Saturday, December 31, 2011

In My Mailbox #17: Christmas and New Year's Edition

The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier (thanks, Dream!)

All of these came thanks to My Bookish Ways:
Yarn by Jon Armstrong
Zendegi by Greg Egan
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Purchased from various local book and antique stores:
Rork! by Avram Davidson
The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow

From Random Buzzers:
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier related!
The Female American by Unca Eliza Winkfield
Penguin Island by Anatole France
The Clock of the Centuries by Albert Robida
Brides of Eden by Linda Crew
Excavating Occaneechi Town by R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr. et al (CD-ROM)
Graceling (Seven Kingdoms #1) by Kristin Cashore
The Lioness and Her Knight (Squire's Tales #7) by Gerald Morris
I just love the cover for this one! (In an "lol" way.) It's Victorian-illustrated faces on photographed bodies with a rather surprised-looking lion standing by - Photoshop, anyone?

I also got an awesome trombone ninja shirt. (Guess which instrument I play.)

How was your holiday?

Best Reads of 2011 (and some other stuff)

Well, you had to see it coming - the ubiquitous list of best books of the year. Mine happens to be divided into various categories, and, since I an indecisive person and like just about every book I read anyway, most are ties. Months read are noted.

Best historical fiction:
Montmaray Journals series by Michelle Cooper (Jun/Jul)
I love the interworkings of this series. The plotline seems so simple and innocent, a princess tale, but Cooper makes the story complex by incorporating the political facts of WWII.
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite (Sep)
Creepy, multi-generational Appalachian ghost story, magnificently written.

Best sci-fi:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Aug)
Both my brother and I loved this one. It's just such a fun read.
A Chemical Fire by Brian Martinez (Jul)
A zombie apocalypse tale with a really cool twist.
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma (Jun)
I loved the writing, the concept, the characters, the plot...

Best fantasy:
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott (Jun)
A unique, exceptional version of the Cinderella tale.
Welcome to Bordertown by various (Jun)
This, my introduction to urban fantasy, made me want to find Bordertown.
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (Mar)
I adored the characters and setting, and I can't wait for the sequel!

Best YA dystopia:
Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Jan)
Might I say that Lord of the Flies + Ape and Essence + YA is the best combination?
Blood Red Road by Moira Young (May)
I didn't expect to love this one as much as I did.
Memento Nora by Angie Smibert (Mar)
Short and sweet (you know, for a dystopia).

Best YA:
Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block (Sep)
It's so lyrical and sad, even almost made me cry.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Aug)
So wacky and crazy and weird and awesome...
Tighter by Adele Griffin (Jun)
I didn't much care for James' original story, but this was my most surprising read.

Best children's/MG:
Fearless by Tim Lott (Jul)
Excellent dystopia for younger readers.

Best classics:
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Jul)
I didn't expect to like this one as much as I did, either.
Beowulf trans. by Sean Heaney (Jan)
My favorite class read this year, mostly because Heaney's translation is awesome.

Best world literature:
An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy (Mar)
1) Roy is an amazing novelist. 2) This novel is alternately sad and kinda happy.
After Midnight by Irmgard Keun (Nov)
Excellent tale of the breakdown of innocence in Nazi Germany.

Best I'm-not-really-sure-what-genre:
Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne (Nov)
Okay, so really I just loved the whole commune-centered thing.
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (Dec)
So weird, and I swear the characters were insane, but it was funny and enlightening.
Wunderkind by Nikolai Grozni (Sep)
Just read my review of it.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (Feb)
Magical realism is weird, and my liking of the book grew after I finished reading it.

Worst read:
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard (Oct)
Whiny, too-"mature" teenagers in a preppy novel trying to pass itself off as a mystery.
Wildefire by Karsten Knight (Jul)
In retrospect, I liked this less than when I read it. See above complaints about Shepard's book but insert fantasy instead of mystery and add a plot that goes way too many directions.

Best movie:
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec)
So maybe this is the only movie I've watched this year and still have memory of. It was still epic and awesome, and the characters were great.

Best show:
Once Upon a Time (Oct-Dec)
I possibly just love this because it's a dark twist on all the classic fairytales, but I still think it's great.

I have also just discovered the wonders of Google Reader, which I will now use for keeping up with the blogs I follow. It seems more flexible for staying up-to-date with recent posts when you're busy with other stuff. Also, I've now added the RSS feed button my sidebar in the vicinity of the GFC and e-mail apps.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fiction - The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Publisher: Harper
Date: January 3, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 303
Reading time: one day

Edging towards fifty, Armaiti has just found out she has terminal cancer. Her last wish is for one last get-together with her three best friends from college - Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta. College students in 1970s India, the once-inseparable group of four were Socialists, campaigning for a better India that they eventually moved away from in marriage and family. The friends have changed over the past few decades and each harbor their own little secrets about their college days and aftermaths, and gathering the other three to come to America, where Armaiti moved, may prove more difficult than thought and open up questions of friendship, love, and the past.

The World We Found is a great read on several levels: a chick-lit novel exploring friendship, an examination of the changes in Indian society between the 1970s and now, a middle-age retrospection on youth. The four women have moved into diverse lives. Armaiti married (and divorced) a wealthy American; Laleh has a comfortable life with her Indian husband; Kavita, an architect, is finally ready for her friends to meet her lesbian lover; Nishta's once-Socialist husband has become a conservative Muslim who keeps his wife tethered to the home.

