Archive for category 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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My Favorite Ray Bradbury Books

I found out today that Ray Bradbury died yesterday (June 5, 2012) at age 91 – not bad! He wrote one of my favorite books (Fahrenheit 451), so I wanted to give a brief tribute here. What better way to remember him than by reading some of his works? Here are some of my favorites:

Fahrenheit 451

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear, and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

Available: About $10 as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes

Dandelion Wine

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author’s most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928.

Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather’s renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley’s bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future.

Available: As a paper book only, about $8 new.

The next two are still very good, but much darker in tone.

The Illustrated Man

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

You could hear the voices murmuring, small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body.

A peerless American storyteller, Ray Bradbury brings wonders alive. The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury— eighteen startling visions of humankind’s destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin. In this phantasmagoric sideshow, living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. Provocative and powerful, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth—as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.

Available: As a paper book only, about $10 new

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all to well the heavy cost of wishes… and the stuff of nightmare.

Available: As a paper book only, about $8

What are your favorite Ray Bradbury reads?

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Review of The Emperor’s Edge Series by Lindsay Buroker

Bottom line: This is one of my favorite ongoing series. These are great stories, extremely well written, with awesome characters. The first book is free, so give it a try and see what you think!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I was going to do a review on each of the books that are out, but then I realized the reviews would be virtually identical for all books, so I’m going to do it in one fell swoop for the books of the series that are currently out, and I’ll update as the other books come out. There are six planned total in the main storyline.

These books are excellent. It was one of those where I read the first one because it was free, not really expecting all that much from it. When I was done, I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series (the only ones that were out at the time), read all through the night, got an hour of sleep, and had to go to work the next day. I then discovered that there were short stories with the same characters, but not in the main storyline/time frame and bought and read those immediately as well.

 

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Review of The Emperor’s Edge Series by Lindsay Buroker

Bottom line: This is one of my favorite ongoing series. These are great stories, extremely well written, with awesome characters. The first book is free, so give it a try and see what you think!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I was going to do a review on each of the books that are out, but then I realized the reviews would be virtually identical for all books, so I’m going to do it in one fell swoop for the books of the series that are currently out, and I’ll update as the other books come out. There are six planned total in the main storyline.

These books are excellent. It was one of those where I read the first one because it was free, not really expecting all that much from it. When I was done, I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series (the only ones that were out at the time), read all through the night, got an hour of sleep, and had to go to work the next day. I then discovered that there were short stories with the same characters, but not in the main storyline/time frame and bought and read those immediately as well.

 

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Review of Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996) (A Song of Fire and Ice Book 1)

Bottom line: This book has graphic sex and violence, and I didn’t enjoy the story or characters enough to balance out the disturbing elements.

Rating: Not Recommended

Blurb:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Review:

This is one of those books that I was late coming to, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I borrowed the first three books from a friend, assuming that I would at least like it well enough to want to finish as much of the story as I could. Unfortunately, I was only a hundred pages or so into the first one (they’re all huge – about 700 pages) when I realized that that was not going to be the case. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish the first book, but ploughed on through it – mostly to see if it would redeem itself at the end (it didn’t).

My main hang up was the sex and violence. I will admit that I am fairly squeamish about graphic content, so if your stomach is stronger than mine, it may not be as much of an issue for you. Explicit sex, multiple rapes, incest, murder in all kinds of interesting ways, and so on. The book has a quasi-medieval setting, so this kind of content is not unbelievable, but it did feel excessive.

Even apart from that, I found little that I liked. The story shifts viewpoints and subplots quite a bit, and it can be difficult to maintain all the various threads, timelines, and how everything fits together. More, I found it hard to care enough about any of these individual elements to want to follow the stories through to the end. Of all the characters whose viewpoint you share, only a few of them are sympathetic at all.

His setting had the potential to be interesting, but I didn’t feel like I could visualize it all that well. I feel like most fantasy authors err on the side of over-explaining their universes, but Martin erred the other way. He spends a lot of time referencing the old and new gods, for example, but even after 700 pages, I didn’t really feel like I understood what that system was. Or why there are zombies.

Another irritation for me was the spelling. I know that it is fairly common for the genre to take common words and spell them in different ways, but this happens a lot in this book and it was like the written equivalent of nails down a chalkboard for me. Worst offender: “Ser” instead of “Sir.”

I know a lot of people who are really into this story, whether through the books, the tv series, or both. I can understand the appeal on some level – there is plenty of action, and the storylines are very intricate and fast paced – but it just didn’t come together for me. Or, to be more precise, it came together in all the worst ways for me.

Available: Available as e-books and paperbacks at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and pretty much anywhere you can buy books.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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Review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011) (The Steampunk Chronicles – Book 1)

Bottom line: An intriguing first full-length installment of the series. I had a few complaints about the writing, but the story was very entertaining. I’d recommend reading The Strange Case of Finley Jayne first (although you don’t need it for The Girl in the Steel Corset to make sense) because it’s free and if you like that, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one…except the “thing” inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch….

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help—and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on—even if it seems no one believes her.

Review:

The Girl in the Steel Corset continues the saga of Finley Jayne (introduced in the novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, review here), a girl with supernatural abilities. I found myself caught up in the plot and enjoying the characters. However, I was a little disappointed in the writing itself. I had been impressed with the author’s writing in her previous book, and was surprised to find that here I occasionally found it distracting. Normally when I read, I’m completely immersed in the book, but I kept being interrupted by thoughts like “wait, didn’t she describe the other guy in that exact same way?” “didn’t that other character say something the same thing to this same girl?” and “does EVERYONE in this book have a crooked smile?”. There are also some inconsistencies with the characters. It seems like this book could have benefited from one more pass by an editor – tighten up the writing and maybe decrease the amount of time spent on some of the subplots.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the read – I did, and I’ve read it a couple more times since the first time. I think it is a testament to Cross’s skill as a storyteller that the writing quirks were not as apparent on the first read through. At least for me, I was so caught up in the story the first time around that I didn’t notice as many of them, and then in the subsequent reads, as I became more familiar with the story, I noticed the writing more, and parts of it started to annoy me. There was a lot of ground covered – in addition to introducing all the members of the team to each other and the readers, and getting many of their back stories, there is the mystery to solve of what the bad guy is up to and how to stop him. I’m still excited to read the next book in the series (The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, due out June 2012), but I’m hoping the writing will be a little more polished and that the book will feel more seamless.

Available: Available as e-book or paperback through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and other bookstores for around $7-$10.

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

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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