Review: Redwall

What can the peace-loving mice of Redwall Abbey do to defend themselves against Cluny the Scourge and his battle-seasoned army of rats? If only they had the sword of Martin the Warrior, they might have a chance. But the legendary weapon has long been forgotten-except, that is, by the bumbling young apprentice Matthias, who becomes the unlikeliest of heroes.

I am 24 years old and this is my first time reading one of the Redwall books.

Well, first time finishing one. I tried reading one from the middle of the series when I was younger, but never really got into it. Many of my friends did, though. I didn’t really think about it again until a friend lent Mossflower (book 2) to me briefly. I got 9 chapters into the story before I had to give it back.

It was that moment of “here, read this” that sparked my interest. A few months later, I found Redwall and Mossflower for sale in a used bookstore. 

Delving into Redwall, a book geared towards kids, after reading Blood of Elves, a book very much not geared towards kids, was an interesting experience. 

I found the simpler style rather refreshing. It has been a while since I read a book that wasn’t full of angst. Being that this book is geared towards middle school age (and an older series), it was much more straightforward and fluffy in its tone.

The story mainly follows the adventure of the brave little mouse Matthias. He is looking to join the Order at the Redwall Abbey, though in his heart he longs for adventure. There is a certain amount of hero-worship going on whenever he talks about Martin the Warrior, the one who brought the whole area to peace. 

It was a little weird hearing how the mice talk about them because the whole abbey definitely feels religious but I am not sure what they worship. Sometimes it feels like they worship Martin a bit. From what I can tell, though, the abbey is not particularly religious. It is just set up in a way that reflects certain, more traditional churches. Which I can appreciate. I’m not sure how I would feel about deeply religious mice.

The main villain of the books is a rat named Cluny the Scourge, who has one eye and an abnormally long tail that serves as a whip. He has a giant army of rats and stoats and other nasty creatures that he bullies mercilessly. 

Let’s just say he is a great example of how NOT to treat your underlings. Being more than willing to kill them for no good reason is not a great incentive for them to stay. I mean, if they all just up and decide to leave, how is he going to stop them?

Then again, I am reading this as a storyteller and sometimes I forget this was geared towards middle schoolers. They don’t care as much about villain motivations. I could go on about this for a while, but I will save that rant for later. 

Many of the interactions in this story are quite touching and I feel like most characters got their chance to shine at least once. One of my favorites is Silent Sam, a baby squirrel who is very smart but is nonverbal. No one questions this. No one pushes him to speak. I love it.

Halfway through the book, Matthias and an older mouse named Methusela go on a mini-quest within the story to see what became of the sword of Martin. This ended up taking more time than I expected and led them to some interesting places.

In a way, this story is about Matthias coming into his own and becoming the mouse he always wanted to be. It is a battle of the good and noble against the evil and corrupt. There are twists. There are turns. Some I didn’t see coming. Others I saw coming 6 chapters before the characters did. 

Then again, I am a writer. That sort of comes with the territory.

The rating

My only regret when it comes to reading this book is that I didn’t read it sooner. I would have loved these books when I was in middle school. Heck, I love them as an adult. The world is charming, the characters are endearing, and the plot has just enough twists to keep you engaged. If you haven’t read these books and are looking for something a little lighter to read, I definitely recommend Redwall

Review: Mistborn

For a thousand years, the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity," reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier "snapped" and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.

Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.

But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

This saga dares to ask a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails?

Going into Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, I knew very little about the story. Some of my coworkers had been nagging me for months that I needed to read it. The back cover provided just enough information to pique my attention, so I bought it. 

I was immediately plunged into a world that is very bleak. From the abject subjugation of the Skaa, to the ash falling from the sky. This is a world without color, without stars. There are no flowers. Most crops struggle to survive. 

There is a stark comparison between the gritty, dirty streets and the gleaming white abodes of the nobility. The nobles can do whatever they want with the Skaa, and the Skaa can’t do a single thing about it. The brief introduction does a great job of showing just how bad this system can be. This divide gets explored in a way that shows the view from each side, as well as those who stand somewhere in the middle. 

We also get to explore the world of the Mistings and the Mistborn. I particularly enjoyed this part. The magic system is called Allomancy and it is certainly different from anything I have ever encountered before. It took a while to get used to, but with how he introduces it, it grew on me. He not only explains to us what it is, but he shows us how it works and what it feels like. 

