Kingdom Keepers V, Shell Game, a Book Review

The fifth book in the Kingdom Keepers series takes a few new twists as the Keepers enter their mid-teen years. The book is somewhat darker as the Keepers face issues that regular teens do, sort of. Of course, there are the first stirrings of teen love but there are also some new experiences, including the debut of Disney Host Interactive 2.0 with new powers and abilities and the first use of the DHI technology outside of Walt Disney World.

The Keepers, working alongside the enigmatic Wayne, are invited to take part in a voyage of the Disney Dream Cruise Ship. Besides being the introduction of the interactive hosts on the cruise, it is also touted as the first commercial cruise line to go through the Panama Canal. The mythology of the Kingdom Keepers has grown in their world as their battles with the Overtakers have been noticed by castmembers and guests. The Overtakers, a group made up by the worst of the Disney villains, want nothing more than to take over the Disney theme parks for themselves.

Pearson knows how to weave a story that is parsed with excitement, danger and believable characters. My biggest and most recurring complaint is about the liberties that Pearson takes with Walt Disney World geography and the mythos about Walt Disney. The latter part of the series seems to correct this by involving the Keepers into a more modern and realistic tale. There are still a few fantasy elements about the Imagineers, technology and the development of the parks that are hard to swallow, but sometimes you have to just enjoy the book you are reading.

Fans of the series are going to love the direction that Ridley has taken and from the ending of The Shell Game, there will definitely be a book six.

Will the Keepers be heading to Disneyland?

What do you think?

I received a review copy of this book from Disney Publishing Worldwide.

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Bridge to Neverland, A Book Review (Starcatchers)

How many times have you wished that a literary world was real and that you could be part of it? Barry and Pearson bring the Starcatchers into the present day with a large dash of historical intrigue.

The Bridge to Never Land (Starcatchers) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. 2011. 448 pp.

One afternoon, Aiden and Sarah Cooper find a yellowed envelop in a hidden compartment of a desk. They decipher a cryptic message that leads Sarah to revisit one of her favorite book series, Peter and the Starcatchers. The authors entwine the Starcatchers lore into a modern setting and introduce the two new characters that must follow the clues to become the very heroes they worship.

The clues lead Aiden and Sara from their home in America to London (on a family vacation, of course) where they search for the locations from the earlier books. The segments of the kids in London reminded me of the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure. The family returns to America and Sarah attempts to hide the Starstuff but run into trouble. They contact one of the last members of the Astor family to see if he can offer any help and they unweave a tale that includes Albert Einstein and a visit with a beloved Magic Kingdom attraction.

As can be expected, time is spent on Never Land with the Mollusks, Captain Hook and Peter Pan. It is an exciting interlude that results with Peter visiting the Magic Kingdom to battle an immaterial villain from the series’ past. The Bridge is great device that allows Never Land to exist yet remain hidden from modern eyes. Barry and Pearson have always added humor to the books, but it seems like their is a lot more levity in this title. It might be because the story is more modern or because the authors felt like they had more freedom with the newer characters.

I am not a fan of Pearson’s Kingdom Keeper series—I found the Disney-related compromises that were taken for the story arc disconcerting and inaccurate. In Bridge, it was fairly simple to figure out that the trio was heading to the Magic Kingdom, so I suffered some trepidation about how Barry and Pearson were going to integrate the theme park into the story. Fortunately, they handled it wonderfully and the final act was exciting, page-turning and believable.

The Starcatchers series is well worth the time spent with all five books. There isn’t a weak book in the series and each title expands the Peter Pan mythos in credible directions. I urge you to pick up Peter and the Starcatchers and start the journey. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, the Starcatchers titles are geared toward the young teen audience, but readers of all ages will enjoy their trips to Never Land. From the ending, I can assume that there will be a sixth title in the series coming soon. And I can’t wait to get back to Never Land.

Disney Publishing Worldwide provided a review copy.


Peter and the Sword of Mercy (Starcatchers), A Review

The Starcatchers are all but gone and an evil has invaded the Royal Family. Who will step up to secure the last remaining starstuff before it can be used for nefarious purposes? The fourth installment in the Peter and the Starcatchers series broadens the story, introduces familiar characters and offers new story elements. 

Peter and the Sword of Mercy (Starcatchers) by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. 2009. 528 pp.

Barry and Pearson take us 20 years past the events in Peter and the Secret of Rundoon. Molly is married to George Darling and they have three very familiar children: Wendy, John and Michael. Ombra is still in the picture, but in a much different form. Ombra is looking for some very special starstuff to help him return to his corporeal articulation. The Starcatchers have faded and one of the Lost Boys is looking for people who have gone missing all over London. Wendy discovers that she must take the mantle of Starcatcher and find a way to Mollusk Island and reaching Peter.

The authors weave historical context into the story with the Sword of Mercy, an actual piece of the Crown Jewels. The direction of the story is laced with fragrances of the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, which adds intrigue and suspense. Barry and Pearson continue their saga with another page-turning, historical adventure.

As with the previous novels, there are several villains that are downright frightening. The story is compelling, but the nature and actions of the malefactors clearly push this book into the young adult arena. Although, I do suppose that younger readers do enjoy getting frightened from time-to-time.

Peter and the Sword of Mercy is a fantastic addition to the Starcatchers series. Originally, the series was meant to be a trilogy, but outcry from the fans convinced Barry and Pearson to continue the story. You will want to read the previous installments before The Sword of Mercy, but it is a fun journey.


Disney Book Review: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (Starcatchers Series)

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (The Starcatchers)by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. 2007.

The third book in the Starcatchers series continues the fantastic storytelling, character development and excitement of the previous entries.

The unique talents of Barry and Pearson blend to re-imagine the origins and backstory of Peter Pan, adding new characters that interact seamlessly with our heroes. Harking to my review of Peter and the Shadow Thieves, there is not much I can tell you about Rundoon that won’t spoil the first two books. I enjoyed this book as much as the other two, especially seeing the layers that the authors create that tie into the Peter Pan folklore.

In most books where a teen is the central hero, many of the decisions made lead the character to success, regardless of the inherent dangers. Even the choices that counter their parent’s (or other adult’s) wisdom and better judgment. Like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, Molly, with George Darling, wants to chart her own fate and decide the best course of action. This is something that bothers me about most tween and teen literature, yet I can see the appeal for a teen who is still trying to find himself. It is an opportunity to express themselves through the actions of a character.

Learning more about Peter’s lineage and connection to the Starcatchers was a welcome surprise. He is still a pertinent character, but his strengths are not central to getting out of every jam. Peter has to rely on his friends and they work together to try and defeat and foil the plans of the Others. The authors are careful to put Peter in situations where he can’t just fly away. In Rundoon, Peter starts to notice that his friends are taller and bigger than he is. It is an interesting juxtaposition for the character since we know him as the Boy Who Never Grew Up and he is realizing his strengths and weaknesses.

A very unique alliance is struck between the characters in the final act of the book–one that might be surprising. More is revealed pertaining to what we know about Peter Pan, Hook and Tinkerbell. Barry and Pearson weave the character development throughout the page-turning read without distraction.

Like the other Starcatchers books, Rundoon has some fairly dark moments and some fairly despicable characters. The villains (there are more than just Captain Hook and Lord Ombra) display a plausibility that renders them more real than most tween literature villains. This book is aimed at young adults who are looking for mystery, intrigue and suspense. Invest some time with this series and you will not be disappointed.



Disney Book Review: Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Starcatchers) is the second installment in the Young Adult Starcatchers series. I reviewed the first book, Peter and the Starcatchers, here. The series, so far, looks into the mythos of the Peter Pan story and how the characters that we have come to know through the Disney film (with minor references to Barrie’s play and book) became what we know them as.

I loved the Peter and the Starcatchers.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves was even better!

There isn’t much I can say about the plot if you haven’t read Starcatchers, yet. The book moves and is full of page-turning suspense. I was surprised and delighted at how engaging the book was.

Barry and Pearson have created one of the finest literary villains since Lord Voldemort. Lord Ombra is part Lord Voldemort and part Darth Vader. The authors took all of the despicably evil parts of the aforementioned villains and created a vile, hateful and frightening character. The authors employ a rather slow reveal with the villain, which only serves to make it even juicier.

With the introduction of a more sinister villain, Captain James Hook is relegated more to the animated version of a buffoonish villain. He is still there, but he is no longer the main villain. It seems when Peter became Peter, Hook became the foppish clown that we love so much. This book centers on Peter, Molly, Tink and George Darling. We also learn a lot more about the Starcatchers and what they do.

This book is darker than the first one but it is still not as somber or emotionally jarring as the final Harry Potter books. For people looking for a series to pick up post-Harry, this is a great choice. (I also suggest The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott; it is an impressive and intelligent series.)

You need to give this series a chance. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!



Disney Book Review: Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the Starcatchers by Bave Barry and Ridley Pearson. 2004. 464 pp.

This book was a fantastic read!

I missed Peter and the Starcatchers when it was first released in 2004 since I assumed it was just a young adult fluff piece. Besides, how could you tell a story about how Peter Pan met Captain Hook and became mortal enemies? Wouldn’t sticking to J.M. Barrie’s original story be too confining?

Was I ever wrong…

Barry and Pearson weave a compelling and intriguing backstory for Peter Pan. All the characters from the Disney film are there, just in a different form from what we know today. The authors also spend some time in the literary version of Barrie’s play/novel and do a fantastic job of mixing the sometimes disparate worlds.

They perfectly captured Captain Hook’s voice and stylings from the film. You can hear Hans Conried’s ostentatious bellows and calls for Smee throughout the dialogue. The other characters evolve more slowly, but you see flashes of them throughout the book that intone their future selves.

If you are a fan of the 1953 film, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. The authors breathe excitement back into the series by introducing a palpable reason for the existence of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinker Bell. There can be some fear when an author introduces a back story. Remember when Lucas destroyed the Star Wars saga by explaining the Force as a symbiotic relationship between the Jedi and midi-chlorians? Fortunately, Barry and Pearson offer a much, more plausible reason for everything that we know and love about the Peter Pan mythology.

This book is a real page-turner and you will find yourself wanting to read just one more page before stopping. Even though it is a young adult novel, this is something that everyone will enjoy. Be forewarned, there are some dark moments and the characters sometimes display a penchant for violence and subterfuge.



Book Review: Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play by Ridley Pearson

Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play by Ridley Pearson. 2011

By far, the fourth installment of the Kingdom Keepers series is the most charming, captivating and exciting!

I was disappointed with the first and second title, mainly because I wasn’t able to let go of my Disney geekiness and enjoy the titles as fantasy. Pearson stepped up in the third and fourth books by integrating more of what he is known for: suspense and thrills. As I mentioned in my review of Disney In Shadow, Pearson invests more time in developing the Keepers as teens instead of stock teenage characters. In Power Play, he continues to craft well-likeable characters that are presented with the same issues as teens today–minus the need to battle Disney Villains!

Throughout the series, we have had hints about the good characters coming to the aid of the Keepers, and we see it for the first time in Power Play. By the end of Power Play, Pearson ties up a neat little package for us that will include future books about the Disney Cruise Line and Disneyland. He also manages to explain what might actually be happening behind-the-scenes of the Fantasyland expansion. What really happened to Mickey’s house?

This is a great series for pre-tees and tweens. I would assume that most teens that are not die-hard Disney fans will pass on the series. As I have started before, most adults will need to put on their rose-colored Mouse Ears to fully enjoy this series. Pearson takes liberty with Walt Disney World geography on occasion which can leave you scratching your head. For the most part, the third and fourth books are more aligned with the actual property. Although, the Keepers can make it from the Mexico Pavilion to the Wonders of Life Pavilion faster than, well, a theme park junkie hopped up on churros and free soda from Club Cool.

If you have the time, the opportunity and you are obsessed with Walt Disney World, then you will get a kick out of these books.

If you need a non-Disney recommendation for a similar title, then you should check out The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. It is one of the most engaging and intelligently written series out today. The first book in the series is The Alchemyst. And yes, you can thank me later.

I did receive a review copy of the book.

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Book Review: Kingdom Keepers III Disney In Shadow by Ridley Pearson

Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow

The third part of the Kingdom Keepers saga picks up a few months after the events in Disney at Dawn. Thematically, this book reminded me more of the first book, in that it takes place over several weeks instead of a brief two-day period, like Disney at Dawn.

The Keepers are trying to get back into their regular lives while developing their friendships in and out of school. The biggest issue is that Finn, the leader of the Kingdom Keepers, has not heard from Wayne since their last adventure. Unlike the other titles in the series, this book focuses on mysteries that need to be solved in Epcot and the Disney Hollywood Studios, instead of in just one park. The Kingdom Keepers spend a lot of time running from animatronic villains and visiting backstage areas of the theme parks.  The Kingdom Keepers (Finn, Maybeck, Willa, Philby and Charlene) are joined by Amanda and Jess, the Fairlies with special powers, who are given the DHI treatment by Philby.

The characters are much better developed in this installment and they are starting to differentiate themselves from the stereotypes we have seen previously. It is actually fairly charming to see Finn stumble through the love triangle that is starting between him, Amanda and Charlene. Pearson has nailed the rather clueless teenage boy stereotype and uses it as a staple of comic relief.

The storyline is getting tighter and Pearson seems to be taking less liberties with the geography of Walt Disney World. So far, this is the most enjoyable book in the series and the mystery/clue-solving aspect is taking a higher priority. Pearson is getting more confident with the universe he has created and in developing inter-weaving storylines. Now, I wonder when he is going to have some of the good animatroinic heroes start to make an appearance to help the Keepers.

I am looking forward to reading the next installment, Power Play!

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Book Review: Kingdom Keepers II Disney at Dawn by Ridley Pearson

Kingdom Keepers II: Disney at Dawn (The Kingdom Keepers)by Ridley Pearson. 2009. 384 pp.

Pearson continues the epic story of five teens brought together for two reasons: to be the models for the new interactive, holographic hosts and to defeat the Overtakers.

The Overtakers?

Yep. The Overtakers are the animatronics and fantasies that Walt Disney created through the films and theme parks. The Overtakers want to take over the Disney theme parks and turn them into their own evil kingdoms.

There is not much written about Walt Disney World that follows a fantasy format and there is very little that is written that is based in fiction. The Kingdom Keepers series is aimed squarely at the tween and teen audiences, adding another niche that it fills.

In the second volume of the series, the Kingdom Keepers must rescue two of their own while deciphering the clues left behind by the enigmatic Imagineer named Wayne (who is a no-so-subtle nod to Walt Disney) and one of their new found friends, Jez. The sisters, Amanda and Jez are fairlies and add some interesting twists to the story. Jez has been captured by the Oveetakers and is being held hostage in the Animal Kingdom, leaving additional clues four our band of holographic heroes. The crux of the story is trying to discover who is running the Overtakers and what their plans are for the animals from the theme park.

John Rozum, comic book and television writer, blogger and Disney enthusiast offered his thoughts about the series after reading my review of the first Kingdom Keepers. He agreed to let me re-publish his comments.

My daughter and I have both been reading this series. Our assessment is pretty close in that they are engaging page turners, but are also frustrating in that much of each book is about trying to overcome or solve one problem that should be taken care of in a few chapters and that each book ends without any real resolution or forward progress. In a familiar comparison it would be if it took six Star Wars movies for Luke Skywalker to get around to blowing up the Death Star with entire movies dedicated to getting the characters out of the trash compactor or figuring out which cell Leia was in. Book IV was even more frustrating because the book ended with forward progression taking two steps backwards.

So, why do we keep reading them? Aside from the at the moment engaging read, it’s primarily because the stories take place in well-loved and familiar terrain, even though as you point out geography is distorted and history essentially rewritten. For my daughter there’s a real excitement of knowing exactly where the characters are and what’s around them, and knowing she had been in some of those exact locations.

John adds a lot of great points!

It is obvious that the books are written for kids and teens that love Walt Disney World. Most people will overlook the disparities in the storytelling, but it is important to acknowledge that they exist. These are a great bunch of books to read with your kids and discuss the choices and actions of the Kingdom Keepers.

So, sit back and enjoy suspense-filled and family-friendly book about the Vacation Kingdom of the world!

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Book Review: Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

I originally reviewed this title in 2007. I  read it again (and started to tackle the other two books) when I received a review copy of Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play.

My initial reaction is the same, except I took a moment to step back and think about the fantasy that Pearson has created and how he needed to meld his story with the then-current (2007) state of Walt Disney World. There is a lot of technology used, which leads me to question how well the book will stand up over time. Also, the mythos of Walt Disney is used to portray a legendary figure that held the balance between light and dark; someone who had the prescience to lay out the magic kingdom and design attractions that wouldn’t be seen until 20 years after his passing. To me, that is the most difficult part of the novel to digest.

Ridley Pearson is a well-known and well-respected author. It is obvious that he knows how to create a contemporary, fast-paced and cliffhanger-esque novel geared towards the target audience. I just wished he would have invested more time in studying the backstory of the company and Walt Disney in order to present something a little more rooted in reality. Still, I think it is a fun read and most tweens will enjoy a story about five teens drawn together to save the Magic Kingdom from the evil Overtakers.

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson is aimed squarely at the ‘tweens who love visiting Walt Disney World with their families.

So, why I am I reading it? Well, I like books and I like Disney. It is a book about Disney…so…

I need to give my warning about this book first:

The author takes great liberties with the geographical layout of WDW and Walt’s actual involvement with the Orlando parks. If you are a grown-up Disney Geek (Jeff’s kids included), you will be dismayed with the inaccuracies and the leaps that the author takes to add suspense.

Ok, I did enjoy the book. This title rests firmly in the juvenile thriller-fantasy genre. It is sort of like a younger Da Vinci Code without all of the religious controversy. The Magic Kingdom is being taken over by the Disney villains and five young teens are tasked with saving Walt’s Kingdom and deciphering the secrets left behind by Walt, himself. Here is where I start to yell at the book while I am reading it. Apparently, Walt left behind secret codes in the attractions that will help restore the magic to the Magic Kingdom. Including rides that weren’t built until 10-20 years after he died. Uh, so how did that happen?

I do recommend the book, as long as you can detach yourself from your inner Disney Geek while reading it. It moved well, the characters were likable and the story was entertaining. It did have a pretty creepy moment where the dolls in It’s a Small World come to life. That is the real reason I don’t like that ride. It gives me the shivers!

I’m usually positive about most of my book reviews, but this one doesn’t quite satiate my Geek needs. It is still a good read and most ‘tweens will enjoy the premise and the hero aspect of the book.

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