Review: Warbreaker (Warbreaker #1) by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 20 to August 08, 2013
Read count: 1

A good story, but told in a long winded way. Too long winded for me.

If you’re looking for something light and vibrant that has some religious-political heft and a few lectures on morality, this book is probably you’re what looking for. I hesitate to recommend because, although it started off very well, the story was gradually weighed down by too much political intrigue and too many good vs. evil inner struggles.

Sanderson has established yet another world (or is it the same world but a different time period?) on which he can build another series. The mythology is a unique blending of magic and biochemistry—very interesting in the context of a fantasy world—and tying magical systems to human biology has always been Sanderson’s strength. While the magic system seems fascinating at first glance, BioChromatic Breaths is not as detailed or structured as Sanderson’s other magic systems. (The term “BioChromatic Breaths” is too awkward and scientific a term for a fantasy setting.)

There’s a lot of history behind the mythology (or is it mythology behind the history?) left unexplored in this book, and one of the main political sub-plots is left open-ended. Which is just as well, I suppose, since there are plans for a sequel.

Unlike the characterization in Sanderson’s other books, I don’t find the main characters in this one as well-thought out or engaging as the mythology. The characters seem as though they exist only to move events forward, and they’re very single-minded in the pursuit of their goals, which is why it’s believable that some of them are susceptible to manipulation. On top of that, they seem to be written with a forced hand, like they’re meant to be funny and sympathetic and you’re meant to laugh… as though somebody is trying really hard to make you laugh and feel for them…

What annoys me the most in any story are deus ex machinas that come in the form of mad-dash explanations near the end of the book. Whenever I come across something like this, it doesn’t feel like reading, it feels like the book is spilling its guts because events and revelations happen in rapid succession as the story is hurtled toward the climax.

When the priests and Bluefingers kept telling Siri that “nothing is as it seems,” it’s clear that nothing is as it seems. A lot of things are happening off-scene. Obviously. There’s foreshadowing and then there’s literally slapping the reader across the face with the same hints a couple of times.

That’s not to say this book is mostly political posturing and my being annoyed with it. There are a few funny moments of word play and well-placed puns. A couple of the Nightblood, Siri, and Lightsong passages had me laughing for a good minute. I still sense your hand at work, Mr. Sanderson, but those scenes made me laugh nonetheless.

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I’m beginning to see that, although Sanderson escapes falling headlong into character tropes that plague other fantasy writers, he doesn’t avoid them completely, although he tries very hard to sidestep many of them. As a result, I think he has spawned a group of character tropes of his own. If his characters or character traits seem familiar, it’s because you’ve seen them before in other Sanderson books. And it’s a sign that you’ve read one too many Sandersons in a short amount of time. Which is another way of saying I’m all Sanderson’d out for the rest of the year. I think I over-exerted myself by taking on this book so soon after finishing Steelheart.

Must’ve pulled a muscle or something.

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There is a sequel and it’s called Nightblood. No release date yet.


Review: Steelheart (Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 02 to 05, 2013
Read count: 1

I liked it. And that’s saying something because this is clearly YA.

Young inexperienced protagonist, David Charleston, joins a crew of rebels, the Reckoners, to fight and defeat super villains, the Epics. The story is told from David’s POV, and while that’s sometimes interesting–David is smart and calculating–it’s somewhat annoying some times because David is a hormonal teenager who’s in over his head. His struggles, while making the story and narrative more nuanced, were a struggle for me to read. I appreciate the complications and setbacks he faces in the face of danger, but his inner monologues, most of which are Megan-centered, were not that interesting and they tended to drag things down a narrow Megan-themed tunnel.

The secondary characters, however, were more interesting. Prof, Abraham, Tia, Cody, and even Megan were more complex, fleshed out characters. Each seemed to possess their own sense of self and had goals to work toward. While David does have his own goals–defeat Steelheart–he’s still finding himself, while still trying to understand the crumbling world around him and his place in it. This makes me think maybe this book would have been better if it had more POVs. But perhaps switching between each of the Reckoner’s POV would have been too chaotic, not to mention it would have turned the book into an 800+ page doorstop.

Like other Sanderson books, this one has a tight plot and lots of action toward the end. It’s a nonstop whirlwind of a ride once the Reckoners put their plans into motion and move against Steelheart. This is the kind of breathless writing that keeps you glued to the book, and I had to set all (real life) things aside just to get to the finish line.

I don’t read that much YA genre fiction, so I have no idea if this book is considered good or just average by those standards, but I did like it and I look forward to the next books in the series.

“Newcago” still makes me cringe though. Why not call it New Chicago??

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 3, 2015
Read Count: 1

I actually like this short story more than the first book. Maybe I’m warming up to David as a main POV character.

