Category Archives: Book Review

4 Book Review of Hannibal Lecter Series

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Last month, I read all four of the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris. I admit that I have seen most of the movies before I read the books, and recently, I watched the first season of the show Hannibal. The reason I decided to read these is that I was wondering why Hannibal is such a popular villain. I have seen allusions to him in other novels, in comic books, and various TV shows.

After reading the books, I get it. He’s a really well written bad guy. He is just evil for the sake of being evil… or is he? After I finished the series I saw him a bit differently.

WARNING: SPOILERS COMINGHarris books

Let me begin by describing my general thoughts about the series of books. My strongest reaction to these books is that they seem to be written by different people. Stylistically, they are very different. And, even though they are considered a 4 book series, I wouldn’t even classify them as the same genre.

The four books I think should be read in the order they were written.

  1. Red Dragon
  2. Silence of the Lambs
  3. Hannibal
  4. Hannibal Rising

The reason I say they don’t fit into the same genre is that the first two books are what I would consider crime thrillers. Both stories are about the FBI tracking a serial killer, and in their hour of desperation, they consult with Hannibal Lecter because he has unique insight into killers.

As a reader, you learn a lot about Lecter in these two books. He is depicted as pure evil, and he likes to manipulate people. He is kind of humorous in a dark, grotesque kind of way. I think readers like him because in the first two books at least, he is a very well written villain, and he is also smart and often finds ways to manipulate the very people who have him locked up. In the first book, he toys with Graham, an FBI agent who has trouble with crime scenes because he experiences pure empathy. In the second book, Lecter meets Agent Starling.

These two books are fairly typical for crime dramas. There is a clear bad guy, clear good guys, and in the end, the bad guy is taken down by the hero or because of the hero’s actions. However, how these books differ from the normal crime thriller is that the character of Lecter is presented in a way that you want him to escape, even though he is a known serial killer. And unlike the TV show Dexter, Lecter is not a serial killer who hunts down “bad guys.” Lecter likes to kill people who he finds rude, which is most people. He really is evil but you will be rooting for him anyway.

After the first two books, I expected the third, Hannibal, to be similar — it’s not. The third book is about Hannibal on the run and Starling trying to find him and a man named Mason trying to get his revenge on Lecter. Again in this book, we are made to feel sympathetic to Lecter. We don’t want him to get killed by Mason and his man-eating pigs. We want Lecter to be free, and I personally couldn’t wait for him to “get” Agent Krendler who is determined to bring down Starling simply because he’s a chauvinist.

This book is not a crime thriller like the rest. I would call it a thriller, but it is not necessarily about crime. It’s about revenge and some very crazy people.

By the end of the book, I was beginning to doubt Starling’s sanity as well. The biggest surprise to me was that in the end, Starling decides to “love” Lecter. I seriously thought, “What the hell?” I feel like the author thought that would be a really twisted ending after everything that Lecter has done and so Harris changed Starling to fit that role. It annoyed me a little because I felt like she was suddenly a different character.

This brings me to the fourth book, which is a prequel to the entire series. Of all the books, I liked this one the least. Just as Harris rewrote the character of Starling in the third book, the last book provides “justification” for why Lecter is the way he is. I didn’t like it. I thought he was a much stronger character when he was just evil for the sake of being evil. Instead, the fourth book tells the story of his childhood and how he becomes evil because he witnesses some Nazis eating his sister. Anyone would be crazy after that.

Another reason I didn’t like this book as much as the others was that it’s not a thriller like the others. I guess I would call it a psychological drama or something like that. There are still “bad guys.” And again we are made to sympathize with Lecter, but I felt like Harris was forcing it. He was forcing me to feel sorry for Lecter, and I enjoyed reading about him more when I didn’t feel sorry for him.

Overall, they are still page turners. I finished each one in a day. I get why people read them when they were originally published, and I get why they turned them into movies. (Especially the third book. It reads like a script at times rather than a novel).

And my final conclusion about the Lecter series, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, is that I like the movies and the TV show better. I very rarely say that about novels vs. their big and little screen counterparts, but in this case, I would say, watch the movie. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal is fantastic and really creepy. And I’ve only seen the first season of the TV show Hannibal, but so far, it’s really great. I can’t wait to see where they go with it.

Review of the Nebula Awards Showase 2013

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Every year I try to read the Nebula Awards Showcase anthology. If you don’t know, the Nebula Awards are given for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writing. I look forward to the collection every year. And last year, I started ordering the older copies from Abebooks.com. (I love that site). I almost have every year now.

Anyway, when I read, I have a tendency to compare what I’m reading to other things that I’ve read. I try to judge a book on its value alone but in this case, I can’t help it. So, as I was reading the 2013 collection, I was comparing it to the 2012 anthology.

In all honesty, I thought the 2012 collection was better. Now, to be fair though, there are still some really great stories in the 2013 set that I would highly recommend. However, the new book just didn’t wow me like last year’s did.

Before I talk about some of the stories that I did like, I wanted to add one other thing you should know about the Nebula Awards collections. They usually feature poetry. Yes, you read that right. Sci-fi or fantasy poetry. And I’m here to tell you, it can be pretty weird.

Weird poetry aside, some stories that I think are really great from this collection:nebula awards

1. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

  • This story is truly magical. It’s about the relationship between a mother and her son. I don’t want to tell you more than that, because it’s really, really, really great.
  • It’s one of those stories that isn’t your typical sci-fi or fantasy story but I’m so glad it’s in this collection.

2. The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

  • I love this story! I couldn’t get over the complexity of the universe that this author created just for a short story. It’s about a girl and her learning about the past. It’s also about an ice owl, but I won’t tell you what happens other than that.
  • When I finished reading this, I was hoping there was more. I would love to read a novel length work set in the universe created by this author.

3. Excerpt from Among Others by Jo Walton

  • This, as you can guess from the title, was a snippet of a novel that they included.
  • The novel is now on my “To Read” list.
  • The excerpt introduces us to one of the main characters, a girl, who is about to go to boarding school. I can’t add more than that, not because I don’t want to give anything away, but because there’s not much else to go on from the snippet. I have to admit one of the reasons I say this is worth reading is because it peaked my curiosity and now I need to know what happens.

4. “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz

  • If you only had time to read one story from the collection, this would be my choice.
  • Unlike some of the other stories, this story is more typical. It has some known sci-fi devices. It is set on a space station. There is a war going on that involves two different factions with different belief systems.
  • What isn’t typical about this story. The main character is a girl who lives with her female relatives and together they run a “truck stop” in space. In particular, their station is known as “Sauerkraut Station” because they serve sauerkraut that they make themselves right on the station.
  • I can’t explain why exactly this was my favorite out of all of them, other than I just thought it was really well written. For a short story, it was very complex.

5. “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen

  • This story is about our world after aliens have arrived and blocked out our sun. In order to survive, the humans that endure are forced to live deep in the ocean near vents that produce heat.
  • The story is also about the generation of children who are born down in the ocean. They want to see the sun. They form a “cult” like group that worships the sun. Eventually, the teens steal some subs and make their way to the surface because no one has been to the surface in years. Guess what they find when they get there…. I’m not telling. Read the story. It’s good.

There are many more in this collection but I felt like those five were the highlights. One of the things I love about the Nebula collections is a lot of time the stories that are featured aren’t your typical sci-fi and fantasy. There aren’t a lot of dragons or light sabers. Instead, there are a lot of characters in a vast array of settings surviving and being a part of some very unique universes.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

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bone peopleBooker Prize Winner in 1985

I have mixed feelings about this book but I will get into that in a second. I also have to confess that because I hadn’t heard of the book before my sister gave it to me, I looked it up and read some short reviews on goodreads.com. I found the reviews fascinating, especially after I read the book. There was one review that basically boiled down to the person saying, “I hated this book.” There were also people who felt kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing, and there were a few who actually liked it.

I don’t feel like I fit into any of those categories. As I said, I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed this book. I think it was beautifully written and engaging. I had hard time putting it down. The reason for my mixed feelings though has to do with the content of the story. Fair warning, spoilers coming.

The central plot of the story is about a woman, a man, and the man’s adopted son. At one point in the story, we learn that the boy is being beaten – severely beaten. As readers, we feel sorry for him because in addition to being beaten, we know he comes from a traumatic past and has some physical handicaps as a result of that past. The plot though, as they say, thickens because later in the novel we learn that his father is the one who has been beating him the whole time.

At that point, I honestly thought why doesn’t the woman just beat him to death (believe me, she is capable). So, a little boy is being beaten by his father and the other adults in the boy’s life know about it and do nothing about it. That isn’t actually the part that bothered me. What bothered me is that at the end of the novel, the boy is beaten so badly that he is hospitalized, and they don’t know if he’ll wake up. He does. And then after what I would consider a very short time, he goes back to live with the same people.

The same family that let him get beat every time his father was drunk gets him back. ⊲That right there is why I have mixed emotions about “liking” this story.

I like it because it is so well written, so the people who got hung up on the novel’s use of Maori words need to let that go. I didn’t find the author’s use of another language problematic at all.

I like it because it is set somewhere that I’ve never read about before and is about a culture I’ve never read about before.

I like the characters, even the father. They are wonderfully written.

What I can’t bring myself to like is a child being put back into such a harmful environment and the author makeing it seem like that’s a happy ending.

So, in the end, I don’t know. It is a great book, but can I say that I “like” a book with an ending like that?

Review of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

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CooperOverSeaUnderStone1st book of The Dark is Rising Series

I have wanted to read this series ever since I saw the movie The Seeker. I thought the movie was okay, but I could tell while I was watching it that there was a lot of something left out. The script of the movie seemed very incomplete to me. Perhaps this is because the movie is based on the entire series, not just one book, and so far I have only read the first book.

The first book though is really great and so much better than the movie. I can’t wait to keep reading this series. While I was reading this book I didn’t feel like I was reading a book written for kids. What I mean by that is that the story is complex and even though the main characters are children, they are well written. Too many juvenile books that I’ve read make the children characters very one dimensional. Cooper doesn’t do that. These kids are smart and brave, but they still see the world with childlike wonder.

Another part of this story that I enjoyed was the villains. They are sneaky, and everything they do seems malicious. I thought they were great villains that didn’t do anything terribly diabolical (other than being evil).

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the basic plot is that there is a great battle for good and evil going on in our world that most people don’t know about. A few though, like the characters in the Cooper novels, get caught up in this battle. In order to prevent the darkness from conquering our world someone must prevent the villains from finding artifacts that will give them an advantage. The children accidentally get pulled into finding an artifact hidden in the time of King Arthur.

You won’t be disappointed. This is a great story.

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.

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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