The Family Business: Setting the Dead at Ease

I have been in a three year journey while reading this trilogy. It all began back in 2012 when I strolled into my local Barnes and Noble on a hunt for my next read. I picked through all of the best sellers, narrowing my search to a few underdogs. There has always been something different about a book that’s not in the news, and Ari Berk’s trilogy, the Undertaken Trilogy, is one of those underdogs. Everything about these books has kept me on the edge of my seat, sobbing my eyes out, and filled with a confusion that not even George R.R Martin’s Game of Thrones could possibly give me.

Slow books normally lose my attention early on. To Ari Berks defense for The Undertaken Trilogy, it is a trilogy so I expected these novels to be slow from the beginning. It’s very difficult to understand the rest of the series if you don’t catch every detail in the first book since every little word and punctuation mark contributes to the story line. Death Watch is a beautifully written gothic, creepy mystery involving a boy dependent on finding his father, a mother that wants to keep her son away from his father’s life as much as possible, and a seductive Uncle who has too many secrets to keep.

Silas Umber is the son of a drunken mother, Dolores, and a missing father, Amos, who had been missing for a few months. Not only did Amos leave Silas a nervous wreck on where his father might be, but he left clues behind on what Amos’ life really entailed. Dolores and Silas lost the house Amos’ brother, Charles, had given them as a marriage gift and are forced to move back into “Uncles” house where they will live until their lives pick back up, or until Amos comes back and takes them away again, saving the two from their unnerving host. As Silas explores his new home of Lichport he discovers the home where Amos lived whenever he was in the town, and Silas takes a liking to it from the beginning. During a visitation to the house, Silas finds a watch that looks like a skull, and takes it as a curiosity piece. He later finds out it’s the “Death Watch” his father left behind for Silas to find and to take up Amos’ job as Undertaker for Lichport. Silas then must make the sacrificing choice on whether to take up the Umber family business or give into Uncle’s seduction and stay with him until Amos comes home to find them, if at all. All the while, Dolores sits in the living room with a bottle of alcohol in her hand, completely oblivious to what’s has been going on behind the scenes of his son’s life and Uncle’s conspiracies.

Not only do the dead speak to the living, but the dead live among the living in Lichport. Inside the houses on Fort Street corpses still breathe as they stare out the windows watching their kin walk by and pay their respect once or twice a year. Silas’ great grandfather is one of them, and is a large part of Silas’ life once the boy is able to forget the fact that his great grandfather is undead. Silas uses his great-grandfather’s knowledge of the Howesmann side of Silas’ family, and his wisdom on the ghosts of Lichport.

After waiting a total of three weeks to get Mistle Child, the second installment of the Undertaken Trilogy by Ari Berk, I was finally able to begin reading more about Silas’ world that has been taken over by the dead. Just like the first novel, Mistle Child was slow in the beginning, especially before Silas’ long trip to Arvale Manor. Once he gets to the old, family manor, Silas’ story begins to unwind and the book picks up as Silas’ decisions mean either destroying everything he has built up or saving the people he loves.

At the beginning of Mistle Child, Silas’ door is marked with “Arvale” and he begins his journey to reach the family manor up past Fort Street. After Silas’ crazy Uncle dies, the rest of the family begins to settle into their new environment. The majority of the novel focuses on Silas and his activities within Arvale with his cousin Lars, including going to the Garden party where hours turn into days too quickly to actually realize. But the first stop on their insane travels through Arvale is the catacombs, a cave that Silas goes down into to receive a cup of special water from the Spring of Memory. While in the catacombs, he opens a door that shouldn’t be opened, out of curiosity of course, and unleashes a century old ghost that begins to terrorize Arvale from the inside out. All while he focuses on the demon, he is placed with the title of Janus of the House of Arvale. This title lets Silas banish ghosts that are brought to the Door Doom, including his great grandfather. With that he must make the dire decision on whether to banish his great grandfather or to defy what his ancestors want and go the same path of his father, Amos.

In the third and final installment of The Undertaken Trilogy, Silas must face the consequences of his actions from when he visited Arvale, the Umber family mansion. During his visit to the house up past Fort Street, Silas accidently left a door, a passageway meant to stay sealed forever, wide open, allowing an ancient ghost to run wild and wreak havoc on Arvale. When Silas returns from his journey he is followed by none other than this demon-like-ghost. The town of Lichport falls ill, fire spreads, and death becomes evident everywhere the Umber boy turns. No place is safe for Silas anymore: the people that are left have turned against him, blaming him and the Umber family for their troubles. All the while Silas tries to rid of the demon, conjuring up words he had sworn to never speak from his own mouth. Just like his father, Silas must make the sacrificing decision whether to risk his own life and save the town of Lichport, or ignore his calling and duty as Undertaker.

