Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘books’ Category

reasonable-miracles-book

And just like that (after a rainy, blustery Halloween), it’s November. Here’s what I have been reading:

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende
Amid the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, thousands of refugees fled the continent, some ending up in Chile (thanks to the poet Pablo Neruda). Allende traces the lives of two families, a Spanish refugee couple and a wealthy Chilean family they meet on arrival, from the 1930s to the 1990s. A complex, fascinating, often heartbreaking story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 21).

The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles
When Odile Souchet lands a job at the American Library in Paris, she’s over the moon – but the Nazis are trying to conquer Europe, and Odile and her cadre of international colleagues are inevitably caught up in their net. Charles interweaves Odile’s story with that of a young teenager, Lily, who lives next door to Odile in 1980s Montana. So engaging, full of wonderful characters and book catnip. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God, Sarah Bessey
Sarah is a longtime Internet friend. Like me, she’s spent the past several years wrestling with the black-and-white certainty of the evangelical faith we both once knew. This book tells the story of a car accident, a trip to Rome to meet the Pope, miraculous healing and chronic pain living side by side. I love Sarah’s writing and while this book wanders a bit (on purpose), it ends with fierce, tender, powerful hope.

Heaven, My Home, Attica Locke
Still reeling from his last complicated case (and his mother’s blackmail), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is called out to find a missing child – the son of white supremacists – in an East Texas town simmering with racial tension. Locke’s writing crackles and her characters, especially Darren, feel complicated and real.

The Wicked Redhead, Beatriz Williams
Flapper Geneva “Gin” Kelly surprised herself and everyone else by falling in love with a Prohibition agent. In this sequel to The Wicked City, Gin tries to reckon with her new love and care for her orphaned young sister, while a woman named Ella (connected both to Gin and Williams’ illustrious Schuyler family) tries to extricate herself from a troublesome marriage. Deliciously addictive and entertaining (though Ella drove me nuts) – Gin is a stellar character. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 10).

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

book-knitting-muffin

I’ve blown through half a dozen books recently – which feels good after a stretch of not reading quite as much. Here’s what I have been reading lately:

Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn
Chet the dog and his pal Bernie Little, P.I., are back. Their ninth adventure finds them investigating a couple of suspicious deaths involving an elderly country singer. It was slow to start, but I love Chet’s entertaining narrative voice, and the mystery plot was satisfying.

The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan
Single mother Zoe is desperate to get out of London, and when she lands two part-time gigs in Scotland, it seems like a good idea. I like Colgan’s fiction and this had more depth than usual, with the motherless children Zoe cares for and the challenges facing her young son. Nina (from The Bookshop on the Corner) features too, but I grew irritated with her. I gobbled this up in two days.

Death in a Desert Land, Andrew Wilson
After her divorce, Agatha Christie heads to Baghdad and Ur to visit an archaeological dig and do some spying for the British government. But she soon finds herself investigating a murder. Wilson’s third mystery featuring Christie as amateur detective (the first one I’ve read) was fast-paced (after a slow start) and engaging.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, Karina Yan Glaser
The five Vanderbeeker kids have all kinds of plans for spring break – which do not include accidentally ruining their mother’s baking business. But they band together to outwit a grumpy inspector, build a tree house and deal with mysterious pets (chickens!) guinea pigs!) that keep appearing on their doorstep. I love this middle-grade series and this third entry was so much fun.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, Michael Cunningham
Set at the very end of Cape Cod, Provincetown has a unique character and mythology. I have several friends who love it there, and Cunningham’s memoir/history is evocative, fascinating and melancholy. I found this at Three Lives in NYC; the manager, whose taste I trust, waxed lyrical about it. Lovely.

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco
Blanco, who served as President Obama’s inaugural poet, is back with a fierce, vivid, haunting collection exploring what it is to be an immigrant, to live between two worlds, to be gay in this country, to mourn various national tragedies (the Pulse shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings). These poems pull no punches and they’re also beautiful.

A Dangerous Engagement, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, sail to New York for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend. But when one of the groomsmen is found murdered, Amory and Milo begin investigating. I love this stylish, well-plotted mystery series and this was a delightful entry.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

alchemists-daughter-book-tea

We’re halfway through October, and the library holds are piling up, to my delight. Here’s what I have been reading:

An Irish Country Family, Patrick Taylor
I’ve read and enjoyed several earlier books in this gentle, amusing series set in 1960s Ulster, in the village of Ballybucklebo. Book 14 picks up the story of Dr. Barry Laverty when he was a medical student, and also as he’s trying to start a family with his wife, Sue. The plot also involves the usual small-town drama: births, deaths, local politics, love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 12).

Dating is Murder, Harley Jane Kozak
An impulse grab at the library – the second mystery featuring greeting-card artist and amateur sleuth Wollstonecraft “Wollie” Shelley. When her friend Annika, a young au pair, disappears, Wollie tries to find her while juggling her part-time jobs (including reality TV). Wacky, fun, sometimes confusing, but enjoyable.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
It’s no secret that women are under stress–but Generation X women are particularly so, in every area of their lives. Calhoun takes on work, parenting, marriage and relationships, ambition, physical challenges and more from a witty, honest, thought-provoking perspective. I loved her previous book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and her O Magazine essay, “The New Midlife Crisis for Women.” This book builds on the latter. I’m either a really young Gen Xer or an old Gen Y/Millennial, but so many of these concerns rang true for me. I will be handing this to so many friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

The Bonniest Companie, Kathleen Jamie
I was looking for Jamie’s essays at the Strand (on Roxani’s advice) and found these poems instead. They are luminous and odd with occasional flashes of hope and loveliness, and lots of rugged Scottish landscapes.

The Second Home, Christina Clancy
The Gordon family has spent countless summers in Wellfleet, Cape Cod – but one summer when their kids were teenagers changed everything. As the family’s two grown daughters prepare to sell the house after their parents’ deaths, they must reckon with the long-term effects of that summer. Absorbing, heartbreaking and human; richly evocative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2, 2020).

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
I spotted this series at the Booksmith and decided to start at the beginning. Mary Jekyll is investigating some mysterious documents after her father’s death and finds more than she bargained for, including Diana, daughter of Edward Hyde, and a whole lot of mad-scientist craziness. This mystery-fantasy-girl-power-narrative (which also pulls in Holmes and Watson) was so much fun. I’ll definitely read the sequels.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

bargain poetry bookbook nyc

I love a well-crafted poetry collection as much as the next reader. But most often, I’m hankering for a story when I read. True or fictional, I want a compelling narrative, well told. Fortunately, many poets have turned their wordsmithing skills to prose, and their novels and memoirs are some of my favorites.

Marisa de los Santos began her career with the poetry collection From the Bones Out, but has found major success with her fiction, including Love Walked InBelong to Me; and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. Her prose is simple, warmhearted and truly lovely, as are many of her characters. (I reread those three novels again this spring, when I was heartbroken and badly in need of comfort and hope.)

Former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has published four books of poetry, including the 2019 collection Wade in the Water. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, which my friend Colleen gave me a while back, chronicles Smith’s childhood in California, her deep and loving (and sometimes fraught) relationship with her mother, and her journey toward poet as vocation. Her prose is as luminous and (sometimes) as sharp-edged as her poems.

Brian Doyle, the late editor of Portland magazine, wrote anything and everything: poems, prose poems, rambling essays, rollicking or thoughtful novels like Chicago and Mink River, both of which I adored. I’ll read any and all of his work, though my absolute favorite is his essay on how he became a writer. (Also: I reviewed an essay collection he edited a few years ago, and he wrote me a brief, lovely email of thanks, which I still have.)

Poet Ross Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude) spent his 43rd year capturing ordinary joyful moments almost every day, and spinning them into “essayettes” that became his collection The Book of Delights. Like the subject matter, the result is delightful–both the mosaic of quotidian, unexpected pleasures, and Gay’s commentary on them.

For readers who appreciate a well-turned phrase and an engaging story arc, poets who write prose offer the best of both literary worlds.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it appeared last week. 

Read Full Post »

books-magic-fiction

And somehow, it’s October. I’m back from a trip to Texas (we surprised my grandfather for his 85th birthday), back at work, wrapping up another round of dog-sitting. Here’s what I have been reading, when I can:

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, Katherine Howe
I read and enjoyed Howe’s debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, soon after moving to Boston. This sequel picks up Constance (Connie) Goodwin’s story as she’s angling for tenure, juggling job responsibilities and trying to neutralize a family curse. I wanted to like this, but it was a slog for me – disjointed and heavy-handed, and Connie is frustratingly obtuse.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key, Lena Jones
Named after Agatha Christie, 13-year-old Agatha Oddlow is hankering for a case to solve. She gets one when London’s water systems are clogged by a noxious red slime. A fun middle-grade mystery – first in a new series – with a charming protagonist. Found at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, pictured above.

I Owe You One, Sophie Kinsella
When Fixie Farr saves a stranger’s laptop from disaster at a cafe, he scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve. She’s not going to take him up on it – but then she does, while juggling family issues, business woes and a suddenly complicated love life. A fun, witty, unexpectedly moving romantic comedy; Kinsella does these so well. Found at the Strand.

