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

rad women a-z

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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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

listen-liberal

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 on Gratitude (and a book recommendation!)

I know it has been awhile, readers. I have been reading quite a bit – perhaps so much so that I have not had as much time to write about what I am reading. In the coming weeks look forward to reviews on Everything Brave is Forgiven, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, The Mothers, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko and The Wonder (see?! Lots of reading!)

With the passing of Thanksgiving, I have felt myself thinking a lot about gratitude and how lucky I am to be where I am today in this life. I am healthy, have an incredible circle of family and friends, I enjoy what I do for a living, and I am able to read frequently. Terrible things happen every day. Many people are living in fear right now here in the United States after the Presidential election. I am reminded how lucky I am. I have a warm home, a comfortable bed, and many blessing to count. There is a lot wrong with our world, and I want to work every day to protect those causes that I care most about. But right now, at this time of Thanksgiving and as we near the holiday season, I am simply grateful.

An excellent book to read if you are feeling grateful, or perhaps, ungrateful and need a dose of happiness is Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life. It is short, I promise. But it is full of beautiful musings written with the empathy and compassion that Quindlen possesses so naturally.

Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (October 31, 2000)

No official rating on this one because it is so short, but I highly recommend it. After reading it, pass it along to a friend or make it a holiday gift. Here are some favorite bits of wisdom that I took away from it:

“I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.”

“All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.”

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.”

“But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at your desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”

 

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Losing the Light, by Andrea Dunlop

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Welcome to Books & Wine Wednesdays!
A special Wednesday feature with a book review & wine recommendations! 

Losing the Light, by Andrea Dunlop

Losing the Light

 

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Washington Square Press (February 23, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10 (even better with a glass of wine!) 

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: This book was created for 20-something and 30-something lady book clubs. Here’s what we know happens at the start of the story: a college student travels to France, she falls in love with a dashing Frenchman, and something terrible goes down between her and her best friend somewhere between then and now, likely a twisted love triangle. It is delicious. And you (and your book club) will devour it quickly.

The book starts with the protagonist, Brooke, a 30-something living in New York City, getting ready to move in with her fiancé. A person from her past pops up unexpectedly, which, lucky for us readers, leads her down memory lane to her time studying abroad in France.

The end of the book is full of emotion, surprises, and a dash of mystery. It is a light read that made me want to go back to France (not for the love triangle drama, but just to drink wine and eat dark chocolate).

What I liked about the book: Brooke and Sophie were classic college friends who have an intense friendship solidified by an intense experience of studying abroad together. While Brooke was running away from something, Sophie was adventurous and daring. Together, they found someone they could confide in, laugh with, all while drinking wine and practicing their French. I liked that Sophie is a bit misunderstood. I would have loved seeing the story from her viewpoint, or even parts of the story. Brooke, however, was a relatable character. She was figuring out who she is and who she wants to be. She was self-conscious and aware.

There was a lack of character development of Alex, who is at the center of the love triangle that unfolds, which left me needing more. It felt clear to me from the beginning that he was sleazy and not trustworthy. And perhaps this is my 30-something viewpoint, which is quite different than my 20-something perspective, but I wanted Brooke and Sophie to choose friendship over a man – I wanted to watch them grow and develop into themselves while on this incredible opportunity. I wanted Brooke to write a novella and Sophie to sell her paintings – none of which happened because there was way too much drama for any of that to unfold.

The drama is fun, and the love triangle reveals itself in an interesting way. This is one of the books that you can tell something terrible is going to happen eventually – and you turn the pages waiting for the other shoe to drop. The best surprise, though? After the shoe drops, there is more to look forward to as a mystery continues to unravel.

The book is sexy, intense, and fun. Not serious literature here, folks, but an excellent choice for your next beach read!

Wine Recommendation: Brooke and Sophie study abroad in Nantes, France – which lucky for us wine lovers is near the Loire Valley.