Ari Berk’s inclusion of the “Ledger”, excerpts from what I can only assume is a large book passed down through the Umber side of the family gave the reader a chance to look at the past Undertakers of Lichport. At the end of the each chapter there is one to five excerpts, all having to do with the chapter the excerpts are attached too. Most are translations, others are opinions on the Bible and other great works from history. Having the ledger in each of the three books gives the the reader a chance to dig into the Umber family’s past and how each Undertaker thought of the world of the dead.

Despite the slow beginning, the Undertaken Trilogy has become one of my favorite series. Each book has it’s own story to tell about Silas Umber and his search for his father. Each setting is just as glamorous as the last, and the characters feel as if they are alive with each sentence, their personalities sprouting and growing into what they became in the final book.

The Undertaken Trilogy is a series that follows a boy lost in a huge world full of sorrow and lost, in an effort to find his father, his true calling, and his place in the world. He faces love, loss, a “restless” family member, and a ghost that not even he, the Janus of Arvale, can destroy.

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A Circus in Love

 

The Night Circus, written by Erin Morgernstern is a great novel based in the late 1870’s to 1904 and switches between a girl named Celia Bowen, a small girl at the beginning of the novel that grows up to become a sort of master illusionist, Marco, Ceila’s mysterious opponent, and Bailey, a small child that goes to the circus several times throughout the novel. Erin Morgenstern does a great job on describing each character perfectly, creating a vision in your head of what each character looks like and how whimsical and dark their lives really are. From the beginning of The Night Circus, I began seeing small movies in my head of what I thought the book would be like if it were a movie, and that helped with reading and being able to distinguish each character from each other. When I had these small movies inside my head, every scene was in black and white with small hints of color here and there to exaggerate certain parts of the scene. The characters were smooth flowing and had a beautiful chemistry. It doesn’t take long for the reader to fall in love with the different characters, all with their own, beautiful background and personalities that all seem to move in unison.

When Celia Bowen meets her father for the first time as a little girl, she is frightened of him and who he really is. Her father, Prospero, begins training her at a young age and enters her into a competition that could take a lifetime between his friend “the man in the grey suit” and his student, Marco, whom Ceila doesn’t meet for the longest time. But when they do meet, something connects and you as the reader can feel the sparks between the two of them as they begin to understand that they are competing against each other. Marco and Celia’s chemistry together is like something out of a romance movie on the hallmark channel.

The two must battle it out inside of a circus filled with illusion and find the victor, sending one to their grave and the other to a life filled with guilt and misery for destroying their opponent out of greed. When Marco and Celia finally meet and find out they are opponents, they fall hopelessly in love with each other and must make critical decisions on how their competition will end. As much as I hate happy endings in novels, I wanted to see Marco and Celia together because they were perfect. There are no other characters like them in the literary world; not even Romeo and Juliet can compare to Marco and Celia because Marco and Celia are better than Romeo and Juliet.

Although this circus is a “circus” the illusions are very real as pedestrians enter into the various tents Marco and Celia have created to out match the other. One of the most interesting, in my opinion, is the Ice Garden in which Celia spends most of her downtime exploring. Although Marco is not an official act inside of the circus he controls most of the technical responsibilities and the money when it comes to running the circus.

Every word of The Night Circus grabs the reader’s attention and draws them farther into this insane world of magic, illusion, and lustful love that might just come with a price. As the events unfold, Celia and Marco make grave decisions that could cost one or both of them their lives. Tsukiko, a very strange and mysterious character helps them both along the way while both Celia and Marco compete against each other. All while this competition is happening, Bailey, the small boy at the beginning of the novel, begins to intertwine himself with the circus as his normal life begins dull in front of his eyes.

Erin Morgenstern did a great job in writing it and her descriptions are top notch. This novel is definitely worth the asking price, and would go on anyone’s best read list if they gave it a chance.

 

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The Fair Assassin of Brittany

When I first picked up Grave Mercy by Robin LaFever, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have never been a big fan of books with an unnaturally attractive female on the front cover, but I knew I needed to broaden my horizons when it came to books. In my many trips to the bookstore I had never picked up a book like Grave Mercy, but on this particular voyage to the store, I felt a little… adventurous to say the least; turns out my spontaneous side was right. Grave Mercy goes on my bookshelf, which, to be honest, is hard to get on.

