Boy, oh, boy, is Gordon Korman back. His Everest trilogy reminded me that, despite his missteps, Korman can weave a pretty fantastic story when he wants.
The plot revolves around thirteen-year-old Dominic Alexis, a young climber whose brother Chris is the second-ranked young mountaineer in the world. He wins a contest that gives him the chance to go to a boot camp where he will compete with nineteen other people, including his brother, to become one of the youngest people ever to summit Everest.
Korman does a great job with the training scenes and with building up a rivalry between Dominic and Tilt Crowley, the camp bully. He did a good job of building the dynamics between the contestants as well as their individual personalities. He also gives the reader the perspective of the expedition leader, veteran climber Cap Cicero. He moves between different characters' perspectives with relative ease and the story flows quickly and naturally.
And what a story! I'm thirty-two, out of shape, and afraid of heights, and reading this book made me want to train for Everest. I do enjoy a good adventure/survival story, and Korman came blazing back in my personal opinion with this li'l trilogy....more
The second book in Gordon Korman's Everest trilogy follows thirteen-year-old Dominic Alexis and the SummitQuest Team to Everest's Base Camp. ClimbersThe second book in Gordon Korman's Everest trilogy follows thirteen-year-old Dominic Alexis and the SummitQuest Team to Everest's Base Camp. Climbers rest and train at the camp for a few weeks before tackling Everest in order to get acclimated to the altitude.
I appreciated that Korman decided to dedicate an entire volume of his book to Base Camp because this is how it would happen in real life (well, except for the whole thirteen-year-old trying to climb Everest thing. The youngest person ever to climb Everest was a fifteen-year-old Sherpa girl. If not even a younger Sherpa could tackle Everest, there's no way a mainlander could do it). The SummitQuest team, led by mountaineering legend Cap Cicero, spends a few weeks at Base Camp training for what's ahead -- which looms over them every day.
Dominic Alexis, our protagonist, is following a nameless urge to climb, climb, climb. Korman has gifted him with a natural climbing instinct -- the Sherpas naturally recognize one of their own and accept him without a word. But Dominic becomes afflicted with HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and it threatens his chances of joining the rest of the team on their push to the summit
Korman also spends some good time on character development here. The only girl on the team, Sammi Moon, comes off a bit flat as the "wild child" of the group, but there's a surprising depth to the other climbers. Perry Noonan is the rich kid with the big secret -- he's scared to death and never even wanted to be here in the first place. Korman does a great job of building a realistic conflict in Perry between his fear of dying on Everest and his fear of disappointing his favorite uncle. Cap is totally believable as the experienced climber who alternately worries about the kids and pulls his hair out in frustration at their immaturity. And, all the while, he, like Dominic, is being driven by the siren song of Everest.
But the most interesting character to me is Tilt Crowley. Tilt is established as the camp bully and all-around jerk. He's secretly sending exclusive reports to tabloids back home that are damaging the team's public image. He accuses Cap of being reckless by including Dominic on the team when he's so young. And he resents Dominic's presence on the team because, if Dominic completes the climb, he'll take the record of being the youngest person ever to climb Everest -- an accolade that Tilt wants for himself.
But there's a reason Tilt is the way he is. He grew up poor and with no opportunities. Mountaineering is a sport that requires money, and he never had any, so he had to work hard to continue pursuing the sport he loved. At the heart of it all, Tilt is just another kid who wants to rise above his circumstances to prove to the world -- and to himself -- that he is somebody.
This book was a fun, quick read and definitely a satisfying hour for anyone who's ever wondered what it's like to climb the world's tallest and most unforgiving mountain....more
The last installment in Gordon Korman's Everest series begins with thirteen-year-old Dominic Alexis on the cusp of setting a world record and achievinThe last installment in Gordon Korman's Everest series begins with thirteen-year-old Dominic Alexis on the cusp of setting a world record and achieving a lifelong dream: he's about to summit Mount Everest, the world's tallest and most challenging mountain.
Along the way, he's overcome many obstacles: his age, the fear of others that he's too young and too small to do this, and the physical difficulties of the altitude and the mountain. He's made a few friends: the Sherpas, his team leader, Cap Cicero; and the world's top young mountaineer, Ethan Zaph. He's also made an enemy: Tilt Crowley, who wants the title of youngest to summit Everest for himself. Tilt is older, bigger, and stronger, and he's determined to win.
