I have done tons of reading lately, mostly lightweight stuff, so I’m going to try to get as much of it into a single post as I can.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians, series by Rick Riordan
Book 1: The Lightning Thief, B+
Book 2: The Sea of Monsters, A-
Book 3: The Titan’s Curse, B+
Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth, B+
Book 5: The Last Olympian, A
The main character of the series is a boy named Percy Jackson. He has ADHD and dyslexia and he’s always being picked on and getting in trouble. In the first book, after being attacked by a fantastic creature that looks like something straight out of the Greek myths he has been studying in school, he finds out that he is a demigod. Yeah, that’s right. His dad is one of gods of Olympus, and that’s why Percy has had so many problems in his life. Now he’s got another one, and it’s a biggie. His father has just been accused of using Percy to steal Zeus’s lightning bolt. Unless Percy can find that lightning bolt and return it to Zeus, the gods are going to go to war with one another.
My friend gave me the first book of the series, The Lightning Thief, as a birthday present in 2006. I liked it a lot, but didn’t love it. Still, when I heard they were making a movie out of it, I became interested in the series again. I bought The Sea of Monsters and enjoyed it, so then I had to complete the series. The last book, The Last Olympian, was my favorite. As for the movie, it was OK, but as an interpretation of the book, it stunk. I could go on and on about all the changes that were made to the characters and the plot, but I think it is enough to say that they took most of the uniqueness and fun out of the story. I recommend the series of books for being light-hearted, fast-paced, and even a little bit educational, but I do not recommend the movie.
Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye
Young Victoria Caryll has just lost her mother and she feels all alone in the world. So when her aunt invites her to return to Kenya, the land of her birth, she jumps at the chance to go home again, even though it will mean living in the same house as her ex-fiance, who is now married to another woman. She arrives in Kenya expecting a joyous homecoming, but instead finds herself among a group of people terrorized by recent events, including a murder, and it seems the murderer is not yet done . . .
Yes, I gave another of Kaye’s “Death in . . . ” series a try. It wasn’t very good. It suffered from many flaws, including heavy-handed exposition and dated language, especially in the dialogue. There were also numerous sexist comments:
- “[His] superior male intelligence had saved her from disaster and from that day he was [her] hero.”
- “She’s a sly little thing . . . . All women are sly.”
- “All women are excellent actresses when circumstances force them to it; and the sooner men realize that, the better!”
So why did I continue to read Death in Kenya? Because of the setting—Kenya at the end of the British colonial period, just after the Mau Mau uprising. Even if you’ve never heard of the uprising, I’m sure you can guess what it was about. Basically, the indigenous people finally got so ticked off at the land-grabbing British that they rebelled. And lost. Many people died. But the country gained its independence soon after, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
Kenya was (and probably still is) a wilderness of incredible beauty and danger, and the descriptions of it were interesting enough to keep me reading. After having read so much of Kaye’s work, I can say that picking memorable locales and making them real for the reader were her strengths. Dialogue and exposition, not so much. Oh, well. Sometimes the trick to being a successful writer is knowing what your strengths are. At least she understood that well enough to use such fascinating settings for her novels, but I have to wonder if she would have done better writing more nonfiction.