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!

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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 Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

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Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (August 2, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/20

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: I hope that I would have heard of this book without Oprah picking it as her Book Club choice, but it is hard to know. I won’t dwell on it too much – because I am just glad that I had a chance to read this book.

The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave working in a cotton field in Georgia. From the beginning of the novel, Whitehead paints a poignant picture of Cora’s life for the reader. Cora became an outcast when her mother ran away and left her behind. Her most prized possession is a tiny plot of land where she grows her vegetables, and she guards it fiercely.

As predicted by the title, a few things come to pass that lead Cora to decide to flee her life on the plantation and run away with Caesar, a new arrival. Whitehead creates a literal underground railroad in explicit detail – one can imagine the smell, the sights, and the sounds. What follows is an unexpected turn of events for Cora and Caesar as they find kindness from strangers while being chased by a man called Ridgeway, the notorious slave catcher.

This was the first book by Whitehead that I have read, but I would not hesitate to pick up others. I appreciated the style – beautiful sentences, but without any flowery details. It is still a difficult book to read. Cora’s struggle is utterly brutal. Even when people show her some kindness, it usually was with restrictions for fear of their own safety. This book is even more important because of its difficulty.

It’s not a light summery read, but it is perfect to dive into as fall approaches, and I am in the mood for more serious books. Whitehead creates an emotional instability that is rarely seen in books, but often in movies. There were so many times that I thought Cora was in the clear – only for something shocking to occur.There are surprises, both good and terrible, but again, this is an important book (not just because Oprah recommends it). Give it a try.

 

Reading Sara Review: Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford

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Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: NAL (June 14, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: Radio Girls was a quick and delightful read. Set in 1926, Masie begins a job at the BBC, a new radio company that is equally exciting and scary to the people of England. Masie starts as a secretary, and only plans on staying until she meets a suitable husband and gets married. All of that changes as she dives headfirst into this new world of broadcasting. She is thrilled to discover a passion that she didn’t know she previously possessed.

Masie is a good character in this to tell the story. But Hilda Matheson is the show-stealer. She is the sole female in charge of a department (1926, remember), and it is the popular Talks program. Matheson takes Masie under her wing, inviting her to parties with interesting people, encouraging her to dig into controversies and cultivating her passion for journalism. As Masie watches her challenge the formidable Mr. Reith, the director of the BBC, she sees that men like that can be challenged and that women have a voice too.

While Matheson was a real person, who really did revolutionize radio, the rest of the novel is just exciting historical fiction. Stratford kept the story moving with surprises, romance, and the intrigue of the radio as a source of information.

This would make a great ladies book club read because it deals with many of the things women in the workplace still deal with around gender equality.

Women today still have to work harder, fight for what they deserve more than they should. In this novel, Stratford expertly conveys the fear that men held for women having a voice, a vote, or even jobs. This reminds us how far women have come, certainly, but a goo reminder that there is still much work to be done.

I am glad that I read Radio Girls this summer as a part of my Summer Reading Part 2. It was fun, light, but still informative – everything I want with a summer book!.

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!

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: Along the Infinite Sea, by Beatriz Williams

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Book Review: Along the Infinite Sea, by Beatriz Williams

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Hardcover: 464 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (November 3, 2015)

Reading Sara Review: 7.5/10

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Reading Sara Review: Beatriz Williams does not let me down with her summer beach reads. She consistently weaves two stories together and does it with such perfection that I hardly notice when it changes.

Along the Infinite Sea is the third (and final book) in her Schuyler Sisters Series, this one about Pepper. Pepper finds herself in the south, pregnant, alone and being chased by her baby daddy’s employees in the 1960s when she stumbles upon Annabelle Dommerich when selling a car that she recently restored. Annabelle  gives us the second piece of the story: a young woman who falls in love in France on the precipice of World War 2 with a Jewish man and their love saga. Even without the World War 2 historical fiction piece, this is a fun book to read.

Annabelle is a character that I will not soon forget – she is a survivor, a strong female who is capable and inspiring. William’s ability to create love stories is unmatched. This makes her books perfect summer reads. There is a hint of melodrama, a bit of cheese, and a happy ending. Even if you haven’t read the other books in this trio, it’s good as a standalone book. The more you read of her novels, the more fun it is as characters from other books pop in and out of each.

For an interview with the author, head over to Dream by Day blog – one of my favorites! She talks about her latest book, which I cannot wait to read!

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Wine Recommendation: One thing that I find consistent in William’s stories is taking me back to Paris – wishing I was sipping champagne at the Ritz with Annabelle. Even if I can’t do that, I can sip champagne! Sit down on a Saturday with this book and pour yourself a glass of champs. I believe it is a myth that champagne has to be expensive to be good (yes, there are some great expensive ones). Pop your favorite summer fruit into Champagne Montaudon for around $35, close your eyes, and pretend you are in France. Or, even better, thanks to G.P. Putnam and Sons Pinterest board, try out the Ritz Champagne Cocktail!

Ritz Champagne Cocktail

 

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?