The Dresden Files: Dead Beat

dead beat cover

You guyyysss! I’m finally reviewing a Dresden Files book! I’m so excited! Squee!

Approximately five years after Harry Potter ended, my life (at least, my reading life) was filled with one unfulfilled desire after another.  I courted other books, I chased after the promises they made, and I was ultimately disappointed.  No book filled the hole in my heart that Harry Potter left behind….

…Until I met another wizard named Harry: Harry Dresden.  He was sitting on a college library shelf labeled “recommended by librarians,” looking innocuous and slightly mysterious.  The book: Storm Front. The setting: a Chicago just a bit different from the one the public knows about. Continue reading “The Dresden Files: Dead Beat”


Thy Brother’s Blood

thy brothers blood cover

Okay peeps, time for a moment of honesty: this book took me nearly two months to read, and it’s taken me a week to formulate my thoughts for this blog post.  I’ve got my cream soda ready for a sip; and as I don’t drink alcohol, this is serious business.  The only way I could be more serious is if I had chocolate milk on hand to fortify myself.

I was asked to review Thy Brother’s Blood by someone who has sent several wonderful books my way.  I was warned that it was controversial in content and literary in nature.  Always up for a challenge, and always thirsty for exposure to different cultures, I eagerly accepted.  And I promised I would write a review, which is why I’m here now. Continue reading “Thy Brother’s Blood”

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.