Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut will always have a special place in my heart. He was my first favorite liberal philosopher author with whom I fell madly in love. His writing honest, humorous, and incredibly intelligent. Vonnegut has got this knack for conveying more ideas in one short sentence than most writers can in an entire novel. His words are powerful and memorable. Although he held a pessimistic view of politics and the modern day world, he believed in the good of human kind.

Armageddon in Retrospec
t is a collection of essays published posthumously, one year after Vonnegut's death. The majority of the essays explore the meaning of war and it's impact on those involved. While there is a focus on WWII and the bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut's writing is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. I especially liked the introduction, written by Kurt's son, Mark Vonnegut, where he paid tribute to his father and offered an interesting perspective of a man and his writing:

“He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn't good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950's, he was employed for Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported back to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and walked out, self-employed again.”
I have to say this wasn't my favorite collection of Vonnegut's - some stories outshine the others - but it's worth the read, nonetheless. If you're new to Vonnegut's essays, I would suggest starting with A Man Without A Country.

Publisher: Putnam, 2008


Favorite Books Read in 2012

2012 was a pretty good year in reading for me. I set a goal to read 50 books and as of today I'm at 45, which puts me a little behind pace but I'm alright with that. Below is a list of my favorite books I read in 2012, listed in order. Some are new releases and others are much older.

1 . Native Son by Richard Wright, 1940: This might be the most powerful book I've read in my adulthood thus far. Not only is this an explicit and heart-wrenching account of the perils of the black man in 1930's America (and in some cases, they story is also relevant today), but it is truly a page-turner. Despite the brutal and affecting details, I was completely engrossed in this book.

2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, 2012: I don’t have anything profound to say about this novel, except that I enjoyed it immensely. Bernadette is certainly one of the more memorable characters I’ve read this year; she has her flaws but is completely likeable at the same time. The novel as a whole is funny, sharp-witted, and immensely readable.

3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King, 2011: The premise of the novel is what initially drew me to this book, but in the end the reasons I adored it so much was not because it was a time travel novel (I'm a serious sucker for those) but because it was truly moving and really made me think about destiny how the choices we make today change our future in a way we can't even imagine.

4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, 1952: Steinbeck's prose is straightforward and his setting rich. The novel spans three generations of two families and although it's a thick book, it is not at all hard to follow and reads a lot quicker than I thought it would. The novel delights and engages from start to finish.

5. People Who Eat Darkenss by Ricahrd Llyod Parry, 2012: I didn't expect to read this one in just a few days, but it was just so fascinating. This non-fiction book reads like fiction and follows the disappearance of Lucie Blackman; a young English woman who moves to Toyko in hopes of a more exciting life. It turns out, this is much more than a true crime book. It's also a lens for what happens behind closed doors in eastern culture, like an anthropological look at the darker, hidden aspects of this culture and their obsession with ritual and role play.

6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich, 2012: When I first heard about this novel I pegged it for a powerful book that could expose me to a way of living with which I was not very familiar and Erdrich delivered. This is a story that will pull at your heart strings and make you reconsider the rights and tangle of laws surrounding Native Americans.

7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012: This was probably the most widely talked about book of 2012, and for good reason. I had so much fun reading it mostly because Flynn is really good at setting you up to believe one thing and then turning it around completely, leaving your head spinning.

8. Moon Palace by Paul Auster, 1990: This is a book that offers unlikely adventure, a bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache. As always, the characterization of Auster's main character is incredibly believable, but also unconventional. The plethora of characters and events of the novel are whimsical and odd, but also complex and exuberant, making for a fun and intelligent read.

9. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, 1982:  Ham on Rye is a semi-autobiographical novel of Bukowski's childhood; it's a coming-of-age story, but it's quite different from most other novels I've read in that genre. The prose is straightforward but powerful, the diction is crude but intriguing. The novel as a whole is about the awkwardness that is adolescence and growing up in a time when there was little opportunity and making the most out of it.

10. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985: There is so much to examine throughout this novel. It explores a myriad of human emotions. It's a novel about love, loss, sex, passion, hope, and obsession. Although the chapters go on forever, there is careful attention to detail that I really enjoyed. But this isn't your mushy-gushy love story, not even close. This novel takes patience, but it's worth the effort.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

It's been a few weeks since I finished this. Actually, more like a month. After reading a handful of good things about this book I decided to give it a go. I'm generally not a fan of epistolary novels, but this one sounded different. The relationship I had with this book was a good one; I finished it in two days because it was just that pleasurable to read. This is not a book to be read in short spurts but rather consumed all at once. I don’t have anything profound to say about it, except that I enjoyed it immensely. Bernadette is certainly one of the more memorable characters I’ve read this year. She has her flaws but is completely likeable at the same time. The novel as a whole is funny, sharp-witted, and immensely readable.

More relevant was the cover sheet, which set forth the psychological profile of candidates best suited to withstand the extreme conditions at the South Pole. They are “individuals with blasé attitudes and antisocial tendencies,” and people who “feel comfortable spending lots of time alone in small rooms,” “don’t feel the need to get outside and exercise,” and the kicker, “can go long stretches without showering.

For the past twenty years I’ve been in training for overwintering at the South Pole! I knew I was up to something.

I was actually sad when this book ended because I enjoyed it so much. If you’re looking for a novel that you just might fall in love with, give Semple’s book a try. It’s a gem. And just right. 


A Look at Lena Dunham's Book Proposal

My presence here has been scarce lately. I need to catch up on reviews and get moving on my best of 2012 list. But until then, please enjoy this gem from Lena Dunham's book proposal. You know, that one for which she got a $3.7 million.

Read Dunham's proposal in its entirety here.


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I picked this one up for the RIP challenge, as I've heard it compared to books like Shadow of the Wind and The Book of Lost Things. I'm pretty sure I'm the last blogger to read this book, so I'm not going to do much recap. This has been called a book for book lovers as our narrator, Margaret Lea, is the operator of a bookshop and longtime bibliophile, preferring the company of books to the company of people. As the novel moves forward, Margaret finds herself working with an incredibly famous though reclusive author, Vida Winter. Winter has hired Margaret to tell the author's untold life story. The novel holds certain parallels to Victorian classics that are mentioned throughout; most notably Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Turn of the Screw, to name a few.

For me, the narrative had a few moments of suspense but overall I found the twists underwhelming and the plot filled with conveniences.  The biggest problem that I had with the book was that I found it to be over-narrated; characters and ideas rarely spoke for themselves, instead our narrator told us everything, including the obvious, and never let me assess things for myself. The narration made the story too accessible, giving it an almost juvenile, corny feel:

Everybody has a story. It's like families. You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same. You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them, but you can't say you haven't got them. Same goes for stories.
Aside from that it was an engaging story in parts, but lacking in its delivery. I know I'm in the minority with this one, it just didn't do it for me.


Book Riot Readers’ Top 50 Favorite Novels

You know I'm a sucker for lists! Awhile back Book Riot asked its readers to vote on their top 3 favorite novels. They complied the list and posted the results. Only one of my votes made the list - The Time Traveler's Wife. The other books I voted for were Richard Wright's Native Son and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake
  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (126 votes)
  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
  7. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  11. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  12. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  13. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  15. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  16. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  17. The Stand by Stephen King
  18. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  20. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  21. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  22. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  23. The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  24. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  25. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  26. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  27. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  29. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  30. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  31. 1984 by George Orwell
  32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  34. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  35. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  36. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  37. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
  38. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  39. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  40. Ulysses by James Joyce
  41. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  42. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  43. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  45. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  46. Dune by Frank Herbert
  47. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  48. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  49. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 
  50. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (13 votes)
How many have you read? Go over here and let BookRiot know!  

Also, if you voted, which books did you vote for?


RIP VII Reading

Halloween has come and gone and with that, I read some fantastically dark and suspenseful book for the RIP VII Challenge. I participated in Peril the Second: Read two books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between. I read three novels, all of which leaned heavily in the mystery/suspense genre:

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fford: Fford has created an alternate history in which the lines between reality and fiction become blurred and people can literally step into the pages of a book, meet its central characters, and experience the setting for themselves. With that they can also manipulate the outcome of the novel and even kidnap fictional characters. 

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler: This book was fun to read and knowing that it was one of the first of its kind, it's even more impressive. The novel has been adapted into film twice (1946, 1978) with the first staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall - so you know it was a pretty big deal. Bogart of course plays Philip Marlowe, one of the more memorable characters I've read in while.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield: Full review coming soon, but I'm sorry to report this one didn't blow my socks off as many of you predicted it would. It was entertaining but a little too straight forward for my taste. 

