THE FAMILY by Naomi Krupitsky

It is difficult to believe that this is Krupitsky’s first novel. The Family is both riveting and endearing. I picked up the book casually but held on to it thirstily. After devouring it, I am closing the back cover, satisfied and intrigued for more.

Krupitsky is a beautiful writer who seamlessly unfolds a story like a seasoned novelist. The good news is that I am certain she will have many more books to come. The bad news…I fear she put all of her fantastic material into this debut book.

The phrasing. The story build. The likability of the characters, protagonists and otherwise. I fell quickly for her writing style – her brimming descriptions and metaphors. She has a luscious grip on our language and an appealing orchestration of its words.

Winter can be a welcome means by which to narrow the world down to the most important parts.

As summer turns hot, deadly hot, and the asphalt softens and the buildings collect the sun so even through the night they radiate a thick warmth.

Two families, united in culture and Family involvement. Two mothers raising their daughters – best friends – in a world of Italian mafia men in 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s Brooklyn. The hardships (probably very different from your own) are recognizable. Krupintsky allows her readers the room to weigh the circumstances and question what they would do in a similar situation.

Antonia, measured and imaginative…

Antonia finds that though she is expected to stay inside her own body, she often feels like she is in Sofia’s body, or her mamma’s body, or the body of the princess in a story. It’s easy for her to slip away, spread out, and exist in the whole universe instead of within the confines of her own skin.

Sophia, daring and adventuresome…

Sophia never means to belittle Antonia, and perhaps Antonia lets herself be made small too easily.

You will be quickly immersed in the lives of Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo through childhood, teenage years, and motherhood – each stage filled with secrets kept. They have grown up together since birth. They feed on their differences until age threatens to separate them into different worlds. “They both want to speak. But they cannot hear one another over the roar of the old world as it turns into a new one.

Follow them as they wrestle with their desire for independence from the unspoken worlds of their fathers as they push against the expectations of place and purpose.

This 368 page, coming-of-age novel is a quick read as you absorb each sentence with excited expectation. The overarching themes of love and dedicated friendship will strengthen your own place within the relationships you find yourself in.

I suddenly realized, as I read the last pages, I was no longer sitting on my couch. I was leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, the book dangling in the air, as the plot became just as unmoored as the physical book in my hands. The ending will leave you somewhat breathless as you struggle to hold tightly to the scattered bits of available hope.

I highly recommend this book. Not because it’s a debut novel but because it is a damn good novel. The appreciative reader within you will stop occasionally to roll the words around in your mouth and the writer within will jealously wonder: “Why didn’t I think to write that phrase myself?!” Such a delightful story and the writing therein.

Prayer is an acknowledgement of fear, of that which cannot be controlled or contained or even understood. It is a surrender and an attack, all at once.

A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES by Shea Ernshaw

I was opening my Book of the Month box just as my dad called yesterday. I told him what I was doing and he (84 years old) immediately said he remembered the first Book of the Month they ever received: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962) He also said he remembered ordering To Kill a Mockingbird through BOTM. Can you imagine?! My parents’ neighbors told them about the iconic book club when they were a young couple and as a kid, I remember looking through the (magical!) catalog they received each month.

(This sounds like a commercial, doesn’t it? I promise it’s not. I’m just a fan.)

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw was my selection for December. Magical realism is a genre I didn’t know I enjoyed until a few years ago. And oddly enough, I enjoy reading it the most in the winter months. This month’s selection sounds like a thrilling one.

Everything I have read about this book mentions the brilliance of the atmospheric experience you go through while reading it. You are completely immersed in the reclusive community of Pastoral as Travis – someone who has the uncanny gift of finding missing people by touching an object of theirs – dares to enter where he isn’t permitted. When he goes missing too, the plot thickens. 

I’m excited to jump in with Travis and see what we discover!

ROCK PAPER SCISSORS by Alice Feeney

“Shhhhhhut UP!”

That is what I yelled into my empty home. It was just me, alone, reading the twists in this fast-paced thriller. 

“Wait. What?!”, I continue my one-sided conversation as I rapidly flipped back to the earlier chapters.

I still have questions. I’ve never googled, so quickly, to compare plot ending explanations online. 

1. Main character has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces.
2. Old, secluded chapel turned into a home (complete with church pews, iron keys and a crypt!)
3. Takes place between London and the Scottish Highlands, for pete’s sake.

Quick read (seriously – put away all responsibilities.) Few characters. Multiple plot twists. 

I’m going to fix me a stiff holiday elixir and catch my breath. 

“Most people see the writing on the walls, even if they can’t read what it says.”

Have you read it? Let’s compare notes! 

WHEN THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS AREN’T ENOUGH by Taylor Schumann

An excellent, excellent, excellent book.

I have been following Taylor Schumann for a little while now on Instagram and Twitter. I was excited when she decided to write a book because I was interested in reading her story in whole rather than the bits and pieces I’ve picked up over time. What I didn’t expect was to read a book chocked full of personal experience AND logical steps we can take to clarify and strengthen our society. This book met me at the crossroads of faith, patriotism, and common sense gun reform.

Taylor is ‘just a mom’. A young, married, mom of an adorable and precocious son – just like many other young moms you know. But Taylor was also shot, at 23 years old, while hiding in the closet of the community college where she was employed. Reading her account of this shooting was enthralling. Hearing about the court proceedings – so interesting. Feeling broken-hearted while reading her immediate and continuous challenges since the shooting (example: She can’t be without her phone. While hiding in the closet, she didn’t have her phone with her.) Taylor covers common myths, policy changes, and a very important item: how to discuss gun violence with others.

This book outlines some of the loopholes that would help strengthen all of our safety. Taylor doesn’t discount gun ownership. She lives a life based on faith and belief in God’s creation. I appreciate that she holds the two firm beliefs – Christianity and gun reform – in a balanced embrace. I firmly believe her approach is that of the majority of us, not the extremes we see on the nightly news. It was refreshing and affirming to read.

Here are a few loopholes that caught me off guard:

1) The Boyfriend Loophole: Currently, the federal law prohibits people from possessing or purchasing a gun if they have been convicted of domestic violence and/or are under a restraining order BUT only if the abuser has been married to, lives with, or has a child with the victim. The law does not cover abusive dating partners. Dating violence = simple assault. And simple assault doesn’t prevent someone from owning a gun.

2) The Stalking Loophole: People with a misdemeanor stalking conviction are not prevented from owning a gun.

3) If a background check doesn’t come back after three business days, the gun sale may proceed. Along with this loophole we need a notification to local police if a convicted abuser or stalker tries to buy a gun and fails a background check. Victims should also be notified.

Some states have these laws in place but without a federal mandate, people will simply travel from a strict state to a neighboring state that has looser gun laws for their gun purchase.

One of my favorite lines from the book actually came from Taylor’s husband:

“We all need to remember the last time we changed our mind about something.”

This isn’t one of those crazed books about taking away all guns or advocating for laws so strict that no one can afford a gun. This is a book about a personal encounter in a prominent shooting incident, the resulting consequences, and reasonable requests for gun safety purchasing and ownership.

I was so impressed by the totality of this book. I took more notes on this book than I have for any book in a very long time. Please consider picking it up for yourself. I think you’ll be as moved and empowered and challenged as I was. What more can you ask of a book???

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN + Book of the Month

I was very honored that Book of the Month posted one of my pictures today on their social media. It was a photo of this fantastic book about J.P. Morgan’s assistant, Belle da Costa Greene, who helped build the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City in the early 1900’s.

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN is a celebration of art and ancient book manuscripts and Gutenberg bibles. I actually stopped midway through the book to re-watch The Monuments Men, which took place during a different time period but always gives me the same debt of gratitude for those who have gone to great lengths to preserve and uphold the honor in art.

You will stop and Google dates and names and it will spark an even deeper appreciation of the importance of the fine arts. This book will certainly be one of my top favorite books this year. Authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, went to great lengths to research this novel. Each author’s note in the back of the book were fascinating to read in order to see how they went about collecting Belle’s story as well as information about the beginnings and early days of the library.

Extraordinary. Extravagant. Empowering. Thought-provoking. This would make an excellent book club read and discussion. I highly recommend this book about a section of our history you may not know much about. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

Thank you, Book of the Month, for using my picture but mostly for bringing to the forefront a life story that needed to be told.

Sidenote: I have been a BOTM member for five years and have very fond memories of the catalogs that used to come in the mail to my parents each month. I read the book descriptions in awe and thought that BOTM must be the most grown up thing you could possibly do. What a dream to have books sent to you in the mail, I imagined! I’m so glad I get to enjoy them now. Each month is a new adventure that begins with an exciting blue box waiting for me at my front door.

