"The first indication that we are killing our dreams is lack of time." —Paulo Coelho
I’m killing my dreams. I’m pretty sure Rachel is too. Because we’ve both had a serious lack of time. Rae went and got a grown-up job with adult responsibilities. And I can’t say no to aspiring college applicants despite two jobs of my own. December 1 can’t come soon enough, when current deadlines evaporate and a semi-regular sleep schedule reappears. (That’s pure optimism by the way as December is one of the busiest, late-nightiest months of the year.)
Anywho, I just wanted to pop in and say, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” We’re working into the languid hours on this year’s holiday gift guide. (Rae is anyway.) We have no intention of leaving you high or book dry this Christmas when it comes to indulging the booklovers in your life. May as well start now since December is just 15 minutes away. For the love of Lit, check out these recommends for your favorite bibliophile.
Posted by Tracy
“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
"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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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:
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.
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
“It takes a lifetime to find one’s own light.” Joyce Wieland
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
“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”?”
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.