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kitchen aprons book stack

Trying to catch up a little here: my reading pace has slowed during our move, but here’s what I’ve been reading as we settle into the new place:

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in the White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco
I devoured this smart, engaging, chatty memoir by Mastromonaco, who worked for Barack Obama for almost 10 years. She tells crazy campaign stories, writes about confidence and kindness (and other key qualities), and shares a few personal anecdotes. The narrative wanders at times, but it’s honest, fascinating and a lot of fun. Recommended by Rebecca on All the Books, and by my pen pal Jaclyn.

When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
I’d been seeing this Indian-American YA love story everywhere, so I picked it up at the library and took it to the beach. Two teenagers meet at a web-development seminar in San Francisco, but Dimple doesn’t know that their parents are scheming to set them up (for marriage!). She throws her iced coffee in his face; they end up as project partners; and (spoiler) they fall in love anyway. Sweet and funny; I loved how both Dimple and Rishi wrestled with their family’s culture and traditions in honest, interesting ways.

Ash and Quill, Rachel Caine
Fugitives on the run from the powerful Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have escaped to Philadelphia – which is full of enemies and also under threat from the Library’s forces. The best yet in Caine’s smart, fast-paced YA series: so much here about knowledge and power, information and freedom. Also: a motley crew of friends trying to save the world – knowing full well they might die in the attempt – is a story I always love.

The Book of Separation, Tova Mirvis
After spending her life ensconced in Orthodox Judaism, Mirvis found herself unable to remain there: even though it meant dismantling her marriage and uprooting her children’s lives, she knew she had to leave. A stunning, gorgeously written memoir of leaving and belonging, community and isolation, questioning and loving and figuring out different ways to be. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 19).

Evidence, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry, and it is saving my life these days: wise, whimsical, keenly observed, insistent. I’ve been carrying this collection in my purse like a talisman. Some favorites: “Halleluiah,” “Mysteries, Yes,” “Evidence,” “The Singular and Cheerful Life.”

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

What are you reading?

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snapdragons salad book essence of malice table

I know, I know – we’re a week into August. But I have a good excuse: I’m poking my head up out of a sea of boxes (we moved!) and I’ve been shelving all the books in addition to reading a few.

Here’s what I have been managing to read lately:

The Essence of Malice, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, are enjoying a holiday on Lake Como – but then Milo’s former nanny summons them to Paris to investigate her employer’s death. A witty, well-plotted mystery involving a powerful parfumier and his family. I love Amory’s narrative voice and enjoyed this, her fourth adventure. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

Summer of Lost and Found, Rebecca Behrens
When Nell Dare’s botanist mom drags her to Roanoke (from NYC) for a summer research trip, Nell expects to be bored. But she quickly becomes fascinated by the lost colony and starts digging for clues to its history. A sweet middle-grade novel with an engaging protagonist and some lovely insights. Found at the Bookstore of Gloucester.

The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts, Charity Tillemann-Dick
Opera singers know drama: they have to, to pour themselves into demanding, heart-stirring roles. But Charity didn’t expect her own personal drama to include two double lung transplants. A compelling memoir of illness, recovery and the incredible love and support of Charity’s family, doctors and fiancé. I wanted more music, but enjoyed this one. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 3).

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, Daniel Tammet
Tammet’s brain processes language a bit differently than mine: he’s a high-functioning autistic who’s also brilliant, bilingual and slightly synesthetic. He dives into multiple facets of language: telephone grammar, Esperanto, lipograms, disappearing dialects and more. Witty, thoughtful and erudite; probably best suited for language nerds, but highly accessible. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 12). I also enjoyed Tammet’s book Thinking in Numbers.

It’s Not Yet Dark, Simon Fitzmaurice
Fitzmaurice, an Irish filmmaker and writer, was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. This luminous memoir tells his journey in brief, vivid snippets. Slim and lovely. My favorite line: “Those I count as friends are the brave.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 1).

Chicago, Brian Doyle
A young aspiring writer moves to Chicago after graduating college, and falls completely in love with the city he lives in for five seasons. I love Doyle’s big-hearted, rambling voice (I imagined this unnamed protagonist as his twentysomething self), and I loved every page of this novel. Found at the Strand, on a solo late-night browsing trip this winter.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I adore de los Santos’ fiction and this one hooked me from the first page: “a sky the color of moonstones and raspberry jam.” This was a reread, and I found I remembered the outlines but had forgotten many of the details. I loved the story of Taisy, her half sister Willow, their complicated family, and love in all its forms just as much the second time around.

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

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rainbow spines bookshelf books color

As any bookworm knows, choosing your one favorite novel (or any book) is an impossible task. But this rainbow-spined shelf holds quite a few books I adore – novels and otherwise.

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anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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roots sky book sunflowers table

July has been full, so far – of sunshine, heat, dinners with friends, yoga classes, and (thank heaven) good books. I’ve been flipping back through Christie’s lovely memoir, as you can see. Here’s what else I’ve been reading:

The Pearl Thief, Elizabeth Wein
This prequel to Code Name Verity (which I loved) centers on Julia Beaufort-Stuart’s last summer at her family’s ancestral home in Scotland. It’s a richly described history/mystery involving an unknown attacker, an archaeologist who disappears, and some valuable river pearls. Full of cracking characters, including two Traveller teenagers who befriend Julie; the town librarian, Mary; and Julie’s family, who are both shrewd and kind. A slow start, but so good.

Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from an Unlikely Life on a Farm, Molly Yeh
I picked up this breezy, yummy cookbook off the library’s New Books shelf, and so enjoyed it. I’d heard of Yeh’s blog, but wasn’t that familiar with her. This was a fun, cozy look at her journey from Juilliard to a North Dakota farm, with lots of recipes. We’ve tried the Cauliflower Shawarma Tacos (twice) and the shakshuka. Delicious.

Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane
Macfarlane is a word-lover and a wanderer: fortunately for us, he writes about both well. This book explores the particular landscapes of the British Isles and collects hundreds of expressive, little-known place- and weather-words. He also highlights the work of other nature writers. I loved Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways and absolutely adored this one: it is clear, thoughtful, generous, descriptive and full of wonderful images. Found at Three Lives, last fall.

Lies, Damned Lies, and History, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell, disgraced time-traveling historian, is back for a seventh adventure – trying to pick up the pieces from her latest fiasco. I love this series, though this book about broke my heart in half (several times). Dryly witty, full of wonderful characters and absolutely soaked with tea.

In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, Pádraig Ó Tuama
I discovered Ó Tuama when I listened to his wise, lovely On Being conversation with Krista Tippett. His memoir explores the wisdom and challenges of saying “hello to here”: looking steadily at the truth of where and who we are, and doing our best to live well in the world. He writes about faith, coming to terms with his sexuality and doing the work of reconciliation in Belfast. So many luminous lines that spoke to my soul, and each chapter ends with a poem. Tippett called it “incandescent” and I agree with her.

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

What are you reading?

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red white blue collage

Summer has (finally) arrived – hot and bright, and fuller than I had expected, at least so far. It’s the slow season at work, since classes are out for the summer, but there’s plenty to catch up on, and meanwhile I am squeezing in time with my people whenever I can.

Here’s what’s saving my life in this season:

  • Mary Oliver’s wonderful collection Blue Iris, in which I have been lingering for weeks. Her flower poems – especially “Sunflowers,” “Poppies” and “Peonies” – have captivated me, and “A Blessing” chokes me up every time.
  • Yoga, whenever and however I can squeeze it in. I particularly love three of the teachers at my studio: sweet, bouncy Erin; warm, wise Gina; and Maeve, whose Irish accent is an extra treat.
  • Several spur-of-the-moment dinners with friends: Tex-Mex food around our kitchen table (with homemade guacamole), tall sweating glasses of lemonade and good talk. Tapas and arepas eaten outside on warm evenings in Brookline and Cambridge, with red wine and so many stories. There’s nothing like being together.
  • The flowers around Cambridge: day lilies in every shade of orange and red, hedges of fragrant jasmine, fences dripping with honeysuckle, the beginnings of hydrangea. And the roses.

red lilies

  • The words I heard coming out of my own mouth as I stood behind the communion table last Sunday: this is a story of love, from the beginning. (I am not sure where that sentence came from, but I needed to hear it.)
  • Long walks around Cambridge, no matter the weather: sometimes alone, sometimes with a dear friend.
  • The fact that my geraniums – which I really thought had given up the ghost after this long, grey winter and spring – are blooming like they mean it.
  • My morning tea, brewed strong in a purple travel mug: currently either MEM Tea ginger peach or Lady Baker’s Blooming Blueberry (from Cambridge and PEI, respectively).
  • New shoes that are making my feet so happy: comfy, stylish black Clarks wedges.

in the shelter book red pants black wedges

  • It would go without saying, except I can’t not mention it: my daily trips to Darwin’s, for nourishment on many levels. Hot tea in the morning, English muffins dripping with butter, iced jasmine tea lemonade, smiles and chitchat with my favorite staff members. They are so good to me there.
  • Talking to the twentysomething at the farm stand who started a student food pantry at her college.
  • A few books that are speaking to my soul in all the best ways: Molly Yeh’s wisecracking, mouthwatering cookbook, Pádraig Ó Tuama’s luminous memoir (above), Mary Oliver and some really fun fiction.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you’d like.

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garden of small beginnings

How is it July already? (I seem to be asking that question every month lately.) Here’s what I have been reading, in a summer that has been fast and full so far:

Girls in the Moon, Janet McNally
Phoebe and Luna Ferris have grown up in the shadow of their parents: musicians whose band broke up when their marriage did. Luna’s trying to make it as a musician in NYC, while Phoebe might be a songwriter – she’s not sure yet. A trip to Brooklyn to visit Luna (and track down their dad, Kieran) gives Phoebe a chance to seek answers to her questions. A music-soaked, beautifully written, bittersweet YA novel of sisterhood, first love and trying to find our places in the world. Recommended by Leigh.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Veronica Henry
Julius Nightingale’s cozy bookshop in the Cotswolds was his lifelong dream. But after his death, Julius’ daughter Emilia struggles to deal with her grief and save the shop from financial ruin. A lovely, honest novel about moving forward, being brave, and (of course) books. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan lost her husband, Dan, in a car wreck four years ago. She’s pulled it together, working full-time and caring for her two little girls (with lots of help from her sister). But when Lili’s boss signs her up for a gardening class, she finds she might be interested in the instructor, which terrifies her. A clever, warmhearted novel studded with gardening tips and hilarious one-liners. I cracked up every few pages. Also (highly) recommended by Leigh.

Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery
I started rereading this book on the red sand beaches of PEI – the perfect place, since it follows Anne as she marries Gilbert and moves to Four Winds on the Island’s north shore. I love watching her come into her own as a married woman, and I adore the supporting cast at Four Winds: Miss Cornelia, Captain Jim and Leslie Moore. Plus the descriptions (always Montgomery’s strong suit) are exquisite.

Cicada Summer, Maureen Leurck
Alex Proctor has taken on her biggest home renovation project yet: a beautiful historic house with a million problems. She’s also still trying to move on after her divorce, and care for her young daughter. A sweet, predictable but enjoyable novel about second chances and rebuilding (both houses and lives). To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

Blue Iris, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and this collection might be my favorite yet: it is full of quietly stunning flower poems, perfect for this time of year. Some favorites: “The Sunflowers,” “Poppies,” “Peonies,” “A Blessing.” I’ve been lingering in it for weeks, not wanting it to end. (Found at Three Lives. I often buy poetry there.)

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

What are you reading?

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