Friday, July 24, 2015

Rick's Recent Reads for July


 Looking for a good read for the remainder of the summer? Here are my latest recommendations. All these are adult titles, though many of them would be perfectly good for YA readers. As I've mentioned before, I only blog about the books I enjoy. You might not like each one, but maybe some will catch your interest. All of these worked for me!





Brand New Ancients
by Kate Tempest

Adult narrative poetry.

I was drawn to this narrative poem by the cover – Ancient Greeks toting briefcases and smart phones. That’s right down my alley. I understand Ms. Tempest is an accomplished musician as well as a poet, and this short book has a lyrical, musical quality. The preface notes that it is to be read aloud. I can see why. The tone and performance elements remind me of the Beat poetry of the 1950s and 60s. “Winged sandals tearing up the pavement” is a line that one can imagine from Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

This is a very short read, with stanzas musing on the constancy of the human condition and how we really haven’t come so far from the days when Zeus and Hera might have walked among us. But the real power of the poem is Tempest’s narrative. She deftly weaves together two generations of modern families, telling stories of love, betrayal, anger and revenge with a minimum of verbiage. It’s truly impressive how much story and characterization get packed into such a small number of pages. Tempest effectively translates Greek tragedy to modern England. 



Station Eleven
by Emily St. John-Mandel

Adult speculative fiction

Even since reading The Stand by Stephen King when I was a kid, I’ve had a soft spot for apocalyptic plagues that wipe out humanity. Er . . . I mean in fiction, of course. Station Eleven is in that vein.

The Georgia Flu sweeps across the world, killing most of humanity. St. John-Mandel, using beautiful prose and poignant characterization, follows the lives of various survivors, tracing how their lives intersect in a group of entertainers called the Traveling Symphony. The thread that connects their stories is Arthur Leander, an aging Hollywood star who – on the same night that the plague began destroying civilization – was trying to reboot his career when he died on stage in Toronto during King Lear. We jump back and forth in time, watching how his life influenced what will happen to our band of survivors.

If you’re a fan of the TV series The Last Ship or books like The Stand, you may enjoy the premise and the way St. John-Mandel evokes a world without the trappings of modern civilization. The end of the novel hints at mysteries yet to solve for our heroes. I hope this means a sequel is in the works . . .


All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

Adult fiction

This book is getting a lot of well-deserved attention for its unique story and its beautiful writing. It starts late in World War II, as the Allies begin shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out the remaining Nazi troops. Our two main characters are Marie Laure, a blind French girl who fled here with her uncle from Paris, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. We jump back and forth in time, and between the two characters’ perspectives to see how both young people were brought to this place.

If you like straight-ahead, linear, plot-driven war novels, this is not the book for you. It does have a central plot that brings the two characters together – a mystery about a possibly magic gem hunted by an evil, terminally ill Nazi officer – but that is almost beside the point. In fact it feels like something added after the fact, as if an editor said, “You know, what you need is . . .” That plot, and the way it resolves, strongly echoes the mystery in the movie Titanic.

What kept me turning pages, rather, were the characters’ lives and the short, well-crafted scenes. Doerr’s writing is elegant and evocative. Reading it is like eating the best gelato – so decadent you are sure you’ll put on weight. He treats Marie Laure and Werner with equal empathy, and their interaction – when they finally meet – is not your stereotypical wartime love story. It is much better, much more bittersweet and haunting.

It took me about fifty pages to really get into the book and figure out the structure, but once I did, I couldn’t stop.



Four Seasons in Rome 
by Anthony Doerr

Adult nonfiction

After finishing All the Light We Cannot See, I’ll confess I was a bit addicted to Doerr’s lovely writing. Since we were about to take a trip to Rome, I thought I would pick up this travelogue about Doerr’s year in Rome as a creative writing resident. He describes the city with love and nostalgia, capturing Rome at its funniest and most breathtaking. It’s difficult to say something new about a city that has captured imaginations for millennia, but Doerr manages to do so in this story of an Idaho couple with two toddlers who are thrust into Rome for a year. Again, this is a book you read for the writing. Doerr really knows how to craft a scene and turn a phrase.



The City of Stairs
 by Robert Jackson Bennett

Adult fantasy.

A highly original story involving gods resurrected in a modern world – how could I not be drawn to this? Set in an early industrial world where the two major nations are Bulikov (modeled loosely on Russia) and Saypur (modeled loosely on India), this story starts as a murder mystery and develops into a high fantasy of world-changing magic. Centuries ago, Bulikov had a pantheon of active gods who led their mortal worshippers to victory and made them the dominant world power through magic. Then, somehow, the leader of Saypur found a way to kill gods. Supposedly all the gods either died or disappeared, and soon Saypur was the dominant world power, using science and technology to conquer. Since then, Bulikov has been reduced to a backwater.

The main character, Shara Thivani, arrives in Bulikov to solve the murder of her former mentor, but soon learns there are strange things going on. It’s possible the gods are not dead after all. And if the gods come back, it might threaten Saypur’s power and plunge the world into another civil war.

The world building is great, the action is awesome, and I loved the clash of cultures and belief systems. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans!


The Martian 
by Andy Weir

Adult science thriller.

Love it, love it! A meticulously researched, briskly paced and surprisingly funny story about an astronaut left behind on Mars, presumed dead, who must now figure out how to survive and let the folks back on Earth know he is alive and needs rescue. This is hard-science science fiction. Parts of it read like really complicated (but amusing) word problems, juggling mass and time and weight, etc. But all of that adds to the realism. You can tell Andy Weir loves his space exploration and knows a ton about it. He totally had me convinced, anyway. The Martian is a fast read, and the main character’s irrepressible sense of humor will have you cheering for him as he tries to survive against impossible odds. I will also never eat another potato again. (Long story.)  If you’re looking for a fast-paced, believable space adventure set in present day, this is your book.


The Fold 
by Peter Kline

Adult science fiction

I read this book very quickly – always a sign that I liked it. The story moves along at a brisk pace. The mystery keeps unfolding in increasingly bizarre new layers. A team of scientists discovers a way to teleport matter between two rings – very much like Stargate, though early on we are warned not to make that comparison, because the scientists hate it. The only problem: The team is secretive about how the technology works, and why they insist on testing it for another year before publically announcing the breakthrough. Strange things begin to happen. People from the team start behaving in odd ways. At first, it’s nothing big, but still . . . the powers that be ask Mike Erikson, a man with a perfect memory, to visit the facility and find out what the team is hiding before ruling on whether or not to extend funding. Things get weird (and dangerous) very quickly.

This book is sort of the opposite of All The Light We Cannot See. Read The Fold for the plot, not the writing. The prose is workmanlike and gets the job done, but don’t expect evocative descriptions or nuanced characterization. Sometimes the writing gets in the way, at least it did for me. For instance, the author uses the pacing mechanism “A moment passed” so often that it became unintentionally funny. I was reminded of the old Monty Python sketch: “A moment passed. Another moment passed. Then, suddenly, another moment that seemed like the same moment but was actually a different moment . . . passed.” Despite that nitpicking, the book is a real page-turner. If you want a good beach read that you can finish quickly and don’t have to think about too much, this is great entertainment.


The Water Knife
 by Paolo Bacigalupi

Adult science fiction

Bacigalupi is the master of ecological dystopian novels. He describes the world after climate meltdown in frighteningly believable detail. I loved his novel of a drowned Bangkok, The Windup Girl, and his two young adult novels set in the wastelands of the former U.S. – Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. The Water Knife is set closer to our own time. The United States still exists, but it is frayed and crumbling. The Western states are competing for scarce water supplies, and the competition is getting ruthless: legal battles, sabotage, paramilitary raids, everything sort of outright war. Given what is happening to our water supplies in America and worldwide, the scenario is scary and gripping. This is not so much science fiction as “this could be us in about forty years if we don’t stop being idiots” fiction.

The story revolves around three characters – a disillusioned reporter who is covering the slow violent death of Phoenix, Arizona, a young girl who is a refugee from the collapsed state of Texas, and a ruthless “water knife” who works for the Las Vegas government to procure water rights at any cost. When someone in Phoenix finds legal documents that could completely change the balance of power, all the players will stop at nothing to get them, and our three protagonists must scramble to make a score before they are destroyed in the crossfire. The plot is great, the characters relatable, but what will really haunt you is how well the author builds this near-future world. It reads less like a fantasy and more like an augury of what will happen to us – and the prediction is not pretty.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Weekend with the President(s)

www.hamiltonbroadway.com/

It was an unusual weekend. We went to New York to kick back, see some shows, hang out with Percy, visit Mount Olympus, etc.  You know, the usual tourist stuff.