Another sidenote: the decadently delicious waffles were a new recipe that my DEAR husband was trying out. It very quickly went into the MUST MAKE AGAIN section of our recipe file: whole wheat waffles with bananas and walnuts baked inside. (They’re practically health food.)

SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE of ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab

What is it about my weirdo brain that says, ‘Oh…this is a really popular book out there in the world? Then let’s be sure and NOT read it yet.’ What? Why??

Whatever mental defect I have, it happens every time a book skyrockets to popularity. But I’ve heard so many fantastic things about this one, maybe it’s time I ignore myself and dive in? What do you think?

Have you read it? Did it live up to the hype?

INTIMATIONS by Zadie Smith

I didn’t check to see what this book of essays was about before starting to read it. Some respected people recommended it, so I opened the front page with no expectations.


I found a collection of essays filled with reflections on the first half of 2020. Unique reflections. Powerful comparisons. But all with room enough for me to think about other perspectives and process my own 2020 experience.

Powerfully beautiful essays, not overindulgent in trite hope nor overwhelmingly oppressive in gloom. I closed the back cover, filled with new insight.

THE GREEN WITCH by Arin Murphy Hiscock

To be honest, I’ve put off posting about this book wanting to make sure it wasn’t going to be too offensive to anyone – or to myself. I wanted to get far enough into the book to see if it was just too ‘woo-woo’.

⁣Thankfully, it is what I hoped it would be – a celebration of living in partnership with our environment.

There is a craving – similar to pregnancy cravings – that will strike me and I’ll say to Scott, ‘I’ve got to get out in nature.’ When I have been isolated too much, or too busy trying to meet deadlines or too ANYTHING, my therapy is to place myself into nature. Tree bathing. Grounding. Whatever you want to call it, there is a recalibration that happens when I can breath in clean air and notice the magnitude of the natural world around me.

Of course, that’s not always an option, so I try to work with scents and homegrown elements for natural healing and mood enhancement and many many many times, for antioxidants and anti-inflammatory treatments. Whether it’s the sourced food we eat or the natural cleaner made with rosemary from our backyard, I truly believe the further we get from nature, the further we are from the environment in which we were created to live.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I am neither vegan nor a purist, but we can all attempt to make changes in some areas of our lives.

THE GREEN WITCH includes ways in which we can use the natural things around us whether it be wood for cabinetry or gardenias for tranquility. There are recipes for Digestive Tea or a homemade balm for colds and headaches. It even includes celebrations you can have for each of the season changes. (Happy Autumnal Equinox on the 22nd!)

As far out there as it seems, it is all really quite logical and simple. I love combining things together for scrubs or oils or to clean my kitchen counters. It makes me feel part gypsy (don’t we all want that??) and part Native American – working with the seasons and the fruit of the land. Farmers determined our school year based on harvest time. Many churches follow the liturgical cycles that correspond with the seasons. There are ways that you participate in these cycles without even realizing it.

After bashing my leg a few days ago (in a super dumb way), tonight is all about grilled salmon with ginger and spinach – natural ways to reduce swelling. Lemon verbena, lavender and grapefruit are my favorite essential oil combinations to slow my mind and my breath. And of course, caring for houseplants and learning from their rhythm and cycles.

Our environment (of which I believe was created for us by God as a gift) is worth preserving. Living within. And voting for.

Finding Calm

These are a few books that have meant a lot to me personally during this pandemic season. I find reliance on the liturgy comforting when you don’t feel like praying. Leaning into ancient traditions (even rote memorization) gets you through at times when your heart just isn’t in it.

I especially recommend the book, Flee. Be Silent. Pray. by Ed Cyzewski. I’ve found a great deal of comfort (and shame release, to be honest) reading this book. It’s no accident I bought it right before the pandemic.

“Find a space for walking with God”, Cyzewski writes. Thomas Merton wrote about the moment he walked into his monastery to stay for the first time: ‘Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.’”

Has Quarantine 2020 been our own monastery? Has it forced us to slow down, to engage more authentically with each other, to pay closer attention to the blatant injustices that have been hiding in plain sight? I keep using the phrase ‘Quarantine as monastery.’ That’s what it’s felt like to me. I’ve been stir crazy at times, yes. But I also have come face to face with Greta in a way I haven’t taken the time to do before my regular routines were broken apart. I’ve learned some ugly traits and I’ve seen talents I have stepped around too often before. I am processing my own prejudices and I’ve embraced a forced contentment with less. I’ve found, through this pandemic of all things, the newly available space to walk intentionally each day with God. I want to go to movie theaters and hug people and travel, but I don’t want my ‘quarantine monastery’ to disappear too quickly. Or to be forgotten too easily. My mind and my heart still has so much work to do. In time. No hurry. Let’s have just one more chai together as I continue to try to memorize this nightly prayer:

‘Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Attend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest for the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love sake. Amen.’

MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel

“To drink coffee on my stoop each morning and gin on the roof at night…” – Will, commenting on what he loves about living in New York City

MUSICAL CHAIRS was an enjoyably quick and entertaining read and my first Amy Poeppel book. It has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and honestly – I was a little thrown off by the cute cover. My brain (…feeble as it is…) registered this as a YA book. I was wrong. 

As a musician nerd in high school and college, I enjoyed the perfect music-snobbishness in this book. Musical arts can be so high brow, each of us thinking we’ve rediscovered the most subtle art of listening to and participating in the creation of music. But the arts in New York City? Welllll, you’ve just raised the stakes even higher. Poeppel captured this tone with humor and accuracy.

Bridget and Will are the best of friends. They are two members of a classical musical trio in NYC. Will plays the piano, Bridget the cello and the position of violinist is an oft-revolving seat for newcomers. Taking some time off during the summer, Bridget heads to her family’s country home in Connecticut with hopes of romance and reading and quiet, lazy summer days. Through various happenstances, her two grown children end up moving home to find themselves and her anticipated summer love ends up breaking her heart and never arriving. While Bridget nurses her own dismay, her children bring their love woes to the table, topped off by home repairs and questions of her musical future just as her elderly father (a renowned pianist/composer) announces he’s getting married.  How will the summer play out??

The stories each evolve and intertwine with humor and accident and forgiveness. Secrets revealed. Grace offered. Relationships sway and strengthen.

small spoiler ahead…

As Bridget’s father, Edward, gives the toast at his wedding I resonated with it completely. My father (…also named Edward and a pianist – go figure) remarried after my mother died 11 years ago. He chose another interesting and fascinating woman (lucky him to strike gold twice). They have traveled the world and continue to explore and live interesting and fulfilling lives. 

Edward’s toast included these words:

Bertrand Russell said, “Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope, and enterprise, and change.” Edward discusses the musical score he wrote decades ago called Synchronicity and compared it to the Victorian dances of generations past. “Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography. Imagine a group of people come together and delight in the act of re-arranging themselves into new configurations. One person turns, leaving a space, upsetting the arrangement, but the other dancers follow suit and they all align themselves anew. For a moment they are all in motion, shifting and crossing over, until a new constellation forms giving way to a moment of equilibrium… before it all begins again.” 

This was such a beautiful example of the totality of our lives. There is balance, then upset, then a new equilibrium settles in. A grand dance. We are in constant movements of reinvention. This can be very reassuring when we are in the middle of the rearrangement parts of our life. It will fall into place again soon once the right people turn and sway into new alignment.

Lord Tennyson reflects: “Death closes all. But something near the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

Certainly an admirable goal in life: A work of noble note.

 

* Thank you, Atria Books, for this advanced reader copy.

 

THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

I was glad to finally be able to sit down with this Book of the Month feature and all-around popular Bookstagram book, The Vanishing Half.

The concept intrigued me. Stella and Desiree are twins and both born light-skinned Black. Both of them wanting to escape the confines of their small town and to live a fuller life experience, they run away to New Orleans. But one twin, Stella, after easily passing as White, decides to leave her twin and join a race that was not quite her own, but one in which she had fewer limitations. Even Stella’s husband is unaware of her true racial identity.

Negroes always love our home towns even though we’re always from the worst places. Only White folks got the freedom to hate home.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, this interwoven, generational story captured my imagination with thoughts of ‘what if it were me‘ as well as ‘how could she do that?!‘ indignations. Just what the author, Brit Bennett, was aiming for, I’m predicting. What decisions lead us to live lives filled with secrets? Are they our decisions that determine that trajectory or are they the decisions made long before we are born? What masks do we each carry daily?

THE VANISHING HALF was an engaging story that explored racism, abuse, wealth and poverty as well as familial relationships and the ongoing dichotomy of mother-daughter relationships. How do we determine and define ‘family’? While provocative and a page-turner, VANISHING seemed to wrap up quickly and ended fairly abruptly and open-ended.

Perhaps I always think this, however, about characters I’ve invested in…