Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fiction: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

Publisher: Mariner Books
Date: 1981
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: because the blurb mentions a "utopian experiment"
Pages: 375

From GoodReads: In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.

My review: I think any issues I had with The Mosquito Coast stemmed from the fact that, for some reason, my reading of it got spread out over almost two weeks rather than the usual couple of days. I also ended up really wanting to go ahead and know stuff and so skipped forward a little, plus I looked up a synopsis of the movie version after watching Blade Runner. (Both star Harrison Ford. There's a sorta-complicated thought process behind all this.)

Anyway, the novel started out strong. You have father Allie Fox, who's increasingly shown to be pretty crazy, though in a weird way I agree with some of the things he said. It also becomes clear fairly early that The Mosquito Coast is a coming-of-age survivalist novel along the lines of The Dolphin People (one of my favorite reads of 2012). By dint of the fact that you have a teenage boy and his family stuck with a madman in the middle of the Honduran jungle trying to build a utopian settlement, the book's never going to be boring.

But it might still drag. I felt like the situation changed once or twice too much, making the book longer than it should have been. Certain elements, especially in Charlie's thoughts and the family's conversations, were repeated over and over again, far past when readers would grasp the point. I did have fun analyzing the relationship between Allie Fox, the environment, and his Western concept of positive, but isolated, "civilization" versus negative "living like monkeys." I feel like I should have enjoyed the writing and the story of The Mosquito Coast much more, but I was hindered by my own slow reading pace.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

You guys, I've been such an awful blogger lately....granted, some of the books I've read recently won't have reviews posted for a while just because they're for pre-scheduled tours, but still, my reading and posting have slowed down far too much. I'm not even particularly busy with college yet; I just don't feel like doing anything. This is going to be such a fun semester...

For example, I was too lazy to take pictures of all the books in this post. It was an act of great will to bother to upload the pictures I'd already taken.

For review:
Demi-Monde #2: The Shadow Wars by Rod Rees (TLC Tours)
I've already finished books #1 and #2 in this series and will be posting the reviews around Feb. 20.
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (Early Reviewers)
See my review of this here.

Legend #2: Prodigy by Marie Lu (thanks, Bibliopunkk!)
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman (thanks, Marjolein Book Blog!)
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (thanks, In Between!)
Splintered by A.G. Howard (thanks, Howard and Confessions of a Bookaholic!)

The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Oz #7)
A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova
Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod
Ruth Fielding at the War Front by Alice B. Emerson (Ruth Fielding #...something)
The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago
A Nation Rising by Kenneth C. Davis
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma (Trilogia Victoriana #2)

Free from Honors College informal reading groups:
The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach
Poems by Hermann Hesse
Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

If you're wondering, my classes this semester are Intro to Linguistics, German I, History Sleuth, Intro to Literary and Cultural Studies, and American Religion on the Margins.
Believing is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art by Mary Anne Staniszewski
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Retelling U.S. Religious History ed. by Thomas A. Tweed
Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter
The Historians' Paradox by Peter Hoffer
Doing Oral History by Donald A. Ritchie
The Myth of American Exceptionalism by Godfrey Hodgson
America's Religions by Peter Williams
Deutsch: Na Klar! by Robert di Donato
An Introduction to Language by Victoria Fromkin et al.
Literary Theory: An Anthology ed. by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan
Midnight at the Barrelhouse by George Lipsitz

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Realistic Fiction: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

Publisher: Penguin Books
Translator: not credited
Date: 2008
Format: paperback
Source: World Literature Today
Read: for the WLT Book Club
Pages: 271
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: A prime number is a lonely thing. It can only be divided by itself or by one, and it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia are both "primes" - misfits haunted by early tragedies. When the two meet as teenagers, they recognize in each other a kindred, damaged spirit. Years later, a chance encounter reunites them and forces a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface. But can two prime numbers ever find a way to be together?

My review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers started out fascinating and engrossing. The reader is first plopped into Alice's and Mattia's childhood tragedies, then taken to when they meet as fifteen-year-olds. The part of the novel where the characters are teens in particular spoke out to me. While my adolescent years were never quite as awful as what Alice and Mattia face, coming from their backgrounds of trauma and then facing bullies and other high school mess, I could still identify with some of their feelings of loneliness and not fitting in with everyone else. The duo's experiences are heartbreaking, but Giordano's writing makes them also seem lyrical and transcendent.

