I'm starting to sound like a James Riley groupie. I feel like I've mentioned his name in almost every book review so far! But there's no denying his middle-grade novel Story Thieves is another fun read, especially if you were raised on fantasy/adventure novels.
That said ... it's not perfect.
If you've already read Half Upon a Time (you can read my review here), you'll recognize Riley's same style and voice in Owen Conners' character, but it's no less fun to read. The storyline is punchy and unexpected, the characters are hilarious.
In Story Thieves, Owen meets a girl name Bethany and discovers that she has a secret: she is half-fictional. Bethany can't let anyone find this out, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is jump him into one Kiel Knomenfoot novel, and he'll never say a word. But Owen has a knack for messing up even the easiest of plans, and quickly finds himself letting Bethany's secret out to the whole world—and replacing Kiel Knomenfoot himself in his final, final adventure—the one where it is very unclear whether Kiel is supposed to even survive the climactic ending ...
This novel is similar to Riley's other books in that it has no clear theme. Like Half Upon a Time, it's a well-told adventure but ultimately has no point. In fact, between the two, this book has even less of a theme. And when I say theme, I just mean something that you can take away at the end of the book. An idea. A perspective change. Some kind of heart. I don't doubt Riley has convictions of his own, but they don't emerge in his writing.
So while I recommend reading it, I'm going to give Story Thieves a 6 out of 10. It's fun, it's well-written, and it will teach you a lot about pacing and voice for middle grade fiction, but it falls short in the Meaning department. If this leaves you on the fence, I'm sorry ;) Just nudge this one a little farther down your To-Read list and keep looking.