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Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): Last week my brother persuaded me to watch the Amazon original series The Man in the High Castle. I didn’t know until about five episodes in that the show is based on a book by Philip K. Dick (who has had other film adaptations of his books, most notably Blade RunnerMinority Report, and Total Recall), and then obviously I had to read it.

The book and the show differ a bit when it comes to characters and plot, but the main premise is that the story takes place in an alternate reality in which the U.S. lost World War 2 and has been taken over by the Germans and the Japanese, who are in a sort of arms/technology race with each other. In this different reality there is a book (film reels in the show) written by “the man in the high castle” which offers a glimpse into a world in which the U.S. won the war (i.e., our current reality).

The web series adaptation didn’t mirror the book 100% (I didn’t expect it to), yet both were fascinating in their own ways. I liked the novel for its insights into characters’ psyches, and the way it laid the social and cultural foundations for this different reality; I liked the show for its exciting plot, character development, and satisfying ending.

Continue reading “Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick”

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Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Inspired by the midcentury memoirs of Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands at the brink of World War II.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers)Enchanted Islands has become one of my favorite books this reading challenge. There were a couple of issues I had with the pacing, but overall the story is compelling (what makes it cooler is that it’s based on true people and true events), and the character development and their interactions are well written.

I don’t remember where I originally read the synopsis (probably on the Book of the Month website), but the story turned out to be really different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I’m always hoping a book surprises me by eschewing typical tropes and plots, and Enchanted Islands definitely did that. The narrative is unique; it’s not at all a spy novel or thriller, but it doesn’t lack action or suspense, just that most of it is introspective. It also has a slightly melancholic and brooding tone, which I found refreshing.

I also like when books (and TV shows, movies, and video games) have a simple story and complex characters. This allows the audience to focus on the important things, like human interaction, self-reflection, and growth. The people in Enchanted Islands were so interesting, and after reading A Game of Thrones it was really nice having a book with just a few characters to keep track of. And they were such wonderfully flawed, wonderfully human characters. I can’t remember the last time I felt such empathy for figures in a novel (especially when they’re being difficult).

The biggest critique I have for this book is its pacing. The story is divided into four parts and is told as a flashback by a much older Fanny. In some places the author, Allison Amend, spends too much time talking about a relatively short period in Fanny’s life and then glosses over decades in a few pages. After knowing her so intimately during her formative years I felt left behind as Fanny aged within what appeared to be a matter of minutes. At the end of the book it seemed like we still had unfinished business…

Despite the choppy timing, Amend did a good job of balancing Fanny’s dialogue in the past with her narrative in the present. I especially liked the moments when the story was punctuated by Older Fanny’s self-reflection. Reading those made me feel like her confidante, and I grew more invested in her character.

So, have you read Enchanted Islands? Is it on your TRL? Keep reading for a spoiler review!

Continue reading “Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend”

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

Rating🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It took a very long time for me to read A Game of Thrones because I’m not accustomed to jumping on the popular culture bandwagon for media that have been around for ages. I don’t care if others do that, or if the media becomes popular after I’ve read/seen it, but I personally take comfort in being part of a smaller fan community (it’s like being a member of a super secret club and I love it).

I feel like kicking myself in the pants for not picking up A Game of Thrones sooner. It’s everything I enjoy in books (well, minus the misogyny): action, adventure, mystery, and drama. Many characters, even those without their own narratives, had incredible depth. The writing was straightforward and I was easily immersed. There were several places in the novel where the suspense was wonderfully set up, and I loved the way Martin worked with dramatic tension.

I also love stories that are unpredictable, which is an understatement for A Game of Thrones; I was on my toes the entire time and it felt great (albeit a little exhausting…court drama is not for the fainthearted, as Ned found out…).

I’m not sure if/when I’ll watch the television series…maybe after I’ve read all the published books? What did you think of A Song of Ice and Fire? Comment below, let me know!

Rainy updates

Hi everyone!

I’m currently in Saigon, Vietnam waiting for the monsoon-like downpour to end before heading back out to practice my narrowly-missing-scooters skills. The hostel where I’m staying has a computer so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give you some updates about my reading challenge progress!

I’ve been using long plane and bus rides to my advantage, and I’m happy to announce that in the past two weeks I’ve read two books (two more than I thought I’d finish)! The most exciting one was Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I know I’m tardy to the party…but at least I made it!

got
You remember Archimedes, my faithful Kindle, right?

