Reading Sara Review: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

homegoing

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.”

 

Reading Sara Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

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Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (June 16, 2015)
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

RBG Rating

Reading Sara Review: If you followed my summer reading, then you know I fell in love with the book A Man Called Ove. The book snuck up on me, to be honest. But it has stuck with me months later, which is always a sign of a book that passes the test of time.

I was killing time at an airport recently, browsing the bookstore and came across My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I had already flagged it as a TBR before I realized it was the same author as A Man Called Ove. It felt like a sign and a perfect opportunity for a good book during a long trip.

Backman works his magic writing in this story too. A young girl, Elsa, has a special bond with her grandmother who tells her stories of adventure, teaches her a secret language, and is her hero when she doesn’t quite fit in. To the rest of the world, the grandmother is difficult, ornery, and defiant. In one of the first chapters, they are arrested together – and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t the police officer’s first run-in with Elsa’s grandmother.

When her grandmother falls ill, she sends Elsa on a quest delivering letters to people that she has wronged. The letter delivering takes Elsa on an adventure, discovering things about her grandmother and her neighbors that she never knew.

It’s a touching story, full of surprises and twists – with a lovely creative concept. In the end, the same moral of the importance of community and love rang true as it did in A Man Called Ove. This is certainly another one whose characters will live on in my mind for a long time.

Reading Sara Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part 1 & 2), a play by Jack Thorne

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Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.; Special Rehearsal ed. edition (July 31, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: When I began this blog, I had no idea that I would get to write a review on a Harry Potter story, so this is a big bucket list item for me. I love the magical world that JK Rowling created – it was so fun to watch the characters grow up, to be delighted and surprised as a reader each time a new book came out. I would wait in line at midnight (for the books and the movies), devour the book with little sleep, and usually be inspired to re-read the other books. So, Harry Potter is a passion of mine.

I am getting older, so going to a midnight release party wasn’t on the top of my list for this one, but I did pick it up the following day. I had to finish another book I was reading (Liane Moriarty’s new one – review coming soon!) before I committed. But, once I committed to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I didn’t put it down and finished it easily in an afternoon.

Many people have been surprised about this book release; it has been much quieter than previous Harry Potter-themed stories. It isn’t a novel, but a transcript of the play occurring in London right now that features Harry, 19 years after we last saw him in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is based on an original story written by JK Rowling, with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, but the script for the play (which is what this book is) was written by Jack Thorne.

Now on to the spoiler-ish portion of the review (I won’t give many details, but I will talk about some themes that I thought were interesting, so some may perceive them as spoiler-y. Read at your discretion!)

19 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry is a government employee while Hermione is (obviously) the Minister of Magic. Harry’s youngest son is about to head to Hogwarts – a place that Harry found friendship, solace, and refuge in his childhood. Unfortunately for young Albus, he isn’t quite as excited. The beginning jumps quite a bit – and you can just picture how this would look on stage — full of magical illusions that make the time passing much more interesting than reading on a page. Instead, some of it does not come to life until later. Albus and his best friend Scorpius Malfoy (yep) decide to chase adventure and help right a wrong that Harry influenced in his youth. As we all know, changing the course of history has significant challenges and can be detrimental to the future, which Albus and Scorpius soon find out. Spoiler: Scorpius is the best new character in this book!

What is great about this adventure story is being back in the magical world, watching Harry as a father, and being reminded of the places and characters that have slipped our minds since reading the previous books. Unfortunately, JK Rowling was not the primary author, and there were times that I could tell. I wouldn’t go as far as other reviewers have and say that it felt like fan-fiction, but there were times that it felt too forced or just a little bit off.

The story at the core for me was a wonderful story of friendship and loyalty – something that was always prevalent in Harry Potter books. I was happy that this kept that consistency.

There is a villain, as always, and he who must not be named will always need to be defeated. It was a pleasant afternoon spent reading this book, and I would encourage any Harry Potter fan to read it (or better yet, go to London and see the play – and take me with you!). But if you are new to the Harry Potter world, don’t start with this one.

Reading Sara Review: Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend

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Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Nan A. Talese (May 24, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 6/10 (remember: this is a good rating!) 

my name is lucy barton rating

Reading Sara Review: First of all, isn’t the cover of this book enchanting in and of itself? I would have picked up this book just for the cover, without even knowing what it is about. Luckily, I liked the book too!

At the end of Enchanted Islands, I learned that Frances and Ainslie Conway were real people: a real couple who moved to the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. I love when authors can take real people and utilize their imagination to weave a fascinating story from some basis of history. Amend describes herself as” a novelist first, and a mediocre historian” – which is what makes her novel enticing. She utilizes a piece of history and creates characters that are heartbreaking, selfish, frustrating, and wonderful. And by the way, this is not a spoiler – if I had paid any attention to the book description, I might have known that this was based on Frances Conway’s memoirs and journals. But, as I said, I was captivated by the cover and didn’t need more information!

Enchanted Islands tells the story of Frances Conway, who grew up a poor Jewish immigrant in the Midwest. She forms an unlikely friendship with Rosaline Fisher. Their friendship goes through trials, tribulations, and adventures. But I did not find the real story to be about friendship – I found it to be about Frances. Frances was an independent woman when that was not extremely common. She was trusting, hard-working, and loyal. But we find all of that out later: the book starts at the end – with Rosaline and Frances in a Jewish nursing home, visiting the graves of their loved ones. Frances looks back on her life and decides to tell her story – the real story, and it takes some seriously unexpected turns.

When Frances is given an opportunity to marry Ainslie, a spy, and move to the Galapagos Islands, she says yes. From there, her life becomes full of secrets, half-truths, wonder, and intrigue. Both Rosaline and Ainslie test her trust – and Frances remains stable (though some things take a little longer to forgive than others).

While the entire book is not back-dropped with the colorful scenes of the Galapagos, a lot of it is. And one cannot read this without imagining it there vividly. This feeling took me to a place far away, which is one reason that I love to read.

Could Frances and Ainslie have been spies that shaped our history? We can only hope.

This book was different than many of the books that I enjoy – but in some ways reminded me of others like State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain, or Euphoria, by Lily King. It was good historical fiction, which I adore. Add it to your reading list and be enchanted!

 

Summer Reading (2016 Edition) Part 2

Summer Reading Part 2

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Part of me cannot believe that it is mid-July! But the hot weather keeps reminding me that we are in the middle of summer.

I know that a lot of people read less in the summer because there is so much more going on in their lives. It varies for me – I go through phases where I would much rather binge watch Orange is the New Black than pick up a book. Or I would rather be outside, hiking or biking in the outdoors than laying around reading. Even when those times hit, I always come back to reading and still can devour books over the summer.

Why? It’s my escape. It’s my place to take time out from the terrible things happening in our world (especially these couple of weeks in the United States). It gives me an excuse to either step into history, to learn something new, or cry over characters that I come to think of as friends. And, if I am reading outside (like, by a pool for example), then I am not lazy, right? This is not to say that I want to be passive to the world around me – I want to do the best that I can to leave the world better than when I arrived. And one way that I try to do that is through sharing my love of reading with you. It keeps me going when I get texts, emails, and comments about people enjoying the blog – trust me, it makes all the difference in me wanting to continue writing. So, thank you!

I gave you my Summer Reading List Part 1 earlier this summer. I have been making my way through those six books (honestly, some with more pleasure than others). Full reviews of each of these are coming soon.

Before that happens, I am excited to give you some more great books to wrap up the summer with – and so you can hopefully read with me!

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Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty’s stories are always full of surprise – and make the best summer beach reads. I love the characters and the mystery. I can’t wait for this one to come out at the end of July! Find the review here!

Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley
A man and his best friend, Lily, his dog. I have heard great things about the audiobook – so may check that out! Update – find the review here! This is a great one!

You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein
Jessi Klein is the head writer for Inside Amy Schumer – so I am pretty confident that this will be a laugh out loud while reading at the beach type of book.

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A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams
You know how much I love reading Beatriz Williams in the summer. A few weeks ago, I devoured Along the Infinite Sea, and can’t wait to pick up a new one by her and be transported! Review can be found here

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx
This saga about the logging industry and the ecological impact peaked my interest from the moment that I first heard about it. I’m bound for the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle soon and thinking that being among trees and nature (as well as a long plane ride) might make this the perfect vacation read. Update: tried to read this one, couldn’t get into it after 100 or so pages. Probably not going to finish. 

Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford
I needed more than one historical fiction on my second summer reading list. Set in 1926, at the start of the BBC, a young woman gets a job on the radio. I am looking forward to some history lessons as well as being taken to a different time – the beginning of news.

I’m limiting this list to six books because I am not sure how many I will be able to read just this summer. If none of these peak your interest, other books that are high on my list right now are: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi; Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler; The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay; Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel; The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee; and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu.  I know, it’s a big list – and growing every day with new ones!

Have you read any of these yet? Read with me – let me know what books you love this summer! Is reading your escape too?

Reading Sara Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (May 5, 2015)

Rating: 10/10 (yes, you read that right!) 

Rating for Americas First Daughter

Reading Sara Review: This is the book that I cannot stop talking about to everyone that I talk to about books (which is pretty much everyone I talk to in general). How did I not hear about this sooner? This is the most heartwarming story, a perfect summer paperback that will restore your faith in humanity. It is simple but emotional in all of the right ways.

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. I will be thinking about Ove and his neighbors for years to come.

This is a story about Ove. But it is about community; it is about kindness, and purpose. It made me want to introduce myself to every single neighbor. It made me appreciate love, my family, the incredible community of friends that I have and hold close to my heart.

I can’t tell too much more of the plot without spoiling the fun of it. However, it is a quick read. And I am so glad that it came into my life. I have been texting with my mom for days about it. And now we both want to buy a Saab.

It has already been made into a film in Sweden. I am now on a hunt to find it here in the United States!

Seriously. Stop what you are reading and pick up this book. It filled my soul in a way that reminds me why I love reading.

Some favorite lines:

“Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.”

“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.”

Reading Sara Review: Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman

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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!