Friday, September 11, 2015

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan is the first book in a new series rooted in Norse mythology.  This book will be released on October 6th, 2015.

Magnus Chase has been on his own since his mom died, living on the streets of Boston.  When his homeless buddies tell him that his uncle is looking for him, Magnus knows he's in trouble.  Soon, he finds himself in an action-packed chase-and-fight sequence that results in his death.  Now, usually it's not a good thing when a book's hero dies less than 50 pages into the story -- but Magnus has previously unsuspected ties to Norse mythology, so when he dies heroically, a Valkyrie whisks him away to Valhalla, where he joins the hordes of heroes awaiting Ragnarok.  There's just one problem: Magnus has some unfinished business on Earth.  Could it be that he's one hero that Valhalla just can't hold?

To me, this book feels like a return to Riordan's strengths.  While I enjoyed the Heroes of Olympus series, it did have some weaknesses -- particularly when it came to the sheer number of point-of-view characters.  This book zeros back in on a single first-person perspective (a friend who also read the book refers to Magnus as "an older, rougher Percy Jackson," and I think that sums him up pretty well, though there's still nothing content-wise to discomfit upper-elementary and middle-school readers).  Riordan also brings back the witty chapter titles that will have some readers (or at least this one) snorting with laughter at times.  The pace is a breakneck as ever, with the usual assortment of monsters and villains, just from further north this time.  Riordan works his usual magic with the mythology, seamlessly blending it into the modern world with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to hold everything together.  There are also a few sly references to Riordan's earlier works, not to mention a cameo appearance by a certain other Chase -- readers who haven't encountered those earlier books won't feel lost, but Riordan's fans will love those little inside jokes.  Bottom line: if you like Riordan's style, you'll definitely like this book -- and if you've never picked up the others, you can start here without worrying about what you've missed in earlier books. 

The only problem with reading an advance copy: it makes my wait for Book 2 that much longer!  Don't you feel sorry for me? . . . Nah, I didn't think so!

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is the first book in a new series by a talented author.

When Leah Westfall finds herself alone in the world and subject to the devious machinations of a greedy uncle, she does what thousands of others are doing: she goes west. Gold has been discovered in California, and the gold fever has struck the general public hard. Disguising herself as a boy, "Lee" makes her way up the Mississippi to Independence and finds a wagon train to join. There will be plenty of hardships over the next months, and not all of Lee's companions will make it to their destination. For Lee the stakes are high, because she's hiding not one, but two secrets: not only is she a girl dressed as a boy, but she also has the magical ability to sense gold hidden in the ground. And the only person who knows is her uncle -- the man who will stop at nothing to bring Lee back under his control.

This is a highly enjoyable story, rich in historical detail and character development. Carson doesn't pull her punches: readers will get quite attached to some characters who won't make it to the end of the book. Despite (or because of?) that, this is a great read, especially for those who have an interest in historical fiction set in this period. People I'd recommend it to: fans of this author, people who enjoyed Patricia C. Wrede's Frontier Magic trilogy, and everyone with a nostalgic fondness for Oregon Trail.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)