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Thankful

For leggy geraniums in my kitchen window and brilliant afternoon light.

For morning runs along the harbor and the greenway. For so much outdoor public space in my neighborhood, and a body that is strong and healthy, beautiful and resilient.

For a kind, brilliant, passionate, funny, fierce man whose love sustains me.

For a few local friends who are my lifelines, every single day.

For my faraway family, both blood kin and chosen.

For texts and calls with my girlfriends scattered across the miles. For the technologies that allow us to share in the details of one another’s lives.

For vaccines, nurses, doctors, public health officials and everyone who is (still) working so hard to keep us safe.

For a job at a neighborhood nonprofit that I love, working with good people to bring music and creative empowerment to our young folks.

For nourishing trips this summer and fall – to Texas, Minneapolis, Vermont and beyond – to explore new and beloved places and spend time with folks dear to me.

For music in all its forms: the Wailin’ Jennys and the women of country on my long runs, humming favorites in my kitchen, singing carols with others at Christmas choir rehearsal, hearing our ZUMIX students play ukulele or drums or guitar.

For good books, those who write them, and the chance to read and review them regularly.

For a place – my studio, my neighborhood, this city, my communities – where I have built a home and been welcomed into other people’s homes.

For all – as my friend Amy would say – that we have been given.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

We’ve turned the corner into mid-November, flipping the big switch of Daylight Savings and shifting from bright green trees to russet leaves and early, gold-streaked sunsets. Back-to-school excitement (and trepidation) is a thing of the past, and even my trip to Texas last month feels like a long time ago. The accordion of time continues to contract and expand in strange ways in these still-pandemic months. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’ve lived one year, or five, or a strange in-between number, since March 2020. 

Here in Massachusetts, we are cautiously back to some kind of normal: back in the office, back to school, back to (some) indoor collective experiences. We are still wearing masks, keeping an eye on the COVID numbers, pulling out our vaccination cards to go to concerts or the theater. I know it isn’t the same everywhere; one of the defining features of this pandemic, for me, has been the wide range of experiences based on region, age and political affiliation. Sometimes I wonder if we are – if I am – being paranoid. But then I think about the losses of the past 20 months, all those lives memorialized this summer by tiny white flags near the Washington Monument. I think about the people I know who have lost loved ones. I think about the folks I love who have underlying health issues. And I think: maybe being cautious isn’t so bad.

I’ve thought often this year about an exchange between General Leia Organa and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in one of the newer Star Wars films. It’s the part in every Star Wars movie that always makes me cry: the moment when several of the characters acknowledge the odds they’re up against, and decide to go in anyway. This Leia is a different Leia than the fresh-faced princess with the cinnamon buns we met in A New Hope: she’s older, wearier, more familiar with the costs of constantly fighting. “So many losses,” she says quietly to her tall, purple-haired friend. “I can’t take any more.”

“Sure you can,” Holdo responds instantly. “You taught me how.”

Holdo’s comment first struck me as flippant when I saw it in the theater; I wondered if she was even listening to Leia. But it has stayed with me – this moment of vulnerability between two women who are longtime friends – through my divorce, a move, job changes, and the pandemic we’re all still living in. Sometimes I think it’s a testament to human resilience: we are all capable of withstanding more than we think. (Hasn’t the pandemic taught us that, if nothing else?) Sometimes I think it’s an important way for Holdo to remind Leia of her own courage. Some days I agree with Leia; my heart and soul have had enough.

Most of the time, I recognize it’s not that simple, not always. We may think – or even believe – we can’t take any more, in the moment. But we have to keep going. And we rely on our people to remind us that we can. 

The days are so bright right now, the low autumn sun sparkling on the harbor and flooding through the still-vivid leaves, making shifting patterns of orange and crimson and gold. And the nights are so dark – after those fiery sunsets at 4:45 p.m., the hours stretch on and on in pitch blackness, as I know they will for months. 

Somehow, I have to learn to hold the extremes – the dark and the bright, the losses and the joys. I have to learn to embrace it all, to lean into the loneliness as well as the deep connection. I am trying (always, it seems, I am trying) to accept all of it, to let it be what it will be and face whatever comes with courage and hope.

We are halfway through November (already?) and the leaves are still gorgeous, thought the nights are getting colder (and darker!). Here’s what I have been reading:

Our American Friend, Anna Pitoniak
First Lady Lara Caine, a Russian and former model, has always been a bit of a mystery. When she invites journalist Sofie Morse to write her biography, Sofie’s not sure what to think – but she finds herself drawn into Lara’s world. A twisty, fascinating novel – part thriller, part Cold War history, part meditation on making one’s way in the world as a woman. Clearly inspired by Melania Trump, but very much its own thing. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 4).

