Reading Sara Review: Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman

girls on fire

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Harper (May 17, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 4/10

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Reading Sara Review: Girls on Fire was my second selection from my Summer 2016 Reading List. I am hoping the third time is the charm for my next read because neither Girls on Fire or Eligible hit the mark that I was hoping for when I devour books during the summer.

In general, I like weird books. Unfortunately, Girls on Fire was weird in a way that did not resonate with me. This book has been hyped on nearly every book resource that I trust – my favorite blogs, NPR, every other “to be read this summer list.”

Girls on Fire is sort of about friendship and a little bit about coming of age. The friendship piece is dark, but in some ways was the most real part of this story. Hannah Dexter is a teenage loner in her small town. She does not have friends, is not fashionable, and spends all of her evenings with her parents. All of a sudden she sparks a friendship with Lacey, a newcomer to their small Pennsylvania town. For teenagers, Lacey has seen and done more than Hannah has even dreamed of doing. Because of this, and mainly due to her loneliness, Hannah is infatuated with Lacey. She is willing to become a different person and follow Lacey to the ends of the earth to be accepted. This all-consuming friendship and captivation of someone else can make for a great story. Unfortunately, in Girls on Fire, all of that is confused with satanic rituals, drugs, an unconventional romance, and yes, a murder or two.

The story was told in a unique way – alternating viewpoints from mostly Hannah and Lacey describing current events or filling in the backstory. I believe that a few other narrators took over at various points (clearly it was not incredibly memorable if I can’t remember right now). Either way, this tie-in led to some mystery that made me keep reading and not just give up the book because it was too weird.

This was not the worst book I have read this year, but I can’t recommend it. I am so surprised by the acclaim of other reviewers – because I had to push myself to finish it. And the ending was utterly disappointing – instead of finding herself, her voice and her way – Hannah is completely enveloped into Lacey’s world never to return.

Again, I like weird books – I don’t even mind dark books. But I felt like the story was trying too hard. Hannah’s parent’s relationship might have been the only truly honest thing that was told.

So, read at your own risk – seriously, other people loved it. If you loved it, please let me know so I can hear what I missed!

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Nest, by by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Books & Wine Wednesdays!

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The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

the nest

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Ecco; First Edition first Printing edition (March 22, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 6/10

my name is lucy barton rating

Reading Sara Review: In general, I enjoy books about dysfunctional families because family dynamics make for fascinating stories. In this example, it was intriguing to explore how it is possible that four children from the same parents became divided, out of touch and uncommunicative with each other. If you appreciate this genre of family dynamics, you will hopefully enjoy this book.

In short, the family is divided because of money, but as usual, there is much more to it. The Nest is about the Plumb siblings who are all expecting to inherit their share of “The Nest” which their late father left to them. They were months away from finally receiving it when their oldest brother is in a terrible car accident. We get a glimpse of each of their lives through their perspective and those close to them. The writing and the way that the plot unfolds helped to give context to the people and the character’s lives – where they are coming from, where their values are and how they are perceived.

The characters, for the most part, are not too relatable. I do not anticipate thinking in the months to come about Melody and her twin daughters, or Jack and his antique shop. They each fit well into the story – but they did not captivate me further.

What I loved about this book, and the redeeming part of it for me is watching the characters grow. In the beginning, they were selfish and entitled – but as the story continued and they were forced to work together, be there for each other, they grew immensely while becoming closer. The thing (the “nest”) that they thought was so important and going to save them from all of their problems, turned out to be not necessarily what they needed. I do not want to spoil it, so will stop there – but the character’s growth is what kept me reading until the end. At first, they are quite shallow – and I was worried that is what the book was going to be, but it picked up at the end, and I realized that the shallowness was a part of the story and made better for it.

The Nest is getting a lot of praise right now, so add it to your summer reading list. It’s not a long one and has some good twists and turns!

 

Wine Recommendation:

For those of us without a “Nest” to turn to, we’ll look at some affordable wines this week! I don’t know where you are reading this from, but where I am writing from – it is finally summer (and super hot) and I am ready for some exciting white wines to kick it off. If you haven’t tried Verdejo yet, summer is a perfect time for it. Verdejo is a grape variety grown in Rueda region of Spain. For under $15, you can give it a try from Bodega Matarromera with their 2014 Melior Verdejo.

Location of the Rueda Region – click below to learn more!

rueda-location

 

Reading Sara Review: Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Hardcover: 512 pages

Publisher: Random House (April 19, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 5/10 (this doesn’t mean it was bad… it just wasn’t a top pick!)

Eligible Rating

Reading Sara Review: I caved and read my second Jane Austen Project book much quicker than I expected to. Eligible was fun – not great, not bad, but I will admit that I enjoyed reading it. As usual, don’t be deterred by the 5/10 rating – I rate on a scale of 10 to give a better picture. It is not a 2 or a 1, it just also isn’t a 9 or 10.

Eligible was the first book I read from my Summer 2016 Reading List because I was ready to get summer started – and a classic chick lit read sounded perfect for a Sunday. As mentioned above, Eligible is a part of the Jane Austen Project – modern retellings of the classic Jane Austen works. This one is based on Pride & Prejudice and set in modern-day Cincinnati. Because I am hoping most of my readers have read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (or at least seen the BBC movie), there will be spoilers ahead – which, if you know the plot already, should not be a problem.

This book was a much more creative modern retelling than Emma, which if you have been following the blog, I was heartbroken to hate. Sittenfeld wove in texting, CrossFit, money problems, and reality television into this retelling. Sometimes it felt a little over the top, but it was still fun. Liz and Darcy’s falling in love felt mostly authentic. Liz was not perfect, and there were times that I had to roll my eyes at her snobbish attitude and pre-conceived notions. Jane, an over 40 yoga instructor, living in New York City, longs for a child and has mostly given up hope of love after failed romances. I found myself cheering for Jane and Bingley’s reunion.

Because of the creative storytelling and modernizing the Pride & Prejudice story, Eligible works. It is not profound literature (which is why this review is fairly short), but it takes a different twist on the plot line – there are changes, and I thought the changes made it fun and added some surprises to the book. If Pride & Prejudice was in modern times, I believe that Sittenfeld got it pretty close to what each of these characters would be doing.

Overall, this is a good summer read if you are a Jane Austen fan. If not, it’s ok to skip it.

Reading Sara Review: Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín

brooklyn book

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Scribner; Media Tie-In edition (September 8, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: It took me far too long to pick up and read this fun story. If you have not read it, don’t make the same mistake I did – pick it up. It’s a quick read and perfect for summer. I so wish that I had heard of this book before the movie came out – because while the film follows the book fairly close, there are some significant differences, and I think it is only natural to prefer the version that you experienced first. More on that later, though – first, the book.

Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey as she travels from her small town in Ireland to Brooklyn to start a new life. But it is about so much more than that, as a reader, I cried as she said goodbye to her family, when she receives her first letters from home and starts going to school to when she meets Tony. My point here is that it is so much more than a love story, it is a story about finding your way in life, making choices, and living with your decisions.

This book is not exceptional; it does not tell the Irish immigrant story entirely. Eilis was incredibly fortunate to be able to make the decisions, however hard they may have been, she had the opportunity. If you are seeking a complex immigration coming of age story, this is not it. But, again, it is a fun, quick read.

Here’s the thing: I liked the movie better. This is a rare thing for me. What did everyone else think? Movie or book?  Maybe it is because I saw the movie first, so was able to picture the characters when reading the book – and expected things to happen a certain way. The book left me with more questions and confusion at the end than I had expected. With that being said, it’s still fun, and I still recommend it.

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Books & Wine Wednesdays!

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The Weekenders, by Mary Kay Andrews

weekenders

Hardcover: 464 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 17, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 7.5/10

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Reading Sara Review: Two things I like to start my summer out with: a crisp glass of rosé and a fun beach read. Today’s Book & Wine Wednesday will help you get started on your summer with those two things too!

First: the beach read. While The Weekenders was not on my Summer Reading List, I read a couple of reviews and recommendations for it, so it bumped some others for a top spot. It isn’t the best book that I will read this year, but it is my favorite beach read so far. Side note: I hope that beach read is not a derogatory term in any way – yes, it’s light and it is not historical fiction set in World War 2, but it’s still good. The writing is creative; the characters have depth, and I am still thinking about it a couple of days after reading it.

The Weekenders starts with our protagonist, Riley Nolan Griggs, as she is about to board a boat to take her and her daughter to their summer home – Belle Isle, North Carolina, and the drama unfolds pretty quickly from there. Belle Isle is a presumably imaginary idyllic place* that doesn’t have cars and only one ferry to and from the island. It is a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business.

Upon the first appearance, Riley’s life is going pretty well – she has a beautiful daughter, a wealthy husband and gets to spend the summer in Belle Isle with her best friend, her family, and in a beautiful house that her husband designed. Unfortunately, while on the ferry to Belle Isle, she is served with papers – and her husband is not on the boat where he is supposed to be.

Her family and friends all have side stories full of mystery, and Riley has to uncover the secrets of the island, a murder, and her family (all while dealing with a teenage daughter). It ends with a dramatic storm, as most beach reads are wont to do, and in between we watch Riley grow, remember who she is and take control of her life.

This is fun southern fiction – you’ll read it in one sitting at the beach or the pool. Andrews does a great summer beach read; she hit the mark yet again!

 

*If this is a real place, let me know. It sounds like a lovely place to summer. That is, if I ever become wealthy enough to summer as a verb.

 

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Wine Recommendation: Charles & Charles Rosé has been a go-to recommendation for me for the past couple of years. Not only is the bottle super easy to recognize, but you can find it in most wine shops for around $14. It’s a vibrant salmon color, made from blended grapes (with a majority of Syrah). It’s fruity and summery and everything you want your rosé season to be. Now get out there and get your summer started with a fun beach read and some rosé! Wednesday isn’t too early to start your weekend, right?

Reading Sara Review: Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly


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 Hardcover: 496 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 5, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 8/10 (seriously, great book – definitely will be one of the best of 2016!)

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a fantastic book. I had hoped The Summer Before the War was going to be amazing too for my historical fiction fix. Since I was left wanting more, I am glad this one came along. For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and/or The Nightingale, or any other recent historical fiction World War 1 or 2 novels, this one is a beautiful read.

Lilac Girls follows three women, going through different things during World War 2 – Caroline, a New York City socialite who is caught in a complicated love triangle, Kasia, a Polish teenager trying to survive with her family, and lastly, Herta, a German Nazi doctor.

I’ll admit that I struggled for a bit with any focus at all on the German Nazi Doctor, Herta Oberheuser. She is hate-able and a horrible character – and unfortunately, was a real person. But her chapters did add depth and context to the novel, even if her atrocities are unforgivable. I do not read books only to love the characters, and this was a reminder of that. Feeling anything for characters is an important piece of writing, and Kelly expertly did this.

The women’s lives diverge together in completely unexpected ways. It was an incredible story over decades watching these women grow, survive, and find peace with their lives. Like Herta, Caroline Ferriday was a real person, and Kasia is based on a real person. The research and details provided in this historical fiction novel are incredible.

The resilience that Kasia and her sister exhibit while at Ravensbruck (the only all-female concentration camp) is remarkable. They find little ways to show kindness to others, find the means to survive and be human. While Caroline dedicates her life to fighting for human rights, Kasia, and her sister, literally fought for their rights in small, subtle ways that helped them to survive.

Add this one to your book club list – it is one of the best books to come out this year. It tells the story of friendship, sisterhood, relationships and resilience. If you need a break from the World War 1 & 2 historical fiction, I totally get it, but save this on your TBR list. I know it is hard to keep reading about the Holocaust especially, but is it not important that we keep these memories and stories alive so that we never relive these atrocities? These were real women – and these stories are based on real events – we can’t forget that. And if you are on a historical fiction binge for more World War 2 novels, next on my list: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave (read it with me!!).

The main heroines of the story, Caroline and Kasia will not be easily forgotten, they are the type of characters that you will think of often.