Monday, September 29, 2014

MMGM: Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

by Rick Riordan, with illustrations by John Rocco
(August 19th, 2014, Disney-Hyperion)

Book description:

In Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, some of the most important tales of the Greek gods are recounted. From the story of the creation of the universe to the tale of Hephaestus being thrown out a window by his mother to the battle for Olympus, they’re all here, told with wit, humor, and biting sarcasm by Percy Jackson himself.  


Whoever is interested in Greco-Roman myth, short story collections, or just likes humorous, action-packed books should certainly pick up Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods. I can’t stress enough how this particular anthology doesn’t have many of the weakness inherent to the genre in general. Most notably, it feels like a cohesive narrative, as opposed to an episodic group of tales.

First and foremost, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods is impeccably written: narrated by Percy Jackson himself in jocular, highly amusing prose that sounds just like a kid telling you a collection of ludicrous stories should. It’s also well-paced, wherein every chapter (with the exception of the first couple) is dedicated to a certain god and covers a range of stories.  They are alternately exciting, humorous, or fascinating, and almost none of them feel slow-paced or boring. Also, they’re told with such with such intelligence that none of them end up feeling like morality tales. With that said, however, they can most certainly teach people a lot. Disparate themes, most importantly the abuse of power, are handled with a subtle wisdom that likely to connect with children significantly more than traditional stories of the same kind. The many foibles of the gods never feel like lapses of judgment on the part of the author, either. Almost all are properly addressed in a way that’s non-preachy and effective.

Even though most of the events taking place aren’t told in chronological order, the author does an excellent job of recapping. He never makes the mistake of assuming that the readers remember everything that’s occurred previously. This means that while it’s certainly preferable to read these in order, you’re not compelled to – so you should be able to skip around without many problems. Similarly, one does not need to have read the Heroes of Olympus or Percy Jackson & Olympian to be able to follow along. In fact, this volume would be a great primer for people planning on reading these series.


Strangely enough, this book’s greatest weakness is a direct result of its greatest strength. The satirical tone sometimes employed by Percy to recount these stories can sometime result in improperly dealing with a few things, most importantly sexual assault and violence. Although still more soberly told, I disliked the treatment of a few implied instances of actual rape, one attempted rape, and the violence evident throughout the text. The tone was simply too humorous. It almost sounded at times like author didn’t understand the significance of these events. This is somewhat understandable as this is meant to be told from the point-of-view of a teenager and is meant for children, but I felt that the narration still didn’t correctly demonstrate the terrible ramifications that events like these can have on people’s lives. It’s fair to note though, that there was one incident involving Kallisto that was handled better.

I noticed at least one inadvertently sexist comment (“The girls were too wise to get involved in murder”). This is certainly not as serious as the other problems, but it’s important for it to be made clear to children that sexism cuts both ways.

Also, the last couple of stories were less exciting that their predecessors, and this was certainly a mistake in pacing.  


With its intelligence, excitement, and humor, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods is a highly entertaining, easy-to-read adventure that is very likely to make fans among children and adults alike.

Rating: (9/10)

Get Percy Jackson's Greek Gods on Book Depository.

For more excellent MG book recommendations, go to Shannon Messenger's blog.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

13 Curses

By Michelle Harrison (June 7th 2011, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Book description:

Weeks after a horrible car accident left Red an orphan, her baby brother James is taken by fairies.  For nearly two years, Red has toiled to find a way to retrieve her brother. But when her chance comes and she finals finds herself in the fairy realm, she is kidnapped by an evil witch.
Back in Elvesden Manor, things are back to normal for Tanya – that is, until Warwick, the grounds keeper, falls into a fairy ring and is spirited away to the fairy realm.
In the fairy realm Red and Warwick find each other, and journey to the fairy court to try and find James. But things aren’t as they seem, and when Red strikes a deal with fairies, she gets more than she bargained for… 


Red is the undeniable star of 13 Curses. I’d had some reservations about the author’s decision to change the protagonist mid-series (13 Treasures follows Tanya’s story) but I need not have worried.
Red, or Rowan Fox, is more than a worthy heroine: brave, intelligent, resourceful, and eternally dedicated to getting her brother James back. There is much to love and admire about her.  Not only was she an excellent hero, but a complex character as well. There is a certain harshness about her that the author wisely maintains throughout both books which I felt made her more empathic and realistic, considering her situation.
The secondary characters are excellent, too, from kind Tanya to brave Warwick. The only complaint I have is that I wish there was more about Raven and Gredin, Tanya’s fey guardians.
If I had to choose, I would say plot was the aspect I enjoyed most. Despite being over 500 pages long, 13 Curses is a tight story, full of intrigue and secrets. Even when Harrison goes back to tell Rowan’s story, none of it feels derivative or irrelevant.

