Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)I usually don't read books in a series back-to-back or even close together, because I like to space out books by the same author. I want to make sure that the similar writing style or the familiar characters don't diminish my enjoyment of the book or bore me. But, I made an exception in the case of The Last Olympian. I started it less than a week after finishing The Battle of the Labyrinth. I just couldn't wait to find out how Percy's story concludes.

I wasn't disappointed either. This is another action-packed story that equals what I've come to expect from Riordan. The climactic battle between Kronos and the Olympian gods finally comes to fruition, and I was pleased with the attention paid it, given its importance to the story. Many characters introduced in earlier books make an appearance, so I would recommend the books be read in order. I think fans of the earlier Percy Jackson books will be pleased with the conclusion of the series.

I loved The Last Olympian and I'm sad to see the series end. I give it an A!!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookI must have been hiding under a rock or something, because I'd never even heard of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book until it won the Newbery Medal in January. Of course, after hearing about it, I had to get it. A variation of Kipling's Jungle Book, but the orphan boy is raised by ghosts in a graveyard instead.

The first time I read it, I just sat and read the book through in one sitting. It's a quick-paced, smooth-flowing story that makes for an ideal afternoon of escapism. I loved how each chapter was an episode in Bod's life, that would be ideal reading for reluctant readers. The second time I read The Graveyard Book, I began to appreciate the richness of the language and the vivid descriptions of scenery, characters, and action. It was even better the second time.

I give it a B.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4)I don't know why I put off reading this book for so long. Maybe I was just a bit tired of Percy and the gang, or, more likely, it just got lost in my TBR pile. Anyway, I FINALLY pulled out The Battle of the Labyrinth this month to read. Once I got started, it was difficult to put it down. The action of one scene flows smoothly into the next one. Before you know it, you've read 100 pages!

Percy and the gang continue to look for ways to defeat Kronus and his plan to destroy the Olympian gods and take over the world. This time, the group must descend into the labyrinth (of the Minotaur fame) to ward off Kronus' army led by their former friend-turned-traitor, Luke.

I worried that the story would be one of those set-everything-up-for-the-last-book ones and while you'd have to read it, it wasn't that great of a story on its own. Not so here. Yes, it does set everything up for the last book, but it's a well-crafted story on its own. There's plenty edge-of-your-seat action that have you groaning when your reading time is interrupted. The reader is teased with more clues to some of the series-long questions, and I hope all is revealed with the conclusion of the series. I was sad to see the end of the book and I know I'll be turning to the next Percy Jackson book soon. I definitely won't be leaving it on my TBR shelves for another year!

I give this one an A -- Highly Recommended!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum I usually shy away from reading children's biographies, because they tend to be either two simplistic or all style and no substance. I decided to read The Great and Only Barnum because of all the wonderful reviews I'd read, plus I've always been a wee bit curious about Mr. Barnum.

Visually, I like this book. Its chapters begin with what look like advertisement cards for Mr. Barnum's attractions. Each chapter focuses on one event or part of Barnum's life, told succinctly with just enough descriptive language to keep it from being dry. Plenty of illustrations and photographs fill the pages, but not too many to take away from the words. The sidebars were distracting to me. It may just be a personal thing, but I hate to stop reading the text or finding a stopping point in the main text to go back and read the side bar. It takes me out of the story and I have to settle back in. I realize why they are there and they do have relevant and interesting information, though. The story is well-told, with plenty of facts used, but the text flows smoothly. The reader is caught up in the story of Barnum's life, rather than seeing the text as a list of facts tied together.

There's plenty to like about The Great and Only Barnum and I know I'll be recommending it a lot this year. I give it a B, Recommended.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Search by Eric Heuvel

The SearchA companion to A Family Secret, The Search tells Esther's story of what happened to her during World War II. As a German Jew, she and her family faced discrimination and abuse and finally chose to emigrate from Germany to Holland. There, she befriends Helena, a Dutch girl and neighbor. When the Nazis invade the Netherlands, Esther and her family face many of the same discrimination as they had in Germany and worry about being transported to labor camps, so they decide to go into hiding. Before they can arrange for the hiding places, Esther's parents are picked up by the Germans in a mass sweep of the neighborhood. Esther then tells the story of how she goes into hiding alone and what happened to her during and after the war.

Told in graphic novel format, The Search tells about the horrible events of the Holocaust. The pictures aren't overly gruesome or violent, but the reader does get a sense of how despicable the events truly were. For example, when talking about how many Soviet Jews were rounded up, shot in the forests and dumped in mass graves, the reader sees the pit with the Jewish people by it and German soldiers with weapons, then a close-up of the terror on the faces of the Jewish people, then in the next frame the German soldiers by the pit with a mound of clothing behind it. You get the idea of what happened, but you don't actually see it.

The Search and A Family Secret used together will be a great introduction to the world of Anne Frank. Students who are not familiar with the events of Anne's day will get a glimpse of what life was like for her and many others. By using the graphic novel format, this story will be accessible to many students of all levels, including reluctant readers.

I give this book a B, Recommended.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel

A Family SecretA graphic novel about the Holocaust? I immediately think about the fabulous Maus books, but this one looks to be for a little younger audience.

A Family Secret starts off with Jeroen searching his grandmother's attic for items for a yard sale. While there, he discovers her scrapbook and other mementos from World War II. When he questions his grandmother about it, she tells him about her long-lost best friend, a Jewish girl named Esther, and what happened to her family during and after the war.

I got caught up in this story and read it in one sitting. The story engages the reader and I think even those without prior knowledge of the Holocaust or World War II will find it engrossing. The illustrations are done in an open, friendly way, but don't seem too campy for the serious content. Any darker, edgier illustration might put off the reader, rather than bring him in. A Family Secret is going to have many people clamoring to read and re-read it.

My rating: B, Recommended.

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin HoodA retelling of the Robin Hood tale in a graphic novel format. I liked the use of darker shades in colors -- whether it was the grays and purples in the castle or the greens and golds of the forests to tell a story that is rather dark itself. To me, the shading around the faces was a bit too dark at times, causing some difficulty in discerning one character from another. But, a rather minor nit-pick in an otherwise super book. Outlaw will find fans with GN readers as well as those that read adventure stories.

I give this one a B, Recommended.

Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

Ghost In The Machine (Skeleton Creek)In this sequel to Skeleton Creek, Ryan continues his journal of the events that occurred when he and his best friend, Sarah, try to uncover all the mysteries surrounding the dredge on the edge of their town. Just like the last book, Sarah's entries are shown in a video format via a website and password. As the duo digs deeper into the mystery, they find more and more connections between the secrets of the dredge and people in town, including Ryan's dad.

Not as scary as the first book, Ghost in the Machine, instead focuses on solving the mystery and discovering who is behind it all. The videos aren't as compelling as in Skeleton Creek, but are an integral part of the story. (And I still love the concept!) I think fans of the first book will eat this one up and beg for more of Ryan and Sarah. I give this one a solid B, Recommended!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Malice by Chris Wooding

MaliceI picked up this book to read because of the really cool cover. It has a 3-D look with the character actually coming out of the cover. The story too is a pretty neat concept of combining a novel with a comic book.

Malice tells the story of three kids that find themselves trapped in a comic called Malice. The kids hear rumors about this story and the urban legends surrounding the summoning of "Tall Jake" to take them away. The kids discover that the urban legend is real and Tall Jake really does take them away -- into the world of the comic, Malice. Once there, the kids must use their wits in order to survive the strange creatures and dangers around every corner.

Malice is mainly told via prose, but with some graphic pages interspersed throughout the story. The graphic pages do add to the story -- they aren't just there for pretty scenery. Unfortunately, even with the neat concept, I found the story itself rather bland. It really didn't grab my interest as much as I would have expected. I found much about the Malice world confusing and it seemed like the back stories of the main characters were a hodge-podge mess -- not fully developed. Maybe this is the intention of the author, to slowly clue the reader as to what is really going on, but I would have wished for a bit more clarity. That said, I think many comic and horror fans will grab this book, enticed by the fabulous cover, and most will probably be satisfied with the story.

My grade = C.