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)

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 enjoyed this read—enough to check out Cantor’s latest, In Another Time, (released just last month) real soon! 

Posted by Tracy