Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I don’t remember what DVD I was watching, but it had a trailer for “Never Let Me Go” the movie, which reminded me I needed to read the book. I was also waiting for some other books to be available from the library (story of my life), and it was available. Win-win!

Never-Let-Me-Go-2010Never Let Me Go is set in an exclusive boarding school in England, and is told through a series of reminisces by Kathy, our main character and POV throughout the novel. There are many many hints and allusions to the sci-fi nature of this book – “donations” and “guardians” and a mysterious Madame who collects student’s artwork periodically without explanation… Maybe I’m spoiled by more intense sci-fi that spends a lot of time universe building, but I just never felt like I got enough detail out of Never Let Me Go. It was too subtle to hold my interest for very long, and I found myself only reading a chapter or 2 every night… I never caught the bug and felt like I HAD to know what was going to happen next.

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As Kathy, our protagonist, describes more and more about her life at Halisham, we learn about her complicated friendships with Tommy and Ruth, who eventually become a couple as teenagers. But yet, Kathy and Tommy have a certain connection that can’t be denied. As the trio ages and leaves Halisham, their 3-way relationship gets more and more angsty. Eventually, the friendships disintegrate and they aren’t reunited until Ruth and Tommy have completed their first “donations” and are in ill health. On Ruth’s deathbed, some secrets are revealed, and Kathy and Tommy are finally able to be together…

If you’ve seen the trailer, it’s pretty angsty and dramatic. They must have really amped up the little bits of drama there are in the novel to create enough oomph to make a whole movie out of this. The novel is VERY VERY subtle. It was an interesting premise, but one that didn’t engage me enough, and the small bright spots of action were too few and far between.

I feel bad saying this was too subtle – I like subtlety! I can appreciate it! But just not this one. Maybe I’ll rent the movie on one of my days off, just to compare and contrast.

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Extremely slow going September

I don’t know what happened to me, but my reading has slowed down considerably – I’m still waiting for my library books to become available. In the meantime, I did read HP and the Goblet of Fire, and started rereading The Secret History. I just got Missoula by Jon Krakauer – but I’m too invested in The Secret History to start another book right now.

Right now, my plan is to do a big Harry Potter round up when I finish the series. I also will do a post about all my Secret History feelings – and believe me, there are A LOT – I predict I finish it on Monday or Tuesday, depending on how much reading I do this weekend. Missoula will have to wait until then.

It’s hard to run a reading blog when you aren’t doing much note-worthy reading!

Library Danger Zone!

I am next in line for SIX of my NINE holds at the library. I like to refer to this as the Library Danger Zone. It’s my nightmare that I get all the books I’ve been waiting for all at the same time! While I do get to keep them checked out for 21 days, and consider myself a fast reader… There’s no way I can read 2 books at the same time!

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I am really really excited for some of these books. I hope that I have enough time to read and savor each one fully – I have been waiting for some of these titles for a MONTH, and for Missoula over 2 MONTHS!

sept-holds2The one redeeming factor is that I’ve already read a third of The Vacationers – my library loan ended before I finished, and the ebook was taken away from me.

This is one benefit of borrowing ebooks – you can’t keep them past their due date. It keeps me motivated to keep on reading – especially when I’ve been waiting for months to get a book, there is no way it is going to languish on my end table! And then be taken away before I’m done with it!! Oh hell no.

I will keep you updated if Library Book-pocalypse happens…. I really hope it doesn’t, and that I get a few days head start on each before they start rolling in. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

I really enjoy science nonfiction – if it’s about a disease, animals, a weather event, anthropology, etc, etc… I will read it! I was never very good at math and science in school, although I did take a “Biology for nonmajors” class and loved it. Thankfully, it has provided enough of a foundation for me to comfortably read the science nonfiction that I love.

sixthextinctionMy most recent science read was The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. This book was pretty prevalent in the news when it came out – since some folks can’t even wrap their minds around humans and our direct relationship with climate change, so I’m not surprised that a detailed investigation into a MASS EXTINCTION EVENT caused by humans freaked those (probably same) people out.

Each chapter addresses a different extinct or endangered species, and Kolbert uses that as a lens into the history of extinction as a concept (and by nature dives into theory of evolution, speciation, etc. The history of the history of science! It was fascinating), conservation, research…She covers rhinos, amphibians, great auks, Neanderthals, dinosaurs in Central America, the Northern Atlantic, Africa… I really liked the structure, I learned about so many different things! Each chapter focusing on a different species kept my interest going, and prevent the pacing from getting bogged down.

I can see why this won the Pulitzer Prize. It was informative, fun to read, and really well done. By the end, my only fatigue was with the human race. Everything is our fault, so many awful things are caused by our actions… it was demoralizing by the end. But still a good read! I’m sure this went straight to the top of required reading lists for AP Bio classes everywhere. As well it should!

China Rich Girlfriend aka Crazy Rich Asians part 2

crazyrichasiansI love Kevin Kwan’s world of crazy rich Asians! Here is what I had to say about his first book, earlier this year:

This book is like sneaking into the 5 star resort down the road from your cheap hotel, just to spend 1 afternoon on a fancy lounge chair drinking expensive cocktails, pretending like you belong. It’s the most comfortable chair and the best tasting cocktail, but there’s no way you would want to have that every day of your life…. wait a sec, or would I?! You get my drift, Crazy Rich Asians is an escape from the everyday, it’s the perfect vacation read – fun, light, engaging….

Or maybe, save this book for when your regular life is overwhelming, your job is boring, no vacations on the horizon, the weather sucks, you’re broke… because Kevin Kwan does a great job of bringing you into this exclusive world and making you forget about your own problems in favor of the crazy drama of these crazy rich Asians.

I would say that I am still just as in love with the second book as I was with the first. Nick and Rachel are engaged, yet estranged from Nick’s crazy rich family in Singapore. Despite planning an intimate California beach wedding, Nick’s mother Eleanor manages to crash the party and turn Nick and Rachel’s world upside down – Eleanor has found Rachel’s long lost birth father in China. Everyone does a double take, and before you know it, Nick and Rachel are in Shanghai, meeting Rachel’s father’schinarichgirlfriend other family, including his bad boy son Carlton, his celebrity girlfriend Colette, and a host of other outrageous characters. Between the spur of the moment jaunts to Paris for shopping, to private auctions for ancient art (the winning bid is 200 million for some scrolls from the 14th century), fashion shows at family mansions… it’s nuts!! Meanwhile, there is lingering drama with Nick’s cousin Astrid, who we met in the first book. Before, her husband had a bad attitude because he wasn’t rich… now he’s a tech billionaire and a monster. Such a roller coaster. But one I love riding.

I feel like there is just enough crossover of characters and story lines from the first book to make readers comfortable, and the new material (Shanghai, Carlton and Colette, focusing on Rachel more than Nick) is great – I’m intrigued to see what happens next. But, to be honest, I am glad I’ll have a break before  #3 comes out (IF it happens…). Reading these in a span of 6 months was a little overwhelming. I like thinking about some future vacation where I can relax and read whatever Kevin Kwan publishes next!! Even if it isn’t another book in this series, I’ll probably pick up whatever he does. I’ll be looking forward to both the book and vacation.

Ask the Internet and you shall receive! POC Reading List

After my disappointment over Sue Monk Kidd being a white lady, I did a quick google search for “historical fiction written by poc” and I am so thrilled to have found an awesome list by Marilyn at Me, You, and Books.

Here is her list of historical fiction, memoirs, and mysteries by people of color, mostly women of color. WOW. I am SO GLAD that google brought me to her blog. I am blown away by her knowledge, breadth of reading, writing style… I pretty much want to read each one of her recommendations, and start a fan club for the lady herself….,  here are just a few books from the list that caught my eye and are going straight onto my “to read next” list:

The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami.   A fine retelling of the story of Cabez de Vaca and three other survivors who explored the southwestern United States in the 1500s, as told by a Moroccan author from the perspective of Estaban/Mustafa, a slave.

Evening is the Whole Day, by Preeta Samrasan.  An intricate novel about a family of Indian descent in post-colonial Malaysia; a family, like their country, full of secrets, anger and long-held resentments.

The Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz. A novel about a family in Cairo at the time of World War I by the first Arab writer to win the Noble Prize in Literature.

Black Star Nairobi, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi.  A detective story set against the backdrop of violence in Kenya that raises political and moral questions about “doing good.”

A Far Horizon, by Meira Chand. An historical novel set in Calcutta in 1756 about events in the British colony leading up to its conquest and destruction by a native ruler.

Ancestor Stones, by Aminatta Forna.   The interwoven stories of four wives of the same man in West Africa whose lives span the twentieth century.

I left the links active to Marilyn’s magnificent reviews – I just went down the rabbit hole of her blog, I am LOVING every post, and have some overlap of books with her… I’m a little obsessed to say the least.

For me, reading is about exploring the world both past and present, and trying to soak in as much as I can. I don’t need to steep myself in the world I already know and experience. I want to push the boundaries of my perspective and experience by purposefully seeking out perspectives that are different, that challenge me, that shake up my world, that even contradict what I know. I hope you guys do, too.

The Invention of Wings

Here is a short publisher’s summary:

Inspired by the true story of early-nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké, Kidd paints a moving portrait of two women inextricably linked by the horrors of slavery. Sarah, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner, exhibits an independent spirit and strong belief in the equality of all. Thwarted from her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she struggles throughout life to find an outlet for her convictions. Handful, a slave in the Grimké household, displays a sharp intellect and brave, rebellious disposition. She maintains a compliant exterior, while planning for a brighter future. Told in first person, the chapters alternate between the two main characters’ perspectives, as we follow their unlikely friendship (characterized by both respect and resentment) from childhood to middle age. While their pain and struggle cannot be equated, both women strive to be set free—Sarah from the bonds of patriarchy and Southern bigotry, and Handful from the inhuman bonds of slavery.

I thought this was a good read, though it lagged about 3/4 of the way in. I found myself rushing through Sarah’s chapters to get to Handful’s story, which I found much more compelling over the course of the entire book. Sarah, on the other hand, had more of an interesting story as a child/teenager. Once she left her family and Handful behind, her story lost some of its spark. Sarah and Handful’s relationship is what brings the reader into the story – once the two girls separate, it is easy to compare the characters, and Sarah just does not even come close to the life and passion Handful brings to each page.

I liked the historical aspects – the Grimke family was very real, and Sarah and her sister Angelina were remarkable women for their time. Handful (a fictional character) has a very compelling storyline with one of my favorite Americans, Denmark Vesey, a free carpenter who tried to organize a slave rebellion. Vesey was a truly remarkable man, and I highly encourage all to read more into his story! I also liked when Sarah’s story began intersecting with abolitionists and early feminists, and the description of Quaker life.

My favorite parts were Handful’s chapters. Her story, and her mother’s story, was so emotional and well thought out. I feel like Kidd really honored the African influence slave culture – there is a lot of discussion into Handful’s family, starting with her great grandma who was brought from Africa to the colonies, and exploring the generational trauma of slavery on each member of her family down to her.

To be honest, I was surprised Sue Monk Kidd was white! I was disappointed, actually, but since I found out after reading and enjoying the book, I won’t let it color my write up. But just so you all know, Sue Monk Kidd is a white lady. Finding this out makes me want to search out historical fiction set in the antebellum South written by people of color.

I gave this 3 stars on goodreads – I did find myself bored with Sarah’s story in the latter half of the book, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

I have been waiting to read this book for months, maybe over a year. I would see it at Target and pick it up but put it down, or think about buying a copy on Amazon before x-ing out of the tab, or be discouraged when the library didn’t have an ebook version. BUT NO MORE! My library got the ebook and I patiently waited for it to be my turn, and then devoured this book in 2 days.

Susannah Cahalan was a normal 24 year old living the dream in NYC, when everything starts to go wrong. She thinks she has the flu, she’s just stressed, she’s just tired, but then she has a seizure and ends up in the ER. Her journey is crazy and scary and intense – Cahalan does such a good job at recounting her psychosis, and making the reader feel as if you are right there with her. I also loved how much of her parent’s perspective she included – between her mom in denial that everything will be fine/get better eventually, to her poor dad who writes in his journal about crying on the elevator, I think her parent’s speak for the reader’s perspectives as well.

The medical research is solid. I LOVE medical memoirs/non fictions. I read the Emperor of all Maladies (a cancer “biography”), books about the plague, the influenza of 1918, sleeping sickness, death and dying, corpses, malaria, polio, vaccines, I could go on. I love them! Brain on Fire is a solid addition to my collection.

Here’s a summary from Susannah’s website:brain on fireIf you click the image you can follow through and learn more about it. I really enjoyed this! Would highly recommend to anyone who likes medical mysteries, memoirs, and peaking into the most intimate moments of a person’s life – which tbh is the best part of a good memoir.

Dog Days of Summer Reading: August

Hello all! I am so sorry for the lack of updates – I got married on Saturday in my hometown of Sacramento, CA! We journeyed back to Sacramento on the 14th, and it was a whirlwind week of bachelor/bachelorette parties, lots and lots of errands and last minute tasks, visiting family, MAKING A LIFETIME PROMISE TO MY HUSBAND, seeing friends from near and far… whew, it was magical and amazing and I’m a little sad to be back in my normal life again.

I’ve read 4 books in the last couple weeks:

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Oh crap, these are actually in backwards order – oh well.

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill was a roller coaster of a read. I read “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright last year, and of course watched the HBO documentary earlier this year, and am pretty interested in Scientology. Jenna Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, who is in charge of the Church. That her story is SO NUTS and she is family to the boss is just incredible. Growing up without parents, no education, manual labor, separated from anyone she became close to, her parents are declared Suppressive Persons, psychologically tortured, the list goes ON and ON … the isolation she suffered is awful. I liked this memoir because it was very direct and honest – she isn’t the best writer, but her story is engaging enough to overlook the clunky writing. I was really rooting for her to make her escape with her husband at the end. I’m genuinely happy that Jenna has a happy ending after her ordeal of a childhood/young adulthood.

Longbourn by Jo Baker was a wonderful, beautiful, lovely read. The premise is that this is the Pride and Prejudice story from the perspective of the servants. Sara is the main character, and we see her grow, develop and fall in love during the same course of events as the Bennett girls deal with Bingley and Darcy. There is the dashing badboy footman of Mr. Bingley that distracts Sara’s heart from her true love James, a mysterious young man who arrives at Longbourn and has secrets of his own… ugh. It’s wonderful. Also, I felt very vindicated because I do NOT love P&P and Jo Baker paints the Bennett girls as less than lovable and sympathetic – they seem shallow, and oblivious, and spoiled in this book. Which I like! It seemed more realistic.

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles – I was really excited to finally get this book from the library after reading the proceeding book in the Penn Cage series Natchez Burning last year. Penn Cage is a former DA and current mayor of Natchez who uncovers a KKK Civil Rights era murder that has had lasting effects and repercussions on his town and family. Basically, Cage is trying to defeat the Double Eagles, a old KKK offshoot still active in LA/MS, and deal with the sins of their fathers from the 60s. Oh, and throw in connections to the JFK assassination. There is A LOT going on in this book. Unfortunately, most of the mystery and suspense is built upon the main characters hiding information from each other. I found myself skimming through pages of unnecessary drama that I think was created just to add length to the book and artificial character development. I think it was a dud, a very clunky 850 pages. It wasn’t as good as Natchez Burning, which had crazy pacing and revelations throughout all 800 pages. I wanted to give up on this one, but I powered through.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was great, as we all could have predicted. Rereading in quick succession as a grown up, I feel much more in tune with the increasing complexity of the characters/story. I read this cover to cover during our journey home on Sunday – we spent ~8 hours in airports/planes, and it was nice to lose myself in Hogwarts. I think I’ll do a big round up of my Harry Potter experience when I finish the series.

Alrighty everyone! I’m currently reading The Vacationers by Emma Struab, and I have the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd up next.

Reading Challenge 2015 update: 41 of 60 books

I’m about 2/3rds of the way complete towards my goal of reading 60 books this year! I started really tracking my reading in 2014, with no set goal in mind. I ended up reading 54 books. For 2015, I upped my goal to an even 60.

I read every night before bed for anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. On my days off (I work part time), I can get in a couple hours of extra reading time, and on the weekends I sometimes spend mornings or afternoons reading.

I am pretty broke, so my partner and I don’t go out all that often, leaving me with a lot of time to spend reading. He is in law school, so he spends a lot of time studying, and I don’t want to watch our shows without him, so I usually read or surf the net while he is studying. Ha, I don’t think anything is more frustrating than wanting to watch the next episode, but your tv partner is busy!!! I’m very serious about my shows…

Also, I work part time, which gives me extra time to dedicate to reading that I know not everyone else has. If I could afford to, I would work part time forever! It’s so wonderful. I think those European countries with the 4 day work week are really onto something. I was unemployed for 5 months before getting hired at my current job, which I love – its an amazing institution, with great coworkers, and I’m doing productive work. I want to stay in this position and show some growth/development, and get some longevity on my resume – I’ve jumped around a lot the last few years, so all my positions are only for 1 or 2 years. I think scraping by on a low salary is worth establishing myself a little – plus my job title sounds prestigious (if I do say so myself), which I think will help a lot whenever I move on. My current plan is to wait until Spring/early Summer 2016 to look for a better paying job, either with the same institution as an internal applicant or elsewhere, after I’ve reach an official year in my current position. Plus, I’ve heard rumors of people retiring in my department, meaning that positions could open up or roles could change… you gotta be patient sometimes.

Sorry for a detour into personal details – but I get a lot of questions about how I have so much time to read, or how I’m able to read so much. It’s a combination of having the time to do it, and making it a priority. I always read at night. Reading during the day is an added bonus, especially if I’m in the middle of an amazing book. If I’m really into a book, I’ll take my kindle to work and read on my hour lunch break.

Reviewing the 41 books I’ve already read, I’m really proud of myself! I’ve read some amazing books this year, and I hope that the fall and winter have even more good reads in store for me. Click here to browse my 2015 Reading Challenge on GoodReads. You can always add me on Goodreads, I love seeing what everyone else is reading!!