The Hidden Oracle (Rick Riordan)

The Hidden Oracle (Rick Riordan)The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney-Hyperion on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade, Mythology
Pages: 376
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go... an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

My sister is a big fan of Rick Riordan, so every now and again I get the urge to read a few more and understand a little more of her obsession.  I read the original Percy Jackson books years ago, then started the Heroes of Olympus back in 2016, finishing those and then the Kane Chronicles in 2018.  I then hit a bit of a standstill – do I read Magnus Chase yet? Trials of Apollo? Does anyone really know?! Finally I bit the bullet and decided to start with The Hidden Oracle, mostly because it was available through the library.

The Hidden Oracle is the first Trials of Apollo book, and funnily enough it follows Apollo himself, who has recently been turned into a mortal following the events of Blood of Olympus.  Stuck as an unattractive, unskilled mortal isn’t a huge amount of fun for Apollo, who’s used to be being adored and firmly believing he deserves nothing less.  Now, he’s desperately trying to regain Zeus’ favour and stuck helping Meg McCaffrey; a demigod who’s not in the slightest in awe of him, through all the usual chaos and disasters we expect from a Riordan book.

Apollo is, to start with at least, intensely arrogant, whiny and unlikable. Honestly, I had to re-write that sentence more than once to make it family friendly, I found him pretty much unbearable at first.  His ego is like a small planet (anyone else’s brain just go off on a minor Guardians of the Galaxy 2 detour?), and he seems to have nothing to justify that – sure he’s lost his godly powers now and they would have been something to admire, but his personality hasn’t changed and that is distinctly unpleasant.  Having said that, he does grow throughout the book, becoming both less self-obsessed and more funny.  His growth is a bit predictable and borderline-saccharine at times, but then, this is a children’s book after all, and I’m sure if I’d read it when I was younger I wouldn’t notice so much.  The supporting characters, as I’ve noted more than once with Riordan’s books, are almost of more interest to me.  While Meg is interesting, I don’t feel any particular attachment to her yet, but I was thrilled to see some characters from earlier books reappear – Nico DiAngelo, Will Solace, someone-else-I-can’t-mention-because-they-don’t-appear-until-the-end, Chiron, Harley….

The Hidden Oracle feels slightly younger than the Heroes of Olympus books did, which is a little disappointing because the slightly older feel was one of my favourite things about the Heroes of Olympus series. It’s still a very enjoyable, quick read though, and I’ve already reserved the second book, The Burning Prophecy, at the library.  I look forward to getting to know more about the new characters and getting more attached in the next book, as has so far happened with every Riordan series I’ve read!

Buy it? This is one I’d be happy enough to buy and add to my shelves permanently.
In a nutshell: Light, fun read with new characters I’m not yet attached to but sure I will be, and featuring returning characters I love!

 

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Spider-Gwen V1: Greater Power (Jason Latour)

Spider-Gwen V1: Greater Power (Jason Latour)Spider-Gwen, Vol. 1: Greater Power by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, Tom Taylor, Chris Visions, Rico Renzi, Marcio Takara, Various
Published by Marvel on May 24th 2016
Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels
Pages: 151
Format: ebook
Source: Prime Reading
Amazon
Goodreads

GWEN STACY IS BACK IN THE WEBS AND HAS AN ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT MYSTERY TO SOLVE!

THE SPIDER-WOMAN of Earth-65 was convinced that the Lizard's threat died in her arms along with Peter Parker. But a new reptilian rampage leaves her with doubts not only about Peter's life, but also his death. While her father, Captain George Stacy, struggles with Gwen's double life, troubles mount as the Osborns make their debut — and Gwen finds herself on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most-wanted list! Perhaps Jessica Drew, the Spider-Woman of Earth-616, can offer some wise lessons about power and responsibility that might come in handy when Gwen battles the Goblins! Plus: Discover who wields the shield as Earth-65's Captain America joins the fray — but will she be on Gwen's side?

COLLECTING: SPIDER-GWEN (2015B) #1-6.

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★★★

I’ve recently discovered the Kindle Prime Reading feature, and have been pleasantly surprised to find it has quite a lot of options for comics and graphic novels. I’ve no shortage of books I want to read on my shelves, but I never buy comics or graphic novels, although I am curious about them.  When I was working as a bookseller Spider-Gwen was always a reasonably popular title so when I saw this was on Prime Reading I decided to give it a go.

In this parallel universe storyline Gwen Stacey was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Gwen, while Peter Parker is dead.

So the first and probably most important thing to realise is that although this is volume 1, it isn’t actually the best starting place for Spider-Gwen.  Turns out there’s a Volume 0 (Most Wanted), which I didn’t realise.  As a result, I found the storyline a little disjointed and complicated at times, which I’m sure could have been avoided if I’d actually started in the right place!  I didn’t find it too bad though; when something came along I didn’t know about I basically just accepted it and moved on – I didn’t have to go googling backstory or anything to keep up.

