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.