Thursday, March 1, 2018

Warbreaker~Brandon Sanderson | Review

Title: Warbreaker (Warbrekaer #1)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 688 Pages
Release: 2009

"My life to yours. My breath become yours."

The first time I read Warbreaker, in the summer of 2014, I stayed late into the night just to finish. I will admit, the middle has some slow points that did not hold my attention as well as I would have liked on either read. But when I think back on the book, there isn't anything that I feel could be taken out. And I wanted to stay up listening to those last few hours just as I had stayed up to read them before. Alas, I did not allow myself to do so. 

We follow four main characters with inner connected stories. There is Siri, who is thrown into a role she never expected and did not prepare for; Vivenna, Siri's older sister who suddenly feels useless when everything she was trained for--though not looked forward to--is stripped from; Lightsong, the god who does not believe in his own dividity; and Vasher, the man who is trying to atone for the many sins that litter his past. 

Each of the four stories has their own high points. Lightsong is my favorite character of the bunch and his story is phenomenal. It's interesting to see him trying not to care, wanting to be the idle man he always says he is, and then being unable to follow through. He cares, and it's his caring, along with his sense of humor, that make him such a standout. He has some beautiful moments that I would rank among Sanderson's best.

While overall Vivenna was not my favorite perspective on either reading, her character has excellent development. I think I found her more relatable on this reading and by the end she held a much higher place in my thoughts. We watch her go from a stuck up, naive princess into something more as she allows herself to think and feel all of the things she has been suppressing in order to be the perfect Idrian. 

Siri has a less dramatic character arc than her sister, but she does develop well throughout. It's fun to see her adapting to her new life and discovering that not everything she has been taught is true and not everything you see is what it seems. 

Vasher has the least amount of page time, but that makes more sense as revelations are made. He's gruff and grumpy, which might be one of the things that is appealing about him. He balances out the lightheartedness of Lightsong. Plus, he has a cool sword for a companion. What's not to like about that?

Now that I've talked about the main characters, let me touch on the plot a little bit. The main focus is the conflict between two nations that used to be one. Hallandren--a nation ruled by the God King and his pantheon of Returned (Lightsong among them), and Idris--a small mountain nation ruled by a family descended from the ancient ruler of Hallandren. 

The two nations are culturally and religiously different, which puts a strain on their already tenuous relationship. The marriage of the God King of Hallandren to one of the Idrian princesses causes a stir in the courts of the gods, pushing them toward war. 

And, of course, on top of all this is the magic system. The magic on this world is fueled by breath (or the soul, to the Idrians) and someone with enough breath can awaken inanimate objects and command them. Along with breath, the Awakener also has to have access to color, which is used, along with the breath, to fuel awakening. I probably say this about every Sanderson magic system but--this is amazing. I loved reading about awakening and all of its rules. I hope that he does revisit this world in the future. 

Overall, I enjoyed this reading as much as, if not more than, the first one. I just can't believe it took me over three years to revisit this. Sanderson's technique may have improved overall, but his characters and magic system are at their very best here. 

I did this reading on audio and Alyssa Bresnahan did quite well with the story. There wasn't anything that I disliked about her narration and I thought she did an excellent job voicing certain characters. Denth and Nightblood might have been the two that I liked best. 

And now, let me leave you with some Lightsong wisdom:

"Talking to you is like swimming in a river," she said. "I keep getting pulled along with the current and I'm never sure when I'll be able to take another breath."

"Watch out for the rocks, Vessel," the high priest noted. "They look rather insignificant, but have sharp edges under the surface."

"Bah," Lightsong said. "It's the crocodiles you have to watch for. They can bite. And...what exactly were we talking about, anyway?"

Monday, February 26, 2018

Blood Song~Anthony Ryan | Review

Title: Blood Song (Raven's Shadow #1)
Author: Anthony Ryan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 591 Pages
Release: January 2011

"He had seen men drunk before but never on blood."

I make it a point of not reading books that I don't think I will like, but sometimes I like books more than I expect to like them. This is one of those. I expected it to be a lot darker than I like to read, and it was dark, but it was also well written and had so many underlying tones of hope and goodness that it kept the darkness from being overpowering.

