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strand bookstore awning nyc

My reading pace has been fairly slow (for me) this month. New apartment, still-new job, lots of other things crowding into my brain. But I’ve still found a few good books. Here they are:

A Sense of Wonder: The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane and the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle
An eclectic, luminous, often demanding collection of essays first published in Portland Magazine. My favorites are by Heather King, Robin Cody and Pico Iyer, but they are all worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Crowned and Dangerous, Rhys Bowen
This 10th entry in Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, which I love, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch unexpectedly in Ireland with her beau, Darcy, trying to exonerate his father of a murder charge. Frothy, fun and smart, like this entire series. (I adore Georgie.)

The House of Dreams, Kate Lord Brown
Journalist Sophie Cass interviews artist Gabriel Lambert about his experience as a refugee in Marseille during World War II. The true story of Varian Fry and others at the Emergency Rescue Committee, who worked tirelessly to get artists out of France, is fascinating. But the novel’s framing story was less so, and I did not like the ending. (I loved Brown’s previous novel, The Perfume Garden.)

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, David Hajdu
Music critic (and self-professed music geek) Hajdu takes readers on a tour of pop music in the U.S., from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, 45s to LPs to mixtapes and MP3s. Smart, entertaining and surprisingly deep. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope returns to WWII London and gets pulled onto a gruesome Scotland Yard case: a Jack-the-Ripper copycat serial killer targeting young professional women. I like Maggie (this is her sixth adventure), but this book was daaark. Also, the comments on the treatment of women felt heavy-handed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 4).

Faithful, Alice Hoffman
Since the night of the accident that left her best friend in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn’t believe she deserves to live. Faithful is the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way, with help from her stalwart mother, a few stray dogs and a few highly unlikely friends. Bleak and gritty at times (Shelby messes up over and over), but also beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Hoffman has written many books, but I’d never read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

The Boy is Back, Meg Cabot
Pro golfer Reed Stewart hasn’t been back to his Indiana hometown in a decade. But when his parents end up in the news (and in financial trouble), he returns to try and help out – which means facing his ex, Becky Flowers. Cabot tells this hilarious story through emails, texts and newspaper articles. Fluffy and really fun – smart chick lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Wonder Women: 25 Inventors, Innovators and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs
We are hearing a lot lately (it’s long overdue!) about brilliant, brave women whose stories have been overlooked. Sam Maggs writes bite-size biographies of 25 such women in this snappy, girl-power book. The colloquial tone got a little wearing, but these women – inventors, spies, scientists – are amazing. Would pair well with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

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

What are you reading?

ice cream cookie stripes sprinkles

Did I mention that we moved, earlier this month? And that I started a new job, not long ago? And that, perhaps, all these transitions at once (along with the usual responsibilities of daily life) might have been a wee bit stressful?

Well. In case I didn’t, I’m mentioning it now.

August has been a month for hanging on by our fingernails: unpacking the new apartment one box at a time, calling all the utility companies and the washing machine repairman, scraping together dinner from whatever’s in the fridge (which often hasn’t been much). I am looking forward to September, always one of my favorite months, and simultaneously not sure how it’s upon us already.

changes-fortune-cookie

As I wade through transition (aided by a bit of fortune cookie wisdom, above), I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now. Amid the chaos, there is still a lot of good stuff – “lots of joy,” a friend reminded me the other day. “But you have to seek it.” She was right, as she usually is.

So, as we soak up these last hot days of summer (and hope for some rain), here’s what is saving my life now:

  • My daily trips to Darwin’s, for sustenance of several kinds. Chai in the morning, lunch at midday, snacks and/or fresh produce in the afternoon. And always, chitchat with the folks behind the counter. This is my place and I am grateful for it every single day.
  • A simple summer salad, which has been dinner several times recently: tomatoes, mozzarella, peaches, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Good books: gorgeous fiction (Alice Hoffman’s Faithful), smart nonfiction (David Hajdu’s Love for Sale and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures), entertaining light fiction (Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back and Rhys Bowen’s Crowned and Dangerous).
  • A scone and a cup of tea for breakfast, nearly every day. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • The silver ring set with malachite I bought in NYC, which makes me so happy every time I wear it.
  • An ongoing text conversation with a friend about All The Things, which is a daily lifeline.
  • A standing Thursday meeting with other writers from around Harvard, a font of both useful information and witty, sarcastic one-liners.
  • Red roses from my local florist, and a clear surface to put them on.

red roses

  • Having (most of) my books shelved and arranged so I can find them.
  • Our washing machine works again – and doing laundry always makes me feel more in control of my life.
  • Pictures of my nephew, headed back to preschool, and so many of my friends’ kids who are also going back to school. I love those brand-new backpacks and gap-toothed grins.
  • Ice cream dates, with J and with friends, at the place down the street from our new apartment.
  • Photos of a colleague’s new puppy, and interactions with other friendly dogs in Harvard Square.
  • Julia Cameron’s wise words on writing and life in The Sound of Paper, to which I return every summer.
  • A couple of long heart-to-hearts with good friends. There’s nothing like being together.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

Summer 2016, unblogged

summer beach view boston

Summer is drawing to a close here in New England. The season’s heat is still lingering, but I’ve noticed a new crispness in the air on several recent mornings. My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school pictures of my friends’ children, and the students at Harvard, where I work, start classes next week.

Before we jump into my favorite season, I wanted to share a few summer scenes that have, so far, gone unblogged.

Some friends of ours – former fellow Boston transplants, who now live in northern California – blew into town over Memorial Day weekend. We spent an evening catching up over pizza and wine, in their swank 14th-floor suite (!) at the Liberty Hotel, looking out over the Charles River.

charles river sunset view boston fog

After surviving a hectic and fun Commencement season at my temp gig, I stepped aside to make room for (and train) my replacement. This photo is from my last solo day in that temporary space, on the sixth floor with so much light.

computer tulips hpac

My colleagues surprised me with a good-bye reception on my last day there. This is Wendy, our office manager, who made that (and so many other things) happen.

katie wendy books

At the end of June, I started my new job (back where I temped this winter) and was greeted by this tiny orchid, a gift from my boss.

you are here orchid desk

On the 4th of July, we headed to Fenway to cheer on the Rangers as they played the Red Sox. It was sweltering in the outfield, but fun to be there with friends.

simpsons gibsons fenway

The hubs and I sneaked in an afternoon at Crane Beach in mid-July: sun, sand and a delicious dinner afterward at Salt.

crane beach jer

I flew to Texas at the end of July to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. We threw a party at the home of some friends and he didn’t suspect a thing, which was perfect. Then I spent three days chasing my nephews, who are so big and who both love to play in the dirt.

ryder harrison tractor

One of J’s friends from his a cappella group got married in July, and the group performed the processional music – “The Book of Love.” J also played a few acoustic songs during the cocktail hour, and then we all danced the night away. So fun.

mass whole notes wedding

I spent a lot of time on our front porch before we moved, soaking up the views in the neighborhood we called home for six years.

summer sunset view porch

We moved almost three weeks ago, and honestly, life has felt like utter chaos since then. But I did snag a lunch date with this guy one Tuesday – fresh tamales at the Harvard farmers’ market, and fro-yo from Berryline.

jer katie harvard yard

I’m looking ahead to fall: making plans, making lists, feeling ready to be more settled at home and at work. This summer has felt chaotic and hot and stressful, in a lot of ways. But looking back at these photos reminded me: there’s been a lot of beauty, too.

What have you left unblogged this summer?

katie mirror larchmont

I’m not much for selfies, but every once in a while I snap one just for fun. This is from my recent trip to NYC – I loved the effect of these mirrors in the hotel lobby.

green ring iced tea

I bought this ring last weekend on my solo trip to NYC, from a Turkish man selling jewelry on Bleecker Street in the Village. I love it. (I also drank about a gallon of hibiscus iced tea during that heat wave.)

