The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

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3 Stars

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The Flying Frog and the Kidnappers by David Yair, ilana Graf, Natalie Jackson

The Flying Frog and the KidnappersThe Flying Frog and the Kidnappers

by David Yair, ilana Graf (Illustrator), Natalie Jackson (Illustrator)
Series: The Flying Frog, #4

Kindle Edition, 34 pg.
Simple Story, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017


I don’t like not liking books, but not liking a kid’s book (and putting that online!) makes me feel like I kicked a puppy.

But . . .

This was just a mess — the grammar was inconsistent (I think this says more about the translator), there wasn’t even a paragraph to help new readers to the series (like me) orient themselves into the nature of a talking frog (in a world that not every frog talks), why the frog is wrapped up in balloon strings when we first get to him, etc.

And then the story itself just made no sense — not in a good way, either. I really don’t want to say that the characters are flat, because they’re not really characters — they’re names and genders, and that’s about it. The kidnappers make Jasper and Horace seem like Ocean’s Eleven.

This is supposed to be for readers 9-14 years of age. I can’t imagine any self-respecting 6 year old liking this, much less a 14 year-old. Sure, I know we all read, and learn how to read, at our own pace. I don’t want to say that it’s bad for a 9 year-old to enjoy a book written at this level, but generally, at this age, readers should be reading about the Kings and Queens at Cair Paravel, the unlikely thief who went There and Back Again, or The Boy Who Lived, not this kind of thing.

If I came into this series at Book 1, would I like it better? Possibly. It could happen, it’s possible that with more context this’d work. But I have a hard time believing it. I didn’t dislike this book, I guess I pitied it, more than anything, really.

You and your kids can find better.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, sorry it didn’t work out better for him.

—–

2 Stars

Looking for YA/NA/other recommendations 

(how’s that for a broad category?)

I’ve been asked for help with compiling a list of books, that I’d describe as falling in the upper edge of YA, or “New Adult,” or something that would work for those readers. They should be less violent than Katniss Everdeen’s Games, with a similar level of romance/sex. Maybe similar to the last couple of Harry Potters.

Any thoughts, my friends? 

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Audiobook) by Leigh Bardugo, Mozhan Marno

Wonder Woman: Warbringer Wonder Woman: Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo, Mozhan Marno (Narrator)
Series: DC Icons, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs. and 55 mins.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: September 12 – 15, 2017


So this YA Wonder Woman novel starts off on Themyscira, where 17-ish year-old Diana is struggling to find her identity in the shadow of her mother. In this novel, Themyscira is populated by more than just ancient Amazons, they’ve been augmented by women throughout history who, while dying in battle, call upon a female god. They are then transplanted to Themyscira as a sort of feminist Valhalla.

Diana rescues a young woman from a boat explosion she witnesses, bringing her to the island (but not letting anyone know about her). This starts to destroy the island and the women who live there — and Diana receives quite the prophetic word about this girl. She’s a descendant of Helen of Troy, and like her ancestor, her mere existence promises to bring war throughout the Earth. Unless Diana can bring her to a certain place in the next few days. So Diana grabs a certain lasso, a couple of bracelets and takes off.

Basically, what ensues is a Rick Riordan-esque journey to get Alia to the goal. Sure, they start with a heck of a detour to New York City — which is pretty fun detour for the reader. While in NYC, they pick up a little entourage to accompany them. There are people who are trying to kill the Warbringer (not realizing there’s a way to cure her) before World War III erupts and a few minor figures from Greek mythology show up to make things more difficult.

There’s some really good interaction between Diana, Alia and Alia’s BFF (name escapes me). The action scenes are pretty good. The big twisty reveal wasn’t. There seemed to be some inconsistency about how familiar Diana was with things in the modern world, but on the whole, the book worked well enough I could ignore that. What worked in this book, worked really well. The things that didn’t work, also didn’t ruin anything

As far as the audiobook part goes — Marno does a fine job. Initially, I thought she sounded too much like Hillary Huber, but the more I listened the more I decided I was silly for thinking that. I do think that she could put a little more excitement in her voice during the combat or chase scenes (see the aforementioned Huber for an example), it really didn’t seem matter what was going on in the scene, her reading was the same. But aside from that, I had no complaints.

