Book Review, Classics, Classics Club, Coming-of-Age, Fantasy, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Horror, Middle Grade, Mythology, Potpour-reads, Rick Riordan, Stephen King, Thriller, Young Adult

A Garden, A Maze, A Sematary*

In this second “potpour-reads” post, I share some quick thoughts on three recent reads, all of which were completed in May. The Secret Garden was a title on my Classics Club Challenge list. The Burning Maze is third in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan, and I read Pet Sematary because a new film adaptation is supposedly in the works and I tend to get caught up in that sort of thing. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I recently read The Secret Garden as part of my Classics Club Challenge, after many years of seeing it come and go from my various TBR lifts and shelves. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years but have always put it off, probably because, subconsciously, I thought of it as a children’s book – a sorry excuse indeed because why should that matter? How many children’s books, especially classics, have I read and loved? Nevertheless, I have these tendencies, as I’m sure all readers do, to approach my reading with certain prejudices, and this being both a “child’s” book and a “girl’s” book, I wondered, isn’t it likely to be well beyond my interest at this point? Of course, then I actually started reading the book and couldn’t stop myself thinking, where has this book been all my life? Confession time? I guess I’m a bit of a reading diva, and it’s pretty stupid.

Anyhow, The Secret Garden begins in India under British colonial rule. We are introduced to the protagonist in this way: “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too.” Hilarious. Who begins a children’s book by dissing the main character’s appearance!? Something about that opening, and the honesty of the narrator throughout, drew me into the story and had me feeling equal hatred and empathy for little Mary and even little Colin, her cousin, both of whom are really rather terrible little brats at the beginning. But then a farm boy named Dickon starts to come around, and the secret garden is discovered, and the magic of humanity found in friendship, childish wonder, and the natural world begins to do its work. And it’s stunning and romantic in the best way imaginable.

For some reason, I thought this book was going to be more of a magical realism/mystery/fantasy kind of tale. It is actually firmly rooted in naturalism and realism; it is a coming-of-age tale that expresses magic in the everyday experience, and in the way children, even horribly disagreeable ones, can grow and change into wonderful people, given the right environment, the best challenges, and some great friends. I wasn’t expecting this kind of story, but it was exactly the kind I needed at the time of reading it. And Dickon, the nature sprite who is all things dirt and animal, plant and hill, is now one of my favorite characters of all-time. If Burnett had written a sequel from Dickon’s perspective, I could easily imagine it becoming a favorite of mine. The other characters, including the adults, are human enough and just present enough to matter without getting in the way of the children’s’ tale, which is and should be front and center. There are some very adult themes, a truly underlying sadness, and some dark commentary on colonialism, which makes reading this one as an adult all the more interesting and moving.

Now the real question: Should I watch the movie? Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0.

The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

The Burning Maze is Book Three in the Trials of Apollo series. Apollo has been sent to earth in the form of a pudgy, pimply teenage boy, largely without any kind of godly power at all, and is tasked with helping the Roman and Greek demigods fight the horrors of the Triad: three evil, dangerous, and powerful former Roman Emperors with plans to take over the world. Beneath their plot, even, lies the power of Apollo’s most feared antagonist, Python, the god of snakes. As is typical with Riordan’s books, the pace is fast and the plot is fun. There is a lot to learn regarding roman mythology, especially, and that is always exciting for me. There is also a bit of tragedy in this third book, one that the reader is somewhat eased into but that is nevertheless difficult for those who have been invested in the two Roman series’ so far.

In this third installment, we learn much more about Meg, the twelve-year-old demigod who is essentially Apollo’s “master,” and her background. Some old and familiar characters from other books in this series, as well as the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series’, reappear. As with many of the other books, this one follows a certain formula that readers of Riordan’s books should come to expect; Burning Maze even revisits one of the original Percy Jackson battlegrounds, the Labyrinth, but in this case the visit is short and sweet, and the maze then becomes an underlying menace rather than a place of action for the entire plot.

Riordan has also taken more and more chances with his books over the years, something he began with (I think) the Heroes of Olympus series and then carried over into the Magnus Chase books (I have not kept up with the Kane Chronicles, unfortunately, so I can’t speak to that one). Riordan is an outspoken LGBTQ ally, for example, and a number of LGBTQ+ characters have been written into the stories, some major and some minor. This has been extraordinarily exciting to witness in the middle grade genre, and it has been particularly effective, I think, because Riordan does a nice job of delicately handling the reality of “coming out” with the kinds of reactions his queer characters receive from other characters, mostly accepting but sometimes with shock, wonder, curiosity, etc. The humor is still excellent, as are the character relationships. One of the most interesting and rewarding elements is the way that Apollo is growing from book-to-book. One of the themes of all the Riordan novels is how flippantly the gods take their relationships with humanity and their human children. The fascinating piece of this series is that we have a god who has been made human and who is now experiencing all that it is to be human, which is changing him in very profound ways. It is a smart and meaningful take on the modern myth series. Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I was going to check my Goodreads account to see how many King novels I have read so far and where this one falls in that line, but I realized it would take more time than I’m willing to give it. We’ll just say, I’ve read a lot of Stephen King. The reason why I like King so much is actually not because I like horror/thrillers (it’s quite frankly not a genre I read very often). Instead, I like King because he has so much to say about the human psyche and human instinct. Pet Sematary is considered to be one of King’s most chilling horror novels and, while I don’t think it’s really his scariest or goriest or any of that, I can agree with the assessmentbecauseit treats the human condition in such an honest, and horrible, way.

The book is about Dr. Louis Creed and his young family, all of whom move to Ludlow, Maine so that Creed can take a job as a University physician. The majority of the novel is background, character building, and scene-setting. Almost all of the real action, the terror, takes place in the third and final section, which is much shorter than the first two. This helps create a false sense of security throughout most of the book while simultaneously allowing the ending to be much more dramatic and exhilarating, even unexpected (if anything from King can be considered unexpected – maybe that’s silly!) The horror begins when Creed’s daughter’s cat is killed and Creed’s neighbor, perhaps against his will, shares a secret that is better left unknown. This sets forth a series of ominous events that increase in impact and effect, until at last, a force beyond anyone’s control grips Ludlow, especially the Creeds, and begins to pull all the strings.

Pet Sematary was written between 1979-1982 and then published in 1983. King was reluctant to send it out to his publishers because he himself was so concerned with what he wrote, and it is not hard to understand why. Few popular novels that I can think of at this time so honestly and deeply addressed the lengths to which a person will go in order to ease an unthinkably painful emotional and psychological burden. Creed is suffering the worst pain imaginable, as is his wife, and his grief causes him to be compelled further and further down a path he knows is horribly dangerous and morally wrong. How can a man be driven to make all the wrong steps? In small increments and through tiny justifications and false ratiocination (as Poe would call them), until, without realizing what is happening, the decisions have been made and the actions have been taken, and all hell has broken loose.

Pet Sematary reminded me very much of King’s other most popular of horror novels, IT. The ominous force is even described as “IT” –an unnamed thing—and various points in the novel. I wonder if King was already working on that idea as early as 1979, even though IT itself did not appear until 1986. There are so many similarities, but the most prominent is the theme of evil as an uncontrollable force of human nature: good and smart and decent people being compelled to do terrible things. What is scarier than that? Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0. 

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Adventure, Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, Rick Riordan, Young Adult

Thoughts: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

12127810House of Hades by Rick Riordan
Final Verdict: 3.7 out of 4.0

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable

The House of Hades is Book 4 in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.  This series follows the five-book Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, but it incorporates the Roman mythology alongside the Greek.  In this adventure, Percy, hero of the Greeks, and his team must join forces with Jason, hero of the Romans, and his own team in order to stop Gaea and Tartarus from rising and destroying the world.  The awakening of these ancient gods is causing an identity crisis, of sorts, among the “new” gods (like Zeus).  It is essentially blurring the lines between Greek and Roman mytho-worlds, so that at any given moment a god might switch personalities.  Needless to say, these split-personalities leave the gods relatively helpless, so the demi-gods, their half-human/half-god offspring, must take charge. In this fourth installment, Gaea and Tartarus have opened the Doors of Death, which means hundreds upon hundreds of monsters are slipping out of the underworld.  Percy and Annabel are in the underworld, while Jason and the rest of the gang are fighting their way to the Doors of Death, as the team must work together to close the Doors from both sides, or else certain doom awaits the planet and all life as we know it.

Characterization:
3.75 – Characters very well-developed.

