Book Buzz: Carry Me

Book Buzz: Carry Me

They say that history is bound to repeat itself. I once thought that true evil, the kind that happened in Nazi Germany, could not. The atrocities seemed so remote, so other-worldly that surely this era would live on only in the annals of history.  “Never again” has always been the refrain, a phrase that perhaps over time has lost its meaning.

Because we never imagined that things would be like they are today. 

Book Buzz: Carry Me

I’m not sure Peter Behrens knew when he was writing his devastating and gorgeous novel, Carry Me, that the story would resonate even more keenly in our changed political climate. For me, the parallels were too close to ignore.

Life hums along with its normal highs and lows. You discount the random occurrences of hate mongering. The racism, the violence against marginalized groups. It can’t get an worse, you tell yourself.

And then it does.

Carry Me

Based on a true story (which makes me love it even more), Carry Me is the love story and adventure of Karin and Billy, set in pre-World War II.  The book opens before the outset of World War I. Karin is the daughter of wealthy German-Jewish industrialist Baron von Weinbrenner, and Billy is the son of Buck Lange, employed by the baron as the captain of his yacht. Karin and Billy meet a small children at the baron’s summer house in the Isle of Wight. Billy’s parents serve as caretakers and the two families are close friends.

Behrens skillfully captures the idyllic life enjoyed by these families that is upended by the wretchedness of World War I. The families are separated. Buck is arrested under suspicion of spying for Germany and imprisoned for four years. Billy and his mother Eilin find a room nearby and struggle to survive as they wait for his release. Luckily, he does come home.

After the war, the two families are reunited in Frankfurt. The baron invites Buck to come live with and work for him again on the vast Walden estate as manager of his thoroughbred racehorses. Life settles into a calm routine. Karin attends boarding school and Billy studies locally. They see each other sporadically, just as friends, as kindred spirits.

Billy gets a good job at a firm in town and Karin is happily employed in the film industry in Berlin amidst the rumblings of anti-Semitism. But then … the sporadic skirmishes become more frequent, the harassment of Jews silently tolerated if not endorsed, neighbors’ backs are turned, doors are closed, and finally a full-blown reign of terror ensues.

Jews are stripped of their livelihoods and possessions. Karin’s job is taken away. The baron is targeted as an enemy. His house is ransacked and he is left with nothing. Jews are thrown into prison and taken to concentration camps. Those who are left are frantically trying to book passage on one of the ships departing for America or Israel.

In the mist of the tumult, Karin turns to her childhood friend Billy for comfort. They fall into a romantic relationship and he urges her to leave Germany with him before it is too late. Together they will explore the plains of Texas and New Mexico that have tantalized both of them growing up, he tells her, and then settle in Canada where they will live out their lives in peace.

I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending is an emotional, dramatic conclusion to this utterly captivating story. Kudos to Behrens for the detail and sensitivity with which his tale is spun. A remarkable achievement.

NPR has called Carry Me one of the best books of the year. I completely agree.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Carry Me. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected.

 I received a copy of Carry Me from Knopf Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: Leopard at the Door

January weather has been cold and a bit frightful, so snuggling up with my dogs (and my husband) and a good book has my activity of choice. With a fire roaring the fireplace (okay, it was gas) and the dogs curled up next to me, I happily attacked the looming stack of books next to my bed, one of which was Leopard at the Door, a novel so thought-provoking and timely I can’t wait to recommend it to my book group.

Book Buzz: Leopard at the Door

Written by Jennifer McVeigh (who you might recognize as the author of The Fever Tree), Leopard at the Door takes place in a British colony in Kenya in the mid-twentieth century. Across the magnificent and sweeping landscape of East Africa festered political and social tensions as the Africans came into conflict with the British colonists infiltrating their country.

Leopard at the Door

The protagonist is Rachel Fullsmith, a young girl whose British family settled in Kenya. When her mother died in a car accident, twelve year-old Rachel was sent back  to England to be raised by her grandparents, who imposed a strict and unaffectionate lifestyle. She yearned to go back to Kenya, and following her high school graduation, she returned.

What she found was a different Kenya from the one she had known six years before, both personally and politically. A new woman, Sarah, had come into her father’s life and taken over the household, with an imperious style that was shocking to Rachel. Her mother had always treated the Africans who worked for the family with kindness and respect. Under Sarah’s dominion, there was disdain and suspicion. Rachel’s father seemed powerless to go against Sarah’s wishes to get rid of servants who had been with the family for years. Rachel did not understand what had come over her father, and how he seemed to have given his soul to this woman so unlike her late mother.

Still struggling with that loss and confused about her place in this new constellation, Rachel felt her world crashing around her, unprepared for the tough decisions about family, loyalty and justice.

McVeigh does a superb job of creating the scene. You can feel the intense heat of the African sun, the screech of the monkeys, the rustling of the underbrush as a herd of zebras emerged. There was a palpable sense of danger, not just from the possible attack of a lion, but from political uncertainty and the threat of violence and betrayal.

The last twenty pages kept my eyes glued and provided an unexpected twist.

In her many travels to this area of the world, McVeigh researched the history of the Mau Mau Rebellion, a brutal uprising that took place from 1952-1960 and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Africans. I confess not knowing about this conflict until now. It is a terrible chapter of African history that should be told so that our understanding of international human rights violations can grow.

And with her gift of story-telling, McVeigh does exactly that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Leopard at the Door. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Leopard at the Door from Putnam for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: A Dog’s Purpose

Anyone who knows me knows I love books and I love dogs. So it is no surprise that I love reading books about dogs.

I will tell you why A Dog’s Purpose is one of my favorites, one of the most charming dog books ever written. The author, W. Bruce Cameron, has an uncanny ability to get inside a dog’s head. Combine that with his sense of humor and talent for storytelling, and you can understand why his books are so pupular popular. A Dog’s Purpose was on the New York Times bestseller list for a solid year, and deservedly so.

I am so beyond excited that A Dog’s Purpose is coming out as a movie next month. More about that in a minute. Let me tell you first about the book.

A Dog’s Purpose

Book Buzz: A Dog's PurposeMeet Bailey the dog, the narrator of his story, who yearns to figure out his purpose in life, and finds himself reincarnated over and over to continue that quest. With each life he is a little wiser, remembering life lessons from his past that continue to guide him.  Author Cameron is so attuned to the gestalt of dogs, he has truly provided a window into their souls giving us readers a deeper understanding of what makes them tick. Why they love us unconditionally. Why they like sniffing nasty smells. Why they are clueless about cats.

Here, for example, Ethan the boy is teaching Bailey to rescue him in the water. Bailey recounts:

I looked down at the frothy water where the boy had gone in, then back at Grandpa.

“Go on!” Grandpa told me.

I suddenly understood and looked at him in disbelief. Did I have to do everything in this family? With one more bark I dove off the end of the dock, swimming down toward the bottom, where I could sense Ethan lying motionless. I gripped his collar in my jaws and headed for air.

“See! He saved me!” the boy called when we both surfaced.

“Good boy, Bailey!” Grandpa and the boy shouted together. Their praise pleased me so much  I took off after the ducks, who quacked stupidly as they swam away. I got so close to being able to nip off a few tail feathers that a couple of them flapped their wings and briefly took flight, which meant I won, in my opinion.

With the perfect balance of joy and pathos woven through a page turning adventure, the book will touch your heart, make you laugh and cry, and sigh with contentment at the end.

Bailey’s story will leave you hungering for more, and thankfully Cameron heard our cry and wrote a sequel, A Dog’s Journey, another terrific story.
Book Buzz: A Dog's Purpose

I loved this book too, in which Bailey is now Buddy, who rescues a little girl and realizes his purpose is to protect her forever. Over the course of her life, that is exactly what he does, but I won’t tell you any more because I don’t want this to be a spoiler.

I would have gone into a deep depression after finishing this book, bereft without a Cameron dog book to look forward to, but then I heard about the movie and I felt better.

