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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

scribe of siena book chai red

March has blown in like a lion – and good books are helping keep me from blowing entirely off course. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer
Neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato’s deep empathy for her patients is starting to interfere with her job. When her brother Ben dies suddenly, Beatrice travels to Italy to take care of his estate, and finds herself drawn into Ben’s scholarly research on the Plague – then, abruptly, transported to 14th-century Siena. A compelling, vivid story of love, time travel and being torn between different communities. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 16).

Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
Zoe Webster thought she’d adjusted to life in River Heights, and life without Digby, her maybe-more-than-a-friend who left town without a word. But now Digby’s back, still on the trail of his sister’s kidnappers, and Zoe and her complicated feelings get dragged along for the ride. Snarky, entertaining YA with a few plot holes. Still fun.

How Cycling Can Save the World, Peter Walker
Cycling is more than just a pleasant hobby: it has the potential to revolutionize our cities and our health. Avid cyclist Walker (who lives and rides in London) explores how governments can make the roads safer for cyclists, and the benefits of improving bike infrastructure and access for all. Sounds dry, but it’s not; made me want to hop on a bike. (I rode all the time in Oxford, and I miss it.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Curse of La Fontaine, M.L. Longworth
Newlyweds Antoine Verlaque (a judge) and Marine Bonnet (a law professor) are settling into life together and enjoying a new restaurant in their Aix-en-Provence neighborhood. But when a skeleton is found in the restaurant’s courtyard, the pair find themselves trying to solve an eight-year-old mystery. A charming French mystery with likable characters and lots of good food and wine. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan
As World War II heats up, the village of Chilbury in Kent finds itself with very few men. The local choir decides to carry on as an all-female group, and gradually becomes a force for good in the community. Told through the letters and journals of several choir members, this is a heartwarming, well-told story of music, friendship and banding together during tough times. Reminded me of the ITV series Home Fires.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Shauna Niequist
Niequist, a successful writer and speaker, found herself exhausted and burned out a few years ago, and has been feeling her way back to a slower, more connected life. I appreciated her honest rendering of her journey, and a few of the essays resonated with me. But this book felt less coherent than her others. Took me ages to finish.

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

What are you reading?

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morning prayers montage memorial church

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at Morning Prayers, the brief service held every weekday at Harvard’s Memorial Church, across the Square from where I work.

I’ve been a sporadic attendee at Morning Prayers for a while, a more regular one this year, slipping into a pew to soak up the choral music and participate in the psalm readings, the Lord’s Prayer and the closing hymns. But this was my first time speaking there.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I chose to talk about what is saving my life now: reading a beloved passage by Barbara Brown Taylor, and explaining how that phrase of hers has captured and held my attention for several years. Here’s a snippet of my talk:

What is saving your life now?

It’s not a question I had ever considered in just this way, until I read it in Taylor’s book. I’d heard similar questions, phrased slightly differently: what are you grateful for? What’s making you happy these days?

But this question, with its insistence on what is vital, sneaked into my soul and set up camp there. And I’ve been amazed at the simple power of continuing to ask it. […]

It’s been a hard few months to live in the world – a hard year or so. I find myself need the reminder – and maybe you do too – that what can save our spiritual lives is the physical, embodied, daily experience of life on this earth. We are creatures who walk around in our bodies, breathing the air, dependent on food and drink for our survival, affected by our environment in a thousand ways, no matter how much we try to insist otherwise. As I kept asking this question, I found that, so often, what is saving my life now are the small things. Many of them are physical, tangible. And all of them are related to my daily, walking-around life in this world.

You can listen to the full service – just under 15 minutes – on the Memorial Church website. (My talk starts at about 4:25.) And as always, I’d love to hear about what is saving your life now.

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stronger together heart graffiti three lives

“She couldn’t change the conditions, she couldn’t deny her awareness, and she couldn’t stand in the way of death or love. The only thing to do was to keep moving, to do something, to show courage, to give everything she was capable of giving.”

—Donia Bijan, The Last Days of Café Leila

I came across these words last month in Bijan’s gorgeous first novel (out April 18), and they (especially the second sentence) have lodged in my heart and stayed there. I have kept trying to figure out what to say about them, but I think they are exactly right on their own.

Street art spotted on the wall of Three Lives & Co. in the West Village, a couple of weeks ago.

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well read woman display strand bookstore

I can’t believe it’s already March – but I did read some great books in the last half of February. Here’s my latest roundup. (Display spotted at the Strand recently.)

