Monday, 21 September 2015

#UnderHypedReads TBR

Forgive the radio silence, life things got in the way. I'm sure you know how it is. It can be tricky to find the time, and even occasionally the motivation, to dedicate to doing the things you really want to do. The #BookBuddyAthon finished last Monday and although I didn't manage to read everything on my TBR list, I was pretty happy with how my first readathon went. They always seemed so daunting. I'm very much a mood reader; picking up whichever book takes my fancy whenever I feel like reading, and I thought I might simply not feel like reading anything. But thankfully that wasn't the case.

A couple of days ago Bee, who was my book buddy for the last readathon, posted her TBR for the #UnderHypedReads readathon and it sounded like something I really wanted to join in with, so here I am! I like the freedom of this readathon, you can even interpret what an under-hyped book is in your own way. I've chosen unread books from my shelf that have under 3000 ratings on Goodreads, but you could go for books with under 5000 ratings, or under 500 ratings even. Or you could ignore Goodreads entirely and choose a book that you haven't really heard anyone mention or talk about before.
The readathon starts today, so if you want to join in do let me know what you'll be reading over the coming week in the comments below, and here are the books I'm hoping to pick up over the next week.

Music for Torching by A.M. Homes (2685 goodreads ratings)
"Paul and Elaine have two boys and a beautiful home, yet they find themselves thoroughly, inexplicably stuck. Obsessed with 'making things good again', they spin the quiet terrors of family life into a fantastical frenzy that careens well and truly out of control."
This was part of my #BookBuddyAthon TBR and unfortunately I didn't quite manage to squeeze it in then, but I'm determined to read it this week. I actually picked it up this morning and read about 50 pages, which were thoroughly brilliant, so I'm hopeful it'll continue to be an enjoyable read. 

Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963 by Susan Sontag (1359 goodreads ratings)
"A self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and intellectuals. We watch the young Sontag's complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with the profound challenge of writing itself, all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstance."

I've been interested in Susan Sontag ever since I read On Photography back in college but oddly have never picked up any of her other work. Why? I have no idea. But it's time to change that. When I saw this copy of her journal for just a few pounds I had to pick it up and I'm intrigued to see what's inside. 

The Incarnations by Susan Barker (550 goodreads ratings)
"The story of a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations over one thousand years haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate."

After sitting on my shelf unread for too many months now, it's time for me to delve into this world. It sounds like such an intriguing and immersive story, I really have no idea why it has taken me so long to finally get around to picking it up. 

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry (2083 goodreads ratings)
"New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum. 

As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger." 

I started this a little while ago, got to page 100, and then stopped reading. And I can't remember why. It definitely wasn't because I wasn't enjoying it though, I remember being really into the world because of the rich descriptions and interesting characters. I'm going to start over, or at least skim the part I've already read just in case I've forgotten anything important, but I'm looking forward to finally finding out what happens! 

The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It by Owen Jones (1242 goodreads ratings)
"Behind our democracy lurks a powerful but unaccountable network of people who wield massive power and reap huge profits in the process. In exposing this shadowy and complex system that dominates our lives, Owen Jones sets out on a journey into the heart of our Establishment, from the lobbies of Westminster to the newsrooms, boardrooms and trading rooms of Fleet Street and the City. Exposing the revolving doors that link these worlds, and the vested interests that bind them together, Jones shows how, in claiming to work on our behalf, the people at the top are doing precisely the opposite."

A bit of non-fiction that I must say I'm looking forward to getting thoroughly annoyed at and having a bit of a grumble at as I read. I don't know how much new information will be in here, but I picked up a copy one day on a whim and I hope to at least make a start on it sometime this week.

What are you going to be reading this week? 

- Jennie


Sunday, 6 September 2015

#BookBuddyAthon TBR

Mere seconds after I had finished watching a #BookBuddyAthon TBR video and thinking 'that looks like a really fun readathon to take part in and I totally would if I had a buddy' the wonderful Bee from Vivatramp asked me to be her buddy and I'm so excited about it! Bee is one of my favourite internet ladies, I think we've been friends for something like 5 years now and I can't believe we haven't met in person yet! If Vivatramp isn't part of your blog subscription list and you like books and creative lifestyle posts, you must must must subscribe!

