Monday, January 8, 2018

MAGNUS CHASE AND THE GODS OF ASGARD Book Three: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

Book Three: The Ship of the Dead
Rick Riordan

            I recently reviewed books one and two in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series (see review of book one, September 21, 2017, and review of book two, October 30, 2017). Although I enjoyed both books, The Ship of the Dead, the third and final book in the Magnus Chase trilogy, is, in my opinion, the best of the three.

Can Magnus and his friends stop Loki from launching the ship of the dead and starting Ragnarok? It is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially for a dead teenage hero from Valhalla. At the beginning of The Ship of the Dead, Magnus meets his cousin Annabeth’s boyfriend, Percy Jackson, one who understands all about daunting challenges. Percy helps Magnus prepare for the challenges to come.

            The Ship of the Dead does not disappoint, as it is filled with adventure, suspense, mythology, and Riordan’s trademark clever writing. For example, while in the elevator at Valhalla, “sing[ing] along with Frank Sinatra in Norwegian”, Magnus was glad he lived on the nineteenth floor: “if I lived somewhere up in the hundreds, I would have gone…well, berserk.” (p. 43). Riordan’s rich imagination is evident in The Ship of the Dead as well; for example, we learn that ravens deliver messages by barf-mail (p. 39) and that there is an on-site IKEA at Valhalla (p. 42).

            Riordan has successfully wrapped up yet another series. The Ship of the Dead is an absolute delight.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

SEASON OF STORMS by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley

            Celia Sands is a young up-and-coming British actress who was named after another, unrelated Celia Sands. This other Celia, Celia I, was also an actress and was the mistress of Galeazzo D’Ascanio, an Italian poet. D’Ascanio’s final play, written for Celia I, was never performed as Celia I disappeared on opening night. Now, D’Ascanio’s grandson, Alessandro D’Ascanio, has decided to stage a production of his grandfather’s famous last play. He wants the current Celia Sands to play the lead.

            The play is to be performed at D’Ascanio’s private villa, on Lake Garda, and directed by Rupert Neville, one of the two men whom Celia considers to be her father. Famous actress Madeleine Hedrick is cast in the role opposite the lead, and there has been bad blood between Hedrick and Celia’s famous actress mother. Just a little bit of pressure and drama for an aspiring young actress starring in a leading role for the first time.

            Season of Storms is quintessential Kearsley. The book is well written, the characters are complex and well-developed, and the plot is engaging. As is typical of Kearsley, the book moves back and forth between Celia I’s time and the time of the current Celia.

I thoroughly enjoyed Season of Storms, though I must confess that at times, as Celia unravels the mystery of Celia I’s fate, I found parts of this book to be very scary. I am a huge Susanna Kearsley fan, and Season of Storms did not disappoint. It is masterful, and I highly recommend the book.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Peter Berlin

            The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Swedes is a cute and amusing little book about the Swedes. As it says on the front cover (perhaps a subtitle of sorts), the book provides “[a] frank and funny look at what makes the Swedes SWEDISH.” The Xenophobe’s Guides provide a brief look at the beliefs of a people.

The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Swedes is a quick and easy read. Some of the topics covered include beliefs & values, manners, custom & tradition, and language. The book is short, sweet, and amusing. I found it difficult, however, to discern what is true from what is tongue-in-cheek. For example, regarding dinner party etiquette, the book discusses guests removing shoes and the providing of slippers: “It is therefore up to the guest to bring his own slippers in a bag separate from the one containing the gift, and to remember which is which.” (p. 50) Those knowledgeable about Sweden will find familiar topics mentioned, such as Stieg Larsson and ABBA; while discussing Advent and the lighting of windows, the book states that “[w]alking along snow-covered streets at night amidst all that light is a unique experience, the more so since the darkness of night descends in the middle of the afternoon.” (p. 65) This light-hearted little book is fun and would make a nice little gift.

Note: all citations are from the 2016 edition (copyright 2013).

THE MEDICAL EXAMINER by James Patterson (with Maxine Paetro)

James Patterson
(with Maxine Paetro)

            The Medical Examiner is one of Patterson’s BookShots, a series of short novella-type publications that can be read more quickly than a full sized novel – a pared down book that is intended to entice non-readers. This particular BookShot involves Patterson’s successful Women’s Murder Club series.

            Two people were shot and killed in a hotel room and taken to Claire’s morgue. Upon hearing a noise, Claire discovers that one of the two is still alive. Patterson and Paetro lead us through the investigation.

            In my opinion, The Medical Examiner is poorly written. Although the plot is engaging, the dialogue, for example, felt simply descriptive – a recitation of “he did this”, “she went there”, and the like. I enjoy the Women’s Murder Club series, and this BookShot gave me the opportunity to visit that world briefly. However, I think that the paring process has left this particular BookShot wanting. Although the book is decent for what it is, I wish Patterson had turned the plot into a full sized novel with better writing. I applaud the series – I think Patterson’s intentions with BookShots is commendable – but, I think that with this particular book, quality has taken a backseat to convenience.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE LAST TUDOR by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory

            Philippa Gregory’s latest work of historical fiction, The Last Tudor, focuses on the Grey sisters: Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey. The Greys were a Protestant family, and the girls were in line to inherit the crown through their mother, who was the niece of King Henry VIII. Although many have heard of Jane Grey, who had been queen for nine days before Mary was crowned, not much is known about her two younger sisters. After chronicling Jane’s execution, the book picks up with Katherine, the second sister who would be next in line for the throne, and lastly moves on to the youngest sister, Mary.

            The Last Tudor is a lengthy book; I happen to like long books, but I found this one to be very repetitious, tedious, and predictable. I have reviewed other books in Gregory’s Tudor series, and I found quite a bit of repetition in those books as well.

            In general, I would not recommend The Last Tudor. However, at the end of the book, Gregory included an author’s note, which I think is the best part of the book. Gregory does have training in history, and that was evident in this note. In my opinion, this note might make it worthwhile to read the book.