The Gargoyle Hunters, John Freeman Gill
New York City is always reinventing itself: growing, pushing, regenerating – often at the cost of preserving its own past. Gill’s debut novel follows Griffin Watts, a teenager whose mercurial father is obsessed with saving and sometimes “liberating” – i.e. stealing – pieces of the city’s architectural history. A wonderfully imagined slice of New York history, a vivid portrait of the 1970s, a tender father-son story. Irreverent, well written and highly enjoyable. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline
Immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, Christina Olson lived a quiet life on her family’s Maine farm. Baker Kline delves into Christina’s story – her razor-sharp mind, her stubborn family, her fierce pride, the degenerative disease that eventually stole her mobility. Luminous, lovely and nourishing, in the way good writing is. I also loved Baker Kline’s previous novel, Orphan Train. (I received an advance copy, but didn’t get to it in time for review.)

Take the Key and Lock Her Up, Ally Carter
On the run from a deadly secret society, Grace Blakely and her friends are trying to untangle the mystery that led to her mother’s death and may lead to Grace’s, if she’s not careful. The third book in Carter’s Embassy Row series never lets up. The plot gets a little muddled at times, but it’s a fun ride.

The Splendid Outcast, Beryl Markham
I love Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, which I read in college (and I enjoyed Paula McLain’s novelization of Markham’s life, Circling the Sun). These short stories (which I found for $2 on the carts at the Strand) explore Markham’s passions: horses, aviation, Africa, romance. A little uneven, but I enjoyed them.

Yours Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Truly Lovejoy is slowly adjusting to life in Pumpkin Falls, N.H. – which is more exciting than it first seemed. When Truly discovers a Civil War-era diary hidden in her own home, and two local maple syrup producers find their sap lines cut, there’s plenty to keep her busy. A heartwarming middle-grade mystery. I love Truly’s big, happy family, her group of friends, and the bookstore dog, Miss Marple.

The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman
Irene is devoted to her work as a spy for the Library, which collects works of fiction from alternate worlds. But when she and her new assistant, Kai, jump to an alternate London, they find lots of chaos and serious dark magic at work. Lots of (sometimes confusing) world-building here, but I liked Irene, Kai and their Sherlock-esque acquaintance, Peregrine Vale.

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

What are you reading?

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tulips table oranges book

It has started snowing over here – not my favorite weather, but it’s good for curling up with books. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
I’ve enjoyed Klinkenborg’s columns in the New York Times, and loved this wise, thoughtful, wry, thought-provoking book on writing. I savored it over a couple of weeks. Bought at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2), Rachel Caine
After being trained as foot soldiers for the Great Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his friends are staging a rebellion – if they survive that long. Caine’s sequel to Ink and Bone is fast-paced, bold and really well done. I can’t wait for book 3.

No Time Like the Past, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell and her gang of time-traveling historians are back for a fifth adventure, which takes them to the Great Fire of London and Thermopylae, among other destinations. This series is so much fun – madcap, smart, hilarious and tea-soaked. This book was especially witty.

The Last Days of Café Leila, Donia Bijan
Since Noor left her homeland of Iran for the U.S. at 18, she’s missed her father and their family’s café – a neighborhood institution. After discovering her husband’s infidelity, Noor heads back to Tehran with her teenage daughter, Lily, in tow. The world they discover is both familiar and unknown to Noor, and totally new to Lily. A gorgeous novel of family, food, love and loss. (I also loved Bijan’s memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 18).

Lay Down Your Weary Tune, W.B. Belcher
With his love life and career both foundering, musician-cum-writer Jack Wyeth gets the chance to write the biography of his folk-music idol, Eli Page. But when Jack arrives at Eli’s rural farmhouse, he finds an enigmatic, irascible man reluctant to divulge his secrets. This one started slowly, but it’s a thoughtful, lovely novel about music, identity, family and the secrets we all keep. Found (for $6!) at the Center for Fiction in midtown Manhattan.

Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, Rob Dunn
Scientific food-growing techniques have wrought a series of transformations in our diets: we are increasingly dependent on a small number of crops grown on a massive scale. Dunn recounts the narrowing of our plates and warns of the dangers we face. Thoughtful and well-researched, though occasionally rambling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
In a series of lyrical flashbacks, Woodson evokes the experience of “growing up girl” in 1970s Brooklyn. Her narrator, August, navigates the world alongside her brother, her father and her three best friends. Poignant and beautifully written. (Julia recommended this one at Great New Books.)

