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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Love stories are close to many of our hearts. And when we want one, nothing else will do. We want to swoon, maybe laugh and cry. We want that romance. I'm Linda Holmes, and today, we're recommending great books for people who love love stories on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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HOLMES: Joining me today is Lauren Migaki. She's a producer for NPR's Education Desk. And back in an earlier time in all of our lives, she was a producer for this very podcast. Welcome back to the show, Lauren.
LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Linda.
HOLMES: We probably don't need to explain what a love story is, but you should note that NPR's Books We Love project is chock full of personal and deeply felt book recommendations in lots of genres, and that's where we're looking for these particular titles. Lauren, what pick is up first?
MIGAKI: Yeah. So my first pick is "Thank You For Listening" by Julia Whelan. She is an author, but she's also a prolific audiobook narrator. Linda, I know she narrated your books.
HOLMES: Yeah. I was just going to say, I know Julia quite well, and I had nothing to do with this pick. I saw it roll in just like the other ones. But I do know Julia, and she did narrate my two books. So...
MIGAKI: So, I mean, obviously, I work in public radio, so audio is my love language. So she wrote this book, "Thank You For Listening." It's a romance about a fictional audiobook narrator named Sewanee Chester. Sewanee had a terrible accident where she lost an eye, and it sort of forced her to give up her dreams of becoming an actress, which is how she kind of falls into audiobook narration. And she gets this lucrative offer to narrate a romance series with the - like, the Romeo of the audiobook world, Brock McNight.
HOLMES: Brock McNight.
MIGAKI: The two start, like, texting over kind of nerdy audio things like pronunciation. And, you know, of course, that leads to more texting. And before you know it, they're flirting, and things seem really great. But just like any relationship, you know, the emotional baggage sort of starts to creep in. You know, Sewanee is really struggling to come to terms with who she was before the accident and kind of let go of those dreams to embrace new ones. And I think it's a really relatable challenge in a love story. You know, I think so often in relationships the thing that holds us back isn't, like, this big, dramatic thing. It's just that we get in our own heads. And so the thing I really like about this book is that it holds a lot of nuance that makes the characters feel more real.
HOLMES: Yeah. And I think, at the same time, like, as you sort of alluded to, if you're a person who either listens to a lot of audiobooks or especially, like, works in audio...
HOLMES: ...There's a lot that's really kind of intimate familiarity with all these things.
HOLMES: So you do get a certain amount of like, yes, this is true of recording.
MIGAKI: And she fills it with, like, little nuggets for people like that.
MIGAKI: Like, she thinks her Bluetooth headphones are connected, and she's, like, listening to this explicit love scene, and turns out she's broadcasting it to everyone around her. So...
HOLMES: Yeah. It is a really fun book. I enjoyed it a lot. Again, that is Julia Whelan's "Thank You For Listening." Lauren, what is your second pick?
MIGAKI: My next pick is "I Kissed Shara Wheeler" by Casey McQuiston. I kind of think of this book as, like, queer, teenage "Harriet The Spy." It's a YA novel set in a Christian high school in Alabama, you know, with all that that entails. And just before graduation, Shara Wheeler kisses Chloe Green. And this is crazy because Shara is the principal's daughter. She's a goody-two-shoes. She's dating the football jock, and she's basically Chloe's academic nemesis. They've been competing for the title of valedictorian ever since they met. So, yeah, Shara kisses Chloe out of nowhere and then totally vanishes. And she leaves behind this trail of clues of where she is in these pink envelopes. So Chloe starts looking for her.
She's joined by two other dudes that also kissed Shara, one being her jock boyfriend. The other is, like, this angsty bad boy type. And this, like, ragtag trio are tearing apart their small town in search of these clues. And they get into these kinds of shenanigans that I always, like, dreamed of getting into in high school. You know, they're breaking into the school after hours and sneaking into the principal's office. And, ultimately, this scavenger hunt kind of ends up revealing more about themselves than it does about Shara. But it's just a really sweet, comforting reminder that everyone feels like they don't fit in in high school, even though it's set against this backdrop of, like - it's a Christian school that seems to kind of condemn LGBTQ kids. Like, there's this, like, note of triumph in it.
HOLMES: Absolutely. And I have very much enjoyed Casey's other books, "Red, White & Royal Blue," and "One Last Stop," both of which are delightful. And I have not read this one yet, and I'm very excited to 'cause I'm a big fan.
HOLMES: So that, again, is "I Kissed Shara Wheeler" by Casey McQuiston. Lauren, what is your third pick?
MIGAKI: It's "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry, and it feels a little bit like cheating to recommend Emily Henry as a romance. I don't know, it's like recommending Agatha Christie to, like, a mystery lover. But this book, it's just so good, and I can't help it. Like, I'm basic. Like, I love it, and so I want to talk about it (laughter).
HOLMES: I don't think it makes you basic.
MIGAKI: Right. Like, I'm wearing my UGG boots and, like, reading this book, which is about fellow book lovers falling in love, right?
MIGAKI: For one, I like that it kind of playfully skewers this, like, Hallmark movie trope. The main character is kind of, at first glance, more of a villain type. She's a city slicker, workaholic, kind of seems like a jerk. And she gets dragged to this idyllic small town on vacation by her sister. There she runs into her work enemy, who is also a cold-hearted New Yorker, who's a book editor. His name is Charlie. Turns out Charlie's family owns the failing bookshop in town, which is, like, where we start to cue the Hallmark movie music. And then over the course of this vacation, the two start to get to know each other. And the way I describe the chemistry between the two of them is it, like, felt like it was, like, crackling off of the page. Emily Henry has this, like, ability to write flirty dialogue that feels, like, really authentic and like something people would say but is also just so much funnier than anything I've ever, like, said aloud.
MIGAKI: There's a scene where, like, Charlie and Nora have this email exchange about Bigfoot erotica that just had me clutching my side.
HOLMES: Yes, yes. That is a very funny section. And I think, like, it makes a lot of sense to me that people have so been in love with this book, partly because it is a book about book people - not just a bookstore, but also, like, a book agent and book editors. And it really gets into kind of the book business, and you can kind of roll around in that a little bit.
HOLMES: Kind of as we talked about with Julia's book, you know, there's a lot of, I think, interesting detail based on experience for anybody who was interested in that. And if you're a person who loves books, why not read a book that kind of salutes you for being a person who loves books, you know?
MIGAKI: Yeah. The other thing is that, like, they fell into their careers because they love books, and neither of them are really - like, ultimately have to change their ways or are shamed for, like, loving their jobs and for kind of being workaholics.
MIGAKI: It kind of allows you to embrace just, like, who you are.
HOLMES: Right. Well, I think it's safe to say that Emily Henry probably has plenty of appreciation for people in all different parts of the book business (laughter), and that makes all the sense in the world. So, again, that is "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry. If you want to discover even more love stories NPR loves, visit npr.org/bestbooks. That brings us to the end of our show. Thank you for being here once again, Lauren.
MIGAKI: Thank you.
HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. This episode was produced by Candice Lim and Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. The Books We Love team is Beth Novey, Natalie Escobar, Maureen Pao and Meghan Collins Sullivan. Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Linda Holmes, and we will see you all tomorrow.
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