What’s new, readers? Before I get into the review, I want to take this moment to honor the phenomenal bravery and strength of Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last Friday after a private four-year battle with colon cancer. Needless to say, I’m devastated that we’ve lost the magnificent actor who embodied King T’Challa. On top of playing one of my favorite superheroes in the MCU and leading one of the best movies in the MCU, he also portrayed black luminaries Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall. Boy, what a brutal 2020 we’re having—COVID-19, racial injustice, natural disasters, and now this. #RIPChadwickBoseman #WakandaForever
Now, let’s dive into Mr. Lemoncello and the Titanium Ticket, the fifth installment in the stupendalicious Mr. Lemoncello series by Chris Grabenstein (Welcome to Wonderland series, co-author of the Max Einstein series). Eccentric game inventor and bibliophile Mr. Luigi L. Lemoncello is back to host another wondermous competition packed with puzzles, riddles, and physical stunts. But it won’t happen at his one-of-a-kind library in Alexandriaville, Ohio. Instead, it will take place in Hudson Hills, New York—right inside his Gameworks Factory, the place where all his world-famous games are made, where the workers hoof it to music in yellow uniforms and lemon wedge hard hats, where there’s a 3-D body scanner that can whip up a game piece in a person’s likeness, and so much more.
An even more significant change to the series is that the book doesn’t focus on the adventures of Kyle Keeley, Akimi Hughes, and the rest of the Ohio crew, although most of them do make cameos. The protagonist this time around is Simon Skrindle, a seventh-grader who lives with his grandparents, his parents having died in what’s succinctly described as a “tragic accident in Asia” when he was a baby. At the outset he gets to show off his knack for solving stumpers when he tries to break into Mr. Lemoncello’s Gameworks Factory by cracking a series of riddle locks. He also displays some of the Lemoncello flair through his love of LEGOs and K-Nex, the newspaper conveyance contraption he invented for home, and the lab he built in the attic. Admittedly, it was initially alarming for me to read a Mr. Lemoncello book from a POV not involving the Ohio gang. However, I quickly got on board with following Simon as he heads into Mr. Lemoncello’s newest puzzle hunt alongside his black science nerd teammate Soraiya Mitchell.
Grabenstein maintains the trademark jocularity and high jinks of his series through board game references and life-sized challenges based on Jenga, Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, and other games; clever riddles, rebuses, and brainteasers; and the irrepressible jolliness of Mr. Lemoncello, who at one point arrives in a hot-air balloon designed like a huge lemon. He never runs out of irreverent quips (“This building, dear friends, will be my legacy—not to be confused with my LEGOs at sea, which hopefully will float.”). In a recent live-streaming event Grabenstein said the character is a cross between Jim Henson and Robin Williams with a bit of Grabenstein himself thrown in—certainly an appropriate description. But I miss the literary references he used to drop and the zany library-centered settings that his past puzzle hunts took place in. Hopefully they’ll be brought back in the future.
Throughout The Titanium Ticket, Simon and Soraiya are pitted in a fierce rivalry against Jack McClintock, camo-wearing school bully and the son of head of security at the Gameworks Factory. I find his character design to be flat and not nearly as enjoyably hatable as previous villains like Kyle’s scheming and oily archenemy Charles Chiltington or the wily Krinkle brothers. I do like the character beat that Andrew Peckleman, one of the Ohio kids, has with Jack. Without giving away spoilers, it brings his arc around full circle with the one-sided partnership he formed with Chiltington in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.
Similarly to the golden ticket that allowed five children to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the participants in Mr. Lemoncello’s contest are vying for the eponymous titanium ticket. Whoever triumphs will become one of several contenders for the opportunity to inherit Mr. Lemoncello’s legacy. Judging from how the book concludes, it sounds like this upcoming plot line will happen over the span of two or three entries, maybe even wrapping up the series. All in all, Grabenstein has delivered yet another awesometastic Mr. Lemoncello sequel and I’m very eager to see what he’ll bring us next.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 88/100