Book Review: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Last Olympian: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5
Publication Info: New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011.
Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s CurseThe Battle of the Labyrinth
Summary/Review:

The final book of the series leads to the culminating battle to save Olympus from the Titans in the streets of Manhattan. The book builds well to get to that point with a natural ebb and flow in the narrative between fightin’ and more contemplative stuff. Themes that have been building across all five books play out hre and Percy, Thalia, Grover, Annabeth, Tyson, Clarisse, and Nico all show great character development.  I particularly like how Percy plays his reward from the gods.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Battle of the Labyrinth: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2008.

Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse
Summary/Review:

The Battle of the Labyrinth is another great quest story, this time primarily underground in the mysterious labyrinthe.  Annabeth leads the quest with Grover, Percy, and Tyson with an angry and dangerous Nico playing a part as well.  The book is well constructed as each characters has a role to play that leads to a specific goal.  The war with the Titans begins in earnest with a battle at Camp Half-Blood that concludes the novel.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Titan’s Curse: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, [2007]

Previously Read by the Same AuthorThe Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters 
Summary/Review:

Book 3 of the series once again features a coast-to-coast quest (literally Bar Harbor, Maine to the Bay Area of California) as Percy Jackson seeks to find his friend Annabeth and the goddess Artemis.  The book introduces half-bloods Nico and Bianca di Angelo, features Zeus’ daughter Thalia for the first time, and brings in Zoë Nightshade and the Hunters of Artemis.  All of these characters will be significant to the course of the narrative in the ensuing novels.  But I feel The Titan’s Curse doesn’t work as well as a stand-alone adventure and feels a bit formulaic.  It’s still clever and fun, though.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title:The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: [New York, N.Y.] : Listening Library, 2006.
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Lightning Thief
Summary/Review:

The second book of ancient Greek mythology adapted as American teenager adventure and drama is just as it’s fun as its predecessor.  In this book, Percy and his friends have to travel to the Sea of Monsters (now in the Bermuda Triangle) to rescue Grover and find the Golden Fleece.  Adventures include dodgeball with cannibal giants, a ship full of dead Confederates, escaping Circe with the help of Blackbeard’s pirates, and Grover trying to escape marrying the cyclops Polyphemus.  This book also introduces the dim but brave and kind Tyson, one of my favorite characters in the series.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Dark Force Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: 2012 Random House Audio [Originally Published in 1992] 
Summary/Review:

Much like The Empire Strikes Back, this book draws upon its predecessor and takes the storytelling to new heights.  Also like The Empire Strikes Back, this story sends our heroes off on separate missions to come together again at the finale.

Luke Skywalker seeks out Jedi Master Joruus C’baoth for training, not realizing he is mad. Leia Organa Solo travels with Chewbacca to the planet of the Noghri in hopes of using diplomacy to bring them to the side of the New Republic.  Han Solo and Lando Calrissian try to solve the mystery of a spy within the New Republic’s inner echelons and a possible coup by an ambitious Bothan. And Mara Jade, who has sworn to kill Luke, now seeks him out for help.

Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was a major point-of-view character in Heir to the Empire, plays a smaller role here, but his presence lurks behind all that is happening.  Marc Thompson does a great job reading the book and the production includes music and sound effects for full immersion in the Star Wars galaxy.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: Listening Library (2005)
Summary/Review:

Percy Jackson is a troubled preteen whose life is turned upside down when he learns that not only are the pantheon of Greek gods are real, but that he is a demigod (or Half-Blood).  The premise is similar to the Harry Potter series but Riordan comes up with some creative adventures and clever worldbuilding.  This is also my daughter’s new favorite series.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Paradise by Toni Morrison


Author: Toni Morrison
Title: Paradise
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2017 [Originally published 1997]
Summary/Review:

When Paradise was released in 1997, it was the first new Toni Morrison novel since I had learned about her and started reading all of her books.  I got it early on and struggled with it and had to return it to the library after only reading a small part.  I checked it out again but enough time had passed that I had to start over again and I ended up still not being able to finish it.  To my shame, I’ve finally read all of Paradise.  It’s still a book I struggle with, featuring a lot of characters and overlapping plots.

The story takes place in Ruby, and all-Black town in Oklahoma where the prominent men of town take up arms against the women in an abandoned convent on the outskirts of town.  The men treat the convent as if it were a brothel or a coven corrupting the morals in town.  In fact, it is a safe place for women who are escaping abuse, exclusion, and personal tragedies, mainly brought on by the patriarchy of the town and discrimination against light-skin Black people The narrative interweaves the personal stories of women who lived and died at the convent with the history of the town.

As I’ve noted, I found this to be a complex book.  It is also violent and disturbing which makes it hard for me to read.  It’s nonetheless a poetic work with Morrison’s typical honesty and compassion toward her characters.  But it is not going to be a favorite of mine among her novels.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro


Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Title: Klara and the Sun
Narrator: Sura Siu
Publication Info: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.
Previously Read By The Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Set in the near future in a dystopian United States, Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel is a science fiction story narrated by an android named Klara who is purchased as an Artificial Friend (AF) for a teenage girl named Josie.  In this society some children are “lifted” (genetically-engineered for intelligence and academic advancement) and others are not.  Josie is lifted while her closest neighbor Rick is not, for which he suffers discrimination.

The parallels to our contemporary education system are clear. And while Ishiguro probably wrote this before the pandemic, the novel also depicts the children as socially isolated and learning remotely through screens. Since Klara is solar-powered she begins to view the sun as a deity.  Thus the novel metaphorically explores the origins of ritual and religion as Klara begins to petition the sun for add.  There is also an environmental message in the description of the pollution that obscures the sun.

Klara is intelligent and observant but naive of the human society she enters into.  I’m reminded of the character Charlie in Flowers for Algernon in that Klara narrates details where the reader is more aware of the significance of what she is observing.  I also see parallels to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree since Klara gives so much of herself to support her child.  The novel reminds me of the style of several young adult science fiction novels I’ve read in recent years.  This is a compliment because I think contemporary YA fiction is top notch and it’s interesting for a veteran author like Ishiguro to experiment with different styles.

Recommended books:

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Rating: ***

Book Review: Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner


Author: Eric Foner
Title: Gateway to Freedom
Narrator: J.D. Jackson
Publication Info: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books (2015)
Other books read by the same author: The Fiery Trial
Summary/Review:

The Underground Railroad was the metaphorical name for the system of routes and safe houses that enslaved Black Americans used to escape slavery and find some modicum of safety in free states of the North and in Canada. I expected the book would primarily detail the journeys of people using the Underground Railroad, but that was not the case. Instead it focused on the work of abolitionists, both free Black and white, who organized the Underground Railroad, as well as the work of Black people who emancipated themselves and then worked to help others.

It focuses specifically on activity in New York City, so some of the most famous abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, are only mentioned tangentially where their stories intersect with the city. This history of the Underground Railroad is particularly focused on how abolitionism, antislavery, and freeing the enslaved was affected by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The book is an interesting prism on how many different people – often ordinary and uncelebrated – worked to help free thousands of people from the bonds of slavery from the 1830s to 1860s.

Recommended books:


Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff


Author: Pam Jenoff
Title: The Lost Girls of Paris
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden, Henrietta Meire, and Candace Thaxton
Publication Info: Harlequin Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This novel is set during the final years of World War II and immediately after the war, and tells a story inspired by the true-life experiences of women serving as agent’s in Britain’s Special Operations Executive. The novel alternates perspectives among three different protagonists. Marie is a young woman recruited as an agent who is sent to work undercover in France not long before the D-Day invasions and has to overcome her inexperience and frequent changes of circumstance. Eleanor is the severe leader of the women’s division in France, but her strictness is due to her desire to keep her agents safe both from the enemy and from the government leaders who have no faith in woman doing espionage. 

The final protagonist is Grace, a young widowed American who finds a suitcase in Grand Central Terminal and impulsively takes a dozen photographs of women who prove to be SOE agents. Grace’s growing obsession with trying to find out who the women are and return the photos where they belong doesn’t make much sense and is a drag on the book.  Marie’s story is the most thrilling as she’s actively working in France carrying out missions she wasn’t trained for and hoping to avoid capture.  But Eleanor’s story turns out to be the most profound as it deals with betrayal and personal tragedy.

The book has a better premise than execution, but it was nevertheless an entertaining read.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***