Birthday book goodies

On my birthday, OF COURSE I’m going to go book shopping. After I tried a chai tea latte with a shot of espresso (a wondrous creation), I bought two books at Barnes and Noble.

The first is Disclaimer by Renée Wright. I heard about it a while ago, and its secrets and protagonist, a documentary filmmaker, sounded interesting. The second is Clade by James Bradley. I heard about this book from Amy Brady’s article over at SyFy Wire about climate fiction books. That’s definitely a subgenre I want to read more of. BandN books

Along with Barnes and Noble, I stopped at Half Price Books, because one can never have enough books (I say that as I have to start stacking books in front of other books on multiple bookshelves). The top three books here are ones that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I’ve heard Justin Cronin’s The Passage is a great horror novel, Erin Morgensern’s The Night Circus is an enchanting novel, and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is a fun novel. I got these books for $2 each which is a crazy good deal!

The bottom four novels are ones that I’ve already read and *loved* but that I did not yet own. Brent Weeks is becoming one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been wanting to reread the Night Angel trilogy (especially since he said that he’s returning to write more books in that universe once The Burning White is published), so I picked up that whole series. I also bought The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, which I read a while back when my grandma lent it to me. It’s a beautiful fiction written as a series of letters by members of a book club on Guernsey after WWII. I’m definitely excited to give all these books a reread.

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The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden

The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden is a 400-page ebook (and an audiobook that is 9 hours, 14 minutes long). I originally bought the ebook because I’d heard it described in terms similar to The Name of the Wind (NotW) by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a beautifully crafted fantasy novel. After taking a long break from reading at about 25%, Hayden  provided me with the audiobook version, which is what I’m going to review.

The worldbuilding of The Reach Between Worlds is, at first, alarmingly similar to NotW–similar monetary system, similar magic school including an Artificium, and similar age range of students. That’s what tripped me up when I read the ebook. Listening to the audio version (narrated by John Pirhalla) is when the characters grabbed my interest, partially because Pirhalla has such fantastic character voices–especially for the females! I could also start to see the workings of a very different world than NotW, with old gods, class tensions, void magic, and the mysterious(ly broken) Arclight that bolsters crops and growth and keeps away disease.

Though there are structural similarities to NotW, I was happy to find contrast in the characters and the style of narration. While the protagonist of the story is Taro, a young man, his friends and classmates Kyra and Suri had the most refreshing stories. Secondary (*female*!) characters who have strong personalities and lives outside of the main character’s narrative are the most interesting. (Kyra’s story is especially intriguing, for reasons I won’t spoil, though she is the main POV of the novella Why Dragons Hide.)

I believe the book says Taro is 16, though his innocence made him seem more like a 14-year-old. Taro is essentially a rogue with a heart of gold–he can barely stand to steal from others, even though he’s incredibly poor. His parents were struck by a mysterious disease, making them unfit for work and parenting in general. This helped shine a light on Taro and his sister Nima’s strong sibling bond—not only are they together in taking care of their younger siblings, they are also complicit in doing some shady work to earn money, including lying their way into the Magisterium. I personally loved the fact that the kids didn’t spend any time studying or training—they just cheated their way into a prestigious school and started winging it through classes. That was a fun and unexpected dynamic.

Although these protagonists, along with a few additional male characters, make up the main cast, my favorite character is Vexis. She’s really complex in that you root for or against her depending on the situation. She’s a fantastically ambiguous characters with hidden motivations. I’m really hoping to see more of her story (and her family’s story) in the sequel.

I’m not going to give away too much about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil all the fun. However, I will say that the Magisterium students’ trial to “rank up” in the school, so to speak, was a great adventure. It felt almost like the kids were exploring a puzzle room, and I hope Hayden builds on that sort of exploration of the world in the future novels.

