The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Book– One critic described The Other Americans and National Book Award Finalist work as, “the next great American classic.”

Nora, a jazz composer, returns to her small desert town of Mojave, California following the news that her father Driss was killed. She informs Detective Coleman she doesn’t believe his death was an accident. An undocumented witness’s reluctance to come forward causes complications. Maryam, Nora’s mother, still pines for another life, while her sister struggles to keep up the facade of the successful daughter, living the “good” life. Nora’s encounters with former school mates, one a former Iraq War veteran, lead to unexpected consequences.     

Written by Laila Lalami in first-person perspectives The Other Americans is a timely, brilliant novel of fiction and mystery, giving depth and voice to characters as diverse as the people of this country. I am kicking myself for not having read this sooner. You will, too.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

The Stationery ShopBook-The Stationery Shop is a story of love that blossoms in 1953 Tehran. Roya and Bahman both 17, meet at Mr. Fakhri’s stationery shop, which has much more than paper and writing instruments. The owner stocks foreign language titles and books of poetry & is a refuge from the political unrest in the area. A coup to unseat the newly elected prime minister and give power back to the Shah of Iran causes tension and violence. Bahman is passionate about fighting for democracy and Roya’s father shares a similar political ideology. After meeting in the shop weekly, the couple fall in love and become engaged, despite the fierce displeasure of Bahman’s mother. Soon afterwards, Bahman and his family disappear. Heartbroken, Roya enlists the help of Mr. Fakhri who agrees to exchange letters between the two lovers, though he cannot reveal Bahman’s location. Through their correspondence, the couple decide to elope and meet in Sepah Square. Roya waits, but Bahman never arrives. Further communication reveals that Bahman has agreed to an arranged marriage with another. Having lost the love of her life and through the encouragement of her father, Roya and her sister Zari seize the opportunity for a university education in the United States. Fast forward to Roya at age 77, who is settled in America with an American husband. By chance, she discovers that Bahman is living in a retirement home nearby and decides to confront him. Misunderstandings and secrets are revealed, as the couple attempt to piece together their past.

This is a wonderful, historical story that moves at a leisurely pace. The novel depicts Iranian life in the 1950s, is rich with culture, and is punctuated with references to the comforts of Persian food.

The Stationary Shop is available in print and audiobook for checkout.

Death and Other Holidays by Marci Vogel

Cover image for Death and other holidaysBook- This small book does not do much to answer the heavy handed “why’s” of death or delve into the existential. Death is not a tall, dark hooded figure carrying a sickle. There is not grand act of closure, nor will you be find a Steven Spielberg ending. And, those are all good things, as far as this novella is concerned.

Our protagonist of Death and Other Holidays is twenty-something April. She narrates her experiences, particularly two losses over the course of a year, month by month and splits her story into seasons. The chapters are tiny, nevertheless Vogel moves April’s story forward seamlessly, similarly in language that moves effortlessly. We experience those poignant moments in which she describes how her best friend Libby moves forward in her life, and despite her acute grief – the difference between what makes for passing the time and what may be a true encounter of love.

April’s story is not bogged down by the superfluous, but described in candid moments, such as the ones we miss. If you are a fast-paced reader, this is not be the book for you. This is one you take in to navigate the sad, the joy, and the hope.

My Own Devices: Essays from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa

Book – Minneapolis-based rapper and musician Dessa started out as a poet, so it is not surprising that she would eventually write a book. Like her songs, it’s personal and universal all at once, engaging and easy to read.  Every once in a while there’s a punchline that really feels like a punch and makes you put the book down, causing you to take a moment to fully absorb what you just read.

The common thread through the book is her on-again, off-again, tumultuous romantic entanglement with a man she calls X (who you could probably identify if you really wanted to). They fall in love, break up, get back together, hurt each other. Along the way, Dessa considers taking out insurance on her romantic disaster (as a writer of heartbreak songs, she might be out of work without it), shadows her little brother on a day’s work as an artisanal cannabis salesman, tells the story of the airplane her father built, and explores what neuroscience has to say about where love lives in the brain.

Even if you have never listened to one of Dessa’s albums, there is plenty of joy to get out of this book, particularly for the heartbroken and stubborn. Once you have read My Own Devices, you will have a richer experience of listening to her records. Two of her best albums are currently available on Hoopla.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender By Leslye Walton

Book– Foolish love seems to run in the Roux family tree, reaching back four generations and finally landing on poor Ava Lavender. Ava was born with the wings of a bird, a peculiar disposition to be born with. In her seemingly never ending quest to fit in with her peers, she dives into her families history with bad love. An great aunt that turned into a bird, a great grandmother who faded away, a mother who was abandoned for another, a man murdered for loving the wrong person. It’s just a few examples of the surprising tragedies that seem to follow this family everywhere. When Ava is five a new family moves into the house next door and she finally makes a friend for life, the two of them go on adventures everywhere and one day when they are both sixteen a mysterious Pastor moves in down the street. He quickly falls in love with Ava, but under the belief that she is an angle. This haunting novel comes to a conclusion when Ava goes missing, how? You’ll just have to read it to find out.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book, it turned into a haunting and beautiful tale about what it means to love too deeply and get hurt in the end. I could not put this book down. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender had me moved from the first page and kept me thinking to the very end. This is a must read for everyone.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping By Amanda Howells

Book– Sixteen year old Mia Gordan spends the summer at her cousins lavish beach home in the South Hamptons. She expects a wild fun summer of reconnection with her favorite cousin and endless day’s of swimming in the ocean. What Mia didn’t expect was to find out her cousin is spiraling out of control into a world of drugs and partying, or that her cousins golden family exterior isn’t quite what it seems, and she definitely didn’t expect to fall in love this summer. After swearing off boys after having her heart broken by the one boy she thought she loved, she meets a boy, Simon, on the docks of her beach house one night when she is avoiding a raging party. Shrouded in mystery and excitement she meets him every night to go swimming. After weeks of meeting in secret they finally get together in daylight, not too soon after tragedy strikes and its left Mia’s world in pieces.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells Is a beautifully written novel about a girl and discovering who she is. I personally loved this novel and while it could be a little predictable at times it encompassed what it is like to be a teenager with typical boy and family problems. Would defiantly rate this a ten/ten.

Parenthood (2010)

TV Series – After reaching the end of my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation, I was in dire need of finding a new show to fill my void.  Parenthood turned out to be that show.12760510

Parenthood is like Modern Family, in that both shows have a strong focus on family dynamics and relationships.  Parenthood, however, concentrates on more serious content, things that test the bonds that hold a family together.  The show follows the day to day trials and tribulations of the Braverman family.  Zeek and Camille have raised four children, who are now grown with their own families.  Crosby is a carefree guy who lives on a houseboat, enjoying his limitless freedom.  Julia is partner at a prestigious law firm, trying to juggle work while raising a young daughter with her husband.  Sarah wants to make a fresh start, taking her teenage kids and moving back into her childhood home with her parents.  And finally, Adam, the eldest of the  Braverman children, and caretaker to everyone, including his wife and two children.

What makes this series special are the intense bonds shared by the members of the Braverman clan.  Together, this family endures everything that life throws their way.  I would strongly recommend Parenthood to anyone who loves realistic family dramas.  I was completely invested in each of the main characters, and though fictional, their stories often left me tearful.      

10/10 would recommend to friend.