One of the criticisms I have for the Riordan series’ (including Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, and this one) is that the character depth is always a bit lacking – although the books typically cover about a year (though sometimes quite a bit less, as has been the case with this particular series), still there is little growth & development for any of the major or minor characters.  This is a “Middle Grade” series, so perhaps character depth isn’t too be expected, but in any series that spans a certain amount of time – a few years or more- I would hope to see some.  Riordan has taken steps in this one, though, and as many have noted, even makes quite a bold decision (one I have been waiting for, for years!) to reveal personal information about one of the cross-over characters from the Percy Jackson series.  In addition, many of the other characters, such as Jason, Leo, and Frank, all face crucial turning points in this book, moments of decision which will help to define them possibly for the rest of their lives.  This attention to characterization and willingness to allow these characters to grow beyond their cookie-cutter “action/adventure hero” roles thrilled me quite a bit and truly makes me feel that this is possibly the best book of all three mythology series’ thus far.

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Rick Riordan’s books are so easy to read, partly because they are fun and entertaining, but also because he knows how to construct a fast-paced, logical, episodic storyline.  In The House of Hades, Riordan’s heroes are constantly meeting new friends and foes, mythological deities, monsters, and creatures of all sorts, from the Roman and Greek worlds.  All of this could be confusing and overwhelming, if not for Riordan’s adeptness at giving his readers just enough new information at manageable intervals, while advancing the story and also allowing his primary characters, those who have been with us since Book One, enough page time of their own.  Many have said this book left them breathless because of its pace, and I agree that it is certainly one of the more action-packed installments of his always action-packed series’.  It is hard to stop reading, hard to quit even after finishing a character section (the books are broken up by character perspective, each character getting about 4 chapters from their point of view, before moving on to another main character).  Ultimately, though, despite the whirlwind ride this book can sometimes be, it manages to remain consistent – going just far enough and just fast enough, without falling apart.  There are natural breaks, places where a reader can logically pause and step away, but the problem is – you won’t want to!

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

What I always love about the Riordan books is how slyly educational they are.  Readers will learn so much about ancient Greek and Roman mythology (or Egyptian, if you’re reading The Kane Chronicles), without noticing they’re learning anything at all.  This is because the mythology, the original stories and the original characters, are re-imagined so brilliantly, revisited so expertly, in this modern setting.  Gods using cell phones?  Demigods eating fast food?   Sure, that’s all current – but the events that take place, the rivalries that exist, the personalities of the heroes, the gods, they remain wonderfully true to the original epic stories of Homer, Ovid, and others.  Believe it or not, I can credit Riordan’s books, this particular one as well as others, with helping me to enjoy James Joyce’s Ulysses.  This is because, though I have read Homer’s Odyssey, revisiting the old tales through this contemporary lens has helped me to keep in mind the original epic and the string of events, the gods helpful to or antagonistic of Odysseus, which are paralleled in Joyce’s Irish epic. In addition, in House of Hades especially, Riordan takes some steps which have been made in young adult and contemporary literature, but which have been left relatively unexplored at the MG level.  J.K. Rowling allowed certain things to happen but which were revealed only through unspoken allusion; here, Riordan allows one of his characters, Nico di Angelo, to develop fully and completely, and exposes the raw nerves that come with it – it is a breath of fresh air for the popular fantasy genre and for this reading level.

Suggested Reading For:
Age Level: MG+
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult, Action/Adventure.

Notable Quotes:

“Magic is neither good nor evil. It is a tool, like a knife. Is a knife evil? Only if the wielder is evil.”

“I figure the world is basically a machine. I don’t know who made it, if it was the Fates, or the gods, or the capital-G god or whatever. But it chugs along the way it’s supposed to most of the time. Sure, little pieces break off and stuff goes haywire once in a while, but mostly… things happen for a reason.”

“Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work- It demands everything from you- especially the truth. Only then does it yield results.”

“I’m not choosing one of your paths. I’m making my own.”

“It’s natural to feel fear.  All great warriors are afraid. Only the stupid and the delusional are not.”

“It is a costly thing, looking on the true face of Love.”

“The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.”

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Adventure, Book Review, Fiction, Mythology, Rick Riordan, Young Adult

Review: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 51


Plot/Story:

3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable.

