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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

book apple bench sunlight

And just like that, it’s June. I’m still catching up from a very full May – so here are the books I’ve been reading lately. It’s a short list, but a good one:

The Chelsea Girls, Fiona Davis
Hazel Ripley is expected to follow in her actor father’s footsteps, especially after her brother is killed in WWII. But a USO tour to Italy sparks her budding creativity as a playwright. Davis tells the story of Hazel, her fellow actress and friend Maxine, and the legendary Chelsea Hotel in NYC. A solid historical novel about female friendship, ambition and secrets. (I like Davis’ work.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 30).

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past, Sarah Parcak
Space archaeology sounds like a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars – but it’s a real thing, and it’s changing the face of archaeology. Parcak shares stories from the field and explains how high-tech satellite imagery can make a real difference to the future of her field. Engaging, smart nonfiction. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9).

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, Lyz Lenz
America is divided: we hear this all the time, and many of us are living some version of it. Lenz, a journalist who’s lived in the Midwest for years, saw her marriage and her church fall apart in the wake of the 2016 election. She’s spent time with many Christian pastors and congregants to try and understand what’s going on. The story, as you might imagine, is complicated. I’m a Texan living in New England and I have small-town Midwestern roots, so Lenz’s reporting and her personal experience resonated deeply with me. So insightful and honest. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 1).

Sherwood, Meagan Spooner
Robin of Locksley is dead, and his people – including Maid Marian – are devastated. When Will Scarlet is thrown into prison, Marian impersonates Robin to help get him out. But her actions create a ripple effect, and while she loves her new role as Robin, she must keep it secret for various reasons. A clever YA take on the Robin Hood myth – though I didn’t love a couple of the plot elements. (I did love the Merry Men, especially Alan-a-Dale, and Marian’s maid, Elena.)

Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal
Literature teacher Alys Binat, the second of five daughters, has sworn never to marry. But when she meets one Valentine Darsee, that may change. Kamal’s Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in early-2000s Pakistan, is funny and fresh. I especially loved Alys’ relationship with her best friend Sherry, and a few scenes between Alys and her father. Recommended by Anne.

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

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Bella Roma

view from Vatican cupola Rome

My parents have spent the first part of May on a European adventure: flying into Athens, cruising through part of the Mediterranean, then ending their trip in Rome.

I can’t wait to hear all their stories when they recover from the jet lag, especially since most of their destinations are places I’ve never been. But their final stop – bella Roma – was part of my first Oxford semester, long ago. And I’ve been remembering.

I flew to Rome for a late-March long weekend with my friends Jesse, Adrienne and Heather. We slept in hostel bunk beds and spent three days walking around as much of the city as we could cover together. I’d given up chocolate for Lent that year (what on earth was I thinking?!) but fortunately, I could still eat fruit gelato. And I ate as much of it as possible.

friends Rome bridge

I remember Rome in flashes and glimpses: elaborate public drinking fountains on every corner, cupping our hands to drink the fresh, cold water. Counting out brassy euro coins and colorful bills (mostly to pay for pasta and pizza). Open street markets and loud Italian that sounded almost-but-not-quite like Spanish. Tossing coins over our shoulders into the Trevi Fountain.

The green oval of the Circus Maximus, once a chariot racing stadium and now a public park. Doing a double take when we saw an elderly nun smoking a cigarette, and another when we spotted a gladiator at the Colosseum with a lip piercing. Buying T-shirts on a side street near the Vatican that said “Ciao ciao” in flowing script like the Coca-Cola logo. Nearly getting hit (so many times!) by crazy drivers on cars and Vespas. Trying my first tiramisu at a little hostaria with plaster-and-beam ceilings on our last night there.

We spent about half a day touring the Vatican, getting up early one morning to beat the crowds. (That was Adrienne’s idea, and she was right on.) I remember being awed by St. Peter’s Basilica and underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel (so crowded!). I fell in love with the elaborate, colorful, ancient maps in many of the exhibits, and I sent at least one postcard home from the Vatican’s post office.

We climbed up 500-plus steps to the top of the cupola, and that was my favorite view of all: Rome, in its entirety, spread out beneath our feet. If there’s a way to climb up and see a city from above, I will take it: see also St Mary’s church tower in Oxford, and a trip with my dad to the top of Notre-Dame.

That weekend was my first (and so far, only) taste of Italy – which didn’t capture my heart in quite the same way as Paris or Spain (or Oxford, which is still home). It ended with a frustrating coda: we took the wrong train, missed our flight and had to spend half a day (and too much money) trying to get back to Oxford.

Despite that, I loved Rome, and the smiles on our faces in my scrapbook photos bear out that truth. It’s been fun to walk down that particular memory lane again.

 

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book puzzle flowers table ranunculus

Somehow, it’s nearly May. I am deep in the pre-Commencement swirl at work, but am snatching reading time where I can. Here’s the latest roundup:

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane
Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson meet on the job as rookie cops at the NYPD in the 1970s. They end up being next-door neighbors in the suburbs, and a shattering incident one night changes both their families forever. A thoughtful, heartbreaking novel about family and forgiveness. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 28).

The Favorite Daughter, Patti Callahan Henry
Ten years ago, Lena Donohue found her fiancé kissing her sister on the morning of her wedding. She fled her small South Carolina town and has never looked back. But when her dad’s memory starts to go, her brother calls her to come home. Lena–now Colleen–and her siblings must confront the past and try to mend their strained relationships. A warmhearted, poignant family saga. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Field Notes on Love, Jennifer E. Smith
Hugo is all set to travel the U.S. by train with his girlfriend Margaret before they start university, until she breaks up with him. The tickets are in her name, so he finds another Margaret (Mae, a filmmaker from the Hudson Valley) to go with him. They spend a week together, contemplating their futures (and, of course, each other). I enjoy Smith’s sweet, funny, highly improbable YA love stories. I especially loved the group texts with Hugo’s five siblings (he’s a sextuplet) and Mae’s wise Nana.

Swimming for Sunlight, Allie Larkin
Reeling from her divorce, Katie Ellis takes her rescue dog, Bark, and moves back in with her grandmother in Florida. Nan’s friends welcome her back, and soon Katie is designing costumes for an underwater mermaid show. A sweet, engaging novel about anxiety and family, love and moving on.

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

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Ivey book slippers twinkle lights

Among explorers, hunters and fishermen, Alaska was long perceived as a man’s world. Women have often had to fight for the chance to love this harsh, beautiful land and prove they can handle its challenges. I’ve never been to Alaska, but I’ve ended up reading a spate of books about it recently – all written by, and featuring, strong women.

Sophie Forrester, military wife and aspiring photographer, is initially denied her chance to see Alaska when her husband Allen is assigned to explore the Yukon Territory in 1885. But she faces her own challenges at the barracks in Vancouver, and (mild spoiler) does eventually get to see Alaska. Eowyn Ivey tells Sophie’s story in her stunning second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World. I raved about this book earlier this winter – my first five-star read of 2019.

For memoirist and obituary writer Heather Lende, Alaska is home: she’s spent decades living and working there. Her three books (If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name; Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs; Find the Good) offer a welcome balance to Alaska’s lonely wildness: the warm, colorful community of fellow residents that is necessary for survival.

Kristin Knight Pace ended up in Alaska almost by accident, as a heartbroken divorcee. But her initial five-month stint turned into a decade, and now she runs a dog kennel with her husband. She chronicles the wonder, challenges and the grit required to complete two storied 1,000-mile dog races (the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest) in This Much Country. (I was particularly gripped by the contrast between her Alaskan life and her childhood in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.)

Adrienne Lindholm was unprepared for the rigors of backcountry life when she moved to Alaska after college. Nearly two decades later, she’s carved out a home for herself and wrestled with fundamental questions about identity and motherhood. Her luminous memoir, It Happened Like This, chronicles her journeys out and back in, exploring her efforts to live and thrive in a gorgeous, demanding inner and outer landscape. (I read Lindholm’s book in Spain last summer – a different kind of gorgeous and demanding landscape, at least for me.)

I originally reviewed three of these books and wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it ran last week.

 

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Wonder Woman run San Diego

Since I started running, I’ve done a few short races, mostly local: there’s the Halfway to Dot Day 5K, held every December on my beloved Neponset River trail. The hubs and I also ran a 5K in neighboring Quincy (where we used to live) last spring, and I stretched myself to run an 8K through downtown Boston on a seriously hot, humid Labor Day last fall.

We recently flew to San Diego to visit friends and escape the lingering winter chill here, and spent a Saturday morning doing a different kind of 5K: a costume run. Superhero-themed, naturally.

superhero run words shield

I’ve been kind of obsessed with Wonder Woman since the 2017 movie, and the hubs has bought me a pair of amazing socks (with their own star-spangled capes!) and a full-on costume, parts of which I pulled out for the run (see above). He donned a Captain America T-shirt, and we both wore the shiny capes that came with race registration: blue for him, red for me. I kept saying, “Don’t tell Edna” – because we all know she doesn’t approve of capes.

The course wound around the Embarcadero, next to the bay, past boats and hotels and the water glinting in the sunshine. It was a glorious sunny morning, and I ran to – what else? – my Wonder Woman playlist.

Wonder Woman race close up

There were lots of kids (and adults) decked out, and lots of Wonder Woman gear, which made me so happy. I was fighting a wicked cold, so had to spend the afternoon on the couch after the race. But the experience was entirely worth it.

If you’re a runner, have you done a costumed run? I’d happily do this again – such a great atmosphere, and an excellent chance to impersonate my favorite Amazon warrior.

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Katie ww run selfie trail

This is what we used to say to my dad, when he came in from mowing the lawn or an afternoon walking the golf course. In West Texas, you can do both for a good chunk of the year, and while it’s often warm (or hot) enough to break a sweat, this was something different. Sometimes I could smell the lawn fertilizer or the musty scent of dried leaves, but often it was simply the outdoors: earthy, fresh, dusty, a distinct contrast to the clean interior smells of our house.

For as long as I’ve lived in Boston, I have commuted by a combination of public transit and walking, so I have to – and like to – get outside multiple times on any given day. But since I’ve become a walker and then a runner, I get outside much more often, for longer stretches, in nearly all kinds of weather and at all times of day.

Whether it’s the river trail or the Commonwealth Ave mall, or a long, rambling stroll through the streets of Cambridge, I go outside as often as I can, to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, to observe the particularities of the changing seasons. I go to move, to take breaks, to run errands, to ride a bike, to meet friends: to refresh myself by being out in the big wide world.

Of course, I often break a sweat, especially when I’m running or riding. But sometimes, when I come back inside, it’s not quite sweat I smell. It’s something different, more earthy, in my hair or on my clothes. I realized the other day what it was: sometimes I just smell like outside. And I am so happy about that.

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blue bikes central square Cambridge

This fall, I became a semi-regular user of Boston’s BlueBikes system, mostly riding between Harvard Square, my beloved former work neighborhood, and Back Bay, where I work now.

Even as the weather has turned colder, I’ve continued to enjoy my rides, usually along the same route: down Mount Auburn Street to Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge by MIT and all the way to Commonwealth Avenue, down which I ride for a few blocks before docking my bike at (or near) Copley Square.

I hadn’t ridden regularly – especially in city traffic – since my grad-student days in Oxford, when I pedaled my green bike everywhere, from school to work to church and back again. Boston’s traffic (and weather) patterns are a little different, and I’m finding the whole process of riding a bit different this time around.

I’ve been taking notes, mostly in my head, most of which can be summed up as I am learning. But I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

back bay Boston brownstones sky

I am learning (again) that layering is key: if I bundle up properly, I can ride in colder weather than I initially expected. (I am also learning that I have my limits – which include snow, rain and wind chills in the teens.) I am learning to pull on two pairs of gloves, to wear sunglasses and slather on stick sunscreen to protect against both sun and wind. I am learning to carry an extra base layer, to change into at the office – because I hate that clammy post-ride feeling after you cool down.

I am trying to carry a lighter work bag (probably good for me anyway), though I’m also learning to strap whatever I’m carrying (including flowers, sometimes) into the front basket. I’m learning to pack extra snacks, make sure my water bottle is sealed, wrap my lunch in a plastic bag (it helps if the food is frozen).

Once I start riding, I’m learning how to thread my way through traffic and when to pause, in the absence of protected bike lanes. How to shrug off the occasional yells from grumpy motorists. How to signal a turn, usually not once but several times. How to avoid drains and puddles and manhole covers. The particular traffic signals and patterns along my regular route.

Back in those Oxford days, cycling gave me a new kind of freedom, and opened a different window on the city I already loved. It is doing the same for me here in Boston and Cambridge, and like so many things I love, it urges me to pay attention. To my surroundings, to the changing weather, to the buildings and trees and the view across the river, to my own body and spirit moving through the world. I can see why a few friends of mine are addicted to cycling. I just might be, too.

Any tips on riding in the city – or in the winter – for a novice?

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