Korman has done an excellent job of building tension and anticipation throughout the series up to the moment of truth: who will be the youngest ever to climb Everest? And he also began the series with a funeral. We know that one of the climbers is going to die, and we finally get to find out who that climber is.
Throughout the series, Korman also did a surprisingly good job of giving some depth to his characters; more so than I'd expect in a short, goofy series like this. Perry Noonan is an interesting one. His rich uncle funds all of Perry's climbing. He's actually scared to death of climbing, but it's the one common interest that he has with his uncle, whom he loves. He figures his uncle will be crushed if he doesn't carry out this dream, and so he's torn between his legitimate fear of dying and his love for his uncle and desire to please him.
Then, there's Tilt Crowley. Tilt's been a bully from the beginning, but it's hard not to feel bad for the guy when you discover that he grew up in poverty and desperately needs the exposure and money from climbing to support himself and his family. He's willing to take desperate measures to get what he wants out of his climbing career. We can see that he has twinges of conscience here and there, but will he do the right thing when it really counts?
And then we've got our A plot: Dominic's quest to climb Everest. The Nepalese government is doing their best to prevent him from going because of the bad press they're getting (thanks, in part, to Tilt, who's been feeding sensationalist stories to a tabloid back home) for letting a mere child try to climb Everest.
All in all, this is one of the better adventure series out in children's lit today. The action is suspenseful and entertaining, and there's a surprising level of depth to the characters.
And, now, you must excuse me while I go and Google pictures of Everest....more
By the time I got to the third book in Gordon Korman's Island series, it was kind of a relief just to know that it would all be over soon.
To recap theBy the time I got to the third book in Gordon Korman's Island series, it was kind of a relief just to know that it would all be over soon.
To recap the events of Shipwreck and Survival (SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THIS IS A REVIEW OF BOOK 3, SO I'D HAVE HOPED YOU'D HAVE FIGURED THAT OUT ON YOUR OWN), thirteen-year-old Luke Haggerty is framed for a crime he didn't commit and is sent, as part of his sentence, to participate in a sailing trip with five other troubled kids. Charla Swann is an overachiever from the inner city, Will and Lyssa Greenfield are siblings who get into violent fights -- Lyssa is super-smart and Will feels inadequate in comparison -- Ian Sikorsky is a geek whose only contact with the outside world is the Discovery Channel, and JJ Lane is the spoiled son of a famous Hollywood director.
In the first book, their captain is swept overboard and the first mate abandons them. In the second book, they find themselves on a tiny island populated only by a wild boar and some international smugglers.
Now, in Book 3, Escape, the kids need to take drastic measures to get rescued. Will has a gunshot wound that's gotten infected, and he needs immediate medical care. Reaching much, Korman? Geez. JJ has an idea: he'll stow away in the criminals' cargo plane and, if they find him, he'll offer himself up as a hostage on account of his father being so rich and famous and all.
And the story just keeps getting more and more ridiculous from there. I don't know; if I hadn't read the Everest series first, then I might not have minded the ridiculousness so much. But I still think I would have minded it a little. The story starts with promise -- it reminded me of Gary Paulsen's excellent Hatchet in the beginning. But it slowly degenerated into a sensationalist tale of hiding from criminals using the most extraordinary means possible to get back home.
This sort of plot is just so trite. I wouldn't tolerate it in a television series and I won't brook tolerate it in a book....more
Clear and Present Danger is Clancy's fourth novel about CIA agent Jack Ryan. The book deals with a covert government operation sending a hand-picked aClear and Present Danger is Clancy's fourth novel about CIA agent Jack Ryan. The book deals with a covert government operation sending a hand-picked and highly-trained group of soldiers into the hills of Colombia to fight a secret war on a ruthless drug dealer. Unbeknownst to Ryan, an enemy agent has compromised a CIA contact and is maneuvering to take down the leader of the drug cartel so that he can become its new leader.
In the meantime, Jack must figure out how to save the soldiers after the operation goes sour, how to bring the high-level government officials who set the plan in motion to justice, and how to keep it all under wraps so that the American people wouldn't lose faith in their government or the war on drugs.
Let me say one thing about Clancy up front -- he's a decent writer and he sure knows how to build a plot. It's not Shakespeare, but I can totally understand how he's sold so many books. It was fast-paced and exciting; I couldn't wait to see what happened next. The book reads like a solid action film -- good guys go up against bad guys; everything's shrouded in conspiracy; there are a few good gunfights and action sequences and then the heroes somehow save the day and tomorrow's sun will dawn yet again on a free America.
I guess my only real problem with the book is this: if you read too much Tom Clancy, you've got to be pretty discerning or else you're going to start seeing the world as US vs. THEM. If you buy into the view of the world that Clancy presents in his books, you won't bat an eye at the thought of the US secretly invading Colombia to fight a guerrilla war on drugs -- a "preemptive strike," if you will (sound familiar?).
It raised a red flag for me when I read the book and the characters were outraged that one of the characters had abandoned the soldiers in Colombia to save his own hide -- not so much that he had authorized their mission in the first place.
Sure, the characters are dismayed that this secret operation was given a green light. Sure, one of the characters (Domingo "Ding" Chavez -- another thing Clancy does really well is creating great characters. He gives you enough backstory to get you invested in them, too) a moment here of "Why are we doing this?" and a moment there of "The poor guy I just killed is probably only involved in this drug ring to feed his starving family."
But, for the most part, I thought that the message of the book was "protect America, no matter what it costs (the rest of the world)."
Personally, I just don't think the issue is that black-and-white. So remember, dear reader: it's just a book. It's fiction. Don't let a book you can buy at the supermarket form your entire stance on foreign policy....more
I've heard so much about it: its museums, its history, and especially the food. I've always wanted to go.
After reading ErikI've never been to Chicago.
I've heard so much about it: its museums, its history, and especially the food. I've always wanted to go.
After reading Erik Larson's book about the 1893 World's Fair, my interest in Chicago's history is slowly gaining on my obsession with the food scene there.
Larson's book explores the events surrounding 1893's World's Columbian Exposition. The author fastidiously chronicles architect Daniel Burnham's arduous task of creating the White City: a confluence of the day's finest architecture, art, culture, and innovations -- the best America (and the world) had to offer all in one convenient location.
He also guides the reader down a twisted path branching off from the main road: how serial killer H.H. Holmes (the eponymous "Devil" of the book) capitalized on the World's Fair by luring victims to his infamous "Murder Castle" with low rates and his charismatic charm.
The book is nothing if not fascinating -- Larson's subject matter serves him well here. The obstacles Burnham and his colleagues had to surmount in order to make this Fair happen were staggering. The inventions that debuted at the Fair are fascinating (e.g. the Ferris Wheel. And did you know that the US runs on alternating current because Westinghouse submitted a lower bid to power the Fair based on AC? So interesting).
And the lurid details of Holmes' escapades are gripping as well. I have a morbid fascination with serial killers (what drives someone to repeatedly commit the most heinous act possible?), and Larson's account of Holmes' "work" did not disappoint.
However, the book did suffer from the constant change of pace as Larson switched from story to story. Add in a tertiary subplot (the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison) and you've got a trifecta of interesting storylines that have little in common aside from their setting.
The Devil in the White City was an ambitious project for any author to tackle. Larson did the best with his source material, but I can't help but to wish that he'd decided to write three books instead of one....more
I was a little apprehensive when I opened up this book because it was written by Rick Riordan. My first experience with Rick Riordan was not a positivI was a little apprehensive when I opened up this book because it was written by Rick Riordan. My first experience with Rick Riordan was not a positive one.
I was expecting more of the same when I picked up The Lightning Thief, the first book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I'd never heard of the series until my li'l buddy JN recommended it to me because I live under a rock, apparently, as this book has already been reviewed on Pajiba.
Never have I been happier to be wrong.
Riordan spins a gripping little tale, masterfully weaving Greek mythology into a contemporary setting.
It's a cute, child-friendly take on a tale that every kid wishes were his at some point in his life: the crappy parts of my life are only temporary because I am the child of someone important! When I was little, I imagined my "real" parents were celebrities or royalty. It wasn't that I didn't love my parents, who were always working at their liquor store (my parents were Koreans who owned a liquor store. I am a cliché in so many ways) -- it was just that I longed for the glamor and adventure that I only read about in books.
