Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Title: The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Pages: 405
Genre: Fiction; Sci-Fi; Christian
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)
Pub. Date: September 9, 1996

I had heard of The Sparrow once or twice before and knew it to be highly underrated (in terms of how well known and popular it was) and heard it was amazing and life changing. (Read the reviews on any site... you'll find mostly 5 star reviews all touting similar reactions). So with the recent read-a-long hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity, and my recent desire to jump back into blogging and reconnecting with the book blogging world, I decided to join right in. I have very mixed thoughts after reading this. First let me explain briefly what it's about as well as any confusion you may have at reading the genre categories!

The basic plot is about the Jesuit Society hearing alien transmissions from another planet, so they send a team to investigate and learn about what other possible life forms there are. Bad things happen there, though, and only one person returns to Earth where he is interrogated, questioned, judged, etc. The narration flips back and forth from the current time (year 2060) after Emilio Sandoz has returned and from 2016-2019 when this mission started. The flip flopping of the narration adds to the tension because you know something horrible happened and just a little about it and the other narration builds to that end we're all trying to figure out.

This was a heavy book to read -- dense in its 405 pages. It was actually more engaging than I expected it to be in a lot of ways. But I can see where a lot of readers felt the middle dragged.. but I think it's not that it dragged but that it's that the focus was on the life found on the other planet, Rakhat. I felt like I learned. SO. MUCH.... only it is all fiction, LOL. I don't read a whole lot of scf-fi or fantasy so I may just not be used to how the genre works, but I don't remember in the few things I have read of having to focus as much on specifically learning the terms, the cultural factors, etc. as opposed to learning it indirectly through the movement of the story itself. The reason for all that here was because the main characters' purpose in going to this world WAS to learn these things, so part of moving the story along, I suppose, was learning and explaining these things. How their language works. Why they speak the way they do. What their culture is like. How it operates economically. I just sort of felt like maybe it was a bit much... maybe I just feel guilty that I can tell you so much about the Runa and Jana'ata and Ruanja and K'San and Kashan and Supaari VaGayjur and spacial observation vs. non-visual etc. etc. but I'm still working on understanding a lot of real life things in history and current events.... LOL!! It also took me about 1/2 to 3/4 of the book to really start to connect to most of the characters.

The other thing is that I expected to find some great insights into faith and related philosophy and, for me, it wasn't as significant as I thought it would be. I did take away some thoughtful little nuggets. But I guess I had just expected more and wanted it to be life changing for me too. That being said, I also think that there is a lot to talk about and I think that after discussing things with other readers I would maybe come away with more. There were horrific things in this book and some of it did seem extreme. I understand that the extreme nature was maybe necessary to emphasize the point of Emilio's bitterness, but yikes! There was one part that did make me cry having to do with one of the kids on Rakhat. I usually consider something in a book affecting me like that as a good thing.

So for these reasons, I was pretty torn and had mixed thoughts after finishing the book. The book itself was good... yes, and overall I did enjoy reading it. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Only to those who very genuinely have an interest in this book and topic. I have found in reading the reviews on the book sites that this is one of those books people either LOVE or HATE. Obviously, I don't fall into either extreme, I seem to be the exception! There is a sequel, Children of God. I am curious what happens, but I'm feeling so/so about reading it again. Then again, I did invest all that time in learning about that world so maybe I should go for it. :)

And just an interesting thought I had while reading this; in some ways, this reminded me of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett which I loved. They're both about traveling to a foreign environment for research and controversial issues about the culture that is encountered. Anyway, just had to throw that in there!


Review: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novack

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Title: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Author: B. J. Novack
Audio Narration By: B. J. Novack (and many guests!)
Pages: 288
Audio Length: 6 hours, 48 minutes
Genre: Humor, short stories
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: February 4, 2014
Audiobook Publisher: Random House Audio

My husband and I chose this as the audio to listen to on our recent road trip to North Carolina. We ended up not listening to audio much on the trip but enough to finish it a few days after we got home. B. J. Novack is one of the writers and producers of the show, The Office, so if you're into that quirky, sometimes absurd, always silly comedy, you may enjoy this book of "short stories". That being said, it's misleading to call these short stories. It's more a book of humorous stories... the lengths of some would definitely warrant a typical short story; many were extremely short (like a couple sentences, if that) and, to me, were more of just jokes.

In all, there are more than 60 stories, though like I said, some are very short. The ones that weren't good were really "bleh"... but the good ones were hilarious. We laughed out loud listening to them, and we keep quoting some of the ones we really liked.

The best thing about the audio is the guest stars that narrate parts including Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling, and Rainn Wilson who, you probably already know, were all in The Office. There was also Lena Dunham, Katy Perry, and Julianne Moore. I won't list them all but that was just some of them, and they all did great.

One of my favorite stories was the first one, The Rematch, which was a continuation of the Tortoise and the Hare story. We have fun quoting this one part of that -- something the hare says to the tortoise which is ridiculous but which made both of us crack up. We loved The Girl Who Gave Great Advice (which Katy Perry helps narrate) and use phrases from that one all the time. Actually there were lots of other good ones like Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle, Constructive Criticism, and Discussion Questions at the end... Some weren't as funny but were good stories like The World's Biggest Rip Off which we both thought we had called but went in a different direction than expected. Some of the stories are funny but, at the same time, are sort of sad. Novack pokes mocks some things and pokes fun at a lot of things about our society and people.