I’m not saying that i loved it, but I’d absolutely read/listen to the sequel that’s hinted at in the last chapter. Good story, interesting characters, and a pretty good narrator. All the elements for an entertaining 12 hours are there — a good way to spend some time, and a promising beginning to this new series. Although, the next is Batman, and so you have to guess that the third will be everyone’s favorite Kryptonian Boy Scout — hopefully they move beyond DC’s Trinity soon, I’d quite enjoy something like this about The Flash, Green Lantern, etc.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Blue Curtain by L. G. Metcalf

The Blue CurtainThe Blue Curtain

by L. G. Metcalf
Series: The Well of Many Worlds, #1

Kindle Edition, 314 pg.
Moleyco Press, 2017

Read: September 1 – 4, 2017


I really want to say something nice about this book — I don’t like to just knock books. I don’t mind saying what I think didn’t work, but I try to find something to commend in a book. I’m just not sure what positive things I can say about The Blue Curtain.

We’ve got Mitchell, the heir of a British nobleman in 16th Century England, who begins a revolt against am improbable despot who is being manipulated by a mysterious man. One thing leads to another, and this manipulator turns Mitchell into a vampire. Almost instantly, another vampire, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez — I mean, Fionn, shows up to instruct him in the ways of vampires. He really reminded me of Ramirez from Highlander — not only does he teach him to use and understand his new abilities, but he tells him about the history of vampires and the differing and strange factions within the race. Why his maker, who is the leader of the evil cult didn’t stick around to initiate Mitchell himself, we’re only told at the end. Mitchell doesn’t join the crusade against the cult with Fionn, but does share the same goal and works with Fionn throughout his training. Time goes by, things happen, and eventually Mitchell finds himself in present day Portland, ME.

While we’ve been learning about this, we’ve also been learning about Emily — a high schooler in Portland, whose father was recently murdered. She’s not having a good time adjusting to this new reality, and like all teens in novels, she decides that she’ll find the murderer herself. Through dumb luck and recklessness, she finds the killer — but has no way to prove it to the police. She also discovers that she’s descended from necromancers and has a magical imp to train her. Sure, he’s evil and bent on destruction and death, but hey, you take whatever help you can get, right? There’s also a lot of High School Drama — where a certified Mean Girl is causing all sorts of trouble for Emily because out-of-the-blue the hunky, rich, sensitive guy is paying attention to her.

Naturally, Emily’s and Mitchell’s paths cross and it becomes clear that their goals intersect, so they team up to solve the murder, stop the evil vampires and more.

It’d be great if there was any emotional depth to these characters — the crazed, hedonist vampire who is a model of emotional shallowness is just as deep as the Emily, who can’t seem to hold on to one overriding emotion for more than a few seconds. Emily — yes, she’s under great stress, but if I’m supposed to be rooting for a character, I’d like the character to hold on to an emotional state for more than two pages.

The book could’ve used a continuity edit — there are so many hiccups throughout Mitchell’s story and vampire history in general that could’ve been cleaned up with little trouble. There wasn’t a strong authorial voice, the dialogue was frequently painful, the characters were poorly drawn and shallow.

I want to say something positive, to find the silver lining, but I can’t think of anything. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t recommend this to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Metcalf.

—–

2 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…B.C.R. Fegan

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a wonderful children’s book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, and now the author of that book, B.C.R. Fegan is back on the blog for a few questions about the book and his writing in general.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this — have you and Wen worked together before? Do you script it out, including the images, like a comic book writer?
Henry and the Hidden Treasure was the first book that Wen and I worked on together. She is an extremely talented illustrator which is what caught my eye in the beginning.

The actual process of working with an illustrator is fairly straightforward. Generally, the first step is to have a designer who can lay out the book with the required margins and provide the text at a size appropriate for the age group. This layout (or scamp) makes it easy for the illustrator to see how much room they have to play with, and where any negative space should be.

