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.

—–

3 Stars

Advertisements

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

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.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook) by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin

There’s just so much I want to say about this book, I know I’m leaving stuff out even as I prepare to hit “Publish.” Also, I know that I’m not doing justice to how good this book is. Given that, here’s my best shot.

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., 40 min.
HarperAudio, 2017

Read: July 27 – August 1, 2017

I’ll be honest, the hype around this one turned me off initially. It just didn’t seem like my kind of thing. But my wife bought a copy and tore through it and started telling everyone she came across that they needed to read it (especially those of us she lives with). When I saw the library had a copy of the audiobook, I snagged it, because I hadn’t got that far on my TBR. By this time, I only remembered “YA,” “something about Black Lives Matter,” and “Mrs. Irresponsible Reader said I needed to.” Which is about as tabula rasa as one could get when coming to a book.

Our central character is Starr Carter. She attends a very nice private school in the suburbs of whatever unidentified city she lives in. She plays basketball there, has friends and a boyfriend and seems to be generally well-regarded by all. Then there’s her “other life”, that has almost no relation to that one — she and her family live in a poor neighborhood where almost no one knows her by anything but “Mav’s daughter what works at the store” (or something close to that). She has a friend or two in the neighborhood, but mostly works and then goes home. On one of the rare nights she goes out to do something social, she runs into her childhood best friend, Khalil, who she hasn’t seen for a few months. Their reunion is cut short, sadly, while he drives her home and they’re pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop. I’ll leave the details for you to read on your own, but essentially, her unarmed friend is shot repeatedly by the police officer in front of Starr.

In the days that follow Khalil’s death is a nationwide story, Starr’s being questioned by the police and is trying to keep her psyche intact while the wheels of justice grind slowly. There are problems at school, unforeseen challenges at home and in the neighborhood, add in the involvement with the criminal justice system and activists, and it’s clear that neither of Starr’s lives are going to be the same again.

Yes, this book is about the shooting of Khalil and the aftermath. But it’s about more than that, too. Similar to the way you could say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about the trial Tom Robinson and its aftermath. There’s a whole lot of other things going on in both books that are just as much a part of the essence as the shooting/trial. There’s family growth and change, individual characters learning more about the world and changing, there’s the evolution of localities and best of all, there are characters taking all of this in and exercising a little agency to change themselves — and impact everything in around them.

One thing I didn’t expect was how fun this book would end up being. I laughed a lot — her father’s strange theories about Harry Potter, her Fresh Prince of Bel Air obsession, the teasing between her friends, her family’s very cut-throat approach to watching the NBA finals and trying to jinx each other’s teams, are just a start. Even when it’s not being out-and-out funny, there’s a joie de vivre that characterizes the lives of these characters.

When they’re not grieving, being threatened (by criminals or those who are supposed to be protecting them from criminals), being angered at the way that the system seems to be destined to fail them, or scared about their lives, that is. Because there’s a lot of that, too. All of which is justified. The interplay between the emotional extremes speaks volumes to the authenticity of Thomas’ work, and makes it much more effective than it could’ve been in less careful hands.

There are so few YA novels with healthy — or existing families — that Thomas should probably win an award or three just for having so many in one book. None of the families are perfect (though Starr’s comes close), some push the boundaries of “dysfunctional” into something we need a new word for; but at the very least there were at least a core of people caring about each other and trying to help each other, in their own way.

Yes, there are political overtones — or at least ramifications — to this book, but this is first and foremost a human story and can be appreciated by humans from all over the political spectrum. Thomas, as far as I can tell, went out of her way to be fair and balanced. It’d have been very easy to paint some of these characters/groups as all evil, all good, all misunderstood, all [fill in the blank]. Instead, she took the more difficult, more honest, and much more interesting approach and filled the book with people all over the moral spectrum, no matter their profession, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education, etc.

A few words about Turpin’s work. I loved it. She was just fantastic, and rose to the challenge of bringing this kind of book to life. Looking at her credits just now, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for her — she’s clearly a talented heavy-hitter on the audiobook front.

I laughed, I cried . . . it moved me. This is the whole package, really. It’ll challenge you, it’ll entertain you, and give you a little hope for tomorrow (while helping you despair about the time until tomorrow comes).

—–

5 Stars

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume

Ewan Pendle and the White WraithEwan Pendle and the White Wraith

by Shaun Hume
Series: Ewan Pendle, #1

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Popcorn & Rice Publishing, 2012

Read: August 1 – 2, 2017d


Yeah, so this is a MG Fantasy about an orphan boy with horrible foster parents being recruited to go to a private school where he’s trained in mystical arts and gets in all sorts of adventures. But it’s totally not Harry Potter. Clearly inspired by that series by Rowling — but others as well, don’t get me wrong (Riordan and Mull leap to mind as examples) — but Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is its own thing. Every now and then its non-Harry Potterness gets in your face and is a bit distracting. At the same time, focusing on how Hume zags when Rowling zigs, or how they approach the same convention differently displays the strengths of this project while making it appealing for the reader missing the Hogwarts crew.

Ewan and the others at his school have the rare ability to see all sorts of mythical Creatures, and as such, are trained to deal with them and other exotic threats. Classic boarding school-type hijinks ensue, Ewan makes a couple of really good friends, and a few others. He and Mathilde and Enid, his two best friends, come across some information which they believe indicates that graduates, officials and at least one student are involved in an attempt to kill the Queen. They bend, break, and ignore rules to investigate and try to stop this plot.

Meanwhile, they have all sorts of interesting studies — there’s a class involving swords, one hand-to-hand combat, one involving making potions (of sorts), one involving the Creatures (of course), and things of that nature. That’s pretty fun.

The relationships between Ewan and his two closest friends, as well as those between the other students and some of the teachers are just great. I can easily see fan favorites emerging from among the student body as the series continues. There’s a couple of kids in his class that have an irrational hatred of Ewan and his friends. Those two are a little too underdeveloped now, they might as well have mustaches to twirl. It won’t take much in book 2 to develop them into something interesting.

On the whole, an entertaining, heartfelt, and quick fantasy novel that’ll please the MG crowd. The plot is solid, ditto for the characters, and the world is both familiar and foreign. I’d like book 2 to deepened everything a little, but given the worldbuilding and plotting that one had to establish that it won’t, that should be easy. Give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

3.5 Stars

Top Ten (and a bonus) Books from My Childhood

Having trouble finishing a post in time for this morning — mostly it’s that there are too many things I want to say about a few books and I’m having trouble narrowing it down. So, here’s a re-run of something I liked having written.
I was bemoaning how long my current read was the other day and how it was going to leave me without a post for today, and my ever-so-clever daughter suggested, “Why don’t you list the Top 10 Books from your childhood?” That sounded pretty fun, so I figured that I might as well. It turned out to have been better than I thought, so kudos to her.

Ranking them really would be impossible, but then 11 came to mind really without any effort, and I couldn’t axe one of them, so there’s a bonus entry to the list. All of these I read more than I can count — if they’re part of a series, these were the ones that I came back to most often. The links are to Goodreads pages because I can’t find good official pages for all the books/authors (a true sign of my age, I guess).

Enough of that, on with the trip down Amnesia Lane:

The Castle of LlyrThe Castle of Llyr

by Lloyd Alexander
The Chronicles of Prydain taught me most of what I needed to know about Fantasy (augmenting The Chronicles of Narnia‘s lessons). Fflewddur Fflam here is at his best, I think it’s here that I fell in love with Eilonwy, Taran’s more of a real hero than before, and you get plenty of Gurgi (who I just have to mention because thinking of him makes me smile). There’s peril, the characters grow more than they have before, a hint of romance . . . it’s not the most important book in the series, but I think it’s pivotal.

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity PaintDanny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint

by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams
I didn’t know until today that this was the first in the series, I always figured it was mid-series. It’s the only one of the series that I owned — thankfully, the library had a few more — so it’s the one I read most. It was also my favorite — I just loved the stuff at the edge of our solar system and Prof. Bullfinch and Doctor Grimes making musical instruments from their hair — stupid as all get out, but it worked for me.

The Mystery of the Dead Man's RiddleThe Mystery of the Dead Man’s Riddle

by William Arden
While Encyclopedia Brown (see below) got me reading mysteries, it was The Three Investigators — Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw (btw, the only thing there I had to look up was Pete’s last name — not bad for a series I haven’t touched since the late 80’s) got me hooked on reading detective series. The Dead Man’s Riddle was one of my favorites — and I think the first or second I read — something about the Cockney slang kept bringing me back to it. I read what I do today because of this series, really.

SuperfudgeSuperfudge

by Judy Blume
I remember Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing being funnier, but this was a better story — the Fletchers leaving NYC, Peter maturing, Fudge being a real pain, not just a cute nuisance. Blume taught me a lot about how to read non-genre stuff, probably paving the way for Hornby, Tropper, Weiner, etc.

The Last of the Really Great WhangdoodlesThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles

by Julie Edwards
What a great world, what a great magic system . . . I’m not sure I can express what this book meant to me as a kid, and the copious warm-fuzzies the memory brings up. I remember that it was in the pages of this book about a magic kingdom that I first learned about DNA and RNA (and what those letters meant) — thanks, elementary school science classes. The creatures’ names in this are great (and, as an adult, I can “hear” Andrews saying them in my mind for an added layer of fun). There’s a great deal of whimsy here, a sense of play that permeates this — even when it gets silly. The kingdom’s motto, “peace, love and a sense of fun” really sums up the spirit of the book.

Me and My Little BrainMe and My Little Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Mercer Mayer (illus.)
Sure, the series was supposedly about Tom, but J. D.’s the real hero of the books. He has a conscience, a better moral compass than his brother — and is probably just as smart. This is the book that lets him shine as he ought to have all along. All the books had their strong points, and were fun, but this ruled them all.

The Phantom TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illus.)
Such wordplay! What a great, twisted way to teach how important words and ideas are. Seriously, just a wonderful book. The humor is so off-kilter, any appreciation I have for puns came from this book (and it set the standard that a pun must achieve for me not to groan). If you haven’t seen the documentary about it, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations, get on it. (I contributed to the Kickstarter for it, I should add).

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C. S. Lewis
I remember the bookstore where I bought this, the date and month that I bought it, and reading a good chunk of it before I got home. I read this one more than the rest of the series (Prince Caspian a close second). I just love this one — you get Reep at his bravest and funniest, some really odd creatures, an epic story, and Eustace’s redemption (back when I did crazy things like this, I almost got a tattoo of Eustace as Dragon). Who could ask for more?

Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from MarsAlan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars

by Daniel M. Pinkwater
Pinkwater has funnier and stranger books (both before and after this one), but there was heart, there was depth — there was length! — to this story about a kid who didn’t really fit in until he made a friend who didn’t want to fit in. This is another one where I can peg the place and time I bought it. Science Fiction-y in a real world (didn’t know you could do that!), comic book geeks as heroes, and real non-sanitized-for-kids emotions. There’s no way this wouldn’t be a favorite. More than the rest on this list, I’m thinking of finding my old copy and taking it out for another spin (because I just read the next one a couple of years ago).

The Westing GameThe Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin
If I had to pick one off this list (and I don’t), this would probably be my favorite. I re-read it two years ago, and it was one of my favorite experiences that year with a book. The characters are great, the story was so clever, the writing so crisp. There’s nothing wrong with this book at all.

I saw a hardcover reprinting of this on Monday, and had to fight to resist buying a new copy. Kind of regretting that now. [Note: I went back a couple of days later and bought the hardcopy. It looks very nice on my shelf]

Encyclopedia Brown Boy DetectiveEncyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

by Donald J. Sobol
Summer after second grade, we were on a forever-long road trip and I was bored, so I demanded my parents buy me something to read. I must’ve been a real snot about it, because at the next town, they did. I got two books, this one and Sugar Creek Gang Screams in the Night (not the best in the series, but it was good enough to read several times). It blew me away — I loved the puzzles, the characters, the idea. I wanted to be a P. I. This was my first mystery book, and it clearly set the stage for most of what I’ve read since (about a third of what I read).
Were you a fan of any of these as a kid? What were some of your faves? Have you read them lately?