Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

This was a fabulous book! An action-adventure read with a strong female heroine, a sexy and spoiled prince, magic, and sword-fighting. The book is reminiscent of Disney's Mulan in the sense that Alexa/Alex disguises herself as a boy to survive; for a chance at fighting for a better life. It is a very dark story that is handled very well for the young audience. The story COULD have been darker and written for an older audience, but it works well as it is.

The book is made up of dark themes such as assassination, rape, violence, abuse, death, and war. This book is like a more tame version of Game of Thrones so it's a good choice if readers aren't old enough for the graphic nature of the television show. It's full of action and excitement, and from the moment you know the risk Alexa takes by disguising herself as a man, the suspense is gripping. I was on the edge of my seat --Larson keeps you guessing. Does Damian know she's a girl? What is going on with Tanoori (and why is this the only non-medieval-y name in the book?!). Who is the masked man?

Another interesting point is the fact that magic is evil--the black arts. Today, the supernatural is likened to an attractive quality so the fact that Defy twists magic into something frightening, dangerous, and dark is a refreshing change.

Alexa kicks ASS. She is the best fighter and strategist that the royal family has. If her skills aren't enough to rank her up there with Hermione and Katniss, Alexa has lost everything, but achieved so much in her short life. She's a survivor--like Katniss. She doesn't need a man to take care of her or to rescue her. She literally fights her own battles and she's as good as [if not better than] a man. I also enjoyed the fact that she knows her place in the world. Unlike so many other heroines who strive for and achieve their place in a higher realm (ie. human to be a vampire, commoner to a princess), she wants to be herself--someone she hasn't been since she changed herself into a man. This is a girl who puts the country's needs ahead of her own wants and desires. This a girl who has been forced to mature quickly and who has to take care of herself. This is a girl who makes a surprising choice in love.

Overall, Defy is an amazing read. Fast-paced, thrilling, and addictive. It will be published on January 1, 2014.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Review: Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

My biggest regret about this book is the fact that the final cover has the blood splatter removed from her face. It was just so much more sinister that way. My only other complaint would be the loopy, low-ascender cursive writing in which the murders are written. I'm not someone easily tripped up my typeface, but sometimes this got aggravating. Please note that I did read this book as an ARC-- maybe the final copy is different.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer is a little cheesy, a little intense, and a lot of fun. You get a little history and a little tour of France along with all the murders and mystery, which is a great perk of reading the book. Sadly, there's not much history because most of the historical facts have been altered for the purpose of the story. Still... it will give you a window into a very prominent and interesting woman in history and it just might get some readers looking up Marie Antoinette on Wikipedia.

Katie Alender has crafted a murder mystery of girl-power proportions. It's a modern girl-power story crossed with horror and history genres, with a little bit of suspense and drama. Girl-world comes across in the wealthy, privileged class of girls on their school trip to Paris who worry about social status as much they worry about looking trendy and attending the right parties (Gossip Girl, much)?

Colette's friends Blair Hannah and Pilar are shallow and silly, which immediately make Colette much more likeable as the heroine of the story. The boys are romantic and dreamy, the murders are gory and many, and the ghost of Marie Antoinette is dangerous and vengeful. The story has everything you could ever want in girl-world: love, betrayal, attraction, friendship, rule-breaking, and luxury. Oh, and the ghost of Marie Antoinette.

The book is a fairly fast read and while it is enjoyable, the lack of real horror in the mystery or murders kept it from being as powerful as it could have been. Still, Katie Alender writes a great preteen novel with enough pretty things (boys included!) and excitement to hook in the younger teens.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Review: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher is an addicting read, full of suspense, shrouded in mystery, and paired with danger. Lucy Christopher has written a teen murder mystery novel that will leave you breathless-- and that's a fun and ironic choice of words.

A modern who-dunnit tale of a group of teenagers who play a dangerous version of Hide-and-Seek in the woods, The Killing Woods explores tough subjects like drugs, alcohol, and PTSD. It's about teens who make wrong choices and about teens who have to deal with the death of a fellow student and friend. It's about uncovering the truth, no matter how terrible it might be. It's about bad things that happen alone in the woods.

I normally shy away from anything scary. I'll admit it: I'm a huge chicken. I'm not a fan of horror movies and I very, very rarely read mystery, crime, or horror novels. I'm just far too jumpy to be able to appreciate them. Fortunately, Lucy Christopher's novel was nothing like I expected--it was far better. The murder of a young girl in the woods did not set off a chilling murder mystery story as I expected. While the murder is the central incident of the book, Lucy Christopher's story takes a hard look at the characters and at tough subjects of grieving, psychological and emotional distress, as well as illegal substances. I only lost sleep because I could not put this book down.

I am recommending this book to anyone who enjoys teen books with a dark twist, mystery stories, or danger. This book will really hit home as the characters are so realistic to what teenagers are now. Everyone knows someone who makes wrong choices with substance abuse. It is sad that most people now attend a high school where a death has occurred.

The Killing Woods is one of the best teen books I've read this year. The writing is addictive and the characters are so relatable to young people today. I love that PTSD and the psychological and emotional aspects of this murder mystery are a huge part of this story, because a lot of time, authors ignore these issues, or at least they don't understand that they can play a huge role in a tragedy like this. The idea that the truth isn't being withheld because there's a criminal hiding it--but because the human brain has literally repressed it [for one reason or another] is realistic and a startling real truth.

The Killing Woods will be published on January 1st, 2014. This is a must-read for 2014. Pre-order your copy now!

Review: How Do Dinosaurs Say I'm Mad? By Jane Yolen

Part of the popular [and hilarious] How Do Dinosaurs series, How Do Dinosaurs Say I'm Mad? is a hilarious addition to your child's bookshelf. Jane Yolen and Mark Teague team up to teach children about expressing their anger constructively and dealing with difficult emotions. Moreover, this book also teaches children that no matter what, parents will always love you.

A variety of dinosaurs fill the pages, giving the book a very slight intellectual edge (learn about dinosaurs AND manners!). The text is short and easy to read for young readers who want to follow along. Even better than the comical nature of the writing are the hilarious illustrations. You and your child will not be able to hold back smiles and laughter at the ridiculous nature of dinosaurs losing their tempers. The illustrations are sweet, humorous, and fun.

The book covers misbehaviour from frustration, to anger, to tantrums, to acting out as a result of exhaustion, impatience, or other negative emotions. Anger and emotional development are difficult subjects to discuss with kids--but Jane Yolen and Mark Teague handle this subject with wit, cleverness, and a dash of brilliance.

Girls and boys can appreciate the humour, and this book is a timeless classic. They can see the behaviour of the dinosaurs as inappropriate and as out of proportion as the sheer size of the dinosaurs themselves.

Parents, be comforted that this book teaches a life lesson in a subtle way. This book can be enjoyed again and again!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Review: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Anything Mo Willems publishes I will read--and without a doubt, love. 

The hilarious author of the very popular The Pigeon series, Mo Willems takes on the Goldilocks story and puts his own spin on this well-known tale. Look for the Pigeon to make an appearance, as he always does!

I laughed my way through this whole book, and then flipped back to the front to read it again. Mo Willems is undoubtedly one of the top children's authors publishing right now. His style, humour, and his ability to engage with his audience puts him up on a talent block with Robert Munsch. I love his wit and the slightly dry humour that comes across in his narrative and in his illustrations.

This book summary from the publisher sums up the humour: "One day-for no particular reason-they decided to tidy up their house, make the beds, and prepare pudding of varying temperatures. And then-for no particular reason-they decided to go . . . someplace else. They were definitely not setting a trap for some succulent, unsupervised little girl. Definitely not!" 

A great spin on a classic tale and a great choice for a book to share with your kids. They'll love the illustrations and the simple, yet conversational tone of the narrator. Children do need to be familiar with the original Goldilocks story to really enjoy this book, but this is definitely a must-have for your little one's bookshelf!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot's novel Abandon is the first in the Abandon series, which is a modern/teen retelling of the Persephone myth. It was the lure of a book using Greek mythology that drew me into the series, though I was a tad weary by the cheesy "romance"-style cover art. I do love the colour schemes and the flowery patterns, and the book cover fits well with the story.

A far cry from how Rick Riordan uses his mythology to both entertain and to teach kids about Greek mythology, this book does offer small insights into the mythology of the underworld, Hades realm, dying, the Fates, and the Furies. The Persephone myth is actually mentioned right at the beginning and continually crops up as Pierce tries to understand what has happened to her/how she might feel about John and her current predicament. Pierce is able to both identify and see herself as different from Persephone in many ways, and the comparison/contrast lets us explore the myth to see it as both a love story, but also as a dark tale of abduction.

