While I didn’t review the rest of the books in The Wheel of Time series, I’d like to review the last book, A Memory of Light. It seemed like reviewing all 14 books would overwhelm whatever else I posted during my reading challenge in 2011, but one review can’t hurt, right?

A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light

As we’ve discussed before, I’m not a big fan of happy endings–many stories seem too forced and joyful at the end, when real life is never so neatly wrapped up. I don’t demand that all my books be 100% realistic, but I wouldn’t mind more ambiguous/uncertain endings! Even though I had some issues with Rand throughout the series, I largely enjoyed these books (plus I got to meet Brandon Sanderson two times!). And the ending….oh, this series had a good ending. There were some happy parts, some upsetting parts, and so many “OMG what?!” parts. I started reading this book while on vacation in Hawaii, and it was totally worth doubling the weight of my carry on bag.

Brandon Sanderson, the author picked to finish Robert Jordan’s wonderful series, has always been pretty open about how the last three books were originally designed to be a single book (and at the most recent book signing at Powell’s Harriet shared that Jordan even planned for the book to be a trilogy way back before it turned into an epic fantasy series!). I’m sure every reader was as happy as me when it was turned into multiple books so every story line, even for more minor characters, could be resolved. Did they all end the way I wanted? Not at all! But was it realistic to what probably would happen in a war-torn world with so many competing factions? Yes, so I’ll only cry a little when good characters die.

I don’t want to give away any major plot points for people new to the series so I won’t give a plot overview, but I do want to say this: The Wheel of Time is an amazing epic fantasy series, and I completely enjoyed my time with these books. I’m already planning to reread the series every few years, and I’d like to go back to reread A Memory of Light once on its own to make sure I caught everything (Sanderson loves to hide small but important details). The length of the books may be off-putting for some, but I can’t think of a better way to spend your time!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it on ever Brandon Sanderson book I’ve reviewed, but I love his story telling. Sanderson writes grand sweeping novels with complicated worlds, and I have yet to meet a hero I don’t love. So when a tiny novella came out last year, I eagerly pre-ordered the book and read it the first chance I had (it made a great read-at-lunch book). The Emperor’s Soul takes place in the same world as the book Elantris, but adds a level of depth unexpected in a story so short.

The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor’s Soul

Where Elantris followed a princess trying to save her world, The Emperor’s Soul follows Shai, a notorious forger who got caught. Having a main character who is, by some accounts, a bad person with no morals doesn’t change the insane connection I felt with Shai. She may be part of the underground black market in expensive forgeries, but she is also intelligent, fiercely independent, and loyal to her family and teachers.

Shai does have to face punishment for her crimes, but like any good Sanderson story the punishment isn’t what Shai or the readers expected. To pay for the crime of forgery…she must create a forgery of the Emperor’s soul. What Shai and the rest of the world don’t realize is that the Emperor was hurt, and the only way to save him is to create a new soul that defies everything their religion stands for. If Shai can create this impossible soul stamp by the time he is expected in public again, she will be allowed to live.

If you keep up on things in the sci-fi/fantasy world, you already know that The Emperor’s Soul has been nominated for a Hugo Award for best novella. I haven’t read any of the other works nominated this year, but I hope Sanderson wins because this story was great. With very  little action compared to his normal battle-filled books, Shai still lives an exciting and dangerous life. It tackles issues of morality versus the law in a direct but subtle way, by viewing the world’s religion almost as an archaeological study would (Shai does not subscribe to the same religion as the Emperor and his government). And because Sanderson’s writing is never dull, there is even a story behind how the novella went from concept to award nominee in just over a year.

The Emperor’s Soul may not be the length or scope we’ve come to expect from Brandon Sanderson, but it’s just as well written and thought out as his other books.

One of my biggest annoyances with books is when only part of a series is out and I’ve got to wait for the rest of the books–patience is not one of my strengths. Even thought only two of the three books in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series are currently out, I love these books so much I can deal with having to wait for the third. The second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, was even better than the first.

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man’s Fear continues Kvothe’s tale, bouncing back and forth between his adventurous childhood and the bitter old man he is today. This book also starts to fill in some of the history behind the legends surrounding him, and they provide a great example of how legends rarely tell what really happened. Despite how well Kvothe does at his University classes his roaming childhood did not prepare him to get along well with upper class citizens, resulting in enough trouble with another boy that he must take a break from the school.

While on this break he works for a local nobleman leading a band of mercenaries on a bandit hunt (while stopping an assassination attempt on the man and winning a wife for him!). One member of this mercenary band, Tempi, is part of a mysterious warrior tribe who teaches Kvothe their ways despite their mistrust of outsiders, starting just one of many legends about him. Kvothe also spends some time with the Fae (fairy) Felurian in the Fae realm, starting yet another legend as the first man to resist her powers. There is also continuing issues with his Edema Ruh past, a girl he fell in love with at University, and his quest to find the Chandrian (demon group responsible for killing his family).

As amazing as the stories are, it’s still the characters and the writing that make these books amazing. Kvothe is young and impulsive and eager to become an adult instead of a troubled kid, and reminds me so much of other young kids I know. He tries so hard to be a good person and seems genuinely confused when people don’t see things the same way he does, and that earnestness is heartbreaking. I found myself crying several times and I really hope the last book comes out soon so I can figure out what happens!

Can you believe it’s December already? I’m not sure where the last few months have gone–the older I get, the faster time seems to go. But somehow I survived a crazy 2012 and cannot wait for 2013 to start. Before the new year, however, we have to to make it through Christmas! If you’ve got some big readers on your shopping list this year, here are some of my favorite books I’ve reviewed on Kinda Silly Books.

For science fiction fans

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. This was one of my favorite sci fi books as a teen, and I still love it now almost 1o years later! The first book in a great series, Ender’s Game is written from the point of view of a highly intelligent child. As a teen I really appreciated the way Card wrote his youthful characters as fully fleshed and mature as the adults, a style that’s rare even in many young adult books. Almost all of my geeky friends and coworkers read this book as a teen and continue to reread it today, so it’s perfect for science fiction readers of any age.

The Foundation Novels, by Isaac Asimov. While there are more than three books in this series, I’ve only read the first three so far–they stop at such a perfect place, I really don’t see the need to continue. Because the three novels are all short, this trilogy would make a great gift set. The story follows the growth, partial collapse, and eventual rise of a society based on science. I wouldn’t recommend the books for young readers because the writing style can be challenging at times, but I think anyone high school aged or older would really enjoy this story of war and mind control.

For fiction fans

Mr. Darcy’s Diary, by Amanda Grange. This book is part of a set, all telling classic Jane Austin stories from the male point of view. While I do enjoy the originals better than these diaries, it was incredibly amusing to see someone’s guess at what the often clueless men were thinking. Written in a style that’s both familiar and formal, I think these books are perfect for teen readers just starting to enjoy the great classics.

The Patron Saint of Liars, by Ann Patchet. I’m pretty sure everything Ann Patchet has written makes me cry (in a good way). Her style is truthful without being blunt, and beautiful without being overly emotional. She tackles some big themes in this story (religion, unwed teen mothers, abandonment) and handles them with great care. The format of this book is really interesting, as it tells the story of a single family from three different family member’s perspectives over their lifetime. I would also highly recommend The Magician’s Assistant, which I have not reviewed but seriously love.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. I don’t think a story gets much better than this–it has action, it has political intrigue, it has romance and betrayal, it has dangerous escape plans and double crossing bad guys. Although it is an older story, and a longer one, I read this entire book in half a week because I could not stop reading. Perfect for everyone who loves a good story with tons of plot twists, although I’ve found it to be more popular with my guy friends so far.

For fantasy fans

The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. These books (I’ve read up through book six in the series) never fail to entertain. Harry Dresden is one of the best written characters I’ve read, and people who love snarky sarcasm will love these books. Each story tackles a different part of the magical world (vampires, faries, warewolves), so the world is slow to evolve but very detailed. While I have adored every Butcher book I’ve read, The Dresden Files are the ones that keep pulling me back for just one more read. And with over a dozen books currently out and the series still not finished, these will also last you through many gift-giving seasons!

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson. Or honestly, most anything by Sanderson–his writing is some of the best I’ve read and his magical systems are based on science, which really sets his books apart. He is also the author picked to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Elantris, like all of his books, jumps right into the story without much of an introduction, and it’s a wonderful game with Sanderson to figure out what’s happening before the character’s do. I may own every book Sanderson has written for adults at this point…

Rhapsody: Child of Blood, by Elizabeth Haydon. Rhapsody, the first book in the series, has been one of my all-time favorite books since I first read it in high school. The story begins with a terrible tragedy, but the main character’s incredible ability to thrive under pressure makes her a wonderfully optimistic (if annoyingly naive) person. And when you combine an innocent young girl, a career military man, and a professional assassin, you know a crazy story is sure to follow. I’ve read the entire series multiple times, but Rhapsody is one of the book I would save if my house was on fire.

