Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

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Let’s talk about that boy…

All praise Brandon Sanderson for giving us one of the best male narrators in YA fiction. David is a breath of fresh air in a sea of Katniss and Tris wannabes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve become tired of the dystopian girl who has to meet a cute boy to help her cope with her depressing world, but it was nice to have a main character who took it upon himself to try and make his world better.

In the prologue, we meet David as a young boy, who goes through a harrowing experience while at the bank with his father. Two of the Epics – humans with superpowers that developed after an event called Calamity – get into a brawl with disastrous consequences. David spends the next ten years studying Epics in search of a way to defeat them, taking notes and forming theories. 

So about those Reckoners…

David is not the only one who wants to take down the Epics. Imagine if people started developing limitless powers, and couldn’t handle the God complex that followed from that? This is David’s world, where Epics rule with iron fists while the rest of the country falls into chaos and poverty.

The Reckoners are a guerrilla group that work to secretly eliminate Epics. They have no real presence – they don’t publicize their efforts, and they haven’t been able to take down any of the really powerful Epics that would draw much attention. David wants to join up with them to share his research and bring down the Epic that took everything from him. 

The mystery of Steelheart…

The problem is that although David knows that Steelheart can be hurt, he doesn’t know how. In the bank, as a boy, he witnessed one bullet that managed to make Steelheart bleed. When David joins the Reckoners they set out to try and figure out what was special about that bullet, that gun, or that moment that made him vulnerable.

And one of my favorite aspects of the book was that I could never quite figure it out. Most of the main characters have a different theory about Steelheart’s weakness, and they all feel convincing. The deeper they get in their plot to try and overthrow him, the higher the stakes become for getting the answer right. If they can’t find the answer before the showdown they are setting up, they’ll all be killed. This is a win or die scenario, and it was completely gripping to read.

If you want action…

…then this is the book for you. If they don’t make this into a movie, then the world is majorly missing out. The action scenes are crazy intense – chase sequences, guns, and explosions galore. The Reckoners have to meet with seedy black market weapons traders and sneak into heavily guarded buildings. Their headquarters are in a forgotten layer of underground tunnels, and the final showdown happens in one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago (or Newcago, as it’s known in David’s world).

It was the breakneck pace of the action that kept me turning the pages as fast as possible. I tore through this book and found it unbelievably hard to put down. Unfortunately, the pacing didn’t leave much room for explanation of the world. I felt there were a lot of pieces of information that we didn’t get which would have been helpful to understand how Newcago operates or how the world got to this point. No one seems to understand Calamity or how it led to the Epics, and even though it has only been ten years, I expected just a bit more information.

I’m hoping that information comes in with the next book in this exciting and promising new series. I adored David and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him and the rest of the Reckoners. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

[rating stars=”four-stars”]

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Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

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Alice in Wonderland is one of those tales that is so pervasive you feel like you’ve read it, even if you haven’t. Though I have never read Lewis Carroll’s classic book, I probably watched my old VHS tape of this ridiculously cheesy 1985 TV miniseries about a hundred times. I’ve seen the Disney version and the Johnny Depp version. And I’ve loved them all.

This modern take on Alice’s story imagines our protagonist, Alyssa, as a descendant of the Alice who lived and inspired Carroll’s stories. Along with a similar name, she is in line to inherit the psychological madness that is passed from female descendant to female descendant. Her mother is locked in an asylum, and Alyssa tries very hard to convince herself that she can’t hear the voices starting to appear in her head. She’s a cool skater girl into art and bugs and other Things That Are Dark And Twisty.

The coolest thing about this book is the brilliant display of imagination on the part of author A. G. Howard. I only wish I could think up stuff this vivid and exciting. When Alyssa goes down the rabbit hole, we get a version of Wonderland that is fresh and new without being unfamiliar. Carroll’s characters pop up, but in different forms than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that the White Rabbit is not just a rabbit – he’s much creepier than that.

If you’re tired of love triangles, consider yourselves warned. Alyssa is into the boy next door, Jeb, and while in Wonderland starts to fall under the spell of the difficult and dark Morpheus. Morpheus acts as a sort of guide and childhood friend of Alyssa’s on the Wonderland side of things, while Jeb is her friend and protector on the reality side. Morpheus is certainly the more interesting and mysterious of the two, but his sketchy motives later in the story made me not like him as much.

If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that those motives, and the plot, got a little confusing toward the end. I had a hard time following what was happening because the history was so rich and complex. The politics of the Red Queen and White Queen and Morpheus’s place in the middle of all of it overwhelmed me, and I’m still not entirely sure I absorbed it all. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to track who supposedly did what and to what end, and what they really meant when they did them, versus what everyone else thought they were doing.

Did you get that? Yeah. Me either.

Fuzzy plot or not, this was a really enjoyable story. I loved seeing such a cool concept from a debut author, too! I picked this one up at the library because I couldn’t find it at the store, and the cover is absolutely stunning. The text is a beautiful dusty purple color. Normally I’m not a fan of colored print in books, but for some reason this really worked for me. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book for your shelf and want to support a debut author with a fantastic story, I recommend this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

[rating stars=”four-stars”]

Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Book: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: October 16, 2012
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: The Passage #2
 
Summary from Goodreads:

At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War.

To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral but whose side, in the end, is she really on?

I know what you’re thinking. Why would I review the sequel to a book I didn’t like all that much?

Well, the ending to The Passage was exciting enough that I felt The Twelve was worth a try. I wasn’t going to spend money on it, but I’d put a hold on the ebook at the library and see what happened. If it didn’t hook me in the first 50 pages, then I could just accept that this wasn’t the series for me and go on my merry way.

So I put it on hold, and when the hold came through, I started reading.

And it completely hooked me.

THIS was the book I wanted to read when I was promised literary-style vampires. THIS was the book I wanted to read when I was promised post-apocalyptic viral mayhem. THIS was 100 times better than The Passage.

Though we are, frustratingly, introduced to even MORE new characters in this book, at least these characters didn’t stumble around incoherently through 50 pages of backstory for each one of them. We also get to spend the majority of the book with characters we know from the first book, and they get to do way more interesting things. I’m still not a huge fan of the author’s stylistic choices, but the narrative switches bothered me much less in this book.

Justin Cronin is juggling a large timeline (100 years or so), multiple locations separated by hundreds of miles, and an enormous cast of characters. While I found the scope to be somewhat disjointed in book one, here some of the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. He has certainly earned my trust that all of my investment in his world will pay off.

In this book, we slide one generation back in time to see some important lead-ins to the current action, and we also get to see a new side of Year Zero. This time around we actually experience the viral outbreak and its immediate consequences on the population. I absolutely loved seeing the government side of the story and how they tried to balance their resources in the face of a society-ending plague. How would they try to quarantine large sections of the country? Who would they sacrifice for the greater good? What would happen to the world economy and foreign relations? These are the kinds of questions I enjoy exploring in post-apocalyptic fiction, and Cronin finally delivers.

The mysteries and objectives facing the characters were thrilling. I was swept up in the story, and found myself trusting Cronin to lead us to where we needed to be. My familiarity with the main characters put me at ease while reading, but the new challenges they faced had me on edge. Life is bleak in this world, and just when you think you know where things are going they take a right turn into a new surprise. It’s very much an enjoyable ride.

Action-packed mayhem, deepening plot mysteries, and strong characters make this a book well worth a read. If you can slog your way through the first book, The Twelve will reward you in spades. I will absolutely be reading the final book when it releases next year, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Double Review: Hidden and Breathless by Sophie Jordan

Book: Hidden
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTEEN
Release date: September 11, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Jacinda was supposed to bond with Cassian, the “prince” of their pride. But she resisted long before she fell in love with Will, a human and, worse, a hunter. When she ran away with Will, it ended in disaster, with Cassian’s sister, Miram, captured. Weighed down by guilt, Jacinda knows she must rescue her to set things right. Yet to do so she will have to venture deep into the heart of enemy territory.

The only way Jacinda can reach Miram is by posing as a prisoner herself, though once she assumes that disguise, things quickly spiral out of her control. As she learns more about her captors, she realizes that even if Will and Cassian can carry out their part of the plan, there’s no guarantee they’ll all make it out alive. But what Jacinda never could have foreseen is that escaping would be only the beginning….

Loyalties are tested and sacrifices made in the explosive conclusion to Sophie Jordan’s Firelight trilogy.

Sophie Jordan is not one to recap. As with the last book, Vanish, this book picks up immediately where the last one left off. This is a great series to read back-to-back if you’ve not yet entered the world of the draki. Needless to say, there are some series spoilers ahead.

Most of the reason I love this series is simply my love for the draki. A secret race of shifters that can become a dragon/human hybrid capable of flight and varying types of powers? Oh man, I am so on board. In this book, we see much more of Jacinda and the gang in draki form, beginning with Jacinda’s entrance into the enemy camp to infiltrate their hostages and rescue Cassian’s sister, Miram.

From there, the adventure never lets up. Jacinda, Will, Cassian, Miram, Tamra, and a few new (and incredibly awesome) characters are on the run from the evil enkros and their hunters. Jacinda is simultaneously trying to track down what happened to her parents and balance her family interests against her need to run away with Will. 

I found this to be a very satisfying conclusion to the series. It was full of excitement and action, and everyone got an ending they deserved. I’ll miss Jacinda and the rest of the draki immensely. 

Luckily, there’s a new novella…

Book: Breathless
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTEEN
Release date: December 4, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #3.5

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Sophie Jordan’s breathtaking digital original novella set in the world of Firelight.

For Az, it’s supposed to be a fun summer vacation with her family. Nothing complicated. Just a quick trip to test the waters as she prepares for a year on her own. That all changes when she rescues a drowning girl and meets Tate – the most gorgeous human boy she’s ever seen. Tate throws her heart, her plans, and her life into upheaval, but the closer she gets to him, the harder it is to hide the secret of what she is. With no hope for a future together, the last thing that can ever happen . . . is love.

This stand-alone digital original is perfect for those new to the Firelight series as well as veteran fans.

Jacinda may be a bad-ass fire-breather, but I loved diving into Az’s experiences as a water draki. (That’s right. I made a swimming pun.) This story takes place during Az’s family vacation, where she meets a cute boy and struggles with whether to pursue things with him given her draki nature.

At around 100 pages, it’s a short and sweet visit to the Firelight world. I loved Az – her shy personality was an interesting counterpoint to Jacinda’s bold character. It was also nice to see the draki trying to deal with real world problems again. What do you do when you fall for a boy, and those passions threaten to unveil your draki self every time you kiss? It brought back all of the good stuff I loved about Firelight.

Rating for both: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 
  
 

Mini-Reviews: The Dark is Rising Sequence

Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1965
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil’s power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text’s clues to find the grail — and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises.

I read the first three books in this classic children’s series last week, both for Bout of Books 6.0 and my book club meeting over the weekend. It was refreshing to visit some books that people treasure from their childhood (I hadn’t read them before). I’ve been so caught up in reading the latest new releases that I was neglecting the classics!

This first book was so much fun. The Drew kids are sucked into a mystery while on vacation in Cornwall, England – searching for the grail of King Arthur! Does it get any cooler than that? I loved the battle of these three kids against several shady adults from the Dark trying to get their greedy hands on the grail, which will tell them how to defeat the rising of ancient and perceived lost King Arthur. 

Helping them along the way is their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, who functions in a mentor type role. He guides them and encourages them as they discover a secret map and go in search of the deciphering tricks that will help them interpret it to find the treasure. The action ramps up nicely, leading to a final showdown that truly delivers and leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the sequels.

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: The Dark is Rising
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally Published: 1973
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

When Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his birthday, he discovers an unbelievable gift — he is immortal. Bemused and terrified, he finds he is the last of the Old Ones, magical men and women sworn to protect the world from the source of evil, the Dark.

At once Will is plunged into a quest to find six magical Signs to aid the powers of the Light. Six medallions — iron, bronze, wood, water, fire, and stone — created and hidden by the Old Ones centuries ago. But the Dark has sent out the Rider: evil cloaked in black, mounted upon a midnight stallion, and on the hunt for this youngest Old One, Will. He must find the six great Signs before the Dark can rise, for an epic battle between good and evil approaches.

The second book in the series is a marked departure from the first one. With the exception of Merriman Lyon, there are no common characters, and even takes place in a different town (and later, magical world). Given how much I loved the Drew kids in the first book, this was a bit disappointing.

This book I found to be confusing, with many jumps through time that left me uncertain from paragraph to paragraph where we were at any given moment. Will is on a quest to find six magical medallions, and he has to move through time and space to get them, often without requiring a whole lot of foresight or planning. Instead, he seems to just stumble upon them in overly convenient ways. There wasn’t a lot of tension as a result, since we just assume that the next part of the plot will deal with him getting the next medallion, and that he will do so with some ease.

The good thing to note is that the first two books do not need to be read in order, since they are so different, but they both provide vital plot elements for the third book so must be read before moving on in the series. The other good thing is that the third book was much more entertaining than this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: Greenwitch
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1974
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

The Dark has stolen an object of great power — a golden grail that holds a vital secret. Will embarks on a new quest to reclaim the grail, and to drive back the Dark once again. But first he will need the help of three former grail seekers: Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew.

Learning to work together, they must take back the grail and retrieve the missing manuscript that unlocks its mystical secret. But the manuscript is located at the bottom of the sea, and their only hope of obtaining both grail and script is entangled in the mysterious ritual of the Greenwitch.

The third book in the series combines the Drew children with Will Stanton, and they are tasked to return to Cornwall to retrieve the scroll lost in book one and the grail that has newly been stolen by the Dark forces. I was very happy to see the Drew kids back in the story, as they are light, comical characters that are a joy to read.

This book zips along in pace, and is the shortest of these three books at only 144 pages. The kids are again battling the Dark, trying to uncover the mystery of who stole the grail, where it went, and how they can get back the scroll that disappeared into the sea the last time they were in town. The magic of the second book comes alive in this book, with eerie scenes playing out in the streets and lots of mysterious interactions with undersea creatures and the strange Greenwitch. 

I absolutely intend to finish the last two books in this series, as overall it was a lot of fun to read. Though I found Will boring, the Drew kids are so cute and clever! I want to see where the grail takes them next and whether the Light can succeed in bringing King Arthur back to life. 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Book: Persuasion (A Modern Library E-Book)
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Random House
Originally published: 1818
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: Called a ‘perfect novel’ by Harold Bloom, Persuasion was written while Jane Austen was in failing health. She died soon after its completion, and it was published in an edition with Northanger Abbey in 1818. 

In the novel, Anne Elliot, the heroine Austen called ‘almost too good for me,’ has let herself be persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, a fine and attractive man without means. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a triumphant naval career behind him, a substantial fortune to his name, and an eagerness to wed. Austen explores the complexities of human relationships as they change over time. ‘She is a prose Shakespeare,’ Thomas Macaulay wrote of Austen in 1842. ‘She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain sense, commonplace. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings.’

Persuasion is the last work of one of the greatest of novelists, the end of a quiet career pursued in anonymity in rural England that produced novels which continue to give pleasure to millions of readers throughout the world.

I think this is my first official, completed Austen book. I’ve seen my fair share of the movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one from start to finish until now. Tragic, no? I remedied this thanks to the Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. It’s always difficult for me to read classics unless I have a good reason to do so, and blog events are a great motivator. 

I knew nothing about Persuasion prior to this event, but all of the participants and other bloggers (Ruby!) commenting that it was their favorite Austen made me wonder what all of the fuss was about. I mean…beating the alliterative P and S titles? It must be pretty good. I had it loaded on my Kindle before August even started.

The beginning was a bit slow. I confess to re-reading large chunks of the first chapters while getting lulled to sleep by my morning commute. Jane is not the person to get me fired up in the morning, I guess. I did very much like Anne, however, and as long as she wasn’t spending time with her horrible father and older sister, things perked up.

Mrs. Charles Musgrove…

Anne’s younger sister, Mary, is a total gas. Can I say that? Is “hoot” better? No? Okay, well, she’s hilarious then. Obnoxious and insufferable, but still fun because for the most part she’s harmless. She has an ego the size of Jupiter and feels entitled to more than she is probably due. Anne manages her fairly well, and Mary’s poor husband Charles certainly tries, but I love Mary’s histrionic style and need to be in the middle of everything.

Anne spends a large portion of the beginning of this tale at Mary’s house, where she gets pulled into the extended Musgrove family (Mary’s in-laws). Anne is a welcome addition, and much preferred over Mary to Charles’ sisters, Louisa and Henrietta, as well as pretty much anyone who has ever met Mary. Poor Mary. For those that don’t know, Anne’s family is living beyond their means, so they set off to Bath and rent their house to the Crofts.

Oh Captain, my Captain…

The important part of this is that Mrs. Croft’s brother is the good Captain Wentworth, Anne’s heartbroken former love. They were set to be married until Anne’s good family friend (and stand-in for her deceased mother) Lady Russell persuaded her that it was a poor match. Then Wentworth goes off to the navy and makes a bazillion dollars and shows up to visit his sister eight years later. You can practically see him and Anne awkwardly shuffling their feet while being forced into the same rooms again after all this time.

Over the course of the book, Wentworth tries to find a new bride out of one of the Musgrove girls, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath, and Wentworth keeps popping up on the scene because of their many mutual friends. He does incredibly nice things and is generally thoughtful and kind and still a big dreamboat as far as Anne is concerned. She starts to think that maybe she should follow her heart after all.

True love at last…

I flew through the last half of this book. I was dying to know when they would get together (because they have to get together!!) and how. There are all of these obstacles (Mr. Elliot, Louisa, different locations) and Anne seems uncertain about the Captain’s feelings, so you’re never really sure if they’ll work things out. By the time Wentworth finally slips Anne a secret love note, my heart was pounding in my chest and upon reading his sweet and poetic words I promptly shed a tear. 

SWOON!

Wentworth does such a good job hiding his feelings that I felt immense relief when Anne gets that letter. It’s the final confirmation after an entire novel of events that he does, in fact, love her despite everything. Up until that point, we see him courting Louisa and avoiding Anne and we’re stuck wondering “Does he or doesn’t he?” But he DOES! Yes! The romance between these two sells the story alone, but the funny social antics on display and the surprising twists and turns of the plot make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it. 

Have you read Persuasion? What did you think of Mary Musgrove? Were you convinced Wentworth was in love with Anne all along? 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Book: The Girl in the Park
Author: Mariah Fredericks
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
 
Summary from Goodreads: When Wendy Geller’s body is found in Central Park after the night of a rager, newspaper headlines scream,”Death in the Park: Party Girl Found Strangled.” But shy Rain, once Wendy’s best friend, knows there was more to Wendy than just “party girl.” As she struggles to separate the friend she knew from the tangle of gossip and headlines, Rain becomes determined to discover the truth about the murder. Written in a voice at once immediate, riveting, and utterly convincing, Mariah Frederick’s mystery brilliantly exposes the cracks in this exclusive New York City world and the teenagers that move within it.

First impressions: I had not heard much about this book. I requested it on NetGalley because I thought the story looked interesting and different for the YA market. As soon as I started reading it, I was so happy with my choice to try out this book. It draws you into the mystery from the first pages, and Rain is a terrific teen character.

Lasting impressions: YA contemporary meets mystery/suspense thriller? Full of win! 

Conflicting impressions: Okay, so the killer is kind of easy to spot. Luckily there’s a whole lot more happening in this book.

Overall impressions: It would be so easy to just say, “Yeah, this is a murder mystery about a rich private school girl who liked to party.” That screams Law and Order: SVU doesn’t it? It sounds like it’ll be this quick read about a girl who runs off and gets drunk at a party and winds up dead and her friend saves the day by catching the bad guy.

It’s so much more than that.

It’s about how the persona one high school girl chose to present to her classmates warped their perception of her death. It’s about secrets and the price we pay to keep them. It’s about how love and attraction can be mishandled and exploited. It’s about the media’s role in victim blaming, and how the public uses it to feel safer. In short, there’s a lot under the surface of this seemingly simple story.

