28 March 2011

Book Review number 56: The 39 Clues, Book 5: Black Circle by Patrick Carman

I learned about the 39 Clues series around the time I first finished Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  It's not really a surprise, since Rick Riordan wrote the first book and the children's librarian at our favorite branch loves to share new series that she thinks we'll enjoy with us.

I'd read the first couple in the series but hadn't gotten around to reading the rest.  Then came the unexpected trip to Philadelphia.  I knew from past experience that Rich and I would go nuts if we were forced to listen to the same music over and over again for all 14 hours of the drive (split over 2 days, of course).  For the sake of our sanity, I made a stop at the local library to find something to listen to along the way.  I walked out with two audio books - The 39 Clues, Book 5: The Black Circle by Patrick Carman and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling.  We already knew the world of the 39 clues from our reads of the previous books and we were both very familiar with Harry Potter, me having read it multiple times.

While listening to both of these books on the road, something I never expected to happen did.  Teddy PAID ATTENTION.  Usually if we have a book in, he wants us to change it to listen to his music.  But this time, he excitedly asked for the next disc.  We're now trying to listen, as a family, to all the 39 Clues books.

Back to my review of this book.  First, a little background for those not familiar with the series.  Amy Cahill is a 14 year old orphan, and Dan is her 11 year old younger brother.  They live "with" their great aunt (read: she lives in an apartment across town and hires an au pair to live with the children and take care of them), but often go to their grandmother's grand estate for visits.  They both love their grandmother greatly and are saddened to hear of her death.

At her funeral, which is attended by hundreds of people, mostly family, they find that they have been invited to a special reading of the will.  They, along with many other members of the family, are given a choice - either take a substantial sum of money or choose to seek out the 39 clues, which will lead them to the greatest power in the world.  If they chose getting the clues, they'd never be able to go back and claim the money.  Against their great aunt's demanding to take the money, they decide to go on what will become an adventure of a life time.

In The Black Circle, Dan and Amy start out in Egypt.  They are still on the hunt for the 39 Clues, having been close to getting some, having gotten others and had their lives put in danger more than once.  They have two companions on their journey. Nellie Gomez is the au pair that their great aunt had hired before they skipped town to track down the clues, and she has become a valuable partner.  She speaks several languages, plus she's an adult, which helps keep the authorities away by seeing two kids alone.  The other is their grandmother's cat, Saladin.  While he doesn't help so much with finding the clues (thus far, anyway), he's important to Amy and Dan because he's a link to their grandmother.

Through most of the book, Nellie and Saladin are still in Egypt, while Amy and Dan head to Russia.  While there, following clues given to them by the mysterious NRR.  Because of the nature of the clues that they need to follow from this shadowy person, they know that there is no way they can do it alone.  They make an alliance with one of the other teams, one they can't be certain won't blow up in their faces.  But as they learn through this alliance, sometimes people can surprise you.

What I love the most about this series of books is the fact that it introduces kids (and some adults) to history in a very enjoyable way.  In this particular book, we learn about the Romanov's, the Summer Palace, the mystery surrounding Anastasia, Rasputin... so many things in and around the Russian Revolution.  Granted, it's not the same as if you were to read a text book on the subject, but it gives kids a great jumping off point if they find something in particular that interests them.