Reading Sara Review: Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

Dear Blog Followers, thank you for your patience as I took a hiatus from blogging as I welcomed a daughter into the world in March. I found that I had plenty of time for reading, but not quite enough time for writing on the blog. I hope now that I am in a routine that I can get back to telling you all about the great (and not as great) books that I have been reading this summer! But keep in mind, I’ll still be slow going on getting reviews up – but will do it when I can!

 

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

exit west

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition first Printing edition (March 7, 2017)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

 

Reading Sara Review: Exit West is a little weird, but I liked it because it was an unexpected love story that had me intrigued from the beginning. When Nadia and Saeed meet, their city is on the brink of civil war. Because of the uncertainty, or perhaps despite it, their relationship and affection grow for each other, and they begin their love affair. I love this quote from the beginning of the book on how they meet, even during the uncertain times.

“It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.” 

As their city becomes increasingly unsafe, they decide to take a chance and walk through a door into a new life. Their story continues with unexpected trials, pursuits, and love. While this particular story is about Nadia and Saeed as migrants, it demonstrates the challenges for all migrants – and our changing world as cultures collide, and people move from the land of their ancestors to find a safe life.

These types of stories always beg the question for me: could I do this? Could I survive with the clothes on my back, unsure of where I was going to sleep most nights, or where my next meal would come from? I’m not sure – but this reminds me that there are people who feel that way tonight, people that are trying to make a home for themselves away from their families and the land that they have known, because of safety. And how can we be compassionate to these migrants? How can we help people feel safe in a place that they do not know? I believe that there are many ways that we can show compassion to refugees and help them.

“and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” –Mohsin Hamid in Exit West

Hamid writes beautifully, and I thought that this story was captivating, surprising, and lovely.

 

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Reading Sara Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach

the-invisible-life

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (August 9, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 5/10

Eligible Rating

Reading Sara Review: The best part of The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko for me is that it is a completely unique book for me to read (so, a bit selfish, yes). If you have been following the blog, you know that I like to read a variety of books including young adult, fantasy, mystery, but mostly fiction (and historical fiction being my favorite). Even though this is fiction, I don’t know exactly how to categorize this one. I have heard references to it being somewhere in between The Fault in Our Stars and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The book is a diary of sorts, written by Ivan Isaenko, a seventeen-year-old who has spent his entire life at Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus because he was born with severe disabilities due to the Chernobyl disaster. His life is pretty simple, until a beautiful dying girl named Polina arrives at the Mazyr Hospital and changes everything.

Their story is sweet and complicated but gives life and meaning to Ivan.

I have read a lot of complaints about how the children with disabilities are depicted in this book, and many recommendations that if you have someone you love with cognitive disabilities that you will hate this book. I don’t think that Stambach glamorizes the facility in any way. I don’t think that he provides much sympathy either. The story is really about Ivan, who only has physical disabilities. His mind is sharp, clear, and brilliant. This is his story of falling in love.

I know that this review was pretty “meh” which is honestly how I felt about the book. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate. It took me awhile to get through it because it was not particular fast-paced. A lot of people read it and loved it, so you might too!

Reading Sara Review: The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star,  by Nicola Yoon

the-sun-is-also-a-star

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press (November 1, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 4/10

fates and furies rating

 

Reading Sara Review: I wanted to like this book, I really did. I thought Everything Everything was creative and beautiful. And there were sparks of that beauty in The Sun is Also a Star, but not enough to help me love it.

In this novel, Yoon follows Natasha and Daniel, teenagers whose lives are in the midst of change and challenge who have a chance meeting in New York City one day. We get both of their perspectives, we get their backstories, and we get to watch them fall in love as only teenagers can.

A lot of other people loved this book, and it has been on many “best of 2016” books. For me, it fell short of that. It was better than books like Eleanor & Park (which I tried to read years ago and couldn’t even finish), but as far as young adult love stories go, I think there are better ones out there.

My favorite parts of the book were the chapters in between the story that creatively told a piece that was missing – sometimes it was another character’s story, sometimes it was a scientific perspective on a topic that was brought it. It created a uniqueness that I haven’t seen in many other books and enjoyed it. But, if you are trying to make your way through 2016’s best books – I think you can skip this one.

Reading Sara Review: Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty

truly madly guiltyHardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books (July 26, 2016)
Reading Sara Review: 5/10

Eligible Rating

Reading Sara Review: Moriarty has a rhythm for her books, and Truly Madly Guity was consistent with previous ones: a mystery that unravels through the story, this time from multiple viewpoints. When the book begins, we know that something terrible happened at a BBQ that impacted a group of friends and their kids.  The story is told going back and forth to the present and the day of the BBQ. Unfortunately, unlike many of her other books, this one fell short of the intriguing puzzle for me. I finished it, because as usual, I still want to know what happened. Some pieces felt predictable, some were just confusing, and then when the mystery is finally revealed to the reader, it is fairly anti-climactic. I will probably say this multiple times, but this book was SLOW. The sections that go back to the day of the BBQ give excruciating detail of the BBQ. It was to the point that I wanted something bad to happen, just so that it would get interesting.

There was a slowness to this one that I hadn’t felt in other Moriarty books. It could have been that the characters were not all that impressive. It was not that they weren’t relatable, they just didn’t have anything particularly special or compelling that drew me into their world and emotions.

The only good thing, for the reader, you don’t have to wait until the end of the book to learn what happened at this suburban BBQ. It comes somewhere in the middle, and I will give the book credit in that I continued to read it even after pieces were revealed.

This book was on my Summer Reading Part 2 list, and while I don’t exactly regret reading it, I also can’t highly recommend it. At a minimum, wait until it is in paperback or get it from the library!

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.

 

Reading Sara Review: Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub

modern lovers

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Riverhead Books (May 31, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: I went through different phases of reading this where I liked it, and then moments where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish. The good news: I enjoyed it at the end!

Modern Lovers does what Straub does best: tells stories (that are a little depressing) about marriages and families that are relatable. Zoe and Elizabeth have been best friends since college, former bandmates and now neighbors in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood. There were some classic stereotypes of the characters which was a downside for me – the hip Brooklyn lesbian couple that runs a restaurant and has an uncontrollable eighteen-year-old daughter and the picture-perfect hetero couple with the son who makes no mistakes. However, Straub gave them each their battles to fight and to figure out and had some surprises up her sleeve (some super predictable, others not so much).

What I enjoyed about this read was that at the heart of it, it is about love. And why love is complicated – especially when friendship, secrets, and unfulfilled emotions are at stake. Straub expertly weaves a story of all of these things, giving the characters ups and downs, mistakes, and in some cases reconciliation.

This was my third book from my summer 2016 reading list, and the best so far, but still not my favorite book of the summer. If you have read The Vacationers, or Straub’s other works and enjoyed them, add this to your list this summer (or when it comes out in paperback). Happy reading, my friends!

 

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

fates and furies rating

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!