Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

her-fearful-symmetryAudrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry was perhaps my most anticipated book of the year. The obvious question is, did it live up to that anticipation? For me, the answer is yes, and then some. The reason being, it was nothing like I expected. I didn’t know much about the plot because I had avoided spoilers like the plague and I think everyone should, so my plot description of this one will be very brief.

Niffenegger paints a story of two twins, Julia and Valentina who inherit a building in London that lies adjacent to Highgate Cemetery after their Aunt Elspeth’s death. They never knew or met their Aunt Elspeth, but she will soon get to know them as she haunts the flat in the building that they live in. Also living in the building is Robert, Elspeth’s husband who is a tour guide at Highgate cemetery, and Martin, a man who suffers with obsessive compulsive disorder.

One of the things I loved about this novel is that everything is a character. The house itself is a character, the city is a character, Highgate CemeteryΒ is just amazing and I’m dying to go to London now just to go on a tour of it. The human characters are just perfect. I loved them all. I’m not going to talk about each of them individually, because there are quite a few of them, but even the secondary and tertiary characters are beautiful. Niffenegger has a way of making the most quiet scenes full of beauty. Anyone who has read The Time Traveler’s Wife knows this.

This is a very different novel from The Time Traveler’s Wife. I think the question everyone asks is “how does it compare to The Time Traveler’s Wife“? And my answer is that it doesn’t. I could never compare it to that novel because it’s so different. Both look at human emotions and examine the strength of human bonds, yes, but they are very different stories, with very different feelings attached to them. I found Her Fearful Symmetry to be very atmospheric, my favorite type of novel. It was delightfully creepy and haunting at times, but never in a disturbing way.

I’ve read some reviews that take issue with the ending of the novel, saying that it was too rushed; that some characters weren’t treated fairly, and honestly, I don’t yet know how I feel on that. I can see where those people are coming from, but at the same time, I like Niffenegger’s ending. I would’ve liked a little more resolve with one character plot, but that’s my only complaint. Niffenegger can rest assured that I’ll be happily waiting in line for her next book to arrive. She’s a force!

Bad Bloggers on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone πŸ™‚ I realize that as I’m writing this, Thanksgiving is nearly over, so I hope everyone had a fantastic one filled with family and friends and food and fun. I for one had WAY too much food…but that’s a good thing πŸ™‚ I wanted to share something with you all and I hope that you all read it! For Thanksgiving, S.G. Browne, author of Breathers, put up the Thanksgiving chapter of his book, Breathers, on his blog. It’s one of my favorite chapters in the book and it’s super short and it’s poignant, witty, and hilarious all in one breath. If you enjoy that chapter then you will fall in love with the book. Hop on over there and check it out!

Now for the Bad Bloggers part of the post….oh, it’s bad this time. I haven’t been feeling too good lately….emotionally, physically, just not good. And when I don’t feel good, my book intake increases. Funny how that works, huh? πŸ˜‰ Needless to say, my book buying ban has gone out of the window too :/ I’ve started Christmas shopping and for me it goes a little like this: “one for me, one for you”. Sound familiar? Anyway, here’s what’s walked into my house since the last Bad Bloggers post:

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1. Feed by M.T. Anderson – Well, I still haven’t read anything by M.T. Anderson….but Anderson is one of those authors that I’m just convinced that I’m really going to like! And this book sounds really good. And they had it on Bookmooch…so I got it :/ (Bookmooch)

2. Native by Mona Kuhn – This book was so gorgeous! I actually reviewed it last week. It was a review copy sent to me and it’s filled with gorgeous photographs of the Brazilian rainforest and the people who live there. It does have some nudity in it (both male and female) so if that offends you for whatever reason, this may not be for you, but this is such a beautiful piece of art! (Review copy)

3. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber – Nymeth was sweet enough to send me this book along with a mix CD. Even though Nymeth sent me this book, it’s actually Shanra’s fault that I want to read it πŸ˜‰ So she’ll get the first point of this post! She’s raved about this book quite a few times so I was actually quite excited when Ana offered it to me! (Sent by a friend)

4. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling – I love Lynn Flewelling. She’s my hero. I’ve actually only read one of her books, The Bone Doll’s twin, but it quickly became one of my all time favorite fantasy books for the gender issues that it tackled after reading that book. I really need to finish that series! After reading that book, many people suggested that I try the Nightrunner series as well and this is the first book in that series! Really looking forward to it!! (Paperback Swap)

5. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr – Just because it’s Sara Zarr and I’m convinced that I’ll love her even though I still haven’t read Sweethearts which I own :/ (Paperback Swap)

6. Sonny’s House of Spies by George Ella Lyon – A point for my dear friend Debi! She did it with this review. Yeah, just go read that and try not to add this one to your wishlist! Can’t wait to dig into it…this one has been on my wishlist for so long!!! (Paperback Swap)

7. Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima – Just because I really want to read some Mishima for the Japanese Lit Challenge this year. I have Confessions of a Mask and plan on reading that, but I wanted to read this one too. And I got this really cool old paperback from 1978 too off of Paperback Swap πŸ™‚ I love old paperbacks! (Paperback Swap)

8. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote – I saw this one at Barnes and Noble the other night while Christmas shopping and just had to buy it. It’s a gorgeous edition and actually has 3 short stories in it. I know that A Christmas Memory is one of Ana’s favorite Christmas stories, so that’s the main reason I bought this one…so a point to Nymeth for this one. I may just read this one tonight since we put up the Christmas tree and I’m in a Christmas-y mood now! (Bought it)

9. Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle – How could I not buy this one when looking for Christmas books to read?! Plus Nymeth also reviewed this one last year and left me aching to read it :p So she’s getting a point for this too. I was so happy to see Maureen Johnson’s excitement at hitting the NYT bestseller list with this new paperback release! (Bought it)

10. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb – I’m super stoked about this one. It’s a graphic novel of the book of Genesis. I wouldn’t consider myself a religious person at all, but I’m super interested in religions. Always have been. And I love the book of Genesis. This is such a neat idea and after just reading the preface to this I’m so excited. Can’t wait to get into it…yeah, I bought this one too :p (Bought it)

11. The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany – It’s about damn time I bought this one! All Neil Gaiman’s fault!! (Bookmooch)

12. The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag – I don’t even remember what this one is about!! All I remember is that it has something to do with a Mongolian boy and that Eva did an awesome review of it ages ago that made me want it really bad. And now I have it!! Point to Eva πŸ™‚ (Paperback Swap)

13. The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien – Well I had to get this one. While shopping on Amazon I decided to click in their bargain bin section and this one was on clearance!! I’ve been wanting it for ages. So now I have it πŸ™‚ And it looks amazing. I love the cover!! (Bought it)

A Year Later…

A year ago today, quite a few of us lost a good friend. I had just started to really get to know Dewey. I had followed her in the background for awhile, lurking on her blog as I do on so many others still, and just a few months before her death I started talking to her. She was amazing, absolutely amazing. I don’t know what else to say about her aside from that. I remember her making me feel special, while at the same time she felt like an old friend even though I had really just met her. Then I remember reading about her death. Shock doesn’t begin to describe the feelings that I felt. I didn’t know what to feel. It was a different feeling than I had ever experienced with death before. I think it was because I had never actually met Dewey in person. Because our relationship was represented by the words we shared and suddenly there were no more words. Just silence there. An empty, unknown space that didn’t allow for any closure.

But with the help of some friends, I slowly realized that the relationship was more than words and continues to be more than words. There are things she inspired that live on and memories that she gave me that live on, and I’ll always cherish those. Always. Those things don’t go away. There is still something different about her death…a feeling of openess that is hard to close..that silence that still protrudes, and that continues to hurt. But I think that’s natural.

Some people may not understand why we still grieve Dewey’s death, people who never knew her…and this is the reason why, because she was our friend. She continues to be our friend. And she was such an amazing person. I know that she’s personally responsible for making some of my already special friendships in this blogging community even stronger and I can never thank her enough for that. That’s a gift that I could never repay and I know she’d want no return payment for that πŸ˜‰ She single handedly started Weekly Geeks, the 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, The Bookworms Carnival, and so many more things and did it all like it was nothing. And she was such a wonderful humanitarian.