I haven't read a whole lot since finishing A Little Life, which I'm still totally hung up on, but I have a feeling this readathon will be the thing to finally push me to move the eff on. So here are the books I'm hoping to finish during my very first readathon...

1. Choose 3 books and get your buddy to pick one for you to read.
I gave Bee the choice of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Chimes by Anna Smaill and Music for Torching by A.M Homes. She chose the latter, which I was the one I was hoping for so those telepathic thoughts totally worked. She chose it because she'd never heard of it and the blurb she read included the words 'throbbing washer' and I was hoping she'd choose it because as I was quickly flicking through the pages (to get some of that unread book scent, please tell me I'm not the only one that does this!?) the sentence that jumped off one of the pages was 'I shaved myself'. So I'm hoping this is going to be hilarious in parts to offset some of the misery I'm told lies within.  

* * *

2. Buddy read a book. 
We're going for White Oleander by Janet Fitch. We've both started this book before and ended up putting it down for reasons we can't remember. I'm not even sure whether I liked it but put it down because I needed to spend time doing other things, or if it annoyed me. The amount of tabs that are in my copy lead me to believe the writing is utterly beautiful, so I'm quite looking forward to starting over again, even more so because I get to read it with Bee! From what I remember it begins during a hot summer, something we haven't had much of this year in these parts, so we're going to read it to try and pretend we did. But I may also be completely wrong and totally mis-remembering the start of the book. We'll see!

* * *

3. Read a book with your buddy's favourite colour on.
Bee's favourite colour is purple so I've chosen Silence in October by Jens Christian Gr√łndahl. 'After eighteen years of marriage, the narrator's wife has left home. In the silence of his Copenhagen apartment or on his travels, he recalls not just their lives together, their first meeting, children, friends, careers, affairs, but re-evaluates himself so that moment by moment, the puzzle of his life takes shape.' I think this might be cheating a little but I started reading it at 1am this morning, just before going to sleep and I'm not very far in but I completely agree with a lot of the praise that suggests it is an introspective evaluation of the human condition told masterfully. 

* * * 

4. Read a book your buddy gave 5 stars. 
Using the readathon as an excuse to buy a new book I've chosen What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. A copy is currently in the post, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed it arrives in the next few days. I've heard a lot of fabulous things about this collection, and if Bee gave it 5 stars I think I'm pretty safe in thinking my high hopes will be more than met.

* * *

5. Read a book you want to...just because. 
Finally for this challenge I'm going to go with The Chimes by Anna Smaill. This is the only other book on the Booker long list I own other than A Little Life, so I definitely want to get to it before the shortlist is announced. I don't know very much about it, but I have a feeling that's the best way to approach this novel. It's received a lot of praise from people whose opinions I really value so I'm hoping for good things.

* * *

The #BookBuddyAthon was created by Cold Tea & Crumbs and Elena Reads Books. It starts on the 7th and runs through until the 13th & the aim is simply to read as much as possible and have a good ol' chat about it along the way. Yay for books and yay for reading! Let's do this!

Will you be taking part? 
Have you read any of these books before? 

- Jennie


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Mid-Year(ish) Book Tag

It's well past mid-year but as I'm running a little behind on my reading challenge, sitting at roughly half way to 100 as I write this, I think it's still okay for me to answer these questions!

 1. Best book you've read so far this year?
This is not going to be a surprise to anyone that's been around at any time over the last couple of weeks and it's A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It's devastating, had me ugly crying in places and tearing up at any mention of it for weeks after turning the last page. Full post here

2. Best sequel you've read so far this year?
For some reason there is a distinct lack of books in a series on my shelf. I don't have anything against them, but I don't seem to be as drawn to them and I have no idea why that is. I'm probably just not looking into the right ones! I read The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith back at the start of the year and I thought it was great. The relationship between Strike and Robin was explored a little more and it was nice to have that as I was trying to piece together the clues to solve the who-dunnit. As always the big reveal makes all the clues seem so obvious retrospectively, but I didn't manage to work it out. Rowling is always one step ahead of me!

3. New release you haven't read yet, but want to?
Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Not a super recent release, but it's one that's been looking at me from my shelf for a long time now. 

