Reading Recap 2023 – Part 1: Mistborn, Princess Bride, Norse Mythology, & More!

Stack of books on a navy and white floral chair

Welcome to the first Reading Recap of the year! I’ve decided to split my reading recap posts into three parts this year, as the first few months of 2023 were full of many great books, both fiction and nonfiction. So far, the year has a strong fantasy bent, which will likely continue through the rest of the year, too, as I catch up on my TBR list.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (5/5 Stars): Look at that, another Brandon Sanderson book gets five stars! Ha. But in all seriousness, Mistborn deserves it. I’ve had the original Mistborn trilogy on my bookshelf for a long time now, and decided the start of 2023 was the perfect time to dive in. While Stormlight Archive is still my favorite of Sanderson’s books, Mistborn is an incredible read and one I could hardly put down. As always, the book showcases a world-building depth and magic system that feels real, as well as featuring complex characters and more than a few twists at the end. It’s destined to be a fantasy classic.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (4/5 Stars): Book Two of the Mistborn trilogy, The Well of Ascension, was also pretty good. I will admit, the book takes a while for the plot to pick up, as it takes its time setting up the current state of affairs after a one year time jump since Mistborn. That being said, it has a freshness to its plot, exploring the aftermath of a successful rebellion, and has a very heartbreaking, somber tone to it throughout. Sometimes the plot feels a little disjointed in places, as several plotlines drive the book forward and climax at different points, rather than coming together in a single climax. Still, it’s a worthy sequel that sets up the trilogy’s conclusion in a very compelling way,

The Hero Of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (4/5 Stars): The conclusion to the original Mistborn trilogy is an epic finale, full of plot twists and reveals that manage to surprise yet satisfy, an emotional tone that works perfectly for an end-of-the-world situation, and amazing character arcs for the leads of the series. While its ending was slightly sadder than I originally expected, it was a satisfying conclusion.

Why, then, only 4 stars? Because the book uses a device that essentially spoils big reveals, which frustrated me. In Mistborn (as well as in The Stormlight Archive), Sanderson begins each chapter with an excerpt from an in-universe text. Normally, these texts are central to the plot as the characters engage them and learn new insights from them. From the reader’s perspective, it usually is a unique way to build tension and add to the mystery about some in-world conflict the heroes are trying to solve. However, in The Hero of Ages, this device didn’t work for me. The in-universe text from The Hero of Ages is written after the conflict and the excerpts serve to give more context about the world. Because of its future perspective, these excepts kind of spoil some parts of the book. Sometimes the excerpts gave the reader information that the characters would only find out much later in the book. This lessened the tension and intrigue surrounding the characters’ own confusion about what they’re fighting and stole some of the shock value of the bigger reveals. (Though there still were several surprising moments toward the climax.) Honestly, the excerpts also came across as info-dumpy, as if there wasn’t enough time to explain everything about the world through the narrative alone. I normally don’t engage in overly long negative reviews, but I felt like this example was a good teaching moment for fellow fantasy authors.

Despite this flaw of the final book, Mistborn is still an incredible trilogy, and I look forward to picking up the second arc in the series soon.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (4/5 Stars): Don’t attack me for not giving this a perfect rating—I think The Princess Bride is well-deserving of the “classic” label and the hype it receives. The book certainly serves as a fantastic example of hilarious, captivating writing, and if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Though honestly, and perhaps controversially, The Princess Bride is one of those rare occasions where the movie is better than the book. My reasoning? The movie trims out all of the superfluous details in the novel’s framing device. The movie uses a very, very small part of the book’s framing device, as the novel goes into a very elaborate fictional story of the author’s own life that adds very little to the enjoyment of the story itself. Plus, I find myself liking the ending of the movie better than the book as well, as the book leaves the end a little ambiguous while the movie ties a few narrative arcs in a more complete, satisfying way. That being said, I think the book is still worth a read, but you can probably skip the introduction and dive straight into the story itself.

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology next to lego mjolnir display

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (5/5 Stars): This retelling of the Norse mythology cycle is incredible. Gaiman remains true to the original material, but uses modern vernacular and prose conventions to transform Norse myth into a compelling read for the contemporary audience. I could go on and on about it, but I’ll stick with this: you should definitely go read it, especially if you’re a Norse geek like yours truly.

