Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Historical Fiction: Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

Publisher: Scribner
Date: June 5, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 425
Reading time: four days
*slight spoilers ahead*

From GoodReads: Iran in 1576 is a place of peace, wealth, and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and closest advisor, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but the princess’s maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her trusted servant, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, are in possession of an incredible tapestry of secrets and information that reveals a power struggle of epic proportions.

My review: It took me a little while to get engrossed in Equal of the Sun. Not being familiar with Persian court politics, etiquette, and intrigues, I found some of the interrelations between various nobility, other court members, and tribes to be a bit confusing. Especially at the beginning, the novel seemed a little underdeveloped, as if some details that would lend more development and cohesiveness to the story had been edited out, and the plot felt a bit rushed in places.

The book improved, though, the more I read. I enjoyed the last 2/3 or so much more than the beginning. The plot is an intriguing window into the struggles of the Safavi dynasty during the late 1570s, an era in which the court was fraught with espionage, assassinations, weak and/or possibly deranged rulers, and much political scheming. The narrator of the story, a eunuch under the employ of Princess Pari, is perfectly positioned to tell the story, as he has access to the harem, the city outside the palace, many of the rooms in which politics are conducted, and, of course, the fascinating character of Pari herself. One of the things I most liked about the novel was the nuanced depiction of Pari. Contrary to many heroines in historical novels, she generally fights against her suppressed position in a patriarchal society not through openly rebellious, gender-bending ways, but by elevating her freedom and position through the mechanisms already set in place. And at the same time that she is the strongest political force in the story, she is not perfect; her flaws are clear when her ambitions and opinions occasionally get in the way of what is perhaps best for her political and physical safety.

In some ways, I wish Equal of the Sun had ended about 100 pages sooner, when the story reached its highest point and a lot of loose ends were concluded at the end of the same chapter. Alas, history does not work the same way as novels, and so it's mostly downhill for the main characters for the rest of the book. There's closure at the very end, but only with heartbreak and tough compromises mixed in.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Classic Lit: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Date: 1726 (1968)
Format: paperback
Source: one of my dad's books of his teenage years
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Pages: 300
Reading time: ten days

From GoodReads: Shipwrecked castaway Lemuel Gulliver’s encounters with the petty, diminutive Lilliputians, the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the abstracted scientists of Laputa, the philosophical Houyhnhnms, and the brutish Yahoos give him new, bitter insights into human behavior. Swift’s fantastic and subversive book remains supremely relevant in our own age of distortion, hypocrisy, and irony. 

My review: I am somewhat familiar with Swift's work, having read "A Modest Proposal" and part of the fourth section of Gulliver's Travels in British Lit last year. I very much enjoyed both of these, finding Swift's writing to be bitingly satirical in a generally humorous way, but was disappointed in that the rest of Gulliver's Travels does not match this quality of writing.

For much of the book, I found the satire unclear. Maybe it's just because the novel hasn't aged well and I do not have enough background in early 18th century British society and culture, but I usually wasn't sure where Swift was pointing his satirical words. There were some very clear subjects, however, that Swift seems to dislike: politicians, lawyers, physicians, other travel writers, nobility and royalty, common criminals, and women. I think the author just dislikes people in general, but he was perhaps most satirical of women.

There were some humorous parts to the novel - sporadic and usually brief, but some funny times. Other than these interludes, though, the book was slow. I was usually forcing myself to meet my daily goal of half a section (about 40 pages). I was really just sick of Gulliver's voice and wanted him to stop talking and for something exciting to happen. Considering what other "classic" narrator's dialogue-driven novels I've read, this is quite surprising. Normally I'm not bored by the older books, but this time I found reading one generally unenjoyable and soporific. It's a shame, really, because usually a classic satirical tale of fantastic voyages is what I love to read.

Join the Classic Bribe 2012 at Quirky Girls Read!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gah, Why'd They Change the Cover?!

Chime by Fanny Billingsley
I wasn't a huge fan of the first cover, but the second looks self-published. Also, that shade of green looks awful against her pale face!

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
I really liked the first cover, which is the one that's on my ARC. It's fairly simple, but different from a lot of other YA covers and pretty in its simplicity. The second cover, though, seems like it would better fit a mystery or thriller, though the houses pictured in the light suit the setting of the book.

What do you think?

Friday, May 25, 2012

YA Fiction: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Publisher: HarperTeen
Date: 2007
Format: paperback
Source: purchased
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Pages: 370
Reading time: one day
*spoilers ahead!*

From GoodReads: Sym is not your average teenage girl. She is obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic figure of Captain Oates from Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. In fact, Oates is the secret confidant to whom she spills all her hopes and fears. But Sym's uncle Victor is even more obsessed--and when he takes her on a dream trip into the bleak Antarctic wilderness, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that will challenge everything she knows and loves.

My review: My interest in this book stems from how it is related to John Cleve Symmes. Some background: Symmes, in the early 19th century, came up with one of many hollow earth theories. In his case, he believed that holes at each of the earth's poles led to another world, concealed within the hollow sphere of the world in which we live. Symmes probably wrote the first American utopian novel, Symzonia (1820), espousing these theories. His ideas of the hollow earth were also used in some of Edgar Allan Poe's writings, like "MS. Found in a Bottle" and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I'm not sure, but Mat Johnson's recent novel Pym could also draw upon these theories.

So in The White Darkness, the main character is rather conspicuously named Sym. It's short for Symone, but the similarity can't be that coincidental, now can it? And indeed, Symmes' Hole at the South Pole is an important part of the story, as Sym's mad "Uncle" Victor is determined to find the portal to the underground world. But of course, Victor is totally insane (in what turns out to be a rather diabolical way, as he can be ruthless in eliminating things that stand in the way), and this novel is more of realistic or contemporary fiction rather than speculative. I was a bit disappointed both in this and in the lack of source research McCaughrean discussed in the back of the book's added information section. Symzonia is still in print, after all, and you can find more information on Symmes in several books on utopianism and early science fiction.

But The White Darkness is still an utterly fantastic adventure story.

The main cast of characters is quirky, to say the least. Several of them appear to be insane, at first in an interesting way and then, eventually, in more harmful ways. I loved Sym herself. She reminds me a lot of an exaggerated version of my worst character traits - introverted, shy, bookish, socially awkward, talking to imaginary figures in her head as her friends and closest confidantes, not sure how to deal with guys and related matters. She's totally endearing in all her unapologetic awkwardness and shyness, a character to whom many teen readers can relate.

The action in the book is slow but utterly gripping. The White Darkness is an engrossing adventure novel not for its fast-paced, overly dramatic and exciting events, but because it is an epic survival story that paces out itself in an entirely realistic manner. Well, not quite entirely realistic, I suppose, because the chances of setting out across Antarctica as a 14-year-old girl with a madman who's searching for Symmes' Hole is not really that likely to occur. The storyline is perfectly and beautifully developed, and the plot, though a bit slow, never drags. I read all 370 pages in basically one sitting, not willing to put the book down. It's a shame that such a fantastic YA novel that got a lot of reviews and some nice awards a couple years ago seems to not get much attention now. So far this year, it's the only book that's received a full five-star rating from me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

MG/YA Historical Fiction: Puppet by Eva Wiseman

Publisher: Tundra Books
Date: January 2009
Format: paperback
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 243
Reading time: two days
*slight spoilers ahead*

From the paperback blurb: The year is 1882. A young servant girl named Esther disappears from a small Hungarian village. Several Jewish men from the village of Tisza Eszvar face the ‘blood libel’ — the centuries-old calumny that Jews murder Christian children for their blood. A fourteen-year-old Jewish boy named Morris Scharf becomes the star witness of corrupt authorities who coerce him into testifying against his fellow Jews, including his own father, at the trial. 

This powerful fictionalized account of one of the last blood libel trial in Europe is told through the eyes of Julie, a friend of the murdered Esther, and a servant at the jail where Morris is imprisoned. Julie is no stranger to suffering herself. An abused child, when her mother dies her alcoholic father separates her from her beloved baby sister. Julie and Morris, bound by the tragedy of the times, become unlikely allies. Although Puppet is a novel, it is based upon a real court case that took place in Hungary in 1883. In Hungary today, the name Morris Scharf has become synonymous with “traitor.”

