A Year in Review: of reading!

A Year of Reading!

When I started this blog over a year ago, I had no idea where it would take me. Thank you all for your feedback, encouragement, and continued recommendations. I LOVE reading with you!

I started 2016 with some Reading Resolutions…unfortunately, I wasn’t successful on all fronts. But I am pleased to say that I finished 65 books this year, ahead of my goal of 50!

As a reminder, each month I recommend one of my favorites to read through this blog. But as a recap, here are my Top 10 Books I read this year. This list is more than just books that came out in 2016, but ones that I discovered and loved. What were your favorites this year?

  1. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
    Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon, truly at the precipice of an incredible career. 35 and married, excited by his work, and receiving offers across the country for positions he coveted, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is his chronicle of the journey he faced.
  1. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue
    The Wonder follows an English nurse to a small Irish town where it is believed that a young girl is living without eating. Libby, the nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, is brought in to keep a watch on the eleven-year-old Anna to ensure that no one is sneaking her food and that these claims are true.
  1. You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein 
    Jessi Klein mastered the comedy book writing in You’ll Grow Out of It. Klein is humorous, real, self-deprecating in a non-depressing way, and is someone that I would love to drink a glass (or six) of wine with.
  1. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
    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.
  1. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
    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.
  1. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    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.
  1. America’s First Daughter, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
    America’s First Daughter is the story of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson, eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. This book is based largely on facts, real events that happened throughout the course of America’s history (even Patsy burning letters and censoring what the world was to know of her great father is true). What I love about books like this is that we know about Thomas Jefferson – but the uncovering of a strong woman behind him, a great daughter to support him after he vowed to his dying wife that he would not marry again, that is a story that is untold, until now.
  1. Girl at War, by Sara Nović
    Girl at War is about Ana, who is a regular 10-year old biking around, playing games and enjoying her childhood – until civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia and her world completely shatters. Nović expertly goes back and forth in time telling Ana’s story in a sensitive, compelling and moving way. I could not put this book down and read it in one weekend.
  1. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
    Ove is by all accounts a total grump. He isn’t particularly friendly, does not like when people break rules, and just wants to be left alone to stick to his usual routine. However, a series of events, beginning with his new neighbors knocking over his mailbox when they are moving in, bring new people and experiences into his life – altering it forever.
  1. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
    Homegoing follows two sisters, separated in childhood by their mother who did not share with them the existence of the other. Each chapter follows one character whose lineage can be traced back to these sisters. Both daughters are born in Ghana to different tribes, and one daughter marries a British slaver, while the other is sold into slavery and sent to the United States. As you can imagine, the stories of their children vary drastically at first, but as time goes on, they all deal with struggles and unforgiving circumstances.

 

And unfortunately, there were some books that I could have easily skipped this year, though I know that others loved them. I would skip Summer Before the War, My Name is Lucy Barton, Fates and Furies, Emma (retelling by Alexander McCall Smith), The People in the Trees, The Wangs vs. the World, and probably some others that I have already forgotten I read!

Overall, a successful year of reading. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

 

Reading Sara Review: The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 20, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: This book varied so much from Donoghue’s novel Room that without knowing the author previously, it would have been impossible to tell that they are written by the same author. This is not a bad thing by any means, it shows the range that Donoghue has in her writing skill.

The Wonder follows an English nurse to a small Irish town where it is believed that a young girl is living without eating. Libby, the nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, is brought in to keep a watch on the eleven-year-old Anna to ensure that no one is sneaking her food and that these claims are true.

The book started slowly for me and I kept thinking something was going to happen rather than Libby just watching Anna, forming a slow friendship and beginning to doubt her assumptions. It does not pick up necessarily, but it does get extremely interesting. The power in the book is the building of increased tension, the unexpected alliances, and the unraveling of secrets.

The Wonder is historical fiction only in that it is inspired by the “fasting girls” in Europe and North America between the sixteenth century and twentieth century. These girls claimed to be able to survive for long periods of time without food, often in combination with spiritual and religious powers. Anna is no different than these girls, she tells people that she is living off of “manna of heaven.” What is different about Anna’s story is that we get a beautiful telling of it.

Anna and Libby’s friendship is what made the book memorable for me. Libby comes to Ireland with preconceived notions, a bit of snobbery, and more baggage than she is willing to admit. Since Libby is the narrator, we get everything from her perspective which clouds the reader’s judgment to what is happening. As the story develops, though, the reader can question Libby’s assumptions and figure out what else needs to be uncovered with her.

Similar to Room, this book is disturbing at times and frequently frustrating. I won’t spoil the ending here, but there is hope – which made the journey there even more worth it. Not my favorite book of 2016, but certainly one that is high on my list.

