Sunday, March 31, 2013

April is Poetry Month

"Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry...."

Mark Strand, Eating Poetry
(read the poem at its entirety at the Poetry Foundation or hear the poet read it himself!) 

I've been hoarding poetry since the beginning of the year.  This pile is what I hope to get through this month at minimum.  I'm going to have to track down a working cassette player for the Rilke.  
Who is your favorite poem? Will you be reading any poetry during April?  

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Stories Read:
"Betrayals" by Ursula K. Le Guin
“Robot” by Helena Bell
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill
“Nanny’s Day” by Leah Cypess
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” by Cat Rambo

Eight stories this week: one novella from Ursula K. Le Guin, and the seven Nebula nominees for Best Short Story this year. Jenny and I will discuss those seven short stories in a podcast, so I won't talk about them here, except to say that Le Guin's novella is the best story I read this week.

"Betrayals" is the first of four novellas in a collection called Four Ways to Forgiveness. The other three are "Forgiveness Day", "A Man of the People", and "A Woman's Liberation".

"Betrayals" is a top shelf story about two older people named Yoss and Abberkam. At the opening, Yoss is reading a book that tells her that on a different planet there hasn't been a war for over five thousand years, and on still another, there has never been a war. She wonders what that would be like, and why she and the others on her planet spend so much time in conflict.

That thought sets into motion a beautiful story that brings Yoss and Abberkam together, despite their differences. Like the title of the collection suggests, it requires some forgiveness.

Next up: "Death in the Nile" by Connie Willis

This eight stories did a lot in getting me caught up to Jenny, but I'm still behind. And she tells me that April is poetry month! Which month is "fat fantasy" month?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review of Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond

Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and BeyondOz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Why I read it: It came up as an option in NetGalley, and I always look forward to anthologies by John Joseph Adams.  I was actually sent a review copy in audio too, but passed it on to another reviewer for SFF Audio.  When she has reviewed it, I'll post a link!

I struggled with this anthology at first. Don't get me wrong - I almost always love the JJA anthologies and own several. I blame myself for never reading the original Oz books. I've always meant to and wanted to but never got around to it, so my only experience is through the movies of the Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz. I know that the original book had emerald glasses, but I don't know any of the other characters, back history, weird details, etc. So it made it hard for me to know which of the ideas in these stories were borrowed and magnified from the original, and which were unique to the contributors. This is all on me, but the best readers to enjoy this anthology will know Oz the way Baum intended it before digging into it reimagined.

Now I really want to read the Oz books. But first, comments on the stories in this volume! The basic premise is the Oz story or characters or setting - reimagined into something new. The authors, well-known for stories in science fiction and fantasy, all go in slightly different directions.

One of my favorites was "Dorothy Dreams" by Simon R. Green. The first line:
"Dorothy had a bad dream. She dreamed she grew up and grew old, and her children put her in a home. And then she woke up and found it was all real. There's no place like a rest home."
Ha! That made me laugh, but after I was done laughing, I enjoyed the bittersweet story very much.

A similar premise was "One Flew Over the Rainbow" by Robin Wasserman, which I think Baum would have liked, considering the veins of insanity that seem to underlie some of the original story (from what I understand). The reference should be obvious, I think.

In "The Veiled Shanghai" by Ken Liu, the story is about Shanghai revolutionaries, with the same characters. I liked this spin, but I wish it had slightly less of a "The City and the City" premise. He also included paper animals like in his short story, "The Paper Menagerie." It also had a silly line (many of them make references like this) that said "I'm certainly not on Kansu Road anymore." Har har har.

Another favorite, even though it also utilizes the simultaneous city idea, is "Off to See the Emperor" by Orson Scott Card, which suggests the basis for the entire world, in a real town in Kansas that also had an Emperor of the Air.

This isn't all the ideas. Other stories feature tornados employed for even worse purposes, Dorothy becoming a witch, girl detectives, murder cases, cyborgs, automotons, steampunk, and some stories from the perspectives of minor characters - a cobbler, a window washer, a farmhand. This is definitely an enjoyable read. The more you know Oz, the better.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Let's Talk About the Prize Formerly Known as the Orange Prize

For a while, the Orange Prize was in jeopardy.  Orange and the prize parted ways, but it became privately funded, and is now known as the Women's Prize for Fiction.  Same idea, same focus, and I'm so glad it is still around!

The nominees for the longlist were recently announced, and you know how I love a good list!  I'll break it down into three categories - book I've read, books I'd heard of but haven't read yet, and "never heard of this in my life" books.  That last category is what I love about the Women's Prize for Fiction - I'm always reading female authors I've never heard of before.

Books from the Longlist I've Already Read
1. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - I got an eARC of this book and immediately started telling all of my science fiction/fantasy reading friends to read it.  It's a great story setting a teenage hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during conflict and religious tension.  And then he finds a magical book.  I am surprised but thrilled to see this on the list.

2. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - She won the Booker prize, again, for her writing about Cromwell, so this was a given.  Still not my favorite, but the Tudors are kind of old hat to me.  Also on the Tournament of Books list, which is going on right now.

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Trust me, I avoided it for a while thinking it had to be overrated, but it is one of the best written thrillers I've read.  I listened to the audio, highly recommended. Also on the Tournament of Books list, which is going on right now.

4. May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes - I read this because of the Tournament of Books, but had read previous books by the author.  I thought the writing was great - dark and humorous, but seem to like it more than some people.

5. The Forrests by Emily Perkins - I'm surprised to see this here and don't think it will make the shortlist.  New author, I had a galley of it, just didn't think it knew what it wanted to be.  Set in New Zealand though, which was a nice change.

6. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman - I didn't know this author was female, but I enjoyed the story of the lighthousekeeper (on a remote island in Australia) and his wife, and their sad story.

7. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple - The conflict of abandoned expectations and suburbia, plus a trip to Antarctica.  Kind of zany and not ultimately successful in my mind. Also on the Tournament of Books list, which is going on right now.

Of the books I've read, I expect the Mantel, Flynn, Homes, and Semple to advance to the shortlist, and hope the Wilson will too.

Books I'd Heard of but Haven't Read Yet

8. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver - True to my pattern, it always takes me a few years to get to Kingsolver's books.  A few, ha.  I still haven't read the Poisonwood Bible.

9. Honor (Honour) by Elif Shafak - I actually have a copy of this already, because it is by a Turkish author and I'm reading a heck of a lot of Turkish lit this year.  Score!

10. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti - This was on the Tournament of Books list, but I overlooked it somehow.  From all accounts, I will either be completely annoyed or entertained by the style.  Time will tell.

11. NW by Zadie Smith - Once I sit down and read Zadie, I usually like her, I just haven't taken the time with NW yet.  I was more excited when I thought it was about the Pacific northwest, but London is interesting too.

12. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - I'm still hoping to rediscover the Atkinson I loved so much in Emotionally Weird, that has slipped beneath the surface a bit in her other books.  This one sounds darker and worth a shot.

Books That Were Complete Unknowns

13. A Trick I Learned from Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge - funeral homes, familes, sounds a bit like Six Feet Under.  I'm interested enough to try it.

14. Ignorance by Michele Roberts - The author is English-French, and the novel sounds like a  period piece.

15. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam - I was immediately turned off by the phrase "narcissistic middle aged man" in the description.  Everyone knows that is my pet peeve in novels and in life.  Unless it makes the shortlist, I'll skip it.

16. Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany - Seems to be Australian maybe, with the kookaburras.  Never heard of the author, sounds like a quick read.

17. The Innocents by Francesca Segal - I'm almost never a fan of the "resetting" or "retooling" of classic novels, so I'd probably skip this one unless it made the shortlist.

18. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber - Too bad this isn't Phillip Marlowe, or I might be more interested.  The entire novel written in verse?  Sounds like work.  But it also sounds unique among the longlisted books.  I'm torn.

19. The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu - A story of female friends who join the Israeli army, sounds different and I'm interested.

20. The Red Book by Deborak Copaken Kogan - Friends from Harvard, 20 years later, not too interested in this one, sounds more like a ladies who lunch kind of story.

There you are, my impressions on a very long longlist.  I hope to have time to read a couple more before the shortlist is announced April 16, and definitely before the winner is crowned June 5th!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recommended Solutions for Google Reader

(xposted to

Hey you, blog reader.  Do you access this blog through Google Reader?  If so, you should know that it will be shut down on July 1, 2013.  Happy birthday to me!  I use Google Reader as my blog and tumblr manager, and follow hundreds, maybe thousands of baking, reading, library, art, and music blogs.  At first I was grumpy, but I got some great ideas from friends and colleagues about what to do.  I have culled the suggestions into three solid replacement ideas for the RSS reader's functionality, and pass them along to you now.  Feel free to share the love.

Free but not free, but my friend Jeff who has been using it thinks paying is worth it. 
He also says: "You can export your subscriptions into an opml file (from Reader) and then import them into Newsblur. It's not free for a premium account, but I don't mind paying for software when I think it's useful and will stick around."


A "social dashboard."
From the person who replaced me at DePauw: "I've been using Netvibes for years to aggregate RSS feeds into useful tabbed pages. It's easy to follow and keep up with. You can also create public pages of your own design. If you use that to subscribe to your own social media, you can create a centralized portal for others to see what you're sharing, everywhere. Also has a built-in play for podcast audio."

