When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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41tnq1j8o8l-_sx337_bo1204203200_Growing up with a mostly absent father who was a cardiologist, Paul Kalanithi decided he would not go in the medical field. Instead, his love of books and writing drove him to study English where he explored the human condition through the works of famous authors. Until one day when Kalanithi realized the only way to really study peoples’ relationships with sickness and death was through medicine. So he decides to change his course and medicine quickly turns from a chore to his life calling. But as Kalanithi is finishing up his final year in residency for neurosurgery with big plans for the future, he is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Now, along with his family, he must begin to make new plans not only for the present difficulties, but for after he is gone.

Technically, When Breath Becomes Air is incomplete. Kalanithi began writing it after his diagnosis–even wearing silver-lined gloves to use the trackpad when chemotherapy caused his fingers to crack–and his wife, Lucy, had it finished posthumously. But at the same time the story is complete. Broken into two parts, the first part follows Kalanthi from childhood into college where he decides to go into medicine and finally through medical school and his decision to become a neurosurgeon. The section is filled with his experiences throughout his training and how his patients changed from tasks to be checked off to human beings who needed his help and comfort. Kalanithi depicted himself as a normal human being with flaws, and I enjoyed reading about the patients he met and the surgeries he performed during his time as a doctor.

The second part focuses more on Kalanithi’s fight with lung cancer and how he and his wife handled the situations dealt to them, ranging from whether to have a child or not and whether to accept a new job in a new state or to let it go. It is a heart wrenching section about Kalanithi’s increased sickness and deterioration, but it gives readers a first hand account of what it is like to have lung cancer and the decisions and stresses that comes with it. Beautifully written, When Breath Becomes Air was one of the best memoirs I have read and I highly recommend you put it on your to be read list.

 

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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20612938The Guest Cat is the story of a couple in their 30’s who are visited by a cat during their time renting a cottage in Tokyo. The cat, named Chibi, is a stray who is taken in by some neighbors. But with its frequent visits to the couple, Chibi slowly changes the couple’s life and they begin to feel like the cat is really theirs and not just a guest.

Translated by Eric Selland, it is a very short book (only 140 pages), and reads more like an essay than a fiction piece. There’s very little dialogue and a lot of description, but the story of the cat’s effect on the couple is woven seamlessly into other small connecting stories.

Honestly, because The Guest Cat is so short, there’s not much more to say about it besides that I’m not surprised that it’s a best-seller in France and a recipient of Japan’s Kiyama Shoheir Literary Award. It was beautifully written and poetic, which makes sense since Takashi Hiraide is a poet, and is definitely a story that I will have to read several more times to fully grasp all of the themes throughout (and since it’s short that should not be a problem). I would highly recommend this book to readers interested in literary short stories and poetry. Also, you do not need to be a lover of cats to enjoy this book.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

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18812437Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia are all experiencing a rough patch in their life, some unknowingly and some fully aware. The one thing they have in common is Leila: a teen girl in the middle of a road trip to see the Northern Lights. She seems to appear when these four teens need it the most. What they don’t know is Leila is going through her own struggles with the hope that this journey will help solve them.

Let’s Get Lost is another ebook I learned about through Twitter and bought this year because it was on sale. Once I read a preview of the book I knew I had to have it. What I liked about this book was it took a lot of hard topics—relationships, loss, grief—and personalizes them to make them relateable to readers. What’s even better is that each person’s story of loss is in different forms, from the loss of a scholarship to the loss of family and the loss of a significant other. While Adi Alsaid’s writing is simple, he was not afraid to mix some complex terms into the story which added to the elegance.

Although I loved the overall story, there were some parts that I found to be a bit confusing. Maybe it was the structuring of the sentences, but I would read some lines one way only to find out it meant something else. For example, there’s a part where Alsaid writes that a gas station is on the same street as a record store, only to then say the record store is across the street from the gas station. He is accurate when he writes that the record store is on the same street as the gas station because they would share the same street address, however, I took it to mean on the same side of the street so it threw me off a little when he then wrote that it was across the street. So, this probably has to do more with the way that the reader interprets the meaning than how it was written and is not that big of a deal. Just something that stuck out to me.

I also wished that I knew more about the ending of each character’s story. Particularly Elliot and Bree’s stories. I feel the end ties up nicely for Leila, which is good since we follow her the entire time, and Hudson and Sonia’s stories come to a satisfying end, but I felt the reader is left guessing about what happens to Elliot and Bree. I was hoping that at the end everyone would show up in Alaska and learn all about Leila (sorry about that spoiler, but it doesn’t happen). However, maybe the fact that we are left wondering is part of the charm of this book.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: A Movie Review

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guardians_of_the_galaxy_vol_two_ver4_xlgWhen Rocket steals some Anulax Batteries from the Sovereigns, the Guardians are helped in their escape by a stranger flying by on the top of a spaceship. They are even more surprised when the man, known as Ego, introduces himself as Peter Quill’s father. Wanting to know more, Quill, Gamora, and Drax return to Ego’s planet to learn the truth. When Gamora’s suspicions that there is something not right about the planet are proven true, the team must once again save the universe before it is too late.

I found Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to be just as hilarious as the first one, with great jokes and comebacks as well as continued character development. Behind the comedy, this movie showed the sadder sides to some of the characters—particularly Rocket, Yondu, and Nebula—while also showing some characters do have a romantic side and mixing it all together that nothing felt out of place. The special effects and costumes were also top notch, and although the movie was pretty long (over 2 hours), it kept me entertained the entire time to where I didn’t even notice. I was actually pretty shocked when I came out of the movies and saw what time it was.

