Saturday, November 11, 2017

Never Let Me Go


A single question led me to read a 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, who was awarded the 2017 Swedish Academy Nobel Prize in Literature.

How about a read-along for Kazuo Ishiguro?  

The title of Dolce Bellezza's October 7 post was my impetus to read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, a British novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer.  Born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954, the author's family moved to England in 1960.  On his Wikipedia page, Ishiguro says that growing up in a Japanese family in the UK was essential to his writing in that it gave him a different perspective from that of his British peers.

In order to participate in this read-along, I ordered a print copy of the book, which took a bit longer than usual to arrive, but not too long, luckily.  (I also needed to get new reading glasses, as I got super glue on one of the lenses, and so could only read with one eye for a few nights; this is not recommended.)  I used a lovely wooden Japanese bookmark that my daughter, Jasmine, gave to me as a gift, pictured, which enhanced my nightly reading.


Driving around the country now, I still see things that will remind me of Hailsham.
~ Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

I started reading Never Let Me Go without preconceived notions about it.  The book is an "alternative history" set in England in the late 1990s, narrated in the first person by Kathy H., a 31-year-old clone, who has been a "carer" helping "donors" for over eleven years.  This story is told through the filter of her memory.  Kathy's memories focus on Hailsham, an English boarding school, and her two best childhood friends, Ruth and Tommy, who are also clones.  Over the course of the story we learn that clone lifespans are brief, and so they fit a lot of living into a short period of time.
 
Never Let Me Go centers around an "ordinary" sort of love triangle that develops between the three main characters, Kathy ("Kath"), Ruth, and Tommy.  At Hailsham, their teachers, called "guardians", tell them they're special, and emphasize the importance of creative work, such as art.  During childhood, Tommy has various struggles, and is not very artistic, but eventually he starts to draw elaborate pictures of animals, which he thinks may be helpful later on.  Kathy is a "carer" for Tommy near the end of the book, but she has always looked after and cared for Tommy.

Tender and beautifully written, Never Let Me Go is a reflective novel about the importance of friendship, love, caring, and memory.  Kathy's memories are a source of comfort and consolation to her throughout the book. The title of this novel refers to a song that Kathy loved, and it may also refer to her desire to hold onto her memories of Ruth, Tommy, and Hailsham. This novel reminds us to make the most of our time here, whether it's short or long, to live with hope, and to value the little things, such as a gentle touch on the shoulder.

"What he wanted was not just to hear about Hailsham, but to remember Hailsham, just like it had been his own childhood.  He knew he was close to completing and so that's what he was doing: getting me to describe things to him, so they'd really sink in, so that maybe during those sleepless nights with the drugs and the pain and the exhaustion, the line would blur between what were my memories and what were his. That was when I first understood, really understood, just how lucky we'd been--Tommy, Ruth, me, all the rest of us."
~ Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro


Warm thanks to Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza for hosting this read-along,  as well as the delectable Japanese Reading Challenge 11.  It is this continued reading challenge that initially enticed me to read novels by Japanese authors over the past few years--and I've enjoyed reading them very much!

Your comments are welcomed. Have you read this, or other works, by Kazuo Ishiguro? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hygge for Readers (and for Wondrous Words Wednesday)

Hygge

Have you heard of hygge?  Pronounced "hoo-ga", this Danish word can be used as a verb or as a noun. This term has become popular in America over the past year or so.  Although there's no direct translation of the word in English, here's the description of hygge from Wikipedia:

"Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word which can be described as a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)."    

Wikipedia states that hygge might originate from the word 'hug', and in both Danish and Norwegian, it refers to a form of everyday togetherness.  To me, hygge means something that brings a feeling of warmth, that contributes to "the cozy factor".  If, like me, you're interested in exploring this concept further, there's a book called The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute.  It sounds like a book I need to get!

