We're Horrible at Book Club

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that’s always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing."

Time to raise the white flag. Turns out Tray and I are as bad at virtual book club as we are the real deal. I'll admit I winced a little when I looked back to see what month we read Beartown: May. May! Pretty much sums up my blogging proficiency as of late. Blame it on my new day job, my Inspector Gamache obsession, the new season of Stranger Things, or all of the above and more. Bottom line is there's been some serious slackin on my part around here and it's high time I share some of my favorite reads and maybe, just maybe, catch up on book club. A girl can dream.

Back to sharing favorites...and Beartown just happens to be one of them. I won't sugarcoat it here: this is a hard book to read. Fredrik Backman has never been one to shy away from hard topics and this book is chock-full of them: sexual assault, surviving the death of child, the pressures that come with playing and coaching big sports in a small town, and the courage it takes to do the right thing when things go horribly wrong. Throw in some locker room chat that will make you rue the day you signed your boy up for high school sports, and you might even be tempted to stop reading. I was...and I did—a few times, actually. Sometimes the best books are the ones that get under your skin.

Kirkus reviews sums it up beautifully: “Backman is a masterful writer, his characters familiar yet distinct, flawed yet heroic....There are scenes that bring tears, scenes of gut-wrenching despair, and moments of sly humor....A thoroughly empathetic examination of the fragile human spirit.” 

Posted by Rachel

What We're Reading Next

"Never miss a good chance to shut up." —Will Rogers

Rae and I have taken the past week or so to test Will Rogers’ advice. You probably imagined our silence was merely blogging inefficiency.  Can’t say that we blame ya…we’ve been flaggin’ in the face of full-time work.  What’s a girl to do?  We needed a longer vacay across the pond. London was thoroughly lovely—she invited us into half a dozen bookstores.  Naturally, we did some homework. We girls snapped several pics of books we want to buy and purchased plenty of Penguin English Classics, among others, that made our suitcases weighty and wonderful. Feels selfish not to share a few with you here.  

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It’s no secret that I’ve been taking in WWII novels these days. While I’m currently listening to Benedict Cumberbatch’s captivating voice via audible, my next listen will definitely be The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan.  Kiernan is worth his salt, which is underscored by the fact that he’s an award-winning author.  His latest has been called “a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism and the resilience of the human spirit, set in Normandy village on the eve of D-day.” Reviewers have raved about this particular listen; needless to say, I’m all in. 

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I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy Lauren St. John’s novel The Snow Angel. It has been billed as a stunning Christmas classic, so it would be a timely read. I want to meet the girl from Nairobi.  Seems to me, though I have yet to meet Makena, that she endures tragedy well by experiencing the healing power of nature.  Some reviewers used the word magical to describe this book—sounds perfect for this time of year. 

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Perfect is an overused term, I know. But when English novelist Philip Pullman notes that Tom’s Midnight Garden is “a perfect book,” my attention immediately piqued. I added the book to my mounting pile and had to put it back for fear my bag would bulge. But I promised myself that I’d introduce Luke and Jonah to Tom and Hatty before the year is through.  This Carnegie Medal winner is bound to please the boys. And their mother too. After all, I never miss a good chance to share an exquisite read or two.

Posted by Tracy

I Will Not Leave You as Orphans

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  Samuel Johnson 

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Because we love our families, Rachel and I were willing to leave London. We left part of our adventuring hearts in The Square Mile. Now we’re just pretending real life is as much fun.  We’re back to work—pushing pencils, sorting laundry, scrubbing dishes, and writing posts. (Rest assured, posts aren’t laborious like those other chores.) Of course, anything I say here tonight may not be used against me as I’ve got a slight case of the jet lag blues. 

The last book I read based on real events was not only fascinating, it was inspiring.  So I thought I’d try another true story on for size. This time the narrative was about a seven-year-old boy named Chellamuthu--he was ripped from a slum in India where his family lived, dragged to a Christian orphanage, and then sold to a couple in the States who live 10 miles away from me.  Like Crow and countless other orphans, Chellamuthu (renamed Taj by his American parents) felt the pull of his original home.  With next to no information, Taj attempts to do the impossible: find his family in a place where 1 in every 6 people on the planet live.  His remarkable story will stun you—it may even make you reconsider whether or not you believe in coincidences.  And I suspect you’ll likely end up agreeing with me and Taj as to who the real Orphan Keeper is. 

p.s. If you liked the movie Lion, you’ll love this book. 

Posted by Tracy

London Bound

There's nowhere else like London. Nothing at all, anywhere." —Vivienne Westwood

We couldn't agree more, Vivienne. Today's the day, dear readers—we are London-bound in less than six hours! (Insert cartwheel emoji here) Tray's best birthday surprise ever is finally coming to fruition and I am over-the-moon excited. I've still got a few last minute purchases to make and my bags aren't fully packed, but in true Rae fashion, I'm sitting down to write this post. This is why the few hairs my husband has left in his head are gray.

I've of course spent the last precious thirty minutes perusing Audible for books to download. The packing can wait—I've got my priorities, people. You happen to be one of the very top, so as a consolation prize (we still feel bad that we can't take you all along), here are some of my latest favorite listens:

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The War I Finally Won. This is the follow-up novel to one of my favorite reads from last year: The War that Saved my Life. Sequels always make me nervous, especially when the first book is a home run, but this book did not disappoint. It did more than that though, it radiated light. These past couple weeks, when darkness hit far too close to home, this book reminded me (as did the people of this beautiful hometown of mine) that not only does good still exist, it shines brighter than ever. To quote Invincible Ada: "You can know things all you like, and someday, you might believe them." I believe, Ada, I believe.

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My newest obsession: Inspector Gamache and the town of Three Pines. I can't get enough and I'll wager you won't be able to either. Let me know when you're ready to move to Three Pines with me. This is a mystery series for people who don't like mystery series. Still Life is the first book and I was stunned by how good it was. I've already listened to five more and am downloading the seventh as I type. And you thought I was exaggerating when I said I'm obsessed. Character-driven mysteries set in Canada's version of Stars Hollow? I'm all in. Fair warning: there's a huge helping of salty language in the second and third books (of course none of it coming from my beloved Inspector), so much so that Penny almost lost me as a fan. I imagine the Inspector gave her a stern talking to though and by the fourth book she cleaned up her act. Well done, Inspector.

Now I really must go. We may not post more this week, but we'll be sure to share our adventures on Instagram and Facebook. If you aren't already, be sure to follow us there so you don't miss a thing. Happy listening!

Posted by Rachel

Throwback Thursday

“It takes a lifetime to find one’s own light.”  Joyce Wieland
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Clearly Joyce Wieland never met Marie-Laure. Anthony Doerr’s protagonist, who becomes blind at age six, is effuse with her own light.  Her radiance is particularly striking against the backdrop of World War II.  She is a warm French girl, profuse with love for a doting father who is determined to enable her to adapt to darkness and still bask in discovery. When the two seek safety in the seaside town of Saint-Malo, remarkably Marie-Laure volunteers to participate in the French resistance.  

Werner Pfennig, a young German orphan amid Hitler’s youth, has a gift for rebuilding radios. His unit is tasked with locating and destroying anti-German radio broadcasts, which eventually leads him to Marie-Laure. He is drawn to the blind girl. Was it fate?  Did their lives converge because both of them interact with an invisible world? Both characters live with darkness—the absence of sight for Marie-Laure, the absence of peace for the boy who doesn’t feel racially superior to his peers. A German soldier and a French rebel enjoy a fragile connection through an unlikely communication. I was wholly enchanted by their story—it reminded me of the truth that, “Some people pass through our lives for a season to teach us lessons that could never be learned if they stayed.”  

Bravo Doerr, Bravo. For crafting a novel that I will read again and again. I wish I could find bigger, more beautiful words to underscore the exquisiteness of All the Light We Cannot See. I simply cannot do our Throwback Thursday selection any sort of justice. (Rae could give it an old college try I’m sure.) So how, readers, does an author create a novel that let slip the dogs of war, which lives without a spark of light, and build for us a world full of light?

Posted by Tracy

Brave Little Rabbits

“Turning oneself to the misfortunes of others is the best way to dispense with personal troubles. Hadn’t Lord Byron himself said, “The busy have no time for tears”?” 
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Lately, I’ve been binging on World War II novels.  The Second Great War has been extensively explored in literature and art, enough to feel like a genre unto itself, and I’ve barely scratched the sobering surface. I was stunned to find that I’d never before heard of the rabbits of Ravensbruck. Am I the only one? Ravensbruck was the sole concentration camp exclusively for women, and the toxic setting where 74 Polish girls underwent gruesome Nazi medical “experiments.” Past-feeling Germans referred to their research subjects, most of whom were very young girls, as kaninchens: rabbits. Rabbits are quiet, tame creatures that aren’t self-destructive. They’re harmless really, but they survive longer than most other small animals. I’m still struggling with man’s inhumanity, can you tell?

Martha Hall Kelley’s debut novel The Lilac Girls revolves around the Ravensbruck rabbits. In the same spirit as Anthony Doerr, Kelley moves between seemingly individual stories that ultimately intertwine one with another.  The three narrators are based on actual characters whose lives did eventually converge. You’ll appreciate Caroline Ferriday’s charitable soul.  You’ll cringe at Herta Oberheuser’s ugly rationale. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll admire Kasia Kusmerik’s backbone of steel. Kasia’s is the most compelling story—an important reminder that more often than not, beauty emerges after great hardship—a message I’d like to carry through the years. 

Posted by Tracy

A Book Can Be A Star

Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn! —Robert Burns
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Oh my Mr. Burns, you couldn’t be more right. The Scottish poet, the Pioneer of the Romantic Movement, must have had a crystal ball back in the day. I can’t wrap my brain around what’s gone on in Rachel’s backyard—makes me mourn. I’m so grateful that Rae was nowhere near the inhumanity. 

The good news is a book can be a star to diminish the darkness. In Lauren Wolk’s latest novel, Beyond the Bright Sea, you’ll find light in a young girl named Crow who is both curious and brave. There’s plenty of mystery surrounding Crow. She lives on a small, isolated island with Osh, the man who discovered her afloat in an old skiff when she was a brand-new baby. Her life is both simplistic and serene. Like most orphans, Crow searches for answers to her puzzling past. The boys and I particularly liked that there were mini-mysteries to be solved within Wolk’s chapters. You’re sure to find hidden treasures in Beyond the Bright Sea

p.s. For what it’s worth, Jonah like Beyond better than Wolf Hollow; Luke thought just the opposite. 

Posted by Tracy

Delicious Autumn

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Fall hustled in overnight: one day 80 degrees, the next 58.  It hasn’t been Vegas-hot here, never is, but it has been unusually warm this summer.  To be honest, I’m ready for sweaters, chili with cheese a top, and fires aflicker. Oh and when it gets crisp, some of the most highly anticipated books of the year appear in print.  Feels like life is starting all over again F. Scott. Now is the perfect time to mull the cider with spices, grab your fleece throw, and cuddle up with one of these lookers. 

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The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews

I’ve been binging on stunning World War II novels as of late.  The World of Tomorrow takes place on the cusp of the war against Hitler. NPR raves, “The World of Tomorrow is that rarest of historical novels, a book that catches a moment in a jar, holds it aloft, and displays it for what it really is: Somebody else's day before tomorrow, the instant right before the future comes…Mathews's entire novel takes place over the course of one week in June, culminating at the World's Fair itself, in a fast-paced finale worthy of a Scorcese long-take.” Feels like a head turner to me.  

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Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

This one’s for you Rae.  (I know how you feel about Brene.) Our world seems to be increasingly disconnected—if anyone can show us how to create vital connections, it’s Brown. In her latest, the best-selling author explores what it means to truly belong. One reviewer shared this thought: Braving the Wilderness is a must read for “anyone who cares about doing their part to create a more caring and just world.” Count me in—besides, I wanna see me be brave.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

In researching the best fall reads, this book appeared on every list I perused.  Every last one. I like what I have read of Ward so far.  She pinned William Faulkner’s “wonderfully cranky” Nobel Prize acceptance speech above her desk, to remind herself “to create from the heart, not the glands.” Her novel Salvage the Bones earned a National Book Award. “Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.”  Something tells me this one may warm the English major in me.  

Posted by Tracy