Reading Sara: Sunday Morning Reads

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I get it, sometimes it is really hard to get through an entire book – to make time to read among the many other things that keep us all so very busy. As you know if you are following this blog, I am an avid reader, and I absolutely love to read books. But sometimes on Sunday mornings, I like to drink my coffee while reading interesting articles instead of books.

I love the feeling of learning new things, I feel full of information and that I am making my brain bigger. These articles are sometimes about fun things, or things that I just stumble upon, but find fascinating. I love being able to use my new knowledge during the week to have interesting conversations and recommend articles to others. So, on this lovely Sunday morning, I thought I would share some of the best articles that I have read recently:

For the coolest scientist job ever: That Stinky Cheese Is a Result of Evolutionary Overdrive, New York Times online.

When you are feeling like you need some alternative medicine or some Zen on your Sunday morning:  Why Reiki, Crystals, and Flower Essences are Going Mainstream, by Vanity Fair. Side Note: I have a salt crystal lamp that is supposedly helping with my sinus problems…yet to be determined.

For the next baby shower you need to go to: 6 Things You Didn’t Know about ‘The Giving Tree’ Author Shel Silverstein, from the Huffington Post.

Did you dream of being an astronaut growing up? And maybe don’t have time to read an entire article or a book? Check out these incredible new photos of Pluto: New Horizons photos of Pluto includes new ‘snakeskin’ image, on the Washington Post.

Need a refresher on what is going on with the European Migration Crisis before meeting up with your international-focused friend for coffee? European Migration Crisis, by the Council on Foreign Relations is a good overview.

Hope you have a happy Sunday and get some time in to read!

Reading Sara Review: Above Us Only Sky, by Michele Young-Stone

Reading Sara Review: Above Us Only Sky, by Michele Young-Stone

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Rating: 3.5/5

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 3, 2015)

Amazon Book Description: On March 29, 1973, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas was born with a pair of wings molded to her back. Considered a birth defect, her wings were surgically removed, leaving only the ghost of them behind.

At fifteen years old, confused and unmoored, Prudence meets her long-estranged Lithuanian grandfather and discovers a miraculous lineage beating and pulsing with past Lithuanian bird-women, storytellers with wings dragging the dirt, survivors perched on radio towers, lovers lit up like fireworks, and heroes disguised as everyday men and women. Prudence sets forth on a quest to discover her ancestors, to grapple with wings that only one other person can see, and ultimately, to find out where she belongs.

Above Us Only Sky spans the 1863 January Uprising against Russian Tsarist rule in Eastern Europe to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Lithuania gaining its independence in 1991. It is a story of mutual understanding between the old and young; it is a love story; a story of survival, and most importantly a story about where we belong in the world.

Reading Sara Review: I thought that this book was ok. The book description sounded intriguing to me – a coming of age novel, where a young girl finds her family roots and then finds herself. And with the wing part, I was expected a little bit of fantasy mixed in to it. It was not that book for me. Some of the characters were incredibly interesting, but I never really got into it or invested in them. I kept waiting for something to happen, some twist or something extremely exciting to occur. Exciting things did happen – but all in the past.

The most interesting part of this book for me was the history of Lithuania, and learning about their independence, followed by Russian Tsarist rule, followed by the Nazi rule, followed by more strict Soviet rule and then finally, their independence once again. I learned quite a bit about a part of the world that I did not know particularly well prior to reading this, and that was the biggest take away for me.

The stories about Prudence’s ancestors were touching and heart-breaking. The Old Man was an incredible character – and I would have just loved a book singularly about his life. I did not relate to Prudence or feel that she was struggling to find who she was (being born with wings aside, she just seemed like a young girl who was probably a bit depressed).

At the end of the book, I did not even realize it was over. I enjoy a book that leaves something to the imagination, don’t get me wrong. But honestly, I think that I will forget about this book soon when I move onto other books and not leave the ending to my imagination.

My advice is to skip this one, there are much better books that have come out in 2015 that I have loved.

Reading Sara Review: If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

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If I Stay

Rating: 4/5

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 6, 2010)

Where She Went

Rating: 4/5

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 17, 2012)

Reading Sara Review: I have had a wonderfully lazy weekend, which has inspired a Sunday Double-Feature Book Review! If I Stay and Where She Went are a part of a two-book series by Gayle Forman.

