Monday, January 30, 2012

In My Mailbox #20

 Of course I intended to post way before this (ten days is a stretch for me), but it's taken me over two weeks to finish The Printmaker's Daughter. I still have 100 pages left, actually, but it should get finished sometime this week...

For review:
Memento Nora #2: The Forgetting Curve by Angie Smibert (many thanks to the author and the publisher!)

Won, many thanks to Eli to the Nth:
Paper Towns by John Green (signed!)
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
...and a sampler for The Fault in Our Stars

Won from elsewhere:
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber (thanks, Book Snob!)
White Seed by Paul Clayton (thanks, BookTrib!)
edited 2/17/12: My bad, this was a win from Historical Fiction Connection! I'm so sorry for the misattribution; I'm not sure how that happened.
The Ark Sakura by Kobo Abe (thanks, Julie over at Manga Maniac Cafe!)
I finally have non-Western (not to mention non-English) science fiction! Bwahaha...

The Age of the Conglomerates by Thomas Nevins

Purchased for school:
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The ONE non-poetry reading for British Lit II, and it's this.

The "I got in!" postcard actually came a few weeks ago, but I thought now would be a good time to announce that I've been accepted at all three colleges to which I applied: James Madison, UNC-Chapel Hill, and East Carolina. I've also been accepted into ECU's Honors College. Now I just have to decide where I want to go...

Friday, January 20, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Series: Across the Universe #2
Publisher: Razorbill
Date: January 20, 2012
Format: hardback
Acquired: purchased from Fireside
Read: because I loved the first one so much!
Pages: 386
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Godspeed was fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos. 

It's been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He's finally free to enact his vision - no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that's growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

My review: A Million Suns comes quite close to living up to my love of Across the Universe. And, really, it's hard to live up to the amazing, Lord of the Flies- and Huxley-esque awesomeness which is the first book of Revis' trilogy. But A Million Suns succeeded in breaking my YA reading slump and re-introducing me to why YA novels can be so good.

As promised, there are a ton of surprises in this second installment. I'm really not exaggerating when I say a ton. Some authors would fall apart over all the plot twists, but Revis keeps the plot tight, coherent, and exciting. The twists are unforeseeable, but they never come off as seeming unbelievable as may happen in other fast-paced books. After the last 100 pages of Across the Universe, though, nothing came across as totally shocking the way I expected, and my overall impression of the novel was that it was slightly rushed from all the constant action. Whatever. The writing, development, and overall sequence of events are more than enough to compensate. I was also pleased that the tradition of calling up some societal and ethical questions on the side was continued. I can't wait to see what Revis throws at us next!

Is anybody else thrilled that the romance between Amy and Elder is important to the story but doesn't override it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fiction - Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

Publisher: Quirk Books
Date: January 17, 2012
Format: paperback
Acquired: from the publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 250
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: He is the perfect presidential candidate. Conservatives love his hard-hitting Republican résumé. Liberals love his peaceful, progressive practicality. The media can’t get enough of his larger-than-life personality. And all the American people love that he’s an honest, hard-working man who tells it like it is.

There’s just one problem. He is William Howard Taft . . . and he was already president a hundred years ago. So what on earth is he doing alive and well and considering a running mate in 2012?

A most extraordinary satire, Jason Heller’s debut novel follows the strange new life of a presidential Rip Van Winkle: a man who never even wanted the White House in the first place, yet finds himself hurtling toward it once more—this time, through the media-fueled madness of 21st-century America.

My review: Even my rather conservative mother agrees that Taft 2012 is hilarious! (Actually, she read it in one day - an unheard-of feat for her - while it took me four.) Heller's satire is light-hearted, great for those of us who, like me, don't quite 'get' politics in the first place. I was very pleased that the author attacks American society and government as a whole, not specific people. He could have said a lot about Obama, but the name is never even explicitly said. Aside from a few details, the current president and any other key figures in the book could be just about anyone.

I also enjoyed the fact that Taft 2012 is not just about politics, but also about the media and part of America's food supply. William Howard Taft's discovery of such inventions as Twitter and some of the nastier of processed foods ("Didn't Teddy Roosevelt pass an act against this stuff a century ago?") are too good to put down. Though, I must say, I felt sorry for Taft at a few points. One hundred years after the presidency he never really wanted, he's resurrected to run again - and all America thinks about is his enormous appetite, wide girth, and signature mustache.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In My Mailbox #19

This week, I attended Beth Revis' release party for A Million Suns. Stephanie Perkins and Carrie Ryan were there along with Beth, and the ensuing discussion was quite entertaining! In my typical antisocial fashion, I did not snap pictures of the event or talk much myself to the authors, but I did pick up a copy of Revis' newest book and get it and The Forest of Hands and Teeth signed.

For review:
Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana by Paschal Yao Younge (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea (thanks, A Musing Reviews!)
Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King (thanks,!)
Hidden Wives by Claire Avery
This was a surprise but arrived thanks to the author. If I won it through a giveaway on your blog, please let me know and I'll link up!

From book club:
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2) by Beth Revis

 I just finished reading this and should have a review posted by the end of the week. Happily, A Million Suns lived up to the excellence of Across the Universe - and broke my YA reading slump of the last month!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

YA Fiction - The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: 2009
Format: paperback
Acquired: won in a blog giveaway
Read: because Carrie Ryan was at a local book signing
Pages: 308
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

My review: I really wanted to love The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've heard great things about it, it's one of the earliest of the bestselling YA sci-fi novels, and it's a post-apocalyptic story. What's not to like? A lot of things, I unfortunately discovered.

I never caught on to the romance. After hearing Carrie Ryan discuss her earlier writings - romance novels - I could see this style coming through in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The romance between Mary and Travis seems to be described mostly physically (nothing too PG-13, though), and I could never really relate to it or see them as a lasting couple. To my eyes, Mary's love for Travis just came out of the blue, and the two characters and their bond seemed underdeveloped. Mary herself came off as just selfish and self-absorbed at several points.

The post-zombie apocalypse world, however, was fascinating. I loved the "Village"-esque feel of Mary's community. It came closer than most other YA dystopias of delving into some deeper implications of society's reaction to bad events and subsequent reconstructions. I would have absolutely loved to have learned more about the Sisterhood and the Guardians and the village's pre-apocalypse history. Also, the plot was fast-paced and is what kept me interested and reading. After all, zombies are practically designed to make for exciting books.

I'm still unsure yet as to whether or not this post-apocalyptic world enthralled me enough to keep reading the series. I was thinking yes, until I read the first chapter of the next book - it seemed like just more of the same-old underdeveloped characters and romance. What do you think? Should I continue with the second and third books?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Historical Fiction - Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Date: September 13, 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from Atria Galley Alley
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 470
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: In the waning years of the nineteenth century there was a hunger for tribal artifacts, spawning collecting voyages from museums and collectors around the globe. In 1897, one such collector, a Chicago insurance magnate, sponsors an expedition into the South Seas to commemorate the completion of his company’s new skyscraper—the world’s tallest building. The ship is to bring back an array of Melanesian weaponry and handicrafts, but also several natives related by blood. 

Caught up in this scheme are two orphans—Owen Graves, an itinerant trader from Chicago’s South Side who has recently proposed to the girl he must leave behind, and Argus Niu, a mission houseboy in the New Hebrides who longs to be reunited with his sister. At the cusp of the twentieth century, the expedition forces a collision course between the tribal and the civilized, between two young men plagued by their respective and haunting pasts.

My review: I found Bright and Distant Shores to be a slow but ultimately worthwhile read. I generally enjoyed the author's writing, which seamlessly interweaves a huge amount of historical and anthropological details into the story. At times, though, it came off as just dense - by about the middle of the novel I was getting bored and considered not finishing. I am glad that I did finish the book, however, because it turned out to be a very well-written, interesting read in one of my favorite genres.

I loved the characters created by Dominic Smith. He picks his subjects from among the awkwardly-situated social ranks often neglected in historical fiction: the middle class and the colonized peoples. Owen Graves is not quite the poor orphan in rags-to-riches stories, but he is not at all wealthy, either, instead being just a hard-working man courting an upper-class charity and museum worker. Argus Niu is neither a colonizer nor a "savage" - he is a fairly educated, well-spoken Poumetan caught in between the allures of white civilization and the traditional lifestyle of his people. All in all, the social positions and trials of Smith's cast of characters are quite fascinating.