Percy Jackson and the gang are back again.  Well, Percy is back again – but the gang is a new one.  In this second book of the Heroes of Olympus series, which is a sequel to Riordan’s hit Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Percy finds himself battling demons that won’t die and suffering from near-total amnesia.  He does not remember who he is, where he is from, or why these crazy un-killable baddies keep attacking him.  Some instinct pulls him strongly toward a camp, where the goddess Juno awaits – but something isn’t quite right.  Percy is a Greek demigod, and this camp is for Romans!  Percy must join forces with the Romans, while rediscovering who he is and, afterwards, bringing the two people, Greek and Roman, together to prepare for battle against the mother of all goddesses, Gaea, who is raising a force of evil to crush the world.  Can the Greeks and the Romans set aside their bitter, centuries-old rivalries to work together?  Will the gods stand by their demigod children or let them face Gaea’s minions alone?  Will Percy every gain all of his memory back?  The Son of Neptune is about new friendships, burgeoning strengths, overcoming self-doubt and setting aside prejudices to fight for the larger good.  It is a fast-paced, exciting, and surprisingly moving modern mythological fantasy – probably Riordan’s best yet.


Characterization:

4 – Characters extraordinarily well-developed.

As a big fan of The Percy Jackson series, I find myself a bit ashamed to admit that I actually enjoyed the new characters and Percy’s semi-reconstruction (due to his memory loss) a bit more appealing than the originals.  The Roman gods, though less is seen of them, seem less severe than the Greeks, which is historically accurate but also makes for a more believable story.  What added to the improved effect here, I think, is that not only did Percy have an interesting journey to embark on, rediscovering himself, his past, and his strengths, but so did the two supporting characters, Frank and Hazel.  These two each come from very interesting backgrounds and have potentially scary, sad futures ahead of them.  The triple-threat, as it were, of the main story (battling Gaea’s army and saving the world) combined with these sub-stories made for a dynamic new friendship and allowed for real growth from all three characters, but particularly Frank – who might have the most to lose, and to gain.  Visits from favorite past characters, like Nico di Angelo and Tyson, are also welcomed and well-incorporated.


Prose/Style:

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, conducive the Story.

One of my biggest complaints in this area has been that whoever is responsible for editing and proofreading Riordan’s books consistently makes glaring oversights.  The last few Riordan books in particular, including the Kane Chronicles and The Lost Hero were rife with omitted and/or extra words or other grammar errors.  Now, this is not necessarily the author’s fault, so I tried to be lenient, but it was definitely becoming bothersome.  I did see two such instances in The Son of Neptune, but they were minor oversights and, comparatively, nothing to scoff at.  With that improvement, coupled with how well-paced this book was and how suiting the language is to both the story and the audience, I was pleased overall.  Percy’s wit and sarcasm are back, which is possibly one of my favorite things about these books (“typical teenager” – but a funny one!).  The dialogue is done well, as are the descriptions.  I still sometimes hope for more progressive growth, year-to-year, but Riordan is sticking to his IR/MG readership, and that is in a way admirable, if not exactly what I would like to see as an adult reader (but, hey, the books aren’t marketed towards adults so I get it!).


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

4 – Additional elements improve and enhance the story.

In addition to the main purpose of the book, which I will get to in a minute, this book also has much to say about individual responsibility – responsibility to the self and to others (friends and family, in particular).  Each of the characters has something they must overcome in order to be the hero they were meant to be and, although the book is fantasy, this aspect of the story is highly transferable to the traditional coming-of-age story.  But, once again, the biggest selling-point for the book is what it teaches us.  The Roman mythology is interesting and totally accessible, thanks to the modern setting, the relevant comparisons, and the engaging characters that learn and/or explain the histories as the reader journeys along with them.  The Son of Neptune is particularly fascinating in that it exposes more of the specific differences between Greek and Roman mythology, and why there is such animosity between the two groups.  If you are looking for educational and entertaining books about Greek and Roman mythology, which are accessible to novices, younger readers, and adults already familiar with the original epics – Riordan is your man.


Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: IR/MG

Interest: Roman Mythology, Greek Mythology, Ancient Greek-Roman History, Action/Adventure, Modern Day Retellings, Fantasy.


November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I will be writing my very first novel (at least 50,000 words) and would truly appreciate your sponsorship.  All donations go to The Office of Letters and Light – a great charity working for a great cause!  If you can spare even $5 (or more) – please Sponsor Me and help me stay energized to write my book and WIN NaNoWriMo!

