steampunk defined + leviathan giveaway

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | | 98 comments

I posed a question a week or so ago about steampunk, and polled for interest in a steampunk reading challenge. I will be hosting a small one, but it may take a little while to come together. In the meantime…

Definition: steampunk: There are two main kinds of steampunk. The first, traditional steampunk, envisions a future as the Victorians imagined it. The writings of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are good examples. The second, industrial steampunk, sees a far future world that harkens back to Victorian culture, for example a bustle dress made of kevlar. There are also other temporal options like clockpunk (c. 1500s) and dieselpunk (WWII). Definition borrowed shamelessly from Gail Carriger’s website. I bought her new novel Soulless today!

Steampunk may also refer to any anachronistic or technology-centric story set in the Gaslight Era, or more formally as “science fiction which has a historical setting (esp. based on industrialized, nineteenth-century society) and characteristically features steam-powered, mechanized machinery rather than electronic technology.” As per the Steampunk Scholar’s website.

And a giveaway! Scott Westerfeld (of Uglies trilogy fame) is releasing a new steampunk-esque novel entitled Leviathan on October 6th. THE PLAN: attend his Seattle bookstore event on the 12th and maybe get a copy signed.

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With the Great War brewing, Alek's and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way...taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.


So I’ll offer one (1) copy of Leviathan up for grabs. It might be signed. But no guarantees. Well, the book I can guarantee, but nothing else. Okay? Sweet.

To enter:

Leave a comment on this post answering the question, “What do you think of when you read the word ‘steampunk?’”

Please include your email address. Giveaway is open internationally. Comments will close on October 13 at 11:59pm EST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.

Good luck!

teaser tuesday (13)

It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

“‘I thought you’d finally be safe.’

‘Safe from what?’

She met my eyes, and a flood of memories came back to me—all the weird, scary things that had ever happened to me, some of which I’d tried to forget.”

-p. 39 of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)

history and the half moon

I like history. In fact, I studied history in graduate school for three years. I don’t, as a general rule, like to read history for fun. There are a couple of exceptions, and I’m actually quite fond of historical fiction. It’s just that I read so much academically that I needed an escape in my pleasure reading time. BUT, I was offered an ARC (advance reading copy) of a newly-released historical non-fiction book, and found myself enjoying it (rather a lot, too!). Lesson: rules are made to be broken. Or something.

Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of the New World is rather self-explanatory. It’s about Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage – the one during which he hijacked his Dutch-sponsored ship and instead of sailing to Russia, went to North America and ‘discovered’ and mapped the Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River.

The year 2009 marks the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the majestic river that bears his name. Just in time for this milestone, Douglas Hunter, sailor, scholar, and storyteller, has written the first book-length history of the 1609 adventure that put New York on the map.

Hudson was commissioned by the mighty Dutch East India Company to find a northeastern passage over Russia to the lucrative ports of China. But the inscrutable Hudson, defying his orders, turned his ship around and instead headed west—far west—to the largely unexplored coastline between Spanish Florida and the Grand Banks.

Once there, Hudson began a seemingly aimless cruise—perhaps to conduct an espionage mission for his native England—but eventually dropped anchor off Coney Island. Hudson and his crew were the first Europeans to visit New York in more than eighty years, and soon went off the map into unexplored waters.

Hudson’s discoveries reshaped the history of the new world, and laid the foundation for New York to become a global capital. Hunter has shed new light on this rogue voyage with unprecedented research. Painstakingly reconstructing the course of the Half Moon from logbooks and diaries, Hunter offers an entirely new timeline of Hudson’s passage based on innovative forensic navigation, as well as original insights into his motivations.

Half Moon offers a rich narrative of adventure and exploration, filled with international intrigue, backstage business drama, and Hudson’s own unstoppable urge to discover. This brisk tale re-creates the espionage, economics, and politics that drove men to the edge of the known world and beyond.

I don’t think I can offer too much more in the way of ‘summary’ – that description really does the book justice. All that’s left is to say what I liked and why, and also offer an abbreviated academic critique (it’s the only way I know to handle historical non-fiction – apologies in advance!).