Saturday we had miraculously scored tickets to the matinee performance of Hamilton, which we'd heard was THE SHOW to see on Broadway. I taught American history for six years. I'm a sucker for Revolutionary lore. I figured sure!

We left for the theater with tons of time to spare, but ran into a traffic nightmare that was bad even by Manhattan standards. We had no idea what was going on. Finally we got within two blocks of the theater only to find the entire area cordoned off by police. They had barricades. They had snipers on the roofs. They had garbage trucks lined up along the sidewalks forming an impromptu wall of protective metal.

So, okay . . . I figured the president was passing through Manhattan. That's the only thing it could be, and I had been "Obama'ed" once before -- completely unable to move through the city because the president's route cut across Manhattan.

We tried to figure out a way to the theater. No luck from any direction. Police kept turning us back. And then it occurred to me . . . President Obama wasn't passing through. He was going to the same play we were. That's why getting to the theater was impossible.

I was sure we would just have to miss the performance, but a nice staff member from the theater finally found us and a few other stranded folks and got us through the extremely tight security. We missed the first twenty minutes of the show, but we did get seated.

That part pretty much sucked. Trying to leave the show afterwards also sucked. The crowds around Time Square were dangerously packed, like 'New Year's Eve' bad. It seemed like a lot of pain to put Manhattan through so the president could see a play. (Even a president I voted for twice. Cough, cough.)

But, okay. That concludes the griping portion of this blog post, because I'll admit it was very cool to see a show about the birth of the American presidency with the sitting U.S. president in the row right in front of me. Every line in the play seemed more meaningful, more immediate. The jokes were funnier. The subject matter was more charged. When King George talked about all the presidents seeming small after George Washington, I half expected Obama to jump up and engage him in a rap throw-down like the other characters on stage were doing. I can imagine the president was wishing his cabinet meetings were as entertaining as the ones in the play.

Even without Barack Obama in the house, I have to tell you the play was BRILLIANT. I didn't think it could possibly be as good as all the reviews said. It was better. I wish I could be an American history teacher again just so I could take my students to this play. They would learn more in two hours at Hamilton, and have more fun doing it, than in an entire semester of classwork.

The story of Alexander Hamilton's life set to a hip-hop/rap/pop soundtrack may not seem like a natural fit, until you see the play, and then it's impossible to imagine the story any other way. The creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is a freaking genius. The casting of African American and Latino actors  as George Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr, etc. gives an incredible depth to their personalities -- allowing the modern age to truly own the Founding Fathers on so many different levels. Miranda's history is right on the mark. He uses primary sources as the basis for a lot of the songs -- personal letters, speeches, pamphlets -- which is a sure way to a history teacher's heart. But there is nothing dry or boring about this history lesson. Hamilton comes alive on stage. His story is funny and tragic and inspiring. I actually got tears in my eyes at one point, and I do not cry often at performances. King George was a riot. Thomas Jefferson was insanely funny as Hamilton's hip-hop arch-rival. I mean . . . I can't think of anything I didn't like.

Well, I got a little nervous when Becky pulled her eyeglasses out of her pocket and the secret service guys tensed up and glared at her, but fortunately the only guns that were drawn on us were the fake muskets from the stage.

If you have any interest in American history, whatever your politics, you should try to see this play. If you have no interest in American history, you will after you see this play. It's that good.

But President Obama . . . seriously, man. Let's coordinate our schedules so we're not in NYC at the same time. We have to stop meeting like this.






Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Sword of Summer Tour!

I'm very excited to share with you the tour dates for Magnus Chase & the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer! The book will be published October 6, 2015, and below is a list of the places I'll be visiting.

If I'm coming to your area, I hope to see you at an event! If you have any questions about a particular event, please contact the sponsoring book store. Don't contact the venue holding the event (especially if it's a place like a public high school) because they won't be able to answer your questions. All contact information is below.


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·      Boston: Harvard Book Store – Oct. 5, 7:00 PM

Sponsored by:

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-661-1515


Event to be held at:

Back Bay Events Center
180 Berkeley St, Boston, MA 02116


Tickets:
$30 Bundled Ticket (General Admission Ticket + Signed Book)
$15 General Admission (Ticket Only)


·      New York: Symphony Space –  Oct. 6, 6:00 PM

Sponsored by and event held at:
Symphony Space 
2537 Broadway at 95th Street 
212-864-5400


·      Washington, DC area: Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, VA – Oct. 8, 7:00 PM

Sponsored by:

B&N #2937
12193 Fair Lakes Promenade Drive
Fairfax, VA 22033
703-278-0300 store


Event to be held at:

W. T. Woodson High School
9525 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22033


·      Orlando area: Books a Million in Kissimee, FL – Oct. 9, 6:00 PM

Sponsored by & event held at:

Books-A-Million #520
2605 W. Osceola Parkway
Kissimee, FL 34741
407-552-0077


·      Miami: Books & Books – Oct. 10, 2:00 PM


Sponsored by: 

Books & Books
265 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134
305-442-4408 store
 
and:
The Center for Literature & Writing at MDC
Miami Dade College


Event to be held at:

The Chapman Conference Center
300 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33132



·      Houston: Blue Willow Books – Oct. 11, 3:00 PM

Sponsored by: 

Blue Willow Bookshop
14532 Memorial Drive
Houston, TX 77079
@BlueWillowBooks


Event to be held at:

Morton Ranch High School, Performing Arts Center
21000 Franz Road
Katy, TX 77449


·      Phoenix: Changing Hands – 10/12, 7:00 PM


Sponsored by:

Changing Hands
300 W. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013
602-274-0067


Event to be held at:

Dobson High School Auditorium
1501 W. Guadalupe Road
Mesa, AZ 85202


·      St. Louis: St. Louis County Library – 10/13, 7:00 PM CT

Sponsored by & event held at:

St. Louis County Library – Headquarters
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63131
314-994-3300 



Below are my usual tips and disclaimers if you're planning to come to an event. Very important to read because I don't want anybody going away disappointed!


 What to expect at the events:

We've been doing events differently the last few years as the crowds have gotten larger and larger. Again, check with each location for exact details, but in general, here's what happens:

When I arrive on location, before the event, I will be signing a thousand books. These autographed copies will be available for you to buy. In some cases, they are your ticket into the event. In some cases, you can choose to get a ticket without a book, or both.

The event will be about an hour long. I'll tell you all about how and why I wrote the books. I'll show you behind-the-scenes cover art that was never used. I'll make stupid jokes. I'll give you a sneak peek at my super-secret upcoming projects. And of course I'll answer your questions, as many as we have time for. It's always a blast!

What NOT to expect:

We won't be doing a signing line. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it all boils down to the size of the crowd. Several years ago, I realized that so many people were coming through the signing line that nobody was really getting a chance to meet me. We had to move so fast, just to make sure everyone got through the line, that it just wasn't a quality experience for anybody, including me.  I would either have to do a brief "Hi, how are ya?" speech and then launch straight into signing, or the store would sit me right down to sign. Kids would wait for two or three hours to get a two-second face-to-face with no chance to really interact. I couldn't sign all your books. I couldn't do pictures. I couldn't personalize the books. I couldn't answer individual questions. Well . . . it just wasn't working. 

Back in the old days, I was able to do all of that stuff, and of course everyone understandably wants a selfie with me and wants all of their books signed, but even if I only spent thirty seconds with each fan (which is way too short to do all that) if a thousand fans show up, the signing would last eight hours. You see the problem? Also, to be honest, I'm getting older, and sitting in a chair for so many hours each night was murdering my back.

Because of all this, I decided if we didn't have time to do a quality signing line (and with a thousand folks, there really is no way) we would make it a quality evening, with tons of time for the presentation and lots of Q&A.

Don't bring all your books from home, because I won't be able to sign them, but I wouldn't be able to do that even if we were doing a signing line. There are just too many people with too many copies. The good news: You'll still get a signed copy of The Sword of Summer. You'll get a chance to ask your questions and really feel like you got to know me a little. And you won't have to wait in line for hours and hours!

Hope that makes sense. I'm really excited for each of the events. Of course, every tour I wish we could go to more places, but with my writing schedule we just can't. I know you guys want the books to come out as quickly as possible, and that means I have to spend most of my time writing.

Why am I not coming to (insert name of your country here)?