I appreciated following this plot through the naive eyes of Rain – a girl still recovering from a painful speech impediment and trying to finish high school without drawing more wrath from the popular crowd. Wendy, a vivacious outsider desperate to either fit in or make waves (whichever is more convenient), befriends Rain when few else will. It is that loyalty that drives Rain to find out what really happened to Wendy after she is found dead in Central Park.

Rain struggles to marry the Wendy she knew with the Wendy splashed across tabloid pages and whispered about in the halls. She pushes to find the truth, often through conversations with people she’d rather not have to speak with, and as the events of that night start to unravel, Rain gains the courage to keep right on pushing. She has to make difficult decisions – when to tell the truth, when to state suspicions, when to break a confidence – and she also has to deal with difficult consequences. The question she must answer time and again is “How far will I go to honor Wendy?” Finding the answer to that question is half the fun of this delightful mystery.

Highly recommended to whodunit fans and YA contemporary readers.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Book: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW Books
Release date: March 27, 2007
Source: Bought ebook
Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 1

Summary from Goodreads: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

First impressions: I’m not generally an epic fantasy fan, but after hearing everyone and their mother rave about this book, I had to try it. I’m so glad I did! The first few chapters had just enough mystery to suck me in, and once the story-within-a-story kicked in, there was no turning back.

Lasting impressions: Parts of this book were so beautiful I could hardly breathe, but there were times I wanted the pace to pick up a bit. You have to commit for the long haul with this one.

Conflicting impressions: The story Kvothe tells is meant to span three days, and this novel is the first of those. At times, because of the length of this tale, I felt the story lost its focus. I got swept up in the adventures Kvothe undertook, but occasionally got impatient wondering where this was all headed.

Overall impressions: There can be zero doubt that Patrick Rothfuss is a masterful storyteller. His patience and attention to detail, combined with a clear love of words and the beauty they can create, make it obvious that storytelling runs in his blood.

It should be no surprise to see a family of storytellers at the heart of this book. Kvothe is the son of a traveling band of performers, and learns most of life’s major lessons from plays, literature, and stories. As he grows up, and suffers a devastating series of losses, he vows to research the history of his world’s most dangerous stories – those surrounding the mysterious and deadly Chandrian.

Rothfuss juggles between Kvothe’s present and past, with the past related to the reader by Kvothe himself as he recounts his journey to a transcriber known as Chronicler. In the present, Kvothe is a man of many secrets, and the action is nailbitingly tense. I was desperate to know how this man’s life had shaped him into the innkeeper so many refer to as a “king killer.” Meanwhile, as we listen to the incredible tales from his childhood, I rooted for this boy of poverty and heartache to find his way in the world and realize his strengths.

Kvothe has remarkable abilities – his intelligence is quick and sharp, he can make music that causes even the most hardhearted men to weep – and at times he has an ego to match. He’s grounded by his extreme poverty and a hard life, however, and as often as his mouth gets him into trouble, he usually has the sneaky grace to get himself out of it. As he starts to learn magic, make friends, and fall in love, we get the pleasure of seeing how the smallest of stories can create a hero. Intentions do not generally find a way into history books, and though Kvothe may have reasons or circumstances that affect his actions, the stories quickly become larger than life. Actions speak louder than words, remember?

This is a dense book that took me nearly two weeks to finish, but it was absolutely worth it. Rothfuss has a gift for words, and he can spin them into scenery that fills the mind. Rarely have I felt so transported into the world of a book. Though the story is long, it is certainly not boring. I had the feeling that I was simply experiencing one part of a long journey, that would come to a full and satisfying resolution by the end of the trilogy. That doesn’t mean there was not a definite conclusion to this part, which had a great ending of its own. Instead, I was being prepared for an epic tale that required the patience of a good setup to give me the payoff of a glorious ending.

Well, if this book is any indication, that ending is going to be magnificent. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: Ashfall by Mike Mullin

Book: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Release date: October 11, 2011
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Series: Ashfall #1

Summary from Goodreads: Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don’t know it’s there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.

