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Island of Glass

Island of Glass (The Guardians Trilogy, #3)Island of Glass by Nora Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 incredibly subjective “It’s Nora Roberts and I just love her” stars. (This rating is for the trilogy in its entirety.)

I’ve been reading a lot of epic fantasy lately. And I love it. But fantasy tends to be the steak of my literary diet. (Vegetarian friends, please forgive me for this extended meat metaphor.) Steak provides protein and iron, and is obviously delicious, but when it your diet consists of all red meat all the time, you risk getting gout. Sometimes, you just need to break up your diet. Which is what Nora Roberts’ books do for me. Her books are my popcorn, and the change was wonderful.

Something you need to know about Nora’s books. They’re predictable. Like, Nora-has-a-formula-that-she-applies-to-all-of-her-books predictable. When I pick up one of her books, I know that good is going to win out, that love will conquer all, and that all of the main characters will not only live, but live happily ever after. And that’s exactly why I love them. Sometimes I need a story that is safe and comfortable and, well, predictable. Like popcorn! And Nora is the best in the business at delivering comfort brain-food.

Onto this series specifically. This is soft fantasy, the story of a group of six radically different individuals, drawn together to find three fallen stars and save the world from an insane goddess. All six individuals are mythical in some sense, and the three women each fall in love with one of the three men over the course of their own book. Like I said, predictable. But so much fun. My favorite character in the trilogy was Annika. She was gorgeous and kind and funny and so incredibly different. Her story, Bay of Sighs, was my favorite in the trilogy. But this was a very nice, cosy ending. Everyone lived happily ever after, just as I knew they would. Which was just exactly what I needed. *contented sigh*

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Bands of Mourning

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure I can write a review of this book that does it any kind of justice. I try to write reviews that actually contain some kind of cohesive thoughts about the book, but I’m afraid all I can do is gush right now. Bands of Mourning was absolutely fantastic from beginning to end. I enjoyed myself immensely, and am so looking forward to any and all Mistborn stories Sanderson puts out in the future. Or any stories in the Cosmere, honestly. I just really love Sanderson, okay?!

There was so much character development here, especially from Steris. I know there are those who think that Sanderson fails at crafting believable, sympathetic characters. I’ve read some reviews that go so far as to say that his characters tend to be cardboard. I simply can’t agree. But I will say that his characters have become warmer and more genuine to me in his later books. I’m more attached to Wax and Wayne and the gang than I was to Vin and Elend, though I really enjoyed their story. I never saw a lack in his writing, but he’s done nothing but improve with every book he publishes. And I really love how he brings back characters from other books in different forms and capacities. (Those who have already read this know exactly who I’m talking about. One in particular. I had to give myself literally hours after finishing this book to be able to think of anything but a certain reappearance.

Just about everyone can agree that Sanderson excels at world building and magic systems and incredibly engaging action scenes and plot twists. This book and the books that preceded it were no exception. There was never a dull moment. There was humor, devastation, joy, shock, awe, and romance to be found within these pages. As my beautiful friend Mary pointed out, Sanderson gave an amazing gift to his fans with these Alloy Era books. There were new characters and adventures in a fascinating new time period, but in a world his fans had already fallen in love with. He knocked it out of the park, and I can’t wait to read The Lost Metal. No really, I can’t…

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Fates and Furies

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3 stars for content, 5 for writing, averaged out to 4.

Okay, confession time: I don’t like literary fiction. I used to, but it started feeling stale to me, much like a lot of YA; any book I picked up in either genre for a while just felt like a lesser repetition of something I had read before. I hate predictability and pretentiousness, which a lot of recent literary fiction seems to have in spades. That’s why I tend to stick to fantasy or books that I completely expect to be predictable, like a Nora Roberts romance or some Christian fiction. Because sometimes predictability is comfortable, like a bubble bath for your brain.

Fates and Furies was most definitely NOT a bubble bath for my brain. I would’ve never picked this book up if it hadn’t been my bookclub’s selection this month, and I would’ve been missing out. I get the hype on this one, I really do. The book was pretentious, yes, but it had every right to be. It was never predictable. The writing was stunning. The characters were real, but I hope I never in my life meet anyone like any of them. I didn’t like them, and so I didn’t expect to feel any sympathy for them. But I did. There were times when I was uncomfortable or disgusted or both, but the book was so compelling that I never felt the urge to put it down, even though I found some of the content distasteful. And the writing was exceptional. Groff crafted something exquisite here, and managed to never give anything away until she was good and ready to do so.

