Books: A Love Story

“I think books are like people, in the sense that they'll turn up in your life when you most need them.” ―Emma Thompson
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A dear friend, who's weathered the unthinkable over the past few months, now finds herself weathering even more as her sister, and closest confidante, fights for her life in an ICU. So my friend does what she does best: she soldiers on. After a day of sitting bedside with nothing but worry and the whir of machines for company, she decided a book was in order. Enter Flavia de Luce. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie had been languishing on her bookshelf for years—perhaps waiting, as my imaginary BFF Emma would say, for when she needed it most. My friend, who's as practical as I am romantic, would argue she grabbed it on her way out the door because it was small and easy to fit in her bag. Potato, patahto.

Her brother-in-law, who with one look declared Flavia not his cup of tea, settled in with a newspaper as my friend sat down next to her unresponsive sis and started reading aloud. A few chapters in, said brother-in-law suddenly stopped her with a "Wait, back up...did you just say Flavia found a dead body in her garden?" Not technically dead, almost dead, and then yes, dead. What was that about tea? He was hooked. He moved in closer and begged her to continue. After another hour or so, the nurse, who'd been in and out all morning, and otherwise sitting at her desk just outside the room, came in and shyly asked for some clarification on what Inspector Hewitt had just said to Dogger. Clearly, the first meeting of their ICU book club was underway.

Buoyed by signs of improvement and signals that her sister takes comfort in the sound of her voice, she reads on. Because books, like humor, make the unbearable bearable.

Posted by Rachel

Rae of Light

“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls and nitrogen in our brains.  93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.” — Nikita Gill
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Rachel’s birthday came and went and I made no mention of it.  What’s wrong with me? Anyone? Anyone? In my book, few days matter more than February 1st: the day kindness got a facelift. (Not to mention understanding and compassion—and laughter, don’t forget laughter.) A day that has afforded me countless blessings. And brought with it a friend who is made up of the most perfect stars. Don’t mistake my silence for lack of deep gratitude.  

I gave Rachel a hodge-podge of small gifts this birthday. (Nothing so grand as last year’s give-a-gift-get-a-gift offering.) Naturally, I wrapped up a few books, my favorite being a picture book that doesn’t require more than 10 minutes’ time. It’s called The Fox and the Star. The illustrations are fantastic. The 2015 Waterstones Book of the Year is charming, maybe even enchanting. Some will say it’s a story about need and loss. But I focused solely on the friendship between the fox and the star—on someone to light the way or simply provide light with the very thought of her.  Rachel is a light in dark places. She’s a light that never goes out. 

Posted by Tracy

Throwback Thursday

“Thursday or as I like to call it ‘Day 4 of the hostage situation.’”

We’ve made it to Thursday. Hallelujah! That’s cause for celebration or at the very least, reason enough to share a riddle? Johnny’s mother had three children. The first was named April and the second was named May.  What was the name of the third child?  If you’re tired like me, maybe you had to think about it.  Chances are you knew it was Johnny. But that’s not the real riddle on my brain. Here’s a teaser: There is a haunt of a book that won the Newberry Medal and the Carnegie Medal, the first time both named the same work. Throw in the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the Audio Book of the Year nearly a decade ago and which throwback jewel have you got? 

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If nothing or Nobody comes to mind, then you’re on the right track. Quite frankly, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is spectacular. His imagination gets A pluses all around for conjuring up a runaway toddler who heads into a graveyard to escape his family’s grisly murderer. Fortunately, supernatural residents agree to raise the young orphan they named Nobody Owens—Bod for short. In the sprawling graveyard-turned-home, Bod is educated by the dead.  I particularly loved when he visited the dead poet who was as melodramatic as he was forgotten by the living. Bod’s grim adventures are guaranteed to captivate and delight readers big and small.  I completely agree with the smart reviewer who said, “How Gaiman has managed to combine fascinating, friendly, frightening and fearsome in one fantasy I shall never know, but he has pulled it off magnificently.” And that, my friends, is no joke. 

P.S. Gaiman’s audible reading of this novel was like perfectly whipped buttercream icing on a Duff Goldman cake. 
 

Posted by Tracy

Readers Rejoice

"If Monday had a face, I'd punch it." —unknown

Suffering a from a serious case of the Monday blahs? Take heart. Here are three brand spanking new reads from favorite authors sure to turn that Monday frown upside down.