Hamilton

hamilton book mug

Last week, on my way to the kitchen at work, I passed by a colleague’s office and heard – or thought I heard – a familiar snippet of music. When I walked back by a few minutes later, I stuck my head in the door. “Is that Hamilton?”

My colleague looked up with a grin. “I cannot stop listening to this musical,” he confessed.

I laughed, and made a confession of my own: I downloaded the soundtrack at the end of May. And I can’t stop listening either.

If you’re a Broadway fan – or a hip-hop fan, a Twitter user, or someone who pays attention to trends in pop culture – you don’t need me to tell you about Hamilton, the smash musical about the life of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton that has taken the world by storm. If you (somehow) haven’t heard about it by now, I am both amazed (how?) and here to tell you: it is incredible.

My friend Valerie, she of the impeccable taste in TV shows (and the person responsible for introducing me to Harry Potter), raved about Hamilton when she saw it in New York last summer. I’d heard about it all over the Internet, especially since the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a prolific and highly entertaining Twitter user, and since I have a lot of friends who share my love of Broadway musicals. But I’m not really a hip-hop fan – or I didn’t think I was – and so I shrugged off the show’s popularity for a while, thinking it wasn’t for me.

As you may have guessed, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’ve been living with Hamilton for three months now, and I mean that literally: I have memorized nearly the entire first act and significant chunks of the second. The songs run through my head from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night. I listened to it for hours walking around NYC last weekend, and I entered (and lost) the lottery to see the show three times. My consolation prize was the small but fascinating Hamilton exhibit at the New York Public Library.

hamilton exhibit nypl

I’ve spent days listening to the whole cast album and also replaying three- and four-song sets over and over again, marveling at the multiple layers of history, politics, love and ambition that intertwine to form the show’s narrative. My ear has become attuned to the vocal nuances of Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Christopher Jackson, Renée Elise Goldsberry and the rest of the original Broadway cast, who perform on the album. I watched the TV broadcast of the Tonys just so I could see the cast perform live. (I cried.) And I am ridiculously proud that I can rap (almost) as fast as Daveed Diggs, who spits rapid-fire lyrics as the Marquis de Lafayette. (“I never pegged you for a rapper,” my husband said recently. Trust me: I didn’t either.)

Hamilton has generated a lot of ink (online and off) about its origins, its racially diverse cast, its mind-blowingly complex marriage of musical forms, its unflinchingly honest take on the story of a nation that continues to struggle with its own complicated history. My friend Alissa Wilkinson wrote a fantastic piece for Books & Culture about the show, and there are hundreds of other articles out there. I’ve struggled, myself, to explain what keeps me coming back to it – and the answer, like the show, has multiple layers.

Like any great narrative, Hamilton contains multitudes: love, ambition, honor, jealousy, revenge, the bloody founding of a nation and its messy first few years of self-governance. But it’s also a wonderfully particular human story. Miranda’s lyrics bring Hamilton, George Washington, Aaron Burr, the Schuyler sisters and other characters to vivid, precise, colorful life.

Instead of marble busts or engraved portraits on our currency, these are people: flawed, hopeful, impulsive, gloriously brave. They fall in love; they wrestle their own demons (and fight with each other, sometimes fatally). They aim to give their children a better life than the one they had. They grapple with big ideas: independence, friendship, legacy. They do their best to build something that will outlive them. They are towering historical figures, and they are also us. Their story, especially for Americans, is ours.

During these crazy, turbulent months of job changes and moving, I’ve had Hamilton in my earbuds and in my head almost constantly. I haven’t been this obsessed with a musical since I fell in love with Les Misérables back in high school. In addition to asking important questions and sparking much-needed conversations, this show tells a damn good story. And it is so much fun.

Have you listened to Hamilton? (Or read the book about the show, above?) I’m always up for geeking out with fellow Hamilfans.

chai skirt breathe

Back to reality today (and stacks of emails), but I stole a moment this morning to sit outside Darwin’s with my chai. Ahhhh.

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