There are some events that felt a bit contrived to me, like how Warwick ends up in the fairy realm for, example. I felt that it happened far too easily, which was quiet unbelievable, considering Warwick’s expansive experience with fairies.
Also, some of the dialogue was a little too info-dumpy. There were several instances of page-long chunks of dialogue that made the characters sound like robots rather than people.

The ending was also a problem for me. (Possible spoilers) I felt that the author just wanted to get rid of James, and chose a rather heartless way of doing it. It was especially cruel considering that Red had dedicated every waking moment of the last two years to retrieve him.

Though I personally don’t believe it’s a weakness, it’s important to consider who to give this book to. Since 13 Curses is quiet dark and scary in some instances, it may not be suitable for very young readers. 


Darkly magical, thrillingly plotted, and well executed, 13 Curses is a star entry in an already excellent series.

 Rating: (8/10)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: the Red Winter (the Tapestry # 5)

by Henry H. Neff (November 25th 2014, Random House Books for Young Readers)

From Goodreads:

Rowan has won a battle, but not the war. With proper allies, Rowan’s armies could storm the demon stronghold, capture its ruler, and end the reign of demonkind. But while nations clash, a greater struggle lies elsewhere. In his desperate pursuit of Astaroth, Elias Bram scours the world for clues to the fiend’s true origins, identity, and purpose. His horrifying discoveries hint that not only is humanity at risk, but the earth itself. Its fate may depend upon three children. With their unmatchable skills, it’s up to Max McDaniels, David Menlo, and little Mina to tip the balance!

In the Tapestry’s final volume, Henry H. Neff concludes an unforgettable series in which magic can live, gods can die, and the highest stakes require the greatest sacrifice.

K’s thoughts:

I’ve read every book in this series and loved them all, so I can hardly wait to read this one. At first glance, this series may seem like a Harry Potter rip-off, but it is the farthest thing from it. There a lot of loveable characters here, some really awesome and mysterious villains. I’m a little bit sad that this is the end of the series, but I’m sure Neff is going to give readers (and the characters) the ending they deserve.   

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Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM: the Whispering Skull

by Jonathan Stroud (September 16th 2014, Disney Hyperion)

Book Description:

It has been over a year since Lucy Carlyle joined Lockwood & Co. and things have started to look up since their success at Combe Carey Hall.

When the intrepid trio is tangled up in another mystery, this time concerning a stolen malignant mirror called the Bone Glass, matters begin to unravel.

The Bone Glass seems to have a strange effect on George. Lockwood rashly enters them in a competition with Kipps’ team to see who can get the mirror first. Lucy now converses with the spirit of skull in the jar – but she doesn’t know if she can trust it. The skull tells her that it can help them solve the case, but also warns that her leader and friend Lockwood is deceitful.

Worse yet, there are other, more sinister, forces after the Bone Glass. Racing against time and with their reputation on the line, Lockwood & Co must find the mirror and stop it from falling into the wrong hands.


Humor and imaginative worlds have always been hallmarks of Jonathan Stroud’s books, and the Whispering Skull is no different. By equal turns funny and scary, it was a pleasure to read.

The amazing trio of the Screaming Staircase – Lucy, Lockwood, and George – are back and as funny, mysterious, and intelligent, (respectively) as ever. Though they are no longer facing crushing financial troubles, their friendship, loyalty, and skill are test to their limits in the Whispering Skull.

The focus here is their friendship and how well, or not well, they operate as a team. Lockwood is a solid leader: brave and heroic, yet impulsive and far too secretive. George is a brilliant researcher and a stalwart friend, but his unrestrained curiosity endangers him and others around him. Lucy is the balance between them, but still struggles to find her own voice and opinions. Their complexity is wonderful and you can really see how their personalities sometimes clash but still somehow work out in the end.

The setting, though not as evocative as the first time around, is fully realized and Stroud is well at ease in it, navigating the familiar and strange with mastery and imagination.
The premise is very good, and the mystery behind the Bone Glass scary without being too gory or frightening. 

The dialogue, which is usually stand-out in Stroud’s work, was very funny, and there were quite a few memorable jokes.


