Sam’s Review of Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo

redcloakI want to preface my review today by saying that I know this author. She was an English teacher at my high school and although I never took one of her classes myself, I really really wanted to! She has an incredible way about her, which carries seamlessly over into her writing. Her writing voice is charming, witty, and funny. I may or may not gently stalk her blog, which is how I found this book! (A full year after it was published… I never said I was a good stalker…)

In Chantel Acevedo’s young adult novel, Song of the Red Cloak, two young princes, born to separate houses, cling to their mothers. Neither knows it yet, but only one will grow up to be king of Sparta. A prophecy from the Gods declares that one boy will go on to betray the other. So, it is decided that there will only be one prince, and the other baby must be sacrificed to the Gods for the good of the people of Sparta.

Fast forward 16 years where we meet Galen, a helot (slave). He is a kitchen boy at the local school where Spartan boys train to become strong and cunning warriors. Galen dreams of one day wearing the red cloak of the Spartans into battle, however such things are impossible for a boy in his station. The closest he can ever hope to get to being a true warrior is to spar and practice with the Spartan boys at the agoge (school).

Luckily for Galen he has found a unique friendship with prince Nikolas, heir to the Spartan throne. Their friendship allows Galen certain privileges that other helots simply would never have. Others in Sparta are troubled by the boys’ bond and have a hard time accepting that two who are so different could be so close.

In the book Nikolas and Galen find their friendship tested in a way neither could have anticipated. Nikolas’ family holds the power in Sparta, but the other royal family wants their turn to rule. Their son, Acayo, attends school with Nikolas and makes every effort to assert dominance.  In addition to scheming royals, there are also two young ladies who threaten to come between Galen and Nikolas. The mysterious and powerful Zoi and Korinna have secrets that threaten not only the boys’ friendship, but also Sparta itself.

Prophecies. Sacrifices of blood. Gods and goddesses. As a reader I couldn’t have been more captivated by the story. I have always been fascinated by Greek myth and Ancient Greek culture. This book blended the elements of Greek study that I love with elements of Spartan life that I have never known before. Acevedo does a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and giving background on the time period without making it sound like a lecture. Each historical fact is woven carefully into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

Galen is a truly heroic main character. His loyalty to Nikolas combined with his bravery in the face of a fight and dream of one day wearing the red cloak, regardless of his station in life, makes his journey exciting to watch. With each chapter it becomes more and more clear just how Spartan he really is, despite the class in which he was raised. By the end, Galen has truly earned his red cloak and as a reader I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.

However, as I read I found it harder and harder to keep up with all of the action. There is a complicated sequence of events that leads Galen to discover something within him he could never have imagined to be true. The pace of the story was fantastic because it urged me to keep reading and I honestly didn’t want to put it down. But, I found that with this pace and all of the information I was getting occasionally meant that I glossed over some really important pieces of the puzzle. I found myself re-reading to pick up a breadcrumb or two that I lost along the way.

Once I had all of the pieces the story fell neatly into place and I was back to being a happy reader. I love that this story was mostly about friendship. It was about two boys, who against all odds become brothers. It was a journey of self-discovery. Figuring out who you are as a person and who you are among your people. Personally, as a young woman who is searching for her place in this world, I found myself totally attached to Galen’s quest.

This story is epic. It has everything! Packed with action, romance, adventure, and even magic there is so much to love!  As I read I kept track of all the new facts I had learned. I was inspired to read more about Sparta, which allowed me to create an even better picture in my mind of Acevedo’s intricate and beautifully described world. That world made me love the story even more. I am so glad that I stumbled across this book. I sincerely hope that you consider picking it up…mostly because I really need someone to talk to about the ending!

P.S. As if she weren’t bad ass enough…this book was self-published. Super cool. Super brave. If you want to know more about the reason she chose to do that, you too can gently stalk her awesome blog here.

5 out of 5 Stars

Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 310 pages
ISBN: 9781463719319

#34 A Review of The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #2) by Rick Riordan

Cover ImageAbout 5 months ago I was introduced to the world of Percy Jackson.  I was extremely excited when I first began reading the series, for it contained two things I love: a good adventure story and Greek mythology.  I was a huge fan of the first novel in the series (see my review here), and I was interested to see what else Riordan had in store for Percy and his friends.  I really love how Riordan brings Greek mythology into the spotlight, as I feel that it isn’t touched upon enough in today’s media even though the stories hold important lessons in life and morality.
Life has been going great for Percy Jackson.  He’s made it through a full year in one school, he’s made a friend, Tyson, and he’s headed back to Camp Half-Blood where he’ll continue his training as the son of Poseidon.  All seems to be going well until three Laistrygonians (enormous fire wielding monsters) show up and begin attacking Percy and his schoolmates.  After narrowly escaping the attack, Annabeth appears and helps Percy and his friend Tyson get away to Camp Half-Blood.  During the trip Percy realizes that Tyson is a cyclops and sees that Annabeth is incredibly uneasy around him.  Their arrival at Camp Half-Blood brings sorrow as they find that Thalia’s tree (an important piece of the camp’s protection) has been poisoned, and as it dies it slowly drains the protection of the camp away.  Will Percy be able to figure out a way to save the camp?  Will Annabeth reveal secrets of her past to make Percy understand her uneasiness around Tyson? 
The Sea of Monsters is an awesome follow-up to The Lightning Thief.  Riordan does a fantastic job at introducing mythological creatures and stories in a way that makes them fresh and interesting.  He is revitalizing the world of Greek mythology for a new generation.  For example, The Sea of Monsters is heavily influenced by Homer’s The Odyssey.  Percy must cross the sea of monsters, and at one point encounters the Sirens much in the fashion that Odysseus did.  Percy also faces a run-in with the same cyclops that Odysseus outsmarted.  Hopefully these references will make teens want to read Homer’s work, and spark a rebirth in interest in classic literature.
I really enjoyed seeing the friendship and trust grow between Annabeth and Percy.  After their dealings in the last book, it was a good choice on Riordan’s part to begin taking their relationship to the next level.  I was also really happy that he found a way to include Grover in the story.  Upon completing the first in the series I was nervous that Grover wouldn’t be appearing in the later novels due to the plot line his character was a part of.  It’s good to know that Riordan will be keeping our old favorites around while including them in new ways.  My only complaint was that I wish we had more time to spend with Hermes.  Hermes comes up to Percy while still at Camp Half-Blood and tries talking to him about his son Luke.  (Those who read book one will remember Luke as the main villain).  It was fascinating to read Hermes discuss his feelings on the subject of his son, who had gone rogue.
All in all the book was a stellar follow-up: jam-packed with action, adventure, monsters, and the bonds of friendship and family.  There is something to be learned from each of the books in the series, and for that reason I highly recommend that parents encourage their kids to read them.  If I’m 25 and eagerly anticipating the third book.  If that doesn’t tell you the books are good, I don’t know what will!
4 out of 5 Stars
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Hyperion/Miramax Kid Publishers (2006)
Paperback 304 pages

#6 A Review of The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #1) by Rick Riordan

Cover Image Bored one Saturday night, Todd and I found the film version of The Lightning Thief on HBO and were very impressed with it!  Knowing that one of my reading  challenges for 2011 was a page to screen challenge, I had a perfect excuse to check out the book. 
Rick Riordan is the author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, as well as its sequel series The Heroes of Olympus.  He has also written the Tres Navarre series, The Kane Chronicles, and has contributed to the children’s series The 39 Clues.  Riordan has become incredibly successful at creating interesting series for both young adults and adults focusing on Greek mythology, Texas private eyes, and Egyptian mythology.
Percy Jackson’s life is crap.  He has ADHD, dyslexia, is about to get kicked out of yet another boarding school, mythological creatures are chasing him, and he’s just found out that his entire life has been a lie.  Percy finds out that he is a demigod, meaning his father is one of the twelve Olympians from Mount Olympus. (Yes, they really exist!)  Upon Percy’s discovery that he is a demigod, he is brought to camp Half-Blood (a camp for other demigods) by his friend and protector Grover, who is a satyr.  He is told that Zeus’s lightning bolt has been stolen and that he is the main suspect.  Percy speaks to the Oracle and is told he must leave camp and go on a quest to retrieve Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt, as well as stop the war between Zeus and Poseidon.  Before leaving for his quest, Percy undergoes some training at camp and meets Annabeth, a daughter of Athena.  During a game of capture the flag Percy finds out that he has special powers in relation to water and that water acts as a healing agent for him.  At the end of the game it becomes known which god is Percy’s father.  (You won’t be finding out from me though, it’s a surprise!)  With some basic training under his belt, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth leave camp and begin their trek from Long Island to find the missing lightning bolt.  They are thrust in the paths of Furies, Medusa, Hades, Zeus, Ares, and many other mythological creatures and gods along the way.  Percy must figure out why he’s being framed as the lightning thief, what his strange dreams mean, why his father has claimed him as his son only now, and how he’s going to survive each challenge being thrown his way. 
So Percy Jackson was awesome.  As a huge fan of Greek mythology I loved reading about all of the Greek gods, the mythological creatures, and the stories about the gods.  This book/series is an excellent way to introduce young adults into the mythology realm.  For parents who are iffy about letting their kids read about vampire love stories or zombie books, this is a great way to introduce them to something both educational but filled with a clean age appropriate adventure.  Riordan’s writing style is very eloquent and educated, and he makes the sometimes confusing world of Greek mythology interesting, easy to understand, and the reader wanting more. 
For those who have seen the film, while the plots are similar, there are major differences between the two.  In my opinion, the book was filled with more conflicts and challenges for Percy and his friends to overcome which truly tested their resolve and abilities to become “heroes” (i.e. Hercules).  I would definitely encourage those that have seen the film and enjoyed it to check out the book as well.  I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at the differences. 
4 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Page to Screen Challenge

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Hyperion/Miramax Kid Publishers (2006)
Paperback 377 pages
ISBN: 9780786838653
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