Audiobook Recommendation- The Trials of Apollo

A young adult fiction series which will help you remain ‘young at heart’!

He’s done it again! Prolific Young adult writer Rick Riordan has completed another outstanding mythological fiction series. This time featuring Lester Papadopoulos, an unremarkable chubby pimple faced teen….. who by the way is the god Apollo, banished from Olympus by his father Zeus, to earth as the mortal Lester- until he can complete a series of trials to regain his immortality and return to Olympus to re-join his fellow gods! If this all sounds too fanciful for you? Then Rick Riordan’s books are probably not for you, and I permit you to skip this blog post.

However, if you are a fan of Rick’s, or you’ve always loved the Greek and Roman mythologies, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this 5-part series which includes the books:

The Hidden Oracle (2016)

The Dark Prophecy (2017)

The Burning Maze (2018)

The Tyrant’s Tomb (2019), and

The Tower of Nero (2020)

But if you’re new to Rick Riordan’s books, reading his earlier series will greatly help you to fully immerse yourself into the Trials of Apollo series, as it leans heavily on prior knowledge and re-visits many past characters from his earlier series (Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus).

   What I liked:

Like an episode of ‘Where are they now?’

For us, a few years had passed since we last heard from Percy, Jason and the rest of the Greek and Roman demigods, so the Apollo series acted like an episode of ‘Whare are they now?’ In this series we learn that the kids are all grown up, now in senior school or about to head off to college. And it was great, some open-ended storylines from previous books were finally closed off. So, for many who grew up with Rick’s character’s, there was a sense of closure- although not all endings were happy ones…….

Surprisingly educational

What Rick is good at, is introducing the subject of ancient history in a fun and culturally relevant way to kids, who otherwise wouldn’t have found it an interesting subject if taught at school. So, suddenly ancient history is totally cool now! Not something irrelevant and out-of-date for kids of the 2020s. Which then translates to more kids wanting to do their own further reading, which is the aim! Rick’s goal of making reading fun and cool for all kids. Not to mention, it has once again piqued my curiosity in Greek mythology, I wouldn’t mind doing some additional reading of my own. 

Humorous

Rick has always worked into his books a healthy amount of chuckles for his readers. As previously he mentioned, the original reason why he got writing books was for his kids- and you can picture him working in these jokes, so he could make his own kids laugh. And to date Trials of Apollo has been the funniest, if the amount of times my wife was laughing out loud is an indication. The chuckles begin right from the funny titles Rick gives to his chapters, to re-occurring supporting characters like the Karpos aka ‘Demon Baby’ Peaches, and Lester’s Shakespearean sounding companion, ‘The arrow of Dodona – each of their appearances are bound to result in chuckles.

Robbie Daymond

And for those who will listen to the book rather than read it, the narration by Robbie Daymond was truly next level! Robbie’s voice acting added to the entire experience, his voices for characters utterly surprised me at times. I honestly couldn’t believe that it was one person who was doing all the voices, they were totally convincing. And the brilliant thing was that the Publishers maintained the same narrator throughout the 5-book series spanning 5 years. Oftentimes in series like these, they change narrators between books, for one reason or another- which frankly ruins books as a different voice applied to the same character can ruin one’s mental image of characters. But the consistency of narrators, and specifically Robbie, this was truly an upside for the series and the whole experience!

What I didn’t like:

Inclusiveness

I know where Rick is going with this, he’s trying to make his books inclusive so none of his young readers would ever feel left out or feel like they don’t see themselves represented in mainstream culture. I get that. But in his attempts to be inclusive and embracing of all, was he unknowingly discriminating and derogative to a large segment of the youth population? That being those who might be unremarkable, or chubby, or pimply, or all the above? I just didn’t like Rick’s/Apollo’s constant self-deprecation and self-loathing of Lester’s outward appearance. As what does that say to his readers who happen to be as he describes Lester to be? How are they meant to feel? So, I can see why he does this, for the sake of the story to highlight how far ‘Apollo has fallen’, but if he could have toned it down just a little? As being a former chubby kid with acne, on-behalf of my 13-year-old self, I felt outrage and was getting pretty put off towards the end. Rick, in attempts to appease the minority, let’s not ostracize a good majority of our youth.

But all in all, The Trials of Apollo series has been a real enjoyment, we literally read the 5-book series back-to-back, taking us at least 6 months to complete. It has been a great quest and if you want to check out the Trial of Apollo series for yourself? Just click HERE!

Audiobook Recommendation- I Am Number Four

They walk among us!

