A moment of illumination

I thought I loved this series, but then again, it’s been a while since I picked it back up. So when I did, I found my whole experience could be summed in the following paragraph:

I saw him.

And he saw me.

He stood at the end of the aisle in his true form, shining as bright as a diamond. He didn’t look any different than the rest of the Luxen, but every ounce of my being knew it was him. The very cells that made me who I was snapped alive and cried out for him. He still was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Tall and shining like a thousand suns, edges shimmering a faint red. (29)

He’s beautiful. I get it. He’s also your one true love, perfect for its general audience, meaning any teenager learning how to cope with their feelings. He’s a heroic, overly-protective male protagonist who will do anything for his girlfriend, and even though she’s not weak, this does fit the standard fairy tale with him saving her most of the time. This book continues along the lines of its previous rang, each character obsessed with the beauty of the other. Both barely out of high school. Both thinking only of sex, which surprisingly this book has a lot of. Not with an excess of details but with a copious number of appearances, more than I expected for a YA book. At least it does present the discussion of safe sex. Multiple times, the protagonists have pointed out the necessity of condoms. SPOILER. Don’t want to end up like Beth, do we?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did. But, I found it so less rounded than I have other books. The only other compliment I found, besides each other’s hotness, was the following paragraph here:

“You’ve got a big heart, Kitten.” His lips cruised over mine as he spoke. “That’s what I love about you most. Well, that and I am a really big fan of your sweet body, but your heart? Yeah, that completes the package of you, wraps it up with a nice little bow. It makes you perfect to me.” (281)

Well I’m glad she has a heart. At least now I’m no longer standing in a puddle; my feet are getting wet. But remember back at the beginning where she tried to save that little girl, getting herself captured and nearly killed? She hardly spends a moment mourning her passing, having a quick recollection that ‘the Luxen were probably too fast for her.’ I still don’t feel like she has a lot of compassion. More than she has morals. And is willing to go to any lengths to keep her husband happy. (Btw, they’re married.)

No. What I really enjoyed about this book, and what made this one stand out from all its siblings, was the following statement.

“We’re connected-all of us. From the moment they came, we’ve been inside one another’s heads. I’m not sure how it works. It’s never been like this before. Maybe it’s because there are so many of us here, but when I’m in my true form, there’s no hiding from it. It’s not too bad…now. There are things they don’t know, that we’ve been able to keep from them, but I’m not sure how much longer that’s going to work.” (75)

I thought this was the most interesting part of the series and this book. Jennifer Armentrout has not only created a unique species, one created from energy and light, but a species opposite of ours, having no individuality once their species has congregated on Earth. With so many present, they behave as a hive, sharing each other’s thoughts and feelings, not having any of their own. Which in itself is interesting. It would mean our instant destruction since they could coordinate attacks perfectly, and we would be too slow, humanity taking too long for consensus. I also thought it was cool that this weakness (or strength) could be combated by having a human-lover, since being attracted to our individuality meant they earned some of their own. I really appreciated this facet. It also would’ve been nice to explore this theme a little more, since the concept of individuality opens up the theme of choice, but alas, this book is for teenagers. But at least it discusses the topic of safe sex.

Armentrout, Jennifer L. Opposition. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2014. Print.

Avoiding Nitty Gritty Details

There’s one book I want to talk about called Dark Matter, and right off the bat, I’m going to go ahead and point out the obvious. Yes. I agree with the general reviews on GoodReads. This book is a fast-paced science fiction thriller, and although it’s a science fiction, it doesn’t go into nitty gritty details and leaves out most of the fancy vernacular, making it accessible for most general audiences. That being said, it wasn’t my favorite book. I found it very dramatic, overly suspenseful, but although it didn’t appeal to me, I still liked it and read it in one go. But there’s one thing I want to focus on: the brilliantly constructed multi-universe theory.

This scientific theory says there’s basically an unlimited number of possible universes. Find more information here. And Dark Matter takes this idea and runs with it. SPOILER. When we meet the character Jason, he’s stuck on the idea that his life is ordinary. He’s not questioning on whether he made the right decision, because he loves his wife and son, but he’s wondering what it would’ve been like if he had followed his research. What if he had followed his dreams and become the celebrated genius that his friend had earned instead?

What if?

This book follows this idea, this theme you could say, and questions what if the multiverse theory was true? And, that is what Blake Crouch does well. We get to see a number of different universes that divert at different points on the timeline of creation, including what if humans hadn’t existed? What if the world had collapsed becoming unlivable to all of mankind? What if mankind had succeeded, creating the most technology-forward world yet? This is a brilliant exploration of originality, where Crouch shows that he has mastered the art of dreaming, where his dreams have led to the creation of a thousand worlds, even if they only exist inside his own head.

If you find yourself not a fan of science-fiction and want to give it a shot, here’s where to start. Pick up a copy of Dark Matter, and color yourself intrigued.

Courch, Blake. Dark Matter. New York, NY: Crown, 2016.

Greens are good for you

I have never been a fan of bitter greens, but then again, I have pretty sensitive taste buds. Even so, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the book Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. I just finished this one up a few days ago, and I have to say, while the story didn’t hit home at the end, there are two reasons for why I still strongly enjoyed this book: the inception story-telling and the character similarities between Selena Leonelli, Margherita, and Charlotte-Rose.

This story starts with Charlotte-Rose arriving at a covenant, depressed and wishing she was back at the Versailles palace with the king, unsure of how she had gotten herself kicked out of court to the nunnery. She struggles giving up her pleasures from the palace, like her dresses and quills, and progressively loses the strength of her personality to the constant onslaught of obedience and subservience. It isn’t until she finds Soeur Seraphina, untils she’s rejuvinated with the story of Margherita.

Margherita, a young seven-year old girl with hair like fire, is at first excited when a strange lady comes up and hands her a beautiful golden necklace, but it isn’t until she goes home to her mother that the true story is revealed.

Now two stories deep and going into a third, Margherita’s mother, Pascalina, tells of how she was orphaned and helped by a beautiful witch, one who had a beautiful garden, the first one Pascalina had seen since arriving into the Italian city. SPOILER. This is the same witch, who gives Pascalina a spell to make a beautiful, homely man fall in love with her; who steals her daughter Margherita from her family; who then forces Margherita into a tower, in order to keep herself young; and who is saved by Margherita due to the girl’s own serenity and forgiveness.

Overall, this book goes three layers deep. And although it certainly adds additional parallel stories,  it never once feels contrived. SPOILER. I think it helps that the main character telling the story, Soeur Seraphina, turns out to be the one and the same Selena Leonelli, the witch who had cursed Margherita and been saved by her as well. I also think it helps that she ends up being such a brilliant mirror for Charlotte-Rose as well.SPOILERS.

 Charlotte-Rose- the woman  Margherita – the girl  Selena – the witch
  •  Proud Huguenot, worshiped an illegal religion
  • Independent woman
  • Mother ‘stolen’ and sent to a nunnery, where she died
  • Locked away against her will by her guardian Marquis de Maulevrier at the age of twelve
  • Escaped being beaten through imagination
  • Embarrassed/shamed by first lover
  • Seduced second lover with black magic
  • Lost third lover to his father’s honor
  • The garden at the convent like her mother’s garden
  • Successfully born due to parsley, so parsley birthmark
  • Stolen away from her mother at 7-years old by the witch, then donated to a nunnery
  • Loves to sing
  • Locked away in a tower at the age of twelve
  • Cuts her wrists for the witch, donating blood for longevity
  • Attracted her rescuer through singing
  • Rescued by Lucio de Medici, nephew of the Grand Duke
  • Baptised Maria the Whore’s Brat
  • Renamed Selena Leonelli by the witch Sibillia, whom she served
  • Learned magic and played courtesan to cast vengence and to be independent from men
  • Worshipped the illegal religion of witchery
  • Rejected by Tiziano
  • Used red-headed girls to keep her longevity, but wanted the girls to love her
  • Became a nun at the convent to be good

Notice how the characters have so many things in common. Both Charlotte and Selena are independent women, both unwilling to be so reliant on men. Both have experienced men’s rejection a number of times, but while Selena used magic to earn her freedom and Margherita used her singing, Charlotte used her power of words.

