Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

November 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Percy Jackson is something of a problem child.  He’s a good kid, but with ADHD, dyslexia, and a penchant for attracting trouble, he’s been kicked out of boarding school after boarding school. On top of that, Percy seems to have angered some people (and things) he thought only existed in Greek mythology. As it turns out, Percy is a demi-god, half god and half human, and suspected of stealing Zeus’ master lightning bolt. Along with a pair of new friends he has to set off on a quest to learn who was really behind the theft before the gods of Olympus go to war over it.

My favorite thing about The Lightning Thief (which is the first of a five book series) is Percy Jackson.  He’s got a unique and entertaining voice (it reminded me on occasion of Holden Caulfield, especially at the beginning when he was getting kicked out of school and returning to New York City), and I love that the book takes as its hero a boy who struggles in school. Riordan doesn’t elevate Percy’s poor grades as admirable, but I love that his protagonist isn’t the idyllic orphan who just needed to be given a chance.  He frames Percy’s ADHD as a hyper-response mechanism to help him in battle and explains the dyslexia by saying his mind was hardwired to read Greek, not English. I think it’s such a great way to engage readers who don’t fit into the perfect student mold. The other thing I loved about The Lightning Thief was the funny spin it took in modernizing Greek mythology and imagining what it would look like in light of the modern world.  I don’t want to ruin anything, but there are some entertaining cameos by Greek gods, monsters, and locations.

My biggest complaint about The Lightning Thief (and I talked about this in a post on originality last week) is that it follows the Harry Potter formula almost to the letter, substituting Greek mythology for magic. Instead of going to a school for magic, the characters go to a summer camp for demigods, and the main character is accompanied by a brainy girl and a self-conscious boy. There’s a direct substitute for Slytherine, Malfoy, and Quidditch. There’s even an invisibility hat to fill in for the invisibility cloak.

On the whole, the book is a fun read, great for either boys or girls, and I think especially the non-traditional reader.  The similarity to Harry Potter is my main reservation to giving this a wholehearted endorsement, but I’ve heard a lot of love about this book from both parents and young readers.

Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

October 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

Stardust tells the story of Tristran Thorn, from the small village of Wall who ventures over border into the land of Faerie in search of a fallen star with which he hopes to win the love of the most beautiful girl for miles around.  Things don’t go quite according to plan as Tristran learns that in the land of Faerie, fallen stars aren’t lumps of metal, but people–in this case a young woman–and she’s not too keen on being rushed off as the some boy’s trophy.  To complicate things further, Tristran isn’t the only person seeking the fallen star and his competition is rather deadly.

Before getting too far into this I have to say that while Stardust is marketed as a Young Adult fantasy novel, there’s a pretty explicit sex scene in the first chapter and a choice four letter world a little further on.  It makes my otherwise enthusiastic recommendation a bit reserved, especially for kids who are more “young” than “adult.”

Gaiman weaves another spectacular tale with Stardust, mixing a sense of wonder with the excitement of adventure and a great sense of humor reminiscent of The Princess Bride.  It’s got magic and love and unicorns and talking trees and airships.  There is a lot to love here, though the action seemed to peak a little beyond the halfway point, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book it was more of a pleasant stroll than a rollercoaster ride.

Stardust is a good read and fairly easy.  I’d especially recommend it to adults who enjoy reading Young Adult, though as I mentioned before, I hesitate to recommend it to kids.

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Graveyard Book was an interesting read for me because when I was in the Middle Grade age range (about 8-12 years old) I wouldn’t have liked it at all (because it would’ve scared the pants off me).  I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first chapter, but that would’ve been a shame.  The book begins with the murder of two-year-old Bod’s family.  He was supposed to be killed too, but by a stroke of luck he wandered out of the house and up the road to a nearby graveyard.  He is taken in and raised by the ghosts that live there as well as a solitary guardian who is neither alive or dead.

The Graveyard Book is a ghost story turned on its head where the ghosts are the benevolent, slightly ridiculous characters in the novel and the little “haunting” that goes on is well-deserved by misbehaving children.  The first half of the book covers ten years of Bods life, telling highlights of his strange upbringing in the graveyard.  The second half of the book increases the pace and tension (I won’t tell you how) and Gaiman does a brilliant job tying in all the episodes from the first half.

A great read that I would recommend for all but the faint of heart, and a Newbury Award winner to boot.

Book Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

September 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

This was definitely a great book to pick up.  It really taught me a ton about common mistakes (like using too many adverbs) that fiction writers make that send up red flags in the heads of editors and agents reading your manuscripts.  I’d say it’s a must read for anyone polishing their first (or second or third) manuscript, though I would also emphasize what they say right off the bat: these aren’t absolutes.  Some of the published examples they select to edit, like the Great Gatsby, lose their voice and uniqueness in the editing process.

If you’re looking for other great books on writing, check out the reading recommendations for writers section of the website.

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