Book Review: Educated

Educated was my second audiobook of 2019 and the fourth book I finish this year! It was also the first memoir I have ever read.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover who was raised in rural Idaho in a family of survivalists. For someone who did not have an extreme religious upbringing, this story seemed stranger than fiction at times. But I did grow up religious, so it was not hard for me to empathize with how some people perceive the world.

Tara Westover didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen, and she did so at university. She never went to school as a child, but was “homeschooled” by her mother, who had given up trying to teach her children math. Her childhood instead, was spent preparing for the end of the world, which her father was absolutely sure was bound to happen soon. She also spent her days running around the mountains and fields near her home and working at the junkyard her father owned.

Her parents didn’t believe in government education, afraid they might brainwash their minds, and thus when she decided to go to college, she did so against her parent’s wishes, which is why I admire Tara so much. By doing this, she was leaving behind who she was, her family, her upbringing, her education.

Educated is a fascinating story, but not because it’s hard to believe people might have such extremist religious beliefs, not trusting hospitals and schools. For me, it was fascinating story because of where Tara took herself, seeking the education she had never received. She graduated from Brigham Young University with honors and then went to study at Cambridge and Harvard. She taught herself mathematics and science to be accepted. It was her journey to find knowledge and truth that took her as far away from her home as she could’ve gone, to places she had never heard of or had imagined herself being at.

This is a story of endurance, bot physical and mentally, as Tara was abused constantly by her older brother. She had to overcome the physical barriers her family had imposed over her, as well as the mental ones. She did, and this is why this story is so impressive.

My review: 5/5 stars ★ ★ ★★ ★

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Book Review: Hidden Life of Trees

This was my first audiobook of the year! I started listening to audiobooks last year after I started driving to and from work, and it has been great.

The Hidden Life of Trees was eye opening, but it left me with bittersweet feelings. Peter Wohlleben is a forester and in his book he tries to explain the world of trees from their perspective, something completely new to me. We don’t usually think of trees the same way we think of animals or other humans, but Peter argues in his book that trees are capable of suffering, that they can communicate with other trees and they form communities. His account of this Hidden Life is beautiful and I enjoyed very much learning about them.

I was left with a bittersweet taste after listening to it, because this was the first time I stopped to consider trees. Of course I always advocated for them, deforestation and forest fires break my heart, and I enjoy being surrounded by trees. I have often joked with my husband about how much I like trees and I like to believe it is in my blood, as the name of the country I was born and grew up in, Guatemala, translates to Land of Trees. I can say that some of my favorite characters in literature are the Ents in Lord of the Rings. But The Hidden Life of Trees made me think a lot more about them. I used to never worry about city trees, but now I know they struggle to grow with roots under paved roads and with dogs peeing all over them. I now consider trees that are planted solitarily in a park or a back yard, or maybe accompanied only by other trees of a different species with whom they cannot communicate and thus cannot form “communities” with.

The study of trees still has a long way to go and we do not completely understand, and might never understand, everything that goes on with them. The Hidden Life of Trees makes a great job at starting a conversation, at sparking our curiosity. I certainly will think more and do more research before I plant a tree in my house someday, or before I cut some branches off. I will definitely keep learning about them, and bring it up in conversations.

I have always liked trees, and after reading this book, I like them even more.

My review: 5/5 stars ★ ★ ★★ ★

 

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January Books: First 3 books of the year!

2019 has been off to a great start, only in January I started and finished three books!

Here is a small review of them:

 

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

After the Netflix movie was announced, I wanted to read it before watching it, so I downloaded it to my Kindle, and a week later I had finished reading it. I had been expecting a warm story, but I felt cold the whole time reading it. Set in the seaside English town of Hardborough, a widow named Florence decides to open a bookshop. But the town is not very keen on it and she constantly finds trouble because of it. When I said I felt cold, I mean this was not a heartwarming story, but actually heartbreaking and a bit frustrating.

