Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
279 pages

The Sea of Monsters is the second book in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. It is hilarious, action-packed and has a great message about family and loyalty. Percy is completing his school year at Merriwether College Prep, an experimental school for troubled kids where they don't receive grades, when he has a nightmare about his best friend Grover. In the nightmare Grover is being chased by a monster and runs into a wedding dress boutique. Grover says that he has to warn his friends in the vision. Percy wakes up and instinctively feels something is wrong. His mother tells him that it isn't safe to go to Camp Half-Blood for the summer yet, but she doesn't tell him why. Percy goes to school for the last day and disaster strikes when the school bully leads a game of fiery dodge ball with visiting giant cannibals. Percy is protected by his gangly, outcast friend Tyson, who exhibits superhuman strength and an ability to withstand fire from the dodge balls. Just as Percy and Tyson are about to be killed, Annabeth shows up in her invisible cap and helps them escape from the gymnasium. She tells Percy that Tyson is a young Cyclopes and is immune to fire.

Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson take a taxi cab driven by the Gray Sisters to Camp Half-Blood. The Gray Sisters state three numbers to Percy and say that is where the thing he is looking for is. Percy is perplexed. When they arrive at camp they find Clarisse, Ares' daughter, leading other campers in a fight against large fire breathing metal bulls. The three of them join the fight and Tyson rescues Percy from one of the bulls by pounding its face in. After the bulls are subdued, Percy finds out that someone has poisoned Thalia's tree and the magical protective borders are weakening. The camp will be completely vulnerable unless the tree is somehow revived. Chiron was dismissed from his position as activities director because he is suspected by the gods for being related to Kronos. The new activities director, Tantalus, is excessively harsh and sets curfews and perimeter lines for the campers, threatening death if they break the rules. Percy has to adjust to the rules and to the fact that Tyson is his cabin mate after Poseidon claims Tyson as his son. Percy feels ashamed that Tyson is his half-brother because everyone makes fun of him for it. Percy is telepathically informed by Grover that he is trapped on an island and about to be eaten by a giant Cyclopes. Percy tells Grover that he is going to find a way to rescue him.

One evening Percy is approached by Olympian god Hermes who asks Percy to find his son Luke to see if he can help him change his mind about working for Kronos. Hermes gives Percy gifts such as healing vitamins to help him on this journey. However, no camper is allowed to leave, except for Clarisse who was offered a quest to get the Golden Fleece to heal Thalia's tree. Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson leave camp despite the risk and ride on the backs of hippocampi to the ship Princess Andromeda at Hermes' request. When they board the ship they notice something is wrong with the passengers. They reach a cabin where Luke and his minions, half-bear twins, Oreius and Agrius, take them captive. Luke reveals that Kronos' body is re-forming piece by piece in a sarcophagus. Annabeth calls Luke crazy and Tyson nearly attacks Luke, but the twins bind them. Luke orders the three of them to be fed to the drakon below deck. As they leave Luke's cabin, they escape from the twins and flee from the ship on a lifeboat. Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson reach shore and seek refuge at an old half-blood hiding place. Shortly after Tyson finds a monster donut shop they are attacked by multi-headed Hydra. They are nearly overwhelmed when Clarisse arrives with her ship the CSS Birmingham and blows the Hydra to bits. They climb aboard her ship and sail with her to the sea of monsters.

When the CSS Birmingham reaches the sea of monsters, the ship is destroyed by sea monster sisters, Charybdis and Scylla. Percy and Annabeth are separated on a life boat leaving Percy in agony over Tyson's fate. Percy and Annabeth reach the dock of a spa resort where Percy is turned into a guinea pig by a man-hating sorceress named Circe. Annabeth saves Percy, who takes Hermes' vitamins to turn back to normal. They take a ship from the dock and sail to the coordinates that the Gray Sisters told Percy earlier. The island is the home of Polyphemus, the owner of the Golden Fleece who has been tricking satyrs for centuries into believing his magically enhanced land was the location of the god Pan. Polyphemus would have eaten Grover a long time ago if Grover was not wearing a wedding dress and pretending that he was a female Cyclopes. Percy and Annabeth plan a strategy to trick Polyphemus into freeing Grover, but their plans are slightly derailed when they see that Clarisse has been captured too. Nonetheless, they maneuver their way around the surprise with the help of Tyson, who has emerged in time to save them again. Tyson retrieves the Golden Fleece and they escape the island and the wrath of Polyphemus on hippocampi. The hippocampi swim them to Miami. They give Clarisse the money Hermes gave them to buy a plane ticket back to Camp Half-Blood. While Percy is trying to decide how they'd get back home, Luke confronts them and makes them board Princess Andromeda.

