Book Review

Book Review: Hex Hall

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…


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

Book Review

Review of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

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?


Book Review

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis

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.


Book Review

Review of Beautiful Creatures

Today’s review is by guest blogger Mindy Lavender. Mindy is my sister and best friend. She is also, in her words a “Youth Director. Photographer. Wife. Historian. Feminist. Lutheran.”spike

She is much more than that short list of words though. She is the person I use as my sounding board. I invited her to post on my site because she offered me the chance to post on hers, but in addition, this gives me an opportunity to share with you a better variety of book reviews. She reads more Young Adult fiction than I do, so she is better suited to review it than me.

Her blog Lovely Lavender is about life, being a youth director, and photography. Check it out.


Truth: I love Youth Adult literature and am almost 31 years old.

Truth: I did not like Twilight. This has nothing to do with the films. I stopped reading after the second book.

Truth: I love the first installment of the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohi.

The book takes place in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. One day Ethan Wate, the town basketball star, meets Lena Duchannes, niece to the town’s shut-in Macon Melchizedek Ravenwood. What ensues is a forbidden romance full of witches, magic, and small town snobbery (or should I say Southern hospitality).

This is why you should read Beautiful Creatures. First of all, you want to be Lena. She’s cool; she’s super powerful; she’s an outcast that your locked away teenage soul can relate to. Secondly, Ethan is very likable. Even though he is the basketball star his family has some pretty dark secrets. Plus, Ethan’s family has real problems. Case in point, Ethan’s father hasn’t left his study since his wife died. There is also an awesome cast of supporting characters. Including, Uncle Macon, who will remind To Kill a Mockingbird fans of Boo Radley, until you get to meet him. Last but not least, it is not Twilight. Yes, it is the same genre but it is a very different story.

This book will not change your life. Chances are it will not bring a new understanding to your vast knowledge of vampires, witches, and the occult that has been beat into your  American psyche by the media over the past few years. However, Garcia and Stohl take the reader into the life of a small southern town and bring in the unexpected.

p.s. My youth group said to not see the movie! Lame! (Their words not mine.)

Mindy Lavender

Book Review

Review of Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

I admit that I watched the Netflix series and then decided to read this book. I didn’t think the book was any better or worse than the show. In fact, Hemlock Grove may be one of the few cases where the show was a lot like the book. I think that whoever did the script writing did a great job at translating the book into a series.bookshot_mcgreevy_hemlockgrov

Even though I think the book and show were similar, they weren’t necessarily my favorite things in the world. I don’t read a lot of vampire and werewolf stories. I liked that Hemlock Grove was a little darker than some that I’m familiar with. I also liked the fact that the main character wasn’t some moon eyed girl falling in love with a handsome yet dangerous supernatural being.

Hemlock Grove is actually about solving a murder. In typical vampire and werewolf style, the main characters are teenagers, but the ones in this novel are a bit less worried about romance and more concerned with the mysterious elements of the world they live in. Just about every grown up in the town they live in has a secret and the two boys set about trying to solve the murder and uncover a lot of the hidden lies around them.

One thing I didn’t like about this story was that there were moments where I think the author was trying to be shocking, but his writing didn’t actual shock me. Maybe it’s just me though. As I said, he is trying to write a darker, more graphic tale than most teenage paranormal tales, but still, some of the graphic descriptions seemed unnecessary and pointless.

One element of this book that I really liked though was the character Shelley. I love the novel Frankenstein, and I actually thought the spin-off allusion to the creature in Hemlock Grove was intriguing. I would like to see more from this character if / when there is a second novel.Poster_for_Hemlock_Grove

Some parts of the story were left unfinished, which leads me to believe there will be a second novel. I will probably read it. It might not be great literature, but it is very entertaining. Plus, I have to know what that weirdo scientist guy is up to.

Book Review

Review of The Child Thief by Brom

This book is a dark retelling of the Peter Pan story. I know there are many retellings of Peter Pan, and some are better than others. Some are not that great. This one though is worth reading. It doesn’t just retell the story of Peter Pan that we are all familiar with; it creates a new way of looking at the classic tale.

