For most of us, there are still a few weeks left of summer before school starts up, and definitely several more weekends to laze by the pool before the weather starts getting cooler outside. (Seems like a distant dream now, doesn’t it?) Now is the perfect time to crack open a new book or several! I read a few books last month I’d highly recommend, and a few more that I’m betting some of you out there will love. Here’s a list of what read and what I thought about it all:
Don’t read Under the Tuscan Sun if you’re looking for a riveting plot line — Here, you’ll find a collection of deep thoughts, sumptuous descriptions of Italy, advice, and recipes from a college professor who bought a crumbling country home in Tuscany, restored it with her partner, and wrote her recollections afterward. It’s the kind of lush, gorgeous book that’s meant to be savored and enjoyed rather than raced through; I read it over a period several months, picking it up to start my day with coffee, or enjoying it at sunset with a glass of wine. I found that it calmed my spirit, reminded me of my wanderlust, and made me really consider what I want from my life and where I want to make my home as I grow older. I will be returning to this book often. Highly recommended.
A Little Life is undoubtedly the most devastating, heartbreaking book I’ve ever read. I’m not easily disturbed when reading fiction, but there were times when I read this book wincing and afraid to turn the page, so gut-wrenching were its contents. And yet, A Little Life will undoubtedly be one of the best books I read this year.
What saves it is Yanagihara’s beautiful writing and her ability to bring her characters to life in a way that had me thinking about them all day long, as if they were real people. The book’s length makes it a significant time investment for the reader, yet it also gives Yanagihara time to flesh out her characters in a way that allows the reader to be a fly on the wall for everything from their entirely mundane, everyday activities to their most private and sometimes shameful moments — Because of this level of character development, I felt completely invested in them, particularly in Jude and Willem. I had trouble putting the book down.
A Little Life certainly isn’t for everyone — It is a long and at times dense read and it is fraught with very dark, graphic, and intensely painful descriptions of self-harm and abuse. It is definitely not for readers who can’t handle details of sexual abuse. But if you are able to endure, you will be rewarded with a masterpiece of human emotion and characters you will never, ever forget.
I recently read Daring Greatly for my book club. Although several members of my book club absolutely loved it, I can’t say I personally enjoyed it — but it definitely had some helpful, useful advice and I loved the parenting chapter at the end. There’s much food for thought in this book about learning to be vulnerable with loved ones and co-workers and becoming shame-resilient; parents, creatives, and workplace leaders will find plenty of useful advice. On the con side, I found Brown’s writing to be formulaic and repetitive, and some of the anecdotes felt inauthentic and wooden.
If you’ve been wanting to read Daring Greatly, I recommend that you keep it on your nightstand and read a chapter at a time when the mood strikes you. There’s a lot to unbox in each chapter and it’s worth spending a little time thinking about how/ whether to implement the advice in your own life before moving on to the next section.
I really appreciate this book for shedding light on the sinking of the ship Wilhelm Gustleff during WWII — Although it was the greatest maritime disaster in history, with an estimated 9,000 of the 10,000 aboard losing their lives (most were civilian refugees and 5,000 of them were children), most of us have never heard of it. This meticulously researched book brings what happened to life in a very real and personal way, and from this perspective, Salt to the Sea is unforgettable.
That said, it is very much a YA novel, and so emotions and occurrences are simplified a little more than I would have liked as an adult reader. The author moves between four different characters in each chapter, and most chapters are only a page or two, which made the book disjointed and at times confusing and kept me from truly becoming immersed in the story. Also, only the last 50 or so pages are devoted to the sinking of the ship — Most of the book is spent in fleshing out the main characters of the novel. In retrospect, I think I would have preferred learning more about those who were aboard the ship.
Salt to the Sea is an important read for teens — It gives them a better understanding of the atrocities of war and may help them realize how fortunate they are to not be in a similar situation. Adult readers, however, may find it somewhat lacking in detail and emotion.
Oh my gosh, I LOVED THIS BOOK. Part sweeping historical fiction about life on the great frontier in the late 1800s, part epic romance (and I’m typically not a big fan of romance), These is My Words is filled with laughter and tears and plenty of adventure, all from the perspective of the very likable and outspoken Sarah Agnes Prine. I am so glad there are two sequels, because I’m not ready to give up Sarah and her family yet!