Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DiverSFFy: More Than This



DiverSFFy is a new (sporadic) feature hosted by yours truly! The goal is to get the word out about books in science fiction and fantasy that do a good job of portraying people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives - be it race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic levels, etc. I'd love it if you joined in - just link me to your posts in the comments or on twitter (@spidersilksnow)!

This week's pick: More Than This


The Rundown:

Title: More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Science fiction, young adult, dystopian


So what's so diverse about this book?

What I love about this book is that the characters are incredibly diverse but are absolutely not defined by their diverse characteristics. In the first third of the book, there is just one character, Seth. Seth has died, or at least he thinks he has. He wakes up in a strangely familiar place and the last thing he remembers is a suicide attempt. As Seth tries to make sense of his surroundings, we discover more and more pieces of his past.

Seth is gay, as is revealed in his flashbacks, but it's never a big deal. It's just a fact about him, as if he has black hair. People have different hair colors, but we don't define people by calling them "the blond" (ok, maybe sometimes we do). The point is that Seth being gay is not the focus of his personality. His longing for love and friendship and his curiosity to understand what is happening to him is.

We meet two more characters later on in the story, Regine and Tomasz. They have troubled and traumatic pasts, but again, they aren't just "the victim of abuse" or "the poor kid". These two bring so much life and color into the story, and the friendship between them is just so great! Regine is a young woman of color, but again, it's almost an aside that she isn't white. She isn't stereotyped, and she definitely is not defined by her race although she is influenced by it. There's a difference, and Patrick Ness draws the line well.

Why you should read it:

Aside from the awesome characters, this book is just mindblowing. It's really hard to discuss this book without spoilers because the plot is so intricate. Just when you think you know what's happening, WHAM your world turns upside down. But instead of everything you knew being a lie, which can get frustrating, you just see everything in a new light. It's amazing how many times that happens in this book. It's a hard sci-fi book that doesn't really seem like it at first, which is pretty cool.

Also, Patrick Ness. If you haven't read any of his books yet, there's a serious void in your life that needs to be filled. The Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls are simply brilliant, and this one is really good too!

The twitter version:





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Monday, July 28, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 33 - Authors I Own The Most Books From



Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme:  Ten Authors I own the most books from

This is a strange list for me, because I don't buy a lot of my books anymore. I only buy books I love and plan on rereading, or books by my favorite authors. Even for my favorite series, I mostly only own the first or last books. Most of my completed series are from when I was a kid, so this list isn't really a reflection of my reading tastes anymore. Anyways it's still kind of fun to see the books I grew up reading! In no particular order:

1. J.K. Rowling, 7 books
This is a bit of a no-brainer, isn't it? I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and of course I own all the books. The fourth one is my favorite, which is why it's in the worst shape from being read so many times!

2. Christopher Paolini, 4 books

Another series I started reading as a child and kept up with as I grew up. I think I first read Eragon when I was in 4th grade. I think I enjoy this series more for nostalgia's sake than for the actual story, because it's so similar to a lot of epic fantasy and the writing now drives me nuts. But 4th grade me just loved dragons and magic, so there you have it!

3. Jenny Nimmo, 4 books

I know this is kind of blasphemous, but this is the magical school that I wanted to go to. As much as I loved Harry Potter, something about Charlie Bone and his friends struck a chord with me. I wanted to be best friends with Charlie, Lysander, Tancred, Emma, Olivia, Benjamin, and the rest of the gang. The Flames were these badass magical cats that had fur the colors of fire, and I loved them! I don't think I ever finished this series, because it was originally a planned quintet that stretched into 8 books, but I am so fond of these characters and I still want them to be my friends!

4. Gail Carson Levine, 4 books

Ella of Ella Enchanted was my first introduction to a headstrong female protagonist (who knew they were so hard to come by?). I wanted to be just like her when I grew up - witty, rebellious, and practically fearless. Naturally I started collecting even more of Gail Carson Levine's books, and I ended up with a bunch. Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre are my favorites.