Now You See Them, Elly Griffiths
The fifth entry in Griffiths’ Magic Men series finds her protagonists settling down to family life. Edgar Stephens, now superintendent of Brighton’s police force, is on the tail of a kidnapper while his wife, former DS Emma Holmes, wishes she could join the chase. Their magician friend Max Mephisto is also involved. An engaging mystery, but I think it’s more fun if you’ve read the previous books in the series (I hadn’t). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 3).

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary
After a bad breakup, editor Tiffy Moore needs a cheap place to live. Leon Twomey, a night hospice worker, needs a bit of cash. They agree to share a flat and a bed – just not at the same time. I loved this charming, witty, original novel – watching Tiffy and Leon bond via Post-Its was so much fun.

Sword and Pen, Rachel Caine
The Great Library is in turmoil, and Jess Brightwell and his band of rebel friends must act to restore order before the exiled Archivist destroys everything. Perfect airplane reading: fast-paced and dramatic. I’ve enjoyed this YA series – the characters are great – though the plot got a bit dense for me. Still a satisfying conclusion.

The View From Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity, Lewis Raven Wallace
Accusations of bias and “fake news” plague journalism, and Wallace – after being fired from Marketplace – set out to investigate the idea of “objectivity” and examine the role of journalism in our current age. A fascinating, thoroughly researched, compelling account of how we got here, and some thoughtful arguments for independent, humane journalism. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 31).

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

sept 11 memorial reflection

Periodically, I get to interview authors for Shelf Awareness (best freelance gig in the world, no question). Earlier this spring, I spoke to NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani about her memoir, Here We Are. It comes out next week, so I wanted to share part of our conversation with you. Here are some excerpts from my review:

On the surface, Aarti Shahani’s parents had a classic immigrant narrative: hungry for more job opportunities and education for their children, they came to the U.S. in the 1980s. They lived in a vibrant, diverse community in Queens, where Aarti’s mother became a community activist. Her father and uncle ran a small electronics shop in midtown Manhattan. But the reality–from start to finish–is much more complicated.

The Shahanis came to the U.S. from their native India (via Morocco) to escape a dysfunctional family dynamic. Their apartment building in Flushing was crowded and cockroach-infested. And when Aarti’s father and uncle were accused of selling electronics to a notorious Colombian drug cartel, their whole family spent years tangled in the U.S. legal system. Both men served time at the notorious Rikers Island prison; Aarti’s uncle Ratan was eventually deported, never to be allowed to return.

Shahani pulls no punches in detailing the government’s treatment of immigrants accused or convicted of even minor crimes, particularly those with a green card as well as those with non-permanent immigration status. She details the hopelessness of legal battles, the violence endemic to Rikers and other prisons, and the mixture of emotions when her father, Namdev, was finally released.

Here We Are is a searing exposé of the U.S. criminal justice system and its glaring flaws, and a love letter from an impetuous, outspoken daughter to her soft-spoken, hardworking father. It goes beyond the scripted immigrant narrative to highlight the Shahanis in their complicated humanity, and it makes an insistent case for readers to do the same. It is at once a statement from Aarti to her dad–we will keep fighting for you until the end–and a declaration by millions of immigrants: we are part of this country, and we are not going anywhere.

Clear-eyed and compulsively readable, shot through with compassion, humor and heart, Here We Are is a quintessential immigrant story and an urgent call for change.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation, which was rambling, thought-provoking and delightful:

KNG: The narrative of Here We Are has been central to your life and your family’s life. How did you decide to put it into a book?

AS: This book has been inside me for more than half my life. For many years, I chose not to write about it at all. I wanted to see: What does my life look like when I’m not being my parents’ daughter?

I also needed some space from the story to have perspective. And the more the most profound facts about my family’s life got buried, the more I wanted to dig them up. This happens to all of us: you run as fast as you can away from something, and the faster you run, the clearer the signs are that it’s always with you. I decided I didn’t want to run away from this story any more.

There are many parallels between your family’s story (set in the early 2000s) and the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants. Can you talk about that?

There’s a shift in this country, which is my country, where according to some, people like us are not supposed to exist. We don’t have a place here. The shift toward closing borders and attacking the foreigner has been steady and incremental over the years. The things you see now are shocking and terrible, but I can’t say they’re surprising. The continuity–the things I see on the news today–remind me of what my family went through.

The last couple of years in the U.S. remind me a lot of post-9/11 America: the willingness to pounce on “the foreigner.” We forget that there was real political alignment on this issue after 9/11. The sense that we were responding to a national security threat made a lot of people blind. But this country has a long history of being open to outsiders. That needs to be resuscitated immediately, and I think immigrants have to take the lead on it.

