Archive for the ‘Sci-fi/Fantasy’ Category


by Rick Riordan

Author’s Website: http://www.rickriordan.com/


Some stories are powerful, and others are beautiful and haunting. Still others delight you with their wordplay or their humor, or their daring subject matter. The best part of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, however, is the snarky voice of the twelve-year old narrator and the whizzing plot that leaves you breathless and dying to read another chapter. I read this book aloud to my little sister, and both of us had the hardest time finding a good stopping place because the story is just So. Darn. Exciting. If you happen to be looking for a book to get a reluctant reader interested in YA literature, a good read-aloud book, or a “can’t-put-it-down” reading experience for yourself—check it out!


Percy Jackson is a “problem child”, and has a history of being kicked out of boarding schools simply because strange, inexplicable things keep happening around him. But even with a history like his, Percy thinks he might finally be going crazy when his math teacher turns into a monster and tries to kill him on a school field-trip. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to the situation than Percy could ever have believed possible; for one thing, the gods of Greek mythology are alive and well and living 600 stories above Manhattan. For another thing, Percy may be the half-mortal son of one of them. Worst of all, Zeus’s most powerful weapon—the Master Bolt—has been stolen, and Percy is the suspected culprit. Now he and his friends have just over a week to prove Percy’s innocence and find the real thief before the gods move from squabbling to all-out war. 

Heros in literature have to have a weakness: Indiana Jones hates snakes, Superman weakens in the presence of kryptonite, etc. Like the best of all heros, Percy Jackson is saddled with a number of disadvantages right from the get-go: he has an awful stepfather who makes his home-life miserable; he struggles with ADHD and dyslexia; he is unmotivated in school and has almost no friends, making the story all that more enjoyable because we get to watch Percy overcome his handicaps and succeed anyways. One quick recommendation, though: a film version of The Lightning Thief is due to be released sometime early next year, and as a firm believer in the aphorism that “The book is always better than the movie,” I strongly suggest that you read this book sooner rather than later. There are a number of things about the trailer that I find disappointing (they changed the age of the characters to about 16, for one thing!), and while it might still end up being an entertaining film, I still think everyone ought to read the book first.

Kids as young as 10 years old could easily read and enjoy this book, but generally, I’d set the age range somewhere between 11 and 15. And as always, I would heartily encourage anyone to read this book to older/adult readers. It’s a rip-roaring story, and who doesn’t enjoy one of those?

Apologies for the delay on this one—I got a bit swamped with other work, but I’ll do my best to catch up and add some more reviews! Until next time…

Best wishes,



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Banned Books Week review of:


by Philip Pullman

Author’s Website: http://www.philip-pullman.com/


This is one of my favorite books. Ever. I’m just putting that out there before I do this review, because I don’t want anyone to get ridiculously high expectations about this book (only to be disappointed later). But I hope you’re not disappointed, because I think this is a truly spectacular piece of literature…

My first experience with this book was when I received it as a Christmas present from my aunt and uncle—I was twelve at the time. I had never heard of it, and was consequently a bit dubious about reading it. But several days after Christmas, when all of my other gifts had lost their novelty, I was bored. I wandered into my room and, seeing The Golden Compass lying on the floor just inside the door, sat down right then and there on the floor (in the doorway to my bedroom) and began to read. I wish I could say that I remembered more about that initial reading experience, but instead, I only seem to remember what I did after the first chapter—I walked into the dining room to eat dinner and gushed to my parents about this fascinating story of a girl who was sneaking around where she wasn’t supposed to with this shape-shifter called a “daymeon” (it’s “daemon”, and is pronounced like “demon”, but I didn’t know that at the time). It was completely and utterly unlike what I had expected, which turned out to basically be my experience of the entire book—it was never what I expected it to be, and every time I thought I had it pinned down, it took some twist or turn that made me completely reconsider what the story was actually about. I was hooked. 


Eleven-year old Lyra Belacqua may be of noble birth and a resident of the prestigious Jordan College, but she is far happier running wild in the streets in the company of her daemon, Pantalaimon, tormenting scholars and waging war with the children of Oxford. But Lyra’s carefree life changes forever when she witnesses an assassination attempt against her uncle, the intimidating Lord Asriel, and in the process, overhears a discussion of something called “Dust”. Before they know it, Lyra and Pan are embroiled in an adventure beyond their wildest dreams, involving stolen children, benevolent witches, armored bears, and a rescue mission to the far north, all with the help of the Oxford gyptians and an alethiometer (a golden compass whose hands point not to north, but to truth itself). But the reality of what they face is far bigger than Lyra and Pan’s understanding of it, and the consequences far more devastating than they could ever imagine…

The Golden Compass has made the list of the top-ten most banned books in the US for several years now, due to its so-called “anti-religious” message, but it remains immensely popular nevertheless. While Philip Pullman has certainly declared himself an atheist and publicly stated his dislike of organized religion, those who criticize the books on these grounds obviously haven’t read them, or else read them looking for “anti-religious” stuff to point out. A quote from Pullman himself on the subject: 

“I think what I would say to the people who criticise me for besmirching their religion and telling children that they should all go out and be Satanists is simply this: what qualities in human beings does the story celebrate and what qualities does it condemn? And an honest reading of the story would have to admit that the qualities that the story celebrates and praises are love, kindness, tolerance, courage, open-heartedness; and the qualities that the story condemns are cruelty, intolerance, zealotry, fanaticism. Well, who could quarrel with that?”

