Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Books, Spring Break Edition

The mail brought me lots of books this week, as did some shopping, and, between traveling and procrastinating on homework, I got a lot of reading done - I finished three books in three days (can't remember the last time I did that!) and started two others. It's been a great week.

For review:
Evangeline by Ben Farmer (Overlook Press)
Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne (Random House)
The Butterfly's Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe (GoodReads)

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French (thanks, Autumn at From the TBR Pile)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (thanks, Scarlett's Scraps)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (thanks, Erin at Quitting My Day Job)
All the Lives He Led by Frederik Pohl (thanks, Suzanne at Preternatura)
Wildefire by Karsten Knight (Simon & Schuster Galley Grab)
The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees (Rees' Facebook page)

Bought (used, of course):
Grendel by John Gardner
The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Outline of History, Vol. I by H.G. Wells
The Legend of the Wandering Jew by Joseph Gaer

Did you get anything interesting in your mail box or find an especially interesting book haul this week?

Friday, April 29, 2011

YA Fiction: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones is the kid every parent warns their children about. He's the kid who's blamed for everything, including dragging other children into trouble. And he's knocking on 13-year-old Charles Bucktin's window late one night, wanting help from this unlikely, bookish ally. Taking Chuck into the woods, Jasper shows him something that will not only change his view of the small Australian town he lives in, but also lead to his unique coming-of-age story.
What makes a YA book without fast-paced action, amazing plot twists, romantic angst (well, there is some), or fantastical or dystopian elements such a good read? The author's writing. What keeps Jasper Jones moving is that Silvey gets inside his characters' teenage heads, generally with humorous outcomes. Much of the bantering dialogue between Chuck and his friend, Jeffrey, reminded me of my old church youth group's discussions because of their stereotypical teenage nonsense arguments and wonderings and, yes, pervertedness and profanity. Even though Jasper, the titular character, is absent (along with the mystery that at first, mistakenly, appears to be the central plot) for a significant portion of the novel, Chuck's individual story is entertaining enough to keep readers, well, reading. It's not so much of what Jasper shows Chuck at the beginning that's ultimately the focus of the novel, but Chuck's coming-of-age as he deals with what he sees and with new revelations of his small-town society. Think The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird (to quote the back of the ARC) or, in my opinion, Carol Plum-Ucci's The Body of Christopher Creed or Edward Bloor's Tangerine. I fell in love with Silvey's storytelling and his characters; my only complaint about the book is that, at times, the characters seemed too mature for thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. Still, Jasper Jones is a great read. It's not for everyone, but for readers who don't mind thinking a bit about the deeper content of their novels, it's wonderful.

Maturity Factor: Proverbial teenage profanity and pervertedness.

My ARC of Jasper Jones was received through Random House's Random Buzzers program. Originally published in Australia, it went on sale in the U.S. on April 5, 2011.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nonfiction - Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films, and Games

Edited by John Perlich and David Whitt, Millennial Mythmaking follows up their previous anthology of essays - Sith, Slayers, Stargates, and Cyborgs - with another round of contemporary comparative mythology. Generally connecting back to Joseph Campbell's theories of mythology, this collection examines modern novels, films, and games and compares them to traditional themes (mostly classical, but also western) and analyzes the roles of science fiction and fantasy as contemporary mythology. Topics in the book include the Harry Potter novels, The Wizard of Oz and Wicked, Pan's Labyrinth, Spirited Away, the game "Second Life," Planet of the Apes (the film), The Triplets of Belleville, Ghost in the Shell, and a few recent TV shows.

While the essays in this anthology are written in scholarly style (including lots of notes and citations), they are perfectly readable for those of us who have a more amateur interest in science fiction/fantasy and comparative mythology. Even as someone who is more familiar with older texts (as in H.G. Wells and William Morris), I was not bored while reading most of these essays, nor was I confused with plotlines, as the authors give basic overviews of the works they discuss. The essays in Millennial Mythmaking have interesting points that, for the most part, they develop and support well. Not all of the essays are equal, however. The first one, in particular, did little for me and seemed unclear. One or two others rambled a bit or were not entirely clear in such things as sequences of events, but these are the exceptions. I was also disappointed by some grammatical and punctuation errors in my copy (which has no indication on it of being an ARC).

A positive thing about Millennial Mythmaking is that it does not limit itself to English-language texts. While it is much less broad than it could be, it does go far enough to include some Japanese, Spanish, and French works. It focuses more on films than anything else, which can be a little disappointing for literature buffs, but it didn't detract too much from my overall impression of the book. So, for anyone interested in modern comparative mythology or the analysis of sci-fi/fantasy, this is a decent read.

My copy of Millennial Mythmaking was received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. Published by McFarland, it originally went on sale in December, 2009.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Winner!

And we have a winner (randomly selected, of course) for the blog hop! Choosing Scribbling Women as her prize is...

I hope you enjoy reading Scribbling Women, which will be mailed out as soon as possible.

As Kimberly did not choose Squire, this book, along with a copy of Stones for My Father, will be available for giveaway on the next hop I'm participating in, the Spring Blog Carnival (May 1-8).

Thank you to everyone (over sixty people!) who entered; my followers have now surpassed 100!

Blog Tour - Review and Interview: Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent

Welcome to my stop on Tundra Books' blog tour for Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent! As my part of the tour, I'm reviewing Trilby's new novel and also asking her a few questions!

About the book (from Tundra's website): Corlie Roux’s farm life in South Africa is not easy: the Transvaal is beautiful, but it is also a harsh place where the heat can be so intense that the very raindrops sizzle. When her beloved father dies, she is left with a mother who is as devoted to her sons as she is cruel to her daughter. Despite this, Corlie finds solace in her friend, Sipho, and in Africa itself and in the stories she conjures for her brothers.

But Corlie’s world is about to vanish: the British are invading and driving Boer families like hers from their farms. Some escape into the bush to fight the enemy. The unlucky ones are rounded up and sent to internment camps. Will Corlie’s resilience and devotion to her country sustain her through the suffering and squalor she finds in the camp at Kroonstad? That may depend on a soldier from faraway Canada and on inner resources Corlie never dreamed she had….

My review: Even as an American reader, I found Stones for My Father, though focused on a British and Dutch conflict, to be an interesting read. Personally, it was eye-opening for me to read about how the British treated the Boers - horrific concentration camps, about fifty years before the Germans used them in the Holocaust. Here's a picture of one of the young inmates of the camps with a description of how she was treated (Trilby's book is unaffiliated with the photograph, but depicts many of the things she's describing). Besides the plot itself being interesting, Trilby's storytelling is good as well. She keeps the plot moving, and even with a busy schedule I managed to read the book in one day because I didn't want to stop reading. There's very little to critique about the novel, though one thing is that there were a few details that I thought could have been expanded upon more. For example, Corlie, the main character, at one point suddenly begins to refer to herself as a calabash shell, which, of course, breaks at the end of the story. It would seem that this metaphor would be a major feature of the later part of the book, yet it is briefly, suddenly mentioned only three or four times. But this is just a minor detraction from Stones for My Father, and it doesn't subtract from the fact that it's still an educational, fascinating, and eye-opening read - and nicely appropriate for middle grade/YA readers who haven't been exposed to this part of history yet.

And now for some questions for Trilby herself, who kindly took the time to answer them:

1. At least for American readers, the Boer War is a little-known historical event. What led to your decision to write a children's historical fiction novel about it?

