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

September Book Club Selection

"She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it). —Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
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Oh Alice. Me too. I told myself we should skip book club for September since we are embarrassingly behind on reviews—and we're halfway through the month already. But then I heard they're making this beautiful read into a movie and all reason flew right out the window. What good is reason anyway if it keeps us from reading this timely book, full of beautiful reminders like this one: "The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless—just workin our way toward home."

If you haven't read this, do. You'll be glad you did. Or if you're like me and read it years ago, pull it out for a reread. Then let's all meet up in October to see it in theaters, shall we? Milk Duds are on me.

Posted by Rachel

Tennis anyone?

“There’s a lot of good waiting for you on the other side of tired. Get yourself tired.” 

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There’s a lot to do around here with me AWOL and Rachel climbing corporate ladders. I deserted with good reason—I was finding respite at the U.S. Open.  You’ll be relieved to hear the weather was sublime, devoid of east coast humidity. And week one did not disappoint: Roger graceful, Sharipova glittering, and Rafa brim with passion. We put in a twelve-hour day at Flushing Meadows. Never tired of deuces. All that back-n-forth got me thinking that it’s high time I read one of my sister Cindy’s favorite autobiographies: Open. Nin had trouble limiting her use of the word fascinating. I’m an Agassi fan, so no real convincing required. But she added it’s an autobiography everyone will enjoy because Andre’s story is so compelling and honest.  

Open is a New York Times Notable book and a Forbes, San Francisco Chronicle, and Washington Post Best Book of the Year. One critic raved, “Agassi may have just penned one of the best sports autobiographies of all time. It’s one of the better memoirs out there, period…an unvarnished, at times inspiring story [told] in arresting, muscular style…Agassi’s memoir is just as entrancing as his tennis game.”  What’s more, I’m on an ear-lovin roll right now and the audio version of Open has been highly touted. If you think I’m overstating, check out this recent review.  Time to learn a little bit more about “The Punisher.” Who’s game? 

Posted by Tracy

Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga Ooga-Chaka

“I cannot live without books [or football].” Thomas Jefferson

While Rachel’s dropping the B-bomb on our blog, I’m dreaming about being in Devon Kennard’s “vibrant” book club.  Can’t say that I’ve met the Giant’s linebacker, but honestly speaking, I may be in love with the perfictionist. (Not to worry Peyton or Steph, to quote Orleans “You’re Still the One.”) If you know me at all, you know that I love me some professional football.  The game, in all its workout warrior maleness, may or may not have me Hooked on a Feeling.  (Okay, I’ll stop with the 70’s song references before I get outta hand.) 

Combine the gridiron, pigskin, and hail marys a la Aaron Rodgers with books glorious books, and this girl’s happy heart is sure to palpitate. The thought alone makes me starry-eyed. I’ll take razzle-dazzle and reads from here to eternity. All that to say, way to go DK!  He assigned two of my all-time favorite reads this summer: The Alchemist and To Kill a Mockingbird. I was deeply impressed that Kennard wanted joinees to relate reading to real life.  Books are exquisite teachers. We need to draw from the deep well literature has to offer.  And while Kennard may have incentivized his readers to think deeply by offering signed memorabilia, that seemed to be a smaller, secondary reward to the insights students gained.  Now that my book-lovin heart is sufficiently warmed, I’ll speak for me and Rae: next year DK, sign us up—the two middle-aged girls at twenty-seven are all in!

Posted by Tracy