Tag Archives: San Francisco Book Review

Extraordinary Means: On Self-Discovery and Second Chances

extraordinary means quote

“The life you plan isn’t the life that happens to you.”

Lane knows all about planning: he is the ultimate overachiever – his schedule is jam-packed with AP classes, study sessions to increase his SAT scores by just a few more points, and anything else that might boost his college résumé so he can impress the admissions board at Stanford. Meanwhile, Sadie is his polar opposite: she’s a fun, live-in-the-moment kind of girl, who spends her free time taking artistic photographs in the woods, and doesn’t quite set her sights on a future that may not even happen.

Yet as different as they are, Sadie and Lane do share something in common: a deadly and drug-resistant Tuberculosis strain, which is how they both end up at Latham House – a kind of boarding school for those so close to dying young, hoping to find a cure away from their friends and family who they wouldn’t want to infect. But instead of the dreary and morose atmosphere that might accompany a building full of the terminally ill, Sadie and her friends bring Lane into their roguish group, to wander the woods, smuggle contraband into their dorms, and find ways to undermine the constrictive rules of Latham: they choose to live, while they still can.

In Extraordinary Means, Robyn Schneider explores the idea of living life to the fullest, when we may not really have the time to lead a full-length life – the idea of getting a second chance to live life on your terms, for as long as you possibly can. This is what Lane discovers while being with Sadie, Nick, Charlie, and Marina – despite being terminally ill, they do not spend (all of) their time dwelling on what they no longer have, but instead on celebrating what they can still accomplish… even it’s as simple as stealing Internet access from the librarian!

“I realized then that I hadn’t had a life, I’d just had a life plan. […] I didn’t want to spend the next six years falling asleep at my desk with headphones on to block out the noise of everyone else having fun. I didn’t want to rush through all the moments that I wouldn’t know I wanted until they were gone.” Once he manages to slow down – and not necessarily by choice, but doctor’s orders – Lane discovers what he’s been missing: fun! He learns that breaking rules is enjoyable, having real friends to talk to and joke with feels great, and that connecting with others who share the same disease that could kill you, isn’t so bad. Turns out taking a step back from burning the stick at both ends, is even good for Lane’s overall health.

Unfortunately for Sadie, her experience isn’t quite the same. “I was living with TB, which is better than dying from it, but month after month, my X-rays and blood tests came back the same. And I didn’t know which change would be more terrifying, the death sentence I’d been dreading since sophomore year, or the ticket home to a life I’d missed far too much of to ever fully recover, and a world that would always treat me as an outsider if they knew.” While for Lane, Latham is a temporary escape, for Sadie, this is really where she feels most like herself, knowing that not only would the outside world keep her at arm’s length because of her illness, but also that she couldn’t be the confident, rule-breaker she is at Latham anywhere else.

Nonetheless, throughout the various interactions between this band of happy-go-lucky cool kids of Latham – both the mischievous and the heart breaking – Robyn Schneider highlights an important message: “Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less, because the point isn’t for how long, the point is that it happened.”

Extraordinary Means is a beautifully told coming-of-age love story, which tugs at your heartstrings, while deepening your appreciation for those who matter right now.

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Spring-Time Reading

spring time reads

This spring has brought with it a new batch of reading material — and they are all quite different (sort of):

War Bonds– Love Stories of the Greatest Generation by Cindy Hval is a collection of beautiful and loving memories of couples who met during World War II. She recounts how these men and women met and stayed together for decades despite many obstacles. Who doesn’t love a good story? Well, what about 36 of them?

“Everything’s built on friendship. He’s been my best friend for 77 years.” – Betty Schott

The Heroes’ Welcome by Lauisa Young is about a group of friends returning from the first World War — (I guess I was on a bit of a thematic reading kick after all). As with any war, they are battered and broken, both inside and out. For some, their scars are worn on their face, for others, the traumatic memories of watching friends die has left lasting, yet unseen, wounds deep within their souls.

And lastly, The Dragon of Handale by Cassandra Clark is a mystery about a former nun who goes to spend some quiet time at the Handale Priory while she thinks deeply about whether or not she wants to resume her service. However, quiet time is not what she finds! There are all kinds of shenanigans going on deep within the cold, dark woods… including gruesome murders, poisonings, abductions, and disturbing punishments inflicted upon the sinning nuns.

My reviews should be in the San Francisco Book Review in the month of June. Until then: happy reading!

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Filed under Book Review, Historical Fiction, Memoirs, Mystery

March Madness… but not the one you think.

March Reviews

March has been very hectic for me. It is simply an insane month — maybe it’s because the winter refuses to go away (seriously, it snowed on the first day of spring)… or maybe it’s because it’s pre-State Test time (which induces crying, sleeplessness, nausea… and the students’ fare no better than the teachers!) … or perhaps it just feels so much longer compared to February.

In any case, I was only able to squeeze a little reading in:

The Meteorite Chronicles: EarthUnder by Edwin Thompson — a science fiction story about a meteorite hunter who must enlighten the world about what they are doing to our planet and save humanity in the process. I think it’s pretty cool the author’s initials are E.T.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain — a romantic tale about two strangers. One is mugged and ends up in a coma. The other finds a bag in a trashcan and decides to solve the mystery of this purse, which holds within a red notebook full of personal thoughts, fears, ideas, and random musings. It’s also set in Paris… enough said!

Lastly, The Winter Sea by Di Morrissey — a story of wanderlust and starting over (two of my favorite topics). It’s about a woman who goes off to a sleepy seaside town in Australia to rethink her life, and in the process decides to open up a new business, meet wonderful people, and then receives an inheritance that throws everything off kilter and opens up a whole can of worms about her father’s past. It’s told in alternating perspectives of past and present… and it’s fantastic.

I am now trying to make my way through Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. (More on that later!)

But the above reviews will be in the San Francisco Book Review in April!

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Filed under Book Review, Musings

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!

March Books

I’m really enjoying book reviewing — it does mean that more often than not, my head is stuck in a book… which is wonderful. It also means that I’m reading all kinds of different books. This month I’m reading everything from historical fiction, to mysteries, to alternate worlds and dreams within dreams.

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal is a historical fiction novel about Rembrandt’s painting by the same name, but it focuses on everything that goes on behind the painting… mainly the criminal who was used for this public dissection.

In the Shadow of Lies by M.A. Adler could also fall under historical fiction (it takes place during World War II) — but the most interesting part is the mystery surrounding the town of Richmond, California, and detective Oliver Wright, who needs to set things straight even though everything around him is falling apart. There are so many things going on — it kept me on my toes!

Lastly, The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson takes place during the 1960s, in a series of alternate dream sequences. In one instance, Kitty Miller is happily single and owns and bookstore… but in another instance, she’s Katharyn Anderson and is married to lovely man with children. It gets all mixed up, and she doesn’t know what’s real and what’s her dream-world. I liked her character!

And so now I have some time to catch up on some other books I’ve been meaning to read. However, these reviews should be in March’s San Francisco Book Review.

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