We'd probably all be much more familiar with that period in history had the First World War not happened. So many things that we associate with later wars - trench warfare, guerrila fighting, internment camps, etc. - made their first appearance in the Boer War, and it was surprising to me that all of that drama and tragedy (against an African backdrop, to boot!) hadn't really been used in a children's or YA novel before. My mother is South African, so I was also keen to explore that part of our family's history.
2. Are any of the characters in Stones for My Father based on specific people?
No - unusually for me, the characters in this book all emerged without any conscious influences from historical figures or people I've known. This time around, I think that I was focusing more on capturing different types of 'spirit': I couldn't tell you exactly how every character looks, for instance, but I'd definitely recognize them if I passed them in the street!
3. What is your favorite historical event/era to read about?
I find the 1930s an absolutely fascinating decade - sandwiched between the decadence of the 20s and the hardships of the 40s, with memories of the Great War still quite raw. I'm also currently going through a bit of a postwar phase, reading lots of mid-century literature while I cobble together a new book that takes place in the 1950s.
4. Did you read much historical fiction growing up, and what were/are your favorite historical fiction books?
For me, as a kid, it was all about the French Revolution and Victorian England - and the Second World War, too. So, everything from The Wolves of Willhoughby Chase to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
5. Do you have any current writing projects?
I'm currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing, for which I have to write a new novel. This one's for adults, but it's set in a boarding school on an island in the North Sea and the main characters are mostly thirteen and fourteen years old. At the moment it's called The Peppermill, although that may change. I'm also really keen to start working on the next YA book. It will also be historical, but a bit more weird and wacky than what I've done before. Watch this space..!

Also as part of this blog tour, Tundra Books is giving away five copies of Stones for My Father on GoodReads!

Previous blog stop: Krissy Brady, Writer: Keeping the Passion for Writing Alive

Monday, April 25, 2011

Crime Fiction: Fatale by J.P. Manchette (NYRB)

From the back of the ARC: Whether you call her a coldhearted grifter or the soul of modern capitalism, for which nothing on heaven or earth has any value except its value in cash, there's no question that Aimee is a killer and a more than professional one. Now she's set her eyes on a backwater burg - where, while posing as an innocent (albeit drop-dead gorgeous) newcomer to town, she means to make a killing. But then something snaps: the master manipulator falls prey to a pure and wayward passion.

Review: The back of my ARC describes Manchette's crime novels as being "indictment[s] of post-war complacency," and Fatale definitely fits that bill. Aimee, the central character, is introduced as a cold-hearted mercenary who cares only about money: at the beginning, she's just killed several men out hunting and is glorying in the cash she's received for the murders. Yet as the story progresses, the reader sees little glimpses that her heart is not entirely made of solid stone. Don't be confused by the "pure and wayward passion" that the blurb mentions, however - there's no romantic interest in the story. Manchette packs a lot of events into one short book (my ARC is less than 100 pages), but his story is well developed. His near-obsessive dedication to little details can be a bit irritating at first, but, as with most crime novels, the little details are just as important as the plotline. I found the ending slightly disappointing (I didn't think it was as gripping and OMG surprising as the conclusions to most crime/mystery novels), but it fits Manchette's style and his purpose in writing the book. This is the first NYRB book I've read (about half of their catalog is on my wishlist), and it didn't let me down. While Fatale was much different from the mysteries I usually read, it was just as good in its own way and an interesting (I would use enjoyable, but it IS rather dark fiction) read.

Maturity Factor: Profanity (including the f-word a couple times), adult situations, and gore.

My ARC of Fatale was received through LibraryThing's Member Giveaways program. Originally published in French in 1977, the NYRB edition goes on sale April 26, 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Books: Please Comment If There's One You'd Like a Review Of

Spring break is finally here (but I still have homework...)! Hopefully I'll get at least a little caught up with my reading, especially since the blog giveaway gods have blessed me recently, and I've won over ten giveaways in the past week or two (compared to one or two a month when I first started entering the things). Anyway, my new books this week:

For review:
Fatale by J.P. Manchette (LibraryThing Member Giveaways)*
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin (publisher)

*I've already finished this one, and my review will be posted...whenever I get around to it.

Random Buzzers:
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Flip by Martyn Bedford
So Shelly by Ty Roth

Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust (thank you, Emily at Reader's Well)
Queen of the Falls by Chris van Allsburg (publisher's giveaway)
The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong (BookTrib)
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell (thank you, Kris)

Fearless by Tim Lott

Many thanks to all the bloggers, publishers, and other people who sent me books this week! Getting a book in the mail always makes my day. :)

Friday, April 22, 2011


Some of you may remember my review of An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy from earlier this month. So far, this is one of my favorite reads this year, so I find it totally awesome that Roy's posted a playlist of songs that inspired her while she was writing the novel or otherwise pertain to it! The list is pretty cool, and most of this music you probably haven't heard of before, so check it out!
Oh, and happy spring break/Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my stop on the giveaway hop, hosted by I Am a Reader Not a Writer and Once Upon a Twilight! This giveaway runs from April 20 (OK, so I opened mine early) to April 25. I am giving away the winner's choice of one of two books: Squire by Tamora Pierce (Protector of the Small #3) and Scribbling Women by Marthe Jocelyn.
Squire by Tamora Pierce (Random House, 2001)
Brand-new paperback copy, synopsis here. This is the third book in the Protector of the Small series, which is also part of Pierce's Tortall universe. I have a duplicate copy because I bought one a few years ago and then won this one a couple weeks ago in a Random Buzzers' Twitter grab bag.
Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn (Tundra Books, 2011)
Brand-new hardback copy, my review here. This is another duplicate copy, since I accidentally received two copies from the publisher for the blog tour.

To Enter: Simply leave a comment with your e-mail address; the comment section is located beneath the linky list. Following is not necessary, but, if you mention in your comment whether you are a new or old follower, there will be some extra points. US entries only, please (sorry, but shipping costs are too high for international).
Thanks for stopping by, and happy blog hopping and reading!

Nonfiction (Science) - Here on Earth by Tim Flannery

Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet is intended as a popular science book that explains how the natural history of humanity has impacted the environment. At its heart are two theories of, basically, how Earth works. One is the Medea hypothesis, in which species naturally cause their own self-destruction by exploiting resources to the point of collapse. The other is the Gaia hypothesis, where Earth regulates itself (like homeostasis). The central purpose of the book is to determine whether Earth (under the influence of humans) is following a Medean or a Gaian path and what can be done by humanity to prevent complete ecological collapse.

Here on Earth is divided into six sections. They are (in an oversimplified version):
1. Basic overviews of theories of evolution and of other theories of how life on Earth runs
2. The beginnings of human life on Earth
3. Humans since the advent of agriculture
4. Human impact on the environment
5. Sociology and the environment
6. What the future holds

Contrary to the subtitle "A Natural History of the Planet," Here on Earth is less of a concise history of Earth's origins and the evolution of humanity and more of a compendium of facts about these subjects. That said, however, it's still completely fascinating. For example, did you know that there actually is a (real) creature referred to as a unicorn? It's a type of rhino with one single, really long horn - and it lasted at least until the 10th century A.D. Besides being interesting, though, Flannery writes for the average person. He doesn't oversimplify things to the point of seeming like he's teaching down to readers, but at the same time most of what he writes is perfectly comprehensible to me (I've had only the basic required high school science classes, and the majority of the few places in the book that I didn't completely understand were based on politics and economics, which I don't usually understand anyway). Flannery backs up his information with sources (appropriately cited with notes in the back), and he keeps away from extremist, gloom-and-doom predictions. Even though the book carries a clear message for better ecological management and conservation, it's not "SAVE THE EARTH OR WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE"; it's "Our current (and past) practices are probably going to come back to bite us in the butt, so let's try to do something to remedy it now." Flannery isn't a Luddite, either - he encourages the use of technology in managing resources and as potential future ways of fixing environmental problems. My one complaint about Here on Earth, which was otherwise fascinating and eye-opening for me on the topics of human and natural history and environmental science, is that Flannery does little to explain how average people can change the current environmental state, instead detailing what governments and corporations, etc. should improve on. But hey, it's a relatively small book for its topic and there's only so much that can be fit into it.

Concluding Thoughts: I foresee more science courses in my future, and my plans for my summer garden just skyrocketed.

My ARC of Here on Earth was provided by the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press. Here on Earth was originally published in Australia in 2010. The US edition came out on April 5, 2011.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

RE: Jilly Bs' Contest - Worst Birthday Experience Ever

Jilly Bs Books is having an awesome giveaway where you can take your choice of six ARCs! My answer to her question, "What is your worst Easter or birthday experience ever?" is:

For my tenth birthday, I got a scooter. My friends and I at my birthday party later that day were having fun riding bikes and scooters around on the road in front of my house. I hit a rock or something and flipped off my scooter, skinning the palms of my hands (it's more painful than you would think) and my face (not painful, but I have two tiny scars around my mouth and nose now). So while all my friends were running around my house and generally being crazy, I was stuck watching a movie in my sleeping bag, feeling like crap because my hands hurt so bad.

New Books This Week (None) and What's Going On

This week in the mail I books. I've won a whole strew of giveaways in the past few days, but the books haven't shown up yet. :( Anyway, reviews lately are slow because of an ungodly homework load, and, with the exception (possibly) of spring break, they're not likely to become more frequent until after exams in mid-May. I am, however, participating in THREE giveaway hops during April and May, so there will be some stuff going on!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Your Thoughts on Ratings?

In case you haven't noticed, I don't assign ratings to books I review. This is because I like just about every single book I read and tend towards higher ratings of 4-5 (out of 5). Do you find ratings helpful in assessing books, and would you find it helpful if I started using them?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fantasy Blog Tour Review: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim by W. Bill Czolgosz

Mark Twain's classic novel - with a few zombie twists. Huck Finn is off on his rafting adventure, but this time he's accompanied by one of the (un)dead: a runaway bagger, Jim. The enslavement of Africans has passed in favor of those no longer human, zombies (otherwise known as baggers) who have died from the pox and come back to (sort of) life again. Some of these baggers are vicious monsters, but others, like Jim, make ideal slaves. Too bad they still don't like to be sold down South and instead decide to escape with runaway boys in search of adventure on the Mississippi.

Normally I enjoy reading spin-offs of classic literature, and zombie books are no exceptions. This one, however, just didn't do it for me. I felt like I was reading the original Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - yes, Jim's a zombie, but there's little else that makes this interesting as a zombie book. I was expecting a lot of incidents with the living dead, but until the last couple dozen pages, the only incidents were brief and isolated. Because of this, it was confusing for me (having read Twain's novel several years ago instead of recently) to separate the original story, which Czolgosz follows very closely, from events that Czolgosz added. This book was a disappointment for me. Maybe my expectations of zombie parodies are too high, but I expected a bit more originality from the adapter and much more zombie action. The most enjoyment that I got from Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim came from being reacquainted with Twain's story, so I would have been better off just reading the original or, to satisfy my taste for the living dead, trying a non-knockoff zombie novel.

My copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim was received through Gallery and Pocket Books Sci-Fi/Fantasy Blog Tours. It originally went on sale, published by Coscom Entertainment, in 2009; this edition, published by Gallery, went on sale April 12, 2011.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

School Reading: Paradise Lost by John Milton (Mini-Review)

By mini-review, I mean that I only read a (significant) portion of the book and am blogging of my impressions of it, without including a synopsis of the story. Presumably everyone knows the basic gist of Paradise Lost (it's basically an epic retelling of the biblical Creation story) anyway.

