Tag Archives: low fantasy

Book Review: Just a Bit about Demigods & Magicians

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Spoilers in white. Highlight to view.

Demigods and Magicians collects in a hardcover volume three stories released as e-books and as short stories in paperback editions of some of Rick Riordan’s longer books. These stories marry two of his stories: Percy Jackson’s (which is found in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, and now continues in The Trials of Apollo) and the Kanes’ (from The Kane Chronicles). The first story, “The Son of Sobek,” I had read before in my paperback of The Serpent’s Shadow. That short story was every bit as exciting and well written as Riordan’s longer works. In it, Carter Kane hunts a monster in the swamps of a Long Island park. Percy Jackson hunts the same monster. The two need to team up and fight the monster together to defeat it. The end of the story promises a time when the two will need one another again.

And I waited on that second story for a long time. “The Staff of Serapis” where Annabeth Chase meets Sadie Kane was released in the paperback of The Mark of Athena, but I already had a hardcover copy of that book and could never justify creasing the spine of a paperback that I hadn’t purchased just to read the next short story. And I still don’t own an e-reader nor have I downloaded any app that would allow me to read e-books on my computer; judge me. Ditto to The House of Hades, the paperback version of which hid the final crossover story, “The Crown of Ptolemy.”

The first story is told from Carter’s first person. The second switches to a third person limited from Annabeth’s POV. The last is in Percy’s first person. Since the release of The Red Pyramid, the first book to veer from Percy’s close first person narration, I’ve admired that Riordan is a risk-taker; he does not confine himself to a single style, but tries something new with each series (or did so through the first three; The Trials of Apollo returns to close first person): the Percy Jackson series are close first person, The Kane Chronicles are two first person narrations done as audio transcripts, The Heroes of Olympus are several close third narrators. This is the first of his books to combine the first and the third person narrations, and it feels almost seamless (anything that involves Sadie Kane is going to strike with a bit of a bang; she has that effect).

I was further impressed that Riordan was able to rationalize the fun that he was having with a crossover story. He found an enemy that could not be defeated without a crossover; most crossovers that I’ve ever read (or written) have had no justification other than fun, no plot reason for the crossover (and most have been fan-written rather than canon). He not only found a reason to connect the two stories, but found a way to make this story a continuation of the Kanes’ story in particular, the ultimate baddie being a character from their past, someone they worried about leaving loose in the world.

I realize that there’s not a lot of substance to this review, but suffice it to say that I finished this story on May 27. I began it again the other day.

Sometimes I need the slight commitment of a short story. The three stories together are a mere 212 pages. From Riordan especially, whose characters and humorous but dramatic and action-filled writing I often miss, I appreciate having short stories. 212 pages is so much less of a commitment to make than any one of his novels, none of which I easily read only a part.

****

Riordan, Rick. Demigods & Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

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

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Book Review: Difficult Characters and Prose Hide a Wicked Twist in The Hidden Oracle

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1484736672Spoilers have been written in white.  Highlight the white space to view.

Rick Riordan has begun his fifth series, The Trials of Apollo, a sequel to The Heroes of Olympus which is itself a sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. For those keeping score at home, this makes The Hidden Oracle, first in this series, the eleventh story to follow in Percy Jackson’s story in an easy chronological fashion (several side stories exist including The Demigod Files, The Demigod Diaries, and Demigods and Magicians, which are harder to place). Percy is not our hero this time, but he and his friends from The Heroes of Olympus—particularly Nico di Angelo, are perhaps more heroic than the hero—the god Apollo, punished by his father Zeus for the third time by being made a mortal. This time though his mortal body is young and scrawny and saggy and pimply. He is, as Apollo puts it, average.

We’ve met Apollo in his godly state on numerous occasions throughout Percy’s story. Interestingly, Apollo first appears in The Titan’s Curse, which is the book that introduces us to Nico too. There he is confident and boastful and full of really awful haikus.

