Monday, April 30, 2012

Blog Tour Review: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy

Publisher: Free Press
Date: February 2011; April 24, 2012 (US)
Format: paperback
Source: Free Press Blog Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 250
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: Roy has returned with another masterpiece that is already earning international prize attention, an evocative and deeply moving tale of a young woman making a new life for herself amid the foothills of the Himalaya. Desperate to leave a private tragedy behind, Maya abandons herself to the rhythms of the little village, where people coexist peacefully with nature. But all is not as it seems, and she soon learns that no refuge is remote enough to keep out the modern world. When power-hungry politicians threaten her beloved mountain community, Maya finds herself caught between the life she left behind and the new home she is determined to protect. Elegiac, witty, and profound by turns, and with a tender love story at its core, The Folded Earth brims with the same genius and love of language that made An Atlas of Impossible Longing an international success and confirms Anuradha Roy as a major new literary talent.

My review: The first 100 or so pages of this started out as strong as An Atlas of Impossible Longing, which I absolutely loved reading last year. I remember now why I love Anuradha Roy's writing so much - it comes off as enchanting and magical, and she says everything so eloquently and with occasional large words. I love how she interworks details from Indian history, archaeology, and culture with the main point of the story. But, unfortunately, I did not think that this book was anywhere near as fantastic as Roy's previous novel. The plot was very slow-paced, and if not for Roy's great writing, I would probably have been bored enough to struggle finishing the book. The storyline meandered, never truly reaching what was expected from reading the book's blurbs. I didn't feel like the story and characters were as well-developed as they could have been, and the overall plot seemed to be missing some cohesive element. I think, on the last page, I finally grasped some of the points Roy was trying to make with the novel. The Folded Earth is worth a read - Roy's writing is still wonderful and there are some interesting points to the book - but if you're choosing between it and An Atlas of Impossible Longing, go with the latter!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nonfiction: The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

Full title: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: April 10, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 200
Reading time: ten days (but only because I didn't have much time to read)

From GoodReads: Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?

In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival. Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, Gottschall tells us what it means to be a storytelling animal. Did you know that the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior? That all children act out the same kinds of stories, whether they grow up in a slum or a suburb? That people who read more fiction are more empathetic? Of course, our story instinct has a darker side. It makes us vulnerable to conspiracy theories, advertisements, and narratives about ourselves that are more “truthy” than true. National myths can also be terribly dangerous: Hitler’s ambitions were partly fueled by a story. But as Gottschall shows in this remarkable book, stories can also change the world for the better. Most successful stories are moral—they teach us how to live, whether explicitly or implicitly, and bind us together around common values. We know we are master shapers of story. The Storytelling Animal finally reveals how stories shape us.

My review: This proved to be quite a delightful read. The subject material and arguments covered are certainly fascinating, and Gottschall, through his quotes and supporting evidence, is clearly well-read both in this subject and in a more general sense. I did not expect the heavy dependence upon psychology, but it was well-explained and actually provided a great supplement to the psychology course I am currently taking. The evolutionary biology approach to explaining the purpose(s) of storytelling was also particularly fascinating.

The one thing about which I could complain, which is actually more of a personal problem than one of the author's, is that there is not a concrete set of knowledge I took away from reading this book. Gottschall explores a variety of ideas about the reasons behind storytelling that stem from a variety of academic disciplines, so the book comes off as more of an eclectic, chapter-by-chapter compilation than a concrete setting-forth of a single man's unified ideas. It's quite fascinating, and Gottschall adds an appropriate amount of humor to keep things moving, but the reader comes away with more general knowledge and less specifics that can be concretely explained. Not by any means unpleasant, but not what I had expected. Also, I had mixed opinions about the images included with the text. Many did add to the material being covered, but I felt that some came off as unprofessional in the general outlay of text and pictures. However, maybe this will be remedied in the final copy of the book. 

Overall, The Storytelling Animal is a fun but also very informative read. It is perfectly written for a general audience, containing little academic jargon but still perfectly conveying its messages. Even for people not usually interested in the fields covered, the mix of occasional humor, references to well-known things from history and the media, and Gottschall's clear writing make for an interesting read.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my stop on the Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am a Reader Not a Writer and vvb32 Reads!

My favorite fairy tale character: the sister (Sydnee, Sorcha, Alexandra, etc.) from the "Six Swans"
I fell in love with this fairy tale when I read Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest. The sister is such a strong character - she rebels against her evil stepmother and is so determined to save her six brothers that she doesn't speak for years, scarring her hands as she makes starwort shirts for the brothers-turned-swans. She doesn't even fall in the face of accusations and impending execution, even when she is unable to explain the situation to her husband in order to save herself. The retellings and adaptations of this tale are fantastic, because the sister calls for such a strong character and personality. There's so many different aspects of the story to explore in fairy tale-inspired novels, which is why I'm giving away the winner's choice of two retellings:
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier 
The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

The giveaway: Fill out the Rafflecopter form below. I'm ordering from the Book Depository, so the contest is open to anyone who lives in a country to which BD ships for free. The giveaway ends at 12:01 AM (EST) on May 2nd.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In My Mailbox #24

For review:
The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich (publisher)
I keep getting review copies in anticipation of summer break! This one looks like an interesting blend of historical Venice and the issues faced by Jews over their religion.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley (thanks, Faith Justice from Historian's Notebook!)
I don't often read nonfiction, but Baret's story just looked so interesting.
Purity by Jackson Pearce (thanks, Wandering Librarians!)
I have yet to read any of Pearce's books, though they look fantastic. What caught my eye on this one was the religious aspect.  

Okay, this haul bears explanation. I went to tour East Carolina for their Open House over the weekend, and there were some really great book sales nearby. I spent under $50 for all of these books together, and they're all ones that are often hard to find in stores for good prices. I think I'm about the only person who goes on a college tour and comes back with 22 books and not much of a better idea about where she's going to college...
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
I loved Anuradha Roy's novel An Atlas of Impossible Longing, and I've heard Arundhati Roy's books are even better...
Kindred by Octavia Butler
I've read Butler's Parable of the Sower and would like to try some of her other novels.
Island Lives: Historical Archaeologies of the Caribbean by Paul Farnsworth
Well, I am looking at going into anthropology/archaeology...
The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
18th century satire! 
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
The original frame tale - Chaucer's inspiration.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
It's rare to find literary-ish sci-fi in antique stores, so I scooped up this one.
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
It's about Thomas More, who's connected to utopianism...
Ante-Bellum by George Fitzhugh and Hinton Rowan Helper
A collection of three 1850s Southern sociological books on slavery. I'd never heard of any of them and thought the anthology looked fascinating.
Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown
18th century novel, American literature, and gothic. Excellent combination.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
It has Arcadia in the title, which is related to utopianism...the play also has to do with Lord Byron and Romanticism.
The Lais of Marie de France by, well, Marie de France
Medieval Arthurian poetry.
I Sing the Body Electric! by Ray Bradbury
I love Bradbury's books, but it's been a while since I've read one.
A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
Mid-19th century Russian Romantic novel.
Tigers and Traitors (Steam House #2) by Jules Verne
I'd never heard of this sci-fi book by Verne before! Unfortunately, it's only the second half of the novel.
Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
I'd heard of Wallis' Native American mythology-inspired novels a few years ago and have been wanting them ever since.
Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt
1930s Native American autobiographical writing.
The Soul of the Indian by Charles Eastman
Early 20th century anthropological writing on Native Americans by a Native American.
Travelers and Travel Liars, 1660-1800 by Percy G. Adams
I am familiar with much of what Dover publishes...but not this.
The Lunatic Lover: Plays by French Women of the 17th and 18th Centuries ed. by Perry Gethner
There are really some fascinating anthologies out there!
The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins by, guess who, Pauline Hopkins
I've read Of One Blood, which is included in this collection. It's odd.
Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina by H. Trawick Ward
At this point, I think I now have most of the books on North Carolina archaeology (and have read none of them). But I only have five, so there's really not a great deal.
America B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World by Barry Fell
Fascinating pseudoarchaeology.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

School Reading: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Publisher: Signet
Date: 1962 (1975)
Format: very tattered paperback
Acquired: one of my dad's books of his teenage years
Read: for AP Psychology
Pages: 272
Reading time: ten days

From GoodReads: You've never met anyone like Randle Patrick McMurphy, the hero of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He's a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the ward of a mental hospital and takes over...He's a lusty, profane, life-loving fighter who rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women. At every turn, he openly defies her rule. The contest starts as sport (with McMurphy taking bets on the outcome) but soon it develops into a grim struggle for the minds and hearts of the men, into an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse, backed by the full power of authority...McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will.

My review: If I hadn't been reading this for a class, I probably would have quit around page 70. I was just so bored for about 2/3 of the novel. It seemed like nothing much happened - and this is coming from someone who enjoys those nothing-happens-for-the-entire-book-as-we-examine-a-protagonist's-whole-life novels of the 19th century. Sure, the insights into crazy people's minds were interesting, but the story just didn't really grab my attention the way I expected it would. I usually enjoy mid-20th century social novels like this, but this was just...boring.

