Book review: “The Rise of Nine” by Pittacus Lore

The Rise of Nine is the third book in the Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore (the pseudonym of authors Jobie Hughes and James Frey, although only James Frey finished this book). At the end of The Power of Six, Four and Nine escaped from the Mogadorian base but had to leave Sam behind, while Six met up with Seven (Marina), Ten (Ella), Hector (Marina’s friend), and Crayton (Ella’s unofficial Cepan) in Spain. Hector dies during the escape attempt. The Rise of Nine features Six and her group traveling to India to find Number Eight, while Four and Nine travel to Nine’s base in Chicago to regroup and set a course of action.

In general, The Rise of Nine is so much better compared to The Power of Six (thank goodness!). The plot moves faster and more interesting (yay conspiracies!) and the increased focus on the other Garde.

The plot finally picks up. In one book, we get government conspiracies, intercontinental travel using Loric relics, a prophecy that may or may not come true, and a big showdown with Setrákus Ra, the big bad Mogadorian. Hurrah! The faster pace means lots and lots of expository dialogue but I’m willing to forgive just to get the plot moving. The conspiracies were an interesting revelation, one that I hope will be explored more in the next books. I also appreciated the further evidence of the Loric visiting Earth even before the destruction of Lorien.

Another thing I appreciated was the increased prominence of the other Garde in the narrative. The Rise of Nine is told from the point of view of Four, Six, and Seven. It was difficult at times to separate the different voices – it doesn’t help that the sections aren’t labeled with the narrator’s name and the fonts used for the different sections are practically the same – but you get used to it. The three voices made Rise more tolerable to me because it features more Seven in general (she’s turning out to be my favorite), more Six being a badass and less hung up on Four, and less Four whining about Sarah.

What I didn’t like:

  • Four is still whining about Sarah. Sarah is never going away, is she?
  • Seven is suddenly obsessed with how cute Eight is. I’m giving her a a pass though because she’s a teenage girl who was raised in a convent and was confronted with her first cute guy.
  • The general telling and not showing. I forgave this but it needs to be mentioned again.

The verdict: 3/5 stars. It’s on the same level as I am Number Four and definitely better than The Power of Six (which I disliked so much I didn’t bother to write a review). It’s a fun read that’s best enjoyed when you just want to rest your brain.

As an early birthday event of sorts, I decided to host a giveaway for a copy of The Rise of Nine. Join here!

Book review: “Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian” by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl’s magical journey that spans eight novels and one short story collection comes to an end with Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian. The official description:

Artemis Fowl’s archenemy Opal Koboi has masterminded a way to simultaneously secure her release from prison and bring the human and fairy worlds to their knees. And, unless Artemis can stop her, the evil pixie’s next move will destroy all human life on Earth.

Ground zero is the Fowl Estate, where Opal has reanimated fairy warriors who were buried there thousands of years ago. Their spirits have possessed any vessels they can find – corpses, Artemis’ little brothers, assorted wildlife – and they are bound to obey Opal’s every command. Defeating the motley troops and their diabolical leader will require all of Artemis’ cleverness, as well as Butler’s bravery, Holly’s skill, and Foaly’s gadgetry. But if their best efforts aren’t enough, Armageddon will surely follow.

I’ll admit it: I teared up as I started to read The Last Guardian. Imagine: Artemis Fowl came out in 2001 and here we are, 11 years later, with Artemis, Holly, and Butler’s last adventure. They’ve battled each other, the Russian mafia, a genius-insane pixie and her LEP stooge, a pansy tech genius, a genius-insane pixie (again), a demon, Artemis’ younger self and the genius-insane pixie (again), and a nasty elf. Reformation notwithstanding, Artemis has become my favorite anti-hero.

So. How’s the book?

