Posts Tagged ‘audiobook’

Hey guys! Normally I write book reviews, but sometimes I’ll have such strong feelings about a book that the review ends up being all CAP LOCKS and lols and 🙂 🙃 😱 😬 🙄🤔😍 🤓😄 😂 🤣; in cases like that (which is what happened with my review of Shadow’s Edge ((Night Angel #2)) by Brent Weeks), it’s just easier to talk about it instead of translate my feelings to typeface. I would love to know what you think- about the video, about the book, about how messy my book shelves look, anything! 😀 I hope you enjoy!

It took me a few weeks to come to terms with this novel, but I finally did and this is what I decided: despite the hype about Station Eleven, or perhaps because of the hype, the book turned out to be a huge disappointment for me.

About :

It starts off brilliantly with an actor’s onstage death that, while seeming both tragic and horrible to the cast and fans, also feels right—this is an elderly actor, surrounded by his favorite people, doing his favorite thing amidst the glorious fanfare of playing King Lear, dying a completely natural death. Sad, but, in a sense, also normal and even enviable. The way a person wants to die. (This scene made me want to go pick up King Lear, immediately, which is a bonus. I love being inspired to read classics by reading modern books.)

Then, as the acting cast meets afterwards in a bar to take in the death of their lead, we get this line:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on a road out of the city.”

Whoa, what!? This compelling line introduces the coming apocalypse—which, we soon learn, will be in the form of an epidemic that causes collapse of human civilization. The actor’s death is indeed a happy mercy in comparison. The perfect prose sets up the drama of this revelation perfectly.

Unfortunately, the prose is the only thing I enjoyed about the rest of the book. My interest died fairly soon after that amazing intro, after which we find ourselves following a cast of narrators connected in distant and basically meaningless ways. The revelations about those character connections are supposed to somehow give the novel structure, but the strategy doesn’t really work. It just reads like a bunch of character sketches set against a relatively static “post-apocalyptic” background. We see the fall of humanity through the eyes of these characters, which is sort of interesting, but…

Thoughts :

For me, two problems killed the character-driven premise of “examining the individual and collective human response to apocalypse.”

First of all, the cast is boring, completely average and largely unchanging. These are normal people who make huge mistakes, but never redeem themselves. The two characters who do change only do so in flashbacks: the actor, imo the least sympathetic character, and the vaguely-Protestant-sounding cult leader. Although Mandel attempts to give the story structure by following the arcs of the actor and the cult leader, both are snoozeworthy. I’ve read so much more interesting and illuminating portrayals of religious nutsos (see Hazel Motes in Wiseblood or St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre or even Kelsier in Mistborn!), so this kind of religious stereotype completely bores me.

Second, Mandel wrote Station Eleven almost entirely from the viewpoint of non-religious peoples of European descent. A little more diversity would have gone a long way toward creating a more compelling cast. The lack of sane religious people in particular seems like an odd disparity in a post-apocalyptic population. So, in regards to religious people, either: (1) ALL of them are nuts; (2) ALL the sane ones died already; or (3) ALL the sane ones were raptured!

‘What about the post-apocalyptic setting?’ you may be wondering. Well…it’s largely static, like the characters, unfortunately. [Highlight to view SPOILER: After the initial fall, we just see everything collapse again and again through the eyes of the cast, and that’s where it stays. Nothing else happens, no clues about the future. Maybe that’s what Mandel is saying: the future remains static forever. I guess you could interpret it that way, but it’s boring and relatively hopeless and in conjunction with everything else I didn’t like about this story? MEH. ]

To end on a high point: several members of the cast belong to a troupe of Shakespearean actors traveling through the wasteland, and Mandel uses them to share the redeeming power of story. I enjoyed that theme, even if it is apparently the exclusive source of meaning and hope characters find in the world of this novel (which is just silly. I love my books, but I don’t base my identity and hope in them, and I certainly wouldn’t do so in the case of an apocalypse. That, in addition to the apparent Theophobia??, made it difficult for me to find myself anywhere in this novel). Still, imaginary bonus points for the lit love.

Overall :

Dull, dull, dull. I’ve read literary fiction that accomplishes all of this with far greater success, so I really don’t understand why people loved this one. There’s just such better stuff out there. For a much more compelling character-driven and literary post-apocalyptic novel, I would recommend Arslan by M. J. Engh. Happily, I just reviewed it two days ago and it’s fresh enough that I’ll guarantee a much more thoughtful reading experience than Station Eleven can provide. Still not much plot, but the characters are way more interesting PLUS they’re unreliable narrators, which, I mean, bonus points, right?

So I gave Station Eleven 1 star for the prose, 1 star for the terrific intro and a half a star for a half-way decent cast. But I rounded down because I was so disappointed.

2.5/5 STARS

Recommended To:

If you super-love post-apocalyptic fiction, you might still enjoy Station Eleven, especially since it’s so mainstream and popular now. It will likely come up in conversations about literary sci-fi, and sometimes it’s just fun to take part in a popular sci-fi fandom. My library is giving away free copies of it this year for the Big Read, which is really a big deal for a science fiction novel!

Station Eleven is adult post-apocalyptic science fiction authored by Emily St. John Mandel and published September 9th 2014 by Knopf. Hardcover, 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

RidersRossi2

I hit so fast it felt like I landed everywhere at once—feet, a**, head.

The last thing I remember was hearing the crunching of bones in my arm and my legs. And that was it.

I was done.

About :

Gideon Blake boarded a plane for Fort Benning the day he got his high school diploma. But during his training to become an army ranger, he died in a parachuting accident.

Then…he woke up. Impossibly, he’s soon healed, being pursued by monsters and falling in love with a mysterious girl—a girl who refuses to tell him what the heck is going on.

But he finds out soon enough: Gideon is War incarnate, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and he has to find the other three members of his team—Famine, Death and Conquest—before the bad guys do. Riders is ya fantasy written by Veronica Rossi and published February 16th 2016 by Tor Teen. Hardcover, 384 pages.

Thoughts :

Even before I realized that Dan Bittner was narrating the Riders audiobook (which is a huge bonus!), I was hooked by the premise: the four horsemen? Cool factor, amirite?

We start out the story in an interrogation room—after all the action has occurred. A disbelieving, top-secret investigator is interviewing Gideon Blake about said action in some kind of army bunker.

I’m in a small room with pine walls and floor boards. Even the trim is pine, so. Either I was eaten by a tree or I’m in a cabin.”

We quickly learn that the US military rescued Gideon and the other horsemen from some kind of epic failure in Denmark—and that some girl named “Daryn” elected to stay behind. Which upset Gideon so much the army had to tranquilize the kid.

I think someone has a crush 😏

So now, all Gideon wants is to get out of the restraints placed on him by the military, but first he must tell them his story. We learn the details as gradually as the military listeners do.

If you’re starting to hanker after the plot details, trust me, I understand! That’s a feeling I had to get used to during the course of the story. The plot mainly consists of finding the other horsemen (three of whom end up being Americans, which is kind of funny, but they end up traveling to a few different countries anyway) and, in the very end, facing the monsters they’ve been “incarnated” to battle. We do get glimpses of the future conflict in the apocalyptic touches, such as the monsters themselves, the super weapons belonging to the four horsemen and—the coolest speculative element—the supernatural horses featured on the covers of books I and II. But the mysterious Daryn keeps many secrets of their incarnation and missions to herself.

So the conflict comes mainly from the story structure of Gideon’s interview, which is a genius mode of storytelling for Veronica Rossi. Her greatest strength as a writer (imo, of course)  is her character voice. Gideon’s voice, ah! I just love it so much. If you’ve read Veronica Rossi before, you probably know about her way with characters. In Riders, she enriches the YA genre in one very specific way. To explain:

If there’s one cringe-worthy commonality in YA fiction, it’s the girly guys. Seriously, where are all the macho males? I married a manly man and he’s definitely worth knowing and representing in YA fiction. Give me confidence! Swagger! Muscles! Convictions! Loudmouths! Anger issues! I would love to see more testosterone in YA, and I think other genre readers would, too.

So I thoroughly enjoyed Rossi’s extremely successful macho male perspective. Two of the four horsemen have serious aggression issues (War and Death, which somehow doesn’t surprise me!) and it’s interesting to watch them battle things out. Gideon turns into a jealous jerk, at times, but it’s a plausible character fault to go along with his strong leadership tendencies and smart mouth (not to mention his age and circumstances).

Gideon is also completely sassy and hilarious in a very character-specific way.

Her navy-blue suit looks expensive and she has a Ph.D kind of vibe, like she knows everything about something. And wrote a book about it. A civilian. I’d bet anything.”

Now does that scream soldier boy or what?

