Thursday, June 30, 2011

Take a Chance Reading Challenge update

Book-blogging readers, please see #3.

I can't believe that we're halfway through the year. How am I doing on my Take a Chance Reading Challenge (see post)? Not particularly well.
ETA: for reference, I've read a total of 73 books so far this year

Let's go over all my categories.

1. Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section.
From Buffalo, NY independent book store Talking Leaves' Staff Book Recommendations page:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman recommended by Alicia (not yet read)
I did try to check out the staff recommendations in person, but couldn't find them in the Main Street location before I was overpowered by the strange fishy mildew smell that permeated the shop.
2. Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. (If you can convince them to buy it for you, that is even better!)
Jessica - gave me a choice:
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver (published this year)
- Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green
- A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine diRollo
- The Spellmen Files by Lisa Lutz
I'll likely read them all though not necessarily within the next 6 months.
Nancy - Woman's World (she bought me a copy! not yet read)
Russell - something by Neal Stephenson (I'm reading The Diamond Age now; full disclosure: he wanted to make me read all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, but I talked him out of it)
3. Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list.
I never got around to picking something for this category. Maybe I'll browse the best-of-2011-so-far lists that people are posting.
Suggestions are welcome!
4. Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list.
Here's Library Journal's first ever best of list:
- By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
- Room by Emma Donoghue
- American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
None read as yet, but I think I'll probably read Room.
5. Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.
I'm going to skip this one.
6. Book Seer Pick: Go to The Book Seer and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
Using The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yielded the following suggestions:
- The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (2nd in series; read in April)
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson (3rd in series; read in April)
- One Day by David Nicholls
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (see #9 below; is nothing like Dragon Tattoo)
- The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
- Sister by Rosamund Lupton
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (already read; is nothing like Dragon Tattoo)
- The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
7. What Should I Read Next Pick: Go to What Should I Read Next and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.
Inputting Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins yields diverse results. Among them are City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (read in April).
8. Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list.
I'm skipping this one. The selection criteria are too vague to be useful to me.
9. LibraryThing Pick: Go to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page. Look at the lists for 25 Most Reviewed Books or Top Books and pick a book you’ve never read. Read the book. (Yes... you can click on MORE if you have to.)
Apparently I've read all but three of the "25 most reviewed books" on LibrayThing (as of January):
- Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (I intend to read this one, though I don't have a copy yet)
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (read in February)
10a. Public Spying: Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.
I'm dropping this one. I never realized how hard it was to see what people are reading when they are reading in public. Oh you can see that they are reading a mass market paperback or an e-reader, but unless a book has a really distinctive cover... and, well, I don't like asking strangers about what they are reading.
10b. Random Bestseller: Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2010 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.
Ditto. I realized that I really didn't want to spend my time reading bestsellers from September 1975.

Sync: Little Brother + The Trial

Today's the beginning of the second week of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza.

The offerings this week are
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and
The Trial by Franz Kafka.

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.
When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Written in 1914, The Trial is one of the most important novels of the twentieth century: the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, Kafka's nightmare has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

word: concinnitous

I've been working my way through Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. ("working" because science fiction is a bit challenging for me)

Last night I came upon an interesting unfamiliar word, presented here in context:
"Pardon me, Your Honor, the concept is not easy to explain--there is an ineffable quality to some technology, described by its creators as concinnitous, or technically sweet, or a nice hack--signs that it was made with great care by one who was not merely motivated but inspired." (102)
Obviously Stephenson, in the voice of Miss Pao, provides a nice explanation, but I felt the need to dig a little deeper.

Apparently concinnitous (adjective) is an anglicized version of the Latin concinnitas (root concinnus). The noun concinnity seems to be more widely used (though mostly with regard to language or rhetoric).

I really do need to learn Latin.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

She looked up at her saints in the stained-glass windows, Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, Saint Clare... those tall, sad, lovely women illuminated by the sun. She though of their enormous love for God, their heroic lives, their miracles. How they'd found a way to be bigger, better, to do good, fight evil, escape the mud, the smallness of life. She thought they were the luckiest people in the world. (32)

I've been fascinated by Joan of Arc since I first heard her story so I was quite excited to read Kimberly Cutter's novelization of her life.

Cutter begins The Maid with Jehanne (this is the proper period spelling of her given name) incarcerated and awaiting her death. Jehanne's recollections while in prison are the source of the novel's primary narrative, which begins with Jehanne at age twelve when she first received her visions.

Jehanne may be a saint, but she's also a teenage girl and Cutter does a wonderful job of portraying her as a flawed human being. Cutter's Jehanne is impatient, she gets mad, she feels temptation and doubt. However Jehanne is not a particularly sympathetic character and it's not because she's more than a little bit self-righteous.1 I assume that Cutter makes Jehanne difficult to identify with to highlight for readers just how confounding Jehanne's contemporaries found her to be.

One of the most interesting things about The Maid is how the secondary characters react to Jehanne. Jehanne has many fair-weather supporters and it seems like nearly every character in the novel changes the way he or she behaves toward Jehanne depending on the circumstances and whether she's in favor or not.

The Maid is well-researched and the battle scenes in particular seem authentic. Cutter also includes an author's note, which provides additional context and possible explanations for some of the more confusing things about Jehanne and her story. It also justifies the sexual content of the novel.

There was one thing in particular that bothered me about The Maid. Michael and the saints who speak to Jehanne have have pet names for her. Pet names like darling and cabbage. Yes, Margaret calls her cabbage.2 It may be minor quibble, but this use of pet names was incongruous and it occurred many times over the course of the novel, irritating me afresh with each instance.

Part of the reason this irritated me so much--besides the fact that something like "my child" seems more appropriate way for them to refer to her--is that Jehanne never seems like she needs comforting endearments. Even at twelve, she is wise beyond her years. For example:
She never considered telling the priest about her voices. She knew he would hate her for it. Would not be able to help hating her for it. He was a gentle main, Pere Guillaume, a decent main even, but fearful too. Scared, trembling beneath his holy robes. You could see it in his face. The thin purple lips, the dry papery white hands, the cold, silent judgments... She knew if she told him, he would see to it that she suffered. He would not inflict the suffering himself, that was not his way, but he would tell someone who would be sure to inflict it. (33)
The Maid will be published in October 2011.
  1. Self-righteousness is something I expected from Jehanne, much more so than a desire to experience sexual pleasure.
  2. pages 14, 58, and 171. Yes, the cabbage endearment irritated me so much that I took note.
disclosure: I received a review copy of The Maid from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

Since Heartless, the fourth book in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, is dropping this week, it seems like the perfect time to write about the series, which I started reading just this month.

The first three books in the series are Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless. As with any series, the synopses of the later books include spoilers so read them at your own risk.

The Parasol Protectorate books are not particularly easy to classify. They're steampunk paranormal romance and/or mysteries.1 They're set primarily in a Victorian England (Queen Victoria is a secondary character) that has fully integrated paranormals (in this case werewolves, vampires, and ghosts) into society. It is widely know that humans with an excess of soul can become ghosts when they die, they can also be successfully turned into vampires or werewolves (humans with a normal amount of soul, however, don't survive the process).

The protagonist of the series, one Alexia Tarabotti, is a bit of an enigma. She's half English and half Italian, tall and curvaceous, but darkly complected with an overlarge nose. A confirmed spinster at five and twenty. Alexia's mother never even bothered to put her on the market, given her looks, strong personality, and bluestocking tendencies. She's also a preternatural, a very rare person lacking any soul whatsoever, a trait she inherited from the Italian father she never knew. While this fact is widely known within the paranormal community, polite society knows her only as eccentric.

The books are light, but filled with personality. The world Carriger has created is interesting (I particularly like that the success of the British empire is tied to the integration of the paranormal elements into society) and the restrictions she puts on the paranormal species seem to be in line with their various mythoi and make their integration into society seem like something the populace would actually accept.

Alexia is unique and likable. The series' secondary characters are a wonderfully full cast and often provide additional comic relief. Two of my favorites are Ivy and Prof. Lyall. Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, Alexia's best friend, has a weakness for atrocious hats and a gift for garbling the English language (she's constantly misusing idioms and the like). Professor Lyall is the long-suffering beta of the Woolsey pack (the focus of his academic research is quite funny, but I won't mention that here since it doesn't come up until book 3).

After reading Soulless, I placed an order for the other books straight away (clearing out my Amazon gift certificate balance). Once Changeless and Blameless arrived, I inhaled them.

Amberkatze of Amberkatze's Book Blog has an interview with Carriger and a drawing for a signed copy of Soulless (book 1) open through June 30.

If you like the clothes featured on the American covers of the Parasol Protectorate books, you may want to check out Clockwork Couture. Steely Daniella's Corseted Bustle Skirt is featured on the covers of Heartless and Timeless (forthcoming March 2012). The Victorian 2 Piece Traveling Suit appears on the covers of the first three books.

Also, Carriger has a couple blogs: her main blog and her recently launched Retro Rack.

  1. Soulless is paranormal romance with some mystery/suspense, while the other books tend more toward the mystery side of things.

Friday, June 24, 2011

of fairies and fairy tales

In light of the Summer Solstice. Also known as Midsummer...let's talk about fairies. What is your favorite fairy tale or story that revolves around the fae?

I don't know that I have a favorite fairy tale. What I like most about fairy tales are how they are part of our collective memory and imagination. To that end I love stories that are inspired by fairy tales. I like retellings as well, but not nearly as much as stories that take ideas from or aspects of fairy tales are run with them. A couple good examples of this are Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (see post) and The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber.

As for books featuring fairies, two sets of books come to mind. First, Shanna Swendson's Katie Chandler series and, second, Charles de Lint's books. Of course I recommend both.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my posts since my last Friday:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sync: Shiver + Romeo and Juliet

Just a reminder that today is the beginning of the first week of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza.

The offerings this week are Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and Romeo & Juliet.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

I'm going to assume that all my readers are familiar with Romeo & Juliet and just include the synopsis for Shiver.

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human... until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

why I hate moving

This is really just an FYI post. It will likely be a bit quiet here on morsie reads for the next few days.

Those of you who have followed the blog for any length of time will know that I recently relocated for a new job and that I hate moving. Well my employer has a new building where the administrative offices and the library will be located henceforth. The library move hasn't been scheduled yet, but the main office move is happening this weekend.

You'd think that this first phase of the relocation should be no big deal for me. After all I've only been in this job for a few month, how much stuff could I have accumulated in my office? If only things we're that simple... I've actually moved over all my office files. All that's left to move from my office is my desktop dalek, a light table, and a card file.

BUT I'm responsible for all the boxes of files that have been stashed in the basement mail room over the years (~200), both the permanent records and those awaiting disposition (as well as material that should have been downstairs that is only coming to light now that everyone is serious about packing). I have loads of lovely, brand new compact shelving, but there is no wasted space. The record shelves are the perfect size for bankers boxes with properly fitting lids. Anyone care to guess how many boxes are either unnecessarily oversized or overpacked?

I intended to finish up a half-written review last night, but I was simply too exhausted from packing and repacking boxes yesterday. I suspect the next few days with yield more of the same exhaustion. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson

"Sometimes, things fall apart," said Grandma, "so we can put them together in a new way" (395).

Blessing and her brother Ezikiel have grown up in the most fashionable part of Lagos. Their family had their own generator, sent the children to a posh private school, spoke only English, and were easily able to afford special foods for Ezikiel who is allergic to groundnuts (a staple in the Nigerian diet). All that changes, though, when Blessing's father is caught with another woman. When Father leaves, Blessing's mother Timi is unable to afford life in the city. She is forced to return to her family in Warri, the remote village where she grew up.

Warri is like a foreign country to Blessing and Ezikiel. The family, led by Alhaji (Blessing's grandfather), has converted from Christianity to Islam. The family's compound has no electricity or plumbing; gunboats float down the river. Alhaji is a trained petroleum engineer without a job. The family, 33 people in all,1 must survive primarily on what the earnings of Grandma (a midwife) and Timi (who gets a job at a bar for employees of the western petroleum company). There's never enough money for medicine or school fees (let alone special oil in which to fry Ezikiel's meat), but Alhaji and his cronies at the Executive Club never go without brandy. Eventually Blessing is able to adapt and then thrive, but the environment proves toxic for Ezikiel.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is told from Blessing's perspective. It is her coming-of-age story, but it is also the story of rural Nigeria and its growing pains. Watson addresses difficult political and social issues, but not heavy-handedly, incorporating them seamlessly into the story. Her handling of female circumcision is particularly well done and highlights the fact that for better or worse it isn't a black-and-white issue, at least not there.

The novel is on the long side (approximately 442 pages) and it is not an easy read (quite a few horrific things happen), but its story is compelling and Watson's prose lyrical. She peoples Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away with authentic characters (as much as a few of the characters and their actions bothered me, I can for the most part see people acting the way they did in similar circumstances; Alhaji and Celestine are both a bit over the top, but they are genuine at least in their self-centeredness). Blessing and Grandma, though, are the stars of the novel and the most flexible members of the family and the glue that holds it together.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about the novel's ending. It surprised me. I don't know, though, whether I'd prefer one thing to happen over the other. On the one level, I do, but I also see why Watson ended Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away the way that she did.

There is so much that could be said about Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away. It has enough meat to fuel a stellar book club discussion.
  1. It was 25 at the beginning of the novel (Alhaji and Grandma as well as Alhaji's driver, his four wives, and seventeen children, and the orphan Boneboy), but two of the driver's wives are pregnant (+2), then Timi, Blessing, and Ezikiel arrive (+3), then Alhaji takes a second wife (+1) who becomes pregnant with twins (+2). There's also the imam for Alhaji's mosque, but I haven't counted him since I'm not sure if he works only for Alhaji.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away from Other Press via NetGalley. The e-galleys are like library e-books, though, they expire, so it's not like I actually get to keep it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

As I mentioned before, I ordered The Iron Duke (with Amazon giftcard balance) after reading this post on Bookshelves of Lesser Doom.

I started and finished it yesterday while Russell has happily learning how to play Wilderness War, one of the board games I got him for his birthday (yes, we have a board game collection).

The Iron Duke is the first in Brooks' Iron Seas series (Heart of Steel is scheduled for a November 2011 release).

I haven't read Brooks before, but The Iron Duke was more or less what I expected. Brooks does a wonderful job of world building (she continues to reveal aspects of the society to the reader throughout the novel subtly) and the setting she's imagined is complex and intriguing. The hero and heroine were both interesting characters with involved backstories. The romance, however, was boilerplate: beautiful, underprivileged girl must give herself to brutish, rich man to save family, he turns out not to be so much of a brute and she falls in love. There's a scene that may be upsetting to some readers. It didn't bother me, but I'd been warned of a possible rape scene so I was expecting something much worse than what I actually read.

I know that authors rarely if ever have control over the coverart for their novels, but after reading The Iron Duke I am bothered by how wildly inappropriate the cover's depiction of Rhys is. It's not just that the depiction is inaccurate, but I can't elaborate further without including backstory spoilers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

steampunk defined

Whenever I mention steampunk in a post I get questions about exactly the term means. To me my explanations always seem a bit bumbling.

Happily I can report that Sci-fi and fantasy giant, Tor Books has a great blog post from 2009 that explains the both the literary genre and the subculture well: Steampunk 101 by G. D. Falksen.
For reference, Falksen is the guy pictured with the fantastic leather and brass prosthetic arm.

I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention that I didn't happen across said post on my own. I first saw it referenced on Steampunk fan page on Facebook. There's that Falksen image (it's everywhere!), I don't know that he's the one who maintains the page though.

Friday, June 17, 2011

follow friday and Russell's birthday

Genre Wars!
What's your favorite genre and which book in that genre made it your favorite?

I actually don't have a favorite genre. There are some genres that I read more than others (and I do read a lot of non-genre fiction) and some genres that I rarely, if ever, read (horror and sick-shit mysteries come to mind).

I guess if I can to settle on one genre, it'd be historical fiction. There's not one book that sold me on the genre, but I'll happily share some of my recommendations with you.

Good historical fiction titles that leap to mind:Also, today is Russell's birthday and so far he hasn't received any books. This is a seriously big deal. I always get him at least one book (we're trying to cull our book collections now so no books from me this year) and he often gets books from others. We think this is the first time in at least 15 years that he hasn't gotten a book for his birthday.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. [The Russell mentioned above is my husband who (very) occasionally reviews nonfiction on the blog]. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my posts since my last Follow Friday (I skipped last week):

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Poisoned House

The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

The following papers were kindly donated to the Municipal Library by Anne Merchant, the current owner of 112 Park Avenue, the property formerly known as Greave Hall. [...] They appear to record several months in the year 1855 of the life of a teenage girl called Abigail Tamper, who lived and worked at that address. [...] Pages from the original can be viewed in situ at the discretion of the librarian. (7)

As an archivist I have to admit that I’m a sucker for this type of framing device (we’re all hoping that such juicy gems are hidden within the collections under our care). The story that follows is not written as a series of diary entries (which I would have loved), but rather a straightforward first-person account of what happens to the protagonist (and other residents of Greave Hall) during this period of time.

So much has changed in 15-year-old Abigail Tamper’s life in the past year. With the death of her mother (the family’s much-loved nursemaid), the absence of the young master (who’s off fighting in the Crimea), and the decline of the Lord Greave, Greave Hall has become Abi’s prison and housekeeper Mrs. Cotton her warden.

When strange things start happening at Greave Hall, Abi writes them off as pranks the other servants are playing on the dictatorial Mrs. Cotton. When a ghost possesses a medium brought in by Mrs. Cotton, Abi realizes that Greave Hall is haunted and that the ghost has a message for her.

I quite enjoyed The Poisoned House. The novel is set in the mid-19th century and crafted like a classic Victorian ghost story. The Poisoned House is a bit slow to start, but once the reader is acclimatized to the environment, the pace picks up and the story becomes more and more compelling. Abi is a likeable and plucky heroine. There's no real romance, which is a refreshing departure for readers who are tiring of love triangle-filled YA offerings.

I loved how the story ended. I refer to the framing (which I won’t detail on the off chance that doing so would spoil the book for someone) as well as to how things were resolved for the protagonist and secondary characters.

I should probably mention that there is one scene in the book that I found a bit upsetting (p.194, it was horrible and shocking, but I understand why it was included; n.b. you don't see the act being done, just the evidence). The violence perpetrated in that scene has nothing to do with the paranormal element of the story however, it stems from simple human cruelty.

Above is the cover art for the American edition (coming September 2011), which I find to be a tad too horror movie-like for my taste (it’s that grasping hand). I’m much more fond of the cover of the UK edition (published in August 2010). It’s subtler, with an atmospheric spookiness that seems much more appropriate for the story.
disclosure: I received a review copy of The Poisoned House from Albert Whitman via NetGalley. The e-galleys are like library e-books, though, they expire, so it's not like I actually get to keep it.

Sync is back! free audiobooks this summer

Just one week until the start if Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza. I found out about it late last year, but the program is what finally got me to read The Hunger Games (which they paired with The Lottery by Shirley Jackson).

The most important thing to note, which is not mentioned below,1 is that these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to check in each week to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to reading them right away.

Sync offers free audiobook downloads of Young Adult and Classic titles this summer!
June 23 - August 17, 2011

Teens and other readers of young adult literature will have the opportunity to listen to bestselling titles and required reading classics this summer. Each week from June 23 to August 17, 2011, Sync will offer two free audiobook downloads.

The audiobook pairings will include a popular YA title and a classic that connects with the YA title's theme and is likely to show up on a student's summer reading lists. For example, Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, the first book in a popular series with strong allusions to Romeo & Juliet, will be paired with Shakespeare's classic.

SYNC Schedule:

June 23-29
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

June 30- July 6
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Trial by Franz Kafka

July 7-13
Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

July 14-20
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney
Beowulf by Francis B. Gummere [Trans.]

July 21-27
Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

July 28-August 3
Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari
Rescue: Stories of Survival From Land and Sea by Dorcas S. Miller [Ed.]

August 4-10
Immortal by Gillian Shields
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

August 11-17
Storm Runners by Roland Smith
The Cay by Theodore Taylor

More details if you want 'em!
  1. An ever so slightly modified version of their press release

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

ETA: Happy International Steampunk Day!1

This particular title isn't due out until October, but I wanted to get something out while I still had my copy as reference (my Adobe Digital Editions tells me that my copy is due to expire in less than 24 hours). I'll likely post about Steampunk! again closer to its actual release date, but here's something to whet your appetite.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant

Firmly rooted in Victorian London, steampunk has often been a bit too Anglo- and Eurocentric2. One of the things that's so refreshing about Steampunk! is that its diversity of setting, story, character, format. Something that was achieved by asking the anthology's contributors, whose ranks include both big names and virtual unknowns, for "stories that explored and expanded their own ideas of what steampunk could be" (8).

I read Steampunk! over the course of a month or six weeks. While I know that anthologies aren't meant to serve as a unified whole, I usually prefer not to read them straight through. I do almost always read the stories in the order they are presented, but I like to be able to sit on one before I start the next. I quite enjoyed being able to read Steampunk! leisurely.

I would like to say that each of the works collected in Steampunk! was absolutely wonderful, but I can't. Elizabeth Knox's "Gethsemane" caused me vexation; I didn't "get it" at all. I think I was too tired when I tried to read it and it's one of the longest stories in the anthology so I decided to skip it, fully intending to revisit it at some point before posting my review (that is until I realized that my e-galley was about to expire). Other than that (and please do note that the fault might very well be my own), the anthology was full of win.3

At the moment my favorite story of the bunch is Dylan Horrocks' "Steam Girl." I didn't expect to prefer this one because it is (at least in my opinion) one of the least steampunk contributions to Steampunk!3 (the titular character's alter ego exists in a imaginary? steampunk world, but she and the story's protagonist are firmly planted in the realistic here-and-now). "Steam Girl" is, however, perfectly crafted.

I should also note that Steampunk! is geared toward the young adult market unlike the steampunk anthologies of which I am familiar.

Steampunk!'s table of contents, with links to extracts when available (my favorites are starred):If you've clicked on nearly any of the table-of-contents links, you'll have realized that the book has a great website. If you haven't, visit to learn more about the book.

Steampunk! is going on my Amazon wishlist. I'd love a copy, but I'm ornery and I won't buy it on principle. If I'd gotten a paper rather than digital advanced reader copy, I would have been able to keep it as long as I wanted. I'm really not supposed to be buying books and I'm not about to break my rules for a book I would otherwise have gotten for free.
  1. Apparently June 14, H.G. Wells' birthday (except it's not actually his birthday), has been dubbed Int'l Steampunk Day. A bit more info here and here.
  2. See Multiculturalism for Steampunk, especially the 1 April 2011 post
  3. I can't bring myself to edit out this colloquialism (internetism?) even though it's not something I'd use in my everyday speech.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Steampunk! from Candlewick Press via NetGalley. See e-galley snark above. Like I said, ornery.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

i've been reading

I have been reading, but I just haven't really felt like writing. I have five books read and ready for review. I even have partially written posts for a couple of them. But, I've been procrastinating whenever I've had time to write on the blog. Maybe I just need a wee break.

Expect posts on all of the following once I've gotten a bit of my mojo back: There may also be another book buying post this weekend as I have to go into the city on Saturday and have convinced Russell to accompany me in large part due to the promise of a visit to the Strand.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

vivid figures of speech

I started listening to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea yesterday. Librivox has the F. P. Walter translation in its catalog. It's about 16 hours long.
"The philosopher Diderot has very aptly claimed that a man's bearing is the clue to his character, and this stocky little man was certainly a living proof of this claim. You could sense that his everyday conversation must have been packed with such vivid figures of speech as personification, symbolism, and misplaced modifiers. But I was never in a position to verify this because, around me, he used only an odd and utterly incomprehensible dialect" (somewhere in part I, chapter 8; emphasis mine).
Ah, I love that sentence.

Monday, June 06, 2011

on weeding our book collection (post 4 of ?)

Last week I went into New York City for the day. I wanted something to read on the train and I didn't want to bring my Nook so I decided to grab a book from one of our weeded boxes. I figured that if I brought one that was already registered on BookCrossing, I could wild-release it on the train when I disembarked. Getting rid of said book would also help offset any Strand purchases I might make. That was the plan.

The book I grabbed was Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik.

Paris to the Moon isn't a novel (my literary drug of choice). It's a group of essays that cobbled together serve as a memoir of the author's time living in Paris with his young family (interesting, but not the most compelling of all subjects). Because my copy is a BookCrossing book, I can look at its history and note that I've had it in my possession since February 2006. I'd had the book for over 5 years and hadn't once picked it up to read. It seems perfectly reasonable for me to banish Paris to the Moon from my library.

I started reading Paris to the Moon on the train. When I arrived in the city, I elected not to leave it on the train so that I'd have could read it on my end-of-the-day commute (why did I do this if I already planned to go to the Strand at lunchtime? obviously I was going to buy books at the Strand, I'd said so). I didn't read Paris to the Moon on my way home. I read one of my new acquisitions (The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer). Yet I couldn't bring myself to leave Paris to the Moon on the train when I arrived at my destination.

Why? Well, once I actually started reading the book I remembered why I wanted to read it in the first place. There's the title, which is appealing in and of itself and becomes more so when its origin is explained. Gopnik is a great writer (he's a longtime contributor to The New Yorker), his prose is both sensitive and atmospheric. Oh, and I love Paris. So, even though I didn't want to read Paris to the Moon more than my bright, shiny, new book, I couldn't bear to let it go without reading it. I'm not nearly at good at letting go of things as I like to think I am.1 I lost this battle to the book hoarder.

Paris to the Moon is now sitting on a box that we haven't managed to unpack yet. I should probably migrate it to one of my bookshelves.
  1. Actually I know that this is not my strong suit. It's much easier if I don't put myself in a position where I can have second thoughts. When we were trying to downsize before the move, having Russell take out the stuff we'd decided to get rid of while I was off at work made things so much easier for me.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Mercy by Rebecca Lim

There is something very wrong with me.
I can't remember who I am or how old I am, or even how I got here. All I know is that when I wake up, I could be any age and anyone, all over again. It is always this way.

The novel's protagonist and titular character is a fallen angel1 who has been forced to spend her time occupying a series of unsuspecting hosts, a state she refers to as "soul-jacking." Logistically it's a bit like Quantum Leap, though there's one passage in particular that reminds me very much of Stephenie Meyer's The Host.2

The novel opens with Mercy waking in the body of Carmen Zappacosta, a shy, skinny teen with a skin condition. Carmen and the rest of the girls in the St. Joseph's Chamber Choir are on their way to the small town of Paradise for an inter-school concert. In Paradise Carmen is billeted with the Daleys, who are still reeling from the loss of their daughter two years ago. Mercy figures that she has to do double-duty this time around: Carmen needs a backbone and the Daleys crave closure (especially the girl's twin brother who still believes Lauren is alive).

I have little patience for books where the protagonist is reincarnated and has unknown, possibly horrible history that haunts her dreams and a need to connect with once-and-always love who somehow remembers more of their shared history than she does (I didn't even finish Fallen by Lauren Kate), so I'm really not the best judge for this book. I will say that my annoyance with that aspect of the story dissipated the further I got into Mercy. I was significantly more interested in the Carmen/Ryan/Lauren storyline than I was in the Mercy/Luc/"them" storyline so as the momentum of the Lauren mystery increased so did my desire to read the book.

I have mixed feelings about Mercy as a character. There were times when I liked and could relate to her, but often she was repellant. For example, immediately after Mercy shares that she knows that she can make or break things for her host and that she's learned to "tread gently" she acts completely inappropriately when she meets Ryan for the first time: ogling him and telling him that she was wondering what he'd be like in bed.3

All that being said, Mercy is an interesting departure from the usual paranormal young adult novels. Mercy is the first book in a series. I probably won't read the follow-up books (the overarching storyline would continue to irritate me even if I enjoyed the focus of the individual installments), but I suspect that many readers will be eagerly awaiting their publication.
  1. Normally I wouldn't include this as I think its a bit of a spoiler--it is never made explicit during the course of the novel--but the publisher's blurbs all begin "A fallen angel haunted by her past" and the American cover (the one above is what I believe is the original Australian cover) features angel wings so the spoiling has really already been done.
  2. "For I get flashes of my girls, my hosts, my vessels, from time to time. They are with me, but quiescent, docile. [...] Some do occasionally make their way to the surface--like divers who have run out of air, breaking above the waterline clawing and grasping--before simply winking out because the effort is too great to sustain." (17)
    Oh, and the ending as well.
  3. page 25
disclosure: I received a review copy of Mercy from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley. The e-galleys are like library e-books, though, they expire, so it's not like I actually get to keep it.

Friday, June 03, 2011

follow friday question

What are you doing to prepare for an upcoming zombie apocalypse and/or the return of Mel Gibson to the silver screen? (Both of which could be terrifying.)

Ah... I don't know what to write in response to this question. I could mention the Center for Disease Control's recently posted zombie apocalypse emergency response guidelines, but that's all I've got. Also, a little unsolicited zombie-book-related advice: do not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I think instead that I will just share a reference for something that Parajunkee mentions in her post this week, the concept of the rational anarchist.
Professor Bernardo de La Paz: "A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as 'state' and 'society' and 'government' have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame... as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world... aware that his efforts will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure." (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, p. 83-84)
If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my posts since last Follow Friday last week:

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stranger by Zoe Archer

Stranger by Zoe Archer

Stranger is the fourth book in Archer's Blades of the Rose series. I haven't read the first books three books (this book was given to me by a friend) so I'm in a good position to say that Stranger functions perfectly well as a standalone book. Blades of the Rose is a paranormal romance series and how romance series work (at least in my albeit somewhat limited experience) is that while there is an overarching storyline, it is very much in the background and each book focuses on a different couple (one person from the couple having been a secondary character in the previous installment).

Gemma Murphy and Catallus Graves are the stars of Stranger. Gemma is a petite and fiery American reporter trying to make her mark in a man's profession. Catallus is the quiet genius in the ranks of the Blades of the Rose, a secret organization committed to protecting the world's powerful magical objects from those who would misuse them.

I found the frequent references to how connected Astrid and Lesperance were a bit distracting (I presume Astrid and Lesperance were the focus of the third Blades of the Rose books), but I'm sure that if I'd read the series from the beginning I'm sure that I would have been less bothered by it.

The only other thing that I wasn't crazy about was Gemma and Catallus being distracted by love/lust at the most unbelievable times, but that kind of thing is par for the course with romance novels.

All in all, I liked Stranger quite a bit and I'm definitely interested in reading the other books in the series.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

more book buying

So, I went to the Strand today. It was just a quick visit, which is probably just as well because I could spend lots of time (and money) there.

I only bought two books. I picked these two because (1) they caught my eye, (2) I hadn't heard of them before, and (3) they were on sale. I may have also bought a tote bag and coffee mug, but those are destined to be gifts (and this neat bookmark for Russell; he loves it).

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

Imprisoned for life aboard a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis, greeting-card writer Harold Winslow pens his memoirs. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent, the only woman he has ever loved, and the cryogenically frozen body of her father, Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate who drove her insane. As Harold heads toward a last desperate confrontation with Prospero to save Mirandas life, he finds himself an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all: the perpetual motion machine. Beautifully written, stunningly imagined, and wickedly funny, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a heartfelt meditation on the place of love in a world dominated by technology.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they'll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. So, if you're gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.