I’m parts satisfied, saddened and “That’s it? There’s no epilogue?!”. I’m satisfied because it was a good end to Artemis’ brilliant run. He is at his most selfless, something that would have been unthinkable in the first book. I was so happy to see Artemis and Holly as BFFs again. Butler is the same steadfast presence. Juliet trying to wrangle Myles and Beckett Fowl was adorable. We see Foaly’s more sensitive side and (finally!) his kick-ass wife.

I’m probably in the minority of AF fans when I say that Opal Koboi is not my favorite villain. I was satisfied with how The Opal Deception ended and thought that her inclusion in The Time Paradox was unnecessary, so you can imagine my worry when I found out that Opal was returning yet again. From a certain point of view, Opal is the perfect foil for Artemis because she is so much like what Artemis was before: intelligent to the point of megalomania and uncaring. It’s always nice to see Artemis stumped. But after several appearances, Opal seems to have become an exaggeration of her former self (though that could also be due to her growing insanity with each book). Luckily, The Last Guardian is a good exit point for our deranged pixie.

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Book review: “Dark Frost” by Jennifer Estep

Dark Frost is the third book in the Mythos Academy series by Jennifer Estep (my reviews of the first two books are over here). The series follows the adventures of Gwen Frost as she struggles with her destiny as Nike’s chosen Champion, fights against the forces of Chaos, and deals with the never-ending drama that is high school.

The official book description:

I’ve seen so many freaky things since I started attending Mythos Academy last fall. I know I’m supposed to be a fearless warrior, but most of the time, I feel like I’m just waiting for the next Bad, Bad Thing to happen. Like someone trying to kill me–again.

Everyone at Mythos Academy knows me as Gwen Frost, the Gypsy girl who uses her psychometry magic to find lost objects–and who just may be dating Logan Quinn, the hottest guy in school. But I’m also the girl the Reapers of Chaos want dead in the worst way. The Reapers are the baddest of the bad, the people who murdered my mom. So why do they have it in for me? It turns out my mom hid a powerful artifact called the Helheim Dagger before she died. Now, the Reapers will do anything to get it back. They think I know where the dagger is hidden, but this is one thing I can’t use my magic to find. All I do know is that the Reapers are coming for me–and I’m in for the fight of my life.

“Dark Frost” picks up a few weeks after ” Kiss of Frost” ends, with Gwen, Daphne, Carson, and Logan visiting a museum to finish homework they were supposed to do over Christmas. Aside from weapons, armor, and artifacts, they find themselves at the center of a Reaper attack headed by Loki’s Champion.

The good:

  • The museum and the battle in the museum. I’m a mythology nut so I enjoyed the descriptions of the artifacts on display.
  • The showdown between Gwen, Loki’s Champion, and *****. It saved the book and showed just how badass Gwen could be. She has so much potential!
  • Logan and Daphne being the kick-ass people that they are.

The horrible:

  • Gwen’s entire quest to find the Helheim Dagger. Seriously? It took her that long to figure out where the dagger was hidden?
  • Gwen being surprised with who Loki’s Champion turned out to be. I figured it out the moment the character was introduced.
  • Gwen not realizing how Loki’s Champion was playing her.
  • Gwen being an overemotional idiot over Logan. She must have spent at least half the book moaning about how she couldn’t be with Logan because of her magic. This is the girl who’s supposed to save the world?

The annoying:

  • The reveal about Nickamedes. So. Typical.
  • The author’s continuous use and reuse of the same adjectives.
  • The author’s constant shifting between referring to people by their name or their warrior type. This wouldn’t be annoying if the book weren’t written in Gwen’s voice. Why would Gwen’s inner voice refer to Daphne as “the Valkyrie” after they became best friends? It would be like Harry referring to Hermione as “the Gryffindor”. It doesn’t make sense.

Overall score: 3 out of 5 stars. It’s an improvement over the first two books but not by much. I’m still hoping that it’ll get better with “Crimson Frost”.

Book review: “The Enchantress” by Michael Scott

After five years in the making, we finally have “The Enchantress”, the final book in Michael Scott‘s series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

The official book description:

The two that are one must become the one that is all. One to save the world, one to destroy it.

