Book Reviews: Knife of Dreams and New Spring by Robert Jordan

cover for A Knife of Dreams
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 4 stars (Really Liked It!)

I read 5 Wheel of Time Books this year because I wanted to catch up with the series, now that Sanderson is working on the last installment. As I’ve posted before, I had a hard time continuing with Robert Jordan books. It felt like he was slowing things down too much. I’ve come to view the Wheel of Time as something different, though. A feast, instead of a fast-food meal.

I will review the Sanderson books separately, but I’ve actually heard some people say that Sanderson does a better job than Robert Jordan. I disagree. While that may sound like a great way to endorse the young writer who picked up the Wheel of Time after Jordan’s passing, I think it does Jordan a great disservice. Brandon Sanderson is one of my very favorite authors; I see him as something of a personal writing mentor, and I highly respect him as a person, but this isn’t his series. It’s Jordan’s. And these are the last two books Jordan was able to give us before his passing; you don’t want to miss them.

cover of New Spring
Click here for the Amazon page

Knife of Dreams will contain a more satisfying end than the previous books. A lot of plot lines we’ve been following for the past few books are satisfied. Without giving outright spoilers, I’ll say that you will find this book giving much more satisfying conclusions concerning Mat and Tuon and Perrin’s quest against the Shaido. The book also deals heavily with Egwene’s struggle against Elaida, and Rand’s general struggle against the shadow, and himself. It obviously doesn’t bring an end to the series itself, but it does end a few arcs that have been going on for awhile. Unlike the two books before it, Knife of Dreams was nearly impossible for me to put down (in Ipod form since I was using the Audible version) – there is a lot going on in this book.

That being said; if you DO want something with a more episodic finish, you’ll love “A New Spring”. It follows Moraine in her journey from little spoiled girl to fully-fledged Aes Sedai. It also follows Lan, giving us some valuable back story on where he came from, and how he came to meet Moiraine  and become her warder. It’s entertaining, action-packed, and does a wonderful job of reminding you what got you hooked when you first picked up “The Eye of the World”. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to see these characters, who are hardened by the time we meet them in Book One, as younger and more vulnerable versions of themselves.

Content

Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Nope, unless you count world-appropriate expressions such as “Light!” or “Blood and Bloody Ashes!”

Violence: Yes.

Sex: Mentioned. Nothing really sticks out to me beyond that.

Book Review: Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

cover of Monster Hunter International
Click here for the Amazon page.

Overall Rating: 3 Stars (Liked It!)

Monster Hunter International is, as Brandon Sanderson said, “An Ode to how fun it is to shoot things in the face.” Owen is a large man, a gun-nut, and an accountant. The book begins when he ends up shoving his werewolf boss out the window. Yes, it’s that kind of book.

It takes both fantasy and ‘B’-movie tropes and turns them on their head. If you’re a gun nut, you’ll have plenty of gun porn to keep you occupied. If you’re not a gun nut (like me), the story is plenty entertaining to keep you going. I’d highly recommend this book to any reluctant readers who you think might be into Zombie-killers, shooting games, or gun enhancements; It doesn’t read like a book that has as many pages as it does. (Off the top of my head, I believe it was getting close to 700.)

One of the high points for me was the way Larry included Tolkien-esque elves, with a twist that will have you rolling on the floor. That Larry is a silly son-of-a-gun.

I’m cheating a bit, writing this review a few months after having read the book. This was his debut novel, and is definitely worth picking up; but the best part is, Correia gets better as he goes. If you enjoy this book, I guarantee his next ones get even better. Give it a go, it’s available in paperback everywhere.

Content

Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Yes, strong language.

Violence: Most definitely.

Sex: Mentioned, not written.

YA Books You Should Be Reading

At Worldcon one of my favorite Panels was titled, “Beyond Harry Potter: What other Young Adult Fiction Everyone – Adults Included – Should Be Reading.” The panelists were Ellen Asher, Susan Chang, Laura Frankos, Dan Wells, and Andrew Wheeler. I took down a 90% accurate list of the suggestions of the panelists, as well as some of the suggestions from the audience.

Many of us graduated with Harry Potter with the desire for more fiction like it. We wanted stories that read quickly, that had fun, and were character and story-based. While YA books have certainly existed for a while, the recent explosion of the genre as we know it in the bookstores was almost a direct result of the Harry Potter books.

