Sunday, June 28, 2009

Back to the World of Howl


Diana Wynne Jones. House of Many Ways. Harper Collins: 2009.

House of Many Wayss is the next installment in the world of Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. Like many of Diana Wynne Jones' books, it takes place in the same world but with a different set of main characters; in this case the book stars a young girl who loves to read and has a talent for magic. She finds herself house-sitting for her great uncle the Wizard of Norland and working in the castle library trying to solve a mystery, where she runs into characters from the previous books, has great magical adventures, and runs into elves, kobolds, and the fearful lubbokin!

This is another fun adventure in Diana Wynne Jones' magical imagination and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a good fantasy about wizards and fairy tale castles. I was impressed that Diana Wynne Jones created a character who loved to read and didn't know how to do anything practical, but her penchant for reading neither saved the day exactly nor did the story moralize about putting down the book and taking action. Instead, Jones made a balance between reading and practical experience an ongoing struggle and created a character with some very real flaws in her tendency to be intemperate and imperious and yet made her lovable and well-meaning as well. These touches make Jones' books smart as well as fun and magical and I will keep coming back as long as there are more to read. If you haven't read Howl's Moving Castle, you don't need it to understand this one, but it's a great place to start to become addicted to Diana Wynne Jones' books.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In My Mailbox

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie.

I broke down and ordered a bunch of the books I'd been craving since the book fair, and a couple I'd been waiting for in paperback for a while. In my mailbox this week:

Beige by Cecil Castellucci. Candlewick Press: 2009.

From Indie Bound:
Katy really doesn't want to spend two weeks in L.A. with her father, a recovered addict and drummer for a punk band. But she won't fuss. After all, she is a nice girl--a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she?

Freak Show by James St. James. Puffin Books: 2008.

From the publisher:
Meet Billy Bloom, new student at the ultra-white, ultra-rich, ultra-conservative Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy and drag queen extraordinaire. Actually, “drag queen” does not begin to describe Billy and his fabulousness. Any way you slice it, Billy is not a typical seventeen-year-old, and the Bible Belles, Aberzombies, and Football Heroes at the academy have never seen anyone quite like him before. But thanks to the help and support of one good friend, Billy’s able to take a stand for outcasts and underdogs everywhere in his own outrageous, over-thetop, sad, funny, brilliant, and unique way.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. Back Bay Books: 2008.

From the author's website:
Being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be. Life's hard for a Greek god in the 21st century: nobody believes in you any more, even your own family doesn't respect you, and you're stuck in a delapidated hovel in north London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. But for Artemis (goddess of hunting, professional dog walker), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, telephone sex operator) and Apollo (god of the sun, TV psychic) there's no way out...Until a meek cleaner and her would-be boyfriend come into their lives, and turn the world literally upside down.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. MIRA books: 2008.

From the author's website:
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered a reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace, and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust, and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. As Yelena tries to escape her dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and she develops magical powers she can't control. Her life’s at stake again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear!

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder. MIRA books: 2008.

From the author's website:
Yelena is on her way to be reunited with the family she'd been stolen from long ago. Although she has gained her freedom, she can't help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways, and her newfound friends and relatives don't think it's for the better. Despite the turmoil, she's eager to start her magical training. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia's throne for a lost prince, and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians. If that wasn't bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with her new enemies.

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2007.

From the author's website:In the third installment of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, it has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order, the mysterious group her mother was once part of, is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Disappearance

Yes, I disappeared last week. I apologize. I'm working on finding a happy medium between posting daily and posting flakily, and job interviews (yay!) and real life intervened last week. But really, the problem was that I didn't finish a single book last week! Really! After working so hard to post every day in April, I decided that for May I could take on some of the longer books that I'd been putting off reading. So I started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on audiobook and Lonely Werewolf Girl (which I received for my birthday way back in January!) in print. Unfortunately, each of these books is well over 500 pages (or 32 hours in the case of Jonathan Strange), which, when added to my general busyness, means that I'm only about halfway through each of them! So, I'm working on it, but work takes precedence and hopefully I'll finish at least one of these books soon!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Short Story: Coming Attraction

Fritz Leiber. "Coming Attraction" (1950). audible.com: 2007.

I've always meant to read some of Fritz Leiber's science fiction. I downloaded this short story from audible, and it definitely whet's my appetite for more. It's a story about coming nuclear destruction, written in 1950 and focused on the Cold War. It's set in post-WWIII New York after nuclear destruction has left people carrying along with future technology among the irradiated ashes.

The focus of the story is on the transformation of American culture; Leiber creats an America in which the women all wear masks because a face free of radiation scars is the ultimate erotic body part. "Coming Attraction" refers to the post-apocalyptic world in which the story takes place, the sense of anticipation our main character feels at the possibility of seeing his date without her mask, and the world of professional wrestling (more like mixed martial arts or UFC fighting) that has become the most popular sport.

This is a really clever story that works on several levels as a commentary on both international politics and gender issues. It's science fiction in that it takes place in an imagined post-apocalyptic future, but it doesn't feel all that distant. It's more about culture than science and Leiber unfolds his prediction of coming attractions slowly throughout the story. I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Short Story: The Sexes


Dorothy Parker. "The Sexes." The Portable Dorothy Parker. Ed. Marion Meade. 2nd Ed. Penguin Books: 2006. 24-28.

This is a short, quick slice of life in the form of a battle-of-the-sexes style argument. At this point, this story's portrayal of gender roles is clichéd, but Parker's economy of style and cynical wit make the story a bitterly fun little read anyway. It depicts an angry conversation between a man and a woman who are dating, but displeased with each other. The piece doesn't feel like a story so much as a snapshot of dialogue through which a relationship is illuminated. What I love about it is Parker's wry misogyny; in four short pages, she vividly illustrates the ways in which men and women manipulate each other through passive-aggressive posturing. This conversation could quite easily be overheard today, and yet it feels incredibly cynical to have it written down and published as a story.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Non-Fiction: "May 2007"


Nick Hornby. "May 2007"Shakespeare Wrote for Money: Two Years of Reading Begat by More Reading, Presented in Easily Digestible, Utterly Hysterical Monthly Installments. Believer Books: 2008. 47-53.

I picked up this book at the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and thus far I am enjoying it immensely. This book is the third and final collection of Hornby's columns about literature and reading from The Believer magazine. So far, I've read about half of the collection, but I wanted to single out "May 2007" as particularly representative. In this essay, Hornby discusses how "reading begets reading" (49) but also belabors that some of the classics may kill you, presumably by boredom. This is a great example of my mixed feelings toward Hornby's writing about reading; on the one hand he's incredibly smart and literate, but on the other hand he's a bit condescending and superior. I certainly wish I could write as well about books as he does, but I don't really love the things he chooses to read.

This essay is an insight into the divide between "literature" and everything else; it also demonstrates who gets to decide which is which. In other essays, Hornby discusses comic books and literature by women, but in this particular essay, he only reads and discusses books by men. He name-drops Stephen Frears as an arbiter of what he reads.

Overall, I love the project in which Hornby discusses what he reads every month, and Hornby is absolutely brilliant at doing it. The essays are smart, snappy, and only slightly superior and I love that he's talking about books. Mostly, I wish there were others, counterpoints to Hornby's voice continuing an intelligent, multivocal discussion about literature of all sorts. I think that's partially what book bloggers are here for, but I'd like to see people like Sarah Vowell (who wrote the intro to Shakespeare Wrote for Money) getting paid to write cleverly and professionally about what they're reading on a monthly basis.

Overall, I do recommend this book for anyone who loves reading good writing about reading. I will absolutely be picking up Hornby's earlier collections of columns, The Polysyllabic Spreee and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt to revel in the literary intelligence of these sets of columns, but I will continue to read them with a sense of skepticism toward the choices of books and remember that this is just one person's taste among many.

Review: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You


Ally Carter. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You. Hyperion Books: 2007.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You is an adorable book about teenage girl spies. Teenage girl spies are fabulous and awesome and kicka**, so I was pretty much predisposed to love this book. It's sweet and fun and fluffy.

In this first book in the Gallagher Girls series, we are introduced to Cammie Morgan, an "exceptional young woman" training to be a "pavement artist," a spy who excels at disappearing in a crowd. When, in the middle of a training exercise, an ordinary boy notices the girl whose major skill is going unnoticed, all of a sudden Cammie and her backup team of friends find themselves using all of their advanced skills in covert operations, assimilation, and infiltration to achieve their most dangerous mission so far: dating.

