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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

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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bookpeople austin tx interior

 

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History, Lewis Buzbee
A rambling, charming account of the author’s passion for books, his time working in bookstores, and a brief history of publishing. I dipped in a few pages at a time and really enjoyed it. Found at Book & Bar in Portsmouth.

The House on an Irish Hillside, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read about this memoir on Sarah’s blog ages ago. The author describes the western Ireland peninsula of Corca Dhuibhne, near Dingle, and the process of making a second home there with her husband. Filled with bits of history and folklore, with lovely meditations on community and finding one’s place in the world.

A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams
As the cream of New York society summers in Seaview, R.I., old secrets bubble under the surface. Lily Dane must confront her feelings for the man who’s now married to her (vicious) best friend – and a massive hurricane will upend more than just buildings. Deliciously scandalous, lushly described. Smart beach reading.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
When Vivian Schuyler receives a suitcase belonging to an unknown great-aunt (the titular Violet), she starts digging into Violet’s complicated past. Vivian is bright and sparkling but didn’t seem entirely real, and Violet seemed hopelessly naive. Still a compelling (if often uncomfortable) narrative. (I was glad to see Aunt Julie and Lily from A Hundred Summers again.)

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
Orphans Alina and Mal grew up together – best friends against the world. But then Alina discovers a power she never knew she had, which will change not only their lives but the future of their country. Fascinating, romantic YA fantasy with a setting based on Imperial Russia.

Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo
This sequel to Shadow and Bone finds Alina and Mal on the run, then returning to Ravka (their homeland) to gather an army and fight the Darkling. Meanwhile, Alina grapples with the implications of her power to summon the sun. Deeper, faster-paced and even more exciting than the first book.

International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World, Mark Kurlansky and Talia Kurlansky
Kurlansky and his 13-year-old daughter spin the globe and cook a meal from whatever country they land on. Each meal is prefaced by Mark’s thoughts on that country (he’s been to many of them). Delicious-looking, fairly straightforward recipes – lots can be made with/for/by kids. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 19).

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Jenny Colgan
When Anna Trent loses two toes in a freak factory accident, she ends up in Paris apprenticing with a high-end chocolatier. A really lovely story of recovering from trauma, opening up to love, and (of course) falling in love with Paris. (Should be paired with good chocolate.)

Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax and her new husband head to Thailand on holiday and agree to do a “little job” for the CIA – which, of course, ends up being bigger than they thought. Another fun, fast-paced, twisty adventure.

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

My 2014 book list is growing rapidly. As usual, I can’t wait until the end-of-year lists come out to share my favorites with you. Here, some gems from the first half of 2014. (Links go to my brief reading-roundup reviews.)

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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the bookstore lenox ma

The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar
Therapist Maggie is good at maintaining professional distance from her clients. But when she meets Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant who attempted suicide, Maggie’s boundaries dissolve. The two women become friends after a fashion, but each has secrets that will jeopardize their relationship and both their marriages. Umrigar tells a good story, though I found Lakshmi’s speech (a primitive pidgin English) jarring. (I’m married to a therapist, so I found the main plot distressing.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 19).

The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
Roger Mifflin (of Parnassus on Wheels fame) has settled down in his Brooklyn bookstore, with his wife Helen, dog Bock, and a new apprentice. Sinister forces are at work, though, and Roger uncovers a nefarious plot with the help of a young advertising man. Dragged a bit in the middle, but still bookish and fun. Recommended for bibliophiles.

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Tita, the youngest daughter of a domineering Mexican mother, is forbidden to marry, so she channels her passions into her cooking. I normally love foodie novels and magical realism (see: Chocolat), but this one felt melodramatic, and I didn’t like the ending.

When Audrey Met Alice, Rebecca Behrens
First Daughter Audrey Rhodes is bored and lonely in the White House – till she unearths a diary written by Alice Roosevelt. Inspired by Alice’s antics (keeping a pet snake, smoking on the roof), Audrey tries a few of her own, with amusing, sometimes disastrous results. Lighthearted and fun.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family, Kathleen Flinn
This foodie memoir (Flinn’s third) chronicles her family’s history, with simple, hearty Midwestern recipes. It’s a typical American story in many ways, but full of heart – I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 14).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Dorothy Gilman
After her recent adventure in China, Mrs. Pollifax is called back to Hong Kong, where she meets a psychic and runs into an old friend. Twisty and entertaining, as always, though the psychic stuff was a little weird.

Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate to the U.S. from Hong Kong, Kim struggles to stay afloat at school while helping her mother at a Chinatown factory (read: sweatshop) in the evenings. Kim’s voice is sharp and clear, and I was absorbed by this tale of hard work, tough conditions, deep love and difficult choices. Highly recommended.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
I’d never read this book and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I did not like it. I found Holden as phony as all the people he castigates for being such fakes.

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

What are you reading?

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