Percy tricks Luke into confessing he poisoned Thalia's tree in front of Camp Half-Blood using a rainbow message. When Luke finds out that Clarisse has left with the Fleece he orders his followers to kill Percy, Tyson, and Annabeth again. Percy stalls by challenging Luke to a duel. As the duel gets deadly Chiron and a gang of fellow centaurs jump aboard and rescue Percy, Tyson, and Annabeth. Chiron explains that he was keeping tabs on Percy and that he was happy Percy cleared his name to return as activities director. They return to camp and find that Clarisse is being honored while they are being ignored, though they don't mind. Percy receives a letter from his father Poseidon to brace himself. Tyson leaves camp to work underwater as a forger and gives Percy a watch that can turn into a shield. Soon afterwards there is a commotion around the Hill. Percy runs to the hill and sees a girl lying in front of Thalia's tree. She gains consciousness and introduces herself as Thalia daughter of Zeus. Percy is shocked and remembers the prophecy about a child of the Big Three that will determine the fate of the Olympians. He knows that Kronos plans to use either him or Thalia in his plan to overthrow the gods, but he doesn't know which one of them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
379 pages

The Lightning Thief is the action-packed first book in the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series. The children's fantasy book is written in first person with a refreshing sense of humor. Percy's adventures begin after he discovers that his abnormal school experiences has more to do with Greek mythology and less to do with his alleged ADHD and dyslexic disorder when his pre-algebra teacher at Yancy Academy turns into a murderous monster on a school field trip in the middle of the school year.

The book opens with Percy's sarcastic, matter-of fact wit "Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now." Percy is a 12 year old boy living in New York City with a history of low academic performance and getting expelled for outlandish incidents. When Percy attends a Yancy Academy field trip halfway through the school year, he comments that bad things tend to happen when he goes on field trips. This trip is no exception. Percy's pre-algebra teacher Mrs. Dodds turns into a monster and tries to kill him. If his Latin teacher Mr. Brunner did not show up and throw Percy a pen-turned-sword upon catching it, Percy would have been sliced to pieces. After that perilous episode Percy is appalled to learn from his classmates that there was never a Mrs. Dodds at Yancy Academy though he suspects his best friend Grover is lying due to his hesitation when responding about it.

On the night before his final exams Percy overhears Mr. Brunner and Grover discussing Percy's safety and referencing Greek mythology as if it were real. After Percy flunks his classes he is expelled from Yancy and returns home. Grover accompanies Percy on the bus ride home and Percy notices Grover is oddly protective and furtive. Percy goes home after ditching Grover at a bus stop. He is surprised at his mother's announcement that they are going on a three day trip to a cabin in Long Island. They borrow his stepfather's car, who Percy calls "smelly Gabe", and leave for the trip immediately. Percy notices his mother is acting strange, but doesn't say anything. While they are in their cabin on the beach, the trip is cut short when Grover arrives and tells them they have to leave. Percy's mom drives them through a thunderstorm and Percy finds out that Grover is a satyr. He also sees that they are being chased by a Minotaur. The Minotaur attacks and tries to kill them after their car crashes. Percy manages to kill the Minotaur, but he is unable to save his mother who disappears in a golden flash of light. Percy loses consciousness and wakes up in Camp Half-Blood.