The Whispers of War, Julia Kelly
As Europe hurtles toward another war, three friends – two Englishwomen and a German immigrant – struggle with the implications for their lives and friendship. Kelly writes warm, engaging novels about female friendship, and this one was really well done. Found at the Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

Red is My Heart, Antoine Laurain, illus. Le Sonneur
I have loved several of Laurain’s whimsical novels about life and love in Paris. This one is different – snippets of musings from a man going through a breakup, illustrated by street artists Le Sonneur. A bit enigmatic, a bit pensive. I received an advance copy; it’s out Jan. 18.

The Magnolia Palace, Fiona Davis
New York, 1919: artists’ model Lillian Carter needs a new career, and stumbles into a position as private secretary to Helen Clay Frick (whose father created the Frick Collection). In 1961, a young English model named Veronica finds herself stranded at the Frick in a snowstorm and uncovers a mystery. I love Davis’ richly detailed historical novels – this one was engaging and fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 25).

Call Us What We Carry, Amanda Gorman
Like a lot of people, I found out about Gorman when she wowed us at President Biden’s inauguration. Her new collection is piercingly honest and deeply felt – about race, the pandemic and the vagaries of being human. Lyrical and healing; her skill amazes me. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 7).

Her Path Forward: 21 Stories of Transformation and Inspiration, ed. Chris Olsen and Julie Burton
My Tuesday morning writing group has saved my life during the pandemic. Chris (a member) and Julie (who runs ModernWell) have co-launched Publish Her Press, and this is their first project. (And several of my friends are in it!) A wide-ranging collection of stories by and about women finding their way.

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

What are you reading?

How is it November already, y’all? (I say this every month.) I am struggling with what to do with this blog, lately, but still wanted to share what I have been reading during these last few intense weeks. Here’s the latest roundup:

Silence in the LibraryKatharine Schellman
Wealthy widow Lily Adler finds herself dealing with an unwanted houseguest (her father) and the death of a family friend. Naturally, she gets suspicious and starts to investigate. A witty, highly enjoyable Victorian mystery.

All You Knead is Love, Tanya Guerrero
Alba doesn’t want to go live with her estranged abuela in Spain. But once she gets there, she finds her way to a local bakery, a new community, and a way to work through some difficulties. A lovely middle-grade story that gets honest about tough family stuff. I loved the glimpses of Barcelona, too – I visited a long time ago.

Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, Stephanie Graves
As the war with Germany drags on, Olive Bright is determined to do her bit – preferably with the help of her family’s highly trained pigeons. But the clandestine operation that comes knocking at her door isn’t quite what she expected. A really fun WWII story with a plucky heroine – very Home Fires.

Brown Girls, Daphne Palasi Andreades
Narrated in a collective voice, this powerful novel tells the story of a group of brown and Black girls from “the dregs of Queens.” Andreades’ voice is vivid and engaging, and she draws sharp portraits of their individual and shared experiences. So good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 4).

The Austen Girls, Lucy Worsley
Jane Austen’s nieces, Fanny and Anna, are finally out in society – but a series of events leave them both wondering if the husband hunt is all it’s cracked up to be. A thoughtful middle-grade take on Austen (who is herself a character) with a slightly improbable but really fun plot. Just what I needed for a few cozy evenings. Found at Dogtown Books.

The Garden in Every Sense and Season, Tovah Martin
I’ve been going sloooooowly through this one since June. Martin takes readers through a year in her garden, through the lens of the five senses. She’s knowledgeable and also breezy (with a love for alliteration) and this was such a fun tour of her garden year. Found at the wonderful Concord Bookshop.

Miss Kopp Investigates, Amy Stewart
After the death of their brother, the Kopp sisters rally around their sister-in-law and her children. Fleurette, the youngest sister, puts aside her dreams of the stage – but soon finds herself involved in some undercover investigative work. I love this series and it was fun to see Fleurette coming into her own. Also found at the Concord Bookshop.

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

What are you reading?

October is flying, y’all. Between work, running, a visit from a dear friend and a bit of travel, I’m hanging on (and loving it). Here’s what I have been reading:

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance, Meg Medina
Seventh grade is a whole new set of challenges for Merci Suarez, including taking photos at the school dance, becoming friends with a boy, and learning how to navigate tricky friendships. I love Merci and her big multigenerational family.

The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish, Karina Yan Glaser
The Vanderbeekers are making all kinds of plans for Papa’s 40th birthday – but then he’s called out of town and their difficult grandparents show up. A warmhearted installment in this lovely series about a big, happy biracial family in Harlem.

