Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: THE RED PYRAMID by Rick Riordan




















Title: The Red Pyramid
Author: Rick Riordan
Pub info: Disney-Hyperion, 2010; 516 pp
Genre / Audience: fantasy adventure / ages 10+
Caveats for Younger Readers: none, though it's a long read for the under 10 set, and the plot gets pretty complicated

Rick Riordan gained fame from his Percy Jackson series, which focused on kids descended from Greek gods. Here, he takes on Egyptian mythology.

Goodreads summary:
Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them—Set—has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe
a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.
Status: finished 9/17/14

My impressions:
Rick Riordan is a master of middle-grade adventure, and in The Red Pyramid he kicks off his three-volume Kane Chronicles series with a bang. Even those of us who don't know much about Egyptian gods get caught up quickly in this battle between good and evil. Like House of Secrets, which I recently reviewed on this blog, The Red Pyramid keeps the adventure coming page after page throughout its considerable length. But let's face it: Riordan is just better at writing this stuff. The novel reads like a good action film--problems crop up that seem in hindsight inevitable, and everything follows logically in this tightly woven, though complex, plot. Adding to the fun is Riordan's technique of switching off point of view between Carter and his estranged sister, Sadie. Each character brings something unique to the story, and their voices are distinct and offer varying perspectives. Even the fact that they're a mixed-race family comes into play. Characters aren't going to be covered in huge depth when you've got this much action going on, but they are developed.

Riordan is just plain funny, too. He really gets what makes middle-grade readers laugh, and Sadie especially brings a snarkiness that helps temper the book's scarier moments. The humor overall keeps the story from getting horrific, planting it square in the realm of old-fashioned, edge-of-your-seat adventure. Kids won't even realize they're learning quite a bit about Egyptian mythology in the meantime, which is a bonus. Thankfully, the series is finished, so I can launch right into Book 2 (The Throne of Fire). The only caution here is that the length of the books will intimidate some readers, but the read is lightning-quick.

About Rick:
Rick Riordan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus (a spinoff of the Percy Jackson series). He is also the author of the multi-award-winning Tres Navarre mystery series for adults. His children's books have won dozens of awards.

His next book will be The Blood of Olympus, the final installment in the Heroes of Olympus series, due out October 7. He's also working on a new series featuring Norse gods, the first of which is scheduled for publication next year. For fifteen years, Rick taught English and history at public and private middle schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Texas. Now a fulltime writer, he lives in Boston with his wife and two sons.


Online:
Rick maintains a fantastic website here, which gives not only information on all his projects but great background on Greek and Egyptian mythology. Teachers' guides, FAQs, and all kinds of goodies are rampant on this site. You can also find Rick on Twitter and Facebook. Read a preview of The Red Pyramid here.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Arrr, me hearties, and a lovely Talk Like a Pirate Day to you! What? Yeah, it's a real thing. Who would make this up? If you love a good drum of grog or a fine plunder of gold, then step up and claim all the goodies coming to you. Here are some of my favorites from around the web:

Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers Exhort You to Talk Like a Pirate!




Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will give you a free doughnut or a FREE DOZEN DOUGHNUTS if you follow the Pirate Code outlined here. (I know--they're really more guidelines.)



Here are 50 PIRATE MOVIES to screen today. In my mind, you can't beat Johnny Depp in the very first Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The full list is here.

Love PIRATE BOOKS? Try these:


Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: The classic original story of Long John Silver and the young boy who sailed with him
Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L.A. Meyer : First of a fantastic, fun YA/MG adventure series about a girl turned pirate (well, she's pretty moral, for a pirate); plenty of boys in this story too
Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates has a new member: Hilary Westfield, who neglects to tell the league that she's a girl! Great magical adventure fun for middle-grade readers. Continued in The Terror of the Southlands.
Pirates! by Celia Rees: Another girl-turned-pirate yarn--a multi-award-winner
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly: a nonfiction account of pirate history--nicely done and easy reading (but written for the adult market)
The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues by George Choundas: All you'll need to talk like a pirate (nonfiction)!

