Thursday, June 30, 2011

YA Fantasy: Welcome to Bordertown (Borderland series)

Publisher: Random House
Date: May 24, 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: won from Random Buzzers
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 516
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Bordertown: a city on the border between our human world and the elfin realm. Runaway teens come from both sides of the border to find adventure, to find themselves. Elves play in rock bands and race down the street on spell-powered motorbikes. Human kids recreate themselves in the squats and clubs and artists' studios of Soho. Terri Windling's original Bordertown series was the forerunner of today's urban fantasy, introducing authors that included Charles de Lint, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, and Ellen Kushner. In this volume of all-new work (including a 15-page graphic story), the original writers are now joined by the generation that grew up dreaming of Bordertown, including acclaimed authors Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. They all meet here on the streets of Bordertown in more than twenty new interconnected songs, poems, and stories.

My review: I've never read the original Borderland series, but this anthology has convinced me that I need to. I wasn't really expecting much (a bunch of stories and poems about runaway punk kids is only interesting for so long...), so I was really surprised by what I found. Quality: the authors featured in the anthology are really good writers. Not just exciting, attention-holding good, but well-written good as well. Also, the references to classic literature, everything from traditional fantasy stories to Kipling to Aphra Behn to Flatland, were surprising. Yet the authors keep their writing styles and main subjects distinctly YA because, after all, that's the intended audience. Anyway, I have a much more positive view of urban fantasy now than before, and it was quite interesting to trace through some of its beginnings (and how they're connected to older works and tales) as mentioned in the introductions at the start of the anthology.

As to my comment about stories of runaway punk kids only be interesting for so long: I found that there's so much more to the stories than just whiny teenagers. The characters of Welcome to Bordertown come from diverse backgrounds and each has traveled to Borderland for his or her own reason (some trivial, most not), making every work in the anthology come with its own unique characterizations, subsetting, purpose, and style. Basically, the anthology never gets boring. The stories and poems retain diversity; some are sweet, some humorous, some...odd. Vampires even popped up at one point and actually managed to be successfully integrated into the Borderland mythos! (On a side note, Twilight gets referred to by one character as "tween abstinence porn"). Welcome to Bordertown is a very enjoyable read and will draw readers into the blend of fantasy and realism that is Borderland. It's YA fantasy writing at its best.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

YA Sci-Fi: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic
Date: 2008
Format: paperback
Acquired: borrowed from a friend
Read: for my library's summer teen book club
Pages: 374
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My review: I've held out on reading The Hunger Games for a while despite my love of dystopian fiction and all of the hype surrounding the series. This is probably due, at least in part, to all of the hype, because I have mixed opinions about the reading tastes of others and I was afraid the series wouldn't be as good as everyone says. I was expecting the first book to be either absolutely astounding or incredibly bad, and, upon reading it, I've found that it's much, much closer to the former description. The plot grabs readers in and keeps going, managing to draw out the arena games for 2/3 of the novel in a way that easily keeps readers' attention without being melodramatic or trying too obviously to keep the action moving. Collins' writing, storyline, and characters are tight, with very little seeming at all out-of-place, too thoroughly fleshed-out, or distant from the audience. I wish she had gone into more detail as to how North America had turned into its new society, but this is really more of a personal preference for reading dystopias containing societal commentary (though there were  some scenes reminiscent of Lord of the Flies). The characters and setting weren't what I expected; Katniss isn't your typical dystopian heroine, and the Appalachians aren't your typical dystopian location. Overall, an exciting, good read. I think my library has the sequels, or barring that, some of my friends might...

My copy of this book was borrowed from a friend and was first published by Scholastic in 2008.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cover Look-Alikes?

Just happened across this cover on a La Femme Readers post:
Once by Cameron Dokey
Before Midnight; Golden; Wild Orchid

Anyone else see the resemblance between the cover above and the cover for my copy of Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach?
Though they caught off some of her train on this one...

