Book Review: Eternity Road: Strong World Building and Weak Characters

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I was caught by the blurb on the back of Jack McDevitt’s Eternity Road. It is not my usual genre by any standards. It is adult, post-apocalyptic, journey fiction. A plague tore through the population. Centuries on, humanity has grouped again into large cities though much of the knowledge of the eons has been lost—everything from basic geography to Christian philosophy to the printing press. The main transport is horseback though man-powered and current-driven barges and boats travel the Mississippi and Hudson. Recently several cities have formed alliances and unified their governments. People remain nostalgic for the time before the virus, awed by the giant and enduring ruins of that culture, called the Roadmakers.

It was refreshing to see a post-apocalyptic world that was neither technologically advanced nor dystopian. Life in Illyria is fairly civilized. There are not government-sponsored death matches or even a focus on government corruption within the text.

McDevitt does a very good job building new cultures and societies out of the scraps of ours. Language evolution is visible in the names. There are new gods and religious traditions. He uses the journey to explore several ways of living, and particularly several views of sexuality, with which he frankly seems a little preoccupied to me, but then I read a lot of kid lit.

I’d expected from the blurb, a greater emphasis on the power of fiction—or a greater connection between this plot and that of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but Twain’s novel serves only as proof that a sanctuary might have been discovered by a seemingly unsuccessful expedition where Roadmaker culture—American culture of at least several decades beyond present day—might have persisted or been preserved. There is still however a strong undertone of the value of literature to dandle every reader’s soul.

Chaka and Avila seemed very promisingly feminist characters. As too many do though, I felt as if this male writer didn’t quite know how to handle them. I don’t like to criticize on that front when my own story features at least one male protagonist, but Chaka particularly had the chance. She is the first to call for an expedition and the one to gather the crew, but she is never considered for a leadership role and seemed to not consider herself for one either. She is too preoccupied with the male characters, to willing to rely on male protection and leadership, making her more of a male fantasy than a feminist role model. Avila’s curiosity, readiness to break tradition, and resourcefulness make her a more feminist model, but she is also given less time in the text. I do have to give McDevitt a few points for his attempts to write feminist characters in these and then the very briefly present Judge… who is never named.

In truth I think it is less a problem of not knowing how to handle female protagonists than a problem of not knowing how to handle characters or maybe a group of characters. None of the characters develop as fully as I’d have liked. I had a difficult time distinguishing between the men of the expedition. McDevitt made attempts to differentiate them and to have them exhibit growth, but the characters never came alive.

Without vivacious characters, I had a difficult time investing in the journey, which, granted, took the team through some interesting ruins but one ruin did not really build to another so that the journey read as scenes of excitement bridged by lulls filled all too often with the characters’ romantic and lustful relationships with one another. One Goodreads reviewer compared the book to a bus tour, and that’s not inaccurate. Journey fiction is difficult. The lull between adventures is difficult. It really takes at least one strong character to uphold the reader’s attention. Stronger characters are I think one of the reasons why The Lord of the Rings works better than The Hobbit, for example. The Lord of the Rings has a whole company of strong characters. For me, Bilbo is perhaps the only standout in his company, the dwarves mostly blending together in the text. For me, Eternity Road’s crew seemed more like the dwarves of The Hobbit, acting mostly as a group than a collection of individuals. That might be one more reason why the romances between the characters felt so jarring.

***

McDevitt, Jack. Eternity Road. New York: Harper Voyager-HarperCollins, 2011. First printed 1997.

This review is not endorsed by Jack McDevitt, Harper Voyager, or HarperCollins Publishers .  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Witch Which? Stars an Overlooked Protagonist

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Spoilers.

I’ve read several of Eva Ibbotson’s books, and reviewed one for this blog. Which Witch? is perhaps one of her best known, possibly for its clever title. It was too one of her earliest, preceded only by The Great Ghost Rescue (of which I’d not heard before writing this review). The theme of this book is a comfortable one: the power of love, the dangers of an absence of love, and the power of love to transform a person. It is told with a twist, however. The protagonists are the wicked witches and wizards one would normally expect to find as antagonists. The true antagonist is another familiar antagonist type: a cruel authority figure who ought to be nurturing but is not, in this case a matron of an orphanage (see Miss Hannigan, see Miss Minchin, see even Professor Snape).

The handsome but wicked Arriman the Awful, wizard of the North, raised by most understanding parents who gave him every opportunity and encouraged his wickedness and power, finds himself aging. Arriman, too busy smiting and blighting, has done nothing to prepare for such an eventuality. He is told by a clairvoyant that an heir is coming, so he posts a three-headed Wizard Watcher at his gate but it seems in vain. Believing that he will have to take matters into his own hands, Arriman agrees very reluctantly to seek a wife, and holds a competition to determine the most wicked and therefore most eligible wife to bear him an heir. Within the coven is one white witch, Belladonna, who wishes to be black and accepted by the coven that shuns her for her whiteness.

Though the romance is theirs, I feel that the truly pivotal protagonist is Terrence, the unwanted orphan, abused by his matron. In his defense Belladonna performs the darkest magic that she has ever managed. The two of them decide that the factor enabling this blackness is Terrence’s pet worm, Rover. Belladonna takes Rover as a familiar, and Terrence begs to be brought along as her servant.

Terrence has the most fun he ever has and finds himself the most sought after he that ever has done by making himself useful to Belladonna, Arriman, and Arriman’s staff.

Stolen away, Terrence overhears the matron discussing the reasons for her abuse, enumerating the inexplicable oddities that he has displayed. In fright, he manages a spell of his own, and returning to Darkington Hall, takes his place as Arriman’s apprentice and heir, enabling the marriage of Arriman and Belladonna.

I openly admit to a love of books that play with the readers’ expectations and with POV particularly. The story to me was predictable but the familiarity of a predictable storyline can be sometimes just what the soul orders. Ibbotson here does nothing to disparage goodness or whiteness. In fact, Ibbotson writes to ease the fear of the paranormal and supernatural that haunted her according to her Goodreads bio. So parents ought not to find fault with the book on that account. Belladonna’s whiteness stands as an impediment to her marriage to the man that she loves, and love is the ultimate goal of every character within the book—expect perhaps Madame Olympia, who is painted as too black for even these black wizards and witches. The story’s black magic is negligible (there seem to be no consequences to Arriman’s smiting and blighting and it seems to happen primarily within the confines of his own property, Madame Olympia’s most foul magic has the power only to frighten and is not lasting) and punished (Nancy loses her twin Nora temporarily to a bottomless hole and so learns the value of family) and reversible (Terrence and Arriman put almost all to rights at the end). Ibbotson writes with her tongue in her cheek, using humor to reveal the world and its flaws.

I was somewhat disappointed by the emphasis Arriman places on physical appearance in his search for love and with the clichéd linkage between goodness and beauty and wickedness and ugliness in this book, but no so much as to toss the book aside.

****

Ibbotson, Eva. Which Witch? Illus. Annabel Large. New York: Puffin-Penguin, 2000. Originally published by Macmillan, 1979.

This review is not endorsed by Eva Ibbotson, her estate, Puffin Books, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Last Night Before (318 words)

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“I can smell your bleeding heart from down the hall. What? Are you having second thoughts? Or fourth? Or hundredth? I’ve lost count.”

Darryn let go his knees and lifted his head and uncurled himself to look up at Talya. She wore a sad sort of smile as she stood above him.

Darryn would have liked to deny it, but Talya would know the lie. “Yes.”

“He has to be stopped.”

“I know. I know.” Darryn buried his face in his knees again.

Talya sank down beside him. He felt the pleasant weight and warmth of her beside him, more solid for not being able to see her with his head to his knees. She could be anyone or anything, the deity who could wipe the responsibility from Darryn’s sloping shoulders. Her skirts and sleeves whispered as she shifted herself.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.  Her voice was quiet, a breath, a question for him alone. “I can’t do this for you, Darryn.”

“No.” Fear widened his eyes as he looked up to see her face near level with his. “Please,” he whispered, “don’t.”

She laid a hand on Darryn’s arm. “I know.  But I wish you didn’t have to. I wish I knew another way.”

“There’s no other way.” Darryn knew it. Talya knew it. They’d talked the point to death.

“I’ll be there,” she said. “Beside you. If you want me to be.”

“I don’t. I don’t want you anywhere near him.  You understand that, don’t you?” he asked.

“I,” she said, “do.”

“Promise me you’ll keep away. Let me do this. Alone.”

“Darryn—”

“Talya—”

“I will,” she said. “I’ll keep away.” She bit her lip. Her hand retreated into the folds of her skirt. Darryn missed the warmth of it.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and he looked away. He suppressed a shiver.

“Darryn,” Talya asked, “what if you can’t?”

The line this week was mine, stumbled upon while driving to work one morning and percolating in the back of my mind since.  The “boys” decided to be angsty (the dictionary declares this is not a word, and I think Merriam-Webster needs to get on that) today.  I would have liked a little more sass.  I may on a sassier day have to return to this line.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master stole the line to write “A Word for That” (741 words).

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Some People Juggle Geese.”

Book Review: Sold Accomplishes Much

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I purchased Patricia McCormick’s award-winning book, Sold, for Hillary Homzie’s Giving Voice to the Voiceless class, and while I did not end up completing the course due to time and financial restraints, I kept the books. This one for its free verse form and unexpected topic piqued my curiosity. Sold follows Lakshmi from her village in the Nepalese Himalayans across the border into Indian, where she is sold to a brothel. Ultimately, Lakshmi escapes the brothel with the help of an American.

Before I get too in depth into the structure and storytelling, there is one quibble that stands above the rest. This story is incomplete—for me. I read the last page and turned it to look for the next only to find a page of acknowledgements. Lakshmi runs to an American man who has brought with him policemen to help him help Lakshmi out of the brothel. We do not see Lakshmi leave. We have no guarantee that she safely arrives at the safe and clean sanctuary. Especially in a book that has been warning us of the wickedness of American men, I needed to see more. I needed to have Lakshmi truly safe before the story ends.

Now, there are reasons—that I can see—for ending the story mid-story. It leaves Lakshmi in peril like so many women still are in peril, and it leaves the reader to finish the story, to do what he or she can do to help these women.

But as a reader, as a human, I still wanted more closure in this tale, for this woman.  I would have liked to have seen her Ama with a tin roof.

This interview posted on McCormick’s website actually addresses a lot of my other concerns with the book. Why have an American man rescuing this Nepali woman? Why tell the story in free verse?

McCormick says that she chose an American hero because her primary audience is American, and she wanted her audience to see themselves as able to make a difference to these women. She admits though that given the opportunity, she would make her heroes the local Indian men and women. I notice too that for the upcoming film (release date March 2015), produced by Emma Thompson and directed by Jeffery Brown, a Caucasian woman rescues Lakshmi—or so it seems from the trailer.

The story is told in vignettes (which take the form of free verse) because McCormick found it too “daunting” to tell all of Lakshmi’s story. She liked the fractured format and she thought that the white space would encourage pause and reflection in her readers.

Poetry is rarely marketed for teens, although several authors, notably Ellen Hopkins, have enjoyed success with stories told in verse for teens. Hopkins like McCormick in this novel, tackles big social issues in her books: drug usage, prostitution, and mental illness. I’m not familiar with enough teen books in verse to comment on the correlation between verse and tackling social issues.

I think that—apart from ending her story too soon—McCormick told her story well. The form did not make for a confusing narrative, and I think—for me—the brevity of the poem scene helped make this book more accessible. This is a difficult subject, a heartbreaking subject, and one that can be difficult to read about. Because the encounters with Lakshmi’s horrors were brief, they were endurable, and for being endurable, the book made an apt vessel for McCormick’s message of social awareness. Within that form–a mere 263 pages of poetry, so not a great time commitment–McCormick is able to create well-rounded and vivid characters—as much as most prose novelists. McCormick too is able to create a full sense of place.  I think this book is well worth the time to read it.

****

McCormick, Patricia.  Sold.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2008.  First published 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Patricia McCormick, Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: American Born Chinese Smashes Stereotypes and Issues Challenges Directly

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Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese is another book that I was introduced to by A. LaFaye in that same History and Criticism of Children’s Literature class at Hollins University, and is another that I have read many times since that class. This is an award winning graphic novel about Jin Wang’s struggle to fit into a predominantly Caucasian America as a Chinese American. It parallels with the ancient Chinese tale of the Monkey King, a powerful monkey who wants to be a god, but whom the gods refuse because he’s a monkey. Told with a laugh track and canned applause like a 90s television comedy, the third strand of the story, “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee” features the worst of Chinese stereotypes in Chin-Kee, a cousin of all-American Danny who so embarrasses Danny that Danny has to change schools each year after Chin-Kee’s visit. The three tales intersect at the end of the book with a lesson to learn to be happy as one is rather than wishing to be something one is not.

This was the first graphic novel I was able to enjoy, though a few others had been put into my hands prior, including Tamora Pierce’s White Tiger, which I’d have loved to have enjoyed. I cannot pretend to have a breadth of knowledge about either comic or manga illustration styles. I have had difficulty particularly with the American comic book format. When confronted with the form, my mind can focus on either the text or picture but not on both. A. suggested that this is a more common problem than I ever would have expected and related to the same reflex that makes me cover my eyes during horror films. In American comic books and horror films, the action is generally directed out of the page at the audience, so I flinch from horror films and dodge the illustrations in American comic books, glossing over the pictures, missing the details they add to the story, and catching only the dialogue. I also don’t approve of the hypersexualization of characters that seems pervasive in comic book illustration.

Yang’s style is more confined to the pages, even the fight sequences only occasionally having a limb extended out towards the reader. His colors are brighter, though I’m not sure what effect that would have on my reading ability unless the brighter colors are more welcoming in the same way that picture book illustrators recommend bright colors to keep a child’s attention and to create a stimulating image. The characters are not hypersexualized but rather of fairly average body type. Most of the illustrations feature forward facing characters and often direct stares, placing the reader in the position of a character, of a confidant or aggressor or opponent, creating empathy in many cases and inviting introspection and close reflection of the characters’ words.

That’s one of things I love best about this book: It issues a challenge to the reader while being readily accessible, even with its graphic novel form inviting more reluctant readers to read. It takes its challenges of stereotypes to every level, going beyond its text, challenging the belief that a graphic novel cannot have literary value (though this is becoming a less firmly held belief among critics, educators, and parents, I believe). Its illustrations blend manga and American comics while creating something new, its form a metaphor for the story’s message. It speaks openly about racism and race and prejudice.

I don’t admittedly know enough about Chinese mythology or folklore. I believe though that in the spirit of the melting pot, Yang melds Chinese mythology and Christian mythology. The emissaries of Tze-yo-tzuh, an all-powerful god who created the world and everything in it, are a bull, lion, woman, and eagle. A man, bull, lion, and eagle are traditionally used to depict the four Christian Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Journey into the West taken by Wong Lai-Taso and the Monkey King is to see and bring gifts to a humble man in a brown robe and a woman in a blue mantle with a young child. The couple and child look like the traditional representations of Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus, and Wong Lai-Taso’s and the Monkey King’s journey west to give them gifts then parallels the journey of the wise men (from the East) to present their gifts to the Christ child in the Christian story.

Yang creates a wonderful piece of fiction, complex and intricate.

*****

Yang, Gene Yuen. American Born Chinese. Color by Lark Pien. New York: First Second-Roaring Brook-MacMillan-Holtzbrinck, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Gene Yuen Yang, First Second, Roaring Brook Press, MacMillan Publishers, or Holtzbrinck Publishing Holding Limited Partnership.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Giggler Treatment’s Clever Absurdity Still Has Me Giggling

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I was introduced to this story and to Roddy Doyle by A. LaFaye in a History and Criticism of Children’s Literature class at Hollins University. I fell in love with it perhaps almost instantaneously, opening its package at the dinner table and promptly passing it around or reading the back cover’s blurb aloud (I forget which). I read it before class, then for class, and several times since term ended (two years ago, but it never feels that long ago).

The story, coming to us from Ireland, solicitously translates the Irish expressions for Americans so that we know that Mr. Mack, a biscuit tester, spends his day with cookies. Also we are ready to translate, “Quick! Quick! My cookie is bleeding! Give me a Band-Aid!” to “Quick! Quick! My biscuit is bleeding! Give me a plaster!” (7).

That’s just a taste of the absurd, tongue-in-cheek humor of Roddy Doyle’s book.

I have always been partial to this style of nonsense.

There’s a lot in this book that reminds me of some childhood favorites of mine: Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books particularly but also Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, all men who don’t underestimate children’s intelligence or their ability to pick up on absurdity and word play.

The chapter titles in particular are wonderful examples of the playfulness with which Doyle treats traditional fiction: “Chapter One,” “The Return of Chapter One,” “A Chapter That Isn’t Really a Chapter Because Nothing Really Happens in it But We’ll Call it Chapter Four,” “Chapter Something”…. Somewhere around “Chapter Sixteen” (which comes after “Chapter Two Million and Seven”), Doyle gives up on numbering the chapters and begins to use the questions that the chapters answer as headers: “How Many Inches Now?,” “Where in the World is Rover? {II}”….

Doyle’s is metafiction. It shatters the 4th wall to such an extent that there’s hardly any wall left.

He is a present narrator and acknowledges the fiction of his story. Doyle speaks directly to the audience about himself as a person and as a writer. He discusses his country and its language and references his grandmother (“I was tempted to put in a dinosaur in a leather jacket who bullies old people, but my grandmother wouldn’t lend me her leather jacket”) (7) and mother, after whom he names a chapter: “This Chapter Is Named After My Mother Because She Said I Could Stay Up Late if I Named it After Her: Chapter Mammy Doyle” (49).

The audience occasionally interjects with a question too, making them a presence within the text if not in the story.

Characters also sometimes interrupt the text to interact with the author.

Beyond the hilarity of this play with the traditional narrative style, Doyle’s story tells of a loving family (always a wonderful thing) able to do extraordinary things through their love, like understand the complex sentences of their youngest daughter, expressed using only the word “A-bah.” Well, that’s not perhaps the main focus of the story. The main focus of the story is the dog poo left by the Gigglers, invisible creatures bent on punishing adults for mistreating children. The Gigglers witness Mr. Mack losing his patience with his two sons but not the apology that he later gives them, and so they seek out a big squishy pile of poo and scoot it onto the sidewalk for Mr. Mack to step into on his way to work. The Mack children learning by chance of the Gigglers’ planned revenge set out with their mother and the dog Rover (who provided the poo) to save Mr. Mack from this misplaced punishment. Four steps of Mr. Mack’s encompass the whole of the 105-page story with all of its bunny trails and backstory.

*****

Doyle, Roddy.  The Giggler Treatment.  Illus. Brian Ajhar.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2000.

This review is not endorsed by Roddy Doyle, Brian Ajhar, Arthur A. Levine Books or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart Still Waffles Between Book Series and Books in a Series

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Spoilers!

The eighth book in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart deals with heartache: betrayal and unrequited romance. I’ve said before that the plots of these books seem to be becoming larger, more epic. This book’s plot gets larger still. A witch locked long in a tree tells Hiccup that he was never destined to be born, that his parents were never meant to marry. But this Hiccup in destiny has created in Hiccup a second possible heir and hero of a prophecy, the other possible hero being Alvin the Treacherous, Hiccup’s ever-returning-from-seemingly-inescapable-peril arch-nemesis and (we learn in this tale) a distant relation of Hiccup’s. Hiccup or Alvin is destined to be King of all of the Archipelago, a role that previous books have promised us that Hiccup will attain.

As much as I appreciate Hiccup’s reflective chapters as endings to each of these books for the emotional punch that Cowell tends to use them to deliver and for the poetry of their prose and sentiments, they do rather detract from the mystery and suspense. I wonder how far Cowell expected to write in Hiccup’s timeline, whether she ever dreamed she’d be allowed to tell this much of the arc, and whether she regrets now the decision to reveal early his destiny.

Could the attainment of his crown or of the peace that his reign will bring according to the older Hiccup be the goal that finally makes this series more of books in a series and less a book series? So far, the series has lacked a continuous problem. In books in a series, the Ring has to get to Mordor and Sauron must be defeated—or Harry has to graduate and Voldemort must be defeated—or even Clary and Jace have to be together. Right now there is no problem that, when solved, we know will mark the end of Cowell’s series. Hiccup’s adventures have been episodic rather than serial. Each completed quest has meant the attainment of some goal, but they have brought Hiccup, cumulatively, no further towards one goal more important than all the others.

Honestly, I’m starting to get a bit tired of Hiccup’s adventures, and I think a goal would go a long way towards providing me with the motivation to finish this series, which is slated to be a full twelve books long. Not because book series are in any way necessary lesser than books in a series. There has not been an episodic book series that I’ve taken to in quite some time. I think I personally prefer to see books in a series with good character growth and a complex plot needing more than one book to be properly told. If How to Train Your Dragon remains episodic, it will not make it lesser writing. I want to make that clear. I write with a clear preference towards the epic. I think for this book series, particularly, though, the waffling on the threshold of epic has become somewhat tiresome. I want soon to know on which side of the door I can firmly stand.