I think dogs contribute to hygge as well.  Dogs are cute, dogs are snuggly, and their charming presence may increase hygge (cats, may, too, though currently we are catless). I've noticed more dogs appearing in ads, especially for home furnishings and decor, over the past year.  One of the places I like to read is on this loveseat.  It's firm yet comfortable, and there's a lamp on the side table, if I need extra light.  My dog, Daisy, has her special corner of the loveseat, unless I join her with a book. Then, she'll usually sit on me.

One of my favorite spots to read

I enjoy decorating, and I look at furniture online sometimes.  Occasionally I even order something for the house, like the loveseat in the photo, which is also a futon.  Recently, I was asked the question: How do I envision the perfect reading nook?  While I thought about this, the term hygge quickly came to mind.  I found some great living room furniture on the Arhaus website that would complement my decor, and add more hygge to the house.  Arhaus has elegant, modern yet "vintage-y" home furnishings that look appealing and well-made.

This wall sconce would provide light and style to a reading area.

Arhaus Wall Sconce
To readers, a cozier-than-thou chair is an invitation to read.

Arhaus Chair and Throws

I like the look and feel of this living room bench, which could "multitask" and come in handy. :)

Arhaus Living Room Bench

Ideally, there are several places for reading in your home.  How do you envision your reading nook, or nooks?  Is hygge important to you?

********************************************

Hosted each week by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog, Wondrous Words Wednesday is a wonderful way to celebrate words.  Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcomed.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Dryland: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety

When I was younger, I loved to swim, and although I never became a competitive swimmer, I was a pretty fast swimmer.  Fortunately, when I was in fifth grade we moved to an apartment building in Manhattan that had a pool, and we'd go into the pool a lot during the summers. When I was first learning how to swim, one of my sisters told me not to go into the deep end of the pool, which was 8' deep.  I didn't listen to her.  I quickly learned the different swimming strokes, and my parents used to call me a fish, because I loved to stay in the water for hours. I was interested in this book because even though I don't swim as much anymore, I remember those days at the pool and still love the water.  And although I'm a (very) moderate drinker, I was also interested in learning about a swim to sobriety.

"My identity changed with each new landscape."
~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw,  Dryland
Nancy Stearns Bercaw

Swimming, drinking, and traveling are three main subjects in the 2017 memoir Dryland: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety by writer Nancy Stearns Bercaw, a national champion swimmer, and seventeen-time NCAA All-American Athlete.  Nancy lived in many different countries--countries of extremes in terms of the weather and in terms of the culture--which suited her strong and adventurous personality.  In this memoir, Nancy talks about her devotion to swimming, which led her to the Olympic Trials in 1988, about her family, about her travel to different countries, about her love relationships, about her friendships, and about the role alcohol played in her life.  There's also a murder mystery in this book (in this regard, sadly, this is non-fiction).

"I've been going to one end of a pool, or overseas location, and coming back again, for my whole life.  Perhaps my existence should be characterized as a series of laps, instead of years." 
~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw, Dryland 

First of all, I think that the title of this memoir is perfect.  It refers to the desert, which is of course literally the dry land where Nancy lived, it refers to the absence of alcohol, and it also refers to something mentioned in the book, dryland training for swimmers, special exercises performed out of the water that help swimmers become stronger.  Chapter headings in Dryland include dates and are named after various bodies of water---a fitting and helpful touch.


I listened to an audio book version of Dryland, read by Donna Postel, who does an excellent job playing Nancy.  Her voice is clear and refined, and it was a pleasure to listen to this book (I had to remind myself a few times that she was not the author reading her story aloud.)  This memoir is set in several countries that the author lived in and traveled to, including Kenya, Abu Dhabi, and South Korea, as well as the United States.  Through the author's vivid descriptions, I could picture these locations. The settings in this book are an integral part of this memoir.