I also can’t help but feel like things have changed since her death. The community has gotten divisive at times, blogging has become about popularity in some spheres, people have gotten divisive. Does this all have to do with Dewey? Surely, not. But I just know that she was a uniting force. And she kept her cool. As any community grows, as the book blogging community has, things are bound to get controversial. But Dewey just had this air of peace and serenity and balance about her and she was the master of that.

Anyway, all this is to say, I miss you so much still Dewey and I’ll continue to miss you. And you’ll continue to hear from me πŸ™‚ I just want to take a moment to thank all of you wonderful blogging friends for being the wonderful people you are, too. There are so many of you that do share those same qualities that Dewey had and have your own qualities that are unique to you and just as special and you mean the world to me for that.

The Sunday Salon – Howdy Folks

TSSbadge3I just wanted to drop in and tell everyone “hi”. I feel like I’ve been such a stranger lately and there’s reasons for that. I seem to have gotten the flu or some kind of deadly virus. It’s really not that bad. It mostly just feels like a headcold accompanied by sneezing fits, constant fatigue, and occasional stomach problems that no one wants to hear about. But that’s where I’ve been. I’ve had some reviews that have made their way up this week, but they’ve all been scheduled, so I’ve still felt like a stranger even though I’ve reviewed four books. In reality, I haven’t touched my computer. My boss has made me go to work for the last couple of days, so by the time I get home, I don’t want to do anything but sleep.

Have I missed anything big and exciting in the blogging world this week? I know there are some new challenges going up! I’m signing up for three as of now. Darren is hosting the incredibly cool Twenty Ten Reading Challenge that I just have to sign up for (my 10th category is going to be chunksters over 500 pages that I already own!), then there’s Amanda’s amazing GLBT challenge that I think everyone should sign up for, and finally, I’ve decided that yes, I’m signing up for the Women Unbound challenge! Because women rock and I love them and damnit, they’ve fought like hell to get where they are and never should’ve had to do that in the first place! And it promises some really cool reads too.

You might remember that Robin and I were hosting our own challenge too in memory of Dewey, the Dewey’s Books Reading Challenge. I’ve put up a wrap up post for that challenge on the challenge blog if you’d like to drop a comment over there and Kelly has also put up a final mini-challenge over on her blog!! Please join in! It’s a great one. I read some great books for this challenge that I never would’ve read had it not been for Dewey’s inspiration. Six books to be exact: The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot, After Dark by Haruki Murakami, The Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman (reread), and The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Despite the fact that three of these are graphic novels, I still love the diversity of these….it goes to show what an eclectic reader Dewey was.

Anyone have any big plans for the weekend? My plans are mostly just to enjoy my sick time and curl up in bed with a good book, drink some hot tea, and watch the Saints game tomorrow. One last thing, then I’ll stop rambling…it has to do with hot tea. I discovered the most AMAZING hot tea. I’ve always been a big tea drinker and get so excited when I find the perfect brew. This one is by Mighty Leaf which is starting to pop up in more and more stores. I found it at Whole Foods, but I’ve seen it at World Market as well. Or you can get it at Amazon. The tea I’ve been drinking is called Orange Dulce and it is to die for! It has orange rind, vanilla, ceylon black tea leaves, china green tea leaves and lavender in it. The tea is pretty coarse too and there are actually flowers in the sachet. It’s not shred to pieces, which I like. Perfect with two teaspoons of sugar in the raw πŸ™‚ Definitely try it out if you can find it!

Atlas: Poems by Katrina Vandenberg

atlasI’m left sort of speechless by Katrina Vandenberg’s beautiful collection of poetry, Atlas. I don’t know that I’ve ever been moved by words the way that I was moved by these poems. If I could read a new Vandenberg poem every day for the rest of my life, I think I’d be happy. Or I may just reread some of these every day for now on. They’re that good. I found myself just weeping by the end of this collection, just totally overwhelmed by the beauty of her poetry.

Poetry is a long lost friend of mine that has been recently rediscovered. I used to write quite a bit of it as a teenager and in my early twenties. I fell in love with it after discovering Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. Those were my original favorite poets. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate some of the more modern poets and it was the always wonderful Nymeth who brought this collection to my attention.

Katrina Vandenberg has given us all a gift with this collection. It’s broken down into sections and each section tells it’s own story. The collection as a whole actually tells it’s own story, almost like a novella in poetry…a lifetime in poems. But it’s more than that. Perhaps one of the most touching poems in this collection is Tulipomania. It’s here that Vandenberg crushes you for the first time and you don’t see it coming. And she tells us the story of hemophilia, the love of blood, a disease that has claimed the lives of many sadly has resulted in many of it’s victims having HIV due to poorly done blood transfusions.

Not all of Vandenberg’s poems are crushing and sad, some are bittersweet, some are joyous, some are just very reflective. But they are all so moving. And the collection itself comes to a point where it is just so overwhelmingly powerful that I had to put it down for a second. I’ve never had that happen with a piece of literature or poetry before. Where I was literally so overcome by the beauty of the writing that I had to put a book aside. But Vandenberg has done it. I do so hope that she continues to share her poetry with us. This is a book that I will continue to read. Again and again.

One of her poems, First Lesson: The Anatomist Explains the Primacy of Imagination can be found online here. I thought this was such a beautiful poem.

Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg

alex-and-meI don’t know what I was expecting from Alex & Me exactly, but it was not what I got from the book. The book was much more than what my expectations had set out for it to be. I realized as I opened the first few pages that I knew Alex! I had seen him on TV specials before and I had heard him on NPR. He was the African Grey who had broken barriers with his owner and friend Dr. Pepperberg. Who had shown that our special friends have brains that allow them to do more than just look cute and entertain us. Alex showed that he actually understood what people asked him and could converse. He didn’t just mimic people.

But this book was more than just that. I think there were three angles to this book. There is of course the story of Alex, his growth as an African Grey, the barriers he broke in animal research and how he came to break all of those barriers. Then there is the story of the relationship between Irene and Alex. So touching. Irene bought Alex as a research subject, with no intentions of becoming attached to him. But as any of us who have animals close to us know, that’s not going to happen. The relationship between the two of them is just absolutely priceless and absolutely touching.

I think what surprised me most about this book though, and what I really enjoyed about this book the most, was Irene Pepperberg’s own story. She started her research as a woman during a time that women had to fight for everything that they wanted. When a woman got married, she was expected to hang her lab coat up and take a secretarial job at most, but she laughed at that idea. She broke many barriers and fought her way through her career and I truly loved reading her story. Kudos to her!

Thanks to TLC Tours for sending me a copy of this one and letting me host it for today!

Native by Mona Kuhn

Kuhn_Native_0I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve wanted to read some photography books. I used to read them quite often in my early twenties and I miss that love of photography that I once had. Not two days after this thought popped into my head, one of my favorite online publicists zipped me an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Mona Kuhn’s’ Native and I was ecstatic with the offer! I looked up some of her work and it looked stunning. I was thrilled when the book arrived on my doorstep.

I was even more thrilled upon opening the pages. Mona Kuhn brings us into the rainforests of her homeland, Brazil. Through the lens of her camera, she captures the beauty, the magic, and the haunting appeal of the forests and it’s people. Her photos of the trees, vines and plants are absolutely stunning!! They’re blurred around the edges and while some photos evoke a sense of decay, others evoke a sense of the plants being alive….as if they’re crawling towards her camera lens.

Her portraits are gorgeous. They are interspersed throughout scenes of the rainforest, scenes of sunlight peeking through shaded curtains and darkened rooms. The portraits are a celebration of the human body. Most of them are nudes, and Kuhn has full respect for the male and female form, fully capturing it’s beauty. The people that she photographs are just as exotic as the rich tropical plants that neighbor their photos, sensual, beautiful, and mysterious.

I think what I loved most about this book, and what I love about most photography books that center around a geographical location is that it allowed me to get a feel for this place. I’ve always dreamed of traveling to the rainforests of Brazil. It’s high on my list of places that I would like to one day see. It’s a place that seems to exist only in picture books and tv specials until you see it with your own eyes. But Mona Kuhn does a fabulous job of making that place real with this book, but at the same time, she makes it more mysterious than ever.

I found that she has a gorgeous website if you want to learn more about her art!