Recently Read: Vol. 5

recentlyreadvol5

 Books are meant to be shared. And I promise, no spoilers!

I’m back for volume three of Recently Read. Sharing my thoughts and reviews on the books I’ve read in the past few weeks. You can read volume 1  and volume 2 and volume 3 and volume 4 here. Have you read any of these books?

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Five out of Five Stars

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Best book I’ve read in a long time. Breathtaking, lyrical, and beautiful.

This books takes place in Germany and France during World War 2. Marie Laure is a blind girl living with her nurturing father in Paris. After the occupation, Marie Laure and her father escape to the seaside village of Saint-Malo where they attempt to live out the brutality of the war. Werner is a German orphan whose gift for working on radios lands him a place in a heartless Nazi training camp. 

I hate to give too much else away, because no summary of this book will give it justice. This is a book that I wanted to stay up all night to finish but also one that I wanted to never end so I could relish it forever. 

Doerr reminds us that there are multitudes of signals out in the world, ways for us to connect to each other, to remind us we are all similar beings, living out a short life here on earth. We need to remember, to take the time, open my ears and listen. To try to see all we can. To believe. That good CAN win. 

The central theme in this book is power. The whole world tries to spin on the notion of power, when we should really be choosing love, traditional, raw sacrificial love. Somehow this book takes a similar story line and makes it feel new. 

I couldn’t recommend it enough!

China Dolls Cover

 China Dolls by Lisa See

2 out of 5 stars

“When fortune comes, do not enjoy all of it; when advantage comes, do not take all of it.”

 

I’m not sure if it’s because I started this right after I finished the amazing “All The Light We Cannot See” but this book felt so shallow and boring.

I was surprised at my reaction because I have thoroughly enjoyed Lisa See’s other books, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and “Joy’s Dream” (among others) and thought this would be the same. 

China Dolls is written in the perspective of three women narratives all living in Chinatown in San Francisco leading up to and during World War 2. Life was certainly not easy for these women, who were all escaping from their own pasts. But, I feel like this book didn’t really dig deep enough into the pain and the emotion. It read more like a young adult novel, interesting but light and easy.

There is darkness here, and I didn’t like how See alluded to it but then was too afraid to dig deep into it. 

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The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

4 out of 5 stars

“They’ve drummed the miraculous out of you, but you don’t want it to be like that. You want the miraculous. You want everything to still be new.”

This book was nothing like I thought it was going to be, a light and fun coming of age young adult novel. (and no I haven’t seen the movie yet). But for a YA book this is a very dark and depressing novel with believable and gripping characters that reminded me a lot of “The Catcher in the Rye”.

Sutter is a boy we all knew growing up. The arrogant, charming, class clown and party guy that is in reality suffering deeply. Sutter is a barely functioning alcoholic and Tharp shows teen alcoholism in such an honest and raw way. This teenager is a character that is so set on saving others, so preoccupied with seeing himself as a savior because he is terrified to save himself. 

At times you’ll hate Sutter’s voice but he is also undeniably lovable to the point where he just keep breaking your heart, all the way to the end of the novel. 

Although this was a quick read, Sutter’s story will stick with me. 

What have you been reading?

Recently Read Vol. 4

recentlyreadvol.4
Books are meant to be shared. And I promise, no spoilers!

I’m back for volume three of Recently Read. Sharing my thoughts and reviews on the books I’ve read in the past few weeks. You can read volume 1  and volume 2 and volume 3 here. Have you read any of these books?

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Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Three out of Five Stars

“I think grief is like a really ugly couch. It never goes away. You can decorate around it; you can slap a doily on top of it; you can push it to the corner of the room—but eventually, you learn to live with it.”

 I’ve really enjoyed many of Picoult’s quick page turning mysteries. Some of my favorites have included, The Pact, The Storyteller, My Sister’s Keeper, and The Tenth Circle. However, this one doesn’t rank as one of my favorites. 

Yes the story, told by various point of views was still interesting and the twists were still exciting, but it also didn’t grip me the same as others. 

Leaving Time is a story about grief, mother and daughter relationships, and letting go. This is the story of Jenna who has been searching for her mother since she went missing when Jenna was only 3. Her story is told side by side to Alice’s (her mother, a a scientist focussed on elephant grieving) life story leading up to the time of her disappearance. Jenna has the help of two unexpected allies, Serenity, a psychic, and Virgil, a drunk ex detective.

All characters are struggling blindly through their own grief and cling to each other. I loved learning all about elephants and their mothering habits and ways of processing grief. The characters were interesting and I did not guess the ending. Yet this book was missing something on a deeper level for me. It felt scattered.  

 

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Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Two out of Five Stars

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter.”

I really wanted to like/love this book. And I really tried. But it just didn’t cut it for me. I truly like Lena Dunham and I enjoy watching Girls, but I found this book lacking. Dunham’s memoir is made up of small stories detailing her childhood and coming of age as a twenty something woman.