Following the defeat of Steelheart and Nightweilder, the city of Newcago–that word still makes me cringe–is now a sunny post-apocalyptic refuge for the powerless. But the people are still weary, as though expecting a new Epic to defeat the Reckoners and plunge the city back into darkness. And one does step up to the challenge–Mitosis. He’s the first to pose a threat, but he’s certainly not the last.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 01 to 04, 2013
Read count: 1

Critics say Gaiman returned to his roots with this book, to personal matters that inspired him to write Coraline and The Graveyard Book, and that’s why it’s so good. And I agree. When he touches on things that touched him personally, he can work literary magic. What makes this story work is the fact that it stays with the reader. The tone/atmosphere doesn’t seem like much when you’re reading along, but just wait until you close the book. It’s a kind of creepiness that permeates over time and gets creepier every time you think back on it (especially if you know firsthand what it’s like to grow up in a haunted house).

Overall, this is a nice, cold, dreamy story to enjoy when you’re house-sitting alone at an old rickety country cottage in the middle of nowhere where the nearest neighbor can’t be seen from the property. Highly recommended for nights when the power goes out and you have to read by flashlight or, even better, flickering candlelight.

Gaiman’s prose is great, as always. It’s lovely, spine-tingling, and so smooth. Prose is the best part of Gaiman stories, for me. If I didn’t care so much for story and storytelling, I’d read Gaiman back-to-back and just enjoy his syntax.

What keeps this book from a 5-star rating is a recurring problem I have with Gaiman stories—the ending seems unsatisfactory. Something still feels missing in the way which he wraps up events in his stories. I’ve been told that it’s me, that I expect way too much and that his stories are fine. But that’s just it. They should be more than fine. Gaiman is a great prose writer. It’s only natural that I expect him to crank out satisfying, if not great, endings because I know he can do it.

These book-review pangs seem to be author-specific. Let’s hope not though.

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Just finished the sample chapter and I can already tell this book will give me book-review pangs.

Like previous Gaiman books I’ve read, this one is very well-written to the point of establishing literary beauty. Sentences flow right into one another and string together a haunting ghostly fairy-tale-like narrative that keeps the pages turning. All very fascinating to witness. But does this story have substance? Or is the point of the beautifully structured writing to pan your attention away from a lightweight story? I don’t know at this point, but I get the feeling that this story isn’t… ocean-deep.

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* There’s a Liza Hempstock in Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Makes me wonder if there will be a significant connection.

[ETA] Liza is the Hempstock’s ancestor. She’s rumored to be a witch and was drowned and burned for it.

** Book-review pangs are a series of confused emotions I have about a single book that render me completely undecided.

Review: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: July 28 to 30, 2013
Read count: 1

I read this series when it first came out and loved it while almost everybody else was hung up on Harry Potter. For some reason, I could never get into J K Rowling’s writing (there was something about her storytelling voice that put me off), but I was drawn to Lemony Snicket almost immediately, and this series left a huge impression.

This book stands the test of time, even though hasn’t been that long ago since it was written—a little more than a decade. Both the writing and story translate very well to audiobook format because the story is written in a style that mimics the oral traditions of fairy tale—original fairy tales where actions have consequences, not those sickly sweet Disney versions.

One of my favorite things about the narration back then was how it always opened a chapter with an anecdote that led into the story and how it stopped occasionally to define an unfamiliar term or explain a particularly complex grown-up problem, like how grief and loss affect everyone differently and how some people never recover from such an experience. I don’t find these short interruptions as fascinating as I used to, mostly because I’m older now and have lived through these experiences, but I still think the interruptions are a necessary part of the story.

Plus, Tim Curry as narrator. Can’t pass that up.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 29 to July 26, 2013
Read count: 1

This is one of those books you should read with a group. There’s a lot to dissect and you’ll wish you had people to discuss it with. I read it for a book club and was amazed at people’s reactions to all the different things thrown into the story. My little group had many interesting discussions and one that got us kicked out of a cafe. Not because of anything we said, more because of how loud we got. So perhaps this book isn’t the best for public spaces.

The story opens with a high-octane pizza delivery chase scene that could very well give you whiplash. The whirlwind pace of the narration doesn’t last though—fortunately or unfortunately? It slows down to a more manageable speed after establishing an adequate sense of the world, and then it moves on to expanding characters and plot lines.

The world of Snow Crash is set in a near-apocalyptic future that’s entrenched in corruption and violence and controlled by technology. Much of the world is divided into segregated enclaves, many of them run by global corporations and interest groups—sounds familiar, yes? Everything is highly controlled and regulated, except for the groups in power doing all the controlling and regulating. Entering new enclaves without proper documentation can get a person shot on the spot.

Main events kick off with Hiro Protagonist—ha ha—on his way to deliver a pizza in record time or else. Like borders, pizza is also a serious business run by the mob in this world. Everything is serious business in this world, though very tongue in cheek. The pizza delivery sequence lasts about a couple of chapters and then the story moves online to the metaverse—live-action internet—and onto the mystery that is Snow Crash.


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