House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus #04) by Rick Riordan Review

9780141339191Phew!!! I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe towards the end of the book. Talk about action-packed and high on tension, House of Hades scores on both accounts without losing out on character and plot development. I had been dying to get my paws on this ever since I finished The Mark of Athena and was more than a little worried that HOH might just disappoint (as a lot of other books have this year) and it smashed straight through those puny expectations and soared even higher!

At the end of Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy fell into Tartarus while the rest of the crew decided to sail to the House of Hades to close the Doors of Death. In House of Hades, the narrative shifts between the seven demigods mentioned in the prophecy: Annabeth, Percy, Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank and finally Leo. On their way to the House of Hades, they meet arai, empousai, titans, strange cows, minor goddesses and their even more minor side-kicks, giants and a former titan called Bob, not-minor-goddesses and a whole lot more. In addition, the heroes each have a trial they have to face and pass if they are to eventually defeat Gaia.

It was almost as if Rick Riordan was high on adrenaline and steroids when he wrote House of Hades. There was something or the other happening all the time! The narrative ran at full-tilt throughout; it was frenetic, frantic, chaotic and desperate. Not once did it slow down to take a breather. And yet it never chafed. It was perfectly balanced. As a reader, I never once felt like I was losing out on important plot points because of the pace of the narrative. There were times when I wanted to stop reading (just so I could breathe) and at the same time skip ahead to find out how things had turned out. I really wanted to ration the reading so it would last longer and it seemed to be working and then the weekend came and it all went downhill, it was impossible to stop reading. So I stopped trying to stop. My only complaint with the split narrative was that it was very annoying when the narrative from one character suddenly switched to another. This was made even more painful because the chapters often ended with a cliffhanger and I would flip to the next chapter and find that it was from someone else’s point of view. It also broke the narrative flow and it took me some time to get used to it. Of course this was nothing new, Riordan followed the same format in all the previous Heroes of Olympus books but here, due to the pace of the book and also the stakes, it was a little more jarring.

Of the seven, Percy and Annabeth are hands-down, by far my favourites. I fell in love with these two in the Percy Jackson series and it is so awesome to see them grown up and so much more amazing than they were the first time around. It actually isn’t fair to the other characters in this series because they can’t possibly compete with these two; it’s a very uneven playing field. But thankfully, they don’t have to win a popularity contest in order to beat Gaia. I love how Percy and Annabeth have grown as independent individuals and how well they complement each other. They are perfectly attuned to each others’ strengths and weaknesses and each picks up the others’  slack.

SPOILER If anyone else had fallen into Tartarus, they would have had a much tougher time surviving and that’s not to say that it was a walk in the park for these two.

Nico was his usual sullen self but we finally find out the reason for his strange, detached behaviour and also why he left Camp Halfblood. But to be honest, by the time it was all revealed, I had already guessed. So it wasn’t that big a surprise.

Jason is probably my least favourite hero among the seven. There is something that doesn’t feel right about him. He’s tough to pin down. Even otherwise, he’s pretty boring and hasn’t got much of a personality. Very blah.

Piper had very little screen time in HOH, she only had about 3 chapters from her POV but even in them she managed to make an impression. I like her. She’s got spunk and spirit. It was especially satisfying to see her kicking Khione’s ass!

The most drastic improvement this time around was in Leo, Frank and Hazel. They were the most prominent characters in HOH after Percy and Annabeth. Hazel had so far been in the background, but not anymore. This time, she was front and centre and she was amazing. She managed to hold her own with adversaries who were much older and much more powerful.

I had never been a big fan of Frank’s, he was ok, easy to forget. In HOH, he went through a huge transformation as well. He grew into his powers and got better at controlling them. He finally seemed like the son of Ares/Mars.

Leo was the most fun in HOH. I loved his transformation most. We always knew that beneath all that joking around, he had some pretty serious stuff on his mind. He probably matured the most in this book. He was always sure of his capabilities but this time, he was surer of himself (as a demigod and his place among the seven) Plus, he’s a sweetheart. I really want him to get his happily ever after with you-know-who and no, I’m not talking about Hazel.

Reyna made an appearance as well as that toad-face Octavian. Seriously, why is he still alive??? I’m hoping he meets a very painful end in the final book. Reyna is one of those rare characters who you root for even though she’s hardly in the book and isn’t one of the main characters. It’s surprising how alike she and Annabeth are.

House of Hades is an excellent addition to the Heroes of Olympus series and a great book in itself. It is well written, has amazing characters and is chock-a-block full of action. It is seriously one of the most enjoyable books I have had the pleasure of reading in sometime. There were no wearisome love triangles, no needless drama and half-baked and artificially manufactured tension. It was an absolute pleasure to read House of Hades and while I can’t wait to see how the series ends, the wait will be easier because it did not end with a cliffhanger.

And here is some amazing news, Riordan released the title of the fifth and final book in the series at the end of the House of Hades, it is called The Blood of Olympus and is tentatively scheduled for a release in April 2014!!! Can’t wait!!

UPDATE: The release date for The Blood of Olympus is in October 2014.. Sorry for the mix up!

P.S. – I just want my Percy and Annabeth to get their happily ever after. Next up Leo with you-know-who and then everyone else. Ok, fine, I want all of them to be alive and happy but most especially Percy and Annabeth.