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of 2015?
Keeping up with new/upcoming releases is something I am absolutely terrible at, although it's probably not such a bad thing for my bank account. The illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone comes out soon, and of course the new Galbraith, Career of Evil, is one I'll have to pick up at some point. Apart from that, any recommendations are welcome!   

5. Biggest disappointment?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This is a favourite of many people I know and it was just one of those books that I didn't form a connection with. And that's okay. I can appreciate this is an important book for so many people and although it wasn't for me, I'm happy that it has brought a lot of joy to so many.

6. Biggest surprise?
Lorali by Laura Dockrill. When I heard this was a book about mermaids I was intrigued and skeptical in equal measures. The skepticism came from a (very wrong!) preconceived notion I had from somewhere that mermaid stories are always somehow inherently cheesy. One of the perspectives the narrative is told from is the sea itself, and it worked so well within the overall eccentric and humourous adventure. There's also some really intelligent commentary on our modern media culture in there too, which is a conversation that I think is ridiculously important and it really enriched the narrative authentically as opposed to feeling like it had just been wedged in there simply because it could be. 

7. Favourite new author?
This is a difficult question. I definitely want to explore more novels by Sarah Waters and M.J. Carter. I was really captivated by the writing style of The Paying Guests by Waters and The Infidel Stain by Carter, so I think it's likely that I would enjoy their other work too.

8. Newest fictional crush?
Ohh I'm not sure I have one. I would certainly appreciate a presence like Willem from A Little Life in my life though. 

9. Newest favourite character?
Jude St. Francis from A Little Life. He managed to draw out pretty much every emotion from me over the course of 700 pages. 

10. Book that made you cry?
I hate to repeat an answer yet again, but no book has ever made me sob like A Little Life. I still get a little glassy-eyed whenever I think about it. 

11. Book that made you happy?
Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book is cute with a capital C.

12. Favourite book to movie adaptation you've seen this year?
I'm cheating slightly because this is a book to TV adaptation, but Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell captured the eerie magical atmosphere and the tumultuous relationship between Strange and Norrell within the narrative really well. 

13. Favourite review you've written this year?
I'm rubbish at writing dedicated reviews, so this isn't a question I can answer. But I will say that my favourite post to write so far this year was the elements tag. I do love a good tag! 

14. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year?
If we're talking cover design, Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry is a real thing of beauty.

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
I'm such a mood reader this is a question I'm finding almost impossible to answer. I have both The Secret History and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on my shelf that I'd like to get to. I've just been reminded of The Incarnations by Susan Barker by the All The Books! Book Riot podcast so that's one I'm hoping to start soon. And I still haven't read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, despite it having waited patiently on my shelf for longer than it should have already.

Now I just have to get over my 'how can I ever read again after A Little Life broke my heart' slump. It's really bad. I couldn't even reread Harry Potter when I tried the other day, but I think I might try to read something...anything this afternoon. Fingers crossed!

* * *

What is the best book you've read so far this year? 
Anything you're looking forward to reading over the coming months? 

- Jennie


Monday, 17 August 2015

At Least The Book Of The Year So Far, Maybe The Best Book I've Ever Read.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

As I turned the final page, closed the book and replaced the dust jacket I sat back and thought, how can I possibly ever read another book? Nothing will ever make me feel like this again. Immediately after finishing I wrote this on Goodreads; "I don't have the right words to even begin, nor can I really see what I'm writing through the film of tears that is clouding my eyes. But I'll start with this; A Little Life is quite probably the most exquisite book I've ever read." 

That film of tears I mention there, well, it still spontaneously appears whenever my mind flits back to the final few chapters. Yep. Even two days later. And I think about it quite a lot. When I'm doing the washing up. When I'm brushing my teeth. When I'm trying to fall asleep. When I'm queuing in the supermarket. It's actually becoming a bit of a problem. But a good kind of problem because this is what great literature is. It's about making you feel. These characters aren't characters at all. They're real to me. And I'm not ready to let them go just yet. I'm not sure I ever will be.

"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome, but that will define his life forever."

This is the most exquisite, devastating, tender, brutally painful and emotional book I have ever read. I could go on with the adjectives, but you get my point. I have cried reading books before, but nothing has ever come close to the sobs that I wasn't sure would ever stop. 'This is the best book I have ever read' just wasn't a good enough explanation. A Little Life is about how what we're told we are by people we once trusted can shape the way we see ourselves forever, how the truest, most authentic bonds we form can survive almost anything, how recalling painful suffering can awaken the very best of human nature, and how the power of deep, enduring love does indeed have limitations no matter how much we wish that it didn't. This is Jude's story. And I'm not going to tell you anything else about it.

