Rereadable: Fablehaven

Fablehaven coverThis is going to date me, but I remember when Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, was first published.  I was a young, bright-eyed student in my second year of college (my first time through college) when I started noticing people (usually women) walking around with these books under their arms.  They had bright, cheery colors, and looked far too young for the people who were carrying them.  It took me a while, but I eventually broke down and bought the first book (this was after Deathly Hallows was released, which I read in a 24-hour period and then wondered what I would do with the rest of my life).

The series was interesting–it was no Harry Potter, but it helped to fill a hole left in its absence.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about reading the Fablehaven series again, especially with the semi-recent release of a new book: Dragonwatch.  What better way to commemorate that then by doing a Rereadable post?

Reading through this book for the first time in years (at least five), I was struck by one fact: there are so many words!

By now you’re probably thinking, “Um, Ellie, books are made of words.”  But that’s not what I mean.  I’m not stuck in Twitterverse where each bit of information takes up (now) 280 characters.  When I say, “so many words,” I mean there are so many words that slows things down, makes it clunky, and clutters up minds that can otherwise fill in the blank.

Here are some examples:

Kendra sat her towel and the mirror on the table and grabbed a bottle of sunblock.  She smeared the white cream over her face, arms, and legs until it disappeared into her skin. (Could have been reduced to, “Kendra sat her towel and the mirror on the table and grabbed a bottle of sunblock.  She smothered her body in the white stuff,” if this description was really necessary)

He had avoided Kendra all morning.  He did not feel like talking to anybody.  He could not get over how foul the fairy had become.  He was not sure what he had done, but he knew it was somehow his fault, some accidental consequence of catching the fairy.  That was why she had been so frightened the night before.  She knew he had doomed her to change into an ugly little monster. (Shows how Mull avoids contractions at all costs, uses passive voice, and too many words.  Could be reduced to, “He didn’t feel like talking to Kendra, or anyone, and had avoided them all morning.  He couldn’t get over how foul the fairy had become.  He wasn’t sure what he’d done, but somehow it was his fault, some consequence of catching the fairy.  No wonder she was so frightened the night before. She knew he’d doomed her to change into an ugly little monster.” Not many words reduced, but some)

“When I urged you to take me to Muriel, I assumed she still had two knots remaining.  Only when I looked up and observed the single knot did I begin to fathom the actual predicament.  By then it was too late.” (Not only wordy, but illustrates the problem Mull has with writing dialogue.  This is supposed to be modern-day.  Some fantasy authors make older characters in medieval-style worlds speak in flowery terms or using phrases that make them seem wiser.  But in real life people don’t use thesauruses.  They may be smart and use big words, but they don’t use every word in a single sentence.  Especially in casual or informative conversation. And the kids spoke like this too, to an extent.  Everyone was a walking thesaurus)

These may not seem like big deals, but imagine extraneous words on every single page of a 350-page book.  It got aggravating at times, especially when the words didn’t seem to have any special flavor to them.  They didn’t inform the reader of the POV character’s personality, and when they gave details there were so many details that absolutely nothing was left to the reader’s imagination.  One paragraph I decided to leave out described, in short, choppy sentences, every single detail of a fairy-turned-imp, down to its flat, slitted nose, protruding ribs, and potbelly.  But in more words.

Another thing I noticed was how the characters were all blah.  Seth’s more interesting than Kendra, but only because he disobeys rules and goes off exploring.  Kendra is the worst kind of Mary Sue–the absolutely boring kind.  She doesn’t go exploring, she sits around solving mildly interesting clues, and she says, “don’t do the thing,” at every opportunity.  Yet when push comes to shove, who ends up controlling a fairy army? Kendra does.  This continues each book.  Who gets special powers by hardly any risk of her own? Kendra.  Who is so goody-two-shoes that she volunteers at a daycare because of course she does? Kendra.  Who takes Seth’s one moment of glory from him at the end of the last book, not because anything happens that would stop him, but because she takes a sword from him right before he succeeds? Kendra does.  She never fails, because she never tries something she might fail at. People say Kendra is a good role model.  I say she is too flat to be any sort of role model.  She doesn’t deal with hard things.  Seth deals with hard things, but not Kendra.

Reading this book actually made me think of another series I read when I was at the age this series was targeted towards: Animorphs by K.A. Applegate.  I was at least in the fifth grade, maybe the fourth, when I started reading them.  These books had characters with depth (at least, as far as I can remember) and character growth.  These books dealt with hard issues like child abuse, family member loss, even things like the morality of stealing DNA from dolphins because they’re intelligent.  I mean, I sure wouldn’t have thought about any of these things if they weren’t in these books.   In Fablehaven? “Breaking rules can get you killed.  So don’t break rules.  Except that I am happy that you broke the rules.  Good job breaking the rules.  Hey, don’t break that rule!”  Have we really dumbed down as a species in just over ten years, that authors believe children can’t handle tough moral concepts?  I don’t think so, because, like I mentioned earlier, Harry Potter ended about a month after the second Fablehaven book was released.

