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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: Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Title: Wizard for Hire

Author: Obert Skye

Series: Wizard for Hire #1 (BN.com has it listed as a series, but Goodreads doesn’t… we’ll see)

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Fourteen-year-old Ozzy lives near Portland, Oregon, and is desperate for help. His scientist parents have been kidnapped after discovering a formula that enables mind control. Their work was so top secret Ozzy is afraid to go to the police, but without help, he fears he’ll never find his parents. Then he stumbles across a classified ad in the local newspaper that says “Wizard for Hire. Call 555-SPEL.” Ozzy has read about wizards in books like Harry Potter, but wizards couldn’t actually exist today, could they? After Ozzy meets the wizard Labyrinth–aka Rin–he’s even more skeptical... -Goodreads

The Review:

Even though Wizard for Hire wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it surprised me (in a good way).

I read middle grade books to recapture some of the magic I felt as a kid venturing into Harry Potter and many of the other amazing titles I was lucky enough to read. Wizard for Hire did an excellent job giving me the nostalgia I craved while providing some unexpected food for thought. Skye found the perfect balance between fun for kids and evoking for adults.

Honestly, this is going to be a relatively short review. I don’t want to get into specifics about what still has me reeling a few days after finishing the book because it’s an essential discovery component to the story and I don’t want to lessen the experience for anyone. Suffice to say that I really appreciate what I think the author was trying to do and I personally found a lot more to take away from the story than I ever expected to from a middle grade book. My only holdup was that the story didn’t take the shape I was expecting, and as odd as it sounds I kind of feel the loss of what could have been. Even so, I’m far from being disappointed with the end result.

Recommendations: I’d hand this to slightly older middle graders / young teens. It has a few somewhat bleak moments. As an adult reading it, I definitely think it’s a great pick if your in the mood for something light and maybe a little surprising. :)

Other books you might like:

Nik’s Notes: Y’all know I’ve been geeking out about the cover for months. Shadow Mountain is one of my favorite publishers because they always have quality writers, great stories, and killer covers (to name a few of the reasons I respect them so much). I’m just going to throw it out there that my ambition as a writer is to get a series accepted and published by them. It’s good to have goals. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

The Lost Hero by Rick RiordanTitle: The Lost Hero

Author: Rick Riordan

Series: Heroes of Olympus #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out. Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts? -Goodreads

The Review:

Admittedly, I was a bit late to the Percy Jackson party. I ended up loving PJ enough to purchase hardcovers for all things Riordan, the set for Heroes of Olympus being among my favorite things on my shelves (so pretty!). However, it did take me a long while (5+ years) to get around to reading these, mostly because I was unaware it had anything to do with PJ until my best friend clued me in.

This series is not just a spinoff, it’s a bonafide continuation with a mix of old and new characters! I definitely would’ve started it sooner had I been aware of that. The newby characters were exceptionally well-developed compared to other middle grade series. It actually surprised me how much depth of character I got from their rich backstories. It made their motives and actions have a much bigger impact on the overall arc of the story, which really helped build my enthusiasm for what’s to come.

So, good characters aside, I have mixed feelings about the actual plot of The Lost Hero. Other than the chapters spent in Camp Halfblood (like Hogwarts, I think any time spent in magical establishment for kids is golden material), I found the plot unnecessarily long and repetitive. Meet a new mythical monster, fight it, lather, repeat. It didn’t give me a whole lot to latch onto and I found myself putting it down in favor of other things after getting that “wait, didn’t I just read this?” feeling every time I picked it up. The good characters and some of the other cool components (like the metal dragon on the cover) kept me reading (plus that weird motivation that comes from the mindset that I “should” love this series), but overall it didn’t knock my socks off. It got a pass because it has all the makings of something great, and I know the level of awesomeness Riordan is capable of. Even so, I believe this first book could’ve been pared down a bit for a much more concise and interesting story. Maybe it’s just me.

All that said, I think (it has been a while) I had similar issues with the first PJ book, and ended up absolutely loving the second one and beyond. Now that I know the main conflict of this series (introduced at the end of Lost Hero, which might be part of the initial issue even though I really loved the “reveal”), I like where Riordan is going with the story. I’m hoping to see my ratings increase with each installment.

