Book Review: Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

He steered toward the local park, down the storm drain shortcut he’d discovered yesterday, dodging broken glass and a man with a rabbit head, up the embankment toward the gap in the fence, and — was that a man with a rabbit head?

Cold Cereal
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life for Scott Doe has always been a little odd, from his full name (Scottish Play Doe) to his mom’s new job with Goodco (what does a cereal company need with a physicist?) and the family’s recent move to the company town of Goodborough. So, maybe he just should have expected to start seeing weird things, like a man with a rabbit head in the park.

Erno and Emily Utz have always lived in Goodborough, in the same house but with a series of foster parents. Their current foster father regularly gives them tests in the form of brain-teasing puzzles. (Emily always solves them first.) Erno has never really thought about the reason behind the tests, but he is just about to find out.

In the town of Goodborough, very little is really as it seems, and there are goings-on that (literally) the people don’t see. Erno, Emily, and Scott are more important than they know, and there are forces at work that would love to keep them from discovering the truth about themselves, the town, and Goodco.


Rex brings his trademark satiric sensibility to this fantasy mystery for the middle grades. From Scott’s dad – John Doe – to the Goode and Harmliss Toasted Cereal Company to Merle Lynn (C.P.A.), the puns come fast and furious, along with delightfully twisted takes on cereal commercials, conspiracy theories, and Arthurian mythology.  The shifting third-person perspective includes Scott, Erno, and an unnamed narrator who provides some background information and sometimes cracks just a bit too wise. When focused on the kid’s-eye view, Rex excels; when he zooms out, the lighthearted wit gets bogged down. (In The True Meaning of Smekday, Tip’s first-person “essay” narration keeps the story a bit more grounded, if I can use the word “grounded” in relation to a story of aliens coming to Earth and relocating the human population of North America to Florida.)

I thoroughly enjoyed trying to solve the riddles alongside Erno and Scott, although I wasn’t quite clever enough. My e-ARC includes incomplete artwork (as did the paper ARC I thumbed through at ALA Midwinter), so I am looking forward to seeing the final product. The illustrations I could see were just the right complement to the text; I expect good things to come. There are even a few sneak peeks available at the author’s blog (KoKoLumps, anyone?)! By the book’s end, the immediate crisis has been solved, but there is a wide opening for the next volume in the planned trilogy.

On shelves February 7, 2012.


Final Word:
Fantasy, mystery, and satirical humor all swirled together in a tasty treat for middle grade readers (and maybe some grown-ups, too).


e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.



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Book Review: The Invisible Tower (Otherworld Chronicles #1) by Nils Johnson-Shelton

Arthur “Artie” Kingfisher — twelve, rail thin, and not nearly tan enough for a kid in July — had just finished slaying Caladirth, a female green dragon with sharpened rubies for teeth and curved golden spikes for horns.


The Invisible Tower (Otherworld Chronicles #1)
The Invisible Tower by Nils Johnson-Shelton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Artie Kingfisher is a pretty average kid. He likes Mountain Dew and video games. He has a close relationship with his older sister, Kay, and their dad, Kynder. (Since he was eight years old, when he learned that he was adopted, Artie has called his father by his first name.) As Nitwit the Gray, he slays dragons and finds treasure in a game called Otherworld, but he knows wizards and magic only exist in fantasy. Or do they? Searching for a last-minute replacement game controller for Kay, Artie visits a store called the Invisible Tower, where he learns his own unbelievable true story: he is King Arthur, and he must journey to the real Otherworld to retrieve Excalibur and complete a quest that just might save the world.


This modern-day retelling of Arthurian legend features smart, sassy middle-schoolers tackling quests worthy of the Knights of the Round Table. The concept is good, which makes the execution all the more disappointing. Other than Artie and, to a lesser extent, Kay and Merlin, the characters are flat and lifeless. Because the situations are so bizarre – as even Artie notes – it should take more than a bit of hand-waving to get the characters to cooperate. The writing is clunky, with a heavy dependence on flat-out telling rather than showing. Things happen “suddenly”: while describing his first encounter at the Invisible Tower to Kay, Artie “couldn’t explain why it all made sense, but suddenly it did.” During their trip to the Lake to claim Excalibur, “[t]he sky suddenly got much darker”, a few short paragraphs later, “[t]he flock of birds suddenly dispersed”, a few pages after that, “suddenly [Artie] found two swords pointing straight up at the sky”, and once he holds the sword in his hand, Artie “suddenly knew some Welsh and a fair amount of Latin.” (Emphasis mine.)

There are many versions of the Arthurian saga available for young readers, from White’s classic The Once and Future King to Cammuso’s hilarious Knights of the Lunch Table. The standards are high. Otherworld never quite measures up.

On shelves January 3, 2012.

Final Word:
This modern-day middle-schooler King Arthur and his Knights are appealing in concept but fall disappointingly short of their potential.

e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

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That Wonderful Time of Year

No, not that one.

It’s Reading Challenge (Planning) Time! I’ll do a wrap-up on my 2011 Challenges sometime later this month, but the time has already come to start planning those 2012 TBR lists.

First up, the challenge that started me down this merry path: The Story Siren‘s Debut Author Challenge!

I had a lot of fun with this one in 2011, and I’m looking forward to finding more great new MG/YA authors in 2012. My preliminary reading list:

    1. The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet (January 3, 2012)
    2. Shadow’s Edge by Maureen Lipinski(January 8, 2012)
    3. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (January 10, 2012)
    4. The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards (January 17, 2012)
    5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (February 7, 2012)
    6. Above World by Reese, Jenn (February 14, 2012)
    7. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons (February 14, 2012)
    8. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (February 14, 2012)
    9. Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould (March 13, 2012)
    10. Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank (April 10, 2012)
    11. You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please by James Mihaley (April 10, 2012)
    12. The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash (April 24, 2012)
    13. The Selection by Kiera Cass (April 24, 2012)
    14. The Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes (May 15, 2012)
    15. Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy (June 14, 2012)
    16. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin (August 21, 2012)
    17. Touched by Corrine Jackson (December, 2012)
    18. The Marble Queen by Stephanie J. Blake (??, 2012)
    19. The Nightmare Factory by Lucy Jones (??, 2012)

Subject to change, of course.

Next up, the EBook Challenge, hosted this year at Workaday Reads. My poor little Nook has been underused of late, since my focus has been on the deluge of Cybils books. I’m going to shoot for the “DVD” level – 25 e-books. No reading list yet, though.

I’m going to take another crack at the Off the Shelf Challenge, hosted at Bookish Ardour. I was clearly too ambitious last year (or maybe distracted by all those shiny new e-books and debuts), so I’m just committing to the “Tempted” level. Five books. Just 5 of the many unread books on my shelves. I can do that, right?

My working list is really just a repeat of last year’s list. Don’t judge.

  1. Crossword Obsession: The History And Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime by Coral Amende
  2. Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity edited by Anna Camilleri and Chloë T. Brushwood Rose
  3. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein
  4. Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez
  5. We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands by Rachel Shabi

I couldn’t help but add one more this year, but it overlaps quite a bit with some of the other challenges. It’s the YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge, hosted at The Book Cellar.

My working list so far:

  1. Above World by Jenn Reese
  2. The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards
  3. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
  4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
  5. Shadow’s Edge by Maureen Lipinski
  6. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin
  7. Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey
  8. Touchedby Corrine Jackson
  9. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long
  10. Winterling (Winterling, #1) by Sarah Prineas

I’m thinking that quite a few of the titles will cross over into the e-book challenge. I can hardly wait!

But, for now, Cybils nominees are calling my name….