This is a short, straightforward little book that leaves me wanting more. It's written in the format of a report detailing the events of a previous operation, which creates an amusing sense of situational humor but also gives the novel a sense of sparseness. These are books that fall on the young end of the young adult range and would probably appeal to even middle grade readers. Like the Babysitters' Club with more awesome. As an adult reader, the books feel fun but insubstantial. I read the first two in a day and a half and I think I'll return to the series when there are more than a few books. They're totally addictive.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BEDA Wrap-Up: The State of the Blog

So I survived Blog Every Day April, and I though it was about time to share what I learned and decided.

First of all, I'm pretty proud of myself for actually managing to blog every day until the last. It's disappointing to have failed at the very last minute, to have April 30th as the only day for which there wasn't a post, but I think the extenuating circumstances (my car was stolen and I was up all night looking for it and talking to the police, and therefore slept all day on the 30th) justify the silence. I read and reviewed 18 books (and two short stories), which I'm also quite satisfied with. I also did a reasonable if not fantastic amount of reading and commenting on other book blogs, which I think is important.

I really enjoyed writing reviews for every book I read to help keep up my evaluation and critical analysis skills. I also really enjoyed challenging myself to read things I wouldn't normally, such as the short stories. I definitely felt that I had some days where I wrote filler posts about my reading habits (and obsessing over the book fair) and now that I'm not trying to blog every day, those will probably fall by the wayside.

I also tended to pick shorter and easier books because I was trying to finish one every day whenever possible, and I think now that I'm not trying to blog every day, I will allow myself some longer and slower books and perhaps not devote as much time every day to reading. It's time to get back to the real world and my work.

So, what do I expect the blogging here to look like as I continue? I plan to keep on reading and posting my reviews of whatever I've read. These will continue to be a mix of YA, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, classics, and literary fiction depending on my whims at any given moment. I also plan to continue to read a Saturday or Sunday Short Story every week. These will probably be stories found online or more frequently from one of a couple collections that I own (Los Angeles Noir, Ray Bradbury's collected stories). I'm also going to implement a new feature, Friday Non-Fiction in which I read and discuss one literary non-fiction essay every week. I have a couple collections I should read and, like short stories, I tend to neglect reading short, general audience non-fiction essays. So expect some discussion of essays by David Foster Wallace, Dorothy Parker, and Nick Hornby because that's what I have lying around at the moment.

I also really enjoy skimming everyone else's In My Mailbox and Mailbox Monday, so I believe I will make those posts if and when I have something to share (although hopefully that won't be too often because I don't have the money to buy books as often as I'd like and I don't have the connections to get them for free). In the meantime, I'll work on reducing my TBR pile to a normal human size.

So those are my thoughts about the future of the blog. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share them!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Short Story Sunday: Pride and Prometheus

John Kessel. Pride and Prometheus. 2008.

Technically, this isn't a short story; it's a novelette and it just won the 2008 Nebula Award for best novelette. It's a story that asks what if the characters from Pride and Prejudice met the characters from Frankenstein. It focuses on Mary, the middle Bennet daughter, who just happens to meet Victor Frankenstein well after the events of Pride and Prejudice and I believe in the middle of events in Frankenstein.

I should have read Frankenstein before this story, but it I think works pretty well without knowing either of the stories. I enjoyed it and thought it was clever, but it definitely feels like a male authorial voice, which I found strange in contrast to Austen's characters. It does do a good job of exploring some of the themes of both stories and bringing together social commentary with scientific and moral ruminations. I enjoyed its combination of gothic moodiness and wry observation, more reminiscent of Austen's Northanger Abbey than Pride and Prejudice.

I listened to the story as audio recorded by the author, which you can get for free here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: Suite Scarlett



Maureen Johnson. Suite Scarlett. Point: 2009.

Suite Scarlett is decidedly a book for me. It has backstage drama, a mysterious and eccentric patroness, and wacky antics in a fabulous art deco hotel. It's a sweet, lighthearted comedy in a realistic setting brimming with the sense of whimsy that contemporary New York often so desperately needs.

The book stars Scarlett Martin, the third of four children in the Martin family, whose parents happen to own and manage the Hopewell Hotel, a fabulous (if slightly run-down) hotel built in the 1920s. The family, facing financial troubles, has had to fire the staff and indenture the kids into a summer of manual labor and hotel management.

When the eccentric Mrs. Amberson checks in and offers Scarlett a well-paying job as her personal secretary, all of a sudden Scarlett finds herself hunting down obscure teas and health foods, taking notes for an ill-fated memoir, and helping to stage a production of Hamlet featuring her beloved older brother, Spencer, and Scarlett's crush, the handsome and comedic Eric.

This is a fun, light summer comedy. I found myself laughing out loud (really) at points during the novel. I highly recommend taking it to the beach or on vacation this summer. It's a super quick read and utterly delightful and silly. The characters are charming and the situations the slightest bit absurd (or at least unlikely). If you like a good wacky romp with lot of theater and a little romance, this is for you.

Personally, I can't wait for the sequel, Scarlett Fever. Also, when she's finished with the Scarlett trilogy, I'd love mj to write a novel actually set in the 1920s. Wouldn't it be fun if there were a mj version of Thoroughly Modern Millie meets The Great Gatsby? She already knows a lot about being fabulous.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Zoe's Tale


John Scalzi. Zoe's Tale. Tor Science Fiction: 2009.

I loved Zoe's Tale. It retells the exact same story I just read in The Last Colony, but tells it from the perspective of Zoe Boutin-Perry, a sarcastic, resourceful teenage girl who just happens to find herself in the middle of an inter-species conflict with an alliance of aliens. It fills in all the gaps that I noticed or subjects about which I wanted more information after The Last Colony.

The best thing about the book was Zoe's voice. It was light and snappy and utterly sarcastic in a way that I really identify with. Not everyone will, of course, but if you like to see a strong, witty female character in the middle of science fiction (which I do, A LOT) then this is a book for you. This is a science fiction adventure, but also a meditation on what it means to be a leader rather than a hero or a celebrity and about growing into your place in the world and the people who love you. The scenes between Zoe and her father (written, of course, by a man who highly identifies with the father) were truly beautiful in their combination of cleverness and affection. Now, I'm not necessarily claiming that this is an "authentic" teenage girl voice; I'm a little dubious about that, but I love it nonetheless.

My one complaint about this book is that it follows exactly the timeframe and most of the events from The Last Colony, which you will note that I read not long ago. Which means it took about 150 pages to get to any event that was really new to me. Seeing events from Zoe's perspective was interesting, but the events themselves were too fresh in my memory. I wish I had waited a year or so between these two books so there was some time for the details to fade in my memory.

I would LOVE to talk to people who read Zoe's Tale as a stand-alone novel, or people more familiar with the voice of a teenage girl (like, say, actual teenage girls). I'd love to know how this novel worked for other people. So would John Scalzi.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Elite Novels


I've been meaning to read the Elite series of YA novels for a while now. Author Jennifer Banash is giving away a
SIGNED ARC of Simply Irresistible, but ALSO a $25 Amazon.com gift card, a SIGNED ARC of The Elite (these are collectors items, people), AND a copy of the newest installment of The Luxe series, Envy


Pretty fabulous prizes! Help her celebrate the upcoming release of her new novel, Simply Irresistible. Go to here to enter!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Books Not Taken

This is more Festival of Books follow-up. I though I'd share the books I saw and wanted at the book fair but didn't pick up (mostly due to the overwhelming number of books already purchased). Most of these will I will probably purchase at some point, but they were somehow less urgent than the ones I ended up taking home. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these and how quickly I should rush out and get them.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school. This heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written tale, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, is based on the author’s own experiences and chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he seems destined to live. (From the author's website)