You talk frankly about the challenges of navigating the immigration system, both in the courtroom and at home.

Yes. That’s part of wanting to document my family’s story: there are some very uncomfortable facts in it. I think it’s important for people to know the corners that were cut, the things that had to happen, for us to make it in this country. We need to think about that as we continue to debate immigration issues. If your bar to entry for this country is perfection, no one gets in. I think I’m quite honest about who we are. I hope that makes it okay for immigrants to not have to be perfect, and still get to be here.

There are moments of real warmth and humor amid the struggle.

Tragedy can be hilarious. Very funny things can happen when you’re living really painful moments. This is not a screed about America. This is a family story you’re going to relate to. We’re funny and weird, and we get on each other’s nerves, just like your family. I really wanted to give people an immigrant family that’s not role-playing for America. I’m showing you those scripted moments. But you also get to see behind the scenes.

I wrote this book to let people into my family. Some people would say that we’re not an American family. I would contend that we are, and this is the story of fighting to be that. It feels like a fruitful time to share my family’s story: I think more people are willing to listen.

You can check out the full review and interview at Shelf Awareness

Read Full Post »

lost-in-stacks-strand

Starting with a Labor Day weekend jaunt to NYC, here’s what I have been reading:

The Accidental Beauty Queen, Teri Wilson
Anne put this one in her Summer Reading Guide and I flew through it on the train to NYC. Charlotte gets tapped to impersonate her identical twin, Ginny, in a beauty pageant, much to both their chagrin. I loved the nods to Harry Potter (Charlotte is a fan), the way both women had their preconceived notions tested, and the insights about family. So much fun.

Here if You Need Me, Kate Braestrup
When her husband died, Braestrup took up his dream of becoming a minister, and found herself serving as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. This thoughtful, often wry memoir is a glimpse into that world, and into her family life. Engaging, though I wanted more, somehow. Found recently at More Than Words.

We Walked the Sky, Lisa Fiedler
Calliope VanDrexel is following in her grandmother’s footsteps as a tightrope walker. But when her mother gets a new job at an animal sanctuary, Callie has to leave the circus and she’s not happy about it. This dual-narrative YA novel tells both Callie’s story and that of her grandmother, Victoria (in the 1960s). I enjoyed both narratives (though Callie drove me nuts), and the circus setting is so fun.

The Right Sort of Man, Allison Montclair
As London recovers from World War II, Gwen Bainbridge, widowed and bored, and Iris Sparks, a snarky former intelligence agent, join forces to launch the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. But when one of their clients is murdered, presumably by another one, the women jump into an investigation to clear his name (and theirs). I love plucky amateur sleuths, especially British ones, and this story was great fun, especially the witty dialogue. First in a new series; found at the Strand.

The Book of Lost Saints, Daniel José Older
Marisol disappeared during the Cuban Revolution, lost to her family and the world. Half a century later, her spirit visits her nephew, Ramon, a hospital worker by day/DJ by night in New Jersey. Haunted by dreams that are really Marisol’s memories, Ramon starts digging into his family’s messy history. I love Older’s Shadowshaper YA series. This novel (for adults) is a gritty, sometimes bleak, often wisecracking look at cubano family ties and the ways past actions reverberate down through the generations. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 5).

Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke
Temporarily in limbo in both his job and his marriage, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews drives up to tiny Lark, Texas, to investigate two murders: a local white girl and a black man who was passing through. This well-crafted mystery explores the layers of race, love and conflicting loyalties in East Texas. (Darren is black, raised by two uncles: a Texas Ranger and a lawyer.) I loved the true-to-life portraits of locals and the exploration of exile and the pull of home.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
I loved Gay’s essay collection, The Book of Delights, and my friend Kate sent me this book of his poetry. The poems are – as one of the blurbs says – “bold and wild and weird.” Family, love, racial politics, music, grief, and the orchard Gay works in and loves – they’re all here.

This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession, Cameron Dezen Hammon
After converting to Christianity as a young woman, Hammon moved to Houston with her then-boyfriend and became a worship minister. This memoir traces her struggle to reconcile the gender politics of evangelical churches with her own craving for love and past scars. Thoughtful, though a bit vague at times; some of her frustrations definitely reflected my own. We need more stories like these. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 22).

Death and Love Among the Cheetahs, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is finally married, and she and her Irish husband, Darcy, head to Kenya for an extended honeymoon. But instead of paradise, they find complicated sexual politics, theft and murder. I love Georgie and her adventures, but I’d hoped for a slightly more peaceful honeymoon for her!

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »