Fantasy · Middle Grade · SeriousSeriesLove · Uncategorized

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Trilogy: A Series Review

I have been enjoying Rick Riordan’s books since I first read The Lightning Thief almost 15 years ago. Through the years I have followed the adventures of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover and then became equally swept up by the Heroes of Olympus Series. I grew to adore Jason, Piper, and Leo! For months, I highly anticipated the first Kane Chronicles book….but that series just didn’t grab my attention. Truthfully, I wondered if perhaps I had just outgrown my love for mythology based adventures. But then I read Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. Of all of Riordan’s books, this series is easily my favorite. Read these blurbs from each book and it will be easy to see why the action-packed Norse mythology appealed to me.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Sword of Summer

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Hammer of Thor

“Magnus Chase, you nearly started Ragnarok. What are you going to do next?”

It’s been six weeks since Magnus and his friends returned from defeating Fenris Wolf and the fire giants. Magnus has adjusted to life at the Hotel Valhalla—as much as a once-homeless and previously alive kid can. As a son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of Odin’s chosen warriors, but he has a few good peeps among his hallmates on floor nineteen, and he’s been dutifully training for Ragnarok along with everyone else. His days have settled into a new kind of normal.

But Magnus should have known there’s no such thing as normal in the Nine Worlds. His friends Hearthstone and Blitzen have disappeared. A new hallmate is creating chaos. According to a very nervous goat, a certain object belonging to Thor is still missing, and the thunder god’s enemies will stop at nothing to gain control of it.

Time to summon Jack, the Sword of Summer, and take action. Too bad the only action Jack seems to be interested in is dates with other magical weapons. . . .

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Ship of the Dead

Magnus Chase, son of Frey, the god of summer and health, isn’t naturally inclined toward being a brave warrior. Still, with the help of his motley group of friends, he has achieved deeds he never would have thought possible. Now he faces his most dangerous trial yet.

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, complete with a host of giants and zombies, to sail against the Asgardian gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfarbefore it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. But Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

Beyond the fantastic storytelling and action Riordan has put together an all-star cast of diverse characters that everyone dreams of having as friends.

Magnus Chase himself is not the son of a powerful god. Rather he is the son of Frey, god of summer and health. He is the epitome of that healing character we all want on our journeys but no one actually wants to play. By making him the main character and the protagonist in this series, Riordan has put forward a powerful statement about the different kinds of strength we all need to succeed.

Then there is Samirah al Abbas. Not only is Sam a Valkyrie while still in high school, she is also the daughter of Loki and a devout Muslim. Her unwaivering allegiance to her family and her faith reminds me of growing up in an equally devout Irish Catholic family.

Blitzen the Dwarf is a talented tailor who cares almost as much about his appearance as he does his best friend, Hearthstone the Elf. Hearthstone is Deaf and together these two adopt Magnus when he is first homeless in Boston. It is here that I believe the diversity in this series really shined because Hearthstone’s Deafness is not talked about as a disability but just one aspect of him. Everyone uses American Sign Language around Hearthstone and the culture and history of Deaf people has clearly been researched and explored by the author.

In book two we meet Alex Fierro who is also a child of Loki and is gender fluid. Like Hearthstone this aspect of Alex’s person is talked about, accepted for what it is, and just becomes woven into the story.

Halfborn Gunderson, Thomas Jefferson, Jr, and Mallory Keen all live on Magnus’s floor in in Hotel Valhalla. Along with Frey, Loki, Thor and the Sword of Summer (a.k.a. Jack) the books have an enviable cast of characters. I only wished I had peeked at these wonderful drawings of the characters before I had read the books – they are better than I imagined them!

This is a middle grade book just like Riordan’s other series. But this is the first of his that feels like it was cast from an actual sampling of people living in the world. I would love for parents and teachers to read this book with their students or children and have an open discussion about the wonderful differences that exist between people and how, in the end, we are much more the same because of our shared experiences. I highly recommend this series!


Tell me, please!

Have you read this series? If not, which book do you love for its diverse characters?


Fantasy · fiction · funny

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

This book was one hundred percent, straight up, delightfully weird. There is no other way to describe the experience and no other books that compare. It was, quite simply, wonderfully odd.

goodomensOriginally entitled Good Omens, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Alice Nutter, Witch this book was originally published in 1990. At the time, neither Neil Gaiman nor Terry Pratchett were the major authors that they are today but it is clear from this book that both already had an excellent handle on their craft. In 1985 Neil Gaiman interviewed Terry Pratchett for an article at the beginning of Mr. Pratchett’s career. The two struck up a friendship that has spanned decades and wrote Good Omens together by sending floppy disks back and forth and collaborating over the phone. This was during the time that Gaiman was working on Sandman and I just wish I could get my hands on all those floppy disks….

I really struggled to not highlight the entire book’s often hilarious phrasings. The witty repartee between the Angel Aziraphale and the Demon Crowley was fast paced and had the feel of a life long, or in this case, centuries long friendship. Both beings have lived on Earth for so along and through some of the most difficult phases of humanity but have grown accustomed to the comforts of modern England. When the son of Satan is born on Earth, Crowley and Aziraphale decide that their job is to maintain the balance by interfering. Sadly, due to a mix up with the baby at the hospital they end up watching over the wrong child right up until the moment the Hound of Hell is released. This seems like a simple premise but add in additions layers that include: witch hunters, Alice Nutter’s 17th Century completely accurate prophesies, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and a pack of children straight out of the 1950s and this book really brings the weird in full technicolor.

I can see where some readers have attempted this book and felt confused by the narrative which bounces from character to character with little introduction and no warning. However, fans of Pratchett and Gaiman know this writing trick and the pay off that will be experienced at the culmination of the story. As you see the threads of the stories weave together you cannot help but gasp as the completed tapestry becomes visible. I always feel like applauding as I turn the last page on one of their books.

I will be honest, I didn’t know this book existed until I saw the preview for the new Amazon show. Like most people I love to read books that have been made into television shows or movies. Now that I have read the story I cannot wait to see the characters comes to life on the screen! But, even if you do not plan to watch the show the book is just too much fun to pass up. This is definitely destined to be one of my favorite reads of 2019.


Tell me, please!

What is your favorite wonderfully weird book?


 

all ages · Audible · Fantasy · SeriousSeriesLove

Magical Non-Fiction Friday: Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

I am sitting for my O.W.Ls this month through the OWL Readathon hosted by G at Book Roast and I am more excited than I can possibly explain. The universe must sense my excitement because the library delivered an audiobook version of Fantastic Beasts early last evening. This is just one more reason I never make it through a predetermined list of books – my wonderful library! I sat down with my illustrated copy of the book and listened to the audiobook simultaneously and had an amazing two hours of total immersion in the world of Fantastic Beasts.

fantasticbeastsThe audiobook is narrated by Eddie Redmayne in the very same clipped manner he gives to the sweet Newt Scamander he plays on film. However, unlike the shy film version of Newt, the audiobook personality is the knowledgable and excited Newt that we see, briefly, when he is talking about his fantastic beasts. Matched with the gorgeously illustrated Fantastic Beasts I sat like a child and listened to the whole book in one sitting.

If you have previously read this book, you know that it is filled with footnotes. Footnotes can be extremely annoying in audiobooks but this one has the most savvy and smooth use of auditory footnotes I have ever experienced. In addition there are animal sound effects that add that special little bit of interest to what is, basically, a fake non-fiction book. If you have a hard time with audiobooks or you are trying to get a child interested in the platform, this would be an amazing place to start. And, at only two hours long, it is easy to successfully complete the whole book.

If you have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, I highly recommend it. And, if you already own a copy of this beautiful illustrated book or can use kindle unlimited to read along, it is a wonderful experience that I cannot recommend enough!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever listened to an audiobook while you simultaneous read one?


 

all ages · Fantasy · Middle Grade

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

assasinationOnly a middle grade book can successfully disguise itself as a spy thriller wrapped in fantasy and still educate its reader about the value of perspective and the importance of cultural awareness. The hilarious (or tragic!) story of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin pays homage to the famous travel writers of history while poking fun at the experiences of trying to bring your own ideals to a new land.

At first glance the book appears to mimic Brian Selznick’s work with the story alternating between written and illustrated sections. But, unlike the art in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the illustrations in Spurge tell a completely different story then the narration. And this insanely clever trick beautifully demonstrates how a different perspective and upbringing can result in two entirely different experiences even when two people are in the same place at the same time.

