Monthly Archives: October 2013

Double Review: Jhereg and Yendi by Steven Brust

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Cover of "Yendi"

Cover of Yendi

This review is going to cover the first two books of the Vlad Taltos series.

Cover of

Cover of Jhereg

I picked these books up because my brother in law always raves about them. I think these might be some of his favorite fantasy books, and now that I’ve read two of them, I get why.

I can’t tell you if the series stays good throughout because I’ve only read the first two so far, but I want to tell you what I like about the series in general and then I’ll get to talking about each book.

To start with, the series is great because it is not your typical fantasy novel. Many fantasy authors feel the need to write massive tomes that involve histories and back stories until you can’t remember who’s who and what’s what. This series doesn’t do that. In fact, Brust spends next to no time explaining what happened in the first book while you’re reading the second. I think this keeps the pacing of the book and doesn’t bog you down with unnecessary details.

Another thing I like about this series is that even though there is a dragon in the book, the whole world doesn’t revolve around the dragon. Some fantasy novels make the dragons more interesting than the people who are with them. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I really love the Temeraire series, but this series is different and that’s a nice thing – variety is good, especially in a genre that can be formulaic at times.

A third reason I enjoyed these books is that the main character is a bad guy. He is an assassin, which means he is technically bad, but he is also the hero and the guy you root for. This is not the first series to focus on an assassin or the first to make you empathize with a bad guy, but I just like that he is not all goody-goody.

Now, for the first book – Jhereg. This is the first book in the series so there is a bit of history included just to make the readers more familiar with the world that Brust is creating. However, as I said before, he doesn’t bog you down with this. The one part of back story that I wanted explained a bit more was about the different races of the world. There are 17 races from what I can tell and the first book only discusses a few of them. I assume the others come up later on in the series, but still I wanted to know what they were.

The pacing of the novel is fast. The best way I can think to explain the pace of this book is that it felt like watching an episode of a show rather than watching a full length movie. Does that make sense? Basically, I feel like there is more to come.

The characters are really great and well-rounded. The main character is Vlad Taltos and he is very complex. Is he good? Is he bad? I feel like there is a lot more to him and that alone makes me want to read the rest of the books.

As for the second book, Yendi, it actually takes place before the first book chronologically. When I first started reading it took me a couple of chapters to catch that. I wasn’t expecting the second book of the series to jump back in time, and the story of Yendi tells us even more about how Vlad became who he is without feeling like you are reading one long flash back.

I admit that I also like that all of my favorite characters are back, especially Vlad’s dragon (humanoids, not lizards) friends.

Again the book feels like an episode of a much longer story yet to be told. I can’t wait to read more of these books.

If you are looking for a quick read from the fantasy genre, I would recommend these. Also, if you don’t love fantasy that is like 8000 pages long, these are quick reads that give you great stories.

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Book Review: Hex Hall

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Guest Book Review

Our Guest Reviewer, Mindy Lavender,  has returned again this month to bring us another young adult review. This time she is reviewing an entire series.

Mindy is my sister, best friend, an avid reader, a historian, a feminist, a youth director, a wife, and so many other things…

*SPOILER ALERT!*

Who doesn’t want to read a fast-paced trilogy about a girl who goes to a boarding school for teen witches, shape shifters, and fairies? If that sounds like something up your alley, pick up the Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins: Hex Hall, Demon Glass, and Spell Bound.  Hex Hall has a fun and non-complicated plot line. Each installment is perfect for a couple hours of guilty pleasure. What I liked about these stories is that they were fast and easy reads. Not life changing, just fun. I also liked the story because it adds another voice to the world of magical creatures. Hogwarts is great, but what about the kids who don’t go to Hogwarts? What happens to them?

The Hex Hall series tells the story of Sophie Mercer, a half-witch raised by her human mother.  Sophie can’t control her magic and is sentenced to school at Hecate Hall by her estranged warlock father, who happens to be a big shot in the magic world. In the first story, we are introduced to Jenna–the lone vampire student at Hecate Hall, who loves pink and is Sophie’s roommate. We also meet Archer, Sophie’s love interest…who is not really that interesting. He’s handsome of course and smart…but kind of boring. Both Jenna and Archer remain important to the supporting cast throughout the series.

Book one, Hex Hall, primarily deals with Sophie’s difficultly transitioning into life with other magical creatures. She feuds with a trio of popular witches who are very one dimensional forgettable characters. More interesting is the relationship Sophie develops with the ghost, Alice.  Which leads directly into book two, Demon Glass, where Sophie has to deal with the fact that she is half-demon not a half-witch. The action takes places in England (so cool.) She also finds out that her father, and by extension her, were purposefully “bred” by the magic community to fight the “The Eye” (a community that seeks to destroy all magical creatures for the good of humanity.) Book Three, Spell Bound, and my favorite, has Sophie working with the Brannicks against the magic community. (The Brannicks are a group of red headed women who were at one time white-witches. They are considered an enemy of the magic world. Sophie finds out that her mother was once a member of the clan and should be its rightful leader.) The series ends with an epic good vs. evil showdown. I bet you can’t guess who wins?

All and all, the books are good…not great…a six out of ten, but if you need a young adult fiction guilty pleasure read I recommend the series, Hex Hall.

Mindy Lavender

Review of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

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Before I actually review this book, let me warn you. I LOVE THIS BOOK! This is one of those books that I fell in love with as I was reading it. Therefore, if you have read it and disagree with me, you may not want to read any further. (And it won’t even hurt my feelings. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that). I am also going to try not to give away any spoilers because I think you should read this book. It’s worth it.

fountainheadIf I were going to use one word to describe this book, I would choose EPIC. It’s the best word that I can think of that illustrates the scope of The Fountainhead. When you think of the word ‘epic’ being applied to literature, it is often associated with historical fiction tomes of massive volume or sci-fi / fantasy novels. On the surface, The Fountainhead is about an architect trying to share his vision with a society that isn’t ready for him, but this book is really an epic battle of good versus evil.

The villain in this book is a truly manipulative egotistical jerk. He is determined to destroy the hero, and what makes him especially diabolical is that he doesn’t really benefit from destroying the hero. He just wants to prevent a unique idea from taking hold in our world.

I feel like I should also add that I don’t have any knowledge of Rand’s personal philosophy so I wasn’t reading the book to learn about it.

Towards the end of the novel, the villain explains what he is trying to prevent.

A simplified version of the ideology at work in this novel:

From the villain’s viewpoint: Our world is better off if no one is truly great and people don’t think for themselves. He manipulates the newspapers and other media to promote hack playwrights, artists, novelists, and other people. He does this because he wants the masses to believe that crap is as good as it gets. He believes that by everything being subpar, this will prevent any one man from being irreplaceable. Though why that is a bad thing, he doesn’t explain very well.

From the hero’s viewpoint: Devote yourself to what is true. The hero in this novel  refuses to compromise when it comes to designing his buildings. If he can’t build it his way, he won’t build it. He doesn’t think that just because things have traditionally been done a certain way, they should continue that way. His refusal to compromise is what makes him heroic. He can’t be bribed or twisted or manipulated into being a ‘sell out.’

The struggle between these two men and the other characters in the book is gripping. When I sat down to read this book, I had no idea that a book about architects could be so riveting.

In the end, I am not sure what philosophical ideas Rand was trying to communicate, but one question lingered when I was done reading: is it possible to be completely selfless? Or completely devoted to self like the hero is?

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The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis

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I read through this book while I was doing some research about genetics for my novel. As you may have guessed from the title, this book is illustrated. untitled

Even though this book is filled with pictures, don’t let that stop you from taking it seriously. The Cartoon Guide to Genetics is in depth enough to give you a knowledgeable understanding of the history of genetics and the basics of how they actually work.

I have read similar books like this in the past about Darwin and Freud and those were good reads as well. I would recommend this book and those like it for anyone trying to get an uncomplicated concise view of complex subjects. Plus, the illustrations are quite humorous.

The best part of this book is that by the end of it, I really did learn something and have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics of genetics. As I said, I would recommend this book, especially if you are studying genetics and need a non-text book source to read.

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What have I been doing?

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It has been a long time since I have written about my novel progress. And you may be wondering, what have I been up to? I am wondering the same thing myself.

After the last time I worked on my draft, which I admit was sometime in September, I took a break to do some research. I actually hit a rather large block when I was writing because I didn’t know how to explain, even in a fictional setting, what my main character was trying to do. Specifically, my main character needs to create a biological weapon that uses genetics to attack a specific group of people.

I have a fairly good understanding of genetics but not enough to explain why she finds engineering this weapon so challenging. I stopped drafting and did a little research about genetic engineering and biological weapons. I don’t think I understood 100% of what I read, but I get the basic concepts and now I understand why the fictional idea I came up with is actually quite impossible in our current time.

But then again, who cares! It’s fiction!

Since then I have been brainstorming but not drafting. I need to get back to work because I am very behind my deadline! My plan is to work hard over the next several weeks to get back on track in order to finish on time. But, this year is quickly coming to a finish. Wish me luck and happy writing to you all!

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