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The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan – Series Discussion [No Spoilers]

Series Review (and some musings):
Heroes of Olympus
by Rick Riordan
2.5/5 stars

Let’s talk about Heroes of Olympus for a minute. I Buddy Read this series with some lovely ladies over at Fantasy Buddy Reads, and I have to say… I think I enjoyed talking to them about the books a lot more than I enjoyed actually reading them.

This is a shame, because I loved the Percy Jackson series, so why did I have such a hard time getting into this one? Especially considering it’s a continuation to the tale with more large-scale dynamics? It comes down to one thought:

These books me feel like I’m getting too old to appreciate middle grade.

…or am I?

Last week I started an ARC of Brandon Mull’s Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King (a comparable middle grade book) and am loving every second of it. So that made me wonder if perhaps my issues with Heroes of Olympus might have more to do with the story itself rather than my not being the target audience.

For one thing, the books take a lot of time introducing new characters and building up your enthusiasm for them. The first book felt more like a set-up novel, which meant I had a hard time getting into it.

For two things, I found the actual plot in all the books to be way too drawn out, filled with so many tangents that you couldn’t possibly get any sort of momentum from it. It followed a formula: meet “x” mythical creature, have a conflict with it, then move on to the next one. Over and over and over again. It was tedious.

In some ways, I can appreciate the educational appeal of learning about so many mythical beings, but from a purely plot-progressing standpoint, I think it was the biggest reasons why the series wasn’t as good as PJ. If all of those tangents had been cut down to just the events that furthered the end-goal for our characters, the books could have been amazing.

Basically, they were too long and too drawn out.

Granted, a younger reader might have relished in all of the additional details and creature conflicts. I certainly wouldn’t have been so dissatisfied had I read it when I was a kid, but there are so many amazing middle grade books out there enjoyable to all audiences that I don’t feel as generous about blaming my age for lack of enjoyment.

So with that said, I’m curious – do any of you feel like you’re outgrowing certain genres? Do you think it’s you? The books? A little of both? I’d love to hear some thoughts. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Series: Wayfarers #1

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star. Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.-Goodreads

The Review:

Wow, this book was downright cheerful! Is that allowed in sci-fi? It totally should be.

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely a character-driven story. There is a loose plot, but 90% of the focus is on the relationships between the characters. In my eyes, it’s the epitome of a true space opera. I found a lot of enjoyment out of just relaxing into the characters and letting them make me laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever read a lighthearted sci-fi that wasn’t over-the-top cheeky (like Hitchhiker’s), and this book struck a nice balance between levity and realism. The humor was more understated and situational (my personal preference), but what really stood out was the level of optimism infused into the characters. They dealt with a few relatable hard moments, but always maintained a positive outlook on each other and the situation. It was super refreshing. Especially considering how many dark books I’ve been reading lately. The pure joy in this this book caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Good aliens are a huge requirement for me to get behind a space-travel sci-fi. Chamber’s creature creation was great – she provided several different biological makeups and unique cultures. She even used their differences to make a few subtle points against prejudice (awesome). If I had one minor criticism: other than a few mannerisms and physical differentiations, most of the alien species came across very “human” (quirky humans, but still very familiar in the ways they communicated and processed information). When compared to my favorite sci-fi author, Julie Czerneda, I found a few things about their construction just shy of ideal, but that certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment (because, after all, the more human they feel, the more I relate to them). So, as far as relative enjoyability of each POV, Chambers’ aliens were excellent. :)

As I’ve mentioned, the story is very character-driven, so much so that it only touches briefly on external conflicts beyond the Wayfarer ship. But brief doesn’t necessarily mean unimportant. The details provided made this universe feel really established, and it opened up possibility for a lot of cool interspecies conflicts in future books. I have a feeling it’s all going to add up to a profound experience at some point.

Series status: this lighthearted tale was exactly what I needed between some of my heavier reads. I’ve already picked up the next book.

Recommendations: if you like sci-fi and are in the mood for something lighthearted and fun, you can’t pick a better candidate than LWtoSAP. I also think this would be a great transition novel for readers who want to get into the genre, but are intimidated by the heavier military/technology/conceptual sci-fis. It’s definitely going on my list of “fun” books to recommend.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal: August 2018

Niki’s Book Journal [August 2018]

I realize we’re already 1/3 of the way into September, but I’d been keeping this journal through August and it would really bug me to combine it with September and have a month missing. So here we are, lol.

August was a weird month of reading. I started out with a bang – sticking to a schedule (without it feeling like it was an obligation), and crushing my time spent reading from previous months. And then the last week or two of the month approached, and I realized three things: a bunch of high-priority new releases were going to hit the market, I’d signed up for several buddy reads (without writing them down or, you know, actually planning for them), and several of my library holds had just come in much earlier than planned. I felt overwhelmed and inundated with good books (#firstworldproblems) and it kind of paralyzed me a bit. I went from finishing 6+books a week at the beginning of August to barely completing a single one in almost 2. I also lost my writing voice and couldn’t wrap my brain around composing a review. The whole situation was weird – I haven’t had something knock me off my game this bad since December of 2013 (yeah, I remember the date haha. This bout wasn’t nearly as weird as that one). Sometimes I guess my brain just needs a break. I only wish it had let me know it was tired ahead of time so I could have at least planned for it a bit, lol. I seem to be back into the swing of things now. :)


Mini Reviews!!

Sword-Bound by Jennifer Roberson

Sword-Bound (Tiger & Del #7) by Jennifer Roberson [3.5/5 stars]

I wouldn’t call anything in this series groundbreaking for the genre, but for the pure fun-factor, it gets an “A” from me. Sword-Bound is a bonus book of sorts, published over 10 years after what I thought was the final book in the series. I really liked how the story arc in the first 6 books ended, so that’s probably why it took me a while to pick this one up. It read a bit like an extended epilogue (and I hear the author is working on yet another continuation), but I found a ton of enjoyment in the familiar banter between Tiger and Del, the infamous sword fights, and the setting and culture that makes these books so memorable. If you’re interested in a light fantasy read, this series is a great pick.

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik [4/5 stars]

Another enjoyable installment in the Temeraire series. The military angle became a little more prominent in this book, but I didn’t mind it as much as I might have in most other circumstances because of one important thing: no matter what else is going on in the story, Novik never forgets to keep the dragons at the center of attention. She always brings it back to them, highlighting the novelty and fun, and I’m certain that’s why I’m always engaged during sections that would be a detriment to any other story (lengthy travel scenes, lots of dialogue, and battle sequences – I should clarify that I love military strategy and combat in general, but after the thousandth and one battle scenes in all things fantasy, they start to sound the same… I lose interest unless it’s done with a unique twist). Overall, I’m still very much in love with the dragons in this series, and am eager to find out where the story goes next. I’ll be picking up a copy of book #4 as soon as possible! :)

Eulalia by Brian Jacques

Eulalia (Redwall #19) by Brian Jacques [3.5/5 stars]

My expectations for Eulalia were simple: I wanted lots of hares, lots of badgers, and lots of scenes within Salamandastron. I mean, just look at the book title! And the cover! Yeah…. all of that not so much. This is the first Redwall book in a while where I feel a little let down. It had a lot of great moments within it, and the one hare within the story has become one of my favorites from the series (Maudie – she’s the bomb lol), but overall my expectations fell victim to some bad marketing choices. Even so, any time I get to spend in this world is good time, so I’ll give it a pass. The new characters and conflicts were as good as ever, and I find myself eager to dive into the next book (I can’t think about how close I am to the end… sad!).


How did your August go? :)

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Trilogy Review: Madison Avery by Kim Harrison

The Madison Avery Trilogy
by Kim Harrison
Rating: 2/5 stars

If you can overlook a few flaws, the Madison Avery trilogy is a fun, light YA read.

However, I had a difficult time following my own advice. I have a lot of nitpicky things to talk about in this review and unfortunately, not a lot of positive takeaways.

Once Dead, Twice Shy, the first book, had a few glaring weaknesses – the most prominent being the main character’s propensity for making bad decisions. I don’t mind it when characters make mistakes – flaws and an occasional lax in judgement can go a long way in making a story feel authentic. However, I take exception when every single decision the character makes goes against common sense (and against advice from other characters actively stating it’s a bad idea). Thus the pattern would go: 1. Bad decision made 2. Fallout from the bad decision made 3. The character saying “I’m sorry” and then moving on to the next bad decision.

I lost count of the number of times the character said “I’m sorry” throughout the first book and got really tired of the same spiel over and over again. And what’s worse, those tendencies and attitudes were evident in all of the other characters as well… which I think equals out to a story cluster-you-know-what where perhaps if the characters weren’t getting in their own way, they could’ve focused on adding substance. I think had the book been longer (allowing me more time to get irritated), my rating would’ve dropped proportionately. As it was, the short length actually worked in its favor.

Here’s what bothered me most about that, though: the character never used those failures to grow. There was no reflection on what she could’ve done better (other than the self-blame and apologizing), and I see that as a missed opportunity for more depth. She did use those moments to solidify some convictions, so I guess that’s something, but overall I kept craving more introspection. Incidentally, my biggest negative takeaway from the entire series is that Madison Avery’s character was a flat-lined consistency through the whole thing (and not just because she was dead) and all the focus was on the external conflicts. I should lighten the blow a bit by saying I did actually like her character profile, I just wish she’d given me an opportunity to feel something for her.

The external conflict/focus of the series took a while to become clear. There were moments in the second book where it started budding into something really satisfying, but every time it gained momentum, the focus would shift and it would get ignored for a while. I wonder if part of that was to save the “big profound moment” for the end of the series, but for me, by the time it got there I found my enthusiasm in the pits because it danced around it for so long.

This is one of those cases where my initial rating was going to be a 3 stars (I liked it), but after writing my review and really analyzing how I felt about it, I downgraded to a 2 stars (it was just okay) rating. Does anyone else let their word vomit help solidify their opinions? It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, I run with it. Keep in mind that I’ve been unusually harsh on YA lately and had I read these when they first came out, I likely would not have been so critical.

