Reading Sara Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,
by Karen Joy Fowler

we are all completely

Rating: 5/5

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (February 25, 2014)

Reading Sara Review: This is one of those books that I can’t believe it took me so long to read. I loved it. I am trying to figure out a way to write this review without revealing too much – because my favorite part of the book was the twist about 2/3rds of the way in (it’s not a Gone Girl twist, it is something that will make you smile). Fowler’s writing immediately captured me, making me pause mid-reading to absorb her words. It is authors like this that make me fear writing myself, because her prose instills so much in the reader, how could I ever write that well? Fowler is the author of the Jane Austen Book Club, which I certainly enjoyed reading as a loyal reader of most things Austen-related. However, this writing was leaps and bounds from her previous books that I have read.

It was lines like these that spoke deeply to me:

“…I’d left Dexter Poindexter, my terry-cloth penguin (threadbare, ravaged by love – as who amongst us is not) in a gas station…”

“The happening and telling are very different things. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true, only that I honestly don’t know any more if I really remember it or only remember how to tell it. Language does this to our memories, simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An off-told story is like a photograph in a family album. Eventually it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.” 

“The sunset you see is always better than the one you don’t. More stars are always better than less.” 

“Apparently, all you needed to be considered normal was no evidence to the contrary.” 

Aside from the surprises in the story, which I will not spoil for you, this book is about a family, and how the family grew apart and attempts to come back. It is about siblings, their loyalty and devotion – even when it seems like they are worlds apart. Rosemary Cooke is a wonderful character, who despite being mostly friendless and hiding many secrets, is relatable. She did not choose the life that she ended up in, but it shaped her in ways that made her humane and interesting.

The story jumps around a little bit, which I have heard other readers complain about. I liked the mystery of it and the confusion of what happened and the mystery of what happens next, since we come to Rosemary’s story in the middle of it.

As usual, this book is probably not for everyone –but I loved it, and think it is worth the praise that it has received. Thank you, Lisa, for the high recommendation!

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Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Book Club Book Recommendations

Book & Wine Wednesday: Reading Sara Book Club Book Recommendations

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My friend and colleague recently referenced my blog as a “Book Club without the meetings.” I loved it. I have been a part of some wonderful book clubs in my life, but am not currently participating in one. Sometimes I feel like my Goodreads account is a form of book club – I love seeing what books friends have added to their TRB shelves or have rated highly. Books are a common conversation at the lunch table in my office – “oh, I am reading The Martian too! I am surprised that I can get into something with so much science” or “Are you done with the Outlander series yet? I might quit.” I am lucky to be surrounded at work and in life with so many other voracious readers who are smart, intelligent women. No offence, men who follow my blog (which might just be my dad and husband), because you are also smart and wonderful.

Even though I am not currently in a book club, I love them, I support them and think they are wonderful – even if they don’t talk about the book the entire time (or at all)! Books bring people together and provide discussions that are meaningful and deep. So, in honor of book clubs, I thought I would give 5 recommendations for Book Club reads! They are all available in paperback, e-reader and probably at your local library. And it felt perfect for Book & Wine Wednesday, because I have yet to hear of a book club that doesn’t also involve wine…

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The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

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I have read this with two different book clubs, and both had lively and interesting discussions. Whether people loved it or hated it, this book is memorable and shows a life that many people do not know exists – a world where you do not always know where your next meal will come from or where your family will go next. Your conversation around it will be interesting, be sure to check out the reading group guide for great questions to stir the conversation.

Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

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This book is meant for women to read. While dolls in this reference does in fact mean “downer pills,” it is also about three women and their rise to fame and careers in the 1940s. Rumor has it that it was based off of Judy Garland – she was originally supposed to be in the film adaption of the book, but had to leave because of her pill addiction. It is a perfect book for your next book club meeting.

Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes

me before you

Ok, I’m obsessed with this book. And you will find me recommending it for everyone and everywhere on my blog. If you haven’t read it, please read it so that I can stop bugging you to read it. The sequel just came out – so you don’t even have to wait over a year like I did.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

we are all completely

I just finished this book last week, so will post a review asap – but this book is so interesting that it cannot be described in a blurb. The writing blew me away, the way that the story was told was so unique, I laughed out loud, I felt all the feels – the emotion and confusion of the characters – and have never read a story that surprised me more in the middle and then kept it interesting.

Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

orphan train

If everyone in your book club hasn’t read this one yet, it is a great book club read. The story itself is not actually true, but the situation of these children is true – which is just absolutely amazing. Your book club will be smarter and will be interested and invested in the characters, watching them develop and get second chances.

Wine Recommendation: So, you definitely need to bring a wine to book club. I recommend a Red – because you might be coming straight from work and keeping a white or rosé chilled all day in your office refrigerator might be a little weird. Because everyone’s palate is different, I usually keep it simple with a Pinot Noir for a lighter option or a generally-loved Malbec if I think that the cheese plate will be more robust. You can usually find La Crema Pinot Noir for around $20, and it is pretty commonly sold at wine shops. I think it is an excellent value for a mass-produced wine. Most Malbec wines are around $15 anyway – a great bargain for a great Argentinian grape. Two that you can usually find and are good bets are Doña Paula Estate Malbec and Trumpeter Malbec. What are your go-to book club wines? Always looking for recommendations!

And if you are not in a book club, or looking for a virtual one – join me and read with me! You can follow my blog and discover amazing books with me – and I won’t judge if you have a glass of wine too (I do it too!).

Reading Sara Review: A Darker Shade of Magic, By V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic, By V.E. Schwab

 a darker shade of magic

Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Tor Books (February 24, 2015)

Amazon Book Description: Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Reading Sara Review: I listened to A Darker Shade of Magic as an audiobook, which is something that I don’t usually do. I do not have a long commute to work, so it took me awhile to get invested and really into it while just listening to it in 15-20 minute increments a couple of times a day.  With that being said, I did eventually get into it and enjoyed it quite a bit. If you enjoy magic/other worlds/stories of friendship/series, then I think you will like this one. I gave this a 4 out of 5 stars because I enjoyed it-  but it’s a soft four rating – I do not think everyone would love this book. I personally found it entertaining and will likely read more in the series (the next book comes out in February of 2016).

This was my first Victoria (V.E.) Schwab novel, but I know that she has quite the following already from her previous books. If her others are as creative and unique as this one – I recommend her writing!

The story is long (a lot of different characters were introduced), but every part and every piece is remembered and comes back to the main plot line, which I really enjoyed. I also appreciated the main characters, Kell and Lilah. They were interesting, their friendship born from a very unique circumstance – but brought growth, survival and a connection from that chance encounter.

As for recommending the audiobook vs. reading it, I am having a hard time. The audiobook was ok – I liked the reader when he was just telling the story, but when he spoke the voices of the characters they felt too cartoon-ish for me. I have heard that other people loved him, so decide for yourself if you prefer audiobooks to reading anyway! I think you can definitely wait for the paperback of this, if you choose to read it. Not worth a hardcover price in my opinion, but a fun, quick read for those who want to discover multiple Londons and the world of magic!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

Book & Wine Wednesday!

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Dear Readers, I apologize in the slight posting delay. Life has been busy – and honestly, I was not in the mood to be writing for a little while. But I am back, and happy to be writing again (isn’t it wonderful to remember a joy that you have? To remember that doing something is really fun when you started to view it as just something else on your plate?). Thank you for your patience and for sticking with me! So happy to be back – and back with a Book & Wine Wednesday!

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun

Rating: 4.5/5

Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (July 28, 2015)

Amazon Book Description: Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

Reading Sara Review: My goodness, this book was a fun and wonderful read. I was a fan of Paula McLain’s work from The Paris Wife and so quickly put this book on my TRB list when I heard it was coming out. I have not seen the movie Out of Africa in many years, but I could just picture Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton flirting with all of the ladies and creating love triangles that rival modern day. To clarify, because I was at first confused, this book is not about Karen Blixen, who Meryl Streep famously played in Out of Africa, the film (and who you will remember Robert Redford telling stories with by the campfire). This is from the same time, and has many of the same characters (who are, in fact, real) and focuses instead on Beryl Markham. Beryl is a minor character in the film and her name is changed anyway.

This novel only covers part of Beryl’s life, but a very interesting piece of it. Her opportunity to grow up in Africa, befriend local village kids, and become the first female to train race horses kept me reading late into the night. Beryl was unlucky in love most certainly – but much of that can be credited to her time in history when women married young (and pretty much had to for money, status and safety). Beryl’s seemingly forced independence at a young age obligated decisions prematurely and made her become something that she had not decided on yet. I think that her first marriage played a large role in who she became later in life. What I mean by this is that she was molded by having to make important decisions that would impact her forever when she should not have had to. Her mother’s departure and then later, her fathers, were impactful pieces of a puzzle that was not finished just yet.

Just as The Paris Wife has the background of (in my opinion) the best city on earth, Paris, this book had the incredible background of Africa. Kenya is another character in itself – a place that Beryl felt more at home than anywhere else in the world. She eventually traveled to other places, but the only place that she was truly at home was in Kenya.

Beryl is an adventurer, a passionate lover, a semi-terrible friend, but a real character that made history in many ways. Her story was touching and will stay with me for some time. I highly recommend this book. McLain is an incredible storyteller – I felt like I was there with the characters, drinking champagne at sunset!

Wine Recommendation: I have not been keeping this blog that long, but I know that I have recommended sparkling beverages multiple times  – because yes, I love them, but also because they are celebratory and sometimes that just fits.

In Circling the Sun we meet Berkely Cole who is a favorite character of mine because he is a true friend to all of the characters, but also remains a mystery to most. Okay, it’s really because of this quote from Berkely, “it is compulsory to drink champagne in Africa.” So, if you are reading this book, which because of the excellent writing will certainly transport you there, you might want to have a good bottle of champagne as a companion.

Personally, I like Veuve Clicquot for celebratory moments. The gold top makes it any occasion feel glamorous. It retails for enough to feel celebratory (around $60 a bottle), but it is an immediate crowd-pleaser for any sundowners that you might be enjoying!

I read Banned Books…and you should too!

I read Banned Books…and you should too!

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Censorship is something that terrifies me, because losing the ability to read other people’s tales of expression is probably one of the things that I value most in life. I believe in choice and learning – but even more so, I believe in challenging our current assumptions and forcing ourselves to see other views and hear other stories.

This week is Banned Books Week, which you can learn more about here, if you haven’t heard about it in the over 30 years that it has been celebrated.

And because creating a Top 10 List is super fun, here are my Top 10 favorite books that have been banned and/or created controversy:

  1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
    I have read this book twice, once in my early twenties and once in my early thirties – and my viewpoint changed dramatically. Even so, this book tells a fascinating story about a family making their way – and learning forgiveness.
  1. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
    When I read Lolita in college, I felt very smart. I still feel smart for having read Lolita. It’s seductive and maybe…well, wrong, but incredible literature not to be ignored.
  1. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    Reading this book as a teenager is like a right of passage. If we want the next generation to understand the many references people make about Lord of the Flies (and we want a smart next generation, right?), then we should keep this on the reading list.
  1. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
    I will simply never forget this book. The imagery, beautiful storytelling and the haunting pieces will be with me forever.
  1. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
    When I read this as a teenager I realized that I did not have huge problems and that life was pretty darn good. This anonymous diary, written by Beatrice Sparks in the ‘70s still resonates today.
  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    Maya Angelou’s autobiography is a must read –and points to important issues still facing us every day (literacy, rape, and race to name a few)
  1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Ok, I get it that Hunger Games may not be for everyone, but banning it? Really? Hunger Games takes the reader to another world, a place struggling for survival in the most real sense, and we get to watch heroes emerge. The Hunger Games series is one of my all-time favorites.
  1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
    A classic.
  1. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
    If you have not read this book, please, please read it.
  1. Harry Potter!
    Witches, wizards and magic – yes please! I could never pick just one favorite of the Harry Potter series, so please do not make me. The Harry Potter books are some of the best books I have ever read.

Celebrate the freedom to read by adding one of these books, or another frequently challenged book, to your TRB list!

