Playing Favorites (2018 Edition)

Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together. —Liz Taylor

While I’m pretty sure a tall Diet Coke isn’t what you had in mind, and slightly tinted Burt’s Bees is as close to lipstick as I’ll ever get, I’m with ya, Liz. Time to pull myself together. And what better way than with my top reads of 2018? To mix things up a bit, since I’m suddenly so on top of things, I thought I’d break things down a little differently this year—mainly because choosing my favorites seemed especially excruciating this go around. Which for an ardent fan of the page, is a fantastic problem to have.

mercy.jpg

Favorite Read of the Year

While I’m struggling to narrow down a list of favorites, there’s no question this one sits squarely at the tippity-top. Click here for my review.

rocket.jpg

Favorite Non-Fiction

Other than Just Mercy, that is. But I’m not counting that one since it won overall. My list; my rules. A very close second…or really, third, would be 40 Autumns. Reviews of both coming soon. Promise.

librarian.jpg

Favorite Historical Fiction

This fictional story based on real-life literary hero, Dita Kraus, will stay with me for a good long while. Read my review here. A close second? Dear Mrs. Bird.

Favorite Fiction

This book reminded me all over again why I love reading. A very close second for the same reason: Virgil Wander. Click here for my review.

Favorite Listen

I’m with Tray on this one. (Spoiler alert: I’m always with Tray.) Anna Popplewell’s performance is spot on.

Favorite Memoir

No surprise I’m with Tray on this one too. So glad she found this gem and sent it my way—she always keeps me in good books. Read her review here.

Biggest Disappointment

My most anticipated read of the year quickly turned into my biggest letdown. Read my review here.

Posted by Rachel

2018 Top-of-the-List

Rachel’s said it before and I’ll say it again, “We take birthdays seriously around here!” So why wasn’t I in the same zip code as Rae on the 1st?  Why, oh why? (I promise I would have sung the high harmony, Michael Scott style.)  Now granted, I got to see her the previous Saturday for not nearly enough hours, but you should get to spend considerable time with the people you love most.  Good fun, favorite humans, favorite reads…I want it all apparently. 

Speaking of favorite reads, my 2018 picks are obviously overdue.  Here they are without further ado: 

I’m in good company with Barak Obama. The former Pres said Educated was one of his favorite books of the year—visionary Bill Gates was bringing up the rear when he mentioned it was on his holiday reading list. I reviewed this astonishing memoir last March. I’m still baffled and amazed by Educated. Let me re-iterate, “Hats off to you Tara Westover…for beating the staggering odds, for educating yourself. I have big respect for your obvious moxie and your incomparable resolve. Move over Jeannette Walls, there’s a new hero in town! “

Honestly, I’m struggling to narrow down my favorites. It’s just so hard.  The Tattooist of Auschwitz noses out Where the Crawdads Sing by virtue of the fact that it is based on a real-life, against-all-odds story.  One that has profound staying power. I admire Lale Sokolov’s indomitable hope and his deep-rooted integrity. This is a holocaust novel you won’t want to miss. 

BEST LISTENS

Audible narrator Anna Popplewell brought the oh-so memorable character Emmeline Lake to life. Rae and I concur, this is definitely a listen worthy of repetition.

The only thing better than a highly entertaining Jonas Jonasson novel is Peter Kenny reading one of them. If you don’t believe me, check out Jonasson’s latest: The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man. This book is a sequel to a best seller of a similar name with a different narrator. Wisely, they went with Kenny on round two.  Good idea!  

HONORABLE MENTIONS 

I’m out of space, I know. Here are the honorable mentions: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It’s a toss-up between Virgil Wander and The Paris Wife. Anything by Neil Gaiman is well beyond an honorable mention—he’s top-of-the-list, just below the birthday girl. 

Posted by Tracy

Mini-Review Monday

“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?”

I had a co-worker who would always say “Happy Monday!”  Is it me, or is this an oxymoron?  Mondays come fast and hard. I thought a mini-review might chase away beginning-of-the-week blues. And who better to help cheer us than Bristish lovely Diane Setterfield? Rae introduced me to the master storyteller a while back. I tried to return the favor; for Christmas, I gave her Setterfield’s latest Once Upon a River.

I L-O-V-E-D listening to this magical, puzzling tale of three desperate families in search of three girls, all independently and mysteriously missing. Like the river it revolves around, the Thames, Setterfield’s modern folklore will draw you in. Hers is a rich plot with highly memorable characters whose lives are impeccably intertwined. Combine an enchanting yarn with audible phenom, the gifted Juliet Stevenson, and you’re bound to swoon over Once Upon a River. To the Top 100 reviewer who said, “if I threw [this book] across the room, I think it might fly,” I offer my two cents—not only does Once Upon a River fly, it will take you to another world that leaves you wanting when your feet eventually touch back down on the ground.

Posted by Tracy

Opposite Day

My house is clean, top to bottom. Kids are in bed and lunches made for manana.  All of my laundry is washed; yes, that says all.  And while I’m runnin on empty, I am having a small organizational moment here. Gotta relish before it’s over, and it will be over. Probably tomorrow. But why not generate a post before I sleep? This is once-in-a-blue-moon efficiency people!

In December, I told my kids to focus on what they received from Christmas more than what they were given by people. In the opposite spirit of that advice, I am going to share with you a few books that I received that look downright awesome. Call me George Costanza: it’s opposite day. 

Who isn’t fascinated by the Kennedy family? My book-lovin’ friend, Julie, gave me Rosemary on the heels of reading it herself. She used the word engaging to describe these pages, and important. The New York Times Book Review supplied this description: “A biography that chronicles her life with fresh details . . . By making Rosemary the central character, [Larson] has produced a valuable account of a mental health tragedy and an influential family’s belated efforts to make amends.” I’m always up for engaging and valuable.

My sis works at Barnes and Noble, so she has her ear to the stacks. She wrapped up The Lightkeepers in shiny silver with a red bow—it looked good under my tree. In the light of day, it’s looking just as promising. This novel, that follows a nature photographer to the Farallon Islands for her one-year residency, won the B&N Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction in 2016. I love to see newbies succeed; thanks for the intro Sharee. 

Don’t think for a minute that Santa didn’t visit his literary workshop.  He (or should that say me?) put The Library Book right next to my stocking. A signed copy. When I read this goo-goo review, I knew St. Nick would have it stuffed in his sack: “Moving . . . A constant pleasure to read . . . Everybody who loves books should check out The Library BookOrlean, a longtime New Yorker writer, has been captivating us with human stories for decades, and her latest book is a wide-ranging, deeply personal, and terrifically engaging investigation of humanity’s bulwark against oblivion: the library. Every booklover in America is going to give or get this book.” It’s my very next read—that, my friends, is not the complete opposite of everything I want to do. 

Posted by Tracy

Make Me A Booksloth 2019

“To save one is to save the world.”

It’s been twenty-five days since my last post. Not to point out my obvious inadequacies, but twenty-five days? Wow. Would you believe me if I said I’ve been around the world in a quick 24? I didn’t think so. Delivering “toys” to my five good girls and boys this year felt like a lot—so much so that I may be ready for a little hyperphagia. Please make me a booksloth 2019! 

Enough lamenting and dreaming. Let me tell you about the book I gave away most this Christmas: The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Like Beneath the Scarlet Sky, The Tattooist is based on a true story but qualifies as historical fiction. Like Mark Sullivan, Heather Morris interviewed a holocaust survivor late in his life to share his remarkable story with the world. Lali Sokolov was forced to tattoo thousands of Jewish prisoners with identification numbers for two and a half grueling years.  When he inked an incoming Slovakian girl, Gita Furman, it was love at first sight. 

I liked what Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Project’s brainchild, had to say: The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they’d read a hundred Holocaust stories or none.”

Posted by Tracy

Death is a Difficult Act to Follow

Once, in the tide of Dunbar past, there were five brothers, but the fourth of us was the best of us, and a boy of many traits.

It’s time to come out of unintentional hiding. Rae’s done a bang ‘em up job on the holiday gift guide. Have you checked it out? I’m hoping to add a couple more to the guide before December 25. I finished Mark Zusak’s latest, Bridge of Clay. When Zusak read the final page to me, number 544, I wondered if maybe my mother who says some writers only have 1 masterpiece in them isn’t onto something?  The Book Thief is, in my humble opinion, a magnum opus. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to undertake another fiction—death is a difficult act to follow. 

Bridge of Clay is well written. And the Dunbar boys, raising themselves in a bit of a barnyard masquerading as a house, are memorable. I’m glad I met them, especially Clay. Their lives feel tragic. Young boys should never have to watch cancer painstakingly kill their mother and steal their father. Like Liesel Meminger, the Dunbar brothers are resilient. I’m always a fan of hope in the face of overwhelming despair. At times, the story felt a little bit slow to me. But it was worthwhile. I completely agree with the reviewer who said, “This is a novel that requires time, patience and attention — just like the Dunbar boys, just like Clay’s bridge—to reap the inevitable reward.”

*Be warned: Boy will be boys—I needed Spongebob’s dolphin noises in lieu of the Dunbar boys’ sailor mouths. :/

Posted by Tracy

Holiday Gift Guide

People who say that I’m hard to shop for must not know where to buy books.

IMG_6026.jpg

Our Holiday Gift Guide is here and it’s bigger and better than ever! We’ve tried to find a book for everyone on your list. Still need help finding the perfect book? Send us an email or comment below who you’re shopping for and we’ll do our best to find the right read. Click here to go to the guide. Happy shopping!

Christmas Tales for Every Age

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” —Buddy the Elf

The second best way? Reading Christmas tales by the tree. We’re certain Buddy would agree—especially if you throw in some candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. Top it off with a little hot cocoa and you have the makings of many magical nights ahead. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite new (and not so new) crowd-pleasing tales that are destined to be Christmas classics. Of course we can’t talk Christmas classics without mentioning one of our favorites: Auntie Claus. Click here for a list of some all-time faves. Oh wait, here too. Clearly, we have a thing for Christmas tales.

This may be our new favorite book. Festive illustrations and fun, rhythmic text make this an instant classic and the book you’ll read every year before piling in the car to pick up your tree. Pure magic! (A word to the wise, order fast because this beauty sold out early last year.)

A story to remind us that wishes can come true in the most unexpected ways. This one is brimming with magical illustrations.

A beautiful reminder of why we celebrate the season told in a way that helps children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Every Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien’s children would receive a letter from Father Christmas himself, with tales of reindeer run amok, an accident-prone polar bear, and troublesome goblins living under the house. With this wonderful collection, we all get to revel in the perks of having an author like Tolkien as a father. It must have been a charmed childhood, indeed.

A beautifully illustrated tale about the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and how important it is to be surrounded by love.

Silly and fun, this tale is all about making it home for Christmas to be the ones you love.

We may or may not be collecting these BabyLit books for our future grandchildren. Introducing favorite classics to babies: how can we not? Another Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, is also available.

Posted by Rachel