In Spurge the elfin historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent on a mission to spy on the goblin city. Unfortunately, Goblin archivist Warfel thinks he is hosting an emissary and plans for the two to become great friends! As Warfel proudly shows Spurge around his beloved neighborhood and city and introduces him to important people he becomes more and more discouraged by Spurge’s attitude. And then he discovers Spurge’s underlying plan! What will Warfel do with the spy?

Warfel is the foreign host we all hope to have when we travel into unknown lands. He is kind and proud and willing to put his good name, reputation and even his life on the line to keep his guest comfortable. Sadly, even without the spying Spurge is the annoying and judgmental guest who comes into a land already prepared to hate everything he sees. Still, watching the characters grow and change was an absolute delight.

This book was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award and it shows. In addition, I can only imagine how useful this story would be to parents and teachers for explaining how perspective, culture, and history (especially of conquered peoples) vastly alters our present experiences. And, more importantly, how without frank dialogue and an open mind, neither side will be able to see from the other’s point of view.

If you aren’t already convinced by my glowing review, please check out the funny book trailer by the authors here.


Tell me, please!

Do you find that YA and Middle Grade books are often more poignant in delivering messages than adult books?


Fantasy · series · YA

The Wicked King by Holly Black

wicked kingThe Wicked King, the sequel to Holly Black’s fascinating dark faerie tale, debuted just after the New Year but because of my self-imposed book buying restrictions I had to wait until the library saved me a copy. Thankfully, my library is the best so I didn’t have to wait too long for the second in The Folk of the Air series.

I had a few complaints about The Cruel Prince, mostly in regards to the occasionally slow pacing. Like so many first in a series books, The Cruel Prince had to lay an extensive foundation for the entire series in book one and the action suffered as a consequence. However, as Holly Black had given me some truly remarkable and unusual characters all was forgiven. Not to worry, there were no such problems with pacing in the second book!

If you have not read the first book and you are interested in the series you can check my review here. It is nearly impossible to review a series book without spoiling the prior publications and so I must warn you: there are spoilers for The Cruel Prince below!

The Wicked King begins a few months after the Cruel Prince dramatic ending. Jude Duarte’s brother Oak may be the heir of the Faerie but Cardan has been crowed King. In return Cardan has sworn to follow all of Jude’s directions for a year and a day. That gives Jude a limited amount of time to ensure her brother’s safety and manipulate herself into a position of greater power. While she finds her human ability to lie invaluable, she can never forget that truth and lies often come in subtle shades of grey and the Fey live in a world of secrets. Between her attempts to control Cardan, her investigation into Maddox’s plots, and a threat that comes from the surrounding Oceans, is it any wonder that a traitor could tip the balance of power so completely? But who is plotting against Jude?

This second book was action packed! I consumed the book and, unlike the first one, I could hardly wait to see what would unfold. I also enjoyed that Jude was more confident which I enjoyed tremendously. Holly Black paints a perfect picture of having a crush on someone you despise as Jude attempts to ignore her feelings for Cardon.

If I had one (very minor) complaint it would be that all of this action and focus on Jude meant that nearly everyone else was a static background character until the last few pages. Still, I cannot imagine how the author could have given me such an explosive and surprising ending as she did without leaving me in the dark as to the other character’s movements and secret desires.

All of my childhood I wished that Fairies were real. Holly Black has convinced me of two things: I would hate these Fairies and I cannot wait to see what happens next.


Tell me, please!

If you could only pick one is the pace or the characters more important?


Fantasy · SeriousSeriesLove · YA

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I didn’t want to read Scythe by Neal Shusterman last year but I not only read it, I deeply enjoyed it. You can check out all of my thoughts here. I immediately bought the second book. Then, as was my tendency, I stuck on my TBR shelf. But, now that I have made my 2019 New Year’s Reading Resolutions I have been making real progress reading the books I actually own. This is how I found myself reading Scythe‘s sequel, Thunderhead. I must say, it absolutely consumed me. I’m not sure if it caused this week’s insomnia but it certainly made for exciting after-midnight reading! If you haven’t read Scythe, there are spoilers below. Just know that I fully recommend this series!


thunderheadThunderhead begins with Rowan illegally donning black voluminous robes and claiming the identity of Scythe Lucifer. He is meting out his own form of justice by targeting Scythes he deems unworthy. Meanwhile, Citra has formed her own style of gleaning, one that has drawn the attention and ire of her peers.

At the conclusion of Scythe we see the Thunderhead, the all knowing brain of the world, speaking directly to Citra. Until that moment, the reader has no idea how involved the Thunderhead is with a typical citizen’s day to day existence. Ponder this issue no longer! In this second book we meet Greyson Tolliver. A lonely young man, Greyson has been raised by the benevolent voice of the Thunderhead all his life. When Citra’s life is in danger, the Thunderhead sends Greyson to save her and forever changing Greyson’s life. Meanwhile, old foes continue to threaten the delicate balance of the world. The real question is what role Rowan, Citra and Greyson will play the ensuing chaos.

As with ScytheThunderhead is crafted to keep you entertained. The shifting narratives begin completely disconnected and as they dodge and weave their way towards intersection – the action climbs. The final pages of this book will leave your heart pounding and, if you are anything like me, you will immediately try to figure out when the third installment is being published (no date yet!!).

Unlike ScytheThunderhead has almost no quiet and reflective moments. This second installment is action packed. Furthermore, the second book spends much less time reflecting on life and death and more on the balance we seek and the role we take to achieve that life. The author is not afraid to take you on an adventure. Honestly, that ending….whew!

I highly recommended Scythe and now I must all but insist on two things. First, please read them both so that we can talk. Second, can we get that third book already Neal?!?


Tell me, please!

Why do we ever read series books when they aren’t all available?


Challenges · Classic · Fantasy

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

It is a classic story for a reason. I have always meant to read the books and when I saw Ryan reading them this year I was inspired to pick them up and enjoy the journey.

Book One: The Fellowship of the Ring

This is the portion of the story that I am most familiar with. Sadly, there was a lot less of Legolas than I wanted. Also, the book has a LOT of singing. I really struggled with the songs because I kept singing them to the tune and tempo of a sailor’s ditty. Just imagine it with a little harump and accordion workings. Nasty Hobbits. All in all I did feel that the first book went fairly quickly. I ended it feeling smug and determined to just zip through the entire series. “Just twenty pages a day!” I told myself. Hah!

Book Two: The Two Towers.

This book took me, literally, four months to finish. This is the book that separates the reader from the determined fan. If I could get my hands on those Ents I would tell them to hurry the hell UP. This book is slow and you really start to feel the fatigue of the massive journey. It doesn’t help that throughout the second book you meet countless new characters and, frequently, each character has multiple names. It begins to feel like a fantasy version of War and Peace and I regretted not making a chart. At one point I think I sleep-walked and hid the book from myself. I have never been more thrilled than when I closed the second book.

Book Three: The Return of the King.

This is my favorite movie in the trilogy so I was hoping for a little more action. Thankfully, Tolkien delivered in spade here. While the first two books spend a great deal of time walking and looking around, the third book has epic battles, valiant speeches and  loads of action. This book continued to confuse me with the multiple names (Strider is Aragorn but also King Elessar) and the names which are very similar (hello Eowyn and Eomer!) but finally I watched Frodo drop that dang ring into the Fires of Mordor!!! The hands down absolute best moments for me were the fifty or so pages after the destruction of the ring and the crowing of the King where the Hobbits return to the Shire. These scenes were not in any of the movies and I loved seeing the completely transformed Hobbits go forth in defense of their home without any aid and triumph.


A few thoughts.

My favorite character was and always will be Legolas. However, I don’t know that I would have noticed him if not for the movies. Truthfully, I would never have read these books but for the movies because the whole thing sounded wretched to me. But, I am so glad that I did.

The hero of this story is absolutely, hands down, Samwise Gamgee. I aspire to be as good a person, as strong a character and as supportive a friend as Sam.


Tell me, please!

Have you read LOTR? Who is your favorite character?