If you're interested in reading brief reviews of the books I read for RIP last year, you can find that here. The books I included for my probable reads came from my list below. I still plan to read the others listed eventually.
  • Rebecca, Daphne DuMarier
  • The Gun Slinger, Stephen King
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  • The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield 
  • Case Histories, Kate Atkinson 
  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fford
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
  • We Have Always Lived In the Castle, Shirley Jackson 
  • In The Woods, Tana French 


The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

"You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell."

Raymond Chandler is considered to be one of the founders of the "hard-boiled" genre, setting the stage for several generations of crime writers. This book was fun to read and knowing that it was one of the first of its kind, it's even more impressive. The novel has been adapted into film twice (1946, 1978) with the first staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall - so you know it was a pretty big deal. Bogart of course plays Philip Marlowe, one of the more memorable characters I've read in while. He lives in a corrupt world that driven him to become cynical; he's hard-drinking lady killer who also happens to be a private detective. Chandler himself admitted to the unbelievability of Marlowe's character when he wrote, “The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.”

I do not think this unbelievability took away from the novel as whole. In fact, it is this lead character and the overall atmosphere of the novel that carries it. The atmosphere is gorgeous and descriptive and everything has that old Hollywood vibe. Although the novel takes place in LA, the setting is less concerned with the city as it is with its immediate surroundings; lavish mansions overlooking the Hollywood hills, clubs that look swanky by night and seedy by day, and of course Marlowe's own dingy office. Added bonus:
I did not predict the ending before it was revealed, which made it even more fun.
I will say that I had to pay careful attention to the plot throughout, as it changes often, taking more turns than any other 250 page novel I've read. If I lost concentration for even a page I had to go back and reread it, because you better believe something happened to change the direction of the storyline. Aside from the somewhat confusing plot, I have no complaints. Among his other novels, Chandler wrote a total of seven Philip Marlowe titles. The Big Sleep was the first, and I definitely plan to read more.

Publisher: Vintage Crime, 1939


Post Office by Charles Bukowski

 "I didn't make for an interesting person. I didn't want to be interesting, it was too hard."

Post Office is Bukowski's first novel. Up until it was published he was focused on writing poetry. I finished this book about four weeks ago and never got around to writing a review. I just starting reading Bukowski this year, and he's quite the guy. Post Office follows Bukowski's alter ego, Henry Chianski, while he's an employee of the US post office. There isn't much in terms of plot. Instead, we follow Henry through his day-to-day; waking up with hangovers, dragging himself to work, seducing women, boozing, and repeating it all the next day. (Bukowski himself worked at the US post office for 11 years before he quit at the age of 50 to pursue writing full-time.)

Bukowski is very direct in terms of language and subject matter - he discusses sex, women, and booze in a way that would easily offend a lot of people. I admit there were certain passages that grossed me out - like when he discussed his bowel movements with adjectives like "good" and "hot". But I also I found some of these bits to be humorous and smart - exposing human nature in an honest and amusing way.
"The midget was married to a very beautiful girl. When she was in her teens she got a coke bottle trapped in her p*ssy and had to go to a doctor to get it out, and, like in all small towns, the word got out about the coke bottle, the poor girl was shunned, and the midget was the only taker. He'd ended up with the best piece of ass in town."
Post Office is about a drifter, an alcoholic who doesn't aspire to be anything more than he already is. It's dry, it's crude and it's rough; it's filled with profanities, violence, and sex. Bukowski supposedly wrote the novel in just three weeks after Black Sparrow Press offered to pay him to quit the post office to write full-time. I have to say I enjoyed Ham on Rye more than this one because it was more plot focused and less of a character study, but if you like Bukowski, Post Office is still worth the read.

Publisher: Ecco, 1971


The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling: A Late Read-Along Post

Alright, a week after I was supposed to, I finished The Casual Vacancy. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Will it be one of my favorite reads this year? No. I liked the end well enough; it was powerful and memorable (albeit a bit contrived), but the rest of the novel was on the slower side. I felt the middle could have been edited down, as there were large sections that dragged. I will say if you have the perseverance to make your way though the middle, I think you'll be happy you did by the end. But the getting there was though for me; whenever I'd put down the book, I wasn't dying to pick it back up. I'm not exactly sure if it was me or the book but regardless, I felt no sense of urgency to finish this. (Clearly, as I missed our last read-along post, and I was hosting.)

