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!

 

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Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh

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Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley (May 3, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: For me, a good crime/mystery book can be rated on whether or not it is predictable. I Let You Go gets a good rating because it was full of twists and surprises. I picked this one up because every once in a while I like a mystery. The Woman in Cabin 10 fed that need for awhile, but with the Halloween season upon us, I thought this would be a good one too. If you didn’t see it, I had a special Halloween post for recommendations on some good mysteries!

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray who moves to a remote coastal town to escape after a tragic accident. As she starts to rebuild her life, the secrets of her past come to haunt her. On the other side is Ray and Kate, the detectives trying to uncover the mystery of driver who killed a young boy. It is a story of two sides: people trying to escape the horror of that day and people trying to bring closure to the tragedy.

This book isn’t what you expect. It took it awhile to get to the first (of many) surprises. But when it did, I was completely shocked. The following surprises are not quite as dramatic, but they do unravel an interesting story and a great mystery. I found myself sympathizing with characters that I did not think I could, and terrified of others. Any writer who can make the reader feel strong emotions about the characters should definitely keep writing.

Mackintosh spent 12 years in the police force, so this book feels more realistic than other mysteries that I have read. While the story is fiction, she draws on some of the cases that she experienced.

Wine Recommendation: Read this one on a cold weekend and pour yourself a glass of strong red wine. It’s the perfect fall mystery. I recommend a Cabernet Franc, which you can get at pretty much any price range. There are some really great ones that come out of California, but as usual, I like the Loire Valley blends the best. They are fruity, but with a little kick – which makes it a great transition wine into fall. Look for a Loire Valley one from the Chinon region that is about 5-10 years old, that will make it smoky and drinkable immediately. Tell me when you find one that you love!

Reading Sara Review: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

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Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (June 7, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 9/10

Girl at War Rating

Reading Sara Review: Well, it might have happened. I might have read my favorite book so far this year! Homegoing is incredible not just because of the stories that it tells, but the unique way that it tells the stories. I simply did not want to stop reading.

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.

The remarkable research that this book must have taken to follow the several decades (I think it spans 250 years!) of these people’s lives astounds me. The threads that connect everyone are beautifully sewn. No one’s lineage is without terrible circumstances. But each choice that someone makes follows them to the next generation, and then the next.

There were times I wished I could learn more about individuals, rather than just one chapter. As a reader, you are left wondering how some things ended up – only sometimes getting a real answer. The benefit of this is that as a reader, you never tire of a character. I would prefer to be left wondering than be bored. This book is short but powerful.

I cannot believe that this is her debut novel. I am confident that Yaa Gyasi will continue to amaze readers for decades to come. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Even though it is fiction, it is rooted in our histories and is the type of book we should all be reading and learning about our negative history here in the United States.

A few memorable quotes:

“Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future. And if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.”

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?, Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

“This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on.”

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer

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The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer

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Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books; 1 edition (August 16, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: Amy Schumer’s book was the perfect transition from summer into fall. She is hilariously self-deprecating in a non-depressing way but also tackles more serious topics such as gun control and rape. Every time that I read a book that makes me laugh out loud I am reminded how important it is to laugh – laugh at books, laugh with friends and laugh at ourselves. I feel like I say that after every funny book that I review. Perhaps it is just a good reminder that I need to read more funny books!

My favorite parts of the book by far were the excerpts from her teenage journals, which she added her current-day commentary. I love that she exposes herself in this way and is not afraid of where she began. I am horrified by my teenage journals, but it is a good reminder that we all had to start somewhere! And perhaps even if my journals are filled with junk and boy-craziness, it formed my love of writing, which is far more long term than anything I wrote.

What I took away from the book was the Amy Schumer works hard. She did not get to this fame without some falls, and she receives her fair share of criticism. I am sure that as readers we should take what famous people say in their books lightly (because it isn’t like we know them personally), but I thought her section about becoming famous and the money that came with that was fascinating. She sounds generous, appreciative of what she has received and continues to be silly. I love that.

Schumer’s book is not for the faint of heart. Some parts are graphic, and she is not afraid of her sexuality. I probably would not have recommended this book to my grandmother, but if you have seen Schumer’s comedy, you should know what to expect from this book. And I think you’ll love it if you usually laugh at her show.

Wine Recommendation: In Amy’s book, she outlines plans for her funeral (honestly, it sounds like a good party). She makes it quite clear what wine should be served. So when you pick up this book, I recommend picking up a bottle of one of Amy’s favorites!

White Option: Rombauer Chardonnay, which you can purchase for about $36 a bottle, and she describes as “oaky as shit!” So, if you like your Chardonnays to taste like your popcorn, you’ll love this one.You can take a look at the wine here.

Red Option: Opus One Cabernet, which comes with a hefty price tag. So you may want to plan a nice dinner around this bottle and not just sip it while reading. You can view purchasing options here.

 

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!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

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Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling

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Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: Crown Archetype; First Edition edition (September 15, 2015)

Reading Sara Review: Reading Why Not Me? was sort of like hanging out with a best friend in your pajamas watching re-runs, telling funny dating stories and laughing. It felt like the perfect Book & Wine Wednesday post because of this – though if you are an introvert like me, reading it on a Friday night with your drink to unwind from your week might be preferable.

This book is primarily made of essays that sometimes go together, and sometimes have nothing to do with each other, except that they are snippets into Mindy’s life. Whether she is telling the story of a 4-month friendship with a popular LA girl, her dating mishaps, or her encounters with President Obama, Mindy is continuously a sharp-witted, real and great writer. This book is a quick read, not in the Gone Girl page-turner sense, but the stories are fun and the writing smooth. It would be a great book for a longer flight or a Friday night in (which is how I chose to read it recently!). This book was on my fall TRB list, and I’m glad that I finally read it.

Mindy Kaling is one hard working woman. I cannot believe that she had time to write this book while writing and starring in her television show “The Mindy Project.” I assume that she was already writing this when Fox canceled her show and she transitioned it to Hulu, so that makes it even more impressive that it was finished. It is clear that she loves to write, gets energy from making people laugh and has fun telling her stories. She jokes about how often she hears that people want to be her friend/best friend and that she doesn’t understand why. I understand why. I want to be her friend too. She sounds fun, she appears down-to-earth even though she has been hugely successful (her bit about how excited she was that Malia Obama had read her first book was adorable). She is very much the everygirl’s girl. And who doesn’t want a friend like that?

If you are a Mindy Kaling fan, you have probably already read this book. If you haven’t heard of Mindy yet, I recommend her book for a light-hearted read – I promise, you too will be impressed by how hard-working she is. She deserves the accolades and the recognition because she has earned it.

Wine Recommendation: Well, it’s winter here in Colorado, so I thought I would bring you a wine mixed with something else for a fun holiday cocktail – no matter what holiday you might be celebrating or avoiding. I like a Ginger Sparkler this time of year – bubbly but sort of makes you feel healthy with ginger…sort of. You might be thinking that this is a bit fancy for a Wednesday night – well, I truly believe that any occasion can be special, even if you are drinking by yourself reading. Why not make it classy?

Ginger Sparkler, based off of a recipe from, with a few Reading Sara Additions

2 teaspoons grated peeled ginger

½ cup of sugar

1 bottle dry, sparkling wine

½ cup of Domain de Canton

Citrus Fruit for Garnish (I like grapefruit this time of year, but feel free to experiment!)

  1. In a saucepan, boil the ginger, sugar and ¼ cup of water to make syrup. Pour through a sieve and discard solid bits.
  2. In a large jar, mix sparkling wine, Domaine de Canton and juice of fruit garnish
  3. Pour about a tablespoon of syrup into glasses, top with sparkling wine mixer
  4. Add the fruit garnish and serve!

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson

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Rating: 4/5

Hardcover: 352 pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books (September 22, 2015)

Furiously Happy was on my Fall TRB list – which I did not get too far into, but so happy that I at least got to this one before the snow began falling here in Colorado! I can’t imagine another author who could write a book so intensely personal, about her own mental health issues, and still make it funny, relatable and good. Seriously, only Jenny Lawson can do this. For those who have not heard of her, she is The Bloggess, and I highly recommend checking it out on when you need to chuckle.  I actually learned of Jenny Lawson through her first book, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened and instantly became a fan of hers.

The things that happen to her in everyday life are things that happen to most of us – but she tells them in such a funny way, and has an eye for detail that I love, as well as just simply viewing things with an eye of someone who suffers from social anxiety – so an awkward moment for me is 10x funnier when it happens to her. This book focuses on a serious issue in our world today that isn’t often spoken about: mental health. And not only does she make her story personal, but she calls to fellow comrades who suffer from all forms of mental health issues – mild to extremely seriously – and provides an outlet of hope and assurance, and perhaps equally importantly, laughter.

Her quick tidbits about dressing up the cat and forcing him to play with her taxidermy animals were hilarious. I wish that I could be as creative in planning little pranks to pull on my husband involving taxidermy animals (I would, obviously first need to own taxidermy animals, which I don’t because they absolutely creep me out).

Her second book is not as funny as the first, I still laughed out loud – and found that I could not keep reading at night for fear of waking my husband up with my snickering. It felt shorter and a little more scattered around different stories than the first. And it was more serious, which was ok because of the serious topic she covers.

For readers who enjoy Tina Fey’s or Mindy Kaling’s writing, this is a great book to pick up when you need a good laugh and reminder that the weird things that we all do, really aren’t that weird. And even if they are, it is absolutely ok to be a little weird.