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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

brookline booksmith interior twinkle lights

As the end-of-year book lists flood blogs and newspapers, I’ve looked back over this year’s (long) reading list and handpicked a few favorites. Not all of these were published in 2014, but I read them all for the first time (except Best Reread) in 2014.

Best Road Trip with a Cranky Narrator: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. I loved every page of Steinbeck’s wry, witty observations as he and Charley (a dignified elderly poodle) crisscrossed the country together in 1960. (It was also my top pick in our Great New Books roundup.)

Most Evocative Wartime Fiction: a tie between After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson (out Jan. 6) and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Very different novels, both stunning in their exploration of the effects of war on ordinary people.

Best Insights on Food and Marriage: Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. Her story of building a pizza restaurant with her husband was fascinating, and her musings on how hard it can be to support your spouse rang so true.

Most Beautifully Written Classic: The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I love Cather’s prose and her skill is on full display in this early novel (though My Ántonia is still my favorite Cather novel).

Wittiest Adaptation of a Classic: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. (I also loved the YouTube video series.)

Best Love Story With Playlists: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. Made me want to hop in a car with a handsome boy and drive for miles with the windows down.

Fanfiction That Actually Works: Jill Paton Walsh’s novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. There are four so far, and three of them are really good.

Yummiest Cozy Mystery Series: the Hayley Snow novels by Lucy Burdette. A food writer gets mixed up in various mysteries on Key West.

Loveliest Meditation on Ireland and Life: The House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.

Favorite Elderly Spy: Definitely Mrs. Pollifax.

Best Reread: Bel Canto, whose elegant prose and engrossing story swept me up all over again. Though I also loved revisiting To Kill a Mockingbird and some Jane Austen.

What were your favorite books this year? I can always use more recommendations – though the TBR stacks are teetering, as ever.

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christmas book stack charlie brown

The reading is haphazard this month. But it’s happening. (Above: the Christmas picture books I put out every year.)

 An Appetite for Murder, Lucy Burdette
When aspiring food writer Hayley Snow follows her new boyfriend to Key West, she falls in love with the island – and gets dumped. When her ex’s new girlfriend turns up dead, Hayley decides to investigate. A light, well-plotted cozy mystery.

Topped Chef, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow gets tapped to judge a foodie reality TV show. When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Hayley starts sniffing around for clues – hoping she isn’t next on the killer’s list. The mystery was a little thin, but I like Hayley and the cast of supporting characters.

Act One, Moss Hart
Moss Hart tells the story of his struggle to become a playwright – from working as a theatre office boy to directing theatrical summer camps, and finally his first hit. Warm, witty and big-hearted. Bought at Three Lives & Co. on our NYC trip.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
This Mitford Christmas tale makes me cry every year, as Father Tim works to restore a battered Nativity scene as a gift for his wife. So sweet and hopeful.

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, Helena Attlee
Attlee tells the long, convoluted tale of citrus production in Italy, covering its history, cultivation, connections to the Mafia, and unbeatable flavor. Fascinating, though a little dense. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m a longtime Lord of the Rings fan, but this collection of handwritten, gorgeously illustrated letters is new to me. Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas from 1920-1943 (with notes from his assistant, the North Polar Bear). Hilarious and inventive. Found at Blackwells in Oxford.

The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan
“To storm or fire the world must fall” – and a group of demigods must prevent an all-out war, before Gaea wakes. Fast-paced and fun, with lots of zany jokes and surprising depth.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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bookstore gloucester ma

It’s been a zany month so far, between houseguests, work obligations and prepping for travel. Here are the books that have kept me sane:

Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart
A young, orphaned Englishwoman is hired as governess to a French child in an isolated château, but begins to suspect that her charge is in danger. Lyrically written and suspenseful at first, but the second half felt flat and predictable.

That Summer, Lauren Willig
When Julia inherits a house from her unknown great-aunt, she returns to England, intending to sell up. But a mysterious Pre-Raphaelite painting, a handsome antiques dealer and Julia’s own troubled past give her reasons to stay. Compelling and fun, with a bit of historical mystery.

Ben Le Vay’s Eccentric Oxford, Benedict Le Vay
The lovely Caroline gave me this book when she visited Boston this summer. As an Oxford devotee, I already knew some of these wacky stories, but many tidbits were new to me. Quirky, fun and quintessentially English.

