Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Olympian

Riordan, Rick. The Last Olympian. Percy Jackson & the Olympians. 5. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

Percy's a playa!
Rachel kissed me before I could even react. "Now get going, half-blood. Go kill some monsters for me."
"So," Beckendorf said, "I'm guessing you don't want me to mention that little scene to Annabeth."
"Oh, gods," I muttered. "Don't even think about it."

But why shouldn't Percy keep his options open? He's about to turn sixteen. And when he does, he gets to decide the fate of the world.

A lot of people die in this one. It is all about the war between the Titons and the Gods so it is to be expected, but a lot of people die. And not just monsters who can reform later; demigods die. And not just people we expect to die (like Luke), but normal demigods who have been present at Camp Half-Blood since book 1. I knew that people I liked would die in this one, but I guess I wasn't expecting so many to die. Not that it felt gratuitous or anything; every death meant something and was for a reason. It was just sad.

That said, this book rocked. It is jam-packed with action. In between all the monster fighting, we learn a lot of back story about Luke, Thalia and Annabeth, we learn the rest of The Prophecy, we learn why the Oracle is a tie-dye wearing mummy, and we learn why all of these things are connected and, oddly enough, what they have to do with Rachel. A lot of things came together in this book from various points of the story thus far in the previous 4 books, and it wasn't all about Percy like I worried it would be! Everyone who was ever important in the previous books has an impact on the outcome in this one. Percy is still a very big hinge-pin, but he is not the be all and end all of Olympus, Camp Half-Blood, or the mortal world. It's a nice difference from the other series about a special/chosen magic young boy you may have read...

This was a very well thought out end to the series. I wish the series were longer as I enjoyed reading it so much, but nothing about this ending left me unsatisfied. I know how things ended and I have a pretty good guess at how they will proceed. Besides, Riordan hints in his acknowledgments that there may be other series about the campers of Camp Half-Blood in the future.(!)

But let's be honest. What I'm really happy about is that evil no longer hangs out in San Francisco. Evil congregates in Jersey. Awesome. :)

Book 1: The Lightning Thief
Book 2: The Sea of Monsters
Book 3: The Titan's Curse
Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth
Book Source: Philly Free Library

Vampirates: Tide of Terror

Somper, Justin. Vampirates: Tide of Terror. Vampirates. 2. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.
[Book cover credit:]

"Each of the charms has an important meaning. They symbolize the three core talents required to be a successful pirate. The sword represents the ability to fight and is modeled on my very own Toledo Blade. The compass represents skills in navigation. The anchor recognizes that we must ground ourselves in pirate history. And the pearl...well the pearl is perhaps the most important -- it marks the capacity to take the most dark and unprepossessing of situations and break through it to find the treasure within."
p. 142

So begins Connor and Grace's training at the Pirate Academy. While there, each will learn how to tie knots, sword fighting and skills that make a good captain. One of them will also learn to let go and the other to hang on.

Even though it's been a while since I read the first book in the Vampirates series, it took me no time at all to re-orient myself in Connor and Grace's (and Lorcan's and Sidorio's and Cheng Li's) story and be sucked back into their future world of piracy. The Pirate Academy and Pirate Federation both play a big part in this book, as does Captain Wrathe's opposition to both. Good guys become bad guys right and left in this second installment, and a lot of that has to do with Connor and Grace's changing feelings toward institutionalized piracy.

Grace hopes to convince Connor to go along with Academy life as a possibly stepping stone away from piracy altogether. If she can't have what she wants (to go back to the Vampirates, of course) why should he? As the death of a crew member aboard The Diablo shows, Connor is in just as much danger every time he helps out in an attack as Grace was hanging out with vampires. He takes to Academy life, but not in the way she hopes; he sees how it will help him to excel as a pirate captain. In turn, Grace begins to visit the Vampirate ship, if only in spirit.

