Sunday, May 16, 2021

Review: WARBREAKER by Brandon Sanderson (reread)


Rating: 5/5 stars

After finishing Words of Radiance and completing missing the reference to Nightblood at the end, I realized I needed to reread Warbreaker before continuing on to Oathbringer. And I am so glad I did!! Not only did I realize that I had forgotten 90% of this book, but I had the absolute best time rereading this book, so much so that Warbreaker is now my favorite novel by Brandon Sanderson. 

I decided to listen to the Graphic Audio version, which is 10/10 amazing and I would highly recommend it. The performance, storytelling, and background music were all so acutely tailored to this story that it made for a fabulous experience. 

It’s interesting in my original review of Warbreaker I said I liked Elantris better, and while I haven’t reread Elantris yet, I now firmly stand by that I like Warbreaker better. Siri and Susebron are amazing! Vivenna’s character arc is so in-depth. Vasher and Nightblood are super cool. Literally there is no one that I dislike in this story, even the bad guys. They are all morally grey and so well written that I can feel for even them at times, which I think is the mark of a good writer and quality storytelling.

My number one favorite character in this book, however, has to be Lightsong. He is hilarious and sarcastic and always a joy to read about. Plus I absolutely love that he is a god who doesn’t believe in his own religion. That is such a unique concept to me and I really enjoyed watching him struggle with his reality. He reminded me at times of Sazed from Mistborn. Plus I also enjoyed watching him try to discover who and what he was in his past life. Lightsong’s character is so dynamic, and the end of the book was very bittersweet for him, but ultimately I did enjoy how his story wrapped up.

I loved all the political intrigue in this novel. The more fantasy books I read, the more I realize that the kind of books I enjoy the most have lots of layers of intrigue and betrayal, lots of focus on character development and decisions, unexpected twists and turns, and few action or fighting scenes. Warbreaker checks all those boxes except for the action scenes: it has quite a few, but they’re spaced out and not too long-winded, plus listening to them instead of visually reading them was way more enjoyable for me.

I cannot express how much I loved Warbreaker upon reread. I would definitely recommend reading this book before Words of Radiance (or you’ll miss a gasp-worthy reveal at the end). It’s currently slated to get a sequel in like five-ish years, and I can’t wait!! While this story’s arc wrapped up, the ending definitely does still set up for more story to come. I really hope it picks up right where this book left off because I really want to see where Susebron and Siri and Vasher and Vivenna go from here.

If you read fantasy, you have to pick up this book! Warbreaker has something for everyone: romance, great characters, cool fight scenes, mysteries, humor, religion, political intrigue, a unique magic system, war, betrayal, friendship, mercenaries, two strong sister protagonists, suspense, and of course Sanderson’s excellent writing style. I’ll be rereading this book again right before the sequel comes out and then likely every few years after that because I love it that much. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review: BETTER TOGETHER by Christine Riccio


Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at 30%. 

I’m very sad to have to say this, but this book is not good. In fact, it’s barely readable at times. 

Better Together is a story in the vein of The Parent Trap. It’s about two sisters—Siri, a ballerina who just sustained a career-ending back injury, and Jamie, a wannabe stand-up comedian who’s struggling to come up with new set ideas—who were separated at a young age by divorcing parents. Now 18 and 20 and living on opposite coasts, the girls both happen to attend the same Rediscover Yourself retreat camp in Colorado, where they rediscover each other as well.

I love The Parent Trap, so a retelling of it sounded like so much fun. I also watch Christine’s YouTube channel and enjoy her outgoing personality, so after reading her first book, Again, but Better, which I thought was just fine but nothing special, I wanted to give her another chance. But oh boy, this book was actually worse than the first one. 

To start with, I was irritated right off the bat when I realized that Siri uses ridiculous words in place of swear words. When I first read, “You’ve never broken up with your dream, no matter how excrement it made things,” I thought for sure I had read a typo. I reread that sentence four times, trying to figure out what word Christine had meant to type instead but ultimately concluded it was a mistake because I was reading an ARC and that it would get fixed later. 

But then I got to this sentence a few pages later: “Don’t do excrement like that without telling me! What the underworld?” And it was then I realized that what I had read before was in fact not a typo. No, instead the word “excrement” is used in place of the S-word, “underworld” is used in place of Hell, and then I later discovered that “intercourse” is used in place of the F-word! There are more examples too, for other curse words, but I can’t be bothered to type them out; I’m already cringing so much. I appreciate the intent to create a character that doesn’t swear, but the way this is done is not working. It makes Siri sound so immature and it honestly makes the story laughable. I couldn’t take it seriously the whole time I was reading. I myself do not swear, but no way am I going to walk around saying, “Are you intercoursing kidding me?” or “You’re such a gluteus maximus trench.” 