That being said, you should know before you start reading that this story is dark. At one point, I was simultaneously thinking, “This story is awesome” and “Wow! That’s messed up.” This story is violent and a little graphic. I don’t think this is a retelling meant for children.The Child Thief

When I was reading this story, I was trying to think of what it reminded me of. The closest thing I could think of was the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. If you liked that movie, you will probably like this book and vice versa.

So far all I’ve said is that this book is dark. What you really want to know is how it is different than any other version of Peter Pan? I don’t want to tell you the whole plot, but I will say that Peter is not necessarily a “good” guy in this version. His motive for coming to our world is to steal children. That’s right; he tricks kids into following him to never, never land. And that’s just the beginning of how this book is different than the Disney version we are all familiar with.

The world Peter is from is creepy and the god-like beings who rule there are straight up CRAZY. I loved every moment of the dark world created by Brom.

The characters are another reason to read this novel. Peter is dark and selfish and you still end up rooting for him against all the odds. The crazy inhabitants of faerie land make you want to scream because they all need to help each other. And then there are the lost children.

The lost children are by far the strongest part of this novel. You will huzzah when they win a battle. You will cry when they die. And you will want to scream when one of their own betrays them!

In closing, this book may not be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.


Book Review

Review of Dune by Frank Herbert

Nebula Award Winning Novel in 1965

I have mixed feelings about this book. I have often heard that Dune is the best sci-fi book ever written. That’s a tall order to live up to over 40 years after it was written. I think I went into it expecting something else and that might be part of the problem. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, because I did. I loved it. I just don’t think it is the best sci-fi book ever written. I don’t think I can comfortably give it that title.

Is it worth reading? Yes.
Will you like it if you don’t like sci-fi? Maybe.
Is it one of the best sci-fi I’ve ever read? Yes. But, there are still things about it I didn’t like.

I want to end this post on a good note, so for starters, let’s talk about what I didn’t like about Dune.dune_frank_herbert

1. The plot focuses on a made up religion. I felt like there were things that weren’t explained enough for me to believe the religion was as important or world changing as it was meant to be.
2. The group called the Bene Gesserit. I didn’t quite understand their end game. They are one of the many groups of individuals that are plotting to control the reigning members of the worlds of Dune. The general idea is that they are striving to preserve certain blood lines. Even after reading the whole book, I couldn’t figure out why they would want to do this. It didn’t seem clear to me.
3. The made up words are very distracting at first. When I first picked up this book, I spent more time looking things up in the glossary at the back than actually reading it. Herbert makes up more than just a religion. He created words that only have meaning in the context of this book and at first I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. To be honest, I felt like some of the made up words were unnecessary.

In the end, those are very small things that I didn’t like about Dune. And I don’t often find a book that I love 100%.

You might be wondering, what did she like about this book? The answer: everything else.

As I said, I wouldn’t feel right saying this was the best sci-fi book of all time. But I would definitely put it in the top ten must read sci-fi books for fans of the genre. I would also say that this is a book that even those who aren’t fans might actually want to read. Fiction that is written for a specific genre or that gets labeled that way after its written doesn’t often fall into what I call the Literature with a capital L category. For me, Dune does cross into that category. There is something more to this book than just space battles and fictional tech.

1. Dune is a story about politics, religion, freedom, ecology, all thrown together by an overwhelming amount of subterfuge.
2. I love that the main character, Paul, is like a nexus with all the forces at work in the novel either working through him or against him.
3. Dune is smart sci-fi. It’s thought provoking and well written. It’s not just a means for laser guns and space craft.

In the end, I would say read it if you love sci-fi because it is considered one of the most significant sci-fi novels ever written. I would also say read it if you are looking for a great story involving an entire planet finding freedom via the help of a mere boy.

Book Review

World War Z by Max Brooks

This may be one of the few books that I can write a one word review of.

Review: Awesome!

It really is. I don’t usually read zombie books; in fact, I think I’ve only read one other full length zombie book ever. And, I don’t watch zombie movies. I’m actually a big chicken, and those sorts of things freak me out.World_War_Z_book_cover

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For me, what sets it apart from other zombie stories I am familiar with is that this book focuses on the struggle of humanity instead of just being about fighting zombies and action, action, action.