Their stories are just as separate now that they are together as they were in the first book when they were apart. I kind of like that about this book. Grace and Connor are very distinctive people with very different dreams, even if they are referred to as "the twins" by just about everyone(longer rant about that in a minute). Even though Connor and Grace are in some really weird circumstances that, I feel, hardly anyone can relate to on a literal level (though, if you know of a real pirate academy, please let me know!), what they go through in this book is something that most kids go through. Connor and Grace both have to grow up a bit in this book and, in the process, grow away from each other. My sister is ten years younger than I am, so I didn't ever go through this process with a sibling, but I did go through The Big Middle School Friend Shift. It sucked. All of a sudden you're not only surrounded by all the people you went to elementary school with, but with a bunch of other kids too. And some of them are pretty cool and have the same schedule as you and so on and so forth. I know I didn't mean to ditch old friends in middle school, and I hope that they didn't intentionally ditch me, but as the world got bigger, friends changed. Connor and Grace both realize that in this book and have to come to terms with the fact that they won't always be together. It's kind of heartbreaking, even though they both end up (spoiler) happy in the end.

Okay, enough touchy-feely business. I couldn't stand how often Connor and Grace were referred to as "the twins" in this book. It drove me crazy! Especially since, though they were both at the Academy, they were hardly ever together. This whole book (I think) is about the two of them realizing that they are two completely different people, and yet they are referred to as a set throughout! Granted, the twins saves the printer 6 six characters and the speaker 2 syllables, but still. If this continues in the next book I might have to pull my hair out.

Book 1: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
Book Source: I bought this baby.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Battle of the Labyrinth

Riordan, Rick. The Battle of the Labyrinth. Percy Jackson & the Olympians. 4. New York: Hyperion Books for Children; Paperback edition, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

Percy is nervous enough about going to orientation at the school where Paul Blofis (Mr. Blowfish) is a teacher; running into Rachel Elizabeth Dare is just an added bonus. When things go catastrophically, some might say mythologically, wrong Percy doesn't have time to worry about how his bad luck will affect Paul's career or relationship with Percy's mother. Annabeth has shown up to rush him off to Camp Halfblood where Grover must appear before the Council of Cloven Elders for his lack of progress finding the lost god Pan.

Our young man is sure growing up. As if we didn't all see it coming, Percy and Annabeth are a bit awkward and crush-y. We don't even make it past page 2 before this awesome exchange:

"Think positive. Tomorrow you're off to camp! After orientation, you've got your date--"
"It's not a date!" I protested. "It's just Annabeth, Mom. Jeez!"

You can feel that "Jeez!" sear the page. It's lovely. Awkwardness like this abounds throughout the book, in and around the more action-packed plot Percy's readers are used to, and it's not just between Percy and Annabeth. It seems like everyone has a love interest all of a sudden, even Grover. I love it!

Aside from embarrassing romantic entanglements, The Battle of the Labyrinth mirrors the form and quality of the three preceding books in the series. There is action! There is a prophecy! There is THE prophecy! There are angry gods who can't seem to take care of themselves! There are Percy, Annabeth and Grover all ready and willing to save the day! I appreciated Annabeth's leadership role and the focus on Grover's quest in this book. I really hope that this more extended treatment of them is not just to make up for a 5th book all about Percy and his 16th birthday.

Book 1: The Lightning Thief
Book 2: The Sea of Monsters
Book 3: The Titan's Curse
Book Source: Philly Free Library

Support Your Local Library Challange

I'm coming to this a little late, but I'm giving it a try anyway. For extra drama, I'm going with challenge option #3: reading 50 books from my local library before December 31, 2009. Given Mayor Nutter's disturbing Plan C,* the Philadelphia Free Library can use all the support it can get, including non-monetary support, and reading 50 books is the least I could do.

Since I work in the library of a private college, I'm limiting my challenge books to only those checked out from the public library. I know I've checked out and read plenty of books from Philly Free this year, but for accuracy's sake, I'll only count those that I can be sure were this year, ie. the ones I've blogged about. Books I've blogged about are linked; you're just going to have to trust me on the rest. ;)

1. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
2. Snitch by Allison van Diepen
3. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale
4. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
5. Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire
6. Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton (This was great, by the way.)
7. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
8. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
9. Don't Cry: Stories by Mary Gaitskill
10. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
11. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
12. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
13. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
14. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
15. M+O 4EVR by Tonya Cherie Hegamin
16. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
17. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
18. The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution by Sally Gardner
19. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
20. Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriyār Mandanī╩╣pūr
21. Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman
22. A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
23. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
24. The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
25. King Rat by China Mieville
26. Mariah Mundi: The Midas Box by G.P. Taylor
27. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
28. Dreaming in French by Megan McAndrew

*For a full transcript of Mayor Nutter's speech, see Philebrity's coverage of this issue.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Titan's Curse

Riordan, Rick. The Titan's Curse. Percy Jackson & the Olympians. 3. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2007.
[Book cover credit:]


BookSense Top Ten Summer Pick (2007)
An Amazon Best Book (2007)

In a camp of heroes, Percy is used to being, well, the hero. Now that Thalia's back, however, Percy isn't quite as important as he used to be. When he Thalia, Grover and Annabeth go on a mission to retrieve two half-bloods from a militry school, Percy ignores Thalia's instructions and tries to save the day himself. Luckily Artemis and her hunters come to the rescue when Percy's lack of plan goes horribly wrong. Unfortunately, they can't rescue everyone and Annabeth disintegrates with the monster the hunters attack. Artemis follows the monster's scent while Percy, Thalia, Grover, the two new kids and all of Artemis' hunters head back to camp and, they hope, a quest to save their friend.

Riordan is really starting to get into obscure mythology here, or at least I, who haven't had anything to do with mythology since the 9th grade, think so. As the Titans continue to gain power, helped by Luke of course, characters come forward that have been around since before the gods. Luckily, Riordan is great at doling out the information you need to know. I feel like things would make more sense if you know what was going on from the beginning, but I managed to LOVE this book, without picking up any of the clues that I should have (Spoiler: Nico gets mad and the ground opens up and eats some soldiers=he's a son of Hades? So didn't make that jump). It's like a mystery/adventure novel.

My only complaint: How can Riordan make San Francisco a bad place? I was offended/sad, although I do have to admit that the ever present fog (mist) was very convenient for his plot. He better make it a happy place by the end of the 5th book.

Book 1: The Lightning Thief
Book 2: The Sea of Monsters
Book Source: College library

The Sea of Monsters

Riordan, Rick. The Sea of Monsters. Percy Jackson & the Olympians. 2. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.
[Book cover credit:]

BookSense Top Ten Summer Pick (2006)
Child Magazine Best Book (2006)
Kirkus Reviews Best Fantasy Sequel (2006)
Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice Award (2007)
Mark Twain Award (2009)

Percy almost makes it through the seventh grade without incident. Then he's attacked by man-eating giants on his last day of school. Luckily Annabeth shows up to help, and Tyson, Percy's new and only friend at school, is really good at fighting giants. Another year, another odd friend who Percy doesn't realize is mythical until he does something magical. Same old, same old, right? It would be if it weren't for Percy's persistent dreams of Grover in a wedding dress, scared out of his mind, and some serious security issues at Camp Half-Blood. All of this adds up to another quest for Percy and company, hopefully to save both Grover and the camp.

The Sea of Monsters is the opposite of second book syndrome. Though it is clear that all of these books are leading up to the last book, Percy's 16th birthday, and The Prophecy, so far the books are all compelling on their own. The second book wouldn't quite stand on its own, I don't think, because readers need information from the first book to understand/appreciate The Sea of Monsters, but I didn't feel like this book was filler on the way to 16 while I was reading.

But the best part was this:
"I'll be next door, " Annabeth said. "You guys don't drink or eat anything."
"You think this place is enchanted?"
She frowned. "I don't know. Something isn't right. Just be careful."
We locked our doors.
p. 115

I have felt like I've been going crazy lately. Coraline and, I think, Another Faust have kids going into other-worldly places and sitting for lunch. I thought the cardinal rule of fantasy (cause there is totally such things as cardinal rules of fantasy...) was that you couldn't eat or drink fairie (or mythical monster or Other Mother or Satan's) food and expect to go back to your world like nothing ever happened. It was so nice to see that this cardinal rule was upheld in The Sea of Monsters. That alone would have made reading this book worth it for me right now. Luckily it has a lot to offer to other readers as well.