The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr:
In her cunning follow-up to Southland, Revoyr returns to L.A., this time to when Sunset Boulevard was just a dirt road and Jun Nakayama was a famous silent film star. Prompted by a journalist's visit in 1964, 42 years after he left the screen for good, Jun revisits his youth in Japan, his discovery at L.A.'s Little Tokyo Theater, his rise to stardom and the scandalous events that led to his abrupt retreat from public life. Mixing real people with fictional characters like principled Japanese actress Hanako Minatoya, troubled starlet Elizabeth Banks (not the one in Seabiscuit), ingénue Nora Minton Niles and dashing director Ashley Bennett Tyler, Revoyr creates a vibrant portrait of a time when the film studio was a place of serious work. As Jun reveals the secrets he has kept for decades, he uncovers new twists in his own history and comes to terms with other painful experiences he has repressed, namely his loneliness and the effects of the anti-Japanese racism he mistakenly believed he could overcome by being as agreeable—and American—as possible.(From Publisheer's Weekly via Amazon)

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi:
A human diplomat kills his alien counterpart. Earth is on the verge of war with a vastly superior alien race. A lone man races against time and a host of enemies to find the one object that can save our planet and our people from alien enslavement...A sheep.(From the author's website)

Beige by Cecil Castellucci
From the author of Boy Proof comes an edgy novel full of humor and heart. Katy really doesn't want to spend two weeks in L.A. with her father, a recovered addict and drummer for a punk band. But she won't fuss. After all, she is a nice girl--a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she?(From IndieBound)

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips:
Being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be. Life's hard for a Greek god in the 21st century: nobody believes in you any more, even your own family doesn't respect you, and you're stuck in a delapidated hovel in north London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. But for Artemis (goddess of hunting, professional dog walker), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, telephone sex operator) and Apollo (god of the sun, TV psychic) there's no way out...Until a meek cleaner and her would-be boyfriend come into their lives, and turn the world literally upside down. (from the author's website)

Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci:
In this sequel to The Plain Janes, the Janes are back. But when the Janes become entangled in matters of the heart, they discover that in art and in love, the rules don't always apply. (from IndieBound)

Prom Dates from Helll by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Maggie Quinn knew high school was hell, but even she thinks the smell of brimstone is a little out of the ordinary. When she’s the only one to see that something supernatural is stalking the school’s ruling clique, it’s up to Maggie to channel her inner Nancy Drew and ferret out the origin of the ancient evil, before all Hell breaks loose at the Senior Prom. (from the author's website)


What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown:
From the author of Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake, a new time travel romance featuring a modern day career woman swept back in time to Regency England, where she thwarts a Napoleonic spy, chats with Jane Austen, and falls in love with a notorious rake.(from the publisher's website)


And there were a couple of books I came prepared to buy if I saw at the festival but that I didn't happen to run across. It's part of the luck of browsing that I didn't happen to see them, but I will probably pick these up soon, too.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman:
Mandella starts out as a foot soldier in man's thousand-year war against the Taurans and ends as a reluctant major. Spanning the stars at faster than light speeds, Mandella and his comrades age only months as the centuries zip by on an earth that becomes increasingly foreign. But few soldiers will return to the altered home planet; in battles fought with powered suits and other stranger weapons, the odds for survival approach zero. This war is the opposite of the one Heinlein glorified in Starship Troopers (1959)- bloody, cruel and meaningless. (from Kirkus via Amazon)

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Emma Grant has a major beef to settle with her literary heroine, Jane Austen. Austen’s novels taught Emma, a college professor, to believe in happy endings, but her own happy ending goes up in flames when she discovers her husband, Edward, in the arms of her teaching assistant, after which the two have her professionally discredited by claiming she plagiarized a paper. Disillusioned and disgraced, Emma flees the U.S. for her cousin’s house in England after being contacted by Gwendolyn Parrot, an elderly woman claiming to be in possession of a stash of lost Austen letters. Rather than simply handing over the letters, Mrs. Parrot sends Emma on a succession of tasks that gradually reveal a secret about Austen’s life previously unknown to scholars. Along the way, Emma reconnects with Adam, her former best friend whom she fell out of touch with after marrying Edward. (from Booklist via Amazon)

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered a reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace, and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust, and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. (from the author's website)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: Just what it sounds like: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

As you can see, I may be in the mood for a Jane Austen takeoff marathon sometime in the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Musing Mondays: Nonfiction

I'm not sure yet how much I'm really into participating in a lot of memes, but this is a question that felt relevant for me to answer.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading non-fiction…

Do you read non-fiction regularly? Do you read it in a different way or place than you read fiction? (Musing Mondays is hosted at Just One More Page. This question is courtesy of Diane at The Book Resort)

I recently completed my Ph.D., so I read A LOT of nonfiction, particularly in the subjects of film, theater, gender studies, cultural studies, and literary theory. I also do some reading about technology, and recently I've been interested in California and Los Angeles history. I also teach composition, so I read short, popular non-fiction essays to stimulate discussion and serve as examples.

I tend to read in most of the same places (sofa, bed, floor, coffehouses), but I don't take nonfiction books into the bathtub or to the beach. I also always read nonfiction with a pencil and a highlighter nearby - I never write in fiction books, but I make notes all over my nonfiction.

From the Festival

This post is in the spirit of the In My Mailbox posts hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie, though none of these books were in my mailbox - they all came from the LA Times Festival of Books, where I spent way too much money!

M.T. Anderson. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume 1: The Pox Party. Candlewick Press: 2008. - I've been meaning to read this for a while. I foresee a historical fiction streak in my near future.

Raised by a mysterious group of rational philosophers, young Octavian is dressed in silks and given the finest of classical educations. His regal mother entertains the scholars with her beauty and wit, but Octavian questions the purpose behind his guardians' fantastical studies. As the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston grows around him, Octavian dares to open a forbidden door, only to discover the hideous nature of the experiments - and his own chilling role in them.

Ally Carter. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. Hyperion Paperbacks: 2008.

All Cammie Morgan wants is a peaceful semester, but that's easier said than done when you're a CIA legacy and go to the Gallagher Academy, the premier school in the world... for spies. Despite Cammie's best intentions to be a normal student, danger seems to follow her. She and her friends learn that their school is going to play host to some mysterious guests - code name: Blackthorne. Soon Cammie and her friends are crawling through walls and surveilling the school to learn the truth about Blackthorne and clear Cammie's name

Ally Carter. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. Hyperion Paperbacks: 2006. - Yay! This sound like so much fun! Hooray for teenage spies!

Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women a fairly typical all-girls school - typical, that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The allagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses, but it's really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man seven different ways with her bare hands, she has no idea what to do when she mets an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town the skill of a real "pavement artist" - but can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

Carol Higgins Clark. Jinxed. Pocket Star Books: 2002. - This just looked totally cute. I've always associated Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark with my mother, but I think it's time to give this one a try and admit I may actually like some of the same books as my mom (GASP!). Also, this appears to be the 6th book in a series. Oops!

A fun detective romp set in California wine country. Regan, a private investigator, must find Whitney, an actress, before her great-aunt Lucretia's wedding as Whitney's family, former hippies running the Altered States Bed & Breakfast and Meditation Center, will receive a fortune if everyone attends. Lucretia, an aging silent-film star, inherited a fortune and then made more money in a dot-com enterprise. Of course, the groom and his cronies are criminals out to thwart the family attendance by kidnapping Whitney so that they will receive more money. Add to this framework a motorcycle gang, two friends in their 90s, buried treasure, news coverage, and wildfires for an exciting mystery. (description from School Library Journal via Amazon).

Junot Díaz. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books: 2008. I hear such good things about this, and it won the Pulitzer, so it must be worth reading.

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú - a curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, following them on their epic journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States and back again.

Denise Hamilton, Ed. Los Angeles Noir. Akashic Books: 2007. - I write about film noir and Los Angeles history in some of my academic work, so it's natural that I do a little fiction reading around it.

Los Angeles Noir brings the ethos of Chandler and Cain filtered through a twenty-first-century, multicultural lens. This is a literary travelogue from the Chinese mansions of San Marino to the day spas of Koreatown to the windy hills of Mulholland Drive, the baby gangsters of East Hollywood, the OG entrepreneur of Leimert Park, the old money of Beverly Hils, and the working class of Mar Vista. Los Angeles Noir offers tales of crime and passion and betrayal from some of the most innovative and celebrated writers working today.

Charlaine Harris. Grave Sight. Berkley Prime Crime Books: 2006. - Free with purchases from Mysterious Galaxy. I LOVE Mysterious Galaxy. I'm probably lucky it's in San Diego and not easily visitable.