Walking the Woods and the Water, Nick Hunt
A longtime fan of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Hunt retraces Paddy’s journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. The eight decades between Paddy’s walk and Nick’s have brought many changes to each country Nick visits, and he describes them in lucid detail. I loved the anecdotes of kind strangers and the gorgeous descriptive prose. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 28).

A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton’s second adventure finds her pursuing a cat burglar and dealing with a rather unnerving secret admirer. Witty, well plotted and much better than the first book – I’m planning to continue with the series.

Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views, Matteo Pericoli
Working from photographs, Pericoli creates detailed sketches of fifty windows, through which fifty writers gaze as they work. From city apartment houses to small towns and a few remote islands, the views are varied and stunning. Brief essays by each writer accompany his or her window. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 13).

The Lace Makers of Glenmara, Heather Barbieri
Fleeing a broken heart and other griefs, Kate Robinson finds herself in a tiny Irish village, where she learns lace-making from some local women. I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t – it felt flat and stereotypical. Pass.

The Sound of Paper, Julia Cameron
This is one of my favorite books on writing (and life), and I’ve been reading it slooooowly for the last eight weeks or so. It helped greatly in my August writing project, and it always restores my faith in myself as a writer. Highly recommended.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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August reading roundup #3

bookstore gloucester ma

(Interior shot of The Bookstore of Gloucester, MA)

The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, Richard Blanco
I love Blanco’s 2012 inaugural poem and was swept up by this colorful memoir of his Cuban-American childhood in Miami. Full of vividly drawn characters (his family and friends) and poignant reflections on being caught between two cultures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 30).

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney
Evie, age 24 and a total mess, applies to be a trainer at a remote, highly unusual school for rescue dogs. Spare, quiet and moving, though I felt it ended too abruptly.

Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax‘s 14th (and final) adventure finds her headed to Syria (with her friend John Sebastian Farrell) in search of a missing American girl. An entertaining adventure, and Mrs. P saves the day as always. I’m sad to have finished this enjoyable series.

The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby
I devoured this fictional imagining of the story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. Kate, the Irish seamstress who works on the suit, was a wonderful character, and the language is gorgeous. Absorbing and evocative.

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Victoria Jones has grown up in the foster care system, becoming hardened and cynical – except for her secret love of the Victorian language of flowers. Fascinating characters, beautiful writing and a heartbreaking but hopeful story.

The Counterfeit Heiress, Tasha Alexander
A murder at a masquerade ball leads to a peculiar missing-persons case – but well-bred sleuth Lady Emily and her dashing husband are up to the task. Witty and well plotted. Ninth in a series, but the first one I’ve read. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 14).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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shoes book harvard yard

As we head into another school year, I’m thinking back over my favorite reads of the summer. I love to read all year round (which you knew), but there’s something about summer reading – diving into a fast-paced series or sprawling out on the beach or sofa with a juicy novel.

Here are the highlights from my book list this summer:

Most Exquisite Coming-of-Age Stories: Mambo in Chinatown and Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Both books feature Chinese-American protagonists trying to make their own way in New York City. Heartbreaking, gorgeously written and hopeful.

Darkest/Most Fascinating YA Series: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Epic battles, unusual magical powers and a truly fantastic love story, set in a fictional realm (Ravka) inspired by imperial Russia.

Juiciest Smart Beach Read: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Love, scandal and natural disaster among the New England aristocracy, which I read (fittingly) on the beach in PEI.

Best Combination of Zen and Whimsy: Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. Because we could all use a bit of advice about how to hop mindfully.

Wackiest Blend of Greek Mythology, Teenage Love & a Great Story: the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (a reread).

Best Ultramodern Jane Austen Adaptation: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. (I loved the web series too.)

Loveliest Travel Memoir: The House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, which is not only about Ireland but about how to live.

Most Beautiful Language: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

Best Refresher on Writing and Life: The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, an old favorite. I’ve been going through it sloooowly, letting its words sink into my soul.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are the best books you read this summer?

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hibernation books

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
This conclusion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy finds her main characters on the run, searching for a secret weapon to use against the Darkling and his forces. Several plot twists I didn’t see coming; lots of heartbreak; some sweet romantic moments. Really enjoyable, like the others in the series.

Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart, Jennifer Barclay
Barclay has loved Greece since her backpacking student days, but after a bad breakup, she spends a month on the tiny island of Tilos. The friendly people, delicious food and gorgeous views sustain her through more romantic ups and downs. I got tired of the dating play-by-play, but the descriptions of Tilos made me want to hop a plane immediately.

The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, Susan Elia MacNeal
In November 1941, SOE agent Maggie Hope is hiding out in western Scotland, training new recruits and healing from a disastrous mission to Berlin. When her dear friend falls ill under suspicious circumstances, Maggie takes up the case. Meanwhile, U.S. and British relations with Japan grow increasingly strained. Fast-paced and fascinating – a solid entry in the series.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, Samuel Fromartz
Fromartz, a longtime home baker, delves into the science and technique of bread baking, traveling to France, Germany and all over the U.S. to learn about baguettes, rye, sourdough and many varieties of flour. I liked the baking anecdotes better than the discussions of fermentation, but Fromartz blends them together engagingly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Bernie Su & Kate Rorick
Based on the popular YouTube series, this retelling of Pride & Prejudice is ultra-modern (set in California; Bing Lee is a Harvard-educated zillionaire) and seriously fun. Lizzie’s voice is sharp, clever and hilariously snarky. I’m now watching (and loving) the web series.

Lizzy & Jane, Katherine Reay
Elizabeth Hughes has achieved modest fame as a New York chef, rarely visiting her family in Seattle. When a cooking slump coincides with her sister’s chemo treatment, Lizzy reluctantly heads home. An interesting take on Austen (Lizzy and Jane are quite different from the Bennet sisters); a lovely novel of food, family and new beginnings. (I also loved Reay’s debut, Dear Mr. Knightley.) Anne generously sent me her advance copy. To review for Shelf Awareness (pub date Oct. 28).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax heads to a fictional African country with a few characters from her previous adventure, and finds a rash of deaths caused by a mysterious killer. Not the best in the series, but I love Mrs. P.

Bunny Buddhism: Hopping Along the Path to Enlightenment, Krista Lester
This was an impulse buy at the Booksmith. It’s a compilation of tweets by Lester on bunniness, Buddhism and living (and hopping) on purpose. Utterly charming and so much fun, especially if you love bunnies (I do).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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books by color portsmouth nh

Summer always means digging into dozens of good books. A rainy, lazy 4th of July weekend and a stack of tempting titles mean I’ve been reading even more than usual. Below, the books I’ve tackled so far this month:

Butternut Summer, Mary McNear
A story of summer, first love and second chances in a Minnesota lake town. Heartwarming and pleasant, if predictable. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 12).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax heads to Morocco, posing as the aunt of an unpleasant CIA operative. Things (as always) become complicated and she finds herself fleeing through the desert with unlikely companions. Possibly the best Mrs. P adventure yet. I could NOT put this one down.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice, Alix Christie
Christie’s novel delves into the story of Johann Gutenberg and his secret printing workshop, told through the eyes of his apprentice, Peter Schoeffer. Utterly fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 23).

The Ides of April, Lindsey Davis
I liked Enemies at Home enough to pick up the first mystery featuring Flavia Albia, a private informer in ancient Rome. Albia’s sharp tongue and the intriguing setting made this a satisfying read, though I figured out the killer before she did.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
My third read of this classic and I found it as powerful as ever. I love the vividly drawn characters, especially Scout and Atticus, and the ending makes me weep. One of the great American novels, wise and engrossing and moving.

The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, L.M. Montgomery
I bought this slim memoir at the L.M. Montgomery homestead in Cavendish, and loved her account of her childhood and early writing ambitions. Her love for the Island comes through in every line.

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple investigates a death by poisoning at the local grand estate, using her famous blend of gossip and intuition to find the killer. Ingenious and fun – Christie makes perfect summer reading.

Ravenscliffe, Jane Sanderson
This sequel to Netherwood continues the intertwined adventures of working-class folks in a Yorkshire mining town and the local earl’s family. It’s Downton-esque in the complex upstairs-downstairs connections. Not as good as the first one, but compelling.

Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah
I loved Mah’s memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, so picked up her novel, which follows Chinese-American Isabelle Lee as she tries to build a life in Beijing. Great food descriptions, but the story is predictable and Isabelle is frustratingly naive and dense. Pass (but pick up Mah’s memoir).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax is summoned to Sicily by an SOS from an old CIA pal. Art forgery, old enemies and Interpol all come into play before a resolution is reached. A little hard to follow, but still fun.

The Prank List, Anna Staniszewski
This sequel to The Dirt Diary finds Rachel Lee determined to help her mom’s cleaning business succeed – even if drastic measures are required. I like Rachel as a narrator, but the “pranks” often cross over into sabotage. So-so.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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