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.

Newest?

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.

*Bonus*

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