Titus Groan Review and #ReadThemAllThon Update


#ReadThemAllThon has now been running for a week, and I’ve got one badge under my belt: the Boulder Badge, which I satisfied by reading Titus Groan. Little Dratini is gaining CP, slowly and surely.

Boulder Badge banner, made by Aentee of readatmidnight.com

ReadThemAllThon trainer card: Dratini, CP 89


I can’t think of a better description for this book than the one in the synopsis: dreamlike and macabre.

Titus Groan Review and #ReadThemAllThon UpdateTitus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Series: Gormenghast #1
Published by Overlook Press on June 26th 2007 (first published 1946)
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 396

Synopsis (from GoodReads): An undisputed classic of epic fantasy, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels represent one of the most brilliantly sustained flights of Gothic imagination, Titus Groan, the first book in this timeless series, is the start of an unforgettable journey.

As the novel opens, Titus has just been born. As heir to Lord Sepulchrave, he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that form Castle Gormenghast. Inside of Gormenghast, all events are predetermined by complex rituals, the origins of which are lost in time. Dreamlike and macabre, Titus Groan is one of the most astonishing and fantastic works in modern fiction.

I’m almost always apprehensive about books published prior to 1950. The prose style is very hit or miss, and the further back you go, the more likely you are to run across casual misogyny or racism, which I find extremely jarring.

Fortunately, this time my fear was unfounded. In fact, the prose wasn’t just acceptable, it was great. Extremely rich and descriptive, with a consistently grim and satirical edge. The characters, who have ridiculous names like “Prunesquallor” and “Sourdust,” are all completely of their minds, each in their own unique way. The complicated rituals and ceremonies that the castle’s life are based around never go right—not once in the whole book. This is usually the characters’ fault. I found myself laughing out loud several times because it’s all just so ludicrous. Everything is a caricature of itself.

That said, the story was pretty slow, and I don’t know why. A lot happens, plot-wise. But there’s little emotion in it. It doesn’t grip you. Everything is presented in a completely impartial way. All in all, I’m giving in three stars: I enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it, but I probably won’t be picking up the sequels.

This book satisfied the category A satirical book in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge, and the category A used book in the PopSugar 2016 summer challenge.


ReadThemAllThon, an event hosted by Read at Midnight

I just found out about another fun reading event that’s taking place this August. This one combines two of my greatest loves: books and Pokemon!

#ReadThemAllThon is hosted by Read at Midnight. The event actually starts today, but it runs until September 4, and readers can join it at any time. Sign up and get the complete details here.

The basic info

There are two components to this readathon. The first, and most important, is the reading part. There are eight categories, each of which correspond to one of the eight gyms the player faces in the original Pokemon games. Finish a category’s book, and you’ve earned that gym’s badge. (If you want to stay true to the games, make sure you do them in order!)

The second, optional part is the Pokemon training. If you’re not into Pokemon, maybe you don’t care about this part, and that’s okay. I am, so I do! Here’s how it works:

  • You pick a “starter” Pokemon—any Pokemon you want. It starts with 10 combat power (CP), or 50 CP if you choose a Pokemon that doesn’t evolve (like Tauros, for example).
  • For every 10 pages you read, your Pokemon gets a boost of 1 CP.
  • For every badge you earn, it gets 20 CP.
  • For each book review you post during the readathon (even if it’s not for one of the gym badge books), it gets 20 CP.
  • When you reach 150 CP, your Pokemon can evolve, gaining a 50 CP boost. If it has a third form, it can evolve again at 400 CP, and get another 50 CP boost.

At the end of the readathon, whoever has the highest CP Pokemon wins!

FYI, there are some special rules for Magikarp/Gyarados, and some more ways to earn CP by posting on Twitter. Check out the sign-up link above if you want more detail on that.

My plans

I’ll be training Dratini, one of my original favorites.

ReadThemAllThon trainer card: Dratini, CP 10

Here are the books I’m planning to read:

Boulder Badge (first book in a series) – Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake

Cascade Badge (a book that might make me cry) – Song of the North, by Jules Watson

Thunder Badge (a book with thunderous hype) – The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Rainbow Badge (a book featuring diversity) – Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor

Soul Badge (a book with an epic romance) – The Winter King, by C.L. Wilson

Marsh Badge (a book with fantasy/supernatural elements) – Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer

Flame Badge (a book with a red cover) – Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Earth Badge (a post-apocalyptic book) – The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner

Bout of Books 17

It’s time for another read-a-thon!

Bout of Books


Bout of Books is a low-key, week-long event that just so happens to coincide with the first week of the semester. So convenient right. Even so, I’m planning to participate. I found out about the event just a little too late to participate in the last one, and I don’t want to miss out again!

If you, like me, had never heard of it before, here’s what the organizers have to say:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I hope that come August 22 you’ll enjoy some reading along with us.

Meet the Blogger: Ten Facts about Me

I don’t know about you, but I like it when bloggers talk about themselves. About Me pages are great, but they can’t tell the whole story, and blogging is a much more personal medium than other types of writing.

