Recently Read Vol. 6

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

I’m back for volume six 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 and volume 5 here. 

I was reading a bit slow these past two weeks. I couldn’t get my brain to focus, it was too occupied with all things baby. I was also diving into a couple of pregnancy and parenthood books as well. But here I finally am:

Have you read any of these books?

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What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Four out of Five Stars

““What would have happened if the patients had been asked what had happened to them instead of what was wrong with them?”

This book examines the shocking world of mental hospitals during the 1920’s and 1930’s, a time when women could be committed for the simplest of reasons like angry outbursts, widowhood, depression, anxiety, poverty, and developmental disabilities. 

Told from two point of views, that of the 1920’s era patient Clara and the 1990’s student Izzy who’s foster parents work for a museum uncovering found suitcases at a local mental institution.

Clara comes from an upper crust NYC family. She defies her emotionally distant parents and falls in love (and become impregnated) with an Italian immigrant while embracing the flapper lifestyle. Her parents try to force her to marry “one of her own kind” and while discussing this arranged marriage, Clara, gasp, shows her true emotions. Her father decides to send her away to a top rate mental hospital to think about her future and calm her nerves. But after the stock market crashes and her family loses their fortune, Clara is sent to a government funded mental institution.

Izzy discovers Clara’s discarded suitcase and journal and sets off to learn more about this woman and how she ended up at the institution.

Clara’s story was intriguing and horrifying while Izzy’s story read like a YA novel. I would have preferred to only have the novel told from Clara’s perspective.

Clara is treated like a prisoner. She arrives at the institution completely sane but after being stripped of all her rights, force fed medication, and nearly starved to death she begins to lose her mind. Her treatment sent me on a Wikipedia dark hole search where I tried to learn as much about institutional treatment during this time. I was pleased to discover that the institution she was held at is a real place and the exhibit featuring the lost suitcases was a real exhibit.

If you have any interest in mental health history and development, especially treatment of women, then I recommend this easy to read novel.  

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Smart Women by Judy Blume

2 out of 5 stars

 So I decided to read this because I thought I needed something light to read while my sore hips and back were waking me up at 2 AM every night. This book fit that bill, it was an easy fluffy read that required little thought or reflection. Not one aspect of this book stuck with me after reading it. I thought I would like it because I really enjoyed reading Blume’s “Summer Sisters” last year during vacation.

Smart Women is about two divorced women, Margo and B.B., living in Colorado in the 80’s, trying to find their footing and reignite their love life. We also hear the point of views of their two teenage daughters. Teenage thoughts is where Blume excels and diving into the minds of the two younger girls were the best part of this book.

Eh. That’s all I have to say. 

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Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

4 out of 5 stars

“She had no existence, in herself. From earliest childhood she had believed this. Rather she was a reflecting surface, reflecting others’ perception of her, and love of her.”

 Oates is one of my top 5 favorite authors and her latest novel did not disappoint. I love her take on modern American Gothic and how her descriptive narratives drip with a raw realism.

Carthage begins in 2005, in a small town in upstate NY. A teenage girl has gone missing and her family is falling to pieces. At the center of the crime is a tormented war vet, accused of being part of her killing, although no true evidence is found. Oates follows the story of the girl’s family and the vet, jumping back and forth between the past and history as she makes question how can life go on after death? In Catharage’s case, how can life go on after the sudden and mysterious death of a child and after an American boy returns from Iraq with no sense of his former self.

On another layer, Carthage digs into our countries twisted legal system and death penalty. Who really is to blame for tragedy and for death? How easily does the line between victim and criminal get blurred?

What have you been reading?

Recently Read Vol 1

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I’m most content when cuddled up somewhere quiet with a good book.

As a previous English Major I still find myself overly enthusiastic over beautiful prose and character development. But, it’s not all about literary accolades. Believe me, I can get equally lost in a Tolstoy novel as a melodramatic beach read. I pass no judgements with books. They are my way of not only escaping but also learning about myself and the world we live in by posing questions and making me adjust my perspective.

Books are such a major part of my life, it may seem odd that I have yet to include book discussions or reviews in my blog.