"Like an infant, I was learning how to put myself to sleep without a bottle." ~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw, Dryland

Alcohol is featured heavily in this memoir.  It was a big part of Nancy's life for a long time, even in countries where alcohol was prohibited (especially for women).  She believes that Abu Dhabi saved her life, and says that "a country of non-drinkers exposed the depths of my addiction to alcohol".  After almost thirty years of excessive drinking, Nancy acknowledges that alcohol is ruining her health, and decides to change her life.  Somewhat surprisingly, she also soon realizes that alcohol actually increases her anxiety at times, an important realization that helps her to stay sober. Through determination, she's able to stop drinking and maintain sobriety while living with her husband and son in arid Abu Dhabi (this shouldn't be considered a spoiler as the title of the memoir already indicates this).

Dryland is a courageously candid memoir. The details of her personal story are genuinely interesting, intelligent, inspiring, and beautifully expressed.  It's absolutely wonderful that she's able to give up her addiction to  alcohol! My favorite CD is the sixth one, the last one (which I'm currently listening to again) because it's  positive and triumphant.  It's also quite funny and amusing in parts--especially regarding Iceland.  I learned a few things about octopuses ;)  I enjoyed listening to the entire audio book of Dryland, in my car during my short commutes around town.  (This is how I listen to audio books.  I know others listen while they garden or walk or knit or cook or do chores around the house, but for me, I only listen to audio books when I drive solo.  It's my special private time with a book, and I enjoy being read to.)

Dryland is a magnificent, memorable memoir that's truly worth reading or listening to.  Recently I saw the touching movie, The Glass Castle, which is based on Jeannette Walls' remarkable  memoir.  I think that Dryland would also make an incredible movie that would highlight Nancy's swimming, drinking, and travel to many distinct and beautiful countries.  It would be outstanding.


Special thanks to Trish from TLC for inviting me on this tour and for accommodating my request for an "old-school" audio book version of this memoir on CDs.  For more reviews and features, please visit the other stops on TLC's book tour for Dryland.

Thank you for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bonjour Kale

"On my first day of third grade, while playing a game to introduce ourselves, we had to choose a noun corresponding to the first letter of our first name.  I casually chose 'kale', not thinking twice about it, until I realized that none of my classmates knew what it was. This was when I began to understand that my mother and I ate differently than the majority of Americans, and that experiencing the flavors, aromas, and textures of different vegetables was something unique we shared."
~ Bonjour Kale, Kristen Beddard

Although Kristen Beddard, the author of Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes (published in 2016), grew up eating kale, she never expected that it would become a main focus in her life.  Kale was  one of the first vegetables she liked as a baby, and her mother continued to use a lot of it in recipes and salads as her daughter grew up. Years later, when Kristen moved from America to France with her husband, Phillip, she searched for kale because it had always been a staple in the kitchen and an important part of her life.

"Kale was comfort.  Kale was my childhood. Kale was my mom."
~ Bonjour Kale, Kristen Beddard

She could not imagine her adult life as a wife with a kitchen of her own without kale.  Unfortunately, though, when she got to Paris, she could not find le chou kale anywhere.  

"I had yet to find the leafy green in Paris. Not at a single market or at any grocery store. Farmers and maraîchers who sold a variety of vegetables didn't seem to know what it was, and after an intensive Internet search, I'd come to the conclusion that kale was nearly impossible to find."
~ Bonjour Kale, Kristen Beddard

In France, Kristen's passion for kale led her to adopt a new mission and purpose, although she only knew a few French words when she first moved from New York to Paris.  She faced several other obstacles as well on her unique quest, but slowly and surely, she reintroduced this versatile vegetable to the people of France, and it became a part of French cuisine again.  Due to Kristen's creation of The Kale Project, through her diligent work with local French farmers and others, kale is now available at many markets and restaurants throughout France. This beautiful memoir tells the story of how she accomplished this, in a down-to-earth (pun intended), honest, and entertaining manner.