I first heard about If I Stay from a movie trailer. I was at the theater seeing Fault in Our Stars, the book of which I had already read – and knew was a wonderfully sad young adult book.  Well, when the preview for If I Stay came on the screen, I was already crying – and continued crying for the next couple of hours through the movie. I did not go back to the theater to see If I Stay, but remembered the preview and was interested, and heard that it was a book, so I added it to my TBR Goodreads list and mostly forgot about it. Then, recently the movie came on Netflix and I watched it – and cried a bunch again.

Now friends, I did something that I had never done before after finishing the movie. I read the sequel to the book before reading the first one. To be honest, I just was not sure that I was going to love the book and felt like I could just get a taste of what happened (because there is a big cliff hanger at the end of the movie and I really had filed these books in my head under “guilty pleasures” not necessarily good books). But, here’s what happened: I ended up really liking the book. I thought it was creative, well written and a good portrayal of what happened later. But we’ll get to that in a minute. After I finished the second book, Where She Went, I decided to read If I Stay – because I was convinced by now that I would like it (and it is always fun to see what is different between the book and the movie). I am not recommending that you follow my super unique way to read these books and watch the movie – do it your own way!

If I Stay follows a teenage girl, Mia as she makes heart-breaking decisions. Her family is in a terrible car-accident and Mia has an out-of-body experience and watches the aftermath of the accident unfold (ok, so she is sort of a ghost – but not in a creepy way). She relives her past, how she fell in love with musician Adam, how her family loved her, and her incredible talent as a cellist, and has to make a decision – does she want to continue to live?

In Where She Went, we meet the characters again 3 years later. Some are famous now, some are struggling, but this time the story is from Adam’s point of view. As a fly on the wall of what happens when two former flames reunite and resolve unspoken hurt, I found myself less moved emotionally than in the first one, but just as invested as I had been before in the outcome. It was a wonderful resolution to the first book.

Clearly I am avoiding spoilers in this review – because I want to keep the fun of discovery for all future readers. I thought these were well done young adult books that deal with some heavy issues, but in a loving way. They are not destined to be classic literature by any means. But, for fans of the young adult genre, both books are well written and well told, unique stories. And, if you need a good cry – check out the movie and buy an extra box of tissues!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review of Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

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Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

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Rating: 3.5/5

Hardcover: 352 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 12, 2015)

Amazon Book Description: HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

Reading Sara Review: Luckiest Girl Alive dealt with some heavy issues. Pretty quickly we find out that Ani (formerly TifAni, pronounced Ah-nee) is not as perfect as her life appears on the outside. She is definitely a bit disturbed and haunted by ghosts of the past. As the book continues, and switches from her days in high school to her current life (where she is busy planning her wedding, working at a Cosmo-esque magazine writing about sex, and talking about not eating), we learn what happened in high school that made her so troubled later in life.

I am not entirely sure how to write this review without giving away major spoilers, so this review will be relatively short. There are some pretty serious twists and turns, and this book is not for the faint-of-heart. It really pulls in some issues that we see in the media more frequently than we should – bullying, rape and other serious forms of violence. I read it quickly, not necessarily because every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, but because it was intriguing, I wanted to know how everything changed so quickly. I felt for Ani and the victimization that she went through and cheered for her to be heard and understood. This book has been compared to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train in terms of a “thriller” type of book – which I do not really agree with. I agree that it is dark in the same way. It does have quite a bit of mystery/intrigue/hate-able characters and you want to know how it all ends. However, this book deals with so many terrible things that it felt like too much.

In the end, we watch Ani come to some resolution in her life. She will likely always have an edge, an anger that cannot be helped, but she finds vindication through others, which hopefully helps her on her healing path. It’s a quick read, and if you like these type of page-turners, this one is definitely for you.

Wine Recommendation: Yeah, you are going to need a drink for this one (because of its intensity – if you can’t handle wine + intense reading then skip the drink on this!). I am even going so far as to recommend a wine cocktail: the French 75.
1 lemon
3 tablespoons of gin (if you don’t like gin, substitute vodka)
1 tablespoon of simple syrup
1/4 cup of dry white wine (preferably sparkling)
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combine in shaker (all but lemon), and if you are feeling fancy, make the lemon peel pretty & top it in a champagne flute, if not feeling fancy – just put a drop of lemon juice in the shaker post-shaking. You won’t regret it. Unlike TifAni, who regrets quite a bit…

Reading Sara’s Fall TBR List

I love fall. I love getting out my boots again, wearing sweaters and the crisp air. Here in Colorado, we have beautiful fall colors as the Aspen trees change from green to gold. Here are a couple of beautiful fall mountain pictures from a few years ago near Crested Butte, Colorado.

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Also in fall, I love to read. Summer books are wonderful too – but reading in the fall, curled under a blanket just feels good.

TBR stands for “To Read Books,” essentially a to-do list for book reading, utilized in the blog community (and honestly, maybe other communities as well – I might be out of the loop!).

I have some books that I am really excited about reading this fall, what about you? Again, I love summer books, but in the fall we can get more serious, read longer books, read books that make us laugh, and as the season changes, curl up with a blanket for some quality weekend reading.

After You (Me Before You #2), by JoJo Moyers
Expected Publication: September 25, 2015
Me Before You was the type of book that when I finished it, I immediately re-read it so that I could live with the characters longer. I was not ready to give them up. I found out last week that JoJo Moyers was writing a sequel, and tears pooled in my eyes. I am a fan of JoJo Moyers in general, and have loved many of her books, but Me Before You was a story that has stayed with me and I am so eager to go back to the people and the place and see the aftermath of some big decisions. Also, Me Before You is being made into a movie (with Daenerys Targaryen and Finnick Odair – great characters from Game of Thrones and Hunger Games coming together), so this just adds even more excitement!

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, By Jenny Lawson
Expected Publication: September 25, 2015
I was not an original follower of Jenny Lawson’s blog, but when I discovered her first book I became a huge fan – it was one of those books that I pretty much forced on all of my friends. I am not sure I had ever laughed out loud as much when reading a book – I remember sitting on a beach in Georgia with friends reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, and laughing out loud enough that my friend Ashley turned to me asking “What on earth are you reading over there???” She read it shortly after and had similar stories of reading it on the train to work and getting perplexing stares from strangers as she laughed. I have high hopes for lots of laughter from Jenny Lawson’s second book!

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Expected Publication: September 15, 2015
This girl is hard working. She is a brilliant comedian, incredible fashonista and definitely someone that I want to be best friends with. I loved her first book and am super excited for her second.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
Published in October 2014
This has been on my TBR list for awhile now, so I am committing to reading it this fall. It is a fictional exploration of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley . It is available in paperback, but still is over 700 pages – a great fall book to dive into!

The Fiery Cross, by Diana Gabaldon
Published in 2002
I have read the first four books of the Outlander Series (ok, maybe devoured is a better term than read). I needed a break after that, simply because there are too many books that I want to read and needed to read. But fall is a great time to get back into these and the fifth book is the next one for me. Again, not a short book, 1456 pages, so a great fall read.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by Hunter S. Thompson
I have spent the past week enjoying the beautiful views of Aspen, Colorado, and it has made me realize that I have not read a Hunter S. Thompson book. So, I thought I would start with one of the more famous ones, and fall seems like a great opportunity.

What other fall books are you excited about reading while watching the leaves change? What else do you recommend I add to my list?

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

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Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead

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Rating: 3/5

Print Length: 369 pages

Publication Date: April 8, 2014

Amazon Book Description: Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.
After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

Reading Sara Review: This is one of those books that inspired me to write a blog. I read books fairly fast, flying through two to three books a week (when I have the time). It is hard to remember what some books were about a month or so later, and I struggled recommending books to friends. One of the reasons for creating a blog, in addition to my general passion for reading, was that through writing about the books that I am reading, perhaps I will remember them better.

What I mean to say is: this book is forgettable. But it was not bad. It was quick-paced, had some intrigue and surprises along the way and was certainly a unique story that I had not read before. But, it just wasn’t that interesting to me.