Vaelin was a really likable character, which surprised me somewhat. For no real reason either. I enjoyed his progression from beginning to end. From a young child and on into adulthood, his story is never easy. He does some terrible things along the way--he's definitely not an innocent man, but he's also good in a lot of ways and I loved that about him. 

A majority of the other characters were also likable. My favorites were Nortah and Frentis, though neither of them appeared as much as I would have liked, particularly near the end. 

While I did really enjoy this novel a lot, I don't know that I will continue with the series. I've heard so many negative things about the following installments, particularly the final one, and I don't want to ruin how much I liked this one. In a few months I will reevaluate and see if I have changed my mind on that. I won't have time to pick it up before then anyway. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Doll Bones~Holly Black | Review

Title: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Middle Grade Mystery
Length: 244 Pages
Release: May 2013

"Protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn't the kind of protecting that anybody wants."

I don't know what to call this book. It's middlegrade, but what genre does it fit? Fantasy? Horror? Mystery? Suspense? There doesn't seem to be a good label to put with this. 

This story captured my attention with it's eerie synopsis and it kept my attention as I listened to the tale of Zach, Alice, and Poppy. It's well written and has a fun, sometimes creepy story. All three children are also extremely imaginative, which I love. It was great how there was kind of a story inside of a story feel to this, since their game involved queens, pirates, and thieves who were adventuring aboard a ship searching for answers. 

The three kids seemed like real twelve-year-olds. They fought about silly things, but they also worried about important ones. They were scared of growing up and leaving behind the worlds their imaginations created, of growing apart and never being able to have that back. Because you never know what growing up might do. 

All of the descriptions of the queen were creepy and I loved it. The ending was satisfactory. I will definitely be recommending this to my nieces and nephews and hope to turn them into fans alongside me. 

Nick Podehl narrated the audiobook and I thought it was done really well. Sometimes men doing voices for girls can sound odd, but overall his weren't that annoying. It also wasn't made to sound too childlike, which can sometimes be a drawback in middlegrade audiobooks. Definitely recommend the story and the audio for this one.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Magnolia Story~Chip and Joanna Gaines | Review

Title: The Magnolia Story
Author: Chip and Joanna Gaines
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Length: 208 Pages
Release: October 2016

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I have seen Fixer Upper a few times with my family and I always find it interesting. I don't know what drew me to this book, but when I saw that I could get it on audio through my library Overdrive account, I decided to give it a listen. 

This was hilarious. I was laughing out loud within the first twenty minutes. Chip and Joanna have a great story and hearing about their meeting, falling in love, and later being married and what they've done with their family was really inspirational. 

One thing that I love is that they don't take God and their beliefs out of things. They talk about their faith, praying for guidance, and how God has been present in their lives, even when they didn't realize it. That is quite refreshing to me. I also appreciate that they aren't pushy with their beliefs, they let you know what they believe without preaching. Jo said it best there at the end of the book--they want people to follow their dreams. 

Going into this I wasn't expecting to be so inspired. But I was. They made me want to work harder and really try to make the things I love work for me. And I think that with the right amount of effort and time, I can. They have given me a lot of things to think about and ideas to run with. 

The main drawback with this for me was the style it was done in. It worked great for audio, particularly since Chip and Jo narrated it themselves, but I think it would have been awkward to actually read. I haven't tried it, so I can't say if this is definitely the case, but while listening I was always glad that I was listening and not reading. I don't think I would have gotten as much from it in that format.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gardens of the Moon~Steven Erikson | Review

Title: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1)
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 666 Pages
Release: 1999

There are some books that it's really hard to write reviews for. This is one of those books. 

I don't know what I expected going into this, but somehow what I got wasn't it, but in a good way. For some reason I had imagined that this book would be really dark and depressing. I don't tend to enjoy grimdark novels all that much and I think that's what I expected from this. So while this definitely had some dark tones, I didn't find the writing or the story itself particularly depressing. I hope that holds up as the series continues. 

This novel follows a lot of characters, which I really enjoy. Large casts of characters always make things exciting for me. In the beginning I had a hard time connecting with the characters, though I found them all interesting. The more I got to know them, however, the more I started to appreciate them. There is no standout character that I became attached to, but there are several that I like for different reasons. Paran was an early favorite. Then there were Toc and Kruppe. Then I started to really enjoy Kalam, Quick Ben, and Rallick. And from there it kept building until I really liked them all, in some way. Even the ones that didn't seem all that likable. 

This isn't a typical good versus evil story, at least not on the surface. In the beginning I was searching for who the good guys were, only to discover that we were getting perspectives from nearly every angle and while some of the actions taken were questionable, there was still no clear line separating the "good" from the "bad." At first this was odd for me, but the more I read the more I liked it. 

The plot is very involved and I'm sure will continue to expand as the series progresses. I am positive that I did not catch all of the nuances throughout, but the details that did come together were pretty great. And there are still plenty of questions for later, without leaving me feeling unsatisfied with the ending. 

I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it to those who enjoy epic and high fantasy with large casts of characters and a plethora of characters and perspectives. It's well written, exciting, and a lot of fun.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Between Shades of Gray~Ruta Sepetys | Review

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 352 pages (paperback)
Release: March 2011

"We're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell."

It took me a long time to read this novel and I have no idea why. Historical fiction, particularly stories surrounding World War Two, are some of my favorite novels to read. They can be very hard hitting though, so reading a lot of them back to back can be emotionally draining. 

And this novel is no different. 

This novel deals with a lesser written about, lesser known part of the history of WWII. Lina, our main character, and her family are Lithuanian. Stalin invaded and annexed Lithuania, arresting and killing many of its citizens. In this story, Lina and her family are some of those arrested and we hear, from her own perspective, about what happens to them as they go. 

The author note at the end made me appreciate the novel even more than I did on its own. History is something that is important and sharing these stories keeps it alive, allowing us to prevent, if we choose to exercise that power, a repeat offense. Her note wasn't long, but it was touching to hear her personal connection and how she researched the novel. 

Between Shades of Gray is, essentially, a love story. Not a love story in the traditional sense, though there is some romance, but a love story that spans all types of love. There is love of family, of country, friends, neighbors, strangers, of God. And sometimes, there are small instances of kindness in the least likely of places. 

War, though it shows us the worst of humanity, often shows us what is best about our species as well. It's easy to judge another when you don't have all the facts, but a closer look often reveals something hidden beneath the surface. There is evil in the world, but there is also goodness. And if anything, that is what this novel shows. It has horror, yes, but above all of that it has love. 

I met Ruta a little over a year ago, after having read Out of the Easy, which I very much enjoyed. I hope that I get to meet her again one day so that I can tell her how much this novel and her own personal story have touched and inspired me.

I listened to this one on audio and while overall I think that the narrator, Emily Klein, was a good narrator, at times her tone didn't fit the narrative for me. Sometimes during serious, darker parts, her tone almost made it sound like the characters were joking about things. This wasn't true most of the time, but did have these moments that pushed me out of the story. 

Overall I highly recommend this, whether read in the physical format or listened to on audio, this is a book that everyone should read. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Wrath of Mulgarath~Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi | Review

Title: The Wrath of Mulgarath (The Spiderwick Chronicles #5)
Author: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Length: 136 Pages
Release: 2005

This was the final installment in the Spiderwick Chronicles and overall I was very pleased. Jared faces some of the inner struggles that we have seen in the previous novels and finally faces down some of his demons. The sibling relationship between Jared, Simon, and Mallory continues to be a highlight of the series. 

We get a lot of both Thimbletack and Hogsqueal in this final installment, which I appreciated. These two are a lot of fun and it was nice to have them around more. We also get to see some other familiar faces, some are not so welcome. 

I honestly love the writing in these stories and that makes me want to seek out other stories by these writers to see if they live up to this series. Everything was vivid and well thought out. Sure, it could have gone deeper and become lengthy middlegrade or young adult novels, but I think they are perfect as they are. 

If you haven't tried this series I highly recommend them. Read them with your children, your nieces and nephews, students, or by yourself, it really doesn't matter. They are very enjoyable and I think appeal to a wide range of ages. My sister and I both enjoyed them all very much as adults and I wish that I had had them as a child.