My opinion of Paradise Lost? It would be a great epic poem if it wasn't so dang long. It wouldn't even seem so long if Milton didn't keep going and going on the same subject. I would be reading, kind of zone out, get my mind back on the passage on the next page - and he'd still be talking about the same thing. Normally I hate it when teachers assign only sections of a book, rather than the whole thing, for class, but this time I was perfectly happy with it. I generally love "classic" literature of all time periods and I've enjoyed some really slow books before, but Paradise Lost is not a work that I will be reading in its entirety (or even revisiting sections of) anytime soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekly Book Haul (And My Birthday!)

April 6 was my seventeenth birthday! I didn't do much for it (bogged down with homework, plus church stuff since it was a Wednesday), but I did get some awesome books! I guess you could say I had a "utopian" birthday...

Happy birthday to me:
The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells
Strange Cults and Utopias of 19th-Century America by John Humphrey Noyes
A Socialist Utopia in the New South: The Ruskin Colonies in Tennessee and Georgia, 1894-1901 by W. Fitzhugh Brundage
Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian Origins and the Owenite Phase of Communitarian Socialism in America, 1663-1829 by Arthur Bestor

Also acquired this week...
For Review:
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim by W. Bill Czolgosz (publisher)
Passage by Sandy Powers (LibraryThing Member Giveaways)
Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent (publisher)
For those of you keeping up with my weekly posts of what books I've gotten, you may have noticed that this is my second copy of Stones for My Father. I smell a giveaway in the future...

Hush by Eishes Chayil (BookTrib)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (thank you, Cecilia at Epic Rat)
The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Epic Rat again)
This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Epic Rat)

News from Nowhere by William Morris (GoodReads Swap)
More utopian socialism. :)

Now I just have to find room for all of these. One of these days I'll snap some pics of my overflowing bookshelves, closet, and dollhouse (yes, I've resorted to half of a dollhouse for a bookshelf).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Children's/YA Fantasy: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

Impoverished by their father's death, Diribani and Tana are two step-sisters who are suddenly forced into lives filled with chores, hardship, and hunger. That is, at least, until Diribani meets a goddess at the well and receives the gift to speak gems and flowers. Hoping that her other daughter will also receive the gift, the girls' mother sends Tana to the well. Tana's gift, however, is to speak frogs and snakes. The girls' new abilities cause an uproar in their hometown. Diribani is rescued from a mob by Prince Zahid, who arranges to bring her to the capital city in order to look after the precious stones her gift gives her. Tana, however, is stuck at home, exiled to the well by the "whitecoat" governor of a religion that, unlike the girls', views snakes as abhorrences. How will the sisters manage in their new lives, and what purpose does the goddess have in store for them?

The best part about this book is that it's a retelling of the fairy tale "The Fairies" by Charles Perrault. It's always interesting to see how contemporary authors will interpret and reconstruct classic tales, and Toads and Diamonds is no exception to this (to readers familiar with Perrault's story: the character of the second daughter provides an interesting contrast with the original in that she is kind, not rude). The premise of the book is interesting, as is most of its plot. By the end, however, I was getting bored with the story and was ready for it to end. It seemed to just keep going and going, and it got dragged out for many months (another of my critiques is that the passage of time is not explained very well; generally the reader only knows how much time has passed because of a "[name of month] Month passed..." mention in the middle of a paragraph). Also, at times the story seemed disconnected. It seemed like there were many discoveries and self-realizations the characters made that should have been built up to, but the author failed to actually write in the little details that built up to them. So basically, Toads and Diamonds is a good one-time read for fans of fantasy and retellings who will appreciate its storyline, but not for anyone who requires impeccable writing or really exciting plots. It has the makings of a great story, but the author doesn't quite manage to bring it through.
My copy of Toads and Diamonds was received through GoodReads' First Look program. It was published in March 2010.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fiction - An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

An Atlas of Impossible Longing is essentially a book that details what happens within a small-town Indian family for three generations (one of those "three-generational Indian sagas"). It can be described as historical fiction, its events ranging in time from the 1920s to the 1940s, but historical detail takes a backseat to the trials, mistakes, and longings of the central characters of the story.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is about Amulya and his wife, Kananbala. The couple is getting on in years; of their two sons, the elder is married and the younger marries during the course of the story. All's going well in home life and business, until Kananbala begins showing signs of madness, there's a murder across the street, and the new daughter-in-law, pregnant with her first child, is stranded in her father's flooded house. In the second section, Kananbala continues to live in her family's home, along with her son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter (Bakul), and two stray relatives: an orphan boy, Mukunda, and a widowed cousin. Bakul and Mukunda, growing up with little supervision, are unusually close to each other, which begins to be problematic as the two mature into adulthood. By the third section, Mukunda is on his own in Calcutta, cut loose from his former family, yet still, buried deep inside him, is an "impossible longing" for Bakul and his life back in the town he grew up in.

I rarely read books that seem magical simply because of the way the stories they tell are written. This is one of those, and it reminded me a lot of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (only without the magical realism). Unfortunately, the magic didn't last for the entire book. It ended after the second section, though it kept coming back briefly (and, barely, in time for the conclusion). I'm not sure if this was Roy's intention or not, but the most "magical" parts of the story are the ones that take place in the small towns of India. The portion of the book when Mukunda lives in Calcutta is the most irritating part: Mukunda is a hard character to sympathize with; the setting, writing, and characters lose their magic; readers lose track of the "impossible longing" of the story and want to smack Mukunda upside the head to wake him up. Basically, small village life = magical. Big city life = losing track of what's important. Is Roy trying to send a message here? I'm not sure. All in all, however, I loved this book. With the exception of Mukunda's idiocies in Calcutta, all of the events seem to flow naturally. My one real complaint about An Atlas of Impossible Longing? The author never really tells us what happens to Meera, the widowed cousin in the second section whose story, had it taken a different path, could have filled up a separate book.

Read-alikes: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
                           It's been a while since I've read this, but the writing and subjects
                           seemed very similar.
                           The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
                           Similar subjects of loneliness, longing, and miscommunication within
                           families and between friends, but the ending to An Atlas is happy,
                           whereas Particular Sadness is bittersweet.

My finished copy of An Atlas of Impossible Longing was received through Free Press Blog Tours. It was originally published in 2008 in Great Britain and India, but it goes on sale in the U.S. on April 5, 2011. The U.S. edition is published by Free Press.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fantasy: Dreadfully Ever After (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies #3) by Steve Hockensmith

Four years have passed since the end of the first Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel. Jane and Bingley are happily married and already have four children; not much is heard from Lydia, still wed to Wickham; Mary and Kitty remain at home to take care of their supposedly aging mother. Lizzy and Darcy are, of course, still together and - mostly - happy. Lizzy's one regret in marriage is that she misses her warrior days and is chomping at the bit for a good fight.

Lizzy soon gets her wish to fight again, but not the way she would like: Darcy is bitten by an unmentionable. Lady Catherine de Bourgh (who still hates Lizzy) gives her an ultimatum: follow her directions and try to seduce a cure out of the king's physician, or allow her husband to die. Lizzy chooses the former, and, along with Mr. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, and one of Catherine's ninjas, Nezu, arrives in London shortly before George III's recoronation. The Bennets must pretend to be a newly wealthy family and try to insinuate themselves into London's high society, which, of course, results in many hilarious escapades (if you will remember from Pride and Prejudice, the Bennets are just soooo socially graceful).

Opening paragraph: As his beloved Elizabeth shattered the nearest zombie's skull with a perfectly placed axe kick, Fitzwilliam Darcy saw in her eyes something that had been missing for a long, long time: joie de vivre.

So this opening sentence had me laughing from the outset. But anyway, I've actually never read the first Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book, though I have read the second. The second book is easier to understand without having read the first than Dreadfully Ever After is, but I still enjoyed this third installment as it wasn't hard to catch up with the alternate historical world in which the series is placed. Hockensmith is good at maintaining each character's unique qualities and personality from Pride and Prejudice, though little else is similar to the classic novel. And while Hockensmith could've done a hack job just to create a bestseller, his writing is good, not to mention often hilarious. Dreadfully Ever After is worth reading by itself, without the added bonus of being a knock-off of Austen's perennially popular novel. There were few places where I was disappointed with the book. I would have probably enjoyed it more if it had been about eighty pages shorter, because I somehow managed to get a bit bored around page 300 and was ready for the story to get wrapped up and end. Other than that, there was more gore than I remember being in Dawn of the Dreadfuls, which, for me, was a bit of a turn-off, but to be expected from a novel populated by brain-eating zombies.

I received my ARC of Dreadfully Ever After from the publisher, Quirk Books. This novel was published on March 22, 2011.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lots of New Books This Week!

Mail-time is the highlight of my day. That and the daily Shelf Awareness and no calculus homework (wishful thinking on the latter). This week, the mail and UPS brought me a lot of books...

For review:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith finally showed up! I only lack about 60 pages, and then I'll post my review (book received from publisher)
Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films, and Games ed. by John Perlich and David Whitt (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

Art and Madness by Anna Roiphe (thank you, Sidne at Reading Rendezvous!)
Delirium by Lauren Oliver (thank you, NC at Truly Bookish!)

And, courtesy of Random Buzzers' Twitter account, I won a grab bag of fantasy books!
Squire and Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce
Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse
The Door in the Forest by Roderick Townley

As Squire is now a duplicate copy in my library, I'll be giving away my new copy of it in the upcoming Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza giveaway hop!

Friday, April 1, 2011

School Reading - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans. by Marie Borroff

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the anonymous "Pearl Poet," is a 14th century poem. It is Arthurian - Gawain is one of the knights of the Round Table. The poem opens in Camelot during the Christmas season. King Arthur adores "challenges" (contests), so he's pleased when the Green Knight (he, and his horse, are literally completely green) rides in with a unique challenge: a "beheading game." Only one knight is brave enough to stand up to the contest - Gawain. He quickly beheads the Green Knight, who simply picks up his head, makes Gawain promise to find him in a year so he can likewise behead him, and rides off.

True to his word (after all, the main theme of the poem is chivalry), Gawain sets off to find the elusive Green Knight when the year has almost passed. He's tired, cold, and wet when Christmas Eve comes, but he conveniently finds a nice, warm castle. The lord of the castle welcomes him and informs Gawain that the home of the Green Knight is only a few miles away. Since Gawain now has some extra time before he will ride off to probably meet his doom, he stays at the castle for three days. The lord, who is about to go hunting, makes an agreement with Gawain that if the lord gives Gawain everything he obtains from the hunt, the knight will give the lord everything he receives while in the castle. The lord leaves for his hunt, while Gawain remains with his hostess - who has some temptations up her sleeve (don't worry, Gawain doesn't have to give the lord anything less chaste than a kiss). Will Gawain be able to live up to his chivalric ideals, or will he become a failure because he succumbs to temptation?

As with Beowulf, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this poem. Poetry's not my thing, and Middle English literature isn't always the most fun thing to read. But Gawain's story turned out to be pretty interesting, and Borroff's translation was clear and did a good job of preventing the tale from being boring. Whereas intially I was rather irritated that my British Lit teacher gave us only  one week to read and analyze the poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight proved to be a quick, enjoyable read (which was good, because I waited until the last minute to read it...). I found myself rooting for Gawain ("Don't give in to the lady, Gawain! Don't give in to the lady!"), and the ending was as much of a shocker as passive 14th century literature can manage.

I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Marie Borroff, in the Norton Anthology of British Literature, Vol. I. This book was provided by my school.