The Lightning Thief


I had orginally checked out, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) by Rick Riordan at my son’s request.  As often happens at my house, I end up reading these books as I read most things that cross our doorstep. This one I did enjoy.

In this fantastic world, mythical gods still exist and still sire children.  To keep these children safe, they are sent to a weird sort of camp. Percy, the main character, discovers he is the son of a god when his mother drops him at the camp right before her death. Then, a series of threats to the world force him to embark on an epic adventure.

Certain parts of this books were glib the way children’s books sometimes are, for example, the death of his mother causes no tears, only a sort of befuddlement.  The book plays into our cultures current fasination with fatherhood, much as that is a evolving role.  In this case, the father is awesome and great, but distant and perhaps indifferent.  Many young people can relate with this as well as his parents’ separation.

The book moves rapidly and stays true to its imaginative space. There is a variety of creatures yet the author is able to incorporate them into the modern world either with disguises or explained away by tabloids.

It’s interesting how well this is played out here, especially after just seeing Wrath of the Titans. The story line was exactly the same: a son of a god on quest to save the world.  Mars was even the enemy in both.  Yet while the special effects of Wrath of the Titans were spectacular- the story was hard to follow.  I was indifferent to the characters.  Percy Jackson and his friends are solidly human, full of the awkward bravado and insecurities of a young teen.  They make mistakes, and they build relationships between each other, and those friendships are very real.

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a few more books

Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms Eugenia Bone, 2011, Rodale Books, non-fiction. Steve saw this book  in the Star Tribune.  He got it from the library, and then, of course, I read it as well.  We both really liked it and got it as a shared Christmas gift.  I found the chapter about the future of truffle cultivation really interesting, but really this book goes into every aspect about fungi – except identification.

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life by Ana Homayoun, 2010, Penguin Group, non-fiction.   Hmm, I wonder why I checked out this book from the library.  Is there a particular person I was thinking of? Anyway, this is fairly helpful book.  Some things I had already figured out, like limiting electronics while my kids studied.  If you don’t have a lot of time, most of the information I was interested was in Chapter 5: organizing binders and planners. The first few chapters deal with anecdotes and the last few with special circumstances, which fortunately we don’t have.  It is an easy book to read and I will reread Chapter 4, 5 and 8 again to solidify what I read in my mind.

The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters by Timothy Schaffert, 2002, Penguin Putman Inc., fiction.  I read the first few chapters of this book on the chapter a day emails I get.  The first few chapters were very engaging and the premise was nice.  He does maintain that sort engaging style through the whole book.  He also captures the feeling of  the feckless late adolescence – early 20s time in life.  However, although things happen in this book, they don’t seem to affect the characters.  The two main characters seem unchanged by the one meeting her mother after a long period of abandonment and the other one being separated from her sister for the first time.  There is a lack of stake in this book that I think is its failing.

The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going by George Friedman, 2011, Random House.   His basic premise is the United States is a global empire and the president is the emperor. He defines what he means by an empire, and his reasons for believing the United States is one. Then he goes on to make deep detailed predictions on how the United States will be interacting with the world in the next decade.  He goes through every important country in the world, and several that I didn’t even realize their importance.  He talks about historical influences on modern situations that I had not considered such as the triad of power of Russia, France and Germany, and how that affects modern foreign affairs. He talks about cultural and economic pressures. All in all, it is a comprehensive study of geopolitical pressures in the next decade.

The language of flowers


In The Language of Flowers: A Novel, a girl who ages out of the foster care system, finds her family after many years. This is very sweetly written, and actually is surprisingly positive for all the challenges that this group of people face.  There is a certain feeling of destiny as the main character falls back into the family she bonded with most strongly.  Yet, she is still unable to make a family.

What I found the most surprising was the idea that being a part of a family takes skills, and if these skills are not taught, the next generation won’t have any idea how to make a family.

I love the layering of meaning that the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, creates with the flower meanings.  She is very kind to her characters, giving them space to find their way, but not making them perfect, just true.

men in black 3

Normally, a third sequel is a well run dry, but Men in Black 3 while not breaking new ground, was still a fun movie to watch. I like Will Smith movies, and this film is centered on Will Smith even more than the other Men in Black movies.  I love that Will Smith movies are not usually violent and usually end on a positive note.  He has a casual humor that he’s taken all the way from the Fresh Prince of Belle Aire.

The narrative, as with the other films, is simple and cartoonish.  The villain is distorted and perverse in an interesting way, but is given only enough time to crack a few jokes, not enough to become annoying.  I really enjoyed the scene when he interacts with himself, (time travel is involved) and the audience discovers that he is so awful even he can’t stand himself.

If I had any criticism, it would be that the aliens weren’t as inventive as in the other film.  I still chuckle a little when I think back on the scene in the post office when we (along with the movies’ characters) discover that nearly every one is an alien, or in the first MIB when they use the tabloids to find their alien activity.  Still, it is a worth while, enjoyable film to watch, although I think I could have waited until DVD for it, if it didn’t cross three of my favorites in one: Will Smith, sci fi and Men in Black.

Because of Winn-Dixie


I don’t usually like books about dogs.  However, I must say that not since Ribsy by Beverly Cleary, have I enjoyed a dog book this as much as Because of Winn-Dixie.  It is a children’s book, and one that I can recommend freely, since it is without even a touch of violence or sexually.  Even children that are not old enough to actually read this book, can hear it without any parental cringing (or as I used to do sometimes when reading to my kids – editing).  It is told from the lead character’s perspective as she finds her pet in her new home town, then the pet leads her to build her own little community of odd people.  The characters are unique, small town characters, each with wonderful stories to tell.

If you chose to listen to this book on tape, the actress who reads, Cherry Jones is wonderful.  She has a southern little girl’s voice that is expressive and sweet.

Because of Winn-Dixie Signature Edition, DiCarmillo, Kate and Jones, Cherry

The Winters in Bloom


The Winters in Bloom: A Novel is a book about secrets.  It is also about parents’ biggest fear: that their child will be kidnapped.  As these parents find themselves in that circumstance, the novel examines their lives for possible suspects.  As each of those suspects emerges, we get a better picture of each parent.  While a mystery, this book is not violent or mean.  Rather it gently follows each character through a description, a history and then along his or her logical path to a surprisingly agreeable ending.

Lisa Tucker, September 2011, Atria Books

recovering apollo


In this series of short stories, Recovering Apollo 8: And Other Stories, Kristine Kathryn Rusch begins with her forte: deep space hard science fiction.  I am usually not a huge fan of hardcore space science fiction.  But Ms. Rusch always catches me with her great character sketches and her human sized futures.  In the title story, we meet a man obsesses with space, and a boyhood dream to rescue the astronauts from Apollo 8.  The whole story is about the climax of the anti-climax. I somehow feel like I am following Geraldo into Al Capone’s Vaults. Yet unlike the vaults, I am not disappointed.  She manages to find the meaning in a dream slightly skewed.

There is a strangely heartwarming story about death personified. Again, she creates characters, uniquely human in bizarre circumstances.  In spite of the gruesomeness of the situation she creates, the characters read true and as a reader you can’t help but enjoy them.

Another story deals with one of her favorite topics: xenocide with aliens. However, this xenocide occurs on earth instead of in space.  It is told alternately between the past and the present between a cop who finds a huge amount of bones, and the last alien survivor.  Again the perspectives are great, full of truth and yet not preachy.

Recovering Apollo 8: And Other Stories by Kristine Kathryn Rusch