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Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, By Ashlee Vance

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Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, By Ashlee Vance

elon musk

Rating: 3.5/5

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Ecco (May 19, 2015)

Reading Sara Review: Ashlee Vance is the first biographer to get exclusive access to Musk and his family to write this book – and she really digs into everything from his mysteriously dark childhood, to his near-fails at most of his companies, to his highs and lows as a boss, to his incredible genius.

The book is well written, and if you are interested in learning more about one of the greatest minds of our generation, you should read this. Elon Musk is changing our world. Seriously. It is incredible. It is not exactly a “page-turner” because there is no real mystery – we know that Tesla got off to a tough start, but has ended up being a luxury car worth the struggle. We all saw the news when SpaceX’s rockets failed – but we know that they are doing incredible things now.

Musk is not necessarily someone that I would want to work for, per se. Some of the stories of his falling out with colleagues and partners are quite damning. However, he is very likely a genius and I can imagine that at his level it is more difficult to get along with people who are not also at his level – which is why he surrounds himself with other like-minded geniuses to work for him.

There was one piece in particular that felt extremely topical for me. Vance was describing Tom Mueller, one of the founding employees of SpaceX. Mueller is described as the type of kid who was maybe a bit of an “oddball” who tinkered with fixing things. For example, he discovered a smashed clock in an alley once – and took it home after school and fixed it. Sound familiar? Mueller’s story ends up pretty good – he is still at SpaceX, and helping Elon Musk change the world. As for Ahmed Mohamed, the boy who was arrested in Texas for bringing a clock to school, we have yet to see – as expected there are all sorts of conspiracy theories surrounding his situation. But what we can only hope is that there are more creative minds like Ahmed and Tom Mueller growing up today, and that we are nurturing their tinkering creativity – because they might be the people who create amazing things later that change our world.

At the end of the book, we get some glimpses into his vision for the future (things like putting a roller coaster in both the Tesla and SpaceX factories). Musk might be a little crazy – or he is a total visionary.  I’m not ready to buy a ticket to colonize another planet with him just yet, but now that I know more about him, I will certainly be following what he does next. I wonder what type of celebration he and his friends had after learning that there is water on Mars!

There are two quotes in the book that resonated deeply to me about how important Elon Musk’s lifework is for humanity. First, Vance says early on in the book “He’s the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He’s less a CEO chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to… well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.”

The second one is a quote from Larry Page, co-founder of Google, as saying “If you have all this money, which presumably you are going to give away and couldn’t even spend it all if you wanted to, why then are you devoting your time to a company that’s not really doing anything good? That’s why I find Elon to be an inspiring example. He said ‘Well, what should I really do in this world? Solve cars, global warming, and make humans multiplanetary.’ …those are pretty compelling goals, and now he has businesses to do that.”

The epilogue is telling of Musk’s continued ambitions – I am sure that writing a biography of a man who is constantly coming up with new quests is difficult, because when do you press send when Musk’s story is far from over? The Hyperloop and Musk’s new ambition for space internet are all still unfolding. I am sure there will be a Part 2 and 3 for Musk’s story.

Wine Review: In anticipation of making this book a Book & Wine Wednesday review, I solicited some friends to try a South African wine with me – because Elon Musk is from South Africa, so it seemed fitting. The wine was a Pinotage, made by Barista. Pinotage is a red wine grape, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The description made a bold claim of this wine being like rich coffee and tasting of cherry pie filling.

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I missed the cherry pie filling completely – and instead it had a very rich, smoky flavor. I felt like I was drinking a campfire. It wasn’t exactly good –or bad. It probably needed a peppered steak with it, or a hearty cheese with it, which we did not have after devouring some pizza. I honestly was not sure at first that I should recommend it here, my friends gave super mixed reviews and did not seem to want to “go on record” recommending it.

However, the more that I thought about it, the more it fit with this review. Elon Musk’s style is not for everyone, it can be harsh – but when you get past that to the creativity and passion, it is something that you can enjoy (or it might be above your skill level). I think that is true for this wine. I would not want more than a glass, but perhaps it is because my palate isn’t as refined? I found the Barista for $16, so definitely worth a try for a unique and interesting wine!