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

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

After learning Rainbow Rowell was going to give a talk/signing at my local library (and that she’s going to be at NerdCon), I finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and start reading her books. I was not disappointed. I started with Fangirl, which is still my favorite. Even so, Landline is a solid novel–published in July of 2014 by St. Martin’s Press.

The narrative revolves around Georgie’s (possibly) failing marriage. She gets the break of a lifetime when a network wants to pick up the show she and her best friend Seth have been writing together since college. Unfortunately, they want episodes written in the next couple weeks, which span Christmas-time. While Georgie backs out on going to Nebraska with her husband and children, she also proceeds to fail to write anything while she is consumed with worry at the bumps that have come up in her relationship with her husband, Neal. More

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a 335 page literary/historical fiction set in three major places–the Dominican Republic, New York, and New Jersey. It was published by Riverhead Books in 2007. I listened to the audiobook version (my first audiobook!).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao coverThe story follows three character POVs–Yunior, a player of women (including Oscar’s sister), Lola (Oscar’s sister), and Beli (Oscar and Lola’s mom). It explores each character’s rebelliousness and trials/tribulations relating to love and being an outcast.

Oscar is an overweight nerd who just doesn’t fit in and can’t get laid. The book serves as a way to explore that thought through the people in Oscar’s life. Yunior’s commentary especially lends some analysis and deeper thoughts on Oscar’s loneliness.  More

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

The Blinding Knife is the 671 page sequel to The Black Prism. It is the second book in the fantasy Lightbringer four book series by Brent weeks. This story continues the narrative of the seven Satrapies and the Chromeria.  For a fuller explanation of the government and magic system–chromaturgy–see my review of The Black Prism.

The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer, #2)In this novel, the story focuses on developing relationships between Gavin, the Prism of the Chromeria, and the people closest to him–Kip Guile (son), Karris White Oak (ex-fiance), Andross Guile (father), and Dazen Guile (prisoner/brother). Brent Weeks really does some great characterization in this novel. I actually began to like Kip, who was really bullheaded in The Black Prism. Well, he’s still bullheaded, but now he has goals and sticks up for himself. We also meet some new characters, like Teia, a small slave girl who has been sponsored to train and be tested as a Blackgaurd, and gain a deeper understanding of Chromaturgy and secret draftable colors thanks to Kip’s training in the Blackgaurd.

Also partially thanks to that training, the fighting and focus on battle in this novel was more intimate and more involved than in the first novel. Kip trains and plans to try out for the Blackgaurd, the elite force that guards the Prism’s life and answers only to the White (basically the head of the Chromeria). While Kip is training, Gavin is attempting to defeat the bane — a “god” of a certain color. Gavin first attempts to find and tackle the blue bane, which has been causing many oddities such as blue snowflakes around the world. While searching for the blue bane, he is also trying to stop war from happening. During his search, we see a lot more of his relationship with Karris, which was one of my favorite things to read about in both novels. Whispers of betrayal and regret make their interactions electric.

While in The Black Prism there were whispers of color wights (drafters gone mad after they draft too much) answering to a higher calling, this novel actually presents the real threat. The Color Prince, known as Lord Omnichrome, is a polychrome wight–a drafter of many colors who has “broken the halo” on all of them, meaning he should have gone mad from drafting so much light. Instead of madness, he has taken to leading the wights and people who believe that wights can still be sane. This goes against everything the Chromeria teaches, so Gavin has to deal with both the wight banes and the Color Prince in order to attempt to stop a war.

In The Blinding Knife, Weeks does some more amazing work with his light magic system, introducing a new draftable color and new concepts of drafting and alternate theories of wights. Along with those improvements, his fictional world grows even more; we are introduced to Seer Island, a remote location that houses a mystical Seer that sort of helps, in the vague way that Seers do, Gavin search for the blue bane. These aspects, and the excellent character building that Weeks does, make this an even more fantastic book than the first. I could hardly put it down. He even throws in a fascinating card game–Nine Kings–that I really hope he explores more in the next book. This series is one of the best that I have read in a long time, and if you haven’t started reading it, I ask… Why not?!

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

When I was desperately in need of some well done fantasy, I went looking for a new author. Peter V Brett led me to Brent Weeks, and I tried out The Black Prism on a whim. It is a 629 page sort of epic science fantasy novel, the first in a planned four book deal known as the Lightbringer series.

