About Mulberry St.

The Mulberry St. Blog is a review and writing blog. I review mostly fiction/science fiction/fantasy sorts of books, with the exception of the occasional YA or nonfiction book. The blog is updated daily, excluding Mondays.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vacation [Again]

Yup, you read right. I'll be back in a couple days, and hopefully with a review.

Side note:
I just got the most awesome Bible in the mail.

ESV Study Bible (Brown/Slate, Portfolio Design)

See? It's hardcover, and the spine reminds me of one of those super old church books. It's so beautiful.

picture from Amazon.com
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Saturday Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)
I know you really don't need me to add to the mountain of reviews telling how great this book is and how much people loved it. However, it was great, and I loved it so much I'm posting this anyway, though I'll keep it brief. I read this book in 4 hours. 4 hours straight through. I started it at 12:30 AM (not my best idea) and went to bed at 4:00 AM this morning. The last book I stayed up later to read was, well, I really can't remember.

Since the reviews have already been more than numerous and praising, I'll just stick to listing the things I loved about this book and the things I maybe didn't love so much.


Love:
From page one, I was hooked. Every word was like a magnet that I couldn't pull away from. This was no dreaded "you just have to get into it, it gets better" book. No, The Hunger Games was more than good from the very first word to the very last. 

Not Love:
This is just a nitpicky thing, but I've never been able to truly enjoy books written in first person present tense. It has its pros and cons, I will admit. I feel as if I'm in the story and it drags me along for the ride. Still, I can't get over the nagging sense of, well, I really don't know what. It just bugs me. Don't think I'm criticizing the book or the author for it, it's just a comment.

Love:
Katniss's relationship with Prim. It's the kind of sisterly bond I've always admired. Katniss will literally do anything for her little sister, and we know she's never out for the glory or recognition of it. It's just for Prim, and only Prim, and everything else doesn't matter.

Not Love:
Nope, I'm out of Not Loves. The thing is, The Hunger Games is an excellent example of what I believe Young Adult novels should be. This may be dystopian and hundreds of years in the future, but Katniss and Gale and Peeta and the rest of them are dealing with very real issues that young adults can still relate to, even if in a less life-threatening sense. They're dealing with injustice, with family issues, with being young in a world where you can't afford to be young, or just being young in a world where the youth get told what to do and never have a say in the matter. Do as you're told and you'll be fine. 

Here's The Thing:
About dystopians. They represent, as far as I can tell, a distorted and exaggerated view of our society. There's a message in every good dystopian; it screams at you to look at the world and see it differently. It's interesting that the Capitol pits only the youth against each other to fight to the death. See, the youth are expendable. The ones that survive are lucky and they get to carry the weight of their families on their backs. The rest, it doesn't really matter. They're just extras. Katniss proves otherwise. She is the sole provider for her family. There is nothing expendable about her. So much depends on her very existence, she has to win the games. For Prim. For her mother. It is this that drives her on. I feel like I learned something when I read The Hunger Games. Not to be sappy or anything, but I truly did. For me, there is a huge amount of power in good writing, in good storytelling. It's the difference between Twilight and Pride and Prejudice. No, I'm not referring to vampires versus contemporary, or classic versus recent. No, it's good storytelling versus bad. The writing makes all the difference.

So there you have it, that's all the reasons why I liked The Hunger Games. I'm not going to bother to rate it because I'm tired and I really hate rating books. See, reviewing books is more about having a place to vent my thoughts on a book. The rating is just kinda like the thing that everybody does. I probably won't do it anymore. I don't know. I'm going to bed first. I'll decide later.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Review: Primal

Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity
Our generation needs a reformation. 
But a single person won’t lead it.
A single event won’t define it. 
Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living creatively, compassionately, courageously for the cause of Christ.
 
This reformation will not be born of a new discovery.  It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient.  
 
Something primal.

