Book Review: The Son of Neptune

Multigrain fighting is not allowed!

Oh, gosh I just loved The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. LOVED. The second book in the Heroes of Olympus series, it picks up with Percy (YAY PERCY!!!!) and the kids at Camp Jupiter.

There is nothing about this book that I didn’t like, so a few highlights of why I loved it.

– Rick Riordan wears the hat of cleverness! The Amazons run an online business that specializes in low prices and fast shipping. (Can you guess which one?)

– Love all of the characters. All! Even Ella the harpy who mostly talks in book quotes and Terminus the armless boundary god.

Also, even though these characters are just as tragic as the ones in The Lost Hero, they are more fun and less, well, annoying. I mean, I loved all three narrators whereas last time I just loved Leo.

– Loved the inclusion of Chinese mythology here with Frank’s character. Also, he’s Canadian! In fact, I’m a big fan of the diversity in this series overall. Two thumbs up.

– Oh, and Frank has a badass grandma and those are the best. THE BEST.

– The title, again, works on levels.

– Obviously, I loved seeing Camp Jupiter and all the ways it’s different from and similar to Camp Half-Blood.

– Riordan introduces his readers to The Art of War by Sun Tzu. There’s just a mention of the Tzu’s book at the end of the novel, but you know some kids are going to seek it out.

– The humor is spot on. Just so great.

Oh wait, there is one thing I hated about the book. The cliffhanger! But that’s only because I want to read the next book now, now, now.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who had that response. From Riordan’s blog:

In the meantime, sorry about the cliffhanger in The Son of Neptune . . . wait, no I’m not! I always do cliffhangers. I’m just evil that way.

Yes. Yes, you are.

I can’t believe I have to wait basically a whole year for the next book. I wonder who the narrators will be.

YA Challenge: 40; POC Reading Challenge: 25

Book Review: A Tale of Two Proms

It occurred to me that this was my first big adult decision. And I have to say if this was what it meant to be an adult–to worry that any big decision you made was the wrong one–maybe growing up was seriously overrated.

Before I even get into my review of Cara Lockwood’s fourth Bard Academy novel A Tale of Two Proms, I have to point out that this novel represents two firsts for me: (1) the first book I read on the Nook I got for Christmas and (2) the first book I am reviewing via NetGalley. Exciting stuff!

Okay, and now since I have never reviewed any of these books here before, allow me to nerd out like the big literary nerd I am. So, basically, I love this series because the books provide a big old lit nerd fest. Aside from the fact that school is called Bard Academy (after Shakespeare, of course) and that the teachers are ghosts of authors stuck in purgatory (Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Ernest Hemingway, etc.), Lockwood manages to seamlessly blend plots and characters from many classic novels. In this book alone, she uses characters/plots/settings from:

  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Like I said, that’s just in this book. The previous three include references to other classics.

Anyway, the basic premise for the series is that Miranda gets sent to Bard Academy, which is for problem teens. Once there, she falls for Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights who has somehow escaped from his book. Each book deals with the fallout from characters leaving their narratives and also some wackiness that Miranda manages to enmesh herself in.

In A Tale of Two Proms, the focus is on literary doubles–particularly Catherine from WH (who Miranda favors)–and, of course, the prom. Oh, and Heathcliff asks Miranda to marry him and she finds out that she got into one of her dream schools. Which will she choose????

The only thing I don’t care about in the books is the romance between Heathcliff and Miranda. However, that’s pretty easy for me to get past. Which..considering that’s pretty much the foundation/driving conflict for all four books is saying a lot about how fun they are.

I love the setting and the characters. (I really get a kick out of Parker taunting Miranda for being “Fictional-American or whatever.” Because why not? Hahaha. I am easily amused sometimes.) There’s lots of humor and the characters are definitely teenagers with teenage concerns even as they are trying to save their school. So I enjoy that.

Lockwood said on her blog that this is probably the last book in the series, and I think everything is wrapped up pretty nicely. I did have one plausibility issue with the end, but then I reminded myself that this is a book with a Fictional-American character, book characters that come to life, moving settings, and ghost teachers, so I let the whole plausibility thing go.

In conclusion: If you’re a fan of gothic, gothic romance, mystery, paranormal, teen lit, classic lit, or adventure stories, this book/series might be something you’d want to check out.

YA Reading Challenge: 39

Book Review: My Life Undecided

Because when you’re being handcuffed and lowered into the backseat of a squad car, you kind of have to start reconsidering the way you live your life.

In My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody, main character Brooklyn constantly makes horrible choices that end with her getting arrested or on the news. Inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure books, she creates a blog so the readers can make life choices for her. Wacky hijinks ensue.

What I Liked

– I love the premise of the book. Love, love, love.

– Brooklyn, while annoyingly self-absorbed, is funny and has a good sense of self.

– While this book has elements of a mean girl narrative, it’s really not one. Brooklyn’s best friend is manipulative and cold, yes, but instead of Brooklyn trying to be like Shayne or kiss up to Shayne, Brooklyn’s really trying to deal with what it means that she lost her best friend.

– The plot moves quickly.

– Most important, the book is FUN.

What I Didn’t Like

– Aside from Brooklyn and Brian (love interest), the characters are pretty flat.

– The relationship with the sister needs way more development. It’s like her sister is only there to prove a point, but beyond that point (trying to avoid spoilers), she has no impact on the story or on Brooklyn. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooklyn never saw her or talked to her sister again. You know, if the world of the book were real. That’s how little development their relationship gets.

– I actually wish the blog were used more throughout the story, though I like that it doesn’t take over the narrative.

In conclusion: A fun book, perfect for the beach or pool. Or as a distraction from all the grading. (SO MUCH GRADING.)

Support Your Local LIbrary: 42; YA Reading Challenge: 37

Book Review: How to Save a Life

If you don’t grow up to be a wife or a mother, what are you? A person alone, always wanting to be one thing or the other or both? My mother was never a wife, and that’s what she wanted more than anything. She didn’t want to be a mother, and she wasn’t one. Where does that leave her? A husband makes you a wife, and a child makes you a mother…What if there isn’t anyone to make you something?

In How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Mandy is searching for a new life for herself and her baby, and Jill is still recovering from the loss of her father. Their two paths cross when Jill’s mom offers to adopt Mandy’s baby, and Mandy comes to live with Jill and her mom.

There isn’t anything I didn’t like about this book, so some highlights of things I enjoyed:

– Sara Zarr is so great. SO GREAT. Here, she takes these two (three, really, if you count the mom) characters suffering from loss and grieving in their own ways and creates this quiet, yet powerful story about love, forgiveness, and family.

– I love the discussion about motherhood and worth highlighted in the quote above. The whole story isn’t devoted to that, but, wow, that moment hit me. What do we teach girls and women about their choices?

– The love interests are used well here. The relationships are important, but not so much that they take over the book. Basically, this book doesn’t become about the boys but stays about the girls and their own development and growth.

– I can understand the way both girls see the world. I can understand why Mandy makes people uncomfortable, but also why she latches onto them the way she does. I can see why Jill is so angry and brokenhearted and treats people cruelly but also with kindness. The characters are nuanced and flawed and real. Love.

– I like that the story ended exactly the way I thought it should, but I wasn’t sure how Zarr would get me to that ending. I also like that I didn’t expect the story to end the way I thought it should, but it did anyway. If that makes any sense.

This was just a great story. I really enjoyed it.

Support Your Local Library: 41; YA Reading Challenge: 36

Audiobook Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Every once in a while, I’ll read a book that I can honestly say I have no clue what’s going on in it, but still I enjoy it very much.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones is one of those books.

Oh, sure, I can give you a rundown of the basic plot: Sophie pisses off the Witch of the Waste who then hits Sophie with a curse so that she turns into an old woman. Sophie, who previous to the curse had settled for being the oldest and therefore the one with no choices, leaves home so as not to freak anybody out and takes up residence in Howl’s castle, which moves across the countryside. Howl has a reputation for destroying young girls, but since Sophie’s no longer young, she’s not afraid. While staying with Howl, she meets Calcifer the fire demon who asks her to break a spell on him. And the other resident of the moving castle is Michael, Howl’s apprentice.

Then some stuff happens with seven league boots, moving between worlds, the witch, Howl being vain and trying to get all the ladies to love him, and Sophie being really nosy or ornery because she’s old. I mean, a lot happens that I can’t really explain so well.

All I do know is that I was completely wrapped up in the story.

This was my second time reading the book. The first time I read it in paperback form; this time, I listened to the audiobook. The narrator, Jenny Sterlin, is fantastic. All of the characters have different and distinct voices, even young Sophie compared to old Sophie.

I listened to most of the book on a very long road trip, and I will admit that I had to shut it off a few times because I got sleepy. I don’t know if it’s because the pace of the story is a little slow or what. But I did need a break from time to time.

That said, even though this was my second time reading the book, I can give you a better run down of some of the plot stuff, though I couldn’t remember the terms of Calcifer’s contract so kept missing all of the hints. And because I was listening instead of holding a physical book, I couldn’t mark the passages to go back and say, “ohhhhhh.” Which means I want to go back and re-read it again in paper form.

I do know that I had the exact same response to the end of the book that I had the first time I read it. It just makes me smile and smile and clap my hands together.

Also, Sophie is the best. Such a great character. I really kind of love her.

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 7; Support Your Local Library: 40; YA Reading Challenge: 35; Howl’s Moving Castle: 7;  Page to Screen: 6

Mini book reviews: November and December

I am currently eight (!) books behind on reviews, so it’s time for some mini-reviews, yes? Yes.

The Daily Show’s Five Questions from Comedy Central: Back when Craig Kilborn hosted TDS, he had a segment in which he asked the celeb guests five questions. This book chronicles his favorites or the most memorable, I guess. I have no real opinion of this book. I read it in the bathroom, and that’s about all I have to say about it. That, and the book was worth the ten cents I spent on it at the library book sale.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling: I really, really, really want to hang out with Mindy Kaling. I think she’d be a lot of fun, and not just because we’re the same age. I liked the longer, more personal essays in this book, but the short vignettes were cute, too. I think I’d have liked this better if it were more of the longer essays or if it leaned more specifically to either personal or comedic essays. Either way, reading the book made me feel like I was sitting down and swapping stories with a good friend. A friend who I could talk about *NSYNC with.

Support Your Local LIbrary: 39; POC Reading Challenge: 23

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman: There is a lot going on in this little comic book–a lot. Tons of characters are introduced as well as scores of conflict. In the end, though, more world building than anything went on. I felt like this book was really to get me ready for the next book in the series since the major plotline wasn’t really resolved. Great characters, though. GREAT characters.

POC Reading Challenge: 24; Graphic Novels: 9/10; Off the Shelf: 12

How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics by Al-Anon Family Groups: The first half is an outline of the program; the second half is packed full of personal stories about various experiences with Al-Anon. A great primer if you’re interested in the program. The book really told me a lot about my life as well as showing me that exploring Al-Anon is something I need to do right now.

Off the Shelf: 13

I Hate Being Gifted by Patricia Hermes: As someone identified as gifted in elementary school, I was interested to see what, exactly, the main character hated about being gifted. Turns out she was upset because the gifted class took her away from her friends and then they made new friends. HOW COULD THEY? I couldn’t really connect to or relate to the book because the focus was on friendship and cliques and sixth grade mean girls. Also, the main character was kind of whiny. It’s not like I was the most mature 12-year-old or anything, but I guess I just didn’t see what the big deal was.

Off the Shelf: 14

Best Friends Tell the Best Lies by Carol Dines: Let me just say that the cover art on my copy of the book (another library book sale find) is totally misleading. It shows three people smiling and having a snowball fight, and that did not happen at all! There was no smiling in the snow, only heartache and crying and yelling. I mean, yes, I knew this book was about lying best friends so I didn’t expect all roses and sunshine, but it was really sad. My favorite thing about the book is probably that the ending is really kind of bleak. The characters are well drawn, the conflict is solid, and the plot is realistically messy.