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My favorite cyanide-loving sleuth is back—solving mysteries and stirring up mischief in her latest adventure: The Grave's a Fine and Private Place. Isn't it just like Alan Bradley to serve up a new Flavia in time for my birthday? What a love.

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Be still my beach-read-lovin heart, Louisa Clark is back. This is chick lit at its finest, folks. If I'm being frank (and why wouldn't I be?),  After You was a disappointment. Did it make me hesitate to download Still Me? Maybe for minute. But I just can't believe Jojo would let me down twice. Four chapters in and so far so much better.

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This is what you call burying the lead, people. The Great Alone comes out tomorrow and I'm both giddy and a bundle of nerves. How in the world is Kristin Hannah going to come close to, let alone top, The Nightingale? So far the reviews have been glowing. Erin Kodicek from Amazon Book Review writes: The muse of The Great Alone is clearly Alaska--in all its untamed, stunningly beautiful, dangerous glory. It provides the perfect backdrop for an equally dramatic tale, one that feels remarkably current for the 1970s setting. But Hannah’s latest also harkens to her mega bestselling The Nightingale: it highlights the heroics of everyday people, especially women. And it’s just a damn good read." Time to order up.

Posted by Rachel

2017 Picks to Crow About

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”  — C.S. Lewis

I believe C.S. Lewis is fundamentally right in the same way I believe Paula Dean loves butter. Of course, I’m not too old to set another goal Clive—I’m simply too tired to aspire right now. Rae’s ahead of me, once again. I’m liable to steal her first two resolutions when I begin mine on the Chinese New Year. Yep, that’s right, I’m going to hunker down with big resolve when the lunar calendar begins this year on Friday, February 16th. It’s the Year of the Dog, which is what I’m going to work like. I too need a win. In the meantime, here are my top picks from 2017, the year of the rooster.  

MY TOP THREE

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I ended 2017 with a bang of a book: The Baker’s Secret. Stephen P. Kiernan took me to an otherwise sleepy Normandy village on the coast of France during World War II. That’s where I met twenty-two-year old Emma, a gifted baker tasked with making baguettes daily for the occupying army. Her story of survival is impressive. Emma’s covert service to her neighbors and overall selflessness is 100% inspiring. I love a strong heroine. Author Mary Morris shared this observation about Kiernan’s latest: “I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel that so poignantly depicts the brevity of life, the significance of each moment, the impact we have on one another.”

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Rae and I can’t stop clamoring over Pino Lella. If you read Sullivan’s story inspired by true events, you’re bound to gush too. Beneath A Scarlet Sky tops both our lists with good reason. 

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All these months later and I’m still so glad I got to know Ona Vitkus. It’s hard to resist books that revolve around unlikely but memorable friendships. You can read more about Ona in my post if you’re still on the fence.

Like Rae, I want to thank you for allowing us to share the beautiful pages with you. Here, here—to a new year with new reads and more books, glorious books.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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The Orphan Keeper (Read review here)

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Lilac Girls (Read review here)

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Anything and everything by Roald Dahl. Always. (See reviews here and here)

Posted by Tracy

Playing Favorites (2017 Edition)

A new year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. —unknown

My New Year's resolutions were to blog more, eat less, and buy a new home. Twenty days in and I've yet to write a single post, I'm 0-for-feels-like-500 in house shopping, and my jeans will be the first to say the whole eating less thing ain't happening either. Time to hit the refresh button and this seems like the safest bet—seeing that I have a penchant for foods I shouldn't eat and homes that aren't actually for sale. I need a win, people. Speaking of winning, here are my top picks from 2017.

MY TOP THREE

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Hillbilly Elegy should be required readingOne caveat: you've gotta have a stomach for some seriously salty language. Mamaw Vance has a mouth that could turn a sailor scarlet. Ah, but her love is as fierce as her tongue, and before you know it, you'll be her biggest fan. Hers is the saving kind of love. The kind this world needs a whole lot more of. 

Vance offers a no holds barred, unflinching look at his family and a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans—and "what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck." Because it's told from the inside, it never feels patronizing or heavy handed. As Vance reminds us, "there are no villains in this story. There’s just a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way—both for their sake and, by the grace of God, for mine.” 

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a must-read. It's as simple as that. Read Tray's review of this winner here. Word has it we'll be seeing Tom Holland as Pino Lella on the big screen sometime soon. Sounds like a must-see to me.

