Monday, February 28, 2011

School Reading: King Lear by William Shakespeare

Another book from British Lit.
Based on historical and literary sources from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the tragedy of King Lear tells the entertwined stories of Lear and Gloucester. An aging Lear decides that he will divide his kingdom between his three children, all daughters, based on how much they love him. When he asks them, the eldest two, Goneril and Regan, give lengthy, rather obsequious answers detailing their undying love of him. Cordelia, however, simply replies that she loves him as much as a daughter is meant to love her father. Angered by her answer, Lear disinherits Cordelia, and she is sent off to France with her new husband. Back in England, Lear discovers that his other daughters actually hate him and are plotting to overthrow the remaining vestiges of his power. Too late he finds out that Cordelia is the true daughter. Does he have enough time to redeem her and his kingdom?

Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is having similar domestic problems. His illegitimate son, Edmund, has returned from almost a decade abroad. He appears to be a model son - he even exposes Gloucester's other son, Edgar, as a scheming, would-be evildoer whose machinations are intended to depose Gloucester. Once Edgar is on the run, however, Edmund succeeds in overthrowing his father, and Gloucester joins Lear in the league of disillusioned fathers who have lost their kingdoms, health, and beloved children.

I really enjoyed King Lear. Shakespeare has so much more to offer than the ridiculous romance of Romeo and Juliet! (If you don't agree with my assessment of that play: they're about 12 or 13, Romeo was originally in love with another girl, they know each other for a week, and they kill themselves?!!) The storyline of the play drew me in, and I found analyzing a play while reading it surprisingly enjoyable (by the way, I'm planning on majoring in English lit, among other things). While the story is primarily a tragedy centered around human follies (of the good characters) and ambitions (of the evil characters), there are some funny parts as well. Take this list of insults, for example: "[thou art] a knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; [a] one-trunk-inheriting slave" (act two, scene two). Even in a tragedy, Shakespeare has to get his insults in...

For anyone who is interested, all of the Shakespeare I've read was for various English classes. In 8th grade language arts I read A Midsummer Night's Dream (I was Puck), in freshman English Romeo and Juliet, in senior English Hamlet (I was Polonius), and now King Lear for college British Lit. A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet are my favorites.

My copy of this book, the 2005 Bantam edition, was provided by my school.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Book This Week

Just the one, unfortunately, though I presumably have five coming soon in the mail.

Free from Simon and Schuster: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I'm assuming that I won this in a contest, because I entered one on the publisher's website and this showed up on my doorstep this week. It appears to be another one of those YA dystopias, and, as it doesn't come out until June, it's on by TBR list but not at the very top. I'm really looking forward to getting time to read it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Magical Realism - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Rose Edelstein doesn't realize there's anything special about her until her ninth birthday when, while eating the lemon-chocolate cake her mother has baked for her, she discovers that she can taste emotions in food. In this particular cake, Rose tastes the loneliness, the hollowness and unhappiness of her mother. Unable to cope with the emotional disturbances that home-cooked food brings, Rose turns to factory-manufactured junk food for substenance as much as possible. She goes through the rest of her childhood and teenage years trying to deal with the knowledge that food brings her - news of her mother's love affair with a co-worker, a friend's depression, the intense feelings of cooks and chefs from random restaurants. Her problems with food are not helped by her dysfunctional family; her father is distant, her mother feels neglected, and her older brother is a genius recluse who is gradually receding into himself. Each family member is in their own little world, and Rose has no idea who to turn to or how to cope with the emotions that food brings her.

Magical realism is such an odd genre. Most of this book is completely realistic, simply telling the story of a dysfunctional family. Except for the parts about Rose's ability to taste emotions in food and the place where someone turns himself into furniture. I was surprised about how sad this book was. All of the characters, wrapped up in their own separate worlds and unable to truly connect with each other, are almost overwhelmingly lonely. There's no truly happy ending, either, only a bittersweet one. It's a depressing read, but at the same time I enjoyed it. My one issue with this book is that I felt like it had a deeper meaning that didn't come through enough for me to be able to completely catch it.

Maturity Factor: Some isolated stuff. Sex is mentioned, very briefly, once, and there's some random profanity.

My ARC of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was received through GoodRead's First Look program. Published by Doubleday, it went on sale in June, 2010.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

YA Sci-Fi: How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain

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

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

Maturity Factor: Some bad language and sexual situations.

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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Books! Comment for Reviews

Again, these are all my new books from this week. Please comment if there is a book that you would particularly like to see a review of! (By the way, I'm planning on posting my review of How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend tomorrow, and I'm currently reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.)

Free Books:
Under the Moons of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (publisher - Univ. of Nebraska Press)
How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend by Gary Ghislain (LibraryThing)
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (GoodReads)
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (Random Buzzers)

After by Francine Prose
The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds


Friday, February 18, 2011

Fantasy: The Radleys by Matt Haig

From the first chapter:
"It is a quiet place, especially at night. Too quiet, you'd be entitled to think, for any kind of monster to live among its pretty, tree-shaded lanes...if you took a nocturnal stroll past the detached period homes lived in by solicitors and doctors and product managers, you would find all their lights off and curtains drawn, secluding them from the night....And if you would at first see that number seventeen is a house otherwise in tune with those around it....It is a house that looks and feels precisely how a village family home should look - not too big, but big enough, with nothing out of place or jarring on the eye. A dream house in many ways, as estate agents would tell you, and certainly perfect to raise children."

Peter and Helen Radley have spent the last fifteen or so years of their lives trying to fit into middle-class British village life. They have two teenagers, Rowan and Clara, and appear to be the perfect family. Peter, a doctor, works during the day while Helen spends her time taking care of their home and catching up on the latest novel for her book club. Sure, they have some oddities - Rowan has a rash from exposure to sunlight, a neighbor once caught Peter eating a raw steak, animals flee from the kind-hearted Clara - but the Radleys are just your average family. Or so they want everyone to think. In reality, the Radleys are abstaining vampires. They've kept their vampirism a secret - even from Rowan and Clara - for about a decade and a half, refusing to drink either human or vampire blood. Clara's even a vegetarian and, for a brief period of time, a vegan. But then their daughter unintentionally discovers her powers and kills someone, and the secrets that Helen and Peter have tried to keep for so long - from unbloods, their children, and themselves - begin to unravel.

I have heard some great reviews of this book. It's advertised as being a vampire book, but not like all the Twilight vampire books. And it's not like Twilight - it takes a more unsentimental view of vampires. There's romance, but it's not the overriding theme of the whole novel. The book is really about identity, what constitutes a monster, and how far secrets should go. As far as writing style goes, Haig's pretty good - he keeps the story flowing, and there were some sections that were just beautiful - though I'm not sure whether I appreciated his literary allusions or found them corny. I wasn't really wowed with this book, however (and I can't put my finger on why), but it's incomparable to some of the vampire crap that I've read.

Maturity Factor: Some bad language and sexual situations, and a couple nasty descriptions of vampire attacks. Nothing graphic enough to be rated R.

I won a finished copy of this book through a giveaway hosted by Words by Webb. The Radleys went on sale in December, 2010.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Awesomeness! Cinq

I'm really, super busy with school, so I'm going to make Awesomeness! an every other week thing instead of once a week.

This week's Awesomeness!

Broadview Press is one of my favorite publishers because of its extensive selection of mostly British (with some American thrown in) Restoration/18th century, 19th century, and Victorian literature. Seriously, it's amazing. Some of their books are scholarly editions of your average classics: most of Austen's works, Frankenstein, and, most recently, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Others are more esoteric: Tales of Wonder by M.G. "Monk" Lewis and The Victim of Prejudice by Mary Hays, to name two obscure novels by relatively well-known authors. Other books and authors I've only heard of by drooling over the Broadview catalog, and the press has some interesting anthologies as well of 19th century/Victorian short stories, nonfiction, and literary criticism.

Prices are generally reasonable, too. Most are between $20 and $30 for well-bound (but paperback), well-edited, scholarly editions of works that are often not in print anywhere else. So far I've snagged three Broadview books off of BookMooch and one for my birthday:

The Governess by Sarah Fielding
Millenium Hall by Sarah Scott
Anti-Pamela and Shamela by Eliza Haywood and Henry Fielding
Secresy by Eliza Fenwick

So fans of obscure and classic English literature, take a loooooong look at Broadview's catalog! They even have a nice chronological list...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

YA Fiction: Badd by Tim Tharp

Badd opens with the story of sixteen-year-old Ceejay McDermott. She and her older brother, Bobby, are b-a-d-d. They're tough. They don't let anyone push them around and they can be a bit on the wild side sometimes. Ceejay and Bobby have always felt out of place in their small-town family: their parents are perpetually cheerful, energetic church-goers; their older sister is married to an insurance salesman; their younger sister is a girly-girl; their younger brother's reality is video games. But Bobby goes too far one day, and instead of going to jail he is given the chance to join the army. Ceejay's thrilled when Bobby returns unexpectedly, but she can't figure out why he's not running straight back to the family, or to her, the other "outsider."

Basically, the book is about Ceejay's and Bobby's journeys of self-discovery. Bobby is scarred by what he witnessed in Iraq and elsewhere; Ceejay's facing the changes in her brother and corresponding changes in her perception of what makes a person truly "badd." There are several emotional scenes: Mrs. McDermott's mother, who has always been the "enemy" of Ceejay and Bobby, has terminal cancer; Bobby eventually tells all about his experiences in the war. There are funny parts, too. The siblings fall in with the appropriately-named Captain Crazy, try to build an aero-velocipede, spring a guy out of a prison-like nursing home in the dead of night...

It took me a while to get into Badd. At the beginning, I really did not like most of the characters, who seemed to enjoy a lot of drugs, sex, and alcohol (with the exception of Ceejay, who manages to stay clean while the rest of her friends party). As the story started moving along more, however, it became more enjoyable and the characters, especially Ceejay and Bobby, were much more likeable. Was it worth reading? Yes. Will I re-read it? Most likely not.

Maturity Factor: As mentioned above, there is a certain amount of sexual, drug, and alcohol references throughout the book, as well as bad language.

My ARC of Badd was received through Random House's Random Buzzers program. Badd went on sale January 11.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

School Reading: Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

I haven't had time to finish reading my current book, so here's a review of Beowulf, which I read for my British Lit class.

I'm assuming most people are familiar with the basic plot of Beowulf, so I'll keep this short. The story begins in Denmark, where King Hrothgar has built a magnificent mead hall. For twelve years, however, the hall has been plagued by Grendel, a monster who comes during the night to kill the men inside. Beowulf, Geatland's hero, hears word of Grendel and sails to Denmark to kill him. Beowulf is successful in his battle, but Grendel's not the only monster out there - Grendel's mother wants revenge, as does a dragon whose treasure has been stolen...

This was my third attempt at reading Beowulf, and I discovered that translators matter! The first time I read the poem (a few years ago; Gordon Hall Gerould translation) I came out confused and very slightly more knowledgeable about the story than before. My second attempt (earlier this school year) didn't make it past the first few pages, I was so bored. But third time's the charm - I read Heaney's translation and loved it! Aside from a few confusing sections about the feuds between the Geats and the Swedes, the poem was actually an enjoyable read and - gasp! - kind of exciting! Translators can really make the difference between literature being boring and confusing or interesting and exciting.

Besides the good story line and epic battles, Beowulf was surprisingly like the film adaptation that came out in 2007 (which I watched earlier in the school year for English IV). Yes, there are some major differences, like the parentage of Grendel and the dragon, Hrothgar's death, and the Beowulf's life after he leaves Denmark, but the battle scenes in the movie and Beowulf's time in Hrothgar's hall were almost straight out of the book. I would recommend to anyone who reads the poem to also watch the film (just watch out for the violence and do some "creative editing," as my teacher called it, during the part with Grendel's mom).
The translation of Beowulf that I read, by Seamus Heaney, was from the Norton Anthology of British Literature, Vol. I, eighth edition (2006). This textbook was provided by my school.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New Books! Comment If You Would Like Me To Review One

Every Saturday I'm going to post what books I've obtained during the week. If you would like me to review a particular one, please comment! Otherwise, there's a chance it will end up buried in Mt. To-Be-Read and will not see the light of day for a few years...

Free books (the best!):
The Radleys by Matt Haig (many thanks to a Words by Webb giveaway)
Badd by Tim Tharp (Random Buzzers)
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Random Buzzers)
Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford (LibraryThing Member Giveaways)

The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Awesomeness! Four

Brave New World is one of my favorite books. It's what got me hooked on science fiction, actually. I love Huxley's books (I've also read Ape and Essence and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, and Island and The Devils of Loudun are sitting on my bookshelf), so I find it pretty awesome that, in 1979, a radio broadcast of Huxley narrating the story of Brave New World was released on an LP. Better yet, that LP has since been posted on the Internet for the listening pleasure of science fiction and Huxley fans everywhere!

Side One can be found here.
Side Two can be found here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

YA Fiction: The Running Dream by Wendelin van Draanen

Sixteen-year-old Jessica loves to run. She runs around her neighborhood with her dog every morning before school, and she is a medal-winning athlete on her school's track team. When Jessica's story opens, however, she is in the hospital after a car accident, her leg amputated, her running dreams on hold.

Jessica doesn't see how she'll ever be able to walk, much less run, again. It takes her weeks just to make it out of the hospital and back into school. But then her track coach shows her videos of athletes running record-breaking sprints - on special prosthetic legs. With the help of her uber-supportive friends and teammates, Jessica hatches a plan to raise the $20,000 for a "running leg" so that she'll be able to compete in track events her senior year. Will Jessica be able to achieve her "running dream" despite her accident?

The Running Dream is a pretty good book. Jessica's story is inspiring, and van Draanen's writing really brings readers into Jessica's thoughts and hardships. What made this book especially great, however, is that it's not just about a girl who, despite a terrible accident, is able to come back and start achieving her dreams again. Van Draanen adds an extra dimension to the story with Rosa, a freshman with cerebral palsy whom Jessica meets because she's sent to the back table in math class - the table for students in wheelchairs. In fulfilling her dreams, Jessica doesn't forget the dreams of Rosa, and she helps her new friend (and raises awareness of Rosa's condition) in a unique way that brings readers to the inspiring conclusion of the novel. 

My ARC of this book was received through Random Buzzers, a program of Random House. The Running Dream went on sale January 11, 2011.