Yes, some of the stories were relatable to me like growing up in the dawn of the internet, discovering your sexuality and all of the confusion that comes with it, being an awkward teenager, and dating the wrong people for the wrong reasons in your twenties. But there was also much that wasn’t relatable. Like her ability to live without consequences and off of her parent’s money post college as a privileged New Yorker. The book just felt incomplete, which I guess is true because many people’s identities feel incomplete in their twenties. I just didn’t love it. Simple as that. 

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City of Women by David R. Gillham

Four out of Five Stars

“You avert your eyes enough times, and finally you go blind. You don’t actually see anything any longer.”

City of Women takes place in Berlin in 1943 at the height of World War 2. The city is falling apart and the remains are being held up mainly by women. Everyone is scared. Everyone speaks in hush tones. No one knows who to trust. Sigrid puts on a brave face and does what she is expected to do while her husband is at war and her world is falling apart around her. She continues to work her job, she supports her bitter mother in law, she donates clothing to the war effort, and sits quietly in the shelter while bombs destroy her city. She has become numb to the Nazi rule and the treatment of her fellow Jewish civilians. She is a living ghost.

But soon she begins to come alive. An affair with a mysterious Jewish man sets her heart and world on fire and opens her eyes to the cruelty going on all around her. She finds within herself the belief that she can make change. That she, a low German woman, has power to bring change.

I could not put this book down. Gillham did amazing research for this novel and war torn Berlin came to life as an additional character. There are touches of mystery and intrigue that had me hooked the entire book. 

What have you been reading?

Recently Read: Vol. 3

RecentlyReadvol3
Books are meant to be shared. And I promise, no spoilers!

I’m back for volume three of Recently Read. Sharing my thoughts and reviews on the books I’ve read in the past few weeks. You can read volume 1  and volume 2 here. Have you read any of these books?

devilinthewhitecity

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Three out of Five Stars

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.

Larson tells two stories happening side by side during the late 1800’s in Chicago. One is the massive planning, development, and execution of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The other is the true story of the serial killer that rampantly murdered hundreds of innocent victims while the city (and world) was blinded by the Fair’s brightness.

This book has been on my “to read” list since I lived in Chicago in 2009…and I think I had too high of expectations. Don’t get me wrong, this book is an incredible piece of work. I learned so many facts about the building of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The amount of passion and work put into the fair was amazing and it makes me sad that we no longer have similar expeditions. However, I was expecting the account of Dr. H. H. Holmes to be a little more…eh..graphic? (I don’t mean to sound overly morbid either) and more character development. 

Overall, the facts and the history were very interesting, but I wanted a more personal connection with the historical characters. I wanted Larson to dive a little bit deeper into the psyche of the killer and relate it more to those of the architects in charge of the fair. To me, it read more like a historical biography rather than historical fiction. 


 

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Five out of Five Stars

“Those were the reasons we both knew how deep love was, the shared pain that would outlast any pain we caused each other.”

“Teddy once told me that it’s natural that we feel alone, and that’s because our hearts are different from others and we don’t even know how. When we’re in love, as if by magic, our different hearts come together perfectly toward the same desire. Eventually, the differences return, and then comes heartache and mending, and, in between, much loneliness and fear. If love remains despite the pain of those differences, it must be guarded as rare.” 

I truly loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Tan is known for her simple, yet magical, prose, and in Valley of Amazement she once again laces together a beautiful and heart wrenching narrative about mothers and daughters and surviving as a woman during the turn of the century in Shanghai. 

The novel spans 80 years and two continents and weaves together the lives of three generations of women. The main character, Violet, the daughter of an American woman who manages a courtesan house, is kidnapped and sold as a virgin courtesan at a young age. As Violet endures every tragedy possible we stand beside her as she tries mercifully to hold onto hope, self-affirmation, love, and forgiveness. 

This book was a treasure and I enjoyed soaking up the words and history and the overpowering feelings of hope and love that surround mothers, daughter, and female friendships.


 

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriaty

Four out of Five Stars

“Each memory, good and bad, was another invisible thread that bound them together…It was as simple and complicated as that. Love after children, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best…-well, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”

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

On a little bit of a lighter note, compared to the above Valley of Amazement, What Alice Forgot was a fun read that was equally has hard to put down. What I liked most about this book was Moriaty’s way of expressing heartbreaking life moments like infertility, divorce, and loss of self in such a refreshing, and yes, fun way.

If you woke up and couldn’t remember the last 10 years of your life, what would you wish you did different? This book is about Alice, a fun and vibrant 28 year old who is madly in love with her husband and is pregnant with her first child. She then wakes up, after a fall off a bike at the gym, to realize that she is now 38, mother of three children and currently divorcing her husband. She doesn’t recognize herself, her friends, or her family. So much has changed and she does her best to put together the missing pieces. 

A great reminder to hold on to what is important to you, no matter what life throws your way. 


 

What have you been reading?