Just be sure to take care of yourself. In places things get so dark it's difficult to even imagine where the next source of light could possibly come from. Something that has been quite an intense part of my life is described in minute detail and rather than leaving me feeling desolate or distressed, it probably forms a large part of why I feel the way I do about this novel. But make sure you look out for yourself.

“You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.” 
* * *
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
 * * *
“...things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realise that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.” 

So although it's likely that no other novel will make me feel quite like this again, it's okay because that's exactly what makes this one so intensely special. I'm not the same person I was before. This novel has become a part of me, quite possibly for forever. The power of words, eh? Magic. Extraordinary. Life changing.

Has a novel ever made you feel this way before?

- Jennie


P.S. Number of times I've cried whilst trying to write this: 7. I told you it's becoming a bit of a problem!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

To Read in August.

To-be-read blog posts are one of my favourite kind of posts to read because I'm always curious (read: nosy) to see which books are noteworthy enough to make it to the top of someone's pile, and because I always seem to discover a new book that I then in turn add to my 'I need to look into this further' list. And I'm sure I'm not the only one that has a list like that.

When it comes to making and sticking to my own to-be-read selection however, well, let's just say I'm not the best. A combination of being an 'I can only read which ever book I'm in just the right mood for at the time' person and just generally very easily distracted, means I can't predict which book I'll want to read next, let alone which books I'll want to read in two weeks time. Even with that being said, I'm going to give it a go this month and we'll see how well I did at the end of the month!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The book I'm currently reading, I've talked about it an absurd amount already this week but if it sounds like something you would like/you're willing and able to have your heart broken and beaten to a pulp, I implore you to pick up a copy. The writing is phenomenal. And that's not a word I use lightly.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
After A Little Life I think I'm going to need something quick and fun to read. I have a collection of Poirot books that I bought from The Book People earlier in the year and this is the second one I'll be picking up. What's even better is that this is a collection of short stories, which I wasn't expecting, but it's a pleasant surprise. There's a story about a film star and a diamond, a suspicious death in a locked gun-room, a jewel robbery by the sea, and so much more. My favourite thing about Christie's work is how everything always slots neatly into place at the end. There's something very satisfying about that. 

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
I first started reading this back in May and I put it down, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I got a little distracted. 'From the sideshows of Coney Island to the tenements and opium dens of the Lower East Side, to an asylum on Blackwell's Island, follow the adventures of two sisters, an enigmatic orphan, a mortician's bride, an assortment of freaks, and a newborn baby, as they come together in the Church of Marvels...' This is one of those novels that feels like a real treat to read and I'm looking forward to getting lost in late nineteenth century New York again very soon.

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche
There's a little collection of these Penguin Little Black Classics on my shelf and I have, shamefully, been neglecting them. An 'iconoclastic German philosopher's blazing maxims on revenge, false pity and the drawbacks of marriage' this is a little book that I'll be making my way through slowly over the coming weeks to get the most out of it, even though it can feel so tempting to simply whiz through.

* * *

Do you like to pick out a few specific books to read at the start of each month?

- Jennie


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Little Life.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara has been on my radar for a little while now, ever since the first reviews started trickling on to the internet that described it as being both 'beautiful' and 'devastating'. Tell me a story will break my heart and I'll probably be there quicker than you can say 'don't forget to bring the tissues'. Last week the Booker long list was announced and although I'm usually terrible at predicting these things, I wasn't surprised to see this on there. Like The Luminaries this novel, with its deep character explorations, has the Booker Prize written all over it.

"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome, but that will define his life forever."

I'm only a few pages in so there's not really much I can say, but I think the amount of page flags I have in there so far says it all. In fact, I might need to nip out tomorrow and buy some more if the rest is as beautifully written as these opening chapters. A novel I will read slowly over the coming week, I'm planning to savour every page whilst trying to prepare as much as possible for the emotional loop-the-loops of the roller coaster that I can see just ahead.

What are you currently reading? 
Have you read A Little Life?

- Jennie