[Book Review] Dear YA authors: this is how you do it

Meg’s Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Audiobook read by Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren

I’m attempting to catch up on some series, and I’ve started with some Riordan yumminess.  I decided to grab the audiobook of Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid in order to brush up on plot. About three hours into listening, I had come to this declarative conclusion:

Dear YA authors: this is how you do it. (Yes, I’m talking to you)

The Red Pyramid is the opening adventure of Carter and Sadie Kane, two kids, siblings, descendents of Egyptian pharaohs and magicians.  When their father releases five of the great Egyptian gods, the brother and sister find themselves hosts to Horus and Isis—and suddenly in the middle of an centuries-old battle between magicians and gods.  Oh, and a crazy man is trying to destroy the world.  But that’s a trifle concern when you have a god trying to take over your body, right?

The story, set in the same universe as Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, jaunts through the first tasks and trials of the Kane children with brisk pacing, dynamic characters, and believable dialogue.  It is a fun listen (and read), and truly showcases how much Riordan has grown as an author since The Lightening Thief.

The mythology in this story was Riordan’s biggest challenge. With Percy Jackson, most people have a basic foundation of Greek deity trivia acquired over the years of pop culture and Middle School English. (I say Zeus, you say angry-lightening-man-that-likes-to-sleep-around.) With Egyptian mythology—unless you are a Stargate buff—the convoluted rompings of those gods are significantly more obcure. (I say Hathor, you say huh?)

Riordan could have easily fallen into a talking-head trap, going on and on for ages about the crazy antics of Egyptian mythology. But he only unravels what he needs when he needs it. And with the back-and-forth narratives (chapters alternate between Sadie and Carter’s points of view), he can reaffirm the finer points multiple times, burrowing the important facts so that we remember them when the time comes for the final showdown.

The story does drag in at least two instances, but I suspect that is due to long-term structuring issues. No question about it, Riordan knows he has license to make a series with this (after Percy Jackson, I’m sure Hyperion was delighted to find that he was prospecting another goldmine), and so there are places were he’s marking the dig sites that, I suspect, will be used to uncover significant plot elements in book two or three.

All well and good. But I’m an impatient reader. If it doesn’t deal directly with the current plot, I get ansty.

Audiobook observations: I’m split on my feelings about the readers (Kellgren for Sadie’s chapters, Free for Carter’s) for this book. A friend listened before and positively skewered the female reader, claiming that she was an old person trying to sound like a teenager. So I went in fully preparing to hate half of the book, but to my surprise, the female reader was positively delightful. Like, made-me-laugh-out-loud delightful.

No, Katherine Kellgren is definitely not a 12-year-old girl, but man, can she pull off the right amount of melodrama and sarcasm required for Sadie Kane. In fact, I was so underwhelmed by Kevin R. Free’s Carter that I found myself impatiently waiting for the chapter to switch back to Sadie. He was not a bad reader by any definition—I was just extremely entertained by his other half.

The Red Pyramid is a solid start for the series.

[ Book Review ] Deepest, darkest Africa

Meg’s Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Read by Dean Robertson

The Poisonwood Bible is to CanaryTheFirst as Dresden Files is to me. For months, we’ve been harping on each other to read our respective favorite referable books. And I’d like to say that I read it to keep my partner happy. In actuality, I got it because it was dirt cheap in an Audible sale, and I was bored.

I’ve been done with the audiobook for well over a week and have had the above paragraph written for at least as long. But I’m drawing a complete blank as to how to continue on with the review. The Poisonwood Bible is the sort of story that demands one check their snark at the door, and I am nothing without my snark.

Suffice it to say, The Poisonwood Bible is a damn good book. The narrative follows the Price family—an American missionary, his wife, and their four daughters—into the Congo in the 1960s, a time when the Congolese were fighting for their independence.  The Prices’ posting is in Kilanga, a small, poor village along the Kwilu River. While their father attempts to brute force his way to Christian conversion, the daughters, aged 5 to 15, must find a way to survive the year-long posting so many thousands of miles from their native Georgia.

Kingsolver’s prose is a force to be reckoned with. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different Price woman: Orleanna (the mother), Rachel, Adah, Leah, or Ruth May. The character’s voices are so distinct that even popping back into the recording after a several-day break from listening, I was never had any doubts who was speaking. The strong distinction was especially prominent in the character of Adah, who has a penchant to obtusely lyrical thoughts and multiple-word palindromes. Writing the character must have been at once a joy and curse-word-inducing challenge.

If I have one critique of the novel, it would be that the time frame seems unnecessarily long. The narrative traces the women through the better part of thirty years. Several times, I looked at the number of hours left on the recording and said aloud, “There can’t possibly be so much story left!” It made the entire thing seem…anticlimactic. What I saw as the climax actually happened before the halfway point of the book. Either I’m off in my assumption, or it’s the single longest falling action I’ve ever seen.

Oddly, lack of climax didn’t make the book any less enjoyable, especially in audio form. The reader, Dean Robertson, was superb 98% of the time—and the other 2% was more due to slips in editing than in her actual reading, I think. In fact, I tried at least three times to pick my roommate’s hardcover copy of the book but found it to be utterly wrong to not have Robertson’s voice in my ears. The book’s prose is almost like a poem; it demands to be read aloud.

When I was in sixth grade, I was obsessed with historical fiction. I read every Ann Rinaldi and Avi book on my middle school library’s shelves. At some point, I drifted off to fantasy and scifi, but Kingsolver’s excellent novel of Congolese struggle and an American family caught in their own tragedies reawakened that love of a well-researched historical fiction story, the sort that transports without being overly description, and one that truly brings history to life. It’s a triumph of a novel.

[Book Review] You don’t want good weather when you’re on the run

Meg’s Review: Ill Wind

 Ill Wind by Rachel Caine

(Weather Warden, Book 1)

Such a hot car!

In a world crowded by paranormal fiction series, it’s difficult to find that diamond in a pile of just-as-sparkly cubic zirconium. But give me a cover with a wicked vintage car and a thunderstorm, and this Midwest muscle-car lover is willing to take a chance

on yet another cookie cutter hot-chick-with-powers novel. And in the case of Ill Wind, that leap into the tornado paid off.

Ill Wind kicks off Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series. In this first installment, the narrative follows Joanne Baldwin, a woman who can control air, water, and—more importantly—weather. She is also on the run from her higher ups for reasons that aren’t explained until well into the novel. In fact, Caine plays a lot of plot and details of the universe close to her chest, laying them out bit by bit via flashbacks as the story progresses.

Perhaps it is because I have been marathoning the last seasons of LOST recently, but the book read like a serialized show. Scenes break in places perfectly constructed for credits to roll beneath a montage of images for the next-week-on-Ill-Wind trailer. This isn’t a bad thing, though. Those breaks devour my ability to fight the urge to push through the next section — and then the next, and then it’s 3 AM and probably time to sleep but the teaser is just too good turn away from. It’s a page-turner of the best kind.  Continue reading