To recap my May so far:
When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro - my sister lent me this book with a "here, read this, it's fabulous," instruction, so I did. I read about 250 pages (i.e., more than 3/4 of the book) before finally conceding that I hated reading it and didn't want to waste another minute on this book. I loved the author's The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but despite the rave reviews on Goodreads as well as the endorsement by my sister, this novel was tedious, implausible, and simply not interesting. I cared nothing about the first-person narrator, Christopher Banks, and felt like I was cheated out of a great story by the way in which Ishiguro chose to tell it. It is allegedly about how memory is unreliable, which is an interesting concept, but I felt like I was in a fog most of the time, had a hard time caring enough to follow the weak plot, and there was zero character development.
Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory - book #1 in the author's Fairmile series, this was a great historical fiction about a midwife/healer living in a tiny fishing village in the tidelands along the southern shore of England. Set in 1848 and 1849, the characters and country are caught up in the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the fall of Charles I. As I said in my Goodreads review, I was anticipating the final major scene throughout most of the book but was pleased and surprised by the ultimate turn of events. While I have had many issues with Gregory's Tudor novels, I don't know the history of this time period well enough to spot and gnash my teeth over historical inconsistences, so I could simply sit back and revel in the story and setting. I loved the details Gregory provided about life in the 17th century for both rich and poor, urban and rural. I absolutely loved the main character Alinor and her children, Alice and Rob. It ticked the boxes on so many interests: herbs, folk medicine, witchcraft and the whole mania about rooting out alleged witches and the accompanying misogny, as well as English history and geography. I am planning on reading book 2 in the series, Dark Tides, later this summer.
Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson - fabulous bio of one of the world's greatest artists, philosophers, and dreamers. I loved every minute of this book, from the details of Leonardo's life and travels, the discussion and back stories of his art and artistic legacy, the history of the time period (Renaissance Italy) and info about the principal political players (e.g., Ludovico Sforza, the Medicis, Niccolò Machiavelli, Cesare Borgia, Francis I of France). What I loved most of all was the enthusiasm with which Isaacson talked about the genius of Leonardo--how he saw the world, his keen, almost supernatural powers of observation, his relentless, unquenchable curiousity about literally everything. And, like most enthusiasms, it was infectious.