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!

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.

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.

Reliving the magic of Harry Potter: the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets

harrypotter1On a whim last month I put The Sorcerer’s Stone on hold at the library, and read it last week. I haven’t religiously reread the series over the years, or in preparation for each  movie release, like a lot of people who grew up with Harry. This was published in 1997, I was 8 at the time. As a big reader in elementary school, I remember reading these as new books. I can perfectly picture the classroom library/reading nook my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Jones had set up in the back corner of her classroom, and discovering my love of historical fiction with “The Last Silk Dress” and “Wolf By the Ears” by Ann Rinaldi… but I also remember having Harry Potter books next to my pencil case in my desk. Does anyone else remember in images? It’s like a perfect snapshot of my pencil box stacked on top of a hardcover of Harry Potter.

I saw the first movie in theaters in Winnemucca, Nevada, on a road trip with my family – my dad took my sister and I so our mom could relax in peace at the motel with a glass of iced white wine. It was wonderful. But I had stopped reading the books around #4 or #5, and only saw the first 2 or 3 movies. It just never sparked a fire for me as a teenager – I can say the same for the Lord of the Rings mania, which was also huge during middle school and high school. The real kicker for me was that the books and movies ALWAYS came out during the summer, usually around my birthday in July –  for so many years, people would skip my birthday party to wait in line for the new Harry Potter book, or be too tired from the midnight premier of the newest movie. It made me bitter!

harrypotter2When I was 18, I finally read the last 2 books and absolutely loved them. I know I’ve read all the books at one point or another… but the middle of the series remains very muddled to me. I think I’ve patched most of my Harry Potter knowledge from the movies, vague memories of reading the books when they original came out, and piecing together information from tumblr.

Well at the ripe old age of 26, I am aiming to rectify this situation! I read the first 2 books last week, and was enchanted by them. Very very good stuff. The level of detail is extraordinary, and the lush background given to each character and setting makes for a very engrossing experience. It’s fun to see the clues Rowling has left sprinkled throughout the early books, and I like vaguely knowing what is going to happen, but not remembering any of the actual details. I didn’t remember Gilderoy Lockheart AT ALL, and its fun seeing Harry and the gang interacting as babies. Ginny’s school girl crush on Harry, Ron’s feelings towards Hermoine. Dumbledore being mysterious as hell – he really isn’t very involved in the first few books AT ALL. I know all is revealed later, but I’ve been surprised at how much of an enigma he is at this point.

I don’t like going on benders with series – I read the first 2 books in 10 days, and feel like I can probably take a break and read other things from my to do list for a little while. Luckily, I can borrow the Harry Potter series for free as part of the Amazon Prime Lending Library, and won’t have to wait to get them from the library – also, I’m limited to 1 per month, which is a nice way to not get too crazy about it. Between Harry Potter and Outlander, I feel pretty good about my options for series.

I don’t think I’ll have any groundbreaking opinions to add to the many many many things written about Harry Potter, but it is nice to relive some memories and revisit some amazing characters.

Recently Read: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I read Still Alice last week in 2 sittings – it was a very very moving read. At first I thought the writing was a little simplistic, almost like a fiction story you’d read in a women’s magazine, but once the story gets going, I was so engrossed in the characters that I didn’t notice anything else. Alice is a professor at Harvard who thinks she is suffering from menopausal memory lapses/distraction before getting a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s. The book is written from Alice’s perspective, and as her disease progresses, her POV is altered, too – making the reader feel as if they too are descending into the hole with her.

That quote up in the photo is a great little wrap up of the book – uncomfortable, terrifying… it’s an emotional read! I’m glad I checked it out from the library, I feel like I have more insight into Alzheimer’s – a disease we hear so much about but probably don’t know much about.

This is a very quick read – not a very uplifting one, although it ends on a fairly positive note. Worth checking out and reading one weekend!

Still invested in Outlander

I read the 5th book in the Outlander series last week, The Fiery Cross.

I am now over 5,000 pages into Claire and Jamie’s story, and I’m still trucking along. I haven’t experienced any Outlander fatigue, although sometimes I do laugh at the story lines that go on for 100 pages only for the outcome to have no actual import on the big picture. If I didn’t love the characters so much, it would drive me crazy.

Things that I enjoy:

  • Claire and Jamie’s relationship is just as engaging as it was at the start.
  • Bree and Roger are more fully fleshed out, which makes their story lines more interesting – in the last few books I wanted to rush through their chapters to get back to Claire and Jamie.
  • The historical detail – I love it!! Especially the medicine – some reviewers say they are tired of all the attention bestowed on Claire’s medical practice, but I think it’s fascinating, and fairly well done!

Things I don’t like:

  • Bree was breastfeeding for the majority of this book, and hearing about her leaking breast milk and wet splotches on her bodice was tiresome after the first 100 times
  • Like I mentioned before, the plot lines that go nowhere. At one point, the militia is mustered, on the march, they find an abandoned cabin, adopt some orphans, find a weird medical emergency that Claire needs to solve, have a run in with a panther (??), and then get a note that calls off the whole thing. So the militia goes back home, after 250 pages of trekking around.
  • The pacing – the book opens at a Gathering, where all the displaced Scottish settlers in North Carolina gather for a 3 day festival. Specifically, it opens on the last day, and the first 200 pages take place all between dawn and noon? SO MUCH HAPPENS, and I keep assuming that the afternoon has gone by, and we’re getting close to the evening’s activities but no, it’s still “mid-morning” and they haven’t had breakfast yet. Very disconcerting.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this. I spent a day off reading all day! I barely touched the internet! I was 100% in the early 1770s with Claire and Jamie and the rest of the gang at Fraser’s Ridge. That being said, I do need to take a break between each book in the series, I don’t think I’ll be ready for #6 until next month, or maybe even the end of summer.