Tag Archives: book reviews

The Lightening Thief, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan

Redd Becker Book Review

Rick Riordan booksThe Lightening Thief is the first of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympian’s series. The stories mix Greek Gods with youths in the modern world. Although I would classify this book a middle grade adventure,  high schoolers enjoy the series as well. As with many Rick Riordan books, the story moves fast with hardly a moment to reflect.

The Lightening Thief starts in New York City, then takes us on an adventure-filled ride across the country. Written in first person, Percy tells how he learned that he is a demigod, then shows us the consequences of his privileged position.

We call this type of book reader’s “candy” in our house, because it doesn’t have much depth, but is entertaining.

Rick Riordan Books

Riordan writes fast moving, action oriented stories that take the reader out of here and now—pure entertainment. He is a prolific writer and can be formulaic, but for the right young reader, he opens the door of imagination and entertainment. Like many of Riordan’s books, The Lightening Thief is easy to read and full of action.

Riordan uses mythology from European lore as a springboard for his stories. This provides a fun framework, although the references shouldn’t be interpreted as true to the myths, .

If your child enjoys reading The Lightening Thief, check out this list of Rick Riordan books.

For those interested in writing:  I think of Rick Riordan stories as full of action and conflicts, so when researching various ways writers handle ‘fight scenes’ I pulled out his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as a reference. The fight scenes I found were so much shallower than I remembered. For wonderfully colorful fight scenes check out Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Tad William’s science fiction books.

The Lightening Thief, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick RiordanThe Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1
Published by Disney Hyperion Books on March 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 377

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

Redd Becker Book Review

Anatomy of a Misfit byAnatomy of a Misfit centers around the life of the third most popular girl in high school. The story is a written in first person, as she struggles with the social environment around her position of entitlement. Her main adversary is the most popular girl who inflicts terror on her minion. As expected, conflicts with multiple boyfriends, one being the most popular guy and the other the artsy dysfunctional type, predominate. 

Portes claims, in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the story reflects her life in high school. This is sad, because the characters appear stereotypical and contrite. The focus of a high schooler in this protagonist’s situation, reaching for meaning in life, wreaks of politically correct content.

Am I being harsh? Perhaps, but it’s time as a society we provide more culturally rich environments for our children. All children. This story sadly reflects the norm of an elite few individuals in every high school. The inhumanity of these entitled few impacts everyone around them more than this book justifies. Let’s pay attention to what we want our high schools to become, rather than dwell on the simpering of the entitle’s search for peace in a school environment she willingly built.

A Movie for Anatomy of a Misfit

The book moved along quickly through scenes with lots of dialogue. Somehow not surprising, it has been optioned for a movie in 2014. J. Mills Goodloe is writing the screen page for Paramount. As of this review it is still ‘in progress’.

For some contrasting views check out The Guardian‘s review and LoseTimeReading.

Anatomy of a Misfit  by Andrea PortesAnatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes
Published by Harper Children’s on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 336

This emotional, hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant YA debut, based on actual events, recounts one girl’s rejection of her high school’s hierarchy—and her discovery of her true self in the face of tragedy.
Fall’s buzzed-about, in-house favorite.
Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?
Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Redd Becker Book Review

Falling into Place byWhen a high school girl runs her car off the road in an act of suicide, her family and friend’s lives change forever. The primary focus of Falling into Place is the reaction of family and friends as they grapple with the unexpected death.

With the pressures teens are subjected to in our society, it is no wonder suicide concerns us. Although a painful topic, we need to be aware of it. Zhang brings the subject into full fruition from the perspective of those close to the teen.

Characters of Falling into Place

Zhang develops believable characters with reactions we can understand, if not always agree with.

Scenes jump between her brother, friends, mom and dad. Character changes are noted at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader orient. Each chapter is written in third-person-close from a different person’s perspective, but there is also a first person narrator who occasionally appears. This perspective is not identified until the end. Scenes takes place at different times and places. Present is mixed with flashbacks. 

The story was well written and engaging but too depressing for me. It hurt in its reality.

For another reviewers perspective check out Stacked Books review.

Falling into Place by Amy ZhangFalling into Place by Amy Zhang
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 9th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 296

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.
Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.


The Memory Key by Liana Liu

Redd Becker Book Reviews

The Memory Key explores a future where memory chips implanted The Memory Key by Liana Liuin everyone, including children circumvents  alzheimer’s disease, but the mind begins to rely on the device. Things go wrong when the company that makes memory keys designs them to manipulate people. When Lora’s key malfunctions and she begins to have crisp memory recall she begins to investigate her mother. Lora realizes her mother, a scientist with the company who made memory key, was murdered by them.


A Memory Key Sounds Enticing

Liu writes a fast-paced action mystery. As with much scifi questions of technological interventions on humans predominates. Implants to ward off challenges of our organic body sounds appealing, but be wary of big business and relying on technology. Some scenes appeared too convenient such as: her mother working for the memory key company, her best friend’s brother becomes a love interest who works for the same company, and her alternate boyfriend works for the old folks home where Lora finds her mother still alive.

For those who enjoy writing: Scenes move fast and are entertaining. The quality of writing works well for the format. The style reflects what YA specialist often asks for in YA books, but for me has become too standard in the genre.

Many find The Memory Key wonder. Take a look a more reviews at YA Books Central.

The Memory Key by Liana LiuThe Memory Key by Liana Liu
Published by HarperTeen on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 368

In a five-minutes-into-the-future world, a bereaved daughter must choose between losing memories of her mother to the haze of time and the reality-distorting, visceral pain of complete, perfect recall.

Lora Mint is determined not to forget.

Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return.

