reading recap: march 2017

I had another prolific month of reading! It’s really nice to be back in a groove after so many blah months. I’m trying to catch up on books I’ve had forever and not buy new ones, and I’m doing okay with that, better than in the past. My audiobook reading has skyrocketed, though. Without a regular 8-to-5 I have tons of time to listen at home and on bus/subway rides. These ten books makes my 2017 total 27 already—more than halfway to my Goodreads goal of 50 for the year, so I may raise that soon enough!

  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Stranger in the Woods (audio) … Michael Finkel, read by Mark Bramhall
  • When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi
  • The Last One (win) … Alexandra Oliva
  • Psycho (audio) … Robert Bloch, read by Paul Michael Garcia
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) … Jacqueline Woodson, read by author
  • Get in Trouble: Stories … Kelly Link
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey, read by Tom Parker
  • Hidden Figures (ebook) … Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mom & Me & Mom (audio) … Maya Angelou, read by author

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestWhen Breath Becomes Air, and The Stranger in the Woods were my favorites read in March. I loved Americanah, but I finished right before Adichie’s controversial interview comments came out, so I’m still sort of reconciling my feelings about it in retrospect. There were some really great stories in Get in Trouble, too, and Psycho was fabulous. I really wanted Hidden Figures to live up to all the grand hype, but for me it fell flat. The parts about the women themselves and their lives were excellent, but you have to wade through lots of textbook-like technical chapters that bored me. I still want to see the movie, though.

Okay. I think if I’m going to be getting through this volume of books (or close to it) each month, I’m going to have to get back into individual posts. It’ll be good for me, another project to keep me occupied!

monthly recap image

still alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova has appeared in my recommended lists on Goodreads for years and has received rave reviews. Now with the movie out I figured I should give it a chance. From Goodreads:

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever.

Still Alice didn’t live up to the high accolades for me. I never connected with Alice or any of the other characters. The writing was just a bit too clinical in parts, like, interruptions in the action to explain scientifically what was happening in Alice’s brain instead of the reader experiencing it through Alice. Know what I mean? And I don’t want to spoil it, but Still Alice doesn’t quite convey the sheer devastation an illness such as Alzheimer’s will wreak on a person’s lives and family. While the usual emotions and reactions one expects upon this diagnosis were expressed—like frustration, anger, confusion—the book merely stayed at the surface, just touching on certain actual, harsh realities of a disease such as this without going the full mile on them. It all ended a little too conveniently for me. [Hover-over spoiler]

I felt the secondary characters were all rather one-dimensional, for example we only really learn one aspect of their lives and personalities (acting, baby-making, or… I can’t even remember what the son did. Something in medicine). They weren’t very likable either, just came off as ungrateful and self-absorbed. Honestly, and this will sound so awful of me, I know: I didn’t find Alice to be particularly likable, either. Not terribly unlikable, though. I just didn’t connect with her, so the deterioration of her memory didn’t affect me like I expected or hoped. This could be me—books where the protagonists are well-off and act rather entitled are not really my cup of tea. [Hover-over spoiler]

All that said, there are some excellent, affecting scenes in Still Alice, especially once you get into the last third of the book, like when she starts doing things twice in succession without realizing it (introducing herself to someone, repeating her input on a presentation at work), when she gets lost in her own house, and when she is losing recognition of her daughter. I thought Alice’s list of basic questions to test out how she’s regressing throughout was one of the most potent features of the book.

I would love to see this movie and think it may be one of those books that actually translates better on film. (And I love Julianne Moore 🙂 )

Read from April 22 to May 2, 2015.

the girl with all the gifts

The last month and a half (yeesh) I have been listening to The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey during my rehearsal commutes. I started it mid-October as something to put me in the mood for Halloween, and despite the long period it took for me to get all the way through, I really enjoyed it. From Goodreads:

Not every gift is a blessing…

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end..

I think that everyone by now knows the “spoiler” on this one—”jokes that she won’t bite” is basically the giveaway that Melanie is a zombie. Or is she? This character was so much more, and this book was not what I was expecting at all, in the best possible way.

The Girl With All the Gifts unfolds beautifully and terrifyingly from a limited view of the world (through Melanie’s eyes, her cell and makeshift classroom in a bunker at first) to how we have come to this point in human history. I loved that Carey has a carefully thought-out, original explanation as to what wiped out humanity, when most zombie stories omit such details. The four main characters aside from Melanie—Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, and Gallagher—begin as broad stereotypes but as the story progresses, each reveals individual personalities and self-histories that create tangible depth in each of them. Melanie’s innocence, above all, is fascinating and kind of horrifying at the same time. And I loved the ending! It went further and expanded to more than I could have ever guessed.

I really wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get through. I feel like I missed a few parts on audio, and that very well is just my own fault for taking so long. I suspect that if I had been reading it on paper instead of listening on audio, I could have (ahem) devoured The Girl With All the Gifts in about a week. I will probably end up buying a paper copy and rereading eventually. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, engrossing novel and I definitely recommend to fans of post-apocalyptic horror!