With that in mind, books are taking a backseat today. Instead, here are ten things you might not know about me.

1. I’ve lived in California my whole life

…except for a year I spent abroad in college. I was born and raised in Sacramento, moved away to Santa Cruz for school, and eventually ended up in Chico, where I’ve been ever since. Chico is a smaller town, but thanks to the university and the park (fun fact: it’s one of the largest urban parks in the country), there’s always a lot to do!

2. I speak German (fairly well)

During that exchange year I mentioned, I lived in Berlin and went to classes at the Free University. I’d studied the language for two years beforehand, but there is absolutely nothing like total immersion to make it stick. I don’t have the opportunity to actually speak German anymore (sad face), so I can’t call myself fluent, but I do read German books on the regular!

3. I have the same birthday as my favorite character on Star Trek

The character is Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, the actor—Brent Spiner—has the same birthday too!

4. I have one sibling

She’s my younger sister. We’re four years apart.

5. My husband proposed to me with a custom quest in Skyrim

I met my husband—who is a software developer—at a release party for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When he proposed, it was with a custom questline he coded himself and added to the game!

6. I play several instruments

Both sides of my family are musical, so my music lessons started when I was quite young. I sang in a children’s choir from elementary through high school, and I was always one of the band kids. Yes, I even went to band camp! After college, I worked for a while as a substitute church organist, and I played in a community orchestra until I moved away from Sacramento. My instruments are piano, organ, French horn, flute, and bass guitar. And I do still sing sometimes…when I’m alone in my car!

7. My favorite color is green.

I was surprised to learn recently that my own mother didn’t know this!

8. I’m preparing for a master’s degree in biology.

It’s a complete 180 from my undergraduate field, which was literature. That means I have a lot of lower-level prerequisites to complete before I can start the master’s program. I’ve been working on those at the local community college since last year. In one more year, I should be ready to apply!

9. I am a freelancer.

I work from home as a manuscript editor, and I truly love it. Most of my clients are in either academia or business; I prefer the structure of that work to fiction editing, which is by nature much more subjective. One of the reasons I want a degree in biology—beyond the fact that I think science is a vitally important field, and worth dedicating one’s life to—is so I can edit more technical documents and journal papers.

10. The best book I ever read is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

If I had several hours, I might be able to list everything I love about this book. It’s the epitome of fantasy done well. If you’ve already read it, I hope you have a sense of what I mean. If you haven’t, drop everything and I mean everything, and go get it right now.

This post was inspired by Top Ten Tuesday, a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway | Rated 5 stars on lilyreads.com

In a nutshell:

This is a book about war, so it’s long and it’s bleak, but the beauty of the writing is beyond compare. Do yourself a favor and read it.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest HemingwayFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Published by Scribner on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 480

Synopsis (from GoodReads): In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise.

Have you ever met someone who didn’t have a strong opinion on Ernest Hemingway?

In my entire life, I’ve only met one person whose feelings were lukewarm. Everyone else has been either an avid supporter or full of disdain. In fact, I once read an article that blacklisted him as an author No Woman Should Ever Read, and had the following to say about his work: “the terse, repressed prose style is, in his hands, mannered and pretentious and sentimental. Manly sentimental is the worst kind of sentimental because it’s deluded about itself.”

I couldn’t disagree more. I’m in the camp that loves Hemingway, and while I have no illusions about the fact that he was a pretty awful human being, I think his writing, and the effect it had on contemporary literature, is important. More than that, it’s good.

So let’s talk about For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Reading this book is like listening to a piece of music in a minor key. It’s not happy, though there are moments of happiness. It’s not hopeful, though there are moments of hope. A deep current of emotion (something much more substantial than “pretentious, manly sentimentality”) runs underneath every word, and it doesn’t always surface where you expect, with significant effect. For example, the complete nonchalance with which Robert Jordan considers some truly horrific aspects of war is chilling. It makes you wonder—how much does a person have to live through to become so completely inured? And at the same time it makes you realize—that’s what war is. That’s what war does to people. If they live long enough.

One of my favorite things about Hemingway, which abounds in For Whom the Bell Tolls, is his subtlety. I know, I know. How can he be subtle when he is the number one stereotype for direct and obvious prose?

What you have to keep in mind is that what he doesn’t say is often as or more important than what he does. All joking aside, Hemingway is a master of the art that is show, don’t tell. In this particular book, he never actually mentions that the characters are speaking Spanish. But you can tell, because the grammar of their dialogue is unusual, and they use Spanish idioms that have been literally translated into English.

This book also contains some of the most beautiful use of metaphor it’s ever been my pleasure to read.

So should you read it?

If you’ve already made peace with the fact that you just can’t stand Hemingway and never will (believe me, I understand! For me, it’s Jane Austen), then skip it. This book is Hemingway through and through.

Otherwise, do yourself the favor. You won’t regret it.

