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on September 14, 2008
There's already a review that is negative about this series for being a blatant marketing scheme. While I was a bit put off at first by the whole book series/trading cards, now that we've bought the book and a few card packs, I'm a huge fan. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series helped ignite my 10-year old son's passion for reading. He's now half-way through Maze of Bones, and thoroughly enjoying it. He's noted on the calendar the date the next book will be released. I have to admit I'm reviewing the book without having read it myself yet, but based on the number of times my son has read me excerpts, I'd say it is succeeding with the target audience.

As for the trading cards, well, 10-year old boys love trading cards - Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, and so on. These cards are different though. They have puzzles on them that the reader has to solve. They're not that tough - they seem simplistic to me as an adult - but for my son, they're challenging enough that he feels a sense of accomplishment when he solves them, but not so challenging that he's had to enlist parental help very often. The web site provides hints. We did have a problem entering one card. We sent e-mail to support and the problem was quickly fixed. I was pleased when my son noticed a clue hidden in the book. I believe the puzzles have him looking at the books much more analytically.

I'm hoping (as is Scholastic) that by including different authors in the series, my son will be encouraged to read other books by these authors as well. I see this as a win-win situation. Anything that gets kids to read is OK by me.

I think this is a brilliant marketing move on Scholastic's part. I try to teach my kids to be informed consumers, and understand when they are being manipulated. Everything is about branding and marketing in our culture, and here is a case where someone got it right, and is marketing a quality product in a very effective manner. Kudos to Scholastic for coming up with such a unique and engrossing series!
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VINE VOICEon September 13, 2008
I was reminded of both The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter books as I read Maze of Bones. First of all, it's an addictive read. Second, it is a mystery with multiple clues involving famous people, like Dan Brown's book. Last, like J.K. Rowling's famous books, it is about a group of people separated into four different branches, or houses; and about children saving the world.

The plot involves the diverse, far-flung Cahill family, which has been the most powerful family in history. Anyone important in history was probably a Cahill, including Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte and, especially, Benjamin Franklin. The source of the Cahill's power has been lost over time. The 39 Clues is about the search for that source, by a group of Cahill relatives vying against each other to find the answer. The clues are found all over the world.

Penniless orphans Amy and Dan Cahill enlist the help of their teenage au pair, Nellie, to find the solution to the mystery. The kids seem like real people, and you root for them against their mostly despicable relatives. Amy is a painfully shy, stuttering 14-year-old; Dan is a precocious 11-year-old who loves collecting things. Although they often fight, the siblings help each other during the many dangerous adventures collecting the clues.

Maze of Bones is the first of 10 books in this new Scholastic series, which also has an elaborate supplemental contest where readers can try to come up with the answers to the clues themselves. The book comes with six game cards that you can use to get clues online. There are 350 cards in total, so the series is also a card-collecting game for kids.

But if you just want to read Maze of Bones, it's certainly worthwhile. It's fast-paced, full of fascinating people and has an interesting mystery. I recommend it, and look forward to the second book.
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on September 11, 2008
Before I dive straight into the review, let me tell you where I'm coming from. I'm seventeen. I do realize that I'm outside of the intended age range of this book, but I read and enjoy many other children's series. Rick Riordan is one of my favorite authors, so my mother, out of the kindness of her heart, saw his name on the cover of The 39 Clues and decided to pick it up for me.

The 39 Clues is about the Cahill family. They're a big family. They're a very big family. They're so big, in fact, that every major person in history has been part of this family. I bet you never knew that Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin were related. Oh, yeah, and they have family members all over the world, never mind that that it's impossible to have a Korean uncle, a British cousin, and a Russian...I don't even know what she is, without any of them being married/genetically related. Okay, clearly this is a work of fiction, so I'll just suspend my disbelief for a second. No problem. Let's continue. Grace Cahill, the head of the family (or so I believe, since it's never really explained), dies of cancer, and in her will she presents a challenge to all her relatives. They can either take the first of thirty-nine clues that will lead them to the source of the Cahill family's power, or they can take one million dollars and walk away.

Enter Amy and Dan Cahill. Dan is a hyperactive, eleven-year-old math genius, and Amy is a timid, fourteen-year-old bibliophile. Amy and Dan decide to take up the challenge, despite the fact that they (a have no money and (b don't have permission from their guardian. However, they're not alone. There are six other teams who want to maim, kill, humiliate, or steal from our young heroes, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Sounds like a great premise, no? Lots of action, adventure, puzzles, clue-finding, and maybe you can even throw in a little history! Well...let's just say it didn't work out quite that way.

Issue #1: The book is copyrighted by Scholastic. For those of you who don't know what that means, it means that this was a work for hire. That means someone at Scholastic said, "Wow, I have this awesome idea! Now I need to hire someone to write it for me." Okay, not necessarily the kiss of death, but it's not a good omen either.