And the audio narrator! Dan Bittner stole my soul!! He saved Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, for me, by basically BECOMING Cole St. Clair—but this. This is magnificent! Rossi’s and Bittner’s talents really bring Gideon alive, in the Riders audiobook. Bittner seems to go for the voice-driven authors and I’m so glad he does because he rocks their work.

Overall :

I loved this sooo much, it’s exactly my kind of thing, even though there’s little plot involved; most of it is “series set up” and character development. In that sense, it reminds me of Extracted by RR Hayward, which is also a book about “setting up the crew”; but Riders is much funnier and I loved Rossi’s characters far more than Hayward’s.

Recommended To :

I think Riders will be best enjoyed by audiences who look for strong character voice (especially humor) and character-driven narratives over strong plotting. The speculative element, while present, is minimal beyond the obvious “four horsemen” thing. It’s possible that the series as a whole has a fabulous plot; but book II doesn’t come out until next month, so we’ll have to wait and see 🙂 And, of course, I highly recommend the audiobook, although I’m sure the regular book is just as fabulous….

****4/5 STARS

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Bloodbound

“The devout belief that the world is explainable is both a terrible vulnerability and a stout shield. Evil prefers it when people don’t believe.”

About :

Mercy Thompson knows a thing or two about “the unexplainable.” For instance, she can shapeshift into a coyote, much like the werewolves she knows, except without suffering their transitional pains; the title of her true nature was lost with the death of her father, so her supernatural friends deem her simply—and incorrectly—a “Skinwalker…of the Southwest Indian tribes.”

But even Mercy gets shaken up when a sorcerer appears on her home turf, bespelling and threatening her vampire friend Stephan and his coven. Werewolves and vampires start working together to hunt him down, and all of her supernatural friends—especially her werewolf “gentlemen callers,” Adam and Samuel—warn her to stay out of the dangerous sorcerer’s way.

But even her besties can’t convince Mercy to stay benched while they put themselves in danger. Blood Bound is adult urban fantasy/paranormal romance authored by Patricia Briggs and published January 30th 2007 by Ace. Mass Market Paperback, 292 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Thoughts :

It’s been a few weeks since I listened to this audiobook, so get ready for a short and sweet review! Overall, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed book I. The mystery—“Where is the sorcerer? And where is he hiding all of Mercy’s menfolk?!”—actually held my attention better than the mystery in book I, despite the two plots’ similarities. (The plot of book I is also, “Where did the bad guy hide Adam and his daughter?”) The clues are more exciting and fun to decode, many of them involving ghosts (one of my favorite Urban Fantasy elements). We also get more familiar with both the wereworld and vampire politics. The worldbuilding just keeps getting better and better!

My only real complaint is that I wish Mercy would wear more clothes on the book covers! J/k, but in all seriousness, I do feel lukewarm about one element in the series so far: the men (all of them, even, strangely, Mercy’s gay friend?) spend a lot more time jockeying for Mercy’s attention in book II than they did even in book I. Mercy seriously needs a few chick friends, considering how much the male wolves annoy her when they get territorial. She does seem to make one sort-of friend in Honey, so I’m hoping we get more girl time in book III.

On the plus side, I’m getting some serious vibes between Mercy and Adam, which is awesome because…well, Adam is pretty hot 😀

Overall :

I’m really enjoying this world, so I’m definitely going to keep reading. It’s nice, light entertainment. And, okay, I’m curious about who Mercy picks!

Recommended To :

If you like book I, chances are you’ll like book II. Mostly, you might want to hang around because I hear the series keeps getting better!

3.5/5 STARS

The Immortals

“I protect you, just like I protect all the women who come to me. And all I ask in return is two promises: You won’t tell the cops about me, and you won’t hook up with ***holes again.”

About :

The pantheon of Greek gods is alive, though not exactly well, in the city of Manhattan. Artemis—or Selene the Huntress, as she calls herself these days—wearily goes about her age-old task of saving women from male predators, but in truth her powers waned long ago as mortals began to worship other things.

But a brutal murder puts Selene back in touch with her ancient calling, and suddenly her powers begin to return…In her search to find the murderer, she finds herself disarmed and, alarmingly, charmed by a handsome classics professor, Theodore Schultz, who doggedly pursues the same answers. The Immortals is adult urban fantasy authored by Jordanna Max Brodsky and published February 16th 2016 by Orbit. Hardcover, 447 pages.

