Death is a Difficult Act to Follow

Once, in the tide of Dunbar past, there were five brothers, but the fourth of us was the best of us, and a boy of many traits.

It’s time to come out of unintentional hiding. Rae’s done a bang ‘em up job on the holiday gift guide. Have you checked it out? I’m hoping to add a couple more to the guide before December 25. I finished Mark Zusak’s latest, Bridge of Clay. When Zusak read the final page to me, number 544, I wondered if maybe my mother who says some writers only have 1 masterpiece in them isn’t onto something?  The Book Thief is, in my humble opinion, a magnum opus. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to undertake another fiction—death is a difficult act to follow. 

Bridge of Clay is well written. And the Dunbar boys, raising themselves in a bit of a barnyard masquerading as a house, are memorable. I’m glad I met them, especially Clay. Their lives feel tragic. Young boys should never have to watch cancer painstakingly kill their mother and steal their father. Like Liesel Meminger, the Dunbar brothers are resilient. I’m always a fan of hope in the face of overwhelming despair. At times, the story felt a little bit slow to me. But it was worthwhile. I completely agree with the reviewer who said, “This is a novel that requires time, patience and attention — just like the Dunbar boys, just like Clay’s bridge—to reap the inevitable reward.”

*Be warned: Boy will be boys—I needed Spongebob’s dolphin noises in lieu of the Dunbar boys’ sailor mouths. :/

Posted by Tracy

Holiday Gift Guide

People who say that I’m hard to shop for must not know where to buy books.

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Our Holiday Gift Guide is here and it’s bigger and better than ever! We’ve tried to find a book for everyone on your list. Still need help finding the perfect book? Send us an email or comment below who you’re shopping for and we’ll do our best to find the right read. Click here to go to the guide. Happy shopping!

Christmas Tales for Every Age

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” —Buddy the Elf

The second best way? Reading Christmas tales by the tree. We’re certain Buddy would agree—especially if you throw in some candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. Top it off with a little hot cocoa and you have the makings of many magical nights ahead. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite new (and not so new) crowd-pleasing tales that are destined to be Christmas classics. Of course we can’t talk Christmas classics without mentioning one of our favorites: Auntie Claus. Click here for a list of some all-time faves. Oh wait, here too. Clearly, we have a thing for Christmas tales.

This may be our new favorite book. Festive illustrations and fun, rhythmic text make this an instant classic and the book you’ll read every year before piling in the car to pick up your tree. Pure magic! (A word to the wise, order fast because this beauty sold out early last year.)

A story to remind us that wishes can come true in the most unexpected ways. This one is brimming with magical illustrations.

A beautiful reminder of why we celebrate the season told in a way that helps children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Every Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien’s children would receive a letter from Father Christmas himself, with tales of reindeer run amok, an accident-prone polar bear, and troublesome goblins living under the house. With this wonderful collection, we all get to revel in the perks of having an author like Tolkien as a father. It must have been a charmed childhood, indeed.

A beautifully illustrated tale about the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and how important it is to be surrounded by love.

Silly and fun, this tale is all about making it home for Christmas to be the ones you love.

We may or may not be collecting these BabyLit books for our future grandchildren. Introducing favorite classics to babies: how can we not? Another Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, is also available.

Posted by Rachel

Someone Please Write This Man An Ode

“Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic.”

Leif Enger deserves an ode, and based on my track record for odes owed, we best not wait on me. Speaking of shoddy track records, how ‘bout my posting habits of late? Sheesh. Tray’s been doing all the heavy lifting around here and I haven’t heard one peep of a complaint out of her. Have I mentioned she’s my favorite? I’ve spent the past month helping my boy get ready to serve the Lord and the people of Honduras for two years—then the past week sending him off, missing him tremendously, and incessantly refreshing my email for updates. Kinda hinders posting progress. But alas, I’m happy to report he’s arrived safely and is loving every minute of it so far. Whew. Happy boy equals happy mama which hopefully means more productive blogging.