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Fantasy, Historical, Mythology, Rick Riordan, Young Adult

Review: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0
YTD: 26

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Rick Riordan’s The Throne of Fire is an incredibly fantastic follow-up to Book 1 of his Egyptian mythology series, The Kane Chronicles.  Once again, Sadie and Carter Kane narrate us to the end of the world and back again – poor kids!  Just when the Kane family feel like their greatest threat – Set – has been muted, a new danger arises.  The Lord of Chaos, Apophis, is beginning to awaken, and without the Lord of Ma’at around (Ra, the Sun God, lost in a deep sleep deep in the Duat), Chaos may manage to take over and destroy the world.  The Kanes find themselves not only in a race against time to find and awaken King Ra, but also to save their friend Zia from a magician-induced coma and find a cure for their ailing apprentice Walt.  With so much going on – with so many foes, and so few allies – most of whom are unprepared, there seems to be little hope that Sadie and Carter can triumph again – but help is found in unexpected places, new gods rise to the challenges and grave sacrifices are made to aid the Kanes in their quest.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

Sadie and Carter, the main characters, are just as well developed as in the first book – which is good and bad.  They are written well in general, which of course is a good thing, but a bit more growth and development would have been welcome, as I like to watch characters grow (not just in age, but in maturity and roundedness) in a series.  The auxiliary characters, however, are much more developed and just down-right fun to read than in the book’s predecessor.  Some of the new gods, such as Bes, are given near-equal page time as the magicians, which adds another layer of intrigue and interest to the story.  Old gods and magicians, like Bast, Anubis, and Desjardins are back and better than ever – truly more developed and connected with the story.  The newest evil, Vladimir Menshikov, the third most powerful wizard in the world, adds an element of mystery and empathy to the overall story – another added layer to the overall story, which makes it more than just a YA fantasy, but a psychological examination as well.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

As with The Lost Hero, I found the prose and style concurrent with the mood and reading level of the book, as well as the subject matter; however, once again, like with The Lost Hero, there were numerous proof reading errors.  I am highly frustrated by this, as Riordan is a major author and these mythology series’ are hits – his publisher (Disney/Hyperion) needs to be more responsible with their final editing reviews before publication – I wonder if the same people are responsible because, if so, I would strongly encourage Mr. Riordan to choose new proofreaders.  Five or six major errors (like missing or incorrect words) in a publication marketed and anticipated at this magnitude is unacceptableThat being said, six (or so) errors in a book of this length is not exactly distracting, even if it is irritating to someone as ridiculously meticulous as this particular reader.  The pace is great, the dual narration works well again, though it is not always easy to distinguish which character is speaking when, even though each chapter has an identified narrator (sometimes I realized I mixed up narrators – thinking Carter was speaking, until little comments about the hotness of Anubis or Walt were dropped in).  In total, though, the language level is appropriate, the structure is appealing, and the prose is fluid and progresses at a great pace.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Once again, what is so great about these Riordan mythology series’ is their ability to teach as well as entertain.  By the end of the book, you find you have learned so much about Egyptian (or Roman, or Greek, whatever the case may be) mythology and history without even knowing it, because you were having such a great time reading the story and engaging with the characters’ adventures!  I find Riordan to have an advantage over many writers in this regard – he does his research and incorporates the mythologies into modern culture seamlessly, with a style that is appealing to contemporary readers.  The larger issues and topics, too, such as the importance of loyalty to family and friends or the need to work with people we do not necessarily like in order to overcome larger problems are well presented and woven into the stories so as to guide and teach without preaching to or overburdening the reader with glaring didactic motives.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: YA+
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Action/Adventure, Magic, History, Family/Friendship
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Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, Rick Riordan, Young Adult