John Hayden was a mortal who was given the job of lord of the Underworld, due to some mysterious crime he committed years ago. He falls in love with Pierce as a young teenager and she accidentally becomes his "consort." The way Pierce is "kidnapped" sets him apart from Hades and allows the reader to see him as 'good.' Personally, I don't think we see enough of John in Abandon. Fortunately, there are two books that offer plenty more of this mysterious, dark, dangerous, and certainly handsome male hero.

Pierce is a fiery heroine who tries to do right in the world and her heart and her head are constantly at odds with each other over John, who has an amazing habit of suddenly showing up to save her from mortal peril.

This supernatural love story is interwoven with themes of death and dying, dysfunctional families, and dangerous creatures called Furies. As someone who LOVES all things Greek and Roman, I enjoyed the book--more than I thought I would. The Abandon series is my newest guilty pleasure. It's a riveting tale of family, love, death, right and wrong, and good versus evil. Meg Cabot re-imagines the Persephone myth into an oddly sweet and addictive tale full of the supernatural, suspense, and an unexpected love story between people from two very different worlds.

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater's second novel in the Shiver trilogy continues with the love story between Grace and Sam--human and werewolf. Starting out, it was pretty obvious the direction of the book was going--back into werewolf territory and I wasn't sure I wanted that to happen. For one thing, it made the book and its conclusion slightly predictable and for another, it was going to throw a wrench into Sam and Grace's already tortured relationship. Bah. Teen romances!

I have to say that I did like Shiver better than Linger. Shiver had me hooked onto every word. This book had a different kind of suspense that was more akin to dread than suspense. I dreaded what I knew was coming in the end and it was just a matter of pages before the inevitable happened (no spoilers here). I'm not really a fan of books like that. I like to suspect, but not KNOW. I never flip to the end or peek. I like to suspect or think that I know, and then I like to have the world ripped out from under me. Okay, that's a little dramatic, but I hate being right about a plot point that's painfully obvious to me. Especially when Shiver seemed like it was going to be obvious and then did a fantastic job with building up to a fantastic cliffhanger. Linger had fewer twists and turns and that was a slight disappointment. 

I do appreciate Stiefvater's development of the adult characters in this book. At one point, Grace's parents catch Sam sleeping in their daughter's bed and they throw him out, ground her--do the whole parental thing. I couldn't help but applauding the parents in this teen romance novel. Thank you for finally being aware that your child is doing something wrong (no matter how sad we are that the sexy supernatural love interest has been booted out and we get less of the couple being together and adorable). This was a surprisingly refreshing decision on Stiefvater's part.

A new character, Cole St. Clair, is thrown into the mix, but do not despair, Stiefvater is not feeding us a a typical, boring love triangle! Cole is complicated, tortured, and not necessarily likeable. Even better, he does not harbour an all-consuming love for Sam's girl. He has his own role to play in the plot and his own set of problems to deal with.

Drugs, sex, psychological trauma, violence, illness, parental/family drama, and more are all woven into the plot. Stiefvater writes a refreshing amount of realism into her characters. The fact that this is a story about teens who turn into werewolves is only one aspect of a larger story. 

While I was a bit disappointed into the overall "WOW" factor of the book, Stiefvater's writing is a breath of fresh air in teen romance. She writes believable characters--with real problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and addiction, with a dash of the supernatural world that makes this series even more addictive.

I'd give this book 3.5/5, but Shiver gets a 4/5 from me. I do suspect that like most trilogies or short series, the middle book lays the ground work that will make Forever (the final book) finish off the series with a bang.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Review: Inside by Alix Ohlin

I really enjoyed Alix Ohlin's novel, which centres on the lives of four troubled and complex characters. The book is a Giller finalist, but I've been persuading people who typically avoid reading "literature" to read this book. The book is very accessible and is a touching and page-turning read. The application of psychology, and the desires we humans feel to help others, [to save others], is key for the novel. The book looks at very real and terrible issues, such as suicide, teen pregnancy, sexuality, and one's self-worth.

The narratives are very distinct and will draw the reader into the troubled lives of Grace, Mitch and Annie. Inside is a touching and memorable read that stuck with me long after I finished it. The book is well-written and the plot lines of the characters support each other while also stand on their own as their own realistic and slightly tragic story.