The Old Reader
It looks just like Google Reader before the last update or two.  Currently in beta, but vetted by my friend Jon in Virginia and a LifeHacker post (thanks Robyn!). 

There are several graphic-heavy apps or platform-specific apps, but I want something I can get to from everywhere, so I haven't bothered.

I hope this list is useful!  You have until July 1 to find a solution. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister MineSister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Why I read it: Hopkinson was on my list of Caribbean authors to read, and I thought I might be able to count it for a Caribbean read.  Then it ended up set in Canada!  

Publisher summary:
As the only one in the family without magic, Makeda has decided to move out on her own and make a life for herself among the claypicken humans. But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to find her own power--and reconcile with her twin sister, Abby-if she's to have a hope of saving him . . .

We'd had to be cut free of our mother's womb. She'd never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby's head, torso and left arm protruded from my chest. But here's the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn't. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things--an unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby's magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.

But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to find her own talent--and reconcile with Abby--if she's to have a hope of saving him . . 

I have been wanting to read Nalo Hopkinson ever since meeting Tobias S. Buckell at a Shared Worlds reading. We chatted about Caribbean fantasy and science fiction authors, and he gave me the short list of the three I should read - Buckell, Lord, and Hopkinson. This is my first of Nalo's, and I'll be back. While she is living in Canada now, and this book is set near Lake Ontario, the Caribbean influence is so prevalent that each mention of Canadian setting would shake me up a bit.

Between the hoodoo and the kudzu and the Caribbean food and slang, I'd just forget. I really enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to more. Here is an example of the sensory writing:
"I perceived Abby as a shimmering arpeggio, lavender shot through with juniper green and scented with a bouquet of seawater and new shoe leather. I wondered how she saw me."

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Historical Fantasy and Hard SF

Stories Read:
"A Time to Cast Away Stones" by Tim Powers
"Luminous" by Greg Egan

Where does the time go? I've got two long stories today, both excellent, and I'm partway into a third that I'll keep for next week. I'm also nearly finished with a second read of Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, also excellent!

I'm a big fan of Tim Powers, and I feel lucky to have so much more of his work to read. I loved On Stranger Tides, Declare, and most of his short stories that I've read. The inspiration for his work is often historical, to which he adds a supernatural twist. In the introduction to this novella in his The Bible Repairman collection, he writes:
Sometimes it's one of the supporting-role characters that stays with you. In the lurid sagas of Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey, the tangential figure of Neal Cassady is ultimately the most memorable for me. And in the lives of Byron and Shelley, and then fifty years later the lives of the Rossetti family and the Pre-Raphaelites, it's the enduring figure of Edward John Trelawny that lingers most in my mind.

Powers goes on to say that Trelawny wrote an autobiography (Adventures of a Younger Son), which "for more than a hundred years was taken as factual and has only recently been revealed to be entirely a romantic fiction". Fascinating!

I know nothing of Trelawny, and only a bit about Shelley and Byron. Like most of Tim Powers' fiction, this is not a quick read, which is perfectly okay with me. It was a fantastic and magical romp around Mount Parnassus with very cool magic, some of which required one of Byron's toes. My favorite line:
His face went cold when he abruptly remembered that Zela had never existed outside his stories.

Greg Egan's "Luminous" is a different kind of story entirely. It opens with a scene that epitomizes cyperpunk - a man wakes up to find himself handcuffed in an uncomfortable position while a woman with a scalpel is cutting into his arm in an attempt to remove a chip that holds some powerful information.

"Powerful" isn't strong enough a word for that data, which is nothing less than the discovery of a flaw in the mathematical universe, which, in the wrong hands, could cause mayhem of "end of the universe" proportions. The rest of the story is fascinating in it's mathematical details which are expertly revealed as the protagonists avoid capture and attempt to get time on a supercomputer. I have a favorite line here too:
In spite of everything, I still wasn't ready to put a bullet in anyone's brain for the sake of defending the axioms of number theory.

Historical Fantasy and Hard Science Fiction. Heaven will be full of both those things.

Next up: "Betrayals" by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tournament of Books - Mantel vs. Binet

Bring Up the Bodies vs. HHhH


I'm a day late weighing in on this round of the Tournament of Books, but this one is an easy one for me.  I never finished HHhH.  I appreciate it for its unique form, and have even referred people to it who I think might find it interesting, but it is always for its technique, and never for its story.  Call me a traditionalist, but I want a novel to be a novel.  HHhH is a narrative about a researcher writing a novel.  Kind of.  I couldn't make myself read it (past page 50, I really did put time in trying), but I have heard from other readers that the author never lets that angle go, and his presence is prevalent throughout. 

Bring Up the Bodies is a solid book, although I wasn't happy for it to win the Booker prize last year.  I really thought a sequel, which it really is, couldn't possibly have enough to offer the judges compared to some of the novels I enjoyed more.  I never read Wolf Hall, which is the first book telling the story of the Tudors through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.  From all reports, the storytelling issues in Wolf Hall have been fixed in Bring Up the Bodies, and they must have been because I never felt confused as to who was telling the story or where we were.  Then again, it didn't exactly have anything new in it for me.  I know about the Tudors.  I took English literature for two semesters in college and one semester of the History of England to 1650.  I felt quite covered in this subject area.  I don't intentionally read historical fiction as it is, so it felt a little self-punishing to read historical fiction and not learn anything. 

The story is well told, I enjoyed the writing, and the pace is engaging for the length.  While I'm not sure I'll advance Mantel in the next round, for this one, finishing a book over one I couldn't does tell it all.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tournament of Books - Walter vs. Miller

Beautiful Ruins vs. The Song of Achilles

"Life is a blatant act of imagination."

So Jess Walter tells us in the early pages of Beautiful Ruins.  And really, both books in this round are imagined stories of "real" and "mythological" creatures, characters we have some level of familiarity with but might have explored in-depth before.

In The Iliad, the character of Achilles is devastated by the death of his comrade/friend Patroclus, and Miller explores the history of that emotional response in The Song of Achilles.  She explores the idea of a romantic relationship quite believably, starting with a boyhood friendship after Patronclus is banished from his home.  In Beautiful Ruins, we are introduced to characters on the periphery of Elizabeth Taylor and one of her husbands, alternating between Porto Vergogna (a tiny town in the rocks outside Cinque Terre) in 1962 and present-day Hollywood.

Hearing it described as so rooted in Greek mythology, I waited to read The Song of Achilles for a long time, waiting until after it had already won the Orange Prize for Fiction.  The last time I read The Iliad was in high school, and I worried I would be lost.  On the contrary, this was very readable, and I zoomed through it in an afternoon.  I felt myself feeling along with Patronclus as Achilles starts down his path of heroism.  In that particular year of the Orange Prize though, there were at least two books that I thought were more weighty, would stick with me more, and I thought the Miller would not stand my own test of time. 

Beautiful Ruins was also read and vetted by others before I got to it.  I enjoyed the reading experience, and have heard the audio version is amazing (I wish I'd listened to it instead!). 

I rated both 4/5 stars, but I'm not sure either of these novels will be in my mind for long.  I think I'll give the win to Beautiful Ruins, since the crafting of the story is more complex and Song of Achilles just follows one storyline front to end.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading in the Spring

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish, is all about the books on your Spring TBR list, either books you're meaning to read or new releases.

Review Copies

I do get an inordinate number of review copies between NetGalley and SFF Audio, but a few have really peaked my interest for spring.


1. Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson - one of the Caribbean fantasy writers I haven't yet read (there are three!), about a girl born to a magical family without magic. 
2. Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams - new takes on the characters and stories of Oz, sounds fun.
3. Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones - post-apocalyptic, read by someone I enjoy listening to - should be a good one.

If I don't return these to the library, I will have to buy them

I can't be the only one who does this.  I check out books with good intentions and then renew ad nauseum and still never read them.  This spring, I swear!


4. Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier - I even started this once and liked it, and it will be a good travel narrative.  It is a mighty tome and I think that stops me from going back to it.
5. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett - This was on SO MANY lists last year, and nominated for so many awards.  I'll be going to Nashville early May and I hope to have time to visit her bookstore there, so maybe that will help me read it before then.
6. The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall - I checked this out when I was still going to teach my storytelling class THIS May.  That's been delayed a year but I still want to read this early on.  I'm in a storytelling "faculty learning community" at the university for spring, but we are reading another book for those discussions (Wired for Story.)

Upcoming for Book Groups

I'm in five million book groups and clubs (not quite but it seems like it), so I have a few things on my radar that I'll surely get to this spring. 


7. The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda - This is for my Great African Reads group, and I just got a copy yesterday through interlibrary loan.
8. Bliss by O. Z. Livaneli - Another Turkish read from my World's Literature group, since we are focusing on Turkey this year.  The description sounds dark. 

Something for Myself

Finally this category of books I genuinely just want to read.  No lists, no obligation, just for me.


9. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell - I've loved everything she's written, her short stories more than her novel, and this is another set of stories.  I have a review audio copy but need to figure out how to make the tracks go in order.  I might just get it in print.
10. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman - I think this was longlisted for the Booker last year and I could have read it then if it had been available, but more than anything I want to read it because it sounds like a lot of fun.