Before the book was released, critics joked that an alternate title for the novel could have been Mugglemarch, pointing to it's similarities to George Eliot's Middlemarch, a book I've read twice and respect greatly. The main similarity I noted between The Casual Vacancy and Eliot's classic is that both revolve around a plethora of characters who are all interconnected in a web of dishonesty. That, and both novels lean towards the depressing side of human nature. But that's human nature; it's irrational, selfish, and ignorant. Rowling's novel explores this less than glamorous side of human nature, exposing its weaknesses through a number of imperfect characters. 

He never seemed to grasp the immense mutability of human nature, nor to appreciate that behind every nondescript face lay a wild and unique hinterland like his own.
The last thing I want to do is compare The Casual Vacancy to Harry Potter but what I will say is that if anything, Harry Potter proved that not only does Rowling have an incredible imagination, but she's got a gift for conveying her richly imagined worlds through her writing. In my opinion, there was nothing very imaginative about this novel. Of the ideas she presented, there was nothing new in the way she brought them forth. I did not feel challenged while reading her book (if you don't count my difficulty to finish it) and it all felt a bit mundane. What I will say is Rowling proved she can write adult fiction and she can write it well - her prose is crafted beautifully and her characters are well developed. I'm just hoping that her next novel is more absorbing and a little less trite. 

Publisher: Little, Brown 2012 

Read my initial thoughts on the novel here. I'd also like to thank Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm once more for co-hosting the read-along and for designing the lovely button you see above. 


The Casual Vacancy: A Read-Along Part 2 (Sort Of)

Today we you are posting our final thoughts on The Casual Vacancy. 

So, you guys, I'm just going to come out and say it; I did not finish the book. This is not a DNF because it's horrible, it's a momentary DNF because I have been crunched for time. I am a terrible host and I apologize, because it's a total buzz kill to sign up for a read-along and then have a terrible host. I could get into things like the 3-day wedding festivities I partook in over the weekend and the extra hours I've been putting in at work, but I'll just say I feel like an ass and that's that.

Please feel free to link up your final thoughts below. I will post my final thoughts upon completion and come back to the linkup to read yours. Until then, please accept my apologies and know that I feel terrible.


The Casual Vacancy: A Read-Along Part 1

Today we are posting our general and early impressions of the novel with NO spoilers. So even if you aren't participating in the read-along, feel free to read on!

It has been one week since The Casual Vacancy was published and I've made it through the first third of the novel. I was a bit overwhelmed with the first few chapters, as we were introduced to a new character on every page, or so it seemed. As I read on things started to come together, only to become a bit stagnant. Yes, so far, I am not head over heels. This isn't to say it's bad; Rowlings writing is fantastic. She can certainly capture a feeling or detail in a way that allows me to imagine it wholly. However, in terms of plot and even character development it feels a little bland. To be fair though, I am only a third of the way through and I have no doubt things will (hopefully) pick up.

From what I've read so far, one device that stands out is Rowling's portrayal of Pagford and its foil, Yarvil. Pagford represents the "English idyll... cupped in a hallow between three hills, one of which was crested with the remains of the twelfth-century abbey. A thin river snaked around the edge of the hill and through town, straddled by a toy stone bridge."  Of course this is in contrast to the long-hated town of Yarvil, filled with unemployed drug addicts who frequent rehab. When social worker Kay Bawden visits a family in Yarvil, she notes the griminess of it all:

Bits of rubbish had tumbled or been scattered over the scrubby patch of lawn, but the bulk of it remained piled beneath one of the two downstairs windows. A bald tire sat in the middle of the lawn... After ringing the doorbell, Kay noticed a used condom glistening in the grass beside her feet, like the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub.
In my opinion, Rowling has succeeded in establishing a detailed and impressive sense of place that encompasses these two contrasting towns - now I'd like to see where this leads. Like I mentioned before, as far as characters go, there are many. I'm starting to get a better sense of what drives each and exactly how varied they all are. Thus far, I'd have to say I really enjoy Andrew. Maybe I have taken a liking because he is an underdog of sorts, or maybe it's because I find his thoughts damn funny. Either way, I look forward to learning what Andrew has got in store for us. It seems as though he may turn out to be a moderator of sorts, in contrast to his hard-headed father.

