Tag Archives: Rick Riordan

Queries and Conundrums: The Harry Potter Depression

Harry Potter books

We all remember that feeling . . . we finished the last page of Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows . . . and dual emotions of elation and depression filled our hearts.  After devoting countless hours and for some of us, many years of waiting, the story had finally come to an end.  I remember how I felt and then relived it when my own children finished the series.  Now true fans are well aware of the impending release of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, but there really is nothing like the original.

A few months ago, a friend asked me for suggestions for her own 5th grade daughter who had just completed the series.  She too was feeling a sense of depression and loss as to what she could read next.  I can well relate to that feeling of “what could I possibly read, that might be even half as good, as what I finished.”

I think with the Harry Potter books in particular, it is important to look at what attracts a reader to the story and appeals to the reader’s interest.  So, I started to think about what makes the Harry Potter books so engaging and what other books might appeal to those aspects of the story.

The first appeal for me was the magic.  J.K. Rowling incorporates magic into her stories with clarity and purpose.  The magic is grounded in reality and she has not just created a world where magic exists, but also where it blends almost seamlessly with the real world that we know.  Magic has specific and unique purposes for communication, transportation, education, and all other facets of the modern world.

One of my favorite books that incorporates magic is the Castle Glower series, starting with Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George.  These books tell the story of a magical castle that rearranges, adapts, moves, and deletes rooms in the castle, depending upon who is visiting and what is needed.  When the castle is ambushed, it, along with the Princess Celie, must protect the royal family and save the kingdom.  The adventures continue in subsequent books: Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown.

World Building
Very few authors can create a new world as complex and all-encompassing as J.R.R. Tolkien and Rowling doesn’t try to do that.  Her creation of a magic world is one that is believable and yet fits into the universal truths of reality.  She doesn’t contradict what is known but instead melds the two worlds.  Perfect example is the access to Platform 9 ¾ or how a telephone booth is the entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

Another author who I think does a great job at this is Rick Riordan with his blending of the mythological world with the real world.  I am a big fan of the Percy Jackson series, but I almost think that the three books of the Kane Chronicles series about Egyptian mythology do an even better job at this.  The description of the world of the pharaohs and the creation of the House of Life magicians is based on the mythology but Riordan makes it come to life and gives this world a personification of its own.

The Golden Trio
I certainly didn’t coin this word but I think it is a great description of the bond between the three main characters and the story that is told through their growth and development.  Certainly not a new concept in literature, think Scout, Jem, and Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird or Nancy, Beth, and George in the Nancy Drew Mysteries, the Golden Trio can manifest itself in a variety of gender and age combinations and take different forms, but the primary story revolves around the friendship, conflicts, and evolution of these characters.

One of my favorite Golden Trios — that isn’t in the Percy Jackson books or the Rangers Apprentice series — is from Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Series.  The characters of Tristan, Robard, and Maryam aren’t initially friends, but learn to rely on and trust one another through the progression of the story.  Another fun Golden Trio is Seymour, the young boy; Mr. Grumply, the cantankerous writer; and Olive, the ghost, from the 43 Old Cemetery Road series by Kate Klise.

A Satisfying Conclusion
Even with the impending release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the multitude of fan fiction that has been written, the last Harry Potter book ends with a sense of closure and completion.  The questions are answered, the conflicts are resolved, and although the reader knows that the characters will go on and do more amazing things in their future, he feels at peace with the end.  I know that I have read many, many books that have left me dissatisfied with the conclusion.  I wanted more questions answered or more loose ends tied up; ultimately, I want to know that the characters are going to “all right.”  J.K. Rowling does this at the end of the series.  I do think that it is notable that she has stated in numerous interviews that she had the last scene written very early on in her writing process.  Many writers allow the characters and stories to take them where they want to go, but don’t always have a clear end in mind.  As a reader, I like a clean finish.

Michael Spradlin’s Youngest Templar Trilogy has a very satisfying and clear ending.  Another trilogy that finishes smoothly is Jennifer Holm’s Boston Jane books; the character arc follows the standard rising action – conflict – falling action pattern, but does so with great description and warmth.  The reader enjoys the character and feels vested in her successful outcome.  One of my favorite books as a child, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene dubois, also succinctly finishes a multi-dimensional story with a pleasing end.


So, what common appeals do you find in the books that you read, and do you look for those in other books that you seek out?


Queries and Conundrums: Summertime Reading

Canada 2013 028

I’m not dead yet!”  Can you tell I’ve been listening to Spamalot?  I apologize for the long siesta but between the end of the school year and my son graduating from high school, life has been busy.  Finally, things have slowed down a bit.  I have been reading a lot but have had little time to write.  But now it is summer!!!

