July Reading Roundup

July was… quite a month. What else can I say? At the beginning of July I was with my parents and cousins exploring Berlin and by the end I had accepted a (great, amazing, awesome!) job offer and mentally preparing for life in Pittsburgh again. I’m still a little shell-shocked my all of the changes my life is still going through, which might account for some of the radio silence on the blog, and it seems like all I could do in July was just ride the wave of turmoil for a while until it settled down. Heck, it’s the middle of August and I’m still riding that wave.

But I did get a few books read in the between. Hopefully I’ll be able to say the same about August, which is not turning out to be much calmer. In due time, which I should hypothetically have a lot of, right? Right.

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Fiction / Recommended

I can’t say that this story really influenced me very much, but it was an enjoyable read and it… flowed. I loved that the story revolved largely around identity (or lack thereof) and that there was so much variety of lifestyles described; it made for a good read.

Thanks Colleen from Colleen Brynn Travels for recommending this to me!

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Nonfiction / Recommended (with trigger warnings)

If you’re easily disturbed by descriptions of torture or rape, then I don’t recommend this book for you. Others who can stomach it, this is an honest and heartbreaking account of a woman kidnapped in Somalia for ransom. It broke my heart in the way hearts sometimes need to be broken, to remember what the rest of the world can be like.

Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Nonfiction / Recommended

Me and German history get along really well, so no surprise that I recommend this. The accounts of Stasi men and the interrogated were not just intriguing but also disturbing, plus disturbingly timely. I’d advise anyone who lives in the USA to check out this book and keep an eye out for parallels with the current NSA and privacy situation.

I can tell you now that August’s reading roundup will very likely be sad. But I’m doing my best over here, and once my schedule is a bit more solid and consistent, then I’m sure my reading schedule will come back to life. Until then, read a book or two for me!

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If you’ve got book recommendations, I want to hear them, as always!

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

June Reading Roundup

Most of June was spent sunbathing in Albania, followed by swimming in Albania’s sea (the Adriatic), accompanied by work and cleaning at the hostel, and all of those lovely moments sprinkled with time to read some of those 130+ books on my Amazon Wishlist. A kind of heaven. During the last week of June, I spent a few days in Italy and finally ended the month in Germany, with my parents. So suffice it to say that June was a pretty fantastic month, and it would be nice if all of my life could be spent in the water, in books and in a sunny place like Saranda. But, alas, life. I soaked it up while I could. (PUN ALERT!)

In addition to these books, I also started a gradual swing back into poetry. I’ve dipped into Maya Angelou and back into some of the German poets, like Bertholt Brecht, which I’ve always liked. It’s been nice to get back into a little rhyme and verse.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

After reading the first book and being underwhelmed, I had higher hopes for the sequel. And while I did enjoy this book better and I could get into the story quite easily, I still feel underwhelmed overall. I’m sorry, fantasy genre, The Wheel of Time has ruined me, nothing will ever compare!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Nonfiction / Recommended

In celebration of Maya Angelou’s inspirational life, I cracked open a book I hadn’t read since high school and wasn’t disappointed in the least. Absolutely recommended to all, not just for the fantastic writing, but for the reminder of what African Americans endured for far too long in the “land of the free”.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Nonfiction / Recommended

I’ll admit that while I was reading this, I had trouble coming back to it. It didn’t pull me in. But as soon as I’d finished the book, I couldn’t shut up about it to everyone I knew. It inspired in me a lot more interest in art history and integrated extremely well into travel; it reads half like a history of inks/dies/paints and half like a travel diary through fascinating regions such as Iran and aboriginal Australia.

This month, July, I’m back in Pittsburgh (home) for some time. And I’m not gonna lie: one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to is access to my local library once again and reading a book or two the old-fashioned way. I actually went to my old bookshelf yesterday and started running my hand over some of my favorite books; I missed them that much. But let’s keep that embarrassing/nerdy fact to ourselves, shall we? Try not to tell anyone about my weird love-on-my-books moment. Unless you’re telling me that you totally do the same, sometimes. I can’t be the only one who hugs their books, right?

Right?

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Have you read any of these titles? Thoughts? I’m always on the lookout for new, good books, so send any recommendations my way.

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, or subscribe to the email list for updates, if you fancy.

May Reading Roundup

On May 1st I was in Switzerland and since then, I’ve made my way through Austria, Croatia, Montenegro and now Albania where I’m settled in for another three weeks, working at a hostel on the beach. (Can you say paradise?) It’s been busy, to say the least. But the reading continued and I’m quite pleased with how much I’ve managed to finish in this past month. And of all of them, Shantaram really stood out as a book for the ages, so if you’re thinking about reading it, then do so!

This was also a strange month because I read exclusively stories, memoirs and fiction, and no informational nonfiction at all. Surprisingly, though, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much (if not more) than any of the other more “intellectual reading” months. Shantaram and The White Tiger gave me an in depth view of what India’s culture is like, The Book Thief updated my knowledge of WWII and Wild taught me a lot more about long distance hiking than I thought it would. Ask me about what you should pack for a hike and I can tell you that a fold-able saw is not necessary, but a ski pole just might come in handy!

Special thanks to Steve (who has been linked to below) for recommending several of the books I read this month!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Nonfiction / Meh

While the description of the hiking trail and all the people she met along the way was fascinating (and made me want to get my hike on!), for some reason I don’t think this will be a book that’ll stay with me. But props to the author for being a wilderness bad ass nonetheless!

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Fiction / Recommended

Writing a book from death’s perspective is already a challenge, and the author did a fantastic job of it. The details of World War II were an education and the main character quite lovable (and pitiable).

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts

Fiction / Recommended

There’s a lot of debate about how much of this “novel” is based in the author’s actual experiences, but really it doesn’t matter. It’s a masterpiece of philosophy, wanderlust-inducing descriptions of India and one that’s really left me thinking about morality and how we define it.

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

Fiction / Recommended

This novel, while also about India, was so totally different from Shantaram in every way and I almost gave it a “meh”, probably because every book would be overshadowed by such an epic tale. But The White Tiger was pretty funny and not so long, so it’s worth the time to read, for the laughs at least.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

I have really mixed feelings about this book; on one hand, I couldn’t put it down but on the other, I find the premises a bit childish and impossible to really believe, the same way I believed in The Wheel of Time and other fantasy novels. But, still, I couldn’t stop reading, so that must say something, right?

 

As for next month, I’ve got time on my hands and books on my Kindle, including a collection of Maya Angelou’s works that I’d like to get into, in memory of her fantastic, inspirational life. I’m looking forward to it!

Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? And as always, send your recommendations my way too!

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

April Reading Roundup

You’ve already read about my (book-wise) pathetic February + March, so you know that I was dead set on reading more in April. That happened not just because I was trying to read more, but also because of a very tragic situation at my parents’ new house in Germany: no Internet.

I’ve already explored much of the main sights of Halle an der Saale and though I found the town adorable, I didn’t have much energy to go exploring everyday. I was on antibiotics. I was exhausted from London and Paris. And I was in the perfect situation to read for hours everyday: in the morning, in the afternoon, at night. Being a reading machine for a few weeks felt great.

First, I finished all of the Harry Potter books. Seven books? That deserves its own reading roundup post, so I wrote that up separately. (See how productive I am with Internet again?!) Once those books were finished, I dove into a few other books, fiction and memoirs, and really enjoyed them. Switching off of fact-heavy non-fiction for a little bit was a good decision. Sometimes you need to be wrapped up into another world for a time to better appreciate your own.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Nonfiction / Recommended

What a crazy life some people lead. This book is worth it if for no other reason than to shake your head in disbelief, thinking “what the hell…”

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction / Recommended

The best way I can describe Kingsolver’s writing is “mature,” and while it took me a bit to really get into the book, I was then quite stuck. Her incorporation of thoughts about marriage were intertwined with scary realizations about the health of our planet, which sounds like a weird combination, but it was masterfully done.

Thank you Liz from Tumblr for the recommendation!

Overall, nine books in a month? I’m feeling good about that. May the good reading continue.

Have book recommendations for me? I’m always, always looking for more! Contact me here.

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Reading Roundup: The Harry Potter Series

After February and March slipped away with no books read, and I wrote the most pathetic reading roundup of my blogging career, I got to work. And somehow in the back of my head I knew that as soon as I got my little reading paws on the entire Harry Potter Series, it was going to go the same way as The Wheel of Time Series: light speed. I was right.

I had a four hour ferry ride and a (torturous) ten hour bus ride in the middle of the night on my way to London, England. On a ferry across the English channel is where Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began. Highly appropriate.

Somehow over the next 11 days, between sightseeing throughout London and Paris and my homecoming of sorts (now that my parents live there) to Germany, I fit in a disgusting amount of reading. My previous excuses of not having enough time in Spain? Self delusion. I just wasn’t picking the right books. Although realizing that I indeed don’t get motion sickness when I read in the car was another wonderful revelation. The hours between London and Paris have never passed so quickly… of course I’ve never driven that route in my entire life, so of course it’s never passed so quickly, but what I’m trying to say is that Harry Potter sucked me in.

And yes, believe it: I’ve never read Harry Potter before this. I know that blows your mind, but just let it sink in and then continue on. Really, people like me exist! I can say that I watched all of the movies, though maybe not in order and definitely not on time. But I’m officially in the Harry Potter club now! (Someone send me my “Potter Stinks” badge, when you have the time.)

Let’s look at the numbers:

Seven books

Eleven days

4,224 pages

Four countries
(Ireland, England, France, Germany)

384 pages per day

One ferry

One bus

One fever

Two cars

A lot of people asking “You’re quiet, are you okay?”
“Yeah! I’m just reading.”

Platform 9¾ in London. I was too busy eating delicious things to go visit in person while I was there, but that’s okay: that’s what someone else’s photos are for!

And what was the verdict? Well, the books were great. They were a little easier to read than I’d have liked, but they are seven children’s novels so I really have no room to complain. They’re written that way on purpose. The story line is of course fantastic, the characters lovable (Luna, dawww!) and the ending quite perfectly executed. I don’t think I’ll be doing any yearly rereads like some other Potter fans do, but I also didn’t grow up with the books so they don’t have any nostalgic significance to me. (The Wheel of Time Series on the other hand…) Still, a quick but great read as far as series go.

Best of all, though, is that Harry Potter brought me to the reading train platform and I jumped right on board. And it feels good.

Have you ever read the Harry Potter series? What’s your reading record for the seven books? Have recommendations for more book series?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

February + March (Pathetic) Reading Roundup

Ever since I put my travel feet back on, my reading routine has gone right down the drain. It started with a few bad beginnings back in February, when I tried to read two books that I just couldn’t get into before setting off to Europe, and I left them unfinished and felt bitter about it. Then Spain took over, with about a billion things to see in such a short time. You’d think I could find downtime while I traveled from one place to another, but alas, I have motion sickness and reading is one of the best ways to put my tummy in a foul mood while I’m on my way to or fro. When February turned to March, I realized that I’d not finished a single book that month. Ugh.

So I turned to fiction. And I was able to read one book during a lazy day in Seville, then later, during my two weeks in a hostel in Ireland, I devoured a science fiction novel a friend recommended to me. And with two books under my belt, that’s a good enough excuse to write a very pathetic roundup of these past two months. What else can I do, except admit my defeat? I’m sorry, books, I’ve abandoned you. I’ll see you when I can.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Fiction / Recommended

The story focuses around the premises that this girl can relive her life, over and over, doing it better each time. She dies a ton of times, and it’s interesting to think that small choices might change your life in giant ways. For such a far out concept, the writing was well done and it felt realistic, strangely.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Fiction / Recommended

Written in the 60s, this book is one of the great classics of science fiction novels, and I can easily tell why. I picked this book up and didn’t put it down until I was finished, some 500 pages later. The only bad news is that it’s part of a series, so even though the book is done, the story isn’t. Ahhhh!

I think the only way to remedy my lack of reading is to get a hold of some really addicting fiction, science fiction and fantasy books and indulge my inner nerd. The travel and foreign language I encounter on a daily basis exhausts me (although I love it!), and nonfiction reading doesn’t help. At all. I need to listen to my brain and give it the creative, fun reading it’s asking for.

What do you like to read while you’re on the road? Recommendations are always, always appreciated!

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

January Reading Roundup

It’s the first reading roundup of the new year! And boy, did I start off on a sleepy, sleepy foot. I feel like I’ve barely been reading, but free time definitely hasn’t been the issue. Or maybe free time is the problem, namely too much of it. No momentum, no motivation, and you know how it goes. Thankfully, though, knowing that I would be writing this post kicked my butt into gear this past week. If it weren’t for this series of posts, I’d probably have only one book on this list. Thank goodness for blogs and accountability to strangers!

Still, I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, come February. (And a long list of books given as Christmas gifts that are just begging to be read!) So let’s check out my January reads.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant

Nonfiction / Recommended

I really loved this book. Maybe it was the optimist in me, maybe it was the science backing up his claims, maybe it reminded me of myself over and over. Whatever it was, I finished this book inspired and ready to take on the world with my generosity!

Thank you Rebe from Rebe With a Clause for the recommendation!

How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia

Nonfiction / Meh

This book was pretty small, so I’m kind of cheating, but deal with it. I did get one extremely helpful piece of advice / magic tip: make a schedule and don’t compromise your writing time for anyone, ever. A seriously good tip, and now you don’t even have to read the book to get it! Also the last chapter is focused solely on academic writing and I ended up just skipping that completely.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Nonfiction / Recommended

I almost didn’t recommend this book, but I do find her story to be incredible and the inside look at what happens when the Taliban takes over a city to be really interesting and educational. However, you won’t find any life lessons or spectacular writing in here, nor will you remember this book forever. (Probably.) Still, a quick and interesting read.

February, I will do better. Just let this depressing, cold and a little boring January end, already!

Did you have a slow January too? What were your favorite books from this holiday season? What do you have to recommend for me? (I’m always looking for suggestions!)

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

December Reading Roundup + Giveaway

December was a busy life month and a slow reading month. It was also my final month before I headed off to new adventures, so you can probably understand that things have been a bit hectic. Alright, more than hectic. Extremely insane. I’ve packed up a life in rural Korea, relocated back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a month’s rest and preparation, had a big birthday party, dealt with over a week of nonstop family events and showed a visitor around my hometown, making sure he was absolutely convinced that Pittsburgh is the best. (Mission successful!) But now that it’s January and most of the circus has ended, I’m ready for some downtime.

So while I hope that January’s reading list will be a stronger showing, here’s what I managed to read this past insane December.

Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor

korea impossible country

Nonfiction / Recommended

Written for those who know little to nothing about Korea, I still learned a ton while reading through sections on history, religion, pop music and even drinking culture. It’s thorough, it’s not biased and it’s overwhelmingly positive in its tone. Reading this book made me step back and appreciate just how incredible the economic story of Korea is and that there are a lot of amazing things about this tiny, kimchi-obsessed country.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

nelson mandela long walk to freedom

Nonfiction / Recommended

I read this book in honor of Mandela’s passing this past December, and reading his story, told in his own words, was an impressive and heart-wrenching experience. What else can I say, except what a man.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

haruki murakami norwegian wood

Fiction / Recommended

This is the first fiction novel I’ve read by Murakami and it was just as complex and fascinating as I’d imagined and heard about. This also came at a time when I needed literary escapes from the stress of moving across the world. This book didn’t change my life, but it was good.

Giveaway

This is my first ever giveaway, but it’s the holiday season (or at least it was) and there’s something I would love to pass on to one lucky reader. This past November, I read a book that I would put on a required reading list for the entire world, if I could. The book is called Woman: An Intimate Geography and was written by Natalie Angier. It was beautifully written, extremely scientific and informative, but able to hold the reader’s attention the entire way through. If you are a woman, you need to read this book, and if you are a man, you still should. Anyways, I have an extra (used) copy with very little wear, and I want to give a copy to one of you! I’ll also include a set of 4 notecards with some of my photographs printed on the front as a little bonus.

How do you win?

First, you need to comment on this post and answer a question for me: What was the best gift you gave this holiday season?

Second, I want you to tweet a link to any of my posts. Make sure to include @sallybsayz, my twitter handle, so I see it! Anything I’ve written on this blog is fine, so pick whatever you’d like.

That’s it! The giveaway will end in one week, at 11:45pm on January 8th, 2014. I’ll then choose a winner with a random number generator and notify you via email if you’re the lucky one! If you don’t win, I’d still recommend you take a look at that book and give it to yourself. It’s that good, in my opinion.

Anyways, I hope your holidays were merry and bright, that disassembling any Christmas trees goes off without a hitch and that you have a very happy new year! I can’t wait to read your answers.

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The question again: What is the best gift you gave this holiday season?

And if you have book suggestions, I want to hear about them!

As always, you can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

November Reading Roundup

I started this November out with some gung-ho reading habits.

Then I slowed down (way down, one book in two weeks down) and acted much more like a normal person; seeing friends, running errands and cleaning my house. Part of the reason I read so much, so quickly, is because I rented several library books all at once, and then realized I needed to read them all within two weeks. The thing about rented eBooks is that they return themselves when the time is up… both great and terrible. Needless to say, I learned my lesson, I will only be renting one eBook at a time from here on out. (Okay, maybe two. But never again four!)

November was full of nonfiction, but the reading was far from dry. I learned a lot about a huge variety of subjects (as I like to do), so I’m pretty happy with this month’s mental exercise. If I had to pick a favorite for November, then I’d choose Woman: An Intimate Geography. It’s a book that I can feel will stay with me for a while.

Ready to see the list? Take a look:

Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer

Nonfiction / Recommended

The topic is a fiery one: political corruption. The author does an excellent job of using both Republican and Democratic examples of corruption. I think we all know there are shady dealings at the top, but he spells out exactly how they happen, how they’re legal and why it’s not okay. At times, reading this made me sick to my stomach.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Fiction / Recommended

There were tears, smiles and vigorous page turns while I read this book. It’s fascinating because of its descriptions of Africa and it’s captivating in the way good fiction should be. Oh, and profound, quotable life lessons galore.

Lovely Quote: “In all things, especially when it cost little and did no harm to others, Ghosh was his own man.”

Thank you Steve from Twenty First Century Nomad for the recommendation!

Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier

Nonfiction / Recommended

This was one of those rare books that really made a noticeable impact on my soul, I just feel different having read it. On my required reading list for every human on the planet, especially women, this book would be front and center. A top Amazon reviewer described the book perfectly: “scientific poetry”. Indeed.

Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War by Marianne Elliot

November reading roundup review zen under fire

Nonfiction / Recommended

Amazon says this book was over 300 pages, but it felt like a lot less. The memoir was interesting, emotional and a much-needed window into Afghanistan’s humanity and culture. And if you wanted someone to convince you of the benefits of yoga and meditation, I think you’ve found your book.

Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

Nonfiction / Neutral

Kennan recounts two years spent exploring Siberian Russia, living in tents, traveling on dog sleighs and spending time with indigenous populations. It’s an adventure book, with tidbits of fascinating information about what he saw, written in the late 1800s. I’m neutral on recommending it, just because adventure books aren’t really up my alley and I didn’t love it, but if you like this genre, then you’ll enjoy this book.

P.S. It’s free!

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Have book suggestions? I want to hear about them!

As always, you can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

October Reading Roundup

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I don’t use that word lightly. As a child, I’d stay up way past bedtime with a book and flashlight under the covers, so I could finish whatever Boxcar Children story I was reading. In middle school, my dad bribed me and my siblings (yes, with real money!) to read the Lord of the Rings series before watching the movies, and I breezed through it in less than a month while my brothers never did finish the books. Slackers.

During my time living abroad in Argentina, Austria or now South Korea, I looked for used books, English book stores or other means for getting physical books. When my stints were just half a year and I wasn’t particularly successful, it wasn’t as much of a big deal. I’d get home, go on a reading binge and all was well again. Living, really living in South Korea for over a year now has been a bit harder. I took books from a local book exchange that a friend maintains, but little of it was really my style. I bought some books from the English bookstore in Seoul, but to do that regularly? My wallet says ouch. I did manage to finish an epic 15 book series, reading it all on my iPhone, but that’s just eyeball suicide in the long run. I needed a better solution.

So this October, I finally “caved” and got an e-reader. I put caved in quotations, because what I really mean is I stopped being a nostalgic-for-paper-for-no-good-reason idiot. Yeah, I said it, people! If you’re living or traveling abroad, you love to read and you don’t have an e-reader… you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Go buy one. Combined with my not-so-local-anymore library back home and a library card number, I’ve been able to access books I’ve been wanting to read for months on end, finally, and for free. Success.

So, I’ve decided to begin a series. This is both to share my literary endeavors with you and hopefully inspire you to pick up one of these books, as well as a way to keep myself reading consistently. If you’re not into books, first I beg you to reconsider, and if you’re still not interested in what I have to say about books, then ignore this post and its sequels. On the other hand, if you love you some words and books and stories, then boy, do I have some good content for you! Let’s go!

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiction / Recommended

This book isn’t life changing by any means, but it was well written, interesting and based off a cool story concept. If you like fiction and want to breeze through something that will make you smile at the end, then you’ll enjoy this one.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nonfiction / Recommended

North Korea is depressing and fascinating. Sadly, though this book was published five years ago, the narratives from North Korean defectors haven’t changed. Quite an eye opening book.

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Nonfiction / Recommended

If you’re pro-life (no exceptions) or staunchly Christian, then I’m going to be upfront and tell you that you’re not going to like this book. But regardless of your beliefs, if you have an open mind and want to take a dive into some feminism, then this is a good, interesting book about the concept of virginity and its negative effect on young women.

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

Nonfiction / Not Recommended

I’m going to save you the trouble of reading this mini-book. (Yes, it’s a mini book and it’s not even worth the read.) Summary: successful people consistently get up very early in the morning (6am and earlier), and most of them exercise. You’re welcome!

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Fiction / Recommended

The story is original, captivating and interesting, and it will make you cry big, ugly tears right before you’re supposed to go on a date. I didn’t get any memorable life lessons out of this book, but after some of my nonfiction pursuits, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, either.

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Have recommendations for me? I would love to hear them. Pass them on!

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