Posts Tagged ‘action’

#CBR4 Cannonball 13: Fables, Volume 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 10: The Good PrinceFables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boy, oh, boy, was this a good one. When it comes to straight-up action/adventure, I have to give this volume top props.

In Sons of Empire, we learned that Ambrose, also known as Flycatcher, better known to us mundys as the Frog Prince, was destined for an important future. The Good Prince tells the tale of Ambrose’s realization of his fate.

We take a trip down the Witching Well, and are reunited with characters that we thought were dead and gone from as far back as Volume 2, Animal Farm. The scope of the series has grown broader and more epic with each passing volume, and bringing back old characters from the dead is a great way to subtly point that out.

With the help of the Forsworn Knight, who turns out to be Lancelot of Arthurian legend, Ambrose returns to his homelands and establishes a new kingdom: Haven. He means for Haven to be just that: a place where people running from the oppression of the Empire can find sanctuary and solace. But the Empire isn’t going to just let them be. There’s action in the forecast, folks.

Willingham did such a good job of introducing us to Flycatcher early on in the series and painting him out to be little more than comic relief. But he then took the character and made him an unlikely hero, and did it in such a way that it was a complete and refreshing surprise.

It’s also still clear that, regardless of what happens between Haven and the Empire, Fabletown will have to fight its own fight against the Empire. And preparations are being made for just that.

This volume moves the action along at a great pace, and it’s my favorite of the series so far.

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Cannonball 23: The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book #2) by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2) The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Okay, so, I was pleasantly surprised by my second run-in with Rick Riordan. That said, my buddy JN, who lent me the book, warned me that the second book wasn’t nearly as good, but to keep hope alive, because books three and four were excellent.

With that warning in view, I dove into The Sea of Monsters.

And, BLAMMO, I get hit with a cheap retread of The Odyssey. Don’t get me wrong; I love The Odyssey. But Riordan’s version was particularly lacking luster.

After Perseus “Percy” Jackson discovers his heritage as a demigod (he’s a son of Poseidon — authenticity points to Riordan for not trying to sugarcoat the gods’ proclivity for adultery), he spent a whirlwind summer quelling a war between the gods. Now that he’s back to his normal life, he’s trying to make it through another school year before he can get back to Camp Half-Blood, the summer camp for demigods.

But before Percy is able to finish his first-ever school year without getting kicked out, the Laistrygonians, posing as giant middle schoolers, try to kill him. He’s saved by his new friend Tyson, who’s a bit slow, but super-strong. As it turns out, Tyson’s a baby Cyclops, and Percy’s half-brother.

Riordan plays with themes of sibling rivalry, but only for a little while, which is fine since that storyline wasn’t going anywhere anyway. For his part, Tyson is one part Sloth from The Goonies, one part Jar-Jar Binks, and was far from a welcome addition to the series, although he did grow on me in Book 4 (oops, SPOILER!).

So, anyway, the quest in this book is that someone has poisoned Thalia’s Tree. Thalia was a daughter of Zeus who was killed in a battle at Camp Half-Blood, and the tree which protects the camp from monsters was named in her honor. The only way to heal the tree and protect Camp Half-Blood is to find the Golden Fleece, which has been stolen by Polyphemus, Odysseus’ old Cyclops nemesis.

To complicate matters, Polyphemus has captured Grover, who was searching for the god Pan. Grover’s only alive because he’s tricked Polyphemus into thinking he’s a female Cyclops. He’s desperately employing Penelope’s trick of unraveling his bridal garment on the loom, but he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep up this ruse before Polyphemus insists on getting married.

And they don’t have much time; half-blood-turned-traitor Luke, son of Hermes, is trying to get to the Fleece first in order to reassemble and heal the Titan Kronos, who is mounting a Voldemortian effort to regenerate his body and revive his powers in order to destroy the world with his evil.

The heroes, led this time by Clarisse, daughter of Ares and self-avowed nemesis to Percy, will have to pass unharmed through the Sea of Monsters (featuring Scylla and Charybdis, natch), retrieve Grover and the Golden Fleece, and return to Camp Half-Blood in time to save Thalia’s Tree and Camp Half-Blood.

That description actually sounds a lot more exciting than the book actually was. I think Riordan just tried to cram way too much into this story. Besides introducing a new character, he’s also trying to tackle an classical tale of epic adventure in a mere 279 pages. In a children’s book. That’s just way too much for one person to chew.

Aside from these shortcomings and some instances in which the reader is asked to suspend his or her disbelief even more than normal, this volume is a rather weak read, but still a heck of a lot better than Riordan’s contribution to the 39 Clues series.

