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March ended up being a very full month – it included a trip out west to see dear friends in Tucson, the L.A. suburbs and (again) San Diego. Plus a hiring process for a new colleague; lots of running (still building my stamina back after having COVID); both snow and spring flowers, as is normal for March; and dinners with a few friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. Whew.

April is here now, with its blustery winds, sharp spring light and budding tulips (!), and here’s what I learned in March:

  • Sometimes granola needs an extra 10 minutes in the oven. (Jenny’s recipe is my favorite.)
  • I tried this recipe for Thai butternut squash soup – a yummy, spicy alternative to my classic one.
  • Delays can be a chance to explore – as when my Amtrak train in CA was an hour late and I wandered the main street of Moorpark. (And picked up snacks and a yummy burrito!)
  • I might be a legwarmers kind of girl after all.
  • Write it down. You’d think I’d know this, but especially at work these days, if it doesn’t get written down, it flies right out of my brain.
  • I need a bit of margin in my week – especially salient now that the pace of life is picking back up.
  • Just ask. (Still and always working on this one.)

What did you learn in March?

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Winter can be a tough season: it’s cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I’m leaning hard into small everyday delights, and reaching for books that help me name and/or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson’s witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson’s columns for The Guardian, celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among Parkinson’s delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures. (I found this one at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC, and it was the perfect book for this season.)

I like cooking year-round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This year, I’ve reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (which I’ve owned for years) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston-based (and one of my faves) Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain, sporting bright headscarves, showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both women remind me that you don’t need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats, though I do covet Hussain’s bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee provides a tour of what Fetell Lee calls “the aesthetics of joy”: patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, Fetell Lee shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I’ll be searching out every kind of joy–culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday–that I can find.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran a couple of weeks ago.

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Well. We are digging out from a serious snowstorm, and it’s also (according to the calendar) the halfway point of winter. I’m linking up with Anne Bogel and others to share a list of what’s saving my life these days – because any and all lifesavers are worth celebrating. Here’s mine:

  • My final paperwhite bulb and the pink hyacinth in a glass vase I bought at Trader Joe’s – both blooming away.
  • The salsa class I’m taking on Thursday nights in Cambridge. It’s fun to learn something new, and it reminds me of the swing dance club I was in, back in college.
  • The big box of fresh citrus my California friend sent last week – most of it from her parents’ trees.
  • Strong black tea in my favorite mugs – a year-round lifesaver.
  • Tuesday writing class, which is back (on zoom) – I adore these ladies and the work we do together.
  • My cozy plaid infinity scarf and every sweater dress I own.
  • Yoga, which feels especially good when it’s so dang cold.
  • Spotify mixes – nineties country, mellow jazz, nineties pop hits, contemplative movie soundtracks and Natalie Cole.
  • Trying new ciders with my guy and writing about them for our cider Instagram account.
  • Dreaming and scheming about spring travel.
  • Baking treats from the Flour cookbook with my partner.
  • Good books: thoughtful nonfiction, plenty of YA and middle grade, and James Herriot before bed.
  • Related: All Creatures Great and Small season 2!

What’s saving your life in these winter days?

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How is it November already, y’all? (I say this every month.) I am struggling with what to do with this blog, lately, but still wanted to share what I have been reading during these last few intense weeks. Here’s the latest roundup:

Silence in the LibraryKatharine Schellman
Wealthy widow Lily Adler finds herself dealing with an unwanted houseguest (her father) and the death of a family friend. Naturally, she gets suspicious and starts to investigate. A witty, highly enjoyable Victorian mystery.

All You Knead is Love, Tanya Guerrero
Alba doesn’t want to go live with her estranged abuela in Spain. But once she gets there, she finds her way to a local bakery, a new community, and a way to work through some difficulties. A lovely middle-grade story that gets honest about tough family stuff. I loved the glimpses of Barcelona, too – I visited a long time ago.

Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, Stephanie Graves
As the war with Germany drags on, Olive Bright is determined to do her bit – preferably with the help of her family’s highly trained pigeons. But the clandestine operation that comes knocking at her door isn’t quite what she expected. A really fun WWII story with a plucky heroine – very Home Fires.

Brown Girls, Daphne Palasi Andreades
Narrated in a collective voice, this powerful novel tells the story of a group of brown and Black girls from “the dregs of Queens.” Andreades’ voice is vivid and engaging, and she draws sharp portraits of their individual and shared experiences. So good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 4).

The Austen Girls, Lucy Worsley
Jane Austen’s nieces, Fanny and Anna, are finally out in society – but a series of events leave them both wondering if the husband hunt is all it’s cracked up to be. A thoughtful middle-grade take on Austen (who is herself a character) with a slightly improbable but really fun plot. Just what I needed for a few cozy evenings. Found at Dogtown Books.

The Garden in Every Sense and Season, Tovah Martin
I’ve been going sloooooowly through this one since June. Martin takes readers through a year in her garden, through the lens of the five senses. She’s knowledgeable and also breezy (with a love for alliteration) and this was such a fun tour of her garden year. Found at the wonderful Concord Bookshop.