A Dog’s Purpose, the movie

Starring Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson and Josh Gad, A Dog’s Purpose opens in theaters January 27, 2017.

True to the novel, the narrator is Bailey, a bounding Golden Retriever who has already lived several lives and come back to fulfill the elusive purpose he knows is his destiny. Bailey’s running commentary on life as a dog is just what you would imagine a dog’s thought process to be. I guarantee you will fall in love with him.

One of the takeaways is that you can make a dog very happy just by telling him he is a good dog. So don’t forget to do that when you have the chance.

This movie trailer gives you a preview of the magic that is to come. I can’t wait.

Don’t wait until January to become a fan. Read one or both of the books first.

Thanks to the author, I am delighted to offer either A Dog’s Purpose or A Dog’s Journey to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Give Your Support on Giving Tuesday

Give on Giving Tuesday

Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a worldwide movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy. Although charitable giving can and should take place year round, Giving Tuesday was intended to kick off the charitable season after the frenzy of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Giving Tuesday can be a day for us to put holiday shopping on hold while we think of those who are not on our gift list, but are so deserving of our generosity.

There are hundreds of organizations whose mission is to make the world better, and our support fuels their success. Even a small donation will make a difference.

Plus, it feels good to donate. It really does.

Giving Wisely

I make a point of researching charities through Charity Navigator, which lets you know how much of your donation actually goes to the intended cause as well as other important information about the charity.

If you make your donation TODAY on the Charity Navigator website, your donation will be matched 3:1. That’s hard to pass up.

Here are some worthy organizations that are personal favorites of mine with high rankings on Charity Navigator. The important thing, though, is to give to an organization you care about.

Animal Welfare

Main Line Animal Rescue is considered by many to be the finest animal shelter in the United States. With more than five hundred active volunteers, thousands of animals helped every year, a state-of-the-art veterinary clinic, innovative training and educational programs, and almost sixty acres of fenced pastures and walking trails, MLAR is a godsend for animals and animal lovers. MLAR is nationally recognized as a leader in the fight against puppy mill abuse.

Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue helps Since 1993, Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue has successfully placed over 4,500 Golden Retrievers and other DVGRR dogs into new homes. DVGRR has been recognized for innovative work in rescuing and rehabilitating puppy mill breeder dogs.

PAWS Chicago (stands for Pets Are Worth Saving) is Chicago’s largest no-kill humane organization, focused on adoption, free spaying and neutering, and community outreach. It provides a warm and cozy environment for pets waiting to be adopted.

Wildlife Conservation Network protects endangered species and preserves their natural habitats by supporting entrepreneurial conservationists who pursue innovative strategies for people and wildlife to co-exist and thrive.

Health

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is dedicated to funding research with the highest probability of preventing, slowing or reversing Alzheimer’s disease.For many years, Alzheimer’s research was completely stifled by a lack of funding. This organization, privately funded, was set up to dramatically accelerate research and focus exclusively on finding a cure

Give Kids the World Village is a 79-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

National Pediatric Cancer Foundation is dedicated to funding research to eliminate childhood cancer. The focus is to fund research to fast track less toxic, more targeted treatments by partnering with 20 leading hospitals nationwide.

Human Rights

National Women’s Law Center champions policies and laws that help women and girls achieve their potential throughout their lives — at school, at work, at home, and in their communities.

Southern Poverty Law Center fights hate and bigotry and seeks justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Teach for America brings committed individuals into low-income classrooms to become teachers with the power to dramatically expand students’ opportunities. In turn, the teachers learn from their students, and gain a better understanding of the problems and the opportunities in our education system.

The Environment

World Wildlife Fund is devoted to conserving nature and reducing the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

National Resources Defense Council works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

Give Your Support to Giving Tuesday

I hope you will support Giving Tuesday. Happy Holidays!

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: Born a Crime

Book Buzz: Born a CrimeOne of our Thanksgiving traditions is to go around the table and share our blessings. For me it is always a variation of being grateful for family, friends, our pets, our health, etc. This year, though, my expression of gratitude will be tinged with anxiety about a future that is hard to fathom, at least for the next four years.

