Mini Reviews: Mark of Athena, Samurai's Garden and Desert Solitaire

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mark of Athena
by Rick Riordan

The seven have finally all met and set off on their adventure. The first two books in this series build the necessary relationships for these important meetings. Finally Percy and Annabeth are reunited and their new friends and fellow demigods: Leo, Hazel, Jason, Piper, and Frank embark of a quest to find the Mark of Athena. Their adventure takes them to Rome where they must tackle some of their greatest fears.

The gods are thrown into a debilitating confusion by the earth god Gaia when their Roman and Greek identities begin to vie for dominance in their own minds. Very few gods (mainly only those dealing with Love, Revenge and Wine) are immune to the differences between the way the two cultures view them. This addition to the series is action-packed but also contains some great information about how the gods are personified in different cultures. There’s also one section that’s particularly funny when the group has a run in with Narcissus.  

BOTTOM LINE: The books are formulaic but fun. I feel like we’ve gotten to know these characters and I’ve grown attached to them. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.  

The Samurai’s Garden
by Gail Tsukiyama

I struggled with this one. The main character, Stephen, is sent to a small Japanese town to recover from tuberculosis in 1937. He’s a young Chinese man and during his stay he finds himself getting to know the past through the family’s servant, Matsu, and dreading the future approaching war.

Stephen doesn’t make an interesting character. His dialogue and actions fall flat, but it’s the supporting cast that eventually hooked me. Matsu is an older man now, but in his youth leprosy swept through their small town. He lost his sister to the disease and has watched a sweet friend, Sachi, suffer from it for years. Matsu and Sachi were lovely characters and the book is well worth reading for their plots.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite an incredibly slow start, the supporting cast makes the story an interesting read.

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

This is a nonfiction memoir about Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey is a bit of a curmudgeon, ranting about the destruction tourists cause in the park. That’s the strange paradox of wilderness; the more people want to visit it the more likely it is to be tainted by their presence. The wild aspects of nature are destroyed as roads are built for the public to reach them.

It reminded me so much of Thoreau’s Walden. Both men live on their own, apart from society for the majority of each day. They write about their reflections of both the nature that surrounds them and the structure of the world in which they live. It’s hard not to sound a bit pious when you’re in that position, but some of his descriptions are beautiful.  

BOTTOM LINE: A good travel memoir and reflection on society, but I have a feeling I would have enjoyed this one much more if I’d been traveling in the West or even planning a trip there. It’s hard to appreciate the incredible nature of the west when you’re just reading about it. 


Sandy Nawrot said...

Neither my kids nor I could get into the Riordan books. I wonder if the first movie did well enough for more movies? The memoir sounds good to me...I can totally see where the guy is coming from. And you'd have to be a loner for such a job.

annieb said...

I loved Desert Solitaire--but then, I live in the West and appreciate its beauty every day. And you are right--Abbey was very much a curmudgeon even as a young man.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I had a really hard time getting into the Percy books because I couldn't help comparing them to the Harry Potter books. I do enjoy them on audio though.

annieb - Some books are so much better when they hit at the right moment in your life. I should have read this one while traveling out west.

Kailana said...

For whatever reason I just haven't got into Rick Riordan... I tried one book and was just kind of meh. I should try again one day.

Brooke said...

I want to like Riordan's books, but the first two Percy Jackson novels did absolutely nothing for me. Boo. I see several others felt that same way, but I know so many who loved them dearly!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kailana - The entertainment factor is high, but not a lot of depth.

Brooke - I have struggled with the Riordan books. When I first started reading them I was so disappointed. They are more action driven than character driven. I felt like the characters lacked depth and growth throughout the series. Now I read them just for fun. They'll never be favorites of mine, but they are entertaining.