2006 – 2010


Book 1

My, this summer is sizzling HOT! The grass on my lawn is tanned to a crisp and  ice cubes aren’t being formed fast enough to satisfy our lust for cold, cold drinks.  The heat has made me lethargic and so this blog has been  dozing on its virtual hammock as well.

Amid the El Nino heat though,  Percy Jackson was good company for ice cream binges and beach trips.

Author :  Rick Riordan

Publication Dates :  2005-2009

Book 2

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

The Review :

I’m opting for not writing a synopsis this time, as I have given one for the first book, The Lightning Thief, several weeks ago.  (My review here. ) I find that giving a summary of a book in a series (other than the first one)  sometimes gives away the ending of the plot before it.  So, it won’t do to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure with some guess of a previous book’s ending now, would it?

On this note,  I shall review the series as a whole, which is a set of five action-packed books for kids aged 9-12 years.  However, the story is so interesting that even li’l ole me was hooked from page one!

Book 3

Despite being written as a children’s series, the story actually appeals to a wide age range, from kids to their parents; hey, maybe even grandparents!   Why the appeal?

First of all, the books are hip, fast and made for light reading.  Riordan makes sure he tickles his young readers’ funny bones with humor specifically geared toward the target age bracket.  Although some of his jokes may seem too corny in some places for mature readers, these I’m sure sit quite well with those in their preteens and early teens.  But hey, he does have some well-placed wit that would make anyone chuckle from time to time.

Second, the interesting concept of Greek mythology modernized with 21st

Book 4

century culture is just too different to pass up.  Kids and adults alike have an enjoyable time escaping in a world where Olympus is the invisible 600th floor of the Empire State Building; Poseidon’s son is a regular kid at school with a ballpoint pen for a sword; Hermes has winged sneakers; Dionysus wholly drinks diet soda ; or one of The Furies may just be your strict, scary pre-Algebra teacher.

Third, there seems to be something for everyone.  Stuffed with scrapes and adventures , the story  revolves around characters who rely on their individual powers and magical stuff to make fights and getting-out-of-tight-spots interesting and fun.  Those inclined toward Greek mythology would have an amusing time with Riordan’s  modern take on them.  Those who don’t have a clue would actually find they have missed out on some really great ancient  legends and perhaps get themselves to surf on who these dudes were :  Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, etc.    Then, there’s a budding romance to delight young girl readers.  However, parents would be so relieved to note that this series is quite wholesome.  There isn’t a whiff of mature content, implied or stated, that sometimes sneakily plague a great many YA books.

Book 5 (The End)

Fourth, there are a lot of pretty cool characters to like and relate to.   Hey, even the monsters are great!

I feel Riordan’s strongest books were the first and last ones, where his writing style was most entertaining.    Moreover, he ended his series quite well.   Vastly entertaining for both young and old, this series is one of those you may not want to miss out on.

My Mark :  Outstanding

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Author :  Tom Rob Smith

Publication Date :  April 29, 2008  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

ISBN-10: 0446402389

ISBN-13: 978-0446402385

No. of pages : 448

The Story :

It is 1953.  Stalinist Russia is adamant at being a utopian state  where equality and  contentment are the core of its existence.  For where contentment thrives, there could be no crime or evil, the spawns of Western capitalism.

Leo Demidov is an officer of the MGB, the state secret police and guardian of these ideals.  Leo believes in the system and sees the necessity of arresting anyone that is remotely suspected of undermining those very goals.  Unfortunately in an environment that breeds mistrust, Leo falls victim to suspicion as well.

With a humiliating demotion in which he and his wife, Raisa, are shipped to a small town and his parents sent to live in squalor, Leo comes to terms with finally realizing the futility and wrongness of the communist system.

Meanwhile, the impossible has been happening.   Children are being murdered across one side of the country and all murders are brutally done in the same fashion.  A serial killer is on the loose,  but authorities refuse to consider the possibility of a Western style criminal in their midst.

To survive emotionally, Leo must have a purpose.  With a strong patriotic sense despite his disappointment in the government, Leo with his wife, Raisa, make it their personal missions to stop the murders and prove the existence of an insane killer,  one no one wants to admit to.