Recommendations: this YA paranormal story is definitely more suited towards younger readers. It doesn’t have a very strong romance angle, which might be perfect for a few readers tired of the same old tropes.

Other books you might like (…better?):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

Title: No Humans Involved

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #7

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For celebrity medium Jaime Vegas, it is to be her swan song—one last publicity blast for a celebrity on the wrong side of forty. But unlike her colleagues, who are more show than substance, Jaime is the real thing. Reluctant to upstage her fellow spiritualists, Jaime tries to suppress her talents, as she has done her entire life. But there is something lurking in the maze of gardens behind the house: a spirit without a voice. And it won’t let go until somehow Jaime hears its terrible story. For the first time in her life, Jaime Vegas understands what humans mean when they say they are haunted. Distraught, Jaime looks to fellow supernatural Jeremy Danvers for help. As the touches and whispers from the garden grow more frantic, Jaime and Jeremy embark on an investigation into a Los Angeles underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice. When events culminate in a psychic showdown, Jaime must use the darkest power she has to defeat a shocking enemy—one whose malicious force comes from the last realm she expected... -Goodreads

The Review:

Color me surprised – I think this was my favorite installment since the first book!

I wasn’t even sure I liked Jamie (the POV) when I met her early on in the series. She’s a slightly off-beat character who wasn’t introduced in the most flattering light, but as the series progressed, she’s slowly become one of the most interesting characters of the lot. I think the fact that she started out slightly unlikable has made it more profound for me to have such a turnaround of opinion. It also brings in some real-world considerations (something I don’t usually endorse while reading, lol) about the pitfalls of judging someone before you really get to know them. This might sound too sappy, but my favorite thing about Jamie is how compassionate she is – she’s always the first to jump up and offer help. And what I didn’t like about her at first is now the thing I appreciate most – that she unapologeticly dances to her own beat and owns it. :)

And then there’s the added benefit of her story containing my favorite love interest to date…

Another reason I liked No Humans Involved so much is my general interest in anyone practicing a skill at a high level. Jamie’s particular talent (necromancy) was a huge focal point of the book and I really enjoyed seeing the depth of her knowledge on it. She managed to show off what she can do without ever actually “showing off,” making her all the more interesting. The interactions between her and the other “necros” were particularly satisfying and comprised my favorite scenes from the book.

Series Status: Overall, No Humans Involved was a huge success and completely reinvigorated the series for me. The next book is already on deck. :)

Recommendations: The Women of the Otherworld series may have its ups and downs, but the high moments by far outweigh the lows. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is definitely one I’d recommend as a “staple” read. Each book is so different, you’re bound to find at least a couple of winners, no matter your specific urban fantasy tastes. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Title: Throne of Jade

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await. -Goodreads

The Review:

Throne of Jade offered a relaxing continuation to the story, containing all of the elements I enjoyed in His Majesty’s Dragon. “Relaxing” might seem like an odd term to attribute to a military dragon story, but the smooth writing and slow pacing had me snuggling into my seat under a pile of blankets, enjoying what I would earnestly call a true “armchair adventure.” Exciting action scenes are spliced throughout the tale, but for the most part my expectations for this series has developed into a knowledge that I can just ease back into the immersion and trust that the gradual flow of the story is taking me somewhere worthwhile.

This series is playing havoc on my expectations for it. In His Majesty’s Dragon, I got a beautiful dragon/human bonding story that focused on their budding relationship… when I expected a full-blown military showdown and very little character development. In Throne of Jade, I got a nautical adventure with some great inter-character moments… when I was expecting most of the book to focus on some sort of military conflict with China (are you seeing the pattern here?). Honestly though, a lot of that has to do with marketing. If they really wanted to represent the contents of this book, a more accurate title would’ve been “Voyage to the Throne of Jade,” lol. Slight discrepancy aside, it was still a journey I was on board to take (pun), and the payoff with wonderful things experienced at the end of the book was worth the wait. The beautiful imagery surrounding the unique dragon culture Novik created was stunning, and I love the dynamics it added to the overall story and to Temeraire’s character profile. I can’t wait to see what surprises like this I’m in for in future books. :)

As impressed as I was with the story-weaving and world building, Temeraire and Lawrence are still the selling points of this series, and I imagine that will always continue to be the case. There was a lot of introspective dialogue between them in this installment, and I love how the dragon is beginning to shape some of his convictions. I also love how much I’ve learned about Novik’s vision for dragon culture evolution in this alternate world, and, as with fun surprises, look forward to seeing how she develops this throughout the series.

Series status: Temeraire is currently my #1 priority at the moment, and I’m trying to strike a balance between satisfying my cravings for them with my desire to also avoid burnout lol. Good stuff. :)

Recommendations: I would recommend this series to fantasy readers who don’t mind a slow-moving, character-focused plot. It’s a bonus if you like alternate history stories, but so far that aspect seems to be taking a backseat to general dragon awesomeness.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes