Mini Book Reviews: August

I spent most of August grading. Grading, grading, grading. Every time someone asked me what I was doing, the answer was grading. Grading! Then, once grading was done, I spent most of my time on prep for the fall semester. So here we are at the end of August, and I have books to review and no time to review them all in depth. Mini reviews it is!


How to Avoid Making Art by Julia Cameron – This one is actually a reread. Cameron explores all the reasons and ways we avoid being creative, accompanied by illustrations/comics. The first time I read it, it shamed me a little bit. This time around, it inspired me. So if you’re someone who sometimes has a hard time committing to doing the things you love, it’s a cute little book to check out.

Graphic Novels: 6/10; Off the Shelf: 8

Athena the Brain (Goddess Girls #1) by Joan Holub – This is a super cute, fast read that does mythological retellings from the goddesses’ points of view. The setting is a middle school, so some of the retellings are super tame. At the same time, they’re pretty loyal to the mythology. Athena still sends olives to the Greeks, she still turns Medusa into a snake-haired woman, her dad is still Zeus, she still sprang out of his forehead, etc. I love the way the Odysseus story is handled: the kids are taking a class and are responsible for moving their particular heroes through the quest. I consider this book more elementary level than middle grade as it is way shorter and less complex than, say, Percy Jackson. Still: super cute.

Support Your Local Library: 29/30


How Not to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey – I liked the plotting of this book a lot. Several unexpected twists and turns that I did not see coming. I mean, yes, the romantic stuff was all predictable (so predictable), but the way the plot moved forward was not. My only problem is that the characters are kind of flat and have no real depth, which means I was less engaged in what they did. Everything is very on the surface here, and if the character development were amped up more, the book would have been stellar. As it stands, this book was strictly bathroom reading material. I think it’d make a cool movie, though.

Off the Shelf: 9; YA Reading Challenge: 26

Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart – The King Arthur story in graphic novel form. I found this to be really boring. I mean, Lee and Hart managed to cram just about everything in the book, but I didn’t feel the characters were that well developed. I liked the art for the most part, except I hate the way the faces are drawn. All of this amazing detail on the page, and no real detail for the faces. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect to the story.

Support Your Local Library: 30/30; Graphic Novels: 7/10

Book Review: Abandon

Once, I died.

I was really looking forward to reading Abandon by Meg Cabot because over at her blog she has talked at length about her love for the Persephone myth and how she has, basically, been wanting to tell this story since high school.

So believe me when I say that this book is a mess.

The biggest offenders:

– Nothing happens. NOTHING. Main character and narrator Pierce spends the entire book riding around an island on her bike and flashing back to when she died and referencing an “incident” that happened. I really don’t understand why this book wasn’t just told about her death and the years following. I mean, seriously. That’s what Pierce spends all of her time talking about anyway.

– The love interest has NO PERSONALITY. His name is John, and he’s a death deity. That’s all I can tell you about him. And, of course, there comes a point when Pierce realizes that she’s been fighting her attraction to him. But why? Because he has a scar? He does NOTHING. What I’m saying is: you don’t go from Michael Moscovitz or Rob Wilkins to John the boring death deity.

– Pierce is selfish and not in the fun way. She supposedly thinks of others before herself, and that’s what attracts John to her, but seriously. What kind of person ditches her cousin to hang out with people he expressly says he doesn’t like? Especially when said cousin has been living in the town forever and it’s her first day. I mean, is it POSSIBLE that her cousin has valid reasons for not liking these people? And even if he didn’t, would it still behoove Pierce to maybe not WALK AWAY from her cousin to talk to said people after he very explicitly says he doesn’t want to be around them? At least he left her there (he was her ride home). I mean, seriously.

– The biggest issue I have with the book is that it’s not a complete narrative. The book does NOT stand on its own at all. I have no interest in even reading the rest of the books until all three are out now.

(Yes, I will read the rest of the books. I am hoping they will be better as a whole. Hoping.)

It’s not all bad. The book is a breeze to get through, and is very readable. I would find myself reading huge chunks at a time, and it wasn’t until I was close to the end of the book that I realized nothing would really happen in the story. I thought the setting was cool, and the ideas/plot hints that are dropped in the narrative are intriguing, and I want to see how they’ll all come together. I just wish there had been one plot thread followed all  the way through here.

Also: it’s better than Jinx. So there’s always that.

Support Your Local Library: 19/30; YA Challenge: 13/20

Book Review: Thwonk

I was hiding behind a fake marble pillar. I was hiding because if he knew I’d been secretly photographing him for all these months he would think I was immature, neurotic, and obsessive.

I’m not.

I’m an artist.

Artists are always misunderstood.


I didn’t intend to read another book about a Cupid when I picked up Thwonk by Joan Bauer. I just wanted to read something fun and uplifting and since Hope Was Here is one of those books that manages to be serious and lighthearted (and awesome), I figured Bauer was the way to go.

Thwonk is about a girl (A.J.) who finds a Cupid and is able to have him grant her one wish: that popular,  handsome Peter Terris falls in love with her.

This story is really a character study, and the book lives and dies with A.J. McCreary. She is a forceful character, a whirlwind of emotion, and the pinnacle of passion. A.J.’s passion is photography, and that passion shapes everything she does within the story. The conflict comes from her intense interest in beautiful objects–specifically, Peter Terris–and her desire to elevate her photography to the next level.

– I really liked that A.J.’s passion for photography informed so much of her character. Part of her obsession with Peter is that he’s beautiful, and she loves photographing him. He becomes an object for her, and all she knows about him is how beautiful he is. She falls in love with him as an object, not as a person, so when she desires him to love her back, she doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into.

– The cupid (Jonathan) exists to teach A.J. a lesson. But the best part of his role is that he exposes all of A.J.’s crazy. She spends several scenes arguing with Jonathan–and no one else can see him. Do I need to mention that most of these arguments happen in front of other people? So he’s able to hit on those areas of her personality that draws out intense reactions. He doesn’t say or do much, really, but he operates as a great foil for A.J.

– A.J. also has an awesome best friend.

– The only thing I didn’t like is that A.J. is such a drama queen. She FEELS things SO DEEPLY. Probably why she is a great artist. I didn’t dislike it in the sense that I hated her, but I disliked it in the sense that…she’s a drama queen. I don’t know. It’s part of her personality but it just amps up her ridiculousness, which is part of what makes the story work. I don’t know. She’s just a nut.

In conclusion: A.J. is a nut. And that’s what makes the story work. I found myself reading it and marveling at just how intense she is. The lesson at the end is great, and the passion makes A.J.’s story believable. I found that the photography grounds the story and tempers A.J.’s over the top personality.

Support Your Local Library: 3/30; YA Reading Challenge: 3/20

Book Review: Cupid

Cinxia had been happy to assist Cupid. Although he was the god of love, he knew nothing about marriage.

Ironically, Cupid also knows nothing about love.

I picked up Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire by Julius Lester because, well, it looked interesting. The book cover is striking and the back of the book has a break out quote about Cupid falling in love and not understanding. Which means it’s a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche story, and retellings can be superfun. Also, I had just finished Percy Jackson, so I was still riding a myth high. As you do.

Anyway, yes, so I picked it up, and I read it. And…I really didn’t like this book. I tried SO HARD, but it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel like there was really anything extra added to the story. I mean, it is decidedly longer than the Wikipedia summary but not in a way that makes me feel like I understand the characters any more. Cupid is the god of love but doesn’t really understand what that means, Psyce is beautiful but hates it because it causes people to worship her, and Venus is jealous. Okay, and…?

It seems like the story really exists for Lester’s narrator to narrate. After all, half of the story is his observations on love, beauty, and marriage. He often breaks the fourth wall (is that what it’s called in literature? TV Tropes tells me that it is!) to speak directly to the reader either about the story itself, the nature of stories, and, of course, life lessons. It’s kind of cute, but mostly annoying. I mean, I’d rather have the author acknowledge that he is imparting great pearls of wisdom than have what’s supposed to be a third person narrator do it, but it’s still a bit much. Plus, Lester uses it as an excuse not to fill in the gaps of the story, which…yeah.

From the first paragraph:

That information was not in the story when it came down to me. Sometimes, stories don’t understand; what may not be important to them is very important to us.

And then he proceeds not to tell us stuff that he’s saying maybe should be explained. It is frustrating.

Anyway, the book is an easy read, and it moves pretty quickly. I wish it had more character development since that’s my favorite thing about retellings. I also think the book kind of failed because it didn’t make me want to read more about Psyche or Cupid (or any of the Roman/Greek gods and goddesses really), and that’s one thing I loved about the Percy Jackson books.

POC Challenge: 2/15; YA Challenge 1/20; Support Your Local LIbrary: 1/30

Book Reviews: Percy Jackson #3-5

My promise to my daughter has been fulfilled. She read all seven of the Harry Potter books (well, we listened to them together), so I have read all five of the Percy Jackson books. This past month I finished the last three books in the series:  The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. It has been some kind of trip. These books are immensely readable. There’s lot of action and comedy, the relationships are fun and interesting, and the characters all have their own unique journeys. In fact, the one thing this series has going for it that HP doesn’t is that each of Percy’s friends has his/her own motivations and quests. In HP, they’re always doing what Harry is called to do, and, though Percy is the main character, sometimes he is actually the sidekick in a couple of the books.