In addition, I would like to address all the body parts Rowling describes; we have encountered, thus far, balls, penises, breasts, and boners. We read a confession from a virgin who exclaims "Lots of pushing to get in properly. It's tighter than I thought". These descriptions don't feel out of place and I think they add even more color to an already diverse novel. 

All in all, do I love The Casual Vacancy? Not yet, though it may be too soon to tell. What I will say is I'm happy to read something so different from Harry Potter. Regardless of any expectations I had going into this, I was not expecting a story like this. And for that, I'd like to congratulate Rowling.

If you are participating in the read-along, feel free to link up your first post below! We will be posting our final thoughts next Thursday.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich

One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

The Round House was the first Louis Erdrich novel I have read and I’m already looking forward to reading more. In this novel, Erdrich examines the Ojibwe's modern-day culture, the discrimination they face, and the conflicts and complications of their justice system as a result of jurisdiction. Specifically, if a crime is committed against an Ojibwe member on non-Native American soil, the crime cannot be tried in the Ojibwe legal system. When I first heard about this novel I pegged it for a powerful book that could expose me to a way of living with which I was not very familiar and Erdrich delivered. This is a novel that will pull at your heart strings and make you reconsider the rights and tangle of laws surrounding Native Americans.                                                                                                   
"We want the right to prosecute criminals of all races on all lands within our original boundaries... What i am doing now is for the future, though it may seem small, or trivial, or boring, to you."
First and foremost, The Round House is a coming-of-age story narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe Bazil, who is young enough to not yet be a man but too old to be considered just a kid. We as readers piece together and understand details of the crime and his family’s unfolding just as he does. There is something to be said about an innocent narrator who doesn’t deserve the reality with which he is faced and the amount of sympathy we as readers feel. 

The title of the book itself refers to a sacred meeting place, where the Ojibwe gather to worship and hold significant gatherings. In this novel, the Round House is also the scene of a heinous crime. (Not a spoiler – this is revealed in the first 100 pages.) The fact that sacred space saw such a horrible crime highlights the underlying Ojibwe traditions that were violated as a result of this crime, in addition to the Bazil family itself.

Among other things, I enjoyed that Erdich weaves details of the traditions and stories of Ojibwe culture into the narrative. In the novel ghost expose themselves and wendigos seek to possess humans. Erdich also emphasizes the tremendous support extended families provide for one another in this culture. All in all, this is a story about injustices and how a family pulls together in the wake of tragedy. It’s a story of redemption and speaks to the prejudice many Native American women face across our nation. If you do read this novel, and I recommend that you do, be sure to read the afterward; it details sobering statistics that I think would be considered spoilers if I included them here.

Publisher: Harper, 2012


JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy: A Read-Along

Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm and I are so excited about the release of Rowling's first novel for adults that we decided to host a read-along! We both knew we'd read it immediately upon its release, so it only makes sense to ask you to join in and read it with us! If you've been living under a rock, the synopsis of the novel is as follows:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

As far as read-alongs go, this one will be pretty informal, with just two posts. Since this will most likely be a novel we can burn through, we've allotted two weeks for the schedule. The novel will be published a week from today, Thursday, September 27th. 

The first post will be Thursday, October 4th and will include first impressions and general thoughts, really anything you'd like to discuss is fair game but NO SPOILERS! Since there isn't a set page number you need to get to before the first post, we don't want to ruin anything for anyone else participating.

The second and final post will be Thursday, October 11th when we will wrap up the discussion with our overall impression of the novel. This may include an examination of its themes and motifs, character development, or how you felt about Rowling's first first novel for adults compared to the Harry Potter phenomenon she created. Again, you can discuss anything you want and at this point, and spoilers are fair game. This probably goes wihtout saying, but when you post final thoughts you should have the novel completed.

Okay, formalities aside, we really just planned this read-along as a means to have fun and promote discussion! If you are thinking about reading the novel right away and want to join in, grab the button and link up! Also a big thanks to Beth for making an awesome button! 


