The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D.J. MacHale

Merchant of Death

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Publisher: Aladdin
Release: 2002
Reading Platform: Apple Books

Synopsis: BOBBY PENDRAGON is a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy. He has a family, a home, and even Marley, his beloved dog. But there is something very special about Bobby.

He is going to save the world.

And not just Earth as we know it. Bobby is slowly starting to realize that life in the cosmos isn’t quite what he thought it was. And before he can object, he is swept off to an alternative dimension known as Denduron, a territory inhabited by strange beings, ruled by a magical tyrant, and plagued by dangerous revolution.

If Bobby wants to see his family again, he’s going to have to accept his role as savior, and accept it wholeheartedly. Because, as he is about to discover, Denduron is only the beginning….

Review:  I find it only fitting that my return to book reviewing begins with the series that started it all. About ten years ago, in the midst of my early teendom, I stumbled upon this little gem of a novel by D.J. MacHale. The Merchant of Death became the catalyst for my interest in YA fiction and kindled a passion for sharing my thoughts on the many novels I voraciously read. You could even say that the Pendragon series as a whole marked the embarkation of my journey through website building, blogging, and written commentary.

The inspiration was so thorough that I began a fan club for the series, appropriately called Dark Matter. (For those familiar with Pendragon lore, you will know what I’m talking about!) The site evolved into an all-encompassing book club and eventually became my stepping-stone into the wider world of book reviewing and spiritual pondering. I don’t know why I never got around to a proper review for the books in this legendary series. They were certainly formative to the imagination and creativity of thirteen-year-old Ty. Perhaps, knowing how special they were to me, I was afraid of failing to do them justice. Well, a different state of mind and a decade later, I’ve decided to remedy that. And so, without further ado…. Hobey-ho, let’s go!

Like many of my favorites in the genre of YA fiction, The Merchant of Death is approachable to a wide array of ages. Contrary to what some might think, I value brevity and inclusivity of speech over obtuse language. The ability to reach a larger audience is sometimes more valuable than catering to the literary minded. In this case, The Merchant of Death succeeds by not alienating those of a younger age group who would benefit most from the themes of life it presents. But of course, one could argue this praise is better directed to the genre at large. My point is that some books are hastily judged by their intended audience instead of the potential universality of their content.

The greatest aspect of this approachability I keep waxing on about is the relatability of the protagonist, Bobby Pendragon. As a perfectly ordinary teen who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances, we are coaxed into reflecting upon our own life and the seemingly uncontrollable events of our own destiny. Many of the trials and tribulations Bobby faces mirror our own struggles, albeit embellished by fantasy. We see him endure the loss of his old life, a shattering of preconceived beliefs about reality, and his trust in important life figures put to the test. But most importantly, we see him make mistakes and endure the consequences of his actions.

By resisting his destiny and the call to do what is right, Bobby inadvertently causes the death of someone who was trying to protect him. The ripple effect of this mistake shapes the entirety of his proceeding journey. Whereas before he had a protector and a guide, now he and his comrades are more alone than ever. But as you will see later on, in a matter of fate, this occurrence was necessary for Bobby to confront his own selfish desires and rise to the occasion of fulfilling his greater destiny.

The character development of the protagonist witnessed in the first novel of this series alone is enough to continue reading. There is a bit of a redemption arc in here as we learn that Bobby forgives himself for being afraid of his destiny. His mistakes were a direct effect of fearing his newfound responsibility to the welfare of an entire people and civilization. By overcoming his fear and riding the waves of fate, he was able to save the lives of hundreds of people and become a better person in the process. As we see at the end of this particular journey, he marks this realization with a telling statement:

I feel as if I learned a few things. I learned that it’s sometimes okay to think like a weenie, so long as you don’t act like one—at least not all the time. I learned that it’s okay to be wrong, so long as you can admit it and are willing to listen to those who may know better.

As already hinted at, a major allusion of The Merchant of Death is the great tapestry of fate that is woven out of an unpredictable pattern of causes and effects. The theme of providence or a higher order guiding one’s destiny is prevalent at every turn. Where Bobby’s mistakes seem to be terrible setbacks, they are in fact serving a greater and unseen purpose. It encourages one to have faith that everything will turn out right in the end, even if it seems impossible at the current time. As the credo of the mysterious Travelers in the series goes, “This is the way it was meant to be.”

In a nutshell: D.J. MacHale embarked upon an epic and wholesome journey with The Merchant of Death. There is so much more I wish to say about this series, but I must save some musings for my reviews on the proceeding novels. I tried to keep plot specifics as vague as possible so you can find out more for yourself! As a very formative read in my early years, I can’t give this fantastic story enough praise. Filled with themes of friendship, destiny, and redemption, there is enough food for thought to satisfy the appetite of any reader. If you enjoyed this review, check out some of my other ones here.

MacHale, D.J. (2002) The Merchant of Death. United States: Aladdin

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

There are times when the tumultuous emotion of a novel hinders an honest opinion. There are even times when the unexpected twists of an author’s imagining leave the reader with a quiet sense of baffled awe. Combined, these factors may result in a truly interesting review. Being only the second novel by Hemingway I have had the chance to read, A Farewell to Arms has left a powerful, albeit mournful impression.

The story of a troubled ambulance driver during World War I, coupled with a thoroughly depressing conclusion, is classic Hemingway. Various themes including the morbid nature of war, the relationship between love and hurt, and the patterns of human nature can be found in this novel and even recurring in much of Hemingway’s literature. The unemotional male protagonist, Henry, is the the product of these themes, a victim of life’s suffering and its many complexities.

