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.

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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!
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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

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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.”

 

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Reading Sara Review: I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh

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Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley (May 3, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: For me, a good crime/mystery book can be rated on whether or not it is predictable. I Let You Go gets a good rating because it was full of twists and surprises. I picked this one up because every once in a while I like a mystery. The Woman in Cabin 10 fed that need for awhile, but with the Halloween season upon us, I thought this would be a good one too. If you didn’t see it, I had a special Halloween post for recommendations on some good mysteries!

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray who moves to a remote coastal town to escape after a tragic accident. As she starts to rebuild her life, the secrets of her past come to haunt her. On the other side is Ray and Kate, the detectives trying to uncover the mystery of driver who killed a young boy. It is a story of two sides: people trying to escape the horror of that day and people trying to bring closure to the tragedy.

This book isn’t what you expect. It took it awhile to get to the first (of many) surprises. But when it did, I was completely shocked. The following surprises are not quite as dramatic, but they do unravel an interesting story and a great mystery. I found myself sympathizing with characters that I did not think I could, and terrified of others. Any writer who can make the reader feel strong emotions about the characters should definitely keep writing.

Mackintosh spent 12 years in the police force, so this book feels more realistic than other mysteries that I have read. While the story is fiction, she draws on some of the cases that she experienced.

Wine Recommendation: Read this one on a cold weekend and pour yourself a glass of strong red wine. It’s the perfect fall mystery. I recommend a Cabernet Franc, which you can get at pretty much any price range. There are some really great ones that come out of California, but as usual, I like the Loire Valley blends the best. They are fruity, but with a little kick – which makes it a great transition wine into fall. Look for a Loire Valley one from the Chinon region that is about 5-10 years old, that will make it smoky and drinkable immediately. Tell me when you find one that you love!

Special Edition: Book of the Month Club

Reading Sara Recommends: Book of the Month Club!

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I believe I have mentioned in previous posts that I am not in a book club right now. I love them and have had incredible groups over the years. My favorite part of them is the recommendation of books that I would not have otherwise read or even picked up. I get most of my book recommendations from friends, other blogs that I trust, review lists and on Goodreads. There are a few reasons why now is not a very good time in my life for a book club, but I did feel like I was missing the exposure to other books. Though I love my readers on here and feel that we have a virtual book club,  I still felt like something was missing…

Then I heard about Book of the Month Club! Book of the Month Club has curated books each month, about 5 to choose from, that are recommended by other authors, actors, or influencers. There are various plan levels for how far in advance you feel like committing, but they are all reasonable and less expensive than buying the hardback yourself.

I haven’t been tempted to skip a month yet because I am always interested in multiple books, but that is an option (especially if you are behind in reading!). The picture above is an example of some of the great books I have already received – reviews coming soon for the ones you haven’t seen yet!! And should you want two of the recommended books, you can do that too, just by paying a little extra, again, cheaper than on Amazon or most bookstores.

The best part is the actual books, but the second best part for me is that each time the package arrives it feels like a present! There are usually fun little surprises in each box like sunglasses, toothpicks, or a fun straw. And you always get a bookmark (thank goodness, because I hate using random envelopes that are lying around the house).

Book of the Month Club doesn’t replace the joy of your local bookstore at all. Browsing the titles, seeing what they recommend, and supporting local can and should still happen. I view this as more of a supplement to that. I am also an avid Kindle reader myself, and it has been fun to mix it up with “real” books. Though seriously, I forgot how heavy they are when I’m reading at night!

Want to try it for yourself? Visit the website here to learn more and get your next great book delivered right to your door!

Yes, if you click on the link above I get a little perk, so feel free to use or not use! But you get 30% off, and your first book is free…so why not use my link? 

Reading Sara Review: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

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Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (August 2, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: To begin, I was not alive during the kidnapping, crimes and later trial of Patty Hearst. I have heard about it in passing, but this was my first true foray into the madness, the mystery and the drama that unfolded during that time. With that being said, I enjoyed this book; I thought Toobin did an excellent job of staying neutral and relaying facts while also keeping the book interesting. It may be more interesting to someone who remembers it happening, though. While not a long book, it took me awhile to get through it. I took a few breaks and read some other things – but I did come back to it each time because Patty Hearst is an interesting character study.

For those like me that are less familiar with Patty Hearst, here is a quick breakdown. Hearst was an heiress to a publishing fortune, though always struggled to fit in with that society growing up. While attending Berkley as a sophomore in 1974, she was kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries, who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Because of the high-profile kidnapping, it was a big story at the time. It got more complicated when a few months later a tape was released of Patty saying that she had joined her kidnappers, the SLA.

There were many characters to keep track of, made more confusing by their nicknames. I wished Toobin would have stayed consistent with which he used. Many of them were extremely central to the narrative, but I kept forgetting who they were – what their background was. Sometimes Toobin would gently remind the reader, but it felt too late, I wasn’t emotionally connected to any of them. Except, certainly, Patty Hearst.

Hearst did not agree to work with Toobin on this book, so we still do not know what happened in Patty Hearst’s brain during those years. What was made clear was that she benefited greatly from her family’s money, her fame, and being a pretty white woman. This does not condemn her – there is other evidence that does that (in my opinion), but it does remind us about the unfairness of the justice system.

It is especially interesting to me how the people involved with the SLA quite literally grew up, moved on, created careers and had families – and for those still alive today, want to be left alone to move on with their lives (Hearst included). Just because they were young, does that mean that they shouldn’t pay for their crimes? Or does this prove that people can change, and perhaps sending people to prison is not always the right way to rehabilitate people? I don’t know all of the answers, but Toobin did an excellent job of keeping me interested in Patty Hearst and her kidnappers.