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

we should all be feminists

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

rad women a-z

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!).

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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 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 Holiday Gift Guide!

Holiday Books for Everyone on Your List!

So you still have some people to check off your gift list? If you are like me, the holidays snuck up this year. Why not share the love of reading with your friends and family this year? You can probably still order from Amazon Prime, or better yet, head over to your local bookstore and pick up a heartfelt gift that they will be sure to enjoy long after the wrapping paper is thrown out!

See below for recommendations for everyone on your list! Psst… for more ideas you can check out my 2015 Holiday Book Gift Guide!

For Your Mom

If her New Year’s Resolution is to cook more and be healthier, I highly recommend a Healthy Dish of the Day Cookbook by Williams-Sonoma. This is one that I use regularly. They divide it seasonally and by calendar so you are always cooking with seasonal ingredients. They also have a Healthy Soup of the Day, Healthy Vegetable of the Day, or Healthy Salad of the Day options. You can’t go wrong!

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For Your Dad

Let him relive his glory days with Bruce Springsteen’s new book Born to Run.

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For your Sister

You’ll Grow Out of It was one of the funniest books that I read this past year. Jessi Klein is a writer on Inside Amy Schumer. She perfectly demonstrates self-deprecating humor in a non-depressing way.

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For your Best Friend

Homegoing was my favorite book that I read in 2016. If I could afford it, I would buy copies for everyone that I know. It is an important piece of our history that everyone should understand. Your best friend will love it too.

homegoing

For your Neice/Nephew

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated. You may just want to pick up a copy for yourself too because it is so beautiful! Bonus: because the books are coming out each year, you can put Book 3 on your list to give to them next holiday season!
harry-potter-illustrated

 

For anyone who is still pretty upset about the election and really nervous about January 20…

Disclaimer: I haven’t read either of these yet, but they are both high on my upcoming list because of people I trust who have recommended them:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance

hillbilly-elegy

And

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, by Thomas Frank

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And…for yourself, because…why not?!

Just a few of my other favorite reads this year, but really, I just recommend picking up something that you will enjoy!

Girl at War
A Short Guide to a Happy Life
A Man Called Ove
The Wonder (review coming soon!)
America’s First Daughter

Happy Holidays to you and yours! I look forward to more reviews and more wonderful reading together in 2017!

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 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 on Gratitude (and a book recommendation!)

I know it has been awhile, readers. I have been reading quite a bit – perhaps so much so that I have not had as much time to write about what I am reading. In the coming weeks look forward to reviews on Everything Brave is Forgiven, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, The Mothers, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko and The Wonder (see?! Lots of reading!)

With the passing of Thanksgiving, I have felt myself thinking a lot about gratitude and how lucky I am to be where I am today in this life. I am healthy, have an incredible circle of family and friends, I enjoy what I do for a living, and I am able to read frequently. Terrible things happen every day. Many people are living in fear right now here in the United States after the Presidential election. I am reminded how lucky I am. I have a warm home, a comfortable bed, and many blessing to count. There is a lot wrong with our world, and I want to work every day to protect those causes that I care most about. But right now, at this time of Thanksgiving and as we near the holiday season, I am simply grateful.

An excellent book to read if you are feeling grateful, or perhaps, ungrateful and need a dose of happiness is Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life. It is short, I promise. But it is full of beautiful musings written with the empathy and compassion that Quindlen possesses so naturally.

Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (October 31, 2000)

No official rating on this one because it is so short, but I highly recommend it. After reading it, pass it along to a friend or make it a holiday gift. Here are some favorite bits of wisdom that I took away from it:

“I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.”

“All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.”

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.”

“But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at your desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”