On Sundays We Wear Pajamas

“Life doesn't work that way, Alina. Hatred spreads - it doesn't burn out with time. Someone needs to stand up and stop it.”

If it’s true that a Sunday well spent brings a week of content, it’s gonna be an awesome week! It’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m still in my pj’s. Life is better in pajamas, isn’t it?  Last week was long—way too many post-midnight hours trying to get caught up. I honestly intended to grab some minutes to tell you about Kelly Rimmer’s The Things We Cannot Say.

Let me go a little Amazon on you and share a positive and a critical review of Rimmer’s latest. I’ll start with the sunny one: “Oh my, I could not put the book down. I downloaded it at 7 PM last night and with a few hours sleep, I finished by 11 AM today. Maybe that says it all. I experienced every emotion.” Now for the negative: “This style that alternates between the present and past has been way overdone…because of that, most of the story is predictable; you already know that the present day character is searching into the past during WWII and finds the missing pieces to their past and how they are connected to each other.”  

Here are my two shiny cents: While it is true that dual timeline narratives feel a bit overdone at this point, The Things We Cannot Say boasts two storytellers who are endearing. Kelly connected the two timelines in a way that is often not seen—she fused the contemporary to the historical when an older Alina’s granddaughter, Alice, traveled to Poland.  I’m especially fond of Alina, a spirited teenager who underestimates the Nazi occupation. She is stoic and brave. And her love for Tomasz is unshakable. Will her fierce determination and bright hope enable her to live her dream or will the Nazis ultimately force her to live a lifetime of quiet lies?  You may lose some sleep to find out. But at least you’ll be in your pj’s, right?  

Posted by Tracy

Never Underestimate a Bookworm

"It also meant she thought of books as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things. Nothing yet had proven her wrong."

I spend way too much time trying to figure out my next best read. I’m the Jimmy Carter of book selecting. Just have to gather a little more information before I make a final decision and download the audible or crack the spine of a shiny new book.  Afterall, a little forethought almost always goes a long way. I simply don’t have time for mediocre pages.

Maybe it’s the lesser of two evils? Spend the time to avoid a literary crime. I’m rarely disappointed.  That’s not to say I always agree with what my homework suggests—can’t say that I see eye to eye with reviewers who compared Abbi Waxman to Jane Austen.  My reverence for Jane runs deep. When Nina Hill was named “a modern-day Elizabeth Bennett,” I couldn’t hit download fast enough.  Nina is quirky. She’s witty and smart and bookish of course. I thought she was lovable too—she’s the female version of Ken Jennings, she works in a book store that refuses to fold, she owns the fact that she finds joy in missing out, and she’s book obsessed.  (She’s hilarious…love her quips about exercise…she’s gonna make you chuckle.) When her quiet life is upended by the news that her now-dead father (that she didn’t know she had) left her an inheritance, life outside the pages takes a real turn.  I’d love to hang out with Nina myself, I’m just not ready to call her Elizabeth—I might be willing to say Tom has some Mr. Darcy in him. 

If you liked Evvie Drake Starts Over, you’ll like The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. The millennial does have a conversation with her book club that I could have done without.  It felt gratuitous to me.  I’d skip over it and stick with the good stuff. And it is good stuff.

Posted by Tracy

Flying High and Coming Home to Roost

"In the beginning there was the word. Toni Morrison took the word and turned it into a song...of Solomon, of SulaBelovedMercyParadise, Love, and more. She was our conscience, our seer, our truth-teller"—Oprah after Toni Morrison’s death

ruth.jpg

It makes me sad, Toni being gone. Who is going to turn words into unforgettable songs? One of the greatest writers of our day has “surrendered to the air and is riding it.”  Maybe it’s time to re-visit Morrison’s pages—to soak up her insights and remind myself that, as humans, we face problems. We all experience heartbreaking dilemmas that have the potential to give us new eyes.

 Speaking of heartbreak and dilemmas, Leonora Shaw faces more than her fair share of both in the psychological thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood. I chose this read because Ware’s name keeps popping up. I, myself, have been in the dark about Ware, the British best seller who admits that the most interesting thing about her is her books, “which are full of murder, family secrets, toxic friendships, and things that go bump in the night.” In a Dark, Dark Wood had all of the above—it did not disappoint. Nora is crime writer who isolates herself after a good love gone bad. When she hesitantly reunites with some old friends for a pre-wedding weekend celebration (called a Hen by Englanders…love them), things go scary sideways in a hurry. It’s been a while since I’ve felt real suspense like Ware inspired here. I figured out whodunit before the reveal. But I didn’t mind. Where Toni turned words into songs, Ware turns them into fear. I’m glad both authors are in the foreseeable future for me!

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

The title should really read: “Mini-Review Monday from the Recently Review-less Rachel.” Kinda has a ring to it, don’t you think? Looks like Tray and her sis have been pulling all the weight around here so here’s my mini-attempt at playing catch-up.

Make me a Match

Sometimes Audible proves a skillful matchmaker—pairing me up with the perfect read based on books I’ve loved. One that I may never have stumbled across otherwise, like The Murmur of Bees. Is it shallow of me to admit I first fell for its cover? Rest assured, it took an Isabelle Allende comparison to seal the deal. This review helped too: “The Murmur of Bees is unpredictable and heart-rending, a novel both grand in scope, capturing the fate of a country in flux, and deeply personal, with its intimate portrait of a family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable.” This one’s a winner.

Two favorite quotes: “But let me tell you what I know, what I’ve concluded: it doesn’t matter whether time passes slowly or quickly. What you can be sure of is that, in the end, all you want is to have more.”

“It is in the deepest darkness that one sees things most clearly.”

Not my favorite

This one fell a little flat for me. It had all the makings of a good beach read with literary leanings, but it didn’t deliver. I seem to be in the minority here—most reviewers are giving it a big thumbs up and Jenna Bush (who I adore) chose it for her book club. The only thing this book left me searching for was a better beach read. Sorry Sylvie.

A Fun Finish

I’m a sucker for the Sheldon Coopers of this world which explains my Don Tillman soft spot. While The Rosie Project remains my favorite of the trilogy, this one outdid the second and is a perfect ending to the series. If you’re looking for endearing, laugh-out-loud fiction, only to cry real tears a few pages later, this series is for you. In the words of one of my literary BFF’s, Adriana Trigiani, "Don Tillman is my favorite new protagonist in all of contemporary fiction. This man will exasperate, delight and immerse you."

A favorite quote: “Academics always think they can do any job better, until they try it.”

Biggest Surprise

This book has been on my radar for quite some time but I resisted taking the bait. Even though I was a greek mythology lover in college, I didn’t expect to love this book. Finally succumbed to the hype, especially once Helen Simonson (Major Petigrew’s Last Stand) promised: “you will be held enchanted.” And I was. Thoroughly. You don’t have to love greek mythology to love this book. It’s exactly as Ann Patchett proclaimed: “an epic spanning thousands of years that’s also a keep-you-up-all-night page-turner.”

A favorite quote: “I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer. Then, child, make another.”

Posted by Rachel

The Gift of Perspective

“People wait all week for Friday, all year for summer, all life for happiness.”

I haven’t waited all week for Friday, but I’m glad it’s here. Now I’m trying to decide if I hold out for summer all year? Not necessarily. And I’m definitely not waiting for happiness. I can conjure up contentment in my brain if I have my head screwed on tight. Just last week, a friend asked me how to navigate life’s trickiest (euphemism) moments; my dog-tired mind produced this initial answer: Read more World War II Lit. Don’t think for a minute exhaustion got the better of me on this one. That’s a good answer and I’m standing by it. Why? Because World War II novels give me the gift of perspective. (Perspective is my bigger final/philosophical answer to her question).

Can World War II lit be hard to read? Yes. Can history haunt us? Yes. Is the unimaginable possible? Yes. But what we gain from reading about atrocities, suffering, and poor choices does grant us important perspective. Maybe it informs future choices (learn from mistakes sorta thing)? Either way, I’m grateful I met Anke Hoff, a German midwife. She is an admirable and strong female character. She has a strong sense of right and wrong. When Anke is apprehended in the streets of Berlin and sent to a work camp because of her family’s anti-Reich sentiments, she dedicates herself to keeping pregnant inmates and newborns alive. Later Anke is chosen to care for Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun; she then faces the biggest moral dilemma of her life—does she serve the loathsome Reich and protect Hitler’s child (and her ensure her family’s safety) or does she sacrifice an innocent baby in hopes of a better world? You’ll have to read Robotham’s debut novel to find the answer to that tough one. At times, details slow down the pace a bit. The German Midwife still proved interesting—and naturally, thankfully, it provided me perspective.

Posted by Tracy

One You'll Relish

“I love a Hebrew National hot dog with an ice-cold Corona—no lime. If the phone rings, I won’t answer until I’m done.” —Maya Angelou

It’s National Hot Dog Day people! I know because my fourteen-year-old son told me so at 8:30 a.m., this morning. Here’s how our brief, pre-work conversation played out:

Luke: “Mom, do you know it’s National Hot Dog Day today?