What I liked: though the source documentation is pretty sketchy for anything except the actual voyage logs (I mean, it WAS 1609, after all!), Hunter’s done a great job of incorporating all of the ‘what ifs’ of the situation. Through intensive period research and investigation of any and all possible players in the situation, combined with an understanding of the political climate of the time and possible Hudson motivations, he’s created a believable narrative. He takes us through the steps of the voyage: pre-voyage commissioning and the goals of the Dutch East India Company, then the day-to-day progress, what it meant in the context of previous information about North America, and then the eventual unraveling of the voyage, even as fresh discoveries and contact with natives escalated. The book does not end with the end of the voyage, however. Hunter instead continues Hudson’s biography and chronicles his eventual demise, the aftereffects of the mutiny that marooned him as a castaway, and then the final remembrances of Hudson through Dutch, English and eventually American imaginings.

Though Hunter is very intentional and methodical throughout the narrative, it’s never boring or dry. Enough variables are at play, enough whispers of hope and slivers of personality visible in the documentation that the reader is kept guessing as to the outcome, Hudson's next act, and the success of the voyage. I thought it a remarkably accessible nautical history. That’s not to say it’s light reading. It’s substantive in content, and it takes concentration and dedication to get through. But it’s going to appeal equally to the informed public audience AND the academic market.

Critiques: After making the claim that Half Moon will appeal to the academic as well as the amateur history buff, I have to qualify the statement. Historians (or at least the ones I trained with) are obsessed with order, with correct documentation, and with full disclosure of that documentation. In other words, they want footnotes. Extensive ones. Citing where and when all information was got, and especially if any of it was translated, and could you just give us the original in the original language please so we can check it ourselves and make sure you got it right? AHEM. So though the research is thorough, the findings qualified and the narrative interesting…there will be those who decry the lack of ‘research notes’ telling them exactly how they may replicate Mr. Hunter’s work. Be assured, they will still read it. And possibly learn something. I know I did, and I used to specialize in the history of the early 17th century Americas myself. That is all for the critique section.

The author, Douglas Hunter, has previously written about Hudson’s earlier voyages and co-authored a book on yacht design. He lives in Ontario, and is an experienced sailor. It fits, I think – sailor/writer interested in Henry Hudson, one of the most influential navigators for North American history.

I recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves watching The History Channel at random times, especially if they like the nautical bits. It’s not light, and it’s not sex or court intrigue, but it IS the fascinating story of the unique motivations and a possible tapestry of events, knowledge and luck that led to the discovery of an important place at an opportune time. History addicts, enjoy!

mini challenges rock. and so does garth nix.

Monday, September 28, 2009 | | 4 comments

Andrea at The Little Bookworm is hosting a Garth Nix mini-challenge! Here’s what she says:

“One of my favorite series of all time is the Keys to the Kingdom series. The last book, Lord Sunday, is out in March so I thought now is a good time to do a Garth Nix mini-challenge. The challenge is to read 3 Garth Nix books by April 30, 2010. Easy, right? It starts today. To join enter your name in the Mister Linky list at my blog.”

I may have mentioned that Garth Nix is a favorite author of mine. I may also have written him at one point and received a signed postcard back and KEPT that postcard until the present day. Or something. *looks around furtively and pretends normalcy* I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of Lord Sunday as well, and in preparation for its arrival will probably need to read the whole series again. Plus a couple of others…so yay! Another challenge. And it’s low pressure and short, so I can’t go wrong. Remember to go over and check out Andrea’s post if you want to take part!

a little bit of late-blooming jasmyn

I’m a tad behind on the book giveaway results and blogging in general, but before it gets too late I wanted to announce that the winner of Alex Bell’s Jasmyn, a dark and twisty fairytale, is:


of Reality Bites…Fiction Does It Better!

Who answered the question “Who is your least favorite fairy tale hero/heroine?” with: “My least favorite would be Goldilocks too. I just can't find anything to like about her. LOL.” Congrats!

The most popular answers for least favorite hero/heroine were Snow White (with a whopping 11 votes!), followed by a tie between Goldilocks and Sleeping Beauty. Some of the answers included justification.

Andrea said, “Least favorite heroine is Goldilocks, the little thief.” Germaine agreed with “ohh.. no doubt about it.. its Goldilocks.. coz she ate the bears food.... i was totally against that :)”

April answered with, “Least favorite fairy tale is Sleeping Beauty. The girl just sleeps, BORING. Then, of course, she needs a male to save her, she can't just save herself. It makes my inner-feminist blood boil. LOL.”

Paradox’s least favorite heroine was “Snow White... (or one of many other passive princesses) she really doesn't DO anything but keep house and get into trouble (at least in the Disney movie). She's not very smart either.”

And finally, Ryan G provided my favorite comment, with “My least favorite would have to be Jack. He never should have traded the cow for magic beans, climbed the bean pole, or stole from the giant. He was such a selfish little boy!”

People feel strongly about their least favorites! Answers ran the gamut and Alice from Wonderland, to Catwoman, to Hansel and Gretel and so on. Other hated fairy tale heros and heroines: Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack from the beanstalk, Clytemnestra from Greek tragedy, the Princess with the pea, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Wendy Darling, Peter Pan, Thumbelina, Pinocchio and the animals from Aesop’s Fables. Thanks for providing such interesting answers! I will (really and truly) be putting up a new one within the next few days. In the meantime, happy reading!

out of the ordinary

Last week I indulged and spent the day in Pioneer Square, Seattle, with a friend. I’m going to give you a virtual tour of our day, but WITHOUT photos. Well, maybe I’ll steal some from somewhere online…but none of my own.

We parked ($5 for two hours – not bad in that neighborhood!), and went looking for Sweet Petula, an awesome bath & body boutique that I originally found on Etsy, the homemade and vintage online market. I can’t go without their olive oil-based Ginger Blossom soap, so I stocked up with four bars.

Then we stopped by the Klondike Gold Rush museum. It’s run by the National Park Service, and offers free entry for info, stories, and interactive displays pertaining to the late 19th century and the role that Seattle played as a major stopover and supplier for those heading to the goldfields.

Next we headed up to the Elliot Bay Book Company, an awesome, creaky indie storehouse of wonderful books in many fabulous editions. I was almost sucked into the vortex that was their cookbook section, but ended up saving myself in YA and Fantasy/Sci-Fi. The best bits were the little hand-written ‘staff recommends’ cards hanging off of every shelf in all the bookcases…

By that time we were getting a little hungry, and we went over and stood in line at Salumi, a famous sausage deli (and Seattle institution). It’s right down the block from a fire station and police precinct, so we had a good mix of uniforms, bike messengers, tourists (me), and other regulars in the line. Anthony Bourdain featured the little place on his show, so it’s ‘famous,’ but it’s also still so small that you rub elbows with your neighbor regardless. I had the fennel sausage sandwich with fresh mozzarella and onions on Panini bread. Serious YUM.

We walked over to a little courtyard with a fountain next to the King Street Train Station to sit in the sun and eat our fill. Afterward we crossed the street to the Uwajimaya Asian market, where I bought some almond Pocky sticks for dessert and we scoped out the Manga in the bookstore.

Then we ran like the dickens back to my car, because we saw a tow truck on the block and were 5 minutes late! (No worries…no ticket…) And so ended a pretty perfect couple of hours tooling around the Pioneer Square district. If you’ve ever been, do you have a recommendation?

the diary of a (fictional) naval man

Jane Austen spinoffs, re-tellings and mash-ups are all over the place. I saw three in the book section at COSTCO the other day (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, as it happens). As a former closet Austen addict, I knew that these products existed. I even owned a few (Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field, anyone?). What I wasn’t aware of: QUANTITY. But it became evident as soon as I signed up for the Everthing Austen challenge at Stephanie’s Written Word that were more choices and options for completing the task than I had ever imagined. So that’s the long story about why I’m reviewing a book that wasn’t on my original list: I didn’t know I was spoiled for choice. Now I do. Woe is me (the TBR pile grows!). The short story: it looked cool, and Nicole (of Books and Bards) told me it was the best of the ‘Diaries’ – and definitely worth the read.

So that’s that.

Oh, you wanted a review? Well, if you insist…

Captain Wentworth’s Diary features…Captain Wentworth. Funny, that. He’s the male ‘lead’ in my favorite Jane Austen novel. Persuasion, if you were wondering. Heck, it’s one of my favorite books of all time! As you may have guessed, the Captain’s a navy man. Well, you should really read Persuasion, so that I don’t have to spell it all out. Here, you can even get it for free online! Suffice it to say, in the Austen novel the main characters meet again after eight years apart and the story ensues. What you get in the Diary is that first meeting in earlier years, the dude’s thoughts during actual Austen novel time, and then a tad after the story ended in the original. Here, just read the synopsis (courtesy of Goodreads).

Amanda Grange continues her series of much-loved Jane Austen retellings with Captain Wentworth's Diary. It is 1806, and the Napoleonic wars are ravaging Europe. Frederick Wentworth, a brilliant young man with a flourishing career in the navy, is spending his shore leave in Somerset, where he meets and falls in love with Anne Elliot. The two become engaged, but Anne's godmother persuades Anne to change her mind, leaving Wentworth to go back to sea a bitter and disappointed man.

Eight years pass, and peace is declared. Wentworth is no longer a young man with his way to make in the world, but a seasoned captain with a fortune at his disposal. He is ready to marry anyone with a little beauty who pays a few compliments to the navy - or so he says - until he sees Anne. Anne's bloom has faded, yet she has the same sensibilities and superior mind she had eight years earlier, and before he knows it, he is falling in love with her all over again. Can there be a happy outcome for them this time around, or have they lost their chance of love forever?

Things I liked: Grange did an amazing job finding an individual voice for Wentworth. In Persuasion you hear from Anne 99% of the time. Well, in all of Austen’s novels you get the female voice almost exclusively, except for letters. I think part of the reason I love Wentworth (and Darcy) so much is that he writes a letter to Anne, and there you get his voice pure and unadulterated. So Grange had something to work with (beside dialogue and actions) – a profession of love, with a specific tone and word choice. Grange also included more on background characters such as the Harvilles and Benwick and Wentworth’s brother. All of these characters were original to the Austen story, but they’re fleshed out and interesting in Diary.

Things I didn’t like: I liked almost everything about this book, so it’s hard to think of any one thing…but I will say that the story lagged a little bit for me during the middle of the story when Wentworth is re-introduced to Anne and they figure things out. Basic complaint: if you’re going to reiterate the original story without any new anecdotes or unique thoughts, then leave it out (and up to the reader to find the original). Having said that, if I hadn’t read Persuasion so recently, I might not have minded.

In all, I really loved Ms. Grange’s take on Captain Wentworth. I think she did a fantastic job of devising thoughts, actions and dialogue that fit with the original Austen story, and yet were entertaining and fresh. Recommended for all my fellow Austen addicts (but read Persuasion first!).

sarah dessen giveaway winner

Last week during all of the BBAW festivities I offered a giveaway for a Sarah Dessen book. I’m happy to say that the winner is:


of Trish’s Reading Nook!

She’ll receive a copy of Just Listen from The Book Depository.

Thank you all for participating, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway for Alex Bell’s Jasmyn! Also, check back later this week for a new giveaway. Best!

teaser tuesday (12)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | | 26 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

“‘Do the servants know everything?’ I asked.

‘You have been too long at sea if you do not know the answer to that question!’ he said.”

-p. 50 of Amanda Grange’s Captain Wentworth’s Diary

question (steampunk)

Monday, September 21, 2009 | | 13 comments
Is there a steampunk reading challenge somewhere?

Apparently it's the next big thing, and I'd like to familiarize myself with the (sub)genre. But for things like whole new genres I need major *wait for it* MOTIVATION! Challenges! Exciting, shiny contests! Those are good. I've checked out the Wikipedia entry, and Google searched it (found Steampunkopedia, Brass Goggles and Steampunk Scholar), but haven't come across an honest-to-goodness reading challenge. I'd be willing to host one, maybe...would you be interested?

Pictures found at Gail Carriger's blog.

austen strikes again! mansfield park the target.

Sunday, September 20, 2009 | | 11 comments
It’s pardonable if you don’t know what I’m doing with these random Austen-related film reviews. After all, I haven’t been particularly disciplined in finishing the Everything Austen challenge hosted over at Stephanie’s Written Word. BUT! I have progress to report. The 2007 Masterpiece theater television movie, Mansfield Park, based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name, is the sixth of my twelve challenge items, and it’s finished!

