Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blog Tour Review: Grave Expectations by Charles Dickens and Sherri Browning Erwin

Publisher: Gallery Books
Date: August 30, 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from Gallery and Pocket Tours
Read: for review (Disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 390
Reading time: nine days

From the back cover of my copy: Bristly, sensitive, and meat-hungry Pip is a robust young whelp, an orphan born under a full moon. Between hunting escaped convicts alongside zombified soldiers, trying not to become one of the hunted himself, and hiding his hairy hands from the supernaturally beautiful and haughty Estella, whose devilish moods keep him chomping at the bit, Pip is sure he will die penniless or a convict like the rest of his commonly uncommon kind.

But then a mysterious benefactor sends him to London for the finest werewolf education money can buy. In the company of other furry young gentlemen, Pip tempers his violent transformations and devours the secrets of his dark world. When he discovers that his beloved Estella is a slayer of supernatural creatures, trained by the corpse-like vampire Miss Havisham, Pip's desire for her grows stronger than his midnight hunger for rare fresh beef. But can he risk his hide for a truth that will make Estella his forever - or will she drive one last silver stake through his heart?

My review: While Grave Expectations isn't laugh-out-loud humorous like the first supernatural-classic mashups, the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series, it is still an enjoyable take on Dickens' 1860 novel. (Based on my one brief encounter with Dickens' writing - David Copperfield - this version is much less tedious and confusing than the original, too.) While the werewolves, vampires, and zombies play clear roles in the story, Dickens' original purpose in writing the novel shines through should readers bother to think about it. This makes Grave Expectations both a nice alternative for reluctant readers struggling through Dickens' prose (though of course it cannot completely replace reading the actual Great Expectations) and a cool, creative companion piece to for anyone who actually made it through the 1860 novel. Though the middle part of the book did seem to lag in plot (I blame Dickens for that), the majority of the book was interesting, and it appeared that Erwin sticks to the original plot pretty well. In the world of classic/monster mashups, Grave Expectations falls in between completely fun (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and the rather boring, didn't-really-change-much novels (Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim). I often managed to forget that I was reading a parody of another novel, which is always a good sign for the viability of books based on other books.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In My Mailbox #8

A modest IMM this week, but that's okay because I've had absolutely no time to read (the three reviews I've posted were books I finished last weekend or before) and because I ordered a huge batch of books from as part of their $1.49 CAD children's book sale. They have over 2000 children's/YA books on sale, plus all of their inventory is always 50%+ off regular store prices. My mom and I ordered a total of nineteen books, all brand-new with the exception of two that are "scratch-and-dent" copies, and spent less than $60 including shipping. But, according to USPS tracking, our package is currently in Niagara Falls. Whenever it arrives, I will use my new school-issued Macbook to make my first IMM vlog. Since I can't wait for it to come, here are some highlights:

Okay, now for what actually came in my mailbox this week:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (thanks, Belle's Bookshelf!)
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (thanks, Reading for Sanity!)
Signed and came with some swag. :)
Nobody's Princess by Esther M. Friesner (thanks, Books from a Shelf!)
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (thanks, Bibliophile Anonymous!)
Amen, L.A. by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld (Random Buzzers Twitter)

I love the cover for The Princess Bride. It looks even better in person.

Friday, August 26, 2011

YA Sci-Fi: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Series: Birthright #1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Date: September 6, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: from Holt InGroup
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review)
Pages: 354
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

My review: Cozy dystopia. All These Things I've Done is a cozy dystopia, meaning that, for the most part, it's not too suspenseful and thrilling, and everything generally turns out okay, without the protagonist being greatly scarred by anything. (Most dystopias aren't cozy, with the exception of Restoring Harmony). Another comparison to make would be with the recent release Wildefire: most of the book is spent setting up the characters, location, and situations for the rest of the series, with comparatively little time spent on actual plot. There ends up being a lot of ways the story could go, but most are let dropped (personally, I find this  rather unsatisfying). Romance is the main path of the story in All These Things, making the novel seem like more of a "contemporary" or realistic fiction book than a science fiction dystopian. 