This book satisfied the category A book that takes place in Europe in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood | Rated 3 stars on lilyreads.com

In a nutshell:

Sometimes I like Atwood, and sometimes I don’t. This time I didn’t. The structure and premise of the book were great, but the execution fell flat and was a bit of a struggle to get through.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret AtwoodThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Published by Virago Press Ltd on September 3rd 2001
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 637

Synopsis (from GoodReads): “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge…”

More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, THE BLIND ASSASSIN is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal…

I never know how it’s going to go with Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale was excellent. Oryx and Crake was not. Unfortunately, this book is one on the lower end of the spectrum.

I love books that weave together multiple plot lines. This one incorporates stories from Iris and Laura’s childhood, narration of Iris as an old woman in the present, chapters from Laura’s posthumously published book, and saved newspaper clippings. The promise was there. I thought I’d like it.

Unfortunately, Iris—who does most of the storytelling, Laura being dead and all—is such a bland character that it’s hard to like or relate to her, and at over 600 pages, it’s just too much. That’s a shame, because the novel excerpt chapters are interesting (those are multi-level, also, incorporating pieces of a science fiction short story that the unnamed main character and her lover write together), and the mystery that the plot is built around is a good one, with a satisfying reveal at the end. The good parts might have been able to shine if they hadn’t been bogged down by all the rest.

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson | Rated 5 stars on lilyreads.com

In a nutshell:

This book is consistently fantastic from page 1, and the ending blows the known boundaries of the Mistborn universe sky high. IT’S SO EXCITING!

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon SandersonThe Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
Series: Mistborn #6
Published by Tor Books on January 26th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 447

Synopsis (from GoodReads): The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metalminds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A [no spoilers, GoodReads!!] researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

Sanderson has never disappointed me. (Well, okay, once: but it was his first book. I can forgive that. He didn’t know better yet.) He has a brilliant imagination, and—unlike some other authors I could name—the technical proficiency to do it justice. This results in book after book with richly complex worlds, relatable and believably flawed characters, and a thrilling, clever plot lines.

I was an immediate fan of the original Mistborn trilogy, books 1-3. The events of books 4-6 (which are officially recognized as part of the trilogy, but are also something of a spinoff) take place a few centuries later, with accompanying advancements in social organization and technology. Readers of the original trilogy will enjoy the easter-egg type references to those events and characters.

Because this is book 6, I can’t say too much without betraying things that are revealed in previous books. But I will say this:

First, Steris is a delightful character. Initially, it seems that the reader isn’t meant to like her, but I always have. Subsequent books have only increased my opinion of her. She’s the perfect foil for Wax.

Second, the ending of this book is a mindblower. It takes one look at the known boundaries of the Mistborn world, and then mows them right down. Turns out the universe is a lot bigger than we readers or any of the characters thought—and one of those characters is an omniscient god!

This book satisfied the category A book published this year in the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge.

A Summer Reading Challenge from PopSugar

Feature photo for PopSugar Summer Reading Challenge

Current Progress:

PopSugar Summer Challenge: 1/29



As you already know, I’m a fan of PopSugar’s reading challenge lists. I’m excited to take part in the newest one: a 2016 summer reading challenge!

Some of these categories will overlap with the yearlong PopSugar reading challenge, and others offer completely new avenues to explore. I’ve already knocked a couple categories off the list since the beginning of the month, and I’m going to try to do them all by October 1. There’s no official time limit, but June through October seems like a reasonable approximation of time of northern-hemisphere summer—especially for those of you reading from California, like I am!

Pull up a lawn chair/beach blanket/couch cushion/whatever, and let’s get the reading party started.

Challenge Name: PopSugar Summer Reading Challenge

Timeframe: June 1 — October 1, 2016

Source/Host: PopSugar.com: Take 2016’s Ultimate Summer Reading Challenge!

Goal: 29 books

Books Read:

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell | Rated 5 stars on lilyreads.com

In a nutshell

I loved this book for all the same reasons I loved its predecessor, The Sparrow. The interwoven storylines are fantastic. The characters are incredibly real, human and alien alike. And the approach to religion and morality is done with a sympathy and deftness that I find completely approachable as a non-religious person.

Children of God by Mary Doria RussellChildren of God by Mary Doria Russell
Series: The Sparrow #2
Published by Ballantine Books on February 2nd 1999
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 464

Synopsis (from GoodReads): The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

I read the first book in this series, The Sparrow, several years ago. After returning it to the library, I went straight to the bookstore and bought my own copy to keep. That book has since survived at least three moves and several purges of stuff, including one that reduced my book collection to about a third its original size. I can tell you right now that it will survive every move and downsize the future has in store, too. I will never and I mean never get rid of that book.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that there was a sequel.

Spring Readathon 2016: Final Update, Hours 20-24

This post marks the end of yet another readathon. Justin woke up in time to finish the last hour with me. Dog is present, but unconscious, sleeping upside down on the couch.

Here is the final update and the end-of-event survey hosted by the main site.

Readathon update, hours 20-24

Total books read: 5

Books in progress: 1

Total pages read: 1353

Total time spent reading: 20 hours, 8 minutes