If, like me, you fit in this category of readers… feast upon this list:

  • Everything by Lloyd Alexander
  • T.H. White’s Arthurian Novels (Sword in the Stone, etc)
  • The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • William Sleator’s science fiction novels.
  • Daniel Pinkwater (many books, including one titled “Young Adult Novel”)
  • Robert A. Heinlein’s Juvenile Novels
  • Andre Alice Norton’s Novels
  • The Foundation Novels by Isaac Asimov
  • Edward Eager’s Novels
  • Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Fields
  • Fred Saberhagen’s Novels
  • John Carter of Mars Books
  • Neil Gaiman (including Stardust, the Graveyard Book, etc)
  • Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Series
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Brandon Mull (Including Fablehaven and The Beyonders)
  • Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke (translated from German)
  • Joe Walton’s “Among Others”
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Garth Nix
  • Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar”and “How to Ditch Your Fairy”
  • Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series
  • Patricia Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest”
  • Adam Rex’s “The True Meaning of Smekday”
  • Mary Brown’s “The Unexpected Dragons”
  • Robison Wells “Variant” (coming out in Sept.)
  • Cory Doctorow “Little Brother” and “For the Win”, among others.
  • Gary Paulsen “Hatchet” and others.
  • Robert C. O’Brien “Z is for Zachariah”
  • Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)
  • Shannon Hale “Princess Academy” and “Rapunzel’s Revenge”
  • Norton Juster “The Phantom Tollbooth”
  • Scott Westerfeld “Leviathan” (Steampunk Series), “Uglies” (Future Dystopia Series), and more.
  • Steven Gould “Jumper”

As an additional source, check out YALSA, which has lists of Young Adult Books such as the Teen Top 10, Popular Paperbacks, and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.

Book Review of I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

image of book cover
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Genre – Thriller/Horror/Supernatural, Adult and Young Adult

While still following the Dan Wells tradition of being disturbing, thrilling, fast-paced and funny all at the same time, this book was possibly the most beautiful thing I have read this year. You may wonder how vivid scenes of embalming can be juxtaposed with anything that might be considered “beautiful”; it’s all in the journey.

I Don’t Want to Kill You was a book well worth waiting for. The series began with I am Not a Serial Killer, followed by Mr. Monster. The book series begins with a bang, and gets better as it goes. Although I try to keep spoilers out of my reviews, if you haven’t read the other two books it may be hard not to spoil the endings of the first two books; fair warning.

John Cleaver is a 15-year old sociopath who is convinced he will become a serial killer, but he doesn’t want to. He develops a list of rules designed to keep others safe, and himself out of trouble.

Character

John Cleaver is back, keeping a lookout for the demon he invited into town at the end of Mr. Monster. In this book he experiences a lot of growth, continuing the inner struggle of wondering what he will eventually become. John is also dating, dealing with the complexities of relationships and going to school dances. Other characters are written very well, and a few of them are incredibly lovable.

Story

The third addition of the series takes more time to explore other aspects of life, such as dating, while tracking this book’s killer. This means the book slowed down a bit more than the others did in places, which was a good thing, but I don’t know how to tell you why without giving spoilers.

Speed

I read this book in one day, two sittings. The book stays true to the tradition it set in book 1, which I also read in two sittings. Mr. Monster I read in one sitting, firstly because it was as captivating as the others, but also because I had more time that day. This book delivers the entire story in a rush, leaving you to take time to digest it all after you are finished.

Content

This book’s title may scare some parents, but don’t let that deter you. As a horror novel, sometimes the scenes can get vividly graphic or disturbing. However, the author keeps the content at a PG-13 level. The scenes with corpses and embalming are very detailed, which is part of the mood-setting for the entire series. I felt the content of the book was handled very well for Young Adults.

Age Recommended: 14 and up.

Language: Nothing memorable.

Violence: Yes, action sequences and horrific/thrilling/death scenes.

Sex: No. The closest you will encounter is vague references to sex appeal (Such as John following his rule not to look at girls’ chests.)



Book Review of Runelords Book 1 – The Sum of All Men

picture of the cover for sum of all men
Amazon Link for The Sum of All Men

Overall Rating: 3 stars (Liked It!)