The first fourth of the book is that stereotypical “girl lives in terrible conditions, gets a better life, but constantly reminds the reader of how terrible her life is” kind of book. To be fair I understand why Mrs. Lafevers did this, and while the way the cliché is put into the book is smooth, I still hated it. It’s a call for a pity party and I wanted it to end. Thankfully the party ended soon after Ismae, the main heroine of the novel, meets her first major assignment. It seems as if Ismae becomes too wrapped up in her job that she loses focus on her past and finally begins to put her hard, terrible life of abuse behind her.

The introduction of the convent of Mortain’s followers is full of marvelous detail that creates a vivid image in the reader’s head. From the somber boat ride there to the awkward hellos between the reverend mother and Ismae, everything about the convent’s entrance is perfect. The characters, some introduced as friendly, such as Annith, and some, like Sybella, who holds a mountain full of mystery in her, are all full of fabulous detail that give them each their own being in the reader’s head. While Sybella does not have much interaction with Ismae in the first book of the His Fair Assassin series, Mrs. Lafevers makes it quite obvious that Sybella will play a major roll in the books to follow. Sybella is only seen a few times throughout the novel, and each time is wrapped in confusion because not a lot of character comes from her except the fact that she had been badly damaged in the past by whomever she was with. Her character continued to baffle me each time she appeared, including their brief run in near the castle. Even though the meeting was short, the turmoil between the two heroines shines through the details.

When Gavriel Duval is first introduced into Ismae’s never ending list of people she needs to know for her assignment, he is seen as a sort of enemy figure. Their first encounter is anything but joyous, and it seems to only get worse from there until Ismae begins to realize that maybe she doesn’t need to follow every bit of Mortain’s rules 100% of the time. While her change is subtle, it is definitely there as her character begins to change, focusing around Duval and his actions.

As Grave Mercy moves forward, the plot begins to thicken immensely, forcing characters into tough decisions that could mean the defeat or triumph of a nation. The soon-to-be Duchess of Brittany is faced with multiple arranged marriages that she is able to squeeze her way out of because of Duval and her close advisors, but as soon as the one marriage proposal she agrees with is ruined, the entire Duchy goes into complete chaos. Advisors are blaming the bastard, Duval, and others are blaming Ismae. The disorder thickens when Duval is poisoned and d’Albret, one of the biggest douche bags of the book, and Madam Dinan team together to take down anything that threatens d’Albret’s chances to get on the throne next to Anne, the soon-to-be Duchess.

I wanted to give Duval his own paragraph. Even though Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice will always have my heart, Duval comes in at second place. I may or may not have a thing for men that come off as cold in the beginning, and as the character, whether it be Elizabeth or Ismae, gets to know their true love’s, the man’s heart begins to open up and allow for comfort that comes in the form of a woman’s love. Duval’s transformation from cold Mr. “I hate everyone” to a man that is capable of love is one of the smoothest transitions I have read. During Duval and Ismae’s time together in Anne’s castle, Ismae is seen as Duval’s mistress and is treated as such for some time until Ismae’s true identity is revealed to help Anne and the rest of the Duchy. Each night Duval enters Ismae’s quarters while she sleeps and leaves an hour or two later. As each night comes and goes, Duval’s actions begin to soften and Ismae recognizes this as this transition occurs. These particular scenes were lovely to read; the imagery was beautifully placed and allowed for the reader to be transported into the book as they read.

The research that went into writing Grave Mercy had to have taken up many hours of free time, and a few notebooks. At the end of the novel there is a short authors note that explains that all of the characters and historical events that took place within Grave Mercy are true. Unfortunately, however, Duval did not exist, and neither did the convent of Mortain, the God of Death.

Grave Mercy deserves more than a place on the Young Adult shelf in your local Barnes and Noble. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to stray away from many YA novels because of the absence of skill when it comes to writing, but Mrs. Lafevers has opened my eyes to a new genre of book that I have been weary about in the past.

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Everyone’s a Hypocrite

Hypocrites are everywhere in our daily life. They surround us inside of our familys, friend circles, and our workplaces. We are bombarded by hypocrites yet we don’t ever notice them until those people offend us or say something that goes against our morals. News flash: we are all hypocrites whether we are able to admit it to ourselves or not. Everything we do in our life contradicts some claim we have made in the past. “I’ll never use a public restroom,” you say, yet only a few days later you use a public toilet. “I’m on a diet, I cannot have dessert,” you say but as soon as you’re home you eat several cookies with a side of milk. We as humans contradict our own morals everyday, sometimes without realizing it. Why Everyone else is a Hypocrite by Robert Kurzban, brings light onto contradiction, human error, morality that is connected with the modular mind, and hypocrisy in it’s greatest form.