There are aspects of A Farewell to Arms that require a slow mental digestion to appreciate the soul of the novel. Overall, I found the direct and terse prose of the writing a very accommodating feature to Hemingway’s themes. Henry’s mental dialogue quickly gives insight into the persona of the character. He is constantly besotted with various internal conflicts, all of which could lead to a certain self-understanding, but fail to do so as the book draws to a closure. The reader is left unpleasantly perplexed, in an unsatisfying way. This was obviously Hemingway’s intention as an artist; he was a crafting a portion of his spirit into words. The ending of the novel could be likened to the author’s state of mind itself.

One of the most poignant themes or messages of A Farewell to Arms is the terrible price of war. Throughout the plot, readers will notice that Henry is progressively distancing himself from the harsh realities of blood and warfare. With his highly direct method of writing, Hemingway uses powerful imagery in a casual way to provoke understanding within his readers. The pain, brutality, and at times utter chaos of Henry’s situation is seen as a character building (or possibly degrading) force in his life.

A Farewell to Arms was by no means written by someone who fully condemned war, but rather embraced the inevitability of it. Throughout the novel, Hemingway expresses his sentiment that war is merely the product of an already dark and tyrannous world. He accurately portrays the fickle nature of humanity; at times we can be cruel, and at times we can be murderers. However, we are also capable of compassion, integrity, and even nobility, despite society’s frequent attempts to forget or dispel true love. Yes, in a nutshell, A Farewell to Arms can be said to condemn war. However, I believe this sentiment is deeper and much more faceted in the mind of Hemingway.

A second theme prevalent in the novel, and also one of Henry’s chief struggles, is the often correlating relationship between love and hurt. In the beginning of A Farewell to Arms, Henry and Catherine (his newfound lover) find comfort in each other. They find solace from their own mournings and inner demons. This relationship evolves dramatically throughout the course of the book, and soon becomes a driving force in either’s life. Henry becomes torn between this unprecedented love for a woman, and his drive to get back to the front as soon as possible.

Henry understand the importance of his love for Catherine and how meaningful this type of bond can be in times of war. He realizes the emptiness of concepts such as honor and duty in the face of true love. This realization results in a terrific internal struggle. Henry repeatedly must come to terms with the “numb” mentality he adopted during war in order to open his heart for the woman he loves. Henry struggles with openness and sincerity but always manages to make a connection with Catherine.

I believe Hemingway was expressing one of the great morals of life: love in the face of fear, destruction, and tyranny can compel the inner compassion of a person to manifest. There is no force as powerful as love, save possibly fear. Henry is besotted by both, an onslaught of emotional turmoil that rips apart his conviction and decimates his previously held superficial values. The genius of Hemingway is his tendency to be completely realistic. He has the remarkable ability to capture the true essence of human nature.

All in all, A Farewell to Arms is a powerful symbol of the relationship between love and war in a man’s heart. It is an accurate description of the havoc a relationship can wreak on a man’s mentality. This novel is an incredible sentiment to what it means to be human, and the subtle intricacies of the human psyche are portrayed with striking accuracy. Hemingway captured the mutual destruction of both love and war. I could recommend this timeless classic to any reader, just for its invigorating if depressing breath of reality. However, some may dislike the harsh honesty in the authors word’s and cold precision in which he utterly nails human nature. I for one, appreciate this sincerity, this side of the story that only a few of the great classics sometimes expound upon. A Farewell to Arms is truly one of the most powerful pieces of literature when it comes to the effects of war on humanity. Readers should look for the connections and cause & effect relationships in this destructive, yet powerfully insightful novel.

The Breeders by Matthew J. Beier

The Breeders by Matthew J. Beier

The Breeders by Matthew J. Beier

Publisher: Epicality Books
Release: 2012
Image Source: The Author


The homosexuals, once an ostracized social minority, have taken over the world. They understand the angers of an overpopulated planet, usurped government power, and created a culture of perfectly engineered families. But Grace Jarvis and Dex Wheelock are heterosexuals—part of the government’s highly controlled backup plan for reproduction—and they have a problem.

Grace is pregnant. Dex is the father. It is a crime that has only one consequence: banishment to the Antarctic Sanctuary, an isolated biological reserve where reproductive criminals are allowed to exist in peace, without disrupting the rest of civilization. Yet there are rumors that genocide has already begun and that the homosexuals are finally setting natural breeders on a path to extinction. This leaves Grace and Dex with only two choices: to succumb to the tyrannical regime, or run. 


Review: The Breeders by Matthew J. Beier is a heart wrenching story of love and hope. The author manages to weave an intimate tale of lovers while making a vast foray into controversial social issues and life values. Published in 2012, The Breeders has the potential to become a modern classic. Within its pages lies discovery and realization on an unprecedented level, one that could strongly impact culture and make one think twice about the fundamental values of being human.

As a dystopian thriller, The Breeders takes place in the late twenty-third century. Technology has advanced, if not quite as extremely as one would expect. Society has shifted dramatically and not necessarily for the better. The world has finally recovered from the “Bio Wars,” which almost brought about the total extinction of humanity. The remaining population is considerably smaller and dictated by a highly conservative regime of sexual politics. A world government retains almost absolute control, even placing restrictions on the natural birthing process. Even more shocking is the fact that homosexuality is the new norm. Heterosexuals have become a minority and are in a constant and accelerating state of degradation.

Matthew J. Beier has concocted a tale of masterful proportions. His goal in writing The Breeders was to provide a different perspective to the intense debate over gay marriage. What is generally considered normal in our society has been reversed, only to provide insight for issues our nation is currently undergoing. Beier found inspiration in the 2008 ad campaign for the National Organization for Marriage, which likened gay marriage to “a coming storm.” His vision is to give people the opportunity to “step into the shoes of those they are speaking out against.”

The Breeders has captured the beauty of two individuals trying to find value in a world where their kind must endure the condemnation of society. Solace cannot even be found with friends or family who struggle to hide their blatant disapproval. The mere act of producing a child via unplanned and natural reproduction has become taboo in this backwards world. The protagonists must face their own insecurities if they ever hope to find peace at the end of the road. The storyline was one of those that actually made you stop thinking and feel your way through the novel. Understanding the motives behind Beier’s characters can only be done by stepping into their very shoes and feeling for yourself why they made certain decisions and chose particular paths. The humanity in his words was refreshing, almost reminiscent of Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games. While reading, I felt the pain of Dex Wheelock as he struggled with the fear of taking responsibility for his own child, and I could almost taste the tears of Grace Jarvis when she realized she may never see her beloved father again. This is the kind of book that makes one realize how wonderful and terrible it is to be human. This is the kind of book that bridges the gap between sorrow and joy.

Throughout the novel, readers will began to recognize the plot as an exaggerated reverse-scenario of our own society. In the world of The Breeders, intolerance toward heterosexuals is rampant. In our own world, the exact opposite is occurring. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians happen every day. The LGBT community is constantly under attack for being ‘unnatural’ and ‘sinful.’ This ideology is based on the literal interpretation of scripture, dogma, and an outdated viewpoint of humanity. It’s a simple and sad fact that people are willing to condemn others for falling in love with someone of the same gender. I question any authority that justifies limiting the definition of love. This is a fundamental gift all humans can partake in, one that is all-inclusive. Gender and other worldly characteristics cannot inhibit the pure and relentless power of affection. I am confident that Matthew Beier will share this wisdom with the populace and stand by his dream to help people see that humanity is “only as strong as it is united and as weak as it is divided.”

While reading, I also stepped into the shoes of its author and began to understand the impact his life experiences have had on his integrity. Living in a society where being honest about yourself leads to prejudice and disdain is a carving experience. It whittles out a character like no other. Something truly remarkable about a book is its ability the capture the soul of the author. The Breeders has done this and more. The character of Beier is evident in every sentence: his passion, hope, and even a bit of fear. Matthew Beier is truly an exceptional individual, one who understands the difficulties of living in a largely intolerant society. I sympathize with him and know from what direction he speaks from. To find the willingness to reconcile with those who are opposed to his orientation is a courageous action. I can only hope to channel this courage when facing life difficulties of my own.

Even though The Breeders ended (spoiler alert) on an incredibly dismal note, Beier was able to implement a sense of hope into the reader’s experience. As the protagonists Dex and Grace were deceived by the very people they thought were helping them, the novel begins to show its true spiritual colors. Left to die in the frozen and apparently uninhabited wasteland of Antarctica, the couple with their infant child realize how futile their efforts have been to evade government. Everything the reader hoped for seems to be lost, and one may even end up hating the novel because of it. The author intended to write the end as emotionally honest as possible, which proves his persevering integrity. This was his intention, yet Beier could also not devise the ending to be entirely hopeless. By the fleeting glimpse of a rainbow, Dex departed life with God’s promise that life would go on. The story ended with a sobering and eye opening enlightenment. The empowering and stunning realization of The Breeders is revealed, and readers are instilled with hope that even the “worst of life may merely be a prelude for what is to come.” It was the perfect ending, one that speaks of life’s gift and the great mystery afterwards.

The Breeders is one of the most heartfelt books I have read. There is sincere passion and inspiration between its covers. It’s one of those incredible works of literature everybody should read once in their lifetime, even if they disagree with what the author advocates. It definitely provides an enlightening perspective, and together with refreshing characters, a strong storyline, and superb writing, grants for a truly gripping read. It is my strong desire to see literary works like The Breeders impact society for the better. Intolerance only breeds conflict and creates a rift in our nation. If humanity is to rise above and meet new, more problematic difficulties head-on, we must realize how impeding our petty quarrels truly are. Denying rights for homosexual couples, including marriage, is a mindset that causes harm and threatens to derail any sort of political compromise. Personally, I can say that it hurts. Being unable to express your feelings for someone you love is heartbreaking and depressing. I severely hope that ‘traditional marriage’ advocates will someday understand the pain they inflict upon homosexuals who are otherwise no different from themselves.

There is a bigger picture to life than trying to oppose the suffering we all endure. We can let it tear our hearts and minds apart, but we can also realize that it is a gift in itself: the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, grow because of our hardships, and appreciate the occasional moments of awe that comprise the foundation of spiritual experience. When death finally rolls along, we can depart reveling in the knowledge that life goes on, and what lies ahead is the ultimate mystery. I thank Matthew J. Beier for making this review possible and for unknowingly handing me the answer to a long-standing dilemma. All in all, I recommend this novel to readers who are not afraid to open their eyes. I recommend The Breeders to the ones who need it most: the hopeless, the inhibited, and the downtrodden. For all of those who need to hear it, this book has a message that rings loud and clear: It gets better.

Beier, Matthew J. (2012) The Breeders. United States: Epicality Books

Rivers of Fire (Atherton #2) by Patrick Carman

Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2008
Image Source: BookCloseOuts
Other Titles in Series: The House of Power, The Dark Planet

Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A

Synopsis: Atherton was once a magnificent three-tiered world, but few of its inhabitants know the truth of its dark origin: it is a giant man-made satellite, created as a refuge from a dying Earth. Now this strange place is torn apart—its there lands, formally separated by treacherous cliffs, have collapsed and collided. But a gifted climber and adventurous orphan boy, Edgar, is determined to discover the secret of Atherton’s survival, and he embarks on a life-or-death quest to find its mad maker.

Navigating Atherton’s chaos is nothing less than harrowing. At the center, a former paradise is sinking and flooding. At the perimeter, a monstrous force is on the attack. Trapped between are two peoples, once at war, who now must combat the new foe together. And underground, the world is only more sinister. Here, Edgar’s two friends, Samuel and Isabel, venture through dangerous realms, confronting deadly cave dwellers, rivers of fire, and waters of life.

Review: Rivers of Fire is the second installment of the Atherton Trilogy, and a truly gripping continuation of the events witnessed in the first book. Patrick Carman is an excellent storyteller, and his prowess has never fallen short—least of all now. If you are new to the series, or new to any of Carman’s work for that matter, prepare yourself for an epic ride of discovery and adventure.

The world of Atherton is on a course of revolutionary happenings: everything is about to change. Readers of Atherton will almost certainly welcome Rivers of Fire as a satisfactory sequel. Most of the leading aspects of the story-line have waxed in quality, such as the readability and originality. The lack of strong character development was a slight downfall (similar to the first installment), yet better than I expected. Each personality was certainly vibrant and believable, with a nice well-rounded feel. The highlight of Rivers of Fire, as with any of Carman’s books, was undoubtedly the spirit of adventure prevalent within a handful youthful protagonists. I am always enamored, riveted, and enthused by Carman’s knack for revitalizing the child within. Tween fantasy geared toward 5-6th graders is definitely something special.

In this thrilling fantasy, Patrick Carman also weaves a voice of wisdom into the plot with the character Wallace. This kind and gentle sheepherder guides to people of Atherton in their struggles, particularly in uniting the two societies of Tabletop and the Highlands. The sad fact that—Spoiler alert!—Wallace dies makes him an immediate icon for the entire series. He is one of the characters I look up to most, after Edgar of course. On pg. 202 you can discover one of my favorite ‘Wallace’ quotes:

You must know your enemies to overcome them. That is the path of peace for every person, and it comes only by doing, not by the study of those who are already doing.

To clarify the meaning a bit; Wallace was referring to one’s inner enemies. Knowing and coming to terms with your own faults is the only way to find true peace of mind. Am I sensing a few Buddhist vibes here? Wallace also emphasizes coming to terms with your enemies in your own way. Studying the endeavors of those who have already embarked on this journey is fine, but true peace only comes by finding out the secrets on your own. You must follow your own heart, not the hearts of others. Be a trailblazer and find what works best for YOU.

Rivers of Fire is all about two unlikely groups finding common ground and uniting together to face the greater threat. As Atherton finally settles, a new order arises. The people stand united as one civilization, and all past discrepancies are as good as forgotten. Indeed, one could say the Atherton series has reached its conclusion. But you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dark Planet still retains its mysteries, and one book in the series remains. What happens next?

Overall Grade: A
Atherton: Rivers of Fire is a truly remarkable sequel to one of my favorite fantasies. Patrick Carman has  instilled his name in the hearts of kids and young adults the world over and proven himself a master of children’s fantasy. This novel is beautiful continuation of the Atherton series, chalk full of lurking mysteries, thrilling escapades, and simply-put wisdom. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Carman, Patrick. (2008) Rivers of Fire. United States: Little, Brown and Company 

Lowering the Wall by Gregg Ivers

Lowering the Wall: Religion and the Supreme Court in the 1980s by Gregg Ivers

Publisher: The Anti-Defamation League
Release: 1999
Genre: Political Opinion

Lowering the Wall: Religion and the Supreme Court in the 1980s is an intriguing analysis of the erosion of church-state separation in a particular decade of American History. The author, Gregg Ivers, warns of the degradation of several important original intentions of the founding fathers. Written in 1991, this book provides a timeless insight into the dynamic and often conflicting political mindset of the 1980’s.

With Lowering the Wall, Ivers has guided us through the disturbing evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court’s standing on two of the most important concepts expressed in the Constitution: the freedom of religion and worship, and the separation of church and state. He repeatedly expresses his concern that during the 1980’s, the Supreme Court began to noticeably depart from these vital constitutional values. 

One point that was consistently stressed by Ivers, was the rise of religious fundamentalism, or the rigid adherence to a religion in American society. This rise in zealous activism occurred mainly under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Indeed, many fundamentalists received the backing of the Reagan Administration in various pursuits to undermine the concept of the separation between church and state. A couple of these shifty endeavors included reintroducing prayer to public schools, and influencing the content of school curricula and textbooks. These rigid fundamentalists also sought to benefit from government support (i.e. monetary endorsement) in a plethora of ways, including religious displays at the public’s expense. At the same time this was occurring, intolerance toward less mainstream religious practices grew.  As one could reasonably infer, Ivers’ feelings toward these happenings are in no way supportive. 

The author also provides an integral background of the original intent of the Constitutional Framers. They, being our founding fathers, sought to give citizens a choice in personal worship and religious practices. The government was to maintain a neutrality, and through the two religion clauses of the constitution, the Founders sought to find the balance between governmental support for religion, and lawful encroachments upon religion. Ivers points out the irony in today’s situation; Supreme Court Justices professing fidelity to judicial restraint, or choosing to limit the exercise of their own power, while the ‘law of the land’ is seen to continually depart from the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution. It seems from Ivers’ point of view that adhering to original intent is not one of the prime principles of many Justices. 

Probably one of the more important aspects of Lowering the Wall was Ivers’ analysis of the relationship between majoritarian religions and the court, particularly the Rehnquist Court. Indeed, the author brings attention to the indisputable fact that a certain deference has been shown toward mainstream religious practices. Sadly, this respect and acknowledgement has not been extended to many unorthodox or minority religions. Minority groups, such as Native Americans, Black Muslims and Jews were all “overlooked” by the current court of the 1980s, which intended to minimize the importance of their personal religious beliefs while grossly over-promoting the importance of counteractive government interests. The rise in mainstream religious fundamentalism was obviously highly suppressive toward those of the non-mainstream variety, and Ivers is only too quick to point this out. 

As any perceptive person could see, Gregg Ivers is a man with an opinion. He knowledgeably demonstrates his take on the relationship between religion and politics of the 1980s. He aptly attributes the increasingly restrictive attitude toward unorthodox religious beliefs to the rise in religious fundamentalism under the Reagan Administration. Indeed, I believe Ivers was attempting to uncover the root of the problem: Reagan himself. In his presidency, Ronald Reagan appointed a total of 376 judiciary positions, the most by any president. Three of these were Supreme Court appointments, which reveals that Reagan’s personal opinion held great sway over the entire judiciary system of the 1980s. 

In Lowering the Wall, Gregg Ivers places obvious emphasis on the biased nature of the courts in the 1980s. This political issue may be of no interest to some, but I find it a highly important matter, even today. Some may shrug this book off as a good example of liberal “nonsense,” but I would dispute that claim. Ivers obviously favors the adherence of original intent, and who but the most staunchy of corrupt politicians could favor otherwise? At the time Lowering the Wall was published, Gregg Ivers was the Assistant Professor of Government at American University, and I am sure anyone who shrugs off his credentials is more than a little ignorant. This author provided highly legitimate sources to back his claims: direct accounts of the court cases concerning the scope of what his book covers.  It is my hope that this author’s writings continue to be read by interested individuals and persist long into the future. 

Lowering the Wall: Religion and the Supreme Court in the 1980s is one of the most intriguing books I have ever had the chance to indulge. I must admit, the dry nature of Gregg Ivers’ writing style was a mild hindrance to the readability, and yet I still enjoyed pondering his opinions. Ivers’ goal is to bring awareness to the lowering of the wall between church and state in the 1980s. This slow but evident transformation of the government’s interpretation of the two religion clauses took place over a decade. The evolution of America’s outlook was heavily influenced by a largely conservative judiciary branch and the president himself. This book left me with the impression that government is not always progressing in the right direction, and may actually take steps backward at times. I believe this happened in the 80s, and could even be happening now. 

Readers should approach this book hesitantly. Although dry, it is strongly opinionated. Ivers is very straightforward with where his allegiance lies when it comes to the political battlefield. The way Ivers explains the reasoning behind the turmoil of the 80s largely places Republicans at fault. In this case, I don’t know If I could blame him. It is of my opinion that all religious beliefs and practices are equal, or in fact, one and the same. Different names have similar meanings, and diverse practices have origins akin. By law, in the United States, government is to give no preferential treatment to one religion over another. Religion cannot be endorsed, nor can it be condemned. I believe this entire system was based on balance, of which our founding fathers were the prime constructors. Irreverence or a failure to adhere to this concept can only lead to more turmoil, and disrupt the already precarious relationship between government and the people. I urge and implore the people of our nation to open their minds, to see the broader outlook. This is vitally important if we are to remain unified and stoic in the coming times.

Overall, Lowering the Wall is an excellent read for those whose hearts are set on politics. I found it interesting myself, but than again I am a bit of political speculator. Gregg Ivers is truly an intelligent individual, capable of expressing his opinions in a subtle, yet lustrous manner. Readers should strive to understand the connections Ivers frequently demonstrates, and understand the points he makes about the referenced court cases. All in all, I discovered this book to be well-rounded and quietly powerful. 

Ivers, Gregg. (1991) Lowering the Wall: Religion and the Supreme Court in the 1980s. United States: Anti-Defamation League

The House of Power (Atherton #1) by Patrick Carman

The House of Power by Patrick Carman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release: 2007
Image Source: Junior Library Guild
Other Titles in Series: The Rivers of Fire, The Dark Planet

Characters- 17/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 18/20
Originality- 20/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 94/100 or A-

Synopsis: Dr. Harding is the futuristic mad scientist responsible for creating Atherton: a three tiered satellite world orbiting the fallen Earth. But those who live on Atherton don’t know Earth exists or their role in trying to save it. Edgar, a gifted climber, is one of the first to discover the first of many startling revelations to come: the three tiered world of Atherton is collapsing. A dangerous world of strange creatures and hidden powers with a history locked inside the mad scientist, Atherton is much more than it appears at first glance. 

Review: The House of Power is the first installment of the Atherton trilogy; written and imagineered by Patrick Carman. This first installment details the many dangerous and revolutionary events on the mysterious land of Atherton. The plot itself is fairly simple and decent, being a fantasy written with an adolescent audience in mind. A likable protagonist named of Edgar is presented whose various endeavors and exploits the story revolves around.