First impressions: With regard to how I came to read this book, the phrase “borrowed from a friend” is not entirely accurate. Let’s call a spade a spade – I was book bullied into reading this. One of my pals in our writing group went on and on about how scary and awesome it was, so she happily pushed it into my hands. I’m so glad she did!

Lasting impressions: This book could actually happen. Which is definitely equal parts scary and awesome (as a reading experience, not as life).

Conflicting impressions: Alex may have needed to know how to kill and skin animals. I didn’t. Too real for me.

Overall impressions: Have you heard of the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone? You haven’t? You should Google it. It’s terrifying. I first learned of it through another fiction writer, James Rollins, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that it could blow in my lifetime. That kind of real, impending natural disaster is ripe for the picking when it comes to good stories.

Mike Mullin does not disappoint. Our young protagonist, Alex, is home alone when the volcano erupts and his neighborhood is quickly decimated by falling ash. Determined to try and escape the deteriorating conditions, Alex heads east across Iowa trying to reach his family across the Mississippi in Illinois. He straps on a pair of cross country skis and heads out.

This version of post-disaster American life is dark, frightening, and full of danger. It quickly becomes dog-eat-dog, and Alex runs into his fair share of unsavory characters out only for themselves. He does all he can to survive, relying on his own skill, luck, and occasionally the kindness of strangers. Just when you think he’s found a bit of peace, something else goes wrong and he’s forced to move on. It’s gut-wrenching.

It would be unfair to give away too much. Will Alex find his family? Will he figure out how to survive in this new and dangerous landscape? What will happen to the U.S. in the aftermath of this horrific eruption? We get a great story full of action and terror, and the promise of more with the reveal at the end. I can’t wait for the next installation in this series!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

Book: When the Sea is Rising Red
Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: After seventeen-year-old Felicitaâ??s dearest friend Ilven kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburgâ??s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik. Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it.

First impressions: Fourteen pages. That’s how long it took for this book to completely wow me. Cat Hellisen creates a beautifully unique world with full and vibrant characters that made it nearly impossible to put the book down.

Lasting impressions: There were a few moments that had me wailing, “Noooooo!” Despite some of the frustrations with the plot, I still found this to be a well-written and unique story.

Conflicting impressions: It always sucks when the love interest you want is not what you get. I had to work to find happiness with the ending, but I grudgingly accept that it was probably for the best of the characters involved.

Overall impressions: This book is being compared to the works of Neil Gaiman and Jacqueline Carey, and though I (gasp!) have yet to read anything by these fabulous authors, I recognize that they are fantasy geniuses. So, too, is Cat Hellisen. The village of Pelimburg is rich with magic, supernatural creatures, and a protected elite class bearing down on the lower castes. The world in this novel is easily imaginable and effortlessly complex.

Felicita is caught behind a powerful brother who rules her life and that of her mother. In Pelimburg, the patriarchy is strict and unchallenged, and Felicita faces an unhappy arranged marriage with few rights. Determined to take control of her own life, she flees to the streets and falls in with a group of poor workers who sometimes also fight against the elite under the charismatic boy-in-charge, Dash.

Dash has his own plans, and secrets, that entwine Felicita and her new friend, the vampire Jannik. As Felicita gets drawn deeper into Dash’s plotting, she struggles with trusting him. Does he care for her or is he using her to get his way? As the story progresses, things get more convoluted and enemies stay firmly in gray areas. You never know who to trust in this ragtag group of street kids, which is part of the fun of the novel. I thought the plot went kind of crazy all over the place during the climax, and I wasn’t satisfied that Felicita found true happiness the way I wanted, but it was definitely a fun journey.

I’d by lying if I didn’t admit that I was mostly disappointed with the love interest. Felicita and Dash start something that seems cute and fun, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Things are complicated by some apparent affections for Jannik, her new vampire friend, but for the most part they stay platonic. For a story that starts out with fears of arranged marriage, I so wanted Felicita to find love and companionship in someone of her choosing, but I guess we don’t always get what we want. In my opinion, this would have been a five star read if I’d just been able to find Felicita some true love. Ah well. A highly recommended fantasy read nonetheless!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system