Monday, August 17, 2015

Children's Review: The Mister Max Trilogy

This review is going to be a little out of the ordinary, because today I am here to rave about more than one book. Today, I want to tell you about my new favorite middle grade trilogy!

It seems like middle grade books all have the same start: our main character is just another ordinary kid, until something extraordinary happens and forces him/her into a wild and unpredictable world. That's pretty much what happens to our main character in this trilogy too. Max finds himself alone in the world when a planned trip to India with his parents goes awry and he is left to stand at the docks, wondering where his parents have disappeared to and how he's going to live on his own. Thankfully, Max isn't entirely alone, as his grandmother just happens to live right next door. She offers to take him in, but Max suddenly realizes that this is an opportunity to become independent (never mind the fact that he's only twelve years old). While Max and his grandmother work to uncover the mystery of where Max's parents went, he establishes his own business. It just so happens that Max is quite good at disguising himself, and he's so resourceful in helping the townspeople to solve their problems  that he soon transforms into Mister Max, mysterious Solutioneer. Max uses the vast array of costumes from his parents' theatrical company, and while he solves many mysteries, his identity stays successfully hidden. 

In the first two novels, Max establishes his business as a Solutioneer and forges friendships with some unlikely characters (another great element of middle grade fiction). Though these books follow the typical middle grade plot, I felt myself drawn in by Voigt's style. Specifically, I loved the way that she described Max's unusual eyes. For every character introduced, Voigt gave a beautiful description of the strange color of Max's eyes from that character's point of view. I thought that this was a rather unique strategy in conveying Max's mysteriousness and it resulted in some of the strongest imagery that I've come across in my middle grade reading. I just loved the way that Voigt used descriptive and figurative language and I felt like I was reading a book that could quickly become a favorite for both adults and children. There is nothing childish about the way that Voigt writes. I wanted to share a few favorite quotes from the first two books that demonstrate Voigt's talent:

"The Baroness's mouth worked but no more words came out, the ones she wanted to utter being so huge and hard that they couldn't make their way up her throat, as if those words were bricks or stones or chunks of wood."  (The Book of Lost Things p.166 )
"She shrugged, and grimaced. She had a wide, flexible mouth, good for grimacing and grinning, and probably sneering, too." (The Book of Lost Things, p. 186) 
"The idea floated to the surface of his mind like a photograph appearing in developing liquid, a clear image where just seconds ago there had been blankness." (The Book of Lost Things, p. 356). 
"Do you fear danger?" she asked. "Yes!" answered Max Starling, before either of his other two roles could silence him, and then he laughed. "I'm afraid I do. But I can forgive my fear, even if I can't approve of it, or want to be in its company." (The Book of Secrets, p. 329) 

Can you tell why I think this could be the kind of book that teaches a young reader to love the written word?  

In The Book of Kings, the third (and final) installment of the Mister Max trilogy, Max sets off to find his parents. Max is uniquely gifted in crafting situations so that the people involved feel as though they've arrived at realizations and decisions all on their own, when really he has been carefully and strategically putting the puzzle pieces into place. In The Book of Kings, which will make its debut on September 8th, Max finds out that his parents have been taken to a tiny South American country called Andesia. There, they've been forced to play the role of king and queen under the scrutiny of a mutinous and menacing military general. Max and his grandmother intend to arrive in Andesia disguised as...well, that's the problem. They can't decide on a pair of roles that would explain there arrival without arousing suspicion. Though Max doesn't like the idea of arriving in Andesia with a group of people, eventually he concedes that the best plan includes the band of characters he's picked up along the way, all of whom feel more like family than friends. The group sets off to Andesia and there engages in a risky improvisation with the "king" of Andesia, who is of course Max's father and who needs rescuing. Along the way there are shifty characters, intrigue, mystery, and lots of guesses to be made by the reader. I can honestly say that I did not correctly predict the villain in this story, and I was genuinely in suspense as I waited to see if Max would achieve success in his rescue mission, or if his penchant for disguise would be uncovered and his plans ruined. Again, Voigt's style is just fantastic and I drank in her writing with all of the fervor that I could. I felt myself wanting to get to the end but drawing out the reading experience so that I could let the language simmer. I would definitely recommend this for readers who don't need a lot of fast action to hold their attention; though the bulk of the action occurred in this third installment, it was more of a slow and stealthy action than anything else. I think that Voigt's writing would capture the interest of readers who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society, as there are some riddle and puzzle aspects to the plot (although this book is less whimsical than that series). Though this book marks the end of the trilogy, there seemed to be a hint of a story yet to come, and I have to say if Voigt ever chose to continue Max's story I would be first in line to read it. 

Also, I just need to say a quick word about the illustrations in this book. They are fantastically detailed. I loved that my advanced copy had sneak peeks of the unfinished art and I cannot wait to see the final product. Bruno has real talent for making Voigt's characters come to life in his illustrations.

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5 

Want to buy the first in this series? 

Want to buy the second in this series?

Title: The Book of Kings (Mister Max #3)
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Expected Publication Date: September 8, 2015
ISBN: 0307976890
Format: E-Book
Source: Advanced Reader Copy provided by Net Galley

Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with an advanced copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

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