Another success from my Book of the Month Club.  If reading is in your 2017 goals, I highly recommend checking it out!

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

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

img_1029

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: The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

IMG_0857

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!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein

books & wine wednesday IMAGE

You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein

IMG_0809

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (July 12, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Reading Sara Review: In general, I believe we should laugh more, especially when reading books. And in the summer, I like nothing better than a witty book that makes me laugh out loud (even if my husband gets annoyed because he is trying to sleep). Jessi Klein mastered the comedy book writing in You’ll Grow Out of It. Klein is humorous, real, self-deprecating in a non-depressing way, and is someone that I would love to drink a glass (or six) of wine with. I am so glad that I put this high on my Summer Reading Part 2 list this year!

You’ll Grow Out of It is a quick read – another plus for me – she doesn’t just talk about getting famous, or complain the entire time about writing a book (ahem, Amy Poehler), she writes about embarrassing moments, mistakes, and triumphs. This book is part memoir/part compilation of essays. Klein is the head writer for Inside Amy Schumer, and her style translates perfectly to a book.

My favorite part? Klein devotes an entire chapter to Anthropologie. Her accurate description of what happens when you wear a cute dress from Anthropologie happens to me at least once a week. But below is my favorite quote about Anthro.

IMG_0808

“…the store is putting on the primordial pleasure center located deep within some cerebral coil. As soon as I see their faux-old barrel filled with faux-vintage glass doorknobs, or rest my eyes on a sweater with an embroidered kangaroo that has an actual pocket where the kangaroo’s pocket is, I feel a sense of safety and inner peace. I feel prettier and girlier and a little thinner. I feel emotionally at home.”

While the Anthropologie chapter (and the chapter on The Bachelor, also a great one) are less serious, she covers serious issues such as her struggle with infertility, taking risks in her career and serious depression after a break-up. Klein is a remarkable comedian. I truly believe there is something for everyone in this book. If you are in need of a good laugh, pick this one up.

Wine Recommendation: Earlier this summer, I promised to talk about orange wine, which I believe is the next rosé (coming from a rosé lover, this is saying a lot). I first experienced orange wine in Paris, because, where else?

Orange wine is not, in fact, made from oranges. It is real wine, made from grapes. The color looks slightly more like beer, hence the term, orange wine. If you are at a wine store, they may prefer you ask for “skin-fermented wine” which is the official name. Skin-fermented wine is made from white wine grapes, keeping the skin and seeds with the grapes longer to get a unique flavor, more like red wines. And it works!

Not everyone likes orange wine. I thought it tasted sort of like kombucha. I have also heard fruity or like honey. Either way, if you see it on a restaurant menu or in a wine store, give it a try. Because then you can sound hip and cool when it does become the next rosé – you will already be ahead of the curve!

Here is a picture of our orange wine in France, which paired perfectly with oysters!

2015-04-07 19.05.02

Reading Sara Review: Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley

lily-and-the-octopus-9781501126222_hr

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 7, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: You know when you meet someone new, and you immediately know that you will be friends? Lily and the Octopus was like that (yes, a book). I know it sounds weird, but trust me, this book will make you laugh out loud and cry in the same chapter. This is one of those debut novels that surprises everyone, for pet lovers and non-pet lovers, you’ll read through this quickly and feel all the same feels you have when you meet someone new and wonderful.

Lily and the Octopus is about a man (Ted) and his beloved dog, Lily. At the beginning of the book, which is fully narrated by Ted, he discovers a mass on Lily’s head and refers to it as “the octopus.” The remainder of the book delves into Ted’s emotional state, his past, and his relationship with Lily – who is his constant companion. Ted is single, living in LA and working as a freelance writer, as well as going on bad dates where he overanalyzes everything. Lucky for the reader, he can communicate with Lily, so we get an incredible glimpse into this full of life dachshund.

It is sad in all of the right ways, not sobbing your heart out sad, but as a reader, you grow with Ted and come to accept the changes that are happening. As a reader, you fight alongside him and yell at the octopus together. Ted is quirky, compulsive, and sad. Every piece of this story felt so well thought out – from his relationship with his therapist to his relationship with loved ones to his scheduled nights with Lily at home.

I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend. It is read by Michael Urie, who does delightful voices and characters. I’m sure that the humor comes through in the book too – but if you are an audiobook listener, then I recommend checking this one out! I look forward to more from Rowley; this was an excellent start! Glad that it was on my Summer Reading Part 2 List and soon to be added to my Monthly Book Recommendations for August!

Reading Sara Review: A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams

A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams

a certain age

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.