But I must confess that Percy Jackson has a harder life than I do. He keeps getting punted from school to school because things have a way of going wrong when he's around. His stepdad is a malodorous, mouth-breathing, Cro-Magnon jerk who loves nothing better than to hassle Percy. The only real bright spot in his life is his beloved mother and a fuzzy, if bright, memory of his real dad.
Of course, "everything changes" (cue jazz hands) when Percy's suddenly attacked by a teacher at his school -- who turns out to be a Harpy in disguise. This Harpy attack sets off a chain of events through which the truth about Percy is revealed: he's the son of a Greek god!
This revelation gets him enrolled in Camp Half-Blood, a sort of summer camp for kids with divine parentage. At first, we don't know who Percy's father is, but (SPOILER!!!!) it's soon revealed that his father is Poseidon, god of the sea (and if you couldn't figure that out from the first quarter of the book, then I just don't know what to tell you).
Since every hero must complete a quest, Percy is given the task of finding Zeus' lightning bolt, which was recently stolen. None of the other gods will confess to taking it, and Zeus is threatening to go to war with Poseidon, whom he's accused of stealing it, if it isn't returned in short order. As Poseidon's son, it falls to Percy to discover the identity of the real thief, find the stolen bolt, and return it to Mount Olympus in order to prevent a divine war of catastrophic proportions.
Riordan did a great job of bringing elements of classical Greek mythology into this kids' adventure story. He doesn't dumb it down, either. While it's never explicitly stated, it's pretty clear that certain gods (I'm looking at you, Hermes) are philanderers, just as they were in the myths. He includes lesser-known characters (such as Chiron the centaur -- I'd forgotten who he was) as well as the standard gods that everybody learns in the ancient civilizations unit in sixth grade.
And as far as adventure goes, the book is tons of fun. The action never lets up, and it's no surprise to me that the series is so popular.
When I started taking the train to work, I was really excited about how much reading I was going to get done. I happily imagined a future in which I'vWhen I started taking the train to work, I was really excited about how much reading I was going to get done. I happily imagined a future in which I've read every book I'd ever wanted to read -- and all thanks to the LA Metro! People would talk about the classics and I'd airily reply, "Why, yes, I've read it." I'd get a forward asking me to check all of the books I'd read, and I'd be able to check all 100 books on the list. I would be so well-read!
Well, the reality wasn't quite what I'd imagined it to be. I do still read a heck of a lot, but it's what I'm reading that was unexpected.
I don't have a lot of money to spend on books, and I also don't have a lot of time to go to the library. As a result, I ended up borrowing books from friends here and there, borrowing lots of children's lit from my sister, who's a teacher, and the kids at my church. Mostly, though, I ended up reading books that have been sitting on my shelf that I never got around to reading.
Most of those books were on the shelf for a reason. I hadn't had any sort of burning desire to read them in the past. Most of them were okay. But none of them were too terribly well-written or compelling. It was a nice way to pass the time, but that was about it. It was getting so that I'd almost forgotten that I'd ever been moved by anything I'd read in a book.
Then, one day, I thought I'd hit rock bottom. There was a book on my shelf that I'd read part of the way through, but that I couldn't really remember at all. It was given to me as a gift from a friend. She asked me to let her borrow it after I was done, and I never lent it to her because I never finished it.
It was a collection of essays by Arthur Miller. I figured I must not remember it because it wasn't that interesting, but I wanted to get it under my literary belt, so I chucked it into my bag and headed for the train.
Nobody can know Brooklyn, because Brooklyn is the world, and besides it is filled with cemeteries, and who can say he knows those people?
That is the first sentence of Echoes Down the Corridor. I read it and was instantly transported to Brooklyn. And then back in time to the Brooklyn of Miller's own childhood. I devoured the essay greedily, savoring his descriptions of the colorful characters of the Midwood section. I could hear the children shouting in the streets, the housewives gossiping in line at the grocery store, the honking of horns. He doesn't describe any of these noises, and yet, somehow, they automatically popped into my mind as he described other things. That is the power of Miller. He conjures.
As soon as I was done with the first essay ("Brooklyn is a lot of villages. And this was one of them."SIGH), I dove breathlessly into the next one. And then the next one.
Something about his writing grabbed hold of me. About halfway through the book, I realized what it was. It was good writing.