The fabric of The House of Power is rich and textured, and coupled with a breeze-to-read writing style, it should greatly appeal to younger readers. Upon starting the first chapter, I was pleasantly enthralled by a gentle mystery. The ingenious Dr. Harding is portrayed as a mad scientist, which subsequently offered a glimpse into his experiment gone wrong—Atherton itself. Indeed, the world Carman imagined is both beautiful and tragic, a success and a disaster.

The satellite world of Atherton was constructed in the 22nd century, following the environmental collapse of Earth. Overbearing pollution and technological dominance ravaged Earth for many years, until it became known as simply The Dark Planet. The original plan of Atherton was to be a refuge from The Dark Planet, but its prime creator, Dr. Harding, held secret intentions. He held specific notions how a new utopia should be created. The Doctor even developed strict guidelines on how the biological and socio-political environments should be structured. In turn, Atherton was constructed based on a three-tier layout. The top level, called the Highlands, was the location of the only water source in Atherton, and the ruling class of citizens. Next is Tabletop, the middle tier and home of the lower class. In Tabletop, the residents farm sheep, rabbits, and a certain hybrid of figs. Most of these resources sent to the Highlands. The third and final level is called the Flatlands. This dark and barren place is filled with mystery and intrigue. No one from the top two levels has ever been to the Flatlands, and any past records are nonexistent.

As you can see, a dynamic power-play is evident between the two classes of residents on Atherton. The Highlanders control the only water source, and in turn take advantage of the power to invoke harsh demands on the lower class. Tabletop struggles to cater to their lords and must contend with living in near-poverty and intensive labor. Later in the novel, readers should recognize the stirrings of discontent and rebellion as the two classes fall closer together than anyone could imagine. The mystery of Atherton is finally revealed, and mind-blowing is truly the only way to describe the surprises sure to come.

The House of Power is a quick, entertaining read sure to win the hearts of any audience. Adolescents and tweens will especially enjoy the high level of excitement and action within its pages. I tip my hat to Patrick Carman, who is a master at building enjoyable fantasies.

Overall Grade: A- 
Atherton: The House of Power is a most interesting exploration of an alternative world—and the social relationships between its inhabitants. Despite Edgar’s admirability, the characters of the book were lacking on a few fronts. Fortunately, the unique environment and well-rounded plot are plenty enough satisfy most readers.
Carman, Patrick. (2007) The House of Power. United States: Little, Brown and Company

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Release: 15 Nov 1990 (832 pages)
Image Source: Splash of Our Worlds
Other Titles in the Series: Check here

Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 20/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 98/100 or A+

The Wheel of Time turns and the Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the shadow. 

Review: The Eye of the World has proven to be an in-depth, well thought, and breathtaking read. Robert Jordan has imagined a truly vivid world, where events seems to fly by at breakneck speed. Something about this book, maybe its tangibility, or the soul encased in its writing, will keep readers enthralled.  As mentioned, this fantasy’s plot is very fast paced, which greatly bumps up the excitement level.

Something truly astounding in my mind is the sheer detail Robert Jordan crafted into his novel. He seems to have an incredible eye for cause and effect relationships, which leads me to believe he would be a good historian. Indeed, reading The Eye of the World is a bit like reading history. In that sense, I could compare him to J.R.R Tolkien. Truly impressive work.

The Wheel of Time also incorporates a very detailed magic/belief system, unlike that of The Lord of the Rings. At the beginning of time, a Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which turns for eternity and weaves all lives. The wheel has seven spokes, and each represents an age. The magic in The Wheel of Time series is called the One Power. This form of magic is stemmed from something called the True Source, which powers the Wheel of Time. The One Power is dualistic, kind of like Yin and Yang, but instead is called saidin and saidar. Men are able to wield the saidin aspect of the One Power, and women the saidar. Not all people can use the One Power.

I found many similarities between Jordan’s system of magic and eastern religions in our world. The Wheel of Time concept is derived from Hindu and Buddhist teachings, while the True Source and saidin and saidar are reminiscent of Taoism. All in all, it makes for an interesting book.

Truly, The Eye of the World is a spectacular read for lovers of fantasy epics. It is detail rich and very fast paced. Sometimes the plot may seem a bit predictable or cliche, but it is still satisfying nevertheless. I’ve heard that the series is long (13 books and still going) but I plan on reviewing every one in the coming months.

Overall Grade: A+
The Eye of The World combines the best of fantasy: a mysterious history, vibrant characters, and an intense plot. Readers should notice Jordan’s eye for details and appreciate the incredible story he has woven. Anyone planning on reading the series is surely in for an incredible journey of 13 books. Personally, I can’t wait to embark!
Jordan, Robert. (1990) The Eye of the World. United States: Tor Fantasy 

Ptolemy’s Gate (Bartimaeus Trilogy #3) by Jonathan Stroud

Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 2005
Synopsis Source: Amazon
Other Titles in Series: The Amulet of Samarkand (#1), The Golem’s  Eye (#2), The Ring of Solomon (prequel)

Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 18/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 96/100 or A

Synopsis: Three years have passed since the magician Nathaniel helped prevent a cataclysmic attack on London. Now an established member of the British Government, he faces unprecedented problems: foreign wars are going badly, Britain’s enemies are mounting attacks close to London, and rebellion is fermenting among the commoners. Increasingly imperious and distracted, Nathaniel is treating Bartimaeus worse than ever. The long-suffering djinni is growing weak and vulnerable from too much time in this world, and his patience is nearing its end.

Meanwhile, undercover in London, Kitty has been stealthily completing her research on magic, demons, and Bartimaeus’s past. She has a plan that she hopes will break the endless cycle of conflict between djinni and humans. But will anyone listen to what she has to say?

In this thrilling conclusion to the Bartimaeus trilogy, the destinies of Bartimaeus, Nathaniel, and Kitty are thrown together once more. For the first time, we will learn the secrets of Bartimaeus’s past, and get a glimpse into the Other Place—the world of demons—as together, the threesome must face treacherous magicians, unravel a masterfully complex conspiracy, and defeat a formidable faction of demons. And worst of all, they must somehow cope with one another…

Review: The last book in a series always manages to woo me a bit. I may just be a sucker for profound endings, but I don’t know. Ptolemy’s Gate sure had this same effect on me. I found myself reading wantonly, like I used to do when I was little. The words flew by my eyes so quick, and I barely gave myself time to take notes for the review. Funnily enough, the notes I did take disappeared mysteriously a couple days ago. I’m winging it now that my precious scribbles are lost.

Anyway, back to the book. Ptolemy’s Gate is the third and final installment of the Bartimaeus trilogy. It concludes the series nicely, and leaves readers with some interesting surprises. I found the entire series, but this novel especially, very ambitious. It attempts to mingle otherworldly and esoteric concepts such as space-time-continuums with a slew of true historical facts. All of this is laced with the usual sarcasm and satire of Bartimaeus, the quick-witted protagonist, The comical aspects of the dialogue are hilarious, as fans of the series already know.

Back to the esoteric topics—Jonathan Stroud obviously has an inspired interest in theoretical physics, and possibly the occult. He provides a very interesting description of the Other Place, the non-physical realm of demons and djinn. Here is a description from The Bartimaeus Trilogy Wiki:

The Other Place is a realm of chaos, in which there is no matter but infinite ‘essence’, which is described as a mass of swirling colours with no borders or boundaries, somewhere between gas and liquid. Time runs at a different rate in the Other Place compared to the human world, although it is not made completely clear in the Bartimaeus Trilogy exactly what relationship between the two timescales is. 

What really intrigues me is the so called ‘essence.’ Being a fan of the esoteric myself, I can only wonder as to what the author is alluding to. Another description offers some more insight:

In the Other Place, all demons are one, and so their collective essence is a single conscious entity. This allows demons to heal from damage sustained in the human world, while also putting the exact mechanics of the Other Place beyond reach of genuine human understanding. Human consciousnesses that visit the Other Place require something to focus their consciousness on and are able to impose their will to a certain degree on the essence of the Other Place, moulding it to specific shapes. Although demons are much better at this than humans, and it does not apparently cause them any harm. However, they prefer not to do it, and appear to actively resent outsiders attempting to impose order upon their realm.  

Make of this what you will. I found it highly interesting, and if a chance to interview the author pops up, I will question him about this. In a way, it kind of reminds me of Shamanism and how shamans work with consciousness to connect to the spirit world. While in this world, they consult with ‘spirits’ for aid in healing and medicinal purposes. Anyway, it’s food for thought.

In Ptolemy’s Gate, readers began to notice connections between the fact the Bartimaeus frequently takes on the figure of Ptolemy and Kitty’s desire to see demons and humans coexisting. Readers become enlightened by the possibility of these two types of entities working together, for the greater good. Bartimaeus talks in awe about a human actually traveling to the Other Place. He explains how the Other Place is where spirits are free and permeable and basically twirl in kaleidoscopic beauty intermingling with forgotten fragments of a dream or bits of some long-lost memory.

Spoiler alert!

The series ended on a slightly surprising note (or not) with the death of Nathaniel. Nathaniel finally opened up and showed his true integrity towards the end of this final book. He saved Bartimaeus and sacrificed himself in the process to save those he loved most. To tell you the truth, it was a bit of a cliffhanger. There were a few loose ends that could have been tied up. I believe the author intended this.

Overall Score: A
All in all, Ptolemy’s Gate is a satisfying conclusion to the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Jonathan Stroud portrays the best of character development in Nathaniel, and of course, captures the essence of Bartimaeus once again. Readers should find his descriptions of the Other Place from a demon’s perspective interesting and maybe a tad beautiful. This is a fantastic book!
Stroud, Jonathan. (2005) Ptolemy’s Gate. United States: Doubleday

The Cloudy Corners of Creation by Mark Tate

Publisher: Outskirts Press.
Release Date: 2012
Image Source: link

Synopsis: Dr. Tate has written an introduction to the subject of the paranormal for seekers of all faiths, especially Christians. He has surveyed a large number of books, articles, websites, television, and radio programs in his presentation of the subject of the paranormal for those who might normally shy away from the subject. Included are chapters on UFOs, near death experiences, prophecy from non-Christian sources, and a host of other subjects. Anyone interested in the paranormal from a sympathetic but questioning perspective will enjoy this read. 

Review: When I heard of this book, I knew I had to request a review copy. The Cloudy Corners of Creation is right up my alley; a book that comprises an open-minded take on spirituality and a speculative look at the paranormal and occult. Mark Tate is a brilliant author and human. He is strong and resolute in his faith, yet still sympathetic towards those of differing beliefs. He realizes that ignorance is not the path to tread and takes steps to learn from non-Christian sources. One quote from his book on page 71 proves how open he really is and gives insight on a momentous yet true vision:

At this point in time, what is most needed in this world is understanding between different spiritualities and religions of the truth of who and what they are, what they practice, and what they believe.

