Looking Back at December 2014

December was the capstone month of 2014 for me to actually meet my goal of reading 100 books for the year. After the big October push, a solid November, and being able to see the finish line clearly I did manage to read the full 100 books. As a matter of fact, I even managed to sneak one extra book into the year and finish with a 101 book total.

There wasn’t anything earth-shaking about my book choices in December; I really just tried to pick things that I felt were not going to take much effort to read in the hopes of not falling short of my goal.

Here are the books I read in December:

It was nice to wrap up the Fablehaven series on the whole even if I was a little disappointed with how repetitive the plot points became towards the end in the last two or three books. They are decent books though and I won’t be surprised if my children end up reading them in a few years when they reach the appropriate age.

My favorites of the month were the new Legion novella (really a double-length novella which makes it a full novel in the end), and a surprise discovery in Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I gave Red Rising a try because my boss at work is an avid reader as well and he had recently finished it. He kept telling me to give it a try, and when I had time for one extra book at the end of the month I decided to see what he kept raving about. In my opinion, Red Rising is the book that Hunger Games always should have been. I lucked out because the sequel, Golden Son has just been released and I’ve already bought a copy.

I have a distinct feeling that January is going to be a very light month for me when it comes to reading because I’ll be honest, I’m burnt out after the slog to 100 books (a separate post on that entire ordeal to come later). I need to take a break and evaluate what I want my reading priorities to be for 2015 after such an intense 2014.


Looking Back at November 2014

After such a successful October getting back on pace with my reading goal I had a very busy November with work and family obligations as well as the launch of the most recent World of Warcraft expansion. I went into the month knowing that the last two weeks were going to be a nightmare as far as reading was concerned, so I needed to load up on completed books in the first two weeks. I think I was rather successful all told.

I managed to finish November with 95 total books complete. My intent was to finish with 100 and take the entire month of December off from reading to decompress after the hard push over the last few months. That was a bit of a pipe dream though, and going into December with only five books remaining is absolutely wonderful at this point. Two months ago I feared I would need nearly 20 books in December alone to finish my goal.

As it stands, I can read my last few books without a lot of pressure and probably finish well before the end of the month, giving myself at least a little break before next year begins breathing down my neck.

Here are the books I read in November:

Along the way I also read a new novella:

I enjoyed everything I read this month, none of the books left me feeling unfulfilled or disappointed in any fashion. The one thing I did notice is that the Fablehaven series is really not well suited to being read back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I should have spaced those first four books out with others in between. I’ve made a point of not reading the fifth book until I read a few other things so that I can cleanse my reading palate a bit.

For December I will be reading the final Fablehaven book just to be sure I finish the series off and don’t leave myself hanging. I’ll also be reading the last two books in a trilogy from the Dragonlance universe I started a very long time ago. Then there is the final book of the His Fair Assassin trilogy and I’ll finish off my 100 books by reading the one my wife wrote even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Beyonders; A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull(Cover picture courtesy of Brandon Mull’s website.)

Jason Walker has often wished his life could be a bit less predictable—until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason transporting from the hippo tank into a strange, imperiled world.

Lyrian is full of dangers and challenges unlike any place Jason has ever known.  The people live in fear of their malicious wizard emperor, Maldor.  The brave resistors who once opposed Maldor have been bought off or broken, leaving a realm where fear and suspicion prevail.

In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world.  Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor, and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes.

If I had not been lazy and checked the name of the author, I never would have picked up A World Without Heroes from the library.  As you may recall, I was less than impressed with Brandon Mull’s more famous novel, Fablehaven.  But I’m glad I picked up his new Beyonders trilogy; it was really a pleasant surprise.

No, there are no terrifyingly disgusting giant cow milking scenes in A World Without Heroes.  Instead, there’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek parody of traditional fantasy novels, but also some very new ideas that I’ve never seen in fantasy before.  Considering how much fantasy I read, this is quite an achievement.  The idea that finding a true name for the villain could destroy them is not exactly new, but Brandon Mull threw in enough plot twists and had such excellent world-building that I can forgive him for that.

In the world of Lyrian we actually have a quite plausible evil overlord scenario.  Maldor was an apprentice magician who killed off his mentor, thus becoming the only magician in the land.  The only way to destroy him is by using his special name, which has had the syllables scattered around the entire world.  Rachel and Jason, being Beyonders (from our own world) are in danger from Maldor from the beginning, so they might as well try to find a way to destroy him.  How does Maldor maintain his power?  Well, he severely restricts travel, eliminates his enemies by offering them eternal paradise and slowly, slowly conquers the few remaining independent regions.

Jason and Rachel are decent enough characters.  They have elements of a typical fantasy duo, but Brandon Mull has once again put twists on old clichés and made his main characters somewhat unique this time.  Sure Rachel seems like your stereotypical smart girl and Jason your typical male lead, but by the end they’ve changed in believable, gradual character arcs.  What a novel concept!

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

(Cover picture courtesy of amaliehoward.com)

For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction.  The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic.  Enchanting?  Absolutely.  Exciting?  You bet.  Safe?  Well, actually, quite the opposite…

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven.  Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies.  However, when the rules get broken—Seth is a bit to curious and reckless for his own good—powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives.  To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.

I have a feeling I’ve read this book before, but I know for a fact that I have not.  Maybe it’s because it reads like every other children’s/young adult fantasy novel out there.  There was quite a bit of hype about Fablehaven when it first came out and it was hailed by many as the second Harry Potter, but it is certainly not worth the hype.  Is it a good book?  I would call it a ‘meh’ book but the good elements outweigh the boring ones.

I had a very hard time getting into Fablehaven but had an even worse time sticking with it.  Unfortunately it follows the typical kids discover magical place, are stupid and do something to unleash an evil creature and must right their wrongs formula.  This formula has been used ad nauseum in children’s fantasy.  It’s boring, cliché and predictable as heck.  But I can usually forgive authors when they stick to formulas if their characters are great.

Kendra and Seth are ‘meh’ characters.  Once again, they feel like typical children’s book protagonists.  Seth is always getting into trouble and is a joker while Kendra is serious and never breaks the rules.  Snore.  Sure, tweens and teens will be able to identify with them, but they are still stock characters with very few interesting or unique traits.  I couldn’t muster up the effort to actually emotionally connect with either Kendra or Seth.  When I was the target age group for Fablehaven I may have connected with Kendra, but now that I have much more reading under my belt I find both characters tiresome.  Call me cynical, but that’s the truth.

The idea of a haven for magical creatures is not new, but it really did have promise.  It was not executed badly, but it could have been done better.  There’s no explanation for why the magic exists, how the covenants came to be, what the dangerous day-to-day chores on the preserve are, etc.  There’s also no explanation for why the giant cow’s milk carries magical properties.  It just does.  I don’t really consider myself a prudish person or someone that is easily disgusted (not possible when you grow up in the country), but the way Kendra and Seth milked the cow and the detail used to describe the process…it was distasteful and unnecessary.  Especially in a book aimed at young teens/tweens.  However, the fairies were fascinating and definitely made up for the disgusting cow scene.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

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