Shelf-Improvement

“There’s always room for improvement, you know—it’s the biggest room in the house. —Louise Heath Leber

Geez Louise, we have room for improvement right about now. It’s the only room in the house.  I’m not sure what to say about it. My son is healing after a five-hour surgery, but I’m having trouble recuperating.  And I haven’t read for days.  But I did have the recent good fortune of chatting with my neighbor Heather who is the consummate high school English teacher. (A Miss Gibson kinda girl.) Our conversation naturally drifted to books. So I did what any zonked (as in tired) blogger would do: I asked her to recommend some of her favorite reads. If you’re searching for your next read and you’re interested in history, you can trust in these: 

Heather just finished this book and couldn’t stop raving about it. NPR hailed LaPlante’s novel as one of the best books of 2012. From what I can see, this book celebrates a woman of great strength and even better perspective. One reviewer said, Marmee & Louisa “provides new [and compelling] evidence exposing [Abby’s] undeniable influence on her daughter … Fresh material gives flesh to the formerly invisible Abigail, revealing how she and her famous daughter mirrored one another … Thoroughly researched and moving.” If you love Alcott, you are bound to love this beauty. 

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This too is a book written years ago that remains fascinating. Rachel vacillated when assigning stars to Larson’s best seller: 4, maybe 4 and half? Here’s what I know: if Rachel and Heather both recommend it, it’s worth reading.  If you’re curious as to what this book is about, amazon’s description goes like this: The Devil in the White City is a “true tale of the 1893 World's Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction.” I’m pretty sure I need to take a trip to the fair this summer. 

Written by Tracy

Envoy of Beauty

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” 
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Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. I think we know the answer—we’d all ditch insignificant sleep and try not to blink. I’m pretty sure we’d feel delirious. And yet the stars come out every night and we elect to watch t.v. Our obvious deficiencies don’t change the fact that some books feel like starry, starry night.  They make us feel delirious. In fact, they’re indescribable. So here’s my frank admission: I don’t have enough lovely words to adequately describe this week’s throwback. (Yes, I’m fully aware that it’s Friday.) 

It’s a daunting task to try and review a book that glimmers like The Nightingale. Personally, I think this is a story everyone should read. While World War II novels don’t constitute the read less traveled, I was particularly riveted because Hannah opted to focus on a part of history seldom explored—the women’s war. Two sisters, dissimilar as night and day, navigate the treacherous and winding path of Nazi-occupied France. I felt blessed to observe valiant characters in defining moments of great challenge—characters that grew out of real-life war heroines Andree de Jongh and Edith Cavell. This unforgettable novel celebrates the durability and strength of women. It reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit. I was no less enamored by the powerful message of love and sacrifice.  A book that is irrefutably inspiring. Like Emerson’s description of the stars, The Nightingale is an “envoy of beauty,” to help illuminate the universe. And I'm still basking in this brilliant novel. 

Posted by Tracy

Public Service Announcement

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 shimmie and shake 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