Monthly Archives: October 2010

“The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan


It took me awhile — I listened to the audio version until the last 7 chapters of this 500+ page middle grade novel — but I have finally finished Rick Riordan's "The Red Pyramid." Wahoo! I'm delighted to report that "The Red Pyramid," despite its impressive length, is a fun, action-packed history lesson. Fear not! The "lesson" part goes down as smoothly here as in Riordan's bestselling "Percy Jackson" series, taking us readers on an adventure-filled tour of ancient Egypt right in our modern world.

We have dual narrators, middle grade siblings Carter and Sadie Kane. Younger sister Sadie is impulsive, sassy, and very British. Carter is more thoughtful and reserved. The siblings are recording their tale, so they tend to interrupt, correct, or simply scold each other with some frequency. If you're like me, this practice will make you giggle repeatedly.

The story begins with a disaster at London's famous British Museum. We learn through some quick back story that following their mother's death, Carter traveled the world with his Egyptologist dad, Julius, while Sadie remained in England with her grandparents. At the British Museum, Julius breaks the Rosetta Stone, freeing five Egyptian gods and, unfortunately, entombing himself within a golden coffin.

From that explosive start, the book proceeds on a brisk pace, barely letting the reader catch her breath, as one action scene dives into the next. Carter and Sadie go on the run to stop the evil god Set, now freed, from building a red pyramid in Phoenix and destroying the Earth. Of course, they'd also like to rescue their dad, too. But how? Luckily, these two seemingly average children discover that they are descended from the pharaohs, giving them unique magical abilities. Even better, two gods freed at the British Museum, Horus and Isis, siblings of Set, now share inner space with the kids, allowing them to tap into some incredible power. Some of the funniest scenes in the book involve the internal debates Carter and Sadie have with their hosted gods; as you might imagine, thousand year old omnipotent beings can get a bit testy when they're controlled by children!

As they travel the county to battle Set, the kids hone their magical fighting skills, which come in handy when encountering all manner of ancient foes along the way. They also get help from a series of unlikely allies: Iskandar, an old magician with the House of Life; Khufu, a basketball-loving baboon; Bast, a feline goddess formerly known as Sadie's cat Muffin; Zia, a beautiful, dangerous young magician who makes Carter giddy; Amos, the kids' estranged uncle; and several shabti (clay figures used by pharaohs and gods to perform tasks on command) named Doughboy (!) and Philip of Macedonia. Bast, in particular, chaperones the kids the longest, and her role as mentor, fellow troublemaker, and Friskies eater is a hoot.

Riordan masterly weaves TONS of information about Egyptian history, customs, language, and religion into this rollicking, breakneck adventure story. The historical information never slows the tale down, which is a real credit to the author. After all, the kids are battling to save the world; this has to be of primary importance! Of course, Carter and Sadie are always outmatched — who can really be a worthy foe for someone called "Face of Horrors"?! — but they use their ingenuity and burgeoning talents to escape from one tight spot after another. Indeed, the book reads like a series of interconnected stories about fighting evil forces and facing nearly impossible challenges. I can easily envision families sitting together and reading this book aloud.

I fully expected the action, which Riordan delivers in spades. I was pleasantly surprised by the frequent touches of wry humor, which wonderfully soften some of the more frightening scenes and images. What I was completely floored by were the powerful emotional scenes, including one where Sadie delivers a love note from the sky goddess Nut to her beloved earth god husband Geb. And the ending? Without giving anything away, it's a doozy.

As for the characters, I love the kids' authenticity. They are brave, smart, strong, confused, tired, frustrated, resilient — just about what you'd hope for from children thrown into a life and death struggle. They even feel like real siblings, loyal to each other but still able to tease and joke. Boy and girl readers should find much to like in Carter and Sadie.

I am leaving so much out — Sadie crushes on Anubis, a jackal-headed god of the underworld! — but I think you get the idea. Read the "Red Pyramid" for the constant whiz-bang action, the fascinating look into ancient Egypt, the funny asides, the sweet moments between Carter and Sadie … whatever your reason for doing so, just read it. I think you'll adore it as much as I do. I'm so looking forward to the sequel! And be sure to check the Kane Chronicles site for updates and information.


Posted by on October 26, 2010 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , ,

National Book Award Finalists

The National Book Foundation recently announced the finalists for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. National Book Awards recognize literary excellence in American literature and are awarded to writers by other writers.

Past winners of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature include "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," "True Believer," "House of the Scorpion," "Godless," and "What I Saw and How I Lied."

This year's nominees are shown below and can also be found here. The winner will be announced on November 16th.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

“I Am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore


"I Am Number Four" is a teen sci fi / superhero / coming of age / adventure / love story. It's a quick, thrilling read with lots of action and an unexpected amount of emotion. My biggest complaint is more a global teen fiction issue than a specific criticism of this book — why must EVERY teen novel be part of a trilogy these days? Is the standalone teen novel dead?

Eh, so with that griping out of the way, let me tell you why I had fun reading "I Am Number Four." First, I'm still a fan of the sometimes overused first-person narrative in teen fiction, especially when the voice guiding us through the story belongs to a high school guy with authentic insecurities, fears, strengths, and heart. Yes, John Smith is an alien from the planet Lorien who is developing special powers ("legacies") to fight off the bad guys who destroyed his home world, the lethal, brutally strong Mogadorians. But John is still a genuine teen boy, alien or not. He's worried about fitting in at a new school in rural Ohio (he and Henri, his Cêpan, a kind of trainer / Jedi Master, move constantly to stay ahead of the Mogadorians). John's believably frustrated that he's attracted the attention of class bully / football star Mark and believably brave in standing up to him; while John knows fighting Mark is a great way to get noticed — hello, he's got alien super strength! — he won't stand by quietly. And, despite all the chaos of his life, John quickly falls for his beautiful home ec partner Sarah. So while John's first day also marks the onset of one of his legacies (huzzah, glowing hands!), his sense of trepidation and anxiety is very real and, I think, very relatable for the teen audience.

There's also a ton of action here, from training scenes to chase sequences to all out battles with every creepy form of Mogadarian evil. "I Am Number Four" is being made into a movie as we speak, and I can understand why. The action scenes jump off the page in a crisp, cinematic style. On screen, they should be astounding. The book begins with the Mogadarians slaying poor Number Three. There are 9 child guardians who fled Lorien for Earth when the Mogadorians destroyed their world. These 9 have varying legacy levels, which will develop over time into wicked superpowers. The twist here is that the Mogadarians can only hunt down and kill the 9 in precise order. So when John discovers that Number Three has been killed, he and Henri hightail it to Ohio, knowing that John is next on the Mogadorian hit list. From there on out, we readers get a palpable sense of danger, of a fragile, peaceful existence that at any moment can be shattered. We also understand how badly overmatched John is, despite his otherworldly speed, strength, and healing, adding a sense of urgency and desperation to Henri's training and John's predicament.

Although no one is reading this book for its character development — Mark has a pretty quick turnaround from menacing bully to stalwart friend — there are several nice moments between John and the patient, kindly Henri, as well as with John's new friend, geeky alien conspiracy theorist Sam. And while the John / Sarah romance feels a bit paint-by-numbers (she's perfect in just about every way), it's pleasant enough to sustain interest and give John extra incentive to stay alive. Plus, there's a little dog named Bernie Kosar who just about steals the show at the end.

If you're not put off by violence and the sparing use of a few curse words, I'd say "I Am Number Four" is a great choice for even middle school students, both boys and girls. You'll find an exciting sci fi thrill ride with some surprisingly emotional scenes. Keep an eye out for the movie in February 2011 and for the sequel, "The Power of Six," next June. Happy reading!

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , ,