Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blog Tour: A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: May 28, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Blog Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 385
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Inspired by Sam Halpern's childhood in rural Kentucky, A Far Piece to Canaan tells the story of Samuel Zelinsky, a celebrated but troubled retired professor who reluctantly returns after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind-yet now must reconnect with long-buried memories in order to achieve peace. 

Delving into the events of 1945, Sam recalls Fred Mulligan, the hired hand's bright and spirited ten-year-old son. Together with two neighbor boys, Samuel and Fred visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil force lurks. The boys find the body of a dog, surrounded by twisted human footprints, and later discover a cave that offers other evidence that something terrible has transpired. Fearing that they'll be punished for their trespasses, the boys initiate a series of cover-ups and lies that eventually lead to a community disaster.

When the Zelinskys move from the farm, the two boys promise each other that if either of them ever needs help, the other will come to his aid, but after he moves to Indiana and is ridiculed because of his "hillbilly" background, Sam rejects his past.

Now, decades later, Sam is devastated to learn from a fellow classmate about Fred's tragic life story in the years that followed-and manages to make contact with his troubled granddaughter, Lisa June. Though at first she rejects his attempts to reach out to her, through persistence and patience Samuel finally manages to establish a connection, becoming a kind of surrogate grandfather to Lisa June - and finally achieving peace through his late return to Canaan land.

My review: A Far Piece to Canaan combines two of my favorite elements in books: Southern regionalism and coming-of-age tales. Halpern captures the dialect, religion, local folklore, and lifestyles of rural Kentuckians in the 1940s, along with all the struggles of sharecropping. These provide the backdrop for Samuel's coming-of-age in the midst of a community threatened by a mysterious figure.

I greatly enjoyed the mystery and suspense surrounding the strange things occurring within the community. It was fascinating to watch everything unfold, though at times the plot seemed a little too prolonged and I questioned why the characters made the choices they did. Still, the intervening content about Samuel and Fred's friendship and Samuel's growing perception of the society around him was at turns bittersweet and delightfully nostalgic.

The novel was very well-written, and, for the most part, the story flowed well. By the end, however, the story had switched from Samuel's childhood to his redemption, and I was no longer as interested in the plot as I had been previously. The best storyline for me was Samuel's coming-of-age in the '40s, and after that concluded, I started losing interest in the rest of the book. But Samuel's story would not be complete without what came afterwards, and overall A Far Piece to Canaan is a very worthwhile and interesting read.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions VII

Hi all! I'm still hanging around. Summer has so far proved much busier than I expected, and so, unfortunately, I haven't had much time to read and catch up blogging. You'll be hearing more from me later in the week!

For review:
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani (First Look)

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli (thanks, Literary R&R!)
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (thanks, Book Snob!)

Purchased from
Pyg by Russell A. Porter
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Flight to Canada by Ishmael Reed
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong by Fanny Trollope
The Harbor by Ernest Poole
Homo Zapiens by Victor Pelevin

Other purchases:
Indian Wars in North Carolina, 1663-1763 by E. Lawrence Lee
Native Carolinians by Theda Perdue and Christopher Arris Oakley

Purchased used:
Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg
Tik-Tok of Oz (Oz #8) by L. Frank Baum
Glinda of Oz (Oz #14) by L. Frank Baum
The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (Tarzan #11) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan at the Earth's Core (Tarzan #13, Pellucidar #4) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz
The Death of King Arthur by anonymous

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Final Class Reads of Freshman Year

Doing Oral History by Donald A. Ritchie (2003)
read for The History Sleuth
This is a little bit outdated in terms of the technology discussed, but otherwise it's an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of planning, completing, and using oral history projects. Occasionally some of the information repeated in the Q&A format, but this was overall very concise, readable, and helpful - a fantastic resource.

Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story by George Lipsitz (2010)
read for The History Sleuth
I'm not that interested in the history of 20th century music, so at times I was a bit bored by this. While there's a great deal of good information contained in the book, outlining Otis's contributions to black music and history, its presentation was almost hagiographical. I was a little annoyed by Lipsitz's value judgments on music and way of portraying Otis in a better light than basically all the other musicians mentioned.

Retelling U.S. Religious History ed. by Thomas A. Tweed (1997)
read for American Religion on the Margins
I tend to enjoy revisionist histories because, if nothing else, they allow one to reconsider history and examine it from new and interesting angles. The essays collected in this volume were hit-and-miss with me. The first half of the book seemed like it would have been better if the authors had gone straight ahead to rewriting history books rather than writing about rewriting them, while I found the essays in the second half much more fascinating, thought-provoking, and worthwhile.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

YA Sci-Fi: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Date: March 1, 2013
Format: hardback
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 290
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

My review: There were parts of The Summer Prince that I just loved and parts that confused me. I loved how different this was from other YA sci-fi novels: it's set in futuristic Brazil, and the background to the setting contains elements of Brazilian culture and the Candomble religion. Also, the society of Palmares Tres is obviously feminist, something which I haven't found much, if at all, in other recent YA dystopias. The novel just had a completely different feel to it than many others of the genre. The plot was pleasingly unpredictable - aside from the love triangle, which does have some twists of its own, there's few of the cliches of this brand of science fiction.

