The first month of 2016 is in the books! And speaking of books, we read quite a few this month. But first, here are our reading goals for the year.
Sarah: 24 books (hopefully this year I will reach this goal!)
Nick: 12 books
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
From Amazon.com: "Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge."
I've heard so many great things about this book and it certainly did not disappoint. I never thought stories about WWII would appeal to me, but after reading The Book Thief (review here) and now this, maybe I'm discovering a new favorite. This story is told from the perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, starting from a very young age. We know that their stories come together, but I didn't anticipate how exactly they would. This story was beautifully written and Doerr does such a great job of painting a picture of Saint-Malo (which I now REALLY want to visit.) Some parts of the story were slower than others, but there were many times I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. One of the most appealing parts of this book for me is that the chapters were very short (1-2 pages.) I do a lot of reading on the bus to/from work, and it's often hard to finish a chapter. I loved how easy it was find a good stopping point, but also how easy it was to keep reading because "the next chapter is a short one!" Overall, I highly recommend.
My Rating: 5 Stars
Room by Emma Donoghue
From Amazon.com: "To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world... It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating - a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child."
Room has been sitting on our bookshelf for years and I don't know what took me so long to read it. I had heard such great things about the movie and really wanted to make sure I read the book and saw the movie before "awards season." Luckily I have accomplished both! Let me start with the book: it's good, but not my favorite. I don't think I'd read it again. I struggled a bit at the beginning with Jack as the narrator. Reading the thoughts of a 5 year old that has never seen the outside of a 11x11' room was difficult. I also got a bit bored with life in Room. Spoiler alert? (I don't think it is, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.) They finally get out of Room about midway through the story, and that's where I really started enjoying it more. But the real gem is the movie. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay were both absolutely fantastic. If you're going to partake in one or the other, I'd pick the movie. Although I do recommend you read the book too (this is a book review after all!)
My Rating: 4 Stars
A Beautiful Mess: Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson & Emma Chapman
From Amazon.com: "Step inside the world of Elsie and Emma, the sisters behind the décor blog A Beautiful Mess. With tiny budgets and a crafty, can-do attitude, they overhauled each room in their first homes with DIY projects using family photos, vibrant fabrics, flea-market finds, and affordable furniture. Now, you can learn how to paint, craft, and decorate your way to a happy, bright space with distinct personality. In the same upbeat spirit and modern style found on their blog, you’ll find fresh, all-new projects... Packed with bonus styling tips from hanging the perfect gallery wall to making mismatched furniture work, Happy Handmade Home is design inspiration for personalizing your own space."
While I typically love and want to imitate anything and everything A Beautiful Mess creates (just look at our blog archives), this book just didn't quite do it for me. I bookmarked a couple of things that I want to try down the road, but many of the tutorials just seemed too homemade for me, if that makes sense. I'm clearly all for DIY, so maybe my tastes have just changed as I think about styling a house someday (hopefully soon!) and I want to make DIY projects that look like they could be purchased. Of course, the photography in this book is beautiful and the book itself was aesthetically pleasing, but it didn't serve for as much inspiration as I thought it would.
My Rating: 3 Stars
The Martian by Andy Weir
From Amazon.com: "Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive - and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old 'human error' are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit - he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"
The Martian is easily one of the best books I've read in a very long time. The details and science in this book are really what drive the plot and amp up the excitement and suspense factor to the max. Every time Mark found himself in another seemingly impossible to overcome predicament, I simply could not wait to see how he came up with a way out of it. As the reader, I loved being inside the mind of such a brilliant (and seriously funny) guy as he fights for survival on Mars.
Reads Sarah's review here.
My Rating: 5 Stars
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
From Amazon.com: "Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ship of fools. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all... Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air."
I realize I'm late to the party with this book, but who cares. Many years have passed since I've seen the film adaptation, and I knew it was time I finally give this book a go. It did not disappoint! I burned right through this book, always invested in the plot and the characters. Funny, smart, sad, emotional, exciting, joyous, and frustrating, this book has it all. I think the only reason I held back from a 5 star rating is simply because I knew how it was going to go. Seeing the movie sort of removed some of the mystery and intrigue for me. Seriously a great book, though.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Thanks for reading! We hope you have a fabulous February.
Sarah & Nick