Robert Kurzban begins his humorous and sarcastic journey with a story of traffic in Philadelphia. He compares the traffic patterns of southern California to those of Philadelphia. While this may seem odd, the very first sentence of the book states that: “Ignorance can save your life in Philadelphia” (Kurzban 1). Kurzban concludes that the only way to stay alive when crossing traffic on foot is to “walk like a tourist” (1) and to be completely ignorant of your surroundings, including the cars around you. This perfect introduction helps the reader tie everything Kurzban throws at you together as you continue reading. Several times throughout the book, he mentions ignorance, morality, and how those two can sometimes be the flaw of your life or the thing that saves your life.

Sarcasm is littered in every corner of this book, and it gives the reader a reason to continue reading if he/she gets slightly bored with the logic and reasoning that Kurzban explains. The information got a little heavy as the middle of the book came along. Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite is filled with punny footnotes and almost offensive examples that make even the dullest of reader laugh. This does not exclude the contradictory title itself.

Kurzban incorporates many different hot topic issues that are debated everyday across the world, one including cigarettes. “If we’re really concerned about harm, then cigarettes would have been banned a long time ago” (195); the author makes the valid point about how us as a society are not really concerned about the harm that drugs do, but because our morals say certain drugs are “just bad”, and “just wrong”. We are unable to give explanations as to why we ban drugs except for the “they’re wrong” speeches, and “my morals say no to drugs” speeches that we constantly give. A prime modern day example of this contradictory act is that a doctor says that he “knows what drugs can do”, and Kurzban attacks this and says that the doctor also knows what knives can do but he isn’t setting out on a war on cleavers. While these issues are discussed throughout the book, Kurzban does not go as far as making fun of a certain thought or idea on one thing or another, however he does call people out on their hypocrisy.

Chapter five: Truth Hurts, is a very non-humorous chapter. The sections mostly deals with consequences of actions becomes of the choice of being ignorant. In this chapter you are placed in a scenario where you are standing outside of a burning house. A small boy approaches you and points out that a cat is stuck inside the house. Kurzban gives you two choices: “you can try to save the cat, at a risk to yourself, or not try to save the cat, and endure the reputational damage of allowing the cat to die” (81). This is followed by a footnote: “You could kill the boy, but then you’ve got other problems” (81). While Robert Kurzban puts you into this scenario, he is able to keep his writing style professional, yet laid back in a sense that doesn’t make him seem stuck up about his research.

Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite is an excellent book for those that are looking for something interesting to read with humorous additions, yet still remains professional and informative. The examples and outside references that Robert Kurzban uses are excellent and top-notch, and have his reader wanting more as they read through his book about evolution and the modular mind.

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A Long Journey to Tubaygat

The Thin Executioner

By: Darren Shan

What happens when you combine an executioner’s son with a slave? A pair that goes through absolute Hell with each other to get to their goal: Tubaygat, an ancient mountain that supposedly holds a god called Sabbah Eid. Darren Shan’s thrilling adventure novel, The Thin Executioner is a true tale of adventure, life-changing experiences, and an eye opening plot line that brings to light how harsh the world actually can be, even to someone that is treated like royalty in his home city of Wadi.

I have read many of Darren Shan’s novels, but The Thin Executioner has topped my favorites by him. The style of writing, the kind of world it is placed in, and the character development throughout the pages is absolutely extraordinary. At the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Jebel Rum, the youngest son of Wadi’s executioner. Not only is he the youngest, he happens to be small and frail. His older brothers are large, buff men while Jebel remains thin and unworthy to wield his father’s axe once he retires.

After being publicly shamed by Rashad Rum, Jebel’s father, Jebel is determined not only to regain his pride but to win the mukhayret, the multiple level battle to determine who takes Rashad Rum’s axe. He knows he cannot do it alone so Jebel sets out on an excruciating voyage with a slave, Tel Hesani. As the journey begins Jebel treats Tel Hesani with as little respect as he possibly can, almost disgusted about having to be within ten feet of the man. As I read I had no faith in Jebel and his ability to show compassion. I felt bad for Tel Hesani. He had to spend a year, if not more, with this stubborn brat of a boy that, quite honestly, Tel Hesani could wipe off the map if he really wanted too. There was a part of me that figured Tel Hesani would kill Jebel, but after a few more chapters and a few more close encounters the two had, I came to realize that Tel Hesani wouldn’t have the heart to kill Jebel even if he wanted to. The two men were complete foils of each other. There was not a single similar gene in their bodies. They came from two different cities, two different worlds. Jebel was treated like royalty while Tel Hesani lived the life of a slave. The one trait anyone would think Tel Hesani would have, he didn’t. Tel Hesani didn’t have the need to get revenge on those that wronged him in his life; he had no desire to do such a thing, to hurt another human being.

At one point the two are separated and Jebel is forced into a life that Tel Hesani once lived. His world is changed. Jebel Rum is no longer royalty. He is a slave to his masters, and he does anything they desire of him, even grave robbing. Jebel’s life is changed forever, and he becomes empathetic. He becomes human. Jebel grows feelings, a heart, an ability to feel anything except greed and selfishness. At this point I gained a little hope for Jebel and his companion. Maybe they could get to Tubaygat in one piece.

Along their journey the pair met different types of people and encountered many levels of cleanliness in several different cities. At a stop in one of the most disgusting cities in the country of Makhras: Shihat was a “godforsaken eyesore” as Darren Shan stated. There they met Master Blair and Master Bush, seemingly innocent traders looking for friends in the wrong place. But in Makhras, trusting and friendships can mean the end of your freedom, or your life.

The character development between Tel Hesani and Jebel Rum is extraordinary. The reader’s thoughts, especially on Jebel, can be shaky, if not, in a way, pissed off at him for being a bratty child… because, well he is. Who can blame him, though? He comes from a world where he is treated like royalty because his father is the executioner. Anyone would act like a brat if they lived the life of a millionaire without the million dollars. But when you combine Jebel Rum with Tel Hesani, you get a pairing that is not only uncommon, but is downright silly. Tel Hesani, the slave, and Jebel Rum, the rich brat, travelling together to Tubaygat seems like a disaster waiting to happen. That’s where the character development comes in. Jebel’s expiriences on the journey changes him for the better; it creates a new version of him that is, quite honestly, a million times better. This change is subtle, but noted within the novel in a way that makes you stop, re-read, and then keep going because the only thoughts going through your head are: “did Jebel just say that? Think that? There is no f*cking way”. There is a way. Jebel Rum has the ability to change, and he does.

There was something about the plot line that got to me. I don’t know if it was because it was set in an open world, or if the actual “plot line’ was as bumpy as you could get, but I loved it. Each city they encountered was different, and I can only imagine that took a lot of time to think of. There are so many different cultures and beliefs in the novel that it seems unreal. While you’re reading you feel as if you’re being transported to Makhras to accompany Jebel and Tel Hesani in their journey. There wasn’t anything that I disliked about the way this book was set up. Everything flowed all too well.

The Thin Executioner is a thrilling adventure novel about an unlikely pair battling all odds to find a place that might actually not hold the God, Sabbah Eid. There are friendships, betrayals, love, falling in love, falling out of love, and realizing what is most important in the world.

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Mobsters Reign through The City

Darren Shan’s Procession of the Dead features Capac Raimi, the main character of the novel, as a seemingly lonely man that arrives in The City without any recollection as to why he came or what he was doing there. The City, in my head, seems to be an alternate world of a mixture between New York City and Chicago fused into one large, crowded metropolis with too many shady people. At the center of The City lies The Skylight, a fabulous hotel that only the most prestigious stay at, and Party Central, a large office building that houses the Cardinal, the leader of The City. The Cardinal rules over his city with an iron fist, knocking out anyone that gets in his way or threatens to take down his empire. He lives on the fifteenth floor with his puppets, and Ford Tasso, his assistant and right hand man. Capac meets up with his uncle, a lower-level gangster in The City. After a few nights with his uncle, Capac goes through twists in his life that have life changing effects. He meets the “leader” of the City, the Cardinal, a man that takes Capac under his wing almost as soon as he meets him. Life seems great for Capac until his friends start disappearing, and Capac is forced to make a tough decision: betray the Cardinal, or stay loyal to the man that trained him to be the gangster he is.

After reading many of Darren Shan’s novels, I can say that Procession of the Dead is one of my favorites of all of his books, excluding Cirque du Freak, which remains my all time favorite series. The characters he came up with all have stories of their own, and those tales come out through the description and dialogue within the book. There is diversity between each person, and Capac seems to make friends of all sorts, including a deadly assassin, a taxi driver, and a spy. Each chapter name is a month of the Incan calendar, which correlates with many of the names within the novel, including Capac’s. The creativity and research that Darren Shan put into the novel goes beyond many novels that have the same idea behind them, and he does this artistically. At first Procession of the Dead is slow just like other books that have a lot to introduce into the first few chapters, but the pace does pick up after several chapters. I wanted to give up on the book during the first few days of reading, but I kept strong and read through the slow areas. For that I was greatly rewarded with a story I will never forget, of a man that finds out who his real self is. There is beauty between the pages of Procession of the Dead, beauty that is relevant to today’s society, and yesterdays. 

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