This is a transcription of ‘Tabletop Game Recommendations and Two New Books — 01 december 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a sparkly holiday romcom.
David: A beautiful book featuring a woman managing the pandemic.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I like to spend December listening to holiday music, daydreaming about Russian teacakes, and reading books set during the holidays — especially mysteries and horror stories. Nothing says Christmas, like poisoning a relative to win an inheritance.
Melissa: This year, I started early and branched out a little bit with the Hanukkah rom-com The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer.
Melissa: Our heroine is Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, and Rachel has a secret. Even though her father is a world-famous rabbi, she is the author of dozens of Christmas romance novels and made-for-TV movies. [DAVE] She loves Christmas. The office where she writes is decorated with hundreds of Santa figurines, a Christmas tree, and a toy train that circumnavigates the room every hour.
Melissa: But this year, Rachel’s publisher has challenged her to write a Hanukkah romance instead. This sends Rachel into a holiday tizzy. Writing about Christmas is easy — for her, it’s sheer tinsel-covered fantasy. But Hanukkah and romance? That’s too close to real life. Plus, Rachel has another secret she’s been keeping from everyone: She has chronic fatigue syndrome, which has seriously put the kibosh on her social life.
Melissa: So she hatches a scheme to find inspiration at a glitzy concert called the Matzah Ball, being held on the last night of Hanukah. There’s one major problem: The Matzah Ball is sold out, and the only way to get a ticket is from its organizer — her arch nemesis, Jacob Greenberg, her first love who broke her heart at summer camp XX years ago. As you surely expect, hijinks ensue.
Melissa: OK! Things I like about this book:
Melissa: One: It weaves details about Hanukkah, Jewish traditions, and Christmas spirit into the plot. It’s full-on, delightful holiday propaganda that made me excited for the holiday season. On a more serious note, it also explores the impact of living with chronic illness.
Melissa: Two: Rachel is not a perfectly styled rom-com heroine. Her hair is frizzy, and her clothes are a mess. She stumbles, literally and figuratively, in social situations. Some of the scenes play out like a screwball comedy. It made me laugh and feel very warm-hearted.
Melissa: If you enjoy the glut of holiday movies on Netflix and Hallmark this time of year, you will love this book. It’s The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer.
Melissa: By the way, Matzo Ball events are a real thing. Every year on Christmas Eve in the US, there are concerts and parties for young Jewish singles to mix and mingle.
David: With most novels I read, I’m very aware that the author is telling me a story. It’s not an unpleasant feeling. It’s like the difference between a major motion picture and a documentary. Some works walk the boundary, but usually, it’s pretty clear. But many novels might as well start, ‘Once upon a time…’ It feels – like an elaborate fiction. Frequently delightful, but still. And then, occasionally, I read something that feels like the author just pulled up a chair and started talking. It feels so real that – in my head, I’m wondering: wait. did this happen? to you?
David: This brings me to Sigrid Nunez and her recent release ‘The Vulnerables.’
David: There is only a little story in ‘The Vulnerables.’ Ron Charles of The Washington Post described the book as having a ‘plot with a dangerously faint pulse.’ An older woman lives in New York City when COVID breaks out. She’s asked by a friend to watch over a parrot. One day, while she’s bird-sitting, she runs into someone else in that apartment. That person is not a killer or someone who owes her money. It’s someone who should be there but hasn’t been. You might notice the lack of conflict in the story.
David: But pulse-pounding drama is not why you should read this book. You should read this book to spend time with the narrator. She’s funny, thoughtful, and insightful. She has plenty to say about life right now. It’s easy to identify with her, because we all remember what it was like in those first few months of Covid. She’s also very well-read. She drops her literary reference everywhere — in a way that is not off-putting, but inviting. And there’s the voice — the voice that I’m still not sure is fiction.
David: This is a beautifully written book. It’s already on a few ‘Best Books of the Year’ lists. It’s ‘The Vulnerables’ by Sigrid Nunez.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: So, we’ve had our fair share of chats about this, but let me shout it from the board game mountaintops: I’m not just a reader; I’m a gamer, too! Give me all the games, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for traditional board games. And guess what? It’s that magical time of the year again — it is board game season! The holidays are rolling in, which is the perfect excuse to crack open a new game. Whether you’re looking for a distraction between cookie bites or a delightful post-gift unwrapping activity, here are three board games released in the last couple of years that I can recommend.
David: The first is perfect for an afternoon with another person or two. It’s called ‘Suspects: Claire Harper Takes the Stage.’ Now, there are many ‘mystery in a box’ games out now. These are games where you are presented with a crime, suspects, and motives, and you try to figure out what happened, just like you were Lenny Brisco on Law and Order. There are titles like ‘Chronicles of Crime,’ which is a modern police procedural. Or ‘Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective,’ where you’re detecting around Edwardian London. – This one, ‘Suspects,’ is set apart because of its theme. This is ‘mystery in a box’ meets Agatha Christie. You are in the early 1900s – and in the first case – there’s been a murder at the mansion, and you are the detective on the scene. The game is very nicely produced. There are illustrated cards for each character, maps, and so on. If you’ve ever wanted to be in the heart of a murder mystery, well, I hope this is as close as you get. If you like this, there’s a line of them. The first one is ‘Suspect: Claire Harper Takes the Stage.’ It retails for about $30.
David: This second game is a small game, good for a gathering of three to five. It’s called ‘Scout.’ It feels like a classic card game, but has a modern design to it. In Scout, you are trying to get rid of your hand. That’s it. Like ‘Uno,’ maybe – except better. In every hand, the lead player puts down a set or a run of cards, and the next player has to either beat it, or pick up one of the cards on the table. Picking up one of the cards on the table might strengthen your hand. Ah ha! – But sometimes, picking up one of the cards on the table will leave you with too many darn cards in your hand. Can you get rid of all of those before the round ends? Figuring out that balance is a big part of this game. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s a good time. It’s ‘Scout.’ You can find that for about $23.
David: Finally, let’s talk about a game that gets a roomful of people shouting. This is ‘Ready Set Bet.’ It’ll turn your living room into a horse track. You’ve got two boards. One is a track. One player is the house; their job is to roll dice and advance the horses as quickly as possible. The other board is for betting. Betting happens while the race is going. There are your standard ‘win, place, and show’ bets – and there are a series of proposition bets. Will a yellow horse finish in front of a red horse? Will all of the horses get out of the gate? … That kind of thing. One copy of this game will entertain between four and nine players. But there are stories of people buying multiple copies for a larger crowd. If you want to rile up your friends and family, give this a try. It’s ‘Ready Set Bet,’ and it’s about $40 retail.
David: That’s it! ‘Suspects’ for a quiet, meditative couple of hours. ‘Scout’ for a warm, small gathering. And ‘Ready Set Bet’ for a full-on rager. Those are three board games I hope you get a chance to enjoy this season.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the books we talked about today and for links to the games Dave recommended.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of cottonbro studio/Pexels.
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