This truth rings clear throughout his book as Tate tries to uncover or at least bring attention to the cloudy corners of God’s great creation. I can’t commend him enough for his bravery of walking where other Christians fear to tread. I hope his actions inspire others to blaze their own trails and realize dogma can be interpreted in more than one way. 

There was a tremendous amount of research put into this book, enough to satisfyingly back up the evidence Tate gives on the possible existence of the paranormal. The only criticism anyone could have is a lack of strong conclusion. Tate presents many questions in his book—with the support of strong evidence—but doesn’t wrap it up in a superbly satisfying way. I personally don’t consider this a failure. How else could one conclude a book on pseudoscience? Definite answers cannot be given. Instead, readers should look for insight that the author offers on spirituality and the fate of humanity. As he states on page 152:

…Perhaps God’s voice is quietly being whispered through many diverse places by diverse peoples to warn the world—You have used and abused the poor, the needy—men, women, children—all created in the image of God—for all of human history. You have raped and pillaged the earth—given by God to humanity to care for—for hundreds of years. You have acted as though the most evil things—murder, rape, neglect of parental duty, civilization’s laws, and your own consciences—taught by all religions—were approved by God or gods—you have made the end to be near—and it is…

If this message is to be taken literally, you will understand its foreboding nature. Humans have sinned nearly incessantly in all of recorded history. When Judgment Day arrives—if there is such a thing—our fate is sealed in a nice high quality envelope. Postage paid. Are we to pay for our misdeeds? Will God have mercy? Currently, faith is providing the only answer.

From reading The Cloudy Corners of Creation, I have learned much. I realize that we have to look at the unknown with both our eyes and our heart, and only then can understanding the truth become possible. I thank Mark Tate for this stunning realization.
All in all, as my first ever non-fiction review, things went pretty smoothly. The Cloudy Corners of Creation is an insightful read on the more speculative aspects of nature. Readers who are interested in the paranormal and occult with undoubtedly savor this. I look forward to a possible interview with the author which is always a plus. So until then, faithful readers, au revoir! 
Tate, Mark. (2012) The Cloudy Corners of Creation. United States: Outskirts Press

The Golem’s Eye (Bartimaeus Trilogy #2) by Jonathan Stroud

The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud

Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release Date: 2006
Image Source: link
Other Titles in Series: The Amulet of Samarkand (#1), Ptolemy’s Gate (#3), The Ring of Solomon (prequel)

Characters- 20/20
Plot- 19/20
Writing- 19/20
Originality- 19/20
Recommendation- 20/20
Overall- 97/100 or A

Synopsis: At only fourteen, Nathaniel is a rising star: a young magician who is quickly climbing the ranks of the government. There is seemingly nothing he cannot handle, until he is asked to deal with the growing Resistance movement, which is disrupting London life with its thefts and raids. It’s no easy task: the ringleader Kitty and her friends remain elusive, and Nathaniel’s job — and perhaps his life — are soon at risk. As the pressure mounts, he is distracted by a new series of terrifying attacks in the capital. But is it the Resistance again, or something more dangerous still? To uncover the perpetrators, Nathaniel must take desperate measures: a journey to the enemy city of Prague and — worse — summoning once again the troublesome, enigmatic, and quick-witted djinni, Bartimaeus. Meanwhile, Kitty and her fellow rebels are planning their most daring exploit of all — one that will make their fortune and change the history of London forever.

A thrilling sequel to the best-selling Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye is a roller-coaster ride of magic, adventure, and political skullduggery, in which the fates of Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty explosively collide.

Review: The Golem’s Eye is a fantastic sequel to it’s predecessor; The Amulet of Samarkand. It could very well comprise the heart of the Bartimaeus Trilogy. The fast-paced turn of events invokes the childhood glee I used to experience during all my reading endeavors.  I enjoyed the return the protagonist—the sharp-tongued djinni that everyone should now be familiar with. Nathaniel was portrayed as slightly more aggressive than the previous novels, and his ambitions have anything but waned.

Since The Golem’s Eye takes place a couple years after the events in Amulet, readers should note how character relationships have changed, along with the positions those characters now hold. Indeed, Nathaniel’s increased aggression is probably the result of his rise to power in the government. He now holds commoners as beneath him—Although, hasn’t he always? I found Nathaniel’s antics hilarious as he continually proves his arrogance. His yearning for fame and recognition is pitying at times.

The character that truly struck me the most was probably Kitty Jones. She is both valiant and rebellious, but for the right reasons. Her truthful character is strong, a blockade of fortitude built by her past. She understands the nature of the commoner’s position, and the many flaws in the dominance of the magicians in society. Kitty stands for what she believes in, and values her partners as both friends and comrades. I have more sympathy for her, than Nathaniel.

Also, the character Bartimaeus is becoming increasingly mysterious. As readers become more familiar with his humor and personality, they are undoubtedly curious about the djinni’s past. Maybe we’ll get some insight on these mysteries in the next book, Ptolemy’s Gate.

Overall Grade: A
The Golem’s Eye is a superb sequel to The Amulet of Samarkand. It is the cleverly engineered, second installment of the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Anyone should should love this, I definitely did. Readers should try to understand the motives behind both Kitty and Nathaniel. Finding out what drives them will lead to a richer experience while reading. Also, the perplexing mysteries of Bartimaeus are as great as ever, but one step closer to being solved. I bid you adieu an invite you to check out this excellent series (if you haven’t already). 
Stroud, Jonathan. (2006) The Golem’s Eye. United States: Hyperion Books.