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 fa├žade 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