Bag Girl Reviews: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordon



A common theme in my reviews is my ability to be unfashionably late when it comes to culture and media. Today’s case in point: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My history with these books goes back a decade to when I was twelve. The middle school I went to would give each of the students a book at the end of each school year to read during summer vacation; the summer between sixth and seventh grade the book was The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I started reading it but never finished for some reason probably because my twelve-year-old self was uninterested because the protagonist was a boy and there was no romance or pretty dresses. Flash forward ten years: In recent months, one of the people I follow on Pinterest has been pinning a lot of Percy Jackson related content which grabbed my attention and piqued my interest in the series. I then found an audiobook of The Lightning Thief on Youtube and had it on while I was doing work. 

Strange things have been happening to troubled, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, culminating in him killing his literal harpy of math teacher during a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a run-in with some more monsters during a family vacation to Montauk New York, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood, a training camp for the demigod children of Greek gods and claimed as the son of Poseidon, one of the three most powerful Olympians. When Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen and Percy is framed for the theft, he must travel cross-country to find the stolen lightning bolt and return it back to Olympus with the help of Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena and the requisite haughty, know-it-all token girl/future love interest, and Grover, the satyr assigned to look after Percy and be the book’s comic relief.

The prime suspect in the case of the missing lightning bolt is Hades and our three heroes travel to Los Angeles where the entrance to the underworld is fronted by what looks like a record company (cue record companies steal souls jokes). But Hades turns out to be a red herring since the culprit is revealed to be Ares, god of war, acting under the instigation of Kronos the titan, which was a relief since I think that Hades gets a bad rap enough as it is. I enjoyed the adventures that Percy and co. have during their quest such as an encounter with Medusa and a reference to the Lotus Eaters segment of the Odyssey (it takes place in a luxurious  Los Vegas resort because of course, it world; Waking Up In Vegas by Katy Perry was playing in my head). The character of Percy Jackson is entertaining and likable; Rick Riordan’s first-person narrative perfectly captures the voice of a smart-ass twelve-year-old boy.

The Sea of Monsters picks up a year after the beginning of The Lightning Thief. After a run in with some dodgeball playing, cannibal giants, Percy Jackson and his new friend Tyson return to Camp Half-Blood which is in trouble because the magical pine tree (known as Thalia’s Tree because it marks the spot where a girl named Thalia died trying to protect the camp) that creates a protective field around its borders has been poisoned and is dying. The only thing that can heal Thalia’s Tree is the mythical golden fleece which can be found on an island in the sea of monsters (the Bermuda Triangle), guarded by the cyclops Polyphemus of The Odyssey fame. Percy has been having dreams telling him that his friend Grover is being held captive by Polyphemus and finds out that he has a half-brother, Tyson, who is revealed to have been a cyclops, therefore another son of Poseidon, all along. Despite the fact that the quest to go to the Sea Monsters has been assigned to their rival Clarisse, the daughter of Ares, Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson set out to find the golden fleece and rescue Grover.

One of my favorite stops on this quest is when Percy and Co. join forces with Clarisse, who has commandeered a resurrected Civil War ironclad manned by undead Confederate soldiers, who are hostile towards Percy because he’s a northerner, which I got a kick out of because my father is a Civil War buff. Percy and Annabeth later on wind up on the island of the sorceress Circe, where Percy is turned into a guinea pig (Odysseus’s men are turned into pigs by Circe in the Odyssey and Circe says that she switched to guinea pigs because they are cleaner and easier to manage) and Circe tries to recruit Annabeth as her apprentice. The two escape from the island by stealing the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard and his crew are among Circe’s captives), which is pretty awesome if you ask me.  The Sea of Monsters is another enjoyable adventure.

Reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series made me wonder which Greek God would be my parent if I turned out to be a demigod. I took five “Which Greek God are You” quizzes and “Camp Half-Blood Parentage” tests online and four out of five came up as Athena which fits because blondness, bookishness, and stubbornness are notable traits of mine and those I share with Annabeth, the series’s heroine (one mark in its favor is that it is one of the few stories where the blonde girl is smart). But with my luck, it could also be Hestia, who is the goddess of the hearth and home who spends her days at home tending the sacred fire of Mount Olympus which sounds like a typical day in my life when I’m not away at school except my sacred fire is my house telephone.

