Audiobook Review: Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

I’ve been on an audiobook kick recently and have been really lucky with my random picks from my library’s Overdrive collection.

When a novel sticks with me days after I’ve finished reading it, then I know it’s one I’ll recommend to my friends. What I most about debut novel Together Tea by Marjan Kamali is all of its many strong, richly developed female characters. The women aren’t perfect, but they’re real and raw. Thanks to talented narrator Negin Farsad, I cannot get their voices out of my head.

The book blurb for novel makes it sound like a romance, but the novel is truly about learning to accept who you really are and finding community.

When she was only 10 years old, Mina and her family left Tehran in the middle of the night to escape Iran’s new conservative and religious landscape. Her father and mother toiled as immigrants in New York City to give Mina and her two brothers freedom they wouldn’t have had in Iran. Now as an adult, Mina feels lost as she attempts to straddle being American and Iranian. In order to escape business school and her mother’s matchmaking, she propose a return trip to her homeland. Her mother Darya, who has always been homesick, joins Mina on their two week trip. The trip becomes a soul searching for both mother and daughter.

The novel alternates between Darya and Mina’s point of view. We get a inside look at the complexities of culture and identity, especially for those who are part of the 1.5 generation of immigrants like Mina. We also get a glimpse of their lives in Tehran before and during the revolution. We learn how hard it was for strong women like Mina and Darya to adjust to the new conservative laws that restricted how they dressed, how they walked, and who they looked at in public.

Reading Together Tea made me realize that I live in a big bubble here in the United States. I don’t normally give Iran a passing thought except when the country’s politics pop up on the news. I never gave much thought about Persian culture and its beautiful history–until now.

I highly recommend the audiobook of Together Tea. Negin Farsad gave each character distinct voices and cadences so it was easy to distinguish who was speaking. They were so alive and fun! She made me want to sit down for tea with Mina, Darya and their friends.

I hope the next audiobook I borrow my library is as good as Together Tea.

April Book Club Feature: Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes


Spring break is over and my kids are back in school! (Throws confetti) Now I can focus on our first April book club, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes.

As a southerner, I’m always fascinated by others’ experiences in the south.  Those who loved Under the Tuscan Sun and will be entranced by Mayes’ evocative writing and lush descriptions in her memoir. More about the memoir:

From her years as a spirited, secretive child, through her university studies—a period of exquisite freedom that imbued her with a profound appreciation of friendship and a love of travel—to her escape to a new life in California, Mayes exuberantly recreates the intense relationships of her past, recounting the bitter and sweet stories of her complicated family: her beautiful yet fragile mother, Frankye; her unpredictable father, Garbert; Daddy Jack, whose life Garbert saved; grandmother Mother Mayes; and the family maid, Frances’s confidant Willie Bell.

Under Magnolia is a searingly honest, humorous, and moving ode to family and place, and a thoughtful meditation on the ways they define us, or cause us to define ourselves. With acute sensory language, Mayes relishes the sweetness of the South, the smells and tastes at her family table, the fragrance of her hometown trees, and writes an unforgettable story of a girl whose perspicacity and dawning self-knowledge lead her out of the South and into the rest of the world, and then to a profound return home.

Join From Left to Write book club members on April 24 as we discuss Mayes’ memoir. Pick up your copy of Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir  (now in paperback!) and join us.

ALERT: If you want to reread Under the Tuscan Sun, the Kindle version is only $1.99 right now!

Follow Frances Mayes via her website, Facebook and Twitter.


Girl On the Train Audiobook Review

Girl On the Train Audibook

Girl On the Train Audibook

After seeing my friends rave about The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins, I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to get my hands on a copy. I added my name to my library’s hold list for digital copies of both the e-book and the audiobook. I was something like #1300 on the e-book hold list. Luckily the audiobook was not as popular, which I think worked out even better for me.

The Girl on the Train has the feel of Rear Window mixed with the dysfunctional relationships from Gone Girl. An alcoholic divorcee, Rachel takes the same train into London everyday. Each day, her train briefly holds near the same suburban home. Rachel takes comfort in the routine and watches the couple living in this home, naming them Jess and Jason. She romanticizes them, even makes up stories about their lives. One morning, Rachel sees Jess’s photo on the front page. Jess, who’s real name is Megan, is missing. Rachel intertwines herself into the case–even befriending Megan’s husband. Is she really helping or hurting the case?

The thriller is told from three different points of view: Rachel, Megan, and Anna (Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife). The story alternates between these women’s experiences and observations which plenty of breadcrumbs from each for the reader to piece together what really happened to Megan.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend The Girl On the Train audiobook. Running at 11 hours, the book is read by three narrators  Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher. Each woman’s voice is distinct and very different from the other, which makes it easier to keep track of the characters.

If you’re reading the print version, make sure you block off time to read. You won’t be able to put it down until you discover what happened.  I definitely binge-listened (not a word, I know) to the last 2 hours of the audiobook! Thank goodness it was a weekend so I could listen while I cooked.

I don’t always read popular or best-seller type books because they are popular. The last book I read for that reason was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I was so disappointed with The Goldfinch.

I’m glad to say that I wholeheartedly recommend The Girl On the Train audiobook. Get your hands on the audiobook if you can!

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at!

What to Know Before Reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

LES MIS Full jacket by Jillian Tamaki

What to Know Before Reading Les Miserables via From Left to Write

I’m no stranger to reading long, epic novels.  I’ve read Gone With the Wind (twice!), Crime and Punishment, six books in The Wheel of Time seriesand all the original Dune series (which is basically one book).

However, one book that’s intimidated me is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Penguin Classics recently released a new deluxe edition translated by  Christine Donougher with a beautiful new cover. Look at that gorgeous artwork by Jillian Tamaki. And I got my hot little hands on a copy! It’s 1300 pages long-not counting the endnotes. 

LES MIS Full jacket by Jillian Tamaki

Before I dig into this classic work of literature, I asked a few friends what I should know before reading Les Miserables.

What to Know Before Reading Les Miserables

My friend Dawn, who writes at 5 Minutes for Books, has been obsessed with all things Les Miz for twenty years. She’s my Les Miserables expert and here’s some pointers for first time readers:

It’s okay to skim or skip some parts of the book. Some parts that Dawn gave me permission to skip/skim are:

  • Waterloo (First chapter of Part Two: Cossette): This chapter is mostly about the battle of Waterloo with a small bit of action pertinent to the plot which comes at the very end of the chapter. Dawn recommends muddling through this chapter for your first read. For your second read, just skip to the end of the chapter.

(I love how Dawn assumes I will finish reading the entire book and jump in for a second read.)

  • Petit Picpus (Chapter Six of Part Two: Cossette): With its focus on the history of convents in France, this chapter has only a small bit of important action. I guess if you’ve always wanted to know about the history of convents in France, you should read it.

Take your time. This tip is from me. I know it’s obvious, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s taking you forever to read the book. It’s long and it’s dense.

Take notes. I know, I know. I’m reading this voluntarily and not for a class assignment. I think I make more notes in books I read outside of my college classes than I did the entire four years I was there! Les Miserables is a classic for a reason. Hugo’s social commentary about class in French society is the reason many people still love his work. Underlining passages or marking them with flags (because I have a hard time writing in my books) are how I remember important (to me) lines.

The movie version is nowhere close to the book. Another obvious one but I’ve only seen half of the movie with Hugh Jackman and listened to my theatre friends sing songs from the musical for their auditions. Don’t watch the movie hoping for a leg up on the book. The movie version is terrible, but I do enjoy the Broadway original cast recording.

If all else fails, read the abridged version. Is it cheating? Yes, but if you don’t have time for 1300+ pages, then it’s better than not reading it at all.

Thank you Dawn for sharing your reading tips. She also writes about children’s books on My Thoughts Exactly. Those no-brainer tips are from me; mostly to make myself feel better if I don’t finish reading Les Miserables.

Have you read Les Miserables? What should I know before reading it?

Book Club Feature: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake FL2W Book Club Banner

Dead Wake FL2W Book Club Banner

We’re so thrilled to feature Erik Larson’s new book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania as our next book club selection. Well written narrative non-fiction truly brings history alive for me.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster and Larson will have you hooked by page one:

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Grab your copy of Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson and join us on March 26 as From Left to Write members discuss the book.

Follow Erik Larson on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Book Club Challenge: Thrive by Arianna Huffington

Thrive FL2W Book Club Banner

Thrive FL2W Book Club Banner

For our latest book club discussion, we’re approaching the book a little differently.

Inspired by Arianna’s book, I challenged my fellow From Left to Write book club members to take a 7-day Thrive challenge. Some of us opted to unplug in the evenings, while others attempted to get more sleep in the evenings. So how did we do?

Since we’re all bloggers and work in social media, this is no small challenge. Head over to our members’ sites to learn how they succeeded (and failed) their challenges for our book club discussion of Thrive by Arianna Huffington:

As you can tell, we had fun revisiting Thrive.  Make sure you check out our Thrive book club discussion when we discussed it last year.