The Review

If I were to list books that have made an impression on me, Child 44 would definitely make that list.  It opens with a gripping first chapter which promises to keep you glued to the book ’til its end.

Tom Rob Smith does an admirable job of depicting the Soviet Union under the dangerous and repressive regime of Stalin with vivid descriptions of a dystopian society (only this was real) blanketed in fear, mistrust, and poverty.  His well-reasearched background aptly describes  Stalinist Russia where  its control-paranoid government assumed guilt until innocence was proven so that most of those arrested were summarily sentenced without adequate trial.  Moreover, in the pursuit of contentment and equality,  ideals of a communist society, it  was inconceivable for the system to admit to the existence of crime outside the political sphere;  hence criminal acts such as serial killing was an aberrant phenomenon maintained to be strictly a by-product of Western freedom and capitalism and therefore cannot exist logically in a communist state.

It is in this environment that his character, Leo, must root out a serial killer, defying official state denials of the existence of such a criminal.  Leo,  is an ardent believer of the Soviet system.  Everything Leo works for is for the collective  good.  As a ranking officer of the KGB’s predecessor, the MGB, he flushes out dissident citizens or those deemed to be dangerous to the state’s equilibrium and ideals.    But when Leo suddenly realizes that his latest prisoner was undoubtedly innocent,  his purpose of helping maintain the perfect state crashes to meaninglessness.   A real patriot at heart and despite a humiliating demotion, he decides to still have faith in his country , just not in his government, and sets about making a personal mission of rooting out a serial child killer, despite the dangers of incurring the disapproval of the MGB.

Smith injects great realism in this book.  His very much flawed hero deals with events that rarely reward his efforts,  believably true in such a milieu.   Moreover, he draws from genuine events in Russian history such as the Holodomor, the horrendous famine between 1932-1933 where millions, especially in the Ukraine, perished of starvation.  Accounts have mentioned numerous cases of cannibalism at this time.  These, the Gulags,  the excesses of  party leaders, the general misery and hopelessness  were hushed behind an Iron Curtain which trapped all that did not conform to the Communist ideals of a utopia.    The angle of the serial killer is patterned after a true-to-life Soviet child murderer,  Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed The Butcher of Rostov or The Red Ripper, who sexually abused, tortured, and murdered women and children,  from 1978-1990.  The author simply borrows his story and places it within the timeframe of 1953.

The writing is predominantly narrative;  characters’ spoken lines aren’t many and are all in italics, a rather uncommon lay-out which veers from the traditional presentation of a dialogue.   It’s refreshingly different but it works quite well.

As a debut novel, Child 44 is superb.  The strongest asset of this book  is it’s well developed atmosphere.  The setting is palpable, the characters and events seem so real that I could not stop turning the pages until I reached the end at 3:30 a.m.  However, it isn’t perfect and sadly, events toward the ending came out a bit contrived and questionable which tarnished the reading experience a bit.   It is just a teeny blight, however, not enough to render the book a disappointment.    In fact, other readers may be perfectly happy with its conclusion.   Overall, a marvelous, marvelous read!


My Mark :  Outstanding!   (Would have merited Excellence, if not for that little smudge)

Author :  M. J. Rose

First Published :  September 1, 2007

This Edition’s Publication Date :  October 1, 2008  (reprint edition)

Publisher :  Mira

ISBN-10: 0778325768

ISBN-13: 978-0778325765

No. of pages : 464

The Story :

Josh Ryder barely survives a terrorist’s bomb and wakes up, changed forever. He begins having flashbacks of being Julius, a pagan running from Christian persecution in ancient Rome and entrusted with a secret treasure with the power to unlock one’s past lives. That and a forbidden love with a Vestal Virgin brings about an ill-fated destiny that begs for correction in his modern life as Joshua.

Confused and determined to know more about his reincarnated condition, Josh turns to the Phoenix Foundation, a facility which studies past life regression in children. He is led to an important archeological find,  discovered by Professor Gabriela Chase.  The dig holds the  entrusted treasure, the Memory Stones, kept hidden for over two thousand years.  Josh and Gabriela must decipher its secret to solve Josh’s reincarnated questions and rescue Gabriela’s child.

