Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reading updates from yours truly

I'm halfway through the epic fantasy series The Dark Tower by Stephen King, and I must say I truly hope that the latter half picks back up.. The first three were good, better, and best, and maybe I had higher standards than I should have, but this fourth novel that I've just finished, Wizard and Glass, fell far short of my expectations. It was very interesting getting to learn the entire backstory of Roland of Gilead, and the tragic story of his love, Susan Delgado, especially since so many references are made to these characters, and to the story of how Roland became a gunslinger and started off on his quest for the Dark Tower. But, I don't think it required a full 660 pages of text. It was the length of the first three books in the series. COMBINED. And it got rather dull and dry at times. Maybe if he had broken up the story a little bit more, it would have been easier to read?

That being said, the rest of the series itself is outstanding (even with the long backstory of this fourth novel), and I'm looking forward to what happens to Roland and his ka-tet on their journey to the Dark Tower. The characters are all likable and fun to read about (which may have had an impact on how I felt about the fourth book, which focused on these earlier characters in Roland's life, not on the ka-tet that he is with in present and to whom he is telling the stories of his youth). Ah well, Wolves of the Calla is another book, which I'll have my hands on tomorrow or at least before the end of the weekend. I definitely recommend at least taking a look at the Gunslinger, the first book in the series, before simply writing off the entire series. It's a great fantasy story that has all the darkness and depth of a Stephen King story, with alternate realms and a huge sci-fi/fantasy core that I did not expect from the master of horror and suspense literature.

Happy fourth of July everyone! I'll put up another post soon, I'm about halfway through Joshua Foer's novel Moonwalking with Einstein, an interesting story on 'The art of remembering everything'. Keep an eye out, and if you're reading this and you haven't already, FOLLOW ME FOOLS! Thanks, peace out and such.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Rick Riordan and the Awesomeness that is Greek (and Egyptian) Mythology

I have a mild to moderate addiction with Greek mythology, and until recently there haven't been too many books to read with the obvious exceptions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Edith Hamilton's Mythology. But then Rick Riordan came onto the scene with The Lightning Thief and from that single book, three series popped up. Many readers will be dissuaded by the fact that these books are all in the kids' section of their favorite bookstore (obviously Barnes & Noble), but don't let that fool you: These books are the perfect addition to the collection of any age reader, from young to old. Besides, Harry Potter is in the kids' section too, so whatever. In this post, I'll be reviewing 8 books, from 3 different series: Percy Jackson & the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus series. All of them are outstanding but I would wholeheartedly recommend starting with the Percy Jackson series, particularly before the Heroes of Olympus series.

Okay, Percy Jackson for 200. Riordan did an amazing job writing a modern tale with a Greek twist; the many mythological references are within the same sentences as references to iPods, cell phones, and even Adele! As civilization migrated westward, so too did the mighty Olympians from Mount Olympus to the top of the Empire State Building. After his teacher reveals herself to be one of the Furies, Percy Jackson is sent to Camp Half-Blood, where it's revealed that he is the result of a coupling between his mother and the god of the sea, Poseidon (daddy issues, anybody?). Being the son of a god seems to create more problems for Percy, however. In addition to being attacked by a Fury and the Minotaur in the first thirty pages, he also faces Medusa, the fearsome hydra, and a whole slew of Greek gods and monsters in his quest to find Zeus's lightning bolt and clear his name from the list of suspected thieves. But seriously, where would you even hide the king of the gods' lightning bolt? Under the bed?

As the first book ends, it appears that Titan lord Kronos, beaten and banished long ago by the Olympian gods, has begun gaining power and preparing to rise in combat against the gods again. The remaining books in the series follow Percy and his friends as they work with the Olympian gods to once again defeat Kronos, and save the world. Same old, same old. The series is very well written, and reading these books is comparable to taking a course on mythology, there are so many different references and descriptions of legends and stories. The golden fleece, the lotus eaters, Cyclopes, and even Daedalus are all references and characters in the series. I highly recommend this book for any age reader with or without any background and knowledge in Greek mythology.

Chronologically, the next series released is the Kane Chronicles, which follows two siblings as they learn more about their connection to Egyptian gods and pharaohs (yepp, completely different mythologies, but still very, very fun to read and learn about). In the first book, The Red Pyramid, Sadie and Carter Kane, siblings separated after the death of their mother, learn that they are of pharaoh/magician blood, and that their mother died during an attempt to summon the gods of ancient Egypt. With the help of the cat goddess Bast, their uncle Dr. Julius Kane, and the voices of Horus and Isis in their heads (yep, the pre-teens have to handle puberty AND hosting a major god and goddess, respectively), they must work together (again, unrealistic. siblings working together?) to defeat the evil Set and his plans of world domination from atop his Red Pyramid (so I'm paraphrasing, whatever. Poetic license, sue me).

In any case, the story is well written, and leads perfectly into the second book, Throne of Fire, in which the siblings must work together, again, to stop the chaos snake Apophis from escaping his prison and the world from ending. To do so, they embark on a worldwide quest with some new apprentices in an effort to find the Book of Ra, in order to summon the eldest of the gods and the only true match for Apophis. One of my favorite things about the Kane chronicles is the way the stories are written. Each chapter is narrated by one of the siblings, and the entire story is told as if they are recording the story orally to be listened to by future generations of Pharaoh descendants in their times of need. This is when it seems much clearer that the two are brother and sister (i.e. poking fun at each other, trying to steal the 'recorder' from each other, and so on), and it makes the book much more fun and realistic (??) to read. Same as the Percy Jackson series, the books are fast paced, fun and exciting, and make for a bit of light reading perfect for those looking for an adventure. And again, knowledge of mythology or not, these novels make learning Egyptian mythology simple and fun. Take that, textbooks!

