Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: The Family Tabor

Harry Tabor is about to be honored as the Man of the Decade in Palm Springs. He will be recognized for his work in helping Jewish families escape persecution and resettle in Florida. Harry's family gathers to celebrate his accomplishments--his wife Roma, an insightful child psychologist; his daughter Pheobe who keeps talking about a boyfriend no one has met; his daughter Camille who is trying to discern where to take her anthropology work next; and his son Simon, whose new interest in his Jewish roots is causing problems with his wife. But before Harry can be honored, he vanishes into the night. Each family member has a secret, but it will be Harry's sudden memory of his actions many years ago that could unravel everything that they have worked to accomplish.

The Family Tabor is a story told in fragments: we get a bit of Harry's history and then a piece of a child's present. Cherise Wolas has written a book (and a family) that you must commit to following because it's not linear and it won't go where you expect. The present action is limited but, as each person reveals a little piece of themselves, we understand the full impact of their choices on their family. It's also an examination of how one family and its members fit within the history of a people and a religion as the Tabors decide what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

Wolas' writing is insightful and powerfully draws readers into the inner lives of her characters. It is clear that these people care for each other, even if they can't always be honest with each other. This story requires some suspension of belief with its conceit that Harry forgot something important for so long and Wolas is not afraid to leave her readers in unexpected places, but it's worth experiencing these characters and their search for where they fit in their family and the world.

The Family Tabor
By Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books July 2018
400 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Readalong: The High Wire Edition

A few years ago, I started a series called Readalongs. It fell to the wayside a bit, but I recently read a book that brought it right back to the forefront of my mind. 

As you probably know, I have two littles (10 and 5, respectively). It's fun to read beloved childhood classics with the kids in your life. But it can be even more fun is to pair books for kids and adults that have the same kind of stories. So, welcome to volume 3 of Readalongs!

Mirette on the High Wire was one of my favorite books as a little girl and I've read it with both of my children. Mirette lives with her mother in a boardinghouse. They often get interesting boarders, but Mirette is particularly intrigued by a sad man who used to be a famous high wire walker. She is determined to find out what happened to him and to convince him to teach her to walk the wire.

Older readers can find that love of high wire walking in Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond. Jules Maroni is a proud member of a circus family. But when the join the Cirque American, she discovers there is very bad history between the Maroni family and the Garcia family. Jules finds cursed objects in her costume and trailer and things start to go terribly wrong. Can she figure out who is trying to destroy the Maroni name and make her fall from the wire? 

Whether you are a kid or an adult, there is something alluring about living among the magic of the circus and climbing up to walk the wire each night. Are there other books about high rope walkers that you love?

       Mirette on the High Wire     Girl on a Wire (Cirque American #1)

Other Readalongs:
The Fox Edition
The Pirate Ship Time Travel Edition 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: Off the Clock

Laura Vanderkam's entire career revolves around people's ability (or inability) to manage their time. She studies how people order their days and the habits that make them feel productive. When she found herself with an unexpected free day, it surprised her to realize how restorative it was and how difficult it could be to make that free time happen. In her most recent book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, Vanderkam investigates how we can find margin in our lives and find good even in the necessary repetition of life.

When I heard people rave about this book, I have to admit I was dubious at first. Surely the author would advise us to take certain steps that would be possible for some and cause the rest of us to laugh a bit before putting the book aside. Instead, Laura Vanderkam guides readers to think differently about their time. While she does begin the book by urging each of us to track our time, she believes that we can all enjoy the time that we prepare for. Once you've decided on your priorities, the key to feeling like you have time might just be taking it. Vanderkam advises leaving white space in your schedule and taking concrete steps to remember unexpected beautiful moments.

It's often hard to manage our time because we don't have hard boundaries. We work from our office and from home or juggle side gigs. We certainly don't get to clock out from raising kids or caring for elderly parents. But Vanderkam is quick to point out that investing in people is a good use of time. When we spend time intentionally strengthening the relationships with our friends and family, it makes us happier and interestingly makes it feel like we have more time, not less.

Laura Vanderkam has written a book that could really change how you view and spend your time. I have a better sense of how I can enjoy my time after reading Off the Clock and I can see returning to this book when I'm feeling a time crunch.


Off The Clock
Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
By Laura Vanderkam
Portfolio May 2018
256 pages
From the library

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Readers Imbibing Peril XIII

If you've been around here for a while, you know I'm not a big fan of scary. I like to sleep at night and stories where bad things happen to kids are an automatic no for me. In spite of this, I find myself tiptoeing into Readers Imbibing Peril again every fall. This reading challenge is for readers who want to read some mysteries, thrillers, and otherwise spooky books as the leaves start falling and the temperatures start dropping.

I'm never sure I have any books on my radar that will fit and then I discover I have plenty. Peril the First asks that you read four books. I will read at least four of the books below, if not more!

                       

Career of Evil, Cormoran Strike #3 by Robert Galbraith
I need to catch up on this series before the next book comes out!

Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Valente is one of the most interesting authors writing today and I'm excited to read her take on the evil Koschei the Deathless. 

