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Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose. —Neil Gaiman

We're already fretting over which book will top our list—how about you? Don't miss the opening episode of The Great American Read tonight! It feels a little like the lead up to the Super Bowl of books and we'll admit to being downright giddy about it. Book nerds for life.

Posted by Rachel

Mini-Review Monday

“Sleep is good, he said, and books are better.” ―George R.R. Martin

Lately, I haven't been getting enough of either. Thankfully, there have been more books than sleep, so I have a couple reads ready just in time for Mini-Review Monday. Every once in a great while, the stars align.

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Everything here really is beautiful—heartbreakingly so. I had mixed emotions about this book, for personal reasons. Having a brother who suffered from a mental illness, there were times it hit too close to home. But Lee's portrayal of what it feels like to be a sibling watching someone you love battle their demons is spot on. This book will stay with me for a long, long while. When you're up for a heavy read, dive in. 

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This is not your mother's WWII read. Nor is it really a WWII read, for that matter. Confused yet? I was. For some reason I thought this book was set in WWII when I started reading. Clearly, I didn't read the description closely...or at all? Or I just need more sleep. Turns out this is really a WWI novel—set in the aftermath of WWII. It brings together two starkly different women: a former British spy for the real-life Alice Network in France during WWI and a pregnant American socialite. It's fast-paced, a bit too predictable at times, and chock full of salty language. And it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. All of which make it a shoe-in for Hollywood. 

Posted by Rachel

Weekly Wrap-Up


“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.” ― Oscar Wilde
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WHAT WE LOVE THIS WEEK

Moms. And food. What better way to celebrate both than with Magnolia Table. Now if we can just find someone to come over and serve up all these delicious recipes. Word has it Jo has a little more time on her hands these days...

Lorelei Gilmore. A favorite mom, indeed. Still searching for ways to curb my Gilmore Girls withdrawals and this feels like a great place to start.

For one of the best memoirs on the infinite depths of a mother's love: Paula, by Isabelle Allende. 

We moms can be pretty hard on ourselves. So to keep things in perspective, we're highlighting some of the worst mothers in literature this week over on our Insta account. Have a look and you'll instantly feel better about your mom skills. 

We're still smarting from the news that The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Peel Pie movie won't be coming to US theaters. Sigh. As we anxiously await its Netflix release, we'll continue tormenting ourselves by following @GuernseyMovie on Instagram. We do enjoy a good wallow. 

This must be the universe's way of making it up to us:

Not Just Your Momma’s Books 

“My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” —Buddy Hackett

My post today is no different than Momma Hackett’s menu: you can take it or leave it.  Something tells me that the organized among you have purchased, gift-wrapped, and snail mailed your mother’s gift.  If you’re like me, you’re still contemplating what to give your angel mother. (So you don’t think me a total bum, I have purchased mom’s card with Steinbeck’s sentiment, “It takes courage to raise children” on the front. Big courage and big love, John.)  At any rate, my lovely madre is a reader and I have Amazon Prime—a transformer in the gift-giving business. I’ve whittled my Mother’s Day choices down to these three promising reads, that may or may not be of interest to you? 

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If your mom is a cook and a reader, look no further than Rick Bragg for some southern comfort to celebrate mom’s greatness. I fell in love with Margaret Bragg when her writer son introduced me to her years ago in All Over But the Shoutin; he’s at it again with this tribute to his remarkable mother.  Part memoir, part cookbook, part hilarious stories from an Alabama kitchen, it’s no stretch to suggest your momma will crave this read!

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Currently, I’m listening to The Map of Salt and Stars. When I read that “this rich, moving, lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan,” my heart fluttered. I immediately detected lovely writing and an endearing character in Nour when I tested out the audible sample. I’ve barely begun listening, but I can already see why Amazon awarded her five stars.  

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It’s no secret I’ve been hooked on World War II novels lately. I couldn’t help but include another here. My friend who read 100 books in a year  heard that The Librarian of Auschwitz is very good. This story is based on the experience of a real-life Auschwitz prisoner who understood the power of books to transcend atrocity and darkness, even if momentarily. 

Posted by Tracy

Throwback Thursday

“Reading keeps you from going ga-ga.”
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Some days I wonder if ga-ga is closer than I care to admit. While I’m optimistically inclined to become a book drunkard, if reading helps me also stave off losing my mental faculties…all the better. Thank the Book Gods it’s Thursday and National High-Five Day, so I can rhapsodize over a Two at Twenty-Seven best-loved throwback. Virtual high fives all around for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Any lit-lover will be ga-ga (in a good way) over Mary Ann Shaffer’s charming epistolary novel.  

What makes Guernsey so good? Juliet Ashton, the central character, is downright funny.  She’s looking for the subject of her next book when fate smiles on her with a letter from a perfect stranger: Dawsey Adams. He lives in Guernsey, the second largest of the Channel Islands—an island the Germans occupied during WW II. Juliet is drawn into Dawsey and friend’s wonderful, eccentric, war-torn, but otherwise simple lives. When her story converges with theirs, we’re blessed with a prize of a novel that’s 100% delightful. Here’s one giant ditto for the reviewer who enthused, “Traditional without seeming stale, and romantic without being naïve…It’s tempting to throw around terms like ‘gem’ when reading a book like this. But Guernsey is not precious…This is a book for firesides or long train rides. It’s as charming and timeless as the novels for which its characters profess their love.”

