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 portion, 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.) 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 smooth 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!

Last Minute Gifts for Dad

Sometimes I plan, but sometimes I wing it. I planned ahead and sent my Father’s Day gift on Monday, to the man who deserves an ode. If I were scrambling at this moment, I’d naturally turn to old faithful: Amazon Prime. These are the books I’m giving a second look:

It’s no secret Rae and I love Ove’s brainchild. I happened upon Backman’s latest, released just last month. Shelf Awareness enthused: “This is an irresistible and insightful collection, perfect for new parents and fans of Backman’s ‘unparalleled understanding of human nature.’” Honestly, who doesn’t need some of this guy’s wisdom? “You can be whatever you want to be, but that’s nowhere near as important as knowing that you can be exactly who you are.”

If your dad is business-minded or a fan of the absurd, Bad Blood may well be the perfect book for him this Father’s Day. Here’s what Bill Gates had to say about it: “The story is even crazier than I expected, and I found myself unable to put it down once I started. This book has everything: elaborate scams, corporate intrigue, magazine cover stories, ruined family relationships, and the demise of a company once valued at nearly $10 billion.”


In the Kingdom of Ice author, Hampton Sides, has me thinking this new release might be a winner: “Mark Obmascik has deftly rescued an important story from the margins of our history—and from our country’s most forbidding frontier. Deeply researched and feelingly told, The Storm on Our Shores is a heartbreaking tale of tragedy and redemption.” 

p.s. My Dad, Yogi might be a home run if your pops loves America’s game!

Posted by Tracy

Resurrection Kid Lit Tuesday

“Sometimes words hang around longer than people, even when you don’t want them to.”

I fell off my horse. I went for a sad stretch without reading a book to the boys. Chaos hung around longer than expected, even when I didn’t want him to. The good news is I got back on with a real winner. It wasn’t Wonder, but it was in the same league. Like Palacio, Onjali Q. Rauf tackles a topic kids should learn to be sensitive to—we all should. The Boy at the Back of the Class introduced Luke and Jonah to a Syrian boy named Ahmet. From a child’s point of view, my children learned about refugees.

When a new boy comes to class, things change for a group of precocious 9-year-olds. Their collective eyes open to the lonely plight of a refugee. And with simple solutions (one labeled The Greatest Idea in the World), they proactively try to make a difference. “Told with heart and humor, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.” Rauf’s pages are replete with hope and warmth. In this instance, I pray her words hang around a lot longer than people.

Posted by Tracy

Chicken in the Car and the Car Can't Go

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.” ―H. L. Mencken

I give you Chicago. Not in the form of a stainless-steel bean, an Italian beef, or even daaa bears or Wrigley Field. I give you Chicago via biographies. From Lieutenant Dan to First Lady, here are two reads that may make you crave the Windy City.

Becoming, the top-selling book in 2018, celebrates Michelle Obama’s accomplished life. Naturally, I succumbed to the hype. Her life story is intriguing. From her humble beginnings on Chicago’s south side to her time spent in the most elegant White House. But (in my opinion), Becoming was not overly compelling. If you are a Michelle Obama fan, you will love her walk down the memory lane. She did find the yellow brick road after all. As a casual admirer of Michelle, you may find yourself looking for something a little more.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service highlights another famous Chicago native: actor/humanitarian Gary Sinise. As a somewhat rebellious youth, Sinise was on the brink of becoming a drop-out. School just wasn’t his thing. Fortunately, the high school drama teacher saw something in the uninterested boy. She asked him to try out for a part in the school play—West Side Story. Let’s just say Sinise was a Jet All the Way. He was on his way to becoming Lt. Dan, which led him to a lifetime of service on behalf of veterans everywhere. I guess it’s true: Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Guest Post by Tracy’s sister (whom we affectionately refer to as Schmellie)