Review: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 56

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

In The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan brings us back to the world of his best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  The time is now, and the place is the United States.  Most of the action either takes place in or is in reference to New York and San Francisco but, like the Percy Jackson books, The Lost Hero has its characters traveling on the road (or, more often, traveling through the air).  There is a sense of the journeyman-adventurer, an inspiration brought from the early Greek and Roman tales, where heroes had to go on quests and venture through dangerous lands to prove their worth to the gods. Of course, unlike those ancient stories where the dangerous places were exotic, distant, and funnily-named, Riordan makes more contemporary locations the hot-spots of terror – Jack London’s home, the San Francisco hills, and an automobile assembly plant in Detroit, to name a few.  We also have a new hero, whose memory is lost, and his two friends, whose memories have been altered by the goddess Hera (or is it Juno?).  For the first time, we see Roman presences and characters intermingled with the Greek gods and heroes of the first Olympians series – and the reader soon (or at least, by the end) realizes that this is a dangerous mixture, but one which will be necessary for the future of mankind.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

Fortunately for this series, The Lost Hero begins, in terms of characterization, where The Last Olympian left off.  That this book is much longer than the first book in the Percy Jackson series is a big plus, because it allows the reader more time with the characters, and Riordan uses that time to develop and explain the three main characters and their histories, personalities, etc.  Much of this is also helped by the presence of subordinate characters who the reader may have already met in the Percy Jackson series, such as Chiron, Annabeth, Rachel Dare, the Greek gods, and more.   Since we already know some of these minor characters, we are allowed more time with the major characters.  The hope is that the future books in the series (not being sure how long this series is going to be) will also have a good amount of focus on the characters and their development.  There are seven Roman and Greek heroes who must ultimately go on the quest – we know three from this book, and we can anticipate Percy and Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series will be going, which means we may be meeting two more heroes, possibly from the Roman side.  This will be the first book/series with seven “main” characters  – but I imagine Jason and Percy might get most of the page time.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.


I would have possibly given this category a 4 out of 4 but this first edition of the book was littered with grammatical/editing errors!  Rick Riordan is a popular author – people literally countdown the days ‘til his next book release, particularly those books which are set in the world of Percy Jackson.  So, for the publishers to release this text with so many grammatical errors – I am just dumbfounded.  The major problems were spelling mistakes and word omissions/replacements.  The pace, however, was great – fast-moving throughout, but with moments spent on reflection or in flashbacks, learning more about the characters as they learn about themselves.   The prose and style were appropriate for this level of reading, though I always hope for a bit more development from Riordan in this regard.   Still, he is staying true to his young adult readers, which is perfectly fine.

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

The additional elements subsection is always pretty applicable to the Riordan books, because he tends to teach me so much.  I learned (or was reminded) much about Greek mythology from the Percy Jackson series. In The Red Pyramid, the reader gets educated (in a fun way) about Egyptian mythology.  Here, we go back to the Greeks, but we also begin to learn about Roman mythology – where it came from, how it developed out of Greek mythology (and why).  How are Zeus and Neptune different?  How are Hera and Juno similar?  What do the Roman gods stand for, in contrast to the Greek?  And what would happen if the two mythological worlds were to collide (could it really have been the cause for the American Civil War)?  Part of the real appeal of these books for me, aside from the fast-paced and fun adventure plot, is learning more about ancient mythologies, in a wholly relatable way – because it is happening now, in the world I know.  Each time I finish a Riordan book, I get the itch to go back and read Homer, Ovid, Sophocles and the rest.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult
Interest: Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology, Fantasy, Adventure
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Book Review, Fantasy, Fiction, Rick Riordan, Young Adult

Review: Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Topic: Book Review
Date: 06/03/2010

Summary:
With The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1), Rick Riordan takes his readers along on another fantastic journey through ancient myth; though, unlike his Greek mythology series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, this series (The Kane Chronicles) deals with ancient Egyptian mythology. Like his first series, The Kane Chronicles centers on “special” youths who discover they are the unwitting heirs, by blood, of great, primeval power. A teenage boy, Carter, and his younger sister, Sadie, are thrust together after spending a lifetime apart. They are tasked not only with finding their father and saving his life, but also with saving all of humankind in the meantime. On their journey, they learn the history and secrets of their budding powers, and meet ancient characters, reborn, such as Anubis, Nut, Bast, and many other gods, goddesses, and magicians alike. Some are helpful, some are indifferent, and many are out to destroy them.