Sequel to: The Lightning Thief
Book Source: College Library

Monday, August 10, 2009

The third Harry Potter movie situation and The Time Traveler's Wife

I resisted reading the Harry Potter books for a really long time. I didn't read them, mostly, because everyone said that I should. I didn't do a lot of things when I was in high school, as I was when the HP series was starting out, for this very reason. By the time the movies started coming out I was over the angst, but too busy with college to read the books. I liked the movies though.

Now, the movie of any book is never like the book. I know that. I knew that I was missing stuff, REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF if I listened to the nearest HP fanatic, but I was perfectly happy to just watch the movies and let the books pass me by. Then the third movie came out.

I had no idea what was going on for most of the movie and drove my HP reading friends nuts with all my in-theater questions.

The screenwriter/directer/producer/whoever makes these kinds of decisions had made a movie for book readers. Folks like me who had never cracked open a single book by Ms. Rowling were left in the dust. It was awesome for the reading fans; no time wasted explaining things to newbs like me. It was a waste of $8 for me. Not that the movie wasn't good! It's still my favorite so far, but at the time that I first saw it, I couldn't possibly appreciate it.

Now I try to read books before I see the movie as much as possible. If the movie isn't important enough to warrant taking the time to read the book, then the movie isn't worth the money to see it in theaters. I'll still check it out from the library or get it on Netflix if it gets good reviews, but I will not see a movie in the theaters unless I've read the book it was based on.

This is why I read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Alex Award, 2004). The book was recommended by a friend whose reading tastes I respect and sometimes mirror, and the movie has Rachel McAdams in it for crying out loud!

A lot of things about this book made me mad. A lot. It felt like there was a lot of imagination put into the concept: this guy Henry goes back in time and meets his wife when she's 6 and all of the butterfly effect goodness that brings. Not as much imagination went into how that was going to play out once they made it through Clare's teens and into their actual real-time marriage.

If you haven't read it yet and feel like you may want to, you may want to stop reading here and just know that I didn't like it.

I feel like I'm giving away the ending here even though the author tells you halfway through the book anyway and you just have to wait another 200 pages or so for it to actually happen, but he dies. Clare's dad, when Clare is 12 or so, shoots her future husband who is traveling back in time from when Clare is in her late 30s. And then, as if that weren't bad enough, Clare finds a note from Henry telling her how bad he feels that she's spent so much of her life waiting for him and that he doesn't want her to do that anymore. BUT he is going to travel into the future from his past and see her when she's old. So what does she do? She lives the rest of her life, the next 40 years, waiting for him to show up, just like she spent the first 40. Real uplifting ending. I was so mad.

Moral of the story (my story, not The Time Traveler's Wife): Don't read a book that you thought would be too sappy for your taste just so you can justify going to see a movie with Rachel McAdams in it.

She did star in The Notebook afterall.

Book source: I bought it and kind of can't wait to get it out of my house. Let me know if you're interested.

Image credits:


Gaiman, Neil. Ills. Dave McKean. Coraline. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
[Book cover credit:]

Bram Stoker Award, Work for Young Readers (2002)
British Science Fiction Association Award, Short Fiction (2002)
Carnegie Medal Nominee (2002)
American Library Association Notable Children's Book (2003)
Hugo, Novella (2003)
Nebula, Novella (2003)
ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2005)

Coraline's family's new apartment has a door that leads to nowhere. Behind it is a brick wall. Naturally, Coraline must find out what is on the other side of that wall. When she does, she finds another mother, who cooks better food, another father, who is never too busy to play with her, and a bedroom very much like her own, except that the toys are much better. Sounds great, right? Well, everything does until you're told it's all you get. When Coraline realizes that the Other Mother wants to keep her for herself, trapped in this other apartment, Coraline must figure out a way to get out and get everything back to normal, which really wasn't all that bad now that she thinks about it.

Coraline, like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland before it, tells the story of a young girl who leaves her home for something more fantastical and exciting only to find out that what she had to begin with was pretty great. Of course, now that she's figured that out, she can't get back. Gaiman manages to take this trope and make it new and creepy and exciting. It's also missing that heavy dose of appreciate-what-you-have lesson that is present in many tellings of this type of story.