Back to the reason we’re all here: good books. And this, dear readers, is one of the best. If you have yet to read it, may I be so bold as to suggest you pick it up pronto—as in now. You’ll thank me. Profusely. Need further convincing? (I’ll try not to feel insulted.) Here’s what one of my favorite Instagrammers, Kathleen Crowley, posted that immediately inspired me to dust off my own copy for a revisit:

I have this theory that the right book at the right time can change your life. My right book was Peace Like a River, I read it one year after my father died, and in it I found a young girl who loved words, and westerns, and her broken but beautiful family. It is the book I credit most for my love of reading.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. So I won’t. I will say I listened to it this time and Chad Lowe’s narration only adds to the magic. The best news? After 10 long years, Enger just released another novel and it’s exquisite too. Virgil Wander, in the words of one reviewer, “feels mostly like life itself, in all its smallness and bigness, and what it means to live a good one.” That’s what writers like Enger and Ivan Doig do best, isn’t it? So if your heart aches over the loss of Doig like mine does, you’ll find respite to rejoice over in Enger. Here’s hoping he doesn’t take another ten years writing the next one, but if he does, rest assured it will be worth the wait.

Posted by Rachel

A Time to Love, and a Time to Hate

“I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it.”

It’s pretty to think Rae and I could sit around and read books and write posts. Clearly, it’s not our reality. We have been reading, I assure you. The Paris Wife, which I really enjoyed, unveiled my next read: The Sun Also Rises. That’s right, I’ve never read Hemingway’s first novel that repeatedly makes multiple lists of the 100 Best Novels. I let William Hurt introduce me to Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, and Lady Brett Ashley. It felt like high time to see what all the fuss was about. 

The fuss is about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The Sun Also Rises is autobiographical—it’s about Hemingway and other writers who were part of the Lost Generation. In the wake of World War I, a group of disillusioned ex-patriates search for meaning abroad. They drink and travel and even run with the bulls in Spain. Fast living may have been an attempt to outrun the haunting effects of war. Jake and Brett’s relationship is easily the most interesting; a war injury prevents them from being together, which may ultimately suggest that love is no different than the other ideals obliterated by war. This book has me pondering—maybe it’s pretty to think that really living life comes naturally? 

Posted by Tracy

The Sun Still Rises

“I met the devil,' Ernest said, finishing his glass of wine, 'and he doesn't give a damn about art.’” 

I have two things in common with Ernest Hemingway: I also believe books are friends and I too love to sleep. Three, if you count liking to write. I knew next to nothing about the man before I read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. Scratch that, I knew he was a manly man; my college professor used the term misogynist, but maybe that’s a bit of a harsh stereotype? At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the American bohemian. 

 The Paris Wife is, for the most part, a love story. At 20, Hem is drawn to an older woman, Hadley Richardson, who is both pretty and practical. Hadley finds a home in Ernest. When they join the Lost Generation in Paris, their lives feel sensationalized. Their golden marriage seems indestructible. McLain’s story proved fascinating—it revealed a much softer side of a man referred to as “hypermasculine”; a man who was not afraid to admit, “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her…I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic time when we were alone.”

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

 If I didn’t know better, I’d think my mom paid my sister to recommend William McRaven’s inspiring commencement address, with over 14 million You Tube views, turned self-help book. My mother can school Navy Seals in pristine bed making with her eyes closed. And while she’d never think me a disappointment, I’m sure she secretly cringes knowing I don’t make my bed regularly. Sorry mom. I am happy to report I’ve made it daily since the Admiral divulged he witnessed Sadam Hussein’s covers crumpled at the end of his cot every morning. Has it changed the world? Not yet, but it does make me feel better to come home to a little bit of order. McRaven’s perspective is his genius. Advice like “you cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others” is worth a king’s ransom. I’ll most definitely return to this cache of wisdom. 

If you’re thinking I’m confused as to what the word mini means, let me prove otherwise. Neil Gaiman is fast becoming a fave of mine. He’s a wholly engaging author and a freakishly good narrator. I whizzed through The Ocean at the End of the Lane audible. I’m happy to echo this praise: “Worthy of a sleepless night…a fairy tale for adults that explores both innocence lost and the enthusiasm for seeing what’s past one’s proverbial fence. Gaiman is a master of creating worlds just a step to the left of our own.” Tbh, I would have left it at Gaiman is a master. 

Posted by Tracy