Granted, the last 1/4 of the book made it a worthwhile read. Things suddenly picked up, and the novel became fascinating and exciting. I began to see where Kesey was going with this blasting of America's mental institutions...mostly. I felt like that aspect of the book could have been brought out and developed way more, because I was left with a hunch as to Kesey's intent, but not the whole picture. I don't really have a great opinion of his writing right now. If you're reading this for a psychology class or because this type of book is just your thing, the novel is a good read. If not, well, don't expect to get past page 70.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

YA Fantasy: The Nightmare Garden by Caitlin Kittredge

Series: Iron Codex #2
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: February 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from Random Buzzers
Read: because I absolutely loved The Iron Thorn
Pages: 418
Reading time: one week

From GoodReads: Everything Aoife thought she knew about the world was a lie. There is no necrovirus. And Aoife isn't going to succumb 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.

My review: Ugh, what a letdown! I loved The Iron Thorn, which I thought was fantastic for its worldbuilding, writing, characters, and epic fantasy house. Not so for the sequel. Honestly, I was confused for a lot of the time. The plot seemed to meander, flitting between different events mostly as a bridge between books. Aoife was an incredibly annoying character, not listening to anyone, beating herself up over the same mistakes, and repeating herself. She just seemed whiny, impulsive, and unintelligent in this book, and I usually wanted to smack her. The other characters were inconsistent, and the ever-changing plot appeared incohesive and put me in a fog for most of the read. Maybe the next book will be worthwhile.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

Publisher: Penguin
Date: 2004
Format: paperback
Acquired: mooched
Read: as an AP Art History supplement (okay, and also because I was intrigued by the Native American aspects)
Pages: 420
Reading time: six days

From GoodReads: In her acclaimed novels, Susan Vreeland has given us portraits of painting and life that are as dazzling as their artistic subjects. Now, in The Forest Lover, she traces the courageous life and career of Emily Carr, who, more than Georgia O'Keeffe or Frida Kahlo, blazed a path for modern women artists. Overcoming the confines of Victorian culture, Carr became a major force in modern art by capturing an untamed British Columbia and its indigenous peoples just before industrialization changed them forever. From illegal potlatches in tribal communities to artists' studios in pre-World War I Paris, Vreeland tells her story with gusto and suspense, giving us a glorious novel that will appeal to lovers of art, native cultures, and lush historical fiction.

My review: The Forest Lover proved to be a great supplement to my art history class because it really connected me to the expression and emotions in artwork. I thought Vreeland did a very good job of delving into the mind of an artist, demonstrating her passion and motivation for her art rather than just her superficial actions. I hadn't really grasped the personal "meanings" of modern art from class, but I began to through reading this book.

I'm not sure why I put off reading The Forest Lover for most of this school year. I expected it to be another slow-but-steady historical novel, but I was quickly totally absorbed into Emily Carr's story. It went passed the promised scenes of British Columbia to cover a modest selection of Fauves and other modern artists in France, showing the trials of being a professional female artist in the male-dominated early 20th century art world and exploring various styles. The only thing I could have wished for were more details of indigenous cultures as well as more of Carr's works. Reading the novel as much for knowledge of the First Nations as for art history, I wanted Vreeland to delve into the other cultures more than the amount she did, though it was adequate for the plot. I also wanted to see more of Carr's works in context with the storyline; there were only about four or five scattered throughout the book. Overall, however, The Forest Lover proved to be a fascinating historical read focusing on a figure about whom I now wish to learn even more.

Kitwancool, 1928
Blunden Harbour, 1930
Big Raven, 1931

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In My Mailbox #26

Whew, I'm back from my spring break/senior trip to Hawaii! (And still jet-lagged after an overnight flight and a six-hour time difference.) The trip and my 18th birthday were great, thanks for asking. I came home to a stack of ARCs, so I have much reading to catch up on even in my sleepy state!
This is a three weeks edition of IMM, by the way.

For review:
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (publisher)
Mostly interesting because it's set in New Amsterdam.
The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy (Free Press Blog Tours)
I absolutely LOVED Roy's An Atlas of Impossible Longing last year!!!
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall (GoodReads First Look)
I'm interested in folklore and mythology, so I'm hoping this will be a decent read.
I, Iago by Nicole Galland (GoodReads First Look)
I enjoy my retellings.
The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
Hopefully this won't turn out to be overkill on the weird sci-fi bildungsromans, since I've recently read The Age of Miracles and Salvation City.

A Good American by Alex George (thanks, Popcorn Reads!)
Looks like a nice historical fiction epic.

Many thanks to Amy at Black Sheep Dances:
West of Here by Jonathan Evison
Looks like another good historical fiction read.
Until the Next Time by Kevin Fox

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
25 cents at the local library.
Lord Emsworth and Others by P.G. Wodehouse
Also 25 cents at the local library, and I've been wanting to try out Wodehouse's books.
Aloha 'Oe, The Song at Pier 10 by John Tanaka
Historical fiction romance about Queen Liliuokalani (I almost spelled that right the first time!). The romance part doesn't appeal much to me, but the book was just calling from its place at the Polynesian Cultural Center shop... 
Myths and Legends of Hawaii by W.D. Westervelt
Another buy from the Polynesian Cultural Center. I loved that place - totally recommend it, even though it's quite expensive.
ABC-CLIO World History Companion to Utopian Movements by Daniel W. Hollis
I might be, erm...slightly obsessed with utopias. Even though this is a reference book, I'm really enjoying just reading it all the way through. Slowly.

From RandomBuzzers:
Crow by Barbara Wright
North Carolina historical fiction! About the end of Reconstruction, no less, when blacks actually had a lot of rights and political positions just before Jim Crow laws set in.

God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiaquan by Jonathan D. Spence
This kind of goes along with the utopian book. Hong Xiaquan apparently thought he was the younger brother of Christ and sparked the Taiping Rebellion, establishing a Taiping Heavenly Kingdom around Nanjing that actually managed to last for about thirteen years.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

YA Historical Fiction: The Lacey Chronicles by Eve Edwards

Title: The Other Countess
Series: Lacey Chronicles #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: July 2010 (UK); July 2011 (US)
Format: hardback
Acquired: from Random Buzzers
Read: because the sequel was about to be released
Pages: 335
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: England, 1582. Ellie—Lady Eleanor Rodriguez, Countess of San Jaime—possesses a worthless title, but her feisty spirit captivates the elite of the Queen's court—especially the dashing new Earl of Dorset. William Lacey, Earl of Dorset, has inherited his father's title—and his financial ruin. Now Will must seek a wealthy bride and restore his family's fortune. If only he hadn't fallen for the beautiful but penniless Ellie. . . Sparks fly whenever Ellie and Will are together, but circumstances—and the conniving interference of others—threaten to keep them apart.

My review: I thought The Other Countess would turn out to be just another stereotypical Tudor romance, but it started out strong. Ellie is a different heroine, bookish and scholarly rather than concerned with marriage and appearances. Though I could have done without the implied sex scenes between other characters, the plot of the novel was quite interesting, incorporating historical details such as the conflicts between Anglicans and Catholics without becoming centered upon Elizabeth and her famous court. Unfortunately, however, the story eventually turned into the usual historical romance. I found Ellie's character wavering, losing its initial bookishness and interest in learning. The romantic plot followed the same basic elements as every other romantic plot, and the ending felt rushed. I was also a bit upset over the brief depiction of Ellie's Puritan side of the family, which came off as being unnecessarily negatively stereotypical in their dogmas and hypocritical actions.

Title: The Queen's Lady
Series: Lacey Chronicles #2
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: February 2011 (UK); April 10, 2012 (US)
Format: ARC
Acquired: from Random Buzzers
Read: because it's close to the US release date
Pages: 313
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: England, 1584. When beautiful Lady Jane Rievaulx begins her service to the Queen at Richmond Palace, she is thrilled to see the court's newest arrival . . . Master James Lacey. No matter that Jane was previously courted by the eldest Lacey brother—James is the one who has won her heart. For his part, James cannot deny his fascination with Jane; his plans, however, do not allow for love. He is about to set sail on a treacherous journey to the Americas, seeking absolution for what he sees as past sins. But when Jane is forced into a terrible situation by her own family, only one man can save her. Will Master James return to his lady before it's too late?

My review: Probably one of the most interesting things in this series for me is that it follows the men, not the women, of a family, yet the stories are told primarily from the woman's viewpoint. The Queen's Lady skips over a year of time since the conclusion to The Other Countess, which I felt made Jane's actions initially come off as superficial and flighty. Even though she had good reasons for her actions, they were not very clearly expressed and developed due to the skipped time. Jane, like Ellie in the first book, comes off as a different character than expected. Jane was first introduced in The Other Countess as a vain girl concerned only with marrying a rich, old man for his money and quick death, but she quickly proves to have a deeper character trapped by the constraints of Tudor society and her family.

Plot-wise, The Queen's Lady turned out to be the opposite of The Other Countess. Jane became a more interesting character as the story progressed, and I became more, rather than less, absorbed in the plot. Of particular interest was James' voyage to the North American coast with Sir Walter Raleigh. Towards the end, however, the storyline began to drag. More and more events were tacked on to the ending to wrap up the plot, which just made me wish the book would end already. The third book in the series will follow an illegitimate half-brother of the Laceys rather than the expected third son, however, so despite my disappointments with the series I'll likely pick up the next book should I run across a copy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Brief Hiatus

What, you ask, no IMM this weekend? No new review even though that sidebar thingy says you're reading a new book? Well, I am preparing for this:
Beautiful Hilton Hawaiian Village at Waikiki, Oahu, for the spring break '12 senior trip! (And I turn 18 the second day we're there. :) ) I'm not sure about Internet access yet. It could be a time to get caught up with reading and the blog, or I might not be able to update.

But I'm not to Hawaii yet, because first, I have this:
The downside to taking mostly online classes is that four of the six don't have spring breaks...