Probably my favourite thing about Spider-Gwen v1 is the artwork; more than anything I loved the vibrant colours and Gwen’s costume which is so different.  What let the book down, for me, was the character depth; Gwen has plenty of guilt (from events in v0!) but not a huge amount else going for her. She tries to be funny but while some of it was amusing some of it fell really flat, and aside from her interactions with her Dad her connections with other characters were a bit underwhelming. Ultimately, at this stage, I want Gwen to succeed more so that her dad doesn’t get hurt than because I actually care about Gwen herself.  I wanted to see more of her as a person – we get almost nothing in terms of her as a friend, as a person with any kind of hobbies or life outside of being a superhero.  Obviously I realise this is a comic about superheroes, but no one cares about a hero they don’t like or who seems completely two-dimensional.

I’m intrigued by the concept, and if Volume 2 appeared on Prime Reading or at the library I’d give it a go, but I won’t be rushing out to buy it.  In the meantime, I may well go back and read volume 0 and see if that gives me more reasons to emotionally connect with Gwen!

Buy it? This is one that I’d probably borrow personally.
In a nutshell: It was interesting, the artwork is beautiful, and it almost certainly makes more sense if you start with volume 0!

Head On (John Scalzi)

Head On (John Scalzi)Head On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books on April 17th 2018
Genres: Sci Fi
Pages: 335
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★★

I have a habit of searching for audiobooks based on narrators, and then narrowing those down to titles that sound interesting. Since Wil Wheaton’s narration of Ready Player One remains one of my favourite audiobook performances ever, I tend to keep a pretty close eye on what else he’s narrating, which led me to Lock In way back in 2014.  The premise of Lock in – and it’s sequel, Head On – is really interesting: in the near future, a medical syndrom called Haden’s leaves some people ‘locked in’; unable to move, or speak.  Hadens interact through the world through threeps (robots), and the series follows Chris, a famous Haden who’s also a rookie FBI agent, attempting to solve murder cases.  In Head On,the mystery revolves around Hilketa – a game in which Hadens control robots and earn points by ripping off another players head and shooting it through a hoop.  Partway through a game, one of the star players dies, with no obvious cause.

I really loved the concept of Lock In, but I found it a bit predictable and slow.  I’m pleased to say I thought Head on was much less predictable, though the pacing was still a little off – it took a while to really get going I thought, maybe thanks to the background we needed to understand Hilketa.  I thought the characters were slightly better than in Lock In too – Chris is, as before, a likeable, normal character: the kind of character you’d probably happily have a drink and play pool with, pretty down to earth despite the family’s money.  Vann is significantly less irritating in this second book, although I’m still not emotionally invested in her one way or the other.  I found her and Chris’ relationship kind of so-so; they have some mild occasional teasing, but otherwise don’t seem to have much of a bond.  Chris’ housemates are all interesting and I’d definitely have liked to see more interactions there, though I can see why there weren’t more – the pacing was a little slow at times as it was, so I don’t think they could have added much more without making that more noticeable.

The series is great in terms of gender, diversity, and challenging your unconscious assumptions without being at all in your face or preachy.  In fact, although I called Chris ‘he’ all the way through my review of Lock In, Scalzi deliberately didn’t specify Chris’ gender and both books have two audiobook versions: one narrated by Wil Wheaton and one by Amber Benson.  I actually didn’t realise at all, and assumed based on Wil’s narration that Chris was a he, which gave me lots of pause for thought when I eventually realised!  Despite my issues with the books, I’ll definitely be pre-ordering if the series continues, because the premise is so interesting, and Scalzi’s clearly put a lot of thought into how the world would be changed as a result of 1% of the population having Hadens.

Buy it? I think this is worth buying as an audiobook, because Wheaton’s narration really does add to the experience.
In a nutshell: It’s very clever, the premise is interesting, but the characters and pacing let it down a little.

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s MurderThe Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris
Published by HarperCollins on May 3rd 2018
Pages: 464
Goodreads

Whatever happens, don’t tell anyone what you did to Bee Larkham…

Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary…

Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder.

He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly.

But where is Bee? Why hasn’t she come home yet? Jasper must uncover the truth about that night – including his own role in what happened…

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★

The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is a book that’s been recommended to me multiple times, pretty much always with a comparison to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (which I loved) so I figured it was time to finally pick it up. I listened to the audiobook – that’s how I’m doing a lot of my reading at the moment given my new commute! – and finished the 12 hours in 4 days.  To put that into context, my commute is about 90 minutes a day, which would have only covered 6 hours: half the total listening time. That shows how much extra time I put in outside of commuting, which is a good indication of how addicted I was!

The story is simple enough: Jasper Whishart’s neighbour, Bee Larkham, is missing, and he’s convinced something bad has happened to her.  It’s a reasonably simple mystery – there aren’t too many characters to keep track of – but as it’s Jasper who tries to figure out what happened, all our evidence comes from his point of view. His faceblindness makes it tricky, because you can never be quite sure who said or did what.  While this isn’t actually the only book I’ve read with a synesthete (Mondays are Red by Nicola Morgan) it’s nevertheless a very unique take on a mystery.  I enjoyed that unique spin, as I can feel like mysteries and thrillers feel a bit too similar at times.  Jasper’s colour attributions, his autism and the way he reacted to events was undeniably interesting, and I found it hard not to feel for him.  I enjoyed the plot twists and wanted to know what happened to Bee, as well as what would happen in the end once the truth came out.

While there were things I enjoyed about the book, there were some things I wasn’t so keen on.  Jasper’s observations were repetitive at times, and often long-winded: there were times when we not only got a colour description (which might be five or six words on it’s own) but also an auditory description for one sound. I felt the book had a slightly weird feel to it, because there are some quite dark elements involved in the mystery, but at the same time Jasper’s voice felt very young, similar in tone to most 9-12 novels I’ve read.  That’s not necessarily a problem, and I can see why Jasper’s voice was portrayed that way but it did feel a little jarring at times.  Another thing I found frustrating was the time jumps – the book frequently jumps back in time without any real warning, and because of Jasper’s face blindness, it’s hard to get any context for when or where the next scene takes place.  The book picks up pace fantastically towards the end but I just think it could have been a bit shorter, which would have stopped it feeling so repetitive.

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Island (M. A. Bennett)

The Island by M.A. Bennett
on January 1st 1970
Pages: 304
Goodreads

Link is a fish out of water. Newly arrived from America, he is finding it hard to settle into the venerable and prestigious Osney School. Who knew there could be so many strange traditions to understand? And what kind of school ranks its students by how fast they can run round the school quad - however ancient that quad may be? When Link runs the slowest time in years, he immediately becomes the butt of every school joke. And some students are determined to make his life more miserable than others . . .

When a school summer trip is offered, Link can think of nothing worse than spending voluntary time with his worst tormentors. But when his parents say he can only leave Osney School - forever - if he goes on the trip, Link decides to endure it for the ultimate prize. But this particular trip will require a very special sort of endurance. The saying goes 'No man is an island' - but what if on that island is a group of teenagers, none of whom particularly like each other? When oppressive heat, hunger and thirst start to bite, everyone's true colours will be revealed. Let the battle commence . . .

From the acclaimed author of S.T.A.G.S.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★

I thought I would really enjoy The Island; a group of teens, stranded on a desert island, the bullied and the bullies forced together, no one knows where they are… The concept was great, and having enjoyed Bennett’s previous book (S.T.A.G.S.) I had expectations of a fast-paced, twisting YA thriller.  At only 304 pages, I figured it’d be a quick read, especially given that S.T.A.G.S. was so gripping. Ultimately though, I found The Island disappointing; it felt like a real slog to get into and it took me more than 2 weeks to finish.  I remember reading Lord of the Flies at about 16 and really enjoying it, and I figured this would be a bit like a modernised version of that.  While that was true in some respects, it just never hooked me the way I expected it to and it never got as tense as I expected.

Link has been bullied ever since moving to a posh British school, from having previously been homeschooled in the States.  He reluctantly agrees to go on a school trip over the summer but everything goes wrong and he finds himself stranded on a deserted island with the worst of his tormenters.  Link is quite an unlikable character: he has no real empathy or sympathy and he’s quite self-righteous.  He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else – there are some actions in the book which I’d say prove he isn’t half as smart as he thinks he is, but I can’t explain that without spoilers!  The other characters on the island are stereotypical to a fault and while Bennett tries to give them back-stories, have characters grow etc, it’s all just a bit too predictable.  In terms of plot, while there are twists, I thought they were so obviously foreshadowed that none of them were a surprise.

While the pop culture references seem like they could make the book date quickly, I really liked that the Desert Island Discs element was something a bit new and different so I couldn’t resist trying to come up with my own.

My Desert Island Discs: Honestly, I could spend weeks picking these, so I just went on gut instinct. They’re not in any particular order.

  • Linkin Park: One More Light & In the End
  • Moana: How Far I’ll Go
  • The Greatest Showman: The Other Side
  • Nashville: When the Right One Comes Along
  • Mulan: I’ll Make a Man Out of You
  • Blink-182: I Miss You
  • Ed Sheeran: Perfect

My book:

  • Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince.
    • This was the hardest decision and I’m still not sure it’s right: should I pick something longer that’ll take ages to read? But this is my go-to re-read. In a slump? HP6. Sad and want something comforting? HP6. Plus, it’d be good for fanfic ideas which might help keep me entertained and ties into my luxury item…

My luxury item:

  • Pen & paper – I’m hoping it’s an endless supply of paper. I could write letters to people I loved and missed (obviously I couldn’t send them but I think it’d make me less crazy to remember there are other people in the world!), I could write fiction/fanfiction/poetry/journal entries, I could doodle, I could make observations on plants/wildlife etc.
One StarOne Star