Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan
First sentence: “When our dragon declared war on Indiana, I knew it was going to be a bad day.”
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Others in the series: The Hidden Oracle
Content: There’s some dark undercurrents (but those will probably go over the heads of younger readers) and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

So, Apollo is off on a quest, this time to figure out what Big Bad (really: he’s the worst) Nero is up to, and to get to it and stop it before Nero gets too much power. Tagging along with Leo and Calypso, they head to Indianapolis, where they find a huge mess involving yet another evil Roman Emperor to stop, battle ostriches, and a kidnapped oracle. Not bad, all things considered, and yet Apollo manages to make things worse.

This one definitely has the feeling of a middle book (maybe because it is…). It’s not a bad book; Riordan knows how to pace an action-packed novel, and there’s enough pop culture references to nod and wink at the reader without it being overbearing. They sassy haiku are back (my favorite: Yeah we got the skills/Fake hexes and shooting feet/Teach you ’bout pancakes), which is always fun. Apollo is much less unlikable in this one (he has his moments, but they’re getting fewer) and Riordan seamlessly weaves in ancient myths and stories. It’s much like all the others: good, fun, enjoyable, but nothing that sticks with you for long.

Still, worth reading.

Reread: The Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “I don’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a few minor swear words, and some violence. This is in the the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ve been telling people at the store that I can’t remember much of what this book is about, but that the main character has stayed with me for 10 years.  And, in rereading this (it’s been nearly 10 years), I remembered some of what happened (at least, so that the ending wasn’t a surprise this time), but it was still so delightful falling into this world again.

Turner is a fantastic world builder, and a superb storyteller. The characters are magnificent, and I loved seeing all the clues she left along the way to the end.

It really is a magnificent book.

 

Traitor to the Throne

traitortothethroneby Alwyn Hamilton
First sentence: “Once, in the desert kingdom of Miraji, there was a young prince who wanted his father’s throne.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Rebel of the Sands
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some almost off screen sexytimes and a lot of violence. It’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been a bit since Amani has joined the Rebel Prince to try and claim the throne from his father, the Sultan. Things aren’t going so great for them; they’ve had several setbacks and it’s starting to seem hopeless. Then Amani is kidnapped by her aunt and sold to the Sultan. Suddenly, it looks like things might be turning around for the rebellion.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems: the Sultan is crafty and conniving, and Amani finds herself more than under his control; she’s stuck in the haram trying to find a way out. And all she can hope is that she comes out on the winning side.

It took me a bit to get back into the world, to remember what I really liked about Rebel of the Sands, but once I got going, I found I couldn’t put this one down.  I loved Amani’s fierce style, her problem-solving, and the way she was able to make plans, even under the direst of circumstances. There wasn’t as much of her and Jin, and he was more in the background of this book, but I did enjoy the moments when he did show up.

Mostly what this book was about was the politics of leadership: what makes a good ruler, how firm or fierce one should be, and the reasons subjects do or don’t follow one. I found that part fascinating.

I am definitely committed to the story line, and curious about where Amani and her rebel friends will go next.

The Hammer of Thor

hammerofthorby Rick Riordan
First Sentence: “Lesson learned: If you take a Valkyrie out for coffee, you’ll get stuck with the check and a dead body.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Sword of Summer
Content: There’s some violence, a bit of romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but heaven forbid you stop a Riordan fan from reading these.

It’s been a few months since we last saw Magnus, and he’s been managing okay out in Valhalla. But, Loki’s up to his old tricks again, and Thor’s hammer is still missing, and Magnus and his friends are needed to stop him. The problem: Loki has promised the giant Thrym that Sam the Valkyrie (who’s Muslim and engaged already) will marry him. In just over a week. Of course this can’t happen, except for one thing: Thrym happens to have Thor’s hammer. The trick: getting Thrym to give up the hammer, while not releasing Loki from his imprisonment AND having Sam not get married. But, of course Magnus and all his friends — including Alex, a gender fluid character — are up to the challenge. Mostly.

It took me a while to get around to reading this one, mostly because it’s just more of the same. Not that that’s bad; I love being in Riordan’s world when I’m there. But, I’m not as enthralled by Magnus’s part in the larger mythos as I hoped I’d be (I’m more interested in Apollo right now). Not that the story’s bad; it’s not. And Riordan’s fun and funny and maybe a bit too hip and contemporary, but I know (because A’s a huge fan) that the kids eat it up. It’s a good addition to the wider mythos that Riordan’s created, and I do appreciate that he’s definitely trying to be inclusive with his characters these days.