Ever since Harper Connelly survived a zap from a lightning bolt, she's been able to find dead people, a skill that makes the protagonist in the first installment of Harris's new series a tad more bizarre than the mind-reading heroine of the author's Sookie Stackhouse books (Dead as a Doornail, etc.). Harper travels to the Ozark town of Sarne, Ark., to find a missing teenage girl's body, accompanied by her stepbrother, Tolliver, who acts as her manager and bodyguard and with whom she shares a thinly disguised physical attraction that they manage to keep at bay by engaging in casual sex with various partners. Finding the body takes no time at all, but leaving town afterward isn't so easy. When Harper's life is threatened and Tolliver ends up in jail on trumped-up charges, it quickly becomes apparent that something sinister is going on in Sarne. (from Publishers Weekly via Amazon).

Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. Literacy and Longing in L.A. Bantam Dell: 2006. - It's set in LA and about someone who loves books, how could I resist? Looks like fun chicklit, but I'm a little worried that the story may reject books in the end, in favor of a man and "real" life. I'll have to read it and see!

Dora, named for Eudora Welty, is an indiscriminate book junkie whose life has fallen apart. She's coping with a painful separation from her husband, scraping the bottom of a dwindling inheritance, and attracted to an aspiring playwright who seems to embody all that literature has to offer - intelligent ideas, romance, and an escape from her problems. As she navigates the road between reality and fiction, Dora faces powerful choices: between two irresistible men, between idleness and work, and most of all between the joy of well-chosen words and the untidiness of real people and real life.

Rochelle Krich, Michael Mallory, Lisa Seidman, Eds. Murder on Sunset Blvd. Top Publications Paperback: 2002. - More noir short stories set locally.

There are a million stories along this Boulevard of Dreams. Murder on Sunset Boulevard contains twelve of them, imagined by members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the international organization Sisters in Crime. But more than simply a collection of tales, Murder on Sunset Boulevard is a veritable journey down the city's 25-mile -long mother road, revealing the desires, dreams, failures, hopes, and passions of the people who make up the diverse fabric of Los Angeles.

John Scalzi. Zoe's Tale. Tor: 2008. - YAY! This is the book I was most excited to get. It's not even supposed to be released until next week! I've started it already.

How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history? I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoë Boutin-Perry: a colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player and a pawn in an interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history, Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old. Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: how I did what I did - how I did what I had to do - not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. I'm going to tell it to you now, the whole thing, the only way I know how: not straight but true, to try to make you feel what I felt; the joy and terror and uncertaity, panic and wonder, dispair and hope,. All through my eyes. It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.

Mary Shelly. Frankenstein (1818). Ed. Maurice Hindle. Penguin Books: 2007. It's almost a crime that haven't read this yet, and I couldn't resist the fabulous comic-style cover. Even though I could have gotten the story more cheaply, I love this edition.

A deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s haunting adventure about ambition and modernity run amok. Now a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova and cover art by Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes, Mary Shelley’s timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror. (Amazon product description).

Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence. Random House: 2008. I thought this sounded lush and brilliant when it first came out in hardback, so I figured I should pick it up now that it's in paperback.

The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It is the story of two cities at the height of their powers - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sonse, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolo Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way about the true brutality of power.

Connie Willis. To Say Nothing of the Dog. Bantam Books: 1998. - Humor and time traveling sounds like fun to me! I'm a little worried that I should read Three Men in a Boat first, though.

Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier. But the Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right -- not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.

Note: All descriptions from the back of the book (some edited) unless otherwise specified.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Short Story: Mulholland Dive


Michael Connelly "Mulholland Dive." Los Angeles Noir.Ed. Denise Hamilton. Akashic Books: 2007. 21-38.

A departure from everything I've read and discussed here so far, "Mullholland Dive" is a short story set in Los Angeles, written in the noir style. It features Detective Clewiston, an accident investigator, as he attempts to explain what caused a brand-new Porsche to dive off the side of the road, killing the rich and famous driver who happened to be involved in a messy divorce.

While this story was slow to capture my attention, starting as it did with blood and crime scene procedure (including some unfamiliar police vocabulary), by the end I was impressed by Connelly's command of the form. It was a tight, clever, and perfectly illustrative of the noir style, particularly the work of James M. Cain. It also has an excellent sense of place, perfectly depicting the geography and spirit of the dark and twisty roads that divide city from suburbs.

