Archive for June, 2010

Review of The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

The Red Pyramid

The Kane Chronicles

by Rick Riordan

Disney Hyperion Books, New York, 2010. 516 pages.

Here is Rick Riordan’s eagerly awaited start to a new series, this one based on the gods of ancient Egypt rather than the gods of ancient Greece. I’m going to happily encourage the fans of the Percy Jackson series to snap this one up, as it’s very like that first series — kids with superhuman powers, finding out the ancient myths are true, the world in danger of destruction, and action-packed adventure and narrow escapes.

The chapters in the book switch between the narration of a brother and sister, Carter and Sadie Kane. They hardly know one another, because since their mother’s death, Sadie has lived with their grandparents in London, and Carter has roamed around the world, homeschooled by their archaeologist father. Sadie gets visitation with her father two days a year, and the book opens as one of those days begins.

Carter starts out the book. He says, “I guess it started in London, the night our dad blew up the British Museum.”

The beginning of the book reminded me annoyingly of the first book, written by Rick Riordan, of The 39 Clues. We’ve got a brother and sister who learn they are part of a family with ancient power. They go all over the world, chased by enemies, looking for things to help them. Come on, I heard it before.

However, The Red Pyramid does grow more compelling and more fully fleshed out as it goes on. The power of the Kanes comes from their uniting two ancient bloodlines tracing back to the Pharaohs. Their father’s attempt at the start of the book to “make things right” ends up unleashing five Egyptian gods and encasing their father in a golden tomb with the spirit of Osiris.

Their uncle Amos takes them in, to a powerful and magical mansion in New York City. But all too soon, Egyptian monsters come after them and burn down the mansion. The two start having strange spirit journeys in the night and discover strange new powers.

They go to Egypt and meet magicians from the House of Life. They learn that their father broke ancient rules of the House of Life by releasing the gods. They learn that the god Set is building a giant pyramid under Camelback Mountain in Phoenix and wants to unleash chaos onto the world. But in their attempt to learn to use their new powers and find a way to stop him, the House of Life stands opposed to them.

It’s all well-written, with narrow escape after narrow escape. Sadie has an attitude that if you tell her to do something, she’ll do the opposite — which ends up serving her well. I like the chapter titles — Things like “I Face the Killer Turkey,” “Muffin Plays with Knives,” “Leroy Meets the Locker of Doom,” and “Our Family is Vaporized.” Rick Riordan manages to keep the tone of modern kids and a bickering brother and sister, who learn to work together and deal with their amazing new powers and responsibility for the fate of the world.

You get to feeling for the Kane kids, too. It turns out that their mother’s death had something to do with Egyptian magic, too. And now their father is captured by Set. People around them keep getting harmed. Will they be able to cope?

After reading this book, my reaction is only slightly different from my reaction after reading the first of The 39 Clues: not so much, “I love this book!” as, “I bet kids will love this book!”

I also understand why that little girl in the library yesterday asked for books about hieroglyphics! I have a feeling those books, and any others we have about ancient Egypt, are suddenly going to get checked out much more often!

I do like the way Rick Riordan calms the worries of parents who might not like their children reading about false gods. Toward the beginning, Carter and Sadie have a scene with their uncle:

“‘You’re telling me our parents secretly worshipped animal-headed gods?’ I asked.

“‘Not worshipped,’ Amos corrected. ‘By the end of the ancient times, Egyptians had learned that their gods were not to be worshipped. They are powerful beings, primeval forces, but they are not divine in the sense one might think of God. They are created entities, like mortals, only much more powerful. We can respect them, fear them, use their power, or even fight them to keep them under control –‘

“‘Fight gods?’ Sadie interrupted.

“‘Constantly,’ Amos assured her. ‘But we don’t worship them. Thoth taught us that.'”

The book was too long for me — made it that much harder to sustain my interest. But by the end, I was thoroughly engaged, and I did finish up the book completely satisfied at having spent the time with it. I’m sure its length will please the kids who are fans. More time to spend in the adventure!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/red_pyramid.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

2010 48-Hour Book Challenge

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray! It’s time for Mother Reader‘s annual 48-Hour Book Challenge! The time when the guilt is totally reversed — You get to feel guilty if you’re NOT reading! 🙂 Woo-hoo!

This has been a crazy and insane week. I’ll blog about that later. Let’s simply say that I am totally ready to forget about all that and READ. I also have a stack of 10 books I’d like to review, so I will want to review the books I get read as well as clear the backlog.

I am not so dedicated that I won’t take some time off to sleep. And I confess I’m not planning to set my alarm on Saturday. And I will go to church on Sunday and I hope also to the local Kidlit Book Club. I will listen to an audiobook in the car on the way!

For the first book, I am halfway through Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, so I will see if I can stay awake long enough to finish that tonight. Mother Reader does request that we read books intended for fifth grade and up, but I confess that this year I’ve been eyeing some of the shorter books. And a lot of my backlog of books to review are picture books. She didn’t put any restriction on what you blog about, so I think it will be okay to get some of those reviews written.

Last year, I completed a total of 23 hours and 30 minutes. But a lot of that time was spent upgrading my blog because it had quit working about a week before. Last year, I finished 5 books and reviewed 5 books and read parts of 6 books, for a total of 1120 pages. I’m hoping I can top all those totals this year. We’ll see!

Anyway, enough rambling on! Woo-hoo! I NEED to read!

Review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press, 2009. 373 pages.
2007 Debut Dagger Award
2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel
Starred Review

This wonderfully clever and intriguing mystery published for adults stars an 11-year-old sleuth, Flavia DeLuce. It makes me wonder why the book was not published for children or teens. Though I am sure of this: Parents would not want their children emulating Flavia! Although this qualifies as a “cozy” mystery, which made it eligible for the Agatha Award it won, it is not watered-down or tame, and there’s nothing to keep adults from liking it.

Flavia is one of those brilliant children with a special passion for one subject. Her interest is in chemistry, with a particular focus on poisons. Flavia and her two older sisters have a turbulent relationship — the book begins with Flavia escaping from being tied up in a closet, and we learn that it was her sisters who put her there. Her reprisal is quite brilliant, but not very nice.

The mystery begins when a dead bird appears on their doorstep at Buckshaw with a postage stamp impaled on its beak. Then later, she hears her father arguing with someone, talking about a death, and what sounds like blackmail from the other person. She’s pulled away from listening at the keyhole, but that night she gets up in the early hours of the morning, notices a piece of Mrs. Mullet’s awful custard pie missing, and goes out into the garden.

There she finds a stranger lying in the cucumber patch. He says something mysterious and promptly dies. Flavia reflects:

“I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn’t. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were being breathed upon by death.

“And then the utter stillness.

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

That all happens in the first two chapters. When, before long, Flavia’s father is taken into custody for the murder, Flavia decides to confess herself. For some reason, the authorities don’t take her seriously. So she feels compelled to find out more about the man who died in their garden, his history with her father, and the death of a teacher so many years ago.

Armed with her bike, which she’s named Gladys, Flavia is a resourceful and persistent sleuth. Definitely not an obedient and retiring young lady. Definitely not someone I’d want as my younger sister.

The “About the Author” section at the end of the book says that this is the first of a planned series about Flavia DeLuce. Hooray! If he can keep later books half as inventive and keep Flavia’s spark of mischief a fraction as fiery, that series will be one I’ll snap up just as soon as each volume is published. I can’t wait for more!

Hooray! As soon as I wrote that, I checked Amazon, and the next book is already out! — The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. I think I’ll be making a purchase….

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.