Me: “Nope, didn’t know that.”

Luke: “Yeah. Maybe we should have some dogs for dinner?”

Me: “Is that what you want?”

Luke: “Well, you are good at making hot dogs.”

Me: (In my head/expression on my face) You gotta be kidding me…any fool can cook a hot dog.

Luke: (Reads my expression) No, I mean it… I’m being serious, you are really good at making hot dogs.

If I die tomorrow, my epitaph should read, “She was really good at making hot dogs.” Maybe I could grill a Hebrew frank or two for Maya? Then I would gently clink my ice-cold zero—with a lime—to her brew and talk about what I “threw back,” and good books that I’ve read since she’s moved on. Would I mention Marjan Kamali’s latest? I think I would.

Maya would be down with The Stationery Shop’s “beautiful and timely exploration of devastating loss, unbreakable family bonds, and the overwhelming power of love.” I’m sure of it. The story takes place in 1950’s Tehran, when political upheaval was hurtling towards chaos. Roya, a bright teenager with a fierce love of poetry and swelling aspirations, unwittingly falls for a handsome, I-will-conquer-the-world political activist in the one place that affords her a feeling of peace: Mr. Fakhri’s stationery shop. You’ll have to read Kimali’s lovely prose to find out which is stronger—love or war?

Be warned: The Stationery Shop will tease out some of your raw emotions (and quite possibly make you curious about middle eastern cuisine). I love a book with a palpable feel more than Joey Chestnut loves dogs on a summer day in Coney Island.

Posted by Tracy

Silver Linings Audiobook

“The tag on her chamomile teabag said, There is no trouble that a good cup of tea can’t solve.’ It sounded like what a gentleman on Downton Abbey would say right before his wife got an impacted tooth and elegantly perished in bed.”

Like Rae, I’ve got a silver-lining girl in me. So when my plans last weekend to visit the fab Boyles in searing Vegas melted, I got busy decluttering my house. That’s not the silvery part. Jonah misplacing my t.v. remote on the weekend Stranger Things Season 3 released was obviously not fortuitous either. It turned our viewing plans upside down. (See what I did there?) I’m getting to the break-in-the-clouds part, I promise. Instead of binge watching, I purged. I got rid of a lot of stuff. While that didn’t necessarily spark joy, listening to one book and then another did.

When I downloaded Evvie Drake Starts Over, I didn’t realize it was romantic comedy. I’m glad it was about more than just hugs and kisses. The important message that there is a reset button—that second chances are real—highly resonated with me. I’ve learned, of necessity, about letting go. Evvie was endearing. (At times, she made me think of our dear friend Eleanor Oliphant.) And I’m quite glad I got to know Evvie Drake when I was throwing out with the old. She’s no Rachel, but she was great company.

*Be warned f-bombs were dropped. There is some language in Holmes’ debut novel that was described as, “Deeply moving while simultaneously hilarious, Evvie Drake Starts Over is what happens when great writing, complex and charming characters, and a not-quite-what-you-expect ending collide…Much more than just another romantic comedy.”

Posted by Tracy

Throwback Thursday

“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground.” 

On a night filled with fireworks—some snap, sizzle, and pop—I thought it fitting to write about Little Fires Everywhere. I just returned from a charming Cape May, where the sun and the ocean breeze brought me much needed harmony. (A beach is the best medicine.) I finally tried out Celeste Ng. Am I the last one? I’m guessing that’s a yes. Rachel’s soothing voice just showed up in my head, assuring me it’s not a race, but I know better: we like to run to the good reads. I should have gotten a jump on Little Fires Everywhere sooner.

Here’s why I liked Ng’s latest: it’s easy fiction to read. Like the sandy shores of the Atlantic, it provided a nice escape. The story revolves around a seemingly perfect society in the small town of Shaker Heights, where careful planning leads to automatic success. When newcomer Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive on the blissful scene, things heat up. Why? Because true to small-town form, residents like to get up into other people’s business. A meddling mother plays detective and ends up paying a devastating price that upends her orderly life. I have to say, Ng had me guessing at times. I like a novel with some unexpected twists. (Who doesn’t?) Plus, there was a moral takeaway. And her words looked good on the page. In fact, my precocious niece was five chapters deep into Little Fires under Cape May’s cheerful sun—assigned reading for her 10th grade Honors English class. If you’re headed for a coast, or have a long flight in your future, this is a good one to pull out of your bag and dive into.

P.S. I just learned that Hulu is making this book into a t.v. series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington…should be good!