Book #83: The Orphan Master’s Son

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son, 2012, 443p

Welp, this is a book that really messes with your sense of reality.

Would I have ever read this on my own? Nope. But when you are leading a book club with a bunch of older ladies who can ALWAYS TELL when you don’t read the book… you’re kind of stuck aren’t you?

So I read it.

Set in North Korea, Jun Do (yep – literally John Doe, basically a nobody) is an orphan master’s son, stuck with the worst of the duties and responsibilities. AFter that, he becomes a professional kidnapper then takes on his most difficult role yet – the rival to Kim Jong Il. Jun Do does everything he can to protect his new-found love, but will it be enough?

First thing that popped into my head was how much of this is the truth?

First of all, Jun Do seems to be constantly choosing his own sense of reality and identity. Was he ever really the Orphan Master’s son or did he choose to believe that to make up for the cruel treatment? This book takes the old adage of “fake it til you make it” to heart. Jun Do goes from zero to hero in roughly 450-pages – victim to master.

Also, as I know little to nothing about North Korea, is this an accurate portrayal of life in that country? Apparently Johnson based this off interviews with North Korean defectors, so it must have some hints of truthfulness. In that case, holy geebs.

This is not the worst book club book I’ve read but it won’t top the list of the best.


Book #72: The Autistic Brain

Temple Grandin, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, (2013), 206p

This was a book club pick. Would I have ever picked this up on my own? No way, no how. Did I learn a few things? You betcha.

Grandin weaves her personal experiences and thought processes with current scientific studies and discoveries to paint a picture of how autistic brains work. She touches on, amongst many things, the sensory sensitivities and stigma faced by those with autism.

What I found very humbling was Grandin’s acknowledgement (with her vast knowledge and expertise) that she too makes assumptions based on her persona experiences and feelings. She assumed that because, as an autistic, she felt/said/thought things in one way that every other person with autism did too. I also love that she is first in line for any new technological¬† advancement to learn more about the disorder.

I’ll admit I was quite ignorant about autism before reading this book and feel slightly less ignorant after completing it. Interesting read that I never would have picked up unless I was forced to. My job is really tough, guys. ūüôā



Book #60: The Weird Sisters

Eleanor Brown, The Weird Sisters, (2011), 320p

Here’s to another book club pick. Here’s to a book club pick that I finished and the rest of my book clubbers did not. Ha ha.

This is one that I had sorta heard about but really had no idea what it was about when I agreed to read about it for book club. After scanning the quick blurb about it on the library website, I thought I would give it a try. I probably should have blogged about it right after finishing it and not a month later. Because I honestly don’t remember much about it. So clearly it’s super memorable. 

The Andreas sisters grew up under Shakespeare’s shadow. Named after three of the Bard’s leading ladies, they always pushed and fought against their namesake’s traits. After leaving the nest and spreading their wings, all three sisters end up back under their parents roof again. Each one is dealing with their own life altering events, each one not so happy to see the other ones there. 

I found these three women, and their parents, to all be completely unrelatable characters. Flawed, yes, like we all are. But whiny and annoying and selfish. I got through the book – unlike others – but found it just okay. After reading WAY TOO MUCH teen fiction, I find that adult books need to fight pretty hard to grab my attention. 

2015 Reading Challenge: A book based entirely on its cover 

Book #50: Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, (1933), 230p

After my last blog where I essentially ranted about book clubs and how they stifle your reading choices – I have to say I lucked out this time.

Back on December 30, 2013 (yes I have the exact date – I added it to a library list :)) a patron¬†and I got to talking about books. I typically chat people’s ears off, but is both a strength and a flaw of mine – some people hate me, some people love me. We were talking about classic books. He mentioned how rad Down and Out was. So I added it to my list. And it has sat there every since.

Until the fateful day where my book club picked it as a choice. All of the woots.

Down and Out in Paris and London is apparently an autobiographical tale of Orwell’s time living amongst the downtrodden in, you guessed it, Paris and London. He worked as a plongeur in deplorable conditions, lived off scraps and cigarette butts, and slept amid bugs of all sorts. By living alongside the tramps, he meets some interesting folks.

