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! 

commonality

In a world of disconnection, it has felt even more comforting to gather with people all over the world as we circle the same scripture on the same day. That is the beauty of the liturgy, for me. Similar thoughts are being mulled over. Time of year is being considered. The great joining together happens at different times throughout the day and probably over different types of coffee or chai or a whiskey sour. We enter God’s presence with our burlap bags of angsty needs, we read through our ancient common prayer, and then leave that space, emboldened to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I find a great sense of connection with the world in those moments. Even in the solitude of my home.

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.

reading. listening. learning.

I reach for books to learn while listening to people who have lived the injustice. There is so much for all of us to learn…

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?

Step awaaaaaay from the Pom Pom maker……

I can’t help it! I have loved using my new pom pom maker but you guys… there is a possibility I may never make a pom pom ever again in my whole entire life. Whew! This was a bigger job than I originally anticipated.

But I’m so happy with the result. It’s a ‘minimalistic’ winter wreath, that took a maximalist amount of effort. -ha.

Thankfully it is so much quicker to make pom poms now. This wreath took four skeins of white yarn (and 3 movies, 14 podcasts and 38 audio books…give or take… AND potentially a future shoulder surgery from all the yarn wrapping-around action!)

I had a green 14” foam wreath on hand, which was fine, but you should actually use a white wreath form. Of course a smaller wreath would require less yarn balls.

I bought these vintage-looking wire trees at Hobby Lobby (50% off) and then hot glued everything on.

I found it helpful to use two different size yarn balls, using the smaller size to fill gaps. It’s not absolutely necessary (all one size would work fine), but I like the variety.

(I ultimately hung it in our hallway, but wanted a picture by the Christmas tree first.)

This is one of those crafting-while-movie-watching activities. I love the end result – but prepare for some time investment with this one.

Sidenote: for any of you who read the Louise Penny series set in Three Pines, this wreath is my ode to that idyllic village.

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.’

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is the second book I’ve read from Acevedo and I listened to both of them on audio. I believe she is an author that should not only be read, but be heard as well. Her reading is thick with a Dominican accent and her placement of words melt together like a cherished recipe, passed down from generation to generation, but mixed with individual style.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is about the fictional character, Emoni Santiago, and takes place during her senior year in high school. During her freshman year, she had a baby girl and is balancing all the important parts of her life: school, being a mom, being a granddaughter, work schedules and navigating outside relationships. Her best friend, Angelica, is an encouraging and supportive friend, but Emoni’s soul belongs to cooking. She can feel the needs of a recipe and blends ingredients together so skillfully many people believe it is laced with magic. The word that kept coming to my mind while reading FIRE was vibrant. Vibrant family. Vibrant food. Vibrant friendships. Vibrant love. Vibrant writing. Surrounded by all this support and love, Emoni still struggles with what to do with her life. How does one plan for the future when the consequences of your past are always with you in the present. At her high school graduation she reflects:

And like a map I’ve been following without knowing the exact destination, I know now, I’ve been equipping myself with tools from the journey to help me survive when I arrive.

No matter your age, that is a sentiment that will resonate. Through struggles and hardship and triumphs and setbacks, we are equipping ourselves with the needed tools for our future selves.

The first book I read from Acevedo was THE POET X. I blogged about it last year and how much I enjoyed it. Especially as an audio. She will transport you with the lilt of her voice and place you firmly into the heart of her story. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is listed as a Young Adult read from Harper Teen, but I wouldn’t shy anyone away from enjoying the deep heritage and stories held within Acevedo’s books. They are strong and descriptive and culturally driven. I can’t wait to read her latest book, CLAP WHEN YOU LAND.

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH is a celebration of young, single mothers and the role models who help shape them as mamas and as independent female leaders. I highly recommend all three of Acevedo’s books. Having read two of the three, I have no doubt her third book is as engaging as the others.

Special kudos also to the amazingly illustrated book cover by Erick Davila and Erin Fitzsimmons. What a beautiful piece of art for my shelves. Artwork equal to the quality of words that reside within.

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

I miss Castle.

I realize this isn’t something I need to hide (anymore.) But you have to understand, I started this secret habit back before it was cool.

I was a full-fledged adult with full-fledged middle school and high school children when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out. I hid in my bedroom and read every book. I was deeply invested in each character.

Hi. My name is Greta. I love to read memoirs and crime and history and fiction and non-fiction and……YA. Yes, I read young adult novels.

(Once a trend becomes acceptable and popular, it’s hard to break the habit of hiding your secrets!)

The main character in this YA book is Castle Cranshawl (aka: ‘Ghost’.) The narrative is from his own perspective as a middle schooler from a low income home. Sort of by accident, he finds himself learning a new sport: running track. What started as a competition between two students ended with an Olympic coach immediately recognizing Castle’s natural talent as a runner. As a reader, you are instantly on Jamal’s side and cheering for his new passion. If I could sit in the bleachers at one of his events, I would!

GHOST, by Jason Reynolds (a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), draws you in quickly to Castle’s world while also addressing subjects like social inequality, an abusive parent, bullying, a hard-working mom, mentoring and what it’s like to be a Black kid from public housing learning to trust adults and even harder, his fellow track competitors. Sure – he’s got natural talent as a runner. But will his anger trip him up?

I wholeheartedly recommend this for your young reader. It’s uplifting and told from a first person’s perspective. Great conversation starters for your kids or students.

But I warn you, you’ll miss Castle, too, once the book is through. Lucky for us, however, GHOST is the first in a Track Series of 4 books.

Castle loves sunflower seeds. Readers will love Castle.