My review: After reading Puppet and one of Wiseman's other historical novels, The Last Song, within a fairly close time period, I think I just have a love/hate relationship with the author's books. The hate part: there's often a lot of time that gets skipped that could instead have been fleshed out more. In Puppet, especially, there's a lot of jumping around without much development. The Jews are suddenly blamed for Esther's death (never mind that there's absolutely no sign of foul play at that point), Morris is suddenly completely indoctrinated by the Christian Hungarians, and Julie is, for some reason, traveling back to her hometown from the county capital to buy simple sewing supplies. There's occasional plot holes, lots of underdevelopment, and flat characterizations.

The love part: Wiseman takes horrific events from Jewish history and turns them into novels that teach younger readers (and some of us older ones, too) about things that are often neglected in history books. I think I'd run across a mention of the blood libel trials once in all of my other readings. It's a tough subject to read about; I was upset for most of the book at the injustices of the characters' lives, from the prejudices that scapegoat the Jews to the abuse and hard lives of Julie, her sister, and her friends. The last third of the book is absolutely gripping as the actual blood libel trial is covered. Readers are in suspense as we hear the (mostly coerced) lies told by some witnesses, the outrage of the falsely accused, and the internal conflicts of those torn between protecting themselves and doing what's right for others.

Final consensus: If I was a younger reader, I likely wouldn't notice all the things that I "hated" about the initial development of Puppet. Instead, I would have been thrilled because I was reading about a period of history previously unknown to me and felt righteously indignant over the injustices portrayed in the novel. In this regards, Puppet is perhaps better for a younger audience, though it is still an informative - and quick - read for the older set.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Giveaway: Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Last year I hosted a giveaway and posted a review of Caleb's Crossing with a Q&A provided by author Geraldine Brooks. Thanks to Penguin, I am hosting a second giveaway this year, just in time for you to add a paperback copy of Caleb's Crossing to your summer reading!

GoodReads summary: The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

If you would like to read my review of this great historical read, please check it out here.

Giveaway: As this is a publisher-sponsored giveaway, it is only open to the US and Canada. Open until 12:01 AM (EST) on 6/24/12.

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Fiction: Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: 1993
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Pages: 140
Reading time: two hours

From GoodReads: Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River area in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine. Though these two women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die truing. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness will carve out a permanent place in readers' imaginations.

My review: In a departure from most (all?) other epic survivalist stories, Two Old Women focuses on a year in the lives of, well, two old women who have been left to die by their community. The two women are not expected to survive, being seemingly frail and useless in obtaining food, but they are two stubborn old ladies who aren't quite as frail and helpless as they make themselves out to be.

The first third or so of the book was a bit slow. The women are traveling through the Arctic wilderness in winter, so of course it's cold and snowy and harsh. The women have to look for food, and they keep getting stiff from pushing their bodies too hard and then waking up in the cold. They also travel slower than their younger, sprier peers, so this daily sequence repeats itself for a while. But eventually, we learn more about their lives pre-abandonment, summer approaches, and things pick up a bit as readers become more engaged in the women's past and current lives. Normally, at this point I would commence a complaint about a general lack of overall development of the plotline, but the framing of the plot as folklore makes it okay. It's a retelling of a legend without much added detail, so of course to us readers used to full-length novels it seems to be lacking a bit in some areas. Told in Wallis's simple yet elegant style, however, the folktale comes off as a great little introduction to the tales and culture of native Alaska, complete with some inspirational qualities and a feel of the North American storytelling tradition.

Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun (1996) is Wallis's other retelling of Athabaskan legends, this time featuring a younger cast of characters who are described as rebels breaking the culture's taboos. I wish Wallis would write some more of these...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Historical Fiction: The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe

Publisher: Voice
Date: April 10, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 413
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium. But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium’s scrying glass. From the opium dens of Boston’s Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of theTitanicThe House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.