The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fford

“Governments and fashions come and go but Jane Eyre is for all time.”

I'm a little late to the Thursday Next party, but I'm happy to now be a part of it! The Eyre Affair is the first novel of the Thursday Next Series and it was such a fun read. Fford has created an alternate history in which the lines between reality and fiction become blurred and people can literally step into the pages of a book, meet its central characters, and experience the setting for themselves. With that they can also manipulate the outcome of the novel and even kidnap fictional characters. Enter LiteraTec Thursday Next, a literary protector of sorts, working to maintain the authenticity of great works of literature.

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we thing; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.
If you haven't already guessed, this is definitely a book for book lovers as it's filled with literary references. I don't want to give away much of the plot, because the not knowing is what makes it so enjoyable. The story is incredibly imaginative and odd, but I mean that in the best possible way. I will say it took me about 100 plus pages to really get into the book, so don't get discouraged if you pick it up and feel confused or removed; if you keep going I promise you will be rewarded in the second half of the novel. I should also mention you'll probably enjoy this book much more if you have already read or are very familiar with Jane Eyre. I wouldn't say Rochester and Jane are main characters per se, but their story is at the forefront of the novel (hence the title The Eyre Affair) and the bits in which they appeared were among my favorite parts of the book. Fford did a great job maintaining the genuine feel of the characters and I appreciated the novel that much more because of those details.

All in all this was a fun, substantial read. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys studying literature and those who love Jane Eyre. A special thanks to Alley for recommending this book so highly. There are currently a total of seven books in the Thursday Next series and I look forward to picking up the second, Lost In a Good Book.

Publisher: Penguin, 2001


Books That Make You Think

This week's top ten Tuesday gives me a chance to highlight some of my favorite kinds of books; those that make you think. Allow me to elaborate - these are books that examine an issue that doesn't have a "right" or "wrong" answer ; these books present both sides of an issue, open your eyes to it, and make you really think about about where you stand, or make you question what you thought you believed in the first place. For me, these books tend to be the most powerful and the most memorable.

Native Son by Richard Wright / What you'll consider: Civil rights; discrimination in the American judicial system; racism; generational poverty

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers / What you'll consider: What in means to be an American Muslim post 9/11; racial profiling; hypocrisy of governments

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Llyod Parry / What you'll consider: Eastern vs. Western culture in terms of media, law, sexual behavior and government; how culture determines gender roles

The Submission by Amy Waldman / What you'll consider: What it means to be an American Muslim post 9/11; government propaganda; the non-apologetic attitude of modern-day America; the irrationality of certain post 9/11 fears

them by Joyce Carol Oates / What you'll consider:
Poverty in America; class struggle; the role of women

Animal Farm
by George Orwell / What you'll consider: The problems that arise from absolute power/totalitarian regimes; political corruption; the human desire for power

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugindes / What you'll consider: Cultural history; divided identities; the impact one has on the lives around him or her; gender vs. sex

by Stephen King / What you'll consider: The power of "what if;" the idea that the past it obdurate; 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid
/ What you'll consider: What it means to be a Muslim in post 9/11 America; the ever-changing American landscape and its consequences

Life of Pi by Yann Martel / What you'll consider: Faith; religion; free will

As I said, these kind of books tend to be my favorite kind of read, so please feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!   
image via weheartit.


Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

Oh where to begin. I should start by telling you how I came across this title. Ben at Dead End Follies is hosting a year-long reading challenge called Smooth Criminals that I'm taking part in. The challenge focuses on literary crime fiction and one of the categories is to read a work by a writer who did time. Upon googling authors who spent time in prison I stumbled across 10 Literary Geniuses Who Went To Jail. Upon further Googling I found that not only did genet go to prison, but he wrote one of his novels, Our Lady of the Flowers, while he was in there:

"Jean Genet's first, and arguably greatest, novel was written while he was in prison. As Sartre recounts in his introduction, Genet penned this work on the brown paper which inmates were supposed to use to fold bags as a form of occupational therapy. The masterpiece he managed to produce under those difficult conditions is a lyrical portrait of the criminal underground of Paris and the thieves, murderers and pimps who occupied it. Genet approached this world through his protagonist, Divine, a male transvestite prostitute. In the world of Our Lady of the Flowers, moral conventions are turned on their head. Sinners are portrayed as saints and when evil is not celebrated outright, it is at least viewed with a benign indifference. Whether one finds Genet's work shocking or thrilling, the novel remains almost as revolutionary today as when it was first published in 1943 in a limited edition, thanks to the help of one its earliest admirers, Jean Cocteau.