When Percy wakes up he meets Annabeth, a demigod, daughter of Athena, and he finds out that Mr. Brunner is actually Chiron, an ancient centaur from the Greek myths. Percy does not know who his father is and stays at the cabin with Hermes children. Percy becomes friends with Annabeth and Luke, who support him in his troubles with other campers, especially Clarisse, a vicious daughter of the war god Ares. Percy has nightmares and hears a cold voice from the depths of the Underworld taunting him and realizes something is amiss with the gods. Percy is eventually claimed as the son of Poseidon, one of the "Big Three." Shortly afterwards Percy is offered a quest to find Zeus's master lightning bolt. Zeus believes Percy is responsible for the theft and if the lightning bolt is not returned by the summer solstice a war between the gods would ensue. Annabeth and Grover join him on his quest while Luke gives Percy a pair of flying shoes in case of an emergency. Chiron gives Percy the pen that turns into the sword Riptide, a gift from his father. Percy is told by the Oracle at camp that he would have to travel west to find the lightning bolt and that he would be betrayed by a friend. Percy, Grover and Annabeth take a bus out of the city when they are attacked by The Furies. The bus crashes and they escape the attackers. Percy, Grover, and Annabeth wander into Aunty Em's Garden Emporium that is full of statues. Aunty Em offers them food and they eat it, but they soon discover that Aunty Em is Medusa. Percy cuts off her head with Riptide and they continue on their journey.

On their way west they visit the arc in St. Louis, where Percy is attacked by another monster at the top of the arc and jumps down into a river to escape. A sea naiad gives Percy three pearls to protect himself in the future. Annabeth and Grover find Percy and they start traveling again. They stop in Denver and meet the war god Ares who asks them to get his shield for him that he lost in a water park. They reluctantly agree and are nearly drowned in a trap from Hephaestus, Aphrodite's jealous husband. Percy and his friends take a truck to Vegas where they are sidetracked at an enchanted hotel where the customers play games forever. After Percy realizes the trick he gets Grover and Annabeth out of Vegas and they take a cab to Los Angeles. They are nearly killed again by another monster selling water beds, but they survive and finally reach the Underworld to talk to Hades.

The three friends manage to pass by the monstrous three-headed dog Cerberus with Annabeth's obedience school skills and are almost sucked downed into Tartarus with the magic flying shoes that Luke gave Percy. They enter Hades palace where the furious god of the Underworld demands his helm of darkness in return for Percy's mother, who Hades took alive as a bargaining chip. Percy tells Hades that he doesn't have the helm and that he didn't take the lightning bolt either. Hades orders his guards to destroy them and Percy gives Grover and Annabeth a pearl to use so they can escape. They wash ashore above land and are confronted by Ares. Ares is revealed to have stolen the lightning bolt and the helm of darkness. Percy tells Ares that he's been manipulated by the cold voice in his nightmares. Percy duels Ares and wins the stolen objects back. The helm is returned to Hades when the Furies confront Percy again. Percy takes a plane to New York and goes to Mount Olympus to return the lightning bolt to Zeus. He meets his father Poisedon in Olympus and is warned by Zeus not to fly another plane. Percy then returns to Camp Half-Blood and is celebrated for succeeding on his quest.

Percy is overjoyed when he learns that his mother has been returned as Hades offered. He gives his mother Medusa's head and tells her she can use it on Gabe if she wants to. Percy's mom later informs his that she has sold a statue of a poker player to the Underworld for a hefty price and enrolled him in a new school. She also put a down payment on their own apartment and her first semester of college. She tells him he must decide whether he wants to stay at Camp Half-Blood or come home at the end of the summer. As the summer session at camp ends, Percy and Luke have a talk in the woods. Luke is revealed to be a traitor who is working for the Titan Kronos and summons a scorpion to kill Percy. Percy kills the scorpion, but is poisoned. Chiron and Annabeth find him and nurse him back to health. Percy tells them about Luke's betrayal and decides to leave Camp Half-Blood for the school year. Grover is granted a license to search for the nature god Pan and Annabeth reunites with her estranged father. Percy is aware that Luke is out there on the move for Kronos and that his troubles as a demigod have just begun.