Recommendations: I think at this point most people interested in this author have already tried him. However if you’re like me and late to the party, I would only recommend this Heroes of Olympus series if you’ve already read (and loved) Percy Jackson. It’s a direct continuation with spoilers abound for the first series. I think the saga is an awesome rec for middle grade readers, and as a bookseller I saw it spark a love of both reading and mythology in kids, which is pretty friggin cool.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Project Redwall: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

[4/5 stars] I freaking loved these books as a kid. I read every single one of them multiple times and stayed up to date with the series until I graduated high school. Then for some reason, even though 5 more books were published in the series, I felt myself reluctant to pick them up. What if I didn’t like them as much? What if I was too old for Redwall?? What if the characters referenced a character I didn’t remember because it has been so long and I had to go back and reread them all to get the full experience??? Well, thankfully I finally decided to stop freaking out about all the things and took the plunge into my first Redwall book in 13 years: Rakkety Tam.

And you know what? I LOVED it. The storytelling was every bit as special as it was when I was a kid and my biggest takeaway was a newfound admiration for an author who produced 20+ books in a series and still took the same care to create amazing characters, fun situations, and compelling quests in book 16 as he did with book 1. You can truly see how much passion Jacques had for his stories (and how much creativity!).

Rakkety Tam offered a dashing hero, sufficiently wicked foebeasts, brilliant acts of courage, and a good lesson against greed and avarice. I especially liked the many scuffles and battles throughout and was actively cheering for the good guys by the end. And the bird!! This is the first book I can remember where a bird has a role in the story. They’re super funny in their mannerisms and I think I like them almost as much as the moles. Overall, this was a nice addition to the series.

I tried something new with this book: I listened to the audio while following along in the book. Normally I would’ve just breezed through the audio, but I felt the need to really take my time with this series. And after a few chapters, I decided to try both. I admit the decision wasn’t made totally out of nostalgia. The audiobooks contains a full cast of actors for the characters, with Jacques himself reading the narration. People, I couldn’t understand a freaking word he was saying at first (imagine Sean Connery reading to you… without enunciation). I’m used to his dialect now, but I would’ve missed so much had I not changed what I was doing.

It worked out though, because while listening I discovered how much unbridled FUN it was listening to a cast of voices, especially when they start singing the adorable songs & ditties Jacques loved to include throughout his books. It turned the entire story into an experience, and one I’m beyond happy to have had. Overall, I love that I’m finally continuing, and that I’m having as much fun (if not more) than I did as a kid.

Recommendations: these books aren’t like Watership Down or the Fire Bringer where the reader is thrust into the unassuming lives of woodland creatures (snore), but robust, well-spun adventures where the heroes brandish swords and the villains come for blood! It’s brilliant because it has everything you’d expect from a adult fantasy novel, but it’s use of mice, otters, etc. make it accessible to kids. It’s a series with so much fun and adventure that I’d recommend it highly to any middle grade kid looking to discover books she/he could love.

My favorites in the series (so far):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

March 14, 2017

Title: Dragonwatch

Author: Brandon Mull

Series: Fablehaven #6

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

Release Date: March 14, 2017

The Overview: In the hidden dragon sanctuary of Wyrmroost, Celebrant the Just, King of the Dragons, plots his revenge. He has long seen the sanctuaries as prisons, and he wants nothing more than to overthrow his captors and return the world to the Age of Dragons, when he and his kind ruled and reigned without borders. The time has come to break free and reclaim his power. No one person is capable of stopping Celebrant and his dragon horde. It will take the ancient order of Dragonwatch to gather again if there is any chance of saving the world from destruction. In ancient times, Dragonwatch was a group of wizards, enchantresses, dragon slayers, and others who originally confined the majority of dragons into sanctuaries. But nearly all of the original Dragonwatch members are gone, and so the wizard Agad reaches out to Grandpa Sorenson for help. As Kendra and Seth confront this new danger, they must draw upon all their skills, talents, and knowledge as only they have the ability to function together as a powerful dragon tamer. Together they must battle against forces with superior supernatural powers and breathtaking magical abilities. How will the epic dragon showdown end? Will dragons overthrow humans and change the world as we know it? -Goodreads