Apologies to all my international fans. I've been invited to so many amazing countries, and I'd like to visit them all, but sadly it just isn't possible. We can't even cover more than a fraction of the US in the time that we have. There's only one of me, and I have to spend most of my time writing the next books. As I always tell people, however, the main way that I communicate with you is through my books. I may not be able to meet you in person, but the best way to get to know me is to read the books. Each one is a private conversation between me and the reader, and I love you guys! You're all awesome. So if I get to see you on the tour, fantastic, but either way, I hope you'll enjoy The Sword of Summer!





Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Demigods of Olympus



If you missed the interactive stories in the Demigods of Olympus app, never fear!

The Demigods of Olympus: An Interactive Adventure, will be released as an e-book, on-sale at all e-retailers on July 14.

You are the demigod, and your quest begins! Use your skills in this interactive and customizable e-book. Combining four short stories, "The Two-Headed Guidance Counselor," "The Library of Deadly Weapons," "My Demon Satyr Tea Party,” and "My Personal Zombie Apocalypse," your choices will have consequences in this demigod adventure.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Summer Visit to the MFA


I always have a good time at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. Becky and I took a stroll through the ancient Greek and Roman collection yesterday and found some unexpected surprises.

Now first . . . this Assyrian demigod. According to the description, he is holding two animals "who are urinating on him to purify him." Say what? We can all be glad that the Greek demigods at Camp Half-Blood do NOT practice this ritual.

This Persian lion was pretty cool, however, sinking his teeth into a bull. He looks kind of like a robotic lion, doesn't he? I'll have to ask Hephaestus.

Moving on to the Greek section, this frieze from a temple of Athena shows a guy chasing a group of centaurs with a bow. Apparently the centaurs did not realize they could just turn around and stampede the puny mortal. Or perhaps they are running because someone told them there was a sale on root beer nearby.

These sphinxes are hanging out in the teachers' lounge, anxiously discussing their standardized test results.

I'd never seen anything like this before -- a ceramic oil container decorated with the birth of Aphrodite. It looks like some cheap souvenir you'd see in a gift shop, but this is thousands of years old. I'm kind of amazed it survived intact. Aphrodite must have protected it.

I love this completely accurate and dignified picture of Hera from one of the Greek vases. She looks beautiful, doesn't she?

Here is Zeus chasing Ganymede, one of his mortal boyfriends. What can I say? Like most of the gods, Zeus had boyfriends as well as girlfriends. Zeus was attracted to Ganymede's good looks. Judging from the picture, Ganymede also had mad skills with the Hula-Hoop.

Apollo, getting ready to shoot somebody. It works better if you put the arrow in the bow, Apollo.

Hercules fighting the Hydra in one of John Singer Sargent's murals. Doesn't Hercules look like Rama from Indian mythology with the blue skin?

Scylla the sea monster on top of a ceramic vase. Why you would want a Scylla vase, I'm not sure. Maybe to pour Scylla-Aid, grape flavored. Oh, yeah!


It's a mask! It's a cup! It's both! I'd never heard of these before, but apparently eye cups were all the rage at Bacchanalian parties. You would drink to Dionysus, and by lifting the cup to your face, you would "become" the god by having his mask over your face. Warning: do not drink and drive, especially with a ceramic cup over your face. Those painted eyes will not do you much good on the highway.

A tiny ceramic Nike, holding a comedy mask. Why? I don't know. She doesn't have much of a sense of humor.

Another lion, snacking on the head of a horse. Or maybe they're just cuddling.

Nobody knows what the Athena Parthenos looked like, but here is a Roman replica that looks pretty fierce. I'm wondering if beer cups with straws were once attached to either side of that helmet.

Perseus rips the head off Medusa and rides away while Pegasus tramples his mother's corpse. Not sure that's how it happened in the myth, but whatever. Notice Perseus is handing off the head to Athena as he rides away, because Perseus is trying to work on his passing game.

Most of the statues of Dionysus make him look creepy and crazed, but here the god of wine looks almost calm and normal. Something is obviously wrong . . .

A Chinese tapir FOR NO APPARENT REASON, but I thought it was cute.

Why is Icarus kissing the Egyptian sphinx? I don't know. You'll have to ask John Singer Sargent. What happens in Giza, stays in Giza.

Great statue of Eros -- captures some of that threatening, not-so-cute personality you get in House of Hades.

One of the many bronze spare parts the museum has, just in case Hephaestus needs to repair one of his automatons.

Hermes carries the baby Dionysus to the nymphs who will raise him. Why is Hermes carrying out this important task buck naked? Maybe he was in a huge hurry to get the kid to safety. Couldn't be bothered to put on pants. He's a god. Don't judge.

That's just a small sample of the collection at the MFA. If you want to visit, see if you can follow my footsteps and find the stuff we saw!














Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sword of Summer cover revealed!

I'm delighted to share with you the final cover for The Sword of Summer, the first book in the series Magnus Chase & the Gods of Asgard. If you missed the reveal, with a sneak peek of chapter two, you can check it out on USA Today's site. The book will be published on October 6, 2015!

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Riordans go to the Ancient Lands


We have just returned from a family vacation to the Mediterranean, where we caught up with old friends like Poseidon, Athena, and many others. The Riordans had not visited the region since I finished The Last Olympian. I supposed it's becoming a tradition that every time I finish a Greek-Roman series, we visit Greece and Rome.

This trip was mainly to celebrate Becky's and my thirtieth anniversary. Hooray! It's also our mutual birthday. That's right. We were born on the same day, June 5, and we got married on that day when we were twenty-one. It keeps all the important dates grouped together for us. I didn't do any business on this trip, except of course for inspiration -- always inspiration! We were flying under the radar and just enjoying ourselves.

Anyway, here are some highlights if you want to see where we went and which gods we ran into.

Rome

We arrived in Rome to perfect late May weather. The view from our hotel near the Spanish Steps did not suck by night:


Or by day:


 How did we choose our hotel? Well, the door knockers looked like this:



 Our first day in the city we explored the Villa Borghese and surrounding park. Here's me taking my Imodium with a drink from a Roman street fountain after a mild case of Julius Caesar's Revenge. Ahh!


The Borghese Gallery is the definition of over-the-top. Lots and lots of gods decorate the walls, the roofs and the floors of this super swank palace. Here's Athena giving directions to the gift shop:


And Dionysus promising refreshing libations in the cafe:


Apollo with his Gibson Les Paul 1964 Lyre:


Here's Phaethon falling from his dad's chariot. This is painted on the ceiling, and is creepily lifelike. I'm not sure I'd want to eat dinner with this guy right over me, screaming as he plummets to his death:


The Olympians also stopped fighting long enough to pose for this family portrait:


And Cerberus about to bite somebody in the OUCH:

 

After the art at the Borghese Villa, we decided it was time to visit the animals in the nearby zoo.

Oh, look, it's a family of lemurs:

We spent a lot of time hanging out with the lemurs, because, well, lemurs.


A Roman seagull, as Patrick says, 'just being a badass.'






Peacock versus seagull, Hera versus Poseidon. It's about to get real:



 Our second day in Rome, we headed to the Colosseum.  On the way we passed several Egyptian obelisks, which the medieval Christians cleverly disguised by placing crosses on the top: 




The Colosseum was pretty incredible. Here's the hypogeum area. I should really write a scene that takes place here. Oh wait . . . 


Afterwards, we took the elevator to the top of the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, where we got a panoramic view of Rome:


The next day, we boarded a ship and started a cruise of the Mediterranean.

The first stop, the city of Messina on the island of Sicily . . .

Messina

The golden Madonna welcomed us to the port. Ave, Maria! What's up?




We checked out the mechanical clock in the town square, which was cool. Hephaestus approves of the robotic bronze rooster:

Haley was more interested in this ancient relic we discovered on the street. We believe it is called a payphone.


 We also saw the fountain of Orion in the central piazza, though after writing about Orion in Blood of Olympus, I don't know how I feel about this:





Finally we had lunch at a place called Baciamo Le Mani (We Kiss the Hands). It was the best pizza we'd ever had, without question. Here is mine, the Stromboli, shaped like a science experience . . . I mean, a miniature volcano.


That night, we sailed through the straits of Messina, the basis for the myth of Loggins and Messina:


Wait, maybe it was the myth of Scylla and Charybdis. I get those confused.


Delos

Next stop, Delos, the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo!


I'm sure our guide told us all sorts of interesting facts, but being ADHD, we took a picture of this lizard instead:



 We also saw a guy with a baby lamb at the coffee shop. I didn't get a good picture but it was the cutest thing ever.

The famous lion sculptures of Delos were fierce and wonderful:






This one in the museum told me the secret about what happened to Apollo after The Blood of Olympus. Maybe some day I'll share it with you . . .