It’s just not my favorite.

When the Sea Turned to Silver

whentheseaby Grace Lin
First sentence: “When the sea turned to silver and the cold froze the light of the sun, Pinmei knew the Black Tortoise of Winter had arrived with his usual calmness.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky
Content: It’s a slow book, with only a little action, so it’s probably not for those readers who like a fast-paced page-turner. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I feel I’ve run out of things to say about this sweet series based on Chinese mythology. It’s very much like the other two: an adventure of a main story, interspersed with old legends which blurs the line between “myth” and “reality” It has an element of the fantastical, with gods and magic, but it’s not overbearing, rather fitting seamlessly into the story of a granddaughter searching for her grandmother.

So, really, there isn’t anything more to say except if you haven’t experienced the delight that Lin’s tales are, you are really  missing out.

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

hiddenoracleby Rick Riordan
First sentence: “My name is Apollo.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Well, it’s the first one, but it helps if you’ve read Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series first.
Content: There’s no swearing, and only some violence. Riordan hints at an abusive relationship, but there’s nothing graphic. I’d give it to a 10-year-old who loves the Percy world. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) with the Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase because it feels right there.

I think the best way to review this is to go over the arc that A — who read it before I did — expressed.

  1. Apollo is awful, I hate this book. She’s right: Apollo is awful. But: character growth. I was glad to see Apollo change from a first-class ass to a halfway decent human being by the end. That said, there were some nice touches, even if they were annoying: the “Me Cabin” and his daily affirmation (“You are beautiful, and everyone loves you.”) both made me smile.
  2. Meg is fantastic.  A new character, a daughter of Demeter, and also the person Apollo is (accidentally) pledged to serve, she’s a great character. More Meg please.
  3. Will and Nico are adorable. All the fangirl feels. Yes please.
  4. Haiku! This one’s mine. I loved the (bad) haiku at every chapter. A’s favorite:
    Practice makes perfect
    Ha, ha, ha, I don’t think so
    Ignore my sobbing
  5. As for plot, etc? It wasn’t bad. Riordan wrapped up some loose ends that I never really considered loose ends, but it’s nice to know. He did break a couple of rules (too spoilery to tell, but left me kind of meh) that he’d set up, but other than that, it was a basic hero-quest, and I liked that it took place entirely at Camp Half Blood (over a short period of time). I liked the Big Bad he’s created (no more Huge Gods being Scary); he kept this one small and simple.

Was it the best book I’ve ever read? No. But it was lots of fun. Which is all I really wanted.

Rebel of the Sands

rebelofthesandsby Alwyn Hamilton
First sentence: “They said the only folks who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 8, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some pretty disturbing violence near the end of the book. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

The store’s Penguin children’s rep (whom I adore, and not just because she’s got an Irish accent) told me when she handed me the ARC of this book that it was Totally Brilliant and that I was going to Totally Love It. (Just imagine that in an Irish accent. She’s great.) I said okay, I’ll read it. And then it got stuck on the back burner. Things crept up, and then A stole it from me and plowed through it. And she said that it was really really good and I should totally read it. And still it was on the back burner.

(This is less a review a more of a “why didn’t I read this SOONER” post. Sorry.)

But then a day came when I was shuffling through my shelves and piles looking for something Really Good, and this finally Called to me.

And as I plowed through the first two chapters — in which our heroine, Amani Al’Hiza finds herself in a shooting contest in order to get out of her dead-end desert town and away from her lecherous uncle and demanding aunt — and was hooked. Seriously. I was reminded of Harry from The Blue Sword and of Katsa from Graceling and I was in love. I plowed through this book like I didn’t have to work or do dishes or manage four kids in the house.  (Some people are calling it East Meets West — it’s set in a Middle Eastern-like country, with djinn but there’s guns — but I disagree. Sure, it’s pulling on all influences, but I really didn’t get the whole “Western” vibe. It’s a fantasy with guns instead of swords. I can go with that.) I loved the characters (yeah, so I called the love interest from the first chapter, but I did love the twists that came), I loved the complexity of the mythology Hamilton created, I loved that she didn’t give me a clean ending. (I didn’t love that it’s probably not a stand-alone, but at least it came to a conclusion.) It definitely hit all the right buttons for me.

Which leads me to say, don’t do what I did and put this one off. It really is THAT good.