Off the Shelf: 15; YA Challenge: 38; YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 8

Audiobook Review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a reread for me, though the audiobook narrated by Eden Riegel is a brand new experience. It has been years–years!–since I’ve read EE. In fact, the last (and first) time I read the book was right after the movie came out.

What can I say about this book? It is pretty much perfection. I love Ella so much. I LOVE HER. Love, love, love, LOVE. I wish words could adequately express how awesome Ella is because she is JUST THAT AWESOME. She’s smart, funny, clever, stubborn, bullheaded, and just…I just love her is all. She is so great.

I mean, really. That is my largest take away from the book.

And, yes, the rest of the book is awesome, too, but mostly I just love Ella THE MOST.

As for how it fares as an audiobook: I’m not the biggest fan of Riegel as a narrator–only because Ella sounds much younger than fifteen. And, yes, I realize that’s how Riegel sounds in real life, but that’s not the way I expect Ella to sound. Also, there are weird musical interludes that I didn’t care for.

That said, I could ignore all of that because the story is just so amazingly fantastic.

Did I mention I love Ella? She is really my favorite. Love her.

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 6; Support Your Local Library: 38; YA Reading Challenge: 34; Audiobook Challenge: 6/6; Page to Screen: 5/5;

Book Review: Alias Madame Doubtfire

“How dare you?” Miranda shook with rage. “How dare you deceive me like this, and arrange for my own children to deceive me? How dare you encourage them to collude with you in lying to me and humiliating me?”

Did you know Mrs. Doubtfire is based on a book???? I certainly did not. So imagine my delight when I ran across Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine at the library book sale. At first, I thought was one of those novels based on movies. But no! Mrs. Doubtfire is based on the novel. So I had to read it.

First of all, let me just say that I love Mrs. Doubtfire. LOVE. It makes me laugh every single time I watch it. Every single time. I love the restaurant bit with the “Help is on the way!” and I love the “He’s a she-she…she’s a he-she” part. And the transformation scene and when he says that Miranda maybe has crabs. And “It was a run by fruiting“! HAHAHAHAHA. That is all from memory! So what I’m saying is that I love the movie.

The book is much more serious. The basic premise is the same. Daniel and Miranda are divorced, Daniel wants to keep the three kids after school, Miranda won’t let him, and so he becomes her housekeeper Madame Doubtfire. There are some funny bits (like Daniel’s other job being a nude model and the neighbor making fun of him), but mostly the book explores the horrors of divorce. The parents are just wretched to each other. Daniel frequently pantomimes killing the mom (IN FRONT OF THE KIDS), and Miranda calls Daniel names and talks bad about him (in front of anyone who will listen).

Basically, all of the bits with the parents being horrible to each other in the movie are lifted straight from the book. Except the book parents are worse.

What I do like about the book is that the kids recognize Daniel right away. (Of course, his disguise is less elaborate since Frank and Jack don’t exist in the book.) I also like that the book is ultimately about the kids and, in the end, they drive the action. So the book kids are better than the movie kids.

In conclusion: Movie parents are better, book kids are better, and overall I prefer the movie’s light-hearted look at divorce (though it is sad!) over the book’s dark tone, though I do appreciate the book’s realism. So American I am with my choice of narrative!

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 6; YA Reading Challenge: 33; Page to Screen: 4/5

Audiobook Review: The Lost Hero

“Love is the most powerful motivator in the world. It spurs mortals to greatness. Their noblest and bravest acts are done for love.”

My daughter wanted me to read The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, the first book in his Heroes of Olympus series. I got the audiobook (which is narrated by Joshua Swanson) from the library when we went on a road trip so we could listen to it together. All I have to say about the book is: Rick Riordan, how are you so great???

You know, I’m really starting to appreciate his work and not just because I am some superfan of his books. Because no, that’s not it. What he does that’s so brilliant (besides making mythology completely accessible) is create these fantastic characters who are so interesting and fully formed. I mean, can I tell you how much I love Leo? I love Leo SO VERY MUCH. I want to bake him cookies and watch iCarly with him (because you know he secretly watches it and admires Spencer’s handiwork). Then, he and my daughter could build fun stuff together. He’d be the son I never had and the big brother she always wanted. THAT IS HOW MUCH I LOVE LEO. I would feed him actual food.

Other Things I Liked

– The introduction of Native American mythology/beliefs. Having Piper as a character allows Riordan to explore some of the similarities (and differences!) between not only the Roman and Greek gods but also allows for space to talk about Native American stories. So great.

– Seeing Camp Half-Blood from new characters’ perspectives and especially reading about the different cabins was ace. So fun seeing Butch from Iris Cabin, Clovis from the Hypnos cabin, and inside the cabins the main characters belonged to. (DEAR J. K. ROWLING, DO THIS WITH THE HARRY POTTER WORLD, PLEASE!!!!)

– I still love Rachel Elizabeth Dare. I would read a whole book about her.

– The title works on ~levels~.

What I Didn’t Like

Unfortunately, the narrator was not that great. He had a very robotic reading voice and read almost all of the characters (except Leo and Coach Hedge [LOVE COACH HEDGE]) and some of the minor characters) and their dialogue with these odd pauses. I mean, he’s not worse than the Percy Jackson narrator, but even that dude read Annabeth with some spirit.

Also, he pronounced Hera and Gaea wrong. It drove me NUTS. My daughter and I would correct his pronunciation every time. That’s not good.

Thankfully, the story overcomes the narrator. I had to know what would happen. So, kudos to Mr. Riordan. I really wish they would find worthy narrators for his books, though. (Kane Chronicles, thankfully, does not suffer from this issue.)

In conclusion: AWESOME book, so-so narrator. The book is definitely worth the read, no matter which version you procure.

Support Your Local Library: 36; YA Reading Challenge: 32; Audiobook Challenge: 4/6; POC Reading Challenge: 21

Book Review: Shine, Coconut Moon

It dawns on me, clear as a summer sky, how wrapping a turban, speaking the language of your parents’ parents’ parents, and celebrating the same holidays that everyone before you celebrated are all like little thank-yous to those who survived. Those seemingly small things are a long-held memory whispered from the lips of the past into the ear of the future.

I really liked Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger. It’s the story of Samar, a girl who has to confront her Indian heritage five days after the September 11th attacks when her turbaned, Sikh uncle shows up on her doorstep.

What I Liked

– I loved how complicated the relationships are in this book–especially the relationships Samar’s mom has with her brother and parents. The level of depth reminded me a lot of Gilmore Girls and how Rory relates to her grandparents, but then Lorelai has this whole other level of complex views on the way she was raised and how she communicates with her parents. That is some good stuff right there.

– The boy stuff was handled well. I am so glad this story did not become about the boy, but that the boy is part of Samar’s life and is another relationship she’s trying to navigate. (Have I mentioned how much I hate when stories of this sort become about the boy? UGH. Pet peeve. Anyway, this book does not fall into that trap, so let’s move on.)

– Samar’s relationship with Molly is also really well-handled. Their brief falling out felt true to life as did their subsequent making up. I love how much Samar is a part of Molly’s family, and the ease and familiarity they have with one another.

– Uncle Sandeep = fantastic.

– I love how well the title relates to the story.

What I Didn’t Like

– My only complaint, really, is that there wasn’t enough of that daughter-parent-grandparent conflict. I just wanted so much more of that, but I guess that’s why there are Gilmore Girls repeats/DVDs.

– I felt this book could have been longer. Doing so may have fleshed out some of the other characters. At the same time, I think Meminger did everything she needed to do with this story, so maybe I just wanted more to read.

In conclusion: I really liked this book. Meminger does a great job exploring issues of identity and family and what happens when you don’t know your family, but would like to get to know them. She also touches on the idea that there are no perfect families, which is great since Samar idealizes the extended family. Good stuff.

Support Your Local Library: 35; YA Reading Challenge: 31; POC Reading Challenge: 20