The Review:

I am a HUGE Fablehaven fan, considering it my all-time favorite middle grade series (aside from Harry Potter – the untouchable). I loved it for its fun storyline, boundless surprises, and sense of wonder. If you’d asked me which element of Fablehaven I’d wanted to read more about, the dragon sanctuary would have been my pick, hands down. Not only was it a magical place to visit, but I thought Mull had only scratched the surface of what it had to offer. I was thrilled when Dragonwatch was announced!

Before diving in, I’d been under the impression that Dragonwatch was going to be a true spinoff with new characters and everything. But it isn’t a spinoff… IT’S A CONTINUATION!!! Taking place right where Kendra and Seth left off their adventures in Keys to the Demon Prison (Book #5). Reading about these characters again felt like coming home. I remembered how sad I was when the original series ended, so Dragonwatch was a special treat for sure – and there’s more to come!

The best part of this novel for me were the dragons – I loved the different varieties and personalities, and think we’ll only get more detail as the series continues. There was also a fun adventure that included lots of creative obstacles for the characters to figure out and overcome. The plot was well constructed, but I don’t think that was completely evident from the beginning. The first third of the book, while immersed in Fablehaven awesomeness, took a long time to get to the selling point of the novel – the dragon sanctuary. While I enjoyed every moment, I can’t help but wonder if I would have enjoyed it a mite more had it moved along a bit quicker.

Overall, I’m excited for more adventures in this world and can’t wait for the next book!

I’d like to thank NetGalley, Shadow Mountain Publishing, and Brandon Mull for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Dragonwatch.

Other books you might like:

 by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Title: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven

Author: Brandon Mull, Brandon Dorman

Series: Fablehaven #5.5

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: The 3.5 million fans who bought Fablehaven know the series has many imaginative mythical creatures especially dragons. Every one of the dragons has a name and a special power and they all look different and are described in words, but they existed only in our imagination….UNTIL NOW. The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven is the first visual discovery of the creatures in the series and is written as if the reader is the new caretaker of the Fablehaven preserve. It has all sorts of insider’s knowledge the new caretaker of Fablehaven would have to know, such as dragon tears are very powerful in making potions but they are extremely difficult to come by and cruel people have been known to torment young dragons just to collect tears!  So don’t YOU want to be their caretaker?

Entries detail important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves. Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch.

The Review:

I am a HUGE fan of the Fablehaven series. Not since Harry Potter has a middle grade series caught and maintained my adult (and I use that term loosely) attentions and tastes with such alacrity. I’ve read them all several times, and finishing the final chapter is always bittersweet – it ends so well, but I never want it to stop. BUT NOW THE JOURNEY CONTINUES!!! And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The Caretaker’s Guide is just what the doctor ordered to hold me over until the new novel (Dragonwatch) comes out in fall 2016. I’ve always thought the art throughout the series was part of what helped make it so special – I’d constantly find myself eager to get the next scene depiction hidden amongst the pages. Bringing those gorgeous illustrations all into one place with multiple character and creature profiles resulted in the coolest guidebook I’ve ever seen. I think every fan of the series would enjoy seeing so many aspects brought to life. I will definitely be snagging a physical copy for my own collection asap.

What’s more, there are hints and clues within the pages hinting to what we can expect in Dragonwatch. I was excited before, but I’m through the roof now! Brandon Mull took my favorite part of the Fablehaven saga (the dragon sanctuaries) and wrote AN ENTIRE SERIES around it. If you’re as excited as I am, take a peek at this guidebook – you won’t be disappointed!

Here are the Fablehaven books with their beautiful cover art… read them:

*I want to thank Brandon Mull, Shadow Mountain Publishing, and NetGalley for approving an early copy of this title – you made an uber fan very happy! :-)

by Niki Hawkes