In all of the books I'd been reading since I started taking the train, I'd read a lot of interesting stories and fascinating histories. But I hadn't enjoyed reading really good writing for so long that I didn't even realize that I was yearning for it. As I read on the train for those three days, I drank deeply of Miller's words -- a veritable nectar to my parched literary soul.
Miller touches on subjects from his childhood to politics to personal anecdotes -- Miller lived about as full a life as anyone could hope for. He wrote about the arts and world events and even his own plays. I'd laugh out loud at one essay and then turn a page and be in tears. Whether laughing or crying, I was always thinking. I was thinking about the myriad topics that Miller chose to write about and how such a varied collection of works could come together into such a cohesive volume.
What brings them together is Miller's life. These are his experiences, his thoughts. What holds them together is his poetic prose. Arthur Miller lived for these words, and he made these words live for him.
After I finished the book, I was a little depressed for a while. Reading writing that good made me despair a bit of ever aspiring to similar heights of genius. Who am I to try and write when works like Miller's already exist -- and go unread on people's bookshelves for ten years?
But that, to me, is the ultimate beauty of this collection. Despite feeling sharply my inferiority to Miller's genius , I couldn't resist the desire to write. Miller had inspired me. And that is the greatest gift that a writer can give: inspiration.
I may never write as prolifically or as insightfully or as beautifully as Miller. But it's to his credit that he has made me want to try....more
Full disclosure: this book was written by a friend of mine. I read it as it was being written and gave feedback. I am thanked on the flyleaf for thisFull disclosure: this book was written by a friend of mine. I read it as it was being written and gave feedback. I am thanked on the flyleaf for this service.
But I am doing my best to review it as if I were just reading any old book and had normal expectations of it. In fact, I was so afraid that I would be biased that I originally didn't write a review at all, and rated the book only four stars, just in case the shine of knowing the author eventually wore off.
I just re-read the book for the first time in years, and I have re-rated it five stars. This book is fantastic, much more than mere fanfic, and a worthy sequel to Jane Austen's Emma.
Emma is my favorite of Austen's novels, mostly because the love interest, Mr. Knightley, is my ideal man. Witty, wise, thoughtful, generous, a faithful friend, never afraid to tell the truth for the good of those he loves, even at the risk of hurting them -- Mr. Darcy ain't got nothin' on him.
George Knightley, Esquire, Book One: Charity Envieth Not is a retelling of Emma from Knightley's point of view. We get to see what he was thinking throughout the events of Austen's novel, and also get to take a look into the day-to-day life of a gentleman back in the Regency era.
Cornthwaite's book is well-written. She is very familiar with Austen's style, but still gives Knightley a character of his own, without being too derivative of Emma (aside from dialogue written by Austen that had to be fitted into this book). We see Knightley's thoughts and his interactions with characters that we either didn't see much of in Emma or weren't in Emma at all, as Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield would not have had any reason to make acquaintance with tenants of Donwell Abbey.
The book is also very well-researched. It was fascinating to take a deeper look at the responsibilities that the owner of an estate like Donwell would have had. He would have been involved in mediating grievances, making improvements to roads and bridges, in improvements to his own properties, in other matters of importance in Highbury, and would have had a full social calendar as well. Cornthwaite really did her homework, and it makes Charity Envieth Not a good primer on Regency era life as well as of the "he said" counterpart to a classic romance.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's available on Kindle, too. If you love Jane Austen and wish she had written more, this book is the next best thing to Zombie Austen....more
There's an old story about how you can't cook a frog in a kettle of boiling water -- he'll jump right out to escape the heat. But if you put him in aThere's an old story about how you can't cook a frog in a kettle of boiling water -- he'll jump right out to escape the heat. But if you put him in a kettle of nice, cool water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog won't notice the change in temperature until his po' legs is jes' fried and it's too late for him to get out of his predicament.
By the time I floated my way through Book #4, I could hardly muster the energy to protest at all.
Book #5 in the series begins with a mysterious telegram that sends protagonists Amy and Dan Cahill to Russia. The book is the usual slurry of travel + mild intrigue + not knowing who to trust + historical trivia + bickering. Meh. And MEH.
