Book Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Sometimes I read reviews before I purchase books. When I receive an ARC for review I wait until I’ve finished my review to read how the book was received critically. With The Vacationers (Riverhead, 304 pages, $26.95) by Emma Straub, I read one review prior to purchase. Margo Rabb’s review for The New York Times said the following:

When I turned the last page, I felt as I often do when a vacation is over: grateful for the trip and mourning its end.

Isn’t that the most delicious sentiment? As soon as I read the last line in Rabb’s review I ordered a copy of The Vacationers and eagerly awaited the beginning of my vacation via book. So, was Rabb right? Did I feel like I was ending a vacation and sad it was over when I finished? Yes! Straub’s tale of a the Post family and close family friends coming together for a two week vacation in Spain on the island of Majorca contains utterly luminous descriptions of Majorica while simultaneously being a study of the complexity and fragile state of the Post family.

Trouble In Paradise

Franny and Jim Post planned the getaway to Majorica prior to Jim losing his job at Gallant, a men’s magazine. Jim lost his job because of a liaison with a young co-worker. Job loss puts a strain on a marriage. However, unemployment due to adultery put Jim and Franny’s marriage in jeopardy and Franny decides to use her vacation time for serious reflection as to whether or not their marriage will continue.

Jim and Franny’s children, Sylvia, eighteen and Bobby twenty-eight are along for the vacation in addition to Bobby’s girlfriend Carmen,  Charles, Franny’s best friend and Laurence, Charles’s husband. Sylvia and Charles both know about Jim’s extramarital affair, but aren’t supposed to tell Bobby. Laurence and Charles hear from an adoption agency that they are on the list for a baby that has just been born and are under tension as they both internally examine their relationship while waiting for further news from the agency. The occupants of the beautiful vacation home in Majorica have more issues than Vogue and Straub brings the flaws of the Post family to life for readers while showcasing the sorrow and joy a relationship can experience.

I was left hoping for a sequel when The Vacationers ended. Like any great read, I didn’t want it to end. This book is an excellent beach read, but even if you don’t find yourself on the beach this summer, give it a try! It’s almost as good as really going on an island getaway.

You can find Emma Straub online at her website, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Click here to purchase a copy of The Vacationers from Amazon and here to purchase from Powell’s.

My Favorite Passage From The Vacationers:

The Vacationers by Emma Straub on Mandy Boles Life Between Books


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Book Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio on Mandy Boles: Life Between Books

Goodnight June (Plume, 320 pages, $16.00) by Sarah Jio is a book I would purchase based on cover love alone. Seriously. Take a gander at the cover of this book. It’s beautiful and so clever. First, there’s the title – Goodnight June. Goodnight June sounds like Goodnight Moon and most of us bookworms probably have fond memories of Margaret Wise Brown’s classic. So, Jio has us hooked already with the title. Then add in the peek of the fireplace in the great green room in the corner of the cover and BOOM! I’m buying this book no matter what! (Adult Novel + Goodnight Moon = Awesome.)

What’s so wonderful about Goodnight June is that it absolutely lives up to its catchy title and beautiful cover. Jio has once again delivered another beautiful story with one foot in the past and one deeply rooted in the present. Goodnight June centers around June Andersen. June lives in Manhattan and works a very stressful job in finance. She is saddened to hear her great-aunt Ruby has passed away, and she doesn’t know what to think when she hears that Ruby left her beloved bookstore, Bluebird Books, to her.

June must return to Washington to take care of her great-aunt’s estate. While home for the first time in years, June must come to terms with her estrangement from her sister. In the midst of trying to decide whether or not to keep Bluebird Books open, June makes a historic discovery. She finds letters between Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon. Ruby and “Brownie’s” letters introduce June to a side of her late aunt that she never knew. June learns of a love affair and of Ruby and Margaret’s strained relationships  with their own sisters. June’s present and Ruby’s past make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sarah Jio is easily one of my favorite historical fiction authors. I love the way she blends the present and past in a perfectly seamless package. Goodnight June has many references to Goodnight Moon which made me quite nostalgic for my eldest son’s toddler and preschool years. A time when Goodnight Moon was one of the few books he loved being read to him over and over again. I can still see his tiny finger going up to cover his mouth as he whispered hush along with the old woman in the story.  Jio brings a beloved author to life in this vibrant and uplifting novel. I highly recommend it.

You can find Sarah Jio online at her website,

Click here to purchase Goodnight June from Amazon.

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FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon, affiliate, and ShopSense links on this site. My personal copy of Goodnight June was used for this review. Sarah’s on my “automatic pre-order” list. 🙂

Book Review: Casebook by Mona Simpson

Casebook by Mona Simpson on Mandy Boles Life Between Books Title: Casebook

Author: Mona Simpson

336 pages, Published by Knopf

Mona’s Info: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Buy The Book: Amazon


From the acclaimed and award-winning author of Anywhere But Here and My Hollywood, a powerful new novel about a young boy’s quest to uncover the mysteries of his unraveling family. What he discovers turns out to be what he least wants to know: the inner workings of his parents’ lives. And even then he can’t stop searching.

Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.

Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and naïve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.

Casebook brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and, simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over. (Summary provided by Knopf.)

My Thoughts:

I read Casebook by Mona Simpson right before Mother’s Day weekend. This proved to be a mistake because I get way emotional before Mother’s Day every year. As I was reading from the main character Miles’s point of view, I kept thinking of my own boys being in a situation similar to Miles’s and it made my heart hurt.

The book begins with Miles rigging up a walkie talkie to to spy on his parents’ conversations so he can find out if he’ll be allowed to watch survivor or not and he finds out through his spying that his parents are getting a divorce. As the book progresses he uses his spy equipment to listen in on his mother’s conversations with her boyfriend, Eli. Miles eventually becomes obsessed with finding out whether Eli is lying to his mother or not. The book follows Miles over a period of about six years. Casebook is written as though it were a collaboration between Miles and his best friend Hector a while after most of the events in the book took place. It’s mentioned at the beginning that Casebook is the second book Miles and Hector wrote together. The first was a comic book. Towards the end of the book readers get to see excerpts from the comic. I loved that I got to see bits and pieces of the comic mentioned at the beginning of the book. It added an extra layer to the background story.

Mona Simpson does a wonderful job writing from Miles’s POV. It was so realistic that it made me think of my own children. As a mom to two boys, I found myself over analyzing Miles’s thoughts concerning conversations he overhears his mom having on the phone. Do my boys ever hear snippets of my phone conversations, misunderstand/over analyze them, and get their feelings hurt? Let’s hope the anxiety skips a generation and my boys don’t start making nothing into GIANT. HUGE. SOMETHINGS. like I’m prone to do.

Miles’s love for his mother was beautiful. His drive to find out the truth about Eli was captivating. About halfway through the novel Miles “hires” a private investigator to look into Eli’s life. At that point I couldn’t put the book down. Warning: The end is a tearjerker. I may have cried an obscene amount when I finished Casebook.


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FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon and ShopSense links on this site. I also received a free copy of Casebook from Knopf c/o TLC Book Tours.



Mother’s Day in The Publishing World

I took a brief break from changing out with my sweet family today to check my Facebook feed and I noticed some of my favorite publishing houses took time out to celebrate Mother’s Day.

1.  Little, Brown and Company had a great campaign called What are LB Moms Reading? Click here to check out what the Little, Brown and Company moms are reading. (Image courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.)


2. William Morrow shared a hilarious video made by What’s Up Moms in collaboration with Karen Alpert, author of I Heart My Little A-Holes. See it below:

3. Simon and Schuster gave a sweet shout out to Moms on their Facebook page.

4. On Penguin’s blog author A.M. Homes shared an essay about being both a mother and daughter on Mother’s Day. Click here to check it out.

5. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group has a super cute set of printable, Mother’s Day themed bookplates up on their website.

Feel free to leave a link in the comments if you wrote about Mother’s Day this week.:)


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Book Review: The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor on Mandy Boles Life Between BooksTitle: The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of The Titanic
Author: Hazel Gaynor
384 pages, Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99
Hazel’s Info: Twitter | Facebook
Buy The Book: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound


A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.

Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants. (Summary provided by William Morrow Paperbacks.)

My Thoughts:

I, like so many others, have always been fascinated by the facts surrounding the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic. So, when I heard about Hazel Gaynor’s novel The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of The Titanic, I knew it would be a must read for me. Gaynor expertly weaves fact and fiction in this historical fiction novel. With The Girl Who Came Home readers are introduced to a group of 14 people from the fictional town of Ballysheen, Ireland traveling in steerage class aboard the Titanic with dreams of more opportunities in America. What makes this novel even more fascinating is that the 14 residents of Ballysheen are loosely based on a group of fourteen Irish passengers from Addergoogle. So this historical novel is a true mixture of history and fiction.

The book centers around Maggie, a teen from a Ballysheen – a small village in Ireland, who finds herself about to board Titanic after her mother dies and her aunt comes from the states to take her to America with her. Maggie is upset because she doesn’t want to leave her boyfriend Seamus behind. The Girl Who Came Home goes back and forth telling Maggie’s story in 1912 and her great-granddaughter Grace’s story in 1982. However, Maggie is the prominent character in the book. Much of the book is told through journal entries Maggie kept during her voyage on the Titanic and in the aftermath of the tragedy. There are also a few other POV’s of passengers aboard the ship throughout the novel as well.

Grace’s story set in 1982 mirrors that of her great-grandmother’s. After her father dies, Grace drops out of college to take care of her mother. Grace leaves behind a boyfriend and a promising journalism career. After seeing Grace sacrifice so much of herself for her mother, Maggie decides to finally share her story of what happened aboard the Titanic with Grace. It’s the first time Maggie has talked about the tragedy with anyone except her late husband since the incident happened. Maggie and Grace’s relationship is beautiful. As the book progressed Maggie’s story revived her great-granddaughter’s zest for life and taught her to make every moment count as well as providing a much needed sense of catharsis and closure for Maggie.

Gaynor’s attention to detail, specifically regarding the class divide aboard the ship and the aftermath of the tragedy, changed the way I’ll view the event forever. I’m really glad the novel focused on the steerage class passengers rather than the famous aristocrats and wealthy passengers who populated first class not because the stories of the wealthy passengers aren’t an important piece of history, but rather because I feel that the non-privileged passengers aboard the Titanic have been overlooked historically.

I highly recommend taking time to remember the many lives who were lost on the Titanic by reading The Girl Who Came Home this April 15th, the anniversary of the Titanic.I guarantee you’ll learn something you didn’t already know about this sad event and you’ll come away with a new understanding of some of the most overlooked passengers of the ship. Click here to read more about the historical background of the novel on Hazel Gaynor’s blog.

(April 15th is also my husband’s birthday. I had no idea it was also the anniversary date of the Titanic.)

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FTC Disclosure: I receive a commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon and ShopSense links on this site.I also received a free copy of The Girl Who Came Home from William Morrow.