Review: Sarah’s Key

3688715Or Elle s’appelait Sarah [e: Her Name Was Sarah] as it is called in the original French version, is a melancholic tale about a Jewish girl, Sarah, and the effects the Holocaust has on her life.

Two stories unfold from two different time periods, and will eventually converge in an unexpected way. The first story is set in France during the German occupation in 1942. We are thrust into a little apartment of a girl named Sarah. She is awakened by a loud pounding on the front door. She goes to her mother, who opens the door, and they are told that they are leaving and that they ought to collect some belongings.

As Sarah quietly retreats back to her bedroom, we meet her younger brother, Michel, who sits in a cupboard in the wall. It is their special hiding space. He tells her that he will stay behind and hide, that he will be safe. Quickly, Sarah agrees by locking him in the wall of the apartment, shielding him from the terrors she is about to witness and with this single act exposing him to other terrors she will never know.

Her family then begins their dark and horrific journey to Auschwitz.

Interspersed between Sarah’s story, we meet in present day Paris, Julia Jarmond. An American expat journalist living in Paris, Julia’s marriage to her husband is strained and she feels something is missing in her life. Then she is given the chance to write about Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, since the 60th Anniversary of this tragic time is coming up. Through her research, Julia stumbles upon Sarah’s story and also upon the history of her husband’s family apartment.

She feels a compulsion to remember. To unearth all the memories and secrets from the past. To somehow make sense of Sarah’s story and what became of her. And its through Sarah that Julia finds what has been missing in her life.

The beginning of this book draws you in, gets your heart pounding, and makes you clench the pages tighter as you read through Sarah’s story. There is a heaviness that accompanies Tatiana de Rosnay’s writing on the subject matter. It is good there is the lightheartedness of Julia’s rather ‘ordinary,’ story in comparison to break up the flashbacks.

The writing is descriptive and the word choice is deliberate. The sections are short and this is a book that can quickly be devoured. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of past and present. It might seem like a method of writing done many times, but this story is wholly unique.

I give it four stars and high praise. I recommend for anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction or fiction that shows how the past informs the present and the future.

Anyone else out there read Sarah’s Key or Elle s’appelait Sarah? What about other reading recommendations from the WW2 era? I have quite a few on my TBR list that need read, but am always open to hearing recommendations. 🙂

Until next time bookish buds!

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Language Learning with (Courtney) Lynn

Can you tell from the title that I am obsessed with alliteration LOL? 😉

Anyway you may have realized by now that I have been including some [] with a lowercase ‘d’ and some interesting looking words that are definitely not English. If you follow my Instagram then you notice that I have in my little profile description that I am a language learner. And truthfully, I haven’t been doing a very good job at upholding that moniker. So I decided to include some posts about my experiences as an aspiring polyglot.

I previously alternated between learning Spanish and French while I was in school. But at that time, learning a foreign language was deemed kind of useless. So I didn’t focus as much as I should have.

I know, all of my non-American friends are probably cringing, writhing, and grumbling their disdain for this type of mindset that we have as Americans.

All I can say is: I am sorry [d: Het spijt me]. And you are the reason that I seek to amend this later in my life.

I have met some really amazing people from different parts of the world, who speak English [d: Engels], but are also fluent in other languages. As a result, I wanted a way to communicate with them in their native languages. Well, maybe not fluently, but at least include some expressions or words in their native language to show them that I care. After all, they tolerate speaking to me in English, so I figure it’s the least I can do.

(Not only that, but as an American in business, it can be extremely useful to be able to navigate another language outside of English. Especially if your company has plans on going global.)

So right now, I have two Belgian friends [d: twee Belgische vrienden–probably messed up the gender/plurality, so please correct me if one of you is reading this] who hail from the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (Flanders) and I am visiting one of them (for sure, maybe meeting up with the second one) next May. So I figured there is no time like the present to at least familiarize myself with the language.

This won’t become a language blog exclusively, and I am not sure if I will write any feature length posts about learning Dutch. I am by no means an expert, and I definitely won’t pretend to be. I merely wanted to explain why you might be seeing more Dutch included in my posts alongside the English. And maybe (if I do become brave enough to write posts exclusively about my language learning experiences) use this blog as another way to stay on track with my language learning. 🙂

Until next time, friends [d: tot de volgende keer, vrienden]!

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To review or not? Do you review ‘bad’ books?

This is a question I have been asking myself with my latest NetGalley read. Should I review it on my blog? Or should I just send the obligatory mediocre review via the NetGalley website?

I know a lot of bloggers fall into the “keep your mouth shut,” category, and I think that is well and good. Why should a reader/reviewer waste anymore time creating content for a book he/she/they disliked? Does crafting hate about a writer and their work turn them into a troll? Yeah, I guess it could if not handled respectfully.