Another problem with the words Christine chose to replace swear words is their connotation. For example, whenever you hear the word “shit,” you don’t automatically think of poop because that word has lots of meanings and circumstances in which it is used. But there is never a moment when the word “excrement” is used that it doesn’t make me think of poop; that is its only meaning. So anytime “excrement” was used in this book, I immediately imagined poop (which I guess only goes to reflect my feelings on this book as a whole). Like what’s wrong with using frick, heck, dang, shoot, or crap as fake curse words? Too mainstream, I guess. 

The writing in this book was just plain bad. I hate making such a bold, negative statement like that, but it’s unfortunately true. There’s a difference between objectively bad and subjectively not my taste, and this book is the former, somehow even worse than her debut novel. This book feels like it was written by an elementary-schooler, someone with no experience reading or writing whatsoever. I’m not an author myself, but I feel like I could write a better story than this just based on the fact that I’ve read a lot of books so I know what works and what doesn’t work in storytelling. We all know Christine is a reader, so I don’t understand why she’s choosing to make certain writing decisions that most seasoned readers often dislike and criticize. 

The tone and writing style feel very forced. Written English and spoken English are actually quite different, with the former being much more formal even in a lighthearted and casual context. Speaking a joke to your friend and writing that same joke to your friend come across completely differently. Slang and colloquialisms work better in spoken English than they do in written English. The writing in this book reads like spoken English, and it just doesn’t flow right. It’s very cringey. I get that Christine was trying to use modern phrases and relate to the current growing generation, but it doesn’t work the way she likely intended it to work. The jokes are not funny. The constant pop culture references are grating and unoriginal. The drama is way too over-the-top and unrealistic and eye-roll-inducing. 

After the rough first couple of chapters, I debated whether or not I would actually finish this book. If I could barely make it through the first chapter without getting irritated at the characters, I didn’t know how I’d make it through the whole book. But I told myself, with it being a Parent Trap retelling, I had to at least get to the part where the sisters decide to swap places. Only 7% of the way in, though, I just couldn’t handle it. I started skimming then, something I never do, reading just the dialogue and key moments between the sisters. I made it to 30%, just past when the sisters finally decide to swap, before finally deciding to quit. I knew this book wasn’t for me after the first few pages but I still wanted to give it a chance, and I ultimately ended up not enjoying anything that I read. 

The main problem is that nothing in Better Together works—the writing, the characterization, the fake swearing, the constant pop culture references, or the random magical element thrown into an otherwise contemporary book (which I’m not getting into because of spoilers but it’s infuriatingly confusing and out of place in this story). Then there’s the fact that our main characters Jamie and Siri are both adults in this book marketed for a young adult audience but written as if it’s for children. None of it works and none of it was enjoyable. 

The best thing about this book is the cover. It’s actually pretty cute. 

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Review: SPELLBREAKER by Charlie N. Holmberg


Rating: 4/5 stars

After enjoying Charlie Holmberg’s Paper Magician series, I knew I wanted to read everything she’s written. Next in line for me was this book, Spellbreaker

Elsie is a spellbreaker, which is a type of magician who is born with the ability to sever the ties that hold a spell together. Bacchus is a spellmaker, which is a type of magician who isn’t born with their ability but instead pays lots of money to learn one of the four kinds of aspecting: physical, temporal, spiritual, and rational. This book follows these dual POVs in 1895 London. 

Elsie is unregistered and therefore must keep her spellbreaking ability a secret lest she be arrested. She is commissioned by the underground rebellious group she calls the Cowls to push back against the aristocracy and the injustices in the world in the style of Robin Hood by going out on secret missions. One day on one of these missions, she gets caught by Bacchus at his estate, and he promises to keep her secret only if she’ll do a few tasks for him first. And thus begins a wholesome friendship that turns into a very slow-burn but swoon-worthy romance. 

This book started out slow but ramped up the further I got into the story. Imagine a roller coaster where the beginning of the book is the coaster in stopped position and the first half of the book is the coaster slowly being pulled up to the peak before it drops. Then around halfway into the story, it gets crazy! The coaster drops fast and everything happens at once and I couldn’t read the pages fast enough. And then the very ending happens and you realize the roller coaster is coming over the edge right before it drops againand then the book ends. It was insane. 

The mysterious aspects especially had me so invested throughout the novel. There were a lot of questions I was dying to see answered, and while some of them were, I know some answers won’t come until book two. I’ve always loved mysteries but I hardly ever read straight mystery novels, so I love to see some good mysteries in a fantasy setting like we had here. 

I ended up enjoying Spellbreaker more than I expected to, which is always a lovely surprise. This book is a cozy fantastical historical mystery with a little romance; a good fit for everybody and a book that I definitely recommend. I’ll be picking up the sequel, Spellmaker, within the next few weeks because I can’t wait to get back to Elsie and Bacchus’s story and see how this duology concludes. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Review: HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS by Erin A. Craig

Rating: 2/5 stars

House of Salt and Sorrows is about twelve sisters who mysteriously start dying one by one so that now everyone thinks the family is cursed. We follow the POV of one of the sisters, named Annaleigh, as she’s trying to figure out what’s going on. 

I don’t know anything about the Twelve Dancing Sisters fairy tale, so I can’t speak to how well it followed that story as a retelling, but I will say that I didn’t really care for this story in general. 

I tend to not like books that center around the ocean or take place on a boat for whatever reason, so I was worried that that aspect would cause me to enjoy this novel less, but that was actually the least of my problems here as there really wasn’t much reference to the ocean. They live on an island so the ocean is all around them and they send dead bodies out to sea, but that’s really it. 

Most of my problems with this book relate to the ending so I can’t talk about them without giving away the ending. As such, the rest of this review will have SPOILERS

I didn’t like how we had an INCREDIBLY unreliable narrator, but we didn’t even know as much until the ending. I really didn’t like how something would be revealed and then a few pages later would actually be revealed to be false because of an illusion. And then the new info would be revealed to be false again a few more pages later. And then the false thing was actually real. It got so confusing! It got to the point where I couldn’t trust anything because I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t, so I was just pushing through to the end so I could know the answers. 

For example, the situation with Cassius. He was real. Then he was made up and was a figment of Annaleigh’s imagination. And then she saw him again so he was real again and the spell was on all the OTHER girls so that they didn’t see him. Wait, what? How do I know Annaleigh’s still not just seeing things and Cassius is still not real? She didn’t know what was real, none of the sisters knew what was real, and I didn’t know what was real either.

I also didn’t like that the villain changed throughout the story. For a while, we thought it was Annaleigh herself, and then her dead sisters’ ghosts. Then it was Cassius for a bit, then it was Kosamaras, then it was Morella. It just got so confusing who was actually behind the various deaths and who was causing what to happen to the sisters. 

I felt emotionally detached from the story for most of the book, but when these wonky reveals started happening at the end, I felt even more disconnected from the story.

Ultimately, I thought this book was way more convoluted and confusing than it needed to be, and that really hindered my enjoyment of it. It starts off as a nice but dark story about twelve sisters who are dying one by one and Annaleigh trying to discover if they’ve been murdered and why. That sounds like an interesting premise. I thought maybe the sisters were killing each other in some weird succession game, but no. I still don’t really know how this book ended, but I honestly don’t really care to go back through the book and find out. The introduction of an unreliable narrator that made the reader not be able to trust or care about ANYTHING going on in the story was the real downfall here, unfortunately. This book had a strong start but a weak and forgettable ending. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Review: THE LOST WORDS by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris


Rating: 5/5 stars

When they created the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, they removed around forty nature words and replaced them with tech words. Somewhere, a committee decided that these nature words were no longer important enough for children to know or use, so they were removed from the dictionary as our society moves toward a virtual era. The Lost Words is a spellbook of sorts, a hope and desire for these words to still remain in circulation among the up-and-coming generations. 

I really enjoyed this book. A coworker showed it to me because she knew how much I love words and the English language, and she was right: I loved this book. First of all, it's huge. It's like a coffee table art book, and I think that makes it all the more magical. Second of all, it's an all-around beautiful book. 

The authors take twenty of these lost words and give us a poem, a single-page illustration, and two double-page illustrations for each word. All of the artwork is done in watercolor, which is my very favorite medium, and I loved it all. The poems are magical and engaging as well. 

I was really surprised to learn that among the words removed from the dictionary were acorn, otter, raven, willow, ivy, and even dandelion. Those are all common words I used as a child and still use today, so it's sad to know that technology is taking over our lives so much that kids don't even need to know what a dandelion is anymore. 

Overall, this book was very lovely. I recommend it to all children, plus any nature lovers, art lovers, or word lovers out there. It's a beautiful addition to any book collection.