Yet I couldn't stop reading it. Somehow Zevin keeps the story exciting, even if there's not really that much going on at times. It helped that I could just breeze through pages in a snap, but I *did* end up staying up late so I could finish the last hundred pages. Will I read the sequel? Yes. Despite my above issues with All These Things, I did enjoy reading it, and I want to see where Zevin is going to go with the rest of the series.

A little morality thing that didn't actually impact my enjoyment/review of this novel: I liked that Anya describes herself as "a good Catholic girl," mostly meaning that she's decided not to have sex before marriage. Dystopias don't usually include much religion in them, but Zevin incorporates it nicely. Anya's not dogmatic, but she tries to stick to her principles and is willing to explain them. I was just surprised when her boyfriend casually mentions that he's had sex before and Anya doesn't seem to be at all bothered or at least slightly taken back by it. And if you're wondering about content issues now, the topic of sex comes up but that's about as far as it gets.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

YA Fiction: Following Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Series: sequel to The Body of Christopher Creed
Publisher: Harcourt
Date: September 5, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: requested from publisher
Read: for review (I received my copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review; how I acquired it had no impact on my review.)
Pages: 409
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: When Torey Adams posts on his blog that a body has been found in Steepleton—four years after Christopher Creed disappeared—college reporter Mike Mavic sells his laptop and hops a plane to capture the story that will undoubtedly launch his journalistic career. What Mike finds in Steepleton is not what he expected. Instead he witnesses a town suffering under a cloud of bad frequency: mysterious accidents, a higher than usual cancer rate, and people who are just a little off normal. Everyone remembers the unsolved mystery of Christopher Creed, but to the teenage residents of Steepleton, Chris is nothing more than past history. Yet to his younger brother Justin, his obsession with finding Chris offers hope. This as yet unidentified body is the only thing that could possibly bring Chris’s former classmates Torey Adams, Bo Richardson, and Ali McDermott back to Steepleton at the same time—and provide Mike with the story of a lifetime: what really happened to Christopher Creed.

My review: I absolutely loved The Body of Christopher Creed and it's gone down as one of my all-time favorite books. But as it's a coming-of-age novel that comments on both society (to take a large-scale view) and high school bullying (to take a smaller-scale view), I was doubtful as to how good a sequel would be. Novels of The Body's caliber and scope don't usually have sequels. Following Christopher Creed turned out to be decent. If not for the ending, though, it wouldn't have come anywhere near wowing me as much as did the first book. It wasn't as hard-hitting nor as thrilling, a lot of it being dialogue, and I was never sure where Plum-Ucci was trying to head with the story. Was it intended as another coming-of-age social commentary, a novel about moving on, or some book promoting the powers of positive and quantum thinking? It only became clear at the conclusion. 

Fortunately, the author keeps the plot interesting; even with there being little action (at least in the physical sense), things move fast. The main characters are likeable, each having their own faults that they're trying to overcome with varying rates of success. I wish Plum-Ucci would have delved more into the "bad frequency" aspect of Steepleton, why there's a high cancer rate, why there have been unexplained, total-fatality car wrecks, why everyone is "mean" - mysteries that readers expect to be explained by the end but are dropped. Again, what makes this a totally worthwhile read rather than just an ok-ish one is the end when some shocking realizations finally come out about what really happened to Christopher Creed. There's no way you'll ever see it coming until the last few pages.

Note: Readers will need to have read The Body of Christopher Creed before this book in order to understand the basic plot and characters. I also noticed that there is much, much less profanity in Following Christopher Creed than in the first book.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Historical Fiction: Shadow of a Quarter Moon by Eileen Clymer Schwab

Publisher: New American Library
Date: July 5, 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from author
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review)
Pages: 380
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: 1839, North Carolina. As the daughter of a plantation owner, Jacy has been raised in privilege- until she discovers that she's the offspring of a dalliance between her father and a slave. The revelation destroys Jacy's sense of who she is and where she belongs in the world. Equally shocking, her biological mother and brother are still slaves on the property. As she gets to know them-and the handsome horse trainer, Rafe-she begins to see life in the South with fresh eyes. And soon Jacy will have to make a treacherous journey that she hopes will end in freedom for them all...

My review: For the first little bit, I had low expectations of how this book would turn out. The characters were predictable - even without reading the back cover, I could tell who Jacy's mother, brother, and love interest would all turn out to be, long before she figured them out. The dialogue often seemed stilted, overly verbose and well-formed for conversations. Anyway, it got better.

The story derails from most expectations at about page 150, leaving over 200 pages left for great historical information and an often exciting plot. It's rare that historical novels manage to combine seamlessly incorporated historical details with some great action, but this one made it work. First of all, Jacy ends up in a maroon colony in the Great Dismal Swamp. How often do you find novels about maroon colonies, much less ones in the Great Dismal? Um, I know of one other book, and the colony part comes at the very end, in Florida. Not only does Schwab cover Carolina maroon colonies in Shadow of a Quarter Moon, she also goes into the Underground Railroad network (and makes it be viewed as how it would have been seen in 1839, not as *the* all-famous, well-formed Railroad of modern perceptions) and the continued problems of bigotry and hatred that former slaves faced once they reached the North. Not to mention that Jacy herself is an interesting part of history, occupying the odd place of being raised white despite being born to an enslaved mother. Towards the end, it seemed like the author was trying to cram a bit too much into the book, which also made the conclusion come off as a bit rushed - events and emotions kept flip-flopping back and forth - but it's excusable because of the wealth of historical bases that are covered within less than four hundred pages.

Maturity Factor: A couple non-explicit sexual situations.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In My Mailbox #7

Another good week for my mailbox! Lots of great books arrived, though I haven't had much time to start reading all of them.

For review:
Wunderkind by Nikolai Grozni (Free Press Blog Tours)
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin (Holt InGroup)
I've actually started this one; at page 75 I'm not too impressed so far, but it's a decent read.

Won from Seeing Night Reviews:
Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

Won from others:
The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick (thanks, Reading Teen!)

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap
This one is from Carina over at Dystopian Desserts; she's having a fundraiser for college where you get a book in return for donating $10!

Aren't my photography skills wonderful? Not.

Most of these have already been released - has anyone read some of them and if so, were they good?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Children's Historical Fiction: J-Boys by Shogo Oketani

Full title: J-Boys: Kazuo's World, Tokyo, 1965
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Translator: Avery Fischer Udagawa
Date: July 12, 2011
Format: paperback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review)
Pages: 202
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Kazuo Nakamoto's life in inner-city Tokyo is one of tea and tofu, of American TV and rock 'n' roll. Kazuo is ten. It is the mid-1960s, just after the Japan Olympics, and Kazuo dreams of being a track star. He hangs out with his buddies, goes to school, and helps with household chores. But Kazuo's world is changing. This bittersweet novel is a deft portrait of a year in a boy's life in a land and time far away, filled with universal concerns about fitting in, escaping the past (in this case World War II's lingering devastation), and growing up.

My review: J-Boys is a series of short, anecdotal stories covering Kazuo's life between the October and April of one year. Each story is basically concerned with one or two aspects of Japanese culture and Tokyo life in the 1960s: tofu, public bathhouses, education, New Year's, memories of WWII, etc. Not only is the cultural and historical information interesting, but tracing the melding of traditional Japanese culture with Western influences is fascinating as well.