But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever? Lora’s longing for her lost mother and journey to patch up her broken memories is filled with authentic and poignant emotion. Her race to uncover the truth is a twisty ride.

In the end, Liana Liu’s story will spark topical conversations about memory and privacy in a world that is reliant on increasingly invasive forms of technology.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Redd Becker Book Review

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success byWe see success all around us. What makes those people succeed? Angela Duckworth maintains that how much ‘Grit’ someone exhibits is key.

Duckworth takes a look at success. Her book is a wonderful summary of the study of people’s grit; as in their passion and perseverance over the long-haul toward a goal. For an academic’s summary, Grit is informative and, most important, it’s readable. Duckworth includes fascinating examples of famous people, as well as people like ourselves who exhibit perseverance in the face of challenge. She interviewed many psychologists and includes interesting aspects of studies conducted over several decades.

Grit is Attainable

I found myself taking notes as Duckworth covered what grit is, who has it, how it relates to your happiness and how we can build our own or our children’s perseverance and drive, if we desire. She believes grit can be strengthened at any time in our life. What a relief.

Before finishing, I bought Duckworth’s previous book, Quiet. The ultimate compliment to an author, but I admit it was recommended by several people over the years and Quiet is a many-week New York Times Best Seller.

I did not agree with everything Duckworth presented, due to my own view of happiness, but that didn’t diminish what I learned and my enjoyment of the book. An excellent read.

For those interested in writing: Duckworth presents insights to one angle of humans who succeed and the skills she writes about can be of help in your writing career.

Check out Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on TED or at Angela Duckworth’s website.

Grit by Angela DuckworthGrit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Non-fiction
Buy on Amazon

In this must-read book for anyone striving to succeed, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows parents, educators, students, and business people—both seasoned and new—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a focused persistence called “grit.”
Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, MacArthur “genius” Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.
Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently bemoaned her lack of smarts, Duckworth describes her winding path through teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a special blend of passion and long-term perseverance. As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth created her own “character lab” and set out to test her theory.
Here, she takes readers into the field to visit teachers working in some of the toughest schools, cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to the cartoon editor of The New Yorker to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.
Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.

the Calling by Rachelle Dekker

Redd Becker Book Review

The Calling (Seer #2) byI picked up The Calling because of the cover. I wanted a male hero who struggles with the care of his family. This is that, although Remko also struggles with his relationship to his inner-beliefs.

A band of rebells, the Seers, hide outside their city and conduct gorilla warfare in an attempt to gain personal freedom for their people. The Seer’s enigmatic leader, Aaron, is seldom with the group, but he provides them each with the spiritual strength and guidance they need.

A change in president ramps up the urgency of their rebellion. When scientists experiment using drugs to erase  citizen’s memories and their desire for  freedom the Seers respond.

Remko acts as the Seer’s defense specialist, organizing and carrying out raids into the city to bring others out or to save those arrested by  authority. His conviction to Aaron is in question, but his love for his wife and child commit him to the cause. As the book progresses it is Remko’s internal battle to understand his spirit that drives the story and puts everything in the balance.

The Christian elements of The Calling

The Calling is a Christian action adventure in a dystopian world. There are many elements linking Christianity in The Calling. Their leader Aaron can appear anywhere and any time to provide his disciples emotional support. Love of family is only trumped by love of their spiritual leader. The title itself brings Christianity to mind. But the Christian elements don’t need to detract from the story. Most cultures have similar spiritual and ethical struggles.

For another perspective check out The Artist Librarian‘s review.

the Calling by Rachelle DekkerThe Calling (Seer #2) by Rachelle Dekker
Series: Seer #2
Published by Tyndale House Publishers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Religious, Dystopian
Pages: 441
Buy on Amazon

Remko Brant had never been so sure of anything as escaping the Authority City with Carrington Hale. But bravado comes easy when you have nothing to lose. Now a husband, father, and the tactical leader of the Seers, Remko has never had so much at risk.
As he and his team execute increasingly dangerous rescue missions inside the city, they face growing peril from a new enemy. Recently appointed Authority President Damien Gold claims to be guiding a city shaken by rebellion into a peaceful, harmonious future. But appearances can be deceiving. In order to achieve his dangerous ambitions, Gold knows he must do more than catch the rebels--he must destroy the hope their message represents . . . from the inside out.
With dissension in his own camp--and the CityWatch soldiers closing in--Remko feels control slipping through his fingers. To protect those he loves, he must conquer his fears and defeat Gold . . . before one of them becomes his undoing.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicide

Redd Becker Book Review

A teenage suicide story by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng writes the story of a teenage suicide and a family left to figure out what happened, as well as how they influenced the event and how they will live with it.

Ng moves through each member of the family as they confront their personal prejudices and motivations. They each make assumptions and live accordingly. Whether the assumptions are accurate makes no difference. Each character lives truthfully by their own beliefs. The consequences of their actions; however, based on what they assume, determines their life and those around them. As the reader, we see how pieces of a young girl’s life fit together to create a family tragedy.

Emotions of teenage suicide are universal

Ng created a story brimming with the intricacies of family dynamics, while bullying, racism and misunderstandings drive tensions for an Asian American family. Although issues of racism drive many of the characters, the underlying motivations and desires of each character are common to most of us. Ng writes about universal truths that reside in each of us and our families. Insecurity and misunderstandings are not unique to any specific race.

For those interested in writing: Ng writes in a style you may be warned not to use. The book is full of memories and not much dialogue or action scenes, but the fullness of the plot, characters and environments are clear.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, family and teenage suicideEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Books on May 12th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 292
Buy on Amazon

“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. . . . Deep, heartfelt.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, drama, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.