The next step is the brief itself. For Henry and the Hidden Treasure, a fair amount of direction was provided. This is only because when I write, I do it with the illustrations in mind. For children in this age group, the visual aspect of the story comes first and the narrative provides reinforcement to their imagination. This is why I needed scenes drawn in specific ways or from certain perspectives.

The way this is done is simply by scripting out each page with characters, events, actions taking place and anything else that reinforces what is going on in that scene. Other aspects include any colors (if they are important), lighting, perspectives, emotions or a certain ambience that I’m looking for. In addition to this, I provide overall direction that is important or that might be helpful to the illustrator. What is great though with talented artists, is they can take this direction and elevate it to a place even more impressive than the scenes visualized in the mind.

The third step is really the fine tuning. As the illustrations are completed and sent through, they are checked. Sometimes they are great the way they are – at other times, there might be some minor amendments.

The final step is receiving the files in a project format ready for the design stage.

As I mentioned it is fairly straightforward but by no means the only way of working with an illustrator. Wen and I work together really well and the process has always been quite smooth. I’m very lucky to know her.

Of all the ideas flitting around your head, what was it about this one that made you say, “this is the one.”
When I consider ideas for children’s books, I generally try to center my thoughts on exciting subjects or narratives. I want my books to be filled with imagination rather than lessons. So for Henry and the Hidden Treasure, the whole idea came about from considering hidden treasure – particularly as a child might perceive it. It was from this point that the story itself was crafted.

Once complete, I didn’t really pick up the manuscript and think that it was ‘the one’. I guess my approach might be a little different to other authors, but by centering my thoughts on something that children already find exciting, I’m fairly confident that the idea will naturally develop into a nice story.

I appreciated the subtlety of the moral/lesson to Henry and the Hidden Treasure — how’d you decide to convey it that way?
As I mentioned previously, the subject of hidden treasure was where the story began. I think this leant itself quite well to considering what real hidden treasure might be in the context of the family unit – particularly with siblings.

I wanted this to be a subtle theme rather than the driving force behind the book, mainly because I think imagination should take priority. Too many books start with the lesson, and often the narrative feels contrived.

In the writing of Henry and the Hidden Treasure, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
This is a difficult question. Henry and the Hidden Treasure actually came together fairly organically. I guess in a sense, writing it was quite easy. However, I remember something my father once said to me that I think applies to authors as well.

I remember as a child watching my father, a locksmith, unlock customer’s front doors very quickly – sometimes in just a few seconds. On the rare occasion, a minor objection would be made about the cost in relation to the time it took to open the lock. He explained to me later that what so many people fail to realize is that his ability to open the lock so quickly was because he had dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. What sat behind those few seconds, was decades of training, study, understanding the right tools and constant practice.

I enjoy writing, and have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember. Henry and the Hidden Treasure was definitely a pleasure to write and I certainly wouldn’t say any aspect of it was difficult. However I don’t want to leave the impression that this was just a lucky break. The difficulty for most authors I think lies in everything that came before!

What’s next for you? Are you sticking with the children’s books?
I actually have a long list of children’s books going through the stages of publishing. The next one should be out toward the end of the year. In addition to children’s books, I am in the process of writing Young Adult Fiction. I think the future will include children’s picture books, young adult fiction – and probably everything in between.
Thanks for your time, Mr. Fegan. Readers (especially those with younger kids) — go check out Henry and the Hidden Treasure.

Miles Morales (Audiobook) by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard

Miles MoralesMiles Morales

by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs. 53 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: August 7 – 8, 2017


It was Bendis/Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough — especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he’s Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko’s original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he’s popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There’s a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school — a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He’s not sleeping well — tormented by nightmares about his uncle’s death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him — descendants of criminals –should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It’s hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it’s a doozy, and it’s not what it seems to be early on.

I think Miles is a great character, he’s Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character — a great dad, it seems. Miles’ best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There’s a girl, of course, because he’s 16. I don’t know if Alicia’s a fixture in the comic or not, but it’d be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That’s just cool.

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn’t detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively — just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him — this’ll entertain. I won’t say I’ve read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades — but I’m willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

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3.5 Stars