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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We’re halfway through August already (!) and I’m trying to hang on – and diving into all the books, naturally. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Natalie Goldberg
I heard Natalie read from this, her newest memoir, last month in Lenox, Mass. She was a delight, and this book about her journey with cancer contains both great pain and moments of joy. Short, lyrical chapters trace Natalie’s diagnosis, treatment and wrestling with her own mortality, all while her partner was also fighting cancer. I carried it in my bag for weeks, reading it slowly. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes lovely, fiercely honest all the way through.

Island of the Mad, Laurie R. King
When a college friend of Mary Russell’s asks Mary to locate her missing aunt, Russell and Holmes find themselves wandering Venice, which (in 1925) is brimming with both carefree aristocrats and grim Blackshirts. I love Russell’s narrative voice – so smart and insightful. The case and the elaborate parties (and Cole Porter!) are extremely diverting.

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster, Stephen L. Carter
Few people know that a black female lawyer – Eunice Hunton Carter – was part of the team that took down NYC mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Stephen Carter – her grandson – sets out to tell her remarkable story. A deeply researched, insightful biography of an extraordinary woman. (I also enjoyed Carter’s novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln a few years back.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Tango Lessons, Meghan Flaherty
Flaherty first fell in love with tango as a teenager visiting Argentina, but it took her years to try it for herself. She chronicles her journey into New York’s tango scene, and the ways tango has challenged her ideas about dance, desire, taking risks and many other things. Well written and engaging, if occasionally too self-conscious.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I picked up this old favorite and fell instantly back in love with Francie Nolan’s story of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Francie is smart, thoughtful, keenly observant – so many of her insights still ring true. I also love her fiercely hardworking mother, Katie, and her generous aunt, Sissy. This is a story of deep poverty and struggle, but it’s also about fighting to make your way in the world, being proud of where you came from, and the joys and disappointments of love (romantic and otherwise). So good.

Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz
Marseilles, 1950: The original 007 has been killed by three bullets, and the British intelligence service has sent a new man – James Bond – to find out who killed him and why. This prequel gives Bond an intriguing first assignment, complete with a mysterious woman (of course) and associates who may or may not be what they seem. Well done, though the ending fell a bit flat. I’ve never read the original Ian Fleming novels, but now I want to. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

The Valley at the Centre of the World, Malachy Tallack
To most people, Shetland is the end of the world – but to its residents, it’s the titular center. Tallack’s novel follows the intertwined lives of a few people living in the titular valley. Beautiful and quiet. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

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

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Libros de España

libros viajes casa del libro sevilla

As regular readers know, earlier this summer, I returned to Spain for the first time in nearly a decade. Naturally, my favorite way to prepare for travel is to dive into a stack of relevant books.

Besides the excellent Lonely Planet Andalucía, which I found indispensable, I discovered several books that made my trip both más fácil (easier) and más divertido (more fun).

Patricia Harris writes with verve and a keen eye for detail about 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go (which I picked up at the Book Catapult in San Diego this spring). Divided by region, Harris’ guide includes all the classics: Granada’s stunning Alhambra, live flamenco performances, tiny tapas bars and sprawling markets. But it’s also full of quirky gems: an olive oil tasting workshop; the house of a former duchess, now a museum; a meditation on the title character of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Harris’s book sparked my enthusiasm and inspired me to take in a few unusual sights.

While I did rent a bike one afternoon in Sevilla, I still stand in awe of British cyclist Polly Evans’s intrepid journey through Spain on two wheels, chronicled with dry wit in her memoir It’s Not About the Tapas (which I read years ago, on another trip to Spain). From San Sebastián to the Costa del Sol, Evans battled fatigue, recalcitrant bike gears and the local wildlife (including goats), as she sampled the food, culture and cycling trails in every region of Spain. It’s a highly entertaining journey through a vivid, fascinating country.

My vacation reading stack included Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I’d been meaning to read for years. Though I didn’t visit Barcelona on this trip, Zafón’s utterly bewitching novel of postwar love and revenge–set in a bookshop!–had me spellbound on our bus rides between various cities.

Needless to say, I’m already planning my next viaje a España–and the requisite reading material. ¡Olé!

Note: I originally wrote most of this post as a column for Shelf Awareness, where I’m a regular contributor.

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lido book tea toast breakfast table

The second half of July has been fast. The freelance work and other activities have been piling up, to my delight. And so have the books (as always).

Here’s the latest roundup:

At the Wolf’s Table, Rosella Postorino
Adolf Hitler famously feared death by poisoning, so he conscripted a handful of women to taste his food. Postorino’s novel imagines the story of one of them, Rosa Sauer, whose parents are dead and whose husband is missing in action. A somber, compelling, troubling account of wartime, complicity and wrestling with the consequences of one’s actions. Really well written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2019).

An Argumentation of Historians, Jodi Taylor
Max and her crew of time-traveling historians are back: scything up and down the timeline, from medieval England to ancient Persepolis. When Max finds herself stranded in 1399, she must adapt to an entirely new life, but there’s always a chance she’ll be rescued – isn’t there? This British sci-fi-ish series is so much fun, though I agree with a friend who said they need a new villain.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, lady deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on: watching over her female inmates, checking in on probationers, chasing down the occasional thief, and supporting her two sisters. But 1916 is a contentious (local) election year, and a lot of men aren’t too happy about Constance’s position anyhow. A smart, witty entry in this great series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City, Albert Samaha
The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Samaha’s book traces their story over two recent seasons, addressing the systemic  forces of racism and gentrification, the effects of family and school issues, recent research on concussions, and the spirit and grit of these young boys and their families. Reminded me strongly of Amy Bass’ One Goal, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig
A friend passed on this memoir last summer and I finally got to it. Doig sets down the story of his childhood: raised by his father and grandmother, doing ranching work in rural Montana. Thoughtful and quiet, with so many good sentences and insights into how we are shaped by our families and landscapes. Well worthwhile. Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lido, Libby Page
Rosemary Peterson, 86, has been swimming at her local lido (an outdoor pool in Brixton, London) nearly all her life. When the lido is threatened with closure, she joins forces with Kate, an anxious young journalist, and their community to try and save it. A charming, hopeful story of unlikely friendship and banding together to fight for what matters. I also loved Rosemary’s memories of life in London during the war, and her long, contented marriage to her husband, George. Just wonderful.

League of Archers, Eva Howard
Elinor Dray, orphan and novice nun, has grown up hearing stories of the great Robin Hood. But when he’s killed in front of Ellie’s eyes, and she’s accused of the crime, Ellie and her friends (the titular league) take to the forest to continue Robin’s work and contact his Merry Men. I love a Robin Hood story and I wanted to love this one, but the pacing and plot didn’t quite work for me.

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

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devereux beach marblehead

On Fridays in the summer, we like to take day trips.

Since my husband is usually done early on Fridays (he’s a therapist and his schedule ebbs and flows with the school year and vacations), and I’m freelancing/job hunting, we are continuing our summer tradition of exploring the Boston area. A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit Marblehead, a little town on the North Shore that we’d visited a long while back.

It was a hot, humid afternoon, but it was – in a word – glorious.

striped petunias window box flowers

We drove up after a busy morning: sessions for him, yoga and errands and some writing work at the library for me. After a freak thunderstorm, the skies had (mostly) cleared, and we nosed our way into the pretty downtown area, and spent a couple of hours wandering.

I found a sweet blue dress at a boutique called She, and we poked in and out of several other shops. I was disappointed to find that Authors and Artists, a great old used bookstore, had closed (or at least moved?). But the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, several streets over, is thriving. Of course we had to go for a browse.

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We also found a garden shop overflowing with flowers, and Bella, one of the resident spaniels, sprawled out in the doorway.

garden shop flowers dog spaniel bella

We headed, with our books, over to Devereux Beach, where J settled down on my yoga mat (necessity being the mother of invention) and I waded into the waves, then walked up and down the beach for a while. I love the feel of sand under my feet, of wind and waves and sky. Eventually I stretched out next to J and read a bit of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, which felt fitting even though we were only a mile from town.

katie devereux beach selfie marblehead

When we got hungry, we headed back in and decided to try the local taqueria, Howling Wolf, which – glory be – was delicious. We took the leftover salsa home and snacked on it for days.

All in all, a delightful return to Marblehead. I’m sure we’ll be back (again).

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bookstore lenox sign natalie goldberg event

A couple of Sundays ago, I skipped out on church early and drove out to the Berkshires for the afternoon.

I’m a longtime fan of The Bookstore in Lenox, despite the fact that I only get out there every couple of years. Matt, the owner, writes a rambling, erudite e-newsletter which I love reading every week, and in early July I opened it to find that Natalie Goldberg was coming for a Sunday afternoon reading and book signing.

This came the day after I’d been talking to a friend about Natalie’s work – explaining how I stumbled on Writing Down the Bones the summer after I graduated from college, when an acquaintance was selling off a few of her books. I bought it and a few others (including Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water), never dreaming what an effect Natalie’s words would have on the way I thought about my writing and my life.

The whole afternoon, from start to finish, was a delight. It felt – as these things sometimes do – like grace unbidden.

bookstore lenox interior shelves

It started with the drive there, listening to good music on the radio and Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful On Being episode, about following your curiosity. It continued when I walked into the store and heard the events manager testing the mic by reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in an Irish accent. He stopped after a couple of lines and mused, “Should I do the whole poem?” Everyone who’d already gathered responded, “Yes!”

I browsed a little while, then perched on a stool near the front counter for the event itself. Natalie arrived with her cousins in tow, and she was warm and down-to-earth, as I always hope authors will be. She read a few sections from her new book, standing in the middle of the store in a long black dress, telling us about love and illness and noticing, about grief and doctors and paying attention.

“You’re such deep listeners,” she kept saying to the group gathered in folding chairs or leaning against the back shelves. I think we were all simply fascinated. But it was clear that everyone in the room was so happy to be there.

I loved every moment: the breeze wafting through the open door, other browsers wandering in and out, my fellow audience members listening so intently and asking good questions. Most of all I loved hearing Natalie’s voice – which I have heard so often in my head over the years – in real life. Afterward, I went up and asked her to sign both her new book and my copy of Writing Down the Bones, bristling with Post-Its. “I’ll sign as many books as you want,” she had said to the crowd, and many of us took her up on that offer.

The great pleasure of any bookstore is browsing, of course, and I wandered among the shelves for a little while before and after the event. I ended up with a copy of Natalie’s new book (of course), a memoir by a 747 pilot, some Alastair Reid poetry, and Matt’s slim, self-published memoir of his years working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. He exclaimed when I brought it to the register, and we had a delightful exchange. I told him I’d been there before, and how much I love the store. Matt offered to sign his book, and when I peeked inside I saw that he’d inscribed it – to my delight – “For Katie, who came back!”

I left feeling nourished in a soul-deep way: from having spent an afternoon among people who love words and good stories and this world. “I wanted to grab a hunk of living again and hold on tight,” Natalie writes in the introduction to her new memoir. That afternoon in Lenox was a vivid, flavorful hunk of living, and I savored its sweetness all the way home.

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

I know we’re more than halfway through the year, but I still thought it would be worthwhile (and fun!) to share the best books I’ve read so far this year. Technically I’d read 102 books by the end of June, so here are the real standouts from the first half of 2018:

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Candid, Witty Essays on Marriage: Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun. Honest and funny and so real – perfect for reading after a decade of marriage.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s brilliant series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. I cannot shut up about these books: the mystery plots are solid, but the characters and their complex relationships are on another level.

Best Twisty Tale of Badass Female Spies: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Just so good.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Best Reread: A Wrinkle in Time, which I picked up after seeing the new film. I liked the movie, but L’Engle’s classic has more depth and heart and grit – and oh, I love Meg Murry.

Best Travel Memoir That’s About So Much More: Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’ luminous, gritty memoir of spending nearly a year cycling along the Silk Road.

Most Perfect Gothic Novel to Read in Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Twisty, atmospheric, witty, packed with great characters and surprise moments.

Your turn: what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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invisible ghosts book cherries lemonade

My reading has slowed down a little as I adjust to a new rhythm (and fewer commutes). But I’ve still read some great books recently. Here’s the latest roundup:

Invisible Ghosts, Robyn Schneider
Rose Asher has gotten used to being invisible, spending most of her time watching Netflix with the ghost of her dead brother, Logan. But when her former neighbor Jamie moves back to town – and it turns out he can see Logan too – lots of things begin to change. A sweet, funny, moving YA novel about grief, love and moving on. A serendipitous find at the Harvard Book Store.

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger
I won an ARC of Enger’s new novel (out in October) from the publisher. (I loved his first novel, Peace Like a River.) This is a quiet story of some odd, likable, utterly human people living in a forgotten Minnesota town. The narrator/title character runs the nearly-defunct movie house. Full of lovely sentences and vivid details, like the intricate kites one character makes by hand. I didn’t love the ending but the rest of it was wonderful.

Death on the Menu, Lucy Burdette
I like Burdette’s cozy Key West mystery series, narrated by quirky, nosy food critic narrator Hayley Snow. This eighth entry involves a big catering event gone awry, Hemingway’s Nobel Prize medal, and (of course) murder. Fun and a bit zany, though some of the recurring plot threads are getting a little tired. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Love & Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch
Reeling from her mother’s death, Lina goes to Tuscany to spend the summer with the father she’s never met. Once there, she finds a journal her mother kept during her art-student days in Florence, which may hold clues to Lina’s own story. Sweet and romantic, if a little predictable. Made me crave gelato, of course. Recommended by my girl Allison.

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
I love Macfarlane’s keen-eyed, lyrical nonfiction about walking and wildness. This book traces his journeys through various wild places – forests, mountains, islands – in the British Isles. Luminous, thoughtful, keenly observed, like all his work.

My Years at the Gotham Book Mart, Matthew Tannenbaum
Matt owns and runs the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox, MA, which I recently (re)visited. This is his slim, rambling self-published memoir of working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. I picked it up mostly because I love talking to him (and I got him to sign it). So fun.

Save the Date, Morgan Matson
Charlotte “Charlie” Grant’s big sister is getting married, which means Charlie’s whole family will be back together at their house for the first time in a while. But once the wedding weekend gets underway, everything starts to go wrong. A hilarious story of wedding disasters, and an insightful look at how even the people we love are more messy and complicated than we might expect. Matson’s YA novels are so much fun, and this one was no exception.

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

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