Sunrise by the Sea, Jenny Colgan
Reeling after the death of her grandfather, Marisa Rossi moves to a tiny village in Cornwall – and discovers a new community, much to her surprise. I loved this sweet story in a familiar setting with some charming new characters.

Incense and Sensibility, Sonali Dev
Gubernatorial candidate Yash Raje is famous for his focus and drive. But after his bodyguard is shot at a rally, he starts struggling with anxiety and burnout. India Dashwood, a family friend and yoga therapist, is the perfect person to help him – except they’ve got a history no one knows about. A fun installment in Dev’s updated Indian-American Austen-twist series; I like Yash’s big, loving, dramatic family.

One Night Two Souls Went Walking, Ellen Cooney
A young interfaith chaplain makes the rounds at her hospital, accompanied by a dog who may or may not be real. I love Cooney’s lyrical writing, but wanted a bit more from the ending of this one.

Honor, Thrity Umrigar
Journalist Smita Agarwal gets a call from a friend and colleague who’s been injured. She needs Smita to pick up a story: a court case brought by a woman named Meena against her two brothers, who killed Meena’s Muslim husband. Umrigar thoughtfully handles a brutal subject matter – not just honor killings, but the religious and cultural divisions in India, intertwined with Smita’s own painful memories of leaving the country at 14. Heavy, but insightful and page-turning. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 4).

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

What are you reading?

Suddenly October is upon us – I can’t believe it’s today. The leaves are starting to turn, and Trader Joe’s looks like a pumpkin factory exploded. I have been raiding the middle-grade section at the library, and here’s the latest list:

Tune it Out, Jamie Sumner
Lou Montgomery has a powerful singing voice – but she hates crowds, loud noises and uncertain situations. When a car accident separates Lou from her mom for a bit, she meets some new folks who help her name and address her struggles. A sweet middle-grade novel – well done, but it made me so sad for Lou and her mom.

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York, Elizabeth Passarella
I loved every page of this memoir-cum-reflection on being a Southerner in Manhattan, and other complicated identities. Passarella is from Memphis; she’s around my age and I laughed out loud at a lot of her adventures, and related to most of them. Funny, smart and warm.

Summer at Meadow Wood, Amy Rebecca Tan
Vic Brown is (reluctantly) spending her summer at camp while her home life is falling apart. Despite her resistance, she ends up enjoying it: working on the camp farm, being “big sister” to a precocious seven-year-old, and learning a few things about herself (and Eleanor Roosevelt). Loved this one.

Every Missing Piece, Melanie Conklin
Ever since her dad died in an accident, Maddy Gaines sees danger and deception everywhere. But is the new kid at school really the kid she saw on the news who went missing six months ago? A sensitive middle-grade novel dealing with anxiety, domestic abuse and big family changes.

Rewilding the Urban Soul: Searching for the Wild in the City, Claire Dunn
Claire Dunn once spent a year living in the Australian bush – but after moving to Melbourne, she wanted to find ways to seek wildness in the city. This memoir charts her experiments in foraging, exploring, learning about local species, kayaking a city river and more. A bit too long, but well written and lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 7).

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

What are you reading?

The books (and the rest of life) are coming thick and fast this month, friends. (Photo from the wonderful Dogtown Books in Gloucester.)

Here’s what I have been reading:

Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Lewis is a minister and speaker dedicated to ubuntu – the Zulu concept of interdependence, humanity and compassion. She shares her own experience as a Black woman and a minister, and calls repeatedly for her readers to pursue both joy and justice. The parts about her own story resonated with me the most. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 9).

Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story: Remaking a Life from Scratch, Erin French
Annie recommended this memoir about food and love and mistakes and finding one’s way to a calling. I read it in two days – French’s writing is compelling, with lots of gorgeous food descriptions and some hard, honest reflection on her family and herself. Lovely.

The Parker Inheritance, Varian Johnson
I loved Johnson’s YA novel The Great Greene Heist. This (much more serious) middle-grade story follows two Black kids in a small Southern town who stumble on a mystery. What they dig up deals with sports, pervasive racism, an heirloom bracelet and a former tennis coach and his family who got run out of town decades ago. Compelling, though a bit confusing at times.

Castle Shade, Laurie R. King
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes find themselves in the depths of Roumania, investigating rumors of vampires (as one does). I loved this 17th installment in the series; it deals with village secrets, the effects of war and the challenge (for Russell and Holmes) of being married to a prickly, independent person. So fun.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina
Sixth grade is no joke for Merci Suarez – homework is getting tougher, the school’s queen bee has it out for her, and she can’t play soccer this year. Her beloved Lolo is also acting strange lately. I loved this warm, funny, thoughtful middle-grade novel about family and change and growing up.

Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star, Tim Federle
Former dancer and current writer/screenwriter Federle shares the wisdom he’s gained from a life in the theater. These bite-size essays are full of fun anecdotes and musical references, and basically boil down to: work hard, be a good person and celebrate when you can. Lots of fun.

The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Betweens to Remake the World, Kaya Oakes
Women often find themselves caught between conflicting expectations and even more complicated realities. Journalist Oakes examines the lives of women of faith – mostly women from the Bible, and saints – to make the point that feminine identity has always been transgressive and complicated. Thought-provoking– the chapters on “Barren” and “Alone” struck me especially. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 30).

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

What are you reading?

this is thirty-eight

I’m 38 today. And as I have said several times in the last week – to a friend who was joking about being “forever 29,” to another friend’s daughter who started to ask me how old I was and then hesitated, to my partner on the phone one night – I am proud to be 38. If you ask me how old I am, I will tell you. No dissembling, no hesitating. It may not always be that way, but it is that way today.

I have earned every one of these years: every gray hair, every smile line, every scar both visible and invisible. I have especially earned the last three years, which have included (among other things) my divorce, some serious church trauma, a move, two job changes, a new (wonderful) relationship, and a pandemic.

Since my this is thirty-five post, I have navigated challenges I could never have imagined. I have spent most of a year in my apartment by myself (or running through my beloved East Boston neighborhood). I have dealt with furloughs and layoffs and career/identity angst. I have chosen to blow up my life (read: leaving my marriage) and start again, and I have also dealt with changes I did not choose, repeatedly. I have held so much loss, and also so much love. I have not solved nearly everything, and I am still trying to let go of the idea that “solving” anything (except the New York Times crossword) is the goal.

Thirty-eight might be middle-aged, or close to it – but as Nora McInerny pointed out recently, middle age is the goal. Growing old is the goal. I want many more delicious years on this beautiful earth, and I want to live them as fully and bravely as possible. I want to care less (much less) about what people think, and more about creating joy and loving my people fiercely, and becoming a stronger writer, runner and human. (And I’d like to do some more international travel, too, once that feels like a good idea again.)

Thirty-eight looks like morning tea in one of my several favorite mugs, scribbling in my journal before heading out on a run. Thirty-eight is still adjusting to life at ZUMIX, dealing with the constant questions and uncertainty that come with any work (but especially youth-centered work) during a pandemic. Thirty-eight is yoga classes on some evenings and walks with my guy on others, regular text exchanges with a few close girlfriends and weekly phone calls with my parents. Thirty-eight has made New England her home for more than a decade, but is still and always a Texan.

Thirty-eight is still grieving the end of a marriage and an imagined future, and also reveling in the deep love I have found with a man I never expected. Thirty-eight is on a serious nineties country music kick and mixes in some Broadway tunes and folk music on the regular. Thirty-eight is learning to hold so many tensions, to accept and acknowledge that life is often both-and, to name the fear and worry and other hard emotions and then keep going through them. Thirty-eight snaps pictures of flowers every day, reads five or six books at once, eats a ton of granola and Greek yogurt and occasionally cooks real meals for one.

The upheavals of the last few years have made it challenging to plan, or even dream; so many of my former ideas about my life have been completely wiped away. But thirty-eight is starting to dream again.

I blinked and the first week and a half of September sped by. In between working and running, here’s what I have been reading:

Really Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Truly Lovejoy’s third adventure finds her going to mermaid academy on Cape Cod, trying to solve a couple of mysteries and dealing with boy-related feelings. I love this cozy series set in small-town New Hampshire; Truly is a great character and I love her big, warm, crazy family.

The Only Black Girls in Town, Brandy Colbert
Seventh-grader and avid surfer Alberta is thrilled when Edie and her mom move in across the street – their small California town is extremely white. The girls become friends, navigate tricky middle school social politics and discover a mystery surrounding a box of old journals in the attic. I loved this warm, thoughtful middle-grade novel.

The Lord God Made Them All, James Herriot
Since watching the All Creatures TV series this winter, I’ve been savoring Herriot’s books again. (Season 2 is coming soon!) This fourth volume continues the stories of his work and family life in Yorkshire, as well as some travel he did as a ship’s vet. Warm and funny and so soothing.

Instructions for Dancing, Nicola Yoon
Evie doesn’t believe in love anymore – not since her dad cheated on her mom and moved out. But then two things happen: she starts seeing visions of how other people’s relationships begin and end, and she meets a boy named X at a ballroom dance studio. A fun, engaging YA novel – I wanted more dance and I didn’t love one of the plot twists, but overall really well done.

The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World, Porter Fox
Avid skier and climatology journalist Fox is worried about the end of winter – and he set out to interview the folks who are measuring, researching and trying to prevent it. A fascinating (though at times dense) travelogue/climate study/memoir about the world’s frozen places and the threat of climate change. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 2).

A Kind of Paradise, Amy Rebecca Tan
Jamie Bunn made a big mistake right as seventh grade ended, so she’s stuck volunteering at the library all summer. But the longer she’s there, the more she comes to love the place – and she learns a few things about moving on from your low moments. A warm, engaging middle-grade story and a love letter to libraries.

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

What are you reading?

We are, somehow, at the end of August: poised on the edge of a new season, none of us quite sure what’s next. As we head into September, here’s what I have been reading:

Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Patricia Hanlon
I found this lovely memoir at Trident and dove in headfirst (ha). Hanlon and her husband frequently swim the creeks and salt marsh near their home north of Boston. She writes with a painter’s eye about color and seasons, and with concern about climate change. Lyrical and lovely.

Luck of the Titanic, Stacey Lee
Valora Luck has dreams of an acrobatic career with her twin brother, Jamie. But when she tries to board the Titanic, she learns Chinese people aren’t allowed in America. So Val stows away and tries to figure out a new plan. A fast-paced, compelling YA story inspired by real Chinese people on board the doomed ship.

The Guncle, Steven Rowley
Semi-retired actor Patrick loves being the fun “guncle” to his niece and nephew – occasionally. But when they come to spend the summer with him after losing their mother, it’s an adjustment for everyone. Took me a bit to get into this novel, but I ended up loving this funny, unusual family story. Recommended by Annie.

The Lost Spells, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
I love everything Macfarlane writes and adored this pocket-size, gorgeously illustrated book of acrostic “spells” about birds and beasts and flowers and trees. Utterly lovely.

A Match Made for Murder, Iona Whishaw
On their honeymoon in Arizona, Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling stumble onto a murder case – and some complications involving an old colleague of Darling’s. Meanwhile, back in King’s Cove, Sergeant Ames and his new constable are dealing with vandalism and murder. A wonderful installment in this great series. (I received a free copy from the publisher.)

On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed
I remember learning about Juneteenth as a child (like Gordon-Reed, I grew up in Texas), but it’s gotten national attention recently. These essays blend memoir with history about Texas independence and statehood, Black people in Texas and the Juneteenth holiday itself. Fascinating and so readable – I learned a lot.

The Shape of Thunder, Jasmine Warga
Cora and Quinn, former best friends, haven’t spoken in a year since a tragedy divided them. But then Quinn leaves Cora a birthday present that starts the girls on a journey toward time travel. A powerful, often heartbreaking book about grief and friendship, race and adolescence. Really well done.

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, ed. Colleen Kinder
We all have them: those brief encounters with strangers that echo throughout our lives. Kinder, cofounder of Off Assignment magazine, collects 65 essays exploring that topic in this book. A lovely, often poignant, kaleidoscopic collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

Roll with It, Jamie Sumner
Ellie Cowan dreams of being a professional baker – but her problems (like being the kid in a wheelchair) are more immediate. When Ellie and her mom move to Oklahoma to help out her grandparents, Ellie finds some unexpected friends – and new challenges. A sweet, funny middle-grade novel that gets real about disability and prejudice.

Wholehearted Faith, Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
Rachel (whom some of you may remember) was a passionate thinker, writer and speaker who wrestled mightily with faith, and insisted on God’s big, deep, ungraspable love. This, her last posthumous book for adults, is a collection of her writings on faith, doubt and Christian community. Jeff Chu did a masterful job of weaving her words together, and I loved the epilogue by Nadia Bolz-Weber. There’s some familiar and some new material, but it all sounds like Rachel. Warm, thoughtful and honest, just like her. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 2).

A Rogue’s Company, Allison Montclair
After solving a murder, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting back on its feet. But the arrival of a new African client and the return of Gwen’s tyrannical father-in-law from his travels spell trouble for Gwen and the bureau. An adventurous, witty installment in a really fun mystery series.

Eighty Days to Elsewhere, kc dyer
Travel-shy Romy Keene loves working at her uncles’ East Village bookstore. But when a new landlord threatens the shop, she takes off on a round-the-world adventure (trying to score a lucrative new job). The problem? The landlord’s nephew is her main competitor for the job – and he’s really cute. I found this one on the sale table at Trident and flew through it – so much fun, with some insights about travel and privilege.

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

What are you reading?