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Regular Read: Island, Book 3: Escape by Gordon Korman

Escape (Island, Book 3) Escape by Gordon Korman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
By the time I got to the third book in Gordon Korman’s Island series, it was kind of a relief just to know that it would all be over soon.

To recap the events of Shipwreck and Survival (SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THIS IS A REVIEW OF BOOK 3, SO I’D HAVE HOPED YOU’D HAVE FIGURED THAT OUT ON YOUR OWN), thirteen-year-old Luke Haggerty is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and is sent, as part of his sentence, to participate in a sailing trip with five other troubled kids. Charla Swann is an overachiever from the inner city, Will and Lyssa Greenfield are siblings who get into violent fights — Lyssa is super-smart and Will feels inadequate in comparison — Ian Sikorsky is a geek whose only contact with the outside world is the Discovery Channel, and JJ Lane is the spoiled son of a famous Hollywood director.

In the first book, their captain is swept overboard and the first mate abandons them. In the second book, they find themselves on a tiny island populated only by a wild boar and some international smugglers.

Now, in Book 3, Escape, the kids need to take drastic measures to get rescued. Will has a gunshot wound that’s gotten infected, and he needs immediate medical care. Reaching much, Korman? Geez. JJ has an idea: he’ll stow away in the criminals’ cargo plane and, if they find him, he’ll offer himself up as a hostage on account of his father being so rich and famous and all.

And the story just keeps getting more and more ridiculous from there. I don’t know; if I hadn’t read the Everest series first, then I might not have minded the ridiculousness so much. But I still think I would have minded it a little. The story starts with promise — it reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s excellent Hatchet in the beginning. But it slowly degenerated into a sensationalist tale of hiding from criminals using the most extraordinary means possible to get back home.

This sort of plot is just so trite. I wouldn’t tolerate it in a television series and I won’t brook tolerate it in a book.

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Regular Read: Island, Book 2: Survival by Gordon Korman

Survival (Island, Book 2) Survival by Gordon Korman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM ISLAND, BOOK 1: SHIPWRECKED. Consider yourself forewarned. There are no spoiler tags besides this one: SPOILER!! SPOILERY SPOILER TAG FOR A SPOILER!!!

Survival is the second book in Gordon Korman’s Island trilogy, and this is where the series takes a southward dip in my opinion.

Luke Haggerty has survived being shipwrecked only to find himself on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. He and his fellow survivors Charla, Ian, and Will need to find food, fresh water to drink, shelter, and a way to get back home. To complicate their situation, Will becomes delirious with dehydration and crashes off into the jungle alone.

On the other side of the island, celebrity kid JJ Lane and Will’s sister Lyssa wash up on shore. JJ is convinced that the shipwreck is merely part of the “troubled kid” sailing program in which the kids were participating when all of this went down.

The kids find each other and a link to civilization — a small port that’s been overrun by smugglers. And that’s where the series took a bit of a dive for me. It’s just so cliché for the kids to find a link to the outside world only to discover that the only other people on the island are murderous criminals. Will’s hysteria, I could have understood. JJ’s constant name-dropping and refusal to see the truth of their situation, I could deal with. But all of that plus armed smugglers? It really made me roll my eyes.

The survival bits were decently fun, but not quite fun enough for me to really recommend this series wholeheartedly to lovers of children’s lit.

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This book could've used a smoke monster or two.

Regular Read: Island, Book One: Shipwreck by Gordon Korman

Shipwreck (Island, Book 1) Shipwreck by Gordon Korman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
These books were such an easy read that I was able to finish the entire trilogy in one day.

Gordon Korman’s Island series wasn’t as fun for me as his Everest series — possibly because the plot was a little less believable, in my opinion.

But the first book starts off in a promising way. It opens on Luke Haggerty, who’s being sent on a sailing excursion called “Charting a New Course”. He was framed by a classmate who brought a gun to school and is being forced to participate in the program as part of his sentence. The program teaches kids self-control and discipline through the hard work of sailing. Luke’s shipmates include the captain, his weaselly first mate, Mr. Radford, and a few other troubled kids.

As the book’s title leads you to believe, the kids do end up getting shipwrecked on an island. The first book covers their journey to this point. While there was a fair amount of action, I didn’t think that this series did as good a job fleshing out the characters as the Everest series did. Many of them seemed more like mere caricatures to me, especially the character of Mr. Radford.

And one detail that rather annoyed me was how one of the characters, JJ Lane, is supposed to be the son of a famous director. Korman tries to legitimize his fame by dropping names of actual celebrities, which I think was a mistake on his part. The book will not bear well with time as a result, and JJ’s relationships with these celebrities would be pretty improbable, even if he were a real celebrity kid. I personally thought it would have been better if Korman had made up celebrities instead of dropping real names.