This is a story for lovers of noir and lovers of Los Angeles, one of those short stories that leaves you with a wry smile on your face and an admiration for the author's skill.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Year of the Griffin


Diana Wynne Jones. Year of the Griffin. HarperTrophy: 2000.

I couldn't resist; I followed up Dark Lord of Derkholm with Year of the Griffin, and I must admit that I enjoyed the sequel enormously. Year of the Griffin takes place 8 years after Dark Lord of Derkholm in a greatly changed world. It focuses on Elda, Wizard Derk's youngest griffin daughter, Elda, as she leaves home to go to the University to study magic. Where Dark Lord of Derkholm was a bit of a clever spoof on sword and sorcery fantasy novels, this volume focuses on a group of magical first year university students, and thus feels highly influenced by Harry Potter. It's also, however, a scathing critique of the absurdities of academia and I personally enjoyed it on both fronts.

This book feels like a cross between the Harry Potter books and Terry Pratchett's Unseen University characters, and it is once again incredibly good-natured; you can't help but liking almost all the characters. Even the bad guys (in this case pompous and neglectful professors) don't seem exactly BAD so much as ignorant and lazy. I liked Jones' variation on the Harry Potter theme in which six members of the 1st year class ALL work together to learn what they aren't being taught. There's a strong sense of equality and cooperation between characters throughout the book, and they face challenges that, while not exactly common everyday events are at least not requiring one character to be the saviour of the world. The six students faces assassins, pirates, mice, jinxes and terrible cafeteria foods - and they defeat these problems with library books and teamwork rather than sheer magical power. These are such fun, sweet, clever adventure stories and I recommend them for anyone who's a fan of magic and wizards.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: The Dark Lord of Derkholm


Diana Wynne Jones. Dark Lord of Derkholm. HarperTrophy: 1998.

I was in the mood for some fantasy with wizards and adventure, and this was the perfect choice. Diana Wynne Jones creates wonderfully imaginative magical worlds and Dark Lord of Derkholm was a brilliant meditation on tourism and exploitation in the form of a sweet magical adventure that also works as a spoof of other sword and sorcery novels. It's a clever novel without being ostentatiously so and it's a simple adventure in which all the characters are rather sweet and lovable and well-meaning (with the exception, of course, of the evil Mr. Chesney who exploits the the land with his magic tourism).

This is the story of the Wizard Derk, who has a lot of talent with plants and animals, but otherwise not much magical skill. He is chosen to play the role of the Dark Lord to harrow and intimidate the tourists who tramp through his land every year. Derk and his family must play their roles in an extended play creating adventure for the tourists all the while trying to find a way out of the demon-enforced contracts and financial dependence that place them at the mercy of the tourists from the non-magical world next door.

This book was great as a fast-paced magical adventure story filled with good, honest characters. The story kept my interest all the way through its 517 pages and I look forward to reading the sequel, Year of the Griffin. This has the feeling of Terry Pratchett's wizards but with less biting satire. If you like a good-natured fantasy adventure, this one is definitely for you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Cupcake


Rachel Cohn. Cupcake. Simon Pulse: 2007.

Cupcake continues the tale of Cyd Charisse, the fast-talking, independent-minded heroine of Cohn's Gingerbread and SShrimp. In this third installment, we find CC living with her gay half-brother Danny in New York City getting ready to start on her adult life.

Even though I have nothing in common with Cyd Charisse's rebellious ways, I find this trilogy utterly delightful. I'm am particularly charmed by CC's unconventional voice and punk rock style. This series deals with very adult situations in such an honest, whimsical manner that I can't help but fall in love with it. Cohn has crafted vibrant characters that make real-world places and situations feel like fairy tales in which acceptance of others and living in harmony with family and friends are happily every after. It's the kind of world that makes me appreciate my own family of choice and the connections and choices we make in this world. It's a story of growing up and finding yourself and making a home among like-minded people and I love it for that.

This book reminds me of Dangerous Angels but feels more realistic in its portrayal of punk rock aesthetic New York with real-life actions and consequences than Block's fairy tale punk rock Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! I also love this cover, and I really wish I had these covers for Gingerbread and Shrimp as well!