This has to be my favorite introduction and use of a magic system I have encountered so far. It is based on metals, where ‘burning’ different metals enable you to do different things. There are a limited number of metals that can be burnt, of course, and if you burn something that isn’t pure it can be very bad for your health. 

I mentioned Mistings and Mistborn. Mistings are people who can burn a single one of the metals. They have different names based on which metal they burn. The Mistborn are those who can burn all of them. That is what the two main characters are, as well as the Lord Ruler. 

Between the intricacies of the magic system and the internal machinations of both the house politics and the movements of the rebellion, I quickly became enthralled. The narration is all in the third person, but it is not quite omniscient. It is more focused on the perspectives of the two main Mistborn, Kelsier and Vin. 

As mentioned in the description above (borrowed from Amazon), Vin very skittish and untrusting when you first meet her. It was a delight to see her grow more confident, not only in herself and her skills but also in her ability to trust those around her. Her life has been significantly harder than Kelsier’s, yet she grows so much throughout the first book I could not help but be proud of her.

This Mistborn trilogy includes three books. There is the one I read, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. Set 300 years after that we have The Aloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning. The next book, The Lost Metal, is set to be released later this year.

I am currently regretting the fact that I opted to buy Mistborn on its own instead of buying the trilogy box set, as I now have to go back and buy the other two. Which is going to have to wait until I have finished some of the other two dozen books I’ve bought this year.

Don’t worry though, I definitely intend on finishing this series. I can’t stand not knowing how this ends.

The rating

This is a classic fantasy series that is definitely worth reading. The magic system is unique and refreshing and created in a way that makes sense. The characters are endearing and you find yourself starting to consider them a family along with the main character. There are some very well crafted twists slipped in there that, if you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of those things you never see coming, yet when you get there it makes complete sense. I genuinely enjoyed reading this and cannot wait to see what happens in the Well of Ascension.

Review: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Do you like stories that keep you on the edge of your seat? Do you like high stakes races, space battles, and grand conspiracies? Do you like stories that blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy in a way that feels new yet completely natural?

Then go out and buy A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White, and then read it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I first found out about the book when a customer brought the second in the series, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, through my line. The cover had caught her attention and, to be honest, it caught mine too. 

It was upon reading the back that I realized it wasn’t the first book (at the time we didn’t have a copy in stock). I made sure to write the name down both for her and for myself.

Upon doing some research, I discovered that I was more familiar with the author than I first thought. Years ago he wrote and produced an audio drama called The Gearheart, an enchanting combination of steampunk and rune-based magic.  It was a podcast that I very much enjoyed. 

I kept an eye out for it after that until we finally got a copy in. I bought it immediately and started it that night.

I was not disappointed. 

The world

The world he crafted is rife with magic, but in a way that fits perfectly within a futuristic world. The ability to use magic is tied to a specific part of the brain. It is incredibly rare to be born without it. I was impressed to discover there was a medical term for this condition, TERM, as well as common slang, like dull fingered.

That level of attention to detail speaks volumes about how much care and thought went into this book. It is also a lot of fun to see how he intermingles the technological and magical sides of the world. 

Everyone born with magic has what is called a ‘mark’, which dictates what they can do with that magic. The first person we meet uses her mark to attune with technology, meaning that she can control it in a way few others can. Some people can create shields, others conjure fire, whereas others can use it to commune with animals and so forth. It is fascinating.

We meet one person who has no mark and another who has a deformed mark, meaning he can only do about half of what he should be able to do. It is interesting to see how they handle the difficulties presented to them living in a world primarily designed for those with marks. 

One might even say it is a commentary on those who live with disabilities (especially the ones that aren’t visible). I mean, it is literally something different in their brains. It’s not a stretch to compare that to mental illness. 

Another important thing to keep an eye on is any mention of the Famine Wars. It’ll be a while before you really start to get the full picture, mostly because no one likes to talk about it, but it does prove to be important.

The Story

We start off at a high stakes race following Nilah, a talented racer whose mark allows her to attune with technology. Its a thrilling introduction to the world, but things quickly take an interesting turn when a mysterious figure called Mother stops time and murders another racer. Nilah uses her ability to trigger the special drive on her racer and somehow manages to transport herself across the universe. 

Thankfully, she lands mostly in one piece in a back alley on the same planet as another of our main characters. I mentioned her earlier. Her name is Elizabeth, a.k.a. Boots, and she was born without a mark. We also know that she has some connection to the Famine War, she has an AI she isn’t supposed to have, and she is really good at finding things. That is her job.

She receives word that the SHIP recently docked. The crew are old friends of hers that she abandoned some time ago, and they have been looking for her for a very long time. This is around the same time she learns of the hefty price on Nilah’s head. 

That is why the second she runs into Nilah, she knocks her out. Unfortunately, she herself is knocked out before she can do anything to take the bounty. That is how they both end up aboard the Capricious

The reunion is delightfully awkward and incredibly informative when it comes to Boot’s past. It turns out she was connected with the racer Mother killed. He sold her something that Mother wants, which is why her office was destroyed just before the book began. It was picture of a missing, nearly mythical warship called The Harrow said to have enough power to destroy a planet. 

An incredibly dangerous prize indeed, and one that we don’t want just anyone to have their hands on.

Thus begins the game of cat and mouse between the crew and Mother as each group hunts for clues as to the whereabouts of the Harrow. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. And there are a lot of things that are revealed that I am not going to talk about.

Because I am here to get you interested in the book, not to spoil the book. So, now you have to read it to see for yourself! (please message me when you do, I’ve been looking for someone to geek out about this book with)

The Moral

Beyond the possible commentary on living with a disability, this story focuses a lot on how there is more going on to any one story than most people realize. Near the end you see what happens when people are given too much power and start to abuse what they have in the search for more. The conspiracy that gets untangled reaches so far back that it is hard to see exactly where it all began. 

There is also a lot to learn about family, about staying loyal to those you trust. About sticking together and never giving up in the face of impossible odds. About how little, easy to miss details can make a huge difference.

The Verdict

This book is a fascinating combination of magic and science fiction and huge, overarching conspiracies that scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. The cast is full of unique, dynamic characters with their own backgrounds and their own powerful personalities. I loved seeing them grow and evolve not only as individuals but also in their relationships with other characters.

A warning though: the more you read the harder it will be to put down. This story is a ride from page one and it only builds in intensity the farther you go. It has been a while since I’ve read a story with such a well-crafted twist that I had to put it down for a second (but only a second, because I had to know what happened next).

The second book, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy came out in December 2019. Book three, The Worst of all Possible Worlds is going to come out in 2020. That is literally the only downside of reading this series. 

Review: The Red Queen Series

I spent months eyeing the first book. It was the cover that caught my attention. It was so simple yet so intriguing.

Then I got into a conversation about writing with the author, and I realized she is a delightful human being. I went to work and mentioned this to my boss. My boss who then informed me that she was going to be in our store for the release of her new book.

That very day I checked out the first book and started reading.

What series am I talking about? The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. It is a delightful YA fantasy series set in a world divided by two colors, Red and Silver.

The story

In Red Queen, we are introduced to the world through the eyes of Mare Barrow, a lowly red and a thief, who is best friends with a local fisherman in training named Killorn.

She does a great job of establishing the divide between the powerless reds and the mighty silvers, born with powers beyond imagining. She also shows us the hopeless (and pointless) war between Norta and the neighboring Lakelands that has been eating up countless lives for the past century.

And the best part? It doesn’t feel like she is telling you any of this. You get the information from Mare as she is prompted by outside events to think about it, and the information is limited to stuff she would know. All throughout the series, Victoria does a wonderful job of giving us the information we need in a way that feels organic. It never feels like an information dump.

Even when we are forced to learn a lot of new information during a short period of time, it is because Mare is having to as well. We keep the information that she deems important.  

There were many times I felt myself beginning to feel anxious because it felt like I was right there with Mare. You become so quickly embroiled in the machinations of both the Scarlet Guard and the royal family as Mare is caught between both of them. You come to care for Cal and Maven as she does. You come to trust Julian, as she does.

And you are just as bewildered as she is when things take an interesting turn at the end of book one, leading into book two.

Glass Sword has different pacing to it, as Mare spends most of the time running from her problems. To be fair, her whole life has completely fallen apart in several ways so she isn’t having the best of times. There is a glimmer of hope, though, and she holds onto it with everything she has. Even so, she still feels as if it is her against the world. She feels alone, isolated, and afraid.

It was fascinating to watch the characters grow and evolve as the story went on. The interactions and relationships between the characters all felt so realistic, so organic. You don’t get the angst here that you usually get in YA fantasy books. I mean, there is some angst, but it is realistic angst. I was able to identify with it.

The world is full of so many unknowns and so often things go sideways in terrible ways. She keeps on fighting, though. She holds herself together through sheer fear of what will happen if she falls apart. Heck, she compares herself to being a glass sword on the verge of shattering for a reason.

When a mysterious figure comes along to give her a chance to strike a blow against the king, she leaps at it. This leads to what has to be one of these most stressful fights thus far in the series.

Something happens during the fight that pushes Mare to stop running. It’s like she got a wakeup call or came to a realization of some sort that gives her the courage to do something she said she never would. That twist leaves me speechless even now, it was so well crafted.

And it leads to a tenuous situation in Kings Cage. Here is where we get the second narrator and here is where I started having a really hard time putting the book down. Between the narrator shifts and the time jumps and the constant rising of the political tensions, I could not tear myself away. This is where two new entities enter the stage, changing the power dynamic and leaving you breathless wondering how this is going to change things.

The tension keeps building up until about halfway through the book when the situation simply explodes. From there on it is nonstop moves and countermoves as all of the parties involved adjust to the new power balance. It was honestly one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, yet I was still on edge. What happens next?

Things really start to get interesting in War Storm. Another country enters the fray and the stage grows to encompass the whole world as we know it.

Sometimes when stories broaden their world it is easy to lose sight of the point. You get so bogged down in all of the moving pieces that you forget why you cared about the story, to begin with. That doesn’t happen here. All of the machinations and twists are driven by the characters who have very organic, very human motivations.

You also see the introduction of several new narrators, all key players on different sides of the conflict. Normally I am not a huge fan of having more than two narrators, because if not done well it can distract from the story. In this case, though, it adds a layer of depth to the story that makes the narrative that much richer.

The way she crafts the narration gives us a unique look into the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of several of the characters we have been getting to know throughout the whole series. It was honestly eye-opening in how it successfully expanded my understanding of the world and the characters themselves.

The build-up to the final conflict was…wow. It’s a ride. There are so many moving pieces from the beginning and it just becomes more and more entangled and complex. Yet, at no point does it become too much. The stakes are high, but it never feels like it is overblown. It is just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

And let me tell you, the ending will throw you for a loop.

The moral

This story focuses a lot on how things are both more complicated and more straight forward than they seem. People are more than they appear to be at first glance. Sometimes people who appear to be in control are just as trapped, if not more, by their circumstances as you are. Everyone is human, no matter how cold they pretend to be. Even those who have great power have weaknesses.

There is power in standing for what you believe in, even when the world seems against you. There is power in staying true to who you are, even as the world around you is changing.

People are stronger together.

In the end, even though the good guys have finally done the thing they set out to accomplish, they have “won”, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not all of the world’s problems have been fixed. They have made great strides in making the world a better place, but there is still more work to do.

Mare’s part is over, though. Her main struggle is through. She can take some time to take care of herself, time to heal and move past everything that has happened to her. There is hope for the future because she has already helped prove that change is possible.

I love that everything isn’t perfect in the end. I love that there is no riding off into the sunset, at least not yet. It makes everything the characters have been through seem so much more real. It makes them more human.

And, honestly, I find that beautiful.

The rating

If you are looking for a series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one, this is the series for you. It is a well-crafted masterpiece that does not fall into some of the same tropes that most books in the YA series fall into. I very much appreciate this fact, as I am very tired of alpha males, love triangles, and god complexes.

This is a series that I definitely plan on rereading. There was just so much going on all at once that I know I didn’t catch anything.

Plus, it is a fantastic series that I would not mind reliving a few more times.

Note: I have not yet read Broken Throne (a series of short stories set after book 4) or Cruel Crown (two short stories combined into a novella set outside of the series), but I plan to in the future.

Review: The Book Thief

As much time as I spend writing, I spend more time reading. Everything from fiction to nonfiction, sci-fi/fantasy to mystery, both for fun and to educate/improve myself. I have a large library of books in my room that I have been reading for years. Since starting work at a bookstore, though, I find myself buying and reading more and more new books.

