Saturday, July 30, 2011

Derailing the Reading Plan

Even though I am very much a planner in real life, the most planning I do when it comes to my reading is reserving books at the library and participating (rather badly given my track record) in read-a-longs and book tours. I also will mentally calculate my next few books, but these plans are seldom set in stone and very rarely accomplished as planned.

My current loosely constructed plan was to try to finish The First World War before next Friday night because that is when my book club will be discussing Testament of Youth. I also was rereading the Lady Julia Grey books to prepare to read Raybourn's newest installment. After that, I was ready to give in to the winds of Maisie Dobbs, the sirens of WWI, and those wily reading fates.

Turns out the wily reading fates have stepped in a bit earlier than expected (as they are wont to do...they are fates after all). One of the blogs I love best (and one of the blogs that inspired me to start my own book blog) is Stuck in a Book. Simon has such a wonderful knowledge of books and stories, and I always find unexpected gems on his blog. Today I found mention of an article in The Guardian that moved Simon to tears and the book that the article was excerpted from, Let Not the Waves of the Sea. After reading the article (and being moved to tears myself), I jumped on my library's website to reserve it. It is not there. I went to Barnes & Noble. com; they don't have it either. I then proceeded to my old standby, Amazon. Turns out it has not yet been released in the U.S., but it is available in Kindle format.

As soon as I saw that, I felt that old familiar feeling, and knew my plans were of no use. For the foreseeable future, I will be reading Let Not the Waves of the Sea. Oh, reading fates, you are cunning!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Well of Despair and Joy

Never fear, my friends! The despair and joy have all been of the vicarious, literary variety. Since my last posting, I have found myself immersed in the world of Harry Potter (both on the page and on the screen, and crying through both), marvelling at the wonders of Oxford (courtesy of A Discovery of Witches--not sure how I feel about it yet), and feeling deeply for the pain and loss that made up the War to End All Wars as experienced and depicted by Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth.

I will be reviewing Testament of Youth very soon, but I think the review will not be the end of it; this memoir has taken a distinct and strong hold on me (it even achieved the impossible: I found myself wondering during Deathly Hallows, Part 2 at what a difference it makes to fight a war (against Voldemort) that has meaning, purpose, and necessity; I think Brittain would have envied Harry & Co. their conviction and knowledge that fighting Voldemort was absolutely necessary and must be done, but more on that later!).

I have also picked up The First World War, by Hew Strachan, in an effort to understand this war more. I knew little about it beyond major dates, vague memories of battles, and Wilfred Owen's "Dule et decorum est." Now I find that I must know as much about the war as possible, and I sense that I could well be reading about the war (in both fiction and nonfiction) for quite a while.

So there you have it. What has captured your reading imagination of late?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maggie Stiefvater Is Still Brilliant

After finishing Linger, I had no idea how I was going to make it a year before finding out what happened to Sam and Grace; ironically, I almost missed the release date for Forever because my brain was completely convinced that it came out at the end of July. Happily for me, my brain was wrong, and I was able to devour Forever a full two weeks earlier than I thought I would!

Like Shiver and Linger, Forever delivers another tale of love, sacrifice, and how to truly live life. The writing is just as achingly beautiful, and the use of poetry and song lyrics were pitch-perfect. Indeed, these stories would not be these stories without the songs and poems and flashes of art that imbue the writing so effortlessly. Good story is important, but I think the thing that will keep me coming back to these novels for a long time is the quality of the writing. They are so well-written and achingly reflective of the truth; this book was no exception in its ability to make me catch my breath and pause at a phrase, sentence, or passage so exquisite that it required time regardless of my urgent need to read, read, read to find out the rest of the story.

Just as Linger expanded the reader's focus from Sam and Grace to Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole, Forever expands its focus to center on the pack as a whole; and it is not just the pack as an abstract or a fact of Sam's past or a future responsibility for Cole: the pack is a very real factor in the present for both Sam and Grace once more. When the pack is threatened, it is not just the most important pieces of Sam's past that are threatened. Instead, it is Grace's (and by extension Sam's) future that is threatened as well. As Sam and Grace continue to struggle through these obstacles, their story widens to include Cole and Isabel. As I stated in my review of Linger, I didn't really care much about what happened between Cole and Isabel because I was so wrapped up in Sam and Grace's storyline. In Forever, however, I became very invested in Cole and Isabel and was so happy with they way they ended up by the end of the novel.

The end of the novel may be unsatisfying to some, but I really thought it was perfect. I know what I think happens beyond the end of the story (which Stiefvater left ambiguous), but the ending being happy or sad wasn't really, I think, the point. I think the point was what the characters in the novel learn by the end. They all, at some point early in the series, learned to survive in the strictest sense of the word; what they do in Forever is learn to live. Grace is the least conflicted of the four in the novel, probably because her battle to merely survive was lost (or possibly the definition of survival was changed) at the end of Linger; for her, the biggest battle is to make it back to Sam and recognize herself and their relationship in a very different light. Sam, however, has some major demons to slay: for him, truly living is all about facing down his fears. Whether it be bathtubs, Beck's true motives, shifting again, or losing Grace, Sam must come to grips with the things that have held him captive. These things were all built up very poignantly in the first two books, and seeing Sam deal with them (realistically and honestly) create some of the most moving scenes in the novel. The fact that Sam moves past being controlled by these fears is part of why the ambiguity of the ending didn't bother me; the point is not so much happens over the winter but that Sam's life can really now be a life.

Cole and Isabel are fighting to move past what they label the "toxicity" of their separate pasts that leads them to push each other away for fear of being toxic to each other. Cole starts to win his battle first and is able to show Isabel that they are only as toxic as they choose to be. Cole St. Clair grew over the course of this novel, and we see glimpses of the leader Beck knew he could be from the very beginning of the story. Isabel, on the other hand, must give up her hardness and desire to push people away in order to truly live. Her choice at the end of the novel is huge precisely because it is completely selfless; she believes she has no hope for her own happy ending, but she takes action at great cost to herself for friends who have really become her family.

In the end, this series is about love in all its forms. It is the story of friends, family, and lovers living life and taking care of each other. I so wish that I could speak more eloquently about this book and this series, but perhaps I'm still a bit too close to the experience of reading it to do so. Just trust me: read these books!

Check out Angie's wonderful review: it says everything I couldn't!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"How Harry Saved Reading"

I found this extremely interesting article over at Dickensblog. I didn't intend for the blog to have a Harry Potter theme this month, but it's sort of happening, so I'll just go with it!

The article details the Harry Potter phenomenon and then shows how Rowling was influenced by Charles Dickens. It also touches on the fact that Harry Potter made kids want to read again; the best part is, it was a well-written series of books that brought many kids back to the reading fold (*ahem-ahem* Twilight, I'm looking at you...)

Here's the link: