(audio) book review: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordon, narrated by Jesse Bernstein

fun adventure, but too much like Harry Potter and annoying narrator for the audiobook

So there’s an eleven year old boy who lives with a nasty step-dad named Mr. Dursley – sorry, it’s Smelly Gabe. He learns that he is special and goes to a special school – sorry, camp – where there is a kindly teacher who likes him, Dumbledore – sorry, Kairon, and a mean teacher who doesn’t, Snape – sorry, Mr. D. He then goes on a quest to save the world with a really smart girl named Hermione – sorry, Annabeth – and a goofy friend named Ron – sorry, Grover. Of course, no adults can help save the world. It’s just these crazy kids.

What’s different? Rather than the magic of Harry Potter, we learn that the Greek gods are alive and well, working behind the veil of human vision. We meet all kinds of major gods, minor gods, demigods, mythical monsters, and other characters. It got me excited about re-reading some of the Greek mythology that I enjoyed so much as a youth.

I wish Jim Dale – the superb narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks – had narrated these. Instead, Jesse Bernstein does his best eleven-year-old voice, aka annoying voice, and the accents are just bizarre (Zeus was my “favorite”).

This was a fun listen; it totally drew me in, despite (or maybe because of) the similarities to the little boy wizard. The gods and creatures really make the story, much more than the protagonists. It will be interesting to see that dynamic evolve over the next books.

Note on content: No sex, no strong language that I can remember (besides words like “stupid”), and the violence is pretty veiled.

(audio) book review: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (read by the author)

engaging, innovative, funny, touching, tragic story of growing up and home and family: a pure delight!

A murderer has killed an entire family except the little baby, who has wandered out of his crib and to the nearby graveyard during the process. There he is protected and raised by the denizens of the cemetery (ghosts and more) during many years, as he runs up against enemies new and old and has marvelous experiences.

The book is clever and creative: At one point, Bod (the baby is named Nobody Owens on his first night) is kidnapped by ghouls and enters their alternative world on an absolutely wild adventure. The book is funny: Towards the end of the book, I could not help laughing as I listened to Nehemiah Trott, the deceased poet, describe his vengeance on a literary critic who didn’t appreciate Trott’s verse: He posted a letter saying he wouldn’t publish any more of his amazing poetry, saving it for posterity instead: Served the critic right! This just preceded by a line from Bod like, “And who better to trust than a poet?” (Maybe a non-delusional poet.)  There is an indulgent schoolyard-vengeance episode where Bod uses his special graveyard skills to achieve justice at a local school.  The supporting characters, Bod’s guardian Silas, Silas’s friend Miss Lupesky, and the ghosts of the graveyard, are fabulous.

The pacing is excellent. Gaiman intersperses stand-alone tales (like the ghoul abduction) with the ongoing subplot involving the killer who killed Bod’s family.

I listened to the unabridged audio version, narrated by the author, and I’m so glad. He did a fabulous job.

This is the best book and most fun I’ve had in a while.  (I found another Gaiman book very funny a few years ago: Good Omens, which was more pure funny.)

Note on content: This is not for little children (e.g., my five year old); the villain in this story is a ruthless serial killer. Gaiman is very careful not to show any blood or violence, but there is the threat of violence several places, and several other places that are scary in other ways.