The story was fine, even if it, spoiler alert, doesn’t really have the happy ending I was expecting, but the language used threw me off a little bit, it was harder to read than other books, with long, boring sentences. Perhaps the language itself reflected the feelings of the inhabitants of Hardborough.

My review: 3/5 stars ★ ★ ★☆☆

 

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

This was my first audiobook of the year! I started listening to audiobooks last year after I started driving to and from work, and it has been great.

The Hidden Life of Trees was eye opening, but it left me with bittersweet feelings. Peter Wohlleben is a forester and in his book he tries to explain the world of trees from their perspective, something completely new to me. We don’t usually think of trees the same way we think of animals or other humans, but Peter argues in his book that trees are capable of suffering, that they can communicate with other trees and they form communities. His account of this Hidden Life is beautiful and I enjoyed very much learning about them.

Continue reading my review here.

My review: 5/5 stars ★ ★ ★★ ★

 

The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively

Without planning it, my third book of the year was written by another woman called Penelope.

I picked this book solely based on its beautiful cover at Books Inc. on California Street, here in San Francisco. I have never read many short stories, though I enjoy writing them, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Many of Lively’s stories were heartwarming, others made me laugh, some surprised me with their endings but something mostly all had in common was how relatable they were.  A lot of the stories are set in everyday England, over the past century, some of them travel back in time, but others take place in the present.

The stories kept me engaged and I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished with one, and sometimes wanted to start the next one right away.

Lively’s words flow with ease and her stories are very human, making it easy for me to enjoy them. I now want to find more of her books to read!

My review: 5/5 stars ★ ★ ★★ ★

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Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao surprised me. I did not expect to read it as quickly as I did, but the storyline kept me turning the page (or swiping since I read it on a Kindle).

I had never read a story with an antiheroine, a character who is so self absorbed you don’t want to see her succeed. But you kind of want to with Xifeng. She is the perfect woman, with flawless beauty and intelligence. She is the girl who just by her beauty is destined to conquer many hearts. At the beginning of the story, however, we meet her and her abusive Guma, her aunt, so you sympathize for Xifeng. Her love story with Wei is beautiful and I just wanted to see her crowned empress. As the story progresses, however, she starts becoming more of a character that is easy to hate, which is what made this story so unique.

In a way, this is a story where evil conquers, in other ways, there is still the hope that love and justice will prevail.

This book was unique in many ways. It was refreshing to see characters based on different mythologies and cultures. The story is fantasy, but it is very easy to think yourself in Asia. The images were beautiful and the characters lovable. I wanted to see some of them avenged and I wanted to learn more about others.

There were many mysteries and backstories that seemed to be lacking in this book, but the story kept me engaged enough to not give up on it.

I would not have picked this book if it was not on this month’s book club discussion, and even though I really enjoyed it, I did not love it enough to read the sequel, which is why I give it a three star review.

My review: 3/5 stars ★ ★ ★☆☆

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Book Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker was my thirteenth book of the year. I am one book behind schedule if I want to read 20 books by the end of the year!

This book was chosen as the August book for the Bay Area Ladie’s Fantasy Book Club, but I didn’t finish it on time. I did however, not give up on it and read it this past month!

I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it promised everything I look for in a story: magic, adventure, world building and a strong female character, on the other hand, the book seemed lacking depth and tried to accommodate too many storylines at once.

The book starts in our world with a character who seemed very familiar and almost normal, but she soon enters not only one, but two new worlds, and things start going downhill.

I loved the world building in this book and I wanted to learn more about its origins, the different people and wanted to know more about the main characters, the magicians Aruendiel and Hirizjakanis (yeah, no idea how to pronounce that), but as readers, we never got to.

So many different things happened, and the book kept going on and on without any particular plot line actually developing. When we finally got one, the book ended on a cliffhanger, but I am not sure if that was enough for me to read the sequel.

