August 26, 2016

Gosh, you would think that now that we moved into our home in Hawaii, I would be back into my routine and conquering the world. Ha!

It’s been a crazy few weeks just figuring out life. I’m grateful that we are back to a place that we have lived before because knowing where things like the commissary, gas station, etc, are has made things so much easier. The movers are coming next week and then things will get even crazier with boxes and unpacking, but I am ready to finally settle down and get organized.

Here’s what I read this month. I’ve got a linkup at the bottom of this post and I hope that you will join in the fun!

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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After reading about this book on Mandy’s blog, I suggested it for our online Book Club, Beyond Words. I was so excited when it was voted our August book. If you aren’t familar with Mandy’s blog, you definitely should check it out. So far, I have read two books that she recommended, and I loved both of them.

Salt to the Sea is a YA historical fiction novel about the worst maritime disaster in history, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. 10,000 refugees crammed into a ship only meant to hold 1,500. The 10,000 refugees were seeking safety as the Soviet army advanced, leaving from Gotenhafen, Poland, for Kiel, Germany. A Soviet submarine sank the ship with three torpedoes and it is estimated that 9,400 people died.

The story is told in quick 1-2 page chapters that rotate between the perspectives of four different teenagers. They are all from different countries, coming from different circumstances, and fighting the war in their own ways, yet their paths cross and they find themselves bound to each other. It was a bit difficult to keep all of the characters straight at first, but once I got into the book, I was hooked. I liked the shorter chapters because you were constantly getting the perspective of multiple characters about pretty much everything that happened.

Lately I’m noticing when an author has that rare gift to enable you to feel empathy for even the most grimy characters. I felt for all of the characters, even the German soldier who was one of the most unlikable characters I’ve encountered recently.

This book was written about events that occurred in World War II, which may seem far away from us or from the young people for whom the book is written. But the plight of refugees — their fear, their pain, their losses, their uncertainty, their willingness to go on an overcrowded boat with horrible conditions to flee what they are currently facing, their sacrifices for each other — that is unfortunalely relevant today. This was especially apparent to me in the character of Emilia, a Polish teenager, pregnant and afraid that if anyone finds out she is Polish she would be murdered. I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy YA and/or historical fiction. I think it would make a great gift for a young adult.

An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay

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The day before I left for Hawaii, my friend Joyce let me borrow a couple of books for the plane, and this was one of them. I ended up sleeping most of the plane ride so I just got to this book. Roxanne Gay is the author of Bad Feminist, which I loved, so I was interested to read her debut novel.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. A woman named Mireille, the daughter of one of Haiti’s richest families, lives in America now. She goes back to Haiti with her American husband and their son. On her way to the beach, Mireille is abducted by a group of men. They abducted her because of her family’s wealth, believing they can get a large ransom from her father. They cannot stand to see such wealth being thrown around when so much of the country is in poverty. But her father resists paying the ransom, unwilling to give up the fortune that he worked his whole life to earn to a group of kidnappers. She spends 13 days enduring the unthinkable.

The book details in graphic violence her days in captivity, with flashbacks Mireille’s childhood. It also covers what happens after she is finally freed, which I think was the most important part of the book. This book is about so much. It’s about class and violence and family and forgiveness and redemption and womanhood and love and survival.

I must quote a review from another Goodreads member, which can be found here. I don’t think I could say this any better:

“For me, An Untamed State is about what a woman absorbs. It’s about the things she keeps quiet to protect those she most ferociously loves. It’s about a willingness to die and come back from the dead, to run and be brave enough to return.”

One character that I couldn’t connect with was Mireille’s father. He clearly states his reasoning for why he doesn’t want to pay the kidnappers, but I couldn’t buy it. What father wouldn’t give up literally everything he had to save his daughter from rape and violence and possibly even death? I didn’t feel like he did enough for Mireille and I hated him for it. Mireille’s response to him only highlights the Goodreads review above. If you have read this book, what did you think about him? Did you think this was realistic? 

I highly recommend this book, but I also must warn you that is it very graphic and violent.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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I just joined a book club here in Hawaii, and The Nightingale was our first book. It revolves around two French sisters during WWII. Although their relationship is strained and they experience the war very differently, the war brings them together in unexpected ways. I loved both of the sisters and often wondered whose response to the war mine would have been closer to. I think I am closer to Viann. If you have read the book, who did you feel you related to more?

