Category Archives: Fiction

…And Continue! (The Adventures in Fablehaven that is)

These books just keep on getting better and better –  I can’t seem to put them down! I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical after the first book, but now I’m embroiled in the adventure and can’t wait to find out what happens next! (Good thing I have the rest of the series sitting on my bookshelf!) From now on I’m going to view the first book as a new TV show pilot – something you have to push your way through even though it’s often somewhat crappy.  The pilot is necessary, to set the scene and introduce the characters.  I’m hoping the Beyonders trilogy will follow the same trajectory.

So as I said before, “Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague” continues from book 2 as Kendra, Seth, and other members of Fablehaven continue their battle against the Society of the Evening Star.  Once again we meet a slew of new characters with cool new powers and interesting back stories.  We also get to take a journey to another of the super secret preserve and get a better understanding of the story’s universe.  The main plot of this book centers around further conflict with the Society of the Evening Star and Fablehaven’s fight against a mysterious plague that turns good things into evil ones.  And that’s all I’ll say about that (I don’t want to give anything away!)

What I do enjoy (and in a lot of cases dread) about this series is that Mr. Mull has no compunction when it comes to killing off characters. It reminds me a bit of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series, but not quite as extreme.  I’m always a bit on edge every time the characters go on an adventure or face danger because I’m never quite sure who’s going to come back alive, and I think this gives the books a sense of….not urgency but reality that a lot of books (and movies) don’t have.  In a lot of ways, this makes the books far more complex than I originally thought – which also makes it far more enjoyable than I originally thought.  Back to reading!

The Adventures in Fablehaven Continue!

I have to say that I found “Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star” far more entertaining than the first book.  Mr. Mull remedied many of what I thought were the weaker points of book 1 in book 2.  The characters were less one dimensional having “learned their lessons” from the adventures in book 1, and the plot is much more, well, adventurous.

In “Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star” you get what the title promises.  The Society of the Evening Star, a somewhat amorphous behind the scenes group in book 1, takes an increasingly active role in book 2, although still in deviously mysterious ways.

Mr. Mull also introduces a slew of new characters that make the landscape of Fablehaven richer and more entertaining. You get to meet Vanessa, the mystical creature trapper, Tanu, the poison master, and Coulter, the magic relics collector – all characters that are featured prominently in book 2, and continue to have a presence in book 3 (at least as far as I’ve read – which isn’t very). These characters start off with more depth and intrigue than Kendra and Seth did, possibly because of their exotic professions but also because of their distinct knowledge and personalities.

What I find interesting in this book, as well as the Harry Potter series for that matter, is that in both cases the main characters are, well, not that interesting.  Take Harry Potter for example.  Sure he always defeats Voldemort (I know, spoiler, but seriously, if you didn’t know he defeats Voldemort over and over, have you been living under a rock?!) but his character is just not interesting.  It’s not because he’s a particularly great (or even average) magician, or because he’s wily and cunning with loads of street smarts – it’s because he’s protected by his mother’s love and he has a combination of luck and bravery.  Now don’t get me wrong, luck and bravery are very important in most adventure stories.  But the most interesting characters are so much more than that.

And I feel about Kendra and Seth the same way that I feel about Harry Potter.  They’re just not that interesting.  Luckily though, like for Harry Potter, the plot and the surrounding characters are more than enough to keep the story fun, interesting, and adventurous.

Re-examining the Wild West with Doc

When I think of the Wild, Wild West I imagine bar fights, prostitution, gambling, and dust.  A lot of dust.  The women are pretty, the men are ornery, and the dangers are plentiful.  And there’s definitely all that in Mary Doria Russell’s book “Doc” but it’s so much more than that. In fact, all those things you think about when you think about the Wild, Wild West? All those things are drastically downplayed.  What you do get, is a brilliant character portrayal of some of the notorious characters of that time period  – Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  You get to see them as real people – not as the notorious gunslingers forever remembered for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which, by the way, barely gets mentioned at all).

I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up this book.  In fact, I didn’t even really know what the book was about.  Mary Doria Russell wrote “The Sparrow” and “The Children of God” – two incredibly well written and incredibly moving books.  So of course, when I found out that she had written a new book I immediately put myself on the waiting list for it.

So I guess what I was expecting was far off lands and new alien cultures and perhaps a priest.  Well, I guess I got one of the three.  Really, though, I should have expected a Wild West story given the cover features an upright piano and a cowboy hat.

What I love is that she paints all the characters incredibly sympathetically.  You see Doc Holliday as a sickly man, playing up a rough guy image to survive in the Wild West.  You see Wyatt Earp as a man deeply driven by moral right and wrong.   You feel like you really understand the characters and why they behave the way they do.   She also introduces Kate, a prostitute who is Doc’s constant companion (well, as constant as she can be, given her flighty personality). But once again, you don’t see her as merely a whore – you see her as a woman, trying to protect herself and survive.

Would I recommend the book? I’m not sure.  If you’re interested in really getting to know people, then yes, I think it’s great.  If you’re interested in a typical Wild West story? I’m not so sure.  What I wholeheartedly recommend, however, is “The Sparrow” and “Children of God”.

Flitting Around Fablehaven

After reading “Beyonders”, I decided I should backtrack and read Brandon Mull’s flagship series “Fablehaven”.   So far I’ve only read the first book, but I’ve found it enjoyable, although somewhat lacking in – something.  I enjoy the rich world that Mr. Mull creates – full of interesting creatures, wonderful environments, and formidable adversaries.

The one struggle I have with the book is that the main characters aren’t particularly likable.  Kendra, one of the two main characters, is too goody two shoes, although her character becomes more interesting as the book continues.  Seth, her younger brother, is also a bit on the one-dimensional side – always doing exactly what he is told not to do… just cause.   And the adventures are interesting but aren’t that gripping.  The world is, however, filled with many interesting side characters that make up for what the main characters lack.  One of my favorite characters is Lena, the housekeeper and former naiad.  Her back story is interesting, as is her role throughout the book.  I also really liked Murial, the evil witch who lives in the forest.

Overall I think this is a great fantasy / young adult book if you’re looking for a light, fun read.

The Throne of Fire

In case you haven’t quite figured it out yet, I’ve been on a bit of a YA fantasy spree, and what better follow-up to “Beyonders” than “The Throne of Fire” by Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series.  Although I like the use of Egyptian gods in the Kane Chronicles, I have to admit that for whatever reason I just don’t find the story as engaging as the Percy Jackson books. I don’t think it’s so much Egyptian versus Greek as much as a difference in writing style.

The Percy Jackson books follow the normal prose / storytelling mode of most books.  The Kane Chronicles are a bit different. I appreciate what Mr. Riordan is trying to do, trying to change up the normal fictional narrative by writing as if you’re “listening” to an audio recording, if that makes any sense.  It’s an interesting narrative style, although it can be a bit clunky at times, but for some reason it just doesn’t work for me.  I do, however, like how the narrative swaps back and forth between two different perspectives – Carter and Sadie.  It gives you a better view of the events, since you read them from differing points of view.

The book starts a bit slow – I had a hard time getting into it, probably because it’s been so long since I read “The Red Pyramid”.  Once I got reading, however, I started to remember bits and pieces of the previous book.  And once you get past the first few chapters, the action begins to snowball, culminating – like any good movie would – with an action packed ending.

You also get to meet several new and interesting characters along the way.  My favorite new introduction? Bes – the dwarf god.  How can you not love a god  who’s main power is to literally be frighteningly ugly?  All in all I’m interested to see where Mr. Riordan goes with the third book (whenever it comes out) and look forward to a hopefully satisfying conclusion.

A Journey to the Great Beyond – Beyonders

I just finished reading Brandon Mull’s new book – “Beyonders: A World Without Heroes”.  After “The Surrendered” I decided I needed some light, fun, adventurous YA reading.  And yes.  I do routinely read YA novels. And I enjoy them.  Don’t judge.

So back to “Beyonders”.  I think it’s a great light, fun read.  The only critique I would have is that the adventures didn’t seem, well, so adventurous.  The heroes seem to get out of tight situations a little too easily and everything fits together just a little too well.  And yes, you can argue “Well you’re reading YA fiction! What did you expect?”  But I would argue that there are many YA fiction books that are entertaining to children and adults alike. Examples include: The Artemis Fowl series, the “His Dark Materials” series, and The Hunger Games.  In terms of complexity of characters, plot, etc. I would put it at about the same level as the Percy Jackson books.

Regardless, there is almost no chance that I won’t be picking up the next book in this trilogy when it comes out in 2012.   “Beyonders” tracks the adventures of Jason and Rachel, two American teenagers, who end up in a mythical world called Lyrian full of strange creatures and an evil ruler, Maldor.  In a world without heroes (like how I brought in the subtitle of the book? 😉 ), Jason and Rachel seek to become the much-needed heroes, ridding the world of its evil despot.  How could you not want to read a book with that kind of plot?

All in all if you’re looking for a light, fun fantasy read, I recommend “Beyonders” and any of the other series mentioned above =)

I Surrendered to The Surrendered

I just finished Chang-Rae Lee’s The Surrendered and I have to say, it may be one of the most beautifully written, but immensely depressing books I’ve ever read.  In fact, 2 chapters into the book I almost put it down to find something lighter, happier, and less…emotionally draining.  But I am glad that I didn’t.

The first time I encountered Chang-Rae Lee was my senior year of high school when, for whatever reason, I was really into Asian American literature. I mean REALLY into Asian American literature. I devoured anything that anyone recommended that was remotely about the Asian American experience and read nothing else.  That’s when I read Native Speaker.  I remember liking it, but that’s about it. And after a few months reading only Asian-American literature I was done. Until I picked up The Surrendered.

From what I remember from my Asian American literature phase, whether Korean, Chinese, Japanese or other, there were several common themes and aspects of the Asian American experience.  Inability to relate with elders because of a different cultural environment and upbringing, not fitting into the American culture because of a difference in appearance, wanting to be fully American but always feeling somewhat of an outsider.  Although this book did address some of those themes, it was far more than that.  It focused on war’s destructive forces, death, and redemption.

Without giving too much away, the novel tracks the lives of three people: June, Hector and Sylvie.  It focuses on each life individually, the experiences that shaped each person, and how their lives are irrevocably intertwine.  This book shows the power of bonds made during war and the extents people to keep themselves emotionally and mentally together.