Issue #2: Every book in the series (and there are supposed to be ten) is going to be written by a different author. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's rarely a good thing either. When authors don't collaborate on a project, and instead are handed scripts, bad things happen, like plot holes, narration changes, and characters swapping gender. Trust me, not good things.

Issue #3: The plot is a mash-up of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Mysterious Benedict Society...with all the intelligence removed. I solved all of the puzzles before they even came up. I predicted every "shocking" betrayal the moment the character said, "Let me help you." At least with A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Mysterious Benedict Society I had to think for more than two seconds to figure out the puzzles. No such luck here.

The 39 Clues also rips off plot elements from the aforementioned series. Amy and Dan's parents died in a fire that burned down their house, they were raised by an unfeeling guardian, and arson is a reoccurring theme in the book. How original. Oh, wait, A Series of Unfortunate Events did that five years ago. Amy and Dan are also unusually smart/talented in specific areas...just like the Baudelaires in A Series of Unfortunate Events and Remy, Sticky, Kate, and Constance in The Mysterious Benedict Society. Unfortunately, Amy and Dan are nowhere near as likable as the aforementioned protagonists, which leads me to...

Issue #4: I wanted Amy and Dan to die. Okay, maybe not die, but I didn't like them. In fact, I didn't like anyone in the book. Dan is utterly hyperactive, and he has less maturity than my five-year-old brother. Except when he's being all math genius-y, just about everything that comes out of his mouth is stupid. When Grace Cahill's lawyer gives him a warning about a mysterious group of people who may try to stop them, Dan jumps to the obvious conclusion--they must be ninjas. He continues this for the rest of the book. Every time Amy poses a question, he responds with the most inane answer possible, slowly driving the reader mad with his utter stupidity. Of course, maybe he's trying to be funny, but his answers would only be funny to a three-year-old with too much time on his/her hands.

Amy is so timid that at several points in the story I wanted to slap her. She's cripplingly shy and spends a great deal of time stuttering, bemoaning her inability to act in a confrontational situation, and being a push-over. Now, when I was younger I was also very shy, but I was by no means a weak person. Amy is weak, and she makes no effort to become stronger. She was not, to me, a convincing teenage girl, and instead was a cardboard character inserted to offset Dan's hyperactive personality. Dan's hyperactive, therefore Amy must be weak and timid. Riiight.

All of the characters are very two-dimensional, and none of them are likable...or even remotely interesting. The bad guys aren't scary, the good guys aren't sympathetic, and all of them are very, very boring. Plus, all the adults are either evil or unintelligent. Please excuse me while I make noises of disgust.

Issue #5: The book is not written in Rick Riordan's normal style. There is none of his signature humor, none of his wonderful characters, and none of his gripping narration. The 39 Clues seems like a stripped down, dumbed down version of Rick Riordan's real work (which, by the way, targets the same age group). There are no long words or complex sentences. There are very few descriptions. There is basically no humor. If Rick Riordan's normal books were Oscar-winning movies, The 39 Clues would be that made-for-TV movie that no one watches except for the kids unlucky enough to be sick on the day when there's nothing else on TV. There is no heart in the narration, and it really shows. Mr. Riordan, please do your fans a favor and never do something like this again. Please.

Of course, all these issues wouldn't really kill the book. Sure, they might turn off adult readers, and, sure, they might drive me crazy, but they wouldn't make the book anything less than it is: a fun book for kids who haven't read enough to know better. However, issue #6 is the real kicker. It's the reason that I'm bothering to write a review at all, instead of just shaking my head and ignoring the plot holes, irritating characters, and total lack of subtlety. You see...

Issue #6: Scholastic didn't publish the book to share Dan and Amy's story. It didn't publish it to appeal to reluctant readers. It didn't even publish it to make money off the books. The entire series is a not-so-elaborately constructed ruse to sell cards. The front of the book says, "Read the books. Play the game. Win the prizes." You see, if you go to [...] you too can be a long-lost member of the Cahill family. However, to break the codes (all of which are pathetically easy), find the clues (also pathetically easy), and "win over $100,000 in prizes*", you need cards. Six come in each book, but there are a total of 350 cards, and some books may contain repeats. So, of course, you gotta catch `em all and make Mom and Dad spend money to buy the card packs, hoping that you'll get that uber-rare card you need to complete your collection. Then you'll spend countless hours on the very badly constructed site, playing inane games (like an airplane flying game...which has what to do with the story?) and solving codes (which just means that you have to click on the screen until something happens).