Despite the prolific dialogue and range of high emotions, Umrigar's writing is always smooth, never stilted as is a common fallacy in such novels. I was surprised at how easy a read this was for me due to the graceful flow of the story. Each facet of the plot is examined equally and adequately, and evident behind the heartwarming friendship tale is the exploration of Indian society, Hindu-Muslim relations, and the effect of the past on the present. The only thing in which the novel disappointed me was the way a certain situation was handled, by pitting religious stereotypes onto a Muslim, though this was duly discussed.

Nishta's side of the story reminded me of the plot of a Victorian "New Woman" novel - female is somehow restrained by a repressive society, comes to a crisis point, which path will she decide to take? Interesting how a common motif of American literature a century ago occurs now in a novel about Muslim India.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

One-Year Blogoversary and Giveaway!

Happy one-year blogoversary to me! I started this blog exactly one year ago to spread awareness of my favorite reads and opinions on literature (and to get free books :) ). Some quick stats: I currently have 247 GFC followers and have posted 110 full reviews. But now, for what everyone's really interested in...the giveaway!

There will be TWO winners of the giveaway. The first will win his or her top two choices of books, and the second will win his or her top choice of one book. All books are in paperback. Since I will be ordering the prizes from the Book Depository, this will also be my first international giveaway!

The prizes: Winners can choose their prizes from a list of some of my favorite reads for this year, listed below. I tried to pick from a fairly wide variety, including YA, adult, sci-fi/fantasy, contemporary, classics, historical fiction, etc. Titles link to my reviews.

The Mabinogion
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
Winners could also choose the sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile (preorder).
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Grendel by John Gardner
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite
After Midnight by Irmgard Keun
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kis
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (preorder)
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
A Chemical Fire by Brian Martinez
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (preorder)
Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Note: Since I am on a bit of a budget, I reserve the right to change any of the prize choices should their prices suddenly change.

To enter: Fill out the form below. Following is not required but will give you extra points. Giveaway is open internationally (to where the Book Depository ships) until January 29 (1/29/12).
Psst...if you enter after 1/29 but before the winners are announced, it's likely that I won't notice you entered after the cut-off time. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

YA Sci-Fi - Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Date: January 3, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 387
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. 

My review: I had really high expectations of Cinder, and, for the most part, these were definitely met. Cinder is a retelling of the Cinderella story, but I quickly forgot to expect the basic plot of the tale as I was engrossed by the sci-fi story Meyer tells. The outline of Cinder is the same as the fairytale, but all the details are unique and creative. The novel proved to be a quick, easy read, but it was quite enjoyable and I was rarely willing to stop reading.

I was slightly disappointed, however, by the overall writing, which struck me as standard YA writing, nothing special. It took me a while to find Cinder's world believable, especially when the Lunars were introduced; there was generally more an aura of unrealistic fantasy than one of science fiction depicting the future. By the end of the book, though, I was thoroughly engrossed in Cinder's universe. I liked the ending, which is satisfying but open-ended, and I'm eagerly anticipating what the next book in the series will bring!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011 Readathon: Midpoint

Well, I'm only half a day behind on my intended reading because I'd planned to read one book a day, with two days devoted to the longest, Bright and Distant Shores. For when I'm tired of reading the same book all day, I've also added The Land That Time Forgot to the mix because I'm better at reading older novels in small chunks spread out over days.

Ten Tea Parties
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

I'm also 1/3 of the way through The Land That Time Forgot.

Today and tomorrow I'm reading Bright and Distant Shores, Thursday is The World We Found, Friday is Everneath, and Saturday I'm off visiting family. Whew, this is going to be a lot of reading...

Fiction: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Publisher: Algonquin
Date: 1991
Format: paperback
Acquired: borrowed
Read: for Spindale Library's Teen Book Club
Pages: 290
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: The Garcías—Dr. Carlos (Papi), his wife Laura (Mami), and their four daughters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—belong to the uppermost echelon of Spanish Caribbean society, descended from the conquistadores. Their family compound adjoins the palacio of the dictator’s daughter. So when Dr. García’s part in a coup attempt is discovered, the family must flee. They arrive in New York City in 1960 to a life far removed from their existence in the Dominican Republic. Papi has to find new patients in the Bronx. Mami, far from the compound and the family retainers, must find herself. Meanwhile, the girls try to lose themselves—by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating being caught between the old world and the new, trying to live up to their father’s version of honor while accommodating the expectations of their American boyfriends. Acclaimed writer Julia Alvarez’s brilliant and buoyant first novel sets the García girls free to tell their most intimate stories about how they came to be at home—and not at home—in America.

My review: It took me a while to get into this book - the first third, comprising one of the three chronological parts into which the novel is divided. I couldn't identify with the four now-adult García girls, and I couldn't see how this examination of Hispanic-American life led to the girls' dysfunctional marriages and occasional bouts of mental instability. But How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is told in a series of chapters, rather like short stories, that go backwards in time. Alvarez's novel seems not to trace the daughters' "loss" of their cultural identity in American society but rather retrace their pasts back to their early childhood homeland.