The other novel I finished was Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, book two in the Thursday Next series.

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If the rain doesn’t let up, book reviews will be posted sooner rather than later…If you’re curious about my travels, you can check out my travel blog here. Hope you all are having a lovely summer!

Review: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family—and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short: I really enjoyed this book and I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, in September.

The plot was riveting and contained a lot of what I like to read: an original and unpredictable story, a good amount of action and suspense, and character development. The pacing was slow at times, but I rather liked reading about the mundane details of the sisters’ day-to-day lives.

I instantly loved the Kopp sisters and how different they were from each other. As the oldest Constance is instinctively protective of her sisters; Norma is the introverted middle sister who is often distrustful of strangers; and Fleurette is a whimsical and imaginative seventeen-year-old, as trusting of others as Norma is wary.

constance kopp

The coolest part about this novel is that it’s a fictional account of real events and real people. Constance Kopp and her sisters actually existed, and the major events in this book actually happened. Says the author Amy Stewart, “My task as a writer was to take the public record—pieced together from newspaper articles, genealogical records, court documents, and other sources—and invent the rest of the story.” In fact the title of the novel comes from a newspaper headline about Constance Kopp that appeared in the Philadelphia Sun on November 23, 1914. Stewart also met with descendants of some of the characters in the book, who shared stories about their ancestors. I’m always eager to read books about women ahead of their times, and this one was extremely satisfying.

 

If you’ve read Girl Waits with Gun, what did you think? If you haven’t, would you?

I got some new books, yay!

Hello, hello! After a very lazy week spent on the warm shores of sunny San Diego, I am back home, forced to confront the tedious reality of packing and moving out of my apartment. Booorriiingggg.

BUT! I did come back to two very exciting items waiting for me:

#1: A fourth book from my Facebook book chain! I have heard amazing things about Terry Pratchett and I’m very much looking forward to Equal Rites.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 11.54.16

#2: My third and final book from Book of the Month subscription box! World War II, spies, and the Galapagos Islands will make this novel a very interesting read indeed…
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Have any of you read these books? Let me know what you think!

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Brief synopsis (back cover): Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than her tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and he is not interested in exploring a new one. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, Lou sets out to show him that life is still worth living. Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart? 

Rating🏡  Left behind / ✈  Travel companion

Long story short: This book is a little tricky to rate because some parts I liked and others…not so much.

I loved the insights Moyes offered into quadriplegia and assisted suicide because these are two topics I know very little about and the latter has become quite contentious over the years. I have no experience in these areas so I can’t say how accurately either were depicted (the book has been criticized for romanticizing suicide), but it was a change from what I usually read and I enjoyed learning something new.

Through Louisa we’re introduced to caregiving and all the difficult and wonderful moments that come with it. She is spunky and kind and always trying to do the good thing, the right thing, for other people. There is a particular instance in the novel where we get to see the root of her personality—why she is who she is—and it’s a vulnerable time for her. While the set up was done well I wished Moyes took more time drawing Louisa out of her shell. She was definitely my favorite part of the story.

Continue reading “Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes”

May Book Haul

May book haul
Not pictured: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

I got my hands on more books than I expected to this month. Most were from local bookstores, three were given to me by friends, two were e-books from Amazon, and one was from Book of the Month. As much as I could I tried to balance getting books that are on my TBR lists and new titles I hadn’t heard of that piqued my curiosity.

It’s hard to decide what to read first, but I’m most excited for 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

May Book Haul titles:

  1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  2. Paula by Isabele Allende
  3. Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  4. Party Headquarters by Georgi Tenev
  5. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  6. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  7. The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte
  8. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  9. Hip: The History by John Leland
  10. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  11. A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt
  12. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
  13. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  14. Cleaning Up New York by Bob Rosenthal
  15. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  16. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  17. Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald
  18. Naked by David Sedaris
  19. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  20. Amor and Psycho by Carolyn Cooke
  21. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  22. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  23. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  24. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  25. The Naked Pint by Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune
  26. Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh
  27. Think Like a Freak by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
  28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  29. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

lolita

Brief synopsis (back cover): Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short: As a professor and a writer Nafisi expounds on what she knows best: trying to make sense of her reality through works of fiction. She juxtaposes literary analysis and narrative to help reshape her life under the Islamic Regime in Iran, to reassemble parts of her identity that had been broken or stripped away because of the religious fanaticism that engulfed the country.

Continue reading “Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi”

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