Since the election I have tried to stay away from TV and radio news. I just can’t listen to it.

This erstwhile news junkie has gone cold turkey.

That works out well except when I’m in the car. I need a distraction when I’m driving. Music is great, but there are times when I need an alternative. As luck would have it, I have discovered Audible, and the timing could not be better.

Audible is a division of Amazon, and purchases are easy either on the website or the app, which I downloaded on my iPhone. Browsing through the selections, I discovered a ton of audiobooks that piqued my interest.

Born a Crime

I was totally caught up in one of Audible’s new releases, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. You may know Noah as the successor to Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. In this memoir he reveals a background light years away from the celebrity life he enjoys now. Noah grew up biracial in South Africa’s apartheid.

Noah, the son of a devoutly religious Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father, was “born a crime” since it was against the law during apartheid for whites and blacks to be together, let alone have a child. The fine could have been imprisonment for either parent up to five years. Nonetheless, Noah’s mother would take that risk because she wanted a child so badly.

Noah says, “… my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end. There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go. I was nearly six when Mandela was released, ten before democracy finally came, yet she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist.”

Noah’s upbringing took place in the last years of apartheid, in the 80s and 90s, in a world of poverty and intense racism. His remarkable mother was determined her son would rise above it. Strong-willed and no nonsense, Noah’s mother taught him the values of education and freedom as she struggled with the restrictions in her own life.

With humor, Noah describes his mother as a woman deeply tied to her religion. She dragged her son to church four days a week and three different church services on Sundays, in three different towns.

In these essays, Noah shares personal stories and also the broader landscape of apartheid society: segregated housing, limited employment opportunities except for menial work, and curfews not imposed on the white population.

I was drawn in by Noah’s mellifluous voice as he swept me into his world. Learning about a life so different from mine, filled with obstacles that I have been fortunate never to face, was a lesson worth learning.

And another reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

If you would like to hear Born a Crime or any other selection on Audible, you’re in luck. Use this code for a 30-day free trial.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

Why write about dogs, with all the turmoil in our country right now, and with little else on my mind but the election and its aftermath?

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

It’s been a tough week, a gloomy week, for me. I feel dispirited and unmotivated. I needed a pick-me-up. The book gods must have looked kindly on me, because this book could not have come at a better time.

Books and dogs are two of my greatest passions. Combine them and you’ve got a win-win.

Dogs and Their People

If you are a dog person — and I venture to say even if you are not — you will get a kick out of Dogs and Their People: Photos and Stories of Life with a Four-Legged Love.

Why? Because we humans are capable of going overboard for our fur babies and the stories in this book tell you just how far we can go.

Our furry friends have a knack for righting our worlds no matter what is going on. A soulful gaze, a wag of the tail, a sympathetic snuggle — they sense how we feel, and know how to make us feel better with their unconditional love.

So how do we respond to them? With love, care, and sometimes … well, we dress them up. We sing to them. We sleep with them.

Our two pups, Max and Wyatt, are just over a year old. While it often seems like we’ve got two unruly toddlers in the house, life would not be as full without them. Here they are in one of their quiet moments.

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

Filled with beautiful photographs, Dogs and Their People is a book that you can spend as much or as little time with as you choose, and come back to again and again. The stories about our love for our dogs, the lengths we will go to for them, certainly resonated with me.

For example …

Do you celebrate your dog’s birthday with a canine birthday cake?

Do you know the dog people in the neighborhood as “Ginger’s mommy” or “Dylan’s dad?”

Do you tell your dog you will be back soon when you are leaving the house? As if he understands that?

Do you arrange playdates so that your dog will have a social life?

I will neither confirm nor deny that I am guilty of any of the above.

Dogs and Their People will brighten your day. Here is an example.

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

You will read funny stories, touching stories, like the owner who sold her house to pay for the dog’s back surgery or another who went homeless for the sake of keeping a furry family together.

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

I can’t think of a better gift for dog lovers than Dogs and Their People.