It is my belief that there are two kinds of Christian nonfiction books. There are the read-it-in-one-sitting books and the break-apart-every-word books. There is nothing wrong with either, and both have pros and cons of their own. With the first kind of book, its easy to breeze through and miss some very important truths, but its much easier on the mind and often even on the heart. With the second, we might find that we are discovering deep spiritual truths that we needed here, all the while we could be missing the little things that are just as important. Some books balance the two very well, most miss it by just a little.

Primal is the second kind of book. Mark Batterson is a brilliant author and a great pastor. He quickly cuts to the heart of the issue at hand: Christianity at it’s heart, what it really is, what we really are, and we really have the potential to be. I read this book in several sittings, but only because I didn’t have time during the first couple. It’s easygoing as far as the writing goes, though don’t get me wrong; Primal is a convicting read. It really makes me think about the Christianity I know, the Christianity that was, and the real significant differences between the two. As Batterson said himself in the book, there is nothing inherently wrong with Christianity today. Worship must develop to suit culture. There is, however, a primal nature of Christianity – and, essentially, of God – that we are missing in our culture, and this is one Primal is all about.

The essence of the book is best summed up in the first chapter, “I couldn’t help but wonder if our generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficialities. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have accepted a form of Christianity that is more educated and less powerful, more civilized but less compassionate, more acceptable but less authentic than that which our spiritual ancestors practiced.”

Mark takes Christianity and disects it into four parts: its heart, its soul, its mind, and its strength. He discusses the importance of each, referencing the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” [Luke 10:27] Even in the midst of hundreds of different denominations and disagreements over theology, this is the primal core of Christianity, this is what we all believe and know to be at the heart of our faith, so it is absolutely appropriate that it is this verse that is used as a basis for the book.

There’s a feeling I get at the end of many Christian books that I read. It’s a feeling of pity, of fear, and absolute confusion. I know what I’ve been messing up or not doing and I know what I need to fix it, or where I need to be for it to be “right”. However, I have absolutely no idea how to get there or where to begin. The suggestions are vague and understated, always as if the author himself only knows the end result, and not the path there. This is the biggest issue I had with the book. Primal is enlightening, convicting, and fascinating. It calls to a deeper part of me that wants what it offers. The end, however, left me wanting and wishing for more.

But, then again, maybe that’s what it was supposed to do.

Review copy obtained from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers through Blogging For Books. 

Recommendation: Older teens and up. For those with a strong - or stable - foundation looking for a deeper understanding, or just needing encouragement for a faith that seems a bit stale (as was the case for me).
It's surprisingly hard to rate a Christian book on the typical scale. It just doesn't work. My heart feels heavy and wants a low rating, but my mind feels revived and wants a higher one. It's awkward and I don't know what to do with it. So, for the future, for my new Wednesday Christian non-fiction book reviews, I'm instituting a recommendation system. It makes more sense, since more often than not, my ratings are judged on the quality of writing, characters, plot, and so on. There is none of that to base it on here, and so no reason to follow the same pattern.
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Last Dragon

Last Dragon

The debut of a brilliant new voice that will change the fantasy genre forever.

An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a shell of a man, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.

A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolf and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.

I've been talking about Last Dragon practically since I started this blog. It's taken me a much longer time to finish it that I originally anticipated, often spending weeks on the floor of my car, underneath my coffee table, hidden in my bedroom. I was avoiding it because I was avoiding reading. 5 days a week of working in a bookstore, I wanted nothing to do with books. Fortunately for me, Debris renewed my love for books, and, as it turns out, Last Dragon renewed my love for reading.

What is life besides a series of memories? And, really, do you remember the order your memories belong in? Which part came first, what happened most recently? Some of it is clear, but most of it is a jumble, things coming back in pieces, a little bit of everything at a time. This is how Zhan tells her story. It is a series of letters written by a dying women. She is trying to remember, only, "...it's all mixed up in my head. I [Zhan] can't separate lines from lines, or people from people. Everything is in this web, Esumi. Even you. Even me. .... The ghosts all fade the same way. They fade together." In the method of this story telling, there was a different POV besides first person, second person, etc. It wasn't your normal sort of narration. The letters were private, earnest, and honest. They were sent expressly to one person and we are simply privy to that honesty. In this, we see a different narrator. You feel for her, you know her, you see inside her and you begin to really know her. This wouldn't work so well in simple first person narrative, I don't think, and that's the genius of the way the story is told.