Beyond this plot of Alvin and Hiccup warring over the throne, Furious the dragon has sworn to bring an army of dragons against the humans, destroying them all lest the humans destroy each dragon. Now, eight books in, we get to the war of Dreamworks’ film adaptation (I really believed DreamWorks had invented a war between dragons and Vikings).

I do want to take a moment to praise the page layout for the chapters where POV characters were locked in hollow tree dungeons. That’s a cool use of mixed media.

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***1/2

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 8: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters: The Odyssey, Blurred Lines, and a Career

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Spoilers ahead.

Of all of the Percy Jackson books, of all of Rick Riordan’s books, book two of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Sea of Monsters, is probably my favorite. You’ve probably already realized from reading this blog that I am a bit of a nerd. I am particularly fond of Homer’s Odyssey, enough so to have a favorite translation (Robert Fitzgerald’s). All of the Percy Jackson books draw heavily from Greek mythology. The Sea of Monsters draws heavily from The Odyssey in particular, with Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Clarisse seeking out the island of Polyphemus by way of Circe’s island and Charybdis and Scylla, Percy being turned into a guinea pig and Annabeth tricking Polyphemus by calling herself “Nobody.” Reading The Sea of Monsters is a bit like reading a wonderfully rendered crossover fanfiction for me.

Told with all of the usual sass of Percy’s voice and all of the fast-paced action and situational humor of Riordan’s style, The Sea of Monsters is certainly a fun read—and a quick one.

The lines between monster and hero are blurred a little in this novel (though not as much as they will be in later books). Percy has a new friend and half-brother, Tyson, a young Cyclops abandoned to grow up on the streets of New York, but beloved by his father, Poseidon. Cyclopes are by definition monsters, but Tyson is gentle and acts heroically in defense of his friends. Polyphemus, also a Cyclops and Percy’s and Tyson’s half-brother, for all that he is one of the antagonists of this novel is not particularly violent or antagonistic. He uses what resources he can (the Golden Fleece) to keep his island healthy and to lure meals to himself, not outwardly violent or malicious acts. Now, that he happens to eat satyrs does not endear him to the reader, but nor does it make him inherently wicked. What Polyphemus seems most to desire companionship. Likewise, monsters have joined the ranks of Kronos’ and Luke’s growing army, but so have demigods. The black and white battle lines of heroes versus monsters are not in place for this novel.

This book improves too upon the style of Riordan’s first novel, The Lightning Thief. The first had a few moments of preaching that jarred the quick-paced action, as if Riordan could not believe he was getting this chance to talk to the masses and could not imagine being allowed to do so again—let alone… 17 times more (many of these bestsellers) with more books still scheduled for release. Perhaps when publishing The Sea of Monsters Riordan realized that he’d made himself a career and that he could take his time to more subtly deliver his messages.

This book is particularly interesting to read with the 20/20 hindsight of later books. Having read further in Percy Jackson’s timeline, I can appreciate the subtle foreshadowing, and I have new insight into Hylla and the loosing of Blackbeard and his crew on Circe’s island. Particularly the last two of The Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades and The Blood of Olympus, point out the consequences of careless actions made in Percy’s younger years, and where I might have thought nothing of the release of the pirates on the villainess’ home prior, now I know what terror it caused for more innocent victims on the island, and I have to take Percy’s heroics with the grain of salt that tainted my palate later.

All this only deepens my appreciation for the book however. Flawed heroes are better characters and character development is too often missed in stories.

*****

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2: The Sea of Monsters. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: The Best of the Best from 2014

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2014 is now a mistake that I’ll write on checks and thank you cards. I want to highlight the best books I’ve found this year, because a book that can earn five stars deserves some extra recognition and to be easily found by those looking. Here are some completely arbitrary categories to try and make the best of the best even easier to find. I’ll try to stick the books in what I believe is the target audience.

 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli.

Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli.

The Kiss That Missed by David Melling.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman.

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems.

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon.

 

MIDDLE GRADE-YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12)

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.

 

TEENS (AGES 13-19)

*

 

ADULTS (AGE 20+)

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

 

*I’m looking over the books that I read this year, and I simply didn’t read a lot of teen books, two that I would call targeting teens (though even then I waver and say one could be more appropriately middle grade and the other might be adult): The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 2: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen and The Bane Chronicles, Book 1: What Really Happened in Peru by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. Of the two, The Runaway King was heaps better.

Let’s take a moment to recognize and laugh at the fact that not a one of these best of the best could be qualified as realistic fiction. Another point for fantasy literature.