Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1) ~ Rick Riordan

lightning-thiefPercy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

5 Thumbs-UpFirstly let me explain that this is going to be quite a long review as I’ve included information for the interested readers near the bottom of the review.  It’s not something I usually do but change is always good when it helps others.

I have to admit I went into reading this book with the expectation it would be just another shallow copy of the Harry Potter series with names and places changed enough so as not to infringe on the original copyright.  I also wasn’t expecting to enjoy it at all, as I found myself becoming rather bored with Hogwarts after a couple of books.  You can imagine my relief and surprise to find that this book and the following instalments are nothing like the aforementioned wizardry titles and this title, along with the others had me glued to the pages long after I should have gone back to real life.  Yes there are some similarities between the two series, but you really have to look hard and want to find them, but as with most forms of art, and writing is an art, there are very few if any original ideas left out there.

The book is narrated by Percy himself, and at times he sounded more like an aged pessimist than the 16-year-old boy he was supposed to be.  Considering what he had been through in his life, and also knowing some people his age that are like this, I found it to be a great tool the Author used to pull the reader into his story and travel on the journey to find himself with him; and what a journey it is, it is so personal and full of emotion at points that the reader can’t help but become emotionally invested in the character and root for him every step of the way.  It is easy for most readers to connect with this character for a different reason too, whatever he turns his hand, however good his intentions, he just can’t seem to get things right.  The Author is equally generous with all other characters encountered in this book; you love the ‘heroes’ and feel the need to boo and hiss at the villains when they appear on the page.

All Greek mythology should be approached in the way the Author does in this book.  Whilst staying true to the nature of the Gods, they inject humour and irreverence in to the way they have re-imaged and reinterpreted the whole Greek Pantheon.  In a totally off the wall manner everything surrounding the Gods is explained to an audience who may never have come across them before and who, after reading this book will probably be motivated to find out more about them.  The existence of these beings is written in a believable and well explained manner and does great credit to the Author, as research into this topic must have been extensive to enable them to portray mythology in this manner.

As I said at the beginning of this review, it is a little different from others I have written, and a lot longer, and here is the reason why.  The Author is now about to release the last instalment of their Percy Jackson series, and to mark the event they have scheduled a book tour itinerary that I thought might interest those who are fans of the books:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014: Boston/Cambridge-Brookline, MA

Event hosted by:
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
617-491-2220

Location of event:
Temple Ohabei Shalom
1187 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02446
617-277-6610

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Wednesday, October 8, 2014: Toronto, ONT, Canada

Event hosted by:
Indigo Exclusive

Location of event:
Bloor Street United Church
300 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M55 1W3
416-924-7439

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Thursday, October 9, 2014: Atlanta/Decatur, GA

Event hosted by:
Little Shop of Stories
133A East Court Square
Decatur, GA 30030
404-373-6300

Location of event:
Glenn Auditorium at Emory
1652 North Decatur Road
Atlanta, GA 30302

Showtime:
7:00 PM ET

Friday, October 10, 2014: New York, NY

Event hosted by:
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011
212-989-3270

Location of event:
New York Public Library
Main Branch
Celeste Bartos Forum
5th Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018

*Note: 25 branch libraries across the city will also be participating.

Showtime:
4:00 PM ET

Saturday, October 11, 2014: Chicago/Downers Grove, IL

Event hosted by:
Anderson’s Bookshop
5112 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
630-963-2665

Location of event:
Tivoli Theatre
5021 Highland Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515
630-968-0219

Showtime:
4:00 PM CT

Sunday, October 12, 2014: Boulder, CO

Event hosted by:
Boulder Book Store
1107 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
303-447-2074

Location of event:
Boulder Theatre
2032 14th Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Showtime:
1:30 PM MT

Monday, October 13, 2014: Austin, TX

Event hosted by:
Book People
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703
512-472-5050

Location of event:
Westlake Community Performing Arts Center
4100 Westbank Drive
Austin, TX 78746

