Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #4: Freebie Week! Top Ten Favorite Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week is a freebie week which means I get to pick any topic to make a list for! I'm going to step away from YA lit for a moment and do my ten favorite classics. As I was an English major in college, I've read many books that are outside of my normal YA/NA reads. I have a fairly broad sense of the word "classic" so some of these might not be your normal "classic" in the normal sense.
Again these are in no particular order. They're just in the order in which I remember them. Any time I sit down to write a TTT, I feel like my memory flies out the window and my mind starts screaming, "I haven't read anything!!!" Thank goodness Goodreads remembers everything I've read for me.
Top Ten Favorite Classic Books
1. A Midsummer's Night Dream  by William Shakespeare - This was the first work of Shakespeare that I read. I read it as a freshman in high school and I've loved it ever since. Plus, it has Puck. Who doesn't love Puck? He's a mischievous faun and probably one of my favorite characters.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Gothic literature! Heathcliff!! My copy of this book probably has more notes and highlights written in the margins than any other book.

3. The Hobbit  by J. R. R. Tolkien - I've read this book at least three times now and it has never failed me to be just a plain fun read. The dwarves are hilarious (and I love their names). It's probably my favorite Tolkien just because it's a lighter read than any of his other works.

4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - I've written many papers for various classes on this book. One of which was a Freudian psychoanalysis of Plath using her writing (a lot of which was semi-autobiographical). I'm probably the only non-psychology major who would find that fun to do.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - I remember trying to read this in fourth grade because my mom liked it and one of my teachers said it was his favorite book. I didn't get it at all back then but rereading it again when I was older made it much more poignant. By the way, I love the idea of the name Scout. It's so cute.

6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Until I actually read this, I was under the impression Frankenstein was the monster. I had a definite mindblown moment when I discovered he wasn't. No one screams, "It's alive!!" either. Great read nonetheless.

7. The Once and Future King by T. H. White - Admittedly, it took me a long time to get into this book - the whole first part actually. I'm a huge fan of King Arthur myths but not so much of when he was still Wart.

8. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The foundation for my love of the show Sherlock is my love of the original stories. I haven't read all of them though but I will at some point.

9. The Odyssey by Homer - Poor Odysseus. He can't get a break. I should really read the Iliad.

10. Fairytales! Any of them! I the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are my two favorites but there's a bunch more! And, yes, I do consider fairytales as classics...

See? I don't only read YA. That's just what I mostly read.
Have you read any of these? What are your favorite classics?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fangirl Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Published:  September 10, 2013

Synopsis from Goodreads: A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.   Cath is a Simon Snow fan.   Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book. Oh my gosh this book. Cute doesn't cut it. Really, really cute doesn't even cut it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fangirl but I'm having a weirdly hard time pinpointing why so expect this review to potentially be all over the place and partially nonsensical.

First off, the characters. I definitely related a lot to Cath. I'm not socially awkward to the point of not eating anything but protein bars and peanut butter but I'm really socially awkward and introverted and a fangirl of many things, of course. She's awkward and eccentric but witty and smart at the same time. She worries about the minor things in life like how cafeterias work (I didn't go to any in college for the same reason though I also didn't dorm), being late to class, etc. and more major things like how her dad is dealing without her and Wren. Cath was overall just very real in the real-est sense (that didn't make sense but bear with me) and that really struck me. Wren was her complete opposite which is kind of cliché but I didn't mind all that much. For most of the beginning of the book, she annoyed me because she was being so mean to Cath but I understand why considering they had spent all their life paired together. A little independence never hurt anyone but she took it to the extreme and it backfired on her. I ended up liking her by the end of the book though. Reagan was my favorite. Tough, worldly kind of girl filled with snark and sarcasm and an overall awesome friend - love it! I couldn't help but picture Emma Stone as Reagan:
She doesn't have her red hair there but c'mon, tell me she doesn't fit as Reagan. The eye roll.

And Levi, wonderful Levi. Sure he's flawed (as are the rest of the characters) but he's perfectly imperfect. He gets that Cath doesn't need to be helped in and out of his truck. He's polite to her father as well as to everyone else. He's hopelessly optimistic and smiles at everyone. Even though he isn't like most love interests in YA books - as in he's not the most attractive guy on campus with a sparkling personality who every girl swoons over - he's the kind of guy that you want to bring home to your parents. The kind who gets that you're quirky and weird and loves you all the more for it. Which makes him perfect for Cath. On a different note, Nick was awful and I never really believed there was a true love triangle. Boo you, Nick.

"Cath wished she didn't use the word 'just' so much. It was her passive-aggressive tell, like someone who twitched when they were lying." - Ch. 6, pg. 66

I think what makes it hard for me to pinpoint why exactly I enjoyed this book so much was because there isn't really a main plot. It dragged around the middle because of this but it made itself work in a strange way. It's not just about a fangirl learning to function in college. It's not just a college love story. It's not just about two sisters with a dad who isn't completely mentally stable and a mom who left them. It's not just about two twin sisters learning to make names for themselves as individuals rather than a pair. It isn't just anything. "Just" is used a lot in this book and if I had to take a guess, that would be the point of the story. Life isn't just one thing or another. It's a whole bunch of things thrown together in the most haphazard way possible but, you know, it's life.

"Ready or not, here I come. Here I come, ready or not." - pg. 434

I'd recommend this book to any fangirl (or boy), introverts, the socially awkward, first time college-goers or anyone just looking for a cute contemporary read. Whichever you are, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Review

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published:  August 15, 2013

Synopsis from Goodreads: You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard.

Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more?

Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery... who makes you want to kiss back.

Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I fully admit to buying this book solely because the cover is amazing. It is probably my favorite cover of all the books I currently own. It's haunting and mysterious and I love that if you look closely on top of the cliff you find the silhouette of a couple who could either be dancing or leading each other off the edge. (Personally, I don't think the cover for The Spark and the Burn is nearly as pretty.) However, that is right about where my love for this book ends. The plot itself is pretty decent as far as plots go: Girl from a family of old money has run out of money and decides to rent out the guest house; boy who moves in is mysterious and dangerous. Not that terrible and overall promising if executed properly. Nevertheless, get ready for a partial rant-review...

"His name is River West," Sunshine slipped in. "And Violet's decided she's going to be mad as a hatter in love with him."
"That's not remotely true," I said looking at her with my penetrating, know-it-all gaze. "That couldn't be less true."
But Sunshine was dead right, and we both knew it."
- Chapter 3, pg. 24-25

Violet just met River and she's already decided that she's going to be in love with him and not for any other reason then because she's simply decided it. At this point in the story she's know him for all of five minutes. She didn't even ask for ID when he rented out her guesthouse. She simply took his cash and gave him a tour. Major flaunting of lack of common sense there. It actually ached in my chest to read just how lacking common sense was among these characters sometimes.

This is just one example of why I did not like the characters in this book. My major problem with this book is the amount of sexual flaunting that's littered across these pages. Sunshine is constantly wagging her hips or showing her thighs or revealing cleavage. It's terrible and Violet isn't much better. Sure, she dresses more conservatively than Sunshine but seriously, she's sleeping with a guy she just met all curled up like they've known each other forever. She lets River touch her and caress her even though she knows he's dangerous. She knows he is the reason behind Sunshine seeing Blue and Luke seeing True and she doesn't care that he's almost literally scaring her friends and family to death. She just lets him go about his business because he's hot and she doesn't try too hard to stop him. Not to mention he keeps giving her money. I know it's supposedly because River knows she needs it for groceries and such but really, it's more like he's paying her for her affections. And it's not just Violet and Sunshine. Luke is a known womanizer constantly flexing his muscles because it gets him noticed, gets him girls, and gets him laid.

Twilight scenario in the making here (just with art/art history allusions rather than Austen and other classic literature) and I don't like it. What kind of message are authors trying to give to impressionable teenagers? That in order to get a guy/girl to love you you have to flaunt your body? That's not okay. It's everything that's wrong with modern advertising. The not-too-subtle message that girls have to be a size 0 with a large chest and hips and guys have to be totally ripped. It's not okay.

Also, the idea of a female character being so infatuated with a guy that she immediately has fallen for that her proper judgment flies out the window and she finds herself needing him isn't okay either. Love as a drug that becomes an addiction is a bad, bad metaphor. Independence, ladies! You are strong, intelligent, and beautiful no matter what pant size you are and you do not need a man to shape who you are. Same idea goes for you there too, gents!

End rant. Last comment though: I haven't decided if I'm going to read The Spark and the Burn when it comes out this summer (though I doubt it but sometimes curiosity is a morbid thing) but if Violet falls for Neely - River's brother - in River's absence as hinted I might just have to throw my book out the window and I won't be sorry about it.

Top Ten Tuesday #3: Top Ten Books About Friendship

NOTE: Clearly I had a brain spasm and I hit save instead of publish after I wrote this on Tuesday. Therefore, I guess this is a Top Ten Thursday this week. Oops.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books About Friendship

1. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
2. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
3. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
(Image by Viria)
These first three barely need explanation. There's a lot of themes in all of these books but without the friendships that are at the heart of them, they wouldn't be the same: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Luna's ceiling. Sam and Frodo. Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn. Percy, Annabeth, Grover then all of the seven in the Heroes of Olympus.
4. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton - I have loved this book since I first read it when I was 10. Coming-of-age, friends, "Stay gold, Ponyboy" - all the ingredients for a perfect, timeless story of lasting friendship.  
5. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu - Even though Hazel and Jack's friendship doesn't end the way Hazel hoped, she was willing to go to the ends of the world to get him back.
6. Alanna the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce - All of Tamora Pierce's books are technically about friendship but I think Alanna: The First Adventure ranks highest in the friendship category. There's no stronger friendship than the one that develops between 'Alan', Jon, Gary, and Raoul.
7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - I'm currently reading this book and I'm only halfway through. Maybe I sort of just see a lot of my socially-awkward self in Cath but making friends is hard sometimes especially when you're thrust into a new place like college where you know no one. But so far, Cath has managed a pretty good friendship going with Reagan even though her friendship with Wren seems to be fading.
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - The ultimate book of friendship, finding freedom in friends, and being infinite.
9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein - The most classic of classic children's books on friendship.
10. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne - “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 
Did any of these books make your list? What are your favorite books on friendship?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars Review

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published:  January 14, 2013 (originally published January 2012)
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars (I rounded up on GR since you can't do half stars.)
Synopsis from Goodreads: Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

I want to start off by saying that this was my first experience reading a John Green novel and I did like this book. I really did. It was touching and emotional and tragic (though it did not make me cry). However, regardless of any of that, I have mixed feelings about it. I really wanted to LOVE this book and give it five stars. It seemed everyone else does and day in and day out at my job and all over the internet people are raving about how beautiful this book is. Still, after finishing it, I just thought it was okay. Not like Hazel and Augustus' "Okay? Okay." kind of way but just okay.

SPOILER!! : I borrowed this book from my cousin and before even starting it I asked her, "Augustus dies doesn't he? No, don't answer that but he does, doesn't he?" She didn't answer but lo and behold, I was right. All I knew before picking up the book was that it was told in Hazel's POV, Augustus was in remission and she was not, and they fall in love. Obviously one of them was going to die and it would be too obvious if it was Hazel and therefore, I predicted how the book would end even before starting it. It read a lot like a Nicholas Sparks novel where you know that by the end someone is going to die tragically you just don't know when. It was predictable and sad for the sake of being sad.

I feel as though John Green was trying to make this book be more than it was. What I mean by that is, it's as if he wanted to imbue life lessons and deep meaning through the book but the approach to achieving that didn't succeed as fully as was intended. By making Hazel and Augustus wise-beyond-their-years characters who spewed metaphors and poetry, they came off as pretentious and sometimes annoying rather than truly wise or remotely realistic. I would have rather had Augustus light the cigarette and just smoke it as a challenge somewhere along the lines of him having beaten death once so he could do it again rather than Augustus walking around pretending to smoke because it's a metaphor. I say this as a non-smoker who fully believes in the vices of smoking and who never has and never will purposefully inhale smoke into my lungs. I think any meaning that could be taken from this book could have been achieved without the pretty SAT vocabulary littered across every page and random allusions to poetry and literature (real or not) shoved in between. Without all the pomp and circumstance, Hazel and Augustus would have seemed more realistic as teenagers and their situation would have become more sincere and authentic.

Again, I want to say that I did like this book. The idea of looking for hope, goodness, love, and happiness in an otherwise hopeless situation and then choosing to live for the good over the bad is a wonderful sentiment and one worthy of a book. I understand that TFiOS is based on the life of Esther Earl though I did not read This Star Won't Go Out. John Green's writing is beautiful even if it is much too heavy on the metaphors. However, I stick by my opinion that the topic and moral of the book could have been conveyed more genuinely had the characters and writing been less pretentious.

I would recommend this to any young adult looking for a quick, sad book to read (because sometimes you just find yourself in the mood for a quick, sad read). However, I would not recommend this to anyone who has had personal experience with cancer or a child's death from cancer. I don't believe the moral is delivered strongly enough to be learned through the overpowering writing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #2: 10 Books I Almost Put Down But Didn't

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's meme is dedicated to those books that we've had mixed feelings over but for whatever reason powered through all the way to the end regardless. For the most part, my list is comprised of books that I finished but really had a hard time refraining from giving up on or setting aside indefinitely. Since I couldn't think of ten books just on that topic, the last part of my list is dedicated to the books I did put down for one reason or another. Nothing is numbered in any particular order though.
1. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare - I sincerely don't understand the hype surrounding this series. I finished City of Bones but really, it was a struggle. I thought the characters were all over the place, there were parts that just seemed unnecessary, and then the end just defied logic. I thought Jace had more sense than to just believe Valentine - a known enemy - on practically no grounds. I loved the Infernal Devices but I will not be continuing The Mortal Instruments.
2. Tithe by Holly Black - I was maybe twelve or thirteen when I read this book. I was really into faeries at the time so I thought it sounded pretty cool. About ten years later, I don't remember the full plot details but I remember apologizing to my mom because she bought this book for me and I thought it was a waste of $20.
3. Hawkes Harbor by S. E. Hinton - I read this book because it was a random pick out of my TBR jar of books that have been sitting on my shelves for years unread and unloved. It took me forever to get through this book but I felt like I had to for the sake of keeping my jar's purpose. I will always love S. E. Hinton for The Outsiders but I wish I could get the month back that it took me to get through Hawkes Harbor.
4. Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor - I'm counting these two books as one because they're sequels to a trilogy. The Looking Glass Wars was fantastic and imaginative but getting through the next two books was a very tedious task indeed.
5. American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Technically speaking, I did put this book down but I picked it up again a year later, started over, and finished it and I'm definitely glad that I did.
6. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien - Can you believe I almost put these books down?? I'm counting all three as one book because they were meant to be. I'll admit it takes some getting used to in order to get into Tolkien's language but it is well worth it. I haven't finished The Return of the King though so maybe this doesn't entirely count as a completed book. I have a reason for not finishing the last part though. My copy got rained on by accident.
7.  The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger - I had to read this book for summer reading my sophomore year in high school. I finished it somehow but I did not enjoy it at all. I thought Holden was annoying and I couldn't stand that he kept using 'phony' all the time. I understand the meaning behind the book but really, I just didn't like it. I had to read The Bell Jar that same year and I absolutely loved that though. (The correlation I'm making between the two is both have severely depressed main characters. I just don't like Holden.)
Now for a few books that I unfortunately did put down:
8. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin - I really just couldn't get into this book. It's such a short book and I almost made it but around the time I got to the last 50 pages or so, I put it down for a different book that was demanding to be read.
9. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke - I truly wanted to like this book. The idea behind it was amazing and I thought the characters were pretty interesting. My theory as to why I couldn't get through it is I think something was lost in translation. It was originally written in German and I think some of the magic of Funke's original writing was lost when it was translated to English. The end result: I found it very long winded for no reason and I just got tired of reading it. I kept a bookmark in it so maybe one day I'll finish the last hundred pages.
10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - I wholly intend on finishing this book one day. I started it twice and both times I didn't put it down for lack of interest. Classics just take longer for me to read because I tend to analyze them like the English lit major I am as I'm reading. I don't do that to the same extent when I'm reading YA or just regular non-classic novels.
Did you have problems with any of these books too? Are there any here that you think I should give  another shot? Let me know what you think!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tiger Lily Review