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

In this time of uncertainty, there is at least this universal truth: dogs really are a person’s best friend.

Book Buzz: Dogs and Their People

That is reassuring to me.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Dogs and Their People. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Dog and Their People from Putnam for an honest review, which is the only  kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Elizabeth Banks and the Value of the ‘I Voted’ Sticker

Elizabeth Banks and the Value of the 'I Voted" Sticker

With just four days left in the presidential race, most of us are breathing a sigh of relief. Like many of you, my emotions have run amok.

But one of the highlights this fall was the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Banks stumping for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. She is warm, down-to-earth and passionate. She sat down with me and a small group of supporters to talk about the election

***

Elizabeth Banks takes nothing for granted in this election, and that is why she has been a presence on the campaign trail.

The actress, director and producer, known for her many role in movies such as The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect, and Spider-Man, is walking the walk for her candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton.

She is also the mom of two boys, and joked that Back-to-School Nights at her sons’ school had cut into her busy schedule.

“The reason I’m doing this (campaigning) is because it matters. And as Hillary supporters,” she said looking around the room, “what you are doing matters. We’re all here for the same reason. We want Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States.”

Banks described the first time she met Hilary Clinton. It was a wow.

“It was 1992 and I was a freshman at Penn (University of Pennsylvania),” she said. “I attended a rally for Bill Clinton, but what I remember most was being transfixed by Hillary.

“As an eighteen year-old, a young woman who was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do and how to be a leader and who my role models should be, I was just completely struck by her.

“I knew then that she would change the face of what a First Lady was. There was a real partnership with her husband, and she had the brains to make a contribution. She was going to make a real difference.”

Fast forward to 2008. “My husband (sportswriter and producer Max Handelman) – he’s big into politics as well, and he was really excited about this young upstart named Barack Obama and I was like, but what about Hillary?”

Now it is Hillary’s time, she said.

“The founding fathers had long discussions about what they wanted this country to be,” she said. “After a great deal of thought, they decided on the number one ideal. It wasn’t the pursuit of happiness. It wasn’t freedom. The number one ideal was equality.”

She added, “It’s taken a long time, but we’ve been getting closer and closer to equality. When I think about equality, I think about women’s suffrage. Women fought to vote, and after 150 years that happened.

“We’ve had the civil rights movement, and the LGBGT movement, and we’re making progress. Hillary Clinton is the next step in reaching that ideal of equality.

“Weren’t we all told as little girls we could be anything? You can dream big. The world is open to you. Be what you want to be. The world is open to you.“

But until now, the prospect of a female president did not seem attainable.

“I have kids now, I know how it is,” she said. No one ‘has it all.’ If you’re doing one thing you can’t be doing another. You miss the kids’ things, you have to go to work. Well, that’s how we do it.

“Hillary Clinton knows this better than anyone. She’s worked hard, with over 40 years of public service. What her critics like to say is ‘she’s very inside Washington. We need someone from the outside.’ Well, how more outside can you get? She’s a female! No other woman has ever done this. And by the way, I don’t think of her as inside. I think of that as experience. She’s so qualified, so amazing.

“We are at a crossroads. We are looking in the mirror as a nation and we are either going to take keep choosing progress toward our idea of equality or we are going to take a massive step backward.”

For anyone thinking about sitting out the election, she said, this is the time to exercise your right to vote.

“I remember going to vote for Obama and getting the “I Voted” sticker, and I was so proud of that,” she said. “Because it was so historic, and it was amazing to be a part of that.

“For young people especially, it is so important to get out and vote. You’ll be really disappointed in yourself if you don’t get the “I Voted” sticker when we elect the first female president.”

Banks said that she would be out campaigning no matter what.

“I am a politically active person from growing up with parents who had us sit around the table and read the paper and get involved in politics. So this is in my blood. What I love about my position is that it affords me a voice. I really understand the voiceless — people who need politics and policy to help their lives. I’m here because I think it really matters who is in charge.

“If my celebrity gives me the platform for my voice to be heard a little bit louder, I’ll take it. I love this country and I want what’s best for it.

Elizabeth Banks and the Value of the 'I Voted' Sticker

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: You Will Not Have My Hate

It was an ordinary Friday evening in Paris, a typical Friday night when the cafes are still busy and the streets are crammed with people on their way to somewhere or nowhere at all, and the air is sprinkled with carefree laughter and theatres are filled with audiences out to enjoy a night of music.

On any Friday night, on every Friday night, this is Paris. But on Friday, November 13, 2015 the lively scene turned into a scene from hell.

You will not have my hate.

The beautiful streets of Paris were bloodied, strewn with carnage and death as terrorists stormed the city. Killing indiscriminately and brutally as they took to the streets, they positioned themselves at heavily populated sites to do the most damage. And at the Bataclan Theatre, where ordinary people were enjoying a concert by the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, the unthinkable happened.

Antoine Leiris, a French journalist, was at home with his 17 month-old son, Melvil, while his wife Hélène was attending the concert. Planning on waiting up for her, Leiris passed the time by reading a book. Then he got a text from a friend asking if he was all right. He turned on the television, and five words scrolling at the bottom of the screen changed his life forever: “Terrorist attack at the Bataclan.”

You will not have my hate.

In just a few hours he would learn that his beautiful wife Hélène lost her life at the Bataclan. Just like that. Gone.

You will not have my hate.

 

Book Buzz: You Will Not Have My Hate

Grief-stricken, he went on social media a few days later and wrote an open letter to the terrorists who killed his wife. “You will not have my hate,” he wrote.  “On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate.

“For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.”

Leiris’ words were seen by millions and shared. His resilience and strength were an inspiration to those of us throughout the world struggling to makes sense out of the most senseless of tragedies.

You will not have my hate.

I will always remember waking up Saturday morning to this terrible news and being stunned into silence. How could this happen? I couldn’t even articulate my feelings, but that Monday I wrote Mourning for Paris to pay tribute to the victims and their families and friends.

You Will Not Have My Hate is a slim volume, just 129 pages. It is honest and raw, and so compelling that you will finish it in one sitting. Leiris begins by recalling the first few days, the shock and disbelief, his overriding concern for his son, his resolute adherence to the normalcy of play, naps, meals, story time. In the midst of visiting the morgue, going through the motions of Hélène’s funeral, and dealing with his  own loss, he was first and foremost his son’s Papa.

Leiris’ story of courage and grace, of finding the will to go on after the most excruciating loss, tells us that while there is no way to understand why evil exists, it is our obligation to honor the memory of the dead — and defy those who would destroy us — by continuing to live.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of You Will Not Have My Hate. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly chosen.

 

I received a copy of You Will Not Have My Hate from Penguin for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

I Get Mushy About My High School Reunion

I Get Mushy About My High School Reunion

The emails were flying fast and furious. My high school reunion was coming up.

“I’m going to my high school reunion,” I announced to several local friends.

More often than not, they rolled their eyes. “A high school reunion?” they shuddered. “Why would you want to do that?”

I get it.

High school can evoke bad memories, of cliques and hormone-infused drama, of memorizing World War I dates, of diagramming sentences and conjugating Latin verbs and struggling through Calculus. Of being plagued by self-doubt and wanting desperately to fit in.

High school could seem interminable and was something to endure with gritted teeth while we counted the days until graduation. Leaving Chaucer, term papers and a coterie of friends in the dust, many graduates were happy to just be done with it. Diplomas in hand, we marched in cap and gown away from our past and into adulthood.

So why return to the winter of our discontent by attending a reunion, some ask. The very thought holds about as much excitement as the Pythagorean theorem.

My experience was different.

I attended a racially and ethnically diverse urban high school, with almost 900 students in my graduating class. As with any group of that size, there were factions, of course. Conflicts. Alliances and cold shoulders.

But there were fierce loyalties, too.

Commencement was held in the city park, the only venue that could accommodate so many graduates and their families. Most of that day is a blur to me now. What I do remember, though, is the swirl of emotions coursing through me, the anticipation of new beginnings mixed with a sharp pang of regret, the awareness that I was losing something irreplaceable.

My classmates and I had promising futures unfolding. College, jobs, the military. We knew that we would make new friends, but at the same time, were resisting letting go of the ties that bound us.

Forty-five years later, those ties are still intact.

Forty-five years later, we know that the years fly by faster than you can imagine, and with each decade comes a little bit more wisdom. And a bit more sentimentality.

We have experienced life’s ups and downs. Marriages, divorces, illnesses relocations, lifestyle choices. Joys and tragedies aplenty. Aging parents. Bereavements. We’ve been through lifecycle events, we have children and grandchildren, and we’ve made friends and lost friends. But our standing as members of the class of 1971 endures and that is something we will always share.

Every five years, at our well-attended reunions, we hug each other and are reminded once again of two realities:

You are essentially the same person you were in high school.

High school friends know that and love you anyway.

It is reassuring that in this uncertain world, some things stay the same. Looks may change, but people don’t. We look at each other and see the person we knew so long ago, with a rush of memories that are so much fun to share, memories that become more precious the older we get.

We leave each other with promises to get together.

And if we don’t, there is always the 50th reunion to look forward to.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Book Buzz: A Gentleman in Moscow

Picture Eloise, the eponymous star of the beloved children’s book: the tiny whirlwind who flits through the Plaza Hotel with panache and a running commentary. If Eloise were a man in Stalinist Russia, you’ve got the premise of A Gentleman in Moscow.

A Gentleman in Moscow

If A Gentleman in Moscow is a harbinger of new titles coming this fall season, we are in luck.

Book Buzz: A Gentleman in Moscow

Written by Amor Towles, author of the well received Rules of Civility, A Gentleman in Moscow is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a former distinguished aristocrat now designated a “Former Person” by a Bolshevik tribunal and sentenced to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol, a grand hotel across from the Kremlin, for the crime of writing incendiary poetry.

Booted from the luxury suite he has lived in, he is resigned to live in a storage room in the attic and allowed only a few furnishings.

With aplomb, the Count makes the best of his plight and immerses himself in the life of this fancy hotel. Enter in a cast of quirky and delightful characters, including a serious nine year-old girl whose father is a member of the Party, the French maitre’ d, a sultry movie star, the seamstress who teaches him how to sew on a button, the handyman who keeps a beehive on the roof, and more.

The novel spans 30 years, from 1922 to 1952, some of the most tumultuous years of Russian history. Wars rage, famines take place, thousands of citizens are banished to Siberia, but the Count only knows of this through reading his morning paper and speaking with guests of the hotel.

The Count is a Renaissance man, one who savors haute cuisine as passionately as he admires the works of Chekhov and Tchaikovsky. Thus, he enjoys discussing the appropriate wines to pair with food, ancient philosophies, American movies, and any other aspect of culture.

It is due to Towles’ genius that a riveting, funny and completely charming story can take place within the bounds of four walls — in Stalinist Russia.

His writing is so masterful, so clever, it is tempting to highlight passages of exceptional creativity. For example, the Count is attempting to move a mattress here:

When he bent over to life the mattress from the bedsprings, it crossed its arms, held its breadth, and refused to budge. When he managed to get it upright, it immediately flopped over his head, nearly knocking him off his feet. And when he’d finally dragged it down the hall and flumped it in his room, it spread out its limbs, claiming every spare inch of the floor.

And here, the Count overhears the waiter’s recommendation for a wine to a couple sitting at the table next to him and is aghast at what he hears.

The Rioja? Now there was a wine that would clash with the stew as Achilles clashed with Hector. It would slay the dish with a blow to the head and drag it behind its chariot until it tested the fortitude of every man in Troy.

Last week I  finished a wonderful book that had me longing for another that would grab me the same way. Well, I found it here, and then some. A Gentleman in Moscow is hands down my favorite book of the year and will likely retain a spot on my all time favorite list.

Bravo, Mr. Towles!

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg