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A More Diverse Universe: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Cover image of The Hundred Thousand KingdomsBook bloggers were the ones who put The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit Books, 2010) on my radar, so reading it for the A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour seemed like the perfect reason to move it to the top of the TBR list.

First in a trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms lays the foundation for an overarching story but also has a satisfying completeness in itself. It took me a little while to get hooked, but about halfway through, I realized why so many readers liked this book so much.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, as you might guess from the title, mentions multiple countries in the course of the story, all under the rule of the Arameri family of Amn, in the palace of Sky, in the city of Sky. The story is set many years after the Gods’ War, when one of three powerful gods vanquished the other two and the world changed for the humans living under the sway of the pale-skinned Arameri, who wield the power of the one remaining god, the Skyfather, also known as Bright Itempas.

Yeine, the main character and narrator of the story, is a nineteen-year-old warrior chieftain from the forested country of Darr, the child of a Darren father and an Amn mother, who was the exiled daughter of the ruling Arameri family. Yeine describes herself near the beginning of the book as “short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess.” When she is thrust into the thick of palace intrigue and succession squabbling right at the start of the book, no one is more surprised than she is.

It doesn’t take Yeine long to get her bearings. It took me a lot longer, what with all the skillful world-building going on and the backstory of world mythology that was common knowledge to Yeine but had to be told to the reader. (I’ve never been good at geography. Or mythology, for that matter. All those gods and who does what…) Themes of race, gender, slavery, wealth, power, and religion thread through the book, but are never allowed to take over. The strong plot and the ultimate bad boy love interest move the story along quickly, once the story gets going and as Yeine starts to understand more.

I haven’t read a lot of straightforward fantasy to compare The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to, so I’m not the best reviewer of this book, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms won the 2011 Locus Award for Best First Novel, so judges who are very familiar with the genre have recognized its merit. Readers looking for a fantasy with a strong female main character and detailed world-building should definitely give it a try.

Read the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here.

View the complete schedule for A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour hosted by Aarti at BookLust.

Nightlife in the Afterlife: Hereafter by Terri Bruce (Blog Tour)

Hereafter Blog Tour buttonIn Hereafter, an entertaining novel by first-time author Terri Bruce, 36-year-old Irene crashes her car driving home drunk after a night out with girlfriends and literally wakes up dead. It takes a little while for Irene to realize that she’s a ghost because she can still drive her car; her house in Salem, Mass., looks the same; her widowed mother still leaves annoying messages on Irene’s answering machine; and Irene has woken up wearing the same short, clingy, red dress from what seems like the night before.

But why can’t she remember anything after the big, harvest moon that looked like it was dead ahead on the road before her? Why did she wake up standing next to the car, not sitting behind the wheel? Why do vague memories of swirling water outside her car windows keep surfacing? Why didn’t anyone call the police to report a car parked on the side of the road by the river? And the biggest question of all – how could she have died before she’d done all the things she’d been meaning (vaguely) to do someday? Like grow up and stop acting like a teenager, for example.

As a ghost, Irene feels so much like herself that she finds it hard to accept that the afterlife can’t be the same as her old life (i.e. lots of hanging out in bars with friends) without all the downsides (e.g.  jobs, chores, family obligations, and hangovers.) Although Irene is someone who has to learn everything the hard way, as her father told her once, she luckily finds early on a good (though underage) friend in Jonah, a teenager from Irene’s neighborhood who has investigated theories of the afterlife and experimented enough with out-of-body experiences that he can see dead people like Irene. Mature and sensible, Jonah is like a 36-year-old in a 14-year-old’s body, while with Irene it’s more like the other way around.

Hereafter is a contemporary, paranormal fantasy that uses dark humor (also sarcasm, innovative insults, and ironic observations) to reflect on the serious topic of how best to live, and includes numerous factoids (mostly from Jonah) on beliefs about an afterlife in different cultures and at different times. There’s a bit of sexual tension but the author doesn’t go overboard with sex scenes, keeping readers interested instead with tight dialogue and nuggets gleaned from her extensive research. Readers looking for a lighthearted book that still touches on some serious themes or for a novel with fantasy elements that doesn’t feature a sexy vampire huntress or a paranormal detective agency might try Hereafter. Set in the fall in Salem and Boston, it would be an especially good one to read in September or October.

Author Terri Bruce has generously offered an international giveaway, with your choice of either a print copy or a e-book (in any format) of Hereafter. Giveaway runs through Sept. 10. Comments on this review are welcome but not necessary to enter the giveaway.

Click here to enter giveaway contest (Open internationally)

This is stop #6 on the Hereafter blog tour. The next stop is author Kristi Petersen Schoonover‘s blog, where Terri Bruce will be writing a guest post.

Check out Stops 1-5 for contests, other giveaways, and more info on Hereafter and author Terri Bruce:

8/13/12 Verbose Veracity HEREAFTER Excerpt Reading

8/14/12 Little Read Riding Hood Guest Post (Favorite Books w/Red Dresses) on the Cover) and Giveaway (copy of HEREAFTER)

8/15/12 Sonnet O’Dell Interview

8/16/12 I’m a Book Shark Guest Post (Top Ten Books w/Ghosts)  and Giveaway

8/17/12 Kelly A. Harmon Guest Post (Chinese Ghost Month) and The Writers’ Lens Blog Tour Writing Contest Start

For a list of all stops on the Hereafter blog tour, click here.

Hereafter
Eternal Press
August 1, 2012
eBook ISBN: 9781615727247
$7.95
Print ISBN: 9781615727254

Disclosure: I received a free e-galley of Hereafter from the author when I volunteered to participate in the Hereafter blog tour, but have also paid for a paperback copy from Barnes and Noble either for myself or to donate to the library so others can read it. (I haven’t decided which.)

Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?: Zombies vs. Unicorns (Audio)

I hope authors of young adult fiction who didn’t get invited to write a story for Zombies vs. Unicorns didn’t feel left out or unpopular. It seems the coolest young adult authors were recruited by editors Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier to contribute either a zombie or a unicorn story, depending on preference, for this anthology of short stories. Holly (Team Unicorn) and Justine (Team Zombie), on whose blogs the original argument took shape, contribute cheers and jeers before and after each story.
Listening to the razzing from the two co-editors on the Brilliance Audio edition, I kept picturing a boisterous party with Holly and Justine and cool authors Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Diana Peterfreund, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Scott Westerfeld, Naomi Novik, and other less-well-known authors (but who must be cool, because they were invited) all having a great time arguing over which make for better stories: zombies (disgusting creepy corpses, or powerful metaphors for the human condition) or unicorns (wimpy play ponies, or powerful mythical creatures.)
A female perspective is noticeable in many of the stories, but the stories should appeal to male fantasy readers, as well, and romance in the stories is not confined to heterosexuals. Many of the stories are darkly humorous – an immortal unicorn bent on suicide in one; a passel of adopted zombie children in another. The audience for the book is older teens, with graphic language and details in some of the stories, so this isn’t a good choice of audiobook for the family car trip.
I enjoyed most of the stories, but Meg Cabot’s story Princess Prettypants was my favorite of the humorous ones. It takes familiar elements of young adult chick lit (the girl with a cheating ex-boyfriend, the boy next door, the unpopular but faithful friend, the high school party in the house with no parents) and throws in a stately, live unicorn with a cringe-worthy name for Liz to deal with on top of having no car, no boyfriend, no money, and no invitation to the biggest party in town.
Professional narrators Ellen Grafton, Nick Podehl, Kate Rudd, Julia Whelan, and Phil Gigante read the stories, which is good, because, although the editors’ trash talk is amusing, you can definitely tell the difference when the professional voices take over.

Other opinions about the audio version of Unicorns vs. Zombies (all good):
Alaskan Bookie
The Opinionated Me
Presenting Lenore

Waiting on Wednesday — Clockwork Prince

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read selection” is:

Clockwork Prince

Cassandra Clare

Publication Date: December 6

Second in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices sequence, this picks up where Clockwork Angel left off. Young adult urban fantasy can start to seem repetitive after a while, but Cassandra Clare (a Massachusetts resident, BTW) is the leader of the current pack in creating smart, strong characters and casually blending breezy humor with tense action scenes. Infernal Devices is a prequel to The Mortal Instruments, set in Victorian London, and adds an element of steampunk to the mix.
If you start with City of Bones now, you can read the four books that come before Clockwork Prince and be all caught up by December 6th.

