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.”

 

Reading Sara Review: Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly


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 Hardcover: 496 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 5, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 8/10 (seriously, great book – definitely will be one of the best of 2016!)

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a fantastic book. I had hoped The Summer Before the War was going to be amazing too for my historical fiction fix. Since I was left wanting more, I am glad this one came along. For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and/or The Nightingale, or any other recent historical fiction World War 1 or 2 novels, this one is a beautiful read.

Lilac Girls follows three women, going through different things during World War 2 – Caroline, a New York City socialite who is caught in a complicated love triangle, Kasia, a Polish teenager trying to survive with her family, and lastly, Herta, a German Nazi doctor.

I’ll admit that I struggled for a bit with any focus at all on the German Nazi Doctor, Herta Oberheuser. She is hate-able and a horrible character – and unfortunately, was a real person. But her chapters did add depth and context to the novel, even if her atrocities are unforgivable. I do not read books only to love the characters, and this was a reminder of that. Feeling anything for characters is an important piece of writing, and Kelly expertly did this.

The women’s lives diverge together in completely unexpected ways. It was an incredible story over decades watching these women grow, survive, and find peace with their lives. Like Herta, Caroline Ferriday was a real person, and Kasia is based on a real person. The research and details provided in this historical fiction novel are incredible.

The resilience that Kasia and her sister exhibit while at Ravensbruck (the only all-female concentration camp) is remarkable. They find little ways to show kindness to others, find the means to survive and be human. While Caroline dedicates her life to fighting for human rights, Kasia, and her sister, literally fought for their rights in small, subtle ways that helped them to survive.

Add this one to your book club list – it is one of the best books to come out this year. It tells the story of friendship, sisterhood, relationships and resilience. If you need a break from the World War 1 & 2 historical fiction, I totally get it, but save this on your TBR list. I know it is hard to keep reading about the Holocaust especially, but is it not important that we keep these memories and stories alive so that we never relive these atrocities? These were real women – and these stories are based on real events – we can’t forget that. And if you are on a historical fiction binge for more World War 2 novels, next on my list: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave (read it with me!!).

The main heroines of the story, Caroline and Kasia will not be easily forgotten, they are the type of characters that you will think of often.

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: The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

the heart goes lastBook Length: 322 pages

Publisher: Nan A. Talese (September 29, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10 – Entertaining and a good read!

modern romance

Book Blurb:  Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed, and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.
At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

 

Reading Sara Review: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. If you are a woman and have not read The Handmaid’s Tale, you must. It is haunting, real, and will stick with you forever. I had not read any of Atwood’s recent books, so was eager to pick up this one that was released in 2015. As the description mentions, The Heart Goes Last is a post-financial and social crisis book that follows our main characters, Stan and Charmaine through their struggles.

The concept of the Positron Project is fascinating – and certainly too good to be true. The way that Atwood creates these alternate universes that could actually happen are incredible and one of the reasons that I believe she is one of the today’s best visionary authors.

Neither main character is very sympathetic, though with that being said, I think that there are pieces of the way that they each handled the situation they are in that is relatable to all of us: pride, sacrifice, fear, anger, and ultimately forgiveness. Personally, I did not like either of the primary characters but was intrigued by a few of the secondary characters and how they made decisions, kept secrets, and tried to maintain a normalcy and ethical compass in a world where much of their decisions are taken away from them.

There are some crucial gender statements made in this novel, and the reader needs to trust Atwood to turn around the sexism and deal with them (which she does). Morality is the biggest issue – as technology advances, what right do people have to decide someone else’s fate and who they love? I cannot get into too much more without spoilers, but I will warn future readers that there are large topics in this book – it is not for the faint of heart.

I would not recommend this book to everyone. It is similar to Atwood’s other books in exploring the harm that power can cause. But, if you are an Atwood fan, definitely add this to your list. The end drags a bit, and leaves the reader with a bit of a twist at the end, but I would not dissuade anyone from reading it!

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review of The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin

Books & Wine Wednesday!