In addition to telling Kristen's story, Bonjour Kale is full of recipes and helpful tips, and it even tells you how to grow your own kale, if you're so inclined.  Early in the book there's a section titled, Keeping a Kale Kitchen, which features tips about buying kale, washing kale, destemming kale, and massaging kale.  Yes, like a sore body, kale will benefit from a good massage. ;)

"The key to any good kale salad is a good massage.  On already washed and dried kale, add the dressing of your choice and massage the kale with your hands for a minute or so."
~ Bonjour Kale, Kristen Beddard


 


I relish books that include recipes, and I was definitely inspired to cook with kale as a result of reading this memoir.  (Over the years, I've become a "foodie"--I love to cook, eat, and photograph good food!  My children seem to be headed in the same direction.)  Soon after I started reading Bonjour Kale, I bought some (organic) kale as well as the ingredients to make Sharzie's Secret Sauce, to use as a dressing on a kale salad. There are several recipes in the book that I'd like to try, such as Kale Chips (Three Ways), Kale and Courgette (Zucchini) Soup, and one that doesn't feature kale, but sounds wonderful and simple, Slow-Roasted Tomatoes.






I loved Bonjour Kale!  It's a mervilleux memoir, a well-written, intelligent story of success, and I enjoyed reading it very much. 

Merci mille fois to Emma from France Book Tours for inviting me to join this tour.  I'm honored to be the first stop on the tour.  Please visit the other stops on the Bonjour Kale Book Tour for more reviews, giveaways, and other features.

Thank you for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hopscotch

Walking can be a great way to relax and to come up with solutions, or to be inspired in some way.  For author Steve Cushman, the idea for his new book, Hopscotch, published in 2017, started while he was out walking his dog, Suzy, about 10 years ago.  In the author's own words, here's what happened.

"A block or so away from my house, we came across a hopscotch board someone had drawn on the sidewalk.  Normal enough stuff as we have a lot of kids in the neighborhood.  But for some reason on this day I wondered what would happen if a hopscotch board was on the sidewalk of the hospital where I worked.  I'd been working in hospitals for over twenty years and had never seen a hopscotch board at one of them.  So I started thinking about how such a thing might affect people at the hospital, whether patients or staff.  That was the start of it, and then over the years I added characters and situations and a hopeful mystery until somehow it felt done and ready for the world."

Hopscotch tells a story through the (third person) points of view of the main characters, Dr. Jeffrey Boles, Emily, John, Stan, Mary, Rosa, and Metalhead Mike.  Dr. Boles is the first one to notice a hopscotch board drawn in chalk in an unlikely place, on the sidewalk near the entrance of Alfred Stone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he works as an orthopedic surgeon.  John, a janitor at the hospital, is asked to remove the hopscotch board, and he does (after hopping around on it a bit).  But after it's cleaned off, the hopscotch board mysteriously re-appears.

Emily, a young girl fighting cancer, Stan, a wheelchair-bound Iraqi War veteran, Mary, the wife of a man who's doing very poorly, Metalhead Mike, who has had a bad head injury, hospital staff, and others are drawn to the hopscotch board.  Each chapter is headed by the name of the character whose story is being told, making it easy to follow.  As you read you learn more about each character as their individual stories unfold. 

Hopscotch is heartbreaking at times, but it's also hopeful.  Although it's not labeled specifically as YA fiction, I think this absorbing novel will appeal to young adults, due to a format that makes it easy to follow, its shorter length, and to the focus on some younger characters and the childhood game of hopscotch.  As an "older adult", though, I enjoyed reading this book very much.  I cared about the characters, which counts for a lot.  The hopscotch board--a symbol of hope in a setting that's often associated with illness and despair--makes the characters smile, and it made me smile, too.  This childhood game provides a welcome respite from their cares and troubles.  The stories in this book are touching, and the hopscotch board is a silver lining that connects the characters and provides joy, hope, and simple fun.  This is a wonderful book! 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  

Every Saturday, Booking Mama hosts Kid Konnection, a fun feature that highlights books for children and young adults.  Many thanks to the author for sending me an advanced reading copy of his new book.