But just like anything in life, we have to take the good with the bad. And I think the same goes for book reviews. But here are five [d: vijf] things I think about after reading a not so stellar book in order to determine if I should or should not review it on my personal blog.

  1. Is this an author’s debut work or are they a seasoned author? I believe writing is a process. The more you write, the better you become. Perhaps an author’s first read isn’t that great, but maybe they will get better as time goes on. (Unless you are super lucky and amazingly talented and your first work is a total hit. J.K. Rowling, what a show off.) This is one thing I try to research on, and try to address if it is something that can be turned from a negative comment into a positive.
  2. That brings me to my next point: try to find a silver lining. I like to describe myself as someone who always tries to look at things from multiple angles (aka what some people might call ‘overthinking’). But this is just how my brain is hardwired. So I think that is why I try to always turn something I perceived to be negative into a positive. Or to try and get into the author’s mind, and argue for what they intended in an effort to make the review come across as less negative. Here’s an example of what I mean by this cut from one of my reviews this year:

    “The dialogue also felt a bit awkward to me. It was overly formal and explanative at times, which made it sound either cheesy or just cringe worthy. After reflecting on this a bit, I think the author was trying to set a “southern tone….”

  3. Is there problematic content in the book that isn’t addressed in a healthy fashion? Are women or other minorities used as plot devices to further the white, male agenda? Are there troubling sex scenes that seek no type of resolution? Whatever you consider ‘problematic content,’ I think these types of things should be addressed. I think it’s important to explain why you felt a book or some component of a book perpetuates something negative in society. And for that reason, calling out these things in a review is acceptable as long as you have valid points to back up your argument.
  4.  Am I not the “target audience?” As much as we want to believe that all books are for everyone, there might be times when this doesn’t ring true. Books are created for a lot of reasons, but one of the major ones is: are they profitable? A lot of market research goes into books and an author’s fanbase that come from the major publishing houses. As a result, they discuss things like which audience they want to target and capture with each read. We as readers aren’t aware of what ‘audience group,’ each book is targeting, and as a result, we might pick something that research suggests isn’t favorable to us. Now, this doesn’t mean we as readers are limited in what we are allowed to like or dislike. I’m just stating that publishers and authors might take different approaches to writing, editing, marketing, if their intent is to appeal to a specific target audience. Sometimes works don’t appeal to us  for that reason. This thought process usually generates the “this read wasn’t for me, but might be for someone who likes x, y, or z…” statement.
  5. Can I understand something better about the book or what the author’s overall message was by reviewing it? Basically, does the book you were not so crazy about have a good overall message? Is it worth exploring in more detail through your review? Is there something worthy about it that you want others to know about? This kind of also ties back to my number two [d: twee], but is more specific in what it is asking. I think if there is some golden nugget that is wholly unique in a book you’re not a fan of (yes it’s happened to me before), then it is worth reviewing and mentioning.

I know these things might seem like they take a negative review and turn it into a positive one, but I don’t think that is the case. I think this thought process works to create constructively criticized reviews. And I think it also helps answer that burning question of: do I review this book or is it just a waste of time?

The answer to my initial question of whether or not to review my latest NetGalley read was found as I wrote up this blog post. I think it is important to offer up an honest review to the team who gave you the free advanced copy, which I have done. But I don’t think you are under any obligation to do a full court media press of it, if you don’t have more than a few sentences of commentary to offer up.

How do you all feel about bad book reviews? Do you have some type of rational behind writing them? Or do you just don’t mention them at all? Would love to hear some differing opinions on this as its my first ‘opinions,’ piece! 🙂

Until next time my bookish friends!

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Two Reads in One (Week That Is)!

As you can see from the title, I finished two reads this past week and am super excited about it! Normally I only have time to finish one in a week, if I am even that lucky. Balancing hobbies with adult responsibilities can be a challenge, especially around the holiday season, am I right?

Luckily I am a planner, and 95% of my Christmas shopping is done-zo! *crosses oneself and points heavenward* Thank God, because I am really not a shopper. Unless its for books, hah. So all that is left is the dreaded wrapping. *stares dramatically into the camera like from The Office* Good thing most of my friends live far away so the gifts/cards they receive don’t have my “specially” wrapped look to them. 😉

Anyway, I am really happy that I finished these two books! Not because I wanted them to end, no they were both great reads, but because they put me on track to finish my Goodreads Challenge for the year. I have yet to complete one, but this year, I am determined to slay this beast. Only 4 (somehow it counted one of my DNF’s) left to go & victory will be mine!

Wow, I am busting out all the cliche’s this morning. I suppose that is what happens when I have four cups of coffee [d: koffie] with breakfast [d: ontbijt].

Back to the focus of this post. My last two reads were Neil Gaiman’s, Neverwhereand Simone St. James’, The Broken Girls

23462649Neverwhere was recommended to me by two lovely, bookish friends. And I can say they were so right in getting me to bump this one up on my list. It’s definitely a dark, and gothic-esque read, perfect for this time of year when its dark more than its like.

Neverwhere tells the story of Richard, an ordinary man from London Above, who accidentally stumbles upon the world of London Below by simply helping one of its inhabitants, Door. Richard finds himself on an unlikely quest with unlikely companions that take him places that someone from the world above could only dream about.

Told in exquisite detail, Gaiman fails to disappoint readers. His world building capabilities blow me away. Only he could have readers confused, intrigued, and able to comprehend the world he presents all at the same time. His way with words paints vivid images and stirs up strong emotions in readers, and Neverwhere is no exception to this ability. I easily gave it a four star rating, and hope one day we get a sequel.

The second read, was a buddy read with my go-to reading buddy. When she came to visit this past summer, I somehow got an extra box from Book of the Month, and decided to give her the extra books since I had doubles of two books.The Broken Girls

One was The Broken Girls by Simone St. James. Since we’ve plowed through the Outlander books we both have, we decided to try for something different this time. Our fifth buddy read, this one surprised us both! We read it in a record breaking four days.

The Broken Girls has a little bit of everything sprinkled into it; from WW2 history, to breaking through sexism of the 1950s, a modern day murder mystery that still hangs over a town as though partially left unsolved, and a supernatural element that haunts both the past and the present. It sounds a little overwhelming and disjointed, like it wouldn’t work right? Somehow Simone St. James manages to weave all of these elements together to create a gripping and unique tale.

This story is a sad yet poignant tale of girls whom society wronged and whom Simone St. James gives a voice to while kindly laying those truly broken girls to rest. It is a fast paced, well written tale, one that I gave a four star rating to and would highly recommend.

As we continue to move through the weekend, what is everyone else up to? Reading? Prepping the holiday snowfall of activity that will eventually descend? 

I’m not feeling the greatest so just catching up on blog posts and reading my latest Netgalley read that has a Tuesday pub date!

Until next time friends [d: vrienden]!

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Feminine Voices in Mythology

Sirens. Half formed creatures. Monsters. Goddesses. Slaves. Captors. Witches. Villains.

These are the words that first spring to mind when I think of women who are widely known in mythology. Sure, goddesses might seem like a complementary word. But when speaking of goddesses in mythology, they generally exist only for the male gaze or for the pleasure of men.

This notion really didn’t dawn on me until I recently discovered two books set in ancient times whose objective was to retell and reform these original ‘classic,’ tales to include a female voice.

Both The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and Circe. by Madeline Miller, seek to reclaim lost voices that history conveniently skips over. These books couldn’t have more different narrators, but they contain this common theme of shedding light on the female perspective within mythology.

This is a long post on feminism in mythology and how it is needed, so buckle up readers.
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Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the BardoThis is one of these hauntingly beautiful reads that sticks with you even after you walk away. But I want to be upfront about a couple of possible triggers that some might find disturbing.  Mentions of suicide, rape, and incest, are a couple of things that come directly to mind. And while they aren’t flushed out in explicit detail, they are there. I just want it to be known that these types of heavy and dark subjects are mentioned.

Lincoln in the Bardo was an autumnal recommendation from another bookish friend of mine, Ellen. You should check out this post for her recommendations for this time of year, and also just check out her blog in general. She reads some really interesting things!

It is set shortly following the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie. And without giving too much away, the story is really creatively laid out. There are short snippets within quick chapters, which makes this a really quick read. It will also help if you’re someone like me who recently experience a major reading slump. This gave me back my reading grove.

Anyway, the narration inserts real life clips from various historical sources about the private lives of the Lincolns during Willie’s death, and the early days of the Civil War. It also switches over to the ghosts of a nearby graveyard where Willie has recently been interned. This is where this story begins to tug on your heart strings.

Learning the back stories of the various ghosts and how they came to be in the graveyard was interjected with the perfect amount of sadness and humor. Sometimes you even forgot they were no longer ‘human,’ because Saunders really takes great care to accentuate those mortal qualities that make us all one in the same, even in the after life.

Bevins, one of the primary ghosts who narrated the graveyard parts, really struck me. Two of the quotes that I marked fairly early on in my reading belonged to him. The initial one where we learn of his death really was too much for me to put in here, but if you ever do read, you will understand which passage I’m referring to. But based on the reason behind his death it really isn’t surprising that he is the one who also states:

“We were perhaps not so unloveable as we had come to believe.”

Even as a stand alone quote, it sounds so beautifully sad. In the afterlife, they all begin to believe that they are no longer deserving of love or recognition. This idea especially becomes apparent whenever a grieving Abe Lincoln appears to pay respects to his son Willie’s grave. Just thinking about it all brings a tear to my eye.

For fans of creatively written tales like The Book Thief, and for those who are intrigued by history, this marries those two concepts in a brilliant way that will simultaneously break you down and give you hope for a better place once we depart from this one.

The foreshadowing of future events at the end is another brilliant incorporation of history into a ghostly tale. I gave this an easy if_star-4_47965if_star-4_47965if_star-4_47965if_star-4_47965if_star-0_47961

Any other ghostly reads out there I should be aware of? Let me know! I would love to add to that part of my shelves!

Until next time bookish buds!

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Belgian Buddy Read & Tossing My TBR!

Hi [d: Hallo] friends!

My Belgian Buddy aka Emma (whom I probably talk about in at least every single blog post–annoying yet lol?) and I just finished our fourth read in our best friend book club! Our goals were to read the rest of the Outlander series together (along with the Lord John Grey series because hello, who doesn’t love him?) and we are nearly there!

This year we read three (3) books in the series! Yes, you read that correctly! For those of you not familiar with the series, each book will set you back at least 1,000 pages of reading time. I think maybe the first one is the only one exempt from this category. But feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! My memory isn’t quite what it used to be.

Prior to starting this serial buddy read with her, I think I was averaging  one (1) OL book every six to eight months. Meanwhile Emma read three (3) in one month haha. So I suppose the 3-4 months it takes us to get through the next three books kind of evens out our reading paces.

An Echo in the BoneAnyway, this latest one was titled An Echo in the Bone. (See my previous post about it if you want to see her pretty cover. Mine is the one featured in this post). And just like  almost every other novel in the series, it leaves a lot of things up in the air at the end. I think you can kind of see through our commentary below (found in my bullet journal) that we were simultaneously amused, confused, and frustrated by everything that was jammed packed into this 1,000(ish) page read.

Yes, there are explicit words below, so consider this your warning.

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As far as my ranking of the books in the series, I think I find them all pretty much on even ground. The only book that felt torturous to read was The Fiery Cross. Good thing I didn’t start doing these commentary pages then, it would have been me complaining the whole time with Emma calmly telling me there has to be a reason for this. Drums of Autumn was hard to get through as well. I think a lot of this is attributed to the fact that Claire and Jamie take up residence in a “new world,” (sort of punny if you know where they end up in this book) so a lot of new world building needs to take place.

But all of that aside DG does a great job at world building, character development and slowly revealing the significance of seemingly insignificant details. I seriously recommend this series to my historical fiction lovers who love time traveling to different periods in history.

I gave this one four (4) stars. It’s fast paced and quick (well as quick as a 1,000 page read can be ;)), and there are several storylines that run parallel to one another, which I think helps break it up. Still, these books are a rather large time commitment to read, so I highly recommend the buddy read system for them! I definitely wouldn’t be this far along in the series without Emma.

Also, check out the television series as well! It very closely resembles the novels, which makes me as a fan verra (‘very’) happy. Season 4 premiers on November 4th! I know Emma and I cannot wait to begin watching it during our ‘down time,’ between books.

Anyway, onto my second mini announcement. I have come to the conclusion that I need to toss the idea of a TBR. I announced via Instagram some books I planned on reading this month, and as I tried to pick a couple of them up and read through them, I found myself stuck.

So I have come to the conclusion that establishing a TBR just doesn’t work for me. I’m an impulse/spontaneous/’read what I want’ type of reader. I think all those years of being forced to read things as an English Lit student have caused this sort of rebellion in me.

And I think that is totally ok to admit that TBRs aren’t for you. The reason this kind of came up is because of all the recent readathons that pop up when the weather gets cozy and people tend to retreat indoors.

Most of them encourage the whole ‘announcement of your TBR,’ and while that might be find to allow some people to focus. I don’t think I will be participating in those types of challenges. They are just unrealistic goals for me that I will likely never meet, and then, when I do fail, I feel it hard.

Also, I read a billion resumes at work each day. I don’t want siting down to read a novel to feel like a chore either. This is my fun hobby. My escape from the daily grind. Trying to force myself to read things that don’t appeal to me in the moment kind of sucks the fun out of the whole reading experience and turns into work. And I don’t want it to feel that way.

That being said, I did participate in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon for a few hours yesterday, and I read a really awesome book called Lincoln in the Bardo. This was a recommendation from a newer bookish friend (who, ironically is also Belgian–seriously am I a magnet for this country & its people?). I will be talking more about that experience in another upcoming post! It is definitely one that deserves a stand alone review. 🙂

How about the rest of you? Are you “planners” or “go with the flow” type readers? Do you create TBRs or have you long tossed this idea? 

Until next time book buds!

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