There is a certain thrill to opening a new book and delving into the story for the very first time. Of immersing yourself in a world that you are wholly unfamiliar with. I want to share that magic and share my experience.

So I decided to pick up writing book reviews again. I’ll be sharing old favorites and new favorites, as well as my recommendations for books on personal development.

To start off, I am going to share one of my all-time favorite books. I actually watched the movie before I read the book, but I fell so in love with the story that I bought the book the very next day.

“One of the most enduring stories of our time, The Book Thief is just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”

The characters

The character you follow around most of the time is a little girl called Liesel. She has pretty blonde hair, dangerous brown eyes, and an undying love for words. This love starts when she discovers The Gravedigger’s Handbook lost in the snow. That begins her love affair with words and with reading.

She is taken in by a German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Rosa is constantly described as having a face that resembles crumpled cardboard and she is definitely a woman who believes in tough love. Hans is much gentler with Liesel and ends up being the one who teaches her to read.

I think part of why I love this book so much is that I identify with Liesel. When her life is turned upside down, she turns to books. She escapes into other worlds through the words with which she falls in love. It is something I have done many times.

The cast of characters is pretty small. You have Rosa and Hans, who we have already met, and you have Liesel of course. There is also Ruddy, a young boy who is the first to befriend Liesel. Everyone knows him. He is the mischevious, kind-hearted boy who lives down the street. Max comes along later, silent as a ghost. He remains hidden through, buried in the shadows with young Liesel his only connection to the outside world

There is another ghost as well. The mayor’s wife, a shadow in a robe, allows Liesel access to words beyond her imagination. We do not see much of her, unfortunately, but she still has an impact.

The narrator is my personal favorite. They are neutral by nature, but like us, they find themselves drawn towards the tale of the little blonde book thief. They provide us with a grander look at what is going on and add an air of poeticism to the story. I quickly came to love their interjections.

In fact, it is the narrator that captivated me so, because it is not often you find a story that is narrated by death in this way. Marcus Zusak definitely pulls it off, though, in a way most authors cannot.

The world

The book takes place in Germany around the start of WWII. We don’t get to see a lot of the fighting, but there is no denying the impact. You see the signs of it everywhere. It is subtle at first but the further along you go, it becomes unmistakable. The rationing. The Hitler Youth. The burning of unacceptable publications (one of which mysteriously survives). Jews hiding in basements. And then, later, the marches.

Occasionally the narrator pulls us out of Liesel’s story to show us what is going on throughout the rest of Europe. He is very tired of war, worn down from having to carry so many tortured souls into the afterlife. It is a unique, heartbreaking depiction of the realities of war told in a very artistic fashion.

Seeing the world through Liesel’s eyes changed the way I see things, ironically enough. There are moments when she describes the sky to Max, providing him an outlet to the outside world, and it is honestly beautiful. Everything about their friendship is.

The moral

This is a story of, well, stories. The power of words and how they can help us be more open-minded. How they help us not be afraid to do the right thing. How they help us connect with others on a deeper level than mere conversation or small talk can.

It is also a story of perseverance. From the beginning, Liesel is faced with a wide variety of challenges. She loses her brother. Her mother leaves her in the care of a German couple, never to be seen again. She is behind most of the children her age, mostly because she struggles with learning how to read. She has constant nightmares involving her brother and her mother.

But she keeps going. She never gives up. She keeps moving forward.

And I admire that.

The ranking

Note: I may end up adding some sort of numerical ranking system to these reviews, but for now I am going to try something different. Some books are roller coasters. Some keep you on the edge of your seat. Some are fluffy.

This one is a classic. The story is endearing and the characters are dear to my heart. There is this intangible…something that has made this story very important to me. I have bonded with other people over a shared love of this story.

One of them has a very unique tale of how he came to read it. His dad found a copy in the nightstand drawer in a hotel room in Spain. On it was a note saying to pass it on after he read it. He ended up passing it on to his son (my friend), who then passed it on to a professor.

Once you have read this book, you will truly understand just how perfect this is.

What are your thoughts? Did you like The Book Thief? Is there anything else you would like to see me include on my reviews? Which books do you think I should read?