I found the second and third parts of the novel much more enjoyable than the first. They reminded me of a modern, ethnic version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, telling important vignettes of the daily life of a cultural subset. As with Betty Smith's earlier novel, Alvarez's stories also create an emotional pull the farther one reads. The organization of the book into almost individually cohesive short stories only adds to this effect. I believe I most enjoyed the novel for its historical details as well as those of Dominican society. I  was particularly surprised by the patriarchal society from which the Garcías emerged, while I think I would enjoy Alvarez's newer novel In the Time of the Butterflies even more because it focuses on Trujillo's 1960s dictatorship.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Historical Fiction: Iago by David Snodin

Publisher: Henry Holt
Date: January 3, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 445
Reading time: three days

Following the violent deaths of, among others, the Moor and Desdemona, the villain Iago escapes his Cypriot prison only to be brought to Venice. Going head-to-head with Annibale Malipiero, the chief inquisitor of the city, Iago embarks on a journey across Italy with a young prisoner and two other unlikely companions. Malipiero seeks to unlock the mysteries of such a murderer's mind, while Iago is willingly to do anything it takes to become free of the control of others in this continuation of Shakespeare's tragedy Othello.

Though I found this novel generally slow in plot development, I never considered it to be boring. Snodin does more than just examine one of Shakespeare's most notorious villains by writing a historical novel which also tells of life in Renaissance Italy, at times dealing with political and familial issues, education, war, love, and religion. I found myself just as interested in fifteen-year-old Gentile Stornello's adventures as I was with the psychological evaluation of Iago's motives and vicious deeds, which was good because of the prominent role Gentile plays in Snodin's tale. I have never read Othello and expected more time and depth to be invested in the examination of Iago, but I was not displeased with this book and quite enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

The above picture is of scherenschnitte, a German papercutting craft I do for fun. :)
Merry Christmas! I hope your holiday goes well!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nonfiction (History) - Ten Tea Parties by Joseph Cummins

Full title: Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot
Publisher: Quirk
Date: January 17, 2012
Format: hardback
Acquired: from GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 214
Reading time: ten days

From GoodReads: Every kid knows the story of 1773’s Boston Tea Party, in which colonists ambushed three British ships and dumped 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. But do you know the story of the New Jersey Tea Party (December 1773)? How about the Annapolis Tea Party (October 1774) or the Charleston Tea Party (November 1774)? Revolutionary America was full of these spirited protests—and Ten Tea Parties is the first book to chronicle all of them. Author and historian Joseph Cummins begins with the history of the East India Company (the biggest global corporation of the 18th century) and its staggering financial losses during the Boston Tea Party (more than $1 million worth of tea in today’s money). From there we travel to Philadelphia, where 8,000 colonists gathered on Christmas Day threatening to tar and feather the captain of a ship. Then we set sail for New York City, North Carolina, Maine, and other unexpected destinations. This gifty volume of popular history concludes with a discussion of how Americans have returned again and again to the tea party as a symbol of political protest. 

My review: I must admit, even as a history buff I'd only heard of the Boston, Edenton, and Charleston tea parties, so this book proved enlightening. Cummins places the tea parties in the context of the greater issues of the time - Britain's post-Seven Years' War economic problems, Parliament's taxation of the colonies, and the East India Company's monopoly and bail-out by the British government. He draws some interesting parallels with America's current economic and political situation, too. Also important is how the tea parties, though performed by separate groups sometimes months or even over a year apart, were a colonies-wide movement that served to help unite many of the American colonists against British rule.

Ten Tea Parties is not scholarly-written, nor does it claim to be. There is a bibliography in the back and some primary sources are quoted, but there are no footnotes or other indications as to where, exactly, information came from. Cummins writes in a way that is easily understandable to both academics and the general public, and the information he presents in the book is generally concise and does not contain an overload of details. Cummins obviously did his research, but, fortunately, he did not attempt to squish all of it into this one short book as some historians have been wont to do.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011 Readathon: Start

I have a bunch of books I should have read months ago, so what better time to get caught up than the end of the year? Here's the list:

Iago by David Snodin (finished 12/24) my review
Ten Tea Parties by Joseph Cummins (finished 12/23) my review
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (finished 12/25) my review
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (finished 12/27) my review
Everneath by Brodi Ashton
Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith (200/470 pages)
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (finished 12/29) my review

Added book: The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs (350/420 pages)

Can I read all these books in a little over a week? Let's find out...

Fantasy: The Night Circus by Erin Morgen

Publisher: Doubleday
Date: September 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher's giveaway
Read: for my own enjoyment (before my friend could steal the book)
Pages: 387
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

