Friday, August 18, 2017

The Rose and the Thorn~Michael J Sullivan | Review

Title: The Rose and the Thorn (Riyria Chronicles #2)
Author: Michael J Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 347 Pages
Release: September 2013

Review
Is it even possible for this man to write a book that I don't like? I really hope not, because I am loving that I love these books. If you are wanting to start the adventures of Royce and Hadrian, I would personally recommend that you begin with the Riyria Revelations (Theft of Swords being the beginning), and then come back for the Chronicles. These give a lot of insight into little things from that series, so I think you can appreciate them more. 

But let's stop talking about that and get into talking about this book. Because it was great, it really was. There may be slight spoilers for The Crown Tower in this. I am going to avoid them as much as possible. 
"I don't have many friends. I can actually count them all on one hand and not use all my fingers. Like anything rare, they are precious. And yes, I get mad when one is hurt."

The plot of this one is darker than that of The Crown Tower in a lot of ways. Gwen, one of our main characters from that first novel, is badly beaten by a high ranking noble for not adequately answering his questions. When Royce and Hadrian return to Medford, they are not happy, to say the least. 

Royce is by far my favorite character of all the Riyria books and I think I love him a little more after every one. He can be downright terrifying, but he's also extremely loyal if you give him a real reason to be. He's used to people being selfish, to everyone taking and no one giving, to surviving in a kill or be killed world. It can be hard to change from that mindset. 

We get to see some of the darker side of Royce here, maybe the darkest we've seen him, as he sets out to protect those he cares about. After having seen this side of Royce, it just makes you wonder what he was like before. Crossing Royce now is a gamble you wouldn't want to take, but crossing him before... Well, that would not have been a good idea. 

"He wanted to wash the blood off, but he could never rid himself of the stain."


Every coin has a two sides and the other side of Royce's is Hadrian. Where Royce is dark, Hadrian is light. He's not an innocent kid, he's made mistakes, shed blood, but he's known friendship and love, he dreams of a life where blood doesn't have to be spilled to make a living, where people are honorable and good. 

Hadrian struggles a lot in this book. He's haunted by his past and unsure of his future. Despite their differences, Royce is really the one constant he seems to have now. And reading about these two together is the best. Throughout the story, I really just wanted to reassure this guy. He puts up a good front for the world, but he can't be entirely happy, it seems. I can relate to that. 

"Never having known such admiration, or even the support of a real friend, it was as if he'd only realized he was hungry after smelling food."

I don't know why, but I was surprised to have so many of the characters from Revelations show up in here. And I was particularly surprised to have Reuben Hilfred show up as a main character. But it was a pleasant surprise. It really made his character deeper than he had been before, knowing his background and what he had been through. It also made me really sad. Hilfred did not lead a happy life. 

While I did enjoy all of Hilfred's story and getting to see the young Arista and Alric, as well as getting a better view of King Amrath, the real highlight of this side of the story was the Pickerings. I completely adore this entire family. Can I please have them? You have no idea the grin that split my face when Mauvin showed up for the first time. Sure, he was being a little bit of a punk, but he was only twelve. And he made up for it later. 

This book was a great installment in the Riyria world. It delves more deeply into my favorite characters, and also gives some nice insight into what was happening in Medford before the events of The Crown Conspiracy. There were a few times that I just wanted to tell the characters who is who and who needs to be killed now. But then, we wouldn't have the Riyria Revelations if we did that, so I guess I'll have to be content. 

There were a lot of dark and sad moments in here. There was death, betrayal, injury, humiliation, you name it. But there was also hope, love, and loyalty. The ending was satisfying and left Royce and Hadrian in a good place, on there way toward another adventure. I can't wait to read the next installment in this series, and hope that there are many more to come.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wonder~R J Palacio | Review

Title: Wonder
Author: R J Palacio
Genre: Middlegrade Contemporary
Length: 316 Pages
Release: Feb 2012

Review
It's unpopular opinion time.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. And honestly, I expected to love this book. Maybe that was the problem, maybe I let this get too hyped in my head and expected more than it was. Maybe it's just that I'm in a weird reading mood. Maybe the audio made me like it less than I would have otherwise, I don't know. All I know is that I didn't love this book like so many others do. 

This book follows a boy named August who, due to genetics that cannot be controlled, doesn't look like other kids. He's had many surgeries to improve the function of certain portions of his face and head, but he still doesn't look like everyone else. And that makes him odd. To some it even makes him scary. So we follow, through the eyes of six different characters, August's first year in a school with other kids. It's fifth grade (which I guess is middle school in New York) and not everyone is kind. 

I liked the premise, but I was not a fan of how the story was laid out. It's told in first person from six different perspectives, as I mentioned. Of the six, we probably get the most page time in August's head. Then we have his sister Via, his friends Summer and Jack, and Via's friends Justin and Miranda. And honestly, August was my least favorite perspective of the six. It makes sense to show his insecurities, because everyone is insecure at some point, and looking different and being noticed would obviously be hard for a ten-year-old, but August felt too sorry for himself. And that never seemed to change as the story progressed. There was too much self pity for me to connect with him. From the eyes of the others this wasn't that noticeable and I actually did enjoy his character. Jack was my favorite perspective, I had a lot of fun in his head. 

Everything in the story is focused on August. And I know that's the point of the book, to show his adjustment to school, the way that people react to him, and to highlight the good and the bad sides of humanity, but it felt too focused on him. This is a personal thing, but for me the story would have been more powerful had it not focused so much on August and instead told a story around him. Obviously the way it's written works for most people, which is great, but for me it lessened the message when it made it seem like everyone was always talking about, thinking about, and worrying about August. 

And maybe the environment that I grew up in was just very different, but I had a hard time believing that everyone would react the way that people reacted to August. Yes, bullying exists, and yes, I have seen it in action, but it was still hard to picture all of these people, adults and children alike, having to do a double take, unable to hold eye contact with him, refusing to talk to him, and calling him names. Yes, all of those things happen, but the scale seemed very heavily weighted toward that mindset in this story.

One of my goodreads friends, I can't recall who at the moment, mentioned in their review that this was too sweet, and I have to say that I agree. It's a good message to teach--not everyone is the same and we shouldn't hate because of those differences. At the same time though, this was a little over-the-top for me. Sometimes things don't go well, sometimes people don't like you, sometimes people are jerks and there is nothing you can do to change that, but you have to learn take it all, the good and the bad. 

This isn't a horrible book or a bad book, it just didn't work for me. It has a powerful message and I think that it's important to remember to be kind, no matter what. There are some things about us that we can't control, but we can decide how to act. 

I know this was made into a movie and is being released later this year, and I'm actually interested to see how they adapt it. It seems like some of my personal issues with the style of story telling might be negated in translation to film, so I'm interested to see how the two compare for me.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Crown Tower by Michael J Sullivan | Review

Title: The Crown Tower (Riyria Chronicles #1)
Author: Michael J Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 358 Pages
Release: January 2013

Review
"Listen to him. Trust him. That's what he won't expect. It won't be easy. You'll have to be very patient. But if you are, you'll make a friend for life--the kind that will walk unarmed into the jaws of a dragon if you asked him to."

This is the beginning of the prequel series to the Riyria Revelations, which takes us to the very beginning of Royce and Hadrian's partnership, twelve years before the beginning of The Crown Conspiracy. I haven't read very many prequels in the past. The ones that I come across never seem like they are going to add a lot to the story, so I've never felt the need to delve into them. Particularly if it's a series that I like, because I don't want it ruined. Here though, I think a prequel series makes sense. It gives the characters even more depth than the main series did and gives us firsthand knowledge of what those first encounters were like. 

I have to say it once again: Michael J Sullivan knows how to write compelling characters. If you've read the Riyria Revelations already, then the characters won't be new to you. They aren't the same, however. It amazes me how Sullivan is able to show, with just a few words and scenes, how these two have changed over time. 

"I think everyone is after me until proven otherwise."

Royce doesn't have perspective chapters until over halfway into the book, just appearing as a shadowed stranger around Hadrian. This was an extremely clever way to introduce him, as you find out a lot about his background through Hadrian, which makes him more relatable than being thrown into his head from the beginning probably would have. He's dark, abrasive, violent, and unfriendly. But he's also very misunderstood. If you've followed my reading of the Riyria Revelations then you likely already know my love for this character, and that only grew here. There is just something about him that draws me in. I don't have his background (which I am very grateful for), but I find it easy to relate to paranoia and fear. I also love to see how much he grows. Because if Royce can grow, anyone can. 

"Everyone was a stack of accumulated experiences, and seeing how that pile wobbled when it moved could reveal secrets."

It was interested seeing this younger Hadrian. With Royce it was always easy for me to imagine what he would have been like when they first met, but Hadrian was harder to picture. This colored in all of the missing pieces. He was young here, only about twenty, and already suffering from the mistakes he made. He's constantly underestimated because of his youth, which I found endearing. He's a trained killer and could probably singlehandedly take on a dozen other men, but his young face and kind demeanor give him an appearance of innocence that most cannot easily overlook. 

"You're a hero and you can see the future."

I was really excited to see Gwen get perspective portions in this novel. She was always somewhat of a mystery in the Revelations and I always wondered about her. Here we finally find out more about her story; where she came from, what she can do, how she ended up where she did and why. Her story is really sad in a lot of ways. But it's also really great. She's strong and although she is forced to make decisions she would probably rather never have to make, she doesn't let that beat her. I'm really excited to see more of her through the other books. 

"Ever notice how the word friend is only one letter away from fiend? Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe not."

This is the beginning of the Royce and Hadrian bromance that has made the Riyria books so popular. Two very different men, from completely different backgrounds, who become best friends and partners. What's not to love? 

It was great to see the first meeting between these two, to feel the dislike they had for each other. And their back and forth is fantastic, even from the beginning. It's harsher, less teasing, than later in their relationship, but just as entertaining. This is definitely a slow build friendship, which really makes it even more powerful. Isn't it nice to know that not all first impressions have to be last impressions? 

There are two main stories in this, set to converge. We follow Royce and Hadrian as they are forced to partner by an old professor, seemingly for no reason. And then there's Gwen, taking her own life in hand and waiting for the mysterious him

I've heard different opinions on whether you should start with the Chronicles or the Revelations, but I don't think you can go wrong either way. Just read them all.



Monday, August 7, 2017

The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is probably the longest series I have ever read. Over the course of 2016 (and a few months of 2017) I completed the fifteen book series (this includes the prequel). With the shortest book falling somewhere around 600 pages, this was no easy task. But I made it.

There are many things about this series that have me conflicted. I'm going to try and touch on some of the things that I liked best, and the things I didn't like at all, while avoiding spoilers. This is going to be less a review and more general thoughts and impressions about the series.

Let's start off with the positives, so that I don't go into a rant and forget all the things I do appreciate about the series.

1) It's readable, almost compulsively so. After finishing each book, particularly those near the beginning of the series, I would have a hard time pinpointing anything that really made the book special for me and yet, I needed to read the next book. They were also a lot of fun to read, for the most part.

2) The worldbuilding was quite spectacular. These don't have my favorite fantasy world, but the world is fascinating. This really started becoming apparent to me in books four and five (which were both quite excellent). The expansion and exploration of new societies--the Aiel, in particular--was fascinating to me. I loved the exploration and contrast between the various cultures.

2a) While the Aes Sedai often drove me insane, the White Tower was such an interesting place. And the Warders--I want to know more about these bonds.

2b) The Forsaken, our main villains in the series, had some really interesting stories that were sprinkled throughout. There are several of them that I would like to know more about. How did they get where they are?