This book begins with the break out of the disease and continues telling stories over 20 years after the initial incident.

The book is constructed more like a collection of short stories. The stories are from all over the world and are told from several varying points of view (religious persons, military men, people who survived, some who are ill).

The overarching element that holds all the shorter stories together is the sheer will to survive that everyone has to share. There are sad moments, times of celebration, action packed intense scenes, and rationalizations about behavior. I felt this book tried to cover a lot of perspectives and did a great job of it.

If you’ve seen the preview for the movie, or if you’ve been to the movie by now, you already know what the book is about in some ways. It’s about the world trying to survive a zombie epidemic. And you might be thinking this story is just like every other zombie story ever made. I assure you it’s not. I can’t evaluate the movie, but I can tell you right now the book is most definitely worth reading.

One of my favorite stories in the whole book is about a military man who is part of a K-9 unit that hunts down the zombies. I love this part because the dog he is teamed up with is part dachshund. I have two dachshunds myself and I find it very amusing that someone thinks they could be used to hunt down anything. Both my dogs are deathly afraid of our house cat, there is no way they are going to hunt zombies.

Read World War Z; you won’t be disappointed.


Book Review

Review of Inferno by Dan Brown

I recently finished Inferno by Dan Brown. A lot of people are going to read this book. A lot of people are going to love this book. And, a lot of people will probably see the movie when Hollywood makes it.

That being said, my main thought when I read this book was it is about what you would expect from Dan Brown. I am not saying that is good or bad; it just was fairly predictable if you’ve read more than two books by him.dbinferno

I admit I have read almost every book he’s written, and like most authors, some of his books are better than others. For me, Inferno is not one of the books I would say you have to read by Brown. If you are going to read anything by Brown, I personally preferred The Da Vinci Code (gasp!) and The Lost Symbol.

Yes, both are Robert Langdon books and follow Brown’s tried and true formula for a bestseller, but I still really enjoyed them. And, if you are going to take the time to read in this day and age, why not enjoy it?

This review though is supposed to be about Inferno. I don’t want to give away plot details because a great many people will read this and/or see the movie, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. I will say that it is very action packed and reads a little like a script because of that quality. It is most definitely a page-turner because the very short chapters always end at a suspenseful moment. Those are about the only good things I can say about it. For me, it was just too much like everything else he’s written.

What really stuck out to me, and this is perhaps why I can’t think of anything else nice to say about Inferno, is the absolutely unnecessary constant description of architecture throughout the entire novel. We get it, Dan Brown did his research. He knows a lot about art, architecture, and other beautiful things throughout Europe, but I felt like in Inferno he went above and beyond what was needed for the story.

I would be reading and I would think,” Wow. Another useless rant about some building that isn’t even a part of the plot.”

If you absolutely love Dan Brown, don’t hold my criticisms against me please. I would still recommend this book, especially if you have read and enjoyed the other Robert Langdon books.


Book Review

Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Last week I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and as you may have already figured out if you read my review of The Graveyard Book, I love his books. His newest work is no exception; I loved it. boko-the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane-neil-gaiman

I don’t want to talk about the plot too much because I feel like you should read it. And everything else he’s written too. My review instead is going to cover two topics: 1. Gaiman’s use of mythology and 2. the “moral” of the story.

First, if you’ve ever read anything written by Gaiman, you should easily recognize his grasp of mythology and the realms of magic. I think he knows everything about every type of mythology there is. Seriously, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, read American Gods, and then read Anansi Boys, and then read the entire Sandman comic series. He uses myth in a way that is absolutely brilliant. He does the same with magic. The Ocean and the End of the Lane does not disappoint in this area.

Second, The Ocean at the End of the Lane has a bittersweet ending. I don’t want to tell you exactly what happened, but I feel like the “moral” of the story or the lesson the novel teaches is that as grown ups, we don’t see the magic in the world anymore, even when it’s right in front of us. That mad me sad. But at the same time, I get where Gaiman is coming from. Grown ups don’t explain things away using magic; instead, we rationalize. Personally, I think it would be great to live in a time again where I thought Santa and fairies were real.

So, the moral of this review, read The Ocean at the End of the Lane; it is both beautiful and sad.