There is a darkness to everyone, even if you can't see it. The book puts a lot of weight on that you can't always see what's going on inside a person. You can't know their darkest secrets and what's weighing them down. You can't always help someone, no matter how hard you try. The world is a bitter and difficult place and not everyone copes well with the problems life deals us.

The characters were easy to imagine in my mind. I felt like I knew them and sometimes, that I was suffering along with them. As someone who has seen and dealt with friends and family who have suffered silently and alone with depression, anxiety, and the like, this novel really hit home with me.

This book was fantastic and a worthy contestant for the Giller! Ohlin is a talented writer, capable of weaving an intense and emotional story that will stay with you. I expect she will continue to provide wonderful pieces of Canadian literature. 

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

If you have not yet ever picked up a book by Maggie Stiefvater, shame on you. She is quickly becoming one of the biggest YA authors today and she has a talent for turning out one fantastic book after another. The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys are two other popular titles by Stiefvater, if you've never heard her name. Shiver is the first book of her werewolves of Mercy Falls series. Who will like this book? Girls who have weaknesses for super sweet, sensitive, attractive boys with a dark side, Twihards who are Team Jacob, fans of supernatural romance, ...or people like me who misread "Mercy Falls" as "Mystic Falls" and did a double take, you will LOVE this book. Note to self: be wary of all towns that have "Falls" in the name.

Maggie Stiefvater adds her brilliance to the werewolf mythology and gives the world another supernatural heart throb to dream about. This tale of "doomed love" between a human and a werewolf was exhilarating, sweet, full of suspense, and of dangerous things that lurk in the woods.

The violence, adrenaline, and fear built around the werewolves is woven into this romantic and slightly tragic love story. There were some graphic scenes--and very dark subjects of abuse, psychological trauma, animal violence, etc., but they are so well-written and are crucial to the narrative. Stiefvater writes with a purpose, not for shock value. As I got to the last fifty pages or so, I couldn't put the book down. The story is captivating, thrilling, and beautiful, even in its darkest moments.

An interesting thing to note about the book is the changing colours of the text. The pages fade from a chilly dark blue to black, hinting at greater themes like transformation of something cold to something dark and dangerous. Or else, the transformation of the cold, blue, abnormal to normalcy, as black is the (normal). A very unique stylistic choice that was a little distracting at first, but as I quickly got hooked into the story, I barely noticed.

I'm excited to start the next book in the series, Linger. The ending of Shiver was intense and I was on edge, waiting for the ending to leave me hanging as each chapter at the end is very, very short and I was in despair of the ending just being dropped over my head. The final sentences did not let me down--in fact they ensured that I would be anxious to get my hands on a copy of Linger ASAP.

I'm not a huge fan of supernatural romance, though I recognize its prominence and its ability to sell books in the post-Twilight era. I did always like the vampire mythology better, though its more because the history of vampires in literature (not myths, real poems, stories that are studied by scholars) goes WAY back and its long history fascinates me. Shiver makes werewolf mythology more interesting to me.

What I'm say is do not judge or roll your eyes to hear that this book is about werewolves. Maggie Stiefvater is a powerful writer and she does not need the popularity of the vampire/werewolf mythology to sell books. She does it on pure talent. Stiefvater's Shiver will take your breath away.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review: Spirit Animals, Book One, Wild Born by Brandon Mull

I'm sure this book series is going to be the next big thing in middle grade/YA fiction. Each book in the series, published by Scholastic, will be written by different authors who will inject their brilliance into each book, spinning a new and exciting tale every time. The first book is written by Brandon Mull. Get ready for the second book, which is sure to be amazing by the one-and-only Maggie Stiefvater!

I will come right out and admit that I was hesitant with this book. The title alone was enough to make me grimace. In my head, I was worried I was going to have to read a story about kids who turned into animals or a less intense version of something like having an animal soul like in The Golden Compass. What I did not expect was the story to have a real reason behind one's ability to have a spirit animal. I like the thought put into how you get a spirit animal. I also like the fact that not everyone gets one. This is not a world where every kid at the age of 11 gets a spirit animal.

To be able to "produce" a spirit animal, children at the age of 11 drink a special nectar. If they are chosen, an animal will appear out of the sky in a dramatic and awe-inspiring way, in front of the entire community. The animals radiate power. They are independent and must have their trust earned by their respective humans. The four creatures you see on the cover are four of the "Great Beasts"--ancient spirit animals who were destroyed a long time ago, and have been "resurrected" by these four kids.