All in all, though, I thought that Shipwreck was a fun read; not a bad way to pass time on the train.

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Cannonball 19: The Black Circle (The 39 Clues, Book #5) by Patrick Carman

I don't know what's cookin', but it doesn't smell too bad...

The Black Circle (The 39 Clues, #5) The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There’s an old story about how you can’t cook a frog in a kettle of boiling water — he’ll jump right out to escape the heat. But if you put him in a kettle of nice, cool water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog won’t notice the change in temperature until his po’ legs is jes’ fried and it’s too late for him to get out of his predicament.

That helps to describe how I’m starting feel about this series. When I first started reading The 39 Clues, I jumped out of the boiling water, shouting protestations and vociferously decrying the decline in the quality of children’s lit. But the series tempted me back with an installment by an author whose works I enjoy reading. I denounced the series again — but not as forcefully.

By the time I floated my way through Book #4, I could hardly muster the energy to protest at all.

Book #5 in the series begins with a mysterious telegram that sends protagonists Amy and Dan Cahill to Russia. The book is the usual slurry of travel + mild intrigue + not knowing who to trust + historical trivia + bickering. Meh. And MEH.

And, since it’s set in Russia, of course one of the bigger plot points is related to the story of Anastasia. For those unfamiliar with the story, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last tsar of Imperial Russia. She was seventeen years old when her father was deposed in the Bolshevik Revolution, and she and her family were all executed.

Speculations that she had somehow survived floated around for decades until her remains were finally positively identified in March of 2009.
Author Patrick Carman builds most of this book around that legend. I suppose it’s not his fault that the legend was debunked when the book was probably already well underway, but I can’t help feeling a little dissatisfied. Really, I think he should have built it around something else that was, I don’t know, proven to be true.
But, overall, the action was average, the mystery was average, the reveal was average – no screaming protests here, which is unusual for me.

I think that I’ve been sitting in this pot of hot water for too long. I wanna jump out, but the N kids keep supplying me with books. It’s like the water is nice and warm – and laced with roofies. I’m not going to start gushing over the books anytime soon, but I might stop whining about them. In the meantime, I’m going to just sit in this nice, warm water and relax my brain.

I guess that’s what I dislike so much about books like these. They’re not terrible, but you could easily get used to reading them. They get cranked out at breakneck speed, so there’s always a new one to read. Before you know it, you forget that just because they’re not terrible doesn’t mean they’re good, and your standard for literature could be irreparably damaged.

Hey, what smells so good? Smells like chicken…

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Cannonball 18: Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues, Book #4) by Jude Watson

Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues, #4) Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Beyond the Grave takes the Cahill kids from Japan to Egypt. They’re searching for Clue #4 of 39 (and I can only feel a faint throbbing in protest when I think of the 35 books left to go in the series) with the aid of handsome grad student Theo Cotter and his grandmother, Hilary, who was a good friend of Grace Cahill (or was she??? POSSIBLY OBVIOUS SPOILER!!! I KNOW I SAW IT COMING!! Never trust hot guys or their grandmothers!! Let this be a lesson to us all! Thanks for the tip, Jude Watson!).

Now, whenever I think of Egypt, I automatically think of my sister.

My sister is a huge archaeology geek. People always go up to her to gush about how much they, too, love the pyramids and she freezes them with an icy glare until their either stammer apologies and back away slowly or simply fall silent and wither under her gaze.

Why, you ask? Because assuming that archaeology buffs love Egypt is like assuming that all bibliophiles love Twilight — sure, everybody knows about it, and maybe it’s even a good place to start in growing a love for reading, but the truth is that it’s beginner stuff and once you’ve had a taste of something a little more sophisticated, you kinda snicker into your hand when you hear someone say that they’re a fan of books because they love sparkly emo vampires.

And I can understand a little better why my sister kind of hates Egypt after reading this book. It not only is super-basic, but it also gets so much attention that far more interesting material is eclipsed (book title pun not intended) by it.

I will say that the book does teach you some interesting facts about Egypt, if you’re into that sort of thing (Philistines!). The one thing that the series does well and does so consistently is to use the adventure as a vehicle to teach kids a little history. It’s a very little bit of history, but it’s history nonetheless.

But, in the end, are those morsels of historical trivia worth wading through 192 pages of stilted dialog, saw-it-coming-a-mile-away “twists” and mind-numbingly dull plot contrivances?

I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to freeze you with an icy glare until you see what I’m getting at. And then I’m going to recommend that you head to your local library and check out some books about the history of Persia.

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