Genre – Epic Fantasy, Adult

David Farland kicks off his Runelords Series with the Sum of All Men, in a world where personal attributes can be given, bought, or stolen. Runelords are men who receive endowments from their subjects, such as endowments of strength, metabolism, or wit. These endowments are permanent and leave the devotee lacking – where he might have once been a strong man, he now becomes too weak to get out of bed. Where he might have once been intelligent or wise, he is now a slobbering dotard.

Most Runelords take these endowments only when volunteered, and they do so with a great measure of responsibility to use the gifts wisely in the defense of their nation. Others, called “Wolf Lords”, take endowments wherever they can – forcing endowments of smell or strength from animals or coercing endowments from conquered subjects.

This book can be taken one bite at a time or in long sittings as you prefer. The plot is always moving, and the characters stay interesting throughout.

Character

The characters had me at “Endowment”. While they were all written well, the villain was most impressive. Raj Ahten is a wonderful play on the atypical “I’m going to conquer the world” bad guy. He is believable and fascinating, you can really see where he comes from, which makes him even scarier. The book clearly shows how his choices lead in contrast with Gaborn – the young Runelord prince. Gaborn and Iome’s love story is interesting, most especially because both characters are fully developed throughout the story and play off each other so well. The story of Gaborn’s father as well as the trusty knight Borinson are touching and powerful, but I can’t say much more without giving spoilers.

Story

The magical element of the fantasy world was entwined into everything, and was fascinating to follow. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to give or to take an endowment, which became much more than mere wish-fulfillment; magic in this world meant sacrifice. Someone had to suffer in order to grant an endowment to another. This led to some heavy choices to be made on everyone’s part.

Speed

The book is 700 pages, but kept me moving along. Even while reading during the semester’s work load, I was able to make steady progress. While the world is vividly imagined and immersive, it didn’t take long to fall right in. The pacing of the book was good for both short and long reading sessions.

Content

The content of this book seemed appropriate for the marketed age group, earning it a Rook rating.

Age Recommendation: 12 and up
Language: none
Violence: Yes, themes of war and packed with battle action sequences that can be sometimes graphic.
Sex: Mentioned, alluded to, but not written.

Fun

The magic system alone was so cool it could speak for Fun-Factor all by itself. In addition, Fantasy tropes are played with in ways that are fun and interesting, and despite the book’s length I was able to consume it at a fair pace. The book was captivating and didn’t waste time with heavy descriptions. The book was fresh epic fantasy, staying away from the Tolkien Traditions of elves and dwarves and yet delivering that same epic-fantasy scope.

Critique – The start of the romance between Gaborn and Iome seems hard to believe, but grows well throughout the book so that by the end, their feelings for each other seem warranted. Also, the philosophical side of the book can be kind of heavy. This is always a risk when authors tackle something deep, and may be called “preachy” by some.

How to Survive the Wheel of Time

picture of the cover for crossroads of twilight
Amazon Link for Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

In the blogging industry (is it an industry now?) you have to be careful what you name your blogs; you might give the wrong impression. So let me tell you right away: I just finished Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan and I loved it. This book has received a lot of flack for not delivering a nice, satisfactory, episodic ending. For many readers this can be a big turn-off. We read, we get invested in what’s going on, but we want to see some movement – some indication that the story is, indeed, going somewhere.

I feel your pain, readers. Thus the guide: How to Survive the Wheel of Time. It’s advice for the rest of us – those of us who love Jordan’s work; the world, the characters and scope, but sometimes have a hard time chewing it all. There’s a lot to take in. Two books after Rand took Callandor from the Stone of Tear, I got completely burnt out. I had been on a straight Jordan-reading binge for three or four months, and I just couldn’t take it any more.

At first, I felt guilty. I hadn’t really yet identified the problem. I still loved the story, the characters, everything… but I just couldn’t read anymore.

Then, I felt angry. I blamed Jordan for my burnout. If he would just simplify his descriptions, move things along! I am sad to admit that I kept this very short-sighted view for several years. I will never get an opportunity to shake his hand or thank him in person. On the up side, I have matured, and I get to enjoy the beautiful constant payoff of Robert Jordan’s storytelling splendor.

Here’s the thing; You don’t read the Wheel of Time to “move things along”. Robert Jordan is a genius, and one of his biggest talents lies in his characterization. When you read Mat, you’re thinking like Mat – it’s all dice and luck and confusing women. When you read Aviendha, you’re thinking like Aviendha – culture shock, water metaphors. When you’re reading Siuan Sanche, you’re cursing in metaphors of fishing nets and weather.