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2017 found me binge watching Stranger Things with Tray and binge listening to the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Seriously. I. Can't. Stop. I'm in the middle of her 11th, yes, I said eleventh, novel, The Nature of the Beast, and this is the first one I haven't loved. I have a feeling it has more to do with this being the first novel not narrated by Ralph Cosham, the original and consummate Inspector Gamache, and less to do with the storyline. I feel as though my beloved Inspector died with dear Mr. Cosham. I'm sure the new narrator, Robert Bathurst, is a lovely man, but I'll be reading, rather than listening to, the next two books.

I foresee some serious Three PInes withdrawals when I finish, but thanks to a tip from one of our favorite readers, Marilyn Brinton, I've now discovered Louise Penny's blog and can continue to feed my obsession there. You're the best, Marilyn. As are all of you, dear readers. Thanks for sharing the book love. Here's to a new year with new reads and more blog posts!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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The One-in-a-Million Boy

Posted by Rachel

Throwback Thursday

“Mr. Wonka: "Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted."
Charlie Bucket: "What happened?"
Mr. Wonka: "He lived happily ever after.” —Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
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Let’s talk about chocolate. Have you heard what Cadbury’s got goin on in the delicious U.K.? In true Willy Wonka fashion, the company has included select white Cadbury Crème Eggs amid the traditional milk chocolate distribution. One lucky winner, Natasha Bream, just scored 1,000 pounds because she happened to buy 1 of 34 possible eggs of the light variety.  Lucky Natasha—I wonder if she feels a little bit like Charlie Bucket? 


Let's talk about Charlie Bucket. He, like all Roald Dahl characters, is memorable. Charlie’s endearing, especially when you compare him to kids like Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop. He’s definitely unassuming. And unlike his counterparts, he doesn’t succumb to childhood temptations. Charlie’s temperance, humbleness, and kindness are all additives for a good-hearted boy—makes you root for him to win a lifelong supply of Wonka’s scrumdiddlyumptious creations. Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes me wish I could climb into Roald Dahl’s brain—surely I’d find more “oddball fantasies” inside his magical head, complete with undeniable wit and laugh-out-loud humor fit for children and adults alike. For me, reading Roald Dahl is part of a functional childhood. Be honest, what kid doesn’t love a story about chocolate? 

Or the chance to meet Oompa Loompas?

Posted by Tracy

Bel Pino

"Books can change your life. Some of the most influential people in our lives are characters we meet in books." —David McCullough
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Pino Lella is an influential person in my life. Rachel raved about him last year in one of many sparkling conversations we had about books. Are we book nerds or what? Yes, yes we are. But if you’re being honest with yourselves, chances are you love a nerd. (Think Sheldon, Liz Lemon, and Ross—oh, and don’t forget my personal favorite, Dwight Schrute.) But I digress. Since Rae is the consummate book recommender, I made haste and read Beneath A Scarlett Sky only to meet one of my favorite war heroes. Ever. 

Pino Lella, an Italian teenager full of adrenalized energy and charming dreams, was forced to put his aspirations on hold in the wake of the Second World War. His parents sent him to the quieter, safer countryside to save him from potential death. But Pino wasn’t content to sit idle during one of the world’s greatest atrocities. Instead, the seventeen-year-old opted to smuggle Jews out of Nazi-ridden Italy when he joined forces with the Catholic Church as part of the Italian resistance. I didn’t realize that nearly 20 percent of the Italian Jewish population was exterminated during Hitler’s regime—Sullivan’s story opened my eyes to the expansiveness of the Carpet-eater’s reach. Lella saved hundreds of Jews at his own peril. That story alone is heroic. The fact that the Italian boy later spied on General Hans Leyers, a Commander focused on weapons development (and the man responsible for slave labor in Italy to keep the German war machine going), adds to his remarkable true story.  

I’ve never met a war hero I didn't like, but Pino was especially endearing. I will read his inspiring story again.  And I’ll be the first in line to watch Hollywood’s rendition of his fascinating contributions to thwart the war effort. I’m in complete agreement with best-selling author Joseph Finder: “Beneath A Scarlet Sky has everything—heroism, courage, terror, true love, revenge, compassion in the face of the worst human evils. Sullivan shows us war as it really is, with all its complexities, conflicting loyalties, and unresolved questions, but most of all, he brings us the extraordinary figure of Pino Lella, whose determination to live con smania—with passion—saved him.”   

Posted by Tracy