There is something incredibly beautiful about this novel. It weaves a story that can maybe be compared to a dance. Back and forth it goes, over and over, back to the same places it had been, but with different things to say, different things to do. Perhaps I've spend too much time reading and I've begun to talk like the novel was written, but there is truth in that statement. The farther into the novel I progressed, the more beautiful I found the book to be. I felt like I knew Zhan, like I was Adel's friend, like Seth had betrayed me, that I wanted Esumi to understand, to come back. I was drawn into the story in a powerful way, and I loved every minute of it.

The narration itself is inconsistent at best, jumbled at worst. The first time, I stopped reading it at around page fifty because the book required a certain amount of concentration I couldn't give it. However, when I picked it back up again, I was able to give it the concentration it deserved, the concentration it required, and I was immediately sucked back in. Focus is required for this book. It is not your "light beach reading" sort of book. It's an honest portray of a journey that wasn't all good. It's confusing if you're not paying attention. The way it is written makes sense, in a nonlinear sort of way. The story is a like a spider web, as she says herself in the very first page of the book. It weaves back it forth. It's a tangle, and it doesn't always make sense, but that's life. Life doesn't always make sense. It's not always linear and manageable. It's confusing, it hurts. It's not always a happy ending.

The one thing that bothered me was that when the narrator switched, you couldn't tell. The thing about switching narrators is that it needs to be obvious, the separate personalities must be reflected in the tone of the words, otherwise it doesn't work. More than half the time, Zhan was the narrator and that was fine. When it switched, the only clues were what was being said. The voice was exactly the same.  I'm not sure if it was intended to be Zhan's voice explaining their words, or if it was just bad writing. If it was supposed to be Zhan's voice explaining their words, that's a whole separate problem; I couldn't tell. The voices merged together too much and in the case of the narrator, too much was left unexplained and I was left more confused than I would have liked.

This book reminds me why I like reading. It's a challenge that you have to accept. It's an invitation to a world that you can only temporarily belong to, but that little bit of time is an epic adventure that you don't want to end. It's a journey that you take with the main character, not one that you sit outside of and watch. This book is different, and difficult. It's not meant to be easy. Throughout the entire novel, I never hoped for a happy ending. I never hoped for a sad ending, either. The book simply was. The events in this book all happened outside its pages. Every word carries the weight of the words before it and after it. It is a story wrapped in itself. Almost from the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to be delighted at the end of the book.  Again, it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. It's a little bit creepy, sometimes way too honest, and seriously hard on the brain.

Whether all this is good or bad, that's for you to decide. For me, it was a very good and extremely impressive first novel. J.M. McDermott has serious talent in the way of storytelling. He wrote a second book, Never Knew Another, and I'm thinking I'll just have to read that one, as well.

Rating: 9 - Near Perfect
This book was really hard for me to rate. There was so much that I absolutely loved about it, and enough that bothered me that I couldn't give it a 10. I wavered between 8/9, but I settled for 9 because I really loved it. It was a great, engrossing story. I would say its the kind of book that everyone should read, but I'm not sure that it's the kind of book everyone would enjoy. If you're looking for something different or a challenge, definitely give this one a shot.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Life of a Book: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

I'm obsessed with this book. Or, rather the idea of this book. By no means do I meant that lightly. First of all, one of the goodreads reviewers references Dr. Seuss in his review. Considering this is a blog named after the very first Dr. Seuss book ever written, well, do I need to say more? But that's all surface stuff. Just look at the book. It's fiction in its finest. I've come to the conclusion recently that I'm not really a YA person, or at least not the YA person I once was. Every YA story is the same formula. Every fiction story is the same formula. The difference is that I've read a whole ton of YA. I've read about a feather's worth of fiction. That's why my current books of choice are books like The Beauty of Humanity Movement, Last Dragon, Napier's Bones, etc. There's a different vibe from fiction, I think.
In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.

Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intrigued by a rare woman – a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under the company physician. He cannot foresee how disastrously each will be betrayed by someone they trust, nor how intertwined and far-reaching the consequences.

Duplicity and integrity, love and lust, guilt and faith, cold murder and strange immortality stalk the stage in this enthralling novel, which brings to vivid life the ordinary – and extraordinary – people caught up in a tectonic shift between East and West.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet embodies everything I love about life. Just read that last paragraph - it seems to scream my name. There's something compelling about a book that has themes beyond teenage angst. That's why books like The Hunger Games are still enjoyable to me. While YA, it still explores themes that we all understand. Its why The Book Thief remains my favorite book. Its YA, but not in the typical way.

As for the Life of a Book "analysis", this book was published a year ago, May 2010. Raise your hand if you've heard of it. I see no hands. That may or may not have something to do with the thousands of miles between the two of us, but no matter. My point remains: its unknown. It's probably amazing, although I don't speak for it because I haven't actually read it. I'd suggest it, but I don't want to be responsible for its content. They say for better or for worse, but that's only in marriage, and as much as it may seem like it sometimes, I'm definitely not married to my library.

I guess this whole life-of-a-book thing is turning more into another one of my "let's talk about books" posts under the guise of a "this is what I'm looking forward to that's already out" post.

I was in a very hyper mood when I wrote this, apparently. I'm currently on vacation, which means this was written last week in advance for you. I probably won't post again 'til the Saturday review, just because I didn't prepare anything else. Have a good week! (I know I will...)
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

This Week On Mulberry St...

Good Sunday morning to you! It's supposed to be a lovely day where I'm at, hopefully that's the case for you.

Yes, its another new layout. The last one didn't have an option to see older posts except by way of archive, and that annoyed me. Also, it was much too dark.

This week, I'm reviewing Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott. Here's a quick little synopsis;

An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a monstrous shell of a man, a city of angry secrets, a family dissolved by ambition, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.

A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolf and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.

I'm currently in the process of finishing up the novel, I'm really excited to share it with you this week.

In other news, yet another YA book series has been turned into an ABC Family "Original Series". First Pretty Little Liars, now Nine Lives of Chloe King. Has anybody seen it? Any opinions on the show? I haven't read the book, but the show is frustrated and slow, as far as I've seen. Every episode is the same, and it's too angsty for me. Maybe it gets better?

In other other news, HBO's Game of Thrones has popularized the novels so much that I almost fear buying them (I so hate following the crowed, you know). I hear good things from all the customers I've rung up. Any thoughts on that?

What's up with the whole book-into-movie-or-tv-show craze, anyway? It's making me crazy. Not that I don't enjoy seeing my favorite characters up on the big screen, but I do like an original story now and again. If the author did a good enough job writing the book in the first place, the movie is just a bonus. Most of the time the story gets changed anyway, so that's just a bit annoying.

That's it for Mulberry St. this week. Have a great Sunday!
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Debris

Debris

She can control pions, the building blocks of matter, shaping them into new forms using ritual gestures and techniques. The rewards are great, and she is one of most highly regarded people in the city. But that was before the “accident”.

Stripped of her powers, bound inside a bizarre powersuit, she finds herself cast down to the very lowest level of society. Powerless, penniless and scarred, Tanyana must adjust to a new life collecting “debris”, the stuff left behind by pions. But as she tries to find who has done all of this to her, she also starts to realize that debris is more important than anyone could guess.

Debris is a stunning new piece of Science Fantasy, which draws in themes from Japanese manga, and classic Western SF and Fantasy to create this unique, engrossing debut from the very exciting young author Jo Anderton.

The world of Debris is a fantastic place. I think the author did a fantastic job of creating this world without overloading us with information all at once. I did take it upon myself to look up the definition of a pion. For the record, a pion is:  a meson that is a combination of up and down quarks and antiquarks, that may be positive, negative, or neutral, and that has a mass about 270 times that of the electron (from Merriam-Webster). Basically, it’s a really small bit of energy, which is what you get from the book anyway.

The entire book is very cleverly imagined. It’s the most original sci fi/fantasy story I’ve read in a long time. It’s a world where energy – little bits of energy – is everything. The worldbuilding elements are all there. There is a lot of description in a lot of points, but it is not burdensome. We see the world as Tanyana does; we follow her every step up of the way from her fall and the lost of her power. When Tanyana loses her ability to see or manipulate that energy, the world goes dark, to a certain extent. Things like paper and gas lamps are nearly unheard of among higher circles. Only those who can’t see the energy – can’t see pions – use those sorts of things. While there is a lot of description in certain parts, there are sometimes where there is not enough description. I think it was a bit unbalanced, there were chapters where I wished the circumstances were better described, and still other chapters where they were described far too well. It was well done and clever enough that this didn't bother me as much as it might have in another book.

I’m going to assume that Tanyana was not supposed to be likeable in the beginning. Sometimes, I would feel sorry for her and I would wish her better luck, but then the very next page and I’d change my mind. She’s selfish and she believes she deserves better treatment than the entire rest of  the population. Tanyana was skilled, she was the best there was, and she lost it all. She was used to being treated better for what she could do, now she has to learn how to prove herself for who she truly was. She grows toward the end of the book, just as a character should. At the beginning, she is insistent that no one could possibly know or understand her. I mean, how in the world could these people possibly know what happened to her? I wouldn’t suppose that there’s something like gossip in her world? If there is, she seems to think she’s above it. By the end, she is more willing to understand. By the end, Tanyana has formed a bond with the people she never would have looked at before and was willing to fight for them, as we see in the final pages of this book. I found that I enjoyed watching her journey from rich snob to understanding debris collector. She learns throughout the book, exactly as a good character should. At the end of the book, I appreciate her journey and I'm excited to see her grow more in the next one.

The book was captivating. It not only bought my attention but it also earned it. Except for the slow beginning, there wasn’t a moment where I didn’t want to flip to the next page. Most of this book was read during my breaks at work. I hate taking breaks because I hate not doing anything, it’s just a character flaw, but this book made me look forward to my breaks. It made me wish they were longer so I could read more. I loved that there was no dumping of information in the book. There were things in the book that were never exactly explained, they simply had to be discovered or inferred. Other things were explained later as they were explained to Tanyana. It was very well done, though, and I never really felt confused or lost in the book.

There were a few things about the book that bothered me. First was the unanswered questions. So many questions were raised in the process of this novel and only a few were answered or sort of explained. I suppose thats what the sequel is for, but now I'm concerned that this will turn into an infodump in the next book. I felt like the promise of this novel wasn't particularly fulfilled within the pages of this book, but I guess I had originally assumed it was standalone. I guess we'll see with the sequel. Part of me wishes it was a standalone novel, if simply for the fact that I generally tend to prefer standalone against series. I also didn't appreciate the abundance of sex scenes in the novel. Ok, so I use abundance a bit liberally, but my point remains: there was no point. They served no purpose and did nothing to push the plot along. Nevermind the moral issue of it for a minute, there was no reason for them. Even the romance itself approached too quickly for me, although that was a little more forgivable. The romance itself helped to push the plot along, it made sense for Tanyana and where she was at that time. The sex didn't. I think it was just an unnecessary plot point and could have very well been excluded.

Over all, a great debut novel from Jo Anderton. I’m looking forward to seeing more from her in the future – especially a certain book two coming out next year – and I definitely think she has a lot of potential as a science fiction author.

I received a eBook review copy of Debris from the publisher, Angry Robot. Debris comes out in October 2011. See the publisher site for more information.

Rating: 8 - Excellently Done. I wavered on the edge of 9, but settled for 8. There was enough that bothered me that I couldn't give it a 9, but the novel was great and the series definitely has potential.
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