News from Zeus House

Happy July! Here in San Antonio, we’re going on four straight weeks of 100+ temperatures and two months without rain, so I hope it’s cooler where you are.

The Riordan family just spent its first week in our new house, which has come to be called Zeus House because we painted it in Sherwin-Williams ‘Zeus’ color, and also, of course, because of Percy and friends. When we first moved in, we found a metal silhouette of a Greek goddess in the atrium, so we knew we were meant to be here. We’re keeping cool by spending a lot of time at the pool. Never had a swimming pool before, and the boys are loving it. We’re also near a creek, so there is a lot more wildlife — ducks, hawks, raccoons, bats, toads, pelicans (weird but true) and a group of vultures who sit on the roof of the house next door and look an awful lot like harpies. We’ve named the leader Steve.

The move, as you can imagine, has kept us very busy, but most of my time has been spent buried in the manuscript of my new book. The boys are getting impatient, because they know I’m near the end and they’ll get to hear the story first. I announced the subject matter when I was on tour. If you haven’t heard, the book is a modern-day fantasy about Egyptian mythology, and I am having so much fun with it! I can’t give out any more details yet, but it is completely separate from the Camp Half-Blood series (the Greeks and Egyptians wouldn’t play well together). Never fear, I’m still working on the next Camp Half-Blood series for release in late 2010, but the Egyptian book is an idea I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It will be released next spring, assuming all goes according to plan.

I’m under a time crunch too, because I want to finish the manuscript before we leave for the Mythology Bee trip to meet the grand prize winner Julia and her family in Greece. The Riordans will be making a short stop in London, then on to a Mediterranean cruise. Yeah, I know. Life is tough. I’ve never been to Greece before, so it seems ironic that I finally get to do it now that the Percy series has concluded. We’ll sail into Athens for a day and spend the afternoon touring the Parthenon with Julia’s family. They told me I don’t have to be the tour guide, which is good, since I would probably lead us off a cliff or something. I will try to blog during the trip and let you know how things are going.

Despite all that’s happening, I have had some time to read. Some of my favorite recent finds:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. This is an adult mystery which David at Murder by the Book in Houston recommended. When David recommends something, I take notice. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of the title. It sounded like something Oprah and Alexander McCall Smith would come up with over tea. But the book is just fabulous. Set in England in the 1950s, it evokes the time and place with eerie precision — if you’ve seen Mad Men on AMC, that’s the sort of precise recreation I mean. The main character is eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, who is so precocious she makes Mozart look like a slow learner. Flavia delights in studying the chemistry of poisons and torturing her older sisters (who of course torture her back). When Flavia finds a dying man in her garden, she pronounces it the most wonderful thing that has ever happened at Buckshaw Manor. She predicts, rightly, that it is the beginning of a fascinating mystery, which of course only Flavia can solve. She is an absolutely wonderful first person narrator with a strong will, a contrary streak, and a wicked sense of humor. This is one of those books where you know from chapter one you are in the hands of a master writer. You can sit back, relax, and enjoy the marvelous ride. I highly recommend it, and I hope we’ll see more of Flavia in the future.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, by Trenton Lee Stewart. I usually only get to read the first book in a series, but I’m glad I had a chance to read the second volume of the Benedict Society’s adventures. It was every bit as good as the first. This is a kinder, gentler sort of adventure novel which relies less on explosions and action and more on intrigue and puzzle-solving, and it works very well. I enjoyed the way the characters developed, especially Constance, and I’ll be looking forward to their next adventure.

Un Lun Dun, by China Mieville. Okay, so it’s another title that tripped me up, but the premise intrigued me. Un Lun Dun is another spelling for UnLondon, a shadowy mirror image of London. Zanna and Deeba fall into this alternate world, only to find that Zanna is the Schwazzy (the chosen one) and will save unLondon, according to a prophecy. Yes, I know, at this point you are rolling your eyes and thinking this sounds like every children’s fantasy you’ve ever read, but keep reading. Mieville quickly turns the plot on its head and defies your expectations. Mieville’s brand of fantasy has been described as “weird fiction,” and certainly he is a literary descendant of Lewis Carroll. Un Lun Dun is every bit as fantastical, odd, and unpredictable as “Through the Looking Glass.” The wonders almost become mind-numbing after a while, but Mieville keeps his wild menagerie of creations under control and creates a world I would love to visit. My favorite characters: Margarita the Extreme Librarian (has Mieville been visiting the Texas Library Association, perhaps?), Obaday Fing, who tailors suits out of books, and Curdle the friendly milk carton. This is Mieville’s first book for young readers, and I’ll definitely be checking out his adult work.

Well, that’s it from Zeus House. Now it’s back to the world of Egypt. When we last left our heroes . . . oh wait, can’t tell you yet. Wait for spring 2010!

Rick Riordan