Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam | Estelle Reviews

Last Train to Babylon by Charlee FamLast Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Long Island, old friendships, death, grief, painful memories
Format read: Paperback provided by author/publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Aubrey hears of her ex-best friend’s suicide, she’s not sure if she will make an appearance at the funeral. But she goes home to Long Island anyway, bumping into people right and left that knew Rachel when they were younger and all the memories (the good and bad) and the secrets come flooding back. Is it the right time to share her past with others?

Ever since I went away to college, a part of me dreads going back to the town where I want to school. No one looks forward to awkward encounters with ex-classmates. It’s understandable that we’ve changed and aren’t all best friends anymore (if we ever were) and I have a strong feeling part of my aversion to this (especially as a holiday weekend draws so near) is that I don’t want to be reminded of the bad, the sad or the heartbreaking moments associated with high school.

I could relate to Aubrey, out of college and living in NYC as an online journalist, when it came to the familiar feel of the Long Island Railroad and encountering all the familiar about being home, especially for the funeral of her ex-best friend, Rachel, who has committed suicide. They had a rocky friendship but no one, not even her mom or high school boyfriend, knew the depths of their complicated connection. While Rachel was the ultimate mean girl armed with a ton of confidence in front of her peers, Aubrey knew the girl who felt a disconnect from her family, constantly wanted to be reassured of their best friendship, yet at the same time, constantly put herself first.

Told in chapters that alternate between present day and earlier memories of their friendship, Aubrey is forced to remember the reasons why she loved Rachel, and hated her at the same time especially as the rest of the town seems to put her on a pedestal. (Seriously, they were throwing an after-party for the funeral with favors.) It’s tough because Aubrey is never open with her feelings; she pushes away her overbearing mom, she makes fun of her brother’s new girlfriend, and she avoids her ex and current boyfriend as much as possible. Instead, she drinks, she wanders, and retreats even further into her memories.

It’s difficult to talk about this book because I don’t want to give anything away. Fam has concocted a story that alternated between predictable and not. I was surprised by some reveals but others felt a bit too perfect, placed in the prose to move it along. What I do find impressive is all the inner-dialogue from Aubrey once she makes certain discoveries; she has a lot to weed through and so many of her doubts have been perpetuated by society and the media and for that, I believe Last Train to Babylon would be a great book club read. There’s certainly a ton to discuss. I would have preferred a bit more development in Part 2 of the book, though, including more conversations between Aubrey and her mom, and even her and her current boyfriend. A later scene with the ex-boyfriend didn’t hit the emotional mark I wanted it to, either.

Despite my qualms, believe me when I say Last Train to Babylon was an addicting read that I stayed up super late to finish. I had to know how it all would end, and as a debut, it’s great to have Charlee Fam on my radar.

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Book Report: Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer

As promised, friends, we’re trying to continue reading books together so we can chat about them for more Book Reports! As you’ll read below, we were highly, highly encouraged to read Nowhere But Home by some of our very favorite people. See if we agree with them about this adult fiction book!

book cover of Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer (website | twitter)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 384
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: small town Texas, head chef, long lost love, parental legacies
Format Read: We both purchased paperback copies.

Summary: After leaving behind her small-town roots in pursuit of bigger and better things, Queenie is forced to return home to Texas after being let go of her latest head chef job in New York City. She’s forced to face the legacy her mother left behind as well as her long-lost love, Everett.

Just in case you need a reminder of who we are, here ya go:

 Magan

 Estelle

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It’s impossible to start this joint chat about Nowhere But Home without mentioning the biggest book pusher I know. Cassie from Books with Cass successfully threatened… err… convinced us to buy Liza’s book and I am so so very glad that she did.

Yes! Same here. After seeing her enthusiasm (as well as Hannah from So Obsessed With and Asheley’s from Into the Hall of Books), how could we NOT read it?

We certainly didn’t want her (or any of those fabulous girls) to disown us.

 

Hahaha!

 

Okay, let’s start from the top. Queenie just lost her job in New York City, and after being everywhere and never finding her place, she sort of decides to make a trip home. She hasn’t seen her sister or her nephew forever, so she makes herself believe she is going on a temporary trip to visit.

Yes. Queenie, in the beginning, is a little bit abrasive and rough around the edges. I think all of her traveling must have been so isolating. She’s never really connected with anyone or made any friends. Do you feel the same?

So true. I think she was so focused on getting out of her small town with her two suitcases… she didn’t have time to make any roots.

Yes, for sure. I could relate to her need to flee her small town so, so much. In fact, Dustyn and I were back in the town I grew up in on Monday and I felt so overwhelmed by the people who approached me saying “it had been so long.” I mean, for one person, I hadn’t seen her since my high school graduation 10 years ago! I CANNOT imagine moving back there and I applaud Queenie for sucking it up and returning even though it was the last thing she wanted to do.

How much did you love her sister, Merry, though? Going back to her town in Texas was like turning on Steel Magnolias for me, and hanging out with the gossip queens at the hair salon. I could see why some of it could be draining (small town, so much gossip) but others were so so welcoming.

Merry was so fantastic. I really just wanted to sit down with her for a cup of coffee and listen to her talk about how she fell in love with the football coach.

My gosh, yes. Merry’s relationship with her son Cal (Queenie’s nephew) was seriously precious too. Cal was such a winner in my book. I love the high school football star but he was so polite and just such a family team player. I think he was a great bridge between Merry and Queenie.

And has such a great understanding of all that was going on, despite the entire town’s refusal to be honest and admit a lot of truths. I loved how everyone really knew what was happening with everyone, but how naive Queenie was about most situations.

Speaking of naive…let’s talk a little bit about Everett?

 

Oh, yes. Hopping right into the good stuff! You know for as much as Queenie’s internal struggle was with him, I was quite surprised by how little he really appeared in the book overall.

That’s an amazing point. I think Palmer did a great job of like establishing this romantic conflict (even so far as rich vs. wrong side of the tracks relationship) but didn’t allow it to take over the book. This was so much more about Queenie coming to terms with her past, being able to live with nosey people thinking they knew her family’s business, and just finding a way to be happy. (Even if it wasn’t the way she thought she would find it.) Still the chemistry between Everett and Queenie (who were like secret childhood sweethearts) was very very real.

Definitely. I loved that Queenie explored her options and sort of found herself through (very) uncommon activities, such as working as the chef who made last meals for prisoners on death row. I love that she gave herself time to be separated from Everett despite them being in the same town again. I admired that she didn’t immediately gravitate toward what she knew.

Yes, she gave herself some room to breathe. What did you think about the prison work? It was so so so intense for me.

Yeah, I really have to admit that this was one of the least expected surprises for me. I just never really would have guessed that element would have been added to the story. I think it provided a really huge dose of reality, but also was really hard for me to read through at times. Especially when the Starburst were involved and Queenie was trying really hard not to figure out who she was cooking for.

It was a great way for us to really see her too.
Her tough facade started to crack… and how could it not?

Oh, definitely. And I loved how she was really realistic about how ironic it was that she was finding herself (or her groove) in a kitchen that was making meals for people who were about to die.

Unexpected things happen in unexpected places? haha. Especially in the hometown you never think you are going to return to?

Oh, for sure. Do you think if you had to return to your home town, you would have to face as many hurdles as Queenie did? Would it feel like such an obstacle for you?

I think even without this family “legacy” that has sort of ostracized them from the town … it would be difficult to go back. I think my hurdles would be more internal? Not so much caused by the people in the town? Does that make sense? It would be my own head. I can appreciate people finding their own happiness in the place they grew up but I do fear that sometimes those people don’t always take some chances.

Yes, that makes sense. I don’t intend for this to seem like I’m badmouthing my small town, but I would almost feel like I’d taken a step backward. Like I wasn’t following my dreams and “proving” myself like I said I would.

I think leaving is also about leaving for the right reasons? I’m not sure Queenie was in the right frame of mind when she left the first time.

In a sense, a lot of what Queenie felt was internalized. She did have drama with the cliquey group of women in her town, but I think what we began to see is that almost everyone had baggage. She was just so wrapped up in trying to distance herself from her mom’s “legacy” that she was blind to everyone else’s misgivings. And yes, for the wrong reasons skipped town.

Yes. So so true. I know you just finished How to Love and you loved it as much as I did… but after reading Nowhere But Home… I really felt like the books had similar themes.

Oh, yes. I can definitely see that. And what an interesting comparison. Queenie flees her small town because she needs to separate herself and Reena is stalemate and cannot move because of decisions she made — two women in very different circumstances, but yes, very similar themes.

And also just the opportunity to embrace second chances?

 

Yes! With both books, I really appreciated the opportunities both girls had to really get some answers and dig into their pasts.

Yay! I’m glad you felt the same way. Kind of related to that, how did you feel reading a grown up book? Do you think Nowhere But Home is a book YA readers could love?

I found Nowhere But Home to be really refreshing. I am such a YA reader 99% of the time, but it felt like a nice break from everything I’d been reading. And yes, I definitely think there could (and should be) some major cross-over between fans of both books.

I’m so glad you felt that way! I think the book had a great balance of some heavy moments but also really vibrant ones? The supporting characters are some of the best I’ve read in a really long time. You got a sense of everyone… it was like your own neighbor or something.

I definitely felt like there was such a complete story here. I suppose sometimes I get frustrated with YA because the focus can be so narrow and a lot seems to be missing, but that can be true of any book. It all depends on how far the author wants to develop the backstory and secondary characters. And setting.

So so true. Did anything not work for you in the book?

 

Gosh. Nothing really stands out as being out of place for me. What about for you?