Waiting for the next book now: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

If you’ve read The Magicians by Lev Grossman (reviewed by me in 2009) you can expect the same high level of humor, action, cool-nerd references, and weird magical adventures from the sequel, The Magician King, along with the same underlying levels of both deep-seated sadness at the human condition and giddy awareness of the preciousness of life.
For King Quentin, life is simple in Fillory when the story opens. The magical land described in the beloved children’s books is where he had always wanted to be. But the pleasures of a settled existence and royal routines (waving to the Fillorians from the balcony, sitting ceremonially on one of the four thrones, etc.) have started to wane, especially when he remembers the dangers he faced before settling down to rule over Fillory. Plus, Queen Julia (always a bit strange and a little rough around the edges) is exhibiting signs of restlessness. This worries Quentin, who cares for her in his self-absorbed way. When unusual events start occurring beyond the castle walls, Quentin decides to do something. King Eliot and Queen Janet — content to remain as they are– only protest for form’s sake when Quentin and Julia set off on a voyage. The voyage turns into a quest, which turns into a life-or-death struggle for the future of the magical kingdom.
Alternating with the present is the story of Julia’s past and her dangerously unorthodox route to magic  that led to her being scarily more powerful than the others. (Unlike Quention, Eliot, and Janet, she’s not a Brakebills College of Magic graduate.)
You definitely need to read The Magicians before this one to get the references to the earlier book. Also, be aware that this is a book for adults and there is adult content. It is not the book to buy for your ten-year-old looking for something to read after Harry Potter. If you liked American Gods by Neil Gaiman or Patrick Rothfuss‘s Kingkiller Chronicles, but skipped over The Magicians when it came out, you might want to get started on it now. This sequence of Magician novels seems like a sleeper that should slowly become a cult classic, but more fortunately for the author, it’s well on it’s way to being an open secret.
Read an excerpt of The Magician King here.
Read the Boston Globe review here.
Other opinions about The Magician King (mostly good):
Entomology of a Bookworm
Escape Reality, Read Fiction
Jenn’s Bookshelves
The Ranting Dragon
Uncertain Principles

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a book that I want to hand to everyone in the library, saying, “You’ve got to read this book!”
Since The Wise Man’s Fear is a sequel, though, I’d actually have to say, “First you’ve got to read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and then you’ve got to read this book!” People are going to think I’m crazy to recommend two gigantic books from the fantasy and science fiction section (kiss of death for a vast swathe of readers) even before they realize from the series title (in tiny print on the cover), Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2, that there is at least one more gigantic book to come.
I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the fantasy genre, so when I loved The Name of the Wind so much, I did wonder if it was derivative of other series and just seemed fresh and original to me because I’m not a Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, or Stephen R. Donaldson reader. But today I found a lengthy online discussion of all the connections and hidden meanings in the Kingkiller Chronicle thus far (most of which I probably missed, rushing through the books). The discussion is led by author and Kingkiller fan, Jo Walton, and her novel Among Others (reviewed here, March 2011) proves without a doubt that she knows her science fiction and fantasy.
The Kingkiller Chronicle is a humanistic fantasy; there are faeries, demons, archanists, and alchemists, but no epic battle scenes with giant moving trees or ogres fighting elves. Most of it is set up as Kvothe, the hero, telling the story of his life (which has been exaggerated, rumored about,  and mythologized) to a chronicler traveling through.
Sounds boring, and believe me, I thought so too, when I first realized with The Name of the Wind that I was going to be listening to a storyteller for over 700 pages. But Patrick Rothfuss makes Kvothe into a great storyteller; you forget you’re listening to a story, and become engrossed in it.
To be realistic, I know I won’t talk everyone into reading these books, so I’ll just say this: Try them if you’re looking for an absorbing read. Maybe, if you liked The Passage by Justin Cronin, but thought the good vs. evil tension could have been a little more subtle, or if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, but would be willing to forgo the elements of English historical fiction, you should pick up The Name of the Wind.
Perfect for an extended summer vacation read!

Waiting on Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

This week, my pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is a YA book:

 

 

City of Fallen Angels
By Cassandra Clare
Publication Date: April 5

 

 

Even though I don’t like photographs of characters on the covers of fantasy books, I guess I’m not the only one waiting for this 4th book in the Mortal Instruments sequence. The follow-up to City of Glass is #3 on Barnes & Noble tonight. I’m going to call my local independent bookstore and ask them to hold a copy for me.

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