The final series begun so far is Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus, a series which takes place almost immediately following the last book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. Kronos has been banished, and Camp Half Blood rejoices! But, Percy Jackson has mysteriously vanished, and even his girlfriend Annabeth has been unable to find him. At the same time, a boy named Jason wakes up in the back of a bus holding hands with his girlfriend and his best friend in the seat ahead of him. But, he has no memory of who they are, or who he is! It takes an attack by wind monsters and a trip to Camp Half Blood for the three of them to realize that they are demigods as well. Only, they are the sons and daughters of the ROMAN aspects of the Greek gods and goddesses. Fun stuff, it's like school all over again! Gotta remember the two different names of each god. This story follows Jason, Piper, and Leo as they try to help Jason remember his past, help Piper save her father from the monsters who have kidnapped him, and help Leo... with everything, really. Roman meets Greek mythology in an outstanding twist on the Percy Jackson series. Seriously though, Rick Riordan seems unable to miss with his modern-day mythological stories and tales. His stories are creative and original, his characters refreshing and easy to like and to identify with. Geared toward young adults but perfect for any age, the stories are fast paced and keep your attention right through the ends of each book. I am eagerly awaiting the Son of Neptune, book 2 in the Heroes of Olympus series.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen

Well, I'm pretty glad I decided to pick this book up! I had been recommended Water for Elephants by several customers, and once my coworkers started talking it up I decided to ignore the fact that Robert Pattinson was cast in the movie and read the book anyway (4 bucks on my Nook, which is awesome). I'm very happy I did; this book blew me away. I thought it was a silly romance book dressed up as a fiction, but it read much better than that, and I spent most of the time having to remind myself that there was a romance aspect, since so much happened in the story.

The book opens up with the ending of the story, a tragic animal stampede and the death of the animal supervisor, August Rosenbluth, followed by a quick transition to the daily life of elderly Jacob Jankowski in his nursing home, eagerly awaiting a trip to the circus with his family. Most of the story is told in a series of flashbacks from the elderly Jankowski, reflecting on his days in the Benzini Brothers Circus during the Great Depression. After losing his parents in a tragic car accident, and learning that they died in severe debt, Jacob loses his head during final exams at his veterinary school, leaves and hops aboard a train, which happens to belong to a traveling circus. He joins up as the veterinarian, and so begins a turbulent year traveling with a circus, and lusting after Marlena, the show's animal performer and wife to the brilliant yet insane equestrian director, August.

This was the second book I've read written in first person, present tense (the first being the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins), and while I'm not a fan of it, I can also appreciate that it's the best way to convey the emotions felt by a certain character. In the case of Water for Elephants, it worked out incredibly well. I felt myself drawn into the emotions Jacob felt, both during his experiences and in reliving his youth as an old man. I definitely recommend this book, although I also recommend picking up the original cover and not the movie tie-in edition. Because seriously, who wants Robert Pattinson on their book covers besides 13 year old girls obsessed with Twilight?

On that note, I'm off to start 2030 by Albert Brooks. I hope it's good, or at least better than all the apocalypse movies that are out there. But then again it would be a struggle to be WORSE than a lot of those movies...


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I am Number Four- Pittacus Lore

First off, thanks everyone for informing me of my bad grammar :/ I meant to say 'end my unplanned hiatus' in my last post. Anywayy, here's the second blog of my summer, chosen to give you all plenty of time to read the book before it's sequel comes out in late August. Pittacus Lore (not the author's real name, although that would be pretty awesome) gave us this gem of a book that became a movie last summer. Never saw the movie, but I can tell you that I am Number Four is a great book to read this summer. Quick, easy read that's perfect for beaching, especially if you have an e-reader instead of carrying the hardcover around.

The book, set in first person present tense (annoying, but at least it's good instead of sucking too) opens with the death of Number Three in the South American rainforests, then flashing to Number Four, John Smith in this book, receiving his fourth ankle scar. He is one of the last of an alien race who lived on the planet Lorien before it was destroyed by Mogadorians. The nine survivors are part of the Garde, and can only be killed by Mogadorians in a specific order. However, being number four, this means John is next, and he and his guardian Henri flee to the middle of nowhere, Paradise Ohio.

Tired of running, John aims to settle down in school and in life. He befriends a boy named Sam and a dog named Bernie Kosar, as well as has his first girlfriend Sarah, making an enemy of her ex boyfriend Mark. He finally embraces the idea of staying in a school longer than a few months and loathes the day he will have to flee Paradise and the Mogadorians again. It is in this town that he develops his Lorien Legacies (his supernatural powers) and begins to train to fight to survive along with the help of his companions.

Yes, this is a teen book. That unfortunately means that there is a lot of teenage angst throughout the book. There is also a lot of action and the novel is written with just the right amount of emotion. One of the only downsides to me is the first person narrative style of writing. First off, present tense isn't a great way to write a story to me, and it gets confusing. Or maybe I'm just stupid, which could definitely be the case. Anyway, the fact that it was so well written got me to look past the style of writing, and perhaps it's for the best. After all, who knows a teenager's mind better than the teen himself? I've realized a lot of books with young adult protagonists take place in first person (I am Number Four, the Hunger Games, Water for Elephants) and I'm thinking that the authors feel the same about getting the right amount of angst and emotion and about getting the reader to understand what the protagonist is going through, something that can't be done with third person novels. Hmm.. I guess I'll have to keep that in mind when I'm writing my novel. (no, that's not actually happening).

So, there you have it. Make sure you finish this book before August 23, because that's when the Power of Six, the second book in the series, comes out in hardcover. I'll be back on with another post in just a few days and most likely with a handful of posts instead of just one.