Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Sarajevo, the Yukon, the Arctic, Austenland, and YA

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold RushThe Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting enough to keep me reading, but only just. The story is very surface-level, with lots of glossed-over periods of history and summarized, paraphrased conversations. I think this could have been a much longer, in-depth book, but for some reason the author chose to only tell one particular strain of a much wider story.

When I was 14, my family went to Alaska and we spent (what seemed to me) a lot of time in Skagway. We also visited Dyea. That really helped me visualize parts of the book, although I was surprised to learn that Soapy Smith was a really bad guy. In Skagway, I remember him being presented to the tourists as kind of a mildly evil, harmless, entertaining henchman.

I remember Dyea being especially affecting, so I was touched to read this reflection on that place by one of the book's main characters, George Carmack:

"On Christmas Eve, surrounded by his loneliness, he recalled an image from the previous summer and began to write: 'But a whispering comes from the tall old spruce/And my soul from the pain is free.' His mind had been yearning, and in its desperation it had found a new destination. He focused on a clear, idyllic picture of the hewn-log trading post in Dyea that looked out on a 'tall old spruce' and an inlet of shimmering blue water. The fine bright beauty of the setting had affected him when he'd first encountered it, and in a burse of sentimental emotion he found himself traveling back to it on Christmas Eve in his poem."

Midnight in AustenlandMidnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. In her non-YA stuff, Shannon Hale never quite writes the book you think she will. That statement held true for me almost up until the ending of this book. She certainly kept me guessing. This was a book I enjoyed reading and always looked forward to reading, but it was also kind of odd. Still, I think the author would be tons of fun to hang out with and there is something so endearing about anything she writes down on the page, even if it's not exactly my thing, you know?

The House by the Dvina: A Russian ChildhoodThe House by the Dvina: A Russian Childhood by Eugenie Fraser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Little House on the Prairie, revolutionary Russia style. Lots of family members and family traditions and momentous events seen through a child's eyes, all made spellbinding by skillful storytelling and the exotic, far-off (by both time and distance) setting.

Reading this book, I was struck by the thought that Europe used to be a much smaller place, metaphorically speaking. The heads of state were all related to each other and Russian kids went to boarding school in Latvia and Helsinki was practically a suburb of St. Petersburg. Fascinating. I realize this book is completely one-sided but I hope I never find out that her memoir was distorted or manipulated beyond the fact that it was written through the lens of the 1980s. I was so fascinated by this woman's story - when was the last time you heard a native English speaker tell you about the time they starved while the Bolsheviks took over their Arctic village? I thought so.

The Enemy (The Enemy, #1)The Enemy by Charlie Higson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

England's answer to Tomorrow, When the War Began. YIKES. With every page, every plot twist, every character decision, I have to believe the author paused and thought, "What would shock the reader the MOST??" This book was just yucky. That said, I'm sure it's some 13-year-old boy's favorite book, and good on him.

Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo NeighborhoodLogavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood by Barbara Demick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My across-the-street neighbor is from Sarajevo. One time we got to chatting while our kids played and she told me the story of how she emigrated to America as a teenager during the wartime siege. It involved the promise of a scholarship, a tunnel under the airport and a crazy bus ride into Croatia. At the time, even as I recognized that hers was an amazing journey, I only vaguely understood the context of it. I hadn't yet read Balkan Ghosts, so my frame of reference for 1990s Bosnia was something like, "Yes, I was alive during that time and I remember there being some fuss about Sarajevo, and yet not enough fuss, somehow, and also there was that song by The Cranberries."

Now, after reading Logavina Street (and Balkan Ghosts over a year ago), I understand so much more. Just as she did with Nothing to Envy, Demick here has woven the ordinary lives of ordinary people into an extraordinary account of life in harsh conditions. On every page of this book, I was touched by the strength of the Sarajevan people during the siege. Every day that I read this book, I went to sleep having dreams of Sarajevo. When I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking about it. It was that kind of all-encompassing reading experience.

By the way, before I started reading the book, I mentioned to my neighbor that I had it and while she hadn't heard of the book itself, she said something like, "Oh yeah, Logavina Street," and then told me some stuff about that part of town. You know, just your average stories of growing up in a war-torn city. I can't wait to ask her for more details of her emigration, because the book actually talks about the tunnel under the airport and mystery American scholarships waiting for Bosnian youth and even crazy bus rides into Croatia.

(Also by the way: the edition I read was published in 2012, and has a couple of new chapters added to the 1996 version. It seems like once Nothing to Envy was such a success, Demick was able to get this book re-published. I can't believe it ever went out of print!)

Ultraviolet (Ultraviolet, #1)Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good! And different. I appreciated the very unique setting(s) and approach to the story. I don't think anyone was exactly clamoring for a YA novel about synesthesia, but it makes for an interesting read.

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty dang good. I've been looking forward to reading this one for a long time, so it's a bit of a let-down now that it's over. It wasn't as crash-bang exciting at the end as I'd hoped, but part of the problem may have been that I listened to this as an audiobook, and action scenes don't often play out well in my brain that way.

I liked that the heroine was a smart girl and didn't spend a lot of time admiring the pects of the hero, or whatever. I appreciated that SPOILER her conversion to the rebel cause END SPOILER took a realistically long time, even as I kind of willed that part of the book to move faster since we all knew it was going to happen anyway. I loved the fleshed-out peripheral characters, including some who had very few pages of book-time but made an appreciable impact on the story. I even enjoyed the surprisingly juicy mystery at the center of the plot, with all the right pieces revealed at just the right times.

And the clothes, people, the CLOTHES. Well, the military uniforms, really. They have stripes and crosses and shiny epaulets and hats and capes. CAPES. And the book is not afraid to talk about it. A LOT.

Definitely Not Mr. DarcyDefinitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book. I can't. I just. I hated this book...SO MUCH. Flames. On the side of my face.

Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A few months ago, I read All These Things I've Done, the premise of which is that sometime in the future, chocolate becomes illegal. I thought that idea sounded kind of like it was pulled out of a hat, but it is nothing compared to what Wither has going on. In Wither, women die at 20 and men die at 25 and so teenage girls are kidnapped and married off in multiples to husbands in order to create more babies so scientists can figure out a cure for the early-death disease. It's like mix-n-match dystopia. And it didn't work for me AT ALL. There were so many holes in this world that I couldn't take it seriously for a second.

Meanwhile, I kept getting really weird Wuthering Heights vibes. Exhibit A: The book is called Wither, which on its own isn't much until you realize that...

Exhibit B: it involves an overbearing, brutish father-figure overseeing the unwilling marriage(s) of his weak-sauce son (who is named Linden instead of Linton).

My point is, even a world in which chocolate is illegal was more believable (and enjoyable!) than this book. I'm only giving it two stars because I felt a twinge of sadness when SPOILER Julia died. END SPOILER

September 28th, outsourced

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