International Women’s Day!

Dearest Readers,

I am sorry that I have been on an unexpected hiatus from this blog. I promise that I have been reading, and have more reviews coming soon (A Gentleman in Moscow, When the Moon is Low, Red Queen Series (1-3), Hillbilly Elegy, and Morning Star to name a few that I am behind on writing reviews for!).

But today I want to celebrate something special: International Women’s Day. This day is especially important to me this year as I get ready to bring a little girl into this world in approximately 3 (!!) weeks. So, before I jump back into reviews, I want to highlight three books that I recommend in honor of women around the world.

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

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I reviewed this last year, and am still a fan. I missed seeing her when she came through my city a couple of months ago – which I regret. She has an incredible voice and ability to bring humor and passion to every issue that she writes about. This is a great feminist starter book!

We Should All be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

we should all be feminists

This book takes about 30 minutes to read, so really, no excuse not to read it. Adichie has a classic writing style, and this feminist writing is even more interesting because of her global perspective. A couple of my favorite quotes:
“And this is how we start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently”

“My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”

Rad American Women A-Z, by Kate Schatz

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I actually found this book as part of building a library in the nursery (have to start them early on feminism!). But it is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone. I learned about some amazing women that I had never heard of, as well as reminders about some of the incredible women who broke glass ceilings of their own like Billie Jean King, Carol Burnett, and Sonia Sotomayor. These are women that the history books may have missed, but it is so refreshing to be reminded of them and keep their stories alive for future generations.

There are other incredible books about feminism, or the women’s right’s movement in general (I also highly recommend When Everything Changed), but these are my top recommendations if you are in the market for some feminist reading this season!

In closing, I am so grateful for those that came before me and fought for women’s rights. And I promise to continue that fight – for my daughter and the daughters that follow. We owe it to future generations to leave the world better than we found it. And through equal opportunities for all women, I believe that a real difference can be made.

And again, I hope to have more reviews soon – thank you for your patience as I get through my final weeks of pregnancy (and trying to stay awake past 9pm!).

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Reading Sara Review: American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Paperback: 568 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; First Printing edition (February 10, 2009)
Reading Sara Review: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: Ok, I know I am super late to the party on this book. It has been on my radar, but I just hadn’t had a good opportunity to read it. I was pushed over the edge to pick it up based on one of those “40 books you should read before you are 40” lists (luckily, I am a few years away from 40…but still wanted to dive in!).

American Wife deservedly was on that list, and I am glad that I finally read it. It wasn’t the best book I have read in my lifetime or even in the past couple of months, but I enjoyed it. It was a quick book (would make an excellent beach vacation read), with an easy story line to dive into and become invested with.

If you are unaware, American Wife is loosely based on Laura Bush’s story. It is certainly fictionalized, and has some significant discrepancies – it is based in Wisconsin, not Texas – but a lot of what Sittenfeld wrote was from Laura’s history. Whether it was based on the former First Lady or not, it would still be an excellent story – a human story that gives empathy to the characters and is interesting and told in a smart way.

But, because it is based on a former First Lady, the empathy goes deeper. I certainly felt for her in the times that she struggled with her marriage, with the choices that her husband was making for the country, with her decisions as a woman. This book provided me with more compassion for Mrs. Bush and her family. It is such a good reminder that we don’t know these people who live in the spotlight, we make assumptions about them, their lives and their choices – but especially for politicians, they walk a fine line. And this is a woman who loved her husband, even if she disagreed with his politics from the beginning. It gives more context to the complications of love and politics.

My primary problem with the book was the ending. I felt like the beginning was strong, had great detail and was extremely interesting. But it seemed to just start skimming the end of their lives – when things were getting interesting with her husband as Governor and then President. I wished that more of that storyline was explored rather than jumping so much and ending rather abruptly. It did not ruin the book for me, but I felt like it could have gone deeper.

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 Holiday Gift Guide!

Holiday Books for Everyone on Your List!

So you still have some people to check off your gift list? If you are like me, the holidays snuck up this year. Why not share the love of reading with your friends and family this year? You can probably still order from Amazon Prime, or better yet, head over to your local bookstore and pick up a heartfelt gift that they will be sure to enjoy long after the wrapping paper is thrown out!

See below for recommendations for everyone on your list! Psst… for more ideas you can check out my 2015 Holiday Book Gift Guide!

For Your Mom

If her New Year’s Resolution is to cook more and be healthier, I highly recommend a Healthy Dish of the Day Cookbook by Williams-Sonoma. This is one that I use regularly. They divide it seasonally and by calendar so you are always cooking with seasonal ingredients. They also have a Healthy Soup of the Day, Healthy Vegetable of the Day, or Healthy Salad of the Day options. You can’t go wrong!

healthy-dish-of-the-day

 

For Your Dad

Let him relive his glory days with Bruce Springsteen’s new book Born to Run.

born-to-run

For your Sister

You’ll Grow Out of It was one of the funniest books that I read this past year. Jessi Klein is a writer on Inside Amy Schumer. She perfectly demonstrates self-deprecating humor in a non-depressing way.