2c) Throughout the series there were various instances of slavery brought up and explored (to an extent). I thought this was handled in a very interesting way because we got to see it from almost every angle. We were in the heads of people forced to be slaves, those who were raised slaves, those who were freed, those who were absolutely opposed to the idea, those who inflicted this on others. I don't know how to explain this, but it was just really interesting to have this piece of the world, that is so dark and depressing, explored so fully. I don't think I've seen that done in quite the same way anywhere else.

3) The wolves. I'm not going to go deeply into this because it would be very spoilery, but I found the wolf aspect and connection in the series fascinating.

4) Androl, who was only introduced once Sanderson took over the series. I have no idea (because I haven't sought out an answer) if he was a creation of Sanderson, or a character that Jordan planned to introduce. Either way, I adored his character and wish there had been more through the entire series with this guy.

5) Lan and Nynaeve. A lot of people don't seem to like these two. And while I never loved any of the characters (except maybe Androl) these were early favorites. In fact, I think a lot of the series would have been more interesting if they had been worked in more. There was a lot of potential that I felt like was ignored. But anyway, for positives, I did enjoy these two. Lan's portions in the last few books were particularly great.

6) The overall conclusion was very satisfying to me. There were a few characters I would have liked to visit again, a few more answers that could have been revealed, but overall I was very happy with how things ended. There was enough closure to leave me satisfied, with enough left open to keep the world alive in my mind. Which is the perfect ending, in my eyes. 


Alright, now let's get to the things I wasn't so fond of. Very few of these are things that I outright hated. It's more just things that bothered me in some way.

1) The Trakand family. I'm putting them at the top of my list because I want to get them out of the way. I will talk about the rest of the characters in a minute. This family was the worst part of the books for me. Elayne became progressively worse with every book and Gawyn and Morgase (her brother and mother) were no better. Each of them may have had a few moments where I could stand them, but they were few and far between. The only one connected to their family that I liked was Galad, and he didn't show up nearly enough.

2) The writing. It's not that I hated the writing or anything, because I didn't, I just found it rather clunky. It was really repetitive at times and there were certain things that just didn't need to be written. I would read a paragraph and feel like two or three sentences could be cut entirely, because the other sentences explained everything well enough.

3) This goes along with my last point with writing, but I wanted to mention it separately. Removing the line "she folded her arms under her breasts" and other variations of this could have easily cut out a hundred pages from almost every book. No, really, I don't think that's much of an exaggeration. In the beginning I didn't notice this all that much, but then it started nagging at me. We get it! Women have breasts and, if they fold their arms, it's usually under their breasts. We don't need reminding every five seconds! Along those same lines, Nynaeve's braid tugging got pretty old.

4) The characters. Just like with the writing, I didn't hate the characters, but there were very few that I ever actually liked. In the beginning, Perrin was my favorite, then the middle books happened and he fell apart for me. Mat was my least favorite to start, then the later books happened and I found myself wanting to be in his head more and more. I've already mentioned the Trakand's, so I won't go there again. Egwene...She had her moments, but still, overall I disliked her. I was never a fan of Rand either. Don't hate me.

5) The complete lack of understanding between women and men drove me insane. Yes, we are different from each other. Yes we see things in the other that we don't see in ourselves (despite the fact that it's there), but that doesn't mean we are always at odds, completely unable to understand each other. This is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The highlighting of the differences in thought was good in theory, but the execution of how these differences would play out did not go well.

6) I was never that into the magic system in these books. I thought it was interesting, with the various weaves and how different Ajah's in the White Tower focused on different things, but it never made sense to me. I couldn't envision it well and that prevented me from being able to really appreciate the portions of the narrative that relied on the magic. 

7) The passage of time in this was frustrating to me. I know that time does not work exactly the same way in this world as it does on earth, but I found it very unrealistic for only around two years to have passed from beginning to end. Too much happened for that to be a reasonable time frame. I constantly found myself wondering how much time had passed, only to be reminded that it had been mere months (that felt like years) since the beginning of the journey. 

