Recently Read: Vol 2

recently read
Books are meant to be shared.

I’m back for volume two Recently Read. Sharing my thoughts and reviews on the books I’ve read in the past few weeks. You can read volume 1 here. Have you read any of these books?

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Five out of Five Stars

“How wild it was, to let it be.” 

“I was a terrible believer in things,but I was also a terrible non believer in things. I was as searching as I was skeptical. I didn’t know where to put my faith,or if there was such a place,or even what the word faith meant, in all of it’s complexity. Everything seemed to be possibly potent and possibly fake.”

This memoir brought me to my knees. Following the lost and grieving Cheryl as she navigates her life while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail had me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the book. Told while she hikes a treacherous 1,100 miles alone with no experience, little money, and a vague idea of what she was in store for. 

As she painfully makes her way along the trail she reflects on her past, a tumultuous childhood, the death of her mother, a failed marriage, promiscuous actions, and a heroin addiction. Along the way she discovers what it means to find yourself when you just want to be lost. What family, love, and truly living really mean. 



 The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Four out of Five Stars

“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”

“God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world—but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.” She cut her eyes at me and smiled. “I think we know that’s men’s doing.”

A based on facts historical fiction that tells the story of a willful young girl, Sarah, from Charleston and the young slave girl, Handful, her parents “gift” her for her 11th birthday. When Sarah refuses to take ownership of Handful and rather teaches her to read, they start to form a bond and Sarah begins to grow into the important abolitionist women she is destined to become. Both women are trapped in lives they cannot change.

This beautifully written book, told from both Sarah and Handful’s viewpoints, covers decades of history and gives us a painful peek into our country’s bleakest part of history. Heartfelt and at times hard to read, Kidd brings to life the atrocities of slavery as well as the role of patriarchy and tradition in our culture. 



The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Four out of Five Stars

“I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I’m learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.”

“I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is- a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.”

 Did you know that from 1854 – 1929 more than 500,000 orphans, (many of which were products of immigrant families living in harsh conditions in East Coast cities) were ushered to the Midwest on trains in order to be “adopted” by families, but more often used as indentured servants. In time this slowly became foster care as we know it. Before this book I never heard about this part of our history. 

Baker Kline’s historical fiction tells the story of one such orphan girl, “Dorothy” and her miraculous journey from Ireland, to New York, and to the Mid West where she lived a tragic childhood jumping (or escaping) from one “family” to another. 

Sad, yet uplifting, this book tugs at your heartstrings. It is told in both the present day by a modern foster child and in the past through the eyes of “Dorothy” the orphan train girl. Eventually their lives and stories cross (the only part of the book I could have been okay with not happening). Baker Kline makes us think harder about the role each of us must play in our community as mentor, teachers, and defenders of  children and the definition of family. 



Red Azalea by Anchee Min

Two out of Five Stars

“If you can’t go back to your mother’s womb, you’d better learn to be a good fighter.”

I love historical fiction and especially stories about women (I absolutely love the works of Amy Tan and Lisa See). So I thought Red Azalea, Anchee Min’s memoir about growing up in the horrors of Mao’s China would easily be added to that list of books I love. But I was disappointed. 

Min has lived an exceptional life, growing up under Chairman Mao’s reign, stripped of her identity, living for years in a strict labor farm, developing an intense affair with a fellow female comrade, being selected as a star in one of Madame Mao’s operas and eventually finding refuge in the United States. She overcame, and this is a story of her not succumbing to the survivalist mentality or simply giving in. 

There is not doubt her story is one that needs to be told. I learned much. But the prose was very choppy. I guess we can blame the fact that English is Min’s second language, but I found it was more than that. It was dry, void of emotion and lacked depth. I’m not sure if this was intentional. I understand the stripping of her spirit but I do not believe this book expressed that horror with as much eloquence or poetry as such a weighted experience deserves.

In short, I couldn’t wait for this book to be over. If you’ve read Red Azalea and had a different experience, I’d love to hear your opinion. It’s not often that I dislike a book so much.



 Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Five out of Five Stars

 “If only people could travel as easily as words. Wouldn’t that be something? If only we could be so easily revised.”

“This was Scott. This is Scott, always looking back to try to figure out how to go forward, where happiness and prosperity must surely await.”

“I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.”

 This sweeping piece of well researched historical fiction tells the story of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald and her journey of defining the jazz age and her tumultuous marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald. With every line I was by Zelda’s side, dancing in the fountain in Union Square, sun bathing on the Rivera, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, chatting it up with her enemy Hemingway or taking notes from the top ballet instructors in Paris. 

Her story is one wrought with emotion, leaving her the victor and Scott the selfish, alcoholic, insecure villain. Their shared over indulgence, desire for adventure, and addiction to alcohol led to their penniless existence and poor health and ultimately their untimely demise. A story that sounds ripped from the pages of Scott’s own work because it truly is. Zelda played an immense role in much of Scott’s short stories and novels. This book had me constantly questioning what came first, the alcoholism and mental issues or the literary genius?

I found this book interesting after I had read and loved “The Paris Wife” (about Hemingway’s first wife)  last spring. 

Truly loved this book and getting a peak into the minds of this fascinating couple. 


What have you been reading?

  • I’ve read Wild — loved it and am looking forward to seeing the movie whenever it makes it to an area theater … and I just got a copy of Orphan Train, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I’m slowly working my way through Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit, I need to finish it soon to blog a review about it for Blogging for Books!

    • kwalshmac

      can’t wait to see the movie! But I’ll probably wait until DVD, we don’t get to the movie theater much. I’m always intrigued to read all of the bad reviews of Wild…I don’t know what there isn’t to like.

      I hope you like Orphan Train too!

      I’ll have to check out The Happiness of Pursuit.

  • Several of these are on my list to read!

    • kwalshmac

      I highly recommend Wild and Z the most!

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