What often surprises me about the tween fiction genre is the harshness of the worlds its authors create, especially when you look at how negligent the adult characters looking after the very young protagonists are.  The administration of Camp Half-Blood is a prime example of this. A directorship position at the camp is used as a punishment (Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, was sentenced to be head of the camp as punishment for chasing after one of his father Zeus’s old girlfriends; this leads to another question: how could the gods possibly think that leaving Dionysus in charge of a group of children would be a good idea?), so those in charge have little interest in the well being of their charges. Only Chiron, the centaur who acts as a mentor and trainer for the main characters, seems to have the best interest of the campers in mind. The most morally questionable occurrence at Camp Half-Blood is the sending of teenagers and pre-teens on life-risking quests. My suspension of disbelief is taxed the most by the fact that Percy and his companions are saving the world at an age when I was lucky if my parents let me go to Friendly’s by myself. It makes me wonder if my twelve or thirteen-year-old self could have handled a task such as retrieving and returning a stolen lightning bolt or gold fleece if the need ever arose.


Bag Girl Halloween Special: A Review of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe and An Evening in Salem


During November and December of 2010, I spent a good amount of time in Boston for follow up doctor’s appointments after being released from Children’s Hospital following my second and third heart surgeries. Near Children’s Hospital is a Barnes and Noble, where my mom poked around while waiting for the next doctor’s appointment. Barnes and Noble sells composite volumes of the works of a number of authors with elaborate leather bound covers ( I received one which contains the novels of Jane Austen that Christmas) one of which is called The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, which I purchased during one of the many Barnes and Noble gift cards I received as get-well-soon presents. In honor of Halloween, I decided to pull out this book and read through its highlights.

The Raven and Annabel Lee are Poe’s best-known poems and both deal with lost love and untimely death. Deceased loved ones show up a lot in Poe’s work and are a case of art imitating life since Poe’s beloved wife Virginia died young. He is quoted as saying “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world.” The narrator of The Raven is sunk in grief and depression following the death of his sweetheart/wife Lenore. The name Lenore is frequently used to rhyme with “Nevermore” the raven’s reply to each of the narrator’s questions about God and life after death, and the repetitious use of these two words is used to show how the narrator is constantly reminded that Lenore is “Nevermore” or dead. The poem’s frequent use of onomonopias such as “knock” and “croak” make it a poem meant to be read aloud and perfect for a dramatic reading.  Premature death to illness (most frequently tuberculosis) was all too familiar to Poe and his nineteenth-century contemporaries who were passionate mourners. Annabel Lee epitomizes the almost necrophilic reverence with which deceased women are treated in Poe’s writing. Its narrator sees their dead sweetheart as an angelic and heavenly figure and treats her seaside tomb as a shrine. Lenore in The Raven is characterized as a seraphimal presence in a similar way that Annabel Lee is. Women appear in the Poe oeuvre as distant, celestial, forever young and beautiful objects to be pined for and worshipped almost as a saint. Death does not separate a lover from the object of their affection but rather increases his ardor for her.

The Tell-Tale Heart is another of Poe’s works that desire an aloud reading for the reader to get its full effect. It is similar in structure to The Raven: the narrator of both pieces is haunted by an event in the past (the death of Lenore; the murder of the old man) and both rely heavily on sound (the knocking and croaking of the raven; the beating of the old man’s heart). The ending of The Tell-Tale Heart masterfully builds up to its climax at a tempo which resembles an accelerating pulse as the narrator is driven to confess their crime. Like the raven symbolizes grief and lost love, the beating heart represents the narrator’s insanity (is the sound there or is it all in their head?) and guilt (the narrator cannot bear this guilt any longer and releases this burden by confessing to their crime).

Untimely death from disease was an unfortunate and inescapable reality of nineteenth-century life. In The Masque of the Red Death, a prince and his courtiers try to escape from a plague by secluding themselves inside the prince’s lavish mountain castle, where they try to forget about the horrors going on in the outside world by partying. The castle contains a loud, booming clock which startles and dumbfounds the guests whenever it marks the hours. When the clock strikes midnight, a red shrouded figure wearing with a skull face appears, representing the disease which the partygoers seek to avoid and are later killed by. Death appears in Poe’s writing as an unavoidable and inevitable part of life. It will get you in the end, no matter how rich and privileged you are, and it’s only a matter of time.

The themes found throughout Poe’s work such as madness, the inevitability of death and decay come into place in The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s narrator is called to visit his childhood friend Roderick Usher at his dilapidated ancestral mansion. Roderick and his sister Madeline are the last of their family line and Roderick is deeply depressed because Madeline is wasting away from a chronic illness and becomes more and more paranoid and insane until he has a mental breakdown and believes that the recently deceased Madeline was buried alive. The title The Fall of the House of Usher has a double meaning: the Usher family ancestral mansion collapses in on itself at the end of the story and with the deaths of Roderick and Madeline, the Usher family bloodline is extinct. We are given the impression that it is the corruption of Usher family (Madeline is sickly and Roderick is insane) has eaten away at the family legacy and its collapse is inevitable.