I thought this all sounded quite interesting and unlike anything I've ever read. A male transvestite prostitute as the protagonist? Thieves, murderers, and pimps? I'm in. So I bought the novel at Half Price Books and even after reading a few pages I knew I'd been right - this was unlike any other book I've read before. To start, the prose is shockingly beautiful. It reads like a poem, lyrical and rhythmic. Since I read a translated edition I can only assume that the original French edition read even more handsomely, but kudos to the translator.

Now, describing the plot is where is gets a little sticky. It's not straightforward in the least. It is dreamlike and almost follows a stream of conscious, but not exactly 100% of the time. It seems to come and go; we read Genet's thoughts as he lets himself succumb to them on the one hand, building his own fantasies through the stories of Divine, but the work as a whole seems to speak to the isolation of oneself and the gift of our freedom of thought once it's removed from the hustle bustle of the everyday. It highlights the possibilities of fantasy and our ability to create magic when hurling our thoughts full-force ahead.
The whole world is dying of of panicky fright. Five million young men of all tongues will die by the cannon that erects and discharges. But where I am I can muse in comfort at the lovely dead of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Anyhow, that doesn't really sum up much. The novel is actually quite erotic as Genet's thoughts often tend toward the sexual. Much of it is a meditation on masturbation; an act I can only assume occurs often in prison. This is a novel about passion and intimacy; there are some raunchy bits but they are written so tastefully. It makes sense why Genet may focus on these ideas while in prison, deprived of any sort of physical sexual activity, he chose to write about it as a means of fulfillment and a means of escape. That's how I understand it at least.

This one definitely begs for a reread because there are so many ideas to digest and consider. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to read something a little different,with ideas that may be a little outside or his or her comfort zone. I'd also push this on anyone who has a passion for eloquently written verse-like language.

Publisher: Grove Press, 1951


RIP VII: It's Here!

You guys! RIP is back! Which means my favorite season is upon us! I know every year around this time I gush about Fall but I can't help it! After a long, hot summer I just love the crisp air, apple picking, scarves, leaves... the list goes on! 

Anyhow, RIP. It starts September 1st and ends October 31st. To participate, you can read books that fall in the genre of: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror and supernatural. As always, there are multiple perils. This year, since I am a bit behind in my other challenges and I have a few ARC's headed my way that I'm really excited about, I am going to participate in Peril the Second:

Read two books, any length, that you feel fit (my very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

If you're interested in reading brief reviews of the books I read for RIP last year, you can find that here. The books I read this year will most likely come from the list below. 
  • Rebecca, Daphne DuMarier
  • The Gun Slinger, Stephen King
  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  • The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield 
  • Case Histories, Kate Atkinson 
  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fford
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
  • We Have Always Lived In the Castle, Shirley Jackson 
  • In The Woods, Tana French 


The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A mysterious house harbors an unimaginable secret. . . . It’s wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village where they’ve recently bought a home. But from the minute they cross the threshold, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house there still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners’ son, who died by drowning. With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the suspicious circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called The Prince of Mist—a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden, which will change their lives forever.

Shortly after I finished The Prisoner of Heaven I came across The Prince of Mist at Half Price Books. It's the first novel Zafon published and since I was still on a high from his latest, I snatched it up. The Prince of Mist is a young adult thriller and while it made for a quick, fun read I think I would have enjoyed it more if had I read it when I was younger. It felt a bit too juvenile for my taste. There were definitely parts of the short novel that creeped me out, and Zafon did a good job pulling me into the story from the start, but having read his adult novels, this one felt a little too basic and a little too transparent by comparison.

On the positive front, I will say that Zafon brought a strong sense of place to the forefront of the novel, just as he does in his adult works. The beach house, complete with a cemetery of stone figures, the sunken ship in the bay and the lighthouse overlooking the area made for an eerie and memorable landscape. He also included a few twists to keep it interesting. Plain and simple, this is a fun little read. I just prefer Zafon's adult stuff better. Recommended, to my 12-year-old self.

Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1993