Thursday, November 26, 2009


The Battle of the Labyrinth

by Rick Riordan
Book #4 of 5 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

This series has been amazing - see reviews for books #1, #2, and #3 - and though I didn't love the 2nd and 3rd as much as the first, I thought this 4th installment was fantastic.

It brings together a fast-moving plot with lots action, a good dose of greek mythology, plenty of fantastical elements, and solid friendships that save the day.

This time, the dark forces marshalling around Kronos in his bid to return are threatening the training camp of the demigods, hoping to wipe out the heros and force the gods to fight them in a second epic clash of good vs. evil.

The heros will be no match for a full-scale invasion, so when they find an entrance to Daedalus' underground Labyrinth, they enter it, despite grave danger, to try to find Daedalus and seek his help. What they find is not what they expect - of course.

What they find includes various mythological gods and monsters and even one human who is not quite so human after all. The group splits up at one point, and not to give anything away, but there is some lost time, some nasty surprises, soem pleasant surprises, and, well, let's just say it's not every day that someone gets to show up at their own funeral!

If you haven't been reading this series, you really ought to - and quickly, before the first movie comes out soon! It's a sure winner for people who like action, people who like fantasy, and people who just like a well-written, fast-paced read with a few laughs on the side.

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Publisher Review: Emily the Strange: The Lost Days

a novel by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker.

I've been a fan of Emily the Strange as a sort of semi-defined character in my mind for quite a while, as have many people who wear her on their hair-clips, lunchboxes, or pencil-cases - but never really had much of a firm handle on her story or what she was really about. All of which has changed. Now? Now, I love her.

Right from the start, this book pulls you in with a promising premise and a winning voice and personality. You see, we know she's Emily, but she doesn't. In fact, she doesn't know anything about herself, having arrived in a super-weird town with a serious case of amnesia. it tells you right away that you are in for a good ride as she tries to sort things out, and things are pretty, er, Strange in this town.

The other characters are also interesting little puzzles that make you wonder and keep you guessing, even if hardly anyone seems likeable, and the town contains enough odd little mysteries to satisfy even the most easily bored. As she does start to unravel the layers of mystery, Emily discovers (and we along with her) what kind of person she is (and is decidedly not), where she came from, that she knows a lot of people in some other unusual places, and finally, the big secret that brought her here in the first place.

You may just be following along in her diary, but she is funny, smart, and every inch unapologetic for being different, so she never loses you, and the little drawings and asides are worth noticing.

Final verdict? I half-expected this to be kind of gimmicky and not so great, as books based on something else often are, but I was pleasantly surprised, and loved every minute of this. I fully recommend it to anyone who likes a girl with a twist - chicklit this is not, yet girly fun all the same.

And even better, you can check it out online at HarperCollins' website for the book, where they have not just the usual inside jacket flaps and a tiny excerpt, but over half of it posted for viewing with the Browse Inside feature. That's pretty awesome in itself.

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Monday, November 16, 2009


Publisher Review: United We Stand

by Eric Walters.

The sequel to: We All Fall Down.

First, the first book, which I read before I started this site:
We All Fall Down was published in 2006, and was the first children's or teens' book I saw that dealt directly with the events of 9/11 - five years after the fact, and I grabbed it right away. It seemed we were ready, and thought our children were, too. The book unfolds as Will joins his dad in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre for a horrifically-timed take-your-kid-to-work day. Will's dad is the classic workaholic, and Will harbours more than a touch of resentment about it, but as he sees his father jump into action as his floor's fire warden after the North Tower is struck, he begins to see him in a new light. His quick action saves lives, as he clears the floor of nearly everyone, ignoring the announcements that everything is alright, but this keeps Will and his father above the impact site when their tower is hit. What follows is their journey - painful, difficult, but full of moments of tiny heroisms - as they make their way down the stairwells.

The writing here is believable, the description of the trip down the stairs fully imagined in great and plausible detail. On the way, Will's feelings about his father change, and their relationship reforms, though this is not belaboured. My only complaint about the book was the very ending, which came across as just a touch cheesy, but I also see why it was necessary for it to end as it did. On the whole, I was impressed by Walters' treatment of a really difficult day - he managed to avoid the traps of getting too wrapped up in sentiment, or of making it too action-movie-style, thus putting together a fairly balanced, respectful telling of one imagined story from that day.

Where the first book ends, United We Stand picks up - on September 12th, 2001. As important and surreal and emotional as the actual day of 9/11 was, the few days afterwards were nearly as bad and strange and laden with fears and tears as the shock began to wear off, and here Walters works towards showing how the event did not end in a single day for the people of New York or, in fact, for people anywhere.

Will and his father wake to the aftereffects, which include not only cuts and lungs full of the dust of the WTC collapse, but also some psychological effects that don't show up right away. Will's mother, too, shows us how the panic of the day before has taken its toll on her, and also provides some information on stages of grieving for Will to use in beginning to understand himself and his friend James and their reactions.

Early in the day, Will's mother suggests they visit James' family, who are still waiting for news of his firefighter father, who Will had seen and was pretty sure was not coming home. James and his mother show us two very different ways of handling their grief and the slow loss of hope as the rescue mission began to move towards recovery as the day wore on.

It is, again, a difficult topic, and tricky to tell a story that is thoroughly thought through and realistic while being both respectful and interesting. While some of what happens may not be entirely plausible, it is well-written to make it seem as if it is, so being able to see the plot devices isn't annoying here. In the end, there is again a touch of the cheese about the last little bit, but it is not too heavy-handed, and confined to the ending, where it was, I think, maybe a little necessary, as with the first book.

On the whole, I thought this sequel handled the grief and shock of Sept. 12th really well, and I would recommend this pair to anyone curious about that day or looking for a good teen book with action, friendship, and growing up.

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Montmorency's Revenge

by Eleanor Updale

#4 in the series.

The events at the end of book 3 in this series propel this book, as Montmorency and his circle burn with the need for revenge at the same time that they take on a mission that should lead them straight to the person they want to get their hands on. What could be more perfect? Though they do have to struggle to keep the mission in sight at times...

Once again, the intrigue in this episode takes various characters from Scotland to London, Italy, and New Jersey to pursue the international ring of anarchists and their shadowy leader. In the process, Montmorency takes to the sewers once again, they foil an assassination attempt, and the deadly plotmaster of the terrorist group finds out Montmorency's identity, making for a whole new level of menace, especially when the book ends with the cloaked man still on the loose. (I smell sequel! Again!)

Meanwhile, the paternity of Vi's son tom has been a mystery until now, and this not only changes the way parts of the mission are conducted, but also leads Montmorency to, for the very first time, not only talk about his past, but reveal his entire life story.

I think this book brings together a lot of the side plots that in some ways had seemed to detract from the action of the last few books, making it a good way to bring the series back onto the path of the main plot even while it opens up possibilities for the next book. it also forces Montmorency to grow up a little, which makes me wonder how he will handle things next time, and once again makes me eager to read about what comes next.

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