A near extinct alien race here amongst us, in hiding hunted down by another alien race determined to kill each and every last one of them. But for a charm which protects them (the Loric), a charm determining that they could only be killed in order. But who knows this order? They themselves know, but they don’t know each other! There are 9, arriving on our planet after a battle which destroyed their own home planet. They arrived as 9 children, but now they are teenagers with developing super powers, and they are helpless no more!

Each of them have gone into hiding, with their Cepân (adult guardians), constantly moving, and constantly changing identities to keep the Mogadorians (aggressor species) off their heels.  However they caught-killed Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, Number Three in Kenya, and now Number Four is next in line for termination!

So after that little intro, are you intrigued? I randomly stumbled on ‘I Am Number Four’, I hadn’t heard of the book before (released in 2010), nor was I aware that a film of the same name had been released in 2011. But I was completely drawn into the story, only after the first 30 minutes of the audiobook.

I AM Number Four is the first book in a series called the Lorian Legacies, written by Pittacus Lore (the pseudonym for the writer duo of James Frey and Jobie Hughes). Although the first book and the series has received mixed reviews, however I’ve personally found it to be an absolute marvel, as it’s not just your typical Young adult science fiction novel like Harry Potter or Twilight, but it reads more like a Marvel superhero comic! And I think this detail is lost on most people. Yes you can criticize it, as it’s not the most well written book, and the storyline can be both predictable and hard to believe at the same time, and it’s also cheesy and cringing at times. However readers must understand that the author was attempting to describe an out-of-this-world story using words alone, encouraging you and me to use our imagination to picture these scenes. While in my own opinion, I believe that the story was better suited for a comic book strip or a major cinematic film. And thus why we haven’t seen many superhero novels before.

Personally I was very impressed in how Pittacus Lore was able to describe to us using words alone an alien race, describe the discovery of developing super powers (called legacies), and describe out-of-this-world monsters, all without the use of visual aids. I’ve read quite a few novels in my time, however I don’t seem to recall ever reading a novel like this before, where the book had superhero types in it. And once people realise how rare it is, to attempt to write a sci-fi novel like this, then you may forgive the novel for some of its failings.

I found the story to be fascinating i.e. learning about an alien race, and learning of their cultures, social structures, and powers; it was contrasting as in, here’s Number Four (John Smith) trying to fit in at a new high school with the usual teenage angst, while he’s developing super powers and learning what he is capable of; it’s fast paced, as in the story unfolds rapidly so much so that at the end of the book you’re left wondering “how did we get here?”; and it has a touch of teenage romance as well, which I like as I’m a sucker for the lovey dovey.

And just when you’ve reached the end of the book, the final paragraphs sets the scene (and often leaves you hanging in suspense) for the sequel, so the only thing you can do, is to jump straight into the next book. To date we’ve read/listened to 5 books in the Lorian Legacies series, and at the conclusion of each book we tell ourselves that we’re going to give it a break. But low-and-behold, a few days later we’re binge listening to the very next one.

In my personal opinion, the first is always the best! So I’ve got a soft spot for ‘I Am Number Four’, while the subsequent books are good as well, as we meet more and more of the Garde (the 9 Loric). And in the next books, you’ll get to experience the uniqueness of having multiple authors- as different chapters and different characters have a completely different feel to them.

So if you want to check out the Lorian Legacies series, click HERE to start off with book 1- I Am Number Four!    

Audiobook Recommendations- Berlin Noir ‘Bernie Gunther’

Looking through the other end of the spyglass.

Recently I’ve had an odd fascination with modern history, namely the period between World War I and 1950 (when my dad was born). This fascination had motivated me to watch ‘World War II in HD Colour’, documentaries about the Royal Household, and more recently I’ve finished reading the Trilogy ‘Berlin Noir- Bernie Gunther’, by Phillip Kerr.

I think it’s long enough since the end of the Second World War, that we can now show a passing interest in 1930s-1940s Germany without being labelled as a Nazi sympathiser. And it’s uncommon to find a fictional novel set in pre-WWII Germany, especially where the protagonist is an Aryan German.

Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy starts off with ‘March Violets’ set in 1936 Berlin, where ex-police now Private detective Bernie Gunter is making a living from seeking out information on missing persons- as more and more German Jews are going missing as the Nazi party gains more of a foothold. That is before Bernie is lured into a potentially lucrative case, to locate missing jewels belonging to a wealthy German industrialist- in the process uncovering more than he bargained for.   

     In book 2 of the series (The Pail Criminal), Bernie has been brought back into the Berlin Police force to solve a string of killings of young Aryan girls. Convinced that he’s the only one who could solve these murders, due to his pass successes with catching a similar serial killer, Bernie uncovers a plot which is way above his pay-grade. Set in the backdrop of 1938 Berlin, in the subsequent years much has changed Germany is on the brink of all-out war, and the open persecution of Jews is rampant.