San Francisco:
Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel have one day left to live, and one job left to do. They must defend San Francisco. The monsters gathered on Alcatraz Island have been released and are heading toward the city. If they are not stopped, they will destroy everyone and everything in their path.

But even with the help of two of the greatest warriors from history and myth, will the Sorceress and the legendary Alchemyst be able to defend the city? Or is it the beginning of the end of the human race?

Danu Talis:
Sophie and Josh Newman traveled ten thousand years into the past to Danu Talis when they followed Dr. John Dee and Virginia Dare. And it’s on this legendary island that the battle for the world begins and ends.

Scathach, Prometheus, Palamedes, Shakespeare, Saint-Germain, and Joan of Arc are also on the island. And no one is sure what—or who—the twins will be fighting for.

Today the battle for Danu Talis will be won or lost.
But will the twins of legend stand together?
Or will they stand apart—
one to save the world and one to destroy it?

“The Enchantress” took me a while to finish compared to the other books because 1) I had to stop and start because of work, and 2) it felt longer and emotionally heavier compared to the others. My somewhat disjointed thoughts on the book:

  • The whole book felt like one extended battle scene. We have old!Prometheus, old!Tsagaglalal, and Niten on the Golden Gate Bridge;  the Flamels, Billy the Kid, Machiavelli, Black Hawk, Odin, Hel, and Mars in Alcatraz; and Scáthach, Joan, Saint-Germain,  Palamedes, Shakespeare, young!Prometheus, young!Tsagaglalal, Virginia Dare, John Dee, Sophie, and Josh in Danu Talis. There’s little room to breathe as the battles rage on.
  • Because the battles rage on and on and on, there’s little further character development. How the characters are at the end of “The Warlock” are basically how they are in “The Enchantress”.
  • Virginia Dare’s bigger role was a nice touch. I would have loved to learn more about who her Elder master was and why she killed him but with an ensemble cast this huge, I’m not surprised that it was never explained.
  • The big reveal about Sophie and Josh’s origins wasn’t just big – it was mind-bending. Seriously. I hate that there was no fanfare – Isis and Osiris just come out and say it – for something this huge. But I suppose in the greater scheme of the story, their origins weren’t that important.
  • I salute Michael Scott’s expertise in mythology and folklore. He managed to wrangle these disparate characters from all over the world and weave them together into an engaging story.
  • That said, maybe he shouldn’t have included so many characters. Sure, they all get their moments but I would have loved more real development as the story progressed. Out of the huge ensemble, my favorite has got to be Machiavelli.
  • Another thing Michael Scott wrangles well is time travel. Done haphazardly, time travel is an awful, awful plot device. But in this case, he plots everything to perfection. I love it! The twist with Josh is especially cool.

All in all, it was a good book and a fitting conclusion to the series. Here’s hoping that Michael Scott will release more short stories (and compile them!) to fill in the (kinda big) gaps in the story. I totally enjoyed “Billy the Kid and the Vampyres of Vegas”.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

And I’m finally done! Whoohoo! Now that that’s over, any recommendations for what young adult book I should read (and review) next?

Book reviews: “Touch of Frost” and “Kiss of Frost” by Jennifer Estep

I’m not a fan of the young adult paranormal romance genre but I decided to give Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series a try because 1) someone lent it to me, 2) I was bored, and 3) I wanted something light and fast to read.

The official series description:
Gwen Frost is an outsider at Mythos Academy, a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody’s head with a sword. Gwen is an outsider both to the students of the Academy and the rest of the world. But when her gift of psychometry – the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it reveals dark undercurrents and danger afoot, she has no choice but to get involved.

