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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Most of y’all know I’m a longtime reviewer for Shelf Awareness (best. gig. ever). That usually means I get a delicious stack of print advance copies to try out every month. But due to the pandemic, my last stack of physical ARCs arrived in mid-March. (Shortly after that, the stay-at-home orders came down, and many publicists and editors – including mine – couldn’t get to their offices to distribute books.)

Since we usually read two to three months ahead (those books I got in March all had pub dates for May, though some of them have been pushed back), we had to shift to e-galleys quickly. I was (am) not a fan of this idea: I love physical books, their heft and feel and smell, and I also don’t want one more reason to scroll on a screen. But my sister has lent me her long-disused Kindle Fire, and after several weeks of denial/procrastinating/avoiding reality, I finally have it set up for digital reading. (I’m requesting books through both Netgalley and Edelweiss, and the experience in both places has been mostly fine.)

It’s not as good as a “real” book, and I’m still reading physical books when I can: either rereading old favorites or working through my long-unread stacks. But the e-reader experience is much better than scrolling through files on my laptop, and it means I can still do the freelance work I love.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it’s not what I would have chosen, but here we are. I am (simultaneously) frustrated, trying to make the best of it, and intensely grateful that these are my problems.

Are you reading digitally in these strange times – or do you normally? Any tips?

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tif-marcelo-book-dinner

We’re halfway through May (how??), and while I am not nearly halfway through my long-unread stacks, I’ve been working through some of them. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a Sunset, Tif Marcelo
I really enjoyed Marcelo’s previous novel, The Key to Happily Ever After, and I liked this one, too. D.C.-based ob/gyn Diana Gallagher-Cary heads to the Philippines after a work crisis to investigate her family history. Her free-spirited photographer mother and various relatives and friends help Diana navigate a series of epiphanies. Lush descriptions of the Philippines, and several engaging subplots.

House Lessons: Renovating a Life, Erica Bauermeister
I love Bauermeister’s delicious, warmhearted novels, so was excited for this memoir about renovating a trash-filled house in Port Townsend, WA. She weaves together anecdotes about the physical house – staircases, windows, light fixtures – and learning to navigate her marriage and motherhood, and see herself, in new ways. Lovely and insightful.

Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie
The good folks at West Margin Press sent me this book after I wrote a Shelf Awareness column about women in Alaska, last year. Murie spent many years in Alaska, first as a young person and then with her biologist husband, Olaus. Her memoir describes some of their travels in detail, and oh my, it is lovely. Clear-eyed descriptions of birds, wildlife and flowers, and so much joy and wonder in the natural world. I’m so glad I kept it all this time, and finally read it.

Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig
This novel has sat on my shelf since last summer (!) – and I finally picked it up after loving The Whistling Season. Donal Cameron, age 11, is packed off to his great-aunt in Wisconsin when his grandmother has to have surgery. After enduring several maddening weeks, Donal and his great-uncle, Herman the German, head back to Montana on the Greyhound bus and have all sorts of adventures. A rollicking tale of adventure, and so much fun.

The Key Lime Crime, Lucy Burdette
It’s nearly New Year’s in Key West, and food critic Hayley Snow is juggling her new husband, her enigmatic mother-in-law, her octogenarian roommate and a local key lime pie competition. Things get stickier when one of the chef-contestants ends up murdered. I like this cozy mystery series following Hayley’s foodie adventures. To possibly review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 11).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

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spiky-purple-tulip

Like a lot of readers, I have a stack or two (or five) of unread books around the house at any given time. They are library books, advance copies for my review gig, gifts or loans from friends, books I’ve bought but haven’t picked up yet. And some of them tend to linger for months.

About three weeks into quarantine, when I was really missing the library, I decided to tackle one book from these stacks every week. I bought or borrowed all these books because I thought I’d enjoy them, and now that I’m not able to browse the shelves at the library, I can give them some attention.

I started with Ivan Doig’s wry, wonderful novel The Whistling Season, and moved on to a comics collection my guy had lent me. I tried a book of poetry (which did not stick, for now), and am slowly making my way through A Fine Romance, an illustrated travelogue my friend Kate sent me. I have been loving Mardy Murie’s memoir of her life in Alaska, Two in the Far North, and am hoping to find some other gems in the stacks as I keep going.

tulips-pink-red

This is good for my wallet, since I am just as tempted as usual to buy stacks of books from my favorite indie bookstores. It’s good for my brain, which relishes different kinds of books, and is particularly craving absorbing nonfiction right now. And it’s good for my sense of accomplishment – no small thing in these strange days.

What (and how) are you reading these days?

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cp-book-ratatouille

April has felt like the longest, strangest month ever. But we’ve (nearly) made it to May – and whatever it may bring. Here’s what I have been reading (with ratatouille, sometimes):

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
I picked this novel up months ago at our street’s Little Free Library (which is now closed). It’s set in rural Montana in 1909, when a widower with three sons hires a housekeeper, and her arrival – along with her brother’s – has all kinds of effects on the community. Warm, witty and absorbing; Doig evokes place so well and I loved his narrator’s voice.

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston, Boston Comics Roundtable
My guy is a comic-book geek from way back, and he lent me this quirky collection of comics about incidents in Boston history. I’ve lived here for nearly a decade and I’m a history nerd, but I learned a lot from this collection, and chuckled several times. Link to the Million Year Picnic comic shop in Harvard Square, where it came from (and to whose owner it is dedicated).

I Was Told It Would Get Easier, Abbi Waxman
Single-mom lawyer Jessica and her teenage daughter, Emily, embark on a weeklong college bus tour of the East Coast. They see a lot of campuses, but spend even more time learning about themselves and each other. I like Waxman’s fun, quippy novels and this one was enjoyable, especially the witty dual narration. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change, Pramila Jayapal
Jayapal, a congresswoman from Seattle and a longtime activist, recounts her career and lays out her passionate arguments on several big issues: U.S. immigration policy, Medicare for All, a national $15 minimum wage. She’s whip-smart, warm, compassionate, super prepared and compelling – and so is her book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 30).

This Won’t End Well, Camille Pagán
After chemist Annie Mercer quits her job over her boss’s sexual harassment, and her fiancé tells her he needs to go find himself (in Paris), she swears off new people altogether. But that’s before Harper, a glamorous but mysterious young woman, moves in next door, and also before Mo, an annoyingly cheerful amateur PI, shows up too. I loved this sweet, witty novel about a woman trying to make sense of her life in the wake of big changes (sound familiar?). Recommended by Anne.

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery
I adore this underrated final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, set during World War I. This story stars the grit and gumption of the women of Ingleside, especially Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla, faithful cook-housekeeper Susan (whose wit is second to none) and local schoolteacher Miss Oliver. I needed its wisdom and warmth during these weeks of quarantine.

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m not big on mediation, but I am looking for ways to bring peace into my space these days, so I dipped into this slim book over the last few weeks. I like the notion of bringing peace to every aspect of one’s home – even a studio apartment – though the mantras themselves didn’t really work for me.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

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bookstore lenox interior shelves

One thing I miss, in this strange time of restricted movement: popping into my favorite shops (and restaurants).

A couple of my faves, like my beloved florist and the best taqueria in Maverick Square, have simply closed down for the duration. There’s not much I can do except look forward to the day when I can visit them again. (You can bet I’ll be hugging my florist, when it’s safe to do so.) But there are a few other small businesses I’m supporting with my dollars, during this crazy time. Here’s a list, in case you’re in need of books or tea or stationery, or other fun things, and have a bit of cash to spare.

  • Trident, Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store are my three favorite indie bookshops in Boston, and they’re all still operating online. (Trident’s cafe is still open, too, if you’re local.) If you’re a book lover, please support an indie bookstore during this time – they are such centers of creativity and joy, and they really need the cash flow.
  • My two favorite yoga/fitness studios, The Point EB and Savin Hill Fitness, are offering online classes via Zoom. They’re super reasonable – Savin Hill even offers one free class each day – and the instructors are great.
  • Mem Tea Imports, based in Somerville, is still shipping their delicious teas. I stocked up in mid-March, and I’m sure I’ll be making another order soon. They always stick an extra sample or two in each order.
  • I ordered some fun quarantine correspondence cards from 1canoe2, a small stationery business I’ve loved for years. They are hilarious and cute.
  • Jenny at Carrot Top Paper Shop is still bringing the cheer, even drawing some of her heroines wearing masks. Love love love.
  • Marathon Sports, my favorite Boston-based running store, is still shipping online orders. They’ve provided me with new running shoes and a much-needed foam roller since this all started.

What are some favorite small businesses you’re supporting right now?

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blessing the boats

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

I’ve come across this poem a few times recently, including on Natalie’s lovely poetry blog. I can think of no better place to be, these days, than “out beyond the face of fear.” Hope you have a peaceful weekend, friends.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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From the ground up and the sky down, then, that set of school weeks stands in my memory as one of the strangest of seasons. Long, indeterminate days, as though each one was stretched by the wind blowing through it, yet not nearly enough time to follow everything.

—Ivan Doig, The Whistling Season

I came across this passage in Doig’s wry, witty novel of life on the Montana prairie, which I read and loved recently. His narrator, Paul, is talking about an odd winter/spring season, but I thought it could apply to quarantine just as well. Time seems to be moving differently these days; some hours and days feel very long, yet I look up and it’s Wednesday or (insert day here) again.

Does it feel to you like time is moving differently, in this strange season?

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