I feel like I could write a fairly massive essay on this book, but I would hate to spoil anything for someone. Spoiler tags only help so much. I can see this book being taught in colleges one day, and would love to sit in on that discussion. It was a story of love and lies and fallibility and the grotesqueness that some seen to associate with real life. In my opinion, love is honest and forgiving and covers a multitude of sins. Life is mostly good, and people are mostly good. I’m an optimist. Groff’s writing comes across as extremely pessimistic to me. Life is hard, it’s true. I’ve been through my share of tough times. But I had an amazing God and husband and family and group of friends to get me through everything. I’m honest with them. I trust them. And so much of the pain in this book could’ve been avoided with some honesty and trust.

Did I like this book? No. This was not an enjoyable read. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It was a disaster, but a beautiful disaster, as enthralling as a hurricane or a wildfire or a lightning storm.

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Shadows of Self

Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Be forewarned. This is less of a review and more of a gush session over Sanderson’s craftsmanship in building the world of Scadrial in the Mistborn books.

I read Alloy of Law last year and, while I liked it, I didn’t feel driven to continue reading about the exploits of Wax and Wayne. I had no idea what I was missing. While I really enjoyed The Alloy of Law the second time I read it, Shadows of Self by far surpassed it. This is a book I feel is on par with the rest of Sanderson’s Cosmere fiction in terms of depth. As my lovely friend Mary said in her review, it felt like Sanderson wrote a love letter to the fans of his original Mistborn trilogy, and I loved it so much.

Returning to a world you love three hundred years after the events that drew you there the first time can be jarring, which I think unfairly influenced my view of The Alloy of Law the first time I read it. But, now that I’ve been in this brave new world built on the foundations of one I adore, I’m thrilled with what Sanderson has done here. Characters that we know and love from the original trilogy are now the figures of myth, with entire religions built around them, and it’s fascinating to read. It’s like visiting old friends, but now they’re deities instead of the humans you once laughed with. Also, there are some of these characters that live on in different ways, and getting to see them again was a lot of fun.

I don’t really know what to say here that wouldn’t be a spoiler. But I will say that I disagree with some readers who believe that Sanderson’s weakness is his characterization. While he obviously excels in his world-building and magic systems and plot twists, he’s no slouch when it comes to crafting characters, either. I connect with so many of his characters. The characters in this series, Wax and Wayne and Marasi and Steris, are no exception. Wayne was my absolute favorite in The Alloy of Law, and I still love him, but now he’s sharing that spotlight with Wax. And Steris is really growing on me. I think she might be the most honest character in the entire series. The ending wrecked me more than a little bit, but cemented my love for Steris. I’m really excited about this series. Time to dig into The Bands of Mourning!

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Echoes in Death

Echoes in Death (In Death, #44)Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Or, why I love pretty much everything Nora Roberts write under any name.

As some of you know, Nora Roberts is my comfort read. I would almost label her a guilty pleasure read because her books are so outside my norm, but I can’t feel any guilt for loving her books. Here’s why.

Anything Nora writes, whether under her own name or under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb, is a romance at its core. Is it a contemporary standalone? Definitely a romance. Is it a fantasy trilogy, where are group of friends become family and have to save the world from destruction? It might be, but it’s a love story, first and foremost. Is it a futuristic saga, detailing the life and career of a Homicide cop in the last half of the 21st century? Be that as it may, trust me when I tell you that romance is still the backbone of the story, even 44 books later. But while Nora writes romance, what makes that romance so successful is her emphasis on all relationships. The romance isn’t what draws me back to her books again and again, though I like a good romance as much as the next girl. What brings me back to Nora on such a frequent basis is her take on family. Family doesn’t end in blood, as one of my fandoms put it. Friends are just the family you choose. The relationships in her books, whether romantic or platonic, whether between mother and child or man and dog or childhood best friends or business partners turned buddies, are so well fleshed-out and realistic to me.

Now we come to the book I’m supposed to be reviewing. Nora, as J.D. Robb, did a wonderful job with this 44th book following the life of New York murder cop Even Dallas in the year 2061. As always, the content was a bit hard to stomach because, you know, murder. But this book was especially hard for me to read, as it was an attack on happily married couples, and I happen to be half of one of those. Also, rape and sexual abuse in any form are just really hard for me to read about, as I know they are for most people. But it’s handled very well here by our protagonist. Without giving much away, Eve has a history of such abuse in her past that she still struggles with. But, throughout the almost four dozen books chronicling her life, she has grown tremendously. Where she once suppressed her memories and refused to let anyone in, now she has a tremendous support system of friends and adopted family and, of course, Roarke. She no longer bottles everything up, but has learned to share her pain and grow past it. It’s this growth that shown brightly in the midst of the dark subject matter. Nora makes the victims so real, but she also does a fantastic job showing that life is about light, and that good wins out in the end. That good might be battered and bruised by that end, but it still wins.

I can’t rate any book in this series, or even most by Nora outside of this series, very objectively. I’m attached to the characters, to Eve and Roarke, Peabody and McNab, Mira and Mr. Mira, Mavis and Leonardo and Bella, and so many more. After 44 books, they feel like family. And I’m also attached to Nora’s writing style and her ability to craft stories where relationships are always the focus. Because relationships should be the focus of life, right?

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Alloy of Law

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you get when you combine one of the most prolific fantasy authors of our time with an old school Spaghetti Western? This book right here. With Alloy of Law, Sanderson built on the amazing world he created in the original Mistborn trilogy and gave us more of the fantastic system, but in a new era with new technology advances and the problems that come with progress. We see how the religion of that land grew and changed based on the events of the first trilogy, and how the shape of the world has changed.

I was hesitant the first time I read this book, and didn’t give it the chance it deserved. I thought the book was fun, but decided not to continue on to the second and third books. In hindsight, I really can’t recall why on earth I didn’t want more Wax and Wayne. Because Rust and Ruin, those two are a joy to read. They are the Batman and Robin of an otherworldly Wild West, but with more sassy banter and less moody brooding. Not that each man doesn’t have problems and demons from their respective pasts, because they most definitely do. They have their crosses to bear, but they can laugh anyway, because who doesn’t have some weight on their shoulders?

Alloy of Law is mainly the story of Waxillium Ladrian, a noble who makes his mark as a lawman in the Roughs before returning to the city of Elendel. Wax is a powerful Twinborn, and an impressive marksman. He’s a dangerous man, but most definitely still a nobleman at his core. He’s our hero, and I really like him. I also appreciated the fact that our main character was in his forties instead of his teens or twenties. The maturity was a welcome change. He’s well fleshed out, and has plenty of personality. But my favorite character was Wayne. He’s also a Twinborn, and a master of disguise to boot. Every time he made an appearance, I immediately smiled. My favorite dialogue was always spoken by Wayne. The man is just so darn funny.

There were other characters that I enjoyed too, that I hope to see more of in the next books. While I know from friends that Steris becomes a more central character in following books, I didn’t see enough of her to form much of an opinion. I did find her refreshingly blunt and endearingly awkward, and can’t wait to see her grow. My favorite female in this particular book was Marasi. She was sweet and smart and inquisitive and funny, and had more of a backbone than I expected. I just really enjoyed her.

I wavered between four and five stars for this book, and settled on four after much internal debate. The reasons are very subjective, and have no bearing the quality of the book. There were two main writing decisions that kept my rating from being higher. First, the allomantic idioms kind of threw me out of the story whenever I came across them, though I appreciated what Sanderson was trying to do with them. An example would be “take it with a pinch of copper” instead of with a pinch of salt. There were a lot of these variations. And like I said, I get it, I really do. They’re cute, and they give some realism, because every society develops their own idioms after a while. They just disrupted the flow for me. Second, I’m just not the biggest fan of steampunk and flintlock. Which is totally not Sanderson’s fault, I just bogged down in the details of weapons and other technology.

But that being said, I had a lot of fun reading this book, and I read more of Wax and Wayne’s adventures!

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Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full review now posted!

I have a new favorite book, and it’s this one! Words of Radiance was powerful and moving and epic in both size and scope. There is absolutely no negative feedback I could give this book. I know I had some friends that were disappointed in how long it took me to read this, and the fact that I paused and read a few other books. But there’s a reason for that! When I truly love a story with all of my heart, I don’t want to the book I’m reading to end. So I’ll put it down and read something else for a while, giving myself a reason to stretch out my stay in the world I don’t want to leave. And that’s what I did here. This book is huge, even bigger than The Way of Kings. My “little” mass-marked paperback is 1310 pages long. Its basically a colorful brick. But it never felt like it dragged; in fact, I would’ve been completely happy with another thousand pages.

Since I was young, I have loved the fantasy genre with all of my heart. It transports you in a way nothing else does, in my opinion. And no series has ever transported me and enthralled me quite as much as the Stormlight Archive. The world Sanderson has built here is the most unique I have ever read. The flora and fauna are completely unique from our world. The magic system (like all of Sanderson’s magic systems) is vast and varied and well fleshed-out while still retaining an air of mystery, and the religion of the land ties into that remarkably well. All of the world-building is beyond compare, but what makes this series truly shine are Sanderson’s characters.

Some of my very favorite fantasies have focused mainly on the lives of single individuals. Harry Potter, Kvothe, Ender Wiggins, Locke Lamora, Percy Jackson, Thomas Hunter, Errol Stone, Karou, Meg Corbyn, Mercy Thompson, Bilbo Baggins, and many more (though fewer female characters than I’d like, since I can’t make myself include Katniss or Tris) have been the nearly complete focus of their stories, and I love that. But a lot of fantasies now are choosing to focus on more and more perspectives. Which is completely fine, I just end up picking favorites. In A Song of Ice and Fire, I prefer reading about Tyrion and Danaerys and Arya and Bran than I do Cersei or Jaime or the other Starks. Picking favorites just happens. But so far, that is most definitely not the case with the Stormlight Archive. Every perspective is fantastic, and every character carries their weight in the story. I never caught myself counting the pages until I got back to one of my favorite characters, because they’re all my favorites! And each character has grown so much since being introduced in the first book (which was amazing in its own right, but this one blew it out of the water) that I couldn’t wait to see what new decisions they made and how they changed. I’ve grown really attached to just about every character in the vast cast Sanderson has assembled. There’s determination, despair, romance, hatred, philosophy, stupidity, and humor. A lot of humor!

Another thing I love about Sanderson is that the man knows how to write an ending. The last two hundred pages or so were intense. There was an insane amount of action, character breakthroughs, discoveries, plot twists, new appearances and reappearances. Also, this book begins tying threads of the Cosmere together, which was SO MUCH FUN to read! There were threads in The Way of Kings, but Words of Radiance brought those a bit more to the reader’s attention and built on them further. Sanderson’s creation of the Cosmere is incredibly ambitious, and I can’t wait to see how everything comes together. Which is more than likely going to take decades. But with his work ethic and imagination, I’m excited about the future of the Cosmere instead of despairing of the long road ahead. And good news; the third volume of the Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer, is set to release this November, so we have another installment to look forward to soon!

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore middle grade fantasy fiction. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book that ever made me cry, and I still get emotional when I reread it. The Phantom Tollbooth remains one of the funniest, cleverest books I’ve ever read, though I didn’t read it until I was in my twenties. A Wrinkle in Time changed my view of the world and helped me embrace myself for who I was and still am. The Little Prince gave me a lot of deep, philosophical fodder for discussion with my family. And Harry Potter remains my favorite series, and shall forever be. Always.

Now I have a new book to add to my long list of middle grade favorites. Howl’s Moving Castle has been one of my top five favorite movies for years, and I put off reading the book out of fear that it wouldn’t hold up. Thankfully, my friend Mary suggested buddy reading it, or I might have missed out on the absolute treasure that is Diana Wynne Jones. Now I have to track down everything else she ever wrote. I should have listened to Neil Gaiman sooner, as he loves her and has recommended her multiple times in essays and articles.

Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three sisters, which means that she’s not going to amount to much. Striving to be content with her lot in life, Sophie encourages her sisters to find their fortunes and sets out to be the best hatter she can be. But when her hats become too popular, the Witch of the Waste barges into her store and turns poor Sophie’s life completely upside down. But, by the end of the story, Sophie wouldn’t have traded her altered life for anything.

The characters in this tiny book are so well developed that they now feel like old friends. Calcifer is the cutest demon in the history of ever, and I couldn’t help but hear Billy Crystal’s voice whenever he spoke. He was grouchy and sarcastic and a much bigger softie than he let on. Michael, the Wizard Howl’s assistant, is a scatterbrained sweetheart. Howl himself is vain and lazy and self-absorbed and more honorable than he wants to be. He is also one of the biggest drama queens I’ve ever come across in any fictional setting. And then there’s Sophie. Sophie, who was dealt a bad hand and managed to win the game anyway. It wasn’t until she was cursed that Sophie grew into the person she always wanted to be, and proved herself to be invaluable to everyone in her life.

I just want to say, middle grade books do a much better job with love stories than YA books, in my opinion. The love story here was a slow burn, and both involved parties fought their feelings tooth and nail. But when those feelings were finally admitted and embraced, I melted. Seriously, the feels are real. I will go down with this ship.

*end fangirling*

The book and movie differed on multiple plot points, which surprised me. However, I now love the book just as much as I love the Miyazaki movie. If you love the book and have never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. If you love the movie, you should read the book. You’ll be in for a treat if you do.

(Side note: Admire the weirdness that is the cover of my copy. Do you see why I waited so long to read it?)

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