Book 1: Touch of Frost

Gwen Frost is the new girl at Mythos Academy, a boarding school in North Carolina where the children of mythological warriors – Vikings, Valkyries, Spartans, Celtic warrior bards, samurais (?!) and ninjas (?!) – go to school. The kids are here to learn how to fight and stand against the forces of Loki, who wants to plunge the world into Chaos. The funny thing is she’s not a warrior. She’s a Gypsy with the gift of psychometry, the “ability to know an object’s history just by touching it”. Because she’s a Gypsy and is *gasp!* middle class, the hoity-toity rich kids of Mythos consider her as invisible. Gwen’s accepted her background status until Mythos Queen Bee Jasmine Ashton is brutally murdered and an important Artifact is stolen. Gwen is the only one who thinks there’s more to Jasmine’s murder than meets the eye and so starts poking around. Unfortunately, poking your nose into where it doesn’t belong in a place like Mythos is definitely not a good idea.

What I liked:

  • The mythology-brought-to-the-modern-world scenario, similar to what Rick Riordan has done
  • The supporting characters: Logan Quinn (the Spartan bad boy/Love Interest), Daphne Cruz (the Valkyrie princess who eventually becomes Gwen’s best friend), and Carson Callahan (Celtic warrior bard and band geek)
  • The touch of teenage reality – sex, alcohol, and rule-breaking in a boarding school.
  • The Nancy Drew aspect – skulking around, discovering things.
  • It was exactly what I thought it would be – fast, light, and slightly brainless. On second thought, is this a good thing?

What I didn’t like:

  • Gwen. There were several instances at the start of the book that I just wanted to smack her.
  • The telling, not showing. Important information that Gwen needs to know is constantly told to her by the teachers, Daphne, and the villain *facepalm*
  • The constant emphasizing of the kids having designer clothes and purses, expensive cars, and jewelry. I get it, these kids are rich. No need to tell me every other page.
  • Samurais and ninjas included as “mythological warriors”. Really? REALLY? They were warriors, sure. But they were never warriors in the service of a particular god.

Overall score: 2/5 stars. Touch of Frost gave me enough reason to read Book 2, Kiss of Frost.

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Book review: “The Serpent’s Shadow” by Rick Riordan

Finally! We have the The Serpent’s Shadow – the 3rd (but not final?) book in the Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan (he of Percy Jackson fame). The official synopsis:

He’s b-a-a-ack! Despite their best efforts, Carter and Sadie Kane can’t seem to keep Apophis, the Chaos snake, down. Now Apophis is threatening to plunge the world into eternal darkness, and the Kanes are faced with the impossible task of having to destroy him once and for all. Unfortunately, the magicians of the House of Life are on the brink of civil war, the gods are divided, and the young initiates of Brooklyn House stand almost alone against the forces of chaos. The Kanes’ only hope is an ancient spell that might turn the serpent’s own shadow into a weapon, but the magic has been lost for a millennia. To find the answer they need, the Kanes must rely on the murderous ghost of a powerful magician who might be able to lead them to the serpent’s shadow . . . or might lead them to their deaths in the depths of the underworld.
 

Nothing less than the mortal world is at stake when the Kane family fulfills its destiny in this thrilling conclusion to the Kane Chronicles.

I willingly admit that I’m not as big a fan of the Kane Chronicles compared to PJO because it’s been hit-or-miss. The Red Pyramid was great and got me to look forward to Book 2. Unfortunately, The Throne of Fire was disappointing and forgettable. Because of this, I was hesitant to give The Serpent’s Shadow a chance. I’m glad that I finally did (and that I finally finished Goliath by Scott Westerfeld so that I could move on to this :P) because The Serpent’s Shadow is so much fun!

What I liked:

  • Rick Riordan is funny again! It seems that he tends to be funny when he’s not trying so hard to be funny. I loved getting inside Carter’s head.
  • It’s full of action. So many things are happening all at once that you don’t have the time to be bored.
  • The supporting cast members are fleshed out and real. I liked meeting Walt in Throne of Fire but again, he was forgettable. Just a random background character. This time, he’s fleshed out and has an actual purpose. I also enjoyed finally seeing Zia in action after being relegated to Love Interest.
  • The series is sparking an interest in Egyptian mythology. I love learning new things.