Jasmine and I took the three o’clock shuttle into downtown Salem and walked to Salem Cinema. Downtown was crowded and alive with people dressed up in a variety of costumes. At four o’clock, Jasmine and I attended a screening of a documentary called The History of Halloween. The documentary was interesting but I found it a bit silly and pandering. Jasmine was upset by the fact that people in the middle ages used to cull black cats because they thought they were bad luck. This is one of the factors which led to the outbreak of the bubonic plague. After the movie, we watched to look in these Wiccan shops that Jasmine likes but Coven’s Cottage was closed and there was a line to get into Hex. Walking through the downtown area, we saw someone dressed up as Pennywise from It, a man playing Tom Petty songs on his guitar, and what Jasmine refers to as “religious freaks” who were berating people for their sinful ways. Jasmine and I wanted to end our evening by getting drinks at Rockefeller’s but the wait there was forty-five minute to an hour long wait, so we ended up being home by six when most people were starting to go out for the evening.


I finished up the evening by watching the 1964 film version of The Masque of the Red Death starring Vincent Price.

Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 5



Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 7


Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 6


Chateau Aubrey- Book 2, Chapter 4


Bag Girl Reviews: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon


I was first exposed to the Outlander series because my mom and my neighbor Michelle watched Starz television adaptation, a ritual to which I was cordially not invited. For this reason, I jokingly called Outlander their “mummy porn.”  Last summer I began renting episodes of season one through YouTube and was quickly hooked, so much so that I had my mom buy me the first two books, Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber.  The third in the series, Voyager, was among the books I received for Christmas and I had planned on reading it while I was on my Bermuda cruise, but was prevented to because Mom would not allow me to bring my tablet, which contains the audiobook I listen along with. So I continued reading it when I returned.

Voyager begins in 1968, twenty years after the end of Dragonfly in Amber. Surgeon Claire Randall travels to Scotland with her grown daughter Brianna and enlists the help of the young historian Roger Wakefield to find out what happened to Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth century Jacobite believed to have died at the battle of Culloden. Claire has spent the last twenty years with her reserved and scholarly previous husband Frank, now dead, but longs for Jamie, the man she married after a mysterious force drew her back in time two hundred years to eighteenth century Scotland and who is Brianna’s real father. With the help of Brianna and Roger, Claire is able to travel through the magical stone circle of Craigh Na Dun and return to her beloved Jamie but finds that her journey has only begun. After Jamie’s nephew, Ian is kidnapped by white slavers, the saga of Claire and Jamie brings us to the exotic and brutal world of colonial Jamaica.

Each of the Outlander novels are ambitious and expansive and Voyager is the most so, running in at over a thousand pages but is a page turner of the first class. Despite now being middle aged, Claire and Jamie still have their sizzling chemistry. The book is an enjoyable adventure, perfect for a voyage of your own.


Chateau Aubrey: Book 2, Chapter 3


Bag Girl Reviews: Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Without a Country by Kathyrn Lasky


Growing up, Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country was an entry in the Royal Diaries series that I always wanted to read but never got a chance to. When I reread Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles last fall, I decided to purchase Queen Without a Country off of Amazon. 

Eleven-year-old Mary Stuart believes that she is destined to rule three countries. By birth, she is Queen of Scotland and she is arranged to marry the heir to the French throne, the frail but good natured Francis. Those around her say that she has a better claim to the English throne than its current occupant. But being a beautiful young royal growing up in the renaissance French court is not the fairy tale one might imagine. Mary and her loyal clique of ladies in waiting, all named Mary (this gets a little confusing at times, I can understand why Reign changed this but did they have to give them such preposterous names as Lola, Greer, Kenna, and Aylee) have to deal with spies and political intrigue, a pedophilic music teacher, and Mary’s treacherous and prickly mother-in-law to be, Catherine de Medici.

I always get a kick out of when I find surprisingly adult elements in books intended for children, such as Signor Marcellini, the music master who comes onto Mary Fleming, the real life counterpart to Reign’s Lola. One needs to keep in mind that Mary and her ladies are supposed to around eleven or twelve and girls in the sixteenth century were considered sexually mature around that age so that by the standards of the time, Signor Marcellini would not be considered a pedophile.  

Like I said with Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, this book is meant for elementary and middle school aged readers and comes across as somewhat juvenile to me at this point in my life, but I probably would have enjoyed when I was younger. The setting of the highly refined sixteenth-century French court is fascinating and like with Reign, it is meant to be escapism. Many young girls enjoyed fantasizing about being a beautiful princess, wearing gorgeous clothes, and having exciting things happen to you, I know I did. And if there is a historical setting, all the better.  


Retribution: Chapter 32