Practical Magic/The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
I know, I know. I'm the only person who hasn't read Practical Magic yet. I'm going to fix it (and read the sequel while I'm at it).

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Zombies, people. Plus I've been meaning to read this book since it came out this spring.

            Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)        Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Ok, this is nonfiction but I think it counts as a mystery!

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
This story has magic and technology and lots of readers loved it!

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan
This is the first book in a series featuring two Canadian detectives investigating a case that may be connected to the genocide in Bosnia.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
When children visit magical worlds, what happens to them when they come back home?

            All the Birds in the Sky        Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)

If you want to sign up for RIP, you can join here! What spooky books are you hoping to read this fall? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: The Ensemble

The Van Ness quartet is on the brink of success. They have given their graduation recital and are off to the Esterhazy competition. If they do well, they will have no problem finding places to perform and patrons to support their music. Henry is a young viola prodigy, Jana is the brash and determined violinist, Daniel is the cellist and works hard as the oldest member, and Brit is the shy second violinist who desperately wants to feel like she belongs. Each one has the potential to destroy everything they have been working to achieve. The Ensemble follows the four musicians as they achieve success, suffer personal tragedies, and discover if there is a place in their lives for these friends with or without music.

Aja Gabel has done an excellent job crafting a story that is specifically about music, but is about relationships at its core. This unique set-up ensures that Henry, Jana, Daniel, and Brit have to be in each other's lives for better or for worse. While many of us experience this kind of closeness when we live and study and work with people during college, their music career forces our ensemble to maintain this closeness for decades and gives readers the chance to see the answers to tough questions. Is it better to date someone you work with or pine for them instead? How do you find the balance between your relationship with your family at home and your work family? Is it possible to put personal disagreements aside for the good of your work?

When an author chooses to tell a story from multiple viewpoints, you often end up liking some characters more than others. The wonderful thing here is that you truly witness each character grow and change; by the end of the story, they are very different people from the confident students you met in the first chapter. The Ensemble deserves every bit of praise it received and I am anxiously waiting for Aja Gabel to bring us new characters to enjoy. 

The Ensemble
By Aja Gabel
Riverhead May 2018
352 pages
From the library

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review: The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen

Lisa Gungor and her husband Michael were stars of the Christian music scene. They knew what they believed and their path through life seemed all figured out. But Lisa's certainty crashed into pieces the day her husband admitted he didn't believe in God anymore. They faced intense backlash from their church, their fans, and their families when they were honest about their doubts. When their second daughter was born with Down syndrome and needed several surgeries in her first few months of life, she wondered if she could ever find her way back to faith.

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen will be familiar to many readers who found that their early faith couldn't hold up to the pain and brokenness of the world. But it is also a very personal confession. Lisa even bookends her memoir with letters to her mother, sharing her grief for the way they have been separated over the years and highlighting the choices she understands now as a mother herself. She lays out the entire story of her life: the churches her family attended, listening to her parents fight, the first time she went on a date with her husband Michael, and the need to find new people when her family and church told her she was no longer welcome.

This is not a story where everything is resolved by the end; instead it is one woman's experience of an expanding mind and heart. It can be frightening for us to realize our core beliefs have changed, but Lisa explains with kindness that it feels very much like thinking you were living on a dot only to discover it is actually a line and then a whole circle. The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen is about finding the place somewhere between a handful of friends in your basement and the stage of a megachurch where you can recognize the beauty in the midst of life's pain and admit out loud what you think about love, life, and faith.

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen:
Opening Your Eyes to Wonder
By Lisa Gungor
Zondervan June 2018
214 pages
Read via Netgalley

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Review: Our Homesick Songs

Big Running used to be a thriving town. But the fish disappeared and one by one, families left the place that was their home. The Connor family is still there, but they have to make some major changes. Aidan and Martha work at an energy company inland for alternating months, while the other parent stays with their children Finn and Cora. The separation is hard on the entire family. Finn becomes obsessed with figuring out why the fish left and how to bring them back. Cora decorates abandoned homes like different countries until the day that she too leaves Big Running and forces the family to choose if they should leave the only home they've ever loved.

Our Homesick Songs is indeed a book about homesickness and what it means to be home. It can often be a certain place, and it is definitely certain people. The author gives us a glimpse into one such town and one such family both in 1993, when the town is slowly abandoned, and the 1970s, when Aidan and Martha meet and fall in love. It's also a story about the importance of story and music and magic in remembering our history and dreaming about our futures.

Our Homesick Songs is the perfect story to read on a hard day. It is a simple read at certain points, almost like a child's fairy tale. But in other chapters, the very adult problems of paying the bills and staying faithful to a spouse you never see take center stage. The characters go through tough times and the story does not ignore the difficulties of loving people well in an ever-changing environment, but it does leave the characters and the readers with hope. We can hope in the goodness of people and the possibility that our love for our families, our friends, and our home will be enough to pull us through the darkest of days.

Our Homesick Songs
By Emma Hooper
Simon and Schuster August 2018
336 pages
Read via Netgalley


Also by Emma Hooper: Etta and Otto and Russell and James