Monday, June 27, 2011

MG Fantasy: Escape from Zobadak by Brad Gallagher

Publisher: Mackinac Island Press (imprint of Charlesbridge)
Date: July 1, 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review
Reading time: two days

When carpenter Uncle Gary disappears, his nephew Billy inherits his nightstand, the one piece of Gary's furniture to be found in his house. Little does the eleven-year-old know, however, that the nightstand is a portal to a strange maze of corridors and rooms, filled with drawers and a random assortment of objects. When mysterious men from the elusive Zobadak wood company show up and threaten Billy's family, he, his little sister Sophie, and their friends Maggie and Chris decide to venture into the nightstand's world to find Uncle Gary and save their parents.

Escape from Zobadak is well-written but slow. All of the events and action are drawn-out, though not quite to the point of being boring. Fortunately, the premise of the book - a hidden world connected not by magic, but by joinery and mathematics - keeps the story unique and interesting enough to hold readers' attention. Still, I found that one of the most engaging parts of the book came at the end, where a sequel is blatantly set up. Did I like the first book enough to read the sequel? I suppose. While the plot premise is unique, the story/writing combination reminded me of two books (that I highly enjoyed reading): Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne and the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. As with these, this book is best for young fantasy fans who are mature enough to not get distracted from the book when the plot gets slow.

My copy of Escape from Zobadak  was received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. Published by Mackinac Island Press, the book goes on sale July 1, 2011.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fiction: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

From GoodReads: When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness. Meet Baba Segi . . . A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing. And his wives . . . Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi's youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband's home. Iya Tope—Baba Segi's second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear. Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost. Bolanle—Babi Segi's fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life's misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives . . . and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

My review: That last sentence of the GoodReads synopsis makes the book sound more dramatic than it actually is, especially when the denouement can be at least partially foreseen for much of the novel...Anyway, The Secret Lives was a very enjoyable read. I was near-instantly sucked into the story, which included the viewpoint of not only Bolanle, the central character, but also the other three wives and, once or twice, Baba Segi himself. The strength of the book, however, lies with its depiction of contemporary Nigerian life. Baba Segi and his wives come from multiple backgrounds (rural farming villages, urban working class, educated - but still poor - families), and these reflect diverse religious, social, and cultural aspects of the country. The issues faced by the characters of the story - marriage, child raising, education, relationships, superstition, and more - make real to readers a few of the issues that Nigerians are confronting in the modern world, sometimes with a little humor. The cultural information contained in the novel makes up for a storyline that, while capturing even my generally anti-domestic drama interest, remains a bit distant from the reader. I found there was a certain spark and connection that was absent from the novel, but again, the strength of the story lies elsewhere, and this book is a great read for anyone who enjoys novels about either the trials of adult life and marriage (albeit with a polygamist view) or other cultures.

Maturity Factor: Sex, adult situations, rape, and some profanity.

My copy of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives was received from the publisher, William Morrow, in return for an honest review. The book was first published in 2010, with the paperback edition coming out on July 5, 2011.

Winner of Midsummer's Eve Hop!

Thank you to everyone (40+) who entered my midsummer's eve giveaway as part of the hop. I'm *almost* up to 200 followers now, lacking only six at this point! Anyway, the winner of the Obernewtyn books is...

Eli Squared!

Congrats, Eli, and I hope you enjoy your own set of the first three books!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My New Books This Week

I was on vacation again this week and arrived home to find seven packages of books awaiting me! It's a great way to finish out a good week - I was attending Music and Worship Arts week up at Lake Junaluska, and, despite the dance rehearsals being exhausting, it was an enjoyable event, as always. I also got my SAT scores back with a perfect 800 on critical reading!!!

For review:
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (Doubleday)

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken (from the author's Twitter)

A box of awesome novels from Red House Books:
Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein
Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein
Percival's Angel by Anne Eliot Crompton
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
Along the River by Adeline Yen Mah
Libyrinth by Pearl North

From RandomBuzzers:
Welcome to Bordertown
Trash by Andy Mulligan

From BookMooch:
Orlando Furioso by Ludvico Ariosto
The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey by Mrs. Carver
Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphreys

The Works of Bret Harte (1932 edition)

What books did you get this week, and are there any of mine of which you want reviews?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

Welcome to my stop on the Midsummer's Eve giveaway  hop, which runs from June 21 to June 24! Check out what books I have to give away and then move on to the other 200+ blogs that are participating to see what great stuff you can win from them!

Up for grabs:
Obernewtyn/The Farseekers and Ashling by Isobelle Carmody
(titles link to respective GoodReads descriptions)
These are the first three books in the Obernewtyn series, a science fiction post-apocalyptic/dystopian series that is appropriate for middle grade, YA, and adult audiences. It's one of the first science fiction series I read, and it continues to be one of my favorites.

Both books are very lightly used hardcovers with dust jackets. Obernewtyn/The Farseekers is the 2000 Tor edition and Ashling is the 2005 Tor edition. Both books will be sent to the winner of the giveaway.
To enter: Simply leave a comment with your e-mail address. Extra points for being a new or old follower, just specify which one in your comment. US addresses only.

Happy blog hopping and have a great summer!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

YA Fantasy: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

From GoodReads: Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself. Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity. Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her. Not even love.

My review: While not the most well-written retelling of Cinderella that I've read, Shadows on the Moon is by far the most interesting take on the traditional story. It's set in some previous time in Japan, but this Japan comes with shadow weavers and strange foreigners from the land of Athazie. There is no traditional fairy godmother, and Suzume is no traditional Cinderella. Out for revenge, she is strong-willed and determined to do anything necessary to seek vengeance on those who killed her family. Yet Suzume has her own flaws unique for fairytale retellings: she resorts to cutting and burning herself to release anger and other emotions, and her actions are not always above moral scrutiny. 

Suzume's story in Shadows on the Moon will hold readers attention for its not inconsiderable 450+ pages. The action is fairly constant, and between the author's writing style and the formatting of the book, the novel is actually a quick read for its page count. Better yet, the novel is so different from "Cinderella" that you eventually forget it's a retelling and stop looking for and expecting the events of the traditional tale; Shadows on the Moon is good enough to hold its own as an epic story without the added bonus of being a retelling. While I found that I could foresee some of the consequences of Suzume's actions and the ultimate conclusion to the novel, this did not mean that I knew how the end of the novel would be reached, and that, coupled with the unique characterizations of the Cinderella, prince, and godmother characters, made this a totally worthwhile read. My one complaint with the book is, as I hinted in the first sentence of my review, that Marriott's writing is almost, but not quite, equal to the story she tells. I'm not really sure what the problem is - was it that the plot moves too fast, or that there's not enough explanations for some things? - but the writing and the story never completely clicked together. Still, they come close enough to make Shadows on the Moon a great read for just about every variety of reader.

My ARC of Shadows on the Moon was won from Fairytale Fortnight, hosted by Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing and The Book Rat. Published by Walker Books of the UK, the book will be released on July 7, 2011.

If you really enjoy Cinderella stories set in Japan, check out the tenth century A.D. Tale of the Lady Ochikubo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sci-Fi: The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

From GoodReads (because the plot is really too complex for a good explanation): Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigage purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence. What happens if we change history?

My review: I feel so sorry for those other readers who haven't enjoyed The Map of Time because they couldn't make it past the large number of pages, unusual third-person POV that insists on making extraneous comments, and loosely connected division of the novel. The number of pages, though it could have easily been cut down by cutting out information not directly pertinent to the story, didn't bother me. The Map of Time is not a book to be breezed through, but Palma's wonderful writing hardly makes it a tough, slow, boring read either. The narrator, who occasionally interjects commentary, adds a bit of humor to the story (there are also little satirical and humorous notes added in other ways) and has a certain purpose revealed only at the end. As to the division of the novel into three distinctly individual stories, while unexpected, it is not unpleasant.

The Map of Time is definitely a unique and surprising book (and I'll try not to rant incoherently about its awesomeness). Its three stories are not what readers expect from the back cover and other plot synopses - at times I was wondering when H.G. Wells and the sci-fi bits were going to appear - but this does not subtract from how wonderful they are. Palma makes the Victorian era interesting, working in historical tidbits and occasionally adding humor as well, poking fun at historical personages, events, customs, and even himself. In some ways, the first two parts of the book can be considered an exercise in the gullibility of both readers and the Victorian English populace as Palma investigates various methods of time travel, but the novel is still highly enjoyable. It's not for every reader (see the first paragraph of my review), but hopefully many others will be able to get wrapped up in Palma's narratives. This is a book that readers can lose themselves in for hours.

I was under the impression that this was a stand alone novel, but apparently it's part of a trilogy. When I discovered this, I came about as close to jumping up and down in joy as I've ever done over a book.

Maturity Factor: Some sex and adult situations.

My ARC of The Map of Time was received from the publisher, Atria Books. First published in Spain in 2008, Atria's English translation (translator: Nick Caistor) goes on sale June 28, 2011. I suggest you buy it. Immediately.

And...cover wars! I like this cover more, what about you?

Awesomeness! The Nightmare Garden Cover Reveal

Normally I don't do cover reveals, but I hadn't even realized that The Nightmare Garden, sequel to The Iron Thorn (by Caitlin Kittredge), was coming out so soon! February 14, 2012, to be exact. Given how much I enjoyed The Iron Thorn, I can't wait for this next book!!! And I like this cover even more than that of the first book.
From the publisher's website: Everything Aoife thought she knew about the world was a lie. There is no Necrovirus. And Aoife isn't going to succomb to madness because of a latent strain—she will lose her faculties because she is allergic to iron. Aoife isn't human. She is a changeling—half human and half from the land of Thorn. And time is running out for her.

When Aoife destroyed the Lovecraft engine she released the monsters from the Thorn Lands into the Iron Lands and now she must find a way to seal the gates and reverse the destruction she's ravaged on the world that's about to poison her.

Is anyone else uber-excited for this release?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Review: Flip by Martyn Bedford

I'm going to try something new. This review is by my younger brother, Isaac, and I'm hoping that both he and one of my friends will become regular contributers to this blog (which will then require a slight name change). Formal introductions will come as they contribute a bit more.

From the back cover of the ARC: One morning fourteen-year-old Alex wakes up to find himself in the wrong bedroom, in an unfamiliar house, in a different part of the country. Six months have passed overnight. The family at the breakfast table are total strangers. And when he looks in the mirror, another boy’s face stares back. A boy named Flip. Alex may be trapped forever inside a body that belongs to someone else.
Isaac's review: I have decided that one of the few problems with this book is that it takes a while to get started (also, there's a certain page that is nothing but fragmented sentences and words strung together, which I assume is for effect to show what is going on inside the character's mind, but it is confusing nonetheless). The back cover is basically a summary of the first two or three chapters, instead of the first chapter as is usually done. Once the book got started, however, I didn’t want to put it down. I started reading it around 10:00 one night, and I didn’t put it down until 1:00, when I had to force myself to go to sleep. I finished it as soon as I woke up the next morning. Bedford ties in problems associated with teenagers (school, relationships, etc.) as he writes a book about a supernatural occurrence. I enjoyed this, as it was a fantasy that takes place on Earth as opposed to many other books I’ve read that take place in fantastical settings. There isn’t much depth to the book, but the storyline makes up for this, allowing the novel to be a great read for teenagers. 

Maturity Factor: Sporadic profanity.

Our ARC of Flip was received through Random House's Random Buzzers program. The book was released April 5, 2011.

Monday, June 13, 2011

This Week's Book Haul(s) - Which Do You Want Reviewed?

I had a great week's vacation up in the North Carolina mountains - and came home with three times the number of books I came up with, thanks to a Books-a-Million sale and a used bookstore, and then arrived home to find even more books that had arrived in the mail while I was gone! (*evil laugh*) Anyway, since State of Wonder is the only one for review, are there others of which anyone would like reviews? Really, your suggestions are appreciated.

For review:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (from Harper)

Song of the Silk Road by Mingwei Yip (thank you, Amused by Books)
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (from Random House Kids' Twitter)
This is my second copy of Kittredge's novel and is hardback and signed (the other is an ARC and slightly stained); I'm planning on offering the ARC to a friend, but if she doesn't want it, there'll be a giveaway.
And a ton of thank you's to Wrighty's Reads for this box of awesomeness:
Matched by Ally Condie
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Hell Hollow by Ronald Kelly
You Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay
Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Radiance by Alyson Noel
Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett
Passing Strange by Daniel Waters

But wait, there's more!
From BAM (total $13, because I have to be thrifty to survive on a teenager's allowance):
Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon by Andrea di Robilant
The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff
Peter Pan and Other Plays by J.M. Barrie
Paradise City by J.B. Stephens
Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

From the book exchange in Waynesville (not sure what it's called, but these cost me $18 total):
Golden by Cameron Dokey
Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Mabinogion
Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach
Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen
The Message in the Hollow Oak by Carolyn Keene (I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew when I was younger and still pick up mysteries for my collection whenever they're cheap enough.)

Oh dear, now I have to find space for all of these...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Utopia: Island by Aldous Huxley

From the back cover: In his final novel, Aldous Huxley transports us to the remote Pacific island of Pala, where an ideal society has flourished for 120 years. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world. A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala, and events are set in motion when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Will Farnaby, is shipwrecked there. What Farnaby doesn't expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and - to his amazement - give him hope.

My review: I discovered that I love Aldous Huxley's writing. I've read Brave New World, Ape and Essence, and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan but had forgotten how much I enjoy Huxley's books. It only took me the first couple pages to rediscover this. Huxley's writing is sound, and in this book it's intellectual, but at a cozy level of intellectual (as in the majority of readers should easily be able to understand it). I was connecting bits and pieces from just about everything I've learned to the novel: history, literature, religion, philosophy, biology, sociology, even French. It is this aspect, along with the fact that the book is a utopia, that makes the novel fascinating. Not in a read-it-as-fast-as-possible way, but a one-chapter-a-day, soak-it-in way. Island was published in 1962, and it does have a bit of the '60s vibe, mostly with the Eastern religions that play a prominent part of the utopian society along with the moksha-medicine that the Palanese use for Enlightenment.

Is there anything that I didn't like about the book? The one thing that seemed a little off-kilter about the utopia was its blend of Western and Eastern aspects. The Palanese are full-blown Buddhists and live in semi-primitive conditions, yet most are familiar with the Western canon and Western science and Malthusian economics have left them with superior agricultural technology, electricity, and a method for population control. The whole West/East blend never completely synced for me, but hey, it's Huxley's pipe dream, not mine. Also, by the last two chapters I was bored. Maybe it's just because it took me a while to read the book (again, it's a one-chapter-a-day, soak-it-in novel), but I was ready for the book to end by the time the conclusion was reached. Still, there were thirteen awesome chapters before the two less interesting ones, and I'll be re-reading Island in later years to ensure that I didn't miss any of Huxley's message or the little connections he makes to all kinds of other subjects.

My Harper Perennial edition of Island was given to me for Christmas. Island was first published in 1962.

Join the Classic Bribe over at Quirky Girls Read!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

YA Fiction: Tighter by Adele Griffin

Seventeen-year-old Jamie Atkinson has had a tough junior year. After a sports-related injury that still bothers her and a failed romance with her young chemistry teacher, she's turned to pill-popping her parents' meds for relief. When Jamie's parents pack her off to the island of Little Bly to be a summer au pair to Isa, she's shocked to find that Isa's au pair the year before, Jessie, looks eerily similar to herself - and that the other girl died the summer before along with her boyfriend, Pete Quint. Even more surprisingly, these two don't seem to be quite gone from this world. In a retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, Jamie is forced to discover her connection to the dead couple as the lines between reality, perception, and the supernatural are blurred.

Anyone familiar with James' story will realize that this is a retelling from simply reading the book's blurb and its first few pages. Very quickly, however, Griffin establishes her take as unique and capable of standing by itself without the added bonus of being a retelling. Tighter is distinctly YA, whereas James' story is distinctly not; the new novel features teenage issues (the protagonist is a pill-popper, for goodness' sake), high school drama, and a more relaxed writing style. Having read James' original story, the two are hard to otherwise compare besides noting that Griffin's writing is easier to understand. Tighter is not as thrillingly, can't-put-it-down suspenseful as I expected, but the mystery of the ghost story is still there. The most amazing part for me, however, was the conclusion, which makes a definite break with The Turn of the Screw and makes Tighter even more deeply a distinctly YA novel (and also changes it's expected genre around a bit). But as to what the actual climax is, that is a discovery I will let other readers make on their own...

Some interesting notes: It took me forever to realize that the object on the front cover is a girl turned sideways, not a frog. Also, I find it creepy that, at the end, it is revealed that Jamie's middle name is Susanna (my name, for those of you who don't know). Susanna is not that common a name, so it seems a bit uncanny to me when it pops up in books/television.

My ARC of Tighter was won from Random Buzzers' Twitter account. The book went on sale May 10, 2011.

Fiction: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

From GoodReads: Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.

My review: In retrospect, this book has many characteristics that make it a not-my-cup-of-tea read. Middle-aged lead characters with accompanying issues, aimed at an audience of older (i.e., adult) readers, set in an adult world of business, grown-up relationships, and dreams decades in the making. Perhaps this is why I often found the plot slow; if I didn't have all the time in the world right now to read, it would have probably taken me longer than my usual reading time to finish the book. Still, the slowness is not tedious, and I did enjoy the novel. Patchett's writing is excellent, and once Marina finally gets into the jungle, the scientific and anthropological facets to the story are interesting. At times the experiments for the new drug seem a bit odd and science fiction-y, but they continue to blend with the story rather than stick out from it. For those of you who are past your teenage years and enjoy reading literary fiction, I highly recommend this book.

As a side note, I love the cover. It looks like calligraphy, which beautiful drawings along the border.

My ARC of State of Wonder was received from the publisher, Harper. It went on sale June 7, 2011.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Classic Lit: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

When the narrator, a young governess, sets off to a secluded job taking care of two young orphaned children, she hardly expects to find what she does. The children, Flora and Miles, seem like perfect angels, but something else is at work in Bly. The governess soon begins to see apparitions of the deceased former governess and her lover and decides that these two can only be after her two young charges. Can the governess save the children from evil - or is it all just imagined?

I'm unsure what to say for this book. Ghost story: A. My understanding of it: B-. James is the king of run-on sentences, chock full of commas that make for rather choppy reading. Abnormally for me, I had problems grasping the story. The governess' narration leaves out a lot of her thoughts (often readers are told of her realizations in following scenes, not when they actually occurred), and she jumps to so many conclusions in a similar manner that the unfolding of the story can be hard to follow. The ghost story behind the plot, however, remains fascinating. "Who are these people, and what do they want? How far are they going to go? Are the children aware of them, and are the ghosts corrupting the children?" These are the questions that run the length of the novella and, like all good ghost stories, the build-up to the climax is exciting and leaves readers with an unexpected conclusion (unless, like me, you read the introduction first and it contained spoilers).

My copy of The Turn of the Screw is my mom's old 1979 Penguin paperback she bought back in college for a gothic literature course. The novella was originally published in 1898.

Join the Classic Bribe over at Quirky Girls Read!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Repost and Book Birthdays!

*This is a repost of my review from February, because I felt bad when I posted it so early and then realized that the book didn't come out for another couple of months.*
David is a fourteen-year-old boy who spends his life getting shuffled between his psychiatrist dad in the French countryside and his self-absorbed, ridiculously wealthy, lawyer mother in Paris. He doesn't particularly enjoy either place (the villagers where his dad lives mistrust all the insane teens who get sent there to be "fixed"; his mother and her boyfriend care more about material objects than him), but David's life gets much more interesting when Zelda shows up at his father's place. Zelda claims to be an alien, sent from her (all-female, sexy warrior) planet to find the "chosen one," who just so happens to be Johnny Depp. When Zelda stows away in David's mother's car on the way back to Paris, who knows what wacky adventures will ensue?

I honestly expected very little from this book (sorry, Mr. Ghislain). An author I'd never heard of (this is his first book, though) being published by a company I'd never heard of (my bad on this part; Chronicle Books is apparently pretty well-established) with a ridiculous title for a weird plot. It sounded like some self-published thing that would turn out to be a poorly-written load of trash (no offense to self-published/small unknown press authors in general, but most of the books I've read from these places lately were a waste of time). Fortunately, I got a surprise with this one. Ghislain's writing was way better than I expected, and the story, while, yes, it was weird and off-the-wall, was enjoyable to read. I've read better science fiction, but I've also read much, much, much worse. There was never a point where I was so interested in the book that I couldn't put it down, but at the same time I was never bored. So, to wrap this up: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend is a good read when you're in the mood for a short, occasionally humorous, wacky book.

Maturity Factor: Some bad language and sexual situations.

My ARC of this book was received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. It is published by Chronicle Books and comes out in June, 2011.

Other recent book birthdays:
Possession by Elana Johnson (June 7)
I really, really want to read this one.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (June 7)
My review copy arrived in the mail yesterday.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (June 7)
You can enter to win a sampler for this book here.

Robocalypse by Daniel Wilson (June 7)
I really, really want to read this one, too.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young (June 7)
Title links to my review.

Monday, June 6, 2011

YA Fiction: Zitface by Emily Howse

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Hughes thinks she has her life figured out - even though she's only in eighth grade, she's an actress who's just landed a national ad campaign. Olivia's life is going well, even with her parents' recent divorce; the cute new guy at school seems to be noticing her, and she has some great friends. But all of this might change with one little thing: a zit that morphs into a full-blown case of acne and threatens her career, self-esteem, and relationships.

Despite the seemingly trivial nature of the book (come on, all of this drama over acne?!), I found Zitface to be an enjoyable read. Acne isn't the only issue covered in the novel; it's joined by puberty, first dates, middle school gossip, divorce, parent-child relationships, and a bit of bullying. Olivia's voice matches that of your typical thirteen-year-old, and while those of us who are older may underestimate the importance of what eighth-graders consider major drama, this book is perfect for middle school girls who are dealing with many of the issues being covered. To you parents still watching what your daughters read, did I also mention that this is a completely clean read?

My ARC of Zitface was received from the publisher, Marshall Cavendish. It went on sale April 1, 2011.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Fantasy: Drought by Pam Bachorz

Most other readers tend to classify Drought as science fiction, but in my little categorical world, I consider it fantasy after having read it. But onto the important stuff:

Ruby has lived with the Congregation her whole life - all two hundred years. Since 1812, the Congregation - followers of Otto - have been imprisoned by Darwin West, the malevolent would-be lover of Ruby's mother. Every day, Darwin and his Overseers force the Congregants to gather Water, the source of their immortality. Ruby longs to break away from slavery, but her duty is towards the Congregation. When she finds love with a kind Overseer, however, will she give up hope for the return of Otto and run away from the only world she's ever known?

I really wanted to like this book. The plot's a bit odd, but it's interesting - think "The Village" + Tuck Everlasting + dystopia. Unfortunately, the weirdness made it hard for some things to be developed fully. Ruby's been growing up for two hundred years, but her voice remains that of your standard teenager - you'd think her prolonged maturation would leave her different from ordinary teens. Also, there's the cult of Otto. Maybe it's because, at some points, it seemed like Bachorz was about to start some philosophical and religious debate (this never actually panned out), but the religion of the Congregation never quite clicked. My other problem with Drought was the slowness of the story. "Okay, so the book's going to be about Ruby breaking out of imprisonment to save the Congregation. [100 pages later] Still waiting for the escape... [page 200] Oh! Now we're getting somewhere...or not. [Rest of the book] And we're still waiting..." So, what redeems Drought as decent book to read? At the end, we finally get somewhere with the whole leaving-the-group thing that the story's been building up to! And there's some nice psychological and sociological stuff about groups getting stuck in ruts and not wanting to change even negative things, which works in my penchant for dystopias with a deeper message. I'm assuming that there's a sequel, and I will be reading it. Why? Because I liked that deeper sociological stuff at the very end, and I really want to know who the heck Otto is, how he came to be so special, and why he hasn't returned for two hundred years.

My copy of Drought was won in a giveaway from Queen of Happy Endings. Published by Egmont, Drought went on sale January 25, 2011.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Books Received This Week

A great week for historical fiction, apparently. Sorry the reviews have been a bit slow this week (though I do have a new giveaway up); I'm actually surprisingly busy right now with a summer course, officer's training for marching band, the SAT, and cleaning house. But a review of Drought by Pam Bachorz is coming soon, as is one of Island by Aldous Huxley.

