Thursday, September 23, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters (#2) by Rick Riordan


Like The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters incorporated an impressive number of characters from Greek mythology, and the quest du jour took Percy Jackson and his friends on an unpredictable journey with many twists and turns.

As the second book in a series, though, The Sea of Monsters didn't start off as smoothly as I would have liked. While I can see the benefit of making each book a stand-alone book, the explicit explanations of character backgrounds, plot summary, and the premise itself were forced and awkward. And for some reason, even though I was okay with the first-person narrative by the end of The Lightning Thief, it still came across as too informal, and perhaps even a bit lazy, in this book.

Another underwhelming aspect of this book was the manner in which Percy and his friends were frequently saved from imminent doom at the very last minute completely out of the blue by a third party. Other times, Percy conveniently discovered and immediately mastered a sea-related talent just in time to put it to use in some heroic fashion. It seemed almost as if Riordan kept writing himself into corners just so he could resolve them with dramatic rescues. Hopefully this is not the beginning of a pattern for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (#1) by Rick Riordan


This book has a lot to offer its middle school-aged audience. As one might expect, it is significantly better than the movie, which deviates from the book quite a bit.

Young readers who have been diagnosed with a learning disability, and who consequently might feel inadequate or marginalized, might find refuge in Percy Jackson, a protagonist who thinks and feels like them. The book takes his dyslexia and ADHD and turns them on their head, using them to help define Percy Jackson as a demigod. For those who do not have learning disabilities, this book may be a first step in helping them to understand how their friends and classmates might feel. Rick Riordan does a good job of keeping the dyslexia and ADHD relevant to the story; he doesn't just mention them once and let them drop.

I was impressed with the extent of Greek mythology that was interspersed throughout the book. Percy Jackson has many more adventures in the book than in the movie, and he puts his knowledge of Greek mythology to much greater use in the book. Having never taken a course in mythology myself, I cross-referenced every mythological character with Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Interestingly, I found that The Lightning Thief sometimes had more detailed accounts of myths than Hamilton's book! When Hamilton didn't have what I was looking for, the Internet filled in the rest, and always Riordan was true to the the original myth. Even if there is more than one version of a story, Riordan always had a legitimate basis for his interpretation. Granted, sometimes his representation of a god or other character may have been over-simplified, but that can be forgiven, given his target audience. I can easily imagine young readers of Percy Jackson getting excited about mythology and wanting to learn more.

At first I was disappointed in the use of the first person narrative, as I always feel that at this level, in modern fiction, the main character's voice tends to be too informal. I have to admit, though, by the end of the book, it didn't bother me anymore.

There were a few Harry Potter-esque moments, when Percy didn't tell Chiron everything he should have, but somehow Percy didn't come off nearly as annoying as Harry. I'll chalk that up to Riordan's good writing. The chapters were well-defined, and the book progressed at a good pace. Towards the end, I knew to expect a twist, but I didn't know exactly what that twist would be, and it didn't bother me that I didn't know, because I trusted Riordan would tell me in due time.

Overall, good writing, good stories, and I'm looking forward to reading more in the series.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cars (2006)


I must have watched the first half-hour of this movie at least a dozen times with my kids. Sebastien loves Lightning McQueen, but he would always eventually lose interest. Finally one day I was able to see the movie all the way through by starting it with Sebastien and then finishing it with Isabelle. I love it! Reminiscent of more than one Michael J. Fox movie, but it works for me. It had a couple nice surprises, and I actually teared up towards the end.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Queen (2006)


I went into this movie having no idea that it centered on Princess Diana's death. I was in college when she died, and I remember a big deal being made in the news, but I didn't really follow the story. I certainly didn't know that the event marked a turning point in the public perception of the Royal monarchy, nor did I know about Tony Blair's role in the aftermath. A fascinating account, and one that left me thinking that a little more old-fashioned dignity in this world wouldn't be a bad thing.