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Published:  July 3, 2012

Synopsis from Goodreads: Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart
My rating: 4/5
Before I get started with this review, I'd like to just take a moment to admire the cover. I don't know about other editions, but the US paperback is all black with a watercolor-esque tiger lily on it. It actually took me until I was halfway through the book to realize that the flower on the cover was actually an image of a girl in an orange dress. (In the cover picture above, more of her torso and legs are showing than on my copy.) It wasn't blatantly obvious until I flipped the book over while reading to hold my page for a minute. The girl's arm and knees can't be seen from the front cover itself, only when you open the book completely. Instead, the part of her torso that's partially shown looks like the center of the flower. After finishing the book, I thought the double image suited Tiger Lily herself - a girl who no one saw or loved as she truly was only as they wanted her to be. I wanted to see a flower on the cover because that's what a tiger lily is; only when I looked harder did I see the girl.

Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you've ever heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn't always win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.
- Chapter 1, page 3

This is the opening paragraph to the first chapter of Tiger Lily and it cannot be more perfect. It adequately sets the tone for a story that is beautiful but sad, full of love yet full of loneliness and fear. It's about circles, connections, choices, beginnings, and endings. Jodi Lynn Anderson's writing is gorgeous filled with descriptions carrying the proper amounts of beauty and melancholy. She was able to take a well-known and well-loved story and explore the dark recesses that make the Peter Pan the classic tale of adventure, innocence, fun, and tragedy.

The story is told through Tinker Bell's point of view. Anderson explains that faeries have ways of communicating with each other but to humans they are mute. However, a faerie is empathic and can sense the thoughts and emotions of the humans around her. By choosing Tinker Bell as the narrator of her story, Anderson is able to harness the omniscience of third person narration while keeping the intimacy of writing in first person. Although Tink remains close to our protagonists, Tiger Lily and Peter, for most of the story, she has the freedom to stray off to spy on the pirates when needed.

Tink chooses to remain with Tiger Lily rather then the other faeries. This is one of the many choices that the characters in this book make that separate them from their peers and the expectations placed upon them. Tiger Lily is the adoptive daughter of the Sky Eater tribe's shaman, Tik Tok. She is more like the boys than the girls in her tribe. She has a wild spirit and on top of that she is believed to be guarded by the crows. Because of this, the other tribes folk remain wary of her. When Tiger Lily eventually meets and falls in love with Peter - who along with the lost boys are feared by the Sky Eaters - she is separated even further because she must carry her love for him as a secret she knows will never be accepted and will force her to be alone.

Peter himself is a character of extreme loneliness. He is every bit of the careless, adventurous boy J.M. Barrie created but he is burdened by leading the lost boys and protecting them from the truths that he himself refuses to believe. He fears that they'll discover the true danger of the pirates and that he's not the leader they need him to be.  He is a boy who is broken and feels everything with his whole being but tries to lie about it to cover up the truths that can shatter his illusion. He craves a companion who he can depend on and feel safe with but who will not question the lies that he's wrapped himself up in.

