Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: The Fourth Stall Part II by Chris Rylander

The Fourth Stall Part II by Chris Rylander
Series: #2 in The Fourth Stall series
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Pages: 288
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a review for a sequel, but there are NO spoilers for the first book!
Still worried? Check out my review of the first book instead!


From Goodreads:

The tween-noir saga continues. The life of crime is good. Mac has taken down legendary high school crime boss Staples, business has been booming and Mac and Vince are getting ready for middle school baseball tryouts. But this can't last. Mac has always tried to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. But what happens when you can't tell the difference?

A dilemma walks into the fourth stall in the form of Trixie Von Parkway - an eighth grader with a mean look and an even meaner predicament. Seems that the new science teacher is terrorizing her, and she needs Mac to get him off her back. Sounds simple enough, but as Mac starts to dig deeper, he finds even more trouble brewing at his school, including a new administrator bent on destroying his business and indicating that Trixie isn't who she claims to be.


Mac had me at hello

Mac's "voice" is a combination of The Godfather, film noir, and contemporary middle school boy that blends perfectly. Mac is such a likable kid. He makes me laugh and even when he's doing less-than-moral things, I'm still rooting for him to win (plus, his heart is in the right place, so that has to count for something, right?).

If I were in middle school, I would be crushing on Mac so hard. I'm talking notebooks filled with "Mac <3's Small" and I-can't-form-words-in-his-presence-because-he's-so-cool kind of crush. And if I were a middle school guy? I would totally want to BE Mac.

I love male narrators, but it's hard to find a good male narrator who actually sounds like a guy (sorry women authors, lots of your guys sound like girls!). Chris Rylander scores major points by writing a book that feels authentically boyish.

Not only that, but he also sounds like a genuine middle school kid. He thinks and acts the way a normal kid would act, and sometimes that means he bungles in ways that are just so classically tweenish. This totally endeared him to me, and I imagine Mac's thoughts and actions will resonate strongly with the target audience (tweens, primarily tween boys).

These are the kinds of issues I like

I really don't like reading about Heavy Issues like people dying or struggling with abusive relationships or depression and stuff like that. But I love contemporary books that deal with the normal "lite issues" kids face like zits and crushes and school stress.

Chris Rylander integrated these subjects well in the first book, and he proved his skill again in the sequel. Mac's first crush on a girl is equal parts funny and sincere, with a few laugh out loud lines as he expresses his total bafflement with the opposite sex. The pressure of standardized testing provides a more serious topic, and offers an opening for candid discussion without coming across as preachy or dull.

I didn't see it coming!

I didn't see the culprit until their identity was finally revealed. The evidence was stacked up against each possible bad guy in such a way that I believed any of them were capable. But, the doubts were equally convincing, so I was totally twisted up.

Chris Rylander gets the Genius Award for Epic Characters

Mac is great, but so are all of the secondary characters. The prim and proper but totally crazy little bully named Kitten cracks me up every single time. He didn't even have a big role, but I mentally cheered whenever he was mentioned. Reading these books is worth it for the mental picture of that character alone (don't believe me? Check out Heather's review of the first book where she said almost the exact same thing!).

Really, almost all of Chris Rylander's characters are memorable and awesome for some reason or another. Extra points for Mac's trusty right hand man Vince; Tyrell, Mac's surveillance man (SO cool!); and Trixie, Mac's crush and possible femme fatale. Even the opportunity to meet super minor characters like the weird rodent droppings expert make the book worth reading.

Where did the star go?

The wandering plot. I didn't think the mystery was built as cohesively as it was in the first book. The first book had great momentum, but it was very easy for me to put the sequel down for days at a time. I did want to see who was behind the problems plaguing Mac and his classmates, but clues came too few and far between to really grab hold of my interest.

There was also a LOT of baseball filler, and after years of associating baseball with boring weekends when my dad wouldn't let me watch my cartoons because there was a game on, I automatically revert into "this is boring" mode whenever baseball is brought up. I imagine the target audience will appreciate Mac's baseball nods more than I did. I did like the futile camaraderie Mac felt with other Cubs fans though--that I can understand.

Bottom line

I adore this series and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you have a middle grade boy in your life, do him a favor and buy him this series ASAP. The first book is a hot seller in my library and I already have a waiting list for the sequel.