I read this in a day and loved every minute of it. I gave it to the girlfriend to read. She usually ignores my you-must-read-this-book advice where non-adult books are concerned. She read this and loved it too. If that's not a glowing recommendation, I don't know what is. :)

Book source: College library

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lightning Thief

Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. Percy Jackson & the Olympians. 1. New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion Books for Children, 2005.
[Book cover credit:]

Child Magazine Best Book (2005)
New York Times Notable Book (2005)
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2005)
VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List (2005)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2006)
American Library Association Notable Children's Book (2006)
Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice Award (2006)
ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (2008)
Mark Twain Award (2008)
And at least a dozen regional awards ranging from 2005-2009

Sixth grade looks like it might just be the magic year for Percy Jackson, the year he gets through without the threat of expulsion. He's on a field trip, chaperoned by his Latin and math teachers, when things start to go incredibly wrong. His math teacher tries to kill him, his Latin teacher throws him a pen with which to defend himself, and afterward, no one else seems to have noticed a thing. This is just the beginning of a string of events that leads him to Camp Half-Blood where he finds out that he is the half-god son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. Percy also finds out that he's being accused of stealing Zeus's most powerful lightning bolt and that he must accept a quest to find the true thief and clear his name, not to mention save himself from the wrath of Zeus. If only every summer camp were this exciting.

I somehow managed to miss the entire Percy Jackson phenomenon when it started up a few years ago, but with all the buzz for the last book The Last Olympian, I thought I'd try to catch up.

The Lightning Thief was a quick read, but an engrossing one. I think that's why it's managed to appeal to teens much older than the reading level would indicate. The mythology presented is not your average "Poseidon is in the water, Zeus is in the sky, Hades is underground," although those three facts are very important too. There are minor details of less well-known (or less well-remembered from my junior high days) myths that are REALLY IMPORTANT to Percy and his friends. Luckily, one of his best friends is a daughter of Athena (wisdom) and explains everything along the way. Still, there were some characters and stories referenced that I didn't feel like I understood completely. This did not detract from Percy's story at all. I was perfectly happy to go back and look things up once I'd finished the book. I looked folks up on Wikipedia, but for collection purposes, it would probably be nicer to have a guide to mythology of some sort that is around the same reading level as these books.

This book does do the annoying series thing, where the last line is just a teaser/cliff-hanger for the next book. That's fine with me, for now, since I checked out books 1-3 all at once and book 4 is already being held for me at the library. I'll probably mind a bit more when I finish book 4 and am still on the waiting list at the library for book 5.

Book source: College library (with a great Juvenile collection for edu majors)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Faust

Nayeri, Daniel and Dina. Another Faust. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009.
[Book cover credit:]

Victoria doesn't win at everything. For this, her father is eternally disapointed in her. Christian's father has given up on life since the death of his wife. Everything is up to Christian now, finding shelter, stealing food, everything. Valentin's mother is a famous poet, and his father is a less famous drunk. He is well aware of what his father's lack of fame has cost him, even is his father is not. Belle knows she will never be as smart as her twin sister, so she irrationally hopes to become prettier. All that these four sad children have in common is their desperation, what they are willing to trade to get what they want and, more importantly, with whom.

This is a nice break from the current trend in paranormal/magic/otherworldly teen lit (or at least the stuff I've been reading). Instead of making a vampire or witch or werewolf into a good guy, Another Faust features four teens who actually make deals with the devil. And that's bad. None of them end up being good guys, though there are varying levels of bad. Two of them are saved from their hellish fate by the one teen in their group who never made the deal, a secret fifth. She was good in the beginning and she remains good through to the end.

Evil doesn't always look like evil, but once you realize who is evil in this book, they remain so. And they are really evil. I mean, these kids have traded their souls to the devil for beauty, fame, power, and wealth. The devil is their nanny. Living in high society New York, they call her their governess. Throughout the book, the teens are all doing their governess's bidding as she plans to bring powerful people into her grip through them. It never really becomes clear what the devil's big plan is, though it is clear that the plan is well thought out and complicated. Her plan is kind of abandoned as the teens break rank and try to regain their souls.

Even with some confusing moments and more than a few loose ends, I felt that this book ended in a satisfying way. I was completely sucked in to the story and glazed over the gaps and holes while reading. I would imagine that many others will do the same.