Book Review 2023

It's that time of year again. This will be my fourth annual book review blog post! I have tried several times to use Goodreads to track what I'm reading, but several things keep bringing me back to these posts. It could be that the UI hasn't changed in over 15 years, or that I can never get the Kindle integration working properly. Mostly it's because the people I exchange recommendations with don't have Goodreads anyway. If I have a blog site, I might as well use it, right? I started my last year's review by bashing on Goodreads, so I might have to make this a tradition.

This year, I set a new record for myself for the number of books I've read in a year. The total number was 44! I did not set any records for the number of pages though since the last time I read over 40 books I read half The Wheel of Time series and each of those books is at least 1000 pages. I still put in a good amount of reading this year though so let's review.

New Books by Familiar Authors

The Will of the Many

Last year, The Licanius Trilogy was my favorite series. The author, James Islington, released a new book this year called The Will of the Many. The Licanius Trilogy was Islington's first series and is one of my favorite fantasy series, but his writing was an order of magnitude better in The Will of the Many. I loved this book! Islington is good at plot twists and cliffhangers and he does that better in this book than any of his previous books. I hope he can resolve all the plot points as cleanly as he did in The Licanius Trilogy. The end of that series was mind-blowing. The end of this series could be even better.

I liked so many things about the book. Many books struggle to have strong character development and plot development. The Will of the Many has both. I liked the characters. They grow and learn throughout the story. Islington came up with a unique magic system that I haven't seen in any other book before. My only critique of the book was the similarities to The Red Rising Saga. The setting and people are Romanesque. It's written in the first person and the story has a lot of action. The main character ends up going to a school for the gifted. The main character is also a little OP (not as bad as Darrow). That said, this book isn't a Red Rising copy. That will only become more apparent as the following books come out. If I had to choose between the two, I would read The Will of the Many over The Red Rising Saga. The Will of the Many is in my top 5 fantasy books.

My favorite part of the book was the ending. It was insane! There were plot twists left and right. Islington did good showing, but not telling, what was going on to set up some big storylines for the next book. I can't wait utill the next one comes out to find out what will happen.

An Inheritance of Magic

An Inheritance of Magic was a book written by Benedict Jacka that came out this year. I had enjoyed his Alex Veras series and figured I'd give it a try. In contrast to Islington, whose writing has noticeably improved (and it was great to start with), this book was everything I expected a book written by Jacka to be. The book was light and entertaining but didn't blow my mind with the plot or character development. I'll keep reading when the next book in the series comes out but it isn't going to make any of my favorites lists.

First Time Reading Blake Crouch

This year was the first I'd read any books by Blake Crouch and I enjoyed his writing. His books remind me in a lot of ways of Michael Creighton. The three books I read by him were Science Fiction. I thought each was very creative and different from the usual Science Fiction I've read the last year or two. His writing can be dark and he doesn't always write happy endings. I liked the characters he created, and the books have some great plot twists which kept me on the edge of my seat. They were books I couldn't put down once I started. If you are interested in trying them out, I'd probably read Recursion first and then Dark Matter if you want to give his writing a try.

First Time Reading Progression Fantasy

Before this year, I hadn't read anything in the Progression Fantasy subgenre. Progression Fantasy is a category of fantasy that focuses on characters increasing in power and skill over time. It's like reading a video game where you level up and unlock new moves. The Cradle Series by Will Wight was my first introduction to the subgenre, and while I don't think I'll go looking to read any more Progression Fantasy, Cradle is an amazing series. Cradle is one of those series where you can lose yourself in the story and just sit back enjoy it. Maybe it's a result of watching someone start from level zero and work so hard to level up over and over again but I was invested in the success of the characters. I didn't like that, although the characters at the beginning are anything but OP, the danger doesn't feel real in the story and it never really occurred to me that they wouldn't all make it to the end and live happily ever after. I also didn't particularly care for the long training chapters where they just kill monsters over and over again to get to the next level. I do like that each of the 12 books are well self-contained and I thought the overall conflict was also intriguing and kept me reading to the end.

Die With Zero Was Life-Changing

Ok, "life-changing" is a bit of an overstatement. Die With Zero does win the award for the book I recommended most this year. I enjoy reading personal finance books and usually read a couple each year. Most of those books are about growing and maximizing your money. I've read two finance books that focus on the utility of money and using it to make your life what you want. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Seti, and Die With Zero. The book has some good ideas around maximizing the value of your life, investing in memories, and giving away money intentionally so that, as the saying goes, you bounce the last check. I've recommended this book to several friends and family members now. My parents think I'm just trying to get money out of them, but I love the idea of balancing saving money for the future but not working day in and day out, forgetting to live in the now and live the life you want. This book is worth a read if you are interested in personal finance.

The Candy House Was Interesting

The Candy House was probably the most thought-provoking book I read this year. In the book, humans have essentially discovered how to upload their consciousness to the internet. It deals with themes of love, identity, and privacy. Each chapter is from a different perspective. At first, I didn't think I would like that approach, but Egan does a good job intertwining the stories in a way that keeps you invested in the characters.

"Was Interesting" doesn't sound like a great review, but it sums up how I feel about this book. It isn't a book I would read to relax, but it made me think differently about the world. The writing was beautiful and unique. I'm probably not smart enough to understand everything the author was trying to convey through this book but I think it's worth a read and has some good takes on issues we face in society today.