Thanks for stopping by!  Your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

United States of Japan

Published in 2016, United States of Japanby Peter Tieryas is an alternate history novel in which Japan has won World War II.  Last summer, I brought this book to Japan when we visited my daughter, Jasmine, who works as an English teacher there.  I only managed to read part of the book then, though, because we traveled around Japan quite a bit, and the book was in my checked bag during flights (so I read short stories instead on my phone).  There is so much to see and do in Japan!  We had a wonderful trip, and I posted many photos on Instagram. We spent a few days in Hiroshima, and I took this photo of the Atomic Dome Memorial, which is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.



Not surprisingly, United States of Japan is a best-seller in Japan, although Japan is a peace-loving nation (at the Peace Park Memorial in Hiroshima, you are immediately asked to sign a petition to ban nuclear weapons upon entrance).  There are numerous glowing reviews of this book.  I finished reading the book a few months ago, and although I'm not sure what I can add to this collection, I'm quite overdue to post something; the author has been remarkably patient with me!

Here is a very brief synopsis of the book, followed by my thoughts.

United States of Japan (USJ) is a successor to Phillip K. Dick's classic novel, The Man in the High Castle (1962).  USJ begins in 1948, and takes place in (various parts of) California, which is controlled by Japan. After a few chapters we jump ahead forty years, to 1988. Americans seem to worship their Emperor, although a group of rebels called the George Washingtons are fighting for their freedom. They distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world would be like if the USA had won the war, instead of Japan.  Captain Beniko Ishimura's formidable task is to censor these video games, and to solve the mysteries of the revolutionaries, with the help of Akiko Tsukino.

This book kicked me out of my comfort zone.  Way, way, way out!  Although I've read many fictional war stories, from the very first chapter, this book is notably brutal and violent at times.  Peter (yes, we're on an informal, first name basis; I've read and reviewed a lot of his work over the past few years) did warn me about the level of violence in this book a while ago.  Still, it was definitely disturbing.  Secondly, I've read some science fiction (such as by Ray Bradbury), but I've not read The Man in the High Castle by Philip B. Dick. I've now at least read about it, and have learned that there's a 2015 TV series based on it.  USJ focuses on video games, and I must admit that I'm not a gamer; in fact, I've never played a video game (I do love to play Words with Friends on my phone).  In spite of all of this, USJ is fantastic, imaginative, and brilliant.  This exciting, fast-paced book held my attention at all times, and I think it would make an incredible movie.  It's a hard book to classify.  It's definitely multi-genre.  It could be described in many ways, as listed below.


ALT-HISTORY

Mystery
 
PSYCHO THRILLER
(Qu'est-ce que c'est?)

 Science Fiction

TECHNO THRILLER
 
War Fiction

and more 


While I was thinking about my review post for USJ, I emailed a question to Peter. 

If you could add, or subtract, one thing from USJ, what would it be and why?

PT:  If I were to add one thing, it would be that since I've written the next book in the USJ universe (it's a standalone novel and not a direct sequel), I know so much more about the world and I'd like to plug some of that information back in, especially related to the mechas and their history.

If I were to subtract? I would probably modify the dream sequences the characters have to make it a little more clear that this is the replacement for the I Ching from The Man in the High Castle and is meant to be symbolic of the subconsciousness connection to our own world.


Thank you, Peter, for your thoughtful responses, for the photo above of you and your wife, Angela, at an E3 with a Persona character, and for your tremendous patience.  I'm thrilled that you have written a new book, and look forward to reading it!

Your comments are welcomed, as always.  Thanks for reading! 

Blog header by Held Design

BLOG ARCHIVE









Some of the books reviewed here are given
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and
agents.



I'm honored to be an Amazon Associate. If you
make a purchase from Amazon through a link on
this site, I'll earn a small advertising fee. Many
thanks to those who place orders through my site!