5. Enid Blyton, dozens of books
My mom grew up in India, where a lot of the children's books are written by British authors. Naturally, my mom introduced me to an author she had read as a child and I just devoured her books. I read the entire Mallory Towers and St. Clair's boarding school series, and I loved The Famous Five mysteries. I also read a bunch of her short stories (Noddy!) and fairy tales. Enid Blyton was my six-year-old self's favorite author.

6. Roald Dahl, 5 books

My 1st grade teacher read us The Witches in class and I adored it (look back, I don't really know why I found such a creepy book so enjoyable. Maybe it had to do with the nice grandma?). I also love The BFG and Matilda. I own those three as well as Esio Trot and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

7. Laini Taylor, 3 books
I think this is the only author that I've read recently and own all the books in her series! Truth is I only bought the last book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I won the first two in a writing contest which Laini Taylor herself judged! That was pretty awesome.

8. JRR Tolkein, 4 books
I own the three Lord of the Rings books, and I won the Hobbit during a White Elephant exchange in elementary school. I like the Hobbit a lot better than LOTR (too many songs!).

9. Mary Pope Osborne, dozens of books
The Magic Treehouse books were the first chapter books I ever read. Of course, being an avid reader, I wanted as many of them as I could get my hands on, and luckily they were sold in sets of 6. I don't even know how many of these I have at this point!

10. Marissa Meyer, 3 books (kind of)

I don't own physical copies of any of her books, but I do own audiobooks for Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. Does that count? Too bad if it doesn't, because I'm out of authors anyway!
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Why I couldn't finish Hild


17332243Title: Hild
Author: Nicola Griffith
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
A brilliant, lush, sweeping historical novel about the rise of the most powerful woman of the Middle Ages: Hild.
Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.
Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.
Hild is a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age—all of it brilliantly and accurately evoked by Nicola Griffith’s luminous prose. Recalling such feats of historical fiction as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, Hild brings a beautiful, brutal world—and one of its most fascinating, pivotal figures, the girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby—to vivid, absorbing life.

The reason I love historical fiction is that it teaches you a lot about life in another place and another time. It's not a history lesson, with years to memorize and battles to know; it's more about daily life and the struggles of ordinary people living in exceptional times.

Hild is gorgeously written, and I can tell the author has done her research. But it's such a chore to get through! I've had it sitting next to my bed for a week now, and I've only read 130 pages. For comparison's sake, I usually read that much in a day. It's partly because the pages are dense, and there are so many Irish/Anglisc/Old british/Latin words that reading is slow going. It's also the fact that there are tons and tons of characters, some important and some not, but it's really hard to tell which is which. The story revels in the little details, which I usually enjoy, but in this case there are so many little details that I can't remember them all (nor can I figure out which ones are even important enough to warrant remembering!).

Every time I look at this book, I feel inexplicably tired, and decide that I should continue doing circuit problems to study for my electrical engineering class. You know a book isn't worth finishing when you'd rather put yourself through circuit analysis than read.

I don't dislike this book, and it has the potential to be incredible, but I'm just not in the mood right now. Maybe someday when I'm more determined, and have more ancient British/Welsh/Irish/Latin under my belt.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Way of Kings Readalong: Wrap-up


So it's finally over. That was an amazing book! Thank you everyone for joining in and making my first readalong so much fun :)

I have said over and over again that Brandon Sanderson is a storytelling god. This book makes me believe it even more fiercely - it takes a mastermind to create such intricate worlds and piece together so many character and plot threads. He does such a great job of feeding you just enough answers/revelations to keep you happy, but keeps you hanging by dangling all sorts of questions for you to answer. Not to mention the bombshells he throws in at the end...

Having read Mistborn, I really should have been more prepared for disaster and mindblowing moments towards the end of the book. The end was just bombshell after bombshell - some were interesting revelations, and others were shattering.

The bombshells of this week:


1) Navani proves that Dalinar's visions are real, and says his unconscious decoding of an ancient language will help pave the way for much more understanding of the past. Pretty cool!

Also, does Navani and Dalinar getting together count as a bombshell? Considering all the outrage, let's say yes.

2) Sadeas pretends to humor Dalinar and ally with him, only to turn around and betray him. He retreats along with all his bridgemen, leaving Dalinar, Adolin, and his men stranded on the plains in the midst of the Parshendi.

But....

Kaladin and co. save the day by running in and providing a bridge, sacrificing their chance of escape in the process. Kaladin discovers his immense stormlight-induced capabilities and practically takes on half the Parshendi single handedly. In thanks, Dalinar appoints Kaladin and the rest of Bridge 4 as his personal guard (after an epic showdown with Sadeas, of course).

2) Syl is an Honorspren! She binds things, like oaths. Now that question of whether Spren are attracted to something or cause something comes up again, because when Syl first met Kaladin he was in a piteous state - definitely not what I'd call honorable. But as he became more and more courageous and honorable, Syl grew and changed as well. So they're connected, but who is causing the changes?

3) Shallan discovers the truth of Jasnah's soulcaster. It's a fake! Both Shallan and Jasnah possess the inherent power to soulcast, and Jasnah promises to start teaching Shallan more about her research and Shadesmar.

4) Szeth discovers his master, and it's at that nice healer king, Trevangian. Except Trevangian isn't as nice or foolish as Jasnah has been leading us to believe - he bleeds people to death in large batches so that he can collect and make sense of their dying words (those epigraphs from Parts 1 and 4). SICKENING. And Trevangian wants Dalinar dead...

5) Jasnah's bombshell about the Voidbringers: "They claim we chased the Voidbringers off the face of Roshar or destroyed them. But that's not how humans work. We don't throw away something we can use."

I feel really dense for not putting this together while Shallan's mind was reeling with "beings of ash and fire". This took me completely off guard - the Voidbringers were enslaved as Parshmen! This can't end well, especially not with the so-called Odium coming...

Oh, and Shallan's bombshell - her father was part of a group of people who wanted Jasnah's research for their own (sinister) means.

6) Dalinar has a vision of the Almighty, who says he is dead and has been killed by Odium. KILLED. And by the looks of it, a long time ago.

7) And of course, Wit. He makes a bunch of cryptic pronouncements and then Talenel'Elin, A HERALD, appears as says the Desolation has come. According to Wit, he is too late. So the Desolation has started already? WHAT IS COMING?

My Thoughts:

The Stormlight Kindergarten - The Way of Kings by BotanicaXuI'm still recovering from a lot of those bombshells, but I'm so excited to read Words of Radiance and get some answers.

The "Almighty" mentions another power, Cultivation. That instantly brought to mind Ruin and Preservation - so whatever power "Almighty" is, it is probably something that balances Cultivation. And the fact that it's dead...that just can't be good. I'm very curious as to what this power is and the effect its absence has on Roshar. It should theoretically affect the ability of people to manipulate magic, if this is following a similar pattern as Mistborn. In that case, is Kaladin channeling "the Almighty" now that he has found his surgebinding abilities?

I'm also struck by the fact that the Voidbringers are the parshmen. So they aren't those giant rock creatures from the prelude? Or is that a more ancient form of the parshmen? Clearly the parshmen make formidable foes when they decide to turn, as evidenced by the difficulty of the Alethi armies to fend off the "primitive" Parshendi. Kaladin makes it clear that the Parshendi fight more honorably and respectfully than the Alethi, so does that mean they are the counterpoints to the Radiants (and their descendants)?