Fantasy · fiction · FrighteninglyGoodRead · YA

FGR #8: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I am going to confess something. I didn’t want to read this book. I believe that I purchased it two years ago and started it only to quit three chapters in and shelf the book. If not for a combination of Frighteningly Good Reads and my 2018 Resolutions I probably would never have forced myself to read what turned out to be a phenomenal story.

scythe
A figure in a hooded red cape holds a scythe looking like a futuristic grim reaper.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman takes place in a world without hunger, disease, general misery or even death. Unfortunately, without natural death the world’s population must be controlled. Scythes are the only ones with the ability to take a life and Citra and Rowan have just been selected as apprentice Scythes. Now, only one can rise to the rank of a full Scythe. Citra and Rowan must master the “art” of death. As they do so they learn that living in a perfect world comes with a price.

Initially, I didn’t really find any of the main characters appealing. Which is why I put the book away for so long. However, as the story unfolded I began to comprehend the apathy to which these people must be acclimated in a world where there is no reason to worry, no purpose in hard work and the ability to die only to be whisked off to a revival center and brought back to life. If there is no threat of old age then do you lose the thirst and hunger of youth? Certainly when Citra and Rowan are faced with a permanent cessation of their lives their personalities change dramatically into characters that I grew to love and genuinely cared about.

And there in lies the magic of this story. At first glance I believed this was another annoying futuristic tale and the cautionary story of a world without death. Instead, I became slowly aware along with the characters of the importance of death in giving life value and purpose. As I watched Citra and Rowan struggle with that realization and the lengths they would go to in order to continue to live, even if that meant taking lives, I found myself completed immersed in the story. And now, as so frequently happens, a book I thought I would enjoy has become a series I cannot wait to continue!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever started a series determined to hate it only to be won over?

Fantasy · fiction · FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade

FGR #6: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book came into my hands highly recommended and I only wish I could, in turn, place it directly into your hands. The characters alone have me cuddling the book tightly in my arms as I type. But the story…this story. Sigh. Well, there is a reason this book won both the Newberry Medal and the Carnegie Medal.

graveyard
A blue cover with gold writing featuring an antique headstone and a golden Newberry sticker.

The Graveyard Book gives us the story of Nobody Owens and, much The Jungle Book, Nobody Owens is as unique as Mogli because his home is unique. He is being raised by ghosts, taunted by ghouls, and protected by magical beings. Bod, to his friends and family, has the blessings of the graveyard and many of the unusual gifts of his long dead family and friends. In short, Bod is the very coolest of characters.

It is why he is in the graveyard that matters. He doesn’t belong there but he is only safe while he remains inside. But safe from what? Or who? And for how long?

Neil Gaiman is a prolific and talented writer. I have enjoyed several of his other books. But I doubt that any other story of his will remain with me the way The Graveyard Book is sure to from this day onward. I loved it like so many others before me. It is, without a doubt, a perfect Frighteningly Good Read.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by Neil Gaiman? Which is your favorite?

Classic · Fantasy

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

lastunicornThe Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is classic fantasy reading on par with The Once and Future King. Here, Beagle tells the tale of a unicorn who lives in the safety of her lilac forest. Death and age cannot touch her and so she has lived a peaceful life since before memory began. But now, she hears whispers that she is the last of her kind. And so she ventures of the safety of her home to find others. Along the way she meets those who would do her harm and two who vow to aid her: the ridiculously inept magician Schmendrick and the unyielding and stalwart Molly Grue. Will the trio be enough to confront the creature that seeks to drive her kind to extinction?

I struggled for the first few chapters of The Last Unicorn. This is most likely because I have become accustomed to the fast pace and immediate action of current YA writing. However, even a measly three chapters into the story and you will know the most important aspects of the tale. More importantly, you will have met the delightful Schmendrick. Soon, Molly Grue joins the journey and, truthfully, I loved the book because I adored these two supporting characters. The unicorn struck me as insipid, but necessary, while Molly and Schmendrick were akin to Inigo and Fezek.

There is an often quoted saying regarding friendship, “Sometimes people come into your life for a moment, a day, or a lifetime. It matters not the time they spent with you but how they impacted your life in that time.” Peter S. Beagle captured the essence of this saying in this wonderful classic story.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this story?

Am I the only person that erroneously thought this was the basis for the Tom Cruise movie Legend?