Endless Knight (The Arcana Chronicles #02) by Kresley Cole Review

phpEwV599ENDLESSKNIGHT_wrapEndless Knight was better than The Poison Princess but sadly, not by much. Some spoilers below.

This book was very eventful and there was plenty of action so there was a never dull moment. For the most part, the narrative flow was consistent and progressed well. It hit a bit of a snag after Evie reached Death’s stronghold, though it didn’t last too long. But there are also very few surprises, the plot was pretty predictable.

Evie has improved in certain aspects. At least, she was starting to stand up for herself and protecting herself instead of depending upon a male chauvinist (and budding alcoholic) pig. I was relieved to see this improvement. She was gaining more control of her powers which was nice. But for once I’d like to have a heroine who owns her powers instead of being scared/ashamed of them. The Empress’ powers are kick-ass but what does Evie do? She moans and complains about them. All that potential to kick major ass squandered!

In other aspects, she was still a glorious doormat. She spent most of this book pining for Jack. She was still in love with him even when he continued to treat her like crap and invaded her privacy multiple times and while she was outraged, this outrage, sadly did not last. She was more than happy to forgive him for whatever it is that he had done. It was nice to see her with Death though, their interaction was a lot more fun.

She finally found out that it was Jack who killed her mother and yes, she was devastated but again, by the end of the book, her resolve to stay away from Jack was waning. Mark my words, in the third book, once she and Death rescue Jack, he will only need to abuse her once and she will fling herself in his arms and all will be right in the world. I hate Jack so much and I’m fairly certain it’s unhealthy but I can’t help it, he’s one of the worst love interests I have ever come across (most of his rivals are the other male characters from Kresley’s Immortals After Dark series) And, he’s an alcoholic. I’m sorry, how is this a healthy relationship? All that’s left for him to do is to hit her and I’m sure in the next book, he’ll do just that and of course somehow it’ll be ok because he’s so in love with her and ‘she’s it for him’ (yaaay for you asshole!)

And then there was Death. He’s the reining champion (third time in a row) and in the beginning, it seemed that all he wanted to do was to kill Evie. We gradually realise that things are not as they initially appeared. We find out more about his shared history with Evie and what made him hate her so much. Don’t me wrong he was an still ass but a more interesting one. His character was more layered and had more depth. You might argue that since Death wanted to kill Evie, how could he possibly be better than Jack, yeah well, he was much much much better than pervy Jack. His character was more engaging, not to mention smarter and not an alcoholic.

The other characters were fine. Finn was fun though not as much as he was in the first book. I liked Selena and Lark, they were strong and had spirit. I found Matthew quite annoying this time around.

Endless Knight is fairly entertaining book if you’re willing to not look too deep. It will definitely grab hold of your attention and it’s a quick read so won’t take up a lot of time either. So if you’re looking for a quick read with an action-packed plot, this is just the thing for you.

Gravity Movie Review

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Gravity is the newest offering from director Alfonso Cuaron starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Clooney and Bullock are astronauts working on a space mission. When that mission goes horribly wrong, they find that they are the sole survivors. They have to survive in an extremely hostile environment with absolutely no supplies of any kind and depleting oxygen supplies. They decide to make their way to the Russian space station and from there back to Earth.

To say that the film is intense would be like saying that Vertigo is a decent film. It gives new meaning to the phrase ‘nail-biting-suspense’ and for once I was very grateful that there were no spoilers online. I had absolutely no clue whether they would survive their ordeal or not.

Gravity’s beginning lulls you into a false sense of security with Clooney’s easy-going banter with Houston and it’s not long before everything goes straight to hell. But it is the speed with which things go from bad to worse that is really staggering as well as horrifying. It’s impossible not to hyperventilate along with Bullock’s character as she spirals into the dark abyss.

Alfonso and Emmanuel Lubezki’s (director of photography) masterful use of long-takes gives the feeling that all of this is happening in real time and makes the film a whole lot more intense while also adding a sense of immediacy to their situation. The long-takes also let you really appreciate the action on screen. It firmly establishes the geography (of the various elements involved) so that even while the action is frenetic, it is never chaotic. It also did not induce a headache (considering that I saw this in Imax, that was a very real possibility.) Another great thing is that Gravity takes place entirely in space and there are no cross cuts between our protagonists and Houston, which is what a lot of other filmmakers would have probably done. It makes for an extremely lean and sparse narrative where nothing distracts the audience from the characters’ terrifying ordeal. And also avoids breaking the narrative flow.

It brought 2001, A Space Odyssey to mind, there was the same sense of impending doom and the absolute isolation of being in space. There is no escape and the no chance of a rescue. It is a terrifying, nightmarish scenario brought to life in vivid detail.

The acting by both Clooney and Bullock is good though there is nothing spectacular about it. The real star of this venture, however, is the director, Alfonso Cuaron. It is brilliantly directed and extremely well written with a very tight and precise screenplay. Cuaron had a vision and he stuck to it and added absolutely no frills. It was also a brave film to make with little or no sound. Although, my only complaint is that the background score often made it possible to predict that something awful was about to happen. It would’ve been better with no background score at all.

The 3D was a great device to highlight the vastness of space, its sheer magnitude was more than impressive. This is one film that has to been seen in 3D to fully appreciate its scope and scale. Watching it on the small screen would greatly diminish its impact. Very highly recommended. It is easily one of the best films this year and an absolute treat to watch.