The Good: 
The Red Pyramid is more reminiscent to me of Book 5 in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5). It seems much more developed, and is much longer, than most of the books in the Percy Jackson series and like the Greek storyline, this first book in the Egyptian tales seems well-researched and creatively developed. The pace is fast enough to make you want to churn the pages, but not so fast that you get lost in the thick of it. Characters are distinguishable from one another (a criticism of mine in the Percy series) and, though the tale is fantasy, the majority of plot developments and story movements seem somehow feasible. I had not encountered ancient Egyptian mythology in some time (since the 6th grade) so this was a pleasant surprise – many of the names and stories I did remember, but this book helped remind me of the timeline, the rise and fall of the civilization itself, and the many myths that went with it. As someone who enjoys learning while being entertained in my reading, Rick Riordan never seems to fail me. After finishing the novel and being delighted by the story, you begin to realize that you actually picked up quite a bit of informative, educational substance along the way.

The Bad:
One major complaint is the recycling of a certain plot device throughout the novel. Two or three times, a major scene was driven by one mechanism which, while typically a welcome cliché in any action/fantasy novel, gets to be a bit tiresome when overused within the same story. I also find that Riordan’s novels always seem to take place over a period of days; the heroes are given 72-hours or a week to accomplish some extraordinary task, having at the time only just discovered their powers, and yet somehow they manage. Yes, this is fantasy, but a certain amount of realism, even in young adult fiction, would certainly serve to strengthen the overall story. I find no reason why, for instance, this first novel, being 500+ pages in length, could not have spanned at least a few weeks, or a few months. Why not separate the “Chronicles” into seasons, for instance, or years? As readers of fantasy should be well aware, after the recent and historic successes of Rowling’s Harry Potter series, when characters and stories develop over longer periods of time, the series tends to work well. So, what’s the rush?

The Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.0
Overall, I found this novel exhilarating and educational. I was a huge fan of Riordan’s first series, and I think I may even have enjoyed this first of the Kane Chronicles even more. I was not expecting so much from Egyptian mythology, probably because I was less familiar with it. If, like in the Percy Jackson series, each book improves upon the last, then I have very high expectations for this series as a whole.

Published by Hyperion, 2010
Edition: 1st Ed.
ISBN-13: 978-1423113386
Challenges: N/A
YTD: 28
Source: Owned Copy
Rating: 4.5/5.0

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African-American, Andy Behrman, Book Review, Drama, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay Lit, J.D. Salinger, Langston Hughes, Rick Riordan, Scott Heim, Shakespeare, Short Story

Review: Previously Read, Briefly Reviewed

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

This collection of short stories has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. I love J.D. Salinger, but I suppose I was a bit leery of reading his short stories, as I’ve only read his novel The Catcher in the Rye and his dual-novella Franny and Zooey (Both of which I highly recommend). I had nothing to worry about, though. These short stories – admittedly, some more effective than others – are pure Salinger. They’re witty, sarcastic, sad, entertaining, and original. I particularly enjoyed the elliptical stories (the first and last stories in the collection) “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Teddy.” They were incredibly moving and fantastically written. I will definitely read most of these stories, if not the whole collection, many times over.

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

Probably one of the best gay fiction(?) novels of all time. Painful, funny, dangerous, sexy, mature, and playful. Fantastic read.

Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania by Andy Behrman

Nothing special. Behrman tries too hard to be psychotic.

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes

Absolutely beautiful collection of short stories, chronicling race relations in the American Jazz Age. Hughes writes a stunning anthropological study of the white race, in response to Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk.

The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #3) by Rick Riordan

Just another fantastic installment of the great “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. Each new story is better than the last – the action is getting more intense, the danger more real and more powerful. Plus, Riordan’s knowledge of Classical Greek Mythology is superb. He turns that knowledge into something both useful and entertaining – education can be fun! I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoyed Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or similar fantasy genre series’. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as Lord of the Rings and the narrative construction doesn’t “progress” through time the way that the Harry Potter novels do, but it’s still a worthy, exciting read. Light but fruitful. Can’t wait to get number four!

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s exploration of the human conscience – the meaning of “madness” – is what made this play so revolutionary and it is what has kept the play so popular for over 300 years. Hamlet breaks tradition from previous revenge tragedies of the Jacobean, Elizabethan, and classical tragedies in that Shakespeare provides a “method” for the madness. The purpose of the “ghost” of Hamlet’s father remains debated today. The discussion of protestant vs catholic vs pagan beliefs is exciting.

The Arden edition is especially beneficial to students of literature or of Shakespeare because it provides excellent explanatory notes, appendices, introductions, etc.

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