 

Same. I really have no complaints. I was happy with all of it. I think that’s a ringing endorsement. Do you feel inspired to pick up more adult lit books? Or maybe something with a Southern setting? Or is that just us Northeast people? haha

Hahaha — well, maybe more adult books for sure. I think that while the small town setting was pretty accurate, it doesn’t entirely encompass where I live now. So maybe something in the future that sort of straddles the extremely southern without pushing the boundaries and making it seem like we ride horses to work. (Not that Nowhere But Home did.)

Oh gosh. I’m imagining me riding a horse to work + I am sensing danger. Much danger for a lot of innocent people.

Oh! I do want to mention that I read in the author’s notes that she did research on Smithville, TX for Nowhere But Home. That’s where my dad grew up!

That’s so awesome! Speaking of setting, I loved the author’s NYC beginning. She did such an accurate job with that subway description. I could picture the Dunkin Donuts she was talking about. I have to say so many times I read about NYC in books and it is just… obvious no research was done. Not even a little but so that made me really happy. A silly subway. haha

Yes! It really did seem like she put a lot of hard work into making the settings as authentic as possible. I applaud that. And also really think that adds so much to the story.

It shows that she really cares about her work, down the smallest details. Really nice to read a book like that. Are we ready for some final thoughts? Who would you recommend this book to?

I can see myself lending this book to my mom who is an avid reader (usually of books with sexy cowboys on the cover). Or just my really good girlfriends who randomly need a good read. Anyone really! What about you?

I actually just lent it to my mom this past weekend. I was like… stop everything you are reading and READ THIS ONE.

Hahah! YAY! You’ll have to tell me what she thinks when she reads it!

 

Let’s see if she actually listens to me… Big thanks to our fellow bloggers who put this book on our radar!

 

Yes. Big huge thanks! And yay to us for listening to our book pushers!

 

It’s a lesson to all of us: listen to the book pushers in your lives. (Or else?)

 

Words of wisdom and the perfect ending!

 

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So, friends — what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy of Nowhere But Home ASAP!

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The Big Kids’ Table: Fiction Picks (January 2013)

Hello! I’m back with the first 2013 installment of Big Kids’ Table! Now I’m trying some new things out because if the blog post is tired, how am I going to convince you to pick one of these splendid reads?

This month, I’m going to feature a recommendation from a real life blogger that I trust, as well as three picks from the pages of Publishers Weekly!

Now grow up already! (a.k.a. check out these titles!)

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Rachel from Hello Chelly vouches for Me Before You by Jojo Moyos:

Big Kids Table Blogger Choice Hello Chelly

Why she picked it up? The cover, interesting synopsis, and high marks on Goodreads!
What’s it about: “Lou Clark is an ordinary, small town girl living a less-than-exciting life when she becomes a caregiver to wheelchair-bound Will Traynor after she loses her job. They couldn’t be anymore different but soon they develop an unexpected friendship that changes both their lives.”
Three words to describe it:  Funny, unconventionally-romantic (can that count as one haha) and heartbreaking.
Last few awesome reads: Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi; Prodigy by Marie Lu; What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton.

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Picks from Publishers Weekly:

The Last Runaway Tracy Chevalier

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring)
Release Date: January 8, 2013 from E.P Dutton
Summary from Goodreads: Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape. Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality. However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.
What PW says: “Thought provoking, lyrical writing.”

Dolls Behaving Badly by Cinthia Ritchie

Dolls Behaving Badly by Cinthia Richie
Release Date: February 5, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing
Summary from Goodreads: Carla Richards is a lot of things. She’s a waitress at Anchorage’s premier dining establishment, Mexico in an Igloo; an artist who secretly makes erotic dolls for extra income; a divorcée who can’t quite detach from her ex-husband; and a single mom trying to support her gifted eight-year-old son, her pregnant sister, and her babysitter-turned-resident-teenager. She’s one overdue bill away from completely losing control-when inspiration strikes in the form of a TV personality. Now she’s scribbling away in a diary, flirting with an anthropologist, and making appointments with a credit counselor.
What PW says: “Vexing and endearing.”

The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride

The Truth about Love and Lightning by Susan McBride
Release Date: February 12, 2013 by William Morrow
Summary from Goodreads: As far as Gretchen Brink is concerned, the tornado that just ripped through her land has nothing on the storms of a different sort happening all around her. Her grown daughter, Abby, has returned home with news that she’s pregnant, and no, she’s not sure whether she’s going to marry the father. A man with no memory has been dropped practically on her doorstep. And the not-so-little white lie she’s been telling for years is about to catch up with her. Abby is sure that the mysterious man is her long-lost father, Sam, who has finally returned just when she needs him most. As Abby, Gretchen, and the Man Who Might Be Sam get closer, the lie Gretchen told all those years ago begins to haunt her. When her secrets come out, and Sam’s past is finally revealed, will it tear down this fragile life they’ve built–or will the truth bring them all closer together?
What PW says: “Poignant page turner with flawed by lovable characters.”

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As always would love to hear your fiction suggestions! See ya next month!