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.

 

Summer Reading (2016 Edition) Part 2

Summer Reading Part 2

poolside pic

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.

Part 2 Collage

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?

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

books & wine wednesday IMAGE

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 Review: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

America’s First Daughter
by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Americas First Daughter

Paperback: 624 pages

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 1, 2016)

Review: 9.5/10 (clearly I loved it!)

Rating for Americas First Daughter

Reading Sara Review: This is a hard review to write because I loved this book. From the beginning, this book enthralled me by the brilliant storytelling, the incredible weaving of time and place through letters, and certainly most of all with Patsy Jefferson.

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.

If you are a fan of academic history, this is probably not the book for you. The authors take liberties and guesses at some of the friendships, romances, and scandals and create a story that is fascinating to follow. Maybe all of these things did not happen, in fact, they probably did not. But, some of the important things did happen, and the other things help the story along the way (and making reading it fun!).

Patsy is certainly the heroine in this book – stepping up to be “First Daughter” when there is a need for a “First Lady” by the President Jefferson’s side, making sacrifices for her family her entire life, and being a strong woman in a man’s world. A major theme in the book is sacrifice. Jefferson certainly sacrificed much to his life as a public servant. And Patsy sacrificed much in service to her father, and later to her family. Those that surrounded them in their life, their circle, felt that sacrifice and that pressure in their own ways. Whether it was a child marrying for security, or helping a sibling because of the strain it would place on the family – there was intense pressure to maintain that sacrifice throughout their lives.

Along with an interesting storyline of Patsy’s life, the authors wove the issues of the day – women’s right, slavery and the politics of the media (yes, even then! Though news traveled slower!), which gave this novel more depth. Seeing Thomas Jefferson through his daughter’s eyes makes him a real person, much more than a founding father that we learn about in school. Even in his brilliant mind, he had internal struggles. This story takes place in a fascinating time, but the Jefferson family truly lived through some amazing things. Starting with the revolutionary war and being driven from Monticello because “the British are coming” to residing in France at the onset of the Fresh Revolution to returning home and being a part of President Washington’s cabinet – what an incredible part of history!

I worry about recommending books that I truly love to other people. What if they don’t love it as much as I did? What if they hate it and no longer take my recommendations? I think that this is one of the best books that will come out in 2016, certainly one of the best historical fiction books. If you read it and hate it, please don’t tell me. But I hope we can still be friends and give each other more recommendations!

I could say so much more about this novel, but won’t for fear of spoiling some of the fun!

Reading Sara Review: Almost Famous Women: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Almost Famous Women: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman

almost famous women

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (July 14, 2015)

Rating: 7/10 – entertaining and fun book!

modern romance

This book was so much fun. I do not read a lot of short stories in general because I usually like to read things that I can sink my teeth into and dive deeper. But Bergman kept my interest with these short stories from the first to the last. I am so glad for the recommendation, and I hope you are too.

 
What I love about books like this is that you can read them in one afternoon or over multiple months. It’s a great book to read alongside something more serious, a nonfiction book or the next Gone Girl-type book. Each chapter contains a short vignette about a person (or persons, in a couple of cases), which have some historical relevance, but not quite enough for them to be household names. You will likely have heard of two or three of them, and if you are like me, you’ll end up googling several others to learn more about them.

 
It is a work of fiction, so the creative scenarios and dialogue are all in Bergman’s mind, but the way that it comes alive on the page, to the reader, make it possible. She adds depth and interest to the women that she explores in each story. I had favorite chapters and wished that she continued some more than others – but I loved the feeling of just getting a small piece of the puzzle, and allowing the reader’s imagination to take it further.

 

I recommended this book on my holiday gift guide post, and if you haven’t read it yet – add it to your list. Now that it is available in paperback, there are fewer excuses.

 

Also, that cover? Amazing! If you don’t trust my review, trust the cover!

Reading Sara Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon

everything everything

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Delacorte Press (September 1, 2015)

Rating: 7.5/10

everything everything

“Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything. Besides, doomed love is a part of life.” – Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything

Reading Sara Review: Everything, Everything is simple in its premise: a young adult story about a bubble girl, a person isolated from the world – her world is only discovered by reading, conversations with her full-time nurse, and her doting mother. Luckily for the reader, Yoon weaves a story that is so much more than simple. The story is about friendship, first loves, discovery, and forgiveness.

I know people who shy away from young adult novels, but I would encourage those people to give this book a try if you want to dip your toes into the genre. Similar to I’ll Give You the Sun, it has themes that go much deeper and characters that we readers understand through their pain. Critics of this book will say that it is just another cheesy YA love story (ala Fault in Our Stars, Eleanor & Park, etc.). YA literature is not as deep – and this book is not perfect. But it is a quick, lovely story that I highly recommend.

“I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.” We get to fall in love with Madeline, our sick, near death central character. And we get to watch her fall in love with Olly, the neighbor who quickly becomes fascinated by the girl in the window that never comes outside. We follow her adventures, her daring challenges, the ups and downs of her relationship with her mom – who has always loved her deeply and protected her above all else.

“Sometimes you do things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones, and sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference.”

Everything, Everything is definitely on my list for best books of 2015. Have you read it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Reading Sara Review: Girl at War, by Sara Nović

Girl at War, by Sara Nović

girl at war

Hardcover: 336 pages

Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 12, 2015)

Rating: 9/10

Girl at War Rating

Reading Sara Review: This is the best book that I have read in past couple of months, and I cannot stop recommending it to people. Sometimes it feels like the stars align for certain topics to be repeated in our lives, and in this case, in things that I am reading or hearing about, and this is an example of that. Stay with me, though this may seem a little complicated. A few months ago, I saw the movie Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo. The film documents a love story between Admira, a Bosniak, and Boško, a Bosnian Serb. It is a heartbreaking story, and not just because of the star-crossed lovers, but was a stark reminder of the atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian War in the early 90s.

After watching that film, the conflict stayed with me – I was young in the early 90s, and remember seeing and hearing about the struggles in Yugoslavia on the news, but it is something that I had not thought about in years. The humanitarian crises occurring in our world, specifically in Syria, has brought back a lot of these emotions and feelings and has been a constant reminder this year of what others in the world are going through every day. While I am safe in my warm home, writing on my laptop, others are not sure where they are going to sleep tonight or whether they will ever see a loved one again.

So, with all of this floating through my head, I stumbled upon Girl at War by Sara Nović. It felt like this book came to me at just the right time to appreciate it and love it as much as I did. 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.

Because much of the story is from a child’s perspective, it gave me new empathy for the innocence that was being disturbed by the conflict that circled Ana and her family and her friends. When Ana picks up a gun for the first time, I was horrified, but understood too, because she instinctively knew that those on the other side of the conflict would kill her, regardless of her age. Ana’s past shapes her so much that the reader cannot help but invest in her outcome, her trials, tribulations, growth, and discovery. Ana’s story is in stark contrast to her sister, who left Yugoslavia as a baby and remembers nothing of the war. She grows up as an American teenager without all of the guilt, memories, and horrors that Ana carries with her for through her teenage and young adult life. Is her sister lucky for this? Or was she robbed of the childhood memories that include people and places she should have known, but never got the chance to know?

Girl at War is a beautiful book, regardless of your memories of the Bosnian war in the 90s. It will challenge your views of right and wrong, make you thankful for a warm, safe place to rest your head each night. Most importantly, though, it is an incredibly well-researched story of a girl, finding her way home and you will be rooting for her and with her the entire way.