A Hug and a Real Whodunnit

“The most poetical thing in the world is not being tired.” —Rachel Tanner Boyle

I can’t decide if I need a hug, a big gulp of something caffeinated (and bubbly of course), or two weeks of sleep. Maybe a portion of all three? I could use a triple shot of comfort right about now. The week, like the hours, has been long—drawn out. Don’t worry, there were bright sides. A big one came from British-born Australian author, Jane Harper. I downloaded her latest crime novel, The Lost Man, and listened intently during every spare minute I had. 

That’s not hyperbole. I stole stingy minutes to listen to Steven Shanahan’s inviting Aussie accent bring the Bright brothers to life. (Well, two of them anyway.) At the dawn of Harper’s third novel, Cameron Bright’s body is discovered at the mysterious stockman’s grave in remote Outback Queensland. Older brother Nathan can’t buy into the idea that Cameron took his own life—Cam was the responsible one that people liked, and he’d long since figured out how to navigate the risks involved with living somewhere so remote and so harsh. (Things can go wrong in a few blistering minutes.) Have a listen to this slow-burn mystery that will intrigue and surprise you. It did me. Way to go Jane—you put the who in whodunnit once again

P.S.  Right you are A.J., right you are. 

“I ask in earnest: How the hell does she do it? The Lost Man is Jane Harper’s third consecutive marvel… and, against long odds, her most marvelous yet, pitting brother against brother, man against nature, reader against the clock. What an extraordinary novel: part family drama, part indelible ode to the Outback ― a thriller as forceful and atmospheric as a brewing storm. Harper works miracles. We’re lucky to witness them.”―A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

“The world may be mean, but people don't have to be, not if they refuse.” ― Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

It’s lovely to be read to, isn’t it? Rachel and I agree that “being read to by Bahni Turpin is lovelier still.” We’re on the same wave length, Rae and I—we unwittingly finished two different books in the same week retold by the two-time Odyssey Award winner and two-time recipient of the Audie Award for Best Solo Female Narration. Needless to say, we’re all heart eyes (and ears) for Bahni Turpin who has done her level best to ensure audio is an important artform.

Turpin has narrated big titles like The Hate U Give, Children of Blood and Bone, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and If Beale Street Could Talk, to name a few. I just finished one of her latest: American Spy. Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel kept popping up on a number of “Best Reads of 2019.” When I discovered Turpin would do the talking for Marie Mitchell, a former FBI agent, I couldn’t download the audible fast enough. I’m with the reviewer who said, “American Spy works on so many levels—it’s an expertly written spy thriller as well as a deeply intelligent literary novel that tackles issues of politics, race, and gender in a way that’s never even close to being heavy-handed or didactic. Above all, it’s just so hard to put down.” And with Turpin behind the mic, it was extra tough to turn off. —Tracy

Pulitzer and I don’t always agree. The Goldfinch? Stopped halfway through which was more than it deserved. Less? Heard from a trusted friend it was less than wonderful. Don’t even get me started on March. Still, we’re often simpatico: The Hours, Middlesex, To Kill a Mockingbird, to name just a few. And a huge amen for All the Light we Cannot See. Add The Underground Railroad to my list of absolute amens. Cora’s story will make you weep and silently hope and maybe even cheer and then weep and claw your way back to hope again. It’s not for the faint of heart. The truest ones seldom are. But it’s another I’d add to the grand list of required reading for life. And while I’m at it, I’d make listening to Bahni Turpin’s performance of it mandatory. —Rachel

Mini-Review Monday

If each day is a gift, I would like to know where I can return Mondays.

February 11th, people. That’s the day I proclaimed it was high time I pulled myself together. That went well. Sigh. Time for a serious reboot and there’s nothing like a little Tray time in the Motherland to refresh the soul and spur some productivity. Since we never know how long these spurts will last, let’s knock out three reviews at once, shall we? Here’s one I loved, one I liked, and one I wish I’d skipped.

The one I loved. Five stars for the first three quarters of this stunning read. It lost half a star from me for not finishing quite as beautifully as it began, but I loved it all the same. Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing raved: “Liardet reminds us that mother-daughter love can arise from thrown-together hearts during the cruelest rubble of war. Through every scene, we see the tattered socks, the doll faces, the honey-smells of baby skin, but mostly we feel the strength and endurance of heart-crushing love. The war and weather-etched faces and life-long relationships of the villagers show us that real family has little to do with worn down definitions. This is a powerful story that proves how love itself requires courage.” (If you fancy a listen, this one is read by one of my favorite narrators: Jayne Entwistle. Perfection!)

The one I liked. Actually, really liked. Tray pegged this as a winner (before Reese, I might add) and that’s all the enticement I needed to click the download button. Once again, Tray was spot on. This review summed it up perfectly: “Mythical creatures, conversations with the dead, lucky numbers, Confucian virtues, and forbidden love provide the backdrop to Choo’s superb murder mystery. Mining the rich setting of colonial Malaysia, Choo wonderfully combines a Holmes-esque plot with Chinese lore.”

The one I wish I’d skipped. Not sure what possessed me to give this a try since I wasn’t a fan of Quinn’s last novel, The Alice Network (a Reese pick gone wrong). Could have been Kate Hannah’s ringing endorsement that got me—clearly, Great-Alone-Kate wrote that review. Someone bring Nightingale-Kate back pronto.

Posted by Rachel

You are One of the Lights

“My dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner.” —Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho

I don’t care what anyone says…Rachel and I are Londoners. Last week, we got off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, ran through immigration waving our passports hysterically, hopped on the tube and pulled into the city we love. It felt so good to be back before the years stacked up. We’re pretty sure London was giddy to have us—the weather was all sunshine and blossoms. Repeat after me: Oh happy day! Come nighttime, I kept thinking I would write a post, but there was playoff-ready Steph, idle chatter, belly laughs, Coke Zeros and limes. It amounted to healing via good cheer, my very favorite medicine.

Forgive me for just now telling you about Where the Forrest Meets the Stars. Judging by how quickly I returned to my audible app, I really liked this listen. Glendy Vanderah’s starry debut novel had elements of enchantment, intrigue, and even a bit of mystery. (That’s a winning recipe for a good read, no?) A mysterious child shows up barefoot at a remote cabin occupied by an ornithologist named Joanna Teale. The young girl, roughly age 9, swears she hails from a distant planet. She can’t leave Southern Illinois to head back to her home in the stars until she witnesses five miracles. Did I mention the child goes by the name Ursa Major? Ursa may well be responsible for the biggest miracles taking place in this bewitching book.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars has been compared to The Snow Child. They share similar themes of hope, grief, loss, trust, and family. I’m anxious to see what Rae thinks about Ursa, Joanna, and Gabe. I’m grateful for “Vanderah ’s beautifully human story [with the reminder] that sometimes we need to look beyond the treetops at the stars to let some light into our lives.”

Posted by Tracy

Not the Only (Lucky) One

It’s Friday…any plan of being a productive member of society is officially thrown out the window.” 

I love discovering a new author as much as I love Friday afternoons. I’m enjoying both of those beauts right now. While researching what to read next, I came across Jillian Cantor’s The Lost Letter.  Another comparison to The Nightingale caught my eye, but I’m rightfully suspicious after The Wartime Sisters. It was Georgia Hunter that pushed Cantor’s historical novel to the top of my pile. When the author of We Were the Lucky Ones boasted that she “devoured The Lost Letter…an intriguing and very personal story of resistance,” I was immediately on board. I got wholly caught up in the captivating story of Kristoff and the Fabers, the family he never had. 

The story centers around an unusual World War II Austrian stamp. Frederick Faber, prominent Jewish stamp engraver, looks into the future far enough to train his young apprentice Kristoff to take his place before Kristallnacht. Despite being coerced to create stamps for the Germans, Kristoff enjoys one of the best times of his life. For the same reason I loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I thoroughly enjoyed this great little find. Cantor created “beautifully drawn characters.” The Austrian stamp seems to have a magical quality about it, as it spans decades to prescribe love for others. This book embodies hope. The message that “There isn't just one ending, one answer, one person who can make us happy, or not. Maybe we can all begin again, become different people” is one that I needed to hear. Thank you, Jillian. So glad to have met. 

P.S. I really enjoy this read—enough to check out Cantor’s latest, In Another Time, (released just last month) real soon! 

