Books To Savor: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

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chabon The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
by Michael Chabon

It’s been several months since I’ve done a Books to Savor post, but that’s not for lack of reading. I still read quite a bit, though most of my reading is along the lines of parenting books and articles since someoneand I won’t say who–plopped into my life. But I do still read a novel or two, and during the first hazy, bleary-eyed weeks of parenthood, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is one I picked up.

I remember sitting on the couch, with little Cy in my lap having fallen asleep after nursing. I couldn’t move for fear of waking him. But what was I going to do with myself while he caught up on some Z’s? I spotted the teal and white spine of this book announcing itself on our bookshelf just beside the couch. It’s not one I normally would have picked for myself–I think it was a gift someone gave my husband?–but on that particular day, it called to me. I flipped to the first pages, not really knowing what I had picked up, and as Cy slept, I read. At the next nap, I kept reading. It wooed me slowly, and I was about a quarter of my way into the book (read over the course of several short baby naps) before I realized I had been seduced.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a novel that bridges genres. It’s part murder mystery, part noir, and part alternate history, with a whiff of love story. In this story, Jewish refugees have been thriving in a temporary safe haven created for them in Alaska, but their lease on the land is about to come to an end. Meyer Landsman, a talented homicide detective whose life is falling apart around him and career is about to end, lands himself a case: the killing of his neighbor, a young chess prodigy. Just as he starts investigating, word comes down from the powers-that-be to drop the case. This only makes him dig his heels in further. The deeper he gets into the case, the larger it becomes, spiraling outward into conspiracy, involving powerful and dangerous forces.

The plot line itself is fun, but what is most gripping about the story is the characters. Landsman, whose fate is mirrored in that of his people, is beautifully flawed and incredibly human. He feels so real, so tender, and yet hard; determined and yet sad. The characters of his ex-wife and his partner are also beautifully rendered and so recognizable as someone you might actually know. It’s in their personages that you feel the themes of exile and alienation emerging. The prose is equally seductive: terse, yet evocative, and laced with irony and dark humor. The world Chabon creates is incredibly real, and you wonder how he does it with such economy.

I didn’t know what I was picking up when I first grabbed this book, but I read it with relish. If you’re in the mood for something a little sweet, a little sad, a little funny, and yet surprisingly rich, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union might just be for you.

Books to Savor: {Reconstructing Amelia}

I’ve fallen a bit behind on these posts, primarily due to lack of energy, but I’ll get back on sharing with you some of what I’ve been reading lately.

ReconstructingAmelia hc c.JPGReconstructing Amelia: A Novel
by Kimberly McCreight

In the mood for suspense? This book will deliver. The story is about a single, litigation-lawyer mother whose high-achieving, 15-year-old daughter is caught cheating. Kate is forced to leave work to deal with her daughter, Amelia, only to arrive at the private school to find out that Amelia has committed suicide.

In the aftermath of her death, however, Kate begins receiving messages suggesting Amelia’s suicide was not a suicide at all. As she starts sifting through Amelia’s emails, texts, and Facebook messages, trying to reconstruct her daughter’s life, she begins to uncover unnerving secrets in her quest to find out the truth of why her daughter died.

There are a couple of points towards the end of the book where the story’s plausibility goes a tiny bit off the rails for me, but it didn’t detract much from how gripping a read it was. I liked the characters, and from start to finish, I could barely put the book down.

If you’re looking for something to get lost in for a few hours and are in the mood for something dark, thrilling, and suspenseful, with the tenderness of mother-daughter love interlaced through the secrets and lies, then I’d recommend giving Reconstructing Amelia a shot.

**Please note: The books I share are all books I’ve read and enjoyed, and bring to your attention only because I like to share the things I love. I’m not paid in any direct way for these reviews and I highly doubt any of the authors or publishers are aware I do them. Having said that, if you are interested in any of these reads, I’d appreciate if you click through the links to Amazon, as any purchases made will send a few pennies my way that I can use to buy more books to read and share with you. Thanks!

Books to Savor – {Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English}

rosenblum Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
by Natasha Solomons

This book reminds me quite a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, so if you’re in the mood for something along those lines (a bit of whimsy and sweet, laced with dry British wit and crusty reserve), this will be a good read for you.

The story is about Jack Rosenblum and his wife Sadie, German Jews who escaped from the war as refugees to Britain, and upon arrival  were greeted with a pamphlet on how to act more British (primarily so as to not offend any of the natives with one’s foreignness). Mr. Rosenblum takes this pamphlet’s list of recommendations as holy commandments and, with one dictate after another, attempts to assimilate into his new country, chasing that ever elusive mark of “Britishness.” But one trait eludes him: membership in a country club.