What's also great about this series is that each book can be read as a standalone. Even though knowing the events of the first book helps when reading the second, that familiarity isn't necessary. There are also zero spoilers in the sequel, so you don't have to worry about ruining the first book if you read the sequel first.

The second book ends by alluding to a possible third book, and I SO HOPE THERE IS A THIRD BOOK! I'll auto-buy it.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Fourth Stall Part II that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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  1. This sounds really cute. I agree that it's nice to have a book that focuses on light normal issues.
    Have you read Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman? I bet you'd like it. It sounds kinda like this.

    1. I haven't read it, but it's on my list now. Thanks!

  2. I was wondering what this book was about as I saw it pop up in a few places. I'd want to read the first book first but it sounds like a promising series!

    Seconded Alison's rec for Son of the Mob-I love Korman and that's a great book!

    1. I'm enjoying the series far more than I expected I would.

      Thanks for the rec!

  3. I only just got this one back from the kid. After months of having it, he picks the weekend I want to read it to read Bks 1 and 2. Now he's got another one and I'm doing backpack checks to make sure it doesn't leave the house. You know which one I'm talking about.
    So I haven't read Bk2, but you did a great job not giving away any spoilers. I'll fight you for Mac if I was in middle school. Actually, I'd probably just stammer and blush. He's so cool and he doesn't even know it.
    You got it all right. If I was your library, I'd order two of each, they'll get worn out fast! I hope there will be a third.
    Great Review, Small!


    1. Haha, luckily I don't have to worry about anyone making off with my books (except for when I read them at work. Then I have to keep a close eye on them!) I hope you get the other one back soon!

      hehehe isn't Mac SO cool? He's like that kid who can totally pull off a leather jacket :P

      There will be a third!!! :D

  4. 1) I love noir.

    2) I love the Cubs (though they PAIN me eternally).

    3) I love mysteries.

    This book has all three of those elements, therefore, I should read this book.

    *whispers* But I don't really like middle grade books, so I'm scared to try it.

    1. You can check out a preview on Amazon to see if the writing is something you'd like. If you're a Cubs fan, then I think you'll bond with Mac :)

  5. Hi Small...
    I actually picked up the first book last spring because I thought it sounded cute but I have not read it yet, now I am kicking myself. Sounds so fun. I am sure my little guy will enjoy it when he is a bit older. Baseball filller well it could be worse. I am definitely curious about the bully named Kitten not exactly a bully name sounds fun!

    1. They are so good! I hope you enjoy it. Kitten is not at all expected :)

  6. Haha! I think yours was the first review I read on these two books and I'd still like to pick them up! Great review as always :)

    La Toya (La Toya, Literally.)

  7. Aww, this is a series I really, really wanna try! It sounds delightful.
    I'm sorry about the meandering plot of this one.
    Thanks for this lovely review, and for reminding me of these books! :D

    1. It is SUCH a good series! Very cute. The plot was a little meandering, but it wasn't terrible and I still highly recommend the book. I hope you enjoy it!

  8. I'm with you. The heavy issues are why I don't usually go for YA contemporary. I'm going to suggest this to my nephews. Thanks!

    1. I like my contemporaries with a good dose of humor, and humor and SERIOUS ISSUES don't really go together very well (or, at least not without raising some eyebrows!) I hope you nephews like The Fourth Stall series :)

  9. I think this is one that I will enjoy, as will my son who is in 9th grade now. It just sounds so good, but the baseball stuff may be something I want to fly through!
    - Jessica @ Book Sake

    1. I am so not a baseball fan(or ANY sports), so if I could tolerate the baseball parts, then you should be ok :) I hope you and your son like it!

  10. Thanks for reminding me about this series, Small. I know you really liked the first one too so I'll be trying to see if I can find it at our library for my brother, and if you've got any suggestions for MG geared towards boys, feel free to email me.

    1. I hope you can get your hands on it. I'll try to think of some suggestions for you. Most of the MG boy books I know have a fantasy aspect to them. Does he like that? I haven't read them, but the NERDS series is pretty popular with the MG boys at my library. I think I heard there's going to be a movie based on them coming out soon.


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