Chasing Failure Was Comforting

Chasing Failure is a quick and motivational read. The author is a motivational speaker and talks about why failure is good and how failing often can help us achieve success faster. My parents gave me this book for Christmas, so not sure how much I should read into that. The author Ryan Leak shares entertaining real-life experiences (including trying out for the NBA!) and if you are looking for motivation, if you are too scared to go after your dream, or trying to decide on what to do with your life, this book is for you.

Christopher Paolini Returns with Murtagh

I had no clue that Christopher Paolini was planning on writing any more books in the world of Eragon. I heard Murtagh was coming out only a couple of weeks before the release date. Growing up, I had read the Inheritance Cycle several times and liked it. I was a little worried that Murtagh wouldn't live up to the hype and nostalgia I felt for the original series. Going in with this mindset might have biased me a bit, but for the first 200 pages I was disappointed. I told several people that Paolini's writing didn't do it for me. There was a lot of time spent in Murtagh's head whining about things while I waited for something to happen in the story. I kept pushing through. I owed it to 15-year-old me to finish the book. After about 200 pages the story picked up. There was a lot more mystery, and suspense. I became more invested in Murtagh as a character than I was at the beginning of the book. Writing a book in the same world as a hit series from a different character's viewpoints is hard. You are competing with a high bar that you already set for yourself. That said, if you liked the original Eragon series you should give Murtagh a read. It probably won't be one that I come back to and reread unless I end up reading the whole series with my kids in the future.

The Most Successful Kick Starter of All Time

If you have been living under a rock and missed the most successful Kickstarter of all time, a little over a year ago, Brandon Sanderson announced four secret novels that he had written and would release one each quarter in 2023. I don't know of any other author that can keep up with Sanderson. He is a machine. It was fun to have so many new books to read from a favorite author all year long, although some of the books were better than others. I didn't enjoy The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England. The storyline was just okay, but the style of humor didn't land for me. I pretty much read whatever Sanderson writes at this point so even after not enjoying it at first, I had to finish it. I'm glad I did, but it's one book that I won't be going back and rereading. The other three books were good, although you can tell that they were written faster and didn't get as much attention as his other releases that have gone through longer stages of editing before being released by a major publisher.

Tress and the Emerald Sea was probably the most polished of the remaining three. I enjoyed the writing style that comes with Hoid being the narrator. The world-building in Tress was cool and I love how creative and scientific Sanderson's magic systems are.

The Sunlit Man was a great book to release this last quarter because it had so many larger Cosmere connections. Sanderson just announced the release date for the fifth Stormlight Archive book (December 6th, 2024 and yes, I will be taking the day off of work). This book references some major events that happen in the Cosmere and it got me excited to read the last of the first arc of five books. It has been a while since we had major developments in the Cosmere.

I don't have much to say about Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. It was a great story, and I enjoyed Sanderson's humor in this book more than in his other books. I thought, once again, the magic system was unique, and knowing that this book was written for his wife and was a weird nerdy romance thing makes it even more entertaining.

Alex Veras, Another Dresden Files?

Alex Veras is an urban fantasy series also written by Benedict Jacka. Last year, I read and loved The Dresden Files and am waiting patiently for the next book in that series to come out. While waiting, I figured I'd look around for similar books and see if I could find any I liked. Alex Veras was recommended by other people who loved the Dresden Files so I decided to give it a shot. I liked the series and would recommend reading it (especially if you like urban fantasy) but it isn't quite as good as the Dresden Files. I liked that the books were shorter and mostly self-contained up until the later part of the series. Although I liked the characters and the relationships between them (both between friends and enemies), there wasn't any good character development in the series. Most of the characters stay the same from books 1 to 12. A couple of the books were boring in the middle and could have been left out without the reader missing anything about the larger conflict. The ending to the series was clever, satisfying and (spoilers incoming... you've been warned) happy. I'm always grateful to an author for a happy ending. I have read too many series where the ending ruins the whole thing for me.

Red Rising Saga - Surprise! It's Not Over Yet

I've read the first three books in The Red Rising Saga before. I hadn't read the second part of the series because Pierce Brown always leaves the reader on a huge cliffhanger. I didn't want to wait a year or two for a resolution. This year, the 6th book in the series came out. I reread the first three so that I could go into the second era of the series without forgetting anything. Then I learned that the 6th book wasn't the last and that Pierce Brown was planning on one last book for the series. When I found that out I couldn't keep going, so I have four, five and six on my shelf, ready to go once that last book comes out!

If you are looking for a plot-driven, action-packed, and suspenseful SciFi/Fantasy series, you'll like Red Rising. Darrow, the main character, is OP and I don't think the character development is that great, but the plot and storyline are really special. I enjoyed reading them again.

Full List of Books Read in 2023

  1. Recursion
  2. Dark Matter
  3. The Will of the Many
  4. Cradle Series 1-12
  5. Tress and the Emerald Sea
  6. The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England
  7. Red Rising Sag 1-3
  8. Alex Veras Series 1-12
  9. Kitty Norville Series 1-4
  10. The Candy House
  11. Die With Zero
  12. An Inheritance of Magic
  13. Upgrade
  14. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter
  15. The Sunlit Man
  16. Murtagh
  17. Chasing Failure