Thoughts :

Let’s start with the good things. The publisher marketed this as Percy Jackson for adults, and I’d say that’s about right. How could I not at least try “Percy Jack for adults”? So much potential in this premise! Brodsky clearly researched the pantheon, too, and developed an interesting faith system for modern life, as gods try to stay relevant to today’s worshippers. (Selene’s brother Apollo tours with his rock band, catering to adoring crowds and groupies.) Brodsky combines a murder mystery with this brilliant idea, and it held my attention, although I’ve read enough murder mysteries to have pinpointed the culprit immediately.

My other favorite thing? Nerdy and hilarious academic references abound. I love Theo’s pseudo swear, “Holy Roman Empire!” which had me literally laughing out loud as I listened to the audiobook. Brodsky represents the world of academia with great color and life. This goes beyond just the killer premise of bringing the Greek pantheon to life in modern Manhattan; Theo’s university scenes left me feeling totally nostalgic for college.

So it kills me to write this, but…

DNF at 33%

I could not get into the characters. I couldn’t help getting the impression that both protagonists are condescending snobs. Selene condescends to everyone except her dog, but especially to men and specifically to Theo, who practically prostrates himself before her. In one scene, he proves his credentials by helping her with a lead, then pleads to be allowed to help her investigate the murder. This response characterizes Selene’s attitude during the entire conversation:

She put on her baseball cap and pulled it low, so he could barely see her eyes glaring at him from beneath the brim. ‘But don’t think we’re partners, because we’re not.’”

Uhhh okay. Why does he find her attractive again? And she’s just like that all the time. It’s sort of inhuman, which I guess might be the point: Selene is a vengeance goddess. She doesn’t want or need to be liked.

At least Theo’s a nice enough guy, but both he and Selene spend the first 150 pages condescending to the police in ways that just irritate me. Just one example: Theo physically grabs a cop and then gets all amped up when the cop supposedly “trumps up” assault charges on him; but the fact is, grabbing anyone will legitimately earn you an “assault” charge. These kinds of misunderstandings always bother me because my husband is in law enforcement and depends on these laws for protection in the field.

I almost can’t blame Theo and Selene for their attitudes, though, because the cops in The Immortals are all bumbling idiots. They fail to investigate leads and, as poor Theo observes, can’t even remember to Mirandize their suspects (or perhaps don’t want to?). Brodsky’s narrative about law enforcement feels more angry and targeted than the humorously inept “Lestraudes” of normal mystery stories, going beyond humor and straight into using police corruption, brutality and neglect as the main antagonists of the investigators. I don’t know if this is just a clumsy mishandling of the mystery trope or if Brodsky is trying to set up a narrative, here, but unfortunately it made the book difficult for me to enjoy.

Overall & Recommendation :

If the things I mentioned above don’t personally barb you, and if you like the sound of the synopsis, I would definitely recommend trying The Immortals. I think most urban-fantasy lovers and mythology geeks will enjoy it; and luckily for you who do enjoy it, book II just came out in February!

MoonCalled

“I am a walker. The term is derived from ‘skinwalker,’ a witch of the Southwest Indian tribes who uses a skin to turn into a coyote or some other creature.”

About :

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson runs a Volksvagen garage in Washington and keeps largely to herself. She’s a “walker,” a magical shapeshifter, and she can slip easily into the form of a coyote. Her brand of shapeshifting remains a secret from almost everyone; only the Fae have revealed themselves to the mundane world, and they bear the brunt of significant persecution. As a result, the werewolves, vampires and other supernatural spooks stay underground—and Mercy prefers to do the same. It’s just easier.

But Mercy’s connections with the local magical presence are finally coming around to “bite” her. When a runaway werewolf appears in her garage asking for a temporary position, Mercy gives him a job and hooks him up with the local werewolf pack leader, Adam, who is also her sexy neighbor. But somebody is looking for the runway—and they don’t mind confronting Mercy or Adam to do it. Walker and werewolf race the clock to find the man behind the mystery before more innocents suffer. Moon Called is Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy written by Patricia Briggs and published January 31st 2006 by Ace.

Thoughts :

I picked up the first of the Mercy Thompson series because I’ve been wanting to get a better feel for Urban Fantasy, and Niki over at The Obsessive Bookseller told me it was a great place to start. (Thanks Niki! 🙂 ) I also love reading about Native American cultures, so of course I had to start with this series. It sucked me in immediately with the introduction of the runaway and, no joke, the “inciting incident” made me cry! (I’m totally a crier 😋)

Because the cast of this first installment remains relatively small, readers easily get to know everybody. In Mercy we find both a pleasant person and a decent heroine—hardworking and easy to like, lacking gimmicks to rub readers the wrong way. I do wish she had some chick friends (although I like all her guy friends, too). But I enjoyed hearing about her Native family history and how her father was a Walker.

I listened to Moon Called alongside reading an eARC of Melissa F. Olson’s Midnight Curse, so it was fun to compare the two books as I get to know the genre:

Midnight Curse has a stronger mystery element than Moon Called and I enjoyed guessing at the twists. Midnight Curse’s characters also really got to me, as evidenced in my IMPASSIONED REVIEW, haha. But the romance arc kept me from loving Midnight Curse or wanting to continue that particular series (although I’ll definitely consider trying a future new series by this talented author).

As for Moon Called, I just plain liked everything about it! Although nothing blew me away in this first installment (it is a first installment, after all, and only 288 pgs), nothing repelled me either, and Briggs develops the worldbuilding impressively well for such a short volume. It thoroughly introduces the werewolf world, and I’m looking forward to exploring more. (The second book sounds like it might tackle the vampires.) Although I didn’t follow the mystery as well, that could be in part due to the nature of the audio experience. I prefer a book like this as my intro to a series, I think.

And the thing that topped off Moon Called, for me, is the great narrator, Lorelei King. I’m always amazed when one narrator can pull off a whole cast so well.

Overall :

I enjoyed pretty much everything about this short and sweet audiobook. I actually felt rested after finishing it. Just something nice and fast with a fun world to inhabit for a few hours. I’m definitely planning to continue the series.

Plot: 3 Stars
Characters: 3.5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Stars
Audio: 5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a quick start to a new Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy series. I would say this tends more towards the “paranormal romance” side of the spectrum, although the romance is largely a background element of this first installment; but the romantic tensions swirl beneath the surface of Mercy’s interactions with the two male werewolves in her life. So if that sounds like fun, I bet you’ll enjoy Moon Called!

illumniae

About :

What could be worse for a teenager than breaking up with her year-long boyfriend?

Well, lots of things, as Kady Grant soon discovers. When a major mining corporation attacks her sort-of-illegal mining settlement on the tiny planet of Kerenza, her breakup with Ezra is demoted to the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

And they happen on the same day. Of course they do.

But even the Kerenza refugees who escape the attack remain in grave danger—a warship pursues the refugees through space, and as their ship breaks down, everything that can go wrong absolutely does. Worse yet, Kady, Ezra and the rest of the refugees must pry information out of those in charge, who would prefer to avoid panic by avoiding disclosure.

How can anyone onboard help if they’re left in the dark? Illuminae is YA sci-fi written by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and published October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance (2016), Aurealis Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015), The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2016), Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) (2015), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2015)

Thoughts :

In a cool sci-fi twist on the epistolary novel, the authors wrote Illuminae in a series of IM logs, medical reports and other “hacked documents.” It looks brilliant in hard copy. Still, I hesitated to pick it up—I don’t get the chance to read much YA in hard copy, these days.

But when I heard good things about the audiobook, I decided to give it a shot.

“Audiobook?” you may wonder. “How could they convert this clever and unusual epistolary format into an audiobook?”

With lots and looooots of talented voice actors and sound effects. The “translation” from text to audio is well-planned and executed. This is one impressive audiobook, folks.

As far as the actual story, readers will find a lot to like there, also. The “voices” of our two main protagonists—the rebellious teens Kady and Ezra—are completely unique. I don’t know if Kaufman and Kristoff wrote the two perspectives separately or what, but Kady comes off as an extremely brainy, competent and ambitious hacker while Ezra embodies a soulful, handsome and foul-mouthed jock who flies starship missions after being drafted into the onboard military. Two such different and convincing voices rarely appear in the same book.

That’s particularly important in this book, where the voices basically carry the long setup of the book’s first half. The main focus revolves around Kady and Ezra’s love life as several different potential plot problems mount around them. The setup of the first half feels a little like the authors are throwing in tons of tropes to hold our attention, such as [Highlight to view SPOILER: a mutating disease and a warship “timebomb”]; but when the real story starts about halfway through, it grabbed me immediately.