What could have used some work:

  • Same thing that plagued Throne of Fire: Riordan tends to tell, not show. The plot moves because of conversations between the characters. Carter and Sadie find out about about the importance of the sheut (shadow) because Bast tells them. Thoth tells Carter about the evil magician that stole his book. Said evil magician continues to explain things as they go along. I can give it a pass if it’s used sporadically but if done all the time (like in this book!), it can get annoying. For better or worse, the plot moved too fast for me to do some serious pondering.
  • I predicted how Walt’s problem would be solved. It is such a cop-out answer, not to mention mind-boggling.
  • Sadie is so self-centered and annoying! Gah. Frankly, I wanted to reach into the book and smack some sense into her. Good thing that I love Carter so much that I continued reading the book.

Off-topic: Anubis is exactly how I imagined a teenage Nico diAngelo would be like! All dark hair, dark eyes, and black leather jacket with black jeans 😛 I hope there’s more of him and RED in The Mark of Athena.

My overall rating: 4/5. It’s better than Red Pyramid but there are still some things that need fixing. The ending is open-ended so there will always be room for a sequel ala Heroes of Olympus. I don’t know how to feel about the wink-wink-nudge-nudge reference to other gods and magic users in Long Island. I’d prefer it if PJO and KC remained as two separate universes.I shudder to think about the possibilities of a three-way crossover with the Norse mythology series that Riordan is planning to write.

Book review: “Leviathan” by Scott Westerfeld

Here I am again, starting another YA series. Because of the paranormal romance craze started by Twilight, it’s been a bit difficult finding new YA books that don’t feature vampires, werewolves, angels, devils, and the like. I have nothing against the genre per se – it’s just not my cup of tea. Good thing I stumbled upon Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan series in Fully Booked Greenbelt when I was looking for a Christmas gift for my brother.

Leviathan is set in AU steampunk World War I Europe, where Allied nations are “Darwinists” with fabricated (genetically engineered) beasts (or “fabs”), while the Central Powers are “Clankers” with their mechanical creations. The Germans want to start a war against the Darwinists, so they murder the pacifist Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie and place the blame on a Serbian nationalist. The novel opens with Prince Aleksandar, son of the archduke, woken up in the middle of the night to be smuggled out of the castle by soldiers loyal to his father. The other protagonist is Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl who wants to become an airman in the Royal Air Navy. Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed to join the military. The solution? Disguise herself as a boy, of course! (My eyes may or may not have rolled at this part of the blurb.)

What do I love about the book?

  1. The characters. Both Alek and Deryn (AKA “Dylan”) are both fleshed out. Alek initially comes off as a spoiled brat but that’s mostly because he was raised in a barking* castle. Beneath the bravado is someone who lost everything he knew in one night and suddenly has to figure out what he’s supposed to do next. Deryn is a tomboy trying to recapture what she lost when her father died in a hot air balloon accident. She is not weak and knows her own mind. Fate throws them together and they learn to grow together.
  2. The AU world-building. Knowing that the book takes place in World War I Europe gives the reader a general feel for the setting, but it’s Westerfeld’s descriptions and Keith Thompson‘s illustrations that bring it to life.
  3. The plot. It has the right mix of action, political intrigue, and – dare I say it? – romance.

What needed work?

  1. The pacing. The set-up – Alek’s escape from Austria, Deryn training on the Leviathan, the Leviathan bringing Dr. Nora Barlow – took too long. I know the long buildup helped with the great world-building I just praised, but it really did take too long. You have to plow through 50-60% of the book before finally seeing Alek and Deryn meet. Because of this, Leviathan felt like one very long set-up for Behemoth (the next book in the series) instead of a book on its own.

Final score: 4 out of 5 stars

 

*One advantage of an AU setting is being able to swear all you like because your invented/repurposed “swear words” don’t count. In this case, “barking” roughly translates to “freaking”, as in “freaking castle”. Other words to look out for are “clart” and “bum rag”. LOL