Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

I figured I'd talk about a book with lighter theme and plot this time around: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

As a high school teacher, I always read young adult literature books so I know what I can recommend to my students, or use as bait on the reluctant readers. Someone told me about this series in a class last semester, and since I am a big fan of Greek mythology, I decided to give it a try and bought the first installment.

The bases of the plot goes as follows: Percy is a clumsy 12 year old with dislexia and ADD who seems to always get into a heap of trouble at his schools, which usually ends with his expulsion. He has gone through so many schools that now his mother has resorted to boarding schools, despite her poverty. His dad left them when he was just a baby and he hates his stepdad, who treats his mom as if she were his maid.

At school, everyone hates him, except Grover, who is just as hated as he is. At the end of 6th grade, after being expelled one more time, things start to get very weird as monsters start to show up and try to kill them. That's when he finds out that Grover is actually a satyr who has come to protect him and that he must go to Camp Half-Blood.

There he finds out that the Greek gods are not only real, but still very much alive and powerful and that they still come down to Earth as humans and have demigod children. Percy is one of them. In fact, Percy is the son of Poseidon, one of the big 3, and a rarety.

Coincidentally, a lot of trouble starts to rise and it is up to Percy and his friends to try to fix it all and save humanity.

Riordan uses first person narrative in a brilliant way, making Percy a very believable character, even though we know (or think we know) that the ancient greek gods were nothing but myths and that demigods cannot exist. He sounds like a 12 year old should, with all the anger and the sarcasm that age comes.

Usually sequels do not live up to the original book, but the second installment is just as good as the first one. I feel like I'm reading Harry Potter all over again. These books make me not want to go to sleep, because I want to know what is coming up next. I even dream about the story when I do have to stop and go to sleep.

Unlike JK Rowling, Riordan uses characters that are very well-known, but puts them in a brand new twist: our own time, fighting teenagers, and being the owners of donut or garden statue shops, fighting off to stay alive just as humans are. This is exactly what makes the books as fenomenal as they are: Riordan's ability to bring forth into a new light stories that are so familiar and old as the greek myths. Stories most people know, but have forgotten. And also, this is a good reason why kids and teenagers (well, adults too) like them so much--it brings them back to when they were first learning about Greek myths and dreaming about being a hero, or a god.

Riordan also gives very human traits to the gods, flaws and all, just like they were described back then, but most people have seemed to forget about that. It makes the story even more believable. Out of all the gods introduced in the books I have read, Dyonisus is my favorite. He really seems to be just like the real one would be.

I have a couple of other books in my "to read" list, but as soon as those are read, I will definitely purchase the third installment to this series. I truly believe this is the best series after Harry Potter and a must read for anyone who wishes to escape boredom and embark in an adventure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Welcome back to myself! I do apologize I spent such a long time away from here, but my life went topsy turvy for a while and I finally just got it back on track, though it seems that another loop or down is coming on this rollercoaster.

Back in July I talked about Dan Brown's four books: Deception Point, Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Today, I would like to talk about his last installment: The Lost Symbol.

I bought it as an unabridged audiobook because I do a lot of driving, and this helps me pass the time to and from work. I found myself taking the long way home and driving slower than I usually would just to buy time and finish listening to a crucial chapter.

This book is set in Washington, D.C. rather than in Europe as was the case with the two first Robert Langdon books, and I liked the change. I have never been to the country's capital, and I wanted to go very badly after I finished listening to it. I want to go to all those places Brown describes with a very precise accuracy which I infer from the accuracy he presented on Angels and Demons--the only one I can testify because I have been to Rome and could navigate through the streets he described and knew exactly where the characters were going. Now, I want to see the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building, etc.

As always, Robert Langdon is lovable and involved in a lot of trouble. All other characters are quite well developed, as if they could actually be real people. The villain is quite evil--probably my favorite villain of his so far. The final product, or better yet, the stuff Robert Langdon must risk his life to save, disappointed me a little, but such is life. Besides that, what really captured me in this book was the sickness of the villain's mind. He made Silas from the The Da Vinci Code seem like quite a nice guy. He is brutal, scrupulous, bent on revenge, thirsty for blood, completely demented and does not have a single drop of scrupulousity: the perfect recipe for a great villain. He is by far my favorite character, as much as I loathe him.

All in all, as long as Brown took to release this novel (around four years), I was expecting the next great American novel, and did not get it. I was somewhat disappointed, but not entirely. There is only so much you can make one character go through following the same basic plotline before it gets old. I think it is time to retire Landgon and go back to writing about more technological stuff. However, this book did capture my attention, and would have made me lose some nights of sleep had I acquired it in paper.

I highly recommend it for people who are die hard Dan Brown fans and for people who have never read any of his works before. If you have read some of his work and not fallen in love with it, you won't like it. Also, I recommend it for people who are taking long flights. You will not get bored with this book.