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: A Court of Thorns and Roses AND A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas
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a-court-of-mist-and-fury

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: I am combining these books because they are the first two in the series (third one coming out in 2017). Like most series, I actually hate it when I can’t just keep reading them – so perhaps should have waited until the third book to begin. Oh well, too late now.

I picked this one up on a whim over a holiday weekend because I had been hearing a lot about it and the second book won the Best Young Adult Fantasy Book on the Goodreads Readers Choice Awards for 2016. I hadn’t read much fantasy this year and thought it would be a fun way to wrap it up. I realize that I am posting this in 2017 – but I finished both books in 2016.

Let me start with: this did not feel like a young adult book to me! Both of these had some pretty darn steamy scenes, so I’m not sure how these books get categorized, but just a warning!

A Court of Thorns and Roses is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairytales. I thought it was creative, fun, and brought my imagination to life. Our heroine, Feyre, kills a wolf in the forest as she is hunting to feed her family. A beast-like creature arrives demanding her life for the life of the wolf, so she is sent to live with him across the wall (parts of this series felt like they were “borrowing” a bit from Game of Thrones, but I’ll let that slide). The beast-creature turns out to be an immortal faerie, who humans were taught to be afraid of. And lucky for Feyre he is a handsome and rich faerie named Tamlin. Tamlin and his people are under a curse, which is revealed throughout the storyline. Her hatred and fear toward the faeries subsides and by the end, she is willing to do anything to save their kind – but especially to save Tamlin from ruin.

There is action, adventure, romance, fighting, a badass female heroine -it has a lot of great pieces for a fantasy story. I definitely enjoyed it.

So, I jumped right into the second because it was a quick read (and I read like I watch movies – I want to know the ending!). It is going to be hard to review the second without any spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk (if you never plan on reading these, it shouldn’t be a problem and perhaps you already stopped reading!).

A Court of Mist and Fury picks up about three months after Feyre has broken the curse on the faerie lands. She is struggling with the guilt of what she had to do, who she had to become, and her new self. Tamlin, unfortunately, is not a calming presence during this time and instead is confining and protecting her rather than letting her breathe and heal. So, lucky for Feyre, she made a deal with the handsome Rhys while Under the Mountain that obligates her to a week with him each month. With Rhys and Tamlin being enemies, this complicates matters in her relationship with both of them.

So, Rhys is dreamy and wonderful – and we quickly discover that he isn’t who everyone thinks that he is. He has wonderful friends and truly helps Feyre heal and learn who she can be with her new powers. My biggest complaint is that it sort of felt like we were supposed to get invested in Feyre and Tamlin in the first book, and then all of sudden hate Tamlin and move on to someone else. The love of Feyre and Rhys was done well, through a deep friendship and connection rather than a classic love triangle, but I still had a difficult time getting on board. I wish that more had been set up in the first book so that I was better prepared. But, by the end, it is impossible not to be on team Rhys.

Beyond the love and friendship, truly why this book was good (and I believe why it got the hype on Goodreads and other outlets) was that Feyre becomes even more badass. She is the female heroine that readers want her to be. She defends herself, her people, her friends and doesn’t rely on a man’s power. She figures out what she believes in, what her destiny is, and follows her heart. In the beginning of the book she is so broken, but Maas does an incredible job of growing the character and letting us see into her mind and soul as she heals. With her flaws, she is an incredibly real character.

I heard rumors of a movie deal for this series – it would be so fun to watch this come alive and see the characters and places of Maas’s imagination (even if they do continue stealing things from GOT, I am ok with that because GOT is awesome). So, if you are in the market for some fantasy (I really don’t know that it is young adult appropriate!), pick this series up. It’s a good one.

 

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

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach

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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: 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.

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

The Sun is Also a Star,  by Nicola Yoon

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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: 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 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.