E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core by William Joyce (4.5/5 Stars): This is the second book in the Guardians series, and I did like it more than the first one (see the previous Reading Recap). Not only was the story of Book 2 more compelling, but I also knew what to expect from the author and knew it wasn’t going to be a straightforward “Here’s the Easter Bunny!” origin story. The character dynamics were fun, the plot exciting, and the writing style excellent. It’s a very well-done middle grade book.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (3/5 Stars): I had high expectations going into this book, as I’m familiar with Holly Black’s reputation as a fantasy author and this book’s wide-spread popularity. But I admit, I was a little disappointed. While Black’s writing style is great and intriguing, I struggled to connect with the main character, Jude. Not only did I have a hard time relating to her, but I also didn’t find her motivations believable or compelling. Beyond that, the plot felt scattered, unfocused, and a little convenient, specifically in the first half. The book does pick up about halfway through and find a gripping focus, though. A few of the twists surprised me, but a few I did see coming. It was an okay read.

The Wicked King by Holly Black (3.5/5 Stars): I liked the sequel to The Cruel Prince slightly better. The court drama and intrigue that consumes the plot is genuinely interesting, and this novel expanded on the worldbuilding in a way that made the realm of Faerie come alive even more. Yet I’m still hung up on Jude’s character. She comes across as a flat cliché of the stereotypical tough teenage female warrior trope that keeps appearing in YA, or maybe I just lack the ability to relate to her. I’ll also add that Jude’s characterization is frustrating because she’s cunning when it works to advance the plot, but suddenly not cunning in other situations for the purpose of creating more tension. In other words, I’m able to solve mysteries and see through some of the wordplay of the Faeries much quicker than Jude at times, which makes some moments of tension feel forced or convenient, rather than natural. So her character feels inconsistent to me in addition to reading a little flat. I still plan to read the final book, so stay tuned for the next Reading Recap for my thoughts on The Queen of Nothing.

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And now for some notable nonfiction:

The 50 Greatest Players in Minnesota Vikings History by Robert W. Cohen (4.5/5 Stars): This nonfiction book is essentially a collection of biographies and the notable achievements of the best of the best Minnesota Vikings players. It’s a fun way to look back at my favorite NFL team’s history. I also appreciate the way it covers not just the “big” players like Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, etc., but mixes so many often overlooked positions into the rankings. It’s a great way to highlight the skills it takes to be a successful Offensive Lineman or even Kicker. The only downside of the book is it’s already out of date, as it was published a couple years ago prior to the Justin Jefferson era we’re now in. Still, it is very well done, particularly when discussing long-since retired players.

The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer (4.5/5 Stars): This nonfiction book inspired me. If you’ve heard of Bandersnatch by the same author, The Company They Keep is essentially the more advanced academic version of that. It’s all about the collaboration and influence of the Inklings (the group including Tolkien and Lewis) on each other’s work. As both a Tolkien fan and a writer, it’s fascinating to see and learn about the impact the members of the Inklings had on one another. Writers truly need other writers! I do lightly recommend it, though if you haven’t read Bandersnatch, start with that one, and if you want something a little more detailed and dense afterwards, this should be your next stop.

Alisa Childers books Another Gospel? and Live your Truth on floral background

Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers (4.5/5 Stars): If you’re a Christian, you should read this book. It is part-autobiography, part-apologetic defense as Childers walks through her encounter with progressive Christianity and how she found truth in the midst of doubts and questions raised by progressive theology. It’s a great read for those who feel ill-equipped to respond to the claims of progressive Christianity. If you lean progressive or embrace progressive Christianity, I would also challenge you to read this book, because it will challenge you. It’s also easy to read, while not skimping on the truth. I really enjoyed it and appreciated Childers’ firsthand perspective.

Live Your Truth and Other Lies by Alisa Childers (5/5/ Stars): Childers’s second book is an excellent critique of the lies of worldly culture and a strong reminder of the Truth found solely in the Gospel. I found it more personally relevant than her first book and read a good chunk of it in one sitting. Her writing style is so accessible and draws you in. I hope she keeps writing books on similar topics!