The Bookish Type

Book Reviews

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan March 8, 2010

Percy Jackson doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it usually finds him. Kicked out of every school he’s ever attended, bizarre disasters seem to stalk 12-year-old Percy’s every step in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The final straw comes when Percy is suddenly attacked by his math teacher Mrs. Dodds, who turns out to be one of Hades’ Furies, and has to defend himself with his Mythology teacher’s pen, which fortunately morphs into a sword when uncapped. After no one at school seems to notice the attack or even remember Mrs. Dodds, Percy demands answers from his mother and she takes him to the seaside cottage where they always spend their vacations. However, they barely reach their safe haven before Percy’s best friend Grover bursts into the cottage in the middle of a raging storm frantically bleating (yes, bleating – he’s a half-goat satyr) that something menacing is coming for the dazed and confused Percy. Percy doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, but his mother apparently does, and the odd trio make a mad dash for Camp Half-Blood with a monster on their tail. On the way, Percy learns that not only is Grover a satyr, but he personally is a demigod – half mortal, half god.

While Percy struggles to accept this startling truth, the monster catches up with them and Percy has no choice but to fight a second battle, this time without a sword. Percy miraculously manages to defeat the monster and staggers across the boundary line into Camp Half-Blood, the only safe place on earth for his kind, with Grover in tow. He soon discovers that Camp Half-Blood is populated with all kinds of creatures from the world of myth and legend – centaurs, satyrs, wood nymphs, hellhounds, and even a god. At camp, Percy learns the truth about himself and the father he’s never met, the Sea God Poseidon. However, before Percy has time to do much more than recover from his latest brush with death, fate catches up with him again – this time in the form of an ominous prophecy and a dangerous cross-country quest. The big three gods – Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades – are on the brink of war. Zeus’s incredibly powerful weapon, the master bolt, has been stolen and the prime suspect is Percy, acting in his father’s name. Along with Grover and his new demigod friend Annabeth, Percy has no choice but to set out across the country to clear his name and keep the planet from being destroyed in the fallout from the war of the gods.

Rick Riordan’s first novel in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a fast-paced adventure, as well as a lesson in Greek mythology. Readers barely have time to catch their breath after Percy and his friends destroy one mythical monster before they’re faced with another, even more menacing than the last. The novel is wonderfully written, full of suspenseful action and hilarious quips. Anyone looking to cure their post-Potter depression will find solace within the pages of The Lightning Thief. Riordan creates a world populated with endearing and intriguing characters, as well as sadistic monsters and temperamental gods, and creatively modernizes ancient mythology – for example, the entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles (who would have guessed?) and the serpent-headed gorgon Medusa sells garden statues. Readers will root for Percy and his friends as they face impossible odds and risk their lives to do what heroes do best – save the world. Even though this series is written for children, readers of all ages will enjoy Riordan’s perfect blend of adventure, humor and mortal peril, and will rush to the bookstore to pick up the next book in the series, The Sea of Monsters.

Rating: (5/5)

This book can be purchased here.


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier February 24, 2010

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is the haunting line that begins Daphne du Maurier’s gothic masterpiece, Rebecca. Contrary to expectations, Rebecca is not the main character and narrator. In fact, we never learn the name of the mind we inhabit throughout the book. Rebecca is the dead first wife of the novel’s hero – Maximilian de Winter. When the narrator meets Maxim at a Monte Carlo hotel, she is young and naïve and in training to be a “companion” to a wealthy old gossip. Maxim is twice her age, moody and inscrutable, but he seems to take a liking to the unlikely heroine. When her guardian falls ill, the narrator spends her unexpected free time gallivanting around Monte Carlo with the mysterious Maxim. She quickly falls in love with the dashing (but dubious) hero, but entertains no hope that he returns her affection and is consequently taken completely by surprise when he abruptly proposes to her the day she is set to depart for New York. She accepts (of course) and returns with him to his renowned mansion, Manderley.

Unfortunately, her new life fails to live up to her youthful expectations. At Manderley, the nameless heroine is met at every turn with the memory of her predecessor Rebecca, who was drowned in a boating accident only a year earlier. The servants, especially the malevolent and ghastly Mrs. Danvers, worshipped Rebecca when she was alive and still hold her memory sacred. The narrator finds herself utterly unwelcome and powerless as Manderley’s new mistress and eventually begins to suspect that Maxim does not love her at all, but still pines for his lost first love. In an utterly bone-chilling scene, Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the heartbroken and desperate heroine to jump to her death from one of Manderley’s highest windows. This tragedy is narrowly avoided, and the dark and gripping story then takes a startling turn that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final astounding page.

Rebecca is a fascinating tale of suspense and romance, markedly distinct from many of the more mundane love stories. The story bears some resemblance to Charlotte Brontë’s amazing Jane Eyre, but pushes the bounds of star-crossed and troubled lovers nearly to their breaking point. Rebecca encapsulates the subtle mix of romance and horror that has captivated modern readers in popular series such as The Twilight Saga, though du Maurier’s thrilling tale was written almost 70 years earlier. The enchanting and haunting darkness shrouding the novel is perhaps what drew film auteur Alfred Hitchcock to the story for his 1940 cinematic adaptation. Reading Rebecca is a sensory experience; du Maurier describes every scene with vivid detail that drops readers in the midst of the starkly contrasting vistas of Manderley’s brackish woods and vibrant multitudes of blood red rhododendrons, living each twist and every turn of the story alongside the forever nameless heroine. Rebecca will have readers questioning their judgment and second-guessing their intuition as they eagerly seek to discover Manderley’s darkest secrets.

Rating: (4/5)

This novel can be purchased here.