Overall, this is a solid debut novel from Hayden, and anyone who likes their fantasy with magical schools, rogues, and massively evil plots will enjoy The Reach Between Worlds. I plan on continuing the series, in fact, I’m already reading the novella, Why Dragons Hide, which is written as letters from Kyra to her uncle.

TITLE: The Reach Between Worlds
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AUTHOR: C.M. Hayden
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PAGES: 400
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ALSO WROTE: The Stars That Form Us (Arclight Saga #2), Why Dragons Hide (Arclight Saga #0)
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FIRST LINE: The doctor tapped his fingers on the table separating him and his patient.

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny is a 174-page science fiction novel originally published by Doubleday & Company in January of 1973. The book is actually the second in the Francis Sandow series–I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the series now! The book can stand alone, though, as it’s not *technically* a sequel. I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing any information about characters, plot, or setting. I read To Die in Italbar as a part of Vintage SciFi Month.

To Die in ItalbarThe story revolves around the journeys of a mysterious man called “H” who has a unique power that allows him to heal even the most terminal of illnesses. Another important point of view is that of Malacar Miles, a military man who is determined to find H to use the horrifying flipside of his healing power–the ability to spread diseases that H has contracted–in order to strike at Malacar’s old enemies. There is one female POV of note–a girl who works in a brothel but secretly idolizes the military prowess of Malacar and wishes to meet and help him take revenge on their mutual enemies. I loved her raw anger, but More

Vintage SciFi Month

January is considered Vintage SciFi Month (I found out this wonderful fact thanks to an awesome Twitter account). For the reading “non-challenge” (which is in no way competitive), a sci-fi book is considered vintage if it was published before you were born (in my case, I’ve got plenty of options–I was born in 1991).

There’s a little more information about the non-challenge on the creator’s blog here. For a more current post with a little more info, check out this post. Also, the creator and moderator of the Twitter account mentioned above are hosting a giveaway for The Book Of Frank Herbert, which is a collection of ten short stories by Frank Herbert that was published in 1973. Even though I really want to win, I’ll share the link, since I’m so nice! You just have to join the conversation about #VintageSciFiMonth on Twitter to enter the giveaway.

I’ve already finished one book (To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny), and I’m in the middle of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells for my second. Shown below are two other books, both by Ray Bradbury, that I’m planning to read this month. As an ongoing personal challenge, I’ve also decided to finish Dune by Frank Herbert, which I’ve been reading on and off for a few months now!

vintage-books

So throughout January, I’ll be posting reviews of these vintage books (most likely the reviews with be shorter than normal… but we’ll see). If there are any sci-fi classics you’re reading, you especially love, or you’d like my opinion on, let me know! I’ll add them to my January to-read list.

The Wolf & the Windlestraw from The Indianola Review

As the Associate Editor for The Indianola Review, I led a project to complete a collaborative serial novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2015. I’ve always wanted to edit a novel, and this seemed crazy enough to work.

Through Twitter, 30 authors from all across the United States signed on to write one chapter each (~2,000 words) on their respective day in November. The chapters were to follow the characters and plot set forth by Chelsea Eckert (our brave Day 1 author). Her characters were two courageous young sisters, Amadeus and Wolfgang, who were tasked with completing a quest using a windlestraw—an enchanted key—in a magical world set in the American Southwest. The first chapter blew me away. When Wolfgang pulled the windlestraw out of her pocket, the possibilities of magical realism–one of my favorite things to read–exploded into being.

I was always the first person to read each chapter of this wonderfully weird story, a privilege I enjoyed immensely. It’s fun and has some serious depth when it comes to the “magic system.” The Wolf & The Windlestraw is a 232-page magical realism novel that was written as a result of The Indianola Reviews  first collaborative NaNoWriMo. (We’ll be setting up the 2016 NaNoWriMo soon!) Here’s the blurb for the fantastic story:

Wolfgang has a sense of adventure unmatched by anyone, even her younger sister, Amadeus. But when Wolfgang is charged with completing three mysterious and possibly dangerous tasks, she drags Amadeus out of their hometown, Lotsett, to help her on her quest.

Their father Saul, desperate to find his missing daughters, seeks out the help of Brooks, a man who disappeared decades ago but has returned to Lotsett for his own dubious reasons.

With only a magical sword and the questionable guidance from local spirits, the sisters must complete the tasks together. Family and enemies alike put pressure on the sisters’ friendship. When pushed to their limit, will they make the right choice?

TITLE: The Wolf & The Windlestraw
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AUTHORS (In order of date of completion, November 1-30): Chelsea Eckert, Lane Kareska, Kevin C. Hunt, Robert Perret, Anne Weisgerber, Diane Rosier Miles, Michael P. Adams, Kayla Dean, Ellen Davis Sullivan, Jennifer Met, Jocelyn Paige Kelly, Carrie Cook, Sarah Vernetti, Iskandar Haggarty, Michael T. Fournier, G. E. Schwartz, Cinthia Ritchie, Tim Duffy, Joseph Walters, Vanessa Christie, Arika, Anthony Frame, Janell Zimmerer, Sara Adams, Forrest Dylan Bryant, Jae Singer, Lisa E. Balvanz, Tim W. Day, Jason Sears, Eldo St. David.
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COVER ART: Frances Mann
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PAGES: 232
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FIRST LINE: It was the day that wild dogs, a whole family of them, would try to devour Ama’s older sister alive.
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QUOTABLE: Ama relished the air hissing as the sword moved through the unseen medium, but her fantasy was short-lived. She turned around and halted in her steps, splashing into the creek that had been behind her moments ago. A small gray cat peered from behind a tree trunk, its big hazel eyes drawing Ama closer. She dropped the windlestraw and crept over to the cat, extending her arms out to pet its ruffled, damp fur.
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SORT OF LIKE:

The Graveyard Book Half-Moon Investigations

(I had trouble finding any books that were similarly written (one author per chapter), so I guess The Wolf & The Windlestraw is in a league of its own!)

Found: Religious Advice

bomMy town has a Little Free Library, and I try to drop books off there at least once a month. I occasionally glance through the library to see if there are any new goodies. For example, my most recent perusal revealed some romance books, a few dictionaries, some Dean Koontz novels, a couple old Westerns, and a copy of The Book of Mormon with a note penned onto the inside of the front cover. I’m not religious, so I definitely appreciate that whoever wrote this note took to penning it in a book rather than knocking at my door!

bom-note

The note reads:

Blessings to you
Dear Ones who choose to “read with the wonder and faith of a child ❤
Pray to your Father in Heaven who waits for you to ask if these things are true. If you ask with a sincere heart, having faith in Christ, and real intent… He will warm your heart and bring peace and happiness through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Through this process, you will know the truth of all things.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter is a 342-page psychological/speculative thriller. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dark MatterOne of my favorite things to read about in speculative fiction is the multiverse, and that’s the central idea of Dark Matter. Jason Dessen, on a walk home from celebrating a colleague’s scientific achievement, is kidnapped at gunpoint and drugged to sleep. When he wakes, he’s in an unfamiliar lab being congratulated for something he knows nothing about. From there, it’s a wild ride finding out where Jason is, how he’s going to get home, who kidnapped him, and most importantly–why he woke up in this strange world. More

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane is a 154-page nonfiction book/set of essays scheduled for publication by Little A in September 2016. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent coverThroughout the book, James Duane explores why someone–especially someone innocent–should never talk to the police (and instead should repeat “I want a lawyer”). The content of the book is a bit dry–he uses case histories of people who have been wrongfully convicted or have given false confessions. But Duane livens up the content with some excerpts from his lecture, “Don’t Talk to Police.” More

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is 432-page speculative fiction novel, published by Tor in May of 2016. I received the book from NetGalley for review.

Too Like the LightningI requested this novel from NetGalley because I loved the cover and the title font. So yes, I judge books by their covers. Luckily, I wasn’t burned–Too Like the Lightning turned out to be a slow-burning, thought-provoking story.

The beginning of the novel crawls a bit since the narrator, Mycroft Canner, is actually a historian from 2454 who sets up the reader for a history that takes place in the reader’s past (see the first line of the book below). It took a few chapters to get used to Mycroft’s manner of speaking and story telling–there are plenty of “thee”s and “thou”s in the book, thanks to the future’s use of language (they’re also partial to using Latin). The payoff for this slow build is absolutely worth it. More

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl is a 237-page contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare retelling collection.

Vinegar Girl Kate (a strong independent woman who don’t need no man) is just shy of 30, gardens and works at a preschool, and is constantly in trouble at work for lack of discretion when talking to the children’s parents–definitely a character I can get behind. Bunny, 15, is Kate’s ditzy sister. Their father, Dr. Battista, is a scientist working with autoimmune disorders alongside his research assistant, Pyotr. More

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a 305-page sweeping historical/cultural fiction novel written by Yaa Gyasi, published by Knopf in June of 2016.

HomegoingI wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but what I got was a mind-blowing experience. The novel follows the lineal descendants of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in eighteenth-century Ghana. Each chapter features the successive descendants of these women, from eighteenth century Ghanaian slavery to twentieth-century Harlem. More

But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

But What if We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman is a 288-page nonfiction book published by Blue Rider Press in June of 2016. I received the book from Penguin’s First to Read program.

But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck KlostermanThis book is a collection of essays and arguments revolving around a central theme–looking into the past with eyes colored by the present. Klosterman presents arguments ranging from future cultural popularity (who will define rock music–The Sex Pistols? Bob Dylan? Chuck Berry?) to scientific theories (will our theory of gravity seem as preposterous to future humans as the geocentric model of the universe seems to us?). More

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is a 522-page fantasy novel by Rainbow Rowell, published by St. Martin’s Griffin in October of 2015.

23734628Simon Snow, a wizard in his eighth year at Watford School of Magicks lives with his evil, vampire roommate Baz and is constantly worrying about and fighting against the Insidious Humdrum. The story shifts between Simon, Baz, and their friends Penny and Agatha’s points of view. More

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is a 376-page speculative fiction novel originally published in 2003. I listened to the audiobook, written by Margaret Atwood (who always has really interesting stuff going on), read by Campbell Scott.

18415437Jimmy (also known as Snowman) is the protagonist of this eerie story, which is about Jimmy’s past life experiences with his strange, genius friend named Crake, and the enigma of a woman named Oryx–framed by Snowman’s current existence in a post-apocalyptic world.

In this new world where humanity has been decimated by a plague, Snowman may be the only human left. That is, besides the Crakers (strange human-like beings with glowing eyes and primate-like mating behaviors) and the genetically designed murderous animals. More

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High by David Bienenstock

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High is a 288-page nonfiction novel published by Plume in April of 2016 (I can’t believe they missed out on publishing on 4/20!). I received a free copy of the book from Penguin’s First to Read program.

How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting HighThe novel begins with a succinct history of cannabis and goes on to discuss everything from humanity’s use of the plant in spiritual rituals, medicine, and daily life to the entrepreneurial efforts and scientific research of cannabis taking place today.

Bienenstock provides a fantastic and fascinating overview of the possibilities of cannabis–relieving patients who are suffering, community growth, and rapidly growing business opportunities. A plethora of careers–from budtenders (serving customers at a weed dispensary) to tourist endeavors (hotels and entertainment)–become possible with ending cannabis prohibition. It’s brilliantly argued that tourists (of states like Colorado) buying weed with no legal recourse to take the plant out of state would be more than happy to stimulate the local economy by seeing shows, eating at local restaurants, and staying in a hotel during their trip. The discussion on the history of legislation and stigma surrounding cannabis is a little indignant, but also quite accurate. More

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