So, I adored this book. I have only read the big Orwellian novels – 1984 and Animal Farm. To me, this was a simpler, basic read. I loved his down-to-earth tone and descriptions. It came across as a diary entry or a conversation with a pal over coffee. To be honest, I can see far too many similarities between then and now. Poverty is clearly still around. The way we treat our downtrodden is so similar that it breaks my heart.

So my book club hit a home-run with this pick.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book at the bottom of your to-read list

Book #49: The White Queen

Philippa Gregory, The White Queen, 2009, 529p

Sometimes picking books to read in a book club is extremely difficult. Yes, I know. Poor me. It’s such a ROUGH situation to be in. For the book club I help with at work, it’s been running for a super long time and we have limited book club kits on our hands. Sometimes the ones you choose are ones that people have already read or don’t want to read (I really thought Fast Food Nation would be a hit!). In other cases, you are stuck with selections that you would never read and haunt you – I’m looking at you Shake Hands with the Devil! Yikers!

I am putting my reading choices square in the hands of a group of people who I hardly know – which scares me. I’m so picky with what I read. I have a hard time even THINKING about liking a book that someone else picks out for me – ask my partner, he gets the brunt of it.

So, long story long, that’s how I end up reading The White Queen. Clearly I’m not against historical fiction – I read my fair share of it. But, this one I was not looking forward too. There wasn’t even any steamy bodice ripping. Le sigh.

The White Queen follows young widow, Elizabeth as she meets and falls in love with the young king Edward. She marries him in secret and chaos ensues. The book follows Elizabeth through their marriage, children, and many battles for the throne.

This is going to sound incredibly petty of me, considering it’s historical fiction that is TRULY based on historical events – but seriously they all had the same names! I lost track of how many Elizabeth’s, Edward’s, Richard’s, and George’s there really were. Gregory clearly put a lot of research into this book – but I prefer my historical to be more fiction than historical.

2015 Reading Challenge: a book with a colour in the title.

Book #47: Yes Please

Amy Poehler, Yes Please, (2014), 329p

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really, really, really like funny ladies. I love that there are so many wonderfully beautiful, hilarious, ballsy women out there for me to aspire to be. Amy Poehler is definitely on this list.

I will also be honest and say that I have never seen Parks and Rec. Yes, I’m horrible, and yes, I need to get on it. But that being said, I didn’t love this book any less BECAUSE I’m a failure at watching really funny television shows.

Poehler recounts her childhood, her first attempts at comedy, her love affair with Tina Fey, her marriage (and in turn, her divorce), and her life with kids. All this with hilarious pictures, guest cameos by the likes of Seth Meyers, and random colourful (in more ways than one!) quotes. It was cute and funny and exactly what I needed.

Wow. That was a short review. But seriously, don’t let the lack of words dissuade you. Read this book. But beware, it’s seriously heavier (physically) than you would think. That’s some high quality paper, Poehler.

2015 Reading Challenge: a memoir ūüôā

Book #45: Shake Hands With the Devil

Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (2003), 562p

It has taken me twenty odd years of reading to be able to define why I read.

I read to escape.¬† I read to entertain myself, escape from reality, and maybe unwind a bit. So, reading dark and harrowing non-fiction tales grate on me. I don’t really read to inform myself or for historical reasons.

I think that is one of the reasons I have had such a hard time finishing this book for my book club meeting on Friday. It haunts me. It is not a book I look forward to picking up before bedtime, in fear of nightmares. Yes, these horrible things happened. And yes, we need to know what happened in hopes of NEVER repeating such atrocities. But this is not a feel good, bedtime read.

But I finished it.

I’m really not going to go into many details about it. It’s sad and heartbreaking, told through such intense academic language with countless names and military terminology. Thank goodness for the glossary at the back. I’m just going to sum this book up by saying that the world as a whole failed the Rwandan people. Badly. And are we really learning from our mistakes? Likely not.

Yes, this is a Debbie Downer¬†post, but it was a Debbie¬†Downer book. I was in a¬†mental slump for¬†nearly two weeks as I was reading this book.¬†That’s how long it took me to read it because it was so content dense and I had to be careful when I read it.

2015 Reading Challenge: this could be classified as so many.¬†But it shall be¬†called “a book set in a different country”.