As Alice and Mattia aged, however, I grew less attached to them and to the novel. They didn't seem quite as likable, instead having their more self-centered and unfeeling traits become apparent. I quit being able to empathize with them as much as before, and the book lost some of its appeal. It reminded me a lot of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender) - similar themes, and I guess the characters' experiences and demeanors make it inevitable that the conclusion is not exactly the satisfying, happily-ever-after ending one would hope for in both the situations described and just in reading the novel.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I didn't think it would happen to me...

The examples of copyright infringement of which I have heard tended to come from more active blogs with much larger followings, so I felt somewhat secure in my relative obscurity that the same thing likely wouldn't happen to me. Well, I was completely wrong.

Naida over at The Bookworm kindly pointed out the plagiarism when she realized that her posts, too, had been copied onto the blog Critical Bookworm. She also discovered the term for this particular form of plagiarism: blog scraping. The owner of the plagiarizing blog "scraped" every single post off our blogs from when they began in 2010 until mid-November 2012. Every. Single. One. Giveaway posts, personal posts, IMM/Mailbox Monday, reviews - everything. Just copied and pasted, even retaining all the same formats and embedded html codes.

Just look at the screenshot of their November feed. You can tell from the titles (counting from the top down) that posts #1, 7, 10, 14, 16, and 17 are mine; the rest are Naida's, unless there's yet another blogger who's been scraped as part of this.

Of course, we've reported the problem to Blogger. I'm not sure how long this scraping site has actually been up; even though the post dates match up to mine, the time stamps are somehow usually several hours earlier than when I actually posted. Also, for a blog that looks like it's been around since 2010, there are no comments and no way to follow posting. Weird, huh?

The lesson here? Just check up on plagiarism once in a while by running the text of reviews (or other posts) through Google. It might not find all forms of plagiarism, but it will detect scraping, especially since scraping blogs show up first in Google results over the scraped blogs. And, just as a warning, if you have a non-book blog, the same person who runs the plagiarizing Critical Bookworm has many other blogs listed on his/her profile, some of which also appear to be scraped.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fiction: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

Publisher: Riverhead Books
Date: January 31, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 420
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

My review: I was a bit wary of giving A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea a try because I've been in a bit of a slump lately with novels similar to this, namely, books with depressing settings that actually occur (or occurred) in the real world. It's easy to get tired of the type of book where you already know that bad, totally unfair things are going to happen to the characters just because of the world in which they live, and that such worlds and their situations are based on true examples of how people have lived.

But once I started reading, I was instantly gripped by Saba's story and the lyrical, poignant way in which it is presented. It becomes clear fairly early about what has really happened to Saba's twin and probably to her mother, yet the reader still feels like he or she must continue to cling on to hope that something about this is mistaken. At the same time, Saba's stories of her sister act as a fascinating allegory for Saba's own life, giving a deeper perspective her desires and frustrations. There's still the ever-present depressing element of the restrictive, unjust, and often violent and corrupt situation that oppresses Saba and others around her, but occasional happiness, healing, and triumph is balanced with the trauma, pain, and sadness, allowing the bleak aspects of the novel to become more manageable.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Nonfiction - Fringe Anthropology

Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents by Robert Wauchope (1962)
I expected this to be a rather impartial review of anthropological fringe theories regarding pre-Columbian culture contacts in the New World. Instead, I got Wauchope blasting some of the crazier theorists, most dating back to the 19th century (that bastion of fascinating, but often off-the-wall, pseudoscientific theories and hoaxes). Interesting? Yes. But the author didn't really go into detail on the theories, just ranted about their proponents.

America B.C. by Barry Fell (1976)
Fascinating? Yes. Convincing? Maybe... The purported presence of Celtic Ogam inscriptions in the U.S. is certainly an enigma, but it would have been nice to have more research besides Fell's own to back up his claims. Also, some of his ideas (like the influence on the American Indian mound builders) seemed to be going a bit too far. The answer, I think, really comes down to whether or not Fell is correctly interpreting his material. Issues with the writing itself: slightly disorganized at some points.

Long Before Columbus by Hans Holzer (1992)
Holzer's book is based around the site of Mystery Hill, NH, which is also mentioned much by Fell. Where Fell is arguing for a Celtic origination, however, Holzer aims for supporting the presence of the Aegean/Mediterranean Sea Peoples. This he does rather ineffectively, since the evidence he presents is hodgepodge, poorly organized, and vague. Much of it is also based on parapsychology, which I'm not sure how to take.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

YA Sci-Fi: Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Series: Across the Universe #3
Publisher: Razorbill
Date: January 15 2013
Format: ARC
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 370
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They're ready to start life afresh--to build a home--on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience. But this new Earth isn't the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed's former passengers aren't alone on this planet. And if they're going to stay, they'll have to fight. Amy and Elder must race to discover who--or what--else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed--friends, family, life on Earth--will have been for nothing.

My review: *Sob,* the series is over! I was a bit skeptical about Beth Revis being able to pull off three consecutive amazing installments, but she has certainly succeeded in not only making each book epic and intriguing, but also unique from the storylines and character of the others. Thus it's not a series of which one tires, thank God, because there's already enough of those out there.

Shades of Earth continues with the complexity that characterizes the series. The setting and situation are quite different - Amy, Elder, et al. have finally made it onto the new planet, are dealing with new characters, and have largely left behind the issues of Godspeed for the challenges and intrigues of the new world - yet there's still a good deal of mystery. The way all the elements of the unknown eventually come together is amazing. One might be able to foresee a bit of what the colonists discover, but it's impossible to truly see how all the details and events will resolve. Previous issues come back in completely new and unexpected ways to impact the colony's survival, and the conclusion is both realistic and astounding. It's an exciting, breathtaking, heart-pounding finale for the series.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Folklore: The Epic of Qayaq by Lela Kiana Oman

Subtitle: The Longest Story Ever Told By My People
Publisher: Carleton Univ. Press
Date: 1995
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: to further my knowledge of the world's epics
Pages: 120
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: The hero is Qayaq, and the cycle traces his wanderings by kayak and on foot along four rivers - the Selawik, the Kobuk, the Noatak and the Yukon - up along the Arctic Ocean to Barrow, over to Herschel Island in Canada, and south to a Tlingit Indian village. Along the way he battles with jealous fathers-in-law and other powerful adversaries; discovers cultural implements (the copper-headed spear and the birchbark canoe); transforms himself into animals, birds and fish, and meets animals who appear to be human.

My review: The Epic of Qayaq is a cycle of stories told by the Inupiat American Indians of northern Alaska. Oman's version is extremely well-told, especially given that the last couple of epics I read were either mind-numbingly long and boring (Homer's) or not great translations (two West African ones, not reviewed on the blog). This epic, by contrast, was very readable. Qayaq's adventures - and the culture underlying the tales - were quite interesting. Though the details were unique, it was also fascinating to draw parallels between this epic and other hero stories from around the world. The tale never dragged, nor did it feel undetailed as do many folktales; the story was fleshed-out and flowed well. This edition did a fantastic job of bringing another culture's epic to unfamiliar readers, not falling into the flaw of certain similar works by failing to convey the unique concepts and history of the group as reflected in the tale.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holiday Book Haul

Happy (somewhat belated) holidays, everyone!

For review:
Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perisic (First Look)
The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran (publisher)

From Random Buzzers:
Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Christmas gifts:
The Packhorseman by Charles M. Hudson
Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa by Charles M. Hudson
Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik
The Year 3000 by Paolo Mantegazza
Three Women by Isabelle de Charriere

Purchased on a book-buying excursion to two of my favorite stores:
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Feed by M.T. Anderson
The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies
Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister by Aphra Behn
The Man of Feeling by Henry Mackenzie
Lady Audley's Secret by M.E. Braddon
Corinne, or Italy by Madame de Stael
Egil's Saga by anonymous
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
Supernatural Horror in Literature by H.P. Lovecraft
The Scholars by Wu Ching-Tzu
The Search for the Tassili Frescoes by Henri Lhote
Work and Worship Among the Shakers by Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews
Long Before Columbus by Hans Holzer
Early Irish Society by Myles Dillon

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fiction: Honey for the Bears by Anthony Burgess

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: 1963
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge
Pages: 225
Reading time: two days

Paul Hussey, British antiques dealer, and his American wife are off to Russia. As a favor for the widow of a deceased friend, they are to smuggle dozens of drilon dresses into the USSR to sell to the state's material goods-hungry citizens. But when Mrs. Hussey is admitted to a St. Petersburg hospital to receive treatment for a painful rash and Mr. Hussey is investigated by Russian agents, the couple realizes they are in over their heads in this satire of the Cold War and Anglo-Soviet relations.

Being a satire, Honey for the Bears is billed as being "comic," but the humor just didn't quite catch with me. Mostly because it was dry. Soooo dry. It doesn't help that Burgess is a very 'literary' author who uses lots of highfalutin' words, and my little teenage brain is used to more puerile high school and college humor. Also, I'm not British and living through the Cold War in the early 1960s, so the book has lost much of the context it would have had for more contemporary readers. But this was still an enjoyable read, almost surreal at points. It was quite interesting to see what in the world could happen next to Paul Hussey and how (if?) he was going to make it out of the USSR. Some of Burgess's themes (i.e., homosexuality) were a bit unexpected, and others (freedom, Communism vs. capitalism) left me wondering how Burgess intended them to be interpreted.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Reading Challenges

I don't usually participate in reading challenges, but two caught my eye for this upcoming year:

The 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Evie at Bookish. Why? I have a ghastly number of books I own but haven't read. Yet. For the purposes of this challenge, I will count any book I've owned for 6+ months that is not a 2013 release. I'm aiming for 50 books, but really, I'll probably be happy with 25. Or maybe less. I'm really bad at sticking to these plans for decreasing my TBR mountain.

1. Honey for the Bears by Anthony Burgess
2. America B.C. by Barry Fell
3. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
4. In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
5. The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees
6. The Kingdom of Matthias by Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz
7. Mountain Jack Tales by Gail E. Haley
8. City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
9. Abandon by Meg Cabot
10. Illuminated by Erica Orloff
11. Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
12. The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum
13. Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie
14. Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik
15. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
16. The Lais of Marie de France
17. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox

The 2013 Translation Challenge, hosted by Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. Because I'm great with finding translated lit and then never getting around to reading it. The details of the challenge call for a book a month, so 12 for the year. Here's the beginnings of my (tentative) list:

1. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
2. The Island of Last Truth by Flavia Company
3. Erebos by Ursula Poznanski
4. The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach
5. Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perisic
6. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
7. Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse
8. The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse
9. Dreaming of Cockaigne by Herbert Pleij
10. Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik
11. Wigalois by Wirnt von Grafenberg
12. Without a Net by Ana Maria Shua
13. The Lais of Marie de France partial reading plans for the year. This page will be periodically updated with links to books reviewed as part of these challenges.

Looking Ahead at 2013

The List of Books To Look Forward To:

Interesting, how a woman's face features on every one of these covers.
Historical fiction:
Temple of a Thousand Faces by John Shors (NAL Trade, 2/5)
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson (Random House, 3/12) - also a retelling
The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni (Clarion, 5/14)
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross (Delacorte, 6/11) - also a retelling
Godiva by Nicole Galland (William Morrow, 7/2)

Retellings, etc:
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepard (Balzer + Bray, 1/29)
Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 4/2)
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff (Alfred A. Knopf, 4/9)
Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin (Simon Pulse, 5/7)
Beauty by Nancy Ohlin (Simon Pulse, 5/7)
Sold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robbins (Forge, 5/14)
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkein (HarperCollins, 5/23)
Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay (Delacorte, 7/23)

Doomed by Tracy Deebs (Walker, 1/8) - also a retelling
The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian (Viking, 2/1)
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (Del Rey, 2/5)
When We Wake by Karen Healey (Little, Brown, 3/5)
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam, 3/7)
Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells (Strange Chemistry, 4/2)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Viking, 3/12)
Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley (Tinder Press, 3/28; Little, Brown, 4/16)

Unclear genre:
The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Walker, 6/4)
Bubble World by Carol Snow (Henry Holt, 7/30)
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Henry Holt, 8/27)
Gated by Amy Christine Parker (Random House, 8/27)

The sequels:
Lunar Chronicles #2: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends, 2/5)
Iron Codex #3: The Mirrored Shard by Caitlin Kittredge (Delacorte, 2/12)
After the Snow #2: One Crow Alone by S.D. Crockett (Macmillan, 2/14)
Jenna Fox Chronicles #3: Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 3/19)

May the review copy gods be good to us all this year...