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Earlier this month, I joined a running club – the newish, informal, neighborhood group that meets at the foot of the Golden Stairs, mere yards from my house. I’d been seeing their posts on Instagram for months now, and seen them running in a pack through the neighborhood – but I’d hesitated to try it out. I usually like to run alone, plus 7 a.m. sounded a wee bit early…plus (and this is the real thing) I hate walking up to groups of strangers. I’ve never enjoyed that moment of being the odd new person, but like so many things, it’s gotten worse with two years of isolation during the pandemic.

But. It’s spring (tipping into summer this weekend, with 90-degree temps on the way). The mornings are lighter; the lilacs are blooming; the azaleas are a blaze of pink and the rhododendrons are right behind them. And in small ways, I can feel myself opening up, too: finally unclenching after months of clinging to all things safe and familiar.

Don’t get me wrong: I still need lots of nights on my couch with a book, or morning runs by myself with the Wailin’ Jennys or Martina McBride in my ears. But some things feel more possible, less scary, than they did a year ago. I’m seeing it all around me: people are traveling again, eating in restaurants and gathering with friends. I went to the movies last night for the first time in a year. It all feels like training wheels for being back in the world, a chance to try out – in a safe context – the things we used to do and the things we want to do, and decide which (if any) we’d like to keep.

Long before the pandemic, I was telling myself a story about meeting people in Boston: that it’s hard and scary and they probably won’t welcome me anyway. This was true at my first workplace here, and I’ve carried it with me, like a stone in my chest, for a decade. It has taken years to untangle that story, and the fear still rises up every so often. But the other week, I set my alarm for 6:15, ate some granola and drank a cup of tea, grabbed my keys and headed down the stairs. Just try it, I told myself. If you hate it, you never have to go back again.

Well. I didn’t hate it – as evidenced by the fact that I got up early this morning for the third Friday in a row. I ran a 5K last weekend in the sweaty, steamy heat with some of these people – and I didn’t even mind that much when I came in dead last. I’ve run into a couple folks already in the neighborhood. And most weeks, we walk to the new cafe afterward to grab coffee and chat.

It feels like community, like connection, like finding a new way to be in this neighborhood where I’ve spent three joyful and also difficult years. It feels like pushing off with those training wheels, learning to balance again. It feels – in a sneaky, surprising way – like joy.

We’re halfway through May (I think?) and I’ve been blowing through review books and mysteries, as per usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After, Elizabeth Crane
Crane had a good marriage – or thought she did – until her husband admitted he wasn’t happy. This memoir chronicles the dissolution of their marriage; chapters vary from a few sentences to several pages. I found it both heartbreaking and validating in the extreme; I saw so much of myself (and my ex) in Crane’s narrative. Wry, sometimes self-absorbed (but aren’t we all, in crisis?) and sharply observed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, Beth Morrey
Delphine Jones’ life plan went off the rails when she got pregnant at 16 (three years after her mother’s death). Now, at 28, she’s trying to get back on track – with the help of her precocious daughter, a cranky Frenchwoman, a kindhearted teacher and a Welsh pianist. I loved this sweet novel about facing our demons and finding our way. I loved Morrey’s first novel, too.

The Unkept Woman, Allison Montclair
Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge are happily back to their matchmaking business after several murder investigations. But then – of course – Iris is followed home by an unknown woman, who ends up dead in Iris’ flat a few days later. A witty, post-WWII British mystery (fourth in a fun series) with a few great twists. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 26).

Any Other Family, Eleanor Brown
I love Brown’s thoughtful fiction; The Weird Sisters is a longtime fave. This, her third novel, follows an unconventional family formed by three sets of parents who all adopted biological siblings. On a family vacation in Aspen, all the parents–especially the women–are forced to confront some hard truths about themselves and one another, and what future changes might mean for their family. Such a compelling story and an insightful exploration of adoption, family dynamics, what we carry forward from our own experiences and what truly makes a family. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

The Bodyguard, Katherine Center
Hannah Brooks is good at her job, which involves providing private security for wealthy clients. But while she’s reeling from her mother’s death and a breakup, she gets an unconventional assignment – protecting actor Jack Stapleton by posing as his girlfriend. This was a super cute, witty rom-com (I could totally see it as a movie) with a sweet slow-burn romance. Set in Texas, which I loved, and I also appreciated how Hannah became (gradually!) more self-aware. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 19).

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Life When the Old Ones Stop Working, Shauna Niequist
Niequist has gone through upheaval in the last few years: not only the pandemic, but serious personal chaos and a cross-country move to NYC. She writes thoughtfully about big changes, health problems, learning to forgive and keep going, and the delights to be found in the unexpected. Occasionally veered into cliche for me but was mostly real and relatable. I especially liked the parts about “living lightly,” moving through anger and resentment (so hard!), and coming to terms with who you are in different seasons.