I loved the premise, but not the execution. I just wish there hadn’t been so many different things to consider, so many completely different worlds and that it had been just fantasy set in a medieval-like world, not a combination of Middle Earth, The Great Gatsby parties, zombies and grad school. It just felt like too much.

I did, however, like it more as I persisted through it and finished it. Perhaps if the story had started halfway where it did, I would have enjoyed it more.

 

My review: 3/5 stars ☆☆★ ★ ★

Finished the book on September 12, 2018.

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

A colleague recommended this book and I had already seen it reviewed by a couple people I follow on Goodreads. It seemed like the perfect book to take with me on a short trip I had, so I got a copy on Kindle.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live. Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than. . . fine? 

The book description didn’t prepare me for the beautiful story I had ahead of me and the amazing characters I would come to know. I think Eleanor is everything a heroine should be: brave, beautiful and humble. I don’t think I know a character that has had a more difficult past, but Eleanor still comes through and overcomes. But this is not a fairy tale, Eleanor is an everyday character and has to cope with life in 2017 while having more on her shoulders.

*spoilers ahead*

Raymond becomes her friend almost by accident and I loved how he is a representation of a true friendship, which is hard to find late in your twenties or early thirties, like Eleanor is. It was incredible how he didn’t become a romantic partner, but he stayed a faithful friend, because Eleanor does not need a romantic partner right now, she needs to know she is not alone in the world by finding strong relationships that will help her grow.

Eleanor had the misfortune of having a maniac for a mother who made her childhood a difficult one, and with this, a difficult adulthood as well. But she had decided not to give up and try to live a life where she had control. This is until she gets a crush on a musician and her whole life changes as the bubble where she tries to hide, bursts.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a beautiful and refreshing story where everyday characters can overcome great difficulties.

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Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

(This review might contain spoilers)

This year I finally joined a bookclub in the city: an all women, science fiction and fantasy books bookclub! It’s been great to meet with girls who have similar interests and love talking about books.

The Penelopiad is the third book I read for the club and I really enjoyed it! It was an easy read and I finished it in under a week.

I’ve always enjoyed the Greek stories, but I cannot say I am an avid Classics reader. However, the Odyssey is one that I really enjoyed reading and studying while in college. Of course, a retelling of this great story, but from the point of view of those who were left behind, immediately caught my attention.

The Penelopiad is the story of Penelope, Oddyseus faithful wife, as she stays behind as her husband has to leave to fight in the War of Troy, but even when the war is over, he doesn’t come back immediately and all she gets back are rumors of him being out having adventures, sleeping with goddesses and fighting monsters.

This story took a very feminist point of view, which I enjoyed. After all, why is it that Odysseus is usually praised, but not Penelope who had to endured years of not knowing if her husband would ever come back.

There is also another interesting element added to her story, that of how she has lived her whole life in the shadow of her beautiful cousin Helen and how most of her misfortune comes from her. In Margaret Atwood’s story, Penelope never truly finds happiness, because even she knows that she was second best, never the prettiest, always the one that easily burst into tears and even if her husband does come back to her, they both know he is not madly in love with her and will never be.

I liked thinking of Penelope as an everyday girl, someone I can relate to, and of course I loved thinking of the classical story from a totally different point of view.

 

My review: 4/5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★

Finished the book on August 16th, 2018. The eleventh book of the year.

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Book Review: The Remains of the Day

The third book of 2018 was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Back in 2012, I was working at a bookstore in Guatemala City and Kazuo Ishiguro’s books always caught my eye but for a reason I can’t seem to recall, I never bought and read one, which is a shame because he then went to win the Nobel Prize in 2017 and everybody’s interest in his books piqued, and I have to confess my own interest returned.

I finally picked one of his books, after my lovely sister recommended him to me. I was surprised to find out that Kazuo was born in Japan, but he grew up in England. The book I picked, The Remains of the Day, takes place in England and the story seems written like only a true Englishman would know how to.

The Remains of the Day is about a butler at a big house, Darlington Hall, the house that once belonged to Lord Darlington but has recently been bought by an American gentleman. Mr. Stevens, the butler, narrates the book in first person and the story goes back and forth with his memories of the great days when Darlington Hall was frequented by great men and women, like Winston Churchill.

My Kindle copy of The Remains of the Day. Also the tree outside just bloomed!

When they find themselves understaffed, Mr. Stevens goes on a trip across England to find Miss Kenton, who worked in the house as a housekeeper to try and see if she would like to return to her old job in the house.

This trip is what made me pick this book from the rest. I love England and I myself once took a road trip around the United Kingdom. I was excited about a book that would talk about different places in England. I was a bit disappointed. The novel, though it does take us through different towns, barely describes them. The story is mostly in Mr. Stevens head, his memories and the small experiences he encounters on the road, but it is his memories which dominate and move the storyline.

But even if the novel is not a travel book, as I had wished, it is an endearing story which hooked me up immediately and carried me from page to page. There is more to what we imagine of the relationship between Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton, but it is not, however, a cheesy romantic novel, which I appreciated. It is a story of loyalty and dignity, of a man that knows nothing but to be the best butler to a great Lord.

The Remains of the Day is a good winter read, a story to cozy up to with a nice, warm cup of tea.

My review: 5/5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down

In 2011, I preordered a book by a YA author I had heard a lot of, but had never read. Amazon was giving out signed copies and I thought that was cool. The book was The Fault in Our Stars and when it came out in January of 2012 and I finally read it, I fell completely in love with the author and the way he had made a romantic novel not about the romance, a YA book with very serious and “grown up” topics and a heartwarming story which would stay with me for years.

So, when many years later, hist next book was finally published, I was more than excited. Again, I preordered it, this time from Barnes and Noble, and once more I got a signed copy.

This books is about a girl named Aza (Her name spans the whole alphabet, because her parents wanted her to know she could be anything). Aza suffers from anxiety, and perhaps that is an understatement. The novel written in first person is takes place inside her messy, fearful head.

The first chapter threw me off. I honestly found Aza obnoxious and hard to keep up with. Then I realized that was exactly what John Green had intended. Aza is not an easy person to deal with, her extreme anxiety makes it hard for everyone around her, so she relies on her loyal friend Daisy who has kept up with her for many years.

After I told myself I had to keep going, I found myself with a heartwarming story of adventure, first love and growing up in a Midwestern city. I even finished the book in a week!

The plot reminded me a lot of John Green’s other novels, and I felt it did not quite reach the level The Fault in Our Stars had.

Turtles All the Way Down still covers a new and interesting topic and by the end of the book I found myself amazed at how much like Aza I was. I to am afraid all the time, I too get anxious and need to check things more than once just to be sure. My anxiety my not be as high as the heroine’s, but I still found I could relate to her in a very human and real way. This is what I treasure the most about this book, not the storyline, but how much I could relate to the character. I too, drive myself crazy most of the time.

My review: 4/5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★

Finished the book on January 25th, 2018. The second book of the year.

Check out my sister’s bookstagram and her awesome pictures of books, including Turtles All the Way Down:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc_fow5gwZb/?taken-by=bookmarked12

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A year full of books

Hello! I am Andrea. I have been writing for a while about my travels around the world, but I have yet to write about all those beautiful lands I constantly visit through the books I read.

For years I have followed book blogs which inspire me to read more and have helped me find fantastic new reads. I’ve been meaning to do the same, share my own experiences on reading. Perhaps now that I have settled in the amazing city of San Francisco I can start writing more about the new lands I will visit through books and stories, especially since I’m reading a lot thanks to my daily bus commute.

I might even include some recipes from my favorite cooking books (hence the pudding). I also plan on visiting every single bookstore in the city and write about them!

I am excited about starting a new year filled with books. I hope you can join me!

Originally posted on January 21st, 2018 on Books & Pudding WordPress Blog.

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