Posted by Tracy

Hedy Creates the Internet

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” —Hedy Lamarr

What do Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and James Stewart have in common? Are we too young to know this? I sure hope so. If you’ve picked up a copy of The Only Woman in the Room, you may know the answer. They all worked with “The Most Beautiful Woman in Films”: Hedy Lamarr. That’s quite a superlative, isn’t it? Don’t think for one minute that Hedy is just a pretty face. She had a brilliant mind—the mind of a gifted scientist.

If you love real life stories, you’re bound to love The Only Woman in the Room. Hedy, born to Austrian parents of Jewish decent, comes of age as the Third Reich usurps power. It shouldn’t surprise that she caught the eye of a wealthy ammunitions dealer who obsesses over her. More a trophy than a partner, Hedy finds herself in the controlling grasp of a man in bed with the nazis. She is a prisoner in her own home. But she’s as brave as she is beautiful. In this fictional biography, find out how Hedy dupes her husband and tenaciously takes Hollywood by storm. And how Hedy invents a communication system that later helped enable GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely interested in Hedy’s brand of glamorous.

p.s. I may have to look into this 2017 film that underscores Hedy’s genius more than her obvious good looks.

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

“Monday is a State of Mind. Put on your positive pants and get stuff done.”

For the record, I have no trouble putting on my positive pants. I will freely admit that I sometimes struggle to get everything done, but not today my friends. I’m determined to write about my latest listen The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman. I wish I could chat with the reviewer who forecasted that if I loved The Nightingale and Lilac Girls, I’d be smitten with The Wartime Sisters. Lilac Girls was fascinating, and The Nightingale was illuminating. For me, The Wartime Sisters was meh.

Loigman’s story centers around two estranged sisters with secrets: Ruth and Millie, whose relationship suffered early on from loving but sometimes misguided parents. When Millie relocates to Springfield, Massachusetts to rebuild her broken life, her secrets catch up with her. (So do Ruth’s.) Both feel a sisterhood with women who toil behind the scenes at the armory in preparation for World War II. Loigman shares some nice detail, but her story felt a bit predictable to me. Besides, I wanted more depth. Sadly, this didn’t come close to the song of The Nightingale. I hope you don’t think I’ve ditched my positive pants on this one. Not to worry, I can do meh every once in a while.

Posted by Tracy

Not-So-Mini Review Monday

“To be honest, I’m just winging it. Life, motherhood, my eye liner. Everything.” 

I said it was time to bounce back, and I meant it.  Am I wingin it? Yes, yes I am. Maybe that’s my not-so-new normal? On the fly, I asked my book-lovin sis to keep me posted on her new favorite reads.  (Sharee’s “hobby job” at Barnes & Noble keeps her apprised of the latest, greatest pages.)  She said Born A Crime was fascinating—4 plus stars for sure.  In fact, she shared an interview snippet from Born A Crime author, Trevor Noah, to underscore just how interesting this coming-of-age story is. Anyone want to get to know Trevor besides me?  

Noah describes how on this particular Sunday night in 1993 — one year before Mandela came to power — Trevor, his mother (Patricia) and his baby brother, Andrew, emerged from an evening service in a wealthy white suburban neighborhood of Johannesburg. (Patricia liked to make a “circuit of churches” in various parts of the city even when their car was broken down.) The only real transportation option for carless Blacks in that part of town was an unregulated system of minibus taxis. After a long wait, a minibus driven by a Zulu man with a foul mouth and inherent dislike for Xhosa women picked up the Noahs. As the only passengers on the bus, the situation soon became hostile and Patricia knew they were in trouble.

Patricia kept her poise and asked the driver to let them out. He refused. Finally, she leaned over and whispered to her sleepy 9-year-old on the seat next to her: “Trevor, when he slows down at the next intersection, I’m going to open the door and we’re going to jump.” And sure enough, when the driver slowed down, she reached over, opened the minivan’s sliding door, hurled Trevor out and then jumped out herself, cradling baby Andrew. If Noah was still half-asleep when the door opened, he was not after hitting the ground and hearing his mother land next to him and scream: “Run!”

They ran, hid and eventually escaped into a petrol station, where they called the police. Patricia and Trevor were cut badly, while Andrew miraculously didn’t have a scratch.  As they left the gas station Trevor says to his mother, “Look, Mom. I know you love Jesus, but maybe next week you could ask him to meet us at our house.” Patricia grinned at Noah, and the bleeding mother and son erupted into laughter.

Posted by Tracy