When we last spoke to Apollo in The Blood of Olympus he and his twin sister Artemis were trapped on the island of Delos because it was the one place where they remained unaffected by the paralyzing confusion of being torn between their Greek and Roman personalities—a confusion that incapacitated most of the Olympians.

Flung into the garbage when he falls from Olympus, Apollo is promptly accosted by two bullies and rescued by a young girl clad in bright, mismatched clothes and spectacles. Meg at Apollo’s behest takes him to Manhattan, where we first meet up again with Percy Jackson and we learn that there is a new Blofis on the way. Riordan takes time in this book to create a reunion between the Heroes of Olympus and the readers, to check in on everyone by word of mouth or in the flesh. In some ways the attention given to old friends detracts from the new story. That may be reader error, but I looked forward to seeing them almost more than I did learning about whatever new danger awaited Apollo and Meg. That being said, Riordan does a good job working the old characters into the new plot—for the most part. That Percy needed to return to defeat the Colossus seemed a bit… I don’t know, pander-y. We can’t have a new expert fighter rising from the ranks of campers? Leo and Calypso I was happy to see and because they came only at the very end—after the action—it seemed less obtrusive—that, and I won’t mind a little Team Leo time in the coming books. I was going to be seriously upset if Nico was not involved in this story with his boyfriend, Apollo’s son Will, but while I got a few cute lines of banter, I didn’t get a lot of growth from their relationship; it sort of seems like Riordan skips to the part where they are comfortable and perfectly at ease with one another and the other campers with them—even though the very idea of coming out to just one modern demigod and one god of Love who already knew was making Nico leak death shadow not but two books ago (less than two months ago?).

Another reason I may have looked forward to the reunions more than the driving plot was because both protagonists of this book—Apollo and Meg—are kind of obnoxious in their own way—Meg I think mostly because she was never developed in a way that I found particularly compelling and Apollo because he is self-centered and narcissistic (that was far less annoying when it was a few pages of dialogue with other more honorable characters and Apollo had the godhood to back it up). Apollo’s voice—the whole book is of course first person narration by Apollo—is short and clipped and riddled with references to pop culture that will be dated soon or are dated now. I won’t say that those pop culture references did not make me laugh because they did because they are relevant now but it speaks to Riordan’s either lack of interest in creating a book with staying power or disregard for creating such a book. This book will I think feel like a time capsule in maybe even 5 years.

The true worth of this book comes at the end as the plot itself is really taking off and the quest such as it is (having stumbled their way to Greece, the action actually all takes place within the parameters of Camp Half-Blood—a first for Riordan) is beginning. Really I only felt like the book came to fruition when the villain appeared in the flesh. That climax I loved. I look forward to reading the resolution in coming books. The climax connects this book to the others and gives extra weight to past books—which I wasn’t really sure was possible. For that I like it. I like adding a more human element to the villainy I’ve already lived through, because fighting a god, well that’s the stuff of legends, but fighting a megalomaniac with too much power—that’s the kind of fight to which I can relate. Getting to the climax, to the quest—getting Apollo to move away from whining to heroism—that… dragged more than I wanted it too. I can’t say it was slow, because the tone doesn’t allow it to be slow, but there was just not much happening.

Overall, this is not Riordan’s greatest work—not for me. I wanted to like Apollo’s voice; I was excited for Apollo’s voice. I was glad to see the haikus as chapter titles because that has been the most memorable thing about Apollo in previous works. But this was just… too much narcissism. And after the depth to which Riordan plunged with The Heroes of Olympus, this whole book, like Apollo’s worldview, seemed shallow. But I will stick with the series and see what happens.

