Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Riley Mack Stirs Up More Trouble by Chris Grabenstein (Riley Mack #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story well woven together
Cons: Characters could be stronger, but it’s minor
The Bottom Line:
Two distinct stories
Brought together for great whole
Kids will love reading

Riley Mack Stirs Up More Trouble…For the Bad Guys

While I haven’t read many of author Chris Grabenstein’s books aimed at middle grader readers, I did enjoy his first book about Riley Mack last year.  Riley is a seventh grader who has a brain for schemes.  Fortunately, he uses that power for good when he sees a wrong that needs to be righted.  And he and his friends are back for a second adventure in Riley Mack Stirs Up More Trouble, which was a pure delight.

It’s the closing weeks of school, and Riley Mack’s middle school is part of a city wide talent show competition.  His friend Briana is a shoe in to win, however they also hear about a group of girls who are planning to sabotage another act.  Can they figure out a way to stop them?

While that caper doesn’t quite turn out how Riley envisioned, he and his friends soon have other fish to fry when they find a chain link fence blocking the path to their favorite swimming hole and a foul stench coming from the stream that feeds it.  Can they find the source?  Or will that only complicate matters?

Since Riley is leading his friends in some pretty wile schemes, this feels to me like a caper in some ways.  It might bother some parents that the kids are lying and breaking and entering, but honestly, they only do that to the bad guys, and it is a staple in kid’s books.  (Adult mystery novels, too, at least in the genres I normally read.)

But there is also a mystery to the plot when the characters encounter the fence and must figure out why it is there.  And that just leads them down a few more paths.  The talent show and stream mysteries are combined for a perfect climax.  In fact, the climax was so suspenseful my heart was racing, hoping Riley could pull the ultimate caper off in time to save the day.  And since it had turned personal for Riley by that point, I cared quite a bit about the outcome, too.

The weakness here is the characters.  There is some development to them, but not much.  However, in the last couple of years, I’ve realized just how flat some of the characters I grew up loving really are.  I think this is a case of an adult expecting too much from a middle grade novel.  I know as a kid, I would have eaten this book up.  I’m sure today’s kids will, too.

While one of the characters does like to use big, obscure words, kids should be able to figure out what they mean in context if they are not defined.  Other then that, I don’t see anything that will trip them up writing wise.  I know I read it quickly.

With a plot this fun and well done, it is a pleasure to recommend Riley Mack Stirs Up More Trouble.  Here’s hoping he finds even more trouble soon so I can witness his antics again.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  Come see what else everyone else is recommending.

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