Posted by Tracy

Five-Star Shine

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”  John Green

Post sunrise, I did not wake to the sound of birds warbling their morning song. There were no nature strains from the Amazon rainforest streaming softly from my phone, no faint sound of waves swashing ashore.  Nope, I woke to an altogether different tone. A far better sound roused me from insufficient sleep than Mother Nature’s best—it was coming from my ten-year-old son. I was equally shocked and gratified. Jonah was soulfully singing “Ooh baby I love your way every day.” It made me (and Peter Frampton I’m sure) come alive! I was filled with this weird evangelical zeal, with the same ardor I feel when I discover a champion of a book that must be shared.

I think there’s an art to finding the best books. Admittedly, I undertake looking for my next read much like I approached naming a baby: it involves scouring cyberspace and shelves. Real research. Sometimes it requires talking to experts, other trusted readers. Of course, Rachel could adopt a local personal injury attorney’s motto: One call That’s All.  I can always count on her for a hidden winner. Are we taking this book search thing too far?  Probably. But scads of friends ask us to weigh in on what to read next—here’s what my current research tells me to place squarely on deck:

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I don’t know Susan Rivers, but I do know that being a 2017 finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize is impressive. Her debut also garnered 4.5 stars from amazon. Combine that with praise like “I gobbled this book up in one luscious sitting,” “Oh! What a wonderful book! I could not put it down,” and “I was entranced from page one,” and I suspect you’ve got a keeper. (By the way…luscious?)

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This novel caught my eye because of the five-star shine. Fives aren’t easy to come by. This review was glowing.  And Michael Ondaatje is the best-selling author of The English Patient.  Besides, the promise of “mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje’s best work yet” is auspicious, don’t you think?  

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

“What doesn’t kill you makes you smaller.”  —Mario (as in one of the brothers)

Sorry Nietzsche, I think Mario may have said it best. I’m pretty sure Rae and I are shrinking under life’s weighty workload—if we’re being accurate, and we’re always accurate, we aren’t getting stronger. Case in point, our last post was on March 19th. Not that we need to remind you of our deficiencies, or is it inefficiencies?  You choose.  

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Fortunately, it’s mini-review Monday.  (Feels fitting for the whole smaller thing.) I’m prepared, late hour and all, to gush about Nombeko Mayeki.  She’s a completely unforgettable, precocious, savvy heroine.  At five, Nombeko cleans latrines only to be orphaned at ten—life looks like it may well be in the crapper for the young South African tiddler.  But she’s a fearless girl who is far smarter, albeit humble, than everyone she meets. Her adventures are as improbable as they are entertaining. 

I recommend letting Peter Kenny introduce you to Nombeko and her hilarious tale.  He’s easily one of the best audible narrators I’ve enjoyed since I pitched my tent squarely in Rachel’s camp. For the amateur critics who gave this book two thumbs down, I’m downright dumbfounded.  (I’m confident Kenny will change your mind.)  To the reviewer who said, “In The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, Jonas Jonasson unfurls a wide, whimsical net that readers will relish being caught up in,” I say Amen. 

Posted by Tracy

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Clearly, I'm a sucker for a Swede—and cantankerous old men. While Allan Karlsson doesn't quite rise to Ove-level love, he's a solid second. As plans are being made for this curmudgeonly centurion's birthday celebration, he decides he's had enough of never having enough vodka, and absconds out the window in his slippers—with nothing but pluck and resourcefulness. We quickly learn he has plenty of both, thanks to his involvement in many important events throughout history. Think Forest Gump, sans innocence. 

Jonasson's tale is outrageously funny and at times simply outrageous. You'll need to pack your sense of humor as well as a healthy suspension of disbelief for this raucous ride, but I'll wager you'll be glad you did. Word has it Will Ferrell is set to produce and star in the film adaptation. Sign me up.

Posted by Rachel

Welcome to the Glitterati Tara Westover

Kramer: You’re becoming one of the glitterati. 
George: What’s that?
Kramer: People who glitter
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You’re probably aware by now that we are BIG Seinfeld fans. Yes, I know there are legions of disciples—believers that Seinfeld is the best sitcom to ever bless our screens. But I’d like to think that Rachel and I occupy the Peter and John slots, or at the very least, James and Matthew. Just remember readers, “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” And I believe it. All these years later, I’m still learning about “the anti-dentite” I adore. I had no idea Jerry was raised by orphans. In his own words, he jokes that he was “like a raccoon to [his] parents. You know it’s around, but you don’t know where it is. They had no interest in any of [his] activities: school, grades, social life, health, safety or education. Zero.” If there were such a thing as a parent lottery, Jerry’s folks would obviously in no way win, but they’d exceed Tara Westover’s parents, without question.  

I’m not making light of the unlikely prodigy’s life, I promise. Few things are more inspiring to me than an indomitable spirit such as Westover’s. Trust me, I was cheering her on as she rose above her debilitating childhood, as she challenged her survivalist parent’s strangling beliefs. I was embarrassed at times that her parents share the same religion I do—not because of my religion but because of the way they interpreted and twisted it. I, myself, teach at BYU and wondered how I would respond to a student who innocently asks, “What is the holocaust?” I adore her for asking. Surely I would never imagine that student of mine had no formal schooling. None. Zero. Not one day in school prior to college. Hats off to you Tara Westover…for beating the staggering odds, for educating yourself. And while you occasionally seem to judge the people who helped you ascend the academic ladder, I still have big respect for your obvious moxie and your incomparable resolve. Move over Jeannette Walls, there’s a new hero in town! 

Posted by Tracy