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)

Before I detail the plot and characters, I want to give a little description of the magic system which centers around light and the ability to “draft” physical objects from it. Each drafter can draft different colors — each color has certain strengths and weaknesses; green can be incredibly durable, but will also weigh you down and can induce mania, superviolet may be invisible to most, but it can be used in secret messaging, and so on. When someone can draft, which not everyone can, they can be a monochrome (one color), bichrome (two colors), polychrome (3+ colors, usually in successions: red-orange-yellow), or if they can draft every color, they are known as the Prism.

Only one person can be the Prism at a time. They last for years in increments of 7 — they die out after 7, 14, or if they’re lucky, 21 years. Gavin Guile is the Prism at present. Unfortunately, due to unknown circumstances, his younger brother Dazen was also granted prismatic drafting abilities. This spawned the Prism’s War (or the False Prism’s War, if you were on Dazen’s side). Gavin won the war 16 years ago, and has been the religious figurehead, sort of emperor, and High Luxlord Prism of the Chromeria ever since. The Chromeria is a neat, sort of oppressive ruling body and elite school where anyone who can draft, and can afford it or earn a sponsor, goes to learn the magical craft.

The Black Prism follows Gavin and a few other key characters, like his bastard son, Kip, his prisoner and brother, Dazen, his ex-fiance Karris, a general who fought on Dazen’s side in the False Prism’s War, Corvan Danavis, and Corvan’s daughter, Liv. I honestly can’t talk too much about plot without giving away a huge spoiler that happens about 1/3 of the way into the book. Though I will say that watching Kip and Liv, both from the same town originally, learn and grow so differently based on how the Chomeria affects them when they go there was a great dynamic.

Spoilers aside, the plot focuses on Gavin’s great purposes that he sets out to accomplish before his final 7-year span finishes and how each of the other characters eventually help or hinder him. In the land, there are seven satrapies (sort of territories/countries) that are loyal to the Chromeria. Unfortunately, one of them–Tyrea, has had their head satrap (diplomatic leader) go rogue and insist he is the King of Tyrea. Gavin has to enlist the help of everyone to try to figure out why this occurred–aside from the fact that Tyrea suffered major losses 16 years ago in the (False) Prism’s War–and how they can put an end to the senseless massacres of innocent citizens.

I loved this book, and the magic system was incredibly fun to learn about. Of course, once you think you have a handle on it, Weeks throws in some curveballs that the characters don’t even understand, but that just adds to the whole mystery of chromaturgy (drafting powers). The only real complaint I have about the book is Kip’s POV. Even from the beginning of the novel, I wasn’t a huge fan of his sections. At first, I thought he was a boring weakling, but even after he started becoming more powerful, he was just awkward. It was obvious that it was part of his appeal, but I didn’t find it that appealing. The shifts from third person narration to first person in his sections was a little jarring at times, and sometimes just felt unnatural. Fortunately, it was a rare occurrence that the rest of the brilliant narrative easily makes up for. Balancing his incredibly awkward teen vibe, Gavin Guile absolutely shines in the book as a debonair, clever, handsome, and extremely powerful ruler who is actually wily and more humble than he likes to admit. His character was incredibly fun to read as a POV and I am excited to get more of him in the next book, The Blinding Knife.

With The Black Prism, Brent Weeks spins an incredible tale of secrecy, intrigue, loyalty, and questionable faith. If you enjoy high/epic fantasy with incredibly intricate and clever magic systems, I highly recommend The Black Prism. It’s through the magic and worldbuilding that the book really shines. With plenty of character growth in the second half of the novel, the Lightbringer series is a promising one.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Falling Man is a 246 page novel about events occurring immediately following the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. I read this novel for my American literature course, and consequently had to write a paper for it — this review will be pre-paper, so I don’t get sick of writing about the book.

Falling Man

The narrative starts in immediately with a well-crafted sentence in the midst of the falling debris of the first tower’s demise, “It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night.” The story follows a man, Keith, who worked in, and therefore escaped from, the north tower. It also focuses on his wife (separated, before the fall) Lianne, Lianne’s mother Nina and Nina’s lover Martin, Lianne and Kieth’s son Justin, and the two terrorists-to-be, Hammad and Amir.

The narrative is, I don’t want to say monotonous, but I can’t think of another word for it. It’s non-linear, fragmented, and sometimes does interesting things, but mostly it’s just a telling of thoughts and feelings of whichever character is the first person narrator at the time.  There was a definite static feeling of the plot; I would maybe call it a flatline or even an example of the still life (natura morta!) that Lianne and Nina obsess over so much.  The dialogue gets confusing at times — no one is credited to having said something, you just have to figure out who is speaking by framing the conversation in the narrative; this is more difficult than it should be.

I didn’t hate this book;  I liked it, but definitely did not loved it. I actually also disliked Kieth, and yet I sympathized with him a lot — he was relatable in a really distant, quiet sort of way; I enjoyed the fact that his story wasn’t all tidy in the end. It seemed realistic that not everything was tied up in the end. My favorite part and characters were the to-be terrorists, Hammad and Amir (Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta). Their parts were so surreal, and yet completely realistic at the same time. Their stories were easily the best and more interesting parts of the novel. In it’s entirety, the book was like a puzzle that had quite a few pieces that just didn’t seem to fit together that well; in the end though, once you put the puzzle together, it was a great picture of domestic life in the aftermath of 9/11.

DeLillo’s writing had a very high literary feel; sometimes this worked extremely well, other times not so much. It seemed as if he was just trying too hard to seem lofty. Though the times it worked made it worth the times it did not. Overall, it was a decent book, though I wouldn’t recommend it for light reading.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Following the excellent book, The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear picks up in the inn the Kvothe tends in the present, telling his story to Chronicler and Bast. In his telling, he’s still at the University. This novel was a 994-page behemoth, and I can honestly say I wish it was longer, because I don’t want to have to wait for the next one, The Doors of Stone, expected in May of 2013.

Just like the first novel in the Kingkiller Chronicles, I loved this book. I had heard negative things about the second half of the novel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I really can’t believe I doubted Rothfuss… I remember reading the blurb about the first book and learning that Kvothe eventually leaves the University. I was anxious about that, because I wanted to learn the inner workings of the school, and I thought he was going to leave early on. By the time I hit the halfway mark in The Wise Man’s Fear, I was ready to move on from the school and learn more about the world Rothfuss created. Luckily, he was on a similar brainwave.

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)

For the first half of the novel, we follow similar characters that were in the last book: Kvothe, Denna, Wil and Sim, Fela, Ambrose, and a few others. We also get a host of new characters in the second half. The first part of the book is pretty similar in many ways to the last book, so I’m not going to bother reviewing it past saying that it was an enjoyable revamp of The Name of the Wind, with a few wonderful additions (including a man who LIVES in the library. I would love to live in a library…). There is also, of course, more music. Kvothe has made me want to pick up the lute more than once.

The SECOND half of the book was amazing. I loved that Kvothe finally got out in the world, somewhere out of the Commonwealth. He visits many new places with fun and weird new customs.  Kvothe spends time in some strange places. I don’t think it’s a secret that he spends time with Felurian and leaves, and is literally the only person who doesn’t go mad when he leaves her. He also learns a new language (or two) and learns a way of gesturing meaning/feelings, which I found interesting but not really necessary. He also picks up a bit of fighting technique that I really enjoyed learning about. Through his travels, he doesn’t forget about his one true goal… learning about the Chandrian. By now, I’m also curious as to their back story, and am eagerly awaiting more knowledge about them from the third novel.

I’m trying not to give too much away to those who plan to read the book, so I’ll stop with the summary. I enjoyed The Wise Man’s Fear possibly even more than The Name of the Wind. Because it took so long to get to the part where he left the University, it has a similar feel to it as the first novel. I can’t promise you will like the second half, but I loved it. I’m hoping the third and final novel will include more travelling. These books definitely merit a rereading before The Doors of Stone come out.  Rothfuss has beautiful prose, and I found it hard to not write every other sentence down as something worth quoting. I will include two quotes that were irresistibly good:

“It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.”

“This is the nature of love. […] To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad. That is what keeps poets scribbling endlessly away. If one could pin it to the paper all complete, the others would lay down their pens. But it cannot be done.”

“I played the song that hides in the center of me. That wordless music that moves through the secret places in my heart. I played it carefully, strumming it slow and low into the dark stillness of the night. I would like to say it is a happy song, that it is sweet and bright, but it is not.”