Sent to live in an estate with her wealthy aunt and uncle, fish-out-of-water Fanny Price (Billie Piper) struggles to find her place in the dizzying world of high society’s glitz, glamour and sexual politics.

Directed by Iain B. MacDonald, this made-for-television adaptation of the Jane Austen classic also stars Jemma Redgrave, Maggie O’Neill, Blake Ritson, Douglas Hodge, James D’arcy, Rory Kinnear and Catherine Steadman.

Thoughts: 1) Edmund is a gothic vampire (or perhaps all Regency-period clergymen were too-thin, pale and dark?). 2) Jemma Redgrave as Lady Bertram is absolutely fantastic. She’s vague and absent-mindedly silly enough to fit the part perfectly, but steals the show in a well-timed moment of clarity at the end. 3) I know it’s part of the original story, but the Crawfords really are the most interesting characters. Too bad they’re not the protagonists!

Things I liked: the inclusion of Fanny’s brother was a smart move. You get family connection without changing the scene. Billie Piper is a very spirited Fanny, and she definitely moves about a lot, which I think made the character more likeable. Motion = good. It also showcased her youth, which is a big (and sometimes overlooked) theme in the story.

Things I didn’t like: they used child actors in the first five minutes of the film to depict the characters as their younger selves, and it wasn’t superb. Not horrible, but just not the same quality. In fact, my brother got up and walked away during those scenes…I also wasn’t a huge fan of an older Fanny chasing the girl in the library scene. It seemed forced and a bit strange. There were a couple transitions that were rough as well, but those I can attribute to the nature of the film, i.e. it was made for television.

In all, the film-watching experience was enjoyable and pain-free. I don’t think I’ll purchase a copy for myself, but I won’t hesitate to recommend it to Austen addicts, either. Rating: B.

a day late and a dollar short

As far as I can tell, this BBAW thing is a big love-fest. And I like it! But I’ve fallen slightly behind on the daily topics, and WOEFULLY behind on reading everyone else’s wonderful posts. Forgive? Sweet.

So the ‘Thursday’ challenge was to write about a book that you discovered through another book blog. Great reading experiences preferred. Also, perhaps a little something about the blog that facilitated said discovery. My pick: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

First of all, may I say that the best/worst thing about book blogging is that my To Be Read pile has grown to previously unknown, gigantic, and in-danger-of-flooding-my-entire-house-like proportions. Mostly I’m impressed and pleased by the recommendations I get from this crowd, but I’ve been disappointed a time or two as well. This time, I was really glad I finally gave this 2007 National Book Award winner a try.

The Absolutely True Diary is an instant classic. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s culturally informative, it’s really horrific and sad (in parts), and most importantly, seriously well-written. The story follows Junior, aka Arnold Spirit, through his freshman year of high school, when he decides to pursue education off the reservation. I don’t think I can give a description that would do the story justice and not give anything away, so there’ll be a canned summary at the end. Suffice it to say, this story is beautiful. A total must-read.

Alexie always gets me. I felt emotionally unraveled while I read this book. I think it’s a combination of identifying with regional identity and the way his characters reach through the pages and grab your heart and just don’t let go. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I also went to a tiny high school, like Arnold did. We played a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in sports. All of that offers a connection, but even if I was living in a different land and had no idea who the Spokane indigenous people were, I could find a connection, and love this book for its heart.

That’s the beauty of it…because I did find this book through someone in a different land. I first saw it mentioned on the 10 Best Books for YA list compiled by the American Library Association, but the only reason I actually read it was on Steph Bowe’s (of Hey! Teenager of the Year) recommendation. Steph is an Australian aspiring author, and her blog is genius. I faithfully check her updates and always learn something. Add to that that I only heard of Sherman Alexie to begin with on Leila’s blog (of the awesome Bookshelves of Doom), and you’ve got book blogging makes my life amazing.

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

And on a fun note, I may get to hear Mr. Alexie speak in early October - he's giving a talk as part of a Seattle Town Hall Event schedule!

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