My review: The Night Circus is an enchanting novel, with engaging prose to match its magical subject. As soon as I would start reading it every day, I could never tear myself away from the plot, and I often lost track of time. I loved the romance between Celia and Marco, which is slow in developing and does not occupy the majority of the novel. I was a bit worried about the progress of the plot compared to the characters' ages, but Morgenstern took care of that. Besides the enchanting quality of the story, what I loved most about this book was its complexity. Celia's and Marco's involvement in the circus is not a coincidence, and it unexpectedly pulls many others into the tangled arena gradually woven by the magicians. The only things I didn't much like about The Night Circus were 1) it took a while for me to actually want to pick up the book and read (though I was always enchanted as soon as I did) and 2) I felt like the mechanics of the magic were vague and relatively undeveloped compared to everything else in the novel. Ultimately, I'm afraid, not much will stick with me of The Night Circus, though it was quite an enjoyable read at the time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fiction - Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Publisher: Riverhead
Date: January 12, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 300
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: The rural town of Stockton, New York, is famous for nothing: No one was born there, no one died there, nothing of any historical import at all has ever happened there, which is why Solomon Kugel, like other urbanites fleeing their pasts and histories, decided to move his wife and young son there. To begin again. To start anew. But it isn't quite working out that way. His ailing mother stubbornly holds on to life, and won't stop reminiscing about the Nazi concentration camps she never actually suffered through. To complicate matters further, some lunatic is burning down farmhouses just like the one he bought. And when, one night, Kugel discovers history - a living, breathing, thought-to-be-dead specimen of history - hiding upstairs in his attic, bad quickly becomes worse.

My review: This is a weird, wacky book, but I totally loved it. I loved Auslander's writing, which is slightly cynical but often funny. I loved the characterizations, even though I'm pretty sure half the characters could be diagnosed with various forms of insanity. I loved the whole concept of the novel, which is basically examining the hold past events, even ones we never could have experienced, can have on our lives. I'm not Jewish and my German-American ancestry goes back way too far to be affected by the legacy of the Holocaust, but I  could completely see the position from which Auslander is writing.

I must admit, I skipped to the ending and skimmed over the last few pages before I finished the book. Surprisingly, I think knowing the outcome actually helped me discover the irony of the build-up to the climax, an irony which is at the root of the novel's title. For once, being an impatient reader was a positive, because I doubt that I would have caught this meaning without knowing the conclusion beforehand. Anyway, Hope: A Tragedy provided a great read for the close of this year, one which I believe is going to stick in my mind for a long time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

YA Fiction: The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

Full title: The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold
Publisher: Joanna Cotler Books (HarperCollins)
Date: 2000
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased from
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 229
Reading time: nine days (one for every story)

This is Francesca Lia Block's book of "fractured" fairy tales. By this, I mean they are very, very fractured, rampant with unfulfilled longings, betrayals, lost innocence, brutality, drugs, and even murder. These aren't your ordinary happily-ever-after tales. Bad things happen, the worst sides of human nature are unlocked, and yet - there is some hope, healing, and love.

I probably should not have read this so soon after finishing Psyche in a Dress, because these tales seem to lack some of the raw, lyrical power I found in the first Francesca Lia Block novel I read. I kept wishing the stories would continue past their endings so I could see how everything really turned out, not just the final conclusion to the climax. Still, these nine fractured tales are enthralling in similar ways for Block's unique writing style and ability to open up some of the worst issues that can be faced by contemporary teens and young adults.

"Snow": This first story didn't thrill me very much. It seemed to be primarily concerned with the loss of childhood innocence, with growing up, though the revelation Snow reaches in the end about love is so much more realistic than the common view.

"Tiny": Also concerned with love, I found this one surprisingly cute, at least insofar as I can remember.

"Glass": So lonesome, but it has a nice message and ends well.

"Charm": Sad. The basic plot is similar to Psyche in a Dress, with the ending, fortunately, resolving in healing for the broken women abused by society.

"Wolf": This was one of the more realistically-written, rather than lyrical, stories, yet for some reason I found the conclusion to be harder to grasp than most of the others.

"Rose": I'm not sure what fairy tale this one is based off of, but it's basically a tale of friendship and how it changes through a blooming love for another. Everything in the world must change one day, no matter how much we wish it wouldn't...

"Bones": This was, by far, my favorite chapter of the book. I'm unfamiliar with the tale of Bluebeard and expected it to be another healing-through-hard-won-love story, not how it actually turned out. I thought it was one of Block's better story developments, as the ending was completely unexpected, in true fractured-tale fashion.

"Beast": This was my other favorite story. The tale is almost exactly the same as the Disney movie version until the ending, which is one of Block's actually-realistic-to-life love stories.

"Ice": I didn't quite grasp the point of this story. It dealt with love and betrayal, but I never figured out which fairy tale it was retelling or what its message was.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In My Mailbox #17: Christmas Break!!

You have no idea how ridiculously ecstatic I am to have made it to Christmas break. Tough semester and all that; I even have a case of the finals week acne. To celebrate my vacation, I'm in the midst of Ten Tea Parties and Hope: A Tragedy, two books I got this week for review. The former is interesting, the latter is very enjoyable in a somewhat insane way. More on these later.

Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot by Joseph Cummins (GoodReads First Look)
I'm surprised I beat my mom to this one - we're both history buffs and have only heard of two of the tea parties, Charleston and Boston.

Taft 2012 by Jason Heller (publisher)
Ironically, this arrived on the same day as Ten Tea Parties from the same publisher, Quirk.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
It's unlike anything I expected, but I'm loving it. Quotable, kind of weird, and funny in a slightly cynical way.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (publisher)
This just came and I am soooooo excited!!! I wasn't even expecting a copy and this totally made my day!

And I have an early Christmas present from one of my friends, the mega Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe.

Macbooks don't take very good photos. Sorry. Pippi doesn't seem to care, though.

Question: If you are given a copy of a book you already have, what do you do with it? (Assuming you can't return it to a bookstore.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blog Tour Review: Eden by Tony Monchinski

Series: Eden #1
Publisher: Gallery Books/Permuted Press
Date: December 6, 2011 (2008)
Format: paperback
Acquired: from Gallery and Pocket Books Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 307
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: Seemingly overnight the world transforms into a barren wasteland ravaged by plague and overrun by hordes of flesh-eating zombies. A small band of desperate men and women stand their ground in a fortified compound in what had been Queens, New York. They've named their sanctuary Eden. Harris--the unusual honest man in this dead world--races against time to solve a murder while maintaining his own humanity. Because the danger posed by the dead and diseased mass clawing at Eden's walls pales in comparison to the deceit and treachery Harris faces within.

My review: In some ways I enjoyed this book more than I expected and in other ways I did not. I found that I don't like the gore in your typical zombie novel. People getting their guts ripped out, being dismembered, or otherwise being ingested by the living dead is just not for me. Also, I expected a bit more social commentary or something rather than just an all-action story. There was some of this, but it remained relatively hidden. Some more came out at the end, which, as with so many series, is what actually compels me to find the next book. I did enjoy the characterizations. They were complex - some were never even fully explained - and well-developed. I found Harris' characterization as a tough survivor but still committed to living well and pursuing lasting relationships refreshing from many other similar novels, too. Though I was at times a bit confused with the nonlinear storyline, flashing between characters, events, and dates every chapter, I thought it added more depth to the development of the overall plot. I'm definitely looking forward to finding out more about this zombie apocalypse and its survivors in the sequel, Crusade.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

In My Mailbox #17

Well, I had hoped to be posting a lot more to the blog recently, but finals week is next week and I've been swamped with schoolwork. Christmas break, maybe? I have a huge stack of ARCs which need to be reviewed...

For review:
Eden by Tony Monchinski (Gallery and Pocket Book Tours)
Hey! I have a giveaway for this up here.
Iago by David Snodin (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

From Random Buzzers:
Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) by Tamora Pierce
Hmmm, a duplicate copy! Another giveaway at some point?

Thanks very much to Lizzy's Literary Life for these wins:
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
The Devil's Elixir by E.T.A. Hoffmann

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sci-Fi: Eruption by Harry Turtledove

Series: Supervolcano #1
Publisher: Roc
Date: December 6, 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 420
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: A supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park sends lava and mud flowing toward populated areas and clouds of ash drifting across the country. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world...

My review: The above blurb makes this first book of a new series sound incredibly thrilling, but I spent the entire novel wondering when things were going to get exciting. The plot seemed more concerned with the central character, Colin, and his relationships with his new girlfriend, Kelly the geologist, his ex-wife, and his three adult kids. Also thrown in is Colin's daughter's ex-boyfriend, a Classics doctoral candidate. Sorry, but domestic drama cannot hold my interest for 400+ pages of what was touted as a sci-fi thriller.

The concept of the novel is fascinating. I love science fiction that poses various scenarios of how current events and concerns, both societal and environmental, could turn out. A novel dealing with the potential catastrophic results of the Yellowstone supervolcano erupting is right up my alley. Too bad the book contained far more irrelevant content than commentary on the supervolcano's implications. It seemed like the eruption took the back burner to most of what else was going on in people's lives, even when the Midwest was coated in carcinogenic ash. Harry Turtledove does a good job distributing his characters throughout the country where readers can see a full view of the effects of the eruption - in now not-so-sunny California, in a Kansas refugee camp, in blizzard-y Maine, on a plane forced into a split-second emergency landing. I think part of the domestic fluff was just to show that, despite the catastrophe, people were adapting and trying to go about their daily lives, but really, more post-apocalyptic content would have been wonderful. Maybe it will appear in the rest of the series, but I don't think I'll wait around to see.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

MG/YA Mystery: The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock

Series: The Boy Sherlock Holmes #5
Publisher: Tundra Books
Date: September 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 220
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Summer 1869, and Sherlock Holmes and his friend Irene celebrate her sixteenth birthday by attending the theater to watch a celebrated magician make a real dragon appear on stage. It is the London sensation. Sherlock and Irene meet the magician, Alistair Hemsworth – just as he is arrested for the murder of his rival, The Wizard of Nottingham. It seems that traces of the missing Wizard’s blood and his spectacles were found in Hemsworth’s secret studio. Hemsworth has a motive: not only is the Wizard his rival, but he also caused a scandal when he lured Hemsworth’s wife away. But is Hemsworth guilty? Sherlock has his doubts, and soon, so does the reader.

