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windfall book tea airport

The first half of June has flown by – helped along by a visit to my hometown in West Texas, which meant (among other things) lots of airplane/airport reading. Here’s my latest bookish roundup:

The Lost Girl of Astor Street, Stephanie Morrill
Piper Sail is worried about her best friend Lydia, who’s been having seizures. But when Lydia disappears from their wealthy Chicago neighborhood, Piper’s worry ratchets up a few notches. Determined to find her friend, Piper embarks on an amateur investigation, with the reluctant help of a handsome young Italian detective. Think Veronica Mars meets the 1920s. Piper is an appealing heroine – though she can be frustratingly naive – and this was a fun YA mystery.

The Diplomat’s Daughter, Karin Tanabe
Twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato has spent her life moving around the globe with her Japanese diplomat parents. But after Pearl Harbor is bombed, Emi and her mother end up in an interment camp in south Texas, where Emi meets a German-American boy, Christian Lange. Meanwhile, Emi’s first love, Leo Hartmann, has escaped his home city of Vienna for Japanese-occupied Shanghai. A fascinating, vivid story of World War II from a new angle, with three engaging protagonists. I read it on a long plane ride. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 11).

Windfall, Jennifer E. Smith
Alice doesn’t believe in luck. But when she buys her best friend Teddy a lottery ticket for his 18th birthday, he wins $140 million – and things get complicated, fast. As Teddy, Alice and her cousin Leo navigate the aftermath of the win, they’re also dealing with first love, old and new griefs, college decisions and high school politics. I love Smith’s YA novels and this one is so good: heartfelt, funny, wise.

Murder in Mayfair, D.M. Quincy
On his way to London from Bath, Atlas Catesby finds himself at a country inn where a local woman is being sold and humiliated by her brutish husband. He rescues her, but the woman, Lilliana (and her situation) are more complex than he first thought. When Lilliana’s husband is murdered, both she and Atlas become suspects, and he must work to clear both their names. A solid British mystery set in the Regency period, with an engaging cast of characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 11).

Lois Lane: Triple Threat, Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane, to her own surprise, is loving her life in Metropolis: decent grades, a few good friends, a dream after-school job at the Daily Scoop. But when teenagers with mysterious powers start terrorizing the city, Lois and her colleagues investigate – right as Lois’ mysterious Internet crush, SmallvilleGuy, heads to Metropolis IRL. A smart, snarky, really fun addition to this YA series.

The Bookshop at Water’s End, Patti Callahan Henry
Bonny Blankenship has worked hard to build her career as a respected ER doctor. But after a mistake results in a patient’s death, Bonny flees to her childhood summer home in Watersend, S.C., with her college-age daughter, Piper. Bonny’s best friend, Lainey, and her children join them, and all three women must reckon with the past (including the night Lainey’s mom disappeared, long ago) and decide how they want to shape their futures. An appealing, easy-reading novel with depth and warmth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 11).

Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk
Annabelle McBride is content with her quiet life in the Pennsylvania hills, despite the rumblings of a far-off world war. But when a new girl comes to school and starts bullying her classmates and an eccentric but kind WWI vet named Toby, Annabelle is faced with some difficult choices. This was heavy and haunting but so well done, and I loved Annabelle and her family. I also adored Wolk’s latest novel, Beyond the Bright Sea.

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

What are you reading?

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roses crimson

The seeds Dickon and Mary had planted grew as if fairies had tended them.

roses apricot sunlight

Satiny poppies of all tints danced in the breeze by the score, gaily defying flowers which had lived in the garden for years and which it might be confessed seemed rather to wonder how such new people had got there.

poppies red longfellow house garden

And the roses—the roses!

roses pink library

Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sun-dial, wreathing the tree trunks and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades—they came alive day by day, hour by hour.

climbing roses purple door

Fair fresh leaves, and buds—and buds—tiny at first but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air.

rosebud honeysuckle pink flowers

I keep thinking of these lines from The Secret Garden as I walk around Cambridge, stopping to sniff roses and snap pictures and marvel at the colors. Summer has arrived and I am reveling in it, naming its glories: poppies, iris, peonies, columbines, honeysuckle, trees in full vivid green leaf.

I don’t know the names of everything I see, but as Mary Oliver says, “one doesn’t need to know the names to feel the presences.” I do know the roses, though, and their sweet scent and rich, velvety colors are a delight both familiar and new.

budding rose

I carried pink roses at my wedding, nine summers ago, and I picked wild roses on my grandparents’ farm as a child. My florist’s shop has buckets of them right now, in every color of the rainbow. But I love seeing them along the sidewalks too, nodding their heads in the breeze. They are “sweetness pure and simple” (Mary Oliver again), and they are saving my life these days.

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bank square books mystic ct window

I’m not quite sure how it’s June already – though the last half of May is always a bit of a blur (because Commencement). In any case, here are the books that have been getting me through:

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, Anne Lamott
Mercy, Lamott says, might be the key to navigating this broken world: extending it to others and especially to ourselves. I love Lamott’s wry, honest writing: this slim book of essays on mercy is a little uneven, but full of wisdom and so timely.