What would have to be my favorite part of the movie was the soundtrack. Not only do I enjoy 80’s music, but I thought that this soundtrack in particular went really well with the overall feel of the movie. I loved how music seemed to be essential when it came to fighting the villains, and how mad Quill gets when his Walkman is crushed (beyond the sentimental factors at this moment, I find music to be a necessity in life).

So, if you’re a fan of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, I highly recommend seeing Vol. 2 (if you haven’t already). You will not be disappointed!

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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23299512Kate Harker has been kicked out of enough boarding schools that her father finally gives in to her biggest wish: to come home to the city of Verity, a city divided between humans and monsters. Although desperate to be human, August Flynn is one of those monsters—a monster who only has to play a song on his violin to steal a human’s soul. With the truce keeping the peace between humans and monsters strained, August—pretending to be human—is sent to Kate’s new school to keep an eye on her. Kate soon discovers August’s secret and decides to capture him and bring him to her father to show just how ruthless she can be. But a failed assassination attempt sets off a chain of events that could finally break the already fragile truce in Verity.

I’ve been trying (and failing miserably) to not buy a lot of books this year, because my library is already full of books that I haven’t read yet (current count is 82). But when I saw the ebook version of This Savage Song was on sale on Amazon for $2, I knew I had to go for it. This is actually the first book I’ve read by Victoria Schwab, but I’ve been pumped about reading her work for a while. I began to follow her on Twitter after I read a blog post she wrote about the struggles of getting published and how aspiring writer’s should not give up, but continue on with the knowledge that it will be a struggle. The post was inspirational, and I knew I had to read more of her advice. Between her tweets and the tweets of her fans (who are also amazing), I knew I had to get my hands on her work.

Anyway, it probably took me about one-third of This Savage Song to really get into the story. Schwab’s writing is well done, but the way she started this book was a bit disjointed, but not to the point where I wanted to give up. In fact, it made me want to keep going because I wanted to find out what it all meant. It wasn’t until after the reader begins to find out exactly what kind of monster August is that I got sucked in. From that point on, I felt that the story was better paced and the reader really gets a feel for the characters. While the majority of the ending was surprising and heart racing, there was one scene that I was able to guess prior to it occurring. However, Schwab has a way with words that captures the imagination and the ending of the book made me excited for the release of the sequel, Our Dark Duet

Glass by Ellen Hopkins

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glass28hopkins29It’s been a few months since Kristina’s son was born and even longer since her last walk with the Monster. The monotony of living with her parents—with no job, no friends, and no trust—has started to get to her. So when her alter ego, Bree, comes knocking with a plan to take the edge off, Kristina is quick to comply. Besides, one more stroll with the Monster couldn’t hurt, right?

I read the first in the this series, Crank, probably about 10 years ago and had always intended on reading the sequel. The ebook for Glass has probably sat on my Kindle for just as long. When I decided to finally read it, I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t remember what happened in the first one. Thankfully, not only did Ellen Hopkins include an overview of the first book in the first few pages of Glass, her writing is so captivating that I found myself remembering a lot of what had happened in Crank without it.

The story in this series—about the struggle of drug addiction and what it can do to a person and their family—is intense. Hopkins does a great job at putting the reader directly in the middle of the action and making the thoughts of the main character seem so plausible even though we know that it’s not. Hopkins has said that this series is loosely based off of experiences of her daughter, who struggled with the Monster. While a devastating situation, the experience helps make the book as realistic as possible, and leaves Hopkins vulnerable to her readers—an aspect that I respect her for.

Not only is Hopkins a stellar writer, I like prose/poetry style of her writing. While it makes the books seem huge (usually around 600 pages), it also makes them fast reads while still putting in the pertinent information that makes the story whole. There were one or two sections where I wish I knew more of what was going on, but overall the story flowed well and was tied up nicely without leaving the reader with questions.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

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9717After being divorced from his wife, Tomas comes to the realization that a monogamous relationship is not for him. When Tereza enters his life like “a child put in pitch-daubed bulrush basket and sent downstream”, he feels a connection to her that he hasn’t felt with another woman. But this love does not hinder him from still seeing other women, which makes Tereza jealous. Tomas’s mistress and close friend, Sabina, is an artist who takes satisfaction in the act of betrayal. When her lover, Franz, leaves his wife for her, she betrays him by moving away. Through these four complicated and intriguing characters, Milan Kundera challenges Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence by suggesting that the events that occur through our lives only occur once and never again.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a difficult book to explain—for me, anyway. I enjoyed the philosophy woven throughout the chapters and I feel the topics highlighted—love, sex, relationships—could generate interesting conversation with other readers. I liked how Kundera would briefly go through a time frame in a characters life in one section, and then expand on the same time in another section. Although some would say that made the book repetitive, it was more of a deeper look that brought more insight to the story and the characters. At the same time, I felt there were some parts of the plot that were left open. Once or twice, Kundera would reveal an event that would happen to the characters but then never come full circle with that specific plot.

While The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a little dense in some sections, it was not confusing. There are sections that focus more on the philosophy than on the story that I needed to re-read to understand, but those parts were evened out by the simplistic and refreshing story that accompanied it. It’s a book I’d recommend to those interested in philosophy, and definitely a book worth re-reading.