While the information presented in this book is interesting, the plot is not, mostly because with the short stories there is little cohesion between the chapters besides the same setting and characters. Only one story really stood out to me: "Kazuo's Typical Tokyo Saturday," where Kazuo notes the inevitable changes to the city and its culture as it faces the passage of time and incursion of new influences. I think that J-Boys would probably be much more enjoyable as a read-aloud between parents and their children or teachers and young students, reading a story or two a day instead of attempting to plow through the book like it's a novel as older readers (myself included) have a tendency to do. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

NPR's Top Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books: My Annotated List

Not that this hasn't popped up on others' blogs, but I'm a huge sci-fi/fantasy geek fan and feel the need to add my two cents' worth.

italics - I own it
bold - I've read it

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
I *do* own The Hobbit, but not the actual trilogy. I don't remember the majority of what happens in the series, though.
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I'm a total, huge, nerdy Adams fan.
3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
I read this in 8th grade and didn't really like all the violence, but I think I'd enjoy it more now.
4. The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert
5. A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin
6. 1984 by George Orwell
I love Orwell but not this book. I love dystopias, but I never found 1984 to be a realistic picture of the future. It's set too close to the date it was written and doesn't explain enough. The psychological part by far is the most fascinating aspect.
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I feel bad because I'm a dystopian fan who's not a fan of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451.
8. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Bought an omnibus at a thrift store for 25 cents, heck yeah.
9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I adore Huxley. I'd marry him if he was still alive. (Not really; after reading Island I don't think he'd fit my ideas of sexual morality, but I do love his writing that much)
Oh, this is also the book that formally introduced me to sci-fi, which is sort of funny because I only read it to impress the guy I had a crush on.
10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
I just won a copy of this one in a giveaway, does that count?
12. The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Did I mention I'm a huge Orwell fan? My English teacher and English class got irritated last semester at my dissection of which characters match which Soviet leaders. :) Ah, AP European History, you ruined my brain...
14. Neuromancer by William Gibson
15. Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
16. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Another one of the books that formally introduced me to sci-fi. I think I impressed my dad by reading Vonnegut, which he enjoyed back in high school, like, thirty-five years ago. Father-daughter bonding time! On post-modern, rather odd science fiction, lol.
20. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

This is one of the few "classics" I can honestly say I did not like. The characters are stupid. I'm okay with them making dumb decisions, but then they refuse to accept responsibility and fix them. I'm talking about both the scientist AND the monster here.
21. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

I'm rather ashamed to say that I haven't read anything by this author.
22. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I'm saving this one for some point when I have more time to read. I can't wait.
23. The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Um, I saw the movie. It was weird.
25. The Stand by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

LOVE Bradbury. But not Fahrenheit 451.
28. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
I'm ashamed to say I haven't read this one, either. Why are Vonnegut's books so expensive (for a high schooler's budget, anyway) in stores?!
29. The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Another one I'm looking forward to.
31. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
32. Watership Down by Richard Adams

I absolutely adored this book in middle school. Except I read it for Battle of the Books, and we got sick of missing questions based around human-like things no one expects rabbits to do.
33. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
I think I read this one. I know I've read exactly one Dragon-something book by McCaffrey.
34. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
35. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
36. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I love Wells.
37. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Verne writes adventure stories, not really sci-fi. Whatever.
38. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Another one I really enjoyed.
39. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Did I mention I love H.G. Wells? Especially the ending of this one. Woo-hoo for social satire!
40. The Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad by David Eddings
42. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

A feminist retelling of the Arthurian legend? I totally want to read this one.
43. Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
46. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

It's sitting on my parents' shelf but not mine. My mom, surprisingly, was a Tolkien fan.
47. The Once and Future King by T.H. White

I actually read 3/4 of this before I got bored.
48. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote in Gods Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Yet another post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel I'm just waiting for the right time to read.
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I have ONE Shannara book.
68. The Conan the Barbarian Series by Robert E. Howard & Mark Schultz
69. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way of the Kings by Brandon Sanderson
72. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
I enjoyed this one more than I expected. But Diana Wynne Jones' introduction to my edition made me mad. Classics aren't that boring, and the vocabulary Verne uses should be understood by the average middle schooler...
73. The Legend of Drizzt Series by R. A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War by Jon Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
76. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

This one came from the same 25-cent thing as my Asimov omnibus.
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series by Iain Banks
84. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart (this trilogy rocked my world!)
85. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher
87. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon (read the first two and LOVED; lost interest after that)
90. The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Love McKinley, totally want to read this one.
93. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
99. The Xanath Series by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

I've only read the first one so far.

Well, as I consider myself a sci-fi/fantasy geek, I'm kind of embarrassed to see that I've read only seventeen of the books on this list. I have some catching up to do!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Did Not Finish: Phantastes by George MacDonald

This post makes me sad. I like science fiction and fantasy books, the further back they go, the better, so I'm very disappointed that I'm not finishing this one. Phantastes dates from 1857, and when I was given a gift card to a Christian bookstore I gladly spent it on a copy. This is my third book of MacDonald's, as I've read both Lilith and The Light Princess in recent years. I enjoyed The Light Princess but found Lilith to be slow and confusing. Phantastes turned out to be like Lilith, only worse.
*Edit: Actually, I've also started MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind and The Gentlewoman's Choice and never finished those, either.*

The plot of Phantastes is meandering. I have no idea where it's supposed to be going. I'd be okay with this, though, if the entire story wasn't confusing. The importances of events and characters aren't explained, leaving everything seeming random. In a bad way. The two things that are kind of cool about it are that it's an 1857 fantasy novel and it seems to draw on Arthurian legend some (I was reminded of The Mabinogion at times).  But it's soooo slow, and right now I'm getting back into school and have a giant stack of books that I need to read. When I go almost a week without picking up this book, I know I should probably give up. Only for now, however; hopefully I can come back later, when I have more time to read, and devote myself to this one more.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Memoir: One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Publisher: Graywolf Press
Date: July 19, 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: from GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review)
Pages: 253
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads:  Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother’s beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson—all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister, Jimmy and Ciru. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own.  In this vivid and compelling debut memoir, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his mother’s religious period, his failed attempt to study in South Africa as a computer programmer, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. A series of fascinating international reporting assignments follow. Finally he circles back to a Kenya in the throes of postelection violence and finds he is not the only one questioning the old certainties. 

My review: It took me a while to get into this book. For the first seventy-five pages, I just could not make myself care about Wainaina's life. Fortunately, my interest in the book improved the further I read. Wainaina's young adult years provide the forefront for most of his memoir, with the movements and events in Africa during the 1970s and '80s being a fascinating backdrop. The author provides readers with a younger voice's view of the post-colonial continent and all of its competing elements: pop culture vs. Pentecostal religion, socio-political problems, tribalism, Afrocentrism and pan-Africanism, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Western education, refugees, immigration, and more. Wainaina primarily focuses on his period of being out-of-touch with his goals, country, and, at times, family, then moves on to his eventual journey to being a writer. He ends, however, by writing just as much about recent political situations in Kenya as about himself.

Wainaina writes in what I would consider a literary style, so the writing can be lyrical and magnificent at times. I could tell that the words the author used were considered very carefully as he was writing; Wainaina's hard work shows. Every once in a while, though, I found his anecdotes to be somewhat confusing, their meanings ambiguous. I felt like more concrete memoir-writing might have been nice in these places, but all in all, this book turned out to be a wonderful read.

In My Mailbox #6

This was a packed week for my mailbox! Lots of books arrived, which was both good and bad: due to marching band starting up and eight-hour days at band camp, I've had almost no time to read.

In other news, I was selected to be part of Book Trib's new Review Crew! Yet another source of books to make my shelves collapse.

For review:
J-Boys: Kazuo's World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
Shadow of a Quarter Moon by Eileen Clymer Schwab (from the author)
North Carolina historical fiction!
One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (GoodReads First Look)
Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
I have no idea where this came from, but it's some kind of post-apocalyptic novel involving conservative fundamentalist religions, so I'm quite interested.
Grave Expectations by Charles Dickens and Sherri Browning Erwin (Gallery and Pocket Tours)

Won from The Book Cellar:
Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
Not normally something I'd be interested in, but it's a retelling of Lysistrata.
Shelter by Harlan Coben
Fateful by Claudia Gray
I actually didn't realize this one was a historical novel about the Titanic until I got it in the mail, so I'm very excited about it.

Won from elsewhere:
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (thanks, Reflections From the Hinterland!)
Another NYRB added to my collection. :) So far there's only three, but it'll grow!
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan (thanks, Lady Critic's Library!)
This came with a XL t-shirt for Beautiful Creatures. Should fit my 5'2", 90 lb. body just fine, lol.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Teen Book Club Meeting with Beth Revis

This summer, I was part of an eight-week teen book club held at the Spindale Public Library, located a scant three blocks or so from my home. One of my friends from middle school formed the group as part of his senior project on literacy, and we picked eight YA books to read and discuss:

Beastly by Alex Flinn
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The book club was a lot of fun, though we ended up discussing movies, TV shows, and life in general just as much as novels. For our final meeting, as she lives close by and we picked her book as one to read, Beth Revis came by! She answered our questions on all things Across the Universe-related, and we picked her brain to see what she was allowed to tell us about the sequels. She tested our guessing skills and the Internet capability of our cell phones as we tried to figure out what the title of her third book will be, and there were a lot of laughs as she explained to us about everything from her inspiration for the novels to which former students she killed off to the writing and publishing processes through which authors go.

I didn't get any books signed, as I went to Revis' launch party for Across the Universe back in January and got a signed copy of the book then. She did sign others' copies, raffled off by the library, and gave all of us some nice swag as well.

Photos courtesy of the Spindale Public Library Facebook page.
There were more people in our group than those pictured below, but I don't think everyone ever showed up at one time. 
I'm the one in the yellow shirt.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

YA Fiction: Island's End by Padma Venkatraman

Publisher: Putnam
Date: August 4, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: won from WhatchYAReading
Read: out of anthropological interest
Pages: 230
Reading time: four days (I'm back in school, so reading times are much longer than they were over the summer)

From GoodReads: Uido is ecstatic about becoming her tribe's spiritual leader, but her new position brings her older brother's jealousy and her best friend's mistrust. And looming above these troubles are the recent visits of strangers from the mainland who have little regard for nature or the spirits, and tempt the tribe members with gifts, making them curious about modern life. When Uido's little brother falls deathly ill, she must cross the ocean and seek their help. Having now seen so many new things, will Uido have the strength to believe in herself and the old ways? And will her people trust her to lead them to safety when a catastrophic tsunami threatens? Uido must overcome everyone's doubts, including her own, if she is to keep her people safe and preserve the spirituality that has defined them.

My review: While I was in the process of reading Island's End, I wasn't really that thrilled by it. The plot moved so fast, I wished the author had added more details about the events that occur to help further flesh out both the characters and the overall feel of the culture. I didn't find the story particularly exciting, though it was interesting enough to keep from being boring. Some of the messages Venkatraman tries to get across, while good, came across as very blatant at times when more subtlety would have been nice.

But if you're like me, looking at reading Island's End for its anthropological information instead of thrilling action or magnificent writing, forget all of the above criticisms. After all, how often do you find YA novels that are about actual ancient cultures that have survived into the present day? While the novel's main anthropological details are on Uido's tribe's shamanic practices, other aspects of their culture are described as well, as is the clash of old and modern lifeways. What also struck me as unique and awesome is that the author treats Uido's shamanic training and visions not as part of the fantasy genre but as a part of her everyday life. Uido occupies a special place in her culture for what she sees and can do, but this well-respected place has always been occupied by someone with similar abilities. In this way, Venkatraman accents the differences between cultures in the treatment of what we Western culture people consider the supernatural. She helps readers become more respectful of others' lifeways by showing them a new perspective on such a subject.

The cultural detail in Island's End is enough to outweigh any other criticisms of the novel. Honestly, if you ask me in a few weeks or months, I probably won't remember most of the things I complained about in the first paragraph of this review. I hope other readers will end up getting as much out of this book as I did.

Island's End reminded me in many ways of The Bomb by Theodore Taylor (1996), though the endings are near-opposites.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blog Tour Review: The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

Publisher: Free Press
(American) Date: July 26, 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: from Free Press Blog Tours
Read: for review (I received this book in return for a fair and honest review; how I acquired it did not impact the outcome of my review)
Pages: 227
Reading time: two days

Based on the true story of an aristocratic Irish mother found guilty of killing her own child, The Butterfly Cabinet tells the dual stories of Harriet Ormond and Maddie McGlade. Harriet, mother of nine, is a harsh disciplinarian whose methods of rearing children often bring censure from others. Maddie is a young servant in the Ormond household. The women's lives become intertwined when Charlotte, Harriet's only daughter, dies. Harriet is convicted of killing her and is sent to prison; her story is told through the diary she kept during her incarceration. Maddie, over seventy years after Charlotte's death, tells her side of the story to Harriet's granddaughter Anna, and the secrets that have been kept for decades begin to be unraveled.

Within the first few pages, I was hooked on The Butterfly Cabinet. McGill's writing is excellent, and though the narration (especially that of Maddie) tends to ramble, the book always remains interesting. Readers know most of what happened in the Ormond household from the outset, but there are a few surprises yet to come. Because readers already know most of the story, it is the fact that the basis of the book in and of itself is fascinating coupled with McGill's eloquent writing that keeps readers engaged in the book.With lesser authors this novel would have been boring, but McGill writes well enough to hold interest.

Sorry for the short review, but that's really all I have to say.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The End of Summer

August 8 is my official first day of school, though as a senior I don't have to go until either the 19th or the 22nd. This means that I get to attend band camp from 8-4 these next two weeks! Lots of hot (it's been 105+ degrees in past years), hard-working fun. Going back to school, while I'm looking forward to my classes this year, is disappointing in that I probably won't have much time for reading anymore. Those reading times I post on reviews of a couple days will be changing to weeks, most likely. I'm anticipating my last year to be tough: eight-course semesters, section leader of the low brass, college applications (but first I have to actually decide where I'm going!), financial aid/scholarship stuff, final SATs, academic team competitions, church activities, community music groups...oh yeah, and blogging.

That list of twenty books I set for myself to read this summer? I've read thirteen. Pretty good, considering that I rarely actually stick to lists of to-read books. I've read forty books total since school ended in May, with three more that I haven't finished yet. Part of that number came from the Once Upon a Read-a-Thon back at the beginning of July. I feel very productive now, though I won't talk about how many more books I've acquired than I've read...

My classes this semester, at least as how they currently stand:
1st period: college physics I, college US history I, French IV
2nd period: AP art history, AP human geography
3rd period: AP biology, AP psychology
4th period: marching band
(Six of these classes are online, which is how I manage to cram so many into only four periods.)

Sci-Fi: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Publisher: Crown
Date: August 16, 2011
Format: ARC (cover pictured is of final copy)
Acquired: from the publisher
Read: for review (I received my copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.)
Pages: 372
Reading time: two days

In 2044, most of the world spends as much time as possible in OASIS, a virtual, near-utopian world where just about everything can be created and experienced. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts even goes to school in OASIS, using the online program to escape his poor, unsupportive home life. Wade, otherwise known by the screen name Parzival, shares the dream of many fellow OASIS users: to find the "Easter egg" hidden by OASIS's creator, Halliday. This egg will make him the inheritor of Halliday's massive fortune, as well as give him the control of the virtual reality. But it's been five years since Halliday's challenge began, and no one's been able to find even the first clue. Then Wade stumbles across it, and the 1980s pop culture-inspired race to be the first to locate the egg begins between Wade, four of his friends, and the malevolent, corporate-sponsored "Sixers," who will use the power and wealth the egg brings for their own nefarious purposes.

Ready Player One is the first book in a long, long time that I've actually been unable to put down. I just didn't want to stop reading it! It's both exciting, with great action, and fascinating, with the ways '80s movies, television, books, music, and games are worked into the story. Even though I'm not at all familiar with 1980s culture, I stayed interested (not to mention unconfused) with the '80s-detailed-driven plot. For readers who actually know a lot about the era, either from having lived during it or from having an obsession with it, Ready Player One must be infinitely even more alluring! I felt like such a geek, enjoying it so much...

