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July 7, 2017

Sister Reads June Book Reviews

Hello again readers! We are halfway through the reading year. I am making good progress on my reading challenge, I am now 5 books behind, and this will be a summer of lots of reading so I should easily get back on track.

Here are the books that I finished in June:

Almost French

This is a memoir by Sarah Turnball, an Australian journalist who fell in love with a French guy, went to visit him for two weeks and ended up staying. I love reading these kind of memoirs, because I’m always interested in reading the views of other foreigners, especially English speaking, who emigrated to France.

It’s a great read, and really gives you the feel of what moving to a foreign country, not speaking the language would be like. I definitely identified with lots of her experiences! Since I don;t live in Paris, some of my experiences were different though which was interesting. Her story is also based in the late 1990s, and I didn’t come to France until 2004, and it’s interesting to see how many things had already changed in that time period.

You’ll enjoy this book if you’re a Francophile for sure, but don’t expect lots of romance, Sarah doesn’t focus very much on her relationship with Frederique (which I found odd), but she is a great story teller with a good sense of humour, and this was a nice read. She does talk about food, which is always good! I gave it three stars.

Get a copy: Amazon           French Amazon            Book Depository

The Hate You Give

Four stars for this excellent Young Adult book that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It was a difficult book to read, but an important one that I encourage everyone to pick up. Starr is 16 and lives between two worlds: her poor (black) neighbourhood and her posh (99% white) high school. While out with her best friend from childhood, they are stopped by the cops and he ends up being shot and killed. What follows is the story of Starr navigating her life as the witness to the shooting, while trying to remain a normal teenager. All the themes you would expect come up in this book, and it will probably be very triggering. But you should still read it.

This is the current book for Sister Reads book club, and I encourage you to join us for our discussion on July 30th.

Get a copy: Amazon             French Amazon              Book Depository

The Underground Railroad

Reading this right after The Hate U Give was tough, but I had a very good reason! Colson Whitehead was giving a talk in Paris on June 20th so I needed to finish the book by then. The talk was excellent, and deepened my understanding of why (and how) he wrote the book this way. Plus I got it signed.

In this Pulitzer Prize winner, Whitehead re-imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad, and we follow Cora and Caesar as they make a run for freedom to the north from the Randall plantation in Georgia. So much of this book is awful and heart wrenching, and Whitehead doesn’t hold back with his descriptions of the brutality of slave life on the plantation, or that of the slave catchers who are hunting Cora and Caesar. Cora is an interesting character, and my take is that she is actually an amalgam of various different possible slaves. All of the characters in the book are written to capture some aspect of the slave-master dynamic, so pay attention while reading.

The story is magical realism, which means that there are some bits where I thought “oh really? That doesn’t seem right”, but it’s important to understand that Whitehead was trying to capture the different stages of African-American history, as well as American possibilities. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction. I actually saw a reviewer on Goodreads refer to it as a non-fiction book. It’s certainly fact based, but it’s not an accurate recounting of history, but is an excellent jumping off point for people who might not be history buffs, to want to research American history, and specifically the history of slavery further.

An emphatic five stars!!

Get a copy: Amazon             French Amazon              Book Depository

The Enchanted April (on Kindle)

This is such a delightful read, and exactly what I needed after the two previous very heavy books. Set it the 1930s it tells the tale of four English women who rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. Four very different women, who are thrown together in an unlikely way. The only thing they have in common is their dissatisfaction with their everyday lives, and this month is a chance to take a break and find happiness.

I really enjoyed the descriptive writing, especially the descriptions of the gardens and the beautiful surroundings. I was curious how these women would cohabit, and the story did not disappoint. It even includes unexpected and delightful twists. It’s really a perfect summer read! Four Stars

Get a copy: Amazon             French Amazon              Book Depository

The Girl on the Train

I’d put off reading this book for a while, but found a decently priced second hand copy when I was in Paris, so decided it was time. This was a quick read for me. Because I knew that it fell under the unreliable narrator label, I think I spent way too much time distrusting all the characters and trying to figure out who was lying, and what really happened, rather than just reading with an open mind. I did figure it out before the end so there’s that. I gave it three stars, while I liked it, it’s not one of my top reads, and I will most likely sell my copy the next time I do a purge!

If you enjoyed Gone Girl, you’ll like this too.

Get a copy: Amazon             French Amazon              Book Depository

South of the Border, West of the Sun

This is my second book by Harukami (the first was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which I loved), and I started it eagerly. However I was somewhat disappointed, as while the writing is as beautiful as ever, the story and characters were not to my liking. There is really only one truly likeable character, and she is a sort of minor one at that.

Hajime is an only child in Japan at a time when that was not at all common, and is happy to finally meet Shimamoto, also an only child. The first part of the story is really a coming of age tale, both characters are 12 when we meet them. They end up drifing apart when Hajime moves, and the rest of the book focuses on his adulthood. He’s happily married with two kids, and a successful businessman when Shimamoto, the mysterious, reappears in his life.

The entire atmosphere of the story is very dreamlike, I felt like I never really got a good grasp on Hajime, and would call him an unreliable narrator, as his views on his life certainly didn’t mirror mine! This was a quick read though, and got me to six books read in June. Three stars.

Get a copy: Amazon             French Amazon              Book Depository

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Let’s go see what Vernell read in June!

  • Charlotte Dugas

    Of that list, I’ve only read “The Girl on the Train” and it was the first book in a while to grip me so hard I had to finish it almost all at once (read until 3 in the morning because the next day was Saturday, then finished it after I woke up). That I disliked the narrator almost turned me off it completely, I dislike first person narration almost universally, but I stuck it out and the pace of the story picked up and I got into it. Thinking of picking up her next novel, but waiting for the hype to die down like I did with Girl on the Train. On an only slightly-related note, I liked Gone Girl, but I think her earlier books Sharp Objects and Dark Places were much creepier.