March Reading List: Six Books to Cozy Up With | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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March Reading List: Six Books to Cozy Up With 

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The Yellow Bird Sings

Jennifer Rosner
Flatiron Books, 2020, $25.99

Jennifer Rosner has a heightened awareness of sound—and its absence. Her memoir, If A Tree Falls (2010), is about raising her deaf daughters in a hearing world and uncovering her family's history of deafness. Reading Rosner's backstory puts the themes of her debut novel, The Yellow Bird Sings, into sharp focus: survival, storytelling, mother-daughter relationships, and music as salvation. Broken into four parts and told through alternating perspectives, the novel follows a mother and daughter as they struggle to survive the Holocaust, together and apart.

It's summer 1941 when Róza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, are found hiding in their acquaintances' barn. Fleeing the Nazis who killed her husband, took her parents, and destroyed their village, Róza begs Henryk, a man who frequented their now-shuttered bakery, to let them stay a day or two. Fearing for their family, Henryk and his wife, Krystyna, reluctantly agree—but this comes at a heavy cost. In order to keep her daughter safe, Róza allows herself to be sexually abused night after night. Though painful to read, Rosner renders these horrifying scenes with nuance; she distills the extraordinary and disturbing lengths mothers will go to protect their children.

In the barn, Róza struggles to keep Shira silent because the little girl cannot contain the music thundering throughout her body: "she tries again to be still until notes, snippets of song, and soon whole passages take shape and pulse through her." To keep her quiet, Róza tells her a story about a magical garden, a silent little girl, music-hating giants, and a yellow songbird that sings all the music the girl cannot. In this story lies a gift—an imaginary bird allowed to sing all of the music trapped inside Shira.

Four-hundred-sixty days later, German soldiers happen upon the barn—and Róza and Shira must scramble to find a new haven. With Krystyna's help, Shira is accepted into an underground network that shelters Jewish children. On their final night together, Róza tells her daughter one more garden story: "With daisies from their garden, the little girl and her mother weave a magical flower chain that can expand to any length, connecting them." It's a story Róza needs just as much as Shira; they both need to be reminded that mother-daughter bonds transcend distance. With only the clothes on her back and a card printed with Shira's address, Róza flees into the woods—without a plan or her daughter.

For the rest of the novel, Róza and Shira (now called Zosia) must try to live for (and without) each other.

In the convent orphanage where she's been relocated, Zosia finds herself protected by the nuns, ridiculed by the children, and drawn to her violin teacher. Rosner's writing soars whenever she describes the young girl's musical abilities: "Only in this music, wistful and defiant, can she find something of her own without giving herself away. Find her family, her home. Shuttered windows. Yellow stars. Notes like these to bridge the shared night." The idea of music being a source of hope, family, and freedom beats triumphantly throughout the novel. In the all-consuming darkness, music becomes a beacon for Róza and Shira both.

Written in beautifully understated prose and tinged with magical elements, The Yellow Bird Sings is about the bonds between mothers and daughters, and the enduring power of music and storytelling even in the most devastating of times.

—Carolyn Quimby

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The Cost of Loyalty

Tim Bakken
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020, $28

What began as a report detailing minor unethical practices at West Point ended up exposing lies, cheating, and a toxic emphasis on loyalty over truth at one of the nation's premier military academies. West Point professor Tim Baaken believes that the military's insular culture has produced undeniably grim consequences: failure in every war since World War II, millions of lives lost around the globe, and trillions of dollars wasted. One of only a handful of federal employees ever to win a whistleblower lawsuit against the US military, Baaken suggests that the military needs to rejoin civil society.


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Here Comes the Sun: The Summer of '69

Russell Paul La Valle
W&B Publishers, 2019, $17.99

The summer of 1969—the backdrop to the moon landing, the Stonewall riots, and the Woodstock Festival. New Paltz-based writer Russell Paul La Valle draws on his experience working the 1969 Woodstock Festival to write the psychedelic-fueled, post-college adventures of Dalton Hawkes. Hawkes and his friends seek refuge in a "hippie house" at the tail end of a tumultuous decade. His summer unravels with moonlit skinny-dipping, a secret marijuana garden, and a fragile love affair with an older woman.



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Disruptive Power

Michael E. O'Sullivan
University of Toronto Press, 2020, $61.50

At the center of this Marist College history professor's investigation of Catholic women and miracles in 20th-century Germany is Therese Neumann (1898-1962). A Bavarian nun of the Third Order of Saint Francis, Neumann was reported to have stigmata, wounds that periodically appear on her body that mimic the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. Neumann's gift attracted onlookers and pilgrims from around the world, as well as a large circle of followers, some of whom were members of the Nazi Party. Neumann leveraged her influence to maintain a position of power in a traditionally patriarchal society, and continues to inspire faith in the miraculous.

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The Unwilling

Kelly Braffet
Mira Books, 2020, $27.99

Venturing away from her previous suspense and thriller novels, upstate New York resident Kelly Braffet crafts a tale of resilience in the face of adversity and ancient magic in her new fantasy novel, The Unwilling. Heroine Judah shares a magical bond with Gavin, the son of the ruthless Lord Elban. Until now, this inexplicable connection has kept Judah alive inside of Highfall castle, serving as a pawn for Gavin's father. Now, she has to channel her emerging powers and muster the courage needed in order to escape the evil Lord Elban and save her loved ones.


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The Unraveling

Carl Frankel
Mango Garden Press, 2019, $15.95

In this sci-fi novel, Kingston-based writer Carl Frankel tells the story of three Earthlings who fly to Erotopia to film an X-rated reality show in which they have sex with extraterrestrials. But when the humans arrive, they clash with the Erotopians, who are infinitely more advanced in the ways of love, sex, and communication. On Erotopia, sex is the cornerstone of civic and spiritual engagement. The adventurous humans on this sex-positive journey will have a lot to learn from a culture that's chosen the power of pleasure over the pleasure of power. Let the intergalactic orgies commence!

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