It's not that The 39 Clues is the worst story ever written. In fact, it's average for middle school readers, even if it has completely ludicrous plot elements, irritating main characters, and less-than-intelligent puzzles and plot twists. What really riles me up, though, is that Scholastic would put such a thinly disguised piece of advertising on bookshelves. That's just not acceptable. So, spare yourself, your loved ones, your kids, your students, your library patrons, and please don't buy this book. Please. This is for the good of humanity.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 12, 2008
I'm sure from reading the other informative reviews, you know what the plot line is already, so I won't be redundant. But I will tell you that I really think this series -- and all the items that accompany it -- is going to be the next "in" thing for kids in the 8-13 age group. And I think that's a good thing. The books draw kids into reading (anything that draws kids to books is way cool!), and the website that goes with the series is pretty neat: kids sign up and get to be a member of the Cahill family and look for clues. (You can check out the website yourself at [...] I'm not crazy about the chance to win money, but that's just me...I don't think money should be a huge motivating force for kids. They've also put out collectible trading cards, so you can tell the marketing team was working overtime here.

I purchased the Maze of bones for my nephew (age 10) and a friend's daughter (age 12) and they are both crazy about the book and the whole concept, so it crosses gender lines, which I like.

If you have kids in this age group, I'd recommend this. It's fun and may cultivate an interest in reading other mystery series.
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on March 30, 2016
My 11 year old son rated this. He said the characters are noy likeable and the story isn't very interesting. He is a huge Rick Riordian fan and has read all of his books, he even has the next two on order when they are released. He was disappointed in this book and will not be reading the series.
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on October 6, 2008
My son devoured this book!!! For a child that hates to read, he read the book in one weekend and exclaimed, "I can't wait for the next book!" What music to my ears!!! My son read the book, entered his trading cards on line, worked out the puzzles and had a ball!! I wish all books would thrill and excite him the way that this one did!! Kudos!!!
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on October 2, 2008
The first book in "The 39 Clues" series is fast-paced and basically entertaining, and might even get your kids thinking. That being said, if Scholastic intends to draw readers in and keep them going for the entire 10-book run, they'd better give some attention to the following things:

1. The story needs to stand on its own. If the reader (or listener) never touches the game cards or accesses the website, it shouldn't make a difference.
2. More consistency in the characters. Dan can't be a boy genius in one paragraph and blurt out an ignorant comment in the next.
3. Amy and Dan can't continue to be this clueless. A few basic supplies like a flashlight, lighter, penknife, and French pocket dictionary would have been cheap, easy to find, and gotten them out of most of the scrapes they found themselves in.
4. The biggest problem: predictability. Amy and Dan get on the right track, find a clue or lead, have a long conversation to work out the puzzle, then turn around to find that a competitor has followed them, has been listening to them, and is stealing the clue from them! Good grief, kids, post a lookout, get some phones or walkie-talkies, create a diversion, cover your tracks! If this pattern continues in the second book, I'm out of here.
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on September 30, 2008
I bought the book and set of cards for my son's 9th birthday. We started reading the book together and are finding it to be a very fun bonding experience for us. I normally strictly limit computer time but have found myself giving him extra time so the two of us can work together on the puzzles and the website game in general. While the puzzles are easy (deciphering an A=1, B=2 code, following a maze, etc.) they are new to my son and give him exposure to different ways of approaching a book, online game and trading card, and there is a mix of hard and easy puzzles that gives him a sense of success and a sense he can achieve the harder ones. We are enjoying the book and the cards and look forward to the next installment.
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on March 27, 2012
I was reluctant to plunge into this series. Ten books to complete the first story arc seemed like a lot to sign up for but I was encouraged by how much I've enjoyed Riordan's other series.

The book has a lot in common with those other series. We have youthful protagonists, one male, one female, who have a lot of responsibility thrust on them suddenly. They find out that the world is not at all like the one they thought they knew. It is run by a large and powerful extended family, the Cahills, to which they belong and which has several branches. They are in competition to solve a mystery which promises great power with other members (all suitably nasty, devious, and sly) who will stop at little to prevail. The series title, "The 39 Clues", is all you need to know to conclude we're in for a long ride. The clues are scattered all over the world. The first book takes us from Boston to Philadelphia to Paris as our protagonists sort out clues left by family member Benjamin Franklin.

The book is not told in first person as in some of Riordan's other series. The viewpoint does shift chapter by chapter from 14 year old Amy to her 11 year old brother Dan with short chapters interspersed showing other developments. Riordan's familiarity with the adolescent mind leads to much of the book's humor.

The book is somewhat shorter than Riordan's other series books and although he is in overall control of the plot other authors will write the other books. The present book really can't be enjoyed by itself as no real conclusion is reached. That said, I'm impressed enough to push on to Book 2.

I read this on my Kindle and the book seems perfectly formatted for that device. There are numerous graphics throughout the story but they are reproduced perfectly. There are a lot of online games and trading cards and such associated with this series but there is no hint that a reader needs to involve himself in them if he is just looking for a good story.

All in all, highly recommended.
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on October 7, 2008
Got Book 1 for my 10 year old daughter. She read the entire book in days, joined the website, and talks about these a lot. She keeps asking me to get her all 39 books - she really loves this series. Previously loved the Daisy Meadows books and still likes Nancy Drew. Hope the next few in the series come out Soon. I love to encourage her reading, and this book brings in educational subjects including travel and history. We highly recommend this book.
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