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.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In My Mailbox: A Small Stack of Dystopian Novels

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme started by The Story Siren in order to give extra exposure to the books that bloggers have recently acquired. Book bloggers show off novels that they have recently purchased/received (not necessarily in the mail literally) before they read and review them. This way, we can share our bookish excitement with each other (because our friends/boyfriends/husbands/families don’t really care) and help to build interest for the novels amongst our followers.

This meme has spread to over two hundred participating blogs – so if you visit The Story Siren’s weekly entry, you can find links to everyone’s acquisitions. This is great if you’re looking to find some new reading to add to your TBR (To Be Read) Pile… it may not be so great if your TBR Pile is already gigantic!

This week, the book fairy (also known as the mail man) brought me a box of Dystopian goodies from Amazon… I had been planning on participating more frequently in Presenting Lenore’s Dystopian February Reading Challenge – but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten to many Dystopian novels and the month is almost over! I’m hoping I can make time for at least one or two of these before the beginning of March, which will kick-off my Six Aussie Books in Six Weeks Reading Challenge. So here’s what the book fairy brought me:

The Windup Girl b Paolo Bacigalupi
The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Now let me fill you in on a few details for each of these novels:

After reading and enjoying Paolo Bacigaliupi’s Printz Award-winning Ship Breaker a few weeks ago, I was curious to read more of his work. He actually just came out with a novel called The Alchemist at the end of January, but Amazon has informed me that it will take something like six weeks to ship that – I guess everyone is interested in Bacigalupi now. Meanwhile, I ordered The Wind-Up Girl, a novel that he published in September 2009. Just like Ship Breaker, The Wind-Up Girl takes place during “a post-oil era of rising sea levels and out-of-control mutation” (Publishers Weekly), but Girl is set in Bangkok, Thailand instead of New Orleans, like Ship Breaker. The cast of characters include an Agribusiness (genetically modified plants) manager and a captain of the Thai Environment Ministry, refugees from China, and an incredibly seductive prostitute who is the result of Japanese genetic engineering and ends up inciting a civil war. It sounds like Bacigalupi has imagined another interesting, frightening world when writing this novel, complete with hackers who can modify plant DNA and create havoc. I haven’t seen this book reviewed on any of the book blogs that I regularly frequent, but I did find a random review that stated that there were “allusions to the idea that things grown simply for beauty were no longer possible and things grown at home to feed yourself were just downright dangerous to your health… imagine a world where you could not garden and you realize that this book is not just sci-fi but horror as well.” So Wind-Up Girl is Cyberpunk/Sci-Fi/Dystopian/Horror? I’m pretty excited.

I’ve been told I need to try reading Steampunk novels, so after seeing Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer sitting out on several Barnes & Noble book tables, I decided to give it a shot. The Publisher’s Weekly review sold me, though. If this doesn’t sound like a great way to introduce myself to the Steampunk genre, I don’t know what does:

“In a steampunky alternate reality, genius inventor Prospero Taligent promises the 100 kids he's invited to his daughter Miranda's birthday party that they will have their heart's desires fulfilled. When young Harold Winslow says he wants to be a storyteller, he sets in motion an astonishing plot that will eventually find him imprisoned aboard a giant zeppelin, the Chrysalis, powered by Taligent's greatest invention, a (probably faulty) perpetual motion machine. As Harold tells his story from his airborne prison, a fantastic and fantastical account unfolds: cities full of Taligent's mechanical men, a virtual island where Harold and Miranda play as children, the Kafkaesque goings-on in the boiler rooms and galleries of Taligent's tower. Harold's narration is interspersed with dreams, diary entries, memos and monologues from the colorful supporting cast, and the dialogue, both overly formal and B-movie goofy (I'm afraid the death rays are just a bunch of science fiction folderol), offers comic counterpoint. This book will immediately connect with fans of Neal Stephenson and Alfred Bester, and will surely win over readers who'd ordinarily pass on anything remotely sci-fi.”

I’m also looking forward to reading Atwood’s newest novel The Year of the Flood, which is about several very different survivors of a natural disaster that permanently alters Earth’s eco system: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a member of the religious group God's Gardeners, who is barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible. Atwood has stated that she began wondering “What kind of people might undertake the challenge [of reversing the damage to the planet]… unless you believe our planet is worth saving, why bother? So the question of inspirational belief entered the picture, and once you have a set of beliefs--as distinct from a body of measurable knowledge--you have a religion. The God’s Gardeners appear briefly in Oryx and Crake, but in The Year of the Flood, they’re central.” This sounds really interesting to me – in Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi had invented a religion that included “the Rust Saints,” an interesting blend of environmental deities and voodoo that I would have been interested to learn about more. I’m a huge fan of Atwood’s older religious dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, so I’m eager to see what she’s come up with this time. I probably won’t get to The Year of the Flood too quickly, though, because it is the second in a series – and it’s been way too long since I read Oryx & Crake, so I’ll have to make time to read the two together.

Finally, I’ve found a lot of book reviews that enthusiastically praise The Maze Runner by James Dashner, so I won’t get in to much detail about the novel right now. But I will say that I’m very interested in the idea that there are a bunch of teenage boys who must learn to survive in “a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture” and few other supplies. I feel like maybe I should take the opportunity to re-read Lord of the Flies around the same time as when I read Maze Runner.

I’m looking forward to reading all these novels, even though I know that I won’t get to some of them for a while… Have you read any of these? What would you recommend that I pick up first?


  1. An awesome mailbox! They all look fab. Happy reading :)
    Check out what's In My Mailbox

    Mia @GrippedintoBooks

  2. You can never have enough Dystopian! I really hope you enjoy them, happy reading!

    Check out what's IMM this week!

  3. I hear Maze Runner is really good!
    Happy reading :)

  4. Dystopian novels and I do not get along well but I am determined to try harder and give them more a chance this year.
    Happy reading.

  5. I've read Maze Runner and really liked it. It's a really fast, easy read (I think I finished it in something like 6 hours). The sequel leaves something to be desired, but I'm hoping it is just leading up to an explosive finale :)

    I actually did a fantasy cast for The Maze Runner that James Dashner read and tweeted out to his followers, and quoted it in a couple of interviews!

  6. @Gina: That's so cool... it would be really neat to get the attention of an author like that. Some writers probably surf blogs more often than others, though.

  7. oohh the maze runner was good.

    I am a new follower!


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