War is breaking out everywhere and these four kids, with the help of these ancient animals, can make all the difference. They set out on an epic adventure to train and hopefully to help save the world. This book is fast-moving, exciting, and full of danger and of the unexpected. The book is told from the alternating points of view of the characters, giving the reader the chance to identify with each of the characters and to experience their very different adventures as they learn to work with the animals.

Although the book is set in a mythological far off world, the kids deal with social issues that readers will certainly be able to identify with. Issues such as self-doubt, confidence, identity issues, loyalty, morality, learning to trust, learning to fit in, and learning to be a leader and to work with others are all prevalent.

Unlike many stories today of heroic children, I liked that this book does not ignore the importance of adults/parental figures. While the children must mature quickly and they have the fate of the world resting on their shoulders, the adults are present to guide them on their journey. The kids are learning to be heroes and survivors, but they do so under the watchful eyes of the adults who are very much needed. The kids are equal with the adults and are very important to the mission. Readers will enjoy the freedom, the adventures, and the necessity of the children's presence. Parents can appreciate that these fictional children need their parents/need adult guidance just as children do in reality. This is not a story of rebelliousness or carelessness.

I love how realistic and logical this seems--you can't just throw kids into the world and have them come out as invincible. What a refreshing take! These kids are given a lot of responsibility and have the freedom and independence all kids crave, but there are still adult protectors; there are still people to give guidance and to lend a hand.

I also noticed there is a diverse group of characters: a street-boy/orphan, the wealthy daughter of a military man, a palace servant, and a middle-class/youngest daughter. This book celebrates diversity, and I love that. Rich or poor, important or common, anyone can be a hero!

The characters are good role models for other kids. For example, when one of the heroes, Abeke, gets led astray, she must decide what is right and wrong--who is good and who is evil. From Abeke, readers can learn to trust their instincts. These children learn to sense right and wrong as they continue to develop their own moral compasses. Moreover, in this dystopian world, the characters make the decision to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good, for their friends, for others' happiness. They learn to take the hard road, because it will lead to a better world. There's certainly a lot of good life lessons to be taken from these characters!

If all these good things are not enough to persuade you, the book is also an interactive online game! There's a code with each book to register and live the adventure yourself. Very cool! Embrace a kid's love of technology while ALSO getting them reading and off the computer. Brilliant!

Spirit Animals is everything in an adventure you've ever wanted and more. Fans of Animorphs and Pokemon will enjoy this story. The books are sure to be a huge success, particularly with boys who love fantasy/magic, and adventure stories, with a bit of [age-appropriate] danger and violence. Who knows... maybe we'll even see a TV series out of this? I honestly wouldn't be surprised.

Review: The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Korman's new novel The Hypnotists is the first Gordon Korman novel I've read in YEARS--and I was not disappointed. This middle grade novel was exciting, packed with suspense and, of course, the art of hypnotism. The power of the human mind to change the world is a crucial focal point of the novel and the ways that Dr. Mako is ability to manipulate an entire city into believing the truths he implants in their minds and rig an election really makes you think about the 'what if.' For a society that is so dependent on the Internet, and particularly social media outlets like social media, if true hypnotism was possible, Korman's story points out just how much danger we would all be in.

The Hypnotists discusses hypnotism in the sense of subliminal messages, behavioural modification, and psychological manipulation. He does call attention to the other kind--the type that exists in psychiatrist's offices, but hypnotism for medicinal purposes doesn't possess the same power that people like Mako and Jackson have.
Jackson Opus is a young boy who has a natural hypnotic abilities as the descendent of two powerful hypnotist families. He is recruited by the Sentia Institute where his powers are honed. He meets other hypnotists and sees how the mind can be tricked, changed, and forced into doing what another wants as easily as looking at someone and focusing.

Of course, nothing is what it seems and Jackson has to figure out who the real enemy is as weird things start happening. Soon, Jackson's friends, family, and the entire city are in great danger as a certain someone starts using hypnotism for very wrong and self-serving reasons. It's a classic story of great power in the wrong hands; an immoral use of something that CAN be used for good.