For Review:
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (Scribner)

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell (Oxford World's Classics Twitter)
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson (Random House Kids Twitter)
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (thanks, Unabridged Chick!)
Bending the Boyne by J.S. Dunn (thanks, HF Connection!)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Swag Box Giveaway

Okay, trying something new here. Every month or so (depending on the amount of swag I have to give away), I will run a contest where the winner can choose 5-7 objects out of the swag box:
*box not included in prize

By limiting the number of items chosen from the box, I hope to maintain the number of items available so that there's a good selection and winners aren't forced into accepting a bunch of things they consider junk in order to receive one item they really want.

This month's offerings:
A sampler for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; I think it's the first 60 pages or so
Between the Pages: a sampler of recent YA releases from Random House
A Carrie Jones bookmark (reverse side is Alexandra Harvey)
A bookmark for Zoe Marriott's Shadows on the Moon
A bookmark for Zoe Marriott's Daughter of the Flames
A magnet for Shadows on the Moon
A magnet for Daughter of the Flames
ADDED 6/19: a bookmark for Carol Estby Dagg's The Year We Were Famous
ADDED 6/29: a bookmark for Brian Martinez's A Chemical Fire
*All swag is UNsigned

Not technically swag:
A bottle of blue nail polish
BonBon "sweet raspberry" lip gloss
Mary Kay pink lip gloss

To enter: Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail. YOU MUST BE A FOLLOWER. Extra points if you're an old follower, just make sure to tell me in the comment. US only (sorry, but the shipping costs...) Oh yeah, ends 6/30.

Splash Into Summer Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway! With close to sixty entries, I gained several new followers (welcome to the blog, you guys!); stick around for swag giveaway and another giveaway hop later this month! And without further ado, the winner of the Splash into Summer hop is...

Congratulations, Kristi! I will get Squire in the mail at the beginning of next week. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Historical Romance: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Cora Cash is the American heiress. Her family is only newly wealthy, but in 1894 they shamelessly flaunt their enormous wealth in front of both American and English society. Cora, though she has everything that money can buy, is hemmed in by her mother, who's primary goal for Cora is for her to marry into an English title. Following a timely accident, Mrs. Cash's dream comes true when Cora marries a Duke. Fortunately for Cora and her new husband, the match is made for love, not just a title for the Cashs and money for the Duke. But what happens after the fairytale courtship and wedding are over, and Cora is faced with the strangeness and deceptions of high British society?

Critiques: I love historical fiction because of the historical detail that gets worked into the story. To me, the primary purpose of historical fiction is to educate readers on the time period through a good story. The American Heiress, though historical fiction, uses the genre as an excuse for a romance story. There's some historical detail worked in, but it's really only to enhance the romantic plot and display the ridiculous ostentation of Victorian high society in a way that alienates modern readers. The characters are likewise hard for readers to relate to because they are one-dimensional, shallow, perpetually self-absorbed. It seems at the beginning that Cora will be your typical modern heroine in a historical fiction novel: intelligent but yearning to break free of society's strictures for women. But no, she's just as self-absorbed and, in many ways, as conformist as all the other characters in the book.

Likes: Despite my aversion to historical romance and the lack of depth of the characters, I found myself drawn into the book. I didn't like Cora that much, but I still wanted to see how her story would turn out. I ended up reading the novel in three days (my ARC is 450+ pages), which shows you that the plot is fast-paced enough to keep interest and that Goodwin's writing is not difficult to follow. There's also the added bonus that the ending alludes to a sequel, though I'm not sure if the first book impressed me enough that I'll pick up the next should it be written.

Maturity Factor: Some sex and adulterous scandals, but nothing graphic.

Incidentally, an alternate title is My Last Duchess; Browning's poem is quoted at the beginning of my ARC. While I think the title would pertain more to the relationship between another couple in the novel than to the one between Cora and the Duke, I do like it.

My ARC of The American Heiress was won in a publisher's (St. Martin's Press) giveaway. The novel goes on sale June 21, 2011.