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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

June is flying by, and I’m flying through stacks of review and library books. Here’s what I have been reading:

Empathy Economics: Janet Yellen’s Remarkable Rise to Power and Her Drive to Forge Prosperity for All, Owen Ullmann
Janet Yellen is a fascinating figure: not only is she the first woman to hold several key US financial positions, including Treasury secretary, but her approach to economics consistently aims to benefit ordinary citizens. Ullmann has written a thorough, well-researched biography of Yellen’s life and career, which is also a crash course in the U.S. financial system. Dense at times, but mostly very clear, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything), Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
I love the ladies of Pantsuit Politics and their wise, thoughtful approach to politics and other difficult conversations. This, their second book, explores how to talk about tough stuff with our families, friends and communities. Practical and thought-provoking, with examples from their own lives; I loved it.

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Just after Britain’s king abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson, a wealthy British man (engaged to an American widow) is murdered in Singapore. Chen Su Lin, assistant to Chief Inspector Le Froy, investigates. A fun second adventure with an engaging protagonist, and a fascinating slice of colonial life.

The Last Karankawas, Kimberly Garza
Garza’s stunning debut novel takes us into the Filipino- and Mexican-American communities in Galveston and nearby parts of south Texas. I loved her narrative voice, and the way her characters’ lives are intertwined. As Hurricane Ike heads for the Gulf Coast, residents must make the choice to evacuate or to stay and hunker down. This is a part of Texas I don’t know as well; it is recognizable but also new. Gorgeous. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

Alias Emma, Ava Glass
Emma Makepeace (not her real name, of course) always wanted to be a spy: her father died honorably attempting to help bring democracy to Russia. Years later, Emma receives her first major assignment: she must ferry the son of Russian dissidents across London, before sunrise, while staying well away from the city’s surveillance system. A fun, twisty modern-day British spy thriller; first in a new series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

With Love from Wish & Co., Minnie Darke
Marnie Fairchild has spent her adult life working hard to build up her gift-wrapping and -buying business – and wishing she could move into her grandfather’s old shop. When she mixes up the gifts intended for a wealthy client’s wife and his mistress, trouble ensues – and to top it off, Marnie finds herself falling for the client’s son. A warmhearted story with some interesting ethical questions at its center and engaging characters. I particularly liked Suzanne, the client’s wife, and Saski, Marnie’s big-hearted accountant and friend. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 16).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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We are nearly halfway through June, and it’s finally (sometimes) sit-outside-and-read weather. Here’s what I have been reading:

Fencing with the King, Diana Abu-Jaber
To celebrate the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Gabriel Hamdan (once the King’s favorite fencing partner) and his daughter, Amani, travel back to their home country. Reeling from her divorce, Amani becomes intent on uncovering the story of her mysterious grandmother, a Palestinian refugee. Meanwhile, her smooth-talking powerful uncle is keeping other secrets. Abu-Jaber’s writing is lush and thoughtful; I was totally swept up by Amani’s story. Recommended by Anne.

The Unsinkable Greta James, Jennifer E. Smith
I love Smith’s sweet, thoughtful YA novels. This, her adult debut, follows Greta James, an indie musician who’s struggling after the death of her mother. Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dad and some family friends. She meets a guy, yes, but it’s more about her internal journey as a musician and a daughter. I liked it; didn’t love it, but it kept me reading.

The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
Seven years ago, Nell Young lost her job, her professional reputation and her relationship with her father after an argument over a cheap gas station map. When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell follows the clues – including that map – to a mysterious group of mapmakers and some long-held family secrets. I loved this twisty, literary mystery with so much depth and heart. A truly fantastic ride.

The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Anastasia Cole Plakias
Plakias is a cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, a pioneering urban rooftop farm in NYC. This book tells the story of the farm’s founding, from a (mostly) business perspective. Super interesting to see all the facets of starting – and sustaining – a green rooftop farm. Found at the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar.

Room and Board, Miriam Parker
After her PR business implodes, Gillian Brodie finds herself working as a dorm mother at the California boarding school she attended as a teenager on scholarship. Parker’s second novel follows Gillian as she confronts old wounds and deals with new scandals (and extremely privileged students). I liked the premise, but this one fell flat for me. Out Aug. 16.