And the island is still covered with the golden flowers that bloomed to celebrate the birth of Apollo and Artemis:






Ephesus:

Our next stop was the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, once one of the largest cities of the Greeks, and later the Romans. Once upon a time, it housed one of the Seven Wonders of the World -- the Temple of Artemis. Today, only a single column of the temple remains, and when we visited a stork was using the top of it for a nest. Somehow, I think Artemis would be okay with that.



The ruins were cool, though we were more interested in the cats. There were cats EVERYWHERE.







One of those pictures may or may not have been a lemur, but whatever.

The Ephesus amphitheater, where they have hosted big stars like St. Paul, Diana Ross, Elton John and Julio Inglesias. That's right. JULIO IGLESIAS, man.


Another sign that the Romans were taste-makers way back in the day: a two-thousand-year-old inscription that says I Love Elvis.




Rhodes

Our next port-of-call was the island of Rhodes. The Colossus is long-gone, but the medieval city built by the Norman Crusaders is pretty impressive:




We had a great time getting lost in the winding streets, especially since we kept stumbling across places to eat.


Santorini


After that, we stopped at the well-known and well-photographed island of Santorini. Here is our obligatory photo:



What I'll remember most about Santorini are the donkeys -- hundreds of the poor animals, used to haul tourists up the cliff-side steps to the top of the village of Fira. The donkeys looked sad. They smelled bad. And no, we didn't ride them. Personally, I would install a zip line instead. I think Santorini is missing out on a huge tourist opportunity. Wait . . . zip line donkeys! No, maybe not.


Athens

Becky and I spent our birthday/anniversary in Athens, which seemed quite appropriate. We visited the Parthenon Museum, where more friends awaited us.

Hermes looked kind of sad because he had lost his nose:


Pensive Athena is pensive. The original Greek inscription for this picture, now lost, read: Where did I leave my chariot keys?

This face will be used in my next marketing campaign: When You Don't Read Rick Riordan's Books, Ancient Greek Statues Cry.

After the museum, we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant called Dionysos (naturally) with amazing views of the Acropolis. The Parthenon was half-covered in scaffolding, almost like they were repairing damage from a major battle or something. I dunno.




Next it was back to Italy, with a visit to Pompeii. How we could not? Our fabulous guide Rossana led us through the city and taught us a lot. Here I am crossing Abbius Roadius. (I'm pretty sure that was what the sign said in Latin.)






Proof that the Romans used the Lego block building method:







And proof that Vesuvius still looms over the ancient city. That little peak you see on the right? That used to be connected to the big peak on the left. And then BOOM. Sawed-off volcano. The official song for the Bay of Naples is: Livin' on a Time Bomb, because that baby is still active. 



 An ancient Latin mosaic welcome mat at the front door of a palatial mansion. I figured it said HAVE, because the place clearly belonged to the HAVES rather than the HAVE-NOTS. But our guide explained it was an abbreviation for HOSPITI AVE, or WELCOME, GUESTS.

Their garden still looked pretty good after two thousand years:


Finally, we returned to Rome for a few more days of sightseeing. Becky took a great shot of the oculus at the Pantheon:


We saw the famous bronze statue of Lupa at the Capitoline Museum. Wolf milk, it does a body good.


Haley found the directional signs large and easy to read:





We also had a crazy-amazing tour of the Vatican, which is decorated floor-to-ceiling with pagan artwork. I wonder if somebody should tell them. Hmm . . . nah.

Osiris in Popeland:





The Oracle of Delphi on the wall of the Sistine Chapel:


Apollo with his hollow-body Fender 1974 Stratocaster lyre:


Hercules in bronze (and not much else):


A dog:


A cat:




Jesus Christ:


And Dionysus, looking particularly creepy and evil:


The Bramante Staircase, designed so the pope could take a chariot up the ramp to the top floor of his apartment, thus avoiding the steps. (Not kidding.)


Last stop: the Altar of Peace, built by Augustus Caesar to mark the beginning of the Pax Romana. It seemed like a good place to end our tour of the Ancient Lands.


Not pictured in these photos: The several hundred kilos of gelato, pizza and gyros consumed by the Riordans across the Mediterranean. Burp. And now it's time for me to get back on the treadmill, er, I mean, back to writing!