As he plots and schemes to cross that last item off his list, his wife Sadie immerses herself in memories of what she has left behind. Instead of joining him in his quixotic whims, she wallows in the tastes, flavors, and memories of the old country, finding his optimism disrespectful of the past and loved ones who have died.

I don’t want to give away too much of what happens, but my favorite part of this book is the irony: what Jack chases compared to what he gets, but doesn’t see. And, having members in my own family who seem hell-bent on focusing on everything negative that has ever happened to them while blind to what they have, I found I really appreciated the dynamic between Jack and Sadie, and especially the insights into Sadie’s character as to why someone might choose pain over happiness, and negativity over optimism. It’s really a beautiful study in human nature and foibles, delivered in a light hearted quest peopled with plenty of other lovable and eccentric characters.

I saw a review that called the pace of the book “lackadaisical”…well, it’s not fast-paced, but neither is it meant to be. It’s still a lovely, light read, perfect for getting lost in, and I certainly sped through it quickly enough. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I’d recommend you try Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. I liked it so much, I immediately picked up the author’s other book, The House at Tyneford, which started off quite promising, with a nice Downton Abby feel, but I must say I found boring through the second half. So I’ll stick with my Mr. Rosenblum recommendation. The afterword by the author was also an interesting read–and includes a recipe for baumtorte!–so be sure to check that out too!

 

**Please note: The books I share are all books I’ve read and enjoyed, and bring to your attention only because I like to share the things I love. I’m not paid in any direct way for these reviews and I highly doubt any of the authors or publishers are aware I do them. Having said that, if you are interested in any of these reads, I’d appreciate if you click through the links to Amazon, as any purchases made will send a few pennies my way that I can use to buy more books to read and share with you. Thanks!

Books to Savor – {Keeping the Feast}

keeping-the-feastKeeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food, and Healing
by Paula Butturini

It’s probably no secret by now that three of my loves in this life include: travel, food, and themes of healing & redemption. So when I saw this memoir, I knew it’d be right up my alley. It’s like Eat, Pray, Love…but for the foodie in me, even better.

The book is about Paula and John, who met in Italy, fell in love, and got married. It was a charmed life–until less than a month after they married and tragedy struck. They’re both foreign correspondents, and they got sent to Warsaw, and then on to Romania to report on uprisings there. First Paula got beaten, then John got shot. The bullet wound tore open his back, requiring several intensive surgeries and a long process of healing.

But that was just the physical trauma. The emotional work had only just begun.

Interwoven through the entire story, is also Paula’s love affair with food. All her memories, from childhood to adulthood, center around food, and it becomes the language through which she communicates comfort and nourishment, as well as pain and despair. Her descriptions are lush and flavorful, and while abundant, never too over the top. Her writing made me crave Italy as much as it made me want fresh-baked bread, aubergines, and a caprese salad.

For a scrumptious read, this is definitely a book to savor, quite literally. However, the one frustration I had with the book was in the area of healing. The book cover description advertises this: “Paula began to reconsider all of her previous assumptions about healing. She discovered that sometimes patience can be a vice, anger a virtue. That sometimes it is vital to make demands of the sick, that they show signs of getting better.” To be honest, those three sentences made up at least half of the reason I picked up the book. Those “assumptions” about healing touch on an issue that I personally wrestle over, when it comes to questions of mental health. When is patience and space exactly what a person needs, and when is it that loved ones actually become held hostage by the threat of things turning for the worse? I had hoped (and assumed) there would be more discussion of this in the book, but alas, it was not to be found. The author barely mentions these discoveries in passing, with no attempt to delve into why or how it helped so much when she reached her breaking point with John. I can understand that maybe even she doesn’t know the answer to those questions…but even some attempt at mild speculation would have been more satisfactory.

Aside from that one caveat, I highly enjoyed this read, and can definitely recommend Keeping the Feast to anyone who wants to dream about food and Italy for a space of time.

 

**Please note: The books I share are all books I’ve read and enjoyed, and bring to your attention only because I like to share the things I love. I’m not paid in any direct way for these reviews and I highly doubt any of the authors or publishers are aware I do them. Having said that, if you are interested in any of these reads, I’d appreciate if you click through the links to Amazon, as any purchases made will send a few pennies my way that I can use to buy more books to read and share with you. Thanks!

 

Books to Savor – The Boy In The Suitcase

suitcaseThe Boy in the Suitcase
by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

I recently noticed a discrepancy in my personality/habits. I LOVE to watch political thrillers, whether movies like The Bourne Identity and Spy Game or TV shows like Homeland and House of Cards, but I almost never READ them. I don’t know why. The closest I usually get are books like The Da Vinci Code–which I loved, critics be damned, and which was thrilling but not really political. Or academic books on politics, which are…political, but not exactly thrilling (except to the nerd buried deep, deep inside me).

So I’ve decided to try to rectify this discrepancy and see if I can find some good books in this (new-to-me) genre. In my search for something gripping, I came across this book.

The Boy in the Suitcase, which is probably more accurately called crime fiction, involves a Red Cross nurse whose friend calls her out of the blue, begging for help, asking her to pick up a suitcase. She finds the suitcase, and inside it, is a three-year-old boy, naked and drugged, but alive. Thus begins a race to find out who he is and where he comes from, and the nurse, Nina Borg, is thrust into the dangerous world of child trafficking, caught in the crosshairs between those with the guns and those with the money. There are multiple narratives in the book (including the mother of the missing child and the perpetrators of the crime), and through them the story unfolds from different perspectives.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and engrossing, and (perhaps not surprisingly, given my job) I really appreciated a story about the trafficking of women and children, told in a way that reveals so much about the characters–who are complex and three-dimensional–without slowing down the action.

If other books in this genre are so well-written, with so much thought given to character development and complex motivations, I might be a new convert to this genre! If you’re looking for a read that will suck you in, in a crime thriller kind of way, I’d recommend you try The Boy in the Suitcase.

Books To Savor: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

guernsey The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I had been eying this book on bookshelves almost entirely since it first came out. I had heard others rave about it, yet every time I tried to pick it up, I didn’t see the hook. It’s really only by accident that I finally read it—and am glad I did.

I was desperate for new reading material, and again came across this one with the funny title. The description seemed mildly intriguing (an author in search of a new book idea stumbles across a literary society and a part of history that most never knew about), but mostly it seemed like the book was stalking me, cropping up in my consciousness randomly but repeatedly. I read the reviews on Goodreads, and saw people generally loved—no, raved—about the book, except for the people who hated it. That’s about as useful as most Goodreads reviews are, I must say. I wonder why I bother with them anymore.

Anyway, I finally downloaded a sample. That’s when my Kindle started getting ornery. The sample wouldn’t show up anywhere. I tried searching in my archives. I tried redownloading. I tried restarting. I did a search, seemed to have found it, and then, when I tried to access it, ended up buying the book somehow, upon which time both the full book and the sample appeared right where they belonged, all innocent-like. Enter curse words aimed at technology. I almost cancelled the order, but then I figured…well, I should at least read the sample and decide whether I would have bought the book anyhow.

So I read the sample. It was slow going at first, me being unused to epistolary novels as I am. It took a little to figure out who was who and what was what and whether I should care, but by the end of the sample, I found the story thus far charming but not entirely compelling. If I hadn’t already bought the book, I might not have continued.

And thus I learned one ought not to judge a book by its sample. Well, I was right about it being charming, but the compelling part came later. It takes a little while to develop a relationship with the characters—I suppose one ought to owe that to British reserve—but they are darling once you get to know them. The book deals with some heavy topics, namely German occupation of British isles, and what the people suffered, but the dark parts are snuck in so blithely in with the light you hardly notice.

Primarily, this book is like getting to sit in with an utterly adorable family. You learn a bit of history from the family elders, but essentially you’re too busy getting caught up in their shenanigans. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the perfect kind of read to make you feel warm and cozy towards your fellow human beings, great for a leisurely, good time, so long as you don’t mind spending some time to become friends with everyone first.

Books to Savor {The Fault in our Stars}

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars has been on my TBR list for quite a long time. I’m a fan of John Green and this story definitely sounded too good to pass up.

The story is about Hazel, a witty and sarcastic sixteen year old girl with cancer, who meets Augustus, a hot, yet honor-driven seventeen year old boy, who also has cancer – and they fall in love. It’s a story about two star-struck teens grappling with universal questions like, “Can I be loved?” and “How can I make my mark on this world?” all while faced with a situation that is anything but ordinary. It’s a tale about love, in the face of fear, existential questions burning against the backdrop of mundane tasks like making it up the stairs one more day, and finding connection in people whom the rest of the normal, healthy world leaves behind.

It’s humorous, poignant, touching, and feels very real. I’m not sure it quite hit me as deeply as his other works did, but he definitely moves bravely into a world most of us hope we never see. I was afraid it would leave me a sobbing wreck; it didn’t. It’s a story about cancer kids, so of course, it has its tear-jerker moments, but overall it’s far more heart-warming than heart-wrenching.

If you’re looking for a book to keep you company over a cozy day or weekend, something that’s light but still feels poignant and true, I’d recommend The Fault in Our Stars.

Books to Savor {The Icarus Deception}

The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
by Seth Godin

Some of you may already be familiar with Seth Godin and his blog or other writing. In case you haven’t heard of him, though, I definitely want to give you a heads up, and his new book is a great way to kickstart the new year.

I just started reading it yesterday and I already have found so much insight and inspiration from it I want to share it with anyone who dreams of daring to try something different or bold – whether it be art, a life change, or a new approach to the way you do business.

In this book, Seth Godin discusses the Icarus myth – you know, the one about the guy who builds wings, flies too close to the sun, and comes crashing down to his death on earth. Lesson: listen to your elders and don’t fly too high. Well, Godin argues that what is forgotten from that myth is that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low. Flying too low is even more dangerous because it feels deceptively safe. From there, Godin issues a call for courage and art (broadly defined) and explains both how to move forward and why it is so necessary in this modern time, when technology is fundamentally changing societal needs and the way we interact.

If you’ve ever done anything bold in your life, this book will feel like vindication. Whether you have or not, though, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? will spur you on to do more bold things, to seize new ground, make connections with people and ideas, and to work without a map.

Books to Savor – {Steal Like An Artist}

Photo courtesy of Austin Kleon (steallikeanartist.com)

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Austin Kleon

Yesterday, I told you about how refreshed and inspired I felt for the new year and how I cleaned up house to prepare for all that creative flow. Well you know how that happened? I owe it all to this book.

I was in a bookstore in Bangkok, passing time until my flight, when I saw this book. I read the whole thing standing up in the bookstore while other unfortunate shoppers had to crane their necks around me to see the stacks better. I was enthralled. Kleon is just such a personable writer and his book is just full of stories and tips that speak to your inner-creative and whisper to her that it’s okay to come out.

The book initially started as a talk Kleon gave to a group of college students. The video of the talk went viral, so he sat down and put it in a really visual, fun to peruse book. Pages like this, I want to staple to my walls:

Photo courtesy of Austin Kleon (steallikeanartist.com)

Steal Like An Artist  is full of great tips to incorporate into your creative practice, it’s a fun, engaging read that makes you feel like the author is totally not an asshole (sadly, something that cannot be said about a large number of artists), and it really makes you just want to get out and do. This is a book I’ll hold on to, for use whenever I need a refreshing kick in the butt to either just write or to put myself out there more.

I might also possibly steal his music.

*     *     *

In other news: I’m hosting another Reading Circles Goes LIVE! event on January 31, 8 p.m. CST where a small group of book lovers can join me (via Google Hangout) reading & discussing a book to delve into how an author works his or her magic. It’s like a virtual Book Club – for writers! Full details on Bigger Picture Blogs’ website HERE. If you want to join in, be sure to RSVP and vote on which book you want to read!

Books to Savor: I Know This Much Is True


I Know This Much Is True: A Novel
by Wally Lamb

I picked this book up at my mother-in-law’s house while we were in the States and I meant to just thumb through the first little bit of it to keep myself occupied in quiet moments. It was 900 pages. I wasn’t going to really read the whole thing. Or so I thought. Before I knew it, I was in several chapters deep and I ended up stealing borrowing the book from her to bring it on the plane with me. I read it all the way from South Carolina back to California. I finished it before we got to Santa Barbara.

This novel opens with the narrator’s twin brother walking into a public library and performing what he believes is a sacrifice in the name of God. From that stunning and horrific opening, the book unfolds into a tale about twin brothers: one, a paranoid schizophrenic, the other, the “normal brother” who tries to save him.

Dominick has always been Thomas’s protector. After Thomas’s actions in the library, Dominick wages a war against the public mental health system on Thomas’s behalf. However, as he fights against the system, the reader is treated to flashbacks on their childhood, the abuse they suffered, the demise of Dominick’s marriage after the loss of a child, and the devolution of Thomas as his mental illness takes over.

Readers might initially feel daunted by the 900-page book, but it is a gripping page-turner, full of incredibly realistic and poignant details of love despite dysfunction and humor in the face of tragedy. The characters feel so complex and real it reads more like a memoir. More importantly, it is a tale of self-destruction, sacrifice, and redemption. It is about twin brothers who need each other to feel whole, and the points at which they each have to sacrifice the other in order to save themselves.

If you’re looking for a book to get lost in (or a Christmas gift to occupy a loved one over the holiday season), I’d highly recommend I Know This Much Is True.

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