Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Riordan did such a smart thing with this book, he took the two best-known characters and put them in Hades. Forcing Percy and Annabeth to strike out on their own, in a place where they couldn't get help from their fellow demigods, keeps them isolated and finally allows someone else to really shine. In a series where fans already "knew" who the hero was, shuffling characters around finally lets Riordan show off the heroic qualities in all his characters. And, he does an amazing job bringing Tartarus to life. His descriptions of the Underworld are better than of actual places he sends the other demigods to visit.

I know know why Riordan waited so long into the series to position his characters in this way. I knew he had to build out the story slowly since it's a long series with a lot of moving parts, but still, this is the first time I really felt like I was getting to know anybody. The narrative finally goes beyond simple back story for each demigod and in addition to all that we start learning about who they all really are and what they're experiencing on this quest, how it's changing them. In the midst of all this character development there is an actual mission the demigods much achieve - to reset the Doors of Death and prevent the monsters loyal to Gaea from quickly regenerating once defeated. The trick is in closing the Doors properly and they have to be accessed at the same time from both the entrance in Tartarus and the one in our world (located in the House of Hades in Greece.) Percy and Annabeth end up falling into Hades so they take on that part of the quest while the rest of the crew - Hazel, Piper, Frank, Leo, Jason, and Nico travel topside to the House of Hades. Everyone knows they're coming so there's no shortage of monsters trying to defeat the demigods at both ends of the quest.

As the journey continues the demigods are really given a chance to grow their talents. Frank evolves into a true son of Ares and a mighty warrior. It even changes his physical appearance. Hazel learns to manipulate The Mist, a new talent that really comes in handy in the major battles of this quest. Leo develops in a different, more personal way, but still changes for the better in a way that benefits the whole team. This particular quest really teaches the characters so much about themselves that I found this book to really be the most meaningful in the series.

Focusing less on Greek and Roman myths and more on the actual character of the characters makes House of Hades by far the best book I've read by Riordan since wrapping up Percy's own series. I'm excited to see where all these characters end up and am sad I've finally caught up to the publisher and now have to wait something like six months for the final book.

My review here is light on plot because I had a baby while reading this. Most of what I read before the baby was born got a little fuzzy after, but I definitely liked the book a lot and am still pretty happy with the series overall.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

This book was an extremely quick read but totally disappointing. There are simply no happy endings, only short-lived moments of joy. If you're going to fictionalize not just the life of a famous author, but her whole family, you could at least give the reader more than fleeting happiness to walk away with. Not even Louisa seems content with her writing career in the end -- how sad is that?

The book focuses on a single year really in Louisa's adult life when her family relocates from Concord, Mass. to Walpole, New Hampshire. Her family is living off the charity of others since her father refuses to work a "day job," so she's struggling between the demands of helping her family sustain themselves and the desire to strike out on her own and really pursue her writing. She's already been published at this point and has saved enough money to venture out on her own, but decided to help her family settle into their new home first. 

In the midst of her time in Walpole, she falls in love, waffling back and forth between the traditional concept of marriage as an acceptable future and her continuing desire for her independence. How it translates in the book though is in repeated confrontations between the lovers where Louisa caves in - admits her love and willingness to be with her man - waits a minute to think it over, and changes her mind, abandoning him. It's redundant with a bad payoff since at the end of the book she's not even fulfilled by the ultimate choice she makes for herself.

I love Little Women and had no expectations this book would mirror any stories from that book, but I was hoping for a little less depressing drama and a little more positive character growth. So many books are popping up that fictionalize the life of someone well-known and I admit that I do enjoy the genre, but skip this book. It's just not worth even the brief investment.