Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This book is the first in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I really enjoyed this youth novel a lot. It's the story of 12 year old Percy Jackson who discovers he is not who he thinks he is--a normal human. He is in fact a demigod, born to a mortal mother and a Greek god father. Percy has dyslexia and ADHD which is explained by being part-god. Dyslexia is caused because Ancient Greek is his native language, so as a result he has a hard time reading standard English. And where his ADHD makes him a little distracted and unfocused in the classroom, it makes him great in battle because he is hyper-aware of what is going on.

I don't want to say too much about the storyline to give anything away. Basically, according to the book, the Greek gods still exist today, ruling over the world. Mt. Olympus simply changes locations to accommodate changes in the world/culture. They are in the Age of Western Civilization now and Mt. Olympus is currently located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building in New York. The Underworld is currently located in West Hollywood, CA. The gods take on less classic appearances. In one of my favorite chapters ("I Settle My Tab") toward the end of the book, Riordan describes Poseidon and Zeus' current looks, all very amusing.

Through a series of events, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood and is sent on an important quest to save the world from an impending World War III.

Overall, a great book, story and characters. I loved the theme of Greek Mythology. I always loved learning about mythology in school and this was a fun refresher of the various myths and who was related to each other, but with an updated twist. My only gripe about the book is how MUCH it is similar to Harry Potter. First let me say, I had no idea what this book was really about other than the description on Amazon. I was not searching to fill my Potter void or anything like that. Potter was not on my mind at all. However, as I was reading, things in the book kept striking me as very Potter-esque. So much, that it was very distracting to me and I began to keep a list of these comparisons in my head.

First, we have a boy who thinks he's normal until the pre-teen years when he discovers he is far from normal. Then, he is taken to a place that will both teach him and keep him safe from outside evils. He befriends both a boy and girl, with eerily similar personalities to Ron and especially to Hermione. The three set off on a quest in which they discover a power the gods thought to be extinguished fighting its way back to power. Then the gods ignore the fact that the power has a plan and is getting stronger (ie: Voldermort). Hmm.....I could be talking about Potter or Percy, they are so similar. Oh yes, there are also prophecies, swords, invisibility items, hearing voices in dreams, rivalry between cabins or god families (aka like the houses at Hogwarts). I know Rowling used mythology as part of a basis for her Potter world. Maybe, I didn't realize just how much was based in mythology or how much of Potter was a magical retelling of myths.

I don't mean to steer anyone away from The Lightning Thief. It really is a great book and I would recommend people read it. I was just so distracted the first half of the book by the Potterisms. The second half of the book was much easier to get into and stay focused on the Percy story. If you are a Potter fan and can forgive the similarities, I think you will really like this as a new series to read in the wake of Potter's end. There are three books published so far with the fourth due out next year. The Lightning Thief is also being produced as a movie with Chris Columbus directing (he also directed Harry Potter 1 & 2).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Second half of Bridge of Sighs

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Character development is really good overall. The story sort of ebbs and flows. I tended to be very interested throughout sections and very bored through others. My husband asked me if I was reading a boring book. When I asked him why, he said, "Because you have fallen asleep to this book every night for a week." And that's the truth. :-)

The book is about small town American and a commentary on the American Dream and social classes. I can't say the book is totally without merit, but there are much better books out there. I definitely recommend Empire Falls over this one any day. Maybe Richard Russo will do better next time around.

I also finished The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This is a very fun and quick holiday read. I first read it in elementary school and liked it then. I remember my mom taking me to a children's theater production of the book and enjoying that. So I thought it would be fun to reread it. And I will be sharing it with my daughters when they get a little older as well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Okay, finished holiday book #2 for today. This collection of essays is autobiographical in nature (found in the nonfiction section) and again a very quick read. Some of the stories are fiction. The best essay by far is "SantaLand Diaries" about Sedaris' experience as an Elf at Macy's in New York. I almost wish the whole book were like this. I enjoyed this first story the most, the rest of the book was a little bit too sarcastic for me. While the stories are entertaining, cynical and sarcastic, they almost go a bit too far for me. I find the idea of making fun of the annual Christmas newsletter amusing, but by the end of "Seasons Greetings" I wasn't so amused. And I found that to be the case with most of the stories. I started out interested and amused, then just sort of ended up skimming through them toward the end.

On the Barnes and Noble website there's an editor comment that Sedaris could be a 90's version of Jean Shepherd (the author whose stories were the basis for the film, A Christmas Story). I'm not sure I agree with this sentiment. I found Dave Barry's story to be much more Jean Shepherd-ish than Sedaris' volume.

If you are extremely sarcastic and cynical of the holidays you will really enjoy Sedaris' collection. If you are just looking for fun, humorous holiday fare, I'd go more with The Shepherd, the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog.

PS. While browsing book blogs I came across the Christmas Theme Book Challenge 2007. You can learn more here.

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Miracle Dog

This book by Dave Barry is a delightful, easy and quick read. It takes place in 1960 in New York during Christmas. The narrator is a junior high boy telling about his family's Christmas, their dog, and the church's Christmas pageant. The story's style is very reminiscent of A Christmas Story. Throughout the book there are old photos, advertisements and illustrations that accompany the text. These make the book especially fun. Two of the pictures show Christmas trees circa 1960, and they look exactly like my Grandma Mazie's tree still does every year! This book is so short everyone should read it for a fun holiday treat!

First Half of Bridge of Sighs

I've been reading Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. I LOVED Empire Falls. I really liked his style of writing and the depth of the characters. He had a great story as well. But here, I'm a little disappointed so far. I'm about half way through the over 500 pages (Allison, probably why I'm not excited to consider another 500 page book yet! :-). I was interested in the beginning and through the first 200 pages, but now it's sort of slowing down and I'm starting to lose interest. Again, he's pretty heavy in the character development but where Empire Falls had a great story, Bridge of Sighs lacks that (at least so far).

Again, Russo takes us to a small town in northeastern America. And again, the town is full of characters struggling to deal with everyday life. The timeline jumps around between the main character's childhood and present day. Russo does a good job of keeping what time we're in clearly defined, so its not hard to keep up. This book also reminds me a bit of I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. Not in the story elements at all, but in my reaction to the book. I read Charlotte Simmons fairly quickly for the length of it and found it only mediocre. It was great in character development again, but I felt the story was a tad boring. Bridge of Sighs is shaping up to be a similar reading experience for me. But I guess you can't always have great characters, great story, and keep it exciting too, huh?

I do want to finish it and I hope it picks up a little in the second half, but I think I will take a break for a bit. I have two holiday books on hold at the library that I might try in the meantime. The first, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, sounds like an amusing collection of short memoirs about Christmas. For example, some of the stories are about Sedaris' experience working as an elf at Santaland at Macy's. I'm chuckling just thinking about the things he must have witnessed. The second book was a high recommendation from my mom and others, The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry. Maybe I'll read those and come back to Bridge of Sighs. :-)

Oh, and I finished Murder is a Girl's Best Friend, the 2nd book in the Paige Turner Mystery series. I enjoyed this one even more than the first. Paige's best friend didn't annoy me quite so much and the ending didn't fizzle out as much as the first did. I'll continue to read the others in this series.

We're getting 8-10 inches of snow today so it seems it will be a nice cozy reading day in Minnesota! Enjoy your weekend!