But I know exactly why. And it’s incredibly selfish. Some things I like to keep private. Reading a book can be such an intimate event. I selfishly want to believe that my experience, or you may say relationship, with my cherished characters and author is one only I endure. In a way it is true, no one else will feel the same exact way as you do about say Jane Eyre or Holden Caulfield. 

Yet, another side of me loves hearing what your experiences with shared books are like. I also like getting book recommendations. (On the other hand, there is nothing worse than recommending a book that you love to a friend that ends up hating it.)

But in the end, ideas are meant to be shared. And I want to share my ideas and books and my beloved characters with you. 

After asking last week if you agreed, and many of you did, I’ve decided to start a “Recently Read” post every few books or so. Please share your thoughts and any books that you’ve recently read as well! You can also follow me on Goodreads.

Here the books I’ve read the second half of this summer:

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?”

Held at the enchanting Hampden College in Vermont in the 1980’s, reminiscent Brett Easton Ellis’s work (he and Tartt were classmates at Bennington College), The Secret History unravels a “why done it” (rather than “who done it”) murder mystery with a cast of 6 rich, privileged, and eccentric  youths obsessed with the classics and their equally eccentric teacher.

Tartt’s storytelling transforms this implausible story of murder and evil into a tale that you could imagine being told in hushed whisper among freshman classmates at any liberal arts college. I stayed up far too late many nights, enchanted by the characters, the scenery, and the gothic romanticism of Tartt’s debut novel.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about Goldfinch? Would I like it?

me before you

Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I thought, briefly, that I would never feel as intensely connected to the world, to another human being, as I did at that moment.” 

A heartbreaking and uplifting story about finding love in the most unexpected places. Lou is a small town girl who has lived a small life, one filled with routines and no risks. All of that changes when a quadriplegic enters her life and she begins to question everything about herself.

A spirit lifting page turner that will make you laugh and cry. I was warned before reading this book that I would be bawling my eyes out. I’m generally a big crier, but this book entertained and made me feel that “good sadness” I did not bawl my eyes out though.

A book to make you feel warm and cozy but to also question, “Am I living the life I am meant to live? Am I pushing myself to be the best me?”

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East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

“If you were lucky, very lucky indeed, there were one or two people in your life who you could tell the unvarnished truth too, shell and egg. And that these people held the essence of you inside them. The rest would be conversations that ended when night fell, or the dinner part ended.” 

I purchased this book on the clearance rack at Barnes and Noble. It looked like a book I’d enjoy – a historical fiction with different female character narrators taken place during a setting that I knew little about: colonial India in the 1920’s.

It’s about 3 females who depart England in route to India in hopes of getting married or figuring out who they are (or something…_) Parts were good…I learned a lot…but parts were also hokey,melodramatic, and boring. The ending was tied up all pretty with a bow – if you like that! It was still an interesting read, I don’t know if I would have bought it if it wasn’t $4.99.  

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TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing möbius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.” 

Colum McCann’s one of my favorite authors (This Side of Brightness, Let The Great World Spin, Fishing the Sloe-Black River are other favorites) so I knew I was in for a treat.

TransAtlantic is a multi generational story telling various tales of people’s, you guessed it, trans atlantic voyages and new world experiences, closing the gap between Ireland and America. At first I couldn’t see how everyone was mended together but then it shown to me in all it’s beauty. I read this book, ironically, on flight.

It held me entranced with its beauty and grace. 

 

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Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“What’s the point of thinking about how it’s going to end when it’s just the beginning?”

The perfect beach read. Judy Blume’s relatable (adult) characters lifted right of the pages. I got lost in the world of Martha’s Vineyard and the friendship between two best friends over 20 years while lounging on the beach in Jamaica.

Blume gets female friendships. She demonstrates how they can be complex, simple, beautiful, obsessive, trite, and disastrous all at once. Funny, addicting, and heart breaking. I could not put it down. It caused me to buy another of her adult fiction books. 

WeWereLiars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Be sad, be sorry-but don’t shoulder it.” 

YA literature at its best. Loved, loved, loved this little coming of age book. 

I gobbled up this book in one setting, it was so good. It’s about 3 cousins and one friend who spend their summers together off the coast of Massachusetts. I can’t say much else without giving it away, but simply a short, must read.  A great mystery with a shocking twist.

I guessed the ending – let me know if you do too! 

 

Have you read any of the above? What are you reading right now? Let’s talk books!