There were few slow points to the novel, only occurring during the first sixty or so pages as Cline built up his version of 2044 and in about the middle as an interlude between the action. These weren't boring; I was just ready to get on with the more exciting parts by the time Cline started to move into them. I started reading the book thinking of it as written for an adult audience and continued in that belief for a while, though the author's writing seemed to become increasingly more young adult-oriented the longer I read. Ready Player One is suitable for both audiences, then, both content- and writing style-wise. Speaking of which, Cline has a decent writing style. It's fun, though not in the cheap paperback, end-up-on-the-ten-cent-rack-with-a-bunch-of-other-forgotten-and-discarded-sci-fi/fantasy-books variety. Ready Player One is memorable for both its attention-grabbing action and for its interesting '80s basis.

Maturity Factor: Profanity.

I think it would be cool for teenage/young adult readers of Ready Player One to ask their parents about all the '80s pop-culture references. I'd love to discuss them with mine, but my mom and dad were thoroughly entrenched in college/grad school at that point. They've already admitted to having no lives during that decade. I can't really see my dad playing Dungeons and Dragons, anyway.

For slightly younger readers looking for a read-alike, I'd recommend Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In My Mailbox #5: Final Vacation Edition

My last summer vacation was this week (I went to the beach). Book shopping around Ocean Isle, NC isn't that great, but I came home to six packages of books, which made up for it! Here they are:

For review:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (thank you to Crown)
I was soooo happy to snag a copy of this one! I've already started it, and so far it's pretty good.

Island's End by Padma Venkatraman (thanks, WhatchYAReading!)
Dracula in Love by Karen Essex (thanks, Bibliophilic Book Blog!)
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin (thanks, Paperback Dolls!)

Trickster in the Land of Dreams by Zesse Papanikolas
Night Shivers by J.H. Riddell
Victorian gothic stories by a female author? Heck yeah!

Archaeology at Colonial Brunswick by Stanley South
For my slowly expanding collection of southern anthropology books; will be useful for college and future careers.
It's a very orange-y/red week this week, for some reason.

And, before I forget, the winner of the July swag box giveaway is Kaye M. Congrats, Kaye! She has already been contacted and has responded with her picks, which will be mailed out sometime next week. No swag box giveaway for this month; only four people entered in July, and I'll give the box some time to re-stock itself with some goodies.

Friday, August 5, 2011

YA Fiction: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Publisher: Delacorte
Date: 2009
Format: hardback
Acquired: from Random Buzzers
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 480
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

My review: The best way to describe Going Bovine is a YA version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. It's random. It's funny. It doesn't always completely make sense (though I finally understand the purpose of Schrödinger's Cat now), but it's the random and humorous stuff that makes it great. Bray accurately captures the dialogue and minds of teenagers, and her quirky characters and odd plot sequence make Going Bovine a unique read. At over 400 pages, the novel can get a bit long, but it's never boring; the storyline is constantly moving, and I would have hated for Bray to take out any part of it because us short-attention-span readers don't usually like longer books. My only disappointment was that the ending didn't turn out the way I expected (I had thought I was so smart, figuring it out!), but the conclusion is satisfying (though for some reason my brother was in a state of confusion for a day and said it blew his mind). Anyway, read this book. It's one of the best YA books I've read: well-written, great with teenage minds, and with a fascinating plot that stays with you after you've finished reading.

For fans of Doyle's A Great and Terrible Beauty and series, Going Bovine is totally not like those. I had to look up Libba Bray on Wikipedia to make sure they were by the same author. Twice. My younger brother, who would never, ever, in a million years touch the Gemma Doyle books, loved Going Bovine and read it in less time than I managed.

Maturity Factor: Profanity and other remarks and thoughts common with your average teenager. Some non-explicit sex.