I lovelovelove the twist [Highlight to view SPOILER: when Aiden releases the infected from Bay 4, OH MAN! That got my attention, haha]. Older readers of sci-fi will have read the trope before, but it will be new to a lot of young adults and anyone new to sci-fi and I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. I wish I could talk about it more because it’s probably my favorite thing about the book!

But before I close this review, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote, an offering from the romantic Ezra:

You deserve every star in the galaxy laid out at your feet and a thousand diamonds in your hair. You deserve someone who’ll run with you as far and as fast as you want to. Holding your hand, not holding you back.”

Overall :

Ultimately, the sci-fi epistolary format is the most unique thing about Illuminae. Other than that, I think it’s a fun sci-fi, if a little overlong. A good contribution to the YA genre. I’m hoping for more history and cool techy inventions in book II, Gemina.

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 Stars
Writing: 4/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4/5 Stars
Audio: 5/5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone new to sci-fi and any fans of YA in general. If you enjoy Star Wars, you might enjoy this. Oh, and if you like audios, the novelty of such a well-orchestrated audio might make it worth trying!

the-witch-of-portbello

What happened to Athena? 

About :

Athena was a lot of things, but nobody’s labels seemed to stick. Everyone who knew her had an opinion…but did any of them really know her? Told in “transcripts” taped by Athena’s “biographer,” The Witch of Portobello is an unusual mystery tale. Not only does the reader discover Athena, Athena discovers herself—through the eyes of others. The Witch of Portobello is adult fiction by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho and published in 2006. Coelho also wrote The Alchemist.

Thoughts :

What happened to Athena? This question drove my interest in The Witch of Portobello. Early on in the transcripts, we learn from several of the narrators that Athena was murdered. But how? And by whom? Details, details!

This is the second Paulo Coelho novel I’ve listened to, and I enjoyed it as much as the first (The Alchemist). When I realized this was an epistolary novel told through the alternating “transcripts,” I worried that I might confuse the narrators over audio; but it worked out just fine, although I occasionally had to rewind to figure out who was speaking.

We hear the story of Athena’s journey through the eyes of her parents, her teacher, a besotted journalist and his ex-girlfriend…and they all share really strong opinions about her! Conflicting opinions! It was so entertaining to go from the love-struck journalist to his poisonously jealous girlfriend, etc. Athena evoked strong reactions wherever she went.

The central question of the novel relates, of course, to self-discovery. (If you’ve read anything by Paulo Coelho, you probably know how important this theme in his fiction.) Here’s the pitch:

How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?

While Athena discovers her own identity, we hear a lot about the New Age beliefs she comes to devote herself to—seriously, a lot. And they’re weird. As a foster-child adopted from a Transylvanian gypsy woman, and as a young mother, divorced and cast from the Catholic church, Athena struggles to recover from loads of internal wounds. She searches for her identity in a goddess who may or may not speak through her (depending on who is narrating at the time) and trances and dances and other, er, strange places. I admit that sitting in on these meetings is a little awkward, but the rotating narrators make it more fun than preachy. I love when authors use a multitude of narrative perspectives to share different versions of the same story, ultimately leaving the interpretation up to the reader.

And anyway, the central mystery—“What happened to Athena?”—has such a strong pull that I would have listened through ten more of her bewildering New Age sermons just to find out.

And then that surprise ending! Good stuff.

Overall :

A short, refreshing contemporary mystery by the bestselling author of The Alchemist.

Recommended To :

If you don’t mind wading through the weird stuff, I think you’ll be hooked by this posthumous tale of Athena’s self-discovery. Some have complained that it’s too preachy—most of Coelho’s books could probably find warm spots on those lists of “most controversial books”—although I didn’t mind at all. It’s a relatively short book and, I think, really brilliant.

****4/5 STARS

way-of-kings About:

Roshar is a land ruled by Highstorms and Shardblade warfare. But as a cycle of Desolation approaches to destroy humanity, four people will play key roles in the outcome:

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, assassinates King Gavilar and begins a cycle of vengeance—the “Vengeance Pact”—between two races. He weeps as he is forced to kill for his masters.

Kaladin Stormblessed, an apprentice surgeon, is forced to become a soldier in the armies fighting for vengeance. After suffering the betrayal of a “light-eyed” noble, this dark-eyed soldier fights for his life and that of his dark-eyed crew.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands an army like the one that employs Kaladin. But as he is drawn to an ancient text of law, The Way of Kings, he finds himself questioning the purpose of this war.

Young Shallan Davar, Brightness of a small, struggling estate, risks everything to plan a daring theft. The first step of her plan is to train as a scholar with the heretic Jasnah Kholin, Brightlord Dalinar Kholin’s niece; but as she gains Jasnah’s trust, she realizes that the woman studies much more than obscure academia: she studies the secrets of the fabled order of the Knights Radiant, their shards and the Desolations they fought so long ago. Adult High Fantasy Published August 31st 2010 by Tor Books.

My Thoughts :

Wow. 1,000 pages of wow. Just let me fangirl for a moment, here.

Don’t let the size of this tome fool you: The Way of Kings is a compulsively readable, highly character-driven high fantasy. The characters always let you know what they want; but you never know what twists lie in store for them.

And there are so many twists! They start coming early on. It’s almost funny how I continue to guess and theorize because I’m always totally wrong. Everything is sailing along as the characters expect, and then BAM! You weren’t getting comfortable were you, Christy? Because this guy’s being sold into slavery and this gal’s not the naïve young bookworm you thought. You think you know what’s going on? Trust me, you don’t.

I can’t talk overmuch about the plot without spoilers, but:

I dare you to get bored during a Kaladin scene. Seriously. I bet you can’t do it. Early on in the novel, he’s drafted into a hellish portion of the army known as “bridge duty” (wherein generals force crews of unarmed men to rush first into battle, set bridges across chasms and draw enemy fire away from the “real” soldiers) and his goal becomes one thing and one thing only: keep his bridge crew alive. He constantly schemes up crazy ideas to meet that goal, and I promise, it’s worth your time to read The Way of Kings just for this one innovative soldier’s arc.

But Dalinar Kholin’s arc is a close second favorite. Uncle to the king and brother of the slain King Gavilar, Dalinar dominates the battlefield. Known as the Blackthorn, he fiercely wields a weapon called a “Shardblade,” a giant sword with unimaginably destructive power. As the book’s description says, wars are fought for and won by these ancient, mysterious weapons that appear from mist and kill souls as easily as they kill bodies. Dalinar is a cultural hero among his war-obsessed countrymen—but he has lately been troubled by Highstorm visions that may or may not be the onset of madness. As everyone including his sons and the king begin to question him, Dalinar has to navigate the visions, public opinion and private family business. A complex man with a complex path. I’m totally obsessed with Dalinar.

I think Shallan’s arc qualifies as the most complex among the four main narrators. She possesses the potential and desire to become a great scholar, but family secrets close that option to her. While innovation and leadership concerns characterize the narratives of Kaladin and Dalinar, Shallan’s narrative blossoms more slowly, and it feels almost self-contained until we find out more about Jasnah’s research. Nevertheless, I love Shallan’s scenes. Her intelligence and ambition make her arc tense and painful, at times, but always twisty and keenly satisfying.

Szeth the assassin is the most mysterious of the four narrators, but I suspect that he holds the secret to the coming Desolations. We shall see.

The worldbuilding itself is like a fabulous character. It’s so big! And it feels that way, paradoxically, by detailing the small stuff.

“Kaladin stared out over those grasses blowing in the mild breeze. Whenever the wind picked up, the more sensitive of the grass stalks shrank down into their burrows, leaving the landscape patchy, like the coat of a sickly horse.”

Although we expect large amounts of setup and worldbuilding in a novel like this, Sanderson incorporates it all smoothly into the secretive and engrossing characters arcs. The swords, the storms, the mysterious “stormlight” that connects everything together…and don’t even get me started on the countries, social prejudices and religions! One society lives on an endless, shallow lake, and citizens just…stay wet. All the time. And Alethi men and women must eat gender-specified foods! It’s craziness. The smooth writing let me slip easily into the world of Roshar, never drawing attention to itself. I got lost in this engrossing giant of a novel.

When plot twists pay off—when the action starts—it’s explosive. This is totally cliché, but the battle scenes really are heart-rending and pulse-pounding. Very “visually” effective (better than Mistborn‘s action scenes, I would say). The tactics and strategy are extremely well drawn.

I switched back and forth between the audiobook and the hardcover copy, so I can confirm that the story reads easily in both. Hearing all the unique names pronounced with such assurance made the audio version a favorite with me; but the easy writing makes the hard copy equally as engrossing—and the illustrations! They’re gorgeous!

Overall :

Combines the intrigue of Elantris with the action and themes of Mistborn. X1000. It’s definitely my favorite thing by Sanderson, as yet. As I was reading, I kept wishing the book could last forever. Thankfully, 9,000 is a conservative estimate of pages remaining in the series, right?

Recommended To :

It sometimes feels like I was the last person to this Stormlight Archives partaaay, but I know that’s not true! The books are so gigantic, I was intimidated away until I saw the list of contents in Arcanum Unbounded. Then I knew I needed to get on these books already. But seriously, if you like character-driven fantasy, I highly recommend trying The Way of Kings. You might be surprised how the pages fly by, once you start to get to know the characters.

*****5/5 Stars

winter-final

She froze a few steps into the sitting room. Her gut tightened, her nostrils filling with the iron tang of blood.

It was all around her. On the walls. Dripping from the chandelier. Soaking into the upholstered cushions of the settee.…‘Why does the palace hurt so much, Jacin? Why is it always dying?’”

Princess Winter lives in mad Lunar Queen Levana’s court. Unfortunately, some of the madness has rubbed off on her. Seeing the destruction caused all around her by the Lunar gift, she refuses to use her own, a decision that causes her mind to deteriorate.

Winter’s breakdown is heartbreaking for her guard, Jacin, to watch. He has loved the princess since childhood, and now that he’s back in the Lunar court, it’s harder than ever for him to endure her pain. But there might be hope yet: rumors say that the rebel Lunar princess Selene knows of a cure for the “gift”—a cure that could help his princess. As Princess Winter fights every day to covertly undermine Queen Levana’s bloodshed—a decision that leads her to care for the Queen’s newest “pet,” a tortured earthen rebel named Scarlet Benoit—Jacin determines to find a cure for Princess Winter’s Lunar sickness at all costs.

And helping Princess Selene lead a rebellion against the evil Queen is his best bet. YA Sci-Fi, fairy tale retelling. Published November 10th 2015 by Feiwel & Friends. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2015).

About:

As with the other reviews of this series, I can’t address much about the overarching plot of the series without spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at this: welcome to Luna. This setting adds all sorts of tension to the plan of revolution, and the plot moves fairly quickly.

There’s so much to like about this fourth installment, and a lot of it has to do with the characters. First of all, the whole crew is finally working together in genuine camaraderie throughout much of the book—even Scarlet, who has been languishing in captivity since book III. I suspect any reader would enjoy spending a few hours with this large, loud group of friends.

I also have to once again praise the pure genius of the audio narrator, Rebecca Soler: she brings all the characters to life, but her portrayal of Winter, with the princess’s growing mental instability, is the most breathtaking of all.

Though Winter’s arc is largely reactive and introspective, instead of proactive, her complex character-building and the portrayal of her madness definitely add layers of intensity to her scenes. I think she, Cress and Cinder are tied three ways for my favorite characters of the series; Cress’s scenes are usually the most entertaining, though, with plenty of action and humor.

And speaking of Cress, she gets some fantastic scenes in this book! She’s been a dynamic character ever since her “official” introduction in book III, my favorite of the four volumes.

One of the best surprises about this book is the friendship between Winter and Scarlet.

‘Hello, crazy,’ said Scarlet. It sounded like an endearment. ‘How are the castle walls today?’”

Throughout book III, Scarlet felt largely like an unnecessary accessory to the arc of her Lunar supersoldier boyfriend. When she starred in book II, she would pop off randomly at times that called for calm, as if that was supposed to convince me of her toughness. But Princess Winter brings out Scarlet’s courage, humor and many capabilities in a way that none of the other characters managed to do.

Alas, just as I’m truly growing fond of the entire cast, it’s time to say goodbye. As the last installment, Winter had a big job to tie off the story. The final showdown with Levana did unfortunately lack much in the way of visible, clever trickery that would have greatly enhanced the battle. Also, the love subplots grew somewhat tired by the end—not because of the individual relationships, but because even Disney princesses don’t always get a prince. Still, Winter ends the series really well with a big decision by Cinder. Good stuff.

Overall :

Awesome heroines (including a fashion-obsessed android), swoonworthy guys, rebellions to infinity and beyond, and, of course, spaceships to fly in the rebels. I’m really glad I listened to it because now I can wholeheartedly recommend it to the many patrons of my library looking for this exact thing: a completely unique YA series with lots of genuine entertainment value.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a clever modern twist on the princess fairy tales!

****4/5 Stars