Archive for category Sci Fi / Fantasy

Family Fridays – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Ages: 9 and up

Blurb for the first book:

The Lightning Thief

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

Review:  

I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm during this post, or we could all be here for a while. At least I would be, the rest of you would probably give up and head to greener pastures after the first 1,000 words. The Percy Jackson series is one of my all time favorite series. Though written for middle school aged children, the books appeal to children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing. The characters are more lifelike than just about any other author’s I can think of (Lindsay Buroker being another excellent example). Percy’s narration is clever, hilarious, snarky, and maintains a very realistic voice for an early teens boy. The world building is interesting, unique, and thorough without being overwhelming or tedious. The plots are well executed and you see characters develop (and not just physically) throughout the series.

Another thing I liked about it: Percy and most of the rest of the demigod children are ADHD and Dyslexic. Riordan takes these challenges and turns them into advantages in Percy’s new reality. I love that – a reminder that not all of us are wired the same way, and that can be a good thing. Also, in a later series, one of the demigods is lactose intolerant. Represent!

Something you see quite often with book series written for this age group is that the themes and characters become more mature and darker as the series progresses. Here there is a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as, say, Harry Potter. A child who can handle the first book emotionally will be able to handle the last book as well, which is not necessarily the case with the Harry Potter series. The bottom line is that I cannot think of anything negative to say about these books. Some books you just read with a big smile on your face, and for me, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are way at the top of that list.

Random side notes:

The five books in this series in order are: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. There is a continuing series, The Heroes of Olympus, which features some of the Camp Halfblood gang as well as some new characters. It is also excellent, but even though the age ranges given for it at various online sources is the same as the original series, it feels older to me (the characters are in high school now and, for example, focuses more on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships) – not a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you started Percy Jackson with children on the younger end of the spectrum.

I debated on whether to make this a regular post or a Family Fridays post. Although I feel like any age of fantasy (or even book) lover would be able to enjoy this series, I decided to post it under FFs because this is something the whole family could enjoy together.

Riordan sold the creative rights to the movies, had nothing to do with them, and claims he hasn’t even watched them. As of now only the first movie is out, with plans to release the second later this year. The first movie was terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated it. They took much of what made the book so great and either ignored it or did the opposite. In the interests of fairness, I have met people who really liked the movie.

Riordan also has an adult mystery series, which is quite good, but not something I’d care to read with a nine year old. So make sure you know which brand of Riordan you’re getting.

Whew – kept it under a thousand words…but not by much.

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Interview with Evie Woolmore, author of Equilibrium

Equilibrium

A few nights ago, I was in the mood for trying something different, and the baby was actually asleep, so I downloaded the sample for Evie Woolmore’s Equilibrium. It certainly was something different for me. I had never even heard of the genre, magical realism, before, but I thought I might as well try the free sample. Well, that was my evening (and night) shot. Immediately after finishing the sample, I bought the book and read straight on through til morning (does 1:00 a.m. count as morning?). I am a person who needs strict boundaries in my life: this is science fiction, this is mystery, this is travel, and so on. Of course life doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes and neither does this novel. There is some mystery, some fantasy, some history, and the categories all blur smoothly together. Essentially this is about different people trying to untangle the mistakes and questions of the past so they have some hope for the future. What sucked me into the book was the rich characters – I felt like I was there with them, a part of their struggles and joys. Read the blurb, try the sample. I dare you to put it down after that!

For more information, check out the author’s webpage here (from here you can buy the book as well as try the first chapter), or you could click through and keep reading for my own INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR EVIE WOOLMORE!!! Not that I’m really excited about it or anything…

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Review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985) (The Ender Quintet)

Bottom line: A compelling character and suspenseful story combine to create an engrossing read.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

Review:

I’ve been wanting to reread this book ever since I saw they were coming out with a movie version, due to be released November 2013. They have some pretty big names in the movie, so I just hope they don’t mess it up too badly (this is my prevailing attitude towards book-to-film adaptations).

This is one of those books that I was able to completely lose myself in. I felt so connected to the main character that as events unfolded, I responded to them from his point of view. After I had finished, I realized that some of these plot points didn’t make much sense, but while in the moment, I hadn’t noticed. This is such a well told story that whether or not it is plausible hardly seems to matter.

Ender’s Game seems to have a polarizing effect on readers. Many people love it, but there is a very strong minority that hate it just as passionately. Arguments against it I saw ranged from the political messages, to the justification of violence, to whether or not child geniuses would really act like that.  As much as I love to analyze things to death (and believe me, I do), this story was, to me, just a story. Maybe it’s that I read it when I was much younger, but I don’t feel the need to delve deeply into themes and messages and plausibility. It’s a story, I enjoyed it, and if you think the blurb looks interesting, you should give it a try, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need to say.

Side Notes: This is the first in the Ender Series, I haven’t read any of the others, though I plan to at some point. I debated making this a Family Fridays post, but it’s not really a “children’s” book. I would guess it’s aimed at preteens on up.

What did you think? Did you like the book? How old were you when you read it?

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Review of the Chronological Man Adventure Series by Andrew Mayne

Bottom line: A fun, historical, science-y, steampunk-y, adventure-y series of short stories.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I really like this series. It consists (so far) of two short stories, telling the tale of Smith, time traveler extraordinaire, who shows up to save the day whenever he is needed. The books are short enough to be read in one sitting (Ok, so I read most books in one sitting, but I’m a bit obsessive that way. Normal people could read these books in one sitting), but long enough to feel balanced – you get good characters, good settings, AND a good story. I wouldn’t put the premise in the “terribly plausible” category, but the ride is such a good one that it doesn’t matter. My favorite aspect of the series is the characters. The assistant, April, is smart and capable and takes action when it’s called for. She’s no Watson-esque sidekick, perpetually stumbling around in the dark. Teddy Roosevelt, more big stick than speaking softly here, is a hilarious and brilliant addition to the crew in the second story. And of course there’s Smith, a strange genius who suffers from amnesia due to his time travelling.

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Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (or The Hobbit: Part 1/3)

Bottom line: A fun movie set in Tolkien’s world, though not a strict adaptation from the book.

Rating: Recommended

Review:

When The Hobbit came out, I never got around to seeing it in theaters, being 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time and then otherwise occupied. So I finally saw it when it became available for rent last week. I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and really liked Peter Jackson’s adaptation of them into the movies, so I had high hopes for The Hobbit trilogy. I knew they would have to change more of the Hobbit because it is definitely a children’s story, and doesn’t have a lot of actual action. Also, the hero, Bilbo, doesn’t have many heroic deeds.

The Hobbit is a good movie. I wouldn’t say it’s a great adaptation – I was able to enjoy it more once I started thinking of it as an homage to the characters, world and general idea of The Hobbit. They added a lot of material and gave Bilbo some more courageous feats, which you kind of have to do. One thing that I really liked about the movie was that they incorporated several of the songs that are in the book, and were able to do so without making it seem Disney-ish. The beginning dinner party scene with the dwarves was hilarious and very well done. It’s been several days since I’ve seen it, and I’m still not sure whether or not I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo. On the one hand, I thought he was very well suited to the character, but on the other, there are several distinct mannerisms he has that made me feel like I was looking at Tim from the British The Office, or Arthur from Hitchiker’s, or even Watson from Sherlock, dressed up as a hobbit and dropped in to Middle Earth. I found that to be distracting and kept taking me outside the movie.

All in all, I enjoyed it. I’m going to have to rewatch it now that I know what to expect. I’ll definitely try to get to the other movies in theaters and am looking forward to those coming out.

Did you see it? What did you think? Did you like it more or less than the Lord of the Rings movies?

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