Within the Loire Valley, the area near Nantes is mostly known for Muscadet wine, a light white wine that is often recommended with fish. Again, perfect for sipping by the beach with this book! They are usually going to be crisp with some slight floral tones. As usual with white wines, do not serve it too cold! The flavor will be enhanced more as it warms. If you do not believe me, I’ll let the New York Times tell you a bit more about Muscadet.

Muscadet has a bit of a bad rep for being a “cheap” wine. Here’s the thing: cheap wine can be good. I find that a $15 bottle of wine that is excellent fills me with more pride than buying a $80 bottle that better be good for that price. Just saying.

You can find a variety of Muscadet wines for under $20. Look for a 2011 or 2012 vintage and you will be all set!

 

Reading Sara’s Favorite Love Stories

In honor of St. Valentine and this day of love that we celebrate every year on February 14, I have a love-themed post today. For those of us book lovers, we know that chocolate and roses are great (seriously, who would turn those down?), but we also appreciate some alone time to curl up with a book and get lost in the story. So, here are ten of my favorite love story related books, in no particular order. What are your favorites? Share with me!

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1. What best love story list would be complete without the ultimate love story? Pride and Prejudice, a Jane Austen classic (and not the only Austen book on my list today) is the original romance story with a happy ending (looking at your, Shakespeare). It is the base for almost every chick-flick movie – girl meets boy. Girl hates boy. The girl likes some other guy. Other guy turns out to be bad. The original guy turns out to be great (and super rich, and lives in a castle). Girl and guy realize that they do not hate each other and love each other. The end. Though Pride and Prejudice is so much better than that description that I just gave. Read it. And watch the BBC movie – so much love to celebrate.

2. Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes, is a modern day love story that will make you laugh and cry. When I finished this book, I read it again right away because I did not want to lose the characters from my life. Moyes is a brilliant storyteller. And, the movie comes out in June – so pick up the book first!

3. If you have not read A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, it’s a perfect beach read that you will fly through – but one that you will still love and remember. It’s 1938 and socialites are vacationing in Rhode Island. Ex-boyfriends, ex-lovers, secrets and gossip all play out in a marvelous love story.

4. I have not read this book in a long time, and it is a remarkable book in many ways, but the star-crossed lovers story is what helped it get on this list. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of the most creative books, full of magic, mystery, and suspense that I have read in the past decade. Celia and Marco are illusionists, a part of a mysterious circus that pops up across the world unannounced. When the competition becomes deadly, they need to fight for their love against all odds…The Time Traveler’s Wife by

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is on almost every best romance list, and I will not disagree. It is a story about a love that conquers time, beats the challenges and is really, really hard – but worth it.

6.      Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is a serious love story – time traveling included. I do not know if I have written about my Outlander love on the blog yet, but either way, it is a great addition to your guilty-pleasure book list. And after you read it, I highly recommend getting together with a friend and watching the Starz show with a bottle (or two) of rose.

7.      Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is so wonderful and full of love. I remember reading it and it being such an unexpected surprise. Not only are most wonderful romances set in England, but this one is about second chances and love after loss of life. Just thinking about this book makes me want to re-read it!

8.      The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, is a light-hearted and fun love story. There is a short review of it posted here. It is predictable but cute and easy to appreciate. Especially for fans of the Big Bang Theory – you will enjoy this quirky love story.

9.      Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, is a trilogy, definitely meant for young adults – and I am not ashamed to say that I found it so sweet. The story is about Miri, who lives in a small town in great kingdom where the prince will choose his bride from – which means that all girls of a certain age must attend an Academy to learn how to be ‘proper ladies.’ I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you that it is much more creative than the description will lead you to believe – and not nearly as certain (only parts). It’s a love story between friends, family and first loves – and it’s a quick fun book.

10.  Emma by Jane Austen is my final love-story related book that I recommend. Emma is full of charm, wit and delight. It is impossible for any girl not to fall in love with this story. It is absolutely my favorite Austen title, which is a difficult decision for an Austen-fan like me! After you read it, curl up with a loved one and re-watch Clueless!