***1/2

Riordan, Rick. The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

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

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Book Review: Atmosphere and Subtlety and Poetry in The Scorpio Races

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I was a horse fanatic who grew up reading all of Marguerite Henry’s books, My Friend Flicka, National Velvet, The Pony Pals, and dabbling in The Saddle Club. Pretty much since the introduction of Harry Potter to my life, I’ve read fewer horse books and more fantasy books and epic quests. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races combined these two genres and gave me more than either in some ways. This story takes place on the fictional island of Thisby at an indeterminate time (though because of the mention of women’s suffrage movement I can place it probably somewhere between the early 1800s and early 1900s presumably off the coast of the U.K. for the capaill uisce are a British myth and the name is borrowed from the Irish. The capaill uisce or water horses are sea creatures that can come on land and take on more equine features and natures when they do, but they are believed to be faster and are more vicious, eating flesh and blood instead of hay and oats. Iron and red ribbons and bells and knots in their manes can all be used to curb some of the capaill uisces’ power and make them less menacing and more manageable, but none of these is all-powerful, and a capall uisce will always be dangerous.

Every autumn the bravest of the men of Thisby capture, train, and race the water horses along the beach, where the siren song of the ocean is loudest and the capaill uisce are most unpredictable and dangerous. This year—driven by poverty and a belief that running in or winning the race may change her circumstances—Kate “Puck” Connolly has entered as the first woman and on the first land horse to ever race among the capaill uisce.

Ostensibly this is a story about the races but it is more the story of the islanders and particularly the racers—particularly Kate and Sean Kendrick. Sean is the four-time returning champion who trains thoroughbreds and water horses to race and loves the mount from which his father once fell while racing. Corr did not eat Sean’s father, but he couldn’t save him either. Sean needs to win to be able to buy Corr and to leave the service of the stable owner Malvern.

Kate is a woman in a man’s role, but she sacrifices none of her femininity, none of herself in order to race.

In Kate, I believe Sean sees some of himself, the same love and understanding of horses, the same bravery. He reaches out to her, and the two form an unlikely partnership.

I have been feeling overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of romance in especially teen literature of late, and Stiefvater here snuck in a budding romance so subtle and so sweet and so understated that I forgave her and even rooted for the pairing. I don’t think that’s a spoiler only because of the pervasiveness of romance in teen literature which seems to dictate that if there is a male and a female protagonist in the same story they will inevitably get together. There’s a kiss, but gratefully there’s nothing more to make me reluctant to recommend this to younger readers. This will be a book I’m putting in the hands of the middle schoolers who are reading at a higher level without fearing the wrath of the (almost) most conservative parents.

Stiefvater pulled me in with her poetic prose, her love and understanding of horses, which for me was nostalgic—not only for the literature that I grew up on but also for my own childhood, much of which was spent horseback, loving and learning to understand horses.

Stiefvater relates to Thisby itself as a character and it’s hard to argue with her on that point; The Scorpio Races is an atmospheric book, one that makes you a part of the circles and relationships of its characters. It’s a difficult thing to describe if you’ve never experienced that sort of embrace and envelopment from a book. It’s a difficult thing to achieve, and a sense that is ignored or overlooked or slacked off by many writers. It was something my high school English teacher discussed in reference to Thomas Hardy and Return of the Native (which is not a book I particularly enjoyed, but it seems worth mentioning if only because this is the level of prowess I sense in Stiefvater—and if I didn’t enjoy my fling with Hardy it makes him no less revered).

I recognize that perhaps a great deal of this book’s appeal to me is nostalgic and personal, but it is nonetheless something different, something magical, and something subtle.  I’ve already picked up another book of hers to see if that magic extends beyond what is nostalgic–and I’m hopeful that it will.

*****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic, 2013. First published 2011.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Dark Is Rising: The Dark, the Light, and Christianity

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1513207I found Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence—wow—fourteen years ago? It was around the same time as that I was devouring J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Diana Wynne JonesChronicles of Chrestomanci, after Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

That list alone should give you some idea of the genre and the intended audience—or an appropriate audience.

I don’t think I began to really understand its complexities and nuances until maybe four years ago (at the latest). I had always sort of imagined the Dark and the Light as synonymous with the Christian symbolism with which I was most familiar. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV Ps. 119:105) and “[…] the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail” (ESV 1 Sam. 2:9). I think it was the last book that I was reading, Silver on the Tree, when I realized that Cooper’s Light and Dark has very little to do with Christian ideology (and I think that I’d read one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series not long before, which is I think heavily influenced by Christian mythology, and seeing the two book series in contrast may have helped to make this revelation so jarring.)

God—the Judeo-Christian God, that is—or any other god for that matter, except perhaps Herne the Hunter, who might according to some theories have evolved from one of several pre-Christian gods—really doesn’t enter into Cooper’s story at all—as much as this book in the series happens around Christmas and the protagonist, Will Stanton, is raised in a Christian household. In Christian ideology, man cannot succeed, cannot be saved apart from God. In Cooper’s mythology, the Old Ones of the Light and the masters of the Dark are more than men, almost gods, and they rely on their own power and on men for success.  That is the starkest divide between Cooper’s mythology and Christian mythology—the source of might and of salvation and the reliance of men on God or gods on men.

Perhaps had I been raised outside of the Christian faith, I would have more fully understood Cooper’s ideas of the Dark and the Light sooner, maybe even when I first read them in middle school.

For all that I’m talking about this now, realize that as a child, I missed the nuance, I missed the replacement of God or any god with more-than-men-but-not-gods. I don’t discourage Christian parents from sharing this story with their children by any means. It’s an excellent story about the conflict of Good and Evil and demonstrates the perfectly human powers of teamwork, phileo love, persistence, and sacrifice needed to combat Evil, and it gives to Evil both a human face and an otherworldly face that I think is congruent with Christian beliefs.

That, again, being said: You may need to be ready to one day have this discussion with your child. They may like me be rocked to find on a reread that the book series that they loved as a child seems now like not the same series.

But this is a beautiful book series, excellently written, neither too poetic nor too prosaic. This book has been a favorite Christmas story for a long time.  I enjoyed rereading it, and I will do so again, probably come next Christmastime.

*****

Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book 2: The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 1973.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Aladdin Paperbacks, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Wizard of Mars: My Argument for the BroTP

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By the ninth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, the young wizards aren’t so young anymore. I’m not sure that I wholly approve of the latest sign that Kit and Nita are growing older. For at least seven of the previous eight books if not all eight, these two characters have fought within the text against the worlds’ supposition that any male-female partnership has to be sexual if not romantic, and I was all aboard their ship—their BroTP ship. Yet in this most recent book, A Wizard of Mars, the two of them are becoming more romantically attracted to one another. If this pair becomes an OTP, I may just have to jump overboard and head for the nearest desert isle, not because Kit and Nita (Kita? Nit?) are a terrible or even unlikely pairing, but because I was happy thinking that somewhere in the sea of teen fiction there was a ship that did not need a heart-shaped sail.

The world—our world—the literary world has too many romances and too few male-female friendships untroubled by romance. We do not celebrate singleness, and we over-romanticize romance to the detriment of friendship. By doing so we undermine friendships. I have noticed in my interactions with boys, in my friends’ interactions with boys, in boys’ interactions with me and with my friends that we are damaged by this pervasive idealization of love. There are obstacles put in front of male-female friendships unnecessarily. It ought to be as uncomplicated for me to have male-female friendships as it is for me to have female-female friendships, but it is not. We ought not to have to second-guess every action or word when interacting with the opposite sex. We ought not to feel pressured to feel things toward one another that we may not, and we ought not to believe that any positive feeling towards a member of the opposite sex is romantic.

In a world where too early and too incessantly we are bombarded by the ideals of marriage, true love, romance, and sex and our bodies are sexualized too often and too early, Young Wizards’ male-female BroTP was a breath of fresh air—and a very much needed one.

That all being said, this does not feel like a forced romance and if a romance had to be introduced, I think Duane did so skillfully here. It made sense within the context of the novel, paralleling as it did with a Romeo-Juliet (or Oma-Shu) romance that was important to the action of the plot, so that the romance did not seem jarring. The characters’ thoughts about one another seem… realistic and… earthy. Kit surprises himself when he notices that Nita is “hot.” Nita notices Kit noticing other girls. She has touches of jealousy and general confusion as her feelings towards him begin to shift from platonic to romantic. These thoughts follow gender stereotypes that may have at least some basis in our reality—and by that I mean the reality created by eons of societal expectations. I am glad that there were eight books of a male-female friendship without any stirrings of romance, not only because it provides an example of healthy male-female friendship, but because this romance, if I must now live with it, comes then not from a lightning strike, love-at-first-sight cliché, but a real back and forth, friendship, and slow engendering of greater attachment and attraction. At least then, if romance this must be, it is a more realistic romance than some of the fluff pumped into bookshelves.

Diane Duane I have always admired both for her prose and her blending of science and magic and word. In speaking to a coworker about why she was unable to get into the series, I commented that sometimes I feel like I need an understanding of basic physics to understand this series. If you enter into the series thinking it’s a straight fantasy, as she did, it will be jarring. Reading this book, I noticed, having finished George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons just prior, that I had to look up more words used by Duane than Martin. Some of those were scientific jargon, but the majority of words that sent me to a dictionary were not. The vocabulary level in these books is high, and I say that more to their credit than their denouncement. I appreciate authors who push readers, particularly their child readers, because too often that audience is underestimated, if not in fiction, then in the world at large.

This is the first of the books I would hesitate on some level to recommend to a younger child—not because I think them unable to handle the content or the language but because I think Duane’s intended audience is now teens. She all but says so in the final pages of the book when one of the Senior Wizards explains to the gathered young wizards the shift in wizardry and in the manifestation of the Lone One that comes with maturity—and explains that they’ve just faced one of these more mature trials. This being said, there is nothing in this book any more explicit or complicated than is in the fourth Harry Potter book or any of the later books in that series, so if your child is ready for Goblet of Fire, they’re ready for A Wizard of Mars.

****

Duane, Diane. Young Wizards, Book 9: A Wizard of Mars. New York: Harcourt-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: March 2015 Picture Book Roundup

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Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 2-5, PreK-K. I’m a sucker for dragons—particularly friendly dragons (you may have noticed)—and for the idea that magic could be a little more commonplace than we believe, so I naturally had to pick up and read a book with this jacket. Light’s Have You Seen My Dragon? is a counting book with imaginative and whimsical illustrations, primarily busy, detailed line drawings but with splashes of color that highlight the objects to be counted. The counting book is well hidden within a text that gives the counting book plot, where the narrator—a young child—tours the city looking for his missing dragon, querying various adults at work about him. There’s a lot of room for interaction in this book.  It could be expanded into a color primer as well, and a primer for professions.  The dragon hides among the intricately woven lines of each illustration, making a Where’s Waldo of him, though finding the dragon is thankfully not as difficult. The busyness of Light’s illustrations perfectly match the bustle of a city like New York City or London. I have to admit that I am more enamored of the illustrations of this book than the text, but the text does—as I’ve said—a good job supporting the mission of the counting book without losing plot—and that’s more than can be said for some.

****

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Richard Scarry’s Trucks by Richard Scarry. Golden-Random, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 0-3. This book is written in the manner of a primer with a noun and then the illustration of that noun, but there’s an element of silliness here, with the inclusion of several absurd examples. Beside the usual examples (bulldozer, dump truck, fire engine), there is also a pickle tanker and Mr. Frumble’s pickle car. Richard Scarry’s world is one where things don’t always go well: Fruit trucks spill their merchandise and Mr. Frumble drives his pickle car into the path of an emptying dump truck. I suspect but haven’t been able to prove that these illustrations were lifted from other stories, mashed here into a new product to sell—much as was done with the Favorite Words books based on Eric Carle’s works. This is probably a book best for fans—parents who are fans—of Richard Scarry’s work already, trying to induce their children to like the same books that they do—and why wouldn’t you? I too have fond memories of Richard Scarry (I think a lot of us do). I would, though, have liked to see more cohesion, more of a plot in this primer. Some of the illustrations tell their own mini story, but I found no story connecting the illustrations.