So what is good about this book?  It is entertaining.  And it does give interesting twists on fantastical creatures living on a magical preserve.  There are hints at a secret society trying to bring down the structure of the preserves, to set all magical creatures free across the land.  Enough so that when the second book (which does, if I remember right, up the ante quite a bit and bring in elements that are unique to the Fablehaven series) landed in my fingertips, I read it in a short amount of time.  As well as the third.  And the fourth.  And the fifth.

Now, Brandon Mull has written three other series (The Candy Shop Wars, The Beyonders, and The Five Kingdoms), been a co-author on a fourth (Spirit Animals), and is starting a continuation of Fablehaven with Dragonwatch. And, rumor has it that Fablehaven will be made into a movie (though that has been in preproduction for the past five years with no evidence of going forward). I remember being satisfied, though not ecstatic, with the other Fablehaven books, and when I listened to The Beyonders‘ first book I was entertained.  Perhaps Fablehaven‘s weaknesses are the result of first-novel syndrome.  I’ll have to reread the other Fablehaven books to be sure.  I wish Brandon Mull further luck with his writing career. (I also hope that, if Fablehaven does make it into moviedom, that someone else writes the dialogue.  Honestly!)



I don’t often read fairytale remakes. In fact, I put off this book for a long time because when it came out I was 1. Avoiding anything fairytale/princess related, 2. Irrationally jealous of the author (who I know peripherally and should get to know better). Time went on, and I grew up emotionally, and then my to-be-read pile grew by a few hundred books. Well, I was planning to go on a short plane trip to a wedding two states over and was wondering what to read. I pulled up my Kindle app and thought, “Hmm…Cinders is a novella, isn’t it? I should be able to finish it on the plane trip.” Continue reading “Cinders”

Lemon Tart: A Culinary Mystery

When Sadie Hoffmiller sees cops pull up to her neighbor’s house, she goes over to help the police enter the house and learn what’s going on. A lemon tart is baking in the oven, but no one is home. Then, after further searching, the body of Anne Lemmon is found in the backyard. Anne’s two-year-old son, however, is nowhere to be seen.

I love the idea of a housewife/homemaker who is also a private investigator. This is the first book in the Culinary Mystery series by Josi S. Kilpack, so I don’t know if she ever officially becomes an investigator or just muddles around collecting clues. Here, however? She goes about collecting clues, either without thinking about contacting the police or blatantly and deliberately not telling the police.

I also have mixed feelings about Sadie’s character. Widowed when her children were young, she was breadwinner and homemaker all in one. We learn late in the book, in a single sentence, that she taught school, and yet at fifty-five she is already retired and well-off. There’s also mention that her husband’s life insurance left her well-off, even though he died when the children were little and the life insurance would likely have run short of her own personal retirement.

Whatever the ill-defined reasoning behind her stay-at-home empty nester status, she is a homemaker through and through, baking up homemade alfredo sauce and brownies and so many delightful edible things. She also judges other people’s choice in personal decor and is a staunch conservative, so much so that the author has to mention things like, “I love this composer, but none of his anti-war stuff. I’m a patriot.” Or telling a neighbor that he’s an anarchist because he doesn’t believe we should be at war.  These sorts of things are peppered throughout the book and, frankly, make her less likable, not more.

The mystery itself is really intriguing. A single mother dies and her toddler is missing. Who killed her? Where is her son? (This point is not stressed in the story nearly enough. If there were a missing two-year-old in my neighborhood, I would be frantic about him from minute #1, if not second #1) There are also plenty of red herrings, all plausible and each more convincing than the last. In fact, by the time the true culprit was revealed I was almost disappointed. It wasn’t who I would have thought, with a weaker motive than any of the other suspects. At least, in my opinion.

Finally, to my delight, at the end of each chapter that mentioned a homemade dish, there was a recipe. As in, I now have access to lemon tart, alfredo sauce, “make up” brownies, and so much more. I may or may not have squealed when I discovered the first recipe.

Will I read any more of the Culinary Mysteries? Perhaps. I just hope that Sadie becomes a more sympathetic character. With a third person limited narration, it’s a bit annoying being in her head.

The Rithmatist


Set in a world full of springwork trains and horses, where the North American Continent is instead a giant clustering of islands (although I’m not certain of the state of the other continents of Planet Earth), The Rithmatist is one of three attempts by Brandon Sanderson to venture into the world of Young Adult fantasy/science fiction.


While I enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s works, I don’t looove all his YA works.  I really enjoyed the first two books of the Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series (I have yet to read the rest) and thought it was a rollicking good time.  The Reckoners was a fun take on the Superhero genre, though the final book was a little bit of a let-down to me.  The Rithmatist sounded like a mashup of Steampunk and alchemy (thought I was wrong about the alchemy bit), and I was excited.  While I really enjoyed the book, I am once again reminded of how much Brandon Sanderson loves his exposition. Continue reading “The Rithmatist”

The Nightwalker

The Nightwalker, by Sebastian Fitzek, is a masterpiece of a psychological thriller. It is so good that I made the mistake of wanting to read a few chapters before bed, read a third of the book instead, and then was unable to sleep for an hour after that.

Leon Nader wakes in the middle of the night to find his wife crying, beaten, and packing frantically. He has no recollection of beating her, but when she refuses to answer his questions and rushes out of their apartment, he is struck with a terrible fear: what if he’s started sleepwalking again?

When he was a child, his foster parents found him, sleepwalking, holding a knife over his foster brother. Though his sleepwalking was supposedly cured, he is worried that his violent sleeping self has reappeared.

As Leon strives to learn the truth behind his wife’s flight and subsequent disappearance, he buys a head camera to track where he goes when he sleeps. What he discovers is something he never imagined: there are secret tunnels and hallways throughout his apartment complex, and his sleepwalking self apparently knows all about it. The more he looks, the more he wonders: is he more than a wife beater. Is he, perhaps, something even darker?

If you read this book, make sure you give yourself enough time. And don’t read it right before bed.

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein

I have a secret.  I like Dean Koontz’s books.  Or at least most of his older stuff.  His newer stuff is just a bit too weird (weird with no purpose weird, not weird in general.  I can handle weird in general) and a little too preachy (I can handle preachy, if done right, but bang-you-over-the-top-of-your-head preachy? Not so much).  But Dean Koontz is a guilty pleasure in which I occasionally imbibe. I like his questioning of the human condition, and how his stories are pretty clear good vs evil.  I like his everyman main characters

and his twisted sense of how evil can rear its ugly head.  I even enjoy his sometimes over-the-top poetic lyricism.  All of these things are things that make some people cringe, shake their heads, and steer clear of Dean Koontz, but I like this writing from him.  I even like his preaching when it’s not too loud and obnoxious. So I like Dean Koontz.  I can like what I want.

I’ve wanted to read Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series for a while, but back when I first became interested in it I was on a buy-everything-instead-of-checking-it-out-from-the-library kick, and I was broke.  So I passed over it, told myself I would read it someday, and bought the next book in the Odd Thomas series instead.

Odd Thomas is a good series in that it has self-contained stories with an overarching theme and characters that follow from one story to the next.  Frankenstein: Prodigal Son is…well, let’s say that when I came to the last page and realized the next ten pages were promotions for other books, I was angry.  Actually angry.  There was one bad-guy character that only travelled from one location to another (and the build-up of him making the decision to go from one location to the other) in an attempt to build up tension.  And that’s it.  That’s at least fifty wasted pages, because who knows if the tension will still be in place at the beginning of Book 2.  Plus, including Travelling Bad Guy, there are four separate bad guys in this book.  Four, all working mainly separate storylines with separate motives that interact in peripheral ways (Oh wait, if you look at it a certain way, there are actually five bad guys).  And only one of the bad guys’ stories is resolved—by Bad Guy 1 being murdered by Bad Guy 2.  It’s like Spider-Man 3 on steroids.  Too many stories, too little resolution. Me no likey stories that are structured as total and complete cliffhangers with not one iota of resolution. Cliffhangers are okay, but let me have a little bit of closure!

What about the rest of the story?  I enjoyed the two main detectives, Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison.  They had a good back-and-forth banter that I really enjoyed, and there’s obvious setup for a future romance that both of them want but neither of them will admit because they don’t want to be reassigned to different partners.  Dean Koontz is good at creating relatable characters with dialogue that mainly flows naturally.  For some reason, though, Koontz didn’t describe the physical characteristics of Carson.  I picture her as a redhead with a long ponytail and a spitfire personality, but that’s just me.

The main, overarching villain, the villain who is the reason all the other villains exist (except that one that died), Victor Helios, is wonderfully Koontzy.  The highbrow sophisticated intellectualite looking down on all the rest of humanity villain with an absolute lack of moral conscience is completely classic Koontz.  One thing about Koontz’s villains: there are no redeeming qualities about them.  They are most definitely Evil with a Capital-E.  You love to hate them, and you hate to love them.  I’d love to learn more about how Victor Helios, aka Frankenstein, managed to stay alive for the past two hundred years.  And, if I continue the series, I can’t wait to see Carson and Company take him down (unfortunately, I have the feeling that other villains will take away from any metaphorical game of chess between the two groups).

One thing I wished was in the book more: Frankenstein’s original monster, Deucalion.  What with all the villains and crime-fighting going on, Deucalion barely makes an appearance.  And as he is probably the most morally complex and three-dimensional character in the novel (at least as far as I can tell, from what little we can see of him), and as he has quantum physics superpowers (err, I think they’re related to quantum physics), that is a shame.  It’s like having a Dresden Files book with hardly any Harry Dresden. Again, if I continue the series, I hope there’s more Deucalion in the future.

All in all, I’m glad I checked this book out from the library instead of buying it.  I still may buy the series after finishing it, but this is one book that I would have been disappointed I’d paid money for if I had opened my wallet.  If you like classic Koontz, you’ll like it.  Just be prepared for too many cliffhangers and too little appearances by what at first glance looks like the main character.

Points for Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Prodigal Son: Koontz does have some compelling questions about humanity.  What makes a person human?  What are the moral implications of “programming” someone’s personality?  There’s science vs. God, agency vs. fate, whether artificially created beings have a soul.  These are all themes that make me interested in seeing where Koontz goes with the series.  I would love to see him continue with these moral themes.

Points against Frankenstein: Prodigal Son: Koontz, once again, has a child with autism in his book.  And, as always, they’re on the practically nonverbal end of the spectrum, and are completely personality-less aside from being a precious, pure person that Protector must protect.  I don’t know why Koontz has this fascination with people with autism (and I understand that this is an older book, and so his sciencey bits about autism don’t really pan out, but that can be forgiven).  I haven’t really researched his life, so maybe he knows someone who is autistic or whose child is autistic.  Maybe he just learned about autism somewhere and has decided, however naively, to be an advocate to spread awareness through his books.  I just wish he’d do a bit of research in between books if he insists on making these characters.

The first book I ever read of Koontz’s, By the Light of the Moon, had an adult with autism, but at least that character had more personality (at least from what I remember.  It’s been years since I read it).  Maybe Koontz doesn’t realize that children with autism have personalities too.  Maybe he doesn’t realize that autism is a spectrum.  Maybe he should spend some time with different kids with autism.  I have.  I taught two kids with autism directly and one kid indirectly.  All three of them had different social skills, different tics, different -abilities.  All three were unique.  They were all verbal.  One was delayed verbally, but he had the best sense of humor and loved to draw Wimpy Kid-style comics for his homework.  One didn’t talk until he was three, but his mom worked with him so much that by the time he entered my classroom you wouldn’t know he had autism.  He was the most popular boy in class and socialized with the best of them.  Another had Aspberger’s, but he also said he had whatever was on the tv commercials the night before and would try to get out of homework because of it.  He was my most frustrating student, since he wouldn’t listen to instructions, would always make excuses, complained loud enough for the whole class to hear, was always pumped full of sugar and simple carbs, and had a hard time focusing.  He most certainly was not a little angel.

If Koontz continues making books with angelic autistics (since he still insists on calling people with autism “autistics”), I may have to drop him as a simple pleasure.  Or at least research his books to see if there’s an “autistic” in it before reading it.  I’ll let it slide for Frankenstein, since it’s one of his older books, but new books Beware!

Big Freakin’ Edit: Upon doing a little extra research, it has come to my attention that Prodigal Son was co-authored by Kevin J. Anderson, who is a childhood favorite of mine. For reasons unknown, his name was removed from later editions of the book. For shame! (Unless Anderson no longer wants to be affiliated with it)

What Immortal Hand

what immortal hand coverDo you ever read a book with the honest intent to write a review right afterwards, but life happens and then a couple of weeks pass and whoops, you haven’t written the blog yet?  Or is that just me?  Whoops.

As you may know, I am a fan of Johnny Worthen’s work.  I signed up for his email list last year at Salt Lake Comic Con, and this year, when he asked for readers and reviewers for his new book, What Immortal Hand, I immediately responded, “Yassss!” (If you’re tired of my reviews of Johnny’s books, get used to it.  I’ll probably end up reviewing all his books over time)

What Immortal Hand follows Michael Oswald, private investigator for an insurance company eager to prove disability fraud or other ways customers violated their plans and thus don’t have to pay out any insurance claims.  Michael doesn’t like working for the insurance company, but it pays his bills and allows him to travel endlessly. Continue reading “What Immortal Hand”