Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In My Mailbox: Late January 2011

In My Mailbox was started by The Story Siren and has spread to over two hundred participating blogs. Bloggers show off books that they have purchased/received (not necessarily in the mail literally), before they actually read and review them in order to share their enthusiasm and catch the interest of their followers.

When I found the In My Mailbox site, I thought the name was especially apt for my own use; I get pretty much all my books from either Amazon or Paperback Swap, so my books actually do literally show up in my mailbox (or on my doorstep, if the package is too big). At any rate, they are delivered into my trembling hands by the USPS and UPS guys, who must think that I’m running some sort of business directly out of my apartment because I ship and receive so many packages. Sometimes I try to image what they might be thinking, but perhaps one of these days I’ll just ask one of the regular delivery persons.

This week, I found a stash of extra money hidden under a metaphorical couch cushion, so I splurged on Amazon just a little bit. I saved some of it to buy my Six Books in Six Weeks Challenge (starting February 27!) Challenge books, which should arrive soon. This week’s haul is just a random mix of books that I’ve been eyeing, though. Even so, I was hoping that all the snow that we’ve been getting wouldn’t hold up the delivery of my packages – even when I know I won’t be able to read them right away, I am always really excited to get books once I’ve ordered them. I always feel a bit like a kid on Christmas.

Anyway, here is what I have received this week.

I had already ordered (and am currently reading) the 2011 Newbery winner Moon Over Manifest (see last week’s IMM; review coming this week) and now I wanted to get my hands on the 2011 Printz winner, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I’ve read a lot of dystopian fiction (which I will likely try to reread and write up when I review Bacigalupi’s book) but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that’s tied quite so closely to specific contemporary political, social and environmental issues. The novel is set in America’s Gulf Coast region, which has been in the news so much in the past five years because of Hurricane Katrina and then the BP oil spill in 2010. A dystopian novel often only needs a good setting to pique my interest, but I’m also intrigued by the description that while working to salvage the parts from abandoned ships, he finds a young girl amidst the wreckage. The School Library Journal Review says that this mysterious young girl tells the salvagers that if they keep her safe from her drug-addicted father, she can “show them a world of privilege that they have never known.” Since that description is so vague and enigmatic, I think I’m going to have to pick up this novel sooner rather than later.

I also ordered another Printz award-winner, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this novel, plus it will help me meet my Y.A. Historical Fiction Challenge (include link to YABliss). In the novel, the main character Mattie is a poor serving girl from the Adirondacks, and she must make the difficult decision of whether to study writing at Barnard College in New York City, or remain at home to caring for her family. The fact that the story is about an aspiring writer would be enough to hook me; since I am na├»ve enough to consider myself a writer, I love to read stories about other writers and hopeful-authors. But then it turns out that the story is even more interesting; the plot also includes the disappearance of a young couple from the hotel where Mattie works. When the girl is found drowned, Mattie realizes that she holds the key to unraveling the mystery of her death. If there was any doubt in my mind that I would like this book, it was erased when I realized that Mattie would be doing some Nancy-Drewing.

Continuing my mission to collect beautiful hardback copes of all my childhood favorites, I picked up A Cricket in Times Square (1961 Newbery Honor Book) by George Selden and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968 Newbery Winner) by E.L. Konisberg. Does anyone remember poor Chester cricket from Connecticut, who gets caught on a commuter train to New York, where he becomes the pet of a newsstand owner in Times Square? I don’t recall too much about this book – I think my fourth grade teacher read it aloud to us, so it’s been a while. I don’t remember too much more about From the Mixed-Up Files, which is about two children who decide to run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I just know that when I was in elementary school, I loved both of these books and I’m excited to reread them not only as an adult, but as a (new) resident of New York. Ever since we moved here last July, I’ve been slightly obsessed with discovering/rediscovering books (and watching TV shows) that are set in my new territory. It’s been really fun to rewatch episodes of Law and Order, realizing that I recognize the corner that the actors are standing on; I’ve really enjoyed reading several memoirs and coming-of-age novels set in Brooklyn and Manhattan. And Newsies has special new meaning for me now… so I am really looking forward to enjoying the adventures of Claudia and her brother Jamie, Chester and his new pals Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, now that I will be familiar with the settings of the stories.

Also in the children’s book category, I received a beautiful hardback copy of The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall through Paperback Swap. The tagline for this book is “a summer tale of four sisters, two rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy.” Although that sounds endearing, it really doesn’t tell you anything about the story. Reading over different summaries, though, I’ve gathered that the mother of the four sisters has died (a usual trope of children’s literature) and that the main plot of the story is about all the girls’ little adventures while they are on vacation in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. There is a cookie-baking incident, a disastrous birthday party, and I’m assuming that ultimately the rabbits play some kind of important role. This novel sounds like a light-hearted, adorable read for a random afternoon when I want to put off cleaning the bathroom.

Finally, my most random purchase – How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. I really want to start reading more science fiction and humor (because a lot of the pieces that I write are attempts at humorous, sardonic memoir). This novel will satisfy both categories, and it sounds absolutely hilarious. The dust jacket summary includes the description that Charles Yu (yes, the character’s name is the same as the author’s) is a time technician in Major Universe 31, “a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past.” Apparently, as a time travel technician, it’s Charles Yu’s job to save these people from themselves and all the chaos that they might cause. This sounds like an excellent example of metafiction – a genre in which the narrators are self-conscious about the fact that they are narrating written works of fiction. I really enjoy this kind of literary humor and experimentation – perhaps I’ll start a metafiction reading challenge later in the year. Anybody interested? Meanwhile, I think I’m really going to enjoy this novel.

Do any of these sound especially interesting to you? Are you eager for me to review any of these in particular?


  1. A Northern Light looks lovely! I really hope you enjoy it along with all your other reads this week!

    Check out my mailbox this week

  2. Those look like some great picks. I've been meaning to check out 'Ship Breaker' for a long time now.

  3. Lauren,

    I've never heard of A Northern Light before, but now I really want to read it. Sounds good.

    Great mailbox. Hope you enjoy.


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