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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Release Date: Sept. 9, 2008
Publisher: William Morrow
Age Group: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Pages: 937
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside—the Extramuros—for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates—at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros—a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose—as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world—as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

The problem with talking about Anathem is that it’s best experienced if you know absolutely nothing going in. Much like Share Carruth’s film Primer, even knowing a sketch of the work’s true concept cheats you out the profound moments of discovery. With most fiction, you’re safe at least saying that it’s a zombie story, a space opera, or a high school romance. Anathem is not most fiction. The enjoyment comes from figuring out just what the novel is. The most basic, spoiler-free, first-ten-pages outline is as follows: math scholars, like some monastic orders, live separate from the world at large. Their monasteries have walls which prevent them from (mostly) even seeing the outside world. Every 10 years, the monastery gates open and their inhabitants, referred to as avout, are allowed to mix with the rest of the world for one week. If you trust me enough to take a recommendation on faith; are cool with some heavy, but well-explained, math; and are likely to enjoy a novel where a sentence like, “We’re up against >a laundry list of things that comprise the novel’s main conflict<. We have a protractor,” is a genuine threat, then I urge you to stop reading now. Those who need more convincing or have already read it, read on.

Anathem reminds me a bit of Frank Herbert’s Dune, and not just because of the exhaustive glossary at the end. Both novels present totally alien worlds and attempted some things that, at the time, were completely new to me. While Dune may or may not be the first epic, sprawling sci-fi opera of its kind, I’m fairly confident that Anathem is the first philosophical thriller. I don’t mean a thriller that has some philosophical implications. I mean a thriller where the action is the philosophical discussions themselves. Every debate and line of inquiry slowly builds on previous concepts and prepares both the avout and the reader for the moment when all of the threads finally come together and are either proved or disproved during the novel’s climax. The novel’s climax is one of the most surprising I’ve read in terms of both form and content. For those who aren’t sold on a book whose main action occurs in lengthy debates, there are also (spoiler alert): a sect of ninja mathematicians, secret societies complete with centuries-old conspiracies, and aliens. While there are a few missteps along the way, such as a possible terrorism plot that’s introduced within the final 10 pages and never resolved, the originality and overall cohesion of the plot and philosophy are impressive and worth the read.

Stephenson does some cool things with language in the novel. He creates an alternate language for lots of our common words, such as cellphones being referred to as “jeejahs.” While this technique is somewhat annoying at first, its purpose becomes clear once the characters we’re following leave their monasteries. The world they’re entering is alien to them, and by making us think of items like cell phones and computers by using different words, we’re forced to experience how alien the technology is to the avout. The avout’s unfamiliarity with much of the outside world also allows Stephenson an avenue for exposition and world-building that doesn’t seem forced: all of the avouts’ questions are logical and natural.

If the book has a weakness, it’s the characters, although I consider them a strength. Many of the characters are one-note and I could see a reader being disappointed by their lack of depth. However, each of the characters is also a voice for one strand of viewpoint of mathic philosophy. The variety of characters actually rounds out the living, evolving philosophical ideas that are the novel’s center and provide color to the novel’s true main character: the world of Arbre. 

Anathem may take a few hundred pages to get going, but scenes from the beginning of the novel are still paying off well into page 900. I must say that Anathem is one of my favorite novels of recent memory, not only because of Stephenson’s creativity, but also because of the sheer testicular fortitude of his storytelling.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Iron Traitor Blog Tour & Giveaway

Oct. 29 is just around the corner and if I know you Iron Fey fans, you're chomping at the bit to get your hands on Iron Traitor. Well, before you get too micro-focused let's harken back to another story in the series. You remember this one, right?

Let me jog your memory. 
It centers on these two post-wedded bliss...

 .... and takes place before this guy is born.

The oracle shows up at Meghan and Ash's first Elysium together with a prophecy that goes a little something like this...
"What you carry will either unite the courts, or it will destroy them.”
The story provides some pretty heavy foreshadowing about the future and you just knew there had to be more. I mean, with Julie Kagawa at the helm did you really expect to end on a traditional "happy ever after?" I didn't think so. Everyone loves a little mayhem and the author of the Iron Fey certainly supplies it.

But back to the point of our little walk down memory lane...

A little birdie told me that that the prophecy at the the center of Iron's Prophecy comes to fruition in Iron Traitor. Frankly, I'm not sure whether to be anxious or terrified at the prospects. Either way I'm thrilled that the reveal has finally come! (Notice I don't call it closure or anything of the sort because I'm confident in Kagawa's ability to throw in a heart-wrenching twist and milk me for every last tear. Tears keep her young, you know.)

So if you haven't already pulled a reread of the entire series, definitely go back and reread Iron's Prophecy and ponder the possibilities. Will worlds be brought together or torn apart? Is Kierran to blame? How will it all play out? I won't dare to hazard a guess.

What do you think will happen?

Iron Traitor 
by Julie Kagawa 

Release Date: Oct. 29, 2013 
Publisher: Harlequin Teen 

In the real world, when you vanish into thin air for a week, people tend to notice.

After his unexpected journey into the lands of the fey, Ethan Chase just wants to get back to normal. Well, as "normal" as you can be when you see faeries every day of your life. Suddenly the former loner with the bad reputation has someone to try for-his girlfriend, Kenzie. Never mind that he's forbidden to see her again.

But when your name is Ethan Chase and your sister is one of the most powerful faeries in the Nevernever, "normal" simply isn't to be. For Ethan's nephew, Keirran, is missing, and may be on the verge of doing something unthinkable in the name of saving his own love. Something that will fracture the human and faery worlds forever, and give rise to the dangerous fey known as the Forgotten. As Ethan's and Keirran's fates entwine and Keirran slips further into darkness, Ethan's next choice may decide the fate of them all.

Julie Kagawa was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there.

To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dog trainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full-time.

Julie now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where the frequency of shark attacks are at an all-time low. She lives with her husband, two obnoxious cats, one Australian shepherd who is too smart for his own good and the latest addition, a hyperactive Papillon puppy.
So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish and the odd eel.

Find Julie online... 
Website / Blog 
Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

Follow the tour...
Monday, September 30th – Harlequin Paranormal Blog
Wednesday, October 2nd – Page Turners
Friday, October 4th – Bookalicio.us

Monday, October 7th – Two Chicks On Books
Wednesday, October 9th – Wastepaper Prose
Friday, October 11thThe Book Cellar

Monday, October 14thFiktshun
Tuesday, October 15thBooks Complete Me
Wednesday, October 16thDark Faerie Tales
Friday, October 18thYA Bibliophile

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Release Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Amulet Books
Age Group: Putnam Juvenile
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 457
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

The 5th Wave and I started off on the wrong foot. I first heart about it at BEA 2013, when it was recommended to me by Emily of Emily’s Reading Room. Even better, the author was doing a signing, so I could get it for free. That’s what we call “epic win,” kids. Emily and I had it all planned out: a meeting place, a general time, and a detailed strategy for hopping in line. I arrived at the meeting place at the designated time. No Emily. The signing started and still no Emily. I waited for Emily. Apparently, she saw the line while on the way, panicked, and hopped into line. In the end, the mix-up resulted in an amusing story. Little did I know that it would also be a microcosm for my time with the book, which is a somewhat amusing story that starts off poorly and has a few serious issues.

Let’s start with the book’s strength: the alien plot. At least up until the titular fifth wave, the alien plan is rather clever. I especially enjoyed how the plan proceeded through well thought-out stages. Too many alien stories are content to have the alien plot consist solely of shooting giant space lasers at Earth. In The 5th Wave, each stage a solid tactic by itself and is enhanced by the stages that came before it. Yancey could have easily gotten away with making any single stage the entirety of the aliens’ plot and had a perfectly competent alien story, but it was interesting to see so many ideas layered on top of one another.

The character motivations are also well done. The author takes the time to illuminate each character’s reason for not just giving up, but actually running towards the fire, and they’re all believable motivations. While all of their reasons are convincing and realistic, the character voices drove me insane. For one, both characters have a tendency to restate things they’ve just said not a page before, resulting in quite a bit of maddening and pointless repetition. Cassie in particular seems to have a penchant for statements that are supposed to sound deep and original, but almost always elicit a roll of the eyes. The best way I can describe both characters’ voices is as a poor imitation of Buffyspeak.

To be honest, I think the novel would have been better if Cassie for Cassiopeia had been excised entirely. While Ben’s story is somewhat clever, Cassie’s is straightforward and tends to dive into cliche. We’re are almost explicitly told that her only friend is going to end up being an alien. Of course he’s going to fall in love with her, because every action story requires that a forbidden romance be shoehorned in. The romance may have worked had it not felt like a plot point whose sole purpose is to give Cassie a hope of saving her brother. Cassie’s story also makes the details of the 5th wave obvious even before we meet Ben. Without Cassie, we’d be spared a storyline that’s littered with cliches, the twist in Ben’s story would have had devastating impact instead of none at all, and we could have avoided the laughable convenience of our two characters independently deciding to assault the alien stronghold at the same time over a year after the invasion.

I do think there’s a good story buried in the book. The problems are the result of both stories being in the same novel. The shifting perspectives almost always reveal the plot-twists of the opposing story. If the twists actually fostered new and interesting questions about the survivors’ humanity or situations, that we be okay. Unfortunately, there’s none of that to be seen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reclaimed Guest Post and Blog Tour

Sarah Guillory, author of Reclaimed, is stopping by today to share her thoughts on how real life often creeps into fiction yet that doesn't mean the details of a novel directly relate to the life of its creator. Here's what she has to say...

Why Fiction is not Autobiography – And Why it Is

There is truth in fiction. A dozen different writers, wiser than I, have penned this sentence in a dozen different ways. But while there is truth in fiction, that does not mean that fiction is true. Readers often make the mistake of assuming that those who write fiction are actually creating a thinly-veiled autobiography. And while I am not Jenna, or Ian, or Luke, I am all of them. There is also some of me in Vivian and Mops. Writers have to take what they know and use it when creating worlds. It’s why fiction speaks to so many, enriching our lives and expanding our world.

Solitude is a place I made up. I drew a map when I first started writing Reclaimed and I know exactly how it looks. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been or lived. But it has pieces of all of those places. I grew up in and currently live in a small town, and those experiences helped build Solitude. I know what it’s like to lose someone, and that is in the story. I know what it’s like to want to escape, and what it’s like to find both redemption and reclamation. I’ve made mistakes I want to hide from. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve fallen in love. My teen experiences, as well as my adult ones, color my writing.

And so does my imagination. That’s the great thing about fiction. You can take what you know of the human experience and apply that to any situation. When writing, I get to be these characters. I get to be all the different people whom I’m never going to get to be in real life. For a little while, they let me step into their lives and become them. It’s not always a pretty place. I put my characters into some tough situations, and the world I’ve created is dark and beautiful and dismal and hopeful. Just like reality.

I want my stories to feel true, to speak to readers and to transport them to different places and different lives. In order for that to happen, I must tell the truest story I can.

So while this story isn’t about me, or you, or anyone I actually know, it’s about all of us. Because in the end, we are all flawed people just trying to create something beautiful out of the broken.

by Sarah Guillory

Release Date: Oct. 15, 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary

Jenna Oliver doesn’t have time to get involved with one boy, let alone two.

All Jenna wants is to escape her evaporating small town and her alcoholic mother. She's determined she'll go to college and find a life that is wholly hers—one that isn't tainted by her family's past. But when the McAlister twins move to town and Jenna gets involved with both of them, she learns the life she planned may not be the one she gets.

Ian McAlister doesn't want to start over; he wants to remember.

Ian can’t recall a single thing from the last three months—and he seems to be losing more memories every day. His family knows the truth, but no one will tell him what really happened before he lost his memory. When he meets Jenna, Ian believes that he can be normal again because she makes not remembering something he can handle.

The secret Ian can’t remember is the one Luke McAlister can’t forget.

Luke has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother until Jenna stumbles into his life. She sees past who he’s supposed to be, and her kiss brings back the spark that life stole. Even though Luke feels like his brother deserves her more, Luke can’t resist Jenna—which is the trigger that makes Ian's memory return.

Jenna, Ian, & Luke are about to learn there are only so many secrets you can keep before the truth comes to reclaim you.

Sarah Guillory is a YA author. In addition, she teaches sophomore English and loves that they pay her to fan girl over books and authors and to watch her students fall in love with the written word. Sarah lives in Louisiana with her husband and ridiculously spoiled bloodhound. Reclaimed is her debut novel.

Find Sarah online...