In the final book in the Berlin Noir trilogy (A German Requiem- 1947-48), the war has already been fought and loss, and Berlin and much of Germany/Austria has been left in ruins. And those who have survived the war, are now left to fend for themselves in a near post-apocalypse landscape where people are reduced to their most primal needs. Meanwhile streetwise Bernie Gunther is still a Private detective and is soon hired to investigate the framing of a former acquaintance, who is awaiting execution in Vienna. Who is good? Who is telling lies? Who can Bernie trust?

I guess the ultimate reason why I found these novels so fascinating, was because I had rarely heard of life in Germany leading up to the war or had spent much time reading up about life in post-war Germany/Austria. It was fascinating to hear of the glamour of pre-war Berlin, and then having that contrasted with the desolation in post-war Berlin, where there were French, and American, British, and Russian controlled sectors. Weird!

And what made Phillip Kerr’s book so engrossing, was his ability to bring to life his characters and settings by describing everything in such detail, transporting me to 1930s-1940s Berlin. And although most detective novels are slow to develop, however Kerr had me tearing through the books, smashing through the 3 books in less than 2 weeks!

If you want to read something a bit different from your ordinary Detective mysteries, check out Phillip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, it’s not for everyone but it still might interest you.

Audiobook recommendation- Fair warning

Ah Michael Connelly, you’ve done it again!

It has taken me over 20 years, but now I’m finally up-to-speed with Michael Connelly’s new releases, and the latest book which I’ve read was Fair warning released 2020.

The interesting thing about Michael Connelly’s approach to his fictional writing, is that he basis his characters in Los Angeles, and they all occupy the same circle of society e.g., a detective, a defence lawyer, an FBI agent, and a crime reporter- and at one point or another, all these characters have crossed paths. And in Fair warning, this time Michael Connelly has focused his story on Jack McEvoy, the crime reporter, but crime reporter no more. And therefore, why I love Michael Connelly’s books, because as we his fans age, and as the progress of time continues to roll on, so does his fictional characters and the near reality LA world that they live in.

With the transition away from conventional print media, Jack McEvoy now finds himself writing for a digital publication, blowing wide open scams which prey on the innocent Retail consumer…. Yeah, not exactly hard-hitting journalism. Hey? And Jack is more than aware of this, but his unremarkable life is turned upside down, when police detectives show up at his home, making him a person of interest to a murder. And once Jack gets going, digging around, and uncovering hidden clues, Jack finds himself in the middle of a serial killer’s murdering spree. But this unfortunate outcome, reunites him back up with his old flame and former FBI agent Rachel Walling. And together, with the help of the FBI and the full weight of Jack’s digital publication, they solve a mystery where women are left broken and dead in highly suspicious circumstances.

I think, because it’s the first time that I’m reading a Connelly book within 12 months of its release, so the book and the setting in which the characters lived in, felt super real. E.g., the serial killer drove a Tesla, there were references to Donald Trump’s treatment of the media, everyone was using Ride share companies, podcasting emerged as the media of choice, and DNA matching companies (which you hear adverts of all the time) took centre stage. So, you can’t ever say that Michael Connelly isn’t up with the times, but perhaps there was a bit of an overuse or over spotlight placed on our modern present- to the extent that at times it felt like he was writing a spoof of our modern day. And I just wonder, how would this book hold up, 20 years down the track.

But like all Michael Connelly books, the story was fast paced, the jumps between scenes and how the storyline unfolded was all together believable, and although there wasn’t a twist as such, but where we ended up at the end of the book, was not where I thought it was going to head from the beginning. So, it was an unexpected journey, but a riveting one, as usual!

So as Harry Bosch ages, into his twilight years so he’s less likely going to be out there solving murders- the end of Fair warning had set the scene in how Michael Connelly might continue his popular brand of books. That it might be a crime solving duo, made up of Jack McEvoy and Rachel Walling! Which isn’t an altogether bad coupling.

To check out Michael Connelly’s latest hit thriller Fair warning, click HERE to start listening on Audible.

Audiobook recommendation- The Night Fire

Old dogs can learn new tricks!

It’s official! I’ve listened to every Harry Bosch book ever published! It has only taken me 20 years (since 2001 to 2021), but I’ve achieved it! So when I say I’ve grown old with Harry Bosh, I literally mean it. The first time I listened to ‘City of Bones’, I was a young and impressionable 17-year-old, I remember how that title seemed a bit too adult and intense for me at that time. But when I re-listened to ‘City of Bones’ 15 years later when reading all of the Bosh series in sequence, CoB seemed like just a child’s book, nothing to keep one replaying scenes in the middle of the night.