The author's development of plot and characterizations is excellent. I never felt like the characters were left at all underdeveloped, and their motives and desires were clear and understandable. The plot, though relatively slow, felt complete. No loose ends were left at the end of the book, and I was very pleased that Smith continues the characters' stories well past the end of their Pacific journey. The reader is not left wondering, "But what happened after?"Almost everything is tied up, leaving a satisfying conclusion to an interesting and historically informative read.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

In My Mailbox #18: After-Christmas Haul

Normally, my mom and I scour local antique and used book stores after Christmas, but this year we didn't get a chance. Instead, I contented myself with spending Christmas giftcards at Barnes and Noble:

Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Wavesong (Obernewtyn #5) by Isobelle Carmody
East by Edith Pattou
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
The Dolphin People by Torsten Krol
The Chess Machine by Robert Löhr
The End of the World ed. by Michael Kelahan
The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
The Strain (Strain Trilogy #1) by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Have any of you heard of/read these? Most came off the bargain page, purchased because they looked interesting and were cheap. I'm particularly excited about the End of the World anthology of "classic" post-apocalyptic stories - most are from the Victorian era and about half I'm unfamiliar with, leaving me wondering why on earth I haven't run across the anthology before!

The creepy building with faces is part of my Emerald City of Oz model, which will be posted at a later date.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

YA Fantasy - Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Series: Everneath #1
Publisher: Balzer and Bray
Date: January 24, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 370
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists. Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen. As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...

My review: I recently ran across a discussion of mediocrity in YA writing and this is one of the books I immediately thought about. Though most (actually, all but one) of the other reviews I've read of Everneath rave about the novel, I just could not get into the story. Ashton's writing is decent, but I could never connect emotionally with the characters. They always seemed too distant. Nikki's last months should be dramatic, full of high emotions, but I rarely saw truly strong feelings, especially between her and her family. Nikki's brother and father were barely mentioned, but didn't she come back, at least in part, to say good-bye to them? Also, I was expecting much more mythology to be incorporated into the plotline, but the story of Persephone and Hades provided only the most basic of backgrounds. Orpheus and Eurydice also popped up - and it became obvious how the tale was going to end - but, overall, the mythological elements of Everneath were left largely undeveloped. Nikki and Jack's romance was at the forefront of EVERYTHING, but again, I couldn't connect much to the characters emotionally. I just couldn't make myself really care about the outcome of the novel, and it seemed like nothing much happened in the plot to hold my interest. Maybe paranormal romance just isn't my cup of tea...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Classic Sci-Fi: The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Series: Bison Frontiers of Imagination
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska Press/Bison Books
Date: 1918 (1999)
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased used
Read: because I love old science fiction
Pages: 420
Reading time: one week
Note: This edition comprises all three Caspak books, The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Time's Abyss

Bowen Tyler, Jr., is on his way to the war in Europe when the ship he's on is torpedoed by a German U-boat. Through an odd series of events, he ends up on said U-boat with a motley crew of Germans, Americans, and one lady, only to wind up floating around the South Pacific and running into the legendary island of Caprona. Once on Caprona, the adventurers encounter creatures from the earth's prehistoric past as well as humans in varying stages of evolution. Separated by attacks and treason, Tyler, crew member Bradley, and would-be rescuer Billings forge three separate narratives of this strange new land.

The first two parts of The Land That Time Forgot are excellent adventure tales, filled with action, mystery, and a little bit of romance. Unlike some older books, Burroughs' writing has not become antiquated with time, and the novel is as easy to read as any recent book. Other than most of the Germans being double-crossing sabotagers, the book does not carry many of its era's stereotypes, either. I was quite surprised when *spoiler alert* two of the main characters married Caspak natives after having said repeatedly that they do not love them, the girls being of other "castes" designed to be somewhat similar to Neanderthal people.

The evolutionary aspect of Caspak is interesting, though I never figured out Burroughs' purpose in designing it as such. Individuals evolve from tadpoles to nearly-modern humans as they move from south to north on the island, a journey which takes an unknown (but very long) number of years. Very few people - and then only at the top of the evolutionary chain - are born as are regular humans. In some ways, the novel could be viewed as an outline of evolution contained in one individual rather than by species' changes over millennia, but Burroughs does not delve far enough into scientific details for that.

The third part of the book is more bizarre, moving from science fiction into fantasy. It's almost as if Burroughs wrapped up the storyline at the end of the second part, then remembered there were a few loose ends and finished them in the final part. Here we meet the Wieroos, a skeletal-looking, murdering bunch with wings. Normally an ultimate show-down between the Wieroos and highest order of humans would be expected, but everyone from our world leaves before anything is resolved, with the Caspakian order remaining as before. It's a rather unsatisfying ending to an otherwise satisfying read.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Wrapping Up 2011 Readathon: Finish

I enjoyed participating in this final readathon for the year, and it was definitely a success for my reading! I finished:

Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot by Joseph Cummins
Iago by David Snodin
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I got halfway through:
Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith
Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Since The Land That Time Forgot was later added to the original list of seven books and I got halfway through two books, I reached my goal, right? At least as far as numbers are concerned...

Many thanks to Jessie's Remarkable Reads for hosting this great wrap-up to the year!

New Year's Resolutions and Books I'm Looking Forward To

1) Don't go with the crowd. From browsing through RSS feeds, I've realized how much redundancy there is in YA blogs. Everyone who posted "favorites" lists had about the same books on them. At least in my blog postings, I think I should cut down on the really popular YA books I read and focus on ones that are lesser-known.

2) Read the books I have. I seem to have this compulsion for acquiring books, whether purchased or won off the Internet or received for review. My bookshelves (and there are many) are turning into a disorganized mess. Plus, I'm going off to college next year and, after that, I will probably never touch many of the children's/YA novels I own but haven't already read.

3) Comment on other blogs. I try to keep up with blogs, I scroll through all the feeds on Google Reader, but I rarely comment. Mostly I look for giveaways rather than read reviews, which needs to be changed because the point of book blogs is to review books. I was much better at commenting over the summer, but with school it's dropped off...

4) Read more nonfiction. I want major in history, anthropology, and/or English literature, and much of my wishlist reflects my interest in these subjects. But...I haven't read most of the nonfiction books I already have on these subjects.

5) Stop trying to keep up with dystopias. The recent craze is bordering on ridiculous; aside from the continuations of series and a few really spectacular debuts, I'm ready for authors to stop capitalizing on the genre. Dystopias were originally intended to be socio-economic-political commentary, but the genre seems to be moving into just populist pulp fiction. But I love dystopias, so we'll see how long this resolution lasts.

Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot
Grove/Atlantic, January 2012

I found this sci-fi book through First Look and just thought it looked interesting.

A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2) by Beth Revis
Razorbill, January 2012

I absolutely loved Across the Universe, so of course I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel!

Three Science Fiction Novellas by J.-H. Rosny ainé
Wesleyan Univ. Press, January 2012

Technically these aren't new, as Rosny was contemporaneous with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, but it can be difficult to find his works in translation.

The Mirage by Matt Ruff
HarperCollins, February 2012

In an alternate world, the roles of the U.S. and the Middle East are reversed...

The Nightmare Garden (Iron Codex #2) by Caitlin Kittredge
Delacorte Books, February 2012

I have no idea what to expect from this sequel...

No One is Here Except for All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
Riverhead, February 2012

This just sounds like a fascinating concept, and I've enjoyed other books published by Riverhead because they were unique, well-written, and interesting.

The Forgetting Curve (Memento Nora #2) by Angie Smibert
Marshall Cavendish, April 2012

Another dystopian sequel I can not wait for.

Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik
First published in Arabic, 2008; Qatar Foundation Publishing, May 2012

Middle Eastern sci-fi novel telling of Egypt in the year 2023.

The Time Ship by Enrique Gaspar
Wesleyan Univ. Press, July 2012

I just found out about this (literally, as I was making this list) and started jumping up and down! The Time Ship is the first English translation of El anacronópete, an illustrated Spanish science fiction novel from 1887.

I swear, I do actually read stuff that's not sci-fi. A lot of stuff, actually. I also think I like purple and blue covers...

If anyone happens to have a copy of one of these books, I am willing to steal trade you for it.

What are the books you're looking forward to in 2012?