What is it that makes summer reading so different from the rest of the year?  I know that for me personally, my kids are not in school so I am not reading as much while sitting in carpool lines or while waiting for rehearsal or lessons to finish up.  Don’t get me wrong; the kids are still busy but my reading time has shifted.

During the summer, I read more in the morning, when the house is quiet and the teenagers are still asleep.  I read during the heat of the day when really it is just too miserable to do anything else.  I read in the evening when the temperature finally cools down and the fireflies are just starting to appear.  Summer seems to provide more opportunities for longer stretches of reading time, but it is more than that.  For some reason, I feel less guilty for spending time reading rather than flipping the laundry or running the vacuum or making dinner.  Seriously though; it’s 100 degrees!  Who wants to turn the oven on?!

The requirements of daily life relax a bit and time for reading take precedence over all.  Throughout the school year, I find myself hoarding books to save for summer reading.  Funny thing is that my kids do too!!  Sometimes these books are ones that I know will take more time to process and think about, sometimes they are ones that may have more challenging content, but most often they are just books that I really want to read and enjoy and have the time to relish them.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a cabin on a small island in Canada.  I used to spend two months up there almost every summer.  The morning meant chores: baking before the temperatures got too hot, weeding the garden, bailing the boats out, and so on.  After lunch, it was my time.  Pops almost always took an afternoon nap and Granny would spend time on her cross-stitch projects.  The only television reception was one station of Canadian television, the only music was from an 8 track tape player, and there rarely were any other children around, so I read . . . a lot.  With the windows open, there was just enough of a breeze to make it pleasant as I curled up on the old cracked vinyl couch on the front porch.  I usually brought a suitcase full of books but I often resorted to pillaging my grandparents’ bookshelves.  It was the summer that I turned 10 that I read To Kill a Mockingbird.  At 12, it was Gone with the Wind and at 13, Anna Karenina.  Summer was meant for not just enjoying my reading time, but rather full immersion.

So, what is on tap for this summer?  The new John Flanagan Brotherband book The Ghostfaces just came out, and next week is the newest Lady Darby – As Death Draws Near – by Anna Lee Huber.  I also have Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer sitting on my shelf; yes, I know it was released last October.  Don’t judge; it’s been a busy year!  I also still have a pile on my to-be-read shelf and who knows what I will discover when I take a break from the heat and venture into the nearest bookstore.

So, as the temps rise, embrace the true essence of summer.  Be it on the beach, by the pool, or in your own living room, read and enjoy the season.

Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday


Four BOOK BONUSES on Friday
So a few weeks ago, I did a Four on Friday about BOOK HOOKS.  That got me thinking about what is inside the book.  Obviously, the best part is the story itself (hopefully!!) but I love when there are extra surprises.  It is like getting a Chick-fil-A with an extra pickle or a piece of cheesecake with an extra dollop of whipped cream . . . can you tell that it is lunch time?  It is something beyond the expected.  Here are four BOOK BONUSES that get me particularly excited.

Family Trees
I love when an author puts in a genealogical tree to show how all the characters in a story are related, especially when it goes back a few generations.  Now, I am not talking about a “cast list.”  Honestly, if an author has to put a list of characters and who they are at the beginning of the book, there are either too many characters or they aren’t well represented in the story and that just does not bode well for the book.  A family tree is especially interesting when a story covers several generations or the plot references back to previous generations.  I love to see how all the characters are inter-mingled and related and appreciate that “a-ha” moment when I get how everything works together.

I love, love, love maps!!!  Seriously, in a previous life, I think I was a cartographer on a sailing vessel that traveled through uncharted territories.  I am a visual person and a map helps me to see where the characters are and where they are going.  I think it can help clarify the plot and move the story along if the reader can visualize the progression of movement of the action by looking at the locations on a map.  Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James novels always have a map on the inside cover of the book for the particular part of London in which the story is based.  It is also helpful to have a map when an author creates a fictitious land: John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series includes maps to show the reader the layout of the countries.   And of course, who doesn’t love Tolkien’s detailed maps of Middle Earth.

Author Notes
As I read a lot of historical mysteries and novels, I enjoy when an author includes the research behind the events in the story.  C. S. Harris does an amazing job with her Sebastian St. Cyr books as she relates the events to the history and the politics of the time.  Her protagonist has a unique ocular condition – not going to explain it, you must read these books!!  She detailed in one book the science and history behind the condition; it was fascinating.  I think the historical and research background really adds depth and credibility to the story.  It is one thing to have a great plot, but when that plot is interwoven into real historical events, the circumstances and conflicts that the characters face become much more real.

Chapter Titles
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a bit of a quirky sense of humor.  I love when authors title their chapters.  Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin series includes lines from Irish folklore and history and Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson chapter titles are sayings found on t-shirts.  I love when an author can have fun with the story but also create even more anticipation by having unique chapter titles.  My all-time favorite has to be Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.  I mean who does not want to read “just one more chapter” when the title is “We Take a Zebra to Vegas.”  Any wonder why I can’t put books down!?

How about you?  What book bonuses trigger your fancy?

Queries and Conundrums: To Keep Teens Reading

Teens reading

My children hate going to the dentist.  No, they don’t any fear of painful drills or have orthodontic anxieties; they hate going to the dentist because the hygienists there ALWAYS comment on the fact that they bring books to the appointment.  It has started to become a running joke in the family about what book they are going to bring to the bi-yearly dental appointment; will they bring a horror story that will shock the hygienist, a mystery with such a convoluted plot that will required tedious explanations, or a brand new one that they won’t be able to comment on because they haven’t started it yet.

Now I know that the hygienists are trying to make conversation but they really are quite shocked at the fact that my kids bring books to read while waiting and they lament the fact that their own kids won’t read.  My children have a plethora of snide and snarky comments that they would like to make about that thought . . . they are my kids after all . . . but it does raise a good point.  How do we keep children reading when they become teens?

There is a multitude of research on reading to young children, combining books with play, and getting early readers engaged and interested, but what happens when they get older and they can read on their own but choose not to.  I am blessed to have three children who honestly love to read.  Although they all have smartphones and are infinitely more computer and technologically knowledgeable than I could ever dream to be, they take a book everywhere – to the barber, to the doctor, in line at Disney, out shopping for clothes.  Any place that they might have to wait.

I know that when I was teaching high school, I encouraged and supported kids reading for fun.  There is so much that has to be read in school or has to be annotated and analyzed, that the pure enjoyment of reading and reading for pure enjoyment is often lost or overlooked.  I am certainly no child expert – one look at my own kids confirms that! – but here are a few suggestions that have worked with our family.  If you are wanting to keep your child reading or reengage their reading interest, you might consider these ideas.

Keep reading to your child even after they can read on their own.  For many kids, reading is hard.  It isn’t that they aren’t enjoying the story; sometimes they are too burned out or frustrated or tired to read on their own.  By reading aloud to them, they are still engaged in the story and good reading begets good reading.  When my son was in the later elementary years, we started The Ranger’s Apprentice Series together.  I would read aloud to him and we would talk about the story and play guessing games at what was going to happen next.  It was a great motivator for him to get ready for bed because we would want to hurry to continue the story; I know I was just as anxious as he was and I would threaten to start without him!!  With multiple children and life’s craziness, sometimes we wouldn’t be able to read together and my son would start to read ahead.  We read the first three books in the series together and after that, he was too impatient to wait for me!

Read aloud as a family.  When I reference “we,” I truly mean both my husband and I.  I am blessed to have found a spouse who is just as much of a nerd reader as I am!  We read the entire Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan aloud. My husband would read Carter’s part and I would read Sadie’s part.  The kids would be curled up on the floor with pillows and blankets and we would try to finish a chapter or two a night.  It was a great family bonding time and we enjoyed laughing at character’s antics and funny jokes.  It was a challenge to try to coordinate bathtimes and homework and evening activities so that there would be time to read, but what a great motivation and good memories!  We still will reference book quotes that we enjoyed together.

Read books that your kids read.  We have a number of book series in our family that we all read and we all fight over who gets the latest release first.  I am always first for the latest John Flanagan and I won’t share; it is just the kind of person I am.  We have so much fun sharing our thoughts about the story and taunting those who haven’t finished yet – “have you gotten to the part where . . .?”  Although not everyone reads all the same things, there is enough overlap that it is fun to talk, analyze, and dissect together.  Another idea that a friend of mine does is that she reads everything that is assigned through the school so she can talk about it with her children.  I do this to some extent: I’ve reread Of Mice and Men and A Tale of Two Cities, but I just couldn’t tackle War and Peace again.  Once was more than enough!

Go to bookstores.  Buy books!  My kids get books for every occasion — Valentine’s Day (sorry kids, surprise!), Last Day of School, “Yeah! AP Exams are over!”  As a family, we go to the bookstore and search for books that look interesting.  My girls especially follow author’s websites.  If there is an author of a favorite book that is speaking, go see them!  We went as a family to listen to John Flanagan speak and it was great fun to share in the experience.

Let them read what they want.  Now obviously every family is different and what works for one family, won’t work for another, but encourage kids to read what they want.  My son doesn’t read as much fiction lately, but he is very interested in film.  He reads a lot of biographies about famous directors and actors.  Not all of them live the type of life I would like him to emulate but he is passionate about the genre and that is what engages his reading.  Graphic novels aren’t my thing, but a lot of kids really enjoy them.  If they are reading, then I am satisfied.

So, any other suggestions of how to keep teens reading?  And by the way, if you see my kids waiting somewhere with a book, please DON’T ask them what they are reading!