In both sisters, I admired their bravery and their willingness to stand up for what they believed to be right, even when they put themselves and their families in grave danger to do so. Even when that meant disagreeing with each other. Even when that meant loneliness, fear, and sacrifices I could never even comprehend. Their strained relationship with each other and with their father was one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of the story for me.

This ended up being a perfect book club book. There were so many well-developed characters and so many different choices that were made that we could have spent days talking about it. I felt that you could really understand the motivations, desires, and decisions of all the main characters. At our book cub we talked a lot about whether or not the characters’ actions were justified. We kept coming back to the same thought: they didn’t know when the war would end, how it would end, or how bad things would get. Could anyone really have imagined gas chambers, children being shot, children being ripped from their mothers’ arms?

Although it was bit too sentimental at times, I loved this book and I’ll be recommending it to anyone who will listen. This is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you put it down, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

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Just skip this one. I am a huge fan of Alice Sebold and I loved The Lovely Bones and her memoir, Lucky. I  read The Almost Moon because I really enjoyed Sebold’s other two books, but this book was … boring. Not interesting. My favorite Alice Sebold book so far is Lucky (read my review of Lucky here).

What are you reading lately? I think I need a break from books about war, but I just can’t stop reading them. Any suggestions?

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12 responses to “What I read in August.”

  1. I don’t know how you managed to read both The Nightingale and Salt To The Sea this month! Both are such good books but so tough emotionally that they definitely stay with you for a long time! I loved that Salt To The Sea was told from so many different perspectives and that it was told from the eyes of young adults because they were the ones that had to deal with the effects of the war for a long time afterwards. I also hated the German soldier in the book, but Ruta really did a great job of making you have some empathy for him too. This was a great choice this month for book club! I’m also going to check out An Untamed State because it sounds really interesting!

    • Carolann says:

      I don’t know how I read both of those books right next to each other! It was a tough month but I just can’t stop reading WWII books. I was trying not to compare them because they are such different books, but it was hard not to. I think I might have enjoyed The Nightingale more, but there were parts of The Nightingale that I thought were too improbable or overly sentimental so I liked that Sal to the Sea was very real to me.

      That German soldier, man. He was awful but I just loved reading his chapters. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to him and it was interesting to get the perspective of someone kind of thrust into the war/brainwashed.

  2. carly says:

    I couldn’t help but think about the Syrian refugees as I was reading Salt to the Sea. Sepetys really does have a gift for storytelling in a way that makes you care so deeply for the characters.

    • Carolann says:

      All I could think about as I read this book was how people are still going through this today. I think that more people need to be reading this book because it really does get you to understand what they went through.

  3. Jenn says:

    I really loved the Nightingale, too! I also added Salt to the Sea to my list since I wasn’t able to read it for book club.

    • Carolann says:

      I think you will love Salt to the Sea. It’s such a beautiful, moving book. And it’s super quick – I think I read it in about 2 days. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen!!

  4. Lauren says:

    You had a great reading month this month! I’ll definitely have to add Salt to the Sea to my list!

    • Carolann says:

      I really did! I was so glad too because I was starting to feel like I didn’t have anything great to read after a few so-so books. I just requested The Girls from the library — can’t wait to read it.

  5. Amanda says:

    Glad you likes Salt to the Sea! I agree that I hated the German character but still found his chapters so interesting. I think The Nightingale would be great for book club. I would have enjoyed having more people to discuss it with as I was reading! I didn’t love it but I did enjoy it and thought the perspective was interesting. And so awful the things that happened. I’m so glad we don’t live in that era!

    • Carolann says:

      I’m glad you say that about the German soldier, because I was starting to think that there was something wrong with me when I kept enjoying his chapters. I hated him, but he was such a fascinating character to me. I just joined my first in-person book club and I just love it. It’s so much fun to be able to talk about the characters and vent your frustrations about them! I get very into my books. Also, everyone brings dessert. This month we’re reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Summary and I hope it’s good because I picked it.

  6. Jen says:

    It’s amazing how long the adjustment period can last after a move. I always try to get back into a routine quickly but I always fail haha. Hopefully, the next move will be more successful.

    • Carolann says:

      I really appreciate your comment, because it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one. Since is my third move with the military, and since it’s back to a place I have lived before, I thought it would be so much easier. I am learning that every move is so different and you just never know how you’re going to adjust. Not having our household goods has also made me feel like we still are not settled. Luckily I’ve already made some awesome friends and they have helped me feel at home. Plus, the movers are coming tomorrow! I can’t wait to unpack boxes and start to set things up. I think that will help a lot.

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