I hate to compare the two series because they’re so different even in their similarities. It’s just kind of hard not to. I will say the one thing I thought was missing from the books–particularly the final one–is a depth of emotion. Everything is all tangled up in family and friends, but it still felt kind of hollow and on the surface. I feel like I should’ve felt more, especially with the climax when really it was just like, “Well, I’m glad that’s resolved.”

That said, I had a lot of fun reading the books. They’re largely predictable for someone like me who has read and seen lots of books/movies, but there were moments here and there that surprised me. I feel like I need to investigate some more mythology, which is a win for Riordan who’s a teacher, and I really do love the characters that were introduced. I think things were resolved nicely here, while still leaving room for Riordan’s next series set at the camp. Which…I wish Rowling would set more stories at Hogwarts, so. (Ack! Another comparison!)

Anyway, a great little series, and I can see why my daughter loves it so much.

Mini Reviews: Fiction

As I said in my previous post, I am really far behind, so mini reviews! Some of these date back to October, just to give a clue at how far behind I am.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins: I’ll be upfront and say I don’t have as deep a relationship with this series as most. I don’t remember much of what happened in the first book, and I put this book on hold with no real urgency. Mostly, I wanted to read it before the spoilers proliferated the blogosphere, but, you know, whenever the book came available is when I  would read it. Which is what I did.

I know a lot of people were disappointed with this book, but I actually liked it. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading so many war narratives this year or what, but I thought this was an excellent book about the effects of trauma as well as how much war sucks and that there are no real winners in a war.

I found myself much more interested in the focus on rhetoric in this book, even though I know it was a large part of the other books as well. Also, I have to be honest, that as someone who loves Peeta, this was a hard book to read. PEETA. Peeta, I love you so.  Poor dude.

YA Reading Challenge: 30/75

My Double Life by Janette Rallison: I found this book to be a bit of a disappointment, especially because the premise is so strong. Basically, there was too much romance and not enough family/friendship. I was way more interested in how Alexia would relate to her family (new and old) but Rallison went with the boy angle. So. Yeah.

YA Reading Challenge: 31/75; POC Reading Challenge: 22/15

Alvin Ho Collection: Books 1 and 2: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things and Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look:  We listened to this on audiobook and, lo, it is AWESOME. Alvin Ho is a great character. He’s funny and smart and, yes, afraid of everything. He has an awesome best friend who wears an eyepatch and has a bad leg, but her real crime is being a girl. His older brother and younger sister provide him no end of amusement or grief depending on the circumstances, and his quest to fit in and not be so darned scared all the time is where most of the comedy comes in. The narrator of the books is Everette Plen, and he is FANTASTIC. We really enjoyed listening to these two books and will be passing the Alvin Ho joy to my daughter’s younger cousins.

POC Reading Challenge: 23/15

Played by Dana Davidson: Stylistically, I had a lot of issues with this book. Some of the dialogue was stilted, there were some scenes I didn’t get, and it got totally preachy at times (Virginity: It is special). But. BUT. This book totally got me in the gut. I don’t know if it was my overidentification with Kylie and her need to be wanted/liked or just the fact that the characters and their situation was so heartbreakingly realistic, but I found myself worrying about Kylie when I wasn’t reading the book and hoping everything would work out okay for her. Which I knew it couldn’t, really, but I just wanted it to!

Also, I found the ending pretty satisfying, and considering all the ways in which I was prepared to hate everything about it, that’s saying a lot. Stupid Ian and his stupid need to fit in. GAH.

YA Reading Challenge: 32/75; POC Reading Challenge: 24/15

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan: We attempted to listen to this on audiobook but had to let that dream go because, as previously mentioned, the narrator is really annoying. So! I read this one, and I actually liked it more than the first. I thought the pacing was good, I loved the new characters introduced, and I also enjoyed how Riordan managed to fold in a whole! new! quest! without just replaying the first novel over again. Nicely done. I’ve already started the third book.

Book Review: Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess

All of us are born naked, helpless, and defenseless.

Not so Pallas Athena.

I may have mentioned a time or two that my daughter is interested in Greek mythology. Hence, why I checked out Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O’Connor from the library. The book is a collection of stories about Athena, the goddess of war, in graphic novel form.

What I Liked

– O’Connor’s artwork is fantastic. The pictures are clear and crisp; the action is easy to follow. You can see examples of the pictures here.

– The book includes Athena’s origin story (born fully grown and clothed from Zeus’s forehead), how she came to be known as Pallas Athena, another account of how she gained the name Pallas, the story of Medusa (and Perseus), and the story of Arachne. The thread that connects the stories (aside from Athena herself) are how each of Athena’s adventures allows her to add to her aegis, and the framing device is that the Fates are spinning the tale.

– This book is another good primer on Greek mythology. At the end of the book, O’Connor includes an appendix with a list of his resources as well as more information about the characters featured in the story. He also has notes on the story to clarify some plot or word questions that readers may have–and also to subtly advertise/tease upcoming books.