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
Natasha is an illegal Jamaican immigrant whose family is about to be deported. Daniel is a dreamy Korean-American teenager who wants to write poetry instead of going to Yale and becoming a doctor. They meet one day in Manhattan, and their lives will never be the same. Funny and heartwarming – the epilogue took the whole book up a notch. I also loved Yoon’s debut, Everything, Everything.

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

What are you reading?

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not just jane book darwins

In the wake of my NYC trip and the presidential transition, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Multiple secret plots, Horcruxes, Quidditch and so much snogging: I love this sixth installment of Harry’s story. It is, in many ways, his last chance to be a teenager. The ending makes me weep every single time, but it’s still so good.

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables, David Bellos
I adore Les Mis: I fell head over heels for the musical as a teenager and loved the book when I read it a few years ago. Bellos chronicles the inspiration, writing process and publication of Hugo’s masterpiece, with fascinating asides about language, color, coinage, politics and more. Accessible and interesting for Les Mis fans. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, Adam Gidwitz
An engaging, often funny medieval tale of three French children with unusual powers – plus a greyhound who just might be a saint. Fun, clever and moving. (Also: best subtitle ever.) Recommended by Liberty on All the Books!.

The Satanic Mechanic, Sally Andrew
Tannie Maria van Harten, who writes the recipe and love advice column for her local newspaper, gets drawn into a police investigation when she sees not one, but two, men murdered before her eyes. An engaging mystery set in South Africa, which is as much about Tannie Maria’s life and relationships as it is about catching the killer. Lots of Afrikaans words and delicious food descriptions. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 28).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
The final, grim, heartbreaking, wonderful installment of a story I adore. It felt astonishingly timely, and as usual, I didn’t want it to end. Lupin’s words on Potterwatch struck me particularly this time: “Everything for which we are fighting: the triumph of good, the power of innocence, the need to keep resisting.”

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature, Shelley DeWees
Everyone knows about Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters – and they are amazing. But before (and concurrently with) Jane and Charlotte, there were other groundbreaking British writers who were female, feminist, wildly talented and generally badass. A fascinating, highly readable account of seven such women. So good. Also recommended by Liberty on All the Books!.

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

What are you reading?

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three lives bookstore interior

I’ve been (not surprisingly) digging into stacks of books as 2017 begins, and I’ve found some gems this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, Isabel Vincent
When Isabel Vincent’s friend Valerie asked her to look in on her recently widowed father, Isabel never dreamed she’d make a new friend. But she did – and this lovely memoir recounts many of their dinners á deux. Edward is a great cook, but also gives sound, practical advice, and Vincent writes their story with warmth and charm.

The Lost Book of the Grail, Charlie Lovett
Arthur Prescott is happily ensconced in his life in Barchester: teaching English at the university, spending untold hours in the library and secretly searching for the Holy Grail. But the arrival of an attractive young American who is digitizing the library’s manuscripts upends Arthur’s world. Lovett deftly moves back and forth in time between this present-day story and other historical eras (starting in the 500s). A fascinating, fun literary mystery – the third Lovett book I’ve read and possibly his best yet. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 28).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series gets bigger, deeper, darker and more heartbreaking with every book. I love this story so much, and I’m still loving my reread-along with a friend, which has prompted multiple discussions on everything from Rowling’s clever wordplays to the big questions of life and destiny at the heart of the series.

A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, Stephanie Saldaña
After falling in love with a French novice monk in Syria, American writer Saldaña ended up making a home with her new husband on a street in the middle of Jerusalem. A luminous, thoughtful, achingly lovely memoir about home, family, time and searching for the beautiful, even – especially – in broken and hard places. Stunning. I also loved Saldaña’s previous memoir, The Bread of Angels. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7).

News of the World, Paulette Jiles
Captain Jefferson Kidd, an itinerant news reader in post-Civil War Texas, is asked to return a young girl, Johanna, to her family after she has been “recovered” from the Kiowa tribe. Slowly, as Kidd and Johanna make the treacherous journey from north Texas to San Antonio, they form a tight, tenuous bond. A slim story told in spare, powerful prose.

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Madeline Whittier hasn’t left her house in 17 years, due to a rare immune disease. But when a boy named Olly moves in next door, she starts questioning the protected life she’s been living. A sweet, heartbreaking, funny, wonderful YA novel. I read it in one sitting.

A Trail Through Time, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell, time-jumping historian, has been yanked out of her own world by the Muse of History and deposited in a very similar one, where she and the man she loves are trying to outrun the Time Police. (Confused yet?) This fourth installment in Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s series gave me whiplash, but it was so much fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. Pictured above: the interior of Three Lives & Co. in NYC, where I spent a very happy hour this week.

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