Listened to audiobook from October 18 to December 9, 2014.

five days at memorial

I recently finally read one of the books from my 2013 retail therapy bender, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. From Goodreads:

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

It took me forever to get through this one, and it took me forever to write this review! I’m not sure what the deal was with Five Days at Memorial for me. This kind of subject matter is usually right up my alley—survival, tests of humanity and society, etc. I just had trouble becoming completely immersed. I may have been in a bit of a slump in September, though—my schedule and workload really amps up when summer ends, and I admit to being overwhelmed with the shift this time. Anyway, it was interesting and well written enough for me to finish.

I found the first and last thirds to be especially fascinating, first the harrowing situation the people found themselves in, and finally the tense legal battles. The middle section dragged for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why (my “real life” stuff could easily be the culprit). I remember noticing quite a bit of repetition, but it did make sense to repeat some things in context (differing accounts of the same act, etc.).

Fink’s research is exhaustive and apparent, and for the most part fair and balanced. The book delves deeper into the history of the hospital, the lives of the individuals involved, and the aftermath of the disaster than I would have ever expected. However, I’m not sure it was entirely without bias… it could just be how I read it, but I felt like Dr. Pou was portrayed at times as heroic and other times was demonized for her alleged actions.

I learned so much about disaster preparedness for places like hospitals, and I did get a sense that the doctors and nurses truly were doing everything they could to help their patients in the face of little resources. I did appreciate that Fink doesn’t drive home any specific conclusion or “lesson” here, especially on the topic of human euthanasia. The main point, I think, is that life is not all black and white, strictly right or wrong—it is all grays and subjective and feelings, and that’s what these people faced during Katrina in Memorial. It’s a great read—powerful, gut wrenching, informative, and thought provoking. I definitely recommend it, but only when you have the time to really dig in (unlike me, ugh)!

Read from September 7 to 28, 2014.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

It’s going to be a crazy week, people! I just enjoyed one of my last peaceful weekends for a while, now that the semester/concert season is in full swing. On Saturday I finished reading The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman (and saw Buddy Guy perform!). Review coming up soon, hopefully tomorrow!

I always have the worst trouble starting a new book. I just agonize over it, for some reason! I stand in front of my bookcase staring for several minutes. Then I open up my iPad and stare at my ebooks I’ve downloaded. Then I go back to the bookcase. Repeat repeat repeat. Yesterday I finally settled on Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, though, partly because I had just read a couple books by male authors (I’m more aware of this now since I started keeping a spreadsheet for my reading this year… self-overanalyzing is happening, people) and Five Days is another from that 2013 book-buying binge that I’m finally starting to try to whittle down. It’s a little dry but less textbook-y than I was expecting, which is good. I’m hoping I can finish it this week but it’s a bit of a chunkster—almost 500 pages! We’ll see.

What are you reading this week?

the hot zone

This month I finally got around to reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which I borrowed from a family member back in July. From Goodreads:

A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic “hot” virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their “crashes” into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

Oh boy, where to begin. I meant to get started on this one for Halloween but was a little too busy that week (normal 40-hr work week, then rehearsals/concerts/meetings every night after work) so didn’t get to it until the weekend after. That’s okay, though, because it still scared the bejeebuz out of me!

Right away, The Hot Zone catches the reader’s attention with a horrifying story about a possible “patient zero,” who basically bleeds out over a very short period after exposure. But… it’s a lot more disgusting and disturbing than that, of course. The Hot Zone focuses on the history of the Ebola virus, and outbreaks in Africa and an isolated incident outside Washington DC in the 1990s. I knew Ebola was bad and you don’t want to catch it (obvs), but not any of the details of what exactly happens to an infected person (or animal)—bleeding out from all orifices and your insides liquefying. UGH! <shudder> Although, The Hot Zone isn’t as gory as I expected after the first vignette on “patient zero.”

I think what shocked me the most was probably the carelessness—well, that might not be the exact right word. I don’t think the scientists in the book were careless. The Washington DC operation was noted as a first-of-its-kind mission. But this patient zero who was starting to exhibit these inexplicably horrifying symptoms was put on an AIRPLANE?? How many accidental needle pinpricks are really possible in the extremely contagious conditions described? Oh, and the poor monkeys. This is not a book for people sensitive to reading about animal testing. There’s a lot of sick monkeys in The Hot Zone.

A weak point of The Hot Zone for me was the slightly dry writing style, which became slightly repetitive in a few spots. I really liked it, though. If I hadn’t been so generally life-busy I probably could have read this in just a couple of days—a compulsive page-turner, definitely. Scarier than any fictional plague or virus book I’ve come across. I caught myself holding my breath during some parts!

Read from November 2 to 16, 2013.