Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Books of 2012 Survey-From Boston Bibliophile

How many books read in 2012?

51, as of December 28th.

How many fiction and non-fiction?

8 non-fiction and the rest fiction. That's an unusual amount of non-fiction for me!

Male/Female author ratio?

19 male and 26 female authors. I had a feeling I'd read more women this year, but didn't know it was that many more!

Favorite book of 2012?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and/or The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.

Least favorite?

Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?

Not that I can remember.

Oldest book read:

Plato's Symposium, written between 385-380 BCE.


The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll came out in November 2012.

Longest and shortest book titles?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; Symposium

Longest and shortest books?

I think Lorna Doone was the longest, not sure about the shortest, maybe Symposium again or Henry IV Part I.

How many books from the library?

6, including the Graceling audiobook.

Any translated books?

The Dwarves was translated from German, I think that's the only one. I still need to work on that!

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?

I didn't do a lot of repeat authors this year, probably Bruce Coville, since I read the last three books in The Unicorn Chronicles.

Any re-reads?

I don't think I counted any re-reads for purposes of the blog; I read Twelfth Night again for a class and Reading Lolita in Tehran for a book review (it was the 2012 pick for DC Reads).

Favorite character of the year?

Wade Watts from Ready Player One.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?

Various parts of the United States and Britain, the imaginary lands of Girdlegard, Eternal Sky,and Mallorea, an alternate universe England and Soviet Union, and apocalyptic versions of the States.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?

Ready Player One was recommended by multiple friends and Books on the Nightstand. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Lorna Doone , and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland were all personally recommended to me.

Which author was new to you in 2012 that you now want to read the entire works of?

Too many! Markus Heitz, Eva Stachniak, Katherine Longshore, Catherynne M. Valente...

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?

Insurgent by Veronica Roth, I started this year excited about it and I even bought it in August. Maybe I'll get to it by New Year's?

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

Quite a few. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet and Special Topics in Calamity Physics were both books I regretted not getting to last year. Also, Lorna Doone had been kicking around for a while on my list, and I finally bought and read it this year.


How many SFF books did you read this year?

This year, I read 20 SFF books, mostly published in 2012 too, so I feel like I have a better idea of the "state of the genre" than I did last year. Stay tuned for my SFF Lit post in January!

How many of the books you read were published this year?

18! I'm doing much better on new releases this year, probably thanks to more ARCs from publishers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Top Ten Most Anticipated Books for 2013

1. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

I like what I've heard and the bits I've read of Cinder, though I need to read that first.

2. Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

Gilt was one of my favorite reads this past year, though I'm a little more skeptical there's anything new to say about Anne Boleyn.

3 The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I tend for some reason to like these "story behind the painting" type books.

4 Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende (English translation)

She's one of my favorite authors, even though I haven't read her in a while.

5 Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

I can't resist Arthurian history, and I'm hoping that I'll finally find a historical thriller I can enjoy. Also, the cover caught my eye.

6. The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

I realized I don't know anything about Charles Lindbergh's wife-and it seems there is a lot to know.

There's not anything else coming out that I'm really, really excited about and feel like I have to read. And maybe that's a good thing. I'm more open to new authors, new kinds of writing. Even if 2013 is the rare year where nothing worthy is published, I certainly won't lack for reading material from previous years.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Girl Who Ate Fairyland

This is a more *traditional* review that I wrote for a class and hoped somebody would like to publish, but no takers yet:

46. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

Children’s fantasy is traditionally filled with tempting foodstuffs-from Turkish delight to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans-but when one finds oneself more engaged with the “great orange-chiffon pumpkin soup with candied almonds…and a chocolate cake so rich and dense and moist it shone black” than the heroine’s exploits, what does that say about the sustenance of the plot?

Part of the fault lies with Catherynne M. Valente’s nearly unparalleled linguistic flair and her preoccupation with transforming or surpassing the conventions of children’s literature. Her prose is literally delicious and her daringness is charming-until you’re more than halfway through and the heroine, despite encountering various and sundry folks and enjoying numerous meals, is still unsuccessfully and halfheartedly pursuing her original ill-defined quest.

September, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in the earlier novel of that name, returns in The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. But this time, the title character isn’t September, it’s her shadow, Halloween or the Hollow Queen. In territory explored more fully in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea (a much less confusing moral allegory for fantasy-minded youngsters), Valente imagines a world where shadows have decided they don’t want to be attached to their “more real” selves anymore and under Halloween’s leadership have absconded to Fairyland-Below, where they can revel in their newfound selfhoods. The shadows, as it happens, are substantial enough to host delectable nightly feasts.

Since no one in a children’s story can entirely have their own way (lest selfishness be celebrated), this decision has adverse consequences for Fairyland-Above. Magic, it turns out, comes from shadows (Why don’t we have magic in the real world then? It isn’t explained) and, as the shadows leave, fairy folk are drained of their powers. When September re-enters Fairyland on her thirteenth birthday, equipped with a “raw and new, fast and fierce” teenage heart, she is galvanized to defeat Halloween by a distressing radio report and dwindling magic ration cards. If the shadows won’t desist, Fairyland will soon become ordinary-land.

The reason that Valente has chosen to set September’s reality in Nebraska during the Second World War continues to be unclear, unless as homage to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One would think that the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would serve equally well in claiming September’s absent father and the recession could just as handily mirror the magical deprivations of Fairyland. Many of Valente’s decisions are as willful as they are whimsical. A pair of crows that the narrator habitually follows are dead ends, so are a new ally named Aubergine and even the eventual result of the belabored quest. When Valente writes, “The Hollow Queen hated rules, and wanted to bite them all over,” she could just as well be describing herself.

Valente’s hearty sympathy for villains is her great strength and her great weakness. She wants a happy ending for the poor misunderstood little girls, even and especially if they cut off your braid and glued your shoes to the floor, and she’s willing to bend her story over backwards to do it. But the sheer litany of betrayal and obfuscation, and new characters-ye gods, the new characters-and their victuals, required in this operation sink the shadowy ship before it can swim in the Forgetful Sea.

Hope for the trilogy rests on the upcoming third book and meanwhile one can’t accuse Valente of not leaving enough to chew on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Catching Up on The List

44. Henry IV Part I by William Shakespeare

Falstaff. Prince Hal. Hotspur.

I read this a couple months ago for a class and that's mostly what I remember, these three characters. Buddies Falstaff and Hal are complex, violent, and continually at one another's throats. Both blame each other for their licentious indulgences in drink, women, and robbery and it's hard to tell who's at fault. One can't help agreeing with the earthy Falstaff's defense of living through deceit (because appearing to be alive when dead is the greater deceit) and rooting for Hal when he gets to redeem himself in battle.

Hotspur is just Hotspur, hotblooded, violent, and angry, but he makes an interesting foil for the supposedly less honorable Hal. And what does one do with a character that succeeds in battle, but doesn't know how to live without it?

I've been warned off of them, but the more of Shakespeare' s histories I read, the more I wonder why they aren't read or performed more. They're no more or less "boring" than the non-histories.

45. Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes

I read this in the hospital and all I can remember is that the language was pretty. Nothing much happens in Frances Mayes' books, and they can be hard to get into, but they're just such a langourous, poetic, thoughtful joy.

46. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

My full review will be posted on Saturday.

47. Order and Disorder by Lucy Hutchinson

Lucy Hutchinson wrote in the seventeenth century and was among the earliest Englishwomen to be published. Only the first five cantos of Order and Disorder were published in her lifetime, a subsequent fifteen were found after her death, and at first all were incorrectly attributed to her brother (a situation that I imagine was more common than we even know). Hutchinson also wrote her own memoirs and those of her husband, who signed the death warrant for Charles I and died in prison after the Restoration.

Order and Disorder
renders the Book of Genesis into English verse, complete with Puritan judgments and reflections on the fate of sinners. The Bible, and Lucy Hutchinson, make it clear that they have it coming. Someday, somehow (and she can be very detailed about how) God's wrath and fury will destroy those who ignore his Word.

Hutchinson's vision of the Bible is not as imaginative as John Milton's Paradise Lost nor would it aspire to "justify the ways of God to man." However, her way with words is amusing (she likes the word "melting" and seems obsessed with cloud imagery) and her tone shines through in all its neurotic prissiness.

One doesn't get the idea that Hutchinson would have been a fun companion (although she seems more open in her memoirs), but her attitude makes Order and Disorder a fun read if you want to bone up on the Bible or just get a window into what it was like to be female and Puritan in the seventeenth century.

48. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan

Also read for class, I did not think John Bunyan's neuroticism was particularly fun. Hailed as a dramatic tug-of-war between God and the devil, this read like the navel-gazing of a religious lunatic.

Bunyan thinks that the devil is personally out to get his soul and to protect himself he must at times hold his own jaw to keep from swearing and relinquish his love of church bells. When he has an inadvertent thought rejecting the Savior, he fears that he has been excluded from redemption, and uses several passages from Scripture to incriminate and then eventually exonerate himself (different passages accomplished each task).

The seventeenth century Bunyan, writing from jail where he was imprisoned for his radical religious beliefs, is another one to read if you want to bone up on the Bible or if you fear that the devil is pulling at your clothes and would like a list of practices on how to encourage him to desist. Otherwise, stay clear.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Favorite Reads of 2012

This week's Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish.

1. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

2. Gilt by Katherine Longshore

3. The Coldest War by Ian Tregellis

4. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

6. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

7. Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

8. The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

9. God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

10. Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

The Broke and the Bookish host Top Ten Tuesdays.

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2012

1. Ian Tregellis

One peek got me not only to read a book (The Coldest War) I'd had no intention of reading, but review it.

2. Eva Stachniak

From way back in January, I knew The Winter Palace was one of the best books I'd read all year.

3. Katherine Longshore

I thought Gilt was so fresh and funny, and it defied both my disappointment with the oversaturation of Tudor fiction and my annoyance with the YA voice.

4. Sophie Perinot

She took less recognizable historical figures and both contextualized them well and made them into real people. Plus, The Sister Queens had very applicable lessons about human relationships, historical and present.

5. Catherynne M. Valente

I thought the first Fairyland book was quirky and adorable, was less enthused with the second, but definitely want to go back and read her adult books now. I've never read anyone who uses language quite like her.

6. Ernest Cline

I don't know how he could top Ready Player One, but I'll always love and respect him for it.

7. R.D. Blackmore

I have a thing for nineteenth century Brits. Lorna Doone is his best known, but I'd read more of his stuff.

8. Barbara Schapiro

The Art Forger grew on me a lot the more I thought about it. I'd read her again just to read about Boston, but her language and themes also have this sort of really enjoyable delicacy and subtlety to them that too few mysteries have.

9. Markus Heitz

The Dwarves is some of the best, darkest fantasy I've read since LOTR. I will definitely be following up.

10. I can't think of anyone else who is honestly a favorite now, so I'll leave one to grow on.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Miniseries!

One of my favorite books of all time, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, is going to be made into a BBC miniseries!

Last Night with Lauren Weisberger

43. Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

I'm disappointed in Lauren Weisberger.

The Devil Wears Prada continues to be some of the most incisive, luscious writing I've ever read, despite concerning a niche (the fashion world) and plot I couldn't care less about. The characters, while not very sympathetic, are fascinating and at least relatable.

Brooke Alter is, if nothing else, extremely relatable. She's a nutritionist who's spent five years supporting her musician husband, Julian. What's not to love?

But that's the problem.

Brooke is always too reasonable, too understanding, too nice. I don't like arbitrary drama and I hate when female protagonists are stupid, but Brooke doesn't even get angry when she has legitimate cause.

Like Prada revolves around the fashion world, this one revolves around the music world. However, Weisberger's knowledge of this world is skin deep. It feels not only fabricated but simply...sparse. The representatives of the evil music universe are largely limited to Julian's agents, who while prickly and strange, don't seem to warrant the brush off they get at the end.

I'm in the market for a new auto-beach read author. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind for Hanukkah

This week's Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish.

1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

2. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum by Aemilia Lanyer Ed. Susanne Woods

3. Shakespeare's Common Prayers by Daniel Swift

4. The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle

5. Epic: Legends of Fantasy anthology

6. The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack

7. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

8. The Queen's Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray

9. Four Sisters: All Queens by Sherry Jones

10. Sequels to The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ten Authors I Am Most Thankful For

I'm a week behind on Top Ten Tuesdays. Not sure if I'll catch up, but here's the Thanskgiving post.

1. L.M. Montgomery

2. Louisa May Alcott

3. Madeleine L'Engle

4. J.R.R. Tolkien

5. C.S. Lewis

6. Susanna Clarke

7. Jane Austen

8. William Shakespeare

9. Aemilia Lanyer

10. Elizabeth Cary

11. Margaret Cavendish

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ready Player One

42. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Of all the serendipitous books that have been #42 on my annual reading list, this is the most appropriate. Arguably even more so than the Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, because this book is all about references.

Ready Player One
is infused with every geeky or nerdy or dorky tidbit that you could possibly conjure. I wish I had more time to do it justice, but this is the book that I'm recommending to every science fiction fan I know. This should have been the theme book for Dragon Con.

Besides the impressive breadth of references, spanning Star Trek to the Whedonverse to Pac-man and Mario, Tolkien to Lewis to Douglas, Hughes to Spielberg to Goldman, the characters are just so darn likable. Wade Watts, the protagonist, is positively adorable. He's a savvy kid in a bleak vision of the future, who is, obviously, up on all of the above geeky types of knowledge, a loyal friend, and charmingly naive as a would-be lover. (Confession: If I were writing my list of top ten literary crushes today, Wade might be number one.)

USA Today described the book as "Willy Wonka meets the Matrix" and that comparison is totally apt. People spend most of their time in a virtual reality called the Oasis. In real life, everyone is poor and the government is falling apart. The creator of the Oasis has passed away and left ownership of the company and his entire fortune to whoever can solve the "Easter egg hunt" he left behind i.e. a series of clues based around those geeky references that mostly stem from the 1980s. An evil company known as the Sixers want to win, so that they can monetize the Oasis. But our trusty Wade is the first to find a clue...and so it goes (see, I can reference too!).

Ultimately, this is a fun adventurous romp with serious geek cred that will make you feel warm and happy inside. Let the reading commence!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Want On a Deserted Island

I'm a little late for Top Ten Tuesday this week.

After this post, I'm taking a medical leave of absence from the blog for an indeterminate period of time in order to catch up from a medical leave of absence in real life.

1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Complete Works of Shakespeare

3. Harry Potter 1-7 by J.K. Rowling (series are counting as one book because I say so, okay?)

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the real one and maybe the one by Douglas Adams too)

5. Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery

6. Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott

7. Time Quartet by Madeleine L'Engle

8. C.S. Lewis' space trilogy

9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

10. All of Jane Austen's novels

Okay, I cheated, and there are still way too many books I want to bring. Can my deserted island have a library? Pretty please?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Beyond Good and Evil

41. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

I read this for a class, but I didn't have the time to devote to it that it clearly deserves. The prose is beautiful, but together, I'm not sure what it all means-and many think that was deliberate on the part of the author.

If you want to find justification for murder here, you can.

If you want to find atheism here, you can.

If you want to find any way of looking at the world differently, of looking at the world the way you've always felt it should be or never realized before now it could be-this is the apple you want to bite.

"You want to live 'according to nature'? O you noble Stoics, what fradulent words! Think of a being such as nature is, prodigal beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without aims or intentions, without mercy or justice...think of indifference itself as a power-how could you live according to such indifference?" (Section 9)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines (aka The Usual Suspects)

1. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

2. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

3. Katsa from Graceling

4. Beatrice Prior from Divergent

5. Jo March from Little Women

6. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables

7. Art3mis from Ready Player One

8. Polgara from Polgara the Sorceress, the Belgariad, and the Malloreon

9. September from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

10. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Art or Forgery?

40. The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

What is a forgery? Where does the fault line between artwork and forgery lie? Or, as Claire Roth, the protagonist of B.A. Shapiro’s elegantly layered new novel The Art Forger might say, the craquelure.

In 1990, thirteen paintings were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum has offered a $5 million reward, but none of the paintings have ever been found. This much is true, the rest is Shapiro's fiction.

The Art Forger opens in 2011, at the South End studio of young Boston artist Claire Roth, who makes her living as a painter of high-quality reproductions. Dubbed “the Great Pretender,” by her peers, Claire has more than a little to prove when she is asked to make a copy of a Degas painting in exchange for a one-woman show at a prestigious gallery. When the painting she is to copy arrives, she recognizes it immediately as one from the Gardner. While the moral dilemma is a problem for Claire, there’s a greater sense of unease as she begins to doubt whether it was actually a Degas in the first place.

The novel functions in layers upon layers that, rather than slowly unravel, rest upon one another to create a complete picture of a world that few have really “seen.” Shapiro initiates readers into the vocabulary of the art world without making it seem too complicated. Behind, the “wet-on-wet,” “wet-on-dry,” “juxtaposition,” “realism,” mumbo jumbo, the art is a cover for something more universally human. The value of a painting in Claire’s world hinges less on the art than on the reputation of the artist. A few collectors and curators have the power to make or break careers. And the few have already decided what they are or are not willing to see.

As swiftly as she introduces the reader to the starving young artist’s environs, Shapiro rapidly descends into the twisted labyrinth of the art forger’s lair. The book often reads like an art forger’s manual, as Claire describes the processes through which she creates her painting; stripping down a nineteenth century painting for its canvas, using original oil paints, baking the canvas between layers to dry the paint, and varnishing it while still hot to establish the original pattern of cracks in the paint, known as craquelure. So much time is spent on this process that it is hard to distinguish which act of creation is more authentic; the artwork or its undoubtedly far more painstakingly rendered reproduction. The line is blurred even further when Claire decides to also bake the original paintings for her new show, as she likes the effects of the technique.

The book is billed as a thriller, but it's largely character-driven.
Each layer, Claire’s past, Claire's present, and even the piquant epistolary voice of Isabella Stewart Gardner herself, builds to suggest a greater confusion about the nature of art and authenticity. A subplot where Claire teaches an art class for juvenile offenders is unnecessary. The Gardner letters are also strictly unnecessary, but so forgivable as she's such a fun character.

The game of musical paintings that absorbs the second half of the book is highly entertaining, and if you've lived in Boston, it's exciting to recognize many of the places that Claire and her friends frequent. However, the book asks some very intimidating real-world questions, and even after it appears all the paintings are hung in their rightful places, the answers are far from clear.

Disclosure: I received an ARC from the publisher

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Top Ten Books to Get in the Halloween Spirit

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. There was a similar post last October, so it's more of a challenge to think of some new ones!

1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The main character, September, loves fall and pumpkins and her favorite color is orange. There's a memorable autumnal feast and several weird, wacky characters.

2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Max's costume brings him to a land of wild beasts...

3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The scene where the Witch captures Aslan with all of the various ghouls and evil people helping her feels very Halloween-ish to me.

4. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The main characters are all mystical and use all sorts of disguises, and memorable events take place on Samhain, the Celtic originator of Halloween.

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

A man in a mask is the central character and there are plenty of eerie elements in his desire to possess Christine.

6. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

Nothing like some Nietzsche to confuse you about the actual value of truth and morality of murder.

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fire, dystopia, and chaos-that sounds like the Halloween spirit to me. Plus, you could wear a fireman outfit and dress up as Guy Montag.

8. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

What if your whole body were a costume that you got to take off on your sixteenth birthday?

9. This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Philippa Bornikova

Vampires, Werewolves, and Alfar rule the world...

10. The Coldest War by Ian Tregellis

A bunch of magical and technological supermen (and women) running around and destroying one another.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me

39. This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

I received this for review from Tor paperbacks and read it recently in one feverish night. While legal dramas are not really my cup of tea, this one has a most intriguing premise-imagine a world ruled by Vampires, Werewolves, and Alfar (Elves).

Linnet Ellery is a human raised in a vampire household who scores a job at a top law firm. Of course, only men can be partners since only men can become vampires, but it's a big break for a human woman. However, when her boss is killed and it's looking like she could be next...

Yeah, it's that kind of story. But the world is fantastic-I'm dying to know more about it and the little snippets that Linnet gives are absolutely worth the mediocre plot and (at times) stunningly banal language. Bornikova has a wicked imagination, I just wish she knew how to package it better.

On the Acknowledgments page, Bornikova thanks Ian Tregellis for "many great ideas about the world and mythology which I have shamelessly incorporated." Maybe next time, she can get his help with the wording too?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hilary Mantel Wins Second Man Booker Prize!

I must admit, I'm not surprised that Mantel won again-I think she's incomparably brilliant (though yes I'm biased toward the subject matter) and clearly the heavyweight among the shortlisted authors. Only Eng had even been in the running before, and Will Self's Umbrella isn't even available in the US yet!

Still, I am so so excited and need to finish Bring Up the Bodies as soon as I possibly can, after I get out from under this pile of graduate reading...

And, combining my two favorite artistic genres:

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are going to be stage plays AND a BBC costume drama!

Get me to London, quick!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Authors in X Genre

"Top Ten Favorite Authors In X Genre (Ex- Top Ten Favorite Science Fiction Authors, Top Ten Fave Contemporary YA authors)" is this week's topic for Top Ten Tuesdaus hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Top Seven Favorite Science Fiction Authors

1. Frank Herbert

2. Ursula K. Le Guin

3. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

4. Margaret Atwood

5. Octavia Butler

6. Douglas Adams

7. Robert A. Heinlein

Top Three Favorite Biographers

1. Antonia Fraser

2. Alison Weir

3. Charles J. Shields

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mini Reviews

I've kept up with my reading, but not with my reviews. Only so much leisure time in this busy grad student's life.

After these mini-reviews, I may stop posting reviews for every book I read and instead post reflections on literary happenings and movements, responses to other reviewers and bloggers etc. *These posts are assignments for a journalism class that I'm taking, which are first and foremost for class and will be posted on the blog only after being used for class purposes.*

33. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings

I finally read the third book in David Eddings' genre fantasy cycle The Malloreon, which follow some of the same characters in the same fantasy world from the earlier series The Belgariad. These books feel a lot darker, which is perhaps appropriate as the characters explore the realm of Mallorea, formerly the dominion of evil god Torak and discover that the "bad guys" are just as complex and fractured as the "good guys."

What really struck me about this book was the treatment of Ce'Nedra, wife of protagonist Garion. The quest is to recover Garion and Ce'Nedra's son, Geran, who was kidnapped by Torak's former priestess Zandramas. Eddings is clearly trying to portray a mother's grief, but succeeds only in making Ce'Nedra appear like a hysterical stereotype and Garion like a hapless man-child in response. I wish Eddings would let Garion take Ce'Nedra seriously and not insist that it is appropriate to treat her like a mental patient, as most of the characters, including the powerful sorceress Polgara, collude in doing for much of the book.

34. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld wrote YA dystopia before it was a phenomenon. The high-tech world he creates (hoverboards, interactive computer screens) is intriguing, but not extensively fleshed out. Main character Tally Youngblood and best friend Shelly are likeable rebels though not especially memorable. The gruesome premise of the novel, that on their sixteenth birthday, everyone undergoes cosmetic surgery to become a vacuous and cheerful Pretty, is its strongest point. Even the secret behind that is visible from a mile away. Entertaining reading, and potentially thought-provoking about the nature of beauty and the beauty (or ugliness) of human nature, but I'd suggest Fahrenheit 451 or The Stepford Wives instead.

35. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne M. Valente

This book deserves a full review and then some, but maybe I'll be able to atone in a review of the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, was released October 7.

September rides away on a Leopard with the Green Wind in his green smoking jacket and green jodhpurs and into her very own Fairyland adventure. While reminiscent of classics such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Phantom Tollbooth (and no doubt hyperaware of both), Fairyland has a rather idiosyncratic sensibility and much more specialized argot than either of those works.

At first, it doesn't really seem like a book for children, some of the vocabulary is too advanced for the average adult. On the other hand, there appears to be no more to the story than a very simple quest. September is accompanied by quirky but steadly archetypal companions (a "Wyverary" or cross between a wyvern and a library, and a Marid, a type of non-chrono-linear sea-person) and prepares to do battle against an evil witch/queen known as the Marquess.

The charm of Valente's story lies mostly in her words, which are the star of the show, but also in her consistently whimsical creations and her refusal to bow to the conventions she simultaneously pays homage to. Fairyland is a tour de force that is perhaps too marginal to deserve the term, and yet cannot seem to discard it either. This is most certainly a book for a very particular subset of children and only the most peculiar of adults.

The Rules of Fairyland as dictated to September by the Green Wind:

"First, no iron of any kind is allowed. Custims is quite strict on this point. Any bullets, knives, maces, or jacks you might have on your person will be confiscated and smelted. Second, the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays...Third, aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk."

36. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality by Sigmund Freud

37. Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud

While familiar with his most famous ideas, I had never actually read Freud before. In a couple of weeks, I've read both Theory of Sexuality and Civilization and Its Discontents. I must say, I found Freud much more likeable and sensible than expected and have come to quite admire his style of argument. I don't agree with all of his thoughts, but I do agree that he provided a very comprehensive framework for ideas that no one else was talking about, or at least no one else was considering scientifically rather than morally. I found much to compare to my understanding of Darwin and also my more recent understanding of Nietzsche.

If you're at all interested in human psychology, sexuality, and gender, start with Freud.

38. Plato's Symposium

Never read Plato in full before; it was exactly what I thought. Lots of Greek names and rhetoric, and important for cultural resonance i.e. the great myth of how human beings used to have two heads, four legs, and four arms and cartwheel to get around.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Used Book Sale

Ever since I moved here, I've been overwhelmed with events; academic, artistic, community, personal. But when I saw there was a used book sale this weekend, I couldn't resist. And when I saw that it was $1 for a paperback and $2 for a hardback, well...

Some of these are old favorites that I didn't actually own, like Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle,Gloriana's Torch by Patricia Finney, and The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. Others are from known and beloved authors such as Philippa Gregory and Alexander Pushkin. Similarly, the Allende and the Erdrich are sequels to books that I've already read.

I saw the Barbara Pym book and thought I'd try it out, since I know Boston Bibliophile is a fan.

The MLA Handbook I thought might come in handy; A Passage to India is a classic I've wanted to read for a while.

A Traveler in Time, however, is my big gamble. I've heard neither of the book nor the author, but the title and cover caught my fancy, and time will tell!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Top Ten Most Unfortunate Character Names

This week's TTT over at the Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Tuesday REWIND (pick a past topic that we've done that you missed or just want round 2 of!)" so I chose "Top Ten Most Unfortunate Character Names."

1. Lee Fiora from Prep

If only it were Leigh, or even better, Leia. But no. Lee Fiora's name is bland, short, and implicitly incorrectly gendered. No wonder she's unhappy.

2. Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye

Seriously, what kind of a name is Holden? No wonder he hates his parents.

3. Blue Van Meer from Special Topics in Calamity Physics

There's a cool reason for this and all (her mom could only catch blue butterflies), but it's not worth the color jokes.

4. Amber Brown from Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon

Also a major issue in these books. Don't name your kid after a color. Period. But especially with a last name like Brown.

5. Dobby, Winky, and Kreacher from Harry Potter

Now, I love Dobby with all my heart. But all house-elf names I've heard are seriously unfortunate.

6. Snowball from Animal Farm

With a name like Snowball, you're not getting very far in a social hierarchy.

7. Equality 7-2521 from Anthem

This isn't even a name. I feel sorry for him.

8. Geist from The Phenomenology of Spirit

First, he doesn't even have a name, then he gets dumped with a name like "Geist" that means spirit in German. I feel sorry for the poor kid. And even sorrier that Hegel is his narrator.

9. Coke and Pepsi from The Genius Files

Ok, so I've never read this, but one of the kids in my class did for our independent reading project. If you think naming your kids after colors is a bad idea, naming them after commercial products is far worse.

10. Billie Jo from Out of The Dust

Such a sad book, and a sad name to go with it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Ten Older Books You Don't Want People To Forget About

This week's TTT at the Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten "Older" Books You Don't Want People To Forget About (you can define older however you wish. Basically just backlisted books you think are great. Basically the point is to share books that could be forgotten about in the midst of all the new releases)."

I feel like I've been overwhelmed with new releases lately. I make a point of keeping up with them and my TBR list is filled with them. But it's also nice to lean back, take a break, and recall all the great books I've already read. I'm going to try to list older books that are lesser known, not classics that have already stood the test of centuries.

1. The Seventh Princess by Nick Sullivan

I read this in third grade and I've never forgotten it. It's about a girl who falls asleep on a school bus and wakes up as a princess-in a kingdom that's had its share of princesses.

2. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

It's been around less than a year, but with all the new arrivals, I think this counts as an "older" book. I think it was back in January that I said this was one of the best books I'd read all year-that's still true.

3. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

I read it for the first time this year, but it's been around for a while. It's a very realistic dystopia that seems even more realistic these days.

4. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

People still say "grok" sometimes, but I wonder how many people have read it who weren't around in the seventies? If you haven't you should.

5. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

This goes on the perennial teenage girl list.

6. Gilt by Katherine Longshore


7. Forever by Judy Blume

Same. Required reading for every 16-year-old girl.

8. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

One of the most lyrical, beautiful books I've ever read about friendship, growing up, love, New York, photography, being Indian, and dancing-all the important things.

9. Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

Still plugging it. Sorry.

10. Logavina Street by Barbara Demick

It's both a new AND an old book.

And bonus, since it goes with the Sarajevo theme: 11. Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Another book I read as a kid and never forgot.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Aging Out of Series

30. The Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville

31. Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville

32. The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville

Do books, or should books, have age limits? While there are no hard or fast rules, I think most readers can agree that your average adult doesn't need to be reading The Babysitters' Club books or Animorphs (exception granted if you're reading to a child).

This question is more complicated these days for two reasons: 1) The proliferation of book series and 2) More widespread acceptance (or at least practice) of adults reading YA fiction (See Harry Potter and Twilight).

How do book series affect my query? Well, generally, books in a series do not all come out at once. The Harry Potter series, for example, was released over a period of ten years, from 1997 to 2007, during which time I emerged from elementary school, tackled the rigors of middle and high school, and entered college. Now, Harry Potter is a series that aged remarkably well or rather, grew up with me. In each new book, Harry was a year older and often happened to be my exact age or thereabouts. The obstacles that he encountered grew far more sophisticated and the stakes, themes, and implications much greater with each new book, so that I would not recommend the final Harry Potter book to anyone under the age of eleven. But that experience, I think, was more unusual than not and is one of the reasons that Harry Potter became so popular among adults and iconic among my own generation*. The far more likely scenario, if an author keeps writing and writing and writing a particular series, is that kids of the right age will read the first couple books, but by the time the last books are out, they're in high school or college and no longer interested (See Goosebumps, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby and any other series that were popular when I was a kid and appear to be still within the right age set).

I decided to test the theory of whether a book series that one began reading as a kid was worth finishing as an adult with Bruce Coville's The Unicorn Chronicles. I read the first book, Into the Land of the Unicorns, in fourth grade, a couple years after it was originally published in 1995 (Sidenote: Yes, I'm dating myself like crazy). While searching at my local library for quality children's books to use in the class I taught over the summer, I came across a book that had a very familiar premise-and recognized it as the sequel to the book I had read in fourth grade.

Curious as to whether it would live up to the imprint it had made on my mind (I recalled Cara's jump from a belltower into Luster, land of the unicorns, a chattering monkey-like creature called the Squijum, and the terrible revelation that Beloved, the unicorns' greatest enemy, was a many-great grandmother of Cara's), I began Song of the Wanderer, first published in 1999. At that point, I would still have been what I consider the book's target audience, but alas, I never discovered it, despite the first book having ended with a gnarly cliffhanger. For some reason though, I had in my head the idea that Cara's grandmother (her mother's actual mother) was a unicorn who had somehow turned into a human, and this idea was miraculously (or not) vindicated in the sequel.

Song of the Wanderer was undoubtedly a kids' book. The sort of kids' book I'd argue that adults have no business reading. It featured a not-really-catchy song, a really-transparently-see-through-quest, and kinda-cool sidekicks that didn't really make up for the simplistic plot and home-is-where-the-heart-is theme. There were just way too many convenient coincidences and suspicious changes-of-heart that any eight-year-old could probably swallow in a tale about unicorns, but a (twentysomething) could not.

I'd already checked out Dark Whispers, the third book, from the library though, so I gave it a whirl anyway. This one was first published in 2008, when I was already a bona fide adult and starting a little book blog known as Space Station Mir. Why the nine year gap? You'll have to ask Coville. He is also the author of quite a number of other childrens' books, so perhaps he got distracted.

After Wanderer, I did not have high hopes for Whispers. But an amazing thing happened.

In the first two books, the viewpoint is third person limited from Cara's perspective. Cara is supposed to be twelve throughout the series, though she seems younger in the first two books and older in the final two. In the third book, SUDDENLY WE HAVE MULTIPLE THIRD PERSON LIMITED PERSPECTIVES. Seriously, it is as if in one of the later HP books, J.K. Rowling started having chapters from Ron's and Hermione's, and Mrs. Weasley's, and Dobby's POV.

It's awesome. It changes the tone and theme of the book(s), bringing in adult and otherworldly perspectives. One of the new POV characters is Rocky, a member of the underground-dwelling delver race with an unexplained (but oh it will be explained) vendetta against the unicorns. It's the bringing together of these diverse perspectives, and a much more sophisticated and higher-stakes plotline, not to mention more legends that add layers and layers of depth, that turns this series into at least that caliber of YA that can be a guilty pleasure read for adults.

After the third book, (which also ended with a steep cliffhanger that would be unbearable if all the books weren't out), I sought out The Last Hunt. The final book, at least, was only a two year wait from the one before it and came out in 2010. Still, that is FIFTEEN YEARS after the release of the first book. If the target age group was eight-year-olds (and let's be real, it was probably twelve-year-olds), they'd be 23 by the time the final book was published. Besides being cruel, that just doesn't seem like a smart marketing ploy. But onto the book itself...

The Last Hunt was a welcome continuation of Dark Whispers. The multiple perspectives persevered and even more (only slightly obvious) legends came to light, aspiring to Tolkien-esque creation myths. No, it's not nearly on a Tolkien level, but the attempt is appreciated, especially becomes Coville does bring several new twists in the form of engaging mythological creatures that are either completely new or not much explored in modern fantasy. Coville gives these creatures a chance, not only the starring unicorns, but a gryphon, a dragon (okay, dragons do get more attention),centaurs, some angels, the delvers, and creatures known as the Squijum and the Dimblethum get plenty of page time. In the last book, Coville even pulls a few tricks out of J.K. Rowling's books (and Joseph Campbell's heroic journey) and makes some sacrifices that will genuinely upset readers. If it's worth having, it's worth losing. And that is a mark of truly successful modern fantasy, I think.

On the topic of today's more widespread acceptance of adults reading children's books, I have a Unicorn Chronicles related anecdote. I happened to be reading The Last Hunt, which features a flying dragon on the colorful cover, when I went in for some tests. I was more than a little embarrassed about it, and even more so when the technician mentioned, "I noticed you're reading a fantasy book..."

I was mollified a bit that he even said "fantasy," rather than out-and-out children's book. But I reflected that, these days, it's difficult to tell and maybe the lines are all but completely blurred. All fantasy used to be children's books, now all fantasy can be...anyone's guess. I appreciate that fantasy has become so accepted in the national consciousness that it can be assumed you're reading a book for adults (or that you've joined a growing movement of adults reading kids' books). But I want to draw some sort of line, because I don't want you mixing children's books up with my SFF Lit**.

So, did I age out of The Unicorn Chronicles?

Despite my respect for the later books, yes. These are children's fantasy books and I'd buy them for my young cousins, but wouldn't recommend them to adults.

And after all this work, I'm just asking another question: Where do you draw the line between children's and adult fantasy?

* In talking about Harry Potter, I feel obligated to acknowledge that J.K. Rowling's new book (I'm sure you've heard of it) came out this week. I have no immediate plans to read it as it sounds far removed from what I love about the HP universe.

** Disclaimer: I am not saying that children's books can't be literature. They can. But they can be either children's literature or literature that really shouldn't have been children's books in the first place (i.e. LOTR) and just got pigeonholed into it. The Unicorn Chronicles is not any kind of literature, IMO.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic at the Broke and the Bookish: "Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished (because either you didn't like them, you just have procrastinated, etc.)"

1. The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman

I read the former, but not the latter.

2. The Babysitters' Club

Who could read all of these? Seriously.

3. American Girls

I LOVED these as a kid, but I'm too old for the later ones.

4. Animorphs

Okay, I aged out of these, but they were getting worse and worse.

5. Replica

See above. I really liked the premise-a girl who finds out she's a superhuman clone. Did anyone else actually read these?

6. The Abarat

I read the first two, and actually own the third, just haven't read it yet.

7. Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I'm getting to it, I swear.

8. The Dwarves

To be fair, I only recently finished the first book.

9. Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies

I haven't finished the second one, even though I own it. Shame, I know.

10. The Malloreon

I really, really want to finish these too, I just haven't been able to get the books on Bookmooch or from the library, like I promised myself I would.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


29. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

A three-in-a-row nonfiction streak! I think this is a new record for me.

I'll confess, I never read Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe I'll get around to it one of these days. But this book has a much more interesting premise for me: What would you do if you had to get married?

Let's back up. I'm not talking arranged marriage or marriage for money. Not even accidental pregnancy. Elizabeth Gilbert's situation is a little more unique. See, she's in love with a guy from Brazil with an Australian passport whom she met in Bali. He and she swore eternal love, they've been living together all over the world, and they've also sworn never to get married. Why? Both are survivors of bad divorces and don't trust the institution.

Okay, so one day they arrive in the United States together and her Felipe, her love, is taken away. He's been coming to the US too often, it appears that he's in fact (gasp!) de facto living there, on consecutive three-month visas. Therefore, he is banned from entering the country. Ever again.


He can get a better visa. What's a better visa? A marriage visa.

But, unlike a recent episode of Switched, they can't just get hitched there at the airport. No, they have to wait to submit their paperwork; proof of their association, proof of each one's good standing in their respective countries, proof of their intent to marry. In the meantime, they travel to Southeast Asia and Gilbert does some digging into the origins of the Western institution of marriage and how it came to be the way it's traditionally pictured today.

I was primarily attracted to the book because of this research. I have my own host of doubts about the institution of marriage, its state-controlled benefits and gender-specific downsides. Gilbert does a good job of synthesizing her sources and making her thoughts into entertaining reading. My one quibble is that while she does note the major works that she reads and reflects on, I would have appreciated footnotes for where specific ideas came from and particularly a bibliography at the end. Even a selected one, for heaven's sake!

What Gilbert uncovers is that marriage and family are NOT the bedrock of Western religious civilization-not unless you're Jewish that is. Early Christians advocated celibacy and considered marriage little better than fornication. In medieval times, marriage was mostly about the transfer of property, and political claims, in the case of the higher class.

In Cambodia, Gilbert speaks to a Hmong grandmother, who considers "husband" as a particular role to be filled by working in the fields and siring children. It's the modern idea of love and choosing our own spouses that started this idea that your spouse must be your confidante and best friend in every way.

She cites all the relevant statistics that we've heard before-when people choose their own spouses, the divorce rate goes up (the US divorce rate is approximately 50%), men benefit more financially, socially, and emotionally from marriage than women do, and divorce rates are lower for those who marry when they're over the age of 25. Women are more likely to be happy in their marriages and divorce rates are lower when they are more educated, marry older, and leave children out of the picture. Gilbert has all of the latter three going for her-though unfortunately not the statistical likelihood that you will be more compatible with someone of the same cultural background and socioeconomic class.

One of the most interesting studies she reads is one from a member of the British conservative party, who posits that marriage and family are essentially subversive. I think this is it, looks like it's out of print. While it's a book she chose based on the title and would not have picked up if she knew the author's identity beforehand, Gilbert was comforted by the notion that pair bonding was a phenomenon that governments could not stop (remember the story of St. Valentine), so they decided to restrict it instead, and then pretend it was their own idea. It's a much more hip narrative anyway.

I'm glad I read Committed, although Gilbert is more interested in what will make a marriage work, and I'm more interested in how the state controls or regulates marriage. It's definitely a worthwhile read for anyone contemplating marriage or with an academic interest in marriage and gender relations. I'm sure tons of Eat, Pray, Love fans read it, I have no idea if they were disappointed or not. I will say though it is not an academic work in itself, it's far too informal and politically incorrect for that (despite painful attempts to be politically correct-ahem).

Tolkien and Lewis

I apologize-I have moved to Chicago and had no Internet in my apartment until this weekend. There are lots of posts to come! This was one I'd mostly written and hadn't scheduled yet before becoming Internetless.

Headed by a Tolkien scholar, three children's authors, and moderated by a self-described "Inklings fan," (again, names are lost due to my as-yet-unfound notes) the panel on Tolkien and Lewis explored the following questions:

Why did Tolkien and Lewis decide to write for children? What was it, either about the nature of their works or their own goals that made them write for children?

The moderator began with a poll. Who was there for Tolkien, who for Lewis, who for both, and who for neither?

Most of the room was there either for Tolkien or for both, a smattering of hands for Lewis alone, and one or two "unwilling captives" (there with friends).

The moderator went over the respective histories of Tolkien and Lewis, which I was mostly familiar with, but contrasted them in interesting ways. For example, it's well known that they were both religious Christians, but Tolkien is described as a "family man" and Lewis the "perennial bachelor." Though their situations changed later in life.

So, why children's literature?

For Tolkien, it seems more like he had no choice. Fairy tales were not taken seriously for adults, so his was children's literature by default. Lewis' choice was more deliberate, especially if you've ever paid much attention to the narrator in Chronicles of Narnia.

Also discussed were the impact of WWII on their wriring, particularly Tolkien who lost four of his closest friends. That intimacy with war is certainly present in Lord of the Rings and belief in the afterlife prominent in the work of both authors. Maybe they couldn't process it any other way.

Among the panelists and the people in the room, Tolkien was the clear favorite, but it's divided on which books are the best choice for kids. I'd personally go with Chronicles of Narnia around age 8, The Hobbit around 9 or 10, LOTR around age 12. But a lot of the panelists differed, recommending The Hobbit be read to kids as young as 4!

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Top Ten Books That Make You Think

This week's Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish.

An appropriate topic for the anniversary of September 11th. It was a Tuesday morning. I will never forget.

1. The Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking

2. Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick

3. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert

4. Night by Elie Wiesel

5. The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

On his deathbed, a Nazi soldier asks a Jewish prisoner to forgive him. What would you have done?

6. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

7. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

8. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

9. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

After his father dies in the September 11 attacks, nine-year-old Oskar searches for a lost message that his father left him. But the true question of the story is, who are we and how do we define ourselves? "War," "Peace," "Father," "Son,"...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sex and Romance in SF(F)

Alas, I lost my notes on who the panelists were and immediate thoughts I had on the panel. In fact, I've lost all my notes, which is why I've been slow on posting, in the hopes of finding them.

Either no such luck, or they will turn up as soon as I post this.

The central questions of the panel: What is the role of sex and romance in science fiction and fantasy? Do they even belong in science fiction and fantasy?

The panelists included four women and one man, all of whom were authors. One writer writes romances as well as sci fi romances, one writes primarily sword n' sorcery adventure, one was a short story writer who writes erotica and children's stories, one fiction, I think, and the man writes fantasy, I remember (I really wish the website had left up the schedule so I could get these people's names).

In any case, their collective answer to the second question was a resounding yes. The romance writer in particular was emphatic that she was delivering a particular need, but even the fantasy writer, who admits he stays away from sex scenes in order not to be remembered for that, felt they both had a place. Some of them qualified that sex especially had to move the story along or be crucial to the development of a character.

Here is where I wish the structure of the panel had been different.

While I appreciate that there were previously thought out questions in order to shape discussion, thought the panelists were well qualified, and was very interested in their answers-I was itching to get in on the discussion myself!

I had to sit there squirming while the panelists answered questions and then audience members were allowed to ask additonal questions.

Why not open up the floor to the audience?

I realize there can be timing issues, but first of all, the panel was an hour and a half long, there weren't THAT many people in the room, and an authoritative moderator would be well placed to set time limits or just let a particular topic of interest take over.

For example, I have a somewhat different take on the issue. Do sex and romance belong in SFF?

For me, it depends.

Sex is part and parcel of A Song of Ice and Fire, and while it's something that bothers me about that universe, it's not something that could or should be removed from it. Romance is essential to The Hunger Games and is a major motivation and game-changer for the protagonist.

But does sex belong in Ender's Game? Even romance?

Assuredly not. It would change the entire nature of the book. And I don't think that means it's lacking anything.

In conclusion, Sex and Romance in SF was a thought-provoking panel and I'm glad I went. I liked that the panelists extended the question to fantasy, and answered questions in a way that gave insight into their writing processes and philosophies. I wish I could remember their names! But next year, maybe let audience members answer questions too? Pretty please?

Even More Books

So in the week leading up to and during DragonCon, I went book crazy*.

I picked up some used books at Capitol Hill Books in D.C. before I left:

They have quite an impressive collection of Bradbury and Heinlein in the basement, if one is interested in such things. And quite amusing handwritten notes (depending on your political affiliation) scattered throughout the store.

I also scored a free book from T.C. McCarthy, the one science fiction author on the Transhumanist Panel at DragonCon:

Unlike the other panelists, he was interested in the darker implications and dangers of self-directed, mechanically enhanced evolution. Since this is a book blog, I'm not going to talk too much about it, but audience members brought up some really insightful questions about who will own or control the technology, what people have a right to do with their own bodies, and what constitutes "you." Several people did suggest science fiction books on the topic, including Singularity Sky, Permutation City, and the Golden Age trilogy, none of which I have read as yet.

Finally, I bought a book, since after attending the talk with Kevin J. Anderson, I was burning to read more of his stuff. I've read and enjoyed his Dune books with Brian Herbert and this is the first in his fantasy saga.

*For the above purchases and acquisitions, I blame my bibliomania-enabling boyfriend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Variety of Books Acquired in a Variety of Manners

Meanwhile, I've been extremely promiscuous with literature lately:

Books Acquired in the Library:

Books Acquired for $1 each at the Decatur Book Festival,which took place the same weekend as DragonCon:

Books Received for Review (from Tor on the left and Algonquin Books on the right):

DragonCon Overview

DragonCon is the largest science fiction/fantasy convention in the world, and this year I got to go.

This was my first convention and definitely not my last! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to go. In particular, I was very impressed with the demographics-boys and girls, men and women of all ages attended.

There were so many panels I wanted to go to and so many people to see and things to do, I didn't get to nearly half of them. I'm going to list the panels I did attend, some book-related and some not-so-book-related. For the book panels, I'll do some follow-up posts so I can have a chance to respond to them. I do wish there was more time for the audience as well as panelists to discuss issues, not merely listen or Q&A.

The picture is of " A Night in Bree."

DragonCon Panels I Attended:


Top Ten Things I Wish I'd Known [As a Writer]
with Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta

Writers Talk: David Gerrold

Sex and Romance in SF


The Never Ending Trial
with Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, and Levar Burton

Tolkien and Lewis

The Higgs Boson and the Mystery of Dark Matter


TOR to Come
with editors from Tor, an imprint of Macmillan

Fantasy World Building

A Scientific Study of Polyamorous Families


Transhumanist Open Discussion Panel

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

Top Ten Tuesdays are over at the Broke and the Bookish!

I've been bad lately and acquired all kinds of books in a variety of manners (some at DragonCon, which I attended this weekend and plan to write more about over the next week)!

HOWEVER, as I am moving to Chicago in just over a week now (!), I think I'll focus first on library books.

1. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (this is sort of cheating, I already started this.)

2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

3. The Last Unicorn Hunt by Bruce Covey

4. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings

5. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Coming out this month! I'm excited to learn more about Yunior and to read more of Diaz's unique style.

6. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Yes, I know this was also on my spring list, but now I have it, so I'm really going to read it!

7. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This may also have been on my spring list, but now I own it!

9. The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Received for review from Algonquin Books.

10. The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Because I'm on a great run for historical fiction this year, and I'd love to learn more about Napoleon's second wife.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is Multiculturalism Really Worth Fighting For?

28. Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick

I'm on an upbeat kick lately, oppression in a closed religious community and a city under siege for refusing to cooperate with aggressive nationalism. Lots of laughs, no? All kidding aside, I feel privileged to have read such poignant appeals to humanity and a little amazed that I happened upon them so close together.

Barbara Demick is the author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and a groundbreaking look into lives shrouded in mystery, based solely on the testimony of refugees. Before that, Demick was a journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and lived in Sarajevo from 1994-1995, chronicling the lives of neighbors on one street in besieged Sarajevo: Logavina Street, home to Serbs and Croats as well as Bosnian Muslims.

Logavina Street was first published in 1996, but it's been re-issued in 2012 with a new preface, final chapter, and epilogue. I received it through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. While I think the original material provides an in-depth look at the war and pierces one's heart for Logavina Street's residents, the perspective provided in the updated material is the most valuable part of the book. Now that we can look at the Bosnian War through the lens of the global economic upheaval that's happened afterward (that's exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions), it's both easier to understand what happened in Bosnia, and more frightening. It's clear that this was not an isolated incident, and it's not necessarily over-anywhere.

Demick's prose is straightforward and not overloaded with gory detail. The few graphic scenes she does include are chosen carefully for greater impact. Be warned, this is a hard read for the tender-hearted. I grew hungry reading about the lack of food and "war recipes" like wiener schnitzel made from stale bread and garlic. I ached for children who thought meat came out of cans and didn't believe water could flow from faucets. The shootings and shelling are aspects of everyday life, and even three-year-olds know to run to the basement at the first whistle. Families spend so many nights in bomb shelters that children become incapable of sleeping in beds. Ultimately, it's the little things that drive tolerant Sarajevans to accept peace at any cost, which was the partitioning of Bosnia into ethnic enclaves.

While a Serbian general fights in the Bosnian Army, and elderly Serbs rally around their Muslim and Croat neighbors, the fact remains that many Serbs at the least escaped and at the worst, let nationalist rhetoric convince them to open fire on their countrymen. On a street where everyone celebrated each others' holidays, there became a new awareness of who was who. Headscarves became more popular, a trend more liberal Bosnians still fear.

In 2011, Demick visits a country where employment is doled out via ethnic quotas. The children of mixed marriages must choose, or list themselves as "other." A young Muslim tour guide tells Demick that "Every Muslim has a dream to live in a united Muslim union," the very opposite of what Bosnians fought for-a multicultural nation.

"Could it happen again?," Demick asks and is asked. She and her subjects cannot give a definitive no. Ethnic divisions hover "like a miasma," over the iconic city of tolerance. And if this is the fate of Sarajevo, what can we hope for the rest of the world? The European Union? American cities? Sure, we got along when times were good. But as money's getting tight and tensions rise, well, isn't partition preferable to war?

The Bosnians think so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top Ten Bookish Confessions

This week's Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Bookish Confessions (Anything! You dog ear, you hated a book but said you loved it, you have $500 library fines...anything goes!)"

1. More than a hundred of my books are still in boxes from moving out after graduation-last year.

2. The brand new bookshelf that I got for Hannukkah (again, last year) is still in my parents' basement...

3. Even with the new bookshelf, I still wouldn't have shelf space for hundreds of books.

4. I own more books that I haven't read than I can count.

5. I still buy new books anyway...

6. I don't use the library nearly as much as I should and last time I went I paid $26 in fines.

7. I hate Faulkner.

8. I read barely any poetry-and barely any of that is contemporary.

9. I still haven't made a dent in my "list of seminal works to read," which was my reading goal for 2011.

10. I haven't completed (or started) any challenges run by other book blogs.

Ouch. That was negative. Next time, can we list things we like about our book blogs/reading habits?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bookseller's Last Stand

Yesterday was my last day as a bookseller-at least for a while.

Shortly, I will be on my way to Chicago to get my MA and, if all goes well, on the path to my PhD and cozy tenured professorship (one can dream right?)

I'd been gathering a stack of perspective buys in anticipation and an attempt to ameliorate the specific brand of torture that is the constant passing and shelving and handling of books that you would love to own, but shouldn't buy if you want to keep within your budget (not to mention bookshelf space, but I passed that bar a while ago and never looked back). Anyway, for my last chance to use my employee discount, and with the aid of birthday gift cards, I decided to splurge.

A digital portrait of my loot:

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2. Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

3. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Conner McNees

4. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

5. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

6. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

7. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

8. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Monday, August 20, 2012

Unorthodox Reading

27. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

I have so much respect for Deborah Feldman. Born into the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism in Brooklyn, New York, she left the community with her young son at the age of 24. The amount of willpower and independence that a decision like that took, for someone in her position, is truly staggering. Although I've been paying attention to some of the buzz around the book, I had no idea until reading it how unusual a person Feldman is and how grossly oppressive her life was.

As a Jew, I have considerable familiarity with the religion as a whole, somewhat less with Hasidic culture, and none whatsoever with Satmar in particular. However, Feldman skilfully orients the reader to the Satmar culture through the eyes of an eleven-year-old child. Her first person, present tense narration feels just right for the baffled reader, who may recognize familiar literary characters (Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, and Francie of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but will likely be unacquainted with the tensions between the Aroinies and Zollies (supporters of different claimants to the Satmar leadership), the talking carp that warned that Jews should "Seek forgiveness or destruction will rain down on you" in the wake of September 11th, and the various rules for a kallah (bride), which include shaving her head and checking herself internally for bleeding for seven days after a menstrual period.

Feldman, the epitome of the literary outcast, is distinguished from her peers in terms of intelligence, "inferior connections," (she is not, like the royally named Miriam- Malka, a rabbi's daughter, but instead the offspring of a mentally questionable father and deserting mother), and, most significantly an unquenchable curiosity and drive to assert her individuality. She is the Hasidic Harry Potter, defined ultimately by her choices and not the circumstances of her birth. She explicitly makes this connection when writing of the children's books that she sneaks home from the library and hides under her mattress;

"It seems to me that in the literature revolving around children, children who are strange and misunderstood like me, at some point something comes along to transform their lives, to transport them to the magic netherworld to which they truly belong...Secretly, I too am waiting to fall down a hole into Wonderland, or pass through the back of a wardrobe into Narnia." (21)

Me too, Deborah. Me too. And my own slightly misfit, introverted, nerdy childhood possessed few of the strict regulations and saintly expectations foisted on Feldman at a young age. It's no secret that Jews know their guilt (Nu?), but her family takes it to a whole new level. The insufficient kashrut (kosher label) of Hershey's chocolates is the tip of the iceberg, to someone who was repeatedly told English would "poison her soul."

While it's tempting to say that Deborah's oppressive upbringing may have been solely the result of her family and there is no need to blame the entire Satmar community or give them a bad name, that position is disingenuous. If a significant amount of the community did not collude to separate boys and girls in school, to create a culture where education and college are anathema, where nice girls don't have high school degrees and there is a hierarchy to the severity of married women's hairstyles (a scarf over a bald head > bald with a wig > a wig over a few inches of hair growth), where a matchmaker picks a spouse that your family approves and various family and community members openly dissect and criticize your sex life -it is very unlikely that a woman like Feldman would have submitted at age 17 to marry a man she had met for thirty minutes. If she had examples of other people who had gotten out (besides a fictional character like Francie, and her mother, who was essentially forbidden to see her), it's likely she would have gone to college earlier. Instead, from every direction, Feldman was bombarded with ideas and imagery that urged her to conform, that threatened her if she didn't. Deborah Fedman was born into a self-perpetuating cult, and for every amazing oddball like her who managed to escape, there are a hundred children trapped there for life, and all the hundreds of children those hundred will be culturally induced to give birth to*.

Read Unorthodox. Read it for the beautiful passages in which Feldman evokes her grandmother's kitchen. Read it for the strange insight into the psyche of her grandfather, who believes he is protecting his offspring from another Holocaust, and most importantly, keeping their souls pure. Read it for the literary allusions that Feldman weaves with such alacrity into her own life story. Read it to satisfy your prurient curiosity about what the Satmar teach their children about sex and how their repressive systems inadvertently spur devilish homosexuality. Read it because Deborah Feldman is a talented writer who deserves your patronage.

But, most of all, read Unorthodox so that you can help spread and truly understand this message:

"For those of you who shove words like sinner and heretic in my face, the ones who ask, 'How dare you?' let me just say, I dare becuase I am free. I own myself, and so I have full power to make decisions that concern me. And if you want that too, that's okay, because that's something we all deserve. Even if they tell you different."

-Deborah Feldman

*To be clear about my own position, I identify as a Jew and have a lot of respect for Judaism in general as a religion and culture and do not believe it is a cult. However, I believe in free will and individual choice, and I believe that all people, including children, have the right not to be abused mentally, physically, or emotionally and the right to decide whether they want to practice a religion or particular observances of that religion, especially pertaining to their personal welfare. Cults violate those rights.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

26. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Recommended to me years ago, I've been meaning to get to this book. I've got the "advance uncorrected proofs" procured from Bookmooch, but I assume it's essentially the same as the published novel.

While I knew from the start that this really doesn't having anything to do with physics-it REALLY doesn't. This novel is the unusual life story of Blue van Meer, culminating in her senior year of high school and the mysterious death of her teacher.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories, especially those that promise to be clever, witty, and wicked. The Table of Contents is billed as the Core Curriculum, structured into three parts, sub-divided into chapters, and concluded with a Final Exam. The references come thick and heavy, and are the core of the book's charm. A twelve-year-old who fancies herself in Wuthering Heights, and a seventeen-year-old who comfortably alludes to Nietzsche is truly a priceless, if precious, character.

It's almost impossible for any otaku teen or young adult not to relate to Blue's colorful comparisons and unabashed self-centeredness. However, Blue's "friends," who, really, barely deserve the appellation, are harder to relate to and their mistreatment of Blue makes them unpalatable to the reader. The central enigma, teacher Hannah Schneider, who brings Blue together with this clique is fortunately more intriguing. Blue's father Gareth also takes a star role here, somewhat unusual for a parent in a coming-of-age story. Gareth van Meer is neither a stereotypical abusive monster nor ultra-permissive hippie parent, but entirely his own.

Unfortunately, the plot is distracting, and unless I'm missing some of the references (very possible in a novel like this one that is extremely dependent on foreshadowing), neither makes much sense nor is difficult to figure out. Hannah's death is a given from the Introduction, and the vague undertones of why are apparent all along and even the actual vehicle is also apparent, though so implausible that it baffles comprehension.

I suppose, in conclusion, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, is worth reading for its tongue-in-cheek allusions and skillful use of imagery alone, but stripped of its language-there's literally nothing there. The characters don't breathe, the fictional "Stockton, North Carolina," gave me a sense of the author's native Asheville, which I visited recently, but nothing too compelling. Marisha Pessl is clearly a very bright person and talented writer, but this won't be the book that she's remembered for.

Friday, August 17, 2012


25. Doppelganger by David Stahler Jr.

Have you heard of the doppelganger? A whole new class of boogeymen, doppelgangers are creatures that feed off human society. No, not vampires. Doppelgangers, look-alikes, shape-shifters.

Doppelgangers can take on the form of any human they wish-that is, any human they kill. It's just a way of being, as natural as spiders killing insects, or wolves killing sheep. So claims the mother of our nameless hero. But "he" is different. He can't even stand to kill a fly, much less the puppy his mom brings home for the purpose. Can this young doppelganger defy his nature?

This book is sweet and cute while simultaneously haunting. It's a very simple story of a teen coming of age, but a teen with a dark and unique power that has unusual consequences. I read it in one day, and enjoyed it. Though a fast read, it has some deeper issues to contemplate. In what's becoming the traditional YA novel, it blends tough issues such as abuse and crime with simple language and a basic plot.

However, the book does sometimes have the tone of; "Here, kids, this is an age-appropriate discussion of what it's like to be physically and emotionally abused and act that out toward others!" I appreciate what it's trying to do, but I sometimes wonder if it's doing a disservice, past a certain point, not to use the images and words that best fit the subject matter. Doppelganger is a dark little zinger of a novel, though maybe ultimately forgettable.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday-Two for One!

Since I missed last week's Top Ten Tuesday , here are both lists:

Top Ten Romances I Think Would Last Outside the Book

1. Fanny and Edmund from Mansfield Park

I've always thought Fanny and Edmund are the most similar in background and temperament of all of Austen's lovers. I can see them having a very agreeable long life together.

2. Calvin and Meg from A Wrinkle in Time

This is kind of cheating, because L'Engle develops their relationship over the course of several books, and all but said Meg and Calvin were based on her and her husband.

3. Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter

The tension between Ron and Hermione is on from book one. I'll never forget the line in the fourth book where Hermione tells Ron (I'm paraphrasing), "Next time you can ask me [to the ball] first and not as a last resort!" and Ron sputters, "Well, completely...missed the point," or something to that effect, while Harry thinks Hermione had quite gotten "the point."

4. Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind

Ok, I realize they didn't technically last in the book. But I think the passion between Scarlett and Rhett is palpable, and I think they do have the makings of a lasting relationship, if Scarlett hadn't been so unfortunately obsessed with Ashley.

5. Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games

The interactions between Katniss and Peeta were so real to me. Especially when you get to know them better as characters, it's evident how well the two balance each other out. Peeta is affectionate and lovable, while Katniss is wary and protective.

6. Katsa and Po from Graceling

The similarity with the names above are a little too coincidental, don't you think? Anyway. Katsa and Po were obvious right from the start. Their shared interests in fighting, integrity, and nontraditionalism make them a good match.

7. Roger and Gay from A Tangled Web

Their love story builds over the course of the book, but it's also just "one of those things floating around the clan, that often turned out to be true." Sometimes family knows you best, and the Darks and Penhallows knew Roger and Gay were meant to be.

8. Laurie and Amy from Little Women

I think they deserve each other and their relationship makes more sense than Laurie and Jo. Amy will let Laurie spoil her.

9. Elphaba and Fiyero from Wicked

Elphie and Yero are outsiders. It makes sense that that shared sense of isolation would bring them together.

10. Henry and Clare from The Time Traveler's Wife

Despite the rather outlandish circumstances, their love is the most realistic I've ever read. They may have met because of time and place, but their arguments and their relationship grows and develops in a way that makes sense on and off the page.

Top Ten Posts I Think Give You The Best Glimpse of Me

1. My Ongoing Project to Legitimize Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

2. My Preoccupations with British Early Modern Women Writers Featuring Margaret Cavendish and Aemilia Lanyer

3. The Time I Walked 110 Kilometers Across Northwest Spain

4. Why I Am A Vegetarian

5. My Thoughts on Religion

6. My Thoughts on Feminism

7. My Relationship with Jane Austen: Why Persuasion is My Favorite, Why I Hate Emma, and How I Came To Appreciate Mansfield Park

8. Effusions Over Margaret George's Elizabeth I

9. My Internal Turmoil Over My BA in English

10. My Opinion of the Current State of the World

And this is why books are relevant-because just through reviewing books I can discuss every significant aspect of human society; past, present, and hypothetical future.