The Sparrow Readalong

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It seems like everyone has been talking about The Sparrow lately and I found myself leaving the same comment on the blogs that mentioned it: this is a book that totally destroyed me and I desperately want to read it again, but I don’t know if I can. This book affected me in a way few other books have and I think a lot of people feel that way. But the truth is, for a lot of the book I felt disconnected from it, which made my strong reaction to the last half of the book so surprising to me. I have long wanted to reread it, even though I knew it would be difficult, to reread the beginning of the book with the knowledge I have of the ending. Plus, I never reviewed The Sparrow on my blog and I’m looking forward to having the chance to write about it here.

sparrow-Readalong

So when Trish decided to do a readalong in September, it seemed like the perfect time to reread it. Fall has always felt like a good time to reread the books that have meant something to me and I’m looking forward to seeing how I feel about the book this time around. It’s not too late to join in! It’s a pretty informal readalong with a post to go up on the 15th and the 30th. I think it’s best to go into this one knowing next to nothing about the plot, so I won’t give anything away here. If you haven’t read The Sparrow, I do hope you’ll join us for the readalong or add it to your TBR.

Nonfiction November – Week 1 in Review!

final version 3Well, the end of week 1 of Nonfiction November is here and let me just say – my TBR list is getting longer and longer and longer. My library queue and my bank account do not thank you. But the reader in me? I can’t wait to get to reading. We had a great turnout this week and I’m hoping to see even more folks participating next week. Don’t forget – if you join in any of the weeks you’re eligible to win one of two prize packs that Kim and I are picking out ourselves!

So what are your favorite nonfiction books?

Masanobu at All the Pretty Books told us about her three favorite topics to read about: Spanish grammar (hey! me too!), nonfiction books about books, history (especially WWII), women, and biology. Head over to her blog to see which of the nonfiction books she read were her favorite in those categories. I love that she included some that are in Spanish!

Joy at Joy’s Book Blog gave us her nonfiction favorite of 2013: Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life by Karen Karbo. You should head over to her blog to learn more about this new-to-me series, which sounds totally awesome.

Hillary at ahorseandacarrot, a big nonfiction reader, picked two history books as her favorite nonfiction reads of all time. I understand where she is coming from: sometimes you just don’t know why a book is your favorite. Sometimes they stick with you and you just can’t explain why. Head on over to ahorseandacarrot to see which books Hillary puts at the top of her list.

Tanya at 52 books or bust reads a lot more fiction than nonfiction, so she chose three narrative nonfiction books that will appeal to the fiction reader in all of us! She included one I really enjoyed, Brain On Fire by Susan Cahalan, so I’m adding the others to my TBR as we speak.

Sophie at Paper Breathers says at the end of her post that she’s excited to start reading some different types of nonfiction, since all of her favorites seemed to touch on ethics. Check out which books join The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on Sophie’s top list of her three favorite nonfiction books.

Melissa at Avid Reader’s Musings has an amazing comprehensive list organized by category. She also includes my current nonfiction read: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I’m so impressed by all the amazing nonfiction Melissa has read!

Andi at Estella’s Revenge includes one of my very favorite nonfiction comics: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen  by Lucy Knisley. It’s just so charming and perfect in every way. What else did she say is a favorite of hers? You’ll have to pop on over to Estella’s Revenge to find out!

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall loves memoirs, so head on over to see which of the memoirs she’s read in 2013 ended up on her list of favorites. I’m also excited to see she’s included some nonfiction for children, like I Came From Water by Vanita Oelschlager.

Shannon at River City Reading has a stunning blog and an awesome duo of nonfiction favorites, including one of my personal favorites – Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I love Strayed so much, I included her in the button!

Julz at JulzReads has a long list of her nonfiction favorites. The one that caught my eye is The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. How cool does that sound?

Nupur at One Hot Stove gave us a top ten of her nonfiction reads in the comments section of this week’s post. It’s full of classics, recent bestsellers, and so many interesting choices. Including a cookbook of sorts I have sitting on my shelf: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese.

Stacy at Stacyverb has just an awesome list. These are all books I’ve been meaning to read forever!! Of the one’s I’ve read, Love is a Mix Tape is definitely one of my favorites, but also one of the saddest books I’ve read. I’ve also been meaning to read On Writing by Stephen King! If these two books are any indication, though, everyone should be adding Stacy’s picks to the top of their TBR! She’s got good taste.

Care at Care’s Online Book Club chose to talk about her favorite nonfiction author: Tracy Kidder. He sounds amazing! You really must go read about Care’s recommendations.

Finally, your two hosts. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness took the one title approach and told us about her favorite nonfiction read: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman and I just couldn’t pick one, so I listed 10 of my favorite nonfiction reads. It’s a list I already want to edit after seeing some of the amazing titles you chose!

Remember, next week’s theme is Be the Expert or Ask the Expert or Become the Expert: 

Be the Expert: Is there a particular topic you have read a lot of books about? Share that with us so we can all become well-read in your favorite topic!

Ask the ExpertIs there a topic you want to know more about but you aren’t sure where to start? Ask us and hopefully we’ll have good answers for you in the comments sections. Maybe someone can take on your question in a second Nonfiction November post later in the week.

Become the Expert: Do you have a subject that dominates your TBR? What books would you read to become an expert in the topic of your choice?

Pick one, or two, or all three options for next week’s Nonfiction November. Remember – Kim is hosting the linky and the roundup post next week, so head on over to Sophisticated Dorkiness to share your link.

I hope you had a great first week of Nonfiction November. I know I did!

#readbyatt Chapters 14-19

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I apologize for the delay in getting this post out! Sunday totally got away from me and now Monday night has, too. Truthfully, though I’m not entirely sure I have much to say about this section. I went through to see what I bookmarked and I apparently found something interesting on page 364, but reading through it I have no idea what I found to be interesting enough to mark the page. I should really underline things.

So! What is going on in Possession. Well, Roland is still miserable. Maud is still reserved and quiet. They both dream of a white room with nothing in it but a white bed where they can go and be away from the noise and dirt of the world. It sounds silly when you write it out like that and I almost want to make fun of it, but it is touching and passionate when they talk about it. We find out a big secret about Christabel through her cousin Sabine’s journal.

Everyone talks about the letters being their favorite part, and I suppose in terms of literary accomplishment I agree with that. But in terms of juicy excitement, I liked Sabine’s journal even more. It’s scandalous and dramatic, but I agree with Kim in that it’s not shocking. I don’t know that it’s meant to be shocking to the reader, since we know that at the heart of this novel there are two love stories, but instead it is all about how Maud and Roland react and how their world changes because everything they thought they knew was incorrect.

As different as Maud and Roland are in their back story, they are fundamentally the same in the way they hold onto their own “normal.” Maud, after a disastrous relationship, is reserved and unwilling to trust. Roland has been in an unhappy relationship out of a sense of duty and because he can’t imagine life any other way. Neither is capable of shaking their lives up on their own, but maybe they can do it together. I don’t know – we’ll have to see if they get there.

Mindy commented on Kim’s blog that she thinks it is a good thing we’re reading Possession slowly and I have to agree with her. There’s been something leisurely about this readalong that’s given me time to really sit and think about the book. I’m not rushing to the end, but savoring each section slowly throughout the week. It’s been really lovely and while I’m excited to get to the end next week, I also know that I’m going to miss having a story like this to sink my teeth into week after week. It’s good to read things slowly sometimes.

#readbyatt section 1: me | Kim
#readbyatt section 2: me | Kim
#readbyatt section 3: Kim

 

#readbyatt Chapters 7-13

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Now for the next installment of the #readbyatt readalong with Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness! When we last left our scholars, Maud and Roland, they were both somewhat miserable, but they were on the brink of discovering something great about the two poets they study: Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. They discovered that the two poets not only knew each other, but were possibly in love and probably influencing each other’s work. Juicy stuff for scholarship on Victorian poets that hasn’t changed in eighty years or so.

This section was more primary source than narrative. Chapter 10 is an epic back and forth between RH and Christabel, where they go from platonic letter-writing friends to being scandalously in love. It’s very well-done, though there were parts that were difficult to get through, the payoff is worth it.

There are poems and letters and biographies of the fictional poets that are all interspersed throughout the main narrative featuring Roland and Maud. I mostly enjoy the story when it focuses either on Christabel and RH together or Roland and Maud together. The rest I enjoy less, like the biographies of RH or the sections that focus on other scholars.

I am interested in the way Byatt seems to focus her descriptions of the women on their physical appearance. She spends so much time talking about how large Beatrice Nest, a scholar who studies RH Ash’s wife, is. Take this passage:

If people thought of Beatrice Nest — and not many did, not very often — it was her external presence, not her inner life that engaged their imagination. She was indisputably solid, and nevertheless amorphous, a woman of wide and abundant flesh, sedentary swelling hips, a mass of bosom, above which spread a cheerful-shaped face […]. (125)

In fact her thoughts about her own sexuality were dominated entirely by her sense of the massive, unacceptable bulk of her breasts. […] Another woman might have flaunted them, might have carried them proudly before her, moulded grandly about a cleavage. (130)

I don’t know what to make of these passages, honestly. I can’t think of a male character that is described in such detail in connection with their physical appearance, other than the descriptions of Maud’s hair. Which is another passage I’d like to leave here for consideration:

Maud put up her hands to her head, and hesitated between unpinning the brooch and pulling off the whole head-binding. Finally, awkwardly for her, she did both, putting the scarf on the counter, and then unpinning its carefully constructed folds and handing the large black knobby thing to the old woman, who trotted away to hold it up in the dusty light from the window.

Roland looked at Maud. The pale, pale hair in fine braids was wound round and round her head, startling white in this light that took the colour out of things and only caught gleams and glancings. She looked almost shockingly naked, like a denuded window-doll, he first thought, and then, as she turned her supercilious face to him and he saw it changed, simply fragile and even vulnerable. He wanted to loosen the tightness and let the hair go. He felt a kind of sympathetic pain on his own skull-skin, so dragged and ruthlessly hair-pinned was her.s Both put their hands to their temple, as though he was her mirror. (282)

I bring up both of these passages because they seem to uncommonly focus on physical appearance in a way that other portions of the book do not. Since I think that Byatt is doing something very intentional here, I’m going to leave them for now without passing judgment. It was just something I happened to notice.

It’s really too soon for me to have any sort of opinion at all, other than am I enjoying it or not and the answer is yes, I am. But I did find a few more lines and passages that I thought were noteworthy:

A moth’s wing scaly like a coat of mail,
The sharp hooked claws upon the legs of flies –
I saw a new world in this world of ours –
A world of miracle, a world of truth
Monstrous and swarming with unguessed-at life.
– from Swammerdam, by RH Ash (223)

And after that — a rain — of Ash —
Ash the sheltering World-Tree, Ash the deadly Rain
So Dust to Dust and Ash to Ash again —
I see whole bevies of shooting stars — like gold arrows before my darkening eyes — they presage Headache — but before the 
black — and burning — I have a small light space to say — oh what? I cannot let you burn me up. I cannot. I should go up — not with the orderly peace of my beloved hearth here — with its miniature caverns of delight, its hot temporary jewel-gardens with their palisadoes and promontories — no — I shall go up — like Straw on a Dry Day — a rushing wind — a tremor on the air — a smell of burning — a blown smoke — and a deal of white fine powder that holds its spillikin shape only an infinitesimal moment and then is random specks — oh no I cannot —
 a letter from Christabel to RH (213)

Our next section is Chapters 14-19 for next Monday. I hope to see you there! As I mentioned last week, please be sure to leave the link to your #readbyatt posts and I’ll be sure to include them at the bottom of this post. What did you think of Chapter 10? Do you have a favorite character yet? Were there any quotes that you loved? Hated?

#readbyatt – Chapters 1-7 of Posession by A. S. Byatt

byattWhenever I think about Possession by AS Byatt, I think about how many people have told me that this book is their favorite. Then I think about all of the times I have cracked the spine and tried to make it my favorite book. That’s why I wanted to do this readalong with Kim, because I have tried to read this book so many times and so many readers I trust can’t be wrong!

And this time, I really felt like I understood why people love this book. The beginning is still difficult to get through. The first 40 pages or so, I was painfully aware that I was reading. I couldn’t get lost in the story without seeing exactly what Byatt was trying to do. It felt forced. Eventually, though, I got caught up in Roland and Maud’s quest to find out if Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte were in love.

When I wasn’t struggling with Byatt’s prose and how it sometimes felt forced, I was in awe of it. She has created such a complex narrative here, with fictional poets, who have fictional biographies, and the scholars who are fascinated by them. When it works, it’s amazing. In the first six chapters, we meet Roland, a Randolph Henry Ash scholar who has made an unusual discovery: an unfinished letter that the poet wrote to Christabel LaMotte, a somewhat obscure poet from the same time period revered by feminists for her unusual style and ambiguous tales. He visits a Christabel LaMotte scholar named Maud and the two of them end up discovering something important about their poets. They know that their scholarship is changed forever.

Roland is involved in a long-term dead-end relationship with a failed scholar he met while getting his PhD. The economy is miserable. His apartment is miserable. Roland is, all around, quite miserable. The discovery of this letter is his chance to make something of himself. While Maud doesn’t seem quite so miserable, not yet anyway, the thought that there is a whole element to LaMotte’s life that she doesn’t know about changes her scholarship and excites her, too.

And that’s where we are, sort of on the cusp of things to come. We know this is a romance, so I suspect that Maud and Roland will follow in the footsteps of their Victorian subjects. We ended this with a chapter that focuses mainly on Mortimer Cropper, the rival scholar from the US. I’m not entirely sure where this narrative turn is going and, until this chapter, I didn’t mind the literary asides. I am actually very taken with Christabel LaMotte’s poetry and fairy tales. I did find it difficult to focus on Chapter 6, though. Hopefully it picks up soon!

If you’re participating in your readalong, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll be sure to add it to the end of this post. You can read Kim’s reactions hereWhat was your favorite part of Possession? Before you started reading, were you as intimidated by it as I was? If so, do you feel a little less intimidated now?

March Reading – Possession Readalong #readbyatt

byattIt’s officially March, which means two things: spring is almost here and the Possession readalong is here. Kim and I have been chatting about doing a readalong for Possession by AS Byatt for a few weeks now, because we have both tried to read this book on our own, but never made it through. I even convinced my book club to read it, but then I couldn’t go to the meeting that month!

This isn’t a very stressful readalong. You can feel free to join in on your blog or Twitter, using the hashtag  #readbyatt. (It was surprisingly difficult to come up with a short enough hashtag that made sense!) We’ll also post once week about the book. Here’s the schedule we came up with:

March 11: Chapters 1-6
March 18: Chapters 7-13
March 25: Chapters 14-19
April 1: Chapter 20-End

I know March 11 is soon, but we made the first section a little bit shorter, so you can hopefully  join in. As Kim mentioned in her post, we’re not doing official sign ups for this one, but we hope you’ll let us know in the comments (or on Twitter!) if you’re joining in.  If you’re like Kim and I and you’ve had Possession on your TBR for as long as we have, I hope you’ll be able to read along with us!

RIP VII – What I’ve Read So Far

September is over and October is here! Well, it’s been here for over a week. In fact, it feels like October is speeding by. Like soon it will be my birthday and then it will be Christmas and then suddenly it will be the long slog from January to May, my least favorite time of the year. I just want this good part to slow down. To remind myself that there are still nearly three weeks of RIP reading ahead of me, I’ve decided to chronicle what I’ve read so far. I’ve actually read a decent number of books that fall into the RIP categories of mystery, suspense, thrillers, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, and supernatural.


Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill – I wanted to love this dark fairy tale about a young princess in a kingdom that is in a parallel universe (a common theme, you’ll see) to ours. In this world, there used to be dragons. And there also used to be a powerful god named the Nybbas, who controlled the dragons by controlling their hearts (I think). You see, I read this one over a span of 5 months. I picked up a copy of the book at BEA and started reading it almost immediately. I wasn’t wild about the format of the story, told by a narrator who was fairly far removed from the story. But I liked the concept so much that I kept reading hoping it would get better.

The problem was really that this book was meant for middle grade readers, but the plot was rather complex. This combination of complex plot and more simplistic story telling didn’t work for me. I wanted this book to be so much more than it was. I’m not sure who the audience for this book really is.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – I have never really reread a book so quickly after reading it, unless you count Harry Potter and Ella Enchanted and A Wrinkle in Time, which I know pretty much backwards and forwards and used to start reading again immediately after finishing them. I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get as involved in the story or that I would find nitpicky narrative issues that I didn’t notice before. And I did find those things. There were certain narrative techniques that drove me nuts, but eventually, my interest in the story completely erased them. I reread this for my book club and we had a good time discussing the book. Most of the people who attended enjoyed it or at least appreciated it. I also realized after attending this book club meeting that I love reading books about awful people. No redeeming qualities necessary.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – Now I’ve read all three books by Gillian Flynn and, of the three, this book made me feel the most uncomfortable. Sharp Objects is about a young journalist named Camille who returns to her home town to investigate the deaths of young girls who appear with their teeth meticulously removed. Camille’s relationship with her mother is abusive and lead to a lifelong obsession with cutting words into her skin. I would say it is the least enjoyable than the three. I read them in reverse order and by then, you kind of know what Flynn’s typical twist is. Though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it was easy to see who was committing these crimes from the beginning, though I didn’t want it to be true because it is just too horrific. This book gave me nightmares and in general just made me feel awful. I don’t think I could ever recommend it to someone, but it was a quick, engaging read. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – So, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would! I read quite a few negative reviews after last year’s RIP of readers I trusted who were disappointed by this story after how much it had been hyped. So, with a healthy dose of skepticism, I decided to wait until this RIP to read it and I’m really glad I did! I was prepared for the pitfalls of the story (a plot that seemed guided by the pictures, rather than organically integrating them) and just enjoyed it for what it was. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid read that kept me entertained for a few hours. I also think the set up for the sequel sounds much more interesting, so I’m actually more excited for the sequel than I was for this one.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley – I didn’t know that this was a book that would qualify for RIP, especially with a cover like this. This is a book that sounds like something I would love. There is a mystery, it’s quirky, the characters are funny and realistic. And honestly, I can’t even describe what made me dislike it so much, except that it felt… sad for no purpose? The crime is committed for reasons so random, so ridiculous, that it was painful to read. I’m sure there’s something here about randomness and obsession and how things don’t necessarily happen for a reason, but reading this book just left me feeling so bleak and sad.

Books don’t need to have happy endings, but I’m not sure I’ve ever so desperately wanted a happy ending. There are two intertwining storylines and they eventually converge, but they mostly just took me out of the story. I don’t know. I know there are a lot of people who loved this book, it even won the Printz, but I just didn’t care for it.

After this book, I really felt like I needed a break from RIP books, so I took one and read a lot of random things, like Ask the Passengers, which was lovely, and Moonwalking with Einstein, and In the Shadow of the Banyan, which was horrifically sad. Then I started reading RIP books again.

Here (On the Otherside) by Denise Grover Swank – Spoilers below! Such a good RIP cover, right?! Except… not really. This book was so weird guys. And not the good, unexpected weird, like the this really makes no sense, but I’m going to keep reading because I can’t stop weird. I am sure I bought this on a Kindle Daily Deal for $0.99 and I just realized that it is self-published, making it one of the few self-published books I’ve actually read. The whole time I was reading this, I was sure it was going to be a ghost story. Or maybe a fairy story, because there are Celtic love knots involved. Anyway, I’m going to spoil the surprise here, because I can’t leave this one hanging, but if you don’t like spoilers and you think you might read this, STOP READING NOW!

Anyway, there aren’t fairies, there aren’t ghosts, it’s a parallel dimension.  But there were so many plot holes in that parallel dimension that it was really hard to take seriously. Like any paranormal YA romance, you run into the issues with the main character being SUDDENLY AND MADDENINGLY in love with the male lead. Also, there were two male leads and it was really difficult to tell them apart. One day, I’m sure I will find a self-published book that I can wholeheartedly recommend, but it’s not this one.

Now, for the books I’m currently reading:

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield – I think I saw John Green mention this book on Twitter or Tumblr and it caught my eye. So far, I’m very intrigued by the mystery and the writing is actually lovely and doesn’t read like most YA books, except for the fact that it is about two young adults. In this story, Becca’s story about how she wants to leave her hometown for something better is intertwined with the story of a local college student, Amelia Anne, is found dead on the side of the road. Somehow their stories are connected, but I don’t know how yet. I don’t even have any suspicions. I borrowed this one from a friend at work who enjoyed it and thought the mystery was well done, so I’m eager to get to the end and figure out how the two story lines are connected.

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay – This is totally not my usual read, but Memory was lovely and grabbed a few titles at BEA for me when I couldn’t get away from work. This was one of the titles she picked up and sometimes it’s nice when you read something you’d never usually read and this book has some stellar blurbs. I’m a sucker for a good blurb. I’m really enjoying this book. It’s a thriller and it is thrilling. I care about the characters and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. I’m about a third of the way through and I think the action is about to start.

As for the next few weeks, I plan on rereading The Night Circus and Something Wicked This Way Comes as soon as they arrive in my mail box and hopefully one or two more books for RIP. As promised, I jumped headfirst into RIP this year and I’m so glad I did!

(Unless otherwise mentioned in their mini-review, I purchased these titles.)