Gem & Dixie, Sara Zarr
Sisters Gem and Dixie True have always been a team: Gem takes care of Dixie when both their parents fail to step up. But as the girls reach high school and their absent dad reappears, Gem has to rethink her old strategies for survival. A heartbreaking portrait of addiction, neglect and the fierce, complicated bonds of sisterhood. I love Zarr’s YA novels, and this one was worthwhile, though not my favorite.

Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk
Since she washed up on a tiny island as an infant, Crow has lived happily with Osh, the man who took her in. But now Crow is twelve and she has questions Osh can’t answer: about where she came from and why she was sent away. A gorgeous, wise, lovely middle-grade novel about family and belonging. It broke my heart and then healed it. Found at the Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy
Cultural critic and children’s lit lover Handy revisits the classics of American kidlit: Goodnight Moon, Little House on the Prairie, The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are. He delves into the cultural forces that shape children’s lit and captures the essence of so many beloved childhood classics, plus he’s witty and articulate. I especially loved the chapters on Ramona Quimby and the Chronicles of Narnia. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

Goodnight from London, Jennifer Robson
Ruby Sutton, American journalist, is seconded to a London magazine as the Blitz heats up in 1940. She quickly finds a home in London: friends, colleagues and even the possibility of love. I love Robson’s historical novels and this one was excellent, though the ending felt a bit abrupt. Ruby and her fellow survivors are wonderfully human and brave.

The Essential Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC this winter. I love Emily D., and this collection includes lots of old favorites and many poems I’d never read before. (Plus it’s pocket-size and beautiful.)

Sourdough, Robin Sloan
Lois Clary spends her days writing code for robots and her nights passed out on the couch – until she inherits a sourdough starter from two mysterious brothers who own a local restaurant. Before long, Lois has become a baker – but the power of the sourdough, and the strange politics of the Bay Area foodie community, take her on a ride she didn’t expect. Quirky and geeky and so much fun (like Sloan’s wonderful debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

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

What are you reading?

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birds art life mug

“I found myself with a broken part,” Kyo Maclear writes in the introduction to her luminous memoir, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. During a year of dealing with her father’s illness and other challenges, Maclear found herself unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes. Struggling with her responsibilities to her father, husband and sons, she found herself with no words: a troubling state of affairs for a writer.

Searching for a way to relocate herself in the everyday, Maclear met a musician whose passion was urban birdwatching. Birds Art Life chronicles the year they spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Maclear’s quiet, gorgeous memoir, which I picked up at Idlewild Books in NYC this winter. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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mystic seaport ct

Earlier this month, the hubs and I took off for a much-needed weekend getaway. His birthday is in early May, and it seemed like forever since our quick trip to Florida in mid-March.

We’ve been through southern Connecticut many times on our train rides to NYC, but had never spent any time there – so we decided to hop down to Mystic (as in pizza) for a long weekend.

In spite of some truly crazy spring rainstorms, it was delightful. (As were these tulips, spotted outside a shop in downtown Mystic.)

tulips mystic ct

We arrived on a windy, rainy Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb apartment and ate lunch at the S&P Oyster Company, down by the water. The views were a bit obscured by the weather, but the clam chowder was delicious.

After lunch, we drove over to nearby Westerly, R.I., where we spent most of our time at the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. (If you know me, you are not shocked by this one bit.)

savoy bookshop westerly rhode island

I browsed the stacks while J curled up and read for a while, and later (after wandering around in the rain) we came back for an afternoon snack.

The rain had (mostly) stopped by dinnertime, and we ate at the other pizza place in Mystic – not the one from the movie, but Pizzetta, down on Water Street. Both the spinach-artichoke dip and the pizza were fresh and delicious. (The after-dinner excitement: several of the server girls shrieking because a frog had found its way onto the back stairs!)

Saturday began with pastries from Sift (yum) and brought more wandering, including a long browse at Bank Square Books, which is owned by the same folks who run the Savoy. I could have stayed for hours: it is well-stocked, pleasantly arranged and full of unexpected corners.

bank square books mystic ct window

Our Airbnb hostess, Melissa, had told us about M Bar, a hip little restaurant in a converted gas station, a short walk from downtown Mystic. We had dinner there on Saturday night and I loved every bite: avocado mash with pita chips, veggie lasagna with white sauce, and the best fries I’ve had in quite some time – with house-made ketchup. (Plus lovely wine, a great ambiance and a handsome date.)

jer m bar mystic ct

The sun finally came out on Sunday, so we drove over to Gillette Castle, though we were disappointed to learn it was still closed for the season. (J really wanted to climb it, and I was curious to go inside.) We had to content ourselves with wandering around the site, and marveling at the exterior.

gillette castle exterior ct

After that, we headed to yet another bookstore: the rambling, overstuffed Book Barn in Niantic. It boasts a fairy garden, a “haunted” mystery shed, several annexes of various kinds, and – I kid you not – a hobbit hole.

hobbit hole book barn niantic ct

More to the point, it is positively overflowing with used books, and we ended up with a bulging bag of them: fiction and mysteries for me, history and other nonfiction for J. My favorite kind of vacation shopping.

In between our wanderings, we spent a lot of time at the apartment: sleeping late, going to bed early, curling up with good books. I spent hours on the wicker sofa by the window, under a white afghan, sipping tea and reading a couple of YA novels I loved. It was restorative in the best way: walking and resting, exploring and eating, just being together.

We capped off our trip with brunch at Rise (which J kept mistakenly calling “Shine”) on Monday morning, and headed home, refreshed.

jer pancakes rise mystic ct

Mystic, you are enchanting. (And restful.) We’ll be back.

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plot thickens boston public library steps

We recently took some visiting friends on a tour of the renovated Boston Public Library, and found this wonderful staircase. I love a good literary pun – and I adore the BPL. Here’s my latest reading roundup:

Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan
Jim is the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I used to work. This book is based on his 2016 Commencement speech, which went viral, and it’s good stuff. He explores five essential questions (plus a “bonus question”) to ask in tough situations. Lots of wisdom and humor (and I could hear his voice in my ear, telling these stories). A short, worthwhile read.

Shuffle, Repeat, Jen Klein
June Rafferty can’t wait for high school to be over. Oliver Flagg is soaking up every minute. When these two seniors end up riding to school together every day (thanks to their moms), they start a competition: whoever can prove that high school does or doesn’t matter gets to add a song to their car playlist. Despite their wildly divergent musical tastes (and other differences), they become friends – and possibly more. I loved this sweet, funny YA novel (and June’s hilarious BFF, Shaun). Recommended by Anne.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell is back for a sixth adventure: this time as the training officer for five historians-to-be at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. With the help of her stalwart crew (and so much tea), Max takes the trainees on some truly wild time-travel adventures and faces some agonizing decisions. (The answer to the titular question is “nearly everything.”) Witty, fast-paced, unexpectedly moving and so much fun, like this entire series. Can’t wait for book 7.

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz
Nina Ross is feeling a bit lost as summer begins: anxious about starting high school, worried that her best friend is changing too fast, missing her beloved grandma (who died last year). On an impulse, Nina decides to do one good thing every day over the summer, and the results – for herself and her neighborhood – are surprising. Sweet and hopeful without being saccharine; a lovely middle-grade novel.

The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues, Edward Kelsey Moore
When wandering blues man El Walker returns to his hometown of Plainview, Indiana, he shakes things up: for his estranged son, James; James’ wife, Odette, who can talk to ghosts; and Odette’s best friend Barbara Jean, whose damaged mother, Loretta, knew El when they were young. Meanwhile, Odette, Barbara Jean and their other best friend, Clarice, are dealing with other major struggles. A heartfelt, heartwarming novel of friendship and music and learning to forgive (even when you don’t want to). To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

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

What are you reading?

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pink tulips boston public garden spring 2017

This spring weather, y’all. I don’t even know. We’ve had temperature swings worthy of my native West Texas: 80s and humid, 40s and raining, nearly every point in between. Swift-moving clouds, flashes of sunshine, sudden downpours and so much misty rain.

In some ways, the weather is reflecting the state of my soul: fitful, unsettled, often unpredictable. I am dealing with a lot of recent transitions and the fallout from the past year-plus of big changes. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep up, brew myself a cup of tea and keep going. (Donia Bijan’s words about “the only thing to do” are running through my head every single day.)

In that spirit, I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now: because something, or someone, always is. My lifesavers, in this topsy-turvy spring, include:

  • That benediction I love at Morning Prayers on Tuesdays. “May God go before us to lead us…”
  • My favorite black ankle boots: good for nearly all weather and comfortable for long walks.
  • Poetry by John Daniel, John Terpstra and Brian Doyle.
  • A recent visit from some beloved college friends and their little boy.
  • Tulips in all shades of lipstick red and pink. (See above, for evidence from the Boston Public Garden.)
  • Also: budding lilacs. The first lilies of the valley. Every new green leaf I see.

lilacs may

  • Playing Twenty Questions with my friends’ 10-year-old twins the other night and laughing ourselves silly. (Partly because they’re still figuring out how it works.)
  • The wise, funny, earnest Senior Talks at Morning Prayers, given by graduating students as we wrap up for the year.
  • My daily walks around Harvard Square to my places, especially the florist and my beloved Darwin’s.
  • Lauren Winner’s wise words about middles.
  • My umbrella, fingerless gloves and sunglasses, all of which I’ve been keeping handy. (See also: crazy weather.)
  • Long, long walks around Cambridge with a dear friend.
  • The hilarious sixth installment in Jodi Taylor’s series about time-traveling historians. (I’m the crazy person cracking up on the train, reading it.)
  • Unexpected moments of connection with friends and strangers.
  • As always: lots and lots of tea.

What’s saving your life these days? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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