The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I was waiting for this book to come out in paperback before buying because I hate carrying around enormous books (particularly in hardcover, which makes them heavier) but my cousin happened to have a copy to lend me, so I got the treat of reading this earlier than planned. I remember when Da Vinci Code was being passed around (I was spending a year in Israel so the ten or so books that we had among everyone at school were passed around and read by absolutely everyone). Everyone was absolutely fascinated by this alternate way of looking at these historical, famous images, places, and people that Brown presented. (While it is true that Angels and Demons came first, for some reason no one seemed to realize book 1 existed until after book 2 was popular) and in The Lost Symbol, the mysteries and surprises keep on coming.

Robert Langdon is lured to the Capitol, ostensibly to give a last minute lecture, only to discover that he has been tricked and the man who supposedly asked him to come has been kidnapped. The kidnapper wants Langdon to decode an ancient pyramid that will lead to the Ancient Mysteries, a secret guarded carefully by the Masons (a society with secrets NOT a secret society). Like in the other books, you never really knew where things were going to wind up. Who was good or bad, what was the end goal, what didn’t we know about history?

I had a number of issues with The Lost Symbol, the least of which is Brown’s a flare for the dramatics that has a slight tendency to go overkill. (Nearly every section ends with something like “The rag was slipping back in her throat, threatening to choke her. She couldn’t breath!” Yes well, A–>B–>C.) This book got a little too spiritual for me and while I don’t necessarily disbelieve the idea that thoughts can impact reality, the things being claimed in the books just felt too out there. It was all too much and it required so much explaining (the noetic science and the actual symbology) that though the plot depends on it, the amount of explanation came off as a bit over the top and slowed the plot down a bit. Because each book is so detailed and complex, it is nearly impossible to actually recall details from one to the next, so even when Brown uses the typical writing tactic of mention small bits and memories of previous books to allow the readers to feel the connection (and also enjoy the nostalgia of recalling the other books), I found myself unable to actually recall the things he was mentioning.

The weakest part of the book to me was the ending, which was too long and dragged out. After everything was resolved and calm again, the book wasn’t over. Not only was it not over, it had quite a bit left. It didn’t feel like we were going anywhere.

The thing that I would most appreciate, is actual colored pictures of the art pieces mentioned, because otherwise, they are asking us to take Dan Brown’s word for everything (or look it all up–which we know most people won’t do). Adding pictures (much like it adds some of the other elements) would make it feel even more real.

Despite all the problems I had with this book, I did enjoy it. There were enough twists and turns and bits of intrigue to keep me interested and I found myself particularly enjoying Katherine Solomon’s character. It was a good read but certainly not the best in the series.

Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce

I will be honest. When I first started reading this, I absolutely hated it. For one thing, it’s in diary entry, which I always think is a waste in an adventure story. For another, we start with two journal entries from two people who are not main characters. And yes, they were meant to set the scene, but I just didn’t care for it (especially the mother who spoke with such an accent that half the time I was guessing at what she was saying).

But then we got to the story and things became much more interesting. I’m a sucker for kids-in-training novels, so long as they are well written, which is what drew me to this novel in the first place. Plus there’s magic, which is another thing I love.

Beka Cooper grew up in the poor part of town, until she and her family were taken in by a wealthy Provost after she helps him find a dangerous gang. (She tracked them after they hurt her mother and she wanted them to be punished.) While her sisters are attracted to the more elegant lifestyle being given to them in the Provost’s home, Beka is more interested in becoming a Dog (which is the word for Police in this book). A Puppy (trainee) assigned to the best pair of Dogs on the force, Beka is stationed in the Lower City, one of the most dangerous places (but also where she grew up). But rather than being just an ordinary Puppy, Beka has some secrets that help her in her fight against crime: 1) An intelligent “cat” (certainly not an ordinary cat), 2) the ability to speak to dead spirits that attach themselves to pigeons, 3) the ability to listen to the sounds and emotions gathered up by dust spinners, and 4) a knack for befriending people in important positions (the provost, a mage, a swordswoman and a swordsman, and the granddaughter in law of a powerful man in the city). But perhaps her best quality of all, is her inability to let go of a case once she’s begun working on it. And between all her informants, she discovers two large mysteries: a mysterious kidnapper calling himself Shadow Serpent after children’s tales meant to terrify kids and a group of workers who are hired to dig and then murdered.

Beka quickly learns how dangerous being a Dog (and especially, being a Puppy with a penchant for trouble) really is.

What I love about this series is how Beka, despite all her obvious strengths, still has trouble with simple things like speaking in public and blending in with the rich world where her siblings remain. I like the shy but bold persona, which isn’t common in most hero in the making stories. The heroes often have a weakness but shyness and insecurity is rarely one of them.

Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Batson

The sequel to Curse of the Spider King, the Seven Lords (seven thirteen year olds who have just discovered that they are royal elves) have returned to help put an end to the Spider King. But first they must learn to use their abilities and work as a team. And there are things they have yet to discover regarding their people’s past. But will it be enough?

Unlike book one, this book seems to cut down the number of characters a bit, making it at least a little bit easier to follow them. It still feels like we get only a cursory glance of some of their characters (Jett, Kiri Lee, and Johnny in particular) but still it was better than in the first book where it was mostly them being given the histories and escaping the Spider King’s minions.

The god aspect (Ellos for the Elves) felt like overkill. It just seemed like a too easy jump for all the kids to suddenly believe in the Elven god. It takes people years to develop that sort of faith and they developed it in minutes.

I’m not certain, but I think there will be a third book after this one and I definitely will read it should that be the case.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

The Spider King launches a surprise attack against the Elves on the eve of a celebration for the seven lord’s newborns. The lords are slaughtered in the attack and the children are taken but some Elves manage to escape, preventing the Elves from being brought to extinction. The children are dropped on earth with the hopes that they die, but instead they are adopted. On their thirteenth birthday, just as their special abilities begin to develop, the Elves find the children and bring them back in the hopes of defeating the Spider King once and for all.

Book One in this series has one major downfall: too many characters. In addition to the seven children, there are also the elves who find each child, their parents, a few additional children, and a few enemies. It is nearly impossible to keep track of everyone and you really don’t get to know the main characters.

I also wasn’t the biggest fan of a book in a book approach. The past of the story felt too drawn out, leaving less room for the actual story. I would have preferred putting the story first and having it shorter.

Besides these two problems, it is still a good story. It moved quickly and was interesting. I enjoyed reading it and was excited to see the next book. In a way, it felt like an elaborate set up book, where you had the feeling that what was coming next would be even better than what had already come.

One thing I definitely appreciated was clarity of the action scenes. Not all books can pull it off but this book managed it quite well and those scenes really pulled up the book–making me wish for even more.

All in all, though perhaps not the best children’s book I’ve ever read, it was certainly enjoyable.