In Conclusion
This series is far from being my favorite series of all time, but I am very glad that I read it. It's easy to see how this was influenced by previous works and how more recent works have been influenced by this, which is really neat to me. It's difficult to be completely original, but you can put your own spin on things, so I think this getting so much hate for being a "Tolkien copy" is very unreasonable, personally, because it does add its own spin to the story. 

Will I ever read these again? I really don't know. I may revisit them in the future, to see what I think about them after becoming more widely read. In some ways I think a reread would be a good thing because I can try to catch some of the little details that I missed the first time around. Only the future can say whether I will get back into these again. 

Despite the many things that annoyed me about this series, I did enjoy reading it. It's not for everyone, but I would urge fantasy fans to give it a try. You may not stick with it, but maybe you will love it. 

If I left out something (or even got some details wrong) I would love to know. Feel free to chat with me about your own experience with this series in the comments. 

Note: This is not a particularly thorough analysis of the series, just my overall impressions. When I read I tend to read for enjoyment, hoping to pick up things along the way, but not extremely concerned about keep track of every detail. I didn't write this as a deep look at the overall story, just my general impressions and what I enjoyed or did not. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Heir of Novron~Michael J Sullivan | Review

Title: Heir of Novron (Riyria Revelations #5-6)
Author: Michael J Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 932 Pages
Release: January 2012

Review
This is the third volume of the Riyria Revelations and contains the final two novels in the series. I really loved both of these books. The characters are amazing, the plot is carefully crafted, and the writing is descriptive and captivating. 

Wintertide
"Happiness comes from moving toward something. When you run away, ofttimes you bring your misery with you."


I had a feeling going into this one that it would break my heart and I was right. Something had to go wrong eventually. Well, I mean, stuff had already gone wrong, but something else was going to go wrong. And it did. There was plenty to break my heart here. There was also plenty to love. 


It's no secret that Royce is my favorite character and this installment did nothing to lessen him for me. His character has been building through the series, his layers being revealed one by one, and we get yet another layer (or more) here. His story is extremely sad, but so real. And that's what I love about him. Honestly, I have a hard time putting into words just how much I like Royce. 


Hadrian and Royce are separated for most of this installment, each dealing with different aspects of the same problem. Hadrian's portions were quite entertaining, for the most part. There were darker, harsher moments, because what he was trying to do was tearing him apart, but so many little things happened that made his story quite humorous. Which is excellent. A story can't always be dark; that's just not how life works. 


I don't know how Sullivan manages to build every single character so well, but he does. All of the side characters are brilliant and either have me loving or hating them. Sometimes both. Nimbus really shone here and he was hilarious. Seriously. Which makes me curious about his past. Hopefully we get more about that in the next installment. 


Another new favorite is Sir Breckton. The guy is pretty much perfect, but not in a bad way. He was just great. I really want to see more of him in the last book.


And of course there is Arista. She isn't as involved in this one, which makes sense if you've read The Emerald Storm. But she manages to have some good scenes and make a difference. She has probably grown on me the most through the course of the books. 


Modina and Amilia each have important roles to play here. And I really like both of these women. Modina more than Amilia, probably, but both of them have their moments. And some of those things are brilliantly executed. 


The plot really gets amped up here, taking us to a new level. Most of the questions that have been building through the series are yet to be answered, but the setup for the conclusion is excellent. The stakes are high, higher than ever, and I'm ready to see what happens. The subtlety with which Sullivan is able to weave his story honestly amazes me. The smallest things done or said books ago come back time and again with huge impact. Piecing all of that together is so much fun. 


The ending of this shattered me. It tore my heart out and broke it into a million pieces. What will happen next? I really have no idea. 


This was an incredible book. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I shook my head in frustration, I gasped--I think I did everything. This is one of the best series conclusions I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And I loved every second of it.

 
Percepliquis
"Sometimes the price of dreams is achieving them."


This was an incredible book. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I shook my head in frustration, I gasped--I think I did everything. This is one of the best series conclusions I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And I loved every second of it. 

Sullivan has climbed my list of favorite authors and now sits right at the top with Brandon Sanderson and Dean Koontz. This novel only solidifies his position. So let's talk about some of the things that I loved. 

The Characters. 
If Sullivan knows how to do anything, it's write compelling characters. I don't know that I have ever cared as much about a cast of characters as I have about these. And sure, I have my favorites, but there isn't a single one that I don't like. They are so real. All of them. But let's focus in on specifics. 

"Heroes don't ride white horses, and the good don't always win."

Royce became my favorite early in the series and no one ever contested him for that title. There is this perfect image in my head that I can't really put into words, but it's just Royce. The guy has had a hard life and things don't ever seem to get easier for him. And yet, he still manages to grow, to become better. He constantly amazed me throughout this final installment and everything about his character development felt so natural. He will forever be one of my favorite characters. I wish I could pull him from the pages and give him life. 

And then we have Hadrian, Royce's partner and best friend. Yet another realistic character. He's had growth throughout the series, just not in the same way that Royce has, and it's kind of beautiful to see him come to terms with his past. There aren't as many demons running through his mind as their are through his friend's, but that doesn't make them any less real. He wants to be a hero, to atone for his past transgressions, and it's nice to see that journey. He has to face a lot, internally, and although we don't get to see all of those internal struggles, we get to see what comes of them. 

You know, I don't know what I originally thought of Aristawhen she was introduced, but she has grown into quite a wonderful character. She's strong, intelligent, and caring. The thing I love most is that she is strong and capable while still relying on those around her. That, to me, is the real sign of strength. Arista pushes herself, but she also knows her limits, for the most part, and uses the strengths of those around her to make them all stronger. It's wonderful. 

The entire Pickering family is one of my absolute favorites. We don't see much of any of them through the series, aside from Fanen and Mauvin, but the little glimpses we do get are amazing. And Mauvin is so wonderful. He really levels out the often irritating Alric. It was nice to see these two together. 

"Home, he realized, was not so much a place as an idea that, like everything else, grew and blossomed along with the person."

And of course we can't forget Myron, who was an early favorite in the series. It was nice having him so involved again. He's a genius and so amazed with everything around him. This could either make him really irritating or really wonderful. To me, it made him wonderful. And he gets to put those smarts to good use. There was one scene, near the end, when he really put someone in their place and I loved it. He's not weak just because he doesn't have the same skillset as Royce, Hadrian, Mauvin, or Arista, he's just a different kind of strong. 

Magnus the dwarf managed to have some absolutely amazing moments in this installment. I was a little stunned, to be honest. It was really beautiful. But then there is Degan, who is honestly the character I cared the least about. If you read it, you'll figure out why. 

Modina is also a pretty amazing character. She and Amiliaare our other main women in the series, and while I don't know that I'm as attached to them as I am to a lot of the others, I really appreciate them both. Modina is set on protecting all of her people, no matter the cost. She's tired of watching as those she loves die. 

There are many other minor characters that I would love to explore, but this review would go on forever if I did that, so those are the main ones I'm going to talk about. But all of the characters, whether main characters or side characters, are so well developed and seem so real that I can't help but become attached to them. 

Alright, let's touch on the plot and conclusion just a little bit. 

"If you don't abandon hope on pleasant days, why do so on those that begin poorly?"

Secrets about the Heir of Novron and the elves are finally revealed, making this an epic conclusion to the series. There is pain, suffering, death, and destruction, but there is also love, redemption, and unwavering resilience. 

Everything was nicely wrapped up. We don't get all the answers, we don't know what might happen in the future, but we end on a satisfying note. And there is always the promise of future tales. I would definitely read them.

Sullivan manages to weave things together in a subtle way that makes it all so brilliant. There were some revelations that I really didn't see coming, but looking back all of the clues were there. A brilliant piece of writing. 

Also, this series makes me even more curious about The Legends of the First Empire. I can't wait to see how everything there unfolds. We get an altered account of the history here, so it will be exciting to see what actuallyhappened. 

If you haven't read this series yet, you really need to.