And while I’m thinking about it, this book also has a lot of symbolism regarding time. When I define all the characters, I see the grandmother, the woman, and the girl. Each at a different stage in their life. While Margherita’s innocence saved her, something commonly associated with young children and girls, it was Charlotte’s and Selena’s corruption that doomed them. It wasn’t until Selena had grown older that her wisdom could be shared, in order to save others from their own corruption, the same corruption that had unwittingly stolen Charlotte-Rose to the nunnery in the first place.

Overall, by the end of this book, you won’t be overwhelmed by a strong ending, and you won’t be compelled to read it in one-sitting, but I’d like to argue it is just as good as all of Forsyth’s other books. It’s definitely worth the read.

PS. Another reason I like this book, and Forsyth’s books in general is that it’s a historical fiction piece that tells the story of how the real Mademoiselle Charlotte-Rose de la Force created the story of Rapunzel, how she might’ve heard/retold it from the first version Petrosinella, ‘Little Parsley.’

Forsyth, Kate. Bitter Greens. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012. Print.

Father Earth’s been missing it

“The path that the Moon naturally follows. Instead of letting it pass again, lost and wandering, bring it home. Father Earth’s been missing it. Bring it straight here and let them have a reunion.” (390)

In the previous book, The Fifth Season, I learned about orogenes—people who can manipulate the kinetic energy around them, usually in relation to dirt and rock. This means that they can fix the energy released during an earthquake, or can manipulate the rock around them. In the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, I learned something new. Besides there being a new kind of beings called Stone Eaters, called such since their skin and hair resemble stone, I find out that Father Earth is alive. And he’s fighting a war.

This book makes me excited because of the layers that Jemisin has again woven into its plot. While still focusing on Essun and her search for her daughter Jija, the book begins to weave the story of a war going on between Father Earth and the residents living on his surface. It tells the story of a two-sided war, those who would like to stabilize the Moon to bring it back into orbit, to end the seasons, and those would like to bring the Moon home and end all humanity. This plot line gets me excited mainly because it is similar to a book I want to write, one that contemplates how the Earth feels about people living on its surface, because surely if it was alive, it wouldn’t be happy with us.

One thing I didn’t like, which was more something I had to get used to was the unusual second-person perspective. I have seen authors use “you” before in order to insert the reader into a specific viewpoint, but this book is written using this POV for Essun’s perspective, and it’s very jarring starting out. Mainly because I think it breaks the norm. Once you get used to reading it, I think it’s very interesting. And it really separates the reader from Jija’s perspective since it flips back and forth, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I might have to think about it a little more.

Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Orbit, 2016. Print.

Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Unexpected Resolution

This book is not what I expected! Not in a particularly good or bad way, but in a random-thoughts-translated-as-random-interwoven-plots kinda way, with each different conflict finishing in a subtle and unexpected fashion.

I guess I should explain. There’s a few conflicts within Ishiguro’s book, which I’ll list below:

  1. The married couple, Axl and Beatrice, were supposed to visit their son.
  2. There was a vicious dragon that warrior Winstan was supposed to kill.
  3. There was a vicious dragon that knight Gawain was also supposed to kill—no idea why the two men couldn’t help each other.
  4. Everyone kept recognizing husband Axl, no idea why—I secretly thought he was King Arthur lost among the people after the forgetful fog.
  5. There was the boy Edwin, whom was bit by some secret animal—I kept wondering if he was going to turn into a werewolf.

Any of those align with your expectations? No?

What do you expect to happen?