A Dish to Die For, Lucy Burdette
Food critic Hayley Snow is out for a relaxing lunch with a friend when her dog finds a body in the sand. The deceased, a local real estate developer, had plenty of enemies, and soon Hayley (of course) gets drawn into investigating the case. I love this series, and this was a really fun entry, exploring marriage and family and vintage recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

The Codebreaker’s Secret, Sara Ackerman
After losing her beloved brother Walt at Pearl Harbor, codebreaker Isabel Cooper is thrilled to accept an assignment in Hawaii to help defeat the Japanese. Two decades later, a young reporter on assignment at a swank Hawaiian hotel uncovers some old secrets that may have a connection to Isabel. Enigmatic flyboy turned photographer Matteo Russi may prove to hold the key. A fast-paced, lushly described historical adventure with engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Where the Rhythm Takes You, Sarah Dass
Reyna’s whole life has been devoted to her family’s hotel in Tobago, especially since her mother died. But when her first love, Aiden, returns to the island for a vacation with the members of his band, she’s forced to confront not only her heartache over their breakup, but the other ways she’s struggling to move forward. A wonderful YA novel with so much emotion and a great setting; made me want to listen to soca music. Reyna’s anger and grief felt so authentic. Recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We’ve made it to the end of May – with a serious dose of heavy headline news, lately. I am doing my best to stay engaged, but escaping into books when I need to. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Many Meanings of Meilan, Andrea Wang
I found this wonderful middle-grade novel at the library and read it in one sitting. It follows Meilan Hua as she moves from Boston’s Chinatown to small-town Ohio with her parents and grandfather, in the wake of a family feud following her grandmother’s death. Unsurprisingly, she struggles to adjust and fit in, but she uses the different meanings of her name to find creative ways to cope. Beautifully written and so compelling and vivid – I loved it.

The Suite Spot, Trish Doller
I loved Doller’s adult debut, Float Plan, which I read in 2020 (I interviewed her, too). This novel follows Rachel Beck (sister of Anna from Float Plan) as she and her young daughter move to a remote island in Lake Erie so Rachel can take a new job. Rachel’s new boss, a hotel owner/beer brewer, is struggling with his own losses but they find themselves becoming friends, then something more. A sweet, relatable story with some swoony romance moments; I loved Rachel’s new friends, too.

Across the Pond, Joy McCullough
After a friendship disaster back home in San Diego, Callie is thrilled to be moving with her family to Scotland. But when she gets there, she finds herself petrified of making new friends, until a friendly librarian, a prickly neighbor and a local birding club help her out. A sweet middle-grade story of finding new friends/interests and learning how to keep going.

One Italian Summer, Rebecca Serle
When Katy Silver’s mother dies, she is distraught: not even sure she can stay in her marriage anymore. On a trip to Positano, Italy (which was supposed to be a mother-daughter trip), Katy – unbelievably – encounters her mother in the flesh: young, vibrant and full of life. A lovely time-travel story about love and grief, letting go, and taking ownership of your own life. (I loved Serle’s The Dinner List, too.)

Tokyo Ever After, Emiko Jean
Raised by a strong, loving single mom, Izumi “Izzy” Tanaka has always wondered about her mysterious dad. When she finds out he’s the Crown Prince of Japan, she’s whisked away for a crash course in royal behavior and (maybe) a chance to find out if Japan is where she belongs. A funny, modern YA fairy tale; think Princess Diaries goes to Japan with thoughtful commentary on race and family.

The Frangipani Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
My friend Jess’ Instagram book club prompted me to pick up this book, set in 1930s Singapore. The narrator, Chen Su Lin, steps in as temporary governess to a mentally disabled teenage girl after her Irish governess dies under mysterious circumstances. Working (mostly) undercover with the local inspector, Su Lin attempts to solve the mystery and carve a path for herself in a rigid society. Charming and so interesting – first in a series and I’ll definitely read more.

The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef, Michael D. Beil
Prickly, athletic Lark Heron-Finch has been struggling since her mom died. When she goes back to their family’s vacation home with her sister, stepdad and stepbrothers, she uncovers a local mystery that could have serious present-day implications. I loved this middle-grade adventure that sensitively deals with grief and hard emotions; Pip, Lark’s younger sister, and Nadine, her friend/mentor, are especially wonderful.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer, Micha Boyett
I’ve been rereading Micha’s lovely book slowly, as she’s running a Zoom book club to celebrate its 8th anniversary. It traces her attempts at contemplative prayer as she adjusts to being a mother. Warm, wise, honest and lyrical; so many things resonated even more this time around.

Maame, Jessica George
George’s debut novel Madeleine “Maddie” Wright, a young Ghanaian-British woman living in London and caring for her dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. Maame (Maddie’s nickname) traces her attempts to find some independence, assert herself at work, deal with microaggressions, dip into online dating and figure out who she wants to be. Often sad; sometimes wryly funny. I was rooting for Maddie to find some happiness. To review for Shelf Awareness (out in Feb. 2023).

The Heart of Summer, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Hayes-McCoy returns to Lissbeg, Ireland, to her cast of warmhearted characters and their daily lives. This time, librarian Hanna Casey takes a holiday to London, which prompts some serious self-reflection; newlyweds Aideen and Conor navigate farm life; and local builder Fury O’Shea has a finger in every pie, as always. So charming and comforting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 5).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We’re halfway through May (I think?) and I’ve been blowing through review books and mysteries, as per usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After, Elizabeth Crane
Crane had a good marriage – or thought she did – until her husband admitted he wasn’t happy. This memoir chronicles the dissolution of their marriage; chapters vary from a few sentences to several pages. I found it both heartbreaking and validating in the extreme; I saw so much of myself (and my ex) in Crane’s narrative. Wry, sometimes self-absorbed (but aren’t we all, in crisis?) and sharply observed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, Beth Morrey
Delphine Jones’ life plan went off the rails when she got pregnant at 16 (three years after her mother’s death). Now, at 28, she’s trying to get back on track – with the help of her precocious daughter, a cranky Frenchwoman, a kindhearted teacher and a Welsh pianist. I loved this sweet novel about facing our demons and finding our way. I loved Morrey’s first novel, too.

The Unkept Woman, Allison Montclair
Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge are happily back to their matchmaking business after several murder investigations. But then – of course – Iris is followed home by an unknown woman, who ends up dead in Iris’ flat a few days later. A witty, post-WWII British mystery (fourth in a fun series) with a few great twists. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 26).

Any Other Family, Eleanor Brown
I love Brown’s thoughtful fiction; The Weird Sisters is a longtime fave. This, her third novel, follows an unconventional family formed by three sets of parents who all adopted biological siblings. On a family vacation in Aspen, all the parents–especially the women–are forced to confront some hard truths about themselves and one another, and what future changes might mean for their family. Such a compelling story and an insightful exploration of adoption, family dynamics, what we carry forward from our own experiences and what truly makes a family. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

The Bodyguard, Katherine Center
Hannah Brooks is good at her job, which involves providing private security for wealthy clients. But while she’s reeling from her mother’s death and a breakup, she gets an unconventional assignment – protecting actor Jack Stapleton by posing as his girlfriend. This was a super cute, witty rom-com (I could totally see it as a movie) with a sweet slow-burn romance. Set in Texas, which I loved, and I also appreciated how Hannah became (gradually!) more self-aware. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 19).

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Life When the Old Ones Stop Working, Shauna Niequist
Niequist has gone through upheaval in the last few years: not only the pandemic, but serious personal chaos and a cross-country move to NYC. She writes thoughtfully about big changes, health problems, learning to forgive and keep going, and the delights to be found in the unexpected. Occasionally veered into cliche for me but was mostly real and relatable. I especially liked the parts about “living lightly,” moving through anger and resentment (so hard!), and coming to terms with who you are in different seasons.

Framed in Fire, Iona Whishaw
The publisher sent me a copy of this 9th Lane Winslow mystery (I adore this series). Lane stumbles on (another) dead body when she’s visiting a friend, and meets an Indigenous man who may have some connection to both the area and the body. Meanwhile, an Italian restaurateur finds himself the target of arson and a smear campaign; the whole police force gets caught up in both cases. Thoughtful, compelling and well plotted, as always.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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This weekend, it felt like summer here in the Northeast, which means I’m looking forward to porch-sitting and reading. One of my favorite year-round – but especially summer – genres is the type of mystery featuring whip-smart female sleuths. Cracking open a mystery in the summer takes me back to childhood days spent devouring piles of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, or (more recently) vacations featuring Miss Marple, Maisie Dobbs or Sara Paretsky‘s Chicago private eye, V.I. Warshawski.

Last summer, I found a new-to-me sleuth: Lane Winslow, a British ex-intelligence agent who has moved to rural British Columbia to rest and heal after her harrowing World War II years. She’s barely settled in when she becomes a murder suspect, but before long, she’s helping the enigmatic Inspector Darling and his cheerful young constable, Ames, track down the real killer. I happened upon A Killer in King’s Cove at the delightful Concord Bookshop, and loved it so much that I immediately ordered its two sequels, Death in a Darkening Mist and An Old, Cold Grave.

Author Iona Whishaw, who spent her childhood in the Kootenays (where her characters live), based her elegant, thoughtful sleuth partly on her own mother’s experiences of intelligence work. Each of Whishaw’s books not only explores Lane’s new surroundings and her character, but delves into the long-term effects of both World Wars on those who survived them.

If that sounds depressing, it isn’t: Whishaw deftly intertwines plot and psychology, giving readers insight not only into Lane’s crime-solving strategies, but the perspectives and lives of her neighbors. The series also follows Lane’s inner journey, from complicated family history to postwar trauma to the beginning of new love. Well plotted and laced with dry wit, Lane’s adventures are entirely satisfying reading. I’m savoring each book and currently loving the latest installment, Framed in Fire.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last summer and then I forgot to post it! Lane has become one of my faves.

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We’re nearly a week into May and I have been diving into books when life feels like too much, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Sophie Cousens
Journalist Laura LeQuesne has always believed in love – helped along in part by her parents’ epic love story. But when Laura goes to Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) to research a piece based on her family history, she uncovers some difficult truths. An utterly charming love story set in a gorgeous place, with a really likable main character.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Anne and others recommended this slim story of a middle-aged man in 1980s Ireland, who is forced to make a quiet but important decision. The setting is so vividly drawn, and the main character’s family life is such a contrast to the situation of others in his town.

Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community, One Dish at a Time, Janet Reich Elsbach
Jenny recommended this book of recipes meant for a crowd, whether it’s a community supper, a struggling family or a celebration. Most of these consequently make too much food for me, as I live alone, but there are some yummy ideas in here.

Cold Clay, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow, and when the bones of a moose are discovered in the local orchard, reporter Vera Vixen starts sniffing around for clues. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious new mink in town, and possible romantic trouble for Vera and her beau. A fun, charming second mystery in this series where all the characters are animals.

A Duet for Home, Karina Yan Glaser
Since her dad was killed in an accident, June Yang has been trying to keep her family together. When she, her younger sister and her mom have to move into a family shelter in the Bronx, it’s a tough transition. But June finds friends, a new viola teacher, and her own voice – even while things remain difficult. I loved this standalone novel from the author of the wonderful Vanderbeekers series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Loving Working

“We clean to give space for Art.”
        Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine

Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth
into my mind. Everything we love is going away,
drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor,
this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter
with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard
it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing.
Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from
fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from
multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person
living in the house.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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I’m back from a local dog-sitting stint and then a whirlwind weekend in NYC – and catching up on mini book reviews. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Ghosts of Paris, Tara Moss
This sequel to The War Widow (which I enjoyed) takes private eye Billie Walker to postwar Paris in search of a wealthy client’s missing husband. While there, she searches for her own husband, who disappeared in Warsaw but may still be alive. I like Billie and her assistant, Sam; the pacing of this story felt a bit off, and the ending was a bit disappointing. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

A Full Life in a Small Place: Essays from a Desert Garden, Janice Emily Bowers
I picked up this collection at the Desert Museum in Tucson. Bowers writes so well about cultivation and different climates and insects (so many insects!) and paying attention. Lovely and thoughtful.

Vacationland, Meg Mitchell Moore
Louisa Fitzgerald McLean has been going to her parents’ summer home on the coast of Maine for her entire life. But this summer she’s there with three kids in tow, minus her husband, who’s slammed with work back in Brooklyn. Louisa’s father is ill; her mother is struggling to cope; and a new woman in town has a mysterious connection to the family. Moore writes juicy, thoughtful, compulsively readable summer dramas and this one delivers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

Murder at Mallowan Hall, Colleen Cambridge
Murder is mostly literary at Mallowan Hall, Agatha Christie’s country estate. But when it becomes literal (a body discovered in the library), housekeeper Phyllida Bright takes it upon herself to investigate. A really fun mystery with Christie herself as a minor character; I did think the narration harped a bit on Phyllida’s mysterious past. But a highly enjoyable start to a new series.

Here for the Drama, Kate Bromley
Winnie has spent the past five years being a brilliant assistant to playwright Juliette Brassard – at the expense of her own budding playwriting career. When Winnie and Juliette hop over to London for a restaging of one of Juliette’s plays, Winnie not only falls for Juliette’s handsome nephew, but starts to question where her decisions have led her. A smart, funny theater-nerd rom-com with wonderful witty banter; I read this one in a day. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 21).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Before

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

I have been thinking a lot about the lives we live “before” (this time of year makes me remember, vividly, the process of going through my divorce, three years ago). This poem of Limón’s made me think of Nora Ephron’s lists of what she would (and wouldn’t) miss, written before her death in 2012.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry – with an emphasis on women of color – here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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