But as I grew old with Bosh, the brilliant thing about Michael Connelly’s creation, was that Bosh also grew old with me (so did the old waiter at Philippe’)- Harry’s age incrementing at the same pace as the real world. At this stage in 2019 in The Night Fire, Bosh is fully retired- not even a part-timer for the San Fernando PD. And more and more of his LAPD buddies are dropping dead due to old age.

But to keep the Bosh series about solving crime and putting criminals behind bars (rather than just stories of golfing and retirement) Michael Connelly has merged two of his  previously separate series together, thus the younger Renée Ballard who is a Night shift detective can still continue on the good fight with her badge. And not only has Connelly combined two previously separate characters, but he has also brought in Micky Haller, thus bringing together even more elements to make The Night Fire even more  interesting to say the least.

And where I’ve teased that ‘old dogs’ are able to learn new tricks, if you’re familiar with the Bosh series you’d be aware that for most of his novels- Michael Connelly has Bosh spending the entire novel investigating and solving a single case. However in The Night Fire, as now we have Bosh, Ballard and Haller in one book, so we end up investigating several cases at one time- thus it feels more like an anthology of short stories, rather than a novel, which isn’t a bad change-up?

And as this book is as much a Bosh series, as it is a Ballard series, alternating chapters we have the novel driven through Bosh’s perspective, then Ballard’s perspective (with a corresponding male and female narrator to play each). While it was interesting to notice the different styles Connelly writes in, like for Bosh it’s in the 3rd person, while for Ballard it’s always from the first person’s point of view.

The Night Fire involves a seemingly accidental death of a young homeless man; a 30+ year old cold case killing of a drug addict in a dingy alley; and a court case to convict a mentally ill man accused of killing a prominent judge. These all seemingly separate storylines progress in different directions, before they eventually converge in a gripping finale! The final 2 hours of the book, I smashed it out in one sitting at 2.30am in the morning, seated in an armchair with ear pods in, trying not to wake my sleeping wife. And as usual, Michael Connelly had me riveted and holding my breath right down to  the very end! Brilliant! Bravo!

For the official ‘The Night Fire’ blurb, and extras, click HERE!

Audiobook review- Curse of Hera

How similar can books be, before we shout out plagiarism!?

I was checking out what other books Rick Riordan has released recently, as I was in the mindset for another fantasy series- when I was recommended a similar series to Percy Jackson & The Olympians.

To say that the two series are similar, is an understatement. Curse of Hera (Camp Hercules book 1) by P.J. Hoover features a male teenage protogenos (Check), clueless about the Greek mythologies (Check), finds his way to a summer camp to hone campers’ monster slaying abilities (Check), and finds out that they are special, being a spawn of a Greek god (Check).

But how Curse of Hera differs, is that Logan (the main character) is sent to Camp Hercules with the pretence that he was just attending an ancient Greek themed summer camp. Unaware that the gods and demi-gods who he comes across, are in-fact the real deals- Hercules is the Hercules, and Athena is the Athena. The author P.J. Hoover creatively combines the Greek tales nicely with modern day fixtures i.e. camp t-shirts which act like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment or should I say Armor), and the Fates are armed with an iPad tablet to record their transactions with mortals. 

The book contains Hercules’ famous Labours, and when things go horribly wrong and the labours are released and run amuck in the camp and beyond the walls of Camp Hercules- quickly summer camp becomes an old-fashioned Quest!

The book contains a few pivotal twists and sets things up nicely for a follow-up sequel.

So, if you’re a fan of the Greek mythologies and you were a fan of happenings at Camp Half-blood? I think you’ll enjoy P.J. Hoover’s Curse of Hera- just as long as you’re able to stop yourself from constantly comparing the two series. If you want to check it out, click HERE!

However, if you’re not into a near ‘fan fic’ of Rick Riordan’s original creation, perhaps you might be interested in ‘The Blood of Zeus’?

Blood of Zeus is a Netflix animated series, uncannily featuring the Greek gods and heroes again, Heron being the main character, a demi-god who is tasked to save Olympus and earth (a simple task? Really!).

Over 8 episodes Heron moves from being a simple peasant boy with no particular skill, to an awesome fighter with supernatural powers! The storyline is like any Greek mythology story, so it’s a bit predictable. While the animation is a bit jerky due to the low frames used in its animation creation, so it’s not the most amazing looking thing. However, if you welcome    variety from Netflix, then you’ll embrace this new content.

To check-out ‘Blood of Zeus’, click HERE!