Framed in Fire, Iona Whishaw
The publisher sent me a copy of this 9th Lane Winslow mystery (I adore this series). Lane stumbles on (another) dead body when she’s visiting a friend, and meets an Indigenous man who may have some connection to both the area and the body. Meanwhile, an Italian restaurateur finds himself the target of arson and a smear campaign; the whole police force gets caught up in both cases. Thoughtful, compelling and well plotted, as always.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

This weekend, it felt like summer here in the Northeast, which means I’m looking forward to porch-sitting and reading. One of my favorite year-round – but especially summer – genres is the type of mystery featuring whip-smart female sleuths. Cracking open a mystery in the summer takes me back to childhood days spent devouring piles of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, or (more recently) vacations featuring Miss Marple, Maisie Dobbs or Sara Paretsky‘s Chicago private eye, V.I. Warshawski.

Last summer, I found a new-to-me sleuth: Lane Winslow, a British ex-intelligence agent who has moved to rural British Columbia to rest and heal after her harrowing World War II years. She’s barely settled in when she becomes a murder suspect, but before long, she’s helping the enigmatic Inspector Darling and his cheerful young constable, Ames, track down the real killer. I happened upon A Killer in King’s Cove at the delightful Concord Bookshop, and loved it so much that I immediately ordered its two sequels, Death in a Darkening Mist and An Old, Cold Grave.

Author Iona Whishaw, who spent her childhood in the Kootenays (where her characters live), based her elegant, thoughtful sleuth partly on her own mother’s experiences of intelligence work. Each of Whishaw’s books not only explores Lane’s new surroundings and her character, but delves into the long-term effects of both World Wars on those who survived them.

If that sounds depressing, it isn’t: Whishaw deftly intertwines plot and psychology, giving readers insight not only into Lane’s crime-solving strategies, but the perspectives and lives of her neighbors. The series also follows Lane’s inner journey, from complicated family history to postwar trauma to the beginning of new love. Well plotted and laced with dry wit, Lane’s adventures are entirely satisfying reading. I’m savoring each book and currently loving the latest installment, Framed in Fire.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last summer and then I forgot to post it! Lane has become one of my faves.

We’re nearly a week into May and I have been diving into books when life feels like too much, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Sophie Cousens
Journalist Laura LeQuesne has always believed in love – helped along in part by her parents’ epic love story. But when Laura goes to Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) to research a piece based on her family history, she uncovers some difficult truths. An utterly charming love story set in a gorgeous place, with a really likable main character.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Anne and others recommended this slim story of a middle-aged man in 1980s Ireland, who is forced to make a quiet but important decision. The setting is so vividly drawn, and the main character’s family life is such a contrast to the situation of others in his town.

Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community, One Dish at a Time, Janet Reich Elsbach
Jenny recommended this book of recipes meant for a crowd, whether it’s a community supper, a struggling family or a celebration. Most of these consequently make too much food for me, as I live alone, but there are some yummy ideas in here.

Cold Clay, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow, and when the bones of a moose are discovered in the local orchard, reporter Vera Vixen starts sniffing around for clues. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious new mink in town, and possible romantic trouble for Vera and her beau. A fun, charming second mystery in this series where all the characters are animals.

A Duet for Home, Karina Yan Glaser
Since her dad was killed in an accident, June Yang has been trying to keep her family together. When she, her younger sister and her mom have to move into a family shelter in the Bronx, it’s a tough transition. But June finds friends, a new viola teacher, and her own voice – even while things remain difficult. I loved this standalone novel from the author of the wonderful Vanderbeekers series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

Loving Working

“We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

I’m back from a local dog-sitting stint and then a whirlwind weekend in NYC – and catching up on mini book reviews. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Ghosts of Paris, Tara Moss
This sequel to The War Widow (which I enjoyed) takes private eye Billie Walker to postwar Paris in search of a wealthy client’s missing husband. While there, she searches for her own husband, who disappeared in Warsaw but may still be alive. I like Billie and her assistant, Sam; the pacing of this story felt a bit off, and the ending was a bit disappointing. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

A Full Life in a Small Place: Essays from a Desert Garden, Janice Emily Bowers
I picked up this collection at the Desert Museum in Tucson. Bowers writes so well about cultivation and different climates and insects (so many insects!) and paying attention. Lovely and thoughtful.

Vacationland, Meg Mitchell Moore
Louisa Fitzgerald McLean has been going to her parents’ summer home on the coast of Maine for her entire life. But this summer she’s there with three kids in tow, minus her husband, who’s slammed with work back in Brooklyn. Louisa’s father is ill; her mother is struggling to cope; and a new woman in town has a mysterious connection to the family. Moore writes juicy, thoughtful, compulsively readable summer dramas and this one delivers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

Murder at Mallowan Hall, Colleen Cambridge
Murder is mostly literary at Mallowan Hall, Agatha Christie’s country estate. But when it becomes literal (a body discovered in the library), housekeeper Phyllida Bright takes it upon herself to investigate. A really fun mystery with Christie herself as a minor character; I did think the narration harped a bit on Phyllida’s mysterious past. But a highly enjoyable start to a new series.

Here for the Drama, Kate Bromley
Winnie has spent the past five years being a brilliant assistant to playwright Juliette Brassard – at the expense of her own budding playwriting career. When Winnie and Juliette hop over to London for a restaging of one of Juliette’s plays, Winnie not only falls for Juliette’s handsome nephew, but starts to question where her decisions have led her. A smart, funny theater-nerd rom-com with wonderful witty banter; I read this one in a day. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 21).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

Before

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

I have been thinking a lot about the lives we live “before” (this time of year makes me remember, vividly, the process of going through my divorce, three years ago). This poem of Limón’s made me think of Nora Ephron’s lists of what she would (and wouldn’t) miss, written before her death in 2012.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

If they come in the night

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a cold hard floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
angry.

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted light off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of morning
touching a face
I love. We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves. We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

It has been a hard and heavy few weeks in the headlines, and this poem – found via Abby Rasminsky – made me think of Ukraine and also of my own life. I hope it moves you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

We are (nearly) halfway through April, approaching Marathon Monday, and smack in the middle of cherry blossom season. Here’s what I have been reading:

Freedom is an Inside Job: Owning Our Darkness and Our Light to Heal Ourselves and the World, Zainab Salbi
Salbi is a well-known activist for women’s rights, but she spent years hiding from her own fears and insecurities. This memoir charts her journey through relationships, body image struggles, professional and other challenges, toward a more peaceful, holistic vision of herself. Reading about her divorce was particularly striking to me; some other moments fell rather flat. Found at Bluestocking Books in San Diego.

Five Things About Ava Andrews, Margaret Dilloway
Ava Andrews has lots of ideas – but her anxiety often prevents her from speaking up. She also has a heart condition. When her best friend moves away, Ava pushes herself to try an improv class and a few other new things, with surprising results. A sweet, funny middle-grade novel with a realistic picture of invisible disabilities. Found at the Book Catapult.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams
Esme Nicoll, motherless child of a lexicographer, spends her childhood in the Scriptorium – a garden shed in Oxford where James Murray and his team of assistants are compiling words for the Oxford English Dictionary. As Esme grows up, she begins to collect words that have been left out – mostly words used by women and working-class folks. I loved this fiercely feminist, gorgeous novel set in my beloved Oxford. Recommended by my (also fiercely feminist, gorgeous) friend Shanna.

Reading the Water: Fly Fishing, Fatherhood, and Finding Strength in Nature, Mark Hume
Hume has loved to fly fish since he was a boy in rural Canada. This lyrical, thoughtful memoir traces his fishing journey through the years, and how he has passed the love of fly fishing and the natural world on to his new daughters. Quiet, moving and lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead, Elle Cosimano
After pulling off a hit job almost by accident, Finlay Donovan is trying to catch her breath, prep for the holidays and work on her new novel. But some suspicious posts on an online forum have her convinced someone is trying to off her ex-husband – and the forum might be connected to a certain Russian mobster. A fun, fast-paced follow-up to Finlay Donovan is Killing It; I can’t wait for more adventures from Finlay and her nanny/accountant/partner-in-crime, Vero.

A Natural History of Now: Notes from the Edge of Nature, ed. Sara J. Call and Jennifer Li-Yen Douglass
I picked up this weird little collection for $4 at Bookmans in Tucson – the price and the blurb from the late, great Brian Doyle sold me. It’s an odd, often startling, sometimes beautiful group of essays (and two short stories) mostly set in the American West. Some gross, some gorgeous, all surprising.

The Year of Miracles: Recipes About Love + Grief + Growing Things, Ella Risbridger
I found this sweet memoir-cookbook both healing and heartbreaking; Risbridger’s partner, Jim, died a few years ago and she writes about grief, building a new life, cooking for and with her new housemate, and how that all shifted during 2020. The recipes are a mix of simple and fiddly, but all are for home cooks with plenty of side notes. My grief is different than Risbridger’s, but I still often felt seen by her words. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 26).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?