But there were aspects of the novel, however, that were not entirely satisfactory. I never got a good feel for June's character and what she actually felt and wanted. Her emotions and beliefs felt ambiguous. There were other times when it seemed like the reader was dumped too much in the middle of the futuristic society, with new technology and other elements popping up mid-novel without previous explanation. It took a while to figure out the political arrangement and jargon of Palmares Tres, and there were points where the plot just didn't seem to come entirely together. This had the potential to be an utterly stunning novel, but I think the issues in its details demote it to simply a decent and interesting read.

Maturity factor: Sexual content. Much discussion of sexuality, including LGBTQ relationships, with which some readers may not feel comfortable. (Personally, I'm a prude when it comes to sexual morality, and I felt a bit uncomfortable at times with the promiscuity of certain characters.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What I've Been Up to Lately

Without realizing the passing time, I've been a lousy blogger and haven't posted anything in the past week. I was finishing up final exams and papers, then packing and driving halfway across the country back home. Of course, once I got home, I had to unpack all the books I've accumulated during my first year of college and shelve them.

I clearly underestimated the extent to which unpacking and sorting everything would make a mess. I have no idea how I managed to fit most of these books into my half of a small dorm room using only desk space and dresser drawers. I also have no idea where these books are going in my room, because I'm almost completely out of shelf space. Right now, half of the books above are back in boxes.

My apparent hoarding issues aside, I plan to get back to blogging regularly this week. That's the goal, anyway. I also start a museum internship (!!!) and online summer classes within the next few days, plus over this summer I plan on going on a couple of vacations, helping my mom with her home business, sewing some clothes, maybe volunteering at another historic site, and, oh yeah, reading. A lot. Because I came home to this:

Behold, the stack of ARCs that have come within the last 4-5 weeks and were held at home by my parents while I was away. I apologize to all the publishers and other review venues who have sent me these because I am super-duper behind with reading them. I'm currently on The Summer Prince and plan on basically just reading straight down this stack, which is mostly organized by release date. I promise to get caught up over the next few weeks!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sci-Fi: City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

Publisher: Graywolf Press (U.S.)
Date: May 2011
Format: hardback
Source: WLT giveaway shelf
Read: for cleaning out Mt. TBR
Pages: 277
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: Forty years in the future. The once-great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland is on its knees, infested by vice and split along tribal lines. There are the posh parts of town, but it is in the slums and backstreets of Smoketown, the tower blocks of the Northside Rises and the eerie bogs of Big Nothin' that the city really lives. For years, the city has been in the cool grip of Logan Hartnett, the dapper godfather of the Hartnett Fancy gang. But there's trouble in the air. They say his old nemesis is back in town; his trusted henchmen are getting ambitious; and his missus wants him to give it all up and go straight... And then there's his mother.

My review: This is a case of "it's not you, it's me." For one thing, I found it difficult to become accustomed to the dialect used by the author throughout the novel. At the beginning, there were some points where I really just didn't know what was going on. While my understanding of the dialect increased, it never became easy to read. Also, it seemed like there was no central plot, and I felt like I missed whatever the point of the book was. On the other hand, I did appreciate how different City of Bohane is from other sci-fi novels. The language and style are certainly unique, and there were some moments that seemed very Bladerunner or Gravity's Rainbow-esque (in positive ways). Even if you're like me and won't truly enjoy reading this book for the fun of it, it's definitely interesting enough to pick up anyway.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Recent Acquisitions VI

For review:
The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman (publisher)
See my review and giveaway of this here.
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (publisher)
And for some reason I got two copies of this, so there will be a giveaway when I review it!
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel (Early Reviewers)
Both this and Ausubel's debut No One is Here Except All of Us are highly-anticipated summer reads.
Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen (Early Reviewers)
Mind Games by Kiersten White (ARCycling)
The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter (ARCycling)
I was getting this confused with Clare Dunkle's The House of Dead Maids as a retelling of Wuthering Heights, but hey, I enjoyed Potter's The Humming Room last year.
A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern (TLC Blog Tours)

Introduction to Museum Work by G. Ellis Burcaw
For my internship that starts next week. :)

Library sale:
Rip Tide (Dark Life #2) by Kat Falls
The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
The Glittering Plain by William Morris
The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth
Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (4 vols.) ed. by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris
El Cid: The Making of a Legend by M.J. Trow
Serendipity and the Three Princes ed. by Theodore G. Remer
The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty by J. William Harris
American Colonies by Alan Taylor
"Bayonet! Forward": My Civil War Reminiscences by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain