Reading Sara Review: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

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Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 4, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 6/10

my name is lucy barton rating

Reading Sara Review: I was excited to receive an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) for Wangs vs. the World since it is getting a lot of buzz for its release this fall. And friends, I wanted to love it. Instead, I just liked it. Even though I received the ARC, I will give an honest review.

Wangs vs. the World follows the Wang family, a family led by Charles Wang, a first generation immigrant who made a fortune and then lost it. With his money and big house gone, he and his second wife embark on a road trip to pick up his younger daughter from boarding school, his son from college in Arizona to drive across the country to a New York farmhouse that his oldest daughter recently bought.

Each of the family members has their own piece of the story. This financial crisis comes as a shock, certainly, but they are each battling their selves throughout the journey. They were strong characters, and their emotions went deeper than expected. This book isn’t a spoiled rich kid who loses their money and becomes more of brat type story. Instead, the characters are surprising in many ways, not without faults, but interesting and real.

There are parts of this novel that are heartbreaking and parts that are humorous. In the end, this is just a regular family who is dealing with loss, the future, uncertainty and dreams that may or may not become attainable.

Chang created sharp dialogue for the characters and moved the story along well. My only complaint about the writing was that sometimes she would switch to Mandarin and not provide a translation for the reader. It is usually relatively easy to figure out what was said, but a translation would have been helpful.

Otherwise, this was a good read. Not the best book I have read in 2016, but I won’t dissuade others from reading it!

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Reading Sara Review: All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

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Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: McSweeney’s (July 28, 2015)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: I realize that this is my third 8/10 review in a row – either I am in an optimistic reading mood, or I have just been extremely lucky reading great books lately.

All My Puny Sorrows was recommended to me by my friend Jessica, and she was absolutely right to recommend it to me before even finishing it herself! We were both instantly drawn in by the lovely cover design but held captive by the incredible writing of Toews and the way that she expertly tells a remarkable and sad story.

All My Puny Sorrows is about two sisters, Elf and Yoli. The narrative goes back and forth in time, talking about their childhood growing up in a strict Mennonite-community in Canada, to present day. Elf is now a famous concert pianist who is desperately struggling with her will to live. Yoli, divorced with two children, is trying to keep the family together and strong – and struggling with critical decisions about how to help her sister.

The topic of depression is difficult to write about but even harder to write a heart-warming, loving, and sometimes even funny, book – Toews does this expertly. It is impossible not to feel the weight of Elf’s desperation, while also staying acutely aware of the rest of the family and the impact that it has on them.

Because the book is written from Yoli’s perspective, we are still looking at depression from the outside in. We still want Yoli to fight for her sister, for her family, because we see the pain that it is causing everyone. I wonder how this story would be different from Elf’s perspective. I believe that it would be equally full of love, but would show an entirely different side of depression – one that is not trying to hurt the family, but merely make her hurt go away.

I loved the side commentary about the health care system and the faults that lie within in it when dealing with mental health. Apparently even in Canada they have not perfected this. Yoli compares it to being at the hospital for heart surgery – and how much better they take care of the patients who have something physically wrong. The matters of the head have never been treated equally, or as openly, as the issues within the rest of our bodies.

Because my words cannot accurately depict the beauty of the writing, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“Dan wanted me to stay. I wanted Elf to stay. Everyone in the whole world was fighting with somebody to stay. When Richard Bach wrote “If you love someone, set them free” he can’t have been directing his advice at human beings.”

“It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.”

Reading Sara Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

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Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (June 16, 2015)
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

RBG Rating

Reading Sara Review: If you followed my summer reading, then you know I fell in love with the book A Man Called Ove. The book snuck up on me, to be honest. But it has stuck with me months later, which is always a sign of a book that passes the test of time.

I was killing time at an airport recently, browsing the bookstore and came across My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I had already flagged it as a TBR before I realized it was the same author as A Man Called Ove. It felt like a sign and a perfect opportunity for a good book during a long trip.

Backman works his magic writing in this story too. A young girl, Elsa, has a special bond with her grandmother who tells her stories of adventure, teaches her a secret language, and is her hero when she doesn’t quite fit in. To the rest of the world, the grandmother is difficult, ornery, and defiant. In one of the first chapters, they are arrested together – and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t the police officer’s first run-in with Elsa’s grandmother.

When her grandmother falls ill, she sends Elsa on a quest delivering letters to people that she has wronged. The letter delivering takes Elsa on an adventure, discovering things about her grandmother and her neighbors that she never knew.

It’s a touching story, full of surprises and twists – with a lovely creative concept. In the end, the same moral of the importance of community and love rang true as it did in A Man Called Ove. This is certainly another one whose characters will live on in my mind for a long time.

Reading Sara Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Hardcover: 477 pages
Published: May 14th, 2013 by Knopf
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

RBG Rating

Reading Sara Review: Americanah had been on my list for a long time, recommended by my sister-in-law, whose reading recommendations I trust. I even had it downloaded on my kindle for a long time before I committed to it.

I am not sure what kept me from reading it, but I am glad that I stopped stalling because now I understand why this book is highly acclaimed. It should be required reading.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie depicts the world that most Americans do not know and paints a new light on our lives that is brutally honest. But most importantly, the characters are not different from those of us born here in the United States. There is something vital in the similarities of Ifemelu’s childhood in Nigeria (friendship, crushes, family) that is not so different than how I, and many of my friends, grew up. But there is a lot that is different too, and Ifemelu’s story illustrates it in an understandable and fascinating way.

Americanah was written in 2013 but feels just as relevant today in the US where racism and hate speech are promoted by a presidential candidate. Ifemelu’s perception that she wasn’t black until she came to America – that race is something we created here – this rings true. Not everyone is going to agree with me on this front, and that is ok. But time and time again, we turn on the television and see more young black men killed, and it’s breaking the heart of our country. I would have loved to read Ifemelu’s blog posts about what is going on today in America with race relations.

Beyond all of the race and other interesting issues that Americanah discusses, this is is actually just a tender love story. Americanah is a story of struggles, joy, and finding happiness in the end. I finished it feeling happy – and that makes a good book to add to my shelf.

 

Reading Sara Review: The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

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Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (July 19, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 6/10

my name is lucy barton rating

Reading Sara Review: I picked this one as part of my membership in the Book of the Month Club, which I will write a separate post about soon because it has bene an interesting experiment for me.

Admittedly, I don’t regularly read thrillers or mysteries, I tend to read the ones that become more mainstream (Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, etc.), but this one intrigued me. The premise is a group of people on a luxury cruise, and someone goes missing – only a certain number of suspects (very Agatha Christie-esque) to unravel the mystery. It seemed like a fun end of summer read.

I was not let down. I read this in just about two sittings. It wasn’t scary, but mysterious and full of fun twists and turns. The ending was not what I expected. Again, though, I am no mystery novel connoisseur.

This was my first Ruth Ware novel, but I would absolutely read more of her in the future for a quick weekend read. If you are still looking for a Labor Day Weekend book to devour, give this one a try. It’s not the best book you will read this year, but it will take your mind off of the end of summer. And, as most of these types of books go, you will also be left wondering how you would handle this drama!