My review: I am unfamiliar with the rest of this series but had no difficulties with jumping into its latest installment. The action is fast-paced and the mystery intriguing, though I had parts of it figured out long before the final denouement. I enjoyed connecting Peacock's characters and details with those of Arthur Conan Doyle's life and writings. Overall, though, I didn't much like the novel. The plotline seemed to be missing some essential piece for coherence, with the detective process and final climax coming off as rushed. The punctuation errors and overuse of ellipses in my finished copy did little to impress me, either. The Dragon Turn is a nice read for a slightly younger audience, perhaps, but it does little for older readers used to better writing and more complex development.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

German Lit Month: Grimm's Fairy Tales

Publisher: Avenel Books (not the same edition as the lovely cover to the left)
Editor: Lily Owens
Date: 1981
Format: hardback
Acquired: parents' book
Read: for German Lit Month

One last German book for this month, though this isn't a complete review because I'm nowhere near finishing the book yet. 215 tales at about five a week is going to take much longer than a month to finish! However, I am definitely enjoying the stories. I expected them to be somewhat dry and boring (early 19th century literature has been known to do that), but the translation is very readable, great even for younger children. I'm also having fun analyzing the tales a bit, pulling out which are cautionary, which focus on morality, and which are probably meant to be just entertaining. I'm wondering if the "good servant" motif in several of the stories is perhaps a throwback to feudalism - obey your master and do what is best for him (whether or not he actually knows it), and you shall be infinitely rewarded (a bit of a pipe dream for serfs). I was also delightfully surprised to find at least one story that has been repeated in the Anglo-Appalachian "Jack tales," the one about a guy killing "seven [insects] with a whack" and then having to outsmart all the more malevolent beings others want him to kill based on his supposed physical skill. I've run into several other familiar tales, too.

Normally, by this point in reading a book at a painfully slow rate, I would have given up, but the Brothers Grimms' collection of tales is far too entertaining for that. I'll just keep plugging along at it...maybe I'll have the book finished by summer. :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

German Lit Month: Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann

Full title: Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns
Publisher: Univ. of California Press
Translator: H.T. Lowe-Porter
Date: 1990 (1939)
Format: paperback
Acquired: BookMooch
Read: for German Lit Month
Pages: 453
Reading time: one month

From GoodReads: Thomas Mann, fascinated with the concept of genius and with the richness of German culture, found in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe the embodiment of the German culture hero. Mann's novelistic biography of Goethe was first published in English in 1940. Lotte in Weimar is a vivid dual portrait—a complex study of Goethe and of Lotte, the still-vivacious woman who in her youth was the model for Charlotte in Goethe's widely-read The Sorrows of Young Werther. Lotte's thoughts, as she anticipates meeting Goethe again after forty years, and her conversations with those in Weimar who knew the great man, allow Mann to assess Goethe's genius from many points of view. 

My review: I can't believe I actually finished reading this. Lotte in Weimar is probably one of the most boring books I've ever read, mostly because I managed to finish it where similar books would have been back on the shelf weeks before. My reason: I don't do well with dialogue, and the novel is pretty much all dialogue, for all four hundred fifty pages. Dear Thomas Mann: It's not you, it's me. So sorry I didn't like your book that much.

It wasn't all bad and boring, though. Thomas Mann is a great writer and did a really nice job with telling the tale of Lotte's later life and dealings with Goethe, it's just that my teenage mind kept zoning out of the interminable discussions. I'm sure a seventy-page view of Goethe's inner mind is fascinating, but I can't focus on his ramblings for that long. I was able to identify some with Lotte, though she's several decades older than myself. The feeling of love with another person being avoided by a few twists of everyday fate, the wondering of the what-could-have-been, the longing to see and talk to the other person some, even if just within your own mind, can be universal across ages. I also caught the reflection upon the sacrifices other people make to the "genius" of an author, which reminded me of Sofia Tolstoy's diary. Mann's Goethe bore similarities in temperament and "genius" to Sofia Tolstoy's images of her famous husband, which makes me glad that Lotte did not further engage herself with Goethe and end up in a position similar to that of Sofia. The novel also re-emphasized my dislike of the whiny, selfish Werther of Goethe's novel and how, whatever his immediate desires, Werther's want to be with Lotte could never have ended up well in the long run. So, Thomas Mann, I will happily revisit your novel later when I feel more up to the task of dealing with all that talking.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In My Mailbox #16

For review:
Everneath by Brodi Ashton (publisher)
Arcadia by Lauren Groff (publisher)

From Random Buzzers:
Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) by Tamora Pierce

Purchased from the library:
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

My teen book club heard that the newly-opened Ollie's in our area had cheap books, so we took a field trip there last week. Of course, I had to buy something:
Possession by Elana Johnson
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

The book club also chose a new book to begin reading:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Nonfiction: Burmese Refugees by TF and TLS Rhoden

Publisher: Digital Lycanthrope
Date: August 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Member Giveaways
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 128
Reading time: one month

From GoodReads: The misrule of the Burmese military junta continues to be the main catalyst of refugees in Southeast Asia today. In this collection of letters, learn about the true stories of people who have fled from that regime. All of the accounts are written by the refugees themselves and explain how they became asylum seekers, what life is like in the camps, and what they envision for their future. These stories document persons from the 8888 generation, the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and various ethnic struggles. This book contains the narratives of thirty one diverse individuals—all of them united by the simple desire to have a more representative government in their homeland. 

