Thursday, February 28, 2013

Add It to the List! 1

One of my favorite things to do while procrastinating on schoolwork is browse through books online. Generally, this results in a large number of books being added to my already-enormous wishlist on GoodReads (2790 and counting). Since such procrastination reduces my reading time left after finally finishing homework, I might as well use it to come up with other blog content.

Upcoming releases:
The Registry by Shannon Stoker (William Morrow, 6/11/13)
YA dystopia where all girls are sold as brides and all boys become soldiers

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer (Atheneum Books, 9/3/13)
I am ridiculously excited for this sequel to The House of the Scorpion!

Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 9/17/13)
YA pre-apocalyptic novel dealing with relationships before the end times

Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Stephanie Hemphill (Balzer + Bray, 10/1/13)
I wasn't a huge fan of Hemphill's Your Own, Sylvia, but I do have a slight obsession with any 19th-century author of sci-fi works

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Disney Hyperion, 12/10/13)
sort of reminds me of Across the Universe

Oldies (kind of):
The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto (Portuguese, 2009; English, Biblioasis, 2/26/13)
"Henning Mankell Mwanito Vitalico was 11 when he saw a woman for the first time"

Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth (Scribe Publications, August 2012)
the characters are part of an "isolated religious community"

Flower Children by Maxine Swann (Riverhead, 2007)
I'm obsessed with hippies and similar countercultural experiences, particularly in a sociological context

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs (Dutch, 2005; English, Penguin, 2008)
looks delightfully gothic, a blend of horror and sci-fi

Facing East from Indian Country by Daniel K. Richter (Harvard Univ. Press, 2001)
Because being out in OK is making me miss the Southeast, and I wish it was easier to find good books on Eastern Native American history

What books have you added to your wishlist lately?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Historical Fiction: The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

Publisher: Ecco
Date: December 26 2012*
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 172
Reading time: two days

From the back of the ARC: Mary and her three sisters rise every day to backbreaking farm work that threatens to suppress their own awakening desires, whether it's Violet's pull toward womanhood or Beatrice's affinity for the Scriptures. But it's their father, whose anger is unleashed at the slightest provocation, who stands to deliver the most harm. Only Mary, fierce of tongue and a spitfire since birth, dares to stand up to him. When he sends her to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife in their house on the hill, he deals her the only blow she may not survive.

Within walking distance of her own family farm, the vicarage is a world away - a curious, unsettling place unlike any she has known. Teeming with the sexuality of the vicar's young son and the manipulations of another servant, it is also a place of books and learning - a source of endless joy. Yet as young Mary soon discovers, such precious knowledge comes with a devastating price, as is made gradually clear once she begins the task of telling her own story.

My review: The Colour of Milk is told very simply, yet even in Mary's blunt country voice there seems to be some charm and lyricism. She certainly draws the reader into her tale, at first with interest in her everyday life and then with increasing suspicion about what sinister events are to come. Though trouble came from what to me had originally appeared an innocent source, towards the end it became clear how the novel would climax. Still, the conclusion remained emotional and powerful.

Overall, for the briefness of the book, the plot is very well-developed. I'm surprised at how much the author actually fit into the number of pages. In hindsight, though, some elements could have been elaborated upon more (certain characters seemed to just disappear from the narrative after a certain point). Yet the novel still packs a punch with its abrupt, but neatly tied-up, ending. It's one of those books where the conclusion is, in some ways, greater than the rest of the story, with the final pages leaving the reader with much to ponder.

*The Colour of Milk was first published by Fig Tree in the UK in May 2012.

Friday, February 22, 2013

YA Sci-Fi: Erebos by Ursula Poznanski

Publisher: Annick Press
Translator: Judith Pattinson
Date: 2010; trans. January 2012
Format: ARC
Source: ARCycling
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 434
Reading time: six days

From the back of the ARC: Sixteen-year-old Nick Dunmore's classmates have a secret. When he receives a package with a mysterious computer game called Erebos, he hopes it will explain their strange behavior. He's quickly drawn into the cryptic world of the game, where players must obey a strict code. Erebos watches its players and begins to manipulate their lives in frightening ways. It soon becomes clear that the game has a deadly agenda. When Nick sets out on a dangerous mission, reality and the virtual world begin to blur...

My review: Erebos is a bit different from all the other video game/virtual world-oriented sci-fi novels out there. For one thing, it's not set in a future world; the setting could have been yesterday, because the only new thing is the gaming technology only recently developed in the world of the novel. It's not immersive technology in the usual sense, either. Erebos players use the same computers, headphones, keyboards, and mouses as we do. Really, about the only thing that struck me as not terribly realistic about the setting was how the characters' computerland adventures are told as if the technology actually is immersive, when really the players are just sitting at their desks playing a seemingly regular computer game.

So, Erebos takes a common sci-fi trope and takes it where I don't think it's been before, in the process exploring social and psychological repercussions of being so tied into this game. At times, though, the consequences of Erebos addiction seemed too constructed. For example, almost immediately after beginning to play, Nick starts cutting off from and being rude to his parents. Thank you for the obviousness of what you're trying to set up, dear novel. Overall, though, the plot was well-developed and smooth. It kept me interested without being too action-flashy. Erebos proved to be an enjoyable read, recommended if you enjoy books with similar themes of malevolent games.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blog Tour: The Shadow Wars by Rod Rees

Series: The Demi-Monde #2
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: February 19, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Blog Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: My copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 432
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: Norma Williams knows she was a fool to be lured into the virtual nightmare that is the Demi-Monde. When the agent sent in the game to save her goes rogue and a long forgotten evil is awoken, it falls to Norma to lead the resistance. Lost, without a plan, and with the army of the ForthRight marching ever closer, she must come to terms with terrible new responsibilities and with the knowledge that those she thought were her friends are now her enemies. To triumph in this surreal cyber-world she must be more than she ever believed she could be . . . or perish.

My review: I greatly enjoyed the first book in this series, but The Shadow Wars proved to be a disappointing follow-up. For quite a bit of the novel, the plot felt just weird. It didn't seem to fit with the sci-fi alternate world of the first book, becoming much more fantastical and esoteric. There's suddenly all these connections to the powers of goddesses and demons and magic, which doesn't seem entirely realistic given the nature of the world as set up in The Demi-Monde: Winter. It took me a while to be able to accommodate the shift in characters and plot into my view of the novel's setting.

The fantastic world-building continues, however. The reader is introduced to previously unexplored parts of the Demi-Monde and its historical Dupes. The plot thickens as the political machinations of the world's leaders are gradually unearthed. For the most part, there's still tons of exciting action, but it became a bit too much at times. This second installment definitely had more of a shoot-'em-up feel than the complexly developed first novel. The seemingly constant fights made this chunkster of a book quickly repetitive and tiring despite the fascinating concepts it carries over from the first novel of the series.

Note: The Shadow Wars was first published in the UK under the title The Demi-Monde: Spring (January 2011).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sci-Fi: The Demi-Monde World by Rod Rees

Series: The Demi-Monde #1
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: 2011
Format: hardback
Source: blog giveaway
Read: so I could move on to the 2nd book
Pages: 517
Reading time: three days

In 2018, the Demi-Monde is an incredibly sophisticated computer simulation designed as a chaotic and unpredictable training ground for the U.S. military. Its inhabitants consist of thirty million Dupes, duplicates of actual figures from the Real World, living in a steampunkish version of world history. Its rulers include some of the most cruel, despicable, and fanatical leaders from past times, such as the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the Reign of Terror's Maximilien Robespierre. When the American president's daughter, Norma, is lured into this alternate world and unforeseen issues occur, eighteen-year-old Ella Thomas is recruited to enter the simulation and face the prejudice, unpredictability, and terror of the Demi-Monde in order to rescue Norma and prevent the influence of the Demi-Monde from reaching the Real World.

The world-building of the Demi-Monde is utterly fantastic. Even if you're not normally into speculative fiction, it's worth reading this book just to see the incredibly creative ways in which the author brings together some of history's most notorious figures. It's also a plus that most characters are not drawn from those one would immediately consider. Instead, there's the likes of Heydrich - also a thoroughly nasty fellow - and Lavrentiy Beria rather than Hitler and Stalin. The manner in which these and other historical figures (not all of whom are infamously nasty) are drawn together into a single world is complex and fascinating.

And besides all that, this novel is just exciting. The plot keeps moving, has the usual twists you don't seem coming (especially with the introduction of characters already known to us in the real world), and has plenty of action. It's a spectacular and fun romp through an alternate world that leaves one intrigued by what the rest of the series has up its sleeve.

Note: The Demi-Monde: Winter is the full title of this book in both the U.K. and the U.S. The titles are different, however, for the rest of the series.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Recent Acquisitions II

You would think that being stuck on campus would mean I find it difficult to get new books. I guess not.

For review:
Erebos by Ursula Poznanski (thanks, Jennifer and ARCycling!)
I've already finished (and enjoyed) this; review will be posted later this week.
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon (thanks, Mary and ARCycling!)
Temple of a Thousand Faces by John Shors (Early Reviewers)
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson (Random Buzzers Ambuzzadors)
Ahhh, I'm so excited to get this!!!! "Bluebeard" + historical fiction sounds fantastic! Also, I have a second ARC that I will be giving away when I post my review. :)

Purchased at a campus book sale:
Traps by Friedrich Durrenmatt
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The History of Doctor Johann Faustus ed. by H.G. Haile

America's Communal Utopias ed. by Donald E. Pitzer
The prof of my Honors American Religion on the Margins class lent this to me...I've only read two chapters and flipped through the appendix so far, but it's an utterly fantastic resource for the subject.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Drama Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht

Publication date: 1941
Performance date: February 9, 2013
Venue: OU Theatre

What it's about: In 1930s Chicago, mobster Arturo Ui is attempting to gain control of the greengrocer trade, especially that of cauliflowers. By use of corruption and the ruthless disposal of any opposition, Ui makes his way up the structure of power in an allegory of Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui started out so-so. There's a ton of quick, dense dialogue at the beginning that makes it a bit difficult to initially understand the context of the play, though later this proved not to be an issue. Following my reading of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera last year, I expected the play to be rather comedic, but it generally was not.

The play increased in enjoyability, however, the farther along it went. The satire of Hitler and the Nazi rise to power becomes increasingly obvious throughout, with the conclusion being blatantly political and anti-Fascist. (I ended up with a portrait of Fidel Castro sitting in front of me, seemingly looking directly into my eyes.* It was not the most comfortable conclusion to a play.) Anyway, I highly recommend finding a live performance or a recording of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui to see. It's a very thought-provoking play, and even after the context of its writing has passed, its power to impress the audience remains.

*My seat was in the middle of the front row in a small box theatre, so the stage area was literally right there. I'm used to larger halls, so having cast members and props a foot away seemed odd and kind of personal.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fiction: The Island of Last Truth by Flavia Company

Publisher: Europa Editions
Translator: Laura McGloughlin
Date: 2011 (trans. October 2012)
Format: ARC
Source: World Literature Today giveaway shelf
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 124
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Legend has is that Dr. Matthew Prendel, an expert sailor, had been shipwrecked years before the story opens in contemporary New York. His boat was attacked by pirates. He survived thanks to an incredible stroke of luck, while his entire crew perished. But then found himself embroiled in a ferocious fight for survival between two castaways on a desert island. There, too, he was lucky and came out the victor. Or perhaps luck played no part in it. Perhaps something darker was at play. And at stake. The only thing sure is that Matthew Prendel disappeared for five whole years. He has been back in New York now for a couple of years. That’s what they say at least. Though one should never rely entirely on hearsay…

My review: Most of this short novel ended up seeming like just a set-up for the ending. The last couple of pages were where the intensity and excitement were. It felt like by the time the situation of Prendel's shipwreck was explained, once the reader was established in his story, there were too few pages left to do much with it. Like many survivalist tales - and what perhaps makes them so fascinating - The Island of Last Truth explores what happens with human nature when people are thrust into such situations. Yet Company's novel has a different development than most. She takes her time setting up the beginning of the situation, only to have it end abruptly. It's like most of the novel was just the first 100 or so pages of a much longer one but suddenly and prematurely skipped forward to a startling conclusion. Though it was an interesting read, the book left me with a very unfinished feeling.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sci-Fi: In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: 2009
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: for my own enjoyment
Pages: 310
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn--handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three--chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children. But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.

My review: In a Perfect World falls into the category of one of my favorite forms of science fiction: 'literary' novels that take contemporary stories and make them more interesting (to this reader, anyway) by adding sci-fi elements. It tends to seem more realistic to me than some of the other popular sci-fi tropes. After all, if we did happen to live in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian world, would we actually be aware of it as such? (I guess that refers mostly to the dystopian scenario.) How many of us would get to be the hero(ine) who somehow gets wrapped up in some kind of epic adventure during which we find true love? Such stories make for fun reading, but the likelihood of their actual occurrence is practically nil.

But on the other hand, how many of us would be like Jiselle? Jiselle is your average stepmother. Sure, her romance seems rather fairy tale-ish at first, but it has all of the issues and questions of any other relationship. When the novel's particular brand of apocalypse creeps up, Jiselle, like, I would imagine, most people, isn't particularly concerned. She has everything else in life to worry about. It's super-realistic because, from the outset, how many of us would freak out about an illness that's not affecting us, our families, or our friends? We would all just go on with our day-to-day living. Even as society as we know it begins to disintegrate, it's only after the fact that one can look back and call it an apocalyptic scenario.

Anyway, I breezed right through In a Perfect World. It was just an easy, but engrossing, read. Jiselle and her stepchildren were simple characters in which to invest, and the author left you wanting to know what would happen to them without making the situation all uber-dramatic and cliff-hanging. At times, the writing seemed a little choppy, but overall this was a very thought-provoking, refreshing, and enjoyable read.