Now compare that to what actually happens:

  1. The married couple remember by the end of the book that their son had died earlier, and now they could only visit his grave, meaning all their travel was for nothing.
  2. Winstan killed the “vicious” dragon, who was actually really old and was going to die soon anyways, and he didn’t kill out out of the goodness of his heart (being that the dragon’s breath created a mist that made people forget) but because he wanted people to remember their vengeance in order to create disorder and chaos before the Saxons invade.
  3. Knight Gawain never wanted to kill the dragon; he was the dragon’s protector, protecting the beast so that Master Merlin’s spell of forgetfulness would make people heal and forget the past—the mass murder that King Arthur had commit.
  4. Axl turned out to be just some small peace-maker, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table.
  5. Edwin was bit by a dragon, whose pull could actually pull you toward it. No idea how this works considering the Dragon was so big it Should’ve just swallowed him, and was so old that it never left it’s nest. Feel like this plot was concluded since the Dragon died but was ultimately left unexplained.

Overall, even though this was a slow read, I thought this was a very interesting book. Because of its numerous conflicts, the way it interwove these numerous stories, it was very complex and it tied itself up at the end. I feel like it was so subtle that it was very thought provoking, and I like the fact it had no big reveal. I’ll have to think on this book some more.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Organizing your story

I want to donate a technique I’ve been using that helps me write and focus on the story. (Mainly because I have a tendency to slow down and focus on the realism of the characters.)

Meet my standard format for outlines!

 Chapter #  Purpose  Conflict
 Here, I write the chapter number. And will outline each chapter in my book – this helps if you think of each chapter like a mini-story, each with its own purpose.  Write the purpose of each chapter here. What do you want to show your readers? How does the plot advance in this chapter?  I’m always worried about a slow story. If you’re reluctant to read, it’s not engaging your interest. What conflict is there to up the tension in the story?

I will do this for every book, every chapter. Lately, I’ve been using this to go back and edit my stories, but lately, I’ve also been using it while I’m writing (for longer stories). It helps me focus on the big picture.

Writing with Multiple POVs

When you think of a typical book, you think of a single-character, linear-timeline, which Allen Steele breaks completely when he wrote Arkwright. Containing 6 different perspectives, Steele covers at least 8 generations of Arkwright’s while following the trajectory of his novel. Refer to the genealogy below.

family tree

Note: It’s unknown how many generations were skipped before Nathan Arkwright II was born. Only that the Galactique landed during Dhani’s lifetime, near after Julian’s honeymoon, and it took nearly 300 years before the first Sanjay Arkwright generation. This is only an estimate from the book. 

I really enjoyed the non-singular character trajectory. I think it makes it a little more fun to write, since you get to cover so many more “mini” stories, but it’s definitely a break from the norm. That’s not to say it isn’t linear—it is. We move from past to present to future. But, at least it covers more than one main character, which I think was relatively done well. I know a little bit about all of them:

Nathan…the writer. 

Kate…the science journalist.

Ben…the engineer.

Matt…the lazy, nomad. 

Dhani…the physics teacher. 

It’s great to pair each of them with a profession and a strong personality because it makes them easier to keep track of, even with a novel that skips characters like this one. And I like the fact that it didn’t skip multiple generations but always traveled into the next one. This way it gave me someone concrete to remember while I expanded my character list. Overall, well done.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.

Stories inspire our future

Steele seems like a great last name for a science fiction writer. Just because it makes you think of metal, which is used to build star ships in space, which are a thing of the future, which for right now, we can only really dream about in books…See! We’ve come in a complete circle!

Steele is a full-time science fiction writer, originating from the south—Nashville, TN. And the fact that I find most interesting about him is this quote from his website: “In April, 2001, he testified before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives, in hearings regarding space exploration in the 21st century” (Allen M. Steele). This makes sense considering the end of his book, which I’m going to spoil before you read it.

“I like to believe that his stories inspired the voyages that brought us to this world, but I know that his were only a few of many. There were countless other visionaries like him, and all had faith in the future.”

With this, he opened the book and began to read The Galaxy Patrol. (332)

From this understanding, it was Steele’s stance was clear—he’s of the belief that science fiction writers are the inspiration for the engineers of the future, which is why I highly enjoyed the ending of this book. The whole time I’m reading, I’m basically watching the birth of the Galactique, the star ship that began the first extraterrestrial birth of our species. And the whole time I’m reading, I’m watching history come alive, skipping generation after generation as Steele skips me through the timeline to watch the most significant moments in Galactique and Arkwright’s history.