My review: Burmese Refugees provides important insights into the individual lives of people fleeing Burma for a variety of political, cultural, and religions reasons. What I found most eye-opening about the narratives were both the continual presence of militaristic governments in a world moving increasingly towards democracy and some of the relatively Westernized aspects of Burmese society. Many of the refugees had attended university in Burma, owned video stores, worked with computers. Their hope is inspiring, with most of the refugees looking forward to resettling in another country and restarting their educations and careers or hoping the political situation in Burma will become more representative so that they may return to their home country. Overall, though, I thought the refugees' narratives were too short. I realize that they were written as English exercises for a class, but I feel like my understanding of the situations people were facing would have been increased even more had additional details of their stories been told than just what could be contained within a few scant pages.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

German Lit Month: Those Other Guys (and Girls)

So far this month, I've covered two Weimar-era works, with Thomas Mann and the Brothers Grimm yet to come. But what about those other German works of literature I've read before? (Some of these I read years ago, so my memory may be rusty...)

Faust, Part One by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808)
When I read this, it became one of my favorite books. I now have a love for all things Faustian-myth inspired, like the English versions of The Monk and The Demon of Sicily, the film Phantom of the Paradise, and a bunch of other works I haven't read yet but really, really want to. I'm not sure what struck me the most about the play, but the fact that it's a play I can easily recall reading is a major point. I loved Goethe's writing, too. And Berlioz's "Hungarian March" is one of my favorite pieces to play on trombone.

Faust, Part Two by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1832)
If the first part of Faust made an impression on me, the second one didn't. The most interesting part was analyzing how Goethe's writing style and motifs changed in the decades between the two. I was rather upset that Faust appeared to forget Gretchen, going off and marrying another woman.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
I was so not impressed by the novel while I was reading it. I've heard it was strong enough to inspire a few of its emotional male readers to commit suicide, but, personally, I found Werther to be whiny and selfish. Later, though, the novel turned out to be one of those where its greatness sinks into you afterwards. I'll probably end up re-reading it at some point.

The Madwoman on a Pilgrimage by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1821)
This is the last Goethe, I swear. The only thing I can even say about it is my super-short review from a few years ago, because I can't really remember anything about the book. "The three stories in this short book (excerpted from one of the Wilhelm Meister novels) were okay. They're definitely not my favorites of the little Goethe that I've read, but they are worth reading. The middle story, in particular, is a humorous love story that reminded me a bit of A Midsummer Night's Dream, while the two others are more pessimistic views of the trials of love and relationships." (By the way, this was one of my first reviews.)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)
I've actually never finished reading this one. I've attempted to on three (or four?) different occasions, but the farthest I've ever made it is page 70. Something about an "Overman" and a guy falling off a tightrope...Why have I never finished the book? I can't slow my reading down. I have to read it as a novel, meaning I don't take time to analyze and figure out the philosophical parts which are the purpose of its entire existence. I'll come back when I'm more mature.

Mephisto by Klaus Mann (1936)
As with After Midnight, which I read earlier this month, Mephisto is very much a reflection-of-its-times novel. I didn't enjoy it too much while I was reading it, but afterwards, I realized why it's still in print. Such novels are retrospectively great for what they reveal to us of the turbulent times during which they were written.

The Queen's Mirror: Fairy Tales by German Women, 1780-1900
As with most, if not all, anthologies, this one has some great pieces, some mediocre ones, and some that were just boring or too weird. It's definitely interesting and unique, though, and each story has its own flavor. I very much enjoyed reading the tales in the anthology and will probably return to it soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giveaway: Eden by Tony Monchinski

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thrilled to be offering one copy of Eden by Tony Monchinski to a lucky winner! In December, I will be posting a review as part of a blog tour for this first book of a zombie apocalypse trilogy, but for now, here's a plot synopsis from GoodReads:

Seemingly overnight the world transforms into a barren wasteland ravaged by plague and overrun by hordes of flesh-eating zombies. A small band of desperate men and women stand their ground in a fortified compound in what had been Queens, New York. They've named their sanctuary Eden. Harris--the unusual honest man in this dead world--races against time to solve a murder while maintaining his own humanity. Because the danger posed by the dead and diseased mass clawing at Eden's walls pales in comparison to the deceit and treachery Harris faces within.

Interested yet? To enter, just leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address. Extra points if you mention you're a GFC follower or e-mail subscriber. This is a publisher-sponsored giveaway, so US mailing addresses only, please. This giveaway is open until December 14 (12/14/11).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

German Lit Month: The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht

Publisher: Grove Press
Translator: Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley
Date: 1994 (1928)
Format: paperback
Acquired: bought at Spindale Library sale
Read: for German Lit Month
Pages: 95
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Brutal, scandalous, perverted, yet humorous, hummable, and with a happy ending - Bertolt Brecht's revolutionary masterpiece The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern drama that has become embedded in the Western cultural imagination. Through the love story of Polly Peachum and "Mack the Knife" Macheath, the play satirizes the bourgeois of the Weimar Republic, revealing a society at the height of decadence and on the verge of chaos. Complemented with music by Kurt Weill, it was one of the earliest and most successful attempts to introduce jazz into the theater, and the song "Mack the Knife" became one of the most popular and widely recorded songs of the twentieth century.

My review: I didn't realize when I started reading this that the play would be funny, but I found myself laughing frequently. Satire the drama is supposed to be, and satire Brecht does well. Admittedly, I didn't catch that he was satirizing specifically bourgeois society until almost the end (and I found Brecht's notes much more confusing than helpful), but that didn't subtract from my enjoyability of the book. I had expected it to be a much harder read, quick only for its short length, but found it overall very accessible and entertaining. It also helped remind me of the basic plot of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which I read a few years ago and also enjoyed. I only wish I knew what the music was like. Does anyone know of a good performance of The Threepenny Opera that can be found online?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fiction: Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

Publisher: Random House
Date: January 3, 2012 (UK: May 2011)
Format: ARC
Acquired: from GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 320
Reading time: four days

ARC blurb: Brother and sister Kate and Albert Riley are not like the other kids in their corner of South Wales. Hom is a back-to-nature commune that, after twenty years of self-sufficiency, is rapidly disintegrating. Sixteen-year-old Kate's chosen method of dealing: insisting her parents let her attend the village school, where she promptly begins dating a "meathead" whose family drives an SUV. In her absence, eleven-year-old Albert falls under the spell of an outlandish new visitor who fills his head with strange notions of the impending end of the world. His mother Freya's recourse is to hide away in a mud yurt she builds in the woods. And then there is Don: father of the family, founder of the commune, and maker of elaborate speeches. Faced with the task of rescuing his son from apocalyptic visions, his daughter from suburbia's clutches, and his wife from her very apparent desire to leave him, Don decides his only way to save the world he's created throw the biggest party of his life.

My review: Did I love the entire aspect of a novel centered around a commune? Most certainly. Did Joe Dunthorne carry out such an aspect rather well? Yes. Was I absolutely gripped into the plot? As soon as I started reading!

Dunthorne's novel provides an interesting setting for what's basically a combination coming-of-age and middle-age-crisis tale. Though I couldn't identify much personally with breakaway Kate, maturing Albert, in-control Don, or tired Freya, I could easily see where most of their actions and feelings were coming from, and I was quickly drawn into their stories. Dunthorne's writing and characters are captivating, though I must admit I didn't find most of his attempts at humor all that hilarious. Most of the novel is concerned with the gradual breaking apart of the Riley family and the community, not the party advertised in the blurb. Not that I minded this at all; by the time mentions of the party were first made, I thought, "Party? What party? The story's going swimmingly without the promised party!" Really, the party is my one issue with Wild Abandon. Don and the commune's reasons for it were not very well explained or developed, and I thought the last 1/4 of the book, which was a coverage of the "rave," did not live up to the excellence of the rest of the novel. I also feel like I missed some of the main points of the ending. I would have loved to see how the community re-flowered (and recuperated) from their massive all-night celebration, but alas, Dunthorne does not continue the story that far. Oh, well. The coming-of-age and other pivotal times of individual identity development were done wonderfully à la Nunez's also rather odd Salvation City (only even better), Wild Abandon is one of my favorite reads this year, and I'm seriously considering joining a commune after college.

Maturity Factor: language and sexual content

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

YA Fiction: The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Publisher: Dial
Date: October 14, 2010
Format: hardback
Acquired: from BookTrib Review Crew
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 385
Reading time: five days

Aspiring actress Esti Legard has lived her entire life in the shadow of her father, a famous Shakespearean actor and author. When he dies of cancer, Esti decides to reinvent herself by attending a theater school in the Caribbean for her senior year. Little does she expect, however, that her attention will be torn between two very different men in a retelling of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. Alan is an enigmatic young actor who brings out the best of Esti's talent - but refuses to meet her face-to-face. Their tutoring sessions are carried out in the dark, and Alan will not allow Esti to learn anything of his past or why he remains hidden to the world, though regarded by the island's inhabitants as a jumbee, a ghost. Then Rafe, Esti's childhood friend, arrives back on the island, bringing his bad-boy reputation and becoming a wedge in Esti and Alan's odd relationship.

The Jumbee has a lot of stuff going on: retelling a classic story, Shakespeare, Caribbean folklore, young adult interest, and romance. In many cases, this would be too much for one novel, but Keyes successfully pulls off the blend. Keyes' writing itself isn't anything spectacular - just your typical YA author - but she manages to mix together a variety of different elements to make an interesting, unique retelling. No one element is accentuated too much over the others. To readers who have read Leroux's novel or watched the movie, The Jumbee is obviously a retelling. Yet Keyes' book is not self-consciously a retelling; it sticks to the general plotline but adds enough detail and development to allow it to stand outside of the Phantom-inspired canon. Readers who are not familiar with the original story will have no problem reading and enjoying this novel. I particularly enjoyed the story from the perspective of the "Christine" character, who came off rather weak and idiotic in Leroux's book. Not so in Keyes' adaptation, where readers get to see how "Christine" falls for the two guys and is conflicted in her emotions, identity, and desires.

The Shakespeare parts of the story act more as cute-sy elements as Esti and Alan communicate through quotes. Yet readers are able to grasp the characters' reasons for their Shakespearean devotion, and it ends up serving as a cohesive element. Likewise, Caribbean folklore becomes a necessary aspect of The Jumbee as Alan's origins and place in the community are gradually revealed. There's even a hint of post-colonial racial conflict involved. The romance and love triangle come off well, unlike in many books where it seems to fall flat. Despite these varied aspects to the story, however, I was never completely drawn into it. Enjoyable, yes; memorable, no. A good read, but not one that will stand out to me after a few months or years. The action was too slow in developing, the writing didn't stand out enough, and too little creep factor was involved to allow The Jumbee to become one of my favorites.