Despite being an overall good book, the Whispering Skull suffers from an unfocused and meandering plot. The premise itself is excellent, but Stroud doesn’t do nearly enough with it. Much of the beginning is spent in the normal humdrum of life at Lockwood & Co, which isn’t uninteresting, but isn’t exactly riveting either. Many reveals are too late to the party and though Stroud sows a few intriguing seeds for future volumes, it isn’t enough to make up for the lack of revelations here.

Character is a bit on the weak side, too. Lucy, the protagonist, is frequently ineffective and almost never influences the plot or other characters. I felt that Stroud underused her greatly, which was a real shame since she has so much potential. Even Lockwood and George were more pawns to unconvincing plot contrivances than key players. 


Though not as flawless as its predecessor, the Whispering Skull is a funny and scary read that capitalizes well enough on its superb cast of characters and fascinating world.

Rating: (7.5/10)

Get the Whispering Skull on Book Depository.

For more excellent MG book recommendations, go to Shannon Messenger's blog.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014


by William Ritter
(September 16, 2014, Algonquin Young Readers)

 Book Description:

Abigail Rook has always wanted to go on an adventure. Instead of going to university in her native England, she runs away with her tuition in search of it. After a wandering for a year, she finds herself in New Fiddleham, New England, and looking for work. She falls in with Jackaby, a detective who specializes in “supernatural phenomena”. Soon, she’s swept up in a mysterious series of murders. The police force may believe that the culprit is human, but Jackaby is convinced that it’s a monster, and that it’s still on the hunt for new prey…


Jackaby is an interesting twist on the traditional Sherlockian mystery, with elements of the supernatural sprinkled liberally throughout. The strongest point of this novel is, I think, the prose. Written in flowing, period-appropriate first-person, it’s evocative even as it remains streamlined, and delivers information with a measured economy that’s just great.

The character of Jackaby, while lacking in the gravitas of his famous counterpart, is a likeable, engaging character. His more humane moments can be quite heartwarming, and his restrained nature makes for a fascinating protagonist. The plot isn’t impressive overall, but does contain some good twists that I didn’t see coming. 

There are also some interesting ideas here that may pique readers’ interest in forthcoming volumes. The concept of “the Seer”, for example, is excellent and it’s elevated further by its uniqueness (literally, as there can only be one “Seer” at a time). The ending, although umimpressive in itself, wraps things up nicely, and prepares readers well for coming installments.


I thought that the actual mystery of this novel was unimpressive. This is owing partially to the fact the not enough information is given to reader, so they can’t attempt to solve it with Jackaby and Abigail, but it’s also caused by lackadaisical delivery. You never get the feeling that much is at stake one way or the other. This also applies to the more supernatural elements of the story, which are treated so monotonously that they become boring.

The setting of New Fiddleham is also a problem.  It’s unremarkable, bordering on drab, and bogged down interest in the mystery for me.

In spite of one or two good twists, I disliked the fact that my favorite twist in the novel was actually not as it seemed – to its detriment (I can’t tell you why, unfortunately). 

I found that this novel contained some irritating lapses in logic. Charlie and Abigail, for example, were far too willing to believe in the myriad creatures Jackaby claims exists (banshees, brownies, fairies, ghost, etc.). This is doubly implausible because there was not a single piece of evidence that was genuinely incontrovertible. Even if his evidence was convincing to their mind, why are they not more disconcerted at finding out that all these things exist? They simply take them as a matter of course.

I also felt that too much happened or was discovered after Abigail’s appearance. For example, why was it that no one made the connection between these very obviously similar murders before? I understand that most of these killings took place in other jurisdictions, but I think brutal murders of this kind would be pretty big news, and Jackaby would certainly keep up with this kind of thing. Also, I find it hard to believe that in spite of help on other cases, Barlowe only officially asks for Jackaby help when Abigail becomes his assistant. 

Actually, Abigail herself is unlikeable. She considers herself quite sensible and intelligent (as do others), yet there’s very little by way of evidence to prove it. Her parents had just become convinced that she should go to university, and instead of proving to them that deserves to do so by genuinely preparing herself for a potential career, she absconds with their money in search of “adventure”. What does this prove other than she’s rash and illogical? I also find she’s unjustifiably prideful, especially in relation to her parents. (She hasn’t given them a proper way of communicating with her. For all she’s knows, they might be dead!) At one point, she even refuses to agree with rational advice on principle!  

Unfortunately, the ending was also a letdown. A very unimpressive antagonist and a lack of genuine danger made it lackluster and disappointing, especially considering the lead-up to the climax.


Although excellently written, Jackaby’s potentially interesting premise is wasted through an unlikeable narrator, deficient delivery, an unimpressive mystery, and irritating lapses in logic.

Rating: (5.5/10)

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