Showtime:
6:00 PM CT

Tuesday, October 14, 2014: Santa Barbara/Ventura, CA

Event hosted by:
Barnes & Noble Ventura #2054
4820 Telephone Road
Ventura, CA 93003
805-339-0990

Location of event:
Buena High School Auditorium (with Ventura Educational Partnership)
5670 Telegraph Road
Ventura, CA 93003

Showtime:
6:00 PM PT

Wednesday, October 15, 2014: San Francisco/Menlo Park, CA

Event hosted by:
Kepler’s
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025
650-861-7810

Location of event:
Fox Theatre
2215 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063

Showtime:
7:00 PM PT

Percy Jackson

I’m a little sad that the readers of so many states will not get a chance to attend one of these events, but if you are interested in the world of Percy Jackson you can always head over to the website and go on an adventure of your own.

I would highly recommend this book and the rest of the series to readers of all ages that are looking to go on an adventure and learn a little at the same time.  These are definitely on my ‘read again’ list.  This is a great book that, if you are not in the target audience of a middle grade reader, will have you feeling like a child just returned from an epic adventure in their blanket fort; and we all need to feed that inner child on a regular basis.

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Review: The White Queen (The Cousins’ War #1) ~ Philippa Gregory

The white QueenBrother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

With The White Queen, Philippa Gregory brings the artistry and intellect of a master writer and storyteller to a new era in history and begins what is sure to be another bestselling classic series from this beloved author.

1 Thumbs-UpAs with anything to do with the War of the Roses research, and in-depth good research has to be a key to writing a riveting book.  Regardless of personal feelings the aim is to create a piece of fiction that supporters of both Houses will enjoy, unfortunately this was not the case this with book or series.  Yes, despite not liking this book one bit, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and read the whole lot of them.  What a waste of time and a big disappointment for me.

As with most written works on this time period, there are many different ways the story can be related, and from many different points of view; be it that from a purely Lancastrian bent or from the idealised House of York side, this Author threw all this out of the window and took a route that was so unbelievable it almost made me think that, despite the main characters being based in history this could easily have been a fantasy novel.

This neatly brings me onto the issue of characters.  With so much material available to a good researcher, the way in which this Author treats her characters is an insult to them and the period of time they inhabited.  The central character and the person who the title surrounds, it depicted as a witch.  What more can I say, not much really.  Anything and everything bad that befalls those around her is attributed to witchcraft from the first meeting with Edward IV right up to the withering of Richard III sword arm.  At every opportunity this woman bleats on about the death of her Father and Brother so much that I found myself at yet another bemoaning of this event telling her to move on, it’s the times you live in, everyone suffered during the war of the Roses.   It wasn’t Elizabeth of Woodville that I disliked, love her or hate her she is historically portrayed as a strong and opinionated woman for her time, definitely a force to be reckoned with especially when the reader considers that she managed to remain as Queen through some very turbulent times; what I disliked was I felt the Author took the easy way out when writing about her, it’s a lot easier to run with the same old witchcraft guff than develop a true to life character.  I could go into in-depth detail about the mistreatment of her other characters too, but that would take me almost as long to write this review, if not longer, than it did for the Author to write the book.  What I will say though is Margaret Beaufort, really?  The Author needs to be grateful that these people are not around to read her depiction of them.

When it comes to the rest of the book, either this part was missing in mine or the Author chose to ignore a definite historical fact, what happened to Middleham Castle where Anne and Richard spent a great deal of time and where their son was born?  Why does the Author have them constantly hanging out at Warwick Castle?  This is the main reason that this book received the 1 thumb review it has, the facts were either just not there or extremely loosely adapted for the book.

I can’t, with a clear conscience recommend this book to anyone, and I have a suspicion diehard fans of this Author may have a hard time liking this, amnd defintiely not like the review I have just written.  However, if you do enjoy reading about this period of time, and especially about the House of York (I wrote my Masters dissertation on them) I would highly recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour as it relies more on history and has some very strong characters.

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Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda #1) ~ Tom Angleberger

Origami YodaIT TAKES THE WISDOM OF YODA TO SURVIVE THE SIXTH GRADE

Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same T-shirt for a month or telling people to call him “Captain Dwight.” This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that’s when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It’s crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda’s advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy’s case file of his investigation into “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

5 Thumbs-UpI love reading books aimed at children, well sometimes I do and others I just want to throw my hands up in the air and wonder about the wisdom of the Authors.  With this book this was not the case, this is a great read, and I don’t care that I’m old and crusty with grandchildren, this is a book series I will keep on my shelves and re-read as a pick me up.

If you are a reader that loves Star Wars, or even if you come from the other camp of Trekkers, this book will have you chuckling and making you wonder how you ever made it through 6th grade yourself without the wisdom of Yoda.  If you have no clue who any of the above are, read it just for the sheer enjoyment of being able to be a kid again.  This little piece of fun is also a great way to get middle school children invested in reading, as the whole series pulls on characters they most likely recognise from the movies, and what could be easier than that.

Like most children’s books there are no complex characters to wade through, no diabolical plot lines, this book is just kids being kids and brooding over the major concern of their time; does an origami Yoda really give sound advice that can be followed?  For example: “How do you get out of a potentially embarrassing situation when you’re in the bathroom and you spill water on your pants so that it looks like you peed yourself? Origami Yoda says: “All of pants, you must wet.”   Just based on this I must have an origami Yoda as my advice counselor.  But for all the fun stuff in this book,  the little drawings and side notes as different classmates weigh in on the Origami Yoda conundrum, this book discusses a serious topic in an easy to understand way for children; tolerance.  Just because one person thinks another is strange doesn’t mean we are all going to think that way, and this book is able to covey the wonderfulness of difference and tolerance in a world that is becoming more uniform and intolerant. Don’t over analyse this book (hence the short review) just enjoy it, and when you’re done with it use the diagram at the end to create your very own origami Yoda, I know I am going to make a whole army of them.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone really, and if you’re thinking of reading this in the dark don’t forget to have your trusty lightsaber on hand to help see the pages young Padawan.

“Much to learn you still have.” … “This is just the beginning!” ~Yoda

I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

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‘Sit back and relax’

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas Adams

 

writers almanacIt has been a while since I turned over the page to Garrison Keillor so, as a change, and as I think it  may interest people, I am going to hand over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Friday August 22, 2014, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this website, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“You’re the Top
by Tony Hoagland

Of all the people that I’ve ever known
I think my grandmother Bernice
would be best qualified to be beside me now

driving north of Boston in a rented car
while Cole Porter warbles on the radio;
Only she would be trivial and un-

politically correct enough to totally enjoy
the rhyming of Mahatma Ghandi
with Napoleon brandy;

and she would understand, from 1948,
the miracle that once was cellophane,
which Porter rhymes with night in Spain.

She loved that image of the high gay life
where people dressed by servants
turned every night into the Ritz:

dancing through a shower of just
uncorked champagne
into the shelter of a dry martini.

When she was 70 and I was young
I hated how a life of privilege
had kept her ignorance intact

about the world beneath her pretty feet,
how she believed that people with good manners
naturally had yachts, knew how to waltz

and dribbled French into their sentences
like salad dressing. My liberal adolescent rage
was like a righteous fist back then

that wouldn’t let me rest,
but I’ve come far enough from who I was
to see her as she saw herself:

a tipsy debutante in 1938,
kicking off a party with her shoes;
launching the lipstick-red high heel
from her elegant big toe

into the orbit of a chandelier
suspended in a lyric by Cole Porter,
bright and beautiful and useless.

“You’re the Top” by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.   Reprinted with permission.

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On this date in 1864, 12 European nations signed the First Geneva Convention, marking the beginning of the international humanitarian law movement. The convention was initiated by Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded, which would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross. He had been horrified by the carnage he witnessed during the war for the unification of Italy, especially the Battle of Solferino (1859), which resulted in 40,000 casualties, many of whom were just left to die on the battlefield. Switzerland agreed to host the convention for the “Amelioration of the Wounded in the Time of War.” The First Convention concerned itself mostly with setting ground rules to establish fair treatment of combatants, the obligation to treat sick and wounded regardless of what side they were on, and the protection of medical personnel, vehicles, and equipment. Subsequent conventions extended protection to prisoners of war, shipwreck survivors, and civilians during wartime.

Twelve nations attended the First Geneva Convention and signed the treaty on August 22; it was ratified by all the major European powers within three years. Clara Barton, a nurse in the American Civil War, led the drive for ratification in the United States; it eventually passed in 1882.

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It’s the birthday of Annie Proulx, born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). As a young woman, she lived in Vermont, published a small newspaper, and supported herself writing how-to books about things like apple cider and fence-building. Some of her early stories were about hunting and fishing, since she was passionate about those pursuits; the only outlet for them was men’s outdoor magazines, though, and the editors made her publish them as E.A. Proulx, believing men wouldn’t read them if they knew a woman had written them. “The ones who suggested it were from a small Vermont publication,” she told Paris Review, “and I got back this awful letter, full of bad spelling and clumsy syntax, suggesting that I should change my name to initials. Very tiresome.” She put up with it for a while, but then started writing as “E. Annie” and then “Annie.”

Her freelance writing jobs taught her how to research almost anything, and she has since made a career writing fiction based on her extensive research. To write her first novelPostcards (1992), she traveled back and forth across America, stopping in all the places where her homeless main character worked and lived. After she finished that novel, she stumbled upon a map of Newfoundland. She said, “Each place-name had a story — Dead Man’s Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I’d fallen in love.” She explored the island, examined maps, and went to bed every night with a Newfoundland vernacular dictionary. The result was her novel The Shipping News (1993), which became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Host: Garrison Keillor
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

Review: The Smithsonian Book of Books ~ Michael Olmert

The Smithsonian Book of BooksThrough more than 300 glorious illustrations from library collections around the globe, you’ll discover a wealth of book lore in these pages and gain a new appreciation for the role of books in human society, from our earliest attempts at writing and recording information to the newest electronic books; from sumptuous illuminated and bejeweled medieval manuscripts to Gutenberg and the invention of movable type; from the diverse arts and crafts of bookmaking to the building of magnificent libraries for housing treasured volumes; from the ancient epic of Gilgamesh to the plays of Shakespeare and the tales of Beatrix Potter; and from the earliest illustrated books to revolutionary science texts.

4 Thumbs-UpIf, as a Bibliophile, you have ever wondered about the process that goes into a book and I’m not just talking about the writing and imagination of Authors, then this is the book for you; and if you’ve ever read ‘Inkheart’ then this is definitely something you will want to open.

Although it is relatively short given how long the printed word has been in existence, this is more than made up for by the beautiful illustrations that adorn its pages and the explanation of the evolution of books.  This covers topics such as their purpose, how they are produced and also their appearance.  Although primarily covering the history of books throughout Europe there is also some text given over to the Middle and Far East, plus a little bit of the United States too.  Particular attention is paid to William Morris and Children’s books and there is also an interesting section on typography, some of which the reader can still see in use in the books of today.  Admittedly, toward the end, the Author does mention advancements in electronic publishing and printing which, given the fact this book was published in 2003 (first print being 1992), struck me as not only outdated given the time lapsed, but also rather out of odds with the rest of the book.  Despite this, contained within this books covers is something highly educational and fun.

The writing is crisp, clear and concise without it ever becoming text-book dry thankfully, but to be quite honest the writing does take a back seat to those wonderful photographs and images I previously mentioned; so if you are not interested in reading about the history of books, it is worth picking up just to see everything.  Based on the images alone it would make a great addition to any library or coffee table.

I would highly recommend this book to any and all bibliophiles, grab a glass of your favourite chilled beverage, sit back and enjoy this.

