International Women’s Day!

Dearest Readers,

I am sorry that I have been on an unexpected hiatus from this blog. I promise that I have been reading, and have more reviews coming soon (A Gentleman in Moscow, When the Moon is Low, Red Queen Series (1-3), Hillbilly Elegy, and Morning Star to name a few that I am behind on writing reviews for!).

But today I want to celebrate something special: International Women’s Day. This day is especially important to me this year as I get ready to bring a little girl into this world in approximately 3 (!!) weeks. So, before I jump back into reviews, I want to highlight three books that I recommend in honor of women around the world.

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

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I reviewed this last year, and am still a fan. I missed seeing her when she came through my city a couple of months ago – which I regret. She has an incredible voice and ability to bring humor and passion to every issue that she writes about. This is a great feminist starter book!

We Should All be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This book takes about 30 minutes to read, so really, no excuse not to read it. Adichie has a classic writing style, and this feminist writing is even more interesting because of her global perspective. A couple of my favorite quotes:
“And this is how we start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently”

“My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”

Rad American Women A-Z, by Kate Schatz

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I actually found this book as part of building a library in the nursery (have to start them early on feminism!). But it is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone. I learned about some amazing women that I had never heard of, as well as reminders about some of the incredible women who broke glass ceilings of their own like Billie Jean King, Carol Burnett, and Sonia Sotomayor. These are women that the history books may have missed, but it is so refreshing to be reminded of them and keep their stories alive for future generations.

There are other incredible books about feminism, or the women’s right’s movement in general (I also highly recommend When Everything Changed), but these are my top recommendations if you are in the market for some feminist reading this season!

In closing, I am so grateful for those that came before me and fought for women’s rights. And I promise to continue that fight – for my daughter and the daughters that follow. We owe it to future generations to leave the world better than we found it. And through equal opportunities for all women, I believe that a real difference can be made.

And again, I hope to have more reviews soon – thank you for your patience as I get through my final weeks of pregnancy (and trying to stay awake past 9pm!).

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!

A Year in Review: of reading!

A Year of Reading!

When I started this blog over a year ago, I had no idea where it would take me. Thank you all for your feedback, encouragement, and continued recommendations. I LOVE reading with you!

I started 2016 with some Reading Resolutions…unfortunately, I wasn’t successful on all fronts. But I am pleased to say that I finished 65 books this year, ahead of my goal of 50!

As a reminder, each month I recommend one of my favorites to read through this blog. But as a recap, here are my Top 10 Books I read this year. This list is more than just books that came out in 2016, but ones that I discovered and loved. What were your favorites this year?

  1. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
    Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon, truly at the precipice of an incredible career. 35 and married, excited by his work, and receiving offers across the country for positions he coveted, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book is his chronicle of the journey he faced.
  1. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue
    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.
  1. You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein 
    Jessi Klein mastered the comedy book writing in You’ll Grow Out of It. Klein is humorous, real, self-deprecating in a non-depressing way, and is someone that I would love to drink a glass (or six) of wine with.
  1. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
    All My Puny Sorrows is about two sisters, Elf and Yoli. The narrative goes back and forth in time, talking about their childhood growing up in a strict Mennonite-community in Canada, to present day. Elf is now a famous concert pianist who is desperately struggling with her will to live. Yoli, divorced with two children, is trying to keep the family together and strong – and struggling with critical decisions about how to help her sister.
  1. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
    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.
  1. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie depicts the world that most Americans do not know and paints a new light on our lives that is brutally honest. But most importantly, the characters are not different from those of us born here in the United States. There is something vital in the similarities of Ifemelu’s childhood in Nigeria (friendship, crushes, family) that is not so different than how I, and many of my friends, grew up. But there is a lot that is different too, and Ifemelu’s story illustrates it in an understandable and fascinating way.
  1. America’s First Daughter, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
    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.
  1. Girl at War, by Sara Nović
    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.
  1. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
    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.
  1. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
    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.

 

And unfortunately, there were some books that I could have easily skipped this year, though I know that others loved them. I would skip Summer Before the War, My Name is Lucy Barton, Fates and Furies, Emma (retelling by Alexander McCall Smith), The People in the Trees, The Wangs vs. the World, and probably some others that I have already forgotten I read!

Overall, a successful year of reading. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

 

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: The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

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Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books (October 11, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 8/10

Rating for Secret Wisdom

Reading Sara Review: I was nervous about reading The Mothers because of the incredible buzz it has received lately – and I am often disappointed by those books. This one was a great exception to that! I loved it.

The Mothers is a debut novel by Bennett, but her writing style is that of an old soul. I look forward to reading many more books by her in the future.

The book follows Nadia Turner, who grows up within a contemporary black community in Southern California. The characters all revolve around the church, the Upper Room, where their secrets reside. Nadia is dealt a tough hand and has to make impossible decisions for her future and ambitions. The summer before she leaves for college her mother commits suicide, and Nadia starts sleeping with the pastor’s son, an older boy who had his own ambitions shattered years ago. What happens between them lasts their entire lives and impacts those around them and within the community more than expected. Luke, the pastor’s son, is as much of a lead character as Nadia.

What I loved about The Mothers was the “what if” question – their lives are defined by a couple of decisions, a couple of secrets, but what if those did not exist? Would that have made life simpler? Or harder?

Another thing to love about this book is that it deals with some incredibly dark issues, but it does so in a real and moving way. The way that Nadia deals with grief is heartbreaking but completely realistic. Her mother’s suicide is never completely dealt with, not talked about with anyone in a healing way. This impacts her forever. This grief affects her friendships, relationships, and ultimately hurts the two most significant people she has in her life. Because Nadia is smart and pretty, she floats through without her grief on the outside. This is so unbelievably common for girls and women.

Nadia is loveable and hateable at the same time. Luke is confusing, frustrating and wonderful. This book, though, it is consistently great.

And this was another Book of the Month Club pick – again, I highly recommend. Not sure what I am talking about? Check out my blog post on Book of the Month Club!

 

Reading Sara Halloween aka Spooky Recommendations!

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Because it is Halloween, and because it is fun, I thought I would add a special Halloween Post recommending some spooky books to keep you in the spirit of the season!

Note: This post comes from someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy being scared, so my list is pretty tame compared to people who read actual scary books. These are more likely considered mysteries, thrillers, or crime novels than horror. Some still may keep you up at night, though!

  1. The Shining, by Stephen King. Duh. If you haven’t ever read it, it’s a good place to start.
  2. The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware. I describe this one as being Agatha Christie-esque. You will keep turning the pages to figure out who to trust and who is murdering people.
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. If you didn’t jump on this bandwagon ages ago, you really should.
  4. The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz. The Passenger is a quick book that is creative and left me guessing until the end. It is a page turner but is not scary or nightmare-inducing. Instead, it is simply interesting.
  5. I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh. The review is coming soon because this is what I picked up to get into the spirit this weekend. You won’t want to put it down, and you’ll be reminded that every once in a while a book like this is a perfect read! It was a little slow to start, and I wasn’t sure where the mystery would come in – but it does, and its surprising and heartbreaking all at once.

 

What are your favorites? Again, I scare easily and don’t do blood/gore – but love a good mystery!

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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.”