So, while it wasn't completely even across the book, there were plenty of stories that kept us entertained. There were a couple crass moments, but overall I thought the humor was fairly clean.. (of course, there is the story about the warlord on a blind date and the one about a sex robot...) I would definitely recommend listening to this one on audio, though.

The Sparrow Read-a-Long, Midway Check In

Monday, September 15, 2014

I am right at the midway point on page 202 which is the start of chapter 20. I'm glad I was able to catch up to this point, since I didn't start it until close to a week after the read-a-long started. It is keeping me interested so far, but I am definitely curious about where it's going, what's going to happen, what's the message of the book (which I am under the impression this has), etc.

1. How is The Sparrow matching up with your expectations going into the book? Are you surprised by anything?

I think the only thing I'm surprised by is probably the behaviors of Emilio, which aren't bad, but just not what I had in my head for a priest! The book is probably a little more engaging than I had thought it might be.

2. Do you feel the switching back and forth between past and present to be effective?

Yes, it probably adds to the level of tension since we know something crazy and horrible happened and are seeing the aftermath but we don't know exactly what.

3. Which characters do you want to hug and squeeze? Any you’d like to strangle?

I don't really feel strong feelings either way about any of the characters. I guess Anne is my favorite because she seems the most nurturing but also the most reasonable... she was the only one who seemed to be realistically hesitant about the thought of traveling to space. I actually like Sophia too.. she's closed off but she has reasons for it.

4. Any other thoughts? #copoutquestion

Not that I haven't already mentioned. I just want to know what happens!

Sunday Salon

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This past week we went to North Carolina for my brother-in-law's wedding. We had a week of festivities with family (ours and the bride's) and lots of friends. Let me ask you... what relation would you say my brother-in-law's new wife is to me? I sort of assumed we'd be sisters-in-law but realized recently we don't technically have any relation except that we are married to brothers. Would you refer to her as a sister-in-law anyway? This is a pic of Jason and me at the wedding reception. It was held in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh which was a beautiful and unique venue.

Anyway, as always, I didn't read quite as much as planned during the getaway. I did start reading The Sparrow and had already been reading The Stand. We spent some of our driving time (about a 10 hour drive each way) listening to B. J. Novack's One More Thing on audio, and believe it or not I have already written my review! I will post that soon. Yesterday I also finished reading the book of essays, Bad Feminist. Last night was book club, and we read Beautiful Ruins. I read and loved it last year and was going to do audio this time around, but I only made it through about half. It seems the consensus was that everyone loved it too. That's about it in reading. Hope you have a great week!

A Couple of Read-a-Longs

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I am notoriously bad at read-a-longs. I've joined many in my blogging years and finished very few (if any!) Even of the "Halloween" read-a-longs I've done with my husband I did not complete two (The Passage and Dracula). It's not for any specific reason except that I get bored at some point. But, I am going to try again, and I will actually follow through this time!

I am currently doing the read-a-long for The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell that is hosted by Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity. I haven't heard much about this book, but what I have heard has been AH-mazing. I picked up this book just recently and am through two chapters so far. This read-a-long is September 1st through 30th.

The second one I'm doing will be October 1st through 31st and is hosted by both Ti @ Book Chatter and Sandy @ You've GOTTA Read This for the book Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. My husband is going to do this one as well (along with our read of Frankenstein which I mentioned before).

I'm looking forward to both of these! And I'm glad to be joining the read-a-longs of some of my favorite bloggers along with other fave bloggers who will also be reading!

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Pages: 480
Genre: Fiction; Thriller/horror
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co. (Hachette)
Pub. Date: May 20, 2014

I have mixed feelings about The Three. It was creepy (good) but weird, enthralling but irritating, captivating but repetitive. I was drawn to this one by the premise and my interest lately in scarier things. (It's like I'm a teenager again!... almost). Basically, four planes crash on the same day. There are no survivors except for three children. Before long, all these conspiracy theories arise about the kids. Are they a part of alien experiments? Are they a sign of the apocalypse? Large groups form  that believe in each theory. The End Time Believers create a religious group called the "Pamelists" in honor of the one adult, Pam, who managed to send a partial message by phone before she passed. But as horrible as all this is, some of the people who are around the kids can't deny that there is something different about the kids who survived... but isn't that normal considering they've been through such a trauma??

I initially thought the way the story was told was clever and interesting: the entire book is basically the narrator's non-fiction book, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy, and is told through various (many, many) interviews that the "author" did. There are also chat room transcripts and magazine articles. While this was interesting at first it became way. too. much. These are the things that moved the story along, but I do think it could have done with moving a little faster because, as I mentioned earlier, it felt repetitive after a while. And by the end of the book, the last 75 pages or so, I had pretty much lost all interest.

On the other hand, I did find the book to be engaging. There was a lot of foreshadowing and just overall creepiness that made me want to read more. Even though it isn't really a scary book per se, there was one night when I didn't turn the light off when I went to sleep, because the whole things with the kids was creeping me out a little too much! The whole evangelist thing was funny but scary in a whole different way.

So, while I felt mixed emotions throughout the reading and after, I still think ultimately it was an interesting read and would still recommend it for maybe some fall/scary/Halloween themed reading.