– As someone who just finished the first Percy Jackson book, it was a lot of fun for me to see the elements of Perseus’s story and how Rick Riordan uses/changes it to fit into the narrative of The Lightning Thief.

What I Didn’t Like

My only complaint is that I don’t feel Athena was really developed as a character in her own right–something I didn’t know I was expecting until the story was over. It sounds weird since everything is about her, but in a lot of ways, she is just jealous or a fighter, but with no real depth of character. And let’s be real: that’s why I read retellings.

In conclusion: Nice graphic depiction of the stories of Athena, but it would’ve been nice to get a little extra character stuff about Athena in there, too.

YA Reading Challege: 26/75

Audiobook Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

In the end, you will fail to save that which matters most.

My daughter is a Percy Jackson fangirl. (How big of a fangirl? She was practically inconsolable when the series ended, she won a trivia contest [and collector’s edition of the first book] at our local Borders during their movie kick-off event, she began studying Greek mythology, she was thrilled to get a copy of The Odyssey for Easter, and she was PISSED about the movie version BEFORE IT EVEN CAME OUT. Et cetera. I mean, I could go on.) So after we listened to all of the Harry Potter books, I promised her we would listen to the Percy Jackson books. As always, we started with book one: The Lightning Thief as read by Jesse Bernstein.

What I Liked

– I think the book is a lot of fun. The characters are great, especially the main trio (Percy, Annabeth, and Grover). Percy and his imperfections make the perfect kind of protagonist for reluctant readers, and the fact that he is a reluctant reader himself would probably endear him even more to that particular demographic. Annabeth is smart, snarky, and fearless. And then there’s sweet sidekick Grover.

The best thing about the trio is that they all have their own reasons for going on the quest, and they all have something to prove. Unlike in the Harry Potter books where Ron and Hermione are mostly helping out because Harry is their friend (and for the good of wizard-kind), every member of this trio has his or her own separate, personal, and mostly selfish reasons for joining the quest.

– The reliance on Greek mythology is awesome. As I stated above, it definitely fueled my daughter’s interest in Greek mythology (as well as other mythologies). There’s lots of fun background info given to the readers, and it’s all easily woven into the narrative instead of an obvious attempt to school us about Greek mythology.

– I also love the way Riordan modernizes Olympus and ties the United States and its geography to the gods and goddesses. That the record company is the entrance to the underworld? Awesome. DOA Recording Studios? BRILLIANT. The depiction of the gods and goddesses is also cool. Ares as a motorcycle head, Poseidon as a retired beach dude, and Zeus as a CEO? Nicely done.

What I Didn’t Like

– This is a very male heavy narrative. Annabeth is smart, snarky, fearless, insecure, and has something to prove. Percy’s mom (who is in an abusive relationship) is interesting and nuanced. However, Percy’s mom is absent for most of the narrative and the other female characters that are present (besides Annabeth) are villains and bullies. I hope that changes in the rest of the books.

– As for the audiobookiness of it all, the narrator is really annoying. Percy sounds like a whiny sixteen-year-old rather than a smart alecky twelve-year-old. And Jesse Bernstein narrates THE WHOLE SERIES. Shoot me now. Also, I should point out that my daughter hates the narration as well. It’s a very, very, VERY good thing the story is so compelling because there is nothing remotely appealing about Bernstein’s narration.

Except Ares. I’ll give him Ares. His Ares is very good.

In conclusion: I recommend the book, but not the audiobook version–unless you like your smart alecky twelve-year-old boys to sound like whiny sixteen-year-olds. The story is superfun, and I can see how and why Percy’s story has become so popular.

Book Review: Temping Fate

Myths help keep the forces of the cosmos in balance; we let you see them in perspective.  We are stories and stories have endings.  When you mortals face small tastes of Chaos…just knowing it all has to end sometime can save you from feeling completely helpless.

Temping FateMy daughter is big into Greek mythology so when I saw Temping Fate by Esther M. Friesner–about  girl who gets a job temping for the Fates–I picked it up.

What I Liked

– The premise.  Sometimes the gods need someone to help out with the boring tasks (like typing up official death certificates) or the low level tasks (boring hero work).

– The temps get an opportunity to sit down and talk to each other and share notes, which is kind of cool.

– Some interesting characters are introduced, especially as it relates to which gods they work for.

What I Didn’t Like

– I honestly couldn’t tell you that much about the main character except that she caught smallpox in Africa (no particular country, just Africa), and her sister used to work at her old job.

– The plotting is horrible.  The villain is introduced a third of the way from the end.

– Also, it’s just really boring.  Nothing happens until the end, and even then, I didn’t care what happened to anybody.  Except maybe Corey.

In conclusion:  Great premise, messy and lifeless execution.

YA Challenge:  19/75