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Review: Daughters of the Witching Hill ~ Mary Sharratt

witching hillIn “Daughters of the Witching Hill,” Mary Sharratt brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching novel of strong women, family, and betrayal inspired by the 1612 Pendle witch trials.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow lives with her children in a crumbling old tower in Pendle Forest. Drawing on Catholic ritual, medicinal herbs, and guidance from her spirit-friend Tibb, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future in exchange for food and drink. As she ages, she instructs her best friend, Anne, and her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft. Though Anne ultimately turns to dark magic, Alizon intends to use her craft for good. But when a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate tricks her into accusing her family and neighbors of witchcraft. Suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights as friends and loved ones turn on one another and the novel draws to an inevitable conclusion.

4 Thumbs-UpMany people know of the hysteria and events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, but for those readers in England this novel predates those trials by 80 years and takes place in Pendle Lancashire.  Until reading this, although I was aware of witch trials taking place in my homeland, I was not aware of how differently they were conducted to those in the Colonies.

This novel is told in the voices of the two main protagonists, both actual historical figures which adds weight and substance to them as the reader follows their story to its conclusion.  As always when actual people are placed in fictional works some liberties are taken with them, but this in no way takes away from the book, in my opinion it just adds an extra dimension to what is in the pages.  Through the eyes of the two women we can enter the world of the poor in the early 1600’s.  As the reader journeys through their world with them, they are able to experience all the happiness and heart-break that came into their lives.  Regardless of the poverty and hardship of the period, these are two strong women characters that, despite their lack of formal education, resonate with intelligence and compassion.

More than anything this excellently written book could be seen as a lesson in dominion.  Catholicism has been forcibly replaced by the Protestant faith, but rather than have the enlightening effect intended it makes society become more superstitious and paranoid as their lives are now filled with contestant threats of damnation without the solace offered by the Catholic faith of that time.  The extensive research the Author has so obviously done, not only on the witch trials but also on the ‘pulse’ of society at that time makes this an engaging retelling of the poor of the Pendle region, if not of the whole country.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in the subject matter, or who loves to read historical fiction.  I would definitely read more by this Author.

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Review: Ministry of Bombs ~ Nelson Lowhim

Ministry of BombsIn the mountains of Yemen, rebellion brews and spits out terror into the world. In Pakistan, a nuclear scientist escapes. And an agent in America, Justice, sees these things and understands that the world is in danger. He must find the scientist before the terrorists do. If he doesn’t millions will die. Will he save the day? As he peers deeper into the world of terrorism and the war on terror, Justice finds that things are never as they seem to be.
Not your average spy or thriller novel, this looks deep into the heart of terror. Dare to look inside!

3 Thumbs-UpThis is the second review on work by this Author that I have done and, after reading The Struggle Trilogy I was ready to settle in and enjoy the ride.  Unfortunately this was not the case, although I enjoyed this book immensely it just didn’t have the same punch that the trilogy had, and left me wanting something more by the time I turned the last page.

It wasn’t the characters that left this book wanting in my opinion as, with his usual style and skill the Author was able to take three totally distinct and separate protagonists and weave their varying belief systems and convictions into one very compelling story that pulls the reader in.  A was a little disappointed with the characters though; in the story the reader encounters two very strong characters who have no grey areas in their lives, everything is either black or white there is no in-between ground.  However, with these characters, as the story progresses the Author begins to place chinks in their armour and slow change can be seen.  With the remaining character, this is not the case.  He is awkward, unrealistic and does not have any endearing qualities whatsoever.  I was hoping that, as with the other two, he would develop and grown as the plot progressed, but this was not to be the case which was a shame as I felt there could have been so much more to him.

As with any novel concerning war, there will be a political leaning in the text, and this was the case here.  Whether or not you agree with the arguments and discussions presented in this novel, one thing it will do is make the reader think.  As in all walks of life there are those that delight in the suffering and death of innocents, and for the most part society hides it away at the back of the proverbial closet.  Not here and, as uncomfortable as it may make some readers feel he addresses this aspect in connection with the military and, as a former member of the US Forces I felt that he was injecting some of his own personal experiences from association with others that fell into this unsavoury category.

Although not as good, in my opinion, as his first trilogy, this book is still well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a political thriller or spy novel.

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