A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

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“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.”-pg. 184

This book fell into my lap unexpectedly.  On my maiden visit to my new local library, I came across this book.  I always pick up way too many books (at least four) on every trip.  The cover of this book as well as the title appealed to me immediately, which I know is a terrible stereotype.  However, this system has proven effective for me.

Taking place during the war in Chechnya in 2004, and several years prior, this novel cleverly tells the tale of hardship, love, family, and consequences.   Before reading this book, I’d never heard of Chechnya or knew anything about the wars in Russia.  This really opened my eyes to hardships that are faced around the world much like The Leavers by Lisa Ko and :I am Malala: by Malala Yousafzai.

Each character that Marra creates is expertly developed in just enough time to truly add to the storyline.  I loved his writing style in that he bounces around between one year and the next, in an efficient and elegant way.  He captures the struggle, the tough decisions that need to be made, and the terrible pain that accompanies wartime.

This novel truly floored me.  I was hooked from the first chapter, and could not put it down.  Even after I finished it, I found myself thinking about it.  If you enjoyed reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, you will love this book.

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“As a web is no more than holes woven together, they were bonded by what was no longer there.” -pg. 63

Enjoy!

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The Call of the Wild by Jack London

So this story takes place in Alaska so it might not be the best summer read, unless you’re very overheated and want to pretend your brain is frozen.

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“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge in to the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did her wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”-pg. 57

The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, removed from his cushy life in California, and finds himself sold into the dog sled life.  He experiences the difficulty of working his way to the lead of the pack and surviving the harsh weather conditions and owners.

Written by the same author of White Fang, Jack London expertly captures struggle to survive in the cold Alaskan air during the Gold Rush from the perspective of a sled dog.   Compared to the first book I read by Jack London, I liked this one from the get go.  Read more about that review here!  The story keeps moving in a short and concise way, while still touching on the importance of the heritage of wolves and dogs share.  If you are a fan of Jack London, or just enjoy dogs and the outdoors, you will enjoy this book.

 

 

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

SWEET: granular, powdered, brown, slow like honey or molasses.  The mouth-coating sugars in milk.  Once, when we were wild, sugar intoxticated us, the first narcotic we craved and languished in.  We’ve tamed it, refined it, but the juice from a peach still runs like a flash flood.                                                                  -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 8

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I bought this book because a reader that I follow on Instagram listed it as one of her top reads for the year last year.  I added it to my reading stack because I kept reading other reviews about how enticing and phenomenal it was.  And when I started seeing trailers for a show based off the book, I decided to skip a couple of other books in my pile and begin this one.

This is the story of Tess, a young girl who ran away from her mundane life to start over in New York City.  She finds herself in an interview at a well-known NYC restaurant and gets the job.  She learns quickly how much she needs to learn to be successful.  She finds herself deep in the trenches of how tolling and exhausting the industry can be.  But she also finds herself forming a palate, and learning about wine and food.  And heartbreak.

TASTE, Chef said, is all about balance.  The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter.  Now your tongue is coded.  A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.                                                                                                                                 -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 17

This book is the unabashed, painfully truthful life of a young person finding themselves in the hospitality industry.  The only other book that I’ve ever read that accurately portrays what happens behind service is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.  While I work in this industry, my own personal experience has been very different than Tess’.  But the restaurant life in New York is also a lot different from Grand Rapids.  The content and language can be a bit raunchy at times, but so can life behind the bar.  It just goes to show you that when you go out for a meal, often, it’s never ever just dinner.

The prose and descriptions so accurate I could taste the peaches and fresh figs intrigued me in the beginning.  But the story line keep me immersed in the novel.  I read this book in huge gulps, chugging, binging, finding myself finishing it within 4 days.  I highly recommend this book to anyone that’s ever worked in the industry, to anyone thats struggling to find purpose in their life, and to anyone that loves oysters on the half shell with champagne.

Some tomatoes tasted like water, and some like summer lightning.                                                                                                                                              -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 40

White Fang by Jack London

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I was recommended to read this book by my smart and handsome husband.  It’s a rare read that really shifts your perspective on the world.  I’ll admit that I found it a bit difficult at times to get into the book, but I’m really glad I read it.  Plus, now I understand Leslie Knope’s obsession with Jack London.

White Fang is the title of the novel as well as the name of the main character.  The story starts with his mother, Kiche, whose origins are part wolf and part dog. She belonged to a group of Indians, but deserted them during a famine.  We get a front row seat to White Fang’s puppy and adolescent years when he figures out the laws of nature and then man’s laws.  His life is full of heartbreak and love, and the ending makes the long story worth the read.

The back story is important, but I found it a bit cumbersome to get through.  While it did help to explain White Fang’s personality and round out the story, I think it could’ve been streamlined a bit.  I did really enjoy the last 100 pages or so the most.  Everyone who is considering owning a dog should have to read this book to understand their mannerisms.  I took this book on a recent camping trip and my sister’s puppy was there.  It was really interesting to read about possibly what could be going on in her head when she’s interacting with nature and how necessary it is for an owner to gain the trust of their dog.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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Another great Book of the Month selection!

Swimming Lessons is a novel about a young love that blossoms between a budding feminist and her literary professor/writer, set in England.  They fall in love and an unplanned pregnancy brings a tumultuous and emotional time for Ingrid.  She’s unable to finish school, struggling to accept her new daughter, and finds out that her husband is the man she was warned about.  After several miscarriages, and many more mistresses, Ingrid finds herself on the verge of leaving the life she has come to hate.  What actually happened to her is speculation, but Flora never gave up hope that her mom was still alive.  Written from Flora’s point of view as well as from Ingrid’s point of view in the letters that she leaves for Gil in his expansive book collection, you are left to piece together the story and speculate about what really happened.

This book is artfully written.  I am a sucker for books about book stores or writers or books themselves, which this book is about all three of those things.  But it also shows us the complicated webs that love weaves, between husband and wife, mother and daughter, life and loss, betrayal and trust.  The narrative is quite creative in that as soon as you find yourself hooked on Flora’s point of view, the chapter ends and Ingrid’s lost letters enlighten the reader.

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What are the odds that I would start reading this book on May 2nd, the same date that was mentioned two pages in?

It was quite interesting to watch Flora grow up and to watch Ingrid disappear.  Claire Fuller did an excellent job in revealing just the right amount of information to keep us turning the pages.  It’s a medium length book, but a fast read and would make a great book club book.

 

 

 

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

It’s been a really long time since I’ve gotten lost in a book they way I got lost in ‘The Leavers’ by Lisa Ko.  The story she weaves is so artfully and purposefully unraveled.  You are discovering new things about each character as they realize them about themselves.

I picked this book up on a site called Book of the Month.  If you’ve never heard of this subscription box service, it’s pretty great.  They select five books every month that you can choose from based on whatever subscription level you sign up for.  What I really like about them is that you can read a synopsis of each book as well as a review written by a fellow book lover about the book.  They picks are smart and broad, covering a wide variety of genres.  I often use this site when I’m looking for books that I know will be good, but may be in a new genre.  You can also skip the month if you don’t see anything you want.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not being paid to promote them, I just really like them.  If you’re interested, click this link to sign up!

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‘The Leavers’ tells the heart-wrenching story of a mother and son, who try to find their home in a world that prevents them from truly knowing each other.  Immigration, adoption, adolescence, heartbreak, mental illness, abuse, and poverty are all topics that find their way between these pages.  After reading this book, my eyes were really opened to what immigrants sometimes have to go through to get into America, all for a better life.  I don’t think this book was based off of a true story, however I do know that there are Immigration Detention Centers in the USA that have less than perfect living conditions and that stories similar to this exist.

It breaks my heart to think about stories such a this one, where a mother leaves her child in her home country and survives the travel conditions to make it here, only to work hard to pay off her debt and then be jailed, abused, and deported.  This book also tackles the topic of adoption, and exposes all sides of it.  This is the first time I’ve read anything about an older child being adopted, one that remembers his birth mother all too well.  Another topic that is touched on can speak to probably almost everyone.  It shows a very raw look at the struggle it is to find where home is for yourself and to find something that you are passionate about in life.  All too often, kids think that they need to figure out everything by the time they get to college when that is unrealistic.  Deming’s story took a good look at this.

Overall, this book really widened my world view and I would highly recommend it.  Also, Lisa Ko’s writing style worked really well for me and I found myself completely submersed in the story.  This is the kind of book that will have you thinking about the characters even when you aren’t reading it.

:I am Malala: by Malala Yousafzai

You guys.  I just finished this book, like less than 3 hours ago and I just couldn’t wait to post about it.  I don’t even have a picture for this post because I read it so fast.  This is one of those books that really makes you think and changes your perspective on the world.

If you’ve never heard the name Malala Yousafzai, then let me give you a quick run down of her amazing story.  She grew up in Pakistan and experienced the terror of the Taliban first hand, all while she was only 11 years old.  She fought for her right to attend school and advocated for the right to education for every child.  Because of how outspoken she was, she was targeted and shot point blank by a member of the Taliban.

This well written autobiography captures Malala’s strength, spirit, and tenacity while thoughtfully telling her story.  Her innocence shows in the early chapters when she herself was still young and trying to figure out her world.  She has accomplished so much in her life, and she is truly an inspiration to determined women and girls everywhere.  It’s no surprise that she’s the youngest person ever to be awarded the Noble Peace Prize.

Malala opened my eyes to the struggles that face women and girls all over the world.  While the #metoo movement is still in the forefront of the media, there’s a need to bring the issue of education of all individuals back into the spotlight.  We need to fight for all of women’s right so that every human can have the same rights.  Education for all could solve a lot of the issues around the world.

Seriously, use the freedom you have to read and educate yourself and buy/borrow this book.  Here’s even a link!

 

Happy Reading!