Reading Sara Review: The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

the nightingale

Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 448 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition (February 3, 2015)

Amazon Book Description:
FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Reading Sara Review: To lead you into your weekend, I wanted to review a book that you must read in 2015 if you want to be a part of the many discussions that your book-loving friends will be having over whether The Nightingale compares to the brilliance of All The Light We Cannot See. I’m sorry, but I am not going to help answer that question, because they are both lovely books- and really only comparable because they both take place during World War II. They are each novels worth reading, and they will stay with you long after you have finished.

The Nightingale follows sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, through tumultuous times as they navigate their opposition to the Nazi invasion of France. Vianne’s husband is away, fighting for France, so she is left with her daughter in the countryside to fend for themselves. Vianne hopes that she can play by the rules, because she has her daughter to think of first and foremost, and a job to keep money coming in to feed them. As times become more difficult, and the war comes closer and closer to her family and community, she begins to make decisions that threaten her family, but can save other lives.

Meanwhile, Isabelle wants to be on the battlefield fighting back. She searches for purpose – and rather than fighting through fear like her sister, she has anger inside of her and reacts because of her boldness. I found Isabelle to be an easy hero to love. Her sheer bravery, will, and ability to risk everything over and over for people she has never met, and to do so to help end a war that she does not believe in, is absolutely inspiring and meaningful.

The story of love is prevalent throughout this book. Vianne  loves in a mature way – as a wife, a mother – and makes her decisions based on that love when it comes to Ari’s future, and later with her second child, and what he is told about how he came into the world. As an opposite, Isabelle is young, and loves with an in-the-moment passion that cannot be tamed. Neither way is right or wrong, but as a reader, being aware of these different expressions of love will help to forgive the characters their fears, flaws and decisions. It makes them easier to love.

Kristin Hannah told this story in a remarkable way, keeping a mystery (which I will not spoil for you) alive throughout the book and kept you wondering what happened, who survived and how did they end up where they are now? I was surprised by the end of the novel. When you finish reading, let me know if you were surprised too!

This book stayed with me long after I finished because of the storytelling, adventure and bravery that these two sisters faced.  There are many other extremely wonderful literary topics that I would love to discuss related to The Nightingale, but I do not want to spoil this book for you – read it, and when you have finished the book and your box of Kleenex, we can discuss!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

little paris bookshop

Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Crown; 1st Edition (June 23, 2015)

Amazon Book Description: Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.

Reading Sara Review: I knew that I would love writing this review from the beginning of this book. The book is meant for book lovers. This story is for anyone who not only loves happy endings, but loves happy endings with characters who journey to find themselves and truly deserve the happiness that they achieve.

Monsieur Perdu runs what I would personally consider a dream – a bookshop on a boat along the Seine in Paris. Perdu does more than just sell books to his customers – he “prescribes” books that will help people find their path to resolution for whatever ails them (a literary apothecary). He resides in an apartment building with a cast of characters. He mostly keeps to himself until a new tenant, Catherine, moves in. While helping Catherine recover from a divorce by giving her furniture (and books, obviously), his own wounds begin to open.

This leads Monsieur Perdu to cast off down the Seine in his boat to find closure and redemption for something he did not do 20 years ago. On each leg of the journey, he is joined by others who are also searching for something (escape, new love, new beginnings). The boat becomes somewhat of a sanctuary for those who are lost, living among books that can help them (even if it is a How-To Book on tying knots to dock the boat). The literary apothecary becomes their connection to each place they visit – either by trading books for croissants at a local bakery, or simply opening the shop to sell books to locals and tourists.

Through this trip, the reader gets to visit France – the small towns, the interesting people and the incredible food. The reader falls in love with the characters, from the bestselling author Max, who is trying to escape the fame and simply find his next great story, to Salvo, an Italian chef who lost a great love, and certainly with Perdu, who is searching for forgiveness so that he can love again.

It is a wonderful, unique story that opens the imagination to the power of books as something to help us heal throughout our lives. But it also tells a story of the path to self-forgiveness through friendship and open hearts. This was a lovely story, and one that I will certainly place on my “books to re-read” list.

“Reading – an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.” – Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

As an incredible bonus, at the end of the book are a few French recipes that I cannot wait to try!

Wine Recommendation: I recommend a Rhone-blend for this lovely book. As far as I know, Luc’s vineyard does not actually exists – and you cannot actually purchase the Manon wine. If you discover that it does in fact exist, please buy me some. In the meantime, because the end of this book takes place in Provence,  luckily, a place that I recently visited – I recommend trying Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s sibling wine, a Rasteau. Rasteau received their own AOC (appellation d’origine controlee, translated to controlled designation of origin, an important French wine certification) in 2010.  It is part of the Côtes du Rhône region, a personal favorite for wine for myself. Primarily known for their reds, they also have some great whites & rosés. These wines will be fruity, strong and transplant you to Southern France in an instant.

 Rasteau

Picture borrowed gratefully from : http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/product/Red-PRD-Red-still-wine/Domaine-Martin-Rasteau-2010/63732

Reading Sara Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

between this world and me

Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 176 pages

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (July 14, 2015)

Amazon Book Description:This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
 
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Meclearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Reading Sara Review: This book is not perfect, but it is important.

If you have followed Coates writing in The Atlantic, you will already know that this book is beautifully written. His writing has a voice and is captivating in ways that compel you to engage.

This book is a letter to his son, a young black boy growing up in the United States. When I finished this book, I immediately felt like I, a white girl from the Midwest, cannot possibly write a review about this book. I honestly did not feel that I had the right to. And after sleeping on it, I feel that there are some things to say – but this review will not be as long as my others. Instead, I simply recommend that you read this book. Toni Morrison said that this is required reading, and I took her word for it and suggest that you do the same.

The timeliness of this book is important. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland are names seared into our memories and thoughts – and unfortunately, I do not think that they will be the last names we learn, and they certainly are not the first. They are just a few of the thousands. There is a problem in our country when people do not feel safe or protected.

If we grow up with privilege and live in an unfair world, whether unfair by race or class, what can we do to help others?

I felt many things while reading this book – guilt, inspiration, defeat, frustration – but what was missing for me was hope. What can we do to help? How can Dreamers help others? I highlighted more passages when reading this than I had since graduate school. I feel that this is a book I will refer back to as we continue to deal with these huge and important issues. I am sure you will feel the same.

Weekend Reading Inspiration

To help inspire your weekend, I am pleased to present a few beautiful quotes on reading. I hope that you have an opportunity to find a cozy spot and some quality time to read this weekend!

open book

 “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”  Anna QuindlenHow Reading Changed My Life

 “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” Mary Ann ShafferThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” Maya Angelou

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”  George R.R. MartinA Dance with Dragons

“The world was hers for the reading.”  Betty SmithA Tree Grows in Brooklyn

These quotes and more lovely, inspirational quotes can be found on http://www.goodreads.com, which truly has the most extensive and wonderful list I have seen!

Do you have favorite quotes about reading? Please, share them!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

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The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand

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Rating: 3.5/5

Hardcover: 480 pages

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; Lrg edition (June 16, 2015)

Book Description: Madeline King and Grace Pancik are best friends and the envy of Nantucket for their perfect marriages, their beautiful kids, their Sunday night double dates with their devoted husbands. But this summer, something’s changed, and if there’s anything Nantucket likes better than cocktails on the beach at sunset, it’s a good rumor.

And rumor has it…

…that Madeline, a novelist, is battling writer’s block, with a deadline looming, bills piling up, and blank pages driving her to desperation–and a desperately bad decision;

…that Grace, hard at work to transform her backyard into a garden paradise, has been collaborating a bit more closely that necessary with her ruggedly handsome landscape architect;

…that Grace’s husband, successful island real estate developer “Fast Eddie” Pancik, has embarked on quite an unusual side project;

…that the storybook romance between Madeline’s son, Brick, and Grace’s daughter Allegra is on the rocks, heading for disaster.

As the gossip escalates, and they face the possible loss of the happy lives they’ve worked so hard to create, Grace and Madeline try mightily to set the record straight–but the truth might be even worse than rumor has it.

Reading Sara Review: Elin Hilderbrand knows how to write a beach-read. Set in Nantucket, this story follows the families of Grace and Madeline through a summer full of gossip, some bad decisions, some good decisions, friendship, and a fair amount of drinking.

Grace and her real-estate husband, “Fast Eddie” live in a dream home in Nantucket, with a dream garden. However, Grace’s primary summer dream is to get her garden featured in the Boston Globe – and to reunite and work with her handsome gardener, Benton Coe. Meanwhile, “Fast Eddie” can’t seem to keep his Panama hat on his head and sell houses fast enough to keep his family’s lifestyle unchanged. This leaves twin 16-year old Allegra and Hope to amuse themselves (which they do in vastly different ways).

Madeline, Grace’s best friend, is a writer who is struggling to write her next novel and has already spent her advance money. Her adoring husband Trevor supports her, but she is holding a few too many secrets from him to avoid any drama. Their son, Brick, is dating Grace’s daughter Allegra (and because they are 16 we get some solid teen drama as well). Madeline finally has an incredible novel going, but is it hitting too close to home?

This novel did not go very deep for me, and perhaps that was the intention. The “rumors” varied in their truth, but did not really help to teach any lessons – the line between right and wrong is already pretty clear. Grace’s twin daughters, Allegra and Hope, were interesting characters because they were young, and still figuring out right and wrong and learning that poor decisions will lead to consequences. And I love reading teenage angst, so that was a plus for me. The adults, however, could have used a little more trust and communication and a morality check for poor “Fast Eddie.” Everyone knows that these things never end well.

Wait until this book comes out in paperback, and take it with you to the beach next summer or to your backyard where you can pretend that you are on a beach in Nantucket. Or get your California Cab and read it this summer, it is an easy, fun read.

I would like to read Benton’s list of 100 Books though…so if that ever comes out, count me in.

Wine Recommendation: In the book there is a fair amount of discussion of high priced wines and/or champagnes. In particular, Screaming Eagle, which is a deliciously high priced wine from Oakville, California. At some point on this blog, I will highly recommend their sister winery, Jonata, but more to come on that another time. For now, if you are like me and enjoy instant gratification and do not have time to get on Screaming Eagle’s wait list, I have a solution for you!

I recently discovered an incredible website called vinepair.com. Vine Pair seems to be the Buzzfeed of drinking (meaning a website with mostly useless info, but an incredibly enjoyable time waster nonetheless). Vine Pair is mostly about wine, but you can read articles discovering if you are a drunk more like Hemingway or Mary Poppins in “What Kind of Drunk Are You?”  or read “The History of the Moscow Mule” if you are so inclined.

For the purposes of Book & Wine Wednesday, I recommend reading the article  “AFFORDABLE SUBSTITUTES FOR SCREAMING EAGLE, THE FAMOUSLY EXPENSIVE NAPA VALLEY CULT CAB.”

I agree, it is amazing not only that this article exists, but that I found it. I love the internet. Now you and I, regular people who enjoy a nice glass of wine with our books, can have wine that compares to Screaming Eagle. So pick up a delicious cab and you too can pretend that you live on Nantucket year-round and enjoy this book!

Reading Sara Review: Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria, by Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King cover

Rating: 5/5

Book Length: 288 pages (paperback)

Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition

Publication Date: June 3, 2014

Book Description: From New England Book Award winner Lily King comes a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ’30s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.

Reading Sara Review: I do not take a 5 out of 5 rating lightly. In fact, before I begin this review, I would like to take a moment and outline my philosophy on ratings:

1/5 – Could not finish it

2/5 – I disliked something distinctly about the book, and cannot bring myself to recommend it to others

3/5 – Not for me, but I would not discourage others from reading it OR it was a good book that I will likely not remember in detail in a few months, because it was not great

4/5 – Great book, I recommend reading it

5/5 – I love this book, you will hear me talk about it for months until you read it

Ok, now that we are clear, let me tell you about my love for this novel. Set in the 1930s, the majority of the book is written from anthropologist Andrew Bankson’s point of view. Bankson is fascinated by Nell Stone and her husband Fen. Part of this fascination stems from their similar surroundings – all three anthropologists studying tribes along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Lonely and haunted by his past, Bankson is immediately fascinated by this couple and encourages them to study a tribe near him so that he can be closer to other people doing similar work as he. From here, a story unfolds about these three people – their differences in ethics, opinions and aspirations and how they deal with a world so unlike the one they are most familiar with – and it is a love story of chance, unexpected meeting and ideas from people brought together by a similar passion.

During the novel, we see three different approaches to anthropology and immersion into a different culture. What each Fen, Nell and Bankson had in common was their unique desires – their own view of the world and their own reason to “escape” to a different culture. Each of their world views defined how they approached new people and what they sought to get out of that culture (popularity through book publishing, riches, balance, understanding of the world, and love).

What this story boiled down to for me was the concept of discovering one’s self through other cultures and other people. There were two poignant quotes on this topic in Euphoria:

“When only one person is the expert on a particular people, do we learn more about the people or the anthropologist when we read the analysis?”

“Perhaps all science is merely self-investigation.”

Because each of them came to the tribes with varying perspectives, their outcomes and theories are different and certainly ever-changing. This is true especially as they are further welcomed in and allowed participation in certain rituals and friendships. Is this not true for all of us, in everyday life? Our viewpoints on other people (within our culture and outside of) are defined based on ourselves – what we are seeking to understand, be frustrated by or embrace. We all come with our own history, our own bias and are seeking understanding of something greater, usually some type of self-investigation happens when we seek to comprehend in the world. I loved the way Lily King showed this self-investigation and self-discovery throughout the novel.

At the end, I learned that this novel was inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead, whose research was controversial at the time of publishing, and was a part of igniting the sexual revolution in the 1960s through her research. It certainly inspired me to learn more about her. I had heard this quote before, but did not know it was attributed to Mead, “I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.” Based on merely that quote, for me, she seems a woman that we can take value in the path that she helped pave for other women scientists and authors.

Reading Sara Review: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill, by Naomi Jackson

star side of bird hill

Rating: 4/5

Print Length: 294 pages

Publisher: Penguin Press (June 30, 2015)

Publication Date: June 30, 2015

Book Description: This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.

Reading Sara Review:  When I first heard of this book, the plot did not immediately capture me – but I kept seeing it on blogs and review sites that I trust, so I decided to give it a shot. I did not fly through this book, but ended up taking my time to be invested in the story and in the characters. I ended up loving this coming of age story. Put simply, Dionne and Phaedra are living with their grandmother during a hot summer in the Barbados, passing time at Vacation Bible School, trying to make friends, meeting boys and learning about their family history while their mother is mysteriously ill. However, this story is anything but simple.

These two young girls, at an age being influenced by literally everything, each have their own distinct personalities, memories of their parents and visions for their future. The author’s writing style is distinct and invigorating. I wanted to learn more about the side-characters, such as Jean (a gay man, living with his mother and childhood best friend of Phaedra and Dionne’s mother), Mrs. Loving (the pastor’s wife, mother of the boys that Phaedra and Dionne hang out with), and certainly Hyacinth (their grandmother). Hyacinth was a character that believed in generational wisdom, stories for teaching lessons and the importance of family. While Phaedra and Dionne are dealing with their mother’s illness, Hyacinth is dealing with her daughter’s illness – someone that she does not even know anymore and cannot image going through all of this alone. Her voice and wisdom were a powerful part of this novel.

“Hyacinth just wanted to know that she could shift her weight to one side and it wouldn’t be just the air and the force of her will holding her up, but the support of her family too. Hyacinth thought life was not just easier, but sweeter with family by her side”- Naomi Jackson

This story brought me to another culture, a different family and a unique-close knit community that I admired. It was just a snippet of this family’s story, there is so much more to unravel about this family and the community of Bird Hill. Perhaps Naomi Jackson will be inspired for a second book?