Reading Sara Review: A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams

A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams

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Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (June 28, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 5/10

Eligible Rating

Reading Sara Review: Well, readers, I think I made a mistake with my first book of my Summer Reading Part 2 list. Maybe the mistake was reading two Beatriz Williams books in one summer? Perhaps I appreciate her stories more when I have a break from them? I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, this latest one from Williams missed the mark for me.

A Certain Age follows Theresa Marshall, a socialite in New York City in the 1920s who falls in love with the significantly younger man she is having an affair with, Captain Octavian Rofrano, who she obnoxiously calls “boyo.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Marshall’s brother falls in love with Miss Sophie Fortescue, a daughter of a rich inventor.

The book has a hint of mystery with some sort of trial occurring in the future that involves the Fortescue family – we only know this from a gossip column that pops up every couple of chapters. Both Sophie and Octavian are much younger than their suitors, and as any reader can imagine- form a friendship and attachment. I felt that this book was predictable but even worse, the characters were boring. Mrs. Marshall’s brother, Ox, was extremely two-dimensional. The story would have been much more interesting focusing around Mr. Fortescue’s life – or even Sophie’s sister – but they were just secondary characters.

I don’t always read books to like characters, but I do read them to understand their motives. I want to connect with them on some level. Mrs. Marshall sort of redeems herself at the end, but I never connected with her or her motives, so I am not even sure if she needed redeeming.

I am still a fan of Beatriz Williams, and will put another one of her books on a reading list next summer, I’m sure. But maybe I’ll just read one a summer for now on.

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Sound of Glass, by Karen White

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Review: The Sound of Glass, by Karen White

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Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: NAL; Reprint edition (April 5, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7.5/10

 

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Reading Sara Review: Maybe I started my Summer Reading Part 1 in the wrong order, because so far, my second half reads have been much better than the first half. The Sound of Glass was the first book I have read by Karen White, but will not be the last. White has a way of taking the reader, even those of us who have never lived or been to a place like Beaufort, South Carolina, and make us feel the humid air and to feel like we are there.

The Sound of Glass is the perfect combination of summer reading – not only is it available in paperback, but there is also a mystery, romance, healing of the soul, and threads of a family that slowly unwrap to something lovely. And it’s all wrapped up with southern charm.

The story begins with Edith, who is painting when she hears screams, loud noises, and smells smoke.When her and her son, CJ, run outside, they discover their neighbors in the same panic – a plane has crashed above their quiet town, and debris is flying everywhere. The story transitions to Merritt, who has recently discovered she inherited a home in Beaufort that was left to her husband, who died two years previously. Merritt packed up her life in Maine to start a new one in South Carolina, away from the ghosts of her past, but unknowingly approaching new ghosts.

Merritt is looking for some peace and quiet to start her new life – but that is immediately uprooted when her step-mother arrives with her ten-year-old half-brother on the day she is moving in.

The story is mostly focused around Merritt but jumps back to Edith’s time to provide ample backstory to explain the characters and their motives. The southern phrases and little pieces of wisdom were a little cutesie for me, but it didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of this lighter read, which incidentally, had a heavy topic behind it.

The story unravels at a perfect pace for summer – it is a quick read, but didn’t feel like it. Some of it is predictable, but I love that in a summer beach read! If you have any beach adventures coming up for the end of summer, definitely pick this one up for your beach bag.

Wine Recommendation

Ok, I’m cheating a little today. But what I am recommending to you is ah-mazing and perfect to toss in with your paperback of The Sound of Glass in your beach bag (since most beaches don’t allow glass).

Rosé Gummy Bears. Yep, you read that right. This exists and it is everything I hoped it would be. It sold out in the first two hours of being announced to the world – but I was lucky enough to get the second wave shipment.

Here’s why I am cheating: the alcohol apparently burns off during the cooking process, so these don’t actually have any alcohol in them. But, what they do have is delicious flavor.

Check them out at sugarfina!

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Reading Sara Review: Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend

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Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Nan A. Talese (May 24, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 6/10 (remember: this is a good rating!) 

my name is lucy barton rating

Reading Sara Review: First of all, isn’t the cover of this book enchanting in and of itself? I would have picked up this book just for the cover, without even knowing what it is about. Luckily, I liked the book too!

At the end of Enchanted Islands, I learned that Frances and Ainslie Conway were real people: a real couple who moved to the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. I love when authors can take real people and utilize their imagination to weave a fascinating story from some basis of history. Amend describes herself as” a novelist first, and a mediocre historian” – which is what makes her novel enticing. She utilizes a piece of history and creates characters that are heartbreaking, selfish, frustrating, and wonderful. And by the way, this is not a spoiler – if I had paid any attention to the book description, I might have known that this was based on Frances Conway’s memoirs and journals. But, as I said, I was captivated by the cover and didn’t need more information!

Enchanted Islands tells the story of Frances Conway, who grew up a poor Jewish immigrant in the Midwest. She forms an unlikely friendship with Rosaline Fisher. Their friendship goes through trials, tribulations, and adventures. But I did not find the real story to be about friendship – I found it to be about Frances. Frances was an independent woman when that was not extremely common. She was trusting, hard-working, and loyal. But we find all of that out later: the book starts at the end – with Rosaline and Frances in a Jewish nursing home, visiting the graves of their loved ones. Frances looks back on her life and decides to tell her story – the real story, and it takes some seriously unexpected turns.

When Frances is given an opportunity to marry Ainslie, a spy, and move to the Galapagos Islands, she says yes. From there, her life becomes full of secrets, half-truths, wonder, and intrigue. Both Rosaline and Ainslie test her trust – and Frances remains stable (though some things take a little longer to forgive than others).

While the entire book is not back-dropped with the colorful scenes of the Galapagos, a lot of it is. And one cannot read this without imagining it there vividly. This feeling took me to a place far away, which is one reason that I love to read.

Could Frances and Ainslie have been spies that shaped our history? We can only hope.

This book was different than many of the books that I enjoy – but in some ways reminded me of others like State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain, or Euphoria, by Lily King. It was good historical fiction, which I adore. Add it to your reading list and be enchanted!

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Along the Infinite Sea, by Beatriz Williams

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Book Review: Along the Infinite Sea, by Beatriz Williams

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Hardcover: 464 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (November 3, 2015)

Reading Sara Review: 7.5/10

everything everything

Reading Sara Review: Beatriz Williams does not let me down with her summer beach reads. She consistently weaves two stories together and does it with such perfection that I hardly notice when it changes.

Along the Infinite Sea is the third (and final book) in her Schuyler Sisters Series, this one about Pepper. Pepper finds herself in the south, pregnant, alone and being chased by her baby daddy’s employees in the 1960s when she stumbles upon Annabelle Dommerich when selling a car that she recently restored. Annabelle  gives us the second piece of the story: a young woman who falls in love in France on the precipice of World War 2 with a Jewish man and their love saga. Even without the World War 2 historical fiction piece, this is a fun book to read.

Annabelle is a character that I will not soon forget – she is a survivor, a strong female who is capable and inspiring. William’s ability to create love stories is unmatched. This makes her books perfect summer reads. There is a hint of melodrama, a bit of cheese, and a happy ending. Even if you haven’t read the other books in this trio, it’s good as a standalone book. The more you read of her novels, the more fun it is as characters from other books pop in and out of each.

For an interview with the author, head over to Dream by Day blog – one of my favorites! She talks about her latest book, which I cannot wait to read!

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Wine Recommendation: One thing that I find consistent in William’s stories is taking me back to Paris – wishing I was sipping champagne at the Ritz with Annabelle. Even if I can’t do that, I can sip champagne! Sit down on a Saturday with this book and pour yourself a glass of champs. I believe it is a myth that champagne has to be expensive to be good (yes, there are some great expensive ones). Pop your favorite summer fruit into Champagne Montaudon for around $35, close your eyes, and pretend you are in France. Or, even better, thanks to G.P. Putnam and Sons Pinterest board, try out the Ritz Champagne Cocktail!

Ritz Champagne Cocktail

 

Reading Sara Review: The Girls, by Emma Cline

The Girls, by Emma Cline

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Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 14, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 9/10

Girl at War Rating

Reading Sara Review: If you are an active reader, I’m sure you have heard about The Girls. Often when a book is so praised and is on all of the “must read this summer” book lists, I am a bit hesitant (though in the end, I added it to my Summer Reading Part 1 list). I felt let down by some of those previously (Fates & Furies, The Interestings, and Girls on Fire, to name a few). Fellow readers: this one is different. The Girls is excellent.

There is no doubt that cults have an allure that’s hard to explain or comprehend. The close-knit group, living on the fringe of society, the leader, the danger that feels like freedom- books like this are bound to popular because of that initial enticement. But The Girls will be popular because it is good.

Emma Cline takes the reader deep into the mind of Evie, the narrator of the story who is caught up in something that she doesn’t yet understand, her 14-year-old brain not able to comprehend. But Evie can’t resist the seductive appeal of Suzanne, a person that Evie desperately wants to be (untethered, appealing, devoted to something). It is the late 1960s after all – and Evie wants to be carefree, pretty, and paid attention to by her parents.

This book is dark, but not scary. There are some gruesome details that I don’t recommend for those weary of that type of narrative. Cline’s writing is beautiful – vivid, descriptive, and meaningful. You get the impression that not one sentence was completed without incredible thought.

My personal fascination with cults began with Kelly Taylor on Beverly Hills 90210, who famously joins a cult with a creepy psychology professor. After that, I would follow some stories on the news when a cult came up, but for me, it is just a moderate fascination. And as only an average fascination, I do not know too much about Charles Manson, but it is clear that this story, while fictional, has many parallels to Manson and his “family.”

How does one find themselves in a cult? Is it the connection to a person, a group, that isn’t felt anywhere else in their lives? For Evie, is it a darkness that existed all along? Or a loneliness? Or a fear? Cline leaves the reader with many questions about Evie  – which is why this would make an excellent Book Club book discussion. I highly recommend it!

 

Summer Reading (2016 Edition) Part 2

Summer Reading Part 2

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Part of me cannot believe that it is mid-July! But the hot weather keeps reminding me that we are in the middle of summer.

I know that a lot of people read less in the summer because there is so much more going on in their lives. It varies for me – I go through phases where I would much rather binge watch Orange is the New Black than pick up a book. Or I would rather be outside, hiking or biking in the outdoors than laying around reading. Even when those times hit, I always come back to reading and still can devour books over the summer.

Why? It’s my escape. It’s my place to take time out from the terrible things happening in our world (especially these couple of weeks in the United States). It gives me an excuse to either step into history, to learn something new, or cry over characters that I come to think of as friends. And, if I am reading outside (like, by a pool for example), then I am not lazy, right? This is not to say that I want to be passive to the world around me – I want to do the best that I can to leave the world better than when I arrived. And one way that I try to do that is through sharing my love of reading with you. It keeps me going when I get texts, emails, and comments about people enjoying the blog – trust me, it makes all the difference in me wanting to continue writing. So, thank you!

I gave you my Summer Reading List Part 1 earlier this summer. I have been making my way through those six books (honestly, some with more pleasure than others). Full reviews of each of these are coming soon.

Before that happens, I am excited to give you some more great books to wrap up the summer with – and so you can hopefully read with me!

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Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty’s stories are always full of surprise – and make the best summer beach reads. I love the characters and the mystery. I can’t wait for this one to come out at the end of July! Find the review here!

Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley
A man and his best friend, Lily, his dog. I have heard great things about the audiobook – so may check that out! Update – find the review here! This is a great one!

You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein
Jessi Klein is the head writer for Inside Amy Schumer – so I am pretty confident that this will be a laugh out loud while reading at the beach type of book.

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A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams
You know how much I love reading Beatriz Williams in the summer. A few weeks ago, I devoured Along the Infinite Sea, and can’t wait to pick up a new one by her and be transported! Review can be found here

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx
This saga about the logging industry and the ecological impact peaked my interest from the moment that I first heard about it. I’m bound for the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle soon and thinking that being among trees and nature (as well as a long plane ride) might make this the perfect vacation read. Update: tried to read this one, couldn’t get into it after 100 or so pages. Probably not going to finish. 

Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford
I needed more than one historical fiction on my second summer reading list. Set in 1926, at the start of the BBC, a young woman gets a job on the radio. I am looking forward to some history lessons as well as being taken to a different time – the beginning of news.

I’m limiting this list to six books because I am not sure how many I will be able to read just this summer. If none of these peak your interest, other books that are high on my list right now are: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi; Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler; The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay; Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel; The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee; and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu.  I know, it’s a big list – and growing every day with new ones!

Have you read any of these yet? Read with me – let me know what books you love this summer! Is reading your escape too?

Reading Sara Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 2, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: So many people have recommended Station Eleven to me since it was released originally in 2014. I kept putting off reading it because I wasn’t sure it was going to appeal to me. A story about a group of people, post-apocalypse, who travel around and perform Shakespeare plays? Really?  If you have already read it, then you know how wrong I am. This book is more than science fiction, more than a post-apocalypse story, and is simply a good book.

I am glad that I finally got around to reading it – it’s an incredibly well-written story with many characters, exceptional depth, and more emotion than I could have imagined.

Station Eleven does revolve around a group called “the symphony” that travels to towns and settlements performing Shakespeare plays. There was a terrible disease outbreak that eliminated a vast majority of the world’s population (at least it wasn’t zombies). The book jumps in time, as the story centers around Arthur Leander, who was a famous actor and died suddenly of a heart attack while performing King Lear. The characters that we come to know all have a connection in some way to Arthur – and those connections are woven throughout the storyline.

The jumping around was hard to follow sometimes, and there were enough characters that I had to make an effort to remember who was who and who was where – but when everything came together at the end, it all made sense and was quite a surprise.

My favorite part of the story was following the survivor’s lives – how people survived, created communities, found a new role and purpose in their lives. But mainly how art is preserved after the fall of society – through storytelling, collections, and the performances that the symphony gave.

Station Eleven is not your average dystopian novel – it is so much more. So, if like me, you haven’t picked this one up yet, I recommend it. Many creative and beautiful books get picked up for a film adaptation, and this one is no exception. So, read it first!

“Survival is insufficient.” – Star Trek: Voyager