The climax of the novel--the showdown between Jackson and person X--had me hooked on every word. The ending, where we see Jackson's maturity and selflessness, was what really took me off-guard. You won't see it coming either. From beginning to end, this book is great. Don't be put off by the fact that it's middle grade. Gordon Korman is one hell of a writer. I can't imagine what he could do with this novel written for adults.

Sure, the changing eye-colour part of Korman's hypnotism was a little cheesy, but the undeniable power and ability of these people to hypnotize mass groups of people without their awareness and through the use of the Internet (basically through Youtube--now THERE is a scary possible reality for us!) was terrifying and exciting. As many people do believe that hypnotism is real, the book is able to hit home. Especially if you, like me, have ever gone to see a hypnotist perform on stage.

Much like fellow YA heroes, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, Jackson has the entire fate of the world resting on his young shoulders. Korman takes an age-old idea and revamps it into this exciting, suspenseful, and action-packed story that both kids and adults alike will enjoy.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Review: House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades is the fourth book in The Heroes of Olympus series--and I think it might be my favourite. Written again in typical Heroes of Olympus style of alternating narratives, this story is the continuation of the prophesied seven demigods and their fight against the psychotic and murderous Gaea.

Picking up where The Mark of Athena left off, Annabeth and Percy are stuck in the underworld and must somehow survive long enough to close the doors of death and thereby stop Gaea's massive armies from proceeding into the world above. Meanwhile, Jason, Leo, Piper, Frank and Hazel must reach the other side of the doors of death.

Being a huge fan of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, I was thrilled at the amount of time dedicated to Percy and Annabeth. Their adventure through Tartarus is dangerous, deadly, and most of all, thrilling and did I mention amazing? 

We get to meet up with old monsters that have been defeated, old friends, and new friends. HoH has its share of new and exciting mythology, including my personal favourite, the personification of Tartarus himself. I really hope that this series will get onto the big screen because I would LOVE to see that final battle.

While Gaea is certainly waging a more terrifying war and she's more creepy than Kronos in that whispering, motherly, psychotic voice, but I'm still not convinced she's as evil as Kronos. She just doesn't FEEL as dangerous. Kronos was pure power, so it's an interesting comparison between the two villains from Riordan. I suppose we'll see how truly dangerous and deadly Gaea is in the next book when she will obviously make a grand appearance. I always saw Gaea as good in the myths, which might be behind my inability to really see her as terrifying.

The story is wonderfully stressful. I was so keyed up reading this book, desperate to know more and see what will happen next--this has to be the most exciting book of the series so far. It's all leading up to the final book of the series, which is guaranteed to be simply spectacular. Everything Riordan does is spectacular.

I do have a grudging criticism. Gaea managed to take away Percy's curse of Achilles--a curse that should have been unremovable, as Homer tells us and as Achilles himself tells us in The Last Olympian. Obviously taking away his curse was necessary for Riordan's plot and I won't pretend to know why or to know more than Riordan, but come on... we couldn't work around the curse? I feel like Percy's lack of heroics and powers was disappointing. He was so powerful with his godly powers without the invulnerability and extra speed, accuracy, etc. He just felt...weaker. It seems to me that as time passed, he should be even stronger now.

A more minor point--does Hades not have any idea that Percy Jackson is running around his realm? Does he really just not care? He hates Percy... I'd have thought he would have wanted to put in his two cents.

Rick Riordan is as talented as the great JK Rowling and I wish he received more attention in Canada.  His knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology, and more than that, his ability to write dialogue for the monsters, gods, and other mythological figures without sounding cheesy is outstanding.  He does his research. All of Riordan's books--The Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, and The Kane Chronicles--are well-written, exciting, and also educational. Whether young readers know it or not, they will walk away knowing something about Greek/Roman mythology.

He is also my hero for throwing a twist in the characterization of Nico. [[BEWARE SPOILER]] The reason that Nico is bitter, short, and rude towards Percy and to his friends? Nico has/had a crush on Percy and obviously his feelings are unreturned. I love the humanity attributed to Nico! Moreover, Riordan just slipped this little detail in and moved on with the plot without making his sexual orientation a big deal and without making it a game-changer. It's a notable characteristic, but it's not everything he is. So not only does Riordan's stories make children with ADHD, dyslexia, single-parent children, orphans, or just kids who are different, feel like they too can be heroes, Riordan also makes one of his heroes gay. Riordan teaches his readers that anyone can be a hero. Anyone.

I also LOVE this cover and how it represents the struggle of journeying through the underworld. It's just so dark, fiery, dangerous and mysterious.

House of Hades is a powerful read and a nail-biting, thrilling ride into the deepest pits of the underworld. A war is about to break out as the prophecy of seven finally comes to light.

The really sad part? We have to wait until fall 2014 for the thrilling conclusion, The Blood of Olympus.

Review: Awaken (Abandon #3) by Meg Cabot

I accidentally read Underworld (Abandon #2) first, before reading Abandon, but luckily Meg Cabot makes it easy for readers to jump into the series without being totally lost on the plot. Funnily enough, I then somehow got confused and then read this book next, when I fully intended to read the first book. Sleep deprivation was really going against me this week...

Awaken is the third book in the Abandon series and is the exciting, action-packed conclusion to this story inspired by the Persephone and Hades mythology. The atmosphere throughout is dark and dangerous as a hurricane sweeps through the mortal realm and things in the underworld have turned chaotic.

The beginning of the novel opens with a shocking turn of events as John "dies." Common sense dictates that there's no way he's ACTUALLY dead and I don't think Pierce really actually believes he won't come back because her grief wasn't all that real to me. More than that, there's no way in hell (or the underworld haha) that Cabot would kill off her leading man in the beginning of the novel. So even though we know that John will come back, it was an interesting change in the pace of the book as we get to see Pierce become stronger, more independent, and her character development allows her to become really ready to take her place as Queen of the Underworld. She carries a whip as a weapon and leads a group of people into the mortal world to find and destroy Thanatos and to wage war on the Furies. Pierce is empowered, and these days, it's all about the strong female heroine. It was a good change of pace to see Pierce handle the chaos for once.

That being said, Pierce is still very emotional (hey, she's 17, I don't hold it against her). Her emotions (specifically her temper) are pointed out by supporting characters as being dangerous to her overall mission to save John. While it's not expressed outright, her anger is her tragic flaw, which is a VERY ancient-Greek-story way to spin things. I loved this. If she can't control her anger, bad things will happen--and John will die.

Having Thanatos as an important new character was an interesting choice. I'm all for using more mythology in YA books because whether teens know they're learning or not, the Greek myths are there for readers to take in and learn from. Thanatos was quickly defeated though and I was a bit put out by this. Minor Greek deity or not... he was basically defeated at the seduction of a 17-year-old girl. I don't know if I'm still too excited from reading House of Hades by Rick Riordan. Perhaps 500 pages from Riordan of his main characters roaming the underworld made me expect a bigger battle between Thanatos and Pierce, but oh well. Pierce has 99 other problems to take care of after Thanatos.

The book is filled with obstacles and challenges--it's just one problem after another for Pierce to solve, but it keeps the action moving and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The book is suspenseful from the first few pages when we learn that things in the underworld are chaotic and out of whack, then John dies, then Thanatos throws a wrench into things, there's family issues, her parents hate John, the Furies, Alex is annoying, and so on.

John is very protective and while I love when he's all macho and devoted to his girlfriend, sometimes it's too much. When Edward John refuses to let Bella Pierce do something/go somewhere that's even a little bit dangerous, I'm like: calm down, buddy. His demeanour sometimes is unhealthy when it comes to protecting Pierce, but I'm quicker to forgive this because Cabot makes it clear John isn't always logical because of his childhood and his history with his father. I'm always quicker to forgive if there's a legitimate psychological reason for his behaviour.

This book is darker and has an exciting climax and conclusion to the book with an all-out battle between the Furies and Pierce/John. Pierce kicks ass and takes names--maybe even going a little bit overboard by choking her Fury-possessed grandmother and then shoving her Persephone Diamond into her. Whoa.

Christianity also plays a large role in the plot (hello ancient pagan Greece...what religion happened to you again?). I loved this quote about why a Fury was able to possess Grandma and why she was so easily corrupted into believing that John, a pagan death deity would have needed destroying:

"As a religious woman...the discovery that there exists a world beyond ours that isn't the traditionally taught heaven and hell must have been deeply disturbing to her... and so that world would have needed destroying" (Cabot 304)

Overall, Awaken is an epic conclusion to an exciting teen paranormal romance series. It's thrilling, dark, and full of danger--and sexy men from Greek mythology. It's good versus evil on an grander and mythological scale. It's sex, drugs and death deities.

It's a great teen/paranormal romance series and you should read it.