What makes Tiger Lily even more poignant aside from the beautiful prose and heart wrenching characters is that, as readers who are familiar with the classic tale, from the beginning we know how it will end. We know that Tiger Lily and Peter cannot be together though throughout the book we hope that they'll overcome everything and find a way. It's not a story about happy endings though it is a story about endings themselves. It questions the idea of who is good or bad and what makes an ending a happy one. Is Phillip is a villain for preaching what he believed in? Is Hook evil for being angry at coming so close to achieving his life goal only to realize he failed? Can a person find a happy ending with a broken heart? Tiger Lily doesn't offer the answers to any of these questions but rather offers the hard truths that allow us to decide for ourselves.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Heroes of Olympus Series Review

The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, The Mark of Athena, & The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
Published: October 2010, October 2011, October 2012, and October 2013 (respectively)
Synopsis: (Super short overview) Set in action by the Prophecy of Seven, seven demigods: Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, Jason Grace, Piper McLean, Frank Zhang, Hazel Levesque, and Leo Valdez, of either Greek or Roman background must learn to work together to unite the demigods against Gaea and her forces.
My Rating: 5/5 stars
So this isn't really a book/series "review" per say. It's going to end up being more of my thoughts on the series as a whole (so far at least since Blood of Olympus isn't out yet). Let's get started shall we? Get ready because this is probably going to be a long one. But be warned: If you haven't finished all four books yet,
The Heroes of Olympus starts off right where the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series ended and it's all about the fulfillment of the new Great Prophecy from Rachel Elizabeth Dare at the end of The Last Olympian which is known to the Romans as the Prophecy of Seven. We get a lot of new characters and I think I can get the gist of all I have to say about the series out by talking about each one individually. So, up first: Jason.
Jason Grace, Thalia Grace's long lost brother. Jason is a son of Jupiter and therefore one of the strongest demigods out there. In The Lost Hero, he's the catalyst for the Prophecy of Seven. Hera steals his memory and dumps him onto a school bus where we meet Piper and Leo, two other demigods who are being watched over by the satyr Coach Hedge before bringing them to Camp Half-Blood. As I was reading through the books (putting my initial Percy withdrawals in The Lost Hero aside), I began to feel that of all the new characters we get in this series, Jason is the one I get a feel for the least. All the other new characters have such vibrant back stories whereas Jason is just known for being the son of Jupiter and a praetor of New Rome. We don't really get much more than that. I think Hazel said it best in The House of Hades when she said she "couldn't get a read on Jason Grace" (ch. 27, pg. 207). I think this is partially because Jason probably has the least point of view sections in all the books compared to any other character. In the first book, he didn't know who he was therefore we as readers didn't either. He wasn't in the second book but it wasn't the same for Percy even though he lost his memory too because we know him already from the first series. He literally did spend a lot of Mark of Athena knocked out and didn't get a lot of character development time even in Piper's sections. In House of Hades, I felt like his sections consisted of a lot of diplomacy and were the calm times of the book. When he hugged Percy in the ultimate bros' bear hug, I remember thinking 'Oh okay, so he does like Percy then.' I couldn't really figure it out before and the bear hug seemed so sudden and out of place for Jason's character. I will give him props though for not judging Nico after the Cupid incident and then for trying to be Nico's friend.
Piper McLean, a daughter of Aphrodite and a major movie star father. I'll be completely honest here. Of all the new main characters, Piper is my least favorite. Sometimes she seems like a replacement Annabeth when Annabeth isn't there but she definitely doesn't come close to Annabeth's smarts and general awesomeness. Her major demigod power is charmspeak which is cool but compared to the other characters' doesn't compare and is probably the least reliable power considering it works best for people who are already attracted to her and who are typically not gods. She does have her knife which is helpful for visions but she's always reluctant to use it. Then, there's the cornucopia. I love Rick Riordan's humor but, really?! One of her main weapons is a cornucopia that shoots food at enemies? Craziness! Aside from all that, it kind of bothers me that she claimed Jason at the end of  The Lost Hero. I get that Drew is horrible but it just rubbed me the wrong way that she claimed him like he was nobody's property but hers when all of her feelings for him were based off Mist induced memories. I don't hate Piper; she just not my favorite.
Leo Valdez, son of Hephaestus. Oh Leo, Leo, Leo... how did you manage to nudge your way into my heart so much? I love Leo almost as much as I love Percy. He has the most delightful personality and his narration sections are so very clearly his. I think of all the point of views that are in The Heroes of Olympus, Leo's stands out the most. He's funny, quick witted, can control fire, can fix just about anything (even if it might blow up later), and he can cook - what's not to love? He has such a distinct character voice even when it's not a section of his POV. I love the idea that he isn't good with 'organic organisms' like his father and therefore sleeps in the engine room of the Argo II. Rick Riordan just wrote him as such a vibrant character, it's hard not to love him. Leo also has an amazing backstory and I love that it's entwined with Hazel's. Hopefully, we'll find out if there's any deeper meaning to that. And Calypso! I really need Leo to find his way back to Calypso in The Blood of Olympus. It just has to happen. Period.
Hazel Levesque, daughter of Pluto, and Frank Zang, son of Mars. I like these two and I enjoy reading out their perspective. I really liked Hazel from the get go because she's kind of spunky and I like that. Plus, she's Nico's little sister and I love Nico. Like I said with Leo, I love her backstory and I love her character progression. She's not prone to bits of crying or self-pity like Piper is sometimes. Instead, she's take action kind of girl. Also, she's pretty cool with the Mist manipulation. I'll admit I had to warm up to Frank. In The Son of Neptune, I got a little worried because it seemed like he was on his way to becoming more important than Percy what with all his special powers and being descended from Poseidon as well as being a son of Mars. No one is allowed to take Percy's place of pure awesome. However, I do like Frank. He's not your average macho, guy's guy kind of hero but he's a hero and a leader in his own way and in his own right. And a big cuddly teddy bear which makes him most certainly likeable.
Now onto our beloved characters from the Olympian series. Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena. Aw, she was so upset in The Lost Hero when she couldn't find Percy. I was kind of sad that she didn't go with Jason and the gang but, you know, of course searching for Percy was more important. (Duh!) However, I love that she kissed him then proceeded to judo-flip him upon reuniting again. That interaction just summed up their relationship entirely. It was perfect. It was sad that she lost her knife in Tartarus. The knife was her last tie to Luke and her past before she arrived at Camp Half-Blood. Being her main weapon, even thought it was not a wise choice of weapon, it was extremely important to her. I'm glad that it was Damasen who gave her a new weapon though because in the same way her knife always symbolized her time with Luke and Thalia, her new sword will be a new symbol of Bob and Damasen and their sacrifice. After reading these books and getting to read through Annabeth's POV, Annabeth is now right up there in my favorite female character list along with Hermione Granger. Don't mess with either of them - in debates or battles. She followed the Mark of Athena and defeated Arachne with a broken ankle for goodness sakes! Annabeth is great and I love her even more after reading this series. 

Nico di Angelo, son of Hades. I have to say, Nico's character arch from when he was introduced in The Titan's Curse all the way up to The House of Hades has been my favorite to follow. He was introduced at first just as Bianca geeky, semi-annoying little brother who was obsessed with Mythomagic cards. (Side note: Mythomagic seems like a pretty awesome game by the way even though I've never really been into card games like that. I also love that he and Frank had a little geek out.) Since then, however, we really got to see Nico grow up through the books. Sure we've been able to see Percy and Annabeth grow up as well but with Nico, the way his character has progressed is really prominent. My feelings about Nico have always been jumbled, like Percy's, because there are certain points in the books where I'm never actually sure if he's a trustworthy character or if he really means well for the group. But, that's all just a reflection of the way his character is growing because even though Nico tries to hide his feelings and shut them away from everyone he is most definitely the most emotionally charged character of all. It's obvious in the way he tried to get in contact with Bianca, how he interacts with Hazel, how his powers effect the things and people around him, etc.
Now, about that Cupid confession - I definitely did not see that coming. Nowhere in any of the books did I get hints that Nico had feelings for Percy other than as a friend. However, I can sort of see it now and I can definitely see how that's been a big part of Nico's development. I'd also like to give a shout out to Rick Riordan for not being afraid of any backlash that could have happened by revealing a major character's homosexuality in such a widely popular middle-grade book series. The question of sexuality is something that real teenagers have to face at some point in their lives and I applaud Rick for depicting it in a manner that's true to the books but also real. I hope as Nico's character develops more in the last book - especially since we're supposed to be getting POV chapters from him - he will be able to inspire teens who may be going through similar feelings to not be afraid to show who they really are. Jason didn't judge Nico and I know none of the other seven would either. Real friends and people who truly care about another person wouldn't do that. I do hope Percy finds out so he can understand Nico's reasoning for being distant. Nico's still our little Nico no matter what.
Last but certainly not least, Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon. After spending the last two months reading all the Percy books (with the exception of The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters which were a part of my January TBR), I have not been able to get Percy out of my head. Seriously, he's impeding my efforts of reading a new non-Percy book and putting me into a reading slump. But he's Percy with his cute baby seal eyes so he's forgiven.

           "He slaughtered my panda." - Percy, The Son of Neptune, pg. 66

My first thought upon opening The Son of Neptune (and probably everybody's first thought as well): "Yay!!! Percy's back!!" It just wasn't the same without him. However, The Son of Neptune felt a little strange at first. Percy's character felt a different than he did in the Olympians series. I couldn't figure out if it was because it was written in third person instead of first or because Percy had technically lost his memory. I think it is because of the switch to third person but, in any case, it took me a while to get used to the new Percy. He's still the same loveable, goofball he had always been I guess I just got used to reading his inner monologue. The change is different but it did not at all effect how much I enjoyed the books. Percy is, obviously, the most developed character of the series as a whole and he goes through a few interesting new changes in this series. I thought it was particularly interesting that he developed a fear of drowning. Being the son of Poseidon and being able to breathe underwater makes it contradicting, but it shows that for all his awesome powers (and I'd bet on Percy over Jason any day), he's still human. He no longer has Achilles's blessing to keep him from dying and he turned down the gods' gift of immortality so he's vulnerable like anyone else. I definitely think this fear of drowning will come into play again the last book since it's been brought up a few times: once when he was forced to face it in the well with Piper and Jason and it was referenced in the Cocytus with Annabeth as a cosmic joke from Gaia (HOH, pg. 38). Foreshadowing, maybe? Not sure, but it would be interesting. Percy's major character development happen in Tartarus. I think that the way he scared Annabeth by controlling the poison to kill Ahklys will come back again and maybe it will also tie in to the idea that it's dangerous not to give people a second thought. The idea of not giving people a second thought seems important for all of the seven as their actions will always have consequences but it seems more important for Percy in particular. Maybe it will have something to do with the choice Frank was told Percy would have to make that challenges his fatal flaw of extreme loyalty to his loved ones.
Aside from the major seven - eight, including Nico - The Heroes of Olympus has fantastic minor characters. I love Reyna. Even though she's conflicted over Jason, she's still a kickass female character. Poor Scipio, though! I love that Tyson and Ella are together; they're adorable. Octavian is horribly annoying and I love to hate him. And Bob and Damasen... I really hope that somehow they survived and we'll see them again. I highly doubt it but I really hope so.
I would and have been recommending these books to practically anyone who like mythology, fantasy, adventure, humor - basically anyone who reads, period. I think they're a great read for any child about age ten and up, particularly reluctant readers because of the books' faced paced action feel. I would also recommend this to teachers who are looking for books with a diverse cast of characters. It's a common question I get asked working in the children's department of a bookstore. It's not very often that characters' nationality or race plays such an important role in the their development and it's even less often that the nationalities and races represented are done so equally and non-stereotypically in a series. Again, I applaud Rick Riordan this time for creating such rounded and diverse characters. He is fantastic in every way.
And now, I can officially joining the mass of fans waiting for The Blood of Olympus which comes out October 7, 2014. Just remember, while we wait to tell the stars:
All pictures and graphics in this post (with the exception of the Heroes of Olympus book covers picture which I found through a Google image search) are created and owned by Viria. I take no credit for them.
Check her out. Her fan art is amazing.
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