Brooklyn saving the daughters of a British MP and a far-down-the-list heir to the throne, the City Spies regroup at the Farm, and Mother finally shares the secret that he and Brooklyn have been investigating. His wife, Clementine, supposedly was a double agent in league with the evil group Umbra, and has taken their two children with her. On the last mission, she gave Brooklyn a flash drive that had a picture of the children on it, but Mother could not even start to crack the mystery. Luckily, when Rio finds out, she is able to figure out enough to get the group started on an investigation, which they do without MI6's knowledge. A key figure is bird watcher and spy Parker Rutledge, and when Brooklyn has to testify about the hostage situation on the ship, the City Spies head to London. They explore different avenues of investigation, including going to Oxford with Monty and breaking into the Bodleian library with the help of a don who is also a mystery writer and has come up with SEVERAL different ways to do this! Once they manage to get Rutledge's birding notebooks, the group works to figure out what he was investigating. They head to San Francisco to purse leads there, while Mother heads to Australia to try to find his children. Will there be satisfactory outcomes to both missions?
Strengths: Mrs. Pollifax in Middle School. That's the phrase that comes to mind when I think about this series. Of course, the venerable lady spy wouldn't have been on her own if she were 12; she would need friends and teachers, and that's what City Spies provides brilliantly. It's a tricky move to have so many main characters, but I was very impressed with the way these are handled. Brooklyn and Sydney have a more major role, but Kat, Rio, and Paris all have decent supporting roles. Monty and Mother are excellent characters as well. The way that all of these characters interact is realistic and well done, and underpins all of the adventure and derring-do nicely. The travel, especially right now, was fantastic. Rural Scotland. The high seas. London. Oxford. San Francisco. Redwood forests. The details of all of these places are woven in seamlessly, and is such fun. Breaking into the Bodleian library after reciting their iconic oath? Wow. The mysteries are also well-developed, and I loved that the two main ones (Mother's children's location and the death of the former spy, Rutledge) are connected.         

Strengths: Seamless is really the best description of this book. Anything you could want in a mystery is present, and all elements are intricately arranged so everything just falls together. This felt not only like Gilman's work, but was very reminiscent of Anthony Horowitz's The Word is Murder and The Magpie Murders. I have to say that I am looking forward to another book in the series, but that deep down, I really want Ponti to come up with a middle grade spy or sleuth and write books in the vein of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot-- books that are technically in a series but can be read independently.                                                                    
Weaknesses: This is blurbed as being a great choice for reluctant readers. I would disagree with that. It is absolutely fantastic and fun, but it's also very complex and LONG. I'm not saying that reluctant readers won't like it; I'm just saying it wouldn't be my first choice to hand them. This series could definitely entice readers who have trouble finding a good book, but avid readers are going to be the core fans of this.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and can't wait to see what the next adventure will be!

1 comment:

  1. I am putting all of these on my list. I will admit when I saw the title of this post I had a guilty feeling as it is possible I am responsible for some books that never made it back to their shelves. Like Oliver, I had a strict code. I reformed as a teen but only reluctantly.