And it is Steele’s belief, the same for every Arkwright, that propels the plot of this novel: that we can make it to space and we can travel beyond Earth, if only we set our sights on the stars. This belief, or theme, is what makes this novel so enjoyable for me. Even though the journey itself is only somewhat entertaining, lulling at times, because the theme was so strong, so inherent  from beginning to end, it left me with a feeling of awe.

I think the only thing I can take away from this is to write from experience, and then to take that further until the whole story blows out of proportion, until what you get at the end is a book.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.

Peregrine

Having just finished All the Birds in the Sky, I feel like this should be a more momentous occasion. Especially—Spoiler Alert—after that last scene.

“You are,” the Tree said, “like me.”

“A distributed consciousness, yes,” Peregrine said. “Although your network is much larger and vastly more chaotic than mine. This may require…a rather ambitious firmware update. Stay tune.” The screen went dark.

Through this ending, Anders draws attention to the similarities between technology and magic. Both having a sort of network, one connected by magic, the other connected by internet. This shows how dissimilar the two societies communicate, and yet, it shows how alike they are, both working in the same way. By understanding how this book crosses genres, using fantasy and scifi elements, you can better understand how scientists can be religious and religiously devoted to their studies, how people can be devoted to explain the explainable and, at the same time, accept the unexplainable.

And yet, it was so slap in your face, so obvious, that I find a hard time being attached to this ending. Imagining a piece of technology attached to a tree? It was practically waving the theme in your face. And I found it hard to accept, especially since this if the first time of technology attaching to nature in the book. I would rather accept Peregrine—the know-it-all tablet and AI baby of witch Patricia and scientist Laurence—as the savior of humanity instead. Maybe since he’s already a cross breed?

I also didn’t really like how the timeline took these awkward jumps forward.

He would be doubting his relationship aloud with Serafina…

“This is weirding me out. I mean, I feel like our communication has sucked for, I don’t know, a month or so…”

“So…I’m not on probation then?”

…”I guess you are now.” (138)

And then all the sudden they’re on the equivalent of a ‘probation.’ How does one follow that logic? Maybe I’m just too easy going, but surely when someone voices their own doubts, you don’t punish them for it? Isn’t that a betrayal of trust and communication?

Then, we would go from Laurence dating Serafina…

But this was someone he’d known half his life, with whom he had this whole labyrinthine history. He could not screw this up. Plus Patricia might be used to crazy magic sex. (218)

To him and Patricia getting down and dirty. Isn’t that third base? They hadn’t even made it to one. And what happened to Laurence dating Serafina? I wanted some closure (or at least explanation) of what happened to the first relationship before he moved with a new one.

Overall, these were only minor hiccups to the story. Still disturbing—jolting you out of the story when you least expect it—but it’s not anything super bad. In this case, it was outweighed by the positives: creating realistic characters.

Truth was, Laurence only half paid attention to the amazing sight of these bright tropical birds devouring flowers, because he kept trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he had nearly erased a human being from existence…Plus when he tried to sleep, his heart did a circus drumroll as he remembered Priya’s mouth opening and closing.

Even now, sitting with Patricia on a rough horse blanket on the grass, Laurence kept bracing himself for her to say something—she knew full well what had happened to Priya, maybe even better than Laurence did, and she hadn’t said one judgmental word about it yet. She was probably just waiting for the right moment. (207).

What I particularly like about these paragraphs is that it shows how guilty Laurence feels for what he did, and yet not once does it say, ‘He felt guilty.’ Instead, Anders shows us how guilty he feels: re-imagining Priya in pain, going over the scene again and again; imagining he’s going to get punished, expecting that punishment. These are all the signs of a child who knows they committed an immoral act. And it was sooo much stronger than saying, ‘He felt guilty.’ I definitely want to practice this skill more because this is what made this book special for me. The emotions are so intense!

Anders, Charlie Jane. All the Birds in the Sky. New York, NY: Tor, 2016. Print.