The Wheel of Time is an immersive experience. You aren’t on this road trip to put miles behind you, you’re along for the ride. The miles will pass as a secondary effect.

Sometimes finding time for a huge epic fantasy is difficult. Let me break down exactly how I went about it myself;

How to Survive the Wheel of Time

1. For the Long Haul – You’re not racing to the end of this book. I love a quick, thrilling tale, or a quick fun one (such as a good Harry Potter or Fablehaven Book). A lot of my favorite books almost feel like reading movies. My advice for other readers like me is to have other books that are satisfying this need, while the Wheel of Time serves as your ‘Long Haul’ book. You’ll get to the end when you get there.

2. For the Experience – The characters are fascinating, astounding, and fully-realized. When you throw away the need to race, and focus on the journey from moment to moment, you can really get into the heads of each viewpoint character. You feel what they feel, see the dilemma from their perspective as clear as day. It paints a clear picture of how people think, and over time, it creates a grand scope of what is going on in the world.

3. Audio and Visual – I both read and listen to any given Wheel of Time book I am on. This enables me to listen in the car or at the gym, while I read at night in order to wind down before bed. I can cover a lot more words when reading in person, but audio listening enables me to read when I would usually be unable to – such as while cleaning or doing laundry.

4. Trust Jordan – He knows what he’s doing, and he is NOT giving you the typical tropes, the knock-off polished cliche’ of the Hero’s Journey we’ve seen time and time again. This is the Wheel of Time. This is epic fantasy, emphasis on the Epic. Because of this, you need to trust Jordan. He’s given you plenty of reasons to. Remember the end of book 3? Remember the thrill of adrenaline, the satisfaction from the payoff? Trust that. Trust Jordan to pay it all off, and make it all worthwhile.

The Crossroads of Twilight was a great experience – I loved every minute of it. The best part is the lack of an “episodic ending” is not really a big deal for us. When you finish, you can simply move right on to Knife of Dreams without a hitch!

Warbreaker – My Favorite Sanderson Novel

cover of Warbreaker
Amazon Link for Warbreaker

I read this book audibly (Quite literally, I downloaded my copy from Audible.com) at the end of 2009. Drowned in the long shadow cast by Sanderson’s prowess, this book just doesn’t get enough attention.

I have read all of Sanderson’s published works, and still this is my personal favorite. Sanderson is often noted for his first novel Elantris, his trilogy Mistborn, and his work on the The Wheel of Time. His new series, the Stormlight Archive, which begins with The Way of Kings has been met with critical acclaim and a lot of hype built around the knowledge that there are 9 more novels to come.

I read the Way of Kings and loved it, as well. Where Warbreaker is my favorite stand-alone, the Stormlight Archive is well on it’s way to becoming my favorite series. In fact, I love all of Sanderson’s books equally, but Warbreaker has something that speaks to me.

Warbreaker was released for free online as Sanderson wrote the story, in rough draft format. For those who may want to sample his work, it is still available, and it is still free.

The story begins with Syrie, the free-spirited daughter of a king who cannot bring himself to honor his treaty agreement to send his eldest daughter, Vivenna, to marry his enemy’s God-King. Syrie is sent in Vivenna’s place. Unsure and Unprepared, Syrie decides to take this task seriously, even if it is the first time she has done so. She is to provide an heir to the God-King’s throne, but how can she when she is not allowed to even talk to her husband?

Vivenna takes to the city of Hallandren immediately, intending to rescue her sister from a fate that should have been her own. Awarded with a gift of breath that would match a noble’s, and a pocket full of gold, she begins to organize a revolt that would serve as the perfect distraction.

Lightsong, God of Courage, doesn’t even believe in himself. Not that he needs to, in order to enjoy the comforts of a god’s life. However, changes in the court have caught his attention – something isn’t right. Why does that bother him so much? What can he do about it? Would knowledge of his mortal life shed any light on the subject?

I’m a sucker for the really good stand-alone Novel, and this one stands alone as the best, in my opinion. I’ve re-read it twice and the ending gets me a little choked up every time.

If you’re out of cash and hard-pressed for a good read, check out Brandon Sanderson’s website for the free copy. And if you end up loving it like I did, consider picking up a copy for your own future re-reads, loans to friends, and maybe to get it signed next time he comes by on tour.