My review: The House of Velvet and Glass is a refreshing departure from most other Titanic-oriented books in that it focuses on one family's aftermath in the years following the disaster. The ship itself is featured in only occasional scenes, and its final three hours are never directly chronicled. Also of particular interest in this historical novel are its emphasis on Spiritualism, flashbacks to 1860s Shanghai, and connections to the beginning of America's involvement in the First World War.

It took me a while - over half the book - to really get into the story. I was never able to connect very well with most of the characters, and the plot was slow. Fortunately, Howe has a good writing style that allows continuing the book to be worthwhile, just not necessarily exciting. Towards the end, though, I began breezing through the pages as the conclusion began to develop. The plot never reached the breathtaking mysteries and unravelings seemingly promised by the blurb, but there were some interesting things that were gradually uncovered. Besides the slowness of the plot, the only thing that really bothered me was that I figured out one of the twists way before the characters, who seemed to be taking too long of a time to figure it out for themselves. Oh, well. The House of Velvet and Glass is a worthwhile read if you enjoy historical fiction and have the time, though it will probably never warrant a re-read, at least for me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Eagerly Anticipated Releases

Some of the upcoming books that have made their way onto my wishlist; for ones mostly from the first half of the year, see here.

No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz
Dial, May 29

"Life as We Knew It meets Lord of the Flies in a mall that looks just like yours" - I absolutely love books that are compared to the amazing social analysis of Lord of the Flies.

The Investigation by Philippe Claudel
Knopf/Doubleday, July 10

"A wild, Kafka-esque romp through a dystopian landscape, probing the darkly comic nature of the human condition," by a French author. What more could you want?

Becoming Clementine by Jennifer Niven
Velva Jean #3
Plume, September 25

I enjoyed the second Velva Jean book, though I'm a bit disappointed that the next one will take her completely out of North Carolina.

The Turning by Francine Prose
HarperTeen, September 25

Adele Griffin's retelling of The Turn of the Screw was so unexpectedly amazing last year that I hope this retelling will also be awesome.

The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper
Montmaray Journals #3
Random House, October 9 (US release)

I loved the first two books in the series and can't wait for the next!

Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes (anthology)
Month9Books, October 16

Fairytale and mythology retellings are quite popular, but I've never heard of someone retelling Mother Goose.

Rebel Heart by Moira Young
Dust Lands #2
Margaret K. McElderry, October 30

Another series I absolutely love!

Ashes of Twilight by Kassy Taylor
St. Martin's Griffin, November 13

I'm not a huge fan of steampunk; I just really like this cover.

All of this is to say that if you happen to have a spare copy of one of these, I'd be happy to steal trade/buy/do something for it.

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Historical Fiction: I, Iago by Nicole Galland

Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: April 24, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 370
Reading time: three days
*spoiler alert, at least if you're not familiar with Shakespeare's original Othello*

From GoodReads: Everyone knows Shakespeare's classic tragedy of friendship and betrayal, love and jealousy: Othello. But the real story lies deep in the culture and biases of Venice and the childhood of a young man named Iago who could not escape his status as "runt of the litter" in his family nor his "distasteful" tendencies toward honesty that made him a social outcast. In Nicole Galland's I, Iago we follow Iago from his childhood days playing pranks with young, naive Roderigo to falling in love with Emilia to betraying his closest friends and family, sealing his fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

My review: Well, this definitely will be included in my top reads of 2012! I was a little concerned over the redundancy of this after having recently read Iago by David Snodin back in December, but, other than the common source for the story, the two are completely different. Galland's version is told from the point of view of Iago himself, tracing his childhood and adult experiences in the military up to his infamous plot on Cyprus. Along the way, Galland throws in a great deal of information on Venetian society, particularly its idiosyncrasies and the general foppish nature of its higher echelon. 

The cast of characters proved to be quite unexpected. Iago begins as a fairly likable character, sharing his sarcastic reflections upon higher society in a generally humorous manner. I never expected to laugh while reading a retelling of a tragedy! Iago's wife, Emilia, likewise proves an interesting and charming character, as do Othello and Desdemona. I was really enjoying reading about their lives in Venice and in the military, the developing bond of deep friendship between Othello and Iago, and the relationships between each couple. Too bad the whole tragedy part of Othello had to begin developing about halfway through...

The biggest shame about the book? As with Shakespeare's play, Cassio is the only main character to survive - and he's the one no one likes. Cassio is a complete fop, while the other characters are likable and engaging. Oh, and doesn't Cassio get appointed governor at the end of Othello? What an ironic laugh! 

The other great things about Galland's novel are her writing and her development of Iago's character. Galland has a truly excellent writing style, and she cohesively weaves together the difficult plot structure so that all of its developments make perfect sense and never seem out of place. She makes out Iago not as a villain, but as someone whose personal beliefs and aspirations cloud his mind until the results of his actions spiral out of his control. The shift from likable character to "villain" is fluid and expertly developed, making this one of the most superb retellings of a classic tale that I've ever had the good fortune to read.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In My Mailbox #26

This is a two week's worth, done-with-exams edition. I'm hoping to spend way more time reading and blogging than I have during the school year, especially since I'm trying to read down Mount-To-Be-Read before I go off to college in the fall. Dorm rooms are not very conducive to bringing in your personal library...

For review:
The Planets by Sergio Chejfec (GoodReads First Look)
The title is intriguing, it's by an Argentinian author, and the plot sounds interestingly odd.
Puppet by Eva Wiseman (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
I read/reviewed Wiseman's novel The Last Song back in March. This historical novel is about the blood libel trials of Jews in Eastern Europe, a subject about which I know next to nothing.
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (publisher)
Usually I shy away from historical reads that switch between the past and the present, but there's so little written about the Armenian genocide...
A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (publisher)
I'm also not normally one for superhero books, but this looked too good to pass up.

The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman by David Waller (thanks, Catherine from Victorian Secrets Press!)
Biographies are not my normal nonfiction read, but I've been following Victorian Secrets for their reprints of Victorian novels and am interested in seeing what any of their books are like. The guy on the cover IS wearing a leaf, by the way.
Revealing Eden by Victoria Foyt (thanks, Jessica at Book Sake!)
To feed my dystopia habit...

Snow White, Blood Red ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
I've heard of a lot of Ellen Datlow's books but never read any, and I do love fairy tale retellings.
Tomorrow, When the World Began (Tomorrow series #1) by John Marsden
I've been after this YA sci-fi (dystopia? post-apoc?) series for a while; I've only seen Scholastic's edition before and didn't realize the series is actually from the early 1990s.
The Van Alen Legacy (Blue Bloods #4) by Melissa de la Cruz
I'm not sure when/if I'll finish this series (#4 is the only one I haven't read); vampires were my thing a couple years ago. so I'm not sure if I'll still enjoy the books post-Twilight phase.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I've seen the movie adaptation of this, which is the only movie where I cried pretty much the entire freakin' time.
I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale
YA novel involving cults...interesting.
Grace by Elizabeth Scott
I've avoided this for a while, thinking it some weird self-published thing (I hate the cover) rather than a slightly pre-dystopian craze dystopia.
Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
Southern lit! I have a passing knowledge of Styron's two most famous novels from American lit last year (thank you, Wikipedia synopses) and would like to actually try his books.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Morrison is another modern author that I need to try reading...
All of the purchased books, except for the first, came from the local library's book sale today.

What came in your mailbox this week?

Friday, May 18, 2012

MG Mystery: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Publisher: Dial
Date: May 10, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 312
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

My review: I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed this! Southern-flavor novels are often hit-or-miss with me; either the author captures the Southern aspects very well or else they're overexaggerated and irritating. Fortunately, Ms. Turnage captures the unique aspects of backwoods North Carolina culture perfectly - it's obvious she's a native of the state! She plays up the characteristics well, accenting the things that make the area stand out without at all degrading the people or seeming superficial.

I was also pleased at how excellent Turnage's writing is. Though Three Times Lucky is aimed at an older children's/middle grade audience, nothing is oversimplified, and the vocabulary used seems fairly sophisticated. Even as a young adult, I found the novel quite fun to read and at times even laugh-out-loud hilarious. The plot was perfectly paced and developed, with nary a dull spot or rushed sequence. I loved all the colorful characters, and all their actions and motives seemed perfectly cohesive, never inconsistent. I will be so disappointed if we do not later hear more about the escapades of the precocious Miss Moses LoBeau! 

Announcements, and I do not have a problem...

...right, just like my room in the following pictures is totally clean. Not. My problem is with collecting and hoarding books. If you were following me last year, you may remember these pictures I took of my library here. My room doesn't look the same now. There's more bookshelves. :) And, after a year of winning book giveaways and getting ARCs for review, they're all overflowing AGAIN, because I am a hoarder and only get rid of duplicate copies.

Before: all fantasy, realistic fiction, and random stuff
Now: contemporary sci-fi, half of the realistic fiction, and random stuff (bottom shelf, the one thing that hasn't changed)
That stack on top is about a foot and a half from the ceiling; I can barely reach the top now.
Before: mysteries on top two shelves, historical fiction on bottom three
Now: all historical fiction
And there's more in the box at the bottom of the picture. I've also resorted to stacking on the top of this shelf, but it's only seven books high at this point. You can't see the stacks on the bottom two shelves very well, though.
Before: vintage mysteries
Now: vintage mysteries
I haven't been reading much (erm, any) of the old children's mystery series lately, so I've added maybe one or two books to my closet shelf. My clothes haven't changed that much, either...
Before: wasn't here!
Now: 20th century lit on the top shelf and a half, mysteries on the others
I have way more 20th century novels than I did before, mostly because my interests have expanded with college lit classes. I'm about out of room already, though (some books are missing), and have started doubling stacks of paperbacks.

Before: Renaissance through 19th century literature
Now: Renaissance through 19th century literature
Same shelves...more books. It's not as obvious at this angle. All the Eragon and Harry Potter books are still in the boxes to the left, but they've now been joined by the overflow of contemporary sci-fi and realistic fiction books that are stacked in front and in the additional box next to the bed. That area looks so clean in the old picture...

Before: 20th century literature, old books, history, and other nonfiction/folklore/mythology
Now: ancient and medieval lit (used to be stacked on top of the Eragon/Harry Potter box) and literary history on the top shelf, old books on the next, world history on the third, U.S. history on the fourth, and science/folklore/mythology/social sciences on the bottom
Looks pretty much the same, just with more stacks in front.

Before: all sci-fi books (don't ask me how) and classic fantasy
Now: classic sci-fi and classic fantasy
You can't see around to the other side very well in this picture, but overall there's four rooms and half a hallway with books. The one shelf where there's (currently) fewer books than before!

Before: wasn't here!
Now: contemporary fantasy
I don't know how all this managed to fit onto three measly shelves before...this is actually my childhood bookcase, but I'd let my brother use it for a while before I reclaimed it, since I obviously need the space! Books are double-stacked on every shelf, and there's more on the top shelf hidden behind the stacks that are visible. On the desk are a bunch of picture books and the Magic Tree House series, as well as a stack of ARCs to review (not visible).

Well, that concludes my annual tour of the library. I am clearly a hoarder and blogging has only fed my habit! What's worse is that my room is about to be even more of a mess...

Announcement time!
First off, I graduated high school/community college last week! Hooray!!! Though, due to my odd scheduling of classes, I only finished with all my exams today...

Second, my family is moving in early July! Fortunately, it's only about two and a half hours away to what seems to be a very nice small town. We are currently engaged in room wars, mostly over whether or not I get the study (which has two walls of built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves!) as my bedroom or not. My mom seems most concerned about my lack of a closet if I get the study, never mind that I'll be gone for 3/4 of the year.

Third, I FINALLY decided where I'm going to college! In August, I shall become a Sooner (I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what this is) at the University of Oklahoma in Norman! I'm in a mix of excitement and anxiety over this choice; OU has the programs I want and the scholarships I need, but it's a 16 hour drive to get there from North Carolina!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Publisher: Random House
Date: June 26, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 270
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

My review: The Age of Miracles is what I love in science fiction: the use of the genre as a springboard for explorations of other issues. In this case, the sci-fi novel also becomes a coming-of-age tale, bringing to mind the dark days (no pun intended, given the nature of this apocalypse) of middle school. Reading the book, I was constantly reminded of Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake because the same general themes are repeated throughout. Science fiction and a slightly different voice merely replace the magical realism of Bender's novel.

As far as writing and storytelling go, The Age of Miracles makes a magnificent debut for Walker. Her writing style is excellent, and Julia is one of the most naturalistic and well-spoken YA narrators I've read in a while. Her emotions and relationships seem so real, her sixth grade year's story bringing back to life some of my own repressed middle school memories. The science fiction elements are mostly believable, with few "huh?" moments where the sequence of catastrophic events are rushed or incohesive. There's very little to not like about The Age of Miracles, making it an excellent read both as a sci-fi and as a coming-of-age novel.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: January 2011
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 321
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers—a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. 

My review: This is one of the most engaging historical novels I've read in a long time. There's rarely a slow moment and never a dull one in what is a surprisingly exciting historical book. I loved the blend of settings and characters - readers are introduced to a diverse array of Jews, courtesan ex-Jews, wealthy Venetians, slaves, "New Christians," and Maltese society as the setting alternates between the ghetto and canals of Venice and the docks and markets of Malta.

The amount of romance in the novel is tasteful and doesn't try to override the historical and midwifing aspects of the book. I found Hannah to be a bit naive for someone who is in her thirties, dealing with religious conflicts and prejudice, and quite knowledgeable in medicine, but otherwise she is a very likable character whose actions and motivations are easily understood. If the sequence of events seemed a little bit unbelievable in the second half of the book, the sense of action and suspense more than made up for it. I was surprised at how fast I was able to breeze through the book, and I usually skip-read ahead when I ran out of reading time and just had to find out what happened next!

Friday, May 4, 2012

In My Mailbox #2-

Two weeks' worth of IMM! I have a boatload of exams coming up, so posting is likely to be even lower the next two weeks. After that, though, I plan to be jumping full-speed into reading. There will also be some Very Important Announcements and a post in which I highlight the absurd amount of books I manage to cram onto a scant few shelves.

For review:
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (First Look)
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (publisher)

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny (thanks, Bless Their Hearts Mom!)
Tristan and Isolde #1: Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle by Rosaline Miles (thanks, Andrea from Reading Lark!)

From Random Buzzers:
Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Purchased, because Ollie's has such good prices:
Illuminated by Erica Orloff
XVI by Julia Karr
Incarceron #2: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Veracity by Laura Bynum
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

Sci-Fi: The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb

Publisher: Unbridled Books
Date: June 12, 2012
Format: ARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 310
Reading time: five days

Back of the book: When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, Ruby Cole faces a heartbreaking decision: she must either abandon her baby or give in to her father and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. Her choice sets in motion events that upend the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder.

My review: In a time where the sci-fi genre is glutted by YA books also shelved in the "paranormal romance" section, the ideas behind The Bird Saviors are a welcome break to the norm. A dust bowl-like environmental catastrophe, avian flu returned with a vengeance, fundamentalist Mormons, and the scapegoated killing of birds combine in this near-future novel best categorized as post-apocalyptic to create an engaging plot and varied cast of characters. The problem with the book? It reads like a somewhat-literary Western novel, focusing mostly on the action and relationships between characters and little on the underlying development. The background behind the apocalyptic scenarios is barely explained, and it took me a while to connect the "Saints" gang with FLDS characters already met. The characters largely felt underdeveloped, with the author focusing more on their sex lives (non-explicitly) and current actions rather than any deeper motives and backgrounds. The sense of time was confusing, often jumping several weeks without explanation. But despite these issues, The Bird Saviors is well-worth a read for the plot. Rarely dragging, the storyline takes readers on one whirlwind of a series of events, effortlessly switching between multiple character viewpoints to provide many angles for the issues at hand.