The Review :

Despite the alluring title, The Reincarnationist is anything but. The bland writing style doesn’t do justice to its genre (adventure-thriller).  Surprisingly, even with a recommended reading list that seems to project the book as a well-researched material, the novel just doesn’t grab one by their lapels to be properly thrilling. Rather, it generally just plods along in spite of some occasional frissons of excitement in it.

Blah characterization may have to do a lot with the “ho-humness” of it all as well. Readers may not develop enough empathy for Josh’s character nor for the other characters until a really major thing happens to Gabriella Chase that makes her more palpable.  Other than that, you may not really care much for them.

An unsatisfying conclusion may provoke complaints too.  Perhaps The Reincarnationist’s inconclusiveness prepares for the book’s touted sequels, The Memorist (Book 2) and The Hypnotist (Book 3).   But if you were to read their synopses, you wouldn’t really find them as continuations.  (Shrug.)  Having not read the sequels, though, I may be wrong.

However, this book is not an all-out loser. It isn’t that bad; it just does not thrill as much as it should have. To think, reincarnation is a very interesting subject; and yet the book just does not entice the reader enough to delve more into it. You finish it, think ok, then promptly forget about it.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Read if you have nothing else more interesting on hand.  But I wonder if you’ll still want to tackle a rather average read after knowing it is  part of a series.

My Mark : Mediocre




Author : Hester Browne
Publication Date : September 5, 2006
Publisher : Pocket
ISBN-10: 1416527265
ISBN-13: 978-1416527268
No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Organized, practical and  self-deprecating Melissa Romney-Jones gets sacked when her company goes into a merger.  She runs into a  school acquaintance and learns that her favorite highschool teacher had gone into her own business.  Desperate to pay the bills, she applies for a job.  Little does she know that the business is actually a dolled-up seedy escort service.  In disgust, she quits but gets an a-ha! moment when she thinks of the business along cleaner and respectable lines — that of providing a pretend-girlfriend service to help men get rid of unwanted girlfriends,   have access to confidence-boosting trophy companionship, get advice on wardrobe and hygiene, among other things, without the hanky-panky.

She sets herself up as the woman any man would want on his arm with a significant wardrobe change, a blonde wig, and a syrupy, girlish name of  Honey.  Honey is the more assertive, cosmopolitan, woman-of-the-world version, the complete opposite of frumpy, timid Melissa.  But when she meets the man of her dreams, she just doesn’t know:  does he want the fantasy Honey or the real-life Melissa?

The Review :

Cute, funny, and spirited, this one is a rather enjoyable read.  Although, not quite up to par with those of Sophie Kinsella,  The Little Lady Agency is quite entertaining,  written in true British style and humor.

If you are to like the book because of the lead character, then Melissa will not disappoint.  With a lot of spunk,  she does what she knows best to do and dares to do so unconventionally.    Although she can be naive, occasionally stupidly so,  some readers would love this imperfect girl ,  who like everyone else,  tries to positively face the world and not cry into her cups of tea.  She isn’t the ideal strong woman who can stand up to any situation.  A girl does need help sometimes.  Well, lots of times for most.  But she is one feisty lady with a big heart.

Pleasant and light, this is another amusing beach read…a nice companion to pass the time with.

My Mark :   Good  — Entertaining!

Author :  Linda Newbery

Date of Publication :  Feb. 28, 2007

Publisher :  Transworld Publ. Ltd UK; New Ed edition

ISBN-10: 0099451336

ISBN-13: 978-0099451334

No. of pages :  368


The Story:

Sam Godwin gets the job of his dreams.  As an artist-tutor to two beautiful teenage girls, he is paid comfortably and housed in Four  Winds, a beautiful  and  most artistically  inspired residence  he has ever had the privilege to stay in.  In this idyllic setting, he becomes fond of  the  governess,  Charlotte Agnew, and of his two students,  the quiet, gentle Juliana and the vibrant, mesmerizing Marianne.  He also idealizes Ernest Farrow, his employer not just for his kind treatment but also for his impeccable taste.

Enamored of the house and especially of its sculptures of the North, South and East Winds, Samuel becomes obsessed with meeting the dismissed sculptor,  Gideon Waring, and finding out about the missing West Wind.

But there is more to the house and the family of Four Winds than meets the eye.  There is a darkness to their lives as Marianne is bothered by seeming madness and Juliana, a profound sadness.

When Sam tracks down Gideon the sculptor, he discovers  horrifying and devastating secrets about the family that surprisingly, bear on the circumstances of his employment.

The Review :

I picked up this book as an inclusion to my YA reading this year because the cover boasts its win of The Costa Children’s Book Award in 2006.    I do not know whether The Costa Awards is a reputable awarding body, because as far as awards go, I am simply not familiar with which hold prestige and which don’t.

Prestigious or not, I strongly disagree with the awarding body in its classification of this book.  Three fourths of the way in, I was shocked to discover why this novel should not have been listed in the children’s category.   This is not to say that the book isn’t good enough to be a winner.  It is, but I just don’t agree with its classification.

A children’s book, this is not.  Perhaps, the category “children” should be further defined by age groups so that books meant for those in their late teens wouldn’t be lumped  in with those for early teens, preteens, or even younger.   Set In Stone deals with issues which are quite disturbing,  very adult in nature and require a more experienced mind to deal with these adequately.   I cannot divulge the issues here as these would spoil your reading experience.

I believe this novel’s youngest readers should be at least in their mid teens because for the younger market,  this book is far from wholesome.

Come to think of it though,  I can’t say it is an adult novel either.  The issues in question aren’t explored so much as it would have been in an adult novel.  Nothing is graphic or that detailed.  There is a lot of understatement so probably the reason for its classification as YA.  But then again, it doesn’t read like most YA novels in that the writing is more mature in tone.  So as it is neither this nor that, it stands in a twilight of its own making.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Despite its ambiguity, Set In Stone reads beautifully.  Style-wise, Linda Newbery writes tautly and elegantly.   Although refined, understated, and never graphic, her writing can  evoke vivid imaginations and draw strong reactions from her readers.

The story is told from two perspectives, that of Samuel Godwin, the artist/tutor and Charlotte Agnew, the governess.  As events progress, each of these characters take their turns telling things as they experience it so that the story, always  in the first person perspective, gives the reader a view into each character’s minds as they encounter events.  This way,  readers get to be more intimate with the characters.

This author can also throw a sneaky punch.  Here you are,  three-fourths of the way,  teased through a mildly interesting story,  when suddenly, the jolt comes from nowhere.   She throws out her first big secret and you are up and riveted.  Shocked from your steady ho-hum pace,  you are more than hooked, as you turn the pages fast and well into the night.

Newbery does know her techniques well.   No wonder the award.

In A Nutshell:

Set In Stone is an exceptionally well crafted novel, a very absorbing  but dark-toned read.  Despite the YA classification, parents are best advised to read the story first before handing it over to their preteen or early teener.    With a lot of potentially disturbing surprises, this one packs a wallop!

My Mark :  Outstanding

Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication :  May 19, 2009

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345512251

ISBN-13: 978-0345512253

No. of pages :  384

The Review :

I have dispensed with the summary for this book to avoid spilling the beans on Empire of Ivory (Book 4).

This is a darker piece,  with Laurence and Temeraire forced to make difficult decisions on their own. Both go through a character building process, while trying to defend England from France’s invasion.

Temeraire is forced to deal  with  the  complexity and irrationality that often plague human psychology as he learns human politics and negotiation.  With  straightforward and simplified draconic ways of thought, Temeraire is often frustrated at how difficult humans can make life be when things seem to be plain as day.

On the other hand,  Laurence must temper his ideals and his inherent insistence on righteousness, sometimes misplaced, which earns him more harm than good.  He is faced with the need to reassess his values when they  prove to be impractical nor right  anymore.  For instance, Laurence is challenged with  situations where authority isn’t always right and can be in serious conflict with his personal sense of right and wrong.

The action does not let up in this one as well.   Novik perhaps intends to let her duo travel the world as the next destination for them is Australia.  Books two to four see them through China, the Middle East, Germany, Russia, and Africa.

I can’t wait for the sixth book, Tongues of Serpents due in the middle of this year.   One caveat though:  if you plan to read the Temeraire series, you must start with  Her Majesty’s Dragon (Book One).  You would not appreciate this series should your first book be other than the first.  Novik hardly takes the meticulous pain of backtracking and if she does, it is rather cursory as this is the type of series that must be read chronologically.

My Mark  :  Outstanding!


Author :  Naomi Novik

Date of Publication : May 30, 2006

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345481305

ISBN-13: 978-0345481306

No. of pages : 400

The Story :

China’s Emperor allows William Laurence and Temeraire to go back to England.  As they were about to do so, an urgent missive instructs them in no uncertain terms to bring back three dragon eggs from the Ottoman Empire or suffer the consequences.  Laurence, Temeraire and his crew embark on a dangerous crossing across desert and mountains.

On the way, they meet feral dragons which they end up befriending.  Temeraire, having experienced the more exalted treatment of dragons in China, speak to the ferals about a better way of life — better accomodations, food, etc.  His Chinese exposure, his witness of the slave trade, and his voracious reading have also made him  question the order of dragon treatment  in England where he perceives his kind to have limited choices and freedoms.  Temeraire is growing a sense of social justice for dragons in general and is determined to spearhead changes for the dragons’ lot, starting with the English Parliament.

With the uncontrollable,  undeducated ferals breaching etiquette, Laurence and his company make a bad start with relations at the Turkish border.  The mission becomes more and more disastrous at the Turks’ refusal to hand over the paid eggs and at the machinations of an albino dragon, Lien, who had become Temeraire and Laurence’s vengeful enemy in China.

The situation forces Laurence’s party to take drastic measures and to flee to the Prussian side where they fight as allies against the vast, encroaching army of Napoleon.

Author :  Naomi Novik     

Date of Publication :  September 25, 2007

Publisher :  Del Rey

ISBN-10: 0345496876

ISBN-13: 978-0345496874

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Laurence and Temeraire finally fly home to England only to find a new threat—a plague of the common cold, fatal to dragons with no known cure.  With the threat of decimation hanging upon England’s aerial corps and the proximity of Bonaparte’s armies,  Laurence,  Temeraire and a bedraggled section of the aerial corps journey to Africa to find a cure.

In their desperate search, they are forced to discover a secret kingdom deep within the continent’s interior protected by African dragons who had forged a unique bond with its people.  These Africans have engaged in their own war against the colonial slave trade.

Danger harasses them throughout the tale and culminates with Laurence having to make a difficult life-changing decision.

The Review :

What keeps one riveted on these books?  It is first and foremost, its dragons.  They are the crux of the series; hence, Novik takes great pains in constructing her dragon world,  building on  different breeds and personalities, dacronian habits, likes and dislikes, their sexuality, intellectual capacities, etc.   She then melds her draconian world to a page in history, selecting the Napoleonic War. Taking care to stick well to factual historical events, she allows us to escape to an alternate reality.

To keep us further immersed,  Novik continues to develop her principal characters, Laurence and Temeraire, albeit almost exclusively which simplifies the story  in a way that the reader is focused on these two characters.  One begins to know them closely  so much so that he is caught in their intimate bond and the reby, the story’s spell.

As she develops Laurence and Temeraire,  she makes them gradually aware of life’s truths, shattering notions and shedding innocence.  From a hatchling to a young adult dragon, Temeraire goes through gradual knowledge of life’s complexities, injustice and  double-sidedness throughout the series.  He increasingly develops a sense of social justice.  With Temeraire’s progressing questions and some uncontrollable events,  Laurence , too, is forced to shift his paradigms to break  previous staunch beliefs especially in the area of England’s superiority and political system.

So far each book, after the first, satisfyingly segues into action-packed continuations, the author cleverly introducing  new, interesting dragon and human characters, pumping new life with new events and making one want to read more and more.

With all these, Novik is certainly going down the right path toward creating a marvelously enjoyable series.  I have enjoyed them, reading much well into the night , caught up in finding out what’s next.  I am certainly out to get the fifth book, Victory of Eagles, the latest published to date .

So far, so very good!  Not to mention that from premiering only in 2006, the books have come in pretty rapidly compared to the usual plodding rate of releases in most series writing.  This year, Tongues of Serpents is scheduled to be released on the thirteenth of July (as per the official website’s announcement on http://www.temeraire.org/).  

My Mark : Outstanding!  — Fantastically Entertaining

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