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For your Best Friend

Homegoing was my favorite book that I read in 2016. If I could afford it, I would buy copies for everyone that I know. It is an important piece of our history that everyone should understand. Your best friend will love it too.

homegoing

For your Neice/Nephew

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated. You may just want to pick up a copy for yourself too because it is so beautiful! Bonus: because the books are coming out each year, you can put Book 3 on your list to give to them next holiday season!
harry-potter-illustrated

 

For anyone who is still pretty upset about the election and really nervous about January 20…

Disclaimer: I haven’t read either of these yet, but they are both high on my upcoming list because of people I trust who have recommended them:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance

hillbilly-elegy

And

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, by Thomas Frank

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And…for yourself, because…why not?!

Just a few of my other favorite reads this year, but really, I just recommend picking up something that you will enjoy!

Girl at War
A Short Guide to a Happy Life
A Man Called Ove
The Wonder (review coming soon!)
America’s First Daughter

Happy Holidays to you and yours! I look forward to more reviews and more wonderful reading together in 2017!

Reading Sara Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

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Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 3, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: This book had been on my radar for months, but finally picked it up around Thanksgiving weekend. I have been wondering if I will tire of World War 2 historical fiction, which is probably why I delayed reading this – even though I had heard great things. Well, readers, I haven’t tired of it yet!

Cleaves does a great job of creating a unique story (unique in that I hadn’t read anything similar before, and I read quite a bit of World War 2 historical fiction) that shows a dark side of the mental impact that the war had on civilians and soldiers alike.

Primarily based in London, this is a story of four people that are impacted in various ways by the war – but their lives weave in and out with each other – and we are able to see the imbalance that the war places each of them in. Mary North is our primary protagonist, from a wealthy family, she eagerly wants to help with the war effort. She is placed by the war office as a teacher, but when the majority of students are sent to the country, she has to discover a different path than expected. Mary is extremely forward thinking for her time, is beautiful, and seemed to float through life prior to the war. As her exposure personally and physically to the violence increases, she is seen to truly struggle for the first time in her life.

The other three characters circle around Mary. Tom, an education administrator, who Mary begins an intense relationship with after meeting him through work is an idealist who believes the war will be over quickly – until it isn’t. Tom’s best friend is Alistar, who enlists immediately and gives the reader insight into the unbelievably dark times on the front lines. And then there is Hilda, Mary’s best friend. At first, Hilda seems like the sidekick, but her desire for helping others shifts quickly, and her devotion to Mary is deeper than the men that come through their lives.

This book has it all, love-triangles, death, near-death, drugs, and scandal. As I was getting closer to the end, I kept wondering how Cleaves was going to wrap it up – there was no way it would end happily. And it didn’t. But it ended as it should have, leaving the reader to wonder how these individuals turned out with their internal and external scars so visible at the end.

It is an extremely different take on World War 2 historical fiction than some of the other great ones that have come out the past few years (All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Lilac Girls to name a few), but it was really moving. The characters and their battles will stick with me for awhile.

Reading Sara Review: The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

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Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books (October 11, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: I was nervous about reading The Mothers because of the incredible buzz it has received lately – and I am often disappointed by those books. This one was a great exception to that! I loved it.

The Mothers is a debut novel by Bennett, but her writing style is that of an old soul. I look forward to reading many more books by her in the future.

The book follows Nadia Turner, who grows up within a contemporary black community in Southern California. The characters all revolve around the church, the Upper Room, where their secrets reside. Nadia is dealt a tough hand and has to make impossible decisions for her future and ambitions. The summer before she leaves for college her mother commits suicide, and Nadia starts sleeping with the pastor’s son, an older boy who had his own ambitions shattered years ago. What happens between them lasts their entire lives and impacts those around them and within the community more than expected. Luke, the pastor’s son, is as much of a lead character as Nadia.

What I loved about The Mothers was the “what if” question – their lives are defined by a couple of decisions, a couple of secrets, but what if those did not exist? Would that have made life simpler? Or harder?

Another thing to love about this book is that it deals with some incredibly dark issues, but it does so in a real and moving way. The way that Nadia deals with grief is heartbreaking but completely realistic. Her mother’s suicide is never completely dealt with, not talked about with anyone in a healing way. This impacts her forever. This grief affects her friendships, relationships, and ultimately hurts the two most significant people she has in her life. Because Nadia is smart and pretty, she floats through without her grief on the outside. This is so unbelievably common for girls and women.

Nadia is loveable and hateable at the same time. Luke is confusing, frustrating and wonderful. This book, though, it is consistently great.

And this was another Book of the Month Club pick – again, I highly recommend. Not sure what I am talking about? Check out my blog post on Book of the Month Club!