**1/2

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Princesses and Puppies by Jennifer Weinberg and illustrated by Francesco Legramandi and Gabriella Matta. Disney-Random, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 4-6. This book was something of a disappointment. Each princess gets a page or two only, and the story about each princess and puppy is the same and without much action: The princess receives or finds a puppy and interacts with the puppy in a banal way: Merida gives hers a bath. Tiana’s falls asleep on her lap. The only story that breaks this pattern involves a puppy that performs a trick for Jasmine—and the author wisely or unwisely remains silent about Jasmine giving its ragamuffin child owners money in return for the trick—which is the logical conclusion to such an interaction. The puppies receive at the hands of the text more personality than do the princesses. Perhaps the absence of plot and character development could be attributed to this book being a Level 1 reader, but I hope not. I hope there are Level 1 readers with more of a story.  It’s impossible for me to forget how much more impressed I was by the Level 2 Disney reader, A Pony for a Princess.

**

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews 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: 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 Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes Delights

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Ray Bradbury has had a huge effect on me as an writer. I’m not sure I realized how much till I took a break from editing my own WIP to reread Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury’s prose is florid and fantastic in a way that few writers can claim in this century or any other. Maybe that’s a little expansive, but I enjoy it immensely. The man creates vivid metaphors and twists language with the skill and delicacy of a spider in a web.

Something Wicked is a coming-of-age tale with a thorn. Two friends—nearer than brothers—are nearing adolescence at different rates. Jim Nightshade is growing up more quickly than Will Halloway, is more fascinated with the dark and what goes on in the dark: carnal love, the promises of adulthood offered to him by a carnival in possession of a carousel that can carry riders backwards or forwards through the years. Will remains tethered to innocence and youth. He is the grounding force for Jim.

Charles Halloway, Will’s father, has lived through the years. He longs for a return to his youth, but he overcomes the temptation offered by Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show with nobility, reason, and research found in books and dark corners of the library that is more his home than his home. He is the temperance and wisdom of age, the 20/20 hindsight cast onto youth and aging that keeps Will and Jim tethered even more so to reality.

Bradbury’s work here is insightful—about humanity and the human condition, about the bildungsroman genre. It is both within the genre and without. It shares the message that aging comes with pain but also wisdom and knowledge, but it looks backwards more than hurtling forwards at the breakneck pace of teenage exuberance. Will and Jim are narrating characters and certainly they—or at least Jim—hurtle recklessly onward (Will hesitates and teeters on the cliff’s edge), but more of the weight of the narration falls on Charles. Will and Jim and Cooger and Dark create plot. Charles creates perspective.

The plot—uncovering the nefarious devices and deeds and escaping the grasping hands of a demonic carnival—is exciting enough to keep a casual reader interested, I think, but the depth is there, easily accessible for those who want to plumb it, and maybe too for those who would rather just read the adventure, coming hand-in-hand with the adventure so that it cannot be missed.

The triumph of joy and joyful abandonment over darkness add a spark of hope into the novel—and that joy is not only for youth if youth might find it more easily. This is almost a tale to laud never growing up—or maybe more accurately not forgetting the joy of youth for it does not discredit age. In fact the most heroic of the figures ultimately is the eldest of the narrators, Charles, who, with the eyes of experience and the acceptance of his own fears, is able to see the dark creatures as pathetic and frightened and so defeat them with the power of his own confidence and smile and love of son and of Jim.

This book was recently a summer reading book for a local high school. I find it ideal for that age or college students perhaps more so, straddling as it does the line between adulthood and childhood and looking backwards and forwards across it to give a piercing perspective of the two ages. There’s also merit in it for an adult audience, with an adult hero saving youth and recovering his own youth through the acceptance of his age and the through the release of his fears and dourness.

*****

Bradbury, Ray.  Something Wicked This Way Comes.  New York: Avon-HarperCollins, 1998.  First published 1962.

This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Avon Books, or HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.