Yes, the Church in Pullman’s world is definitely a negative force, but a lot of people are missing the point that this is fiction. Does Philip Pullman actually believe that the modern Catholic Church is committing the kind of atrocities we read about in Lyra’s world? No, of course not. If you remain unconvinced, go here to read a very thoughtful review of the book (and the rest of the trilogy). There are some other specific religious “sticky points” mentioned by the book’s opponents, but I don’t really want to talk about them because a) they give away critical plot elements, and b) they take place later in the trilogy.

For my part, I completely, passionately, and unreservedly recommend this book. Pullman’s writing is graceful, but still occasionally surprising, and there are passages of text in this book that—as a writer—I find simply beautiful. Better yet, the plot and characters are fresh and gripping, and the settings, while fantastic, never lose the nitty-gritty realism that Pullman employs to keep us grounded. In spite of the protagonist’s age, this book is more than sophisticated enough to entertain a serious adult readership (and in fact, adults may even get more out of it than younger readers). Although there is some violence, none of it is particularly graphic, and language and sexual matters don’t really feature prominently. Generally, I would recommend this book for ages 10 and up. The trilogy as a whole is called, His Dark Materials (a quote from John Milton), and the other two books are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Pullman has also written two companion books to the series: Once Upon a Time in the North, and Lyra’s Oxford. The former fills in some backstory from the trilogy, and the latter is a bridge between the trilogy and the book he is currently working on, The Book of Dust.

Oh, and one final note: the audiobook versions of these books are WITHOUT DOUBT the best audiobooks I have ever heard. No joke. A full cast recording brings the characters to life, and Philip Pullman is a fabulous narrator—I can’t recommend it enough.

Last day of Banned Books week! I’ll have to get at least one more review in before it’s over…happy reading!

Best wishes,



“Did you ever hear anyone say, ‘That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?'”

-Joseph Henry Jackson

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Banned Books Week review of:


by Lois Lowry

Author’s Website: http://www.loislowry.com/books.html


Winning the Newbery Award is like the YA Fiction equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize, so books that do win have to be deserving of the attention they receive. One overwhelmingly worthy book of this description is The Giver, by Lois Lowry. When I recommend this book to people in passing, I sometimes jokingly refer to it as “dystopian literature for kids”, but if I’m being honest with myself, such an epithet truly does not do it justice. Yes, it does bear some resemblance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—but it really is a fabulous book in its own right. I’ll use the following anecdote to illustrate my point: my freshman-year roommate was a girl with whom I had almost nothing in common—she watched TV shows religiously and hated reading in general; I lived on books and was admittedly pop-culture illiterate. We were certainly an odd couple, but we ended up the best of friends by the end of the year. Our only real crossover as far as books went was The Giver, and one day when we were talking about it, she admitted that she had actually read it not once, but twice (remember, this is the girl who would probably be glad if she never had to pick up another book in her life). I’ve used this story many times to encourage people to read The Giver, and the feedback I get from these recommendations is overwhelmingly positive. I think sometimes people believe that a children’s book cannot possibly be described as “beautiful” (a word that seems reserved for classic literature and mainstream fiction in the public psyche), but I would venture to say that it is just the word to describe this novel.


Jonas lives in a perfect world—a utopia in which pain and fear and illness have been banished and where difficult decisions are a thing of the past. Children are assigned at the age of 12 to a role in the community, and Jonas is given the position of “Receiver of Memory.” It is his job to receive the memories of the elderly “Giver”, who is the only member of the community who knows what the world was like before it was perfected; it is this knowledge that will change Jonas’s life—and the way he feels about it—forever.

My twelve-year old sister was recently required to read a Newbery Award-winning book for a school assignment, and asked me for a suggestion. The Giver was at the top of my list, but since another kid in her class was already reading it, she decided she would read something else. However, a couple days later, she came home with The Giver in hand and told me that the boy who had been reading it had picked another book and lent her his copy. She began to read and was absolutely riveted, declining to go out to dinner with the rest of the family in order to stay home and finish it, and afterwards declared it to be “really sad, but really, really good”. I concur. Of course, I don’t want to build up anyone’s expectations into thinking that this is the Holy Grail of YA literature—the book certainly has had its detractors and has been banned countless times for reasons that I would explain, but they would give away some critical plot points (but if you’re really curious, read this USA Today article). Nevertheless, it is well-worth reading.

More banned book reviews to come—for now, happy reading!

Best wishes,



“Oh Harry, don’t you see? If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”

-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

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