This is NOT a sad book. It says at much on the back of the book, but if you're like me, you find it hard to believe that a novel about a little girl who is sent to live in a leper settlement could be anything but tragic. But it's true. I wouldn't lie to you. There are definitely parts of the book that are sad, which is to be expected, but the narrative never lingers on a depressing tone, and the theme of the story is overall uplifting. It's the story of Rachel, a young girl living in Hawaii as it was in 1891. The leprosy epidemic is at its height, and many fear it will be the end of the island people. Even so, frightened families try to hide the illness in their loved one to spare them quarantine and transfer to the isolated settlements. Rachel's family is no different, but they can't hide her illness for long and she is eventually moved to Kalaupapa, a settlement on the island of Moloka'i. There, she is reunited with her favorite uncle, who was moved their sometime before. The novel is an account of Rachel's life--and yes, it is a long life-- on the island. It is not the story about a sickly girl growing up with a terrible illness, but rather the story of a very strong girl (and woman) who forms new family ties and friendships, and chooses to really live even though she is surrounded by death. I loved Rachael as a character, because she was determined and strong, but still real. As much as I love the characters, probably the best thing about this novel is the different perspective it gave me on a point of history I never fully understood. Until reading this well-researched book, I never truly grasped the desperation and fear that must have been felt by an island facing an epidemic. That's the great thing about historical fiction, you learn so much while at the same time enjoying a well crafted story. This was a book that left me with an itch for discussion, so I think it would be an excellent choice for book clubs. I had to read it for myself to believe that a book about such a topic could be warm and uplifting-- you should do the same!
Normally, I'm not a big reader of short stories, but it didn't take me long to fall in love with Neil Gaiman's new book. What first drew my attention was the title. "Trigger Warning," a tag used to warn readers of potentially disturbing content, is an appropriate name for this creepy collection. The stories in this book range from mildly unsettling to sleep-with-your-light-on scary. I think my favorite was the third story in the book, "The Thing About Cassandra." It's a quick read about an artist who finds himself haunted by an ex-lover-- one who he was pretty sure he made up. The rest of the stories in the book are as varied as you would expect from an author like Gaiman. One story features a werewolf, in another the scariest thing is the dark side of human nature. Whether you prefer supernatural or realistic tales, there's a little something for everyone's palate. The stories range from five to seven pages each, which I think is the sweet spot for short fiction. It makes it easy to read one story in a sitting. If you like to freak yourself out a little--like I do-- this is a great book to read when you're sitting home alone.
This is such a great book for any Central Oregonian to read. We share our space with so many different types of wildlife; we're probably so accustomed to some of them that we hardly notice their presence. This book has a lot of fascinating information about how animals, birds in particular, managed to adapt and thrive in an environment that is dominated and rapidly altered by humans. What I really loved about this book is that it's a call to action for people to learn how to be good neighbors to the wildlife that share our homes, from supplying nest boxes and feeders to providing salamanders with a safe way to cross busy streets. I love how he encourages safe interaction as a way to garner an appreciation for animals in future generations. It's a very hands on and optimistic approach to cohabitation. If you missed Marzluff's presentation in Redmond, you can find many of the graphics he featured in his slideshow and all of the discussion topics in this book. Just like in "Gifts of the Crow," Marzluff's writing and knowledge does credit to the animals he studies. Reading this book will leave you with a better understanding of our wild neighbors and the urban ecosystem.
This book had me from the very first page, and how could it not? It is a story about friendship, trust, the bond between humans and animals, and really big explosions. I don't think you could reasonably ask for anything more in a novel. The story primarily follows the lives of two people, one of them being a scientist named Isabel Duncan. She's a little anti-social, but only when it comes to other humans. Her true friends are the bonobos she works with at the research lab. She shares special bonds with each one of them, and communicates with them through sign language. She loves her work, and believes that she and the bonobos can make the public understand that animals and humans aren't so different. The other character is John, a reporter who is eager to break away from the filler articles his editor keeps throwing his way. He sees a human interest piece on Isabel and the bonobos as a stepping stone on his way to better things. However, a single act of terror throws the lives of John, Isabel and the bonobos into turmoil. The well being of the apes is in jeopardy, Isabel is at risk of losing the only family she has and John is facing a bigger story than he ever could have imagined. This novel was equal parts touching and suspenseful. Whenever I thought I knew who the "bad guys" were, the next page shattered my theory. Ape House more than lives up to the fame that Gruen garnered with her bestseller, Water for Elephants. I was incredibly impressed with how she was able to portray each ape as its own character, rather than props for the story, while remaining realistic and factual. I can't recommend this book strongly enough.
I picked up this novel because I loved Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, and I ended up liking it even better. My Year of Meats is told in dual narrative, alternating between the perspectives of documentarian Jane Takagi-Little and Japanese housewife, Akiko. The chain of events that tie the two very different women together is set into motion when Jane is given the chance to produce a new Japanese TV series called "My American Housewife." Each week the series will feature a different housewife who will show off a different recipe which showcases meat. Of course, the show is sponsored and heavily produced by a beef manufacturing company. Meanwhile in Japan, Akiko is forced to watch every episode of the glorified beef advertisements by her domineering husband, John; he is determined for her to cook and eat each featured meal so she will become hearty enough to bear children. Oh, John also happens to be Jane's boss, and he is eager to get her removed from the show if she strays away from the "wholesome" product placement at its core. However, as Jane digs deeper into the world of American meat production, she begins to see things she can't ignore and struggles with the morality of portraying the industry as wholesome and driven by family values. In Japan, Akiko battles fertility issues and an eating disorder, both side effects of a loveless marriage and unsatisfying life. Meanwhile, John grows more and more frustrated with the rebellion of both women. This is an incredible novel that I absolutely could not put down. It deals with issues that are incredibly relevant, reading like an informational pamphlet disguised as a novel. At the same time, it's easy to see how much research went into the creation of this novel, and the believable setting will make you appreciate Ozeki's dedication to getting the details right. Like in A Tale for the Time Being, Ozeki expertly weaves the lives of unlikely characters together in a beautiful way and writes a novel that, in parts, teeters between reality and magical realism. These aspects and her knack for comparing and contrasting American and Japanese culture seem to be trademarks of Ozeki's writing. This a wonderful book by an incredible author.
I never cared for the Cinderella tale, but now consider me a fan-- or at least a fan of Marissa Meyer's take on the old classic. In Cinder, Meyer follows the popular trend of reimagining a beloved fairy tale, but that's where Cinder's similarity to any other book I've ever read ends. The story takes place in futuristic Beijing, where the people are tormented by a deadly plague and the hostilities between Earth and Luna. Technological advancements have allowed for the breakthrough of life-saving surgeries that replace damaged parts of the body with machinery, but cyborgs are treated as sub-human in the Commonwealth. Now, normally when a story introduces cyborgs and moon people I lose interest, but these are just two more plot elements on which Meyer has completely sold me. Cinder is a teen cyborg and genius mechanic in the guardianship of her stepmother. She wants nothing more to escape the Commonwealth and her stepmother's reign, but when Prince Kai requests her help in fixing an android she quickly finds herself tangled in a political disaster. This is by far the most enjoyable and inventive young adult novel I've read in a long time. Meyer expertly crafts relatable and loveable characters, as well as a vivid and unique world. You can tell that this is an author who is in love with her story, and (if you're like me) you'll soon be in love with it, too. After I finished Cinder, I devoured the other two books in the series, and now I am impatiently waiting for the next one to be released