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The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin

swans of fifth avenue

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Delacorte Press (January 26, 2016)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10 – a fun book, well-written and a quick, easy read!

 modern romance

Reading Sara Review: Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, and the Swans of Fifth Avenue was no exception. Telling the story of Truman Capote and his headline-making, fashionistas through their friendship and the ultimate fallout was a treat from start to finish. This is not the best book I will read this year, but it is fun to take a step back in time and enjoy the lives of the rich and famous.

This is not a spoiler, because this is historically accurate, but gives useful context to the book: Capote had a group of socialite ladies that he adored and adored him – he called them his swans. During their friendship, Truman published a work in Esquire, called “La Côte Basque 1965,’ betraying his swans secrets and trust. They never forgave him –and it is unclear if he forgave himself. After its publishing, Truman was a New York outcast and his decline into alcoholism and drugs became severe. La Côte Basque 1965 was supposed to be a part of his unfinished book, Answered Prayers.

Truman Capote was a character – while utterly brilliant in his writing, he was a gossip, obsessed with fame (and fortune) and beauty. I believe his friendship with Babe Paley was real and sincere.  Benjamin expertly guides the reader through their friendship, imagining some intimate and beautiful moments – so the reader is left wondering why did he betray Babe (and the other swans)? And did Babe forgive him at the end of her life?

Babe Paley is a marvelous character. She was smart, beautiful, and her mother raised her to be a good wife. Truman offers her an escape from that world for a time – allows her to laugh and show him a different side. She is just fabulous because she is full of flaws. My favorite parts of this book were the stories about Babe. I hurt for her, wanted her to fight to be so much more than she was, and was saddest for her when Truman broke her heart.

Ultimately, this is a story about friendship. The friendships between the women – who have affairs with each other’s husbands, fall in love with the wrong men and don’t confide in each other because they want everything to appear perfect and exquisite. In an age when appearances matter most, how was true friendship measured?  I think that their friendships relied on the secret-keeping, which is why the swans felt so betrayed when Truman exposed them and their lives to the public.

If you are a fan of Truman Capote’s, or just a fan of socialites, this book will be a fun treat. Benjamin creates a beautiful world for the reader to explore – and does not offer up answers to the many questions that you will have when you finish, but allows you to explore them on your own, which is just as fun.

For further reading on Truman Capote and the backlash of La Côte Basque 1965 and the unfinished manuscript mystery, I recommend this fun Vanity Fair article. And, if you don’t have time to read the book, this article gives some great socialite drama scoop.

Wine Recommendation: Many people think that rosé is just for the summertime: I’m here to tell you that it is a wine for all seasons, and you can find a delightful rose to pair with your winter reading. Because this book is about fancy people, I recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. These are going to be a little more interesting, deeper flavor, and you can feel elegant while still finding a bottle for under $20. I like them because of their peppery and currant flavor, but sometimes they can have high acidity because they are not aged in oak. They pair well with everything from a hearty salad to pasta – again, entirely drinkable in the winter! The brands that I recommend are Mira Winery (Napa Valley), Mulderbosch (South Africa) and Chateau Bonnet (Bordeaux).

 

Reading Sara’s Favorite Love Stories

In honor of St. Valentine and this day of love that we celebrate every year on February 14, I have a love-themed post today. For those of us book lovers, we know that chocolate and roses are great (seriously, who would turn those down?), but we also appreciate some alone time to curl up with a book and get lost in the story. So, here are ten of my favorite love story related books, in no particular order. What are your favorites? Share with me!

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1. What best love story list would be complete without the ultimate love story? Pride and Prejudice, a Jane Austen classic (and not the only Austen book on my list today) is the original romance story with a happy ending (looking at your, Shakespeare). It is the base for almost every chick-flick movie – girl meets boy. Girl hates boy. The girl likes some other guy. Other guy turns out to be bad. The original guy turns out to be great (and super rich, and lives in a castle). Girl and guy realize that they do not hate each other and love each other. The end. Though Pride and Prejudice is so much better than that description that I just gave. Read it. And watch the BBC movie – so much love to celebrate.

2. Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes, is a modern day love story that will make you laugh and cry. When I finished this book, I read it again right away because I did not want to lose the characters from my life. Moyes is a brilliant storyteller. And, the movie comes out in June – so pick up the book first!

3. If you have not read A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, it’s a perfect beach read that you will fly through – but one that you will still love and remember. It’s 1938 and socialites are vacationing in Rhode Island. Ex-boyfriends, ex-lovers, secrets and gossip all play out in a marvelous love story.

4. I have not read this book in a long time, and it is a remarkable book in many ways, but the star-crossed lovers story is what helped it get on this list. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of the most creative books, full of magic, mystery, and suspense that I have read in the past decade. Celia and Marco are illusionists, a part of a mysterious circus that pops up across the world unannounced. When the competition becomes deadly, they need to fight for their love against all odds…The Time Traveler’s Wife by

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is on almost every best romance list, and I will not disagree. It is a story about a love that conquers time, beats the challenges and is really, really hard – but worth it.

6.      Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is a serious love story – time traveling included. I do not know if I have written about my Outlander love on the blog yet, but either way, it is a great addition to your guilty-pleasure book list. And after you read it, I highly recommend getting together with a friend and watching the Starz show with a bottle (or two) of rose.

7.      Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is so wonderful and full of love. I remember reading it and it being such an unexpected surprise. Not only are most wonderful romances set in England, but this one is about second chances and love after loss of life. Just thinking about this book makes me want to re-read it!

8.      The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, is a light-hearted and fun love story. There is a short review of it posted here. It is predictable but cute and easy to appreciate. Especially for fans of the Big Bang Theory – you will enjoy this quirky love story.

9.      Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, is a trilogy, definitely meant for young adults – and I am not ashamed to say that I found it so sweet. The story is about Miri, who lives in a small town in great kingdom where the prince will choose his bride from – which means that all girls of a certain age must attend an Academy to learn how to be ‘proper ladies.’ I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you that it is much more creative than the description will lead you to believe – and not nearly as certain (only parts). It’s a love story between friends, family and first loves – and it’s a quick fun book.

10.  Emma by Jane Austen is my final love-story related book that I recommend. Emma is full of charm, wit and delight. It is impossible for any girl not to fall in love with this story. It is absolutely my favorite Austen title, which is a difficult decision for an Austen-fan like me! After you read it, curl up with a loved one and re-watch Clueless!

 

Reading Sara Review: My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

my name is lucy barton

Print Length: 208 Pages

Publisher: Random House (January 12, 2016)

Rating: 6/10

my name is lucy barton rating

I became a fan of Stroud’s writing in her book Olive Kitteridge but have not read many of her other titles. My Name is Lucy Barton was a highly anticipated 2016 book, so I picked up it quickly after its release.

To be honest, I do not want my new rating scale to deter any readers. My Name is Lucy Barton is a good book. If I were just rating it on a five scale, I would probably give it a 4/5. But, I want to be deeper with my ratings – so this is a perfect example of a book that is well-written, unique, and good. And I think many people will love it. I don’t think it will be the best book I will read this year – but I am glad that I read it.

Lucy Barton is a writer, and the book is stories from her perspective, but mostly centered around a period of time she was in the hospital. Her mother came to visit her and stay for five days; this was the first time they had seen each other in many years. While their chit chat seems minuscule, it fills Lucy with memories and questions. Even though it appears that there was substantial abuse in her poverty-filled childhood, she still seeks approval and friendship with her mother – even though they are practically strangers.

Lucy is a character that seeks love and belonging in all relationships and with all people. From her love of her doctor to her children to her relationship with her husband – she wants a tenderness that was missing from her childhood.

Growing up in poverty shaped Lucy in ways that she is only now figuring out as an adult, as she writes and attempts to be a “ruthless writer.” She never knew to be embarrassed by her clothes, or her lack of pop culture knowledge, so she simply is not embarrassed. However, because she grew up with little, she also appreciates having enough and being able to provide for her children. But she knows that money does not always make people happier, a sentiment she shares with her fascinating mother.

This story reminded me how our childhood, our upbringing, cannot be judged by others. Everyone’s is different. But the relationships that people have with their parents are not to be judged. There were so many times that I wanted to shout at Lucy for not asking her mother more – why doesn’t she show more emotion? Or build a new relationship with her? But that relationship is not for me to judge.

Strout tells this story in such a unique way, even though this is a short book (I read it in under 2 hours), it is one that will stay with me.