And, since it’s set in Russia, of course one of the bigger plot points is related to the story of Anastasia. For those unfamiliar with the story, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of Imperial Russia. She was seventeen years old when her father was deposed in the Bolshevik Revolution, and she and her family were all executed.
Speculations that she had somehow survived floated around for decades until her remains were finally positively identified in March of 2009. Author Patrick Carman builds most of this book around that legend. I suppose it’s not his fault that the legend was debunked when the book was probably already well underway, but I can’t help feeling a little dissatisfied. Really, I think he should have built it around something else that was, I don’t know, proven to be true. But, overall, the action was average, the mystery was average, the reveal was average – no screaming protests here, which is unusual for me.
I think that I’ve been sitting in this pot of hot water for too long. I wanna jump out, but the N kids keep supplying me with books. It’s like the water is nice and warm – and laced with roofies. I’m not going to start gushing over the books anytime soon, but I might stop whining about them. In the meantime, I’m going to just sit in this nice, warm water and relax my brain.
I guess that's what I dislike so much about books like these. They're not terrible, but you could easily get used to reading them. They get cranked out at breakneck speed, so there's always a new one to read. Before you know it, you forget that just because they're not terrible doesn't mean they're good, and your standard for literature could be irreparably damaged.
Hey, what smells so good? Smells like chicken…...more
Beyond the Grave takes the Cahill kids from Japan to Egypt. They're searching for Clue #4 of 39 (and I can only feel a faint throbbing in protest whenBeyond the Grave takes the Cahill kids from Japan to Egypt. They're searching for Clue #4 of 39 (and I can only feel a faint throbbing in protest when I think of the 35 books left to go in the series) with the aid of handsome grad student Theo Cotter and his grandmother, Hilary, who was a good friend of Grace Cahill (or was she??? POSSIBLY OBVIOUS SPOILER!!! I KNOW I SAW IT COMING!! Never trust hot guys or their grandmothers!! Let this be a lesson to us all! thanks for the tip, Jude Watson!).
My sister is a huge archaeology geek. People always go up to her to gush about how much they, too, love the pyramids and she freezes them with an icy glare until their either stammer apologies and back away slowly or simply fall silent and wither under her gaze.
Why, you ask? Because assuming that archaeology buffs love Egypt is like assuming that all bibliophiles love Twilight -- sure, everybody knows about it, and maybe it's even a good place to start in growing a love for the field, but the truth is that it's beginner stuff and once you've had a taste of something a little more sophisticated, you kinda snicker into your hand when you hear someone say that they're a fan of books because they love sparkly emo vampires.
And I can understand a little better why my sister kind of hates Egypt after reading this book. It not only is super-basic, but it also gets so much attention, that far more interesting material is eclipsed (book title pun not intended) by it.
I will say that the book does teach you some interesting facts about Egypt, if you're into that sort of thing (Philistines!). The one thing that the series does well and does so consistently is to use the adventure as a vehicle to teach kids a little history. It's a very little bit of history, but it's history nonetheless.
But, in the end, are those morsels of historical trivia worth wading through 192 pages of stilted dialog, saw-it-coming-a-mile-away "twists" and mind-numbingly dull plot contrivances?
I'm not going to say anything. I'm just going to freeze you with an icy glare until you see what I'm getting at. And then I'm going to recommend that you head to your local library and check out some books about the history of Persia....more
There's something so fascinating to me about the mystery behind a crime: Whodunnit? Howdeydunnit? WhydeConfession: I love watching crime procedurals.
There's something so fascinating to me about the mystery behind a crime: Whodunnit? Howdeydunnit? Whydeydunnit? Whodatdere?
Most of all, I like that they require little to no commitment to the show to watch -- you don't really need to know much about the detectives to understand the gathering of clues and the eventually nabbing of the perpetrator.
But, as a result, crime procedurals usually feel pretty one-dimensional -- bad guy commits crime, good guys pick up clues along the way, sometimes in really geniusy ways, good guys figure out what happened, find bad guy, bad guy goes to jail or is punished in some other way.
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin reminded me a lot of a run-of-the-mill crime procedural in book form.
The mystery begins when a young poet, Richard Cadogan, decides to take a trip to Oxford to visit his friend, Professor of English Gervase Fen. Cadogan somehow finds himself in a toyshop, where he stumbles upon the body of an old woman. He's then knocked out by an unseen assailant and, when he tries to lead the police back to the scene of the crime, he finds that the toyshop is nowhere to be found.
Fen is actually the protagonist of the book, but it took me a while to come to this conclusion because so much of the beginning of the book focused on Cadogan. It really wasn't until I was a good third of the way through the book that I figured out that Fen was the sleuth, here. Those with snarky predilections might point out that I might not be enough of a sleuth myself to truly enjoy the book, to which I will retort that if I seem unenthusiastic about the book, it's because I'm too much of an English major.
The sleuthing was decent; Crispin did a fair job of setting up the investigatory part of the book. And I did rather enjoy Fen's witty banter with Cadogan -- in my mind, the part of Fen is being played by a re-Englished Hugh Laurie. There were some entertaining chase scenes and a colorful cast of characters.
Maybe it's because I'm the jaded product of an over-entertained generation, but the action was pretty flat to me. The big reveal was a huge letdown. When an author promises a mind-blowing mystery, then the reveal had better live up to the build-up. Unfortunately, Crispin's big reveal left much to be desired.
That was my biggest problem with the book. It just didn't deliver what it promised. It was an entertaining, mercifully quick read, but I doubt I'll be picking up another Gervase Fen mystery anytime soon....more
Okay, so, I was pleasantly surprised by my second run-in with Rick Riordan. That said, my buddy JN, who lent me the book, warned me that the second boOkay, so, I was pleasantly surprised by my second run-in with Rick Riordan. That said, my buddy JN, who lent me the book, warned me that the second book wasn't nearly as good, but to keep hope alive, because books three and four were excellent.
With that warning in view, I dove into The Sea of Monsters.
And, BLAMMO, I get hit with a cheap retread of The Odyssey. Don't get me wrong; I love The Odyssey. But Riordan's version was particularly lacking luster.
After Perseus "Percy" Jackson discovers his heritage as a demigod (he's a son of Poseidon -- authenticity points to Riordan for not trying to sugarcoat the gods' proclivity for adultery), he spent a whirlwind summer quelling a war between the gods. Now that he's back to his normal life, he's trying to make it through another school year before he can get back to Camp Half-Blood, the summer camp for demigods.
But before Percy is able to finish his first-ever school year without getting kicked out, the Laistrygonians, posing as giant middle schoolers, try to kill him. He's saved by his new friend Tyson, who's a bit slow, but super-strong. As it turns out, Tyson's a baby Cyclops, and Percy's half-brother.
Riordan plays with themes of sibling rivalry, but only for a little while, which is fine since that storyline wasn't going anywhere anyway. For his part, Tyson is one part Sloth from The Goonies, one part Jar-Jar Binks, and was far from a welcome addition to the series, although he did grow on me in Book 4 (oops, SPOILER!).
So, anyway, the quest in this book is that someone has poisoned Thalia's Tree. Thalia was a daughter of Zeus who was killed in a battle at Camp Half-Blood, and the tree which protects the camp from monsters was named in her honor. The only way to heal the tree and protect Camp Half-Blood is to find the Golden Fleece, which has been stolen by Polyphemus, Odysseus' old Cyclops nemesis.
To complicate matters, Polyphemus has captured Grover, who was searching for the god Pan. Grover's only alive because he's tricked Polyphemus into thinking he's a female Cyclops. He's desperately employing Penelope's trick of unraveling his bridal garment on the loom, but he doesn't know how much longer he can keep up this ruse before Polyphemus insists on getting married.
And they don't have much time; half-blood-turned-traitor Luke, son of Hermes, is trying to get to the Fleece first in order to reassemble and heal the Titan Kronos, who is mounting a Voldemortian effort to regenerate his body and revive his powers in order to destroy the world with his evil.
The heroes, led this time by Clarisse, daughter of Ares and self-avowed nemesis to Percy, will have to pass unharmed through the Sea of Monsters (featuring Scylla and Charybdis, natch), retrieve Grover and the Golden Fleece, and return to Camp Half-Blood in time to save Thalia's Tree and Camp Half-Blood.
That description actually sounds a lot more exciting than the book actually was. I think Riordan just tried to cram way too much into this story. Besides introducing a new character, he's also trying to tackle an classical tale of epic adventure in a mere 279 pages. In a children's book. That's just way too much for one person to chew.