For everyone else

Fresh & Fast Vegetarian: Recipes that make a meal, by Marie Simmons. This last year I really pushed myself to expand my diet to include more vegetables, a challenge I very much enjoyed. Who would have guessed that Brussels sprouts would become one of my favorite vegetables?! For the people in your life trying to make healthier dinner choices, I found some great recipes in this book. She includes a variety of dishes (sides, appetizers, soups, main courses) and every step is explained so clearly that even the most novice cook can use this book.

A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, by Meg Keene. I actually bought this book as a Christmas gift for a friend last year, and then grabbed another copy for myself once I got engaged. For those looking for an alternative to the typical big princess weddings that are so popular right now, I cannot suggest a better book than A Practical Wedding–it’s certainly been a lifesaver in my own wedding planning!

I’ve become known as the book person at my work, since I seem to be the only person who reads on lunch break instead of going out to run errands or pick up food. My coworker, who is also a big reader, said she had a book I absolutely must read and I never turn down a book recommendation! So big thanks to Emily for lending me The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, for the last few weeks.

The Magicians

 The Magicians follows the depressing life of Quentin Coldwater, a teenager in New York who still believes in the magical world of Fillory from a book he read as a child. Unfortunately for Quentin that belief doesn’t makes his life at a school for gifted teens, his flaky and absent parents, and his unrequited love for his best friend, any easier to bear. While he’s wishing for a magical ram to summon him to Fillory, everyone else in Quentin’s life is waiting for him to pick an Ivy League college and a career path. Until the fateful day his college interviewer is found dead, and he’s transported to another place by a mysterious EMT, Quentin believed his life would continue along this path picked by other people while he wished for something more exciting.

The beginning of the book is one of the few times things “magically happen” in the book, which makes it unique for the magical fantasy genre. The place he’s transported to is a school for learning magic, and much to Quentin’s dismay magic is just memorization of dead languages and strange hand movements. While at school Quentin starts to realize that getting everything you dreamed about (magic, a new start to reinvent yourself, a girlfriend) may not actually make your life perfect, and even once he’s given a chance to enter the world of Fillory he is still the same depressed person he always was–just with more magic this time.

I’ve written before about my dislike for forced happy endings and uber-upbeat characters. Quentin is deeply depressed for most of the book and when he makes stupid decisions he pays for them, and he is one of the most lovable characters I’ve read in a long time! When it comes to portrayals of the challenging transition from teenager to adult (the book follows Quentin for six years, starting when he is 17), Lev Grossman is amazingly realistic. Life isn’t all sunny and awesome when you’re encouraged/forced to pick a life path at 17 and later realized you picked wrong, and things can get complicated instead of happy when you finally get the things you’ve dreamed about for years. I know this makes the book sound depressing, and it certainly isn’t the most uplifting book ever, but this honest look at the struggle to become an adult (with a little magic thrown in for good measure) was incredibly refreshing.

There is a sequel to The Magicians, but I don’t know if my coworker has the book and it’s not one I’ll seek out on my own (I enjoyed the slightly sour note the book ended on). On its own, however, I found the book to be thought provoking and entertaining while making me incredibly grateful I’ve mostly outgrown my angst-y adolescent period!

I’ve fallen a bit behind in reviewing Butcher’s Codex Alera series, since I’m now working on book five! Epic fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres, and I love story lines that include personal, political, and military conflicts. As I mentioned in my author crush post a few days ago, I think Jim Butcher does this style of writing wonderfully and Academ’s Fury doesn’t disappoint!

Academ’s Fury

Starting two years after the events in book one, Academ’s Fury follows Tavi to his promised studies at the university. While not having furies of his own does hold him back in some training, his fierce determination and years of self-preservation in the Calderon Valley make him an idea candidate for secret Cursor training (training to become an elite spy for the First Lord). Tavi has also made some wonderful friends, including my favorite character Max. Max is the illegitimate son of a high lord, and Max and Tavi quickly bond over their lives as exiles. That friendship, along with help from other Cursors-in-training, will come in helpful as Tavi is faced with the impossible task of saving the First Lord, and all of Alera, from a mysterious old enemy quietly invading the realm.

The book does start out slowly, establishing Tavi’s place at the university. He’s picked on by the older kids with strong furies, works long hours as a page for the First Lord, and hasn’t seen his family in ages. The adventure really picks up several chapters in when Doroga, a Marat tribe leader, comes to warn Bernard and Isana that an enemy the Marat call the Vord has attacked. The Vord are an ancient race that can shape shirt and mind control their victims, and they kill everyone in the area once they attack. Isana, already on her way to the capital for a winter festival, agrees to ask the First Lord for additional soldiers while Bernard and Amara stay behind to help Doroga fight the Vord.

And because things are never simple in a Butcher book, while part of the country is fighting the Vord, the first Lord is fighting to protect the coastal cities from relentless fury-born hurricanes. While preventing a war between to High Lord houses that could plunge all of Alera into a bloody civil war. And dealing with hostile enemies in the capital, the Canim, a breed of fierce wolf-like warriors. And as his page, Tavi has been thrust into the middle of all these conflicts!

We also start to slowly piece together the story of Tavi’s parents, as more of Isana’s past is explained. She is extremely secretive, so even as we’re learning tons about Tavi, Bernard, and Amara, Isana remains a slight mystery. Having read the third book, I promise that her story, and her past, are completely worth the two book wait!

Jim Butcher has quickly become one of my favorite authors because of his Dresden Files series. His ability to write snarky, sarcastic characters in a way that actually come across as sarcastic instead of mean or flat is something I’ve rarely seen in other authors. So when I saw that another series by Butcher was on my NPR 100 Best Science-Fiction and Fantasy list, I was excited to try something new by a good author!

Furies of Calderon

Furies of Calderon is the first book in the Codex Alera series. In this unique world of Alera, humans have bonded with the elements as a way to combat their strong enemies. These bonds, called furies, allow people to use nature to enhance their strengths  watercrafters can read emotions better and heal people; earthcrafters are stronger, and windcrafters can use the wind to “fly.” The world is divided into small local farms ruled by Steadholders, which report to a regional High Lord, who in turn reports to the First Lord who runs the country.

The book follows the story of Tavi, a young teenage boy growing up in the rural Calderon Valley. Tavi lives with his uncle Bernard, a strong steadholder in the community, and his aunt Isana, a powerful healer. Along with being an orphan, Tavi is the only person in Alera to not have a fury. Growing up on a farm, his lack of furycrafting has been a constant struggle–he can’t use a water fury to help heal people, he can’t use an earth fury for help traveling in the forest, and he can’t use a metal fury to make and repair farm equipment. And at 15 years old, Tavi has a secret dream to escape his remote village to attend a major academy where he would be judged on his mind, not his lack of a fury.

The other major character is Amara, a female student on her final exam before becoming a Cursor (a knight for the First Lord, who travels throughout the land taking messages and information to people). While Tavi and his family are isolated from the rest of the world in their village, Amara has thrown herself right into the middle of everything. She is currently trying to sneak into a dangerous camp of rogue soldiers and High Lords who are threatening to attack the First Lord and remove him from power.

At the same time she is discovering dangerous political plots that will harm the entire realm, Tavi is discovering a plot by the non-human Marat, powerful hunters who have invaded the Calderon Valley once before.  Amara must take Tavi’s news back to the First Lord, but many people will kill to ensure that news is never delivered.

While I obviously can’t give away how the story ends, it was exciting and full of danger up until the very end. Amara is a powerful windcrafter and Tavi’s intelligence has been honed by years of working without the air of a fury–together, they create a powerful and cunning team that can withstand most any attack. Bernard and Isana also work to protect Amara and Tavi, and the family dynamic between Tavi and his aunt and uncle is wonderful to read (although there are many hints that there may be more to the story of his dead parents than we were originally told!). Add in some romance between Bernard and Amara, and you’ve got some wonderfully developed characters!

Furies of Calderon is as great a read as the Dresden Files, and shows that Butcher is a well-rounded fantasy author. He can write smart, witty characters, great battle scenes, and deeply moving stories of loss. Like every other Jim Butcher book I’ve read, I would recommend Furies of Calderon to any fantasy lover.

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