Finally, be sure to visit the original Talk Like a Pirate Day website, which has loads more fun stuff for buccaneers old and young!


Why am I all up in your face about pirates, anyway? Because my next book, The Wand & the Sea, features a fine band of pirate ruffians! Coming to you from Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2015.






Thursday, September 18, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 26

Again, I find myself more than fashionably late to a worldwide party. No, I've not yet read any of the Kane Chronicles, but I'm getting started right now with The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion, 2010).
"A truly original take on Egyptian mythology ... a must-have book."  --School Library Journal (starred review)

"A riveting story marked by headlong adventure."   --Booklist (starred review)
A runaway best-seller and recipient of numerous awards, The Red Pyramid promises to be a fantastic ride. Jump on!

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: IF YOU'RE READING THIS, IT'S TOO LATE by Pseudonymous Bosch




















Title: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late
Author: Pseudonymous Bosch
Pub info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008; 400 pp
Genre / Audience: mystery & magic / ages 9+
Caveats for Younger Readers: none, but the length may seem daunting

Having read Book #1 of the Secrets series, I was happy to reacquaint myself with Cass and Max-Ernest for Book #2. And who can resist the latest character addition, Yo-Yoji?

Goodreads summary:
Beware! Dangerous secrets lie between the pages of this book.

OK, I warned you. But if you think I'll give anything away, or tell you that this is the sequel to my first literary endeavor, The Name of This Book is Secret, you're wrong.

I'm not going to remind you of how we last left our heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest, as they awaited initiation into the mysterious Terces Society, or the ongoing fight against the evil Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais. I certainly won't be telling you about how the kids stumble upon the Museum of Magic, where they finally meet the amazing Pietro!

Oh, blast! I've done it again. Well, at least I didn't tell you about the missing Sound Prism, the nefarious Lord Pharaoh, or the mysterious creature born in a bottle over 500 years ago, the key to the biggest secret of all.

I really can't help myself, now can I? Let's face it---if you're reading this, it's too late.

Status: finished 9/6/14

My impressions:
Take another look at the Goodreads summary. That's the voice of the author. If you don't mind an author being intrusive--sometimes a bit in your face--then you'll be fine. If this kind of thing gets on your nerves, however, it will wear thin throughout this book. As reviewers have noted, there's more than a nod to Lemony Snicket in these pages. (Also: Be advised that the introductory chapter is not indicative of how the writer tells the rest of the story. He really does fade into the background.)

Generally, the Bosch voice intrudes in the form of footnotes, which are easy to ignore. I find these asides funny, but towards the end of the book I was skimming them because I was much more interested in Cass, Max-Ernest, and their new friend, Yo-Yoji. This is a fun, fast-paced mystery with a bit of magic and alchemy thrown in, and a nicely turned dynamic on the three friends and the decidedly preadolescent feelings that crop up between them. This is a tighter, easier to navigate tale than The Name of This Book Is Secret, and you won't be totally lost if you've not read that one, either. This volume stands on its own and just may send you back to see how the story began.

About Pseudonymous:
As you may have guessed, Pseudo (as his friends call him) likes to keep things under wraps. His official bio reads: "Pseudonymous Bosch is the anonymous pseudonymous author of the Secret Series. Not much is known about him other than that he has a passionate love of chocolate and cheese and an equally passionate hatred of mayonnaise. Rumors of Boschian sightings are just as frequent and about as reliable as reports of alien abductions. If you ever meet anyone claiming to be Pseudonymous himself he is almost certainly an impostor. The real Pseudonymous is said currently to be hiding in a cave in a remote jungle (although there are contrary reports that he is somewhere in Greenland)." The best-selling, award-winning Secret Series is complete (a total of five books), and Pseudo's newest series, Bad Magic, debuts tomorrow, September 16!

Online:
Kids and adults who love mysterious websites will get a kick out of Bosch's The Name of This Website Is Secret, which gives you news and fun info on his books and appearances, as well as his very funny Pseudo Blog. I would have been all over this site as a kid. He also maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account, though he claims to be antisocial. A superfun video about the books and two persistent young reporters out to discover Bosch's true identity can be found here.



Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Friday, September 12, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 25

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch (Little, Brown for Young Readers, 2008) is Book 2 in what you might call the Secret series (or at least, that's what Goodreads calls it). The first book, The Name of This Book Is Secret, was great fun, so I've picked up the sequel. It's sure to be full of mysteries, puzzles, and ominous warnings.
"Like Lemony Snicket with a little Monty Python." --LA Weekly

"Fans of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (HarperCollins) will enjoy this slightly more fleshed-out read." --School Library Journal
Read along, if you've the stomach for it.



That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: HOUSE OF SECRETS by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini




















Title: House of Secrets
Authors: Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
Pub info: Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2013; 490 pp
Genre / Audience: fantasy adventure / middle grade, ages 10+
Caveats for Younger Readers: there's a fair bit of violence, especially stabbing, and some killing too; also, the plot gets pretty convoluted and may lose a young reader

I was pretty pumped to read a book written by the director of Harry Potter films #1 and #2. Should film directors write books? Well ...

Goodreads summary:
The Walker kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games . . . but everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by Denver Kristoff, a troubled writer with a penchant for the occult.

Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Walker family’s secret history and save their parents . . . and maybe even the world.
Status: finished 9/2/14

My impressions:
The premise of this book intrigued me, and yes, I was seduced by J.K. Rowling's blurb (“a breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure"). I won't say that JKR's assessment is wrong--it definitely is breakneck and jam-packed--but perhaps that's the problem. I wanted to fall in love with this book, and I was pretty happy with it for the first half or so. But then it got a bit crazy--unfocused, overwrought, everything tossed at the reader with almost no room to breathe. Giants, pirates, knights, witches--I felt like this story couldn't find its feet.

That said, a lot of kids will love all the fun and scary stuff that happens. Even though this is a long book, it's fast reading, thanks to the font size, scattered illustrations by Greg Call (which are wonderful), and short chapters. But it seemed to me the authors were trying to throw too much in the kettle, and that left little room to get to know the characters or even provide much justification for all the action. There was no real reason for any of these baddies to show up; they just do. Nothing seems to happen as a consequence of anyone's actions, with the exception of the mysterious book that the kids are repeatedly tempted to open. And the ending came a bit too easily for my taste as well.

One Goodreads reviewer said that the youngest sibling, Eleanor, was not realistically represented, and I agree with that criticism too. But again: Some readers will enjoy this wild ride, and it certainly keeps you interested. I suspect more kids than adults will love this.

About Chris and Ned:
Chris Columbus is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is known for such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Home Alone. House of Secrets is his first novel, but he and Ned have already released the second book in the series, called Battle of the Beasts (Balzer+Bray, 2014).

Ned Vizzini was the author of several young adult novels and essays, including It's Kind of a Funny Story (Disney-Hyperion, 2007) and Be More Chill (Disney-Hyperion, 2004). Collaborating with Chris on the second book of the House of Secrets series was his last project before his death in 2013.

Online:
You can watch the book trailer to House of Secrets here, and listen to the authors' perspectives on writing the book. Read the Top Ten Secrets Behind House of Secrets here, and take a sneak peek at the first chapter here.


Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 24

How could you possibly resist a book written by film director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and Ned Vizzini? Especially one that J.K. Rowling calls "A breakneck roller coaster of an adventure"? J.K. Rowling, people! That, and the cool cover, are why I picked up House of Secrets (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2013).
“A swift-paced…clever page-turner for any reader who has wanted to take part in literary adventures … This story is compelling, great fun, and sure to be popular.”  --ALA Booklist

"With a new adventure that seems to arrive with every chapter, the story unfolds quickly, thus keeping kids hooked and wanting to find out what will happen next.” --School Library Journal 
Let's see what the hype is all about, readers!

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.