At the end of the book I wondered who the main character really was. Was it Joan, the ballerina who became pregnant and her entire life changed? Was it actually Jacob, who was the rock of the family and instilled values and love into Joan and Harry’s lives? Was it Harry himself, who changed the lives of all of the people around him? Maybe there was not just one character – but the point is that the people in our lives influence who we become as we grow and they are all main characters because we cannot be someone without the other pieces that they bring.

The book had some great nature vs. nurture themes that I enjoyed exploring. I think this book showed that who we become is strongly linked to the nurture that we receive. Harry’s values were strongly linked to Jacob, his father, but nature (genes) allowed him to become an incredible dancer. While Joan did not push Harry to become a dancer, he found it on his own and that inherent skill could not be stifled. Chloe, on the other hand, did not have the genes to become a dancer – but had a will and a desire, because of various struggles in her life primarily against her parents, that gave her an edge and an anger that made her an incredible dancer. Joan had some of the nature to become a dancer, but not a dancer at the top – no matter how hard she worked, and she needed the nurture and the comfort that she found through a marriage with Jacob.

I did not like that we, the readers, never got to know Arslan as his own character – I am sure that was intentional to keep the mystery of Joan’s past a mystery to the reader – but even so, I had a hard time with the ending because it focused on a character that I did not know or know that I was supposed to care so much about.

I know other people who loved this book, so maybe I missed something big and important or something deeper. The ballet part was interesting, but I never felt the stress of Chloe and Harry’s practice – was only told that they worked hard, but did not feel it or see it. I hoped to feel more for the characters and be more interested in their ending, but it did not get there for me. This does not mean it won’t for you!

Wine Recommendation: You do not need a drink to get through this, it was not a bad book by any means – but a glass of wine can certainly help anything be better. They do not spend too much time on drinking – so I am just going to pick a wine that I love and have been drinking a fair amount of recently: The Paring Red Wine.

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Pictured here (with an enormous, special occasion wine glass) is the 2010 vintage. I have yet to have a bad one, and for the $25 price, it is an absolute steal. An incredible wine that I crave all four seasons and can make any meal a special occasion.

Reading Sara Review: The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Rating: 2.5/5

Paperback: 416 pages

Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 4, 2012)

Amazon Book Description: Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce?

It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned.

Reading Sara Review: Well, you can tell by my rating that this wasn’t my favorite book of all time – and I guess it is safe to say that it is my second least favorite book that I have read in 2015 thus far. My least favorite did not even get finished, so will likely never get a review, but this one – this one I kept holding out hope for, hoping that it would get better, have more of a point to the plot, and make me feel something – anything- besides total boredom. Spoiler alert: it did not.

This book reminded me of The Interestings, by Meg Wolizter – basically a book that thinks its characters are way more interesting than they actually are. I thought that Madeline was snobby, Mitchell was actually a bit interesting – but completely self-absorbed, and Leonard ended up being possibly the only unselfish one of the bunch, though it took him a long time to become that (and he certainly had his own battles to fight, which was a piece of the story that I actually did like).

I was excited to read this book. As a fan of Austen, Gaskill, and Eliot myself – I loved the idea of looking at the marriage as a plot – an end goal – and watching young Madeline find love. I did not expect chic-lit per se, but I did expect a little more fun, characters that were relatable and fun to watch grow up to make mistakes. I wanted to be invested in this book, but just never became so.  There were so many times that I would look down at my Kindle hoping that I was over half-way finished, because then maybe something would happen that would make this book memorable.

On the positive side, the writing was actually really great and I enjoyed the style that the story was told. That it was set in the 1980s was interesting, actually, it took me awhile to grasp the time frame (realizing that people did not have cell phones was a pretty strong clue to the decade). I do think that things were different then, not necessarily easier or harder, but certainly different. Communication between people was certainly more complicated, especially when letters are not received, or people are not at home to answer their phones.

I felt like Eugenides tried to salvage the book at the end, and bring us back to the “Marriage Plot” concept – but it was too late for me. There was no redemption because this book was not as great as the classic nineteenth century love stories that it claims to be.  Clearly other people disagree with my analysis, and I would love to hear other opinions, if you have read it!