Honor seems to be a really big deal in Roshar. Syl is an Honorspren. Kaladin and Dalinar always strive to do the honorable thing ("Why did your bridge crew come for us? Why, really?" "Why did you give up your Shardblade?"). Sadeas makes some cheap comment about how that honor of Dalinar's will get him killed. Szeth is ashamed of his killing people because of how dishonorable it is to slaughter the innocents, and yet he justifies it by saying he is "Truthless" - ironically, isn't Truthless dishonorable in itself? How can one evil ever justify countless more? It seems that despite its importance, there aren't actually that many honorable people on Roshar. Perhaps that's why Syl found Kaladin in the first place - she sensed that he, at his core, was honorable. Now that Dalinar has a plan to "take the toys away from the children" I think it will force the rest of the Alethi to find that honor in themselves. I don't really know where I'm going with this, but somehow I feel like recovering honor among everyone on Roshar will help defeat Odium. Whatever that is.

I think the revelation I found most shocking was that Taravangian was behind Szeth's assassination spree. He seems like he is ashamed of what he is doing, but he's taking a "The ends justify the means" approach - this is in such stark contrast to Kaladin, who believes how you do things is just as important as the final result. Is it worth killing thousands of innocents in order to save the rest of humanity? I'm immediately reminded of Kira Walker from the Partials series, who always insists that how you save humanity matters, because in the end we must still be worth saving. The scariest thing is when you realize how earnest he is. He hates having to kill and drain the blood of his people, but he is so unyielding to Szeth's objections because he truly believes this is the best (and only) way to save Roshar.

Also can I just say that I'm half psychic because I totally called Kaladin having to save Dalinar and the Alethi troops with his magical new powers last week. Ok, so he wasn't defending them from Szeth, but the irony still stands!

Other Stuff to Check Out:


Tor put out an article a while ago where Sanderson answered some questions about the Stormlight Archive. It's pretty cool - you can check it out here.

Some deleted scenes of Way of Kings from Sanderson's website.

And, saving the best for last, a LEGO recreation of the final battle of the book!

What are your final reactions? Any speculation about what's coming? Is Words of Radiance going to explode my brain with even more bombshells (I think I already know the answer to that one...)?

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Ruins

17607716Title: Ruins
Author: Dan Wells
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian, young adult

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:
Kira, Samm, and Marcus fight to prevent a final war between Partials and humans in the gripping final installment in the Partials Sequence, a series that combines the thrilling action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Blade Runner and The Stand.
There is no avoiding it—the war to decide the fate of both humans and Partials is at hand. Both sides hold in their possession a weapon that could destroy the other, and Kira Walker has precious little time to prevent that from happening. She has one chance to save both species and the world with them, but it will only come at great personal cost.

This was a strong finish to a strong series, but not quite as good as I'd hoped it would be.

There are a few things that stand out to me about this series. The fist is the unflinching descriptions of the science and research behind disease, genetic engineering, and health. It's rare that a book will not only tackle a very relevant issue such as genetic engineering but also refrain from doing some hand-wavy pseudo-scientific explanation of it (ahem hem Allegiant). This series has always been very heavy on the scientific and medical aspects of the world, which makes sense considering how biological and biochemical warfare have shaped humanity's existence. The virological and pathological research continues to be a big part of this novel, but interestingly there is also more on biochemistry and environmental engineering. The bioengineer in me is very pleased (and also impressed because the author says he doesn't come from a science background - he just does his research spectacularly well).

Another thing I love and respect in this series is its portrayal of different types of people. This includes people from different racial backgrounds - the main character is of Indian descent, one character is Mexican but has an Irish adoptive mother, etc. - but it's far more than that. People with completely different mindsets and convictions about what is right and how far they are willing to go to save what they care about. People who have the means to literally control others, but don't know if and when they should use that power. Some people are idealists, others are total pessimists; some are human, some are Partial. The main character is an idealistic, determined, and intelligent young woman who wants to find a way to save humanity without undermining the qualities that make it worth saving, but she is still flawed and insecure. The author never uses any of the stereotypical tags that make a character a "strong female protagonist" and she is portrayed as far from perfect. And it's exactly that that makes Kira a truly strong character. This series doesn't discriminate by gender, race, or species - and that's the glorious thing about it.

I thought this book was just as fast-paced and intense as the previous two, if not more so. The stakes are high, and everyone knows it. I enjoyed seeing even more points of view and putting together pieces as different groups of people's actions rippled out to others. There were some scenes I could barely stomach because they were so intense and stressful, but I enjoy when books get strong reactions out of me.

The one thing that bugged me the tiniest bit about this conclusion was how simple the second cure was. I mean, once you found out the first cure, it doesn't take much of a leap of logic to figure out the other. But I appreciated Kira and the other scientists' acknowledgement that while the cure was simple, implementing it was the actual challenge.
It's certainly difficult to get two trigger-happy and suspicious groups to live together in harmony. How do you uproot decades of mistrust, cruelty, violence, and death on both sides?
.

I highly recommend this series if you aren't afraid of science and sticky moral situations. This series has a lot of both, which is exactly what makes it so good.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The House of Four Winds

The House of the Four Winds (One Dozen Daughters, #1)Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Genre: fantasy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.
Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.


This book sounded like so much fun - a cross-dressing pirate who is actually a princess! Think of the possibilities! - but it ended up being really tedious and boring. I think I missed the memo on this being a soppy romance novel (even though it's practically staring me in the face with that book description. Whoops...next time I'll actually read more than the first two sentences).

My main problem with this book was that it couldn't decide who its audience was. Most of the time it read like a children's book. To be clear, I don't mean YA. It's more middle-grade or even a straight up children's book. But then the author would decide to make the book seem older and throw in a few big words and a dash of blood and guts. I just couldn't wrap my mind around who this book was intended for, because it seemed like a juvenile story masquerading as adult fantasy.

I felt like the dialogue was very forced and clipped. Do people really talk like that? Do pirates really talk like that? The writing was similarly full of odd phrases, which was distracting to say the least. I also thought there was a lot of wasted potential for humor here. Sure, there are some sticky situations where Clarence/Clarice has to think on her feet, but there were hardly any scenes that made use of her secretly being a girl. Everyone just believed that she was a guy, and no one ever even came close to questioning her or finding out about it until she decided to tell people. Unrealistic? Very much so.

My final complaint is that the book's main antagonist came in too late to be considered a real threat, and the solution to everyone's problems was far too neat.

I wouldn't recommend this book - there are plenty of better pirate books, fantasy books, and pirate-fantasy books.

*A free copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*


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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Way of Kings Readalong: Week 5



It's the final week of the Way of Kings Readalong! This week we are finishing up the book (pages 811-1002).

Dates
chapters
June 22 – June 28
Finish through Ch12 (page 210)
June 29 – July 5
Finish through Ch28 (page 405)
July 6 – July 12
Finish through Ch42 (page 600)
July 13 – July 19
Finish through Ch57 (page 810)
July 20 – July 26
Finish book (page 1002)

Again, you can tweet your thoughts and updates to me @spidersilksnow and use the hashtag #WoKRA. If you're joining late, you can always comment on older posts or link me to your posts whenever you have them up.

What has happened so far (spoilers!):

Dalinar:

Dalinar experiences a vision of the Day of Recreance, when all the Radiants abandoned humanity. He is surprised to note that some of the highprinces are darkeyes. In the real world, he convinces Sadeas to join him and surprises everyone with their success.

Shallan:
 Shallan continues to figure out how to use the soulcaster, with no luck. The strange creatures in her drawings begin to appear more and more frequently, and she unknowingly transports herself to Shadesmar. On her return she soulcasts a glass into blood, cuts herself to explain it, and gets admitted to the hospital for attempted suicide. She has the perfect escape plan, now that Jasnah thinks she's overworked, but Kabsal's poisoning leads to her returning the soulcaster to Jasnah and being disgraced and abandoned in her hospital bed.

Kaladin:

Kaladin has gone back and forth a couple more times on whether it's possible to save his men and how to overcome the obstacles the new lighteyes throw in Bridge 4's way. He sees Adolin defend a supposed prostitute for no apparent reason and is puzzled by his selflessness - Kaladin distrusts lighteyes, and for good reason. In the chapter Child of Tanavar, he has a Dalinar-esque vision where he witnesses Szeth after Gavilar's murder and hears the words "ODIUM COMES." He also accidentally performs lashings and Syl admits that she is related to his new powers. They argue about whether she is causing them or simply appearing at the same time, like rainspren. Kaladin also briefly meets Wit (introduced as Hoid), who says he's going away for a while. He gives Kaladin a story and a flute as they part ways.

In Kaladin's past, his brother Tien is drafted into Amaram's army as part of Roshone's revenge, and Kaladin offers to join him. Later on, we find out that Kaladin killed the shardbearer who slayed his men (including Cenn from the prologue!) and that Amaram took the credit for himself and had Kaladin branded as a deserter. Now we know where his deep mistrust of lighteyes comes from...

Interludes:

A lighteyes woman and her two assistants go into rich people's homes and destroy their paintings and sculptures. Their purpose is unclear.

A presumable husband and wife pair study the nature of spren. One is devoted to chemistry through food, and the other the variable nature of spren.

Szeth: Szeth massacres everyone at the King's feast, including a few shardbearers and the king. He experiences a lot of self-loathing, and cries as he kills.



My thoughts and Predictions:

Kaladin volunteering to go along with his brother. It was so hard for me to stop picturing The Hunger Games as I read that scene! It's even more heartbreaking that we know Tien isn't going to make it, even though both Kaladin and Amaram promise to keep him safe.

But then again, we know what kind of bastard Amaram is. Kaladin saves his life and gives the shards he won to his men, and Amaram thanks him by murdering his men and branding him a traitor. If there's one thing I cannot stand, it's betrayal. It's the worst kind of lie - pretending to be honorable while stabbing people where it hurts the most. I guess because I've experienced people breaking my trust, it really hit home when someone you thought was good turns out to be capable of such ugliness. I was SO ANGRY as I read that scene. I think I was already worked up about Kabsal's betrayal a few pages earlier so it ended up being this huge punch in the gut. I had to put the book down and rage for a bit before I could keep reading.

The scene were Kaladin saw Adolin defend the prostitute was so great! We've really only seen Adolin be a whiny little kid until this point, so it was refreshing to see his honor in action. It struck me in particular that Adolin would defend a prostitute of all people, because they are often considered to be part of  the lower (if not lowest) parts of society. For Adolin to brush off all the disgust that most people would feel and go so far as to defend her when he had no reason to was amazing.

Speaking of honorable, I'm still wary of Sadeas. Dalinar is so convinced that he's a good guy, or at least an honorable one, but Adolin's not buying it (and neither am I!). The way we see him from Kaladin's POV makes me think of a slippery eel. He kind of reminds me of Snape from Harry Potter (so maybe he'll redeem himself of all the slime? Not counting on it).

Back to Spren! I was so excited that more people were studying the Spren. So far we have the two from this week's interludes and Axies from last week. We also have Syl proclaiming that she is connected to Kaladin's new abilities. So is she becoming more human and intelligent by being around someone who can absorb and use stormlight? Is he changing her or is she changing him? Symbiotic relationship? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
                                 
Teft says Kaladin's new powers are the abilities of the radiants, but they're also the abilities of Szeth. Does that mean Szeth and Kaladin are descended from the Knights Radiant? I sense a showdown between those two at some point (probably later on in the series, once Kaladin gets up to Szeth's standards of epic stormlight skills). It would be so ironic if Kaladin ended up fighting to protect Dalinar and co. from Szeth's massacre-hungry masters. We'll see!

Wit mentions "Adolnasium" to Dalinar, and asks him if he's heard of it. I don't remember what it is exactly, but I do remember Sazed from Mistborn talking about it briefly. I wonder if it's related to the Heralds? Perhaps the Heralds went to different worlds and colonized, which is why everyone thinks they disappeared?

There was also a moment where one of Kaladin's men died and spouted those prophetic-sounding words that have been the epigraphs for Part I and IV. I cannot for the life of me figure out what those mean, but maybe by the end of the book it'll become clear.

Other stuff to check out:

The Spren Theory of Disease: Unexpected Science in The Way of Kings: an article on Tor about how Spren influence Roshar's understanding of disease, and how that in turn influences the way the story is constructed. Covers everything from rotspren to psychology to Listerine!

Really cool discussion about the Unmade, the Parshendi, and Shadesmar: Chapter 45
and speculation on Wit/Hoid and Kaladin: Chapter 57

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird

18079683Title: Boy, Snow, Bird
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Genre: historical fiction, magical realism, adult fiction, retelling (very loosely)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:
In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.
Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

This book seemed really intriguing, and I was excited to read a literary take on the Snow White tale. The basic premise is that Snow and her father are pale-skinned African Americans, which the (white) "Evil stepmother" finds out when her child is born dark-skinned. Mirrors and reflections play a large role in this story, and are almost a character on their own. There is so much potential for discussion about race and identity, appearances and illusions. I was prepared to be enchanted and inspired, so I just kept reading, waiting for that moment when everything would click.

It never came.

I didn't really connect with the characters, and for over half the story, nothing really happened. The cover flap tells you that the stepmother, Boy, will feel betrayed by Snow when her child is born dark while Snow is pale and pretty. That doesn't even happen until a good 3/4 of the book is over. Boy was a petty, petulant, and selfish character. If we were supposed to empathize with her and see her jealousy as anything more complex, I did not get that message. The titular Snow was hardly present in the story, so her dynamics with the other women in the story were not as strong or visible as they could have been. Bird is a child, but her narrative voice sounds like an adult. She just flits around in the background, and I didn't think she added anything to the story.

I guess my main complaint is that all the characters seem so faded. I can't think of any other way to describe them. They're all cold and distant, so I didn't feel invested in their story, nor could I understand or empathize with their struggles.

And then there was the random and almost nonsensical ending that literally came out of nowhere. It brought in a new can of worms that there was definitely not enough time to deal with, so instead of closing things up, it just made the rest of the book seem like a waste.

I really was excited for this book, but it was rather disappointing.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: The Blind Assassin

Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: historical fiction, contemporary, adult, (science fiction - only the story-within-the-story)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge"
More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura's mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal...

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors because her books are always both intelligent and profoundly moving. It's rare that a book that makes you question all sorts of social/economic/ethical questions is also the book that makes you cry because the characters are so heartbreakingly real, but somehow all of Atwood's books are like that. I also love how she portrays women with strength and dignity, but also with vulnerability and weakness. All her characters are complex, but it's the women who drive the story.

The Blind Assassin refers to the pulp fiction sci-fi novel that one of the characters wrote. It's a story-within-a-story that serves as a parallel for reality at times and a foil at others. The actual story of this novel is the reason behind and aftermath of Laura Chase's death. The narrator is Laura's sister, Iris, who is now an old woman writing for a granddaughter she hasn't seen in over a decade. It's a slow book, delving equally into the past and the present, but don't be fooled by Iris' seemingly trustworthy narration. She's as unreliable as they come, but she never actually lies. It's more a case of omissions and letting the reader believe certain things without ever correcting them. Until the end.

Once all the secrets are out, the novel packs a very emotional punch. There is a lot in this book about keeping up appearances and saving face at the cost of all else. Within the first few pages of the book, the narrator finds out her sister has committed suicide and one of her first reactions is to call up her husband and tell him because "he would want to have a statement ready." It was both fascinating and disturbing to see how far people went to save face.

I highly recommend this novel (like all the Atwood novels I've read). Beware that it's slow at times, but the end makes it worth every minute.

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