Miss Kopp Investigates, Amy Stewart
After the death of their brother, the Kopp sisters rally around their sister-in-law and her children. Fleurette, the youngest sister, puts aside her dreams of the stage – but soon finds herself involved in some undercover investigative work. I love this series and it was fun to see Fleurette coming into her own. Also found at the Concord Bookshop.

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, somehow, at the end of August: poised on the edge of a new season, none of us quite sure what’s next. As we head into September, here’s what I have been reading:

Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Patricia Hanlon
I found this lovely memoir at Trident and dove in headfirst (ha). Hanlon and her husband frequently swim the creeks and salt marsh near their home north of Boston. She writes with a painter’s eye about color and seasons, and with concern about climate change. Lyrical and lovely.

Luck of the Titanic, Stacey Lee
Valora Luck has dreams of an acrobatic career with her twin brother, Jamie. But when she tries to board the Titanic, she learns Chinese people aren’t allowed in America. So Val stows away and tries to figure out a new plan. A fast-paced, compelling YA story inspired by real Chinese people on board the doomed ship.

The Guncle, Steven Rowley
Semi-retired actor Patrick loves being the fun “guncle” to his niece and nephew – occasionally. But when they come to spend the summer with him after losing their mother, it’s an adjustment for everyone. Took me a bit to get into this novel, but I ended up loving this funny, unusual family story. Recommended by Annie.

The Lost Spells, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
I love everything Macfarlane writes and adored this pocket-size, gorgeously illustrated book of acrostic “spells” about birds and beasts and flowers and trees. Utterly lovely.

A Match Made for Murder, Iona Whishaw
On their honeymoon in Arizona, Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling stumble onto a murder case – and some complications involving an old colleague of Darling’s. Meanwhile, back in King’s Cove, Sergeant Ames and his new constable are dealing with vandalism and murder. A wonderful installment in this great series. (I received a free copy from the publisher.)

On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed
I remember learning about Juneteenth as a child (like Gordon-Reed, I grew up in Texas), but it’s gotten national attention recently. These essays blend memoir with history about Texas independence and statehood, Black people in Texas and the Juneteenth holiday itself. Fascinating and so readable – I learned a lot.

The Shape of Thunder, Jasmine Warga
Cora and Quinn, former best friends, haven’t spoken in a year since a tragedy divided them. But then Quinn leaves Cora a birthday present that starts the girls on a journey toward time travel. A powerful, often heartbreaking book about grief and friendship, race and adolescence. Really well done.

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, ed. Colleen Kinder
We all have them: those brief encounters with strangers that echo throughout our lives. Kinder, cofounder of Off Assignment magazine, collects 65 essays exploring that topic in this book. A lovely, often poignant, kaleidoscopic collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

Roll with It, Jamie Sumner
Ellie Cowan dreams of being a professional baker – but her problems (like being the kid in a wheelchair) are more immediate. When Ellie and her mom move to Oklahoma to help out her grandparents, Ellie finds some unexpected friends – and new challenges. A sweet, funny middle-grade novel that gets real about disability and prejudice.

Wholehearted Faith, Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
Rachel (whom some of you may remember) was a passionate thinker, writer and speaker who wrestled mightily with faith, and insisted on God’s big, deep, ungraspable love. This, her last posthumous book for adults, is a collection of her writings on faith, doubt and Christian community. Jeff Chu did a masterful job of weaving her words together, and I loved the epilogue by Nadia Bolz-Weber. There’s some familiar and some new material, but it all sounds like Rachel. Warm, thoughtful and honest, just like her. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 2).

A Rogue’s Company, Allison Montclair
After solving a murder, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting back on its feet. But the arrival of a new African client and the return of Gwen’s tyrannical father-in-law from his travels spell trouble for Gwen and the bureau. An adventurous, witty installment in a really fun mystery series.

Eighty Days to Elsewhere, kc dyer
Travel-shy Romy Keene loves working at her uncles’ East Village bookstore. But when a new landlord threatens the shop, she takes off on a round-the-world adventure (trying to score a lucrative new job). The problem? The landlord’s nephew is her main competitor for the job – and he’s really cute. I found this one on the sale table at Trident and flew through it – so much fun, with some insights about travel and privilege.

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’re halfway through April (how?) and the job hunt slog continues, while the neighborhood is starting to bloom. Here’s what I have been reading:

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
I read these books as a teenager (my dad loves them), but the charming new TV series inspired me to pick Herriot’s memoirs back up. I adored his dry wit and vivid descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales and their people, and I loved re-meeting characters from the TV show, like Tristan and Mrs. Pumphrey. Warm and comforting.

Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones longs to be a pilot like her daddy, but as a Black woman, she knows it’s a long shot. But when her brother gets sent to serve as a medic in the Philippines, Ida Mae decides to join the WASP. The catch? She’ll have to pass for white–a choice not only heartbreaking, but dangerous. I loved this YA novel with a brave heroine who’s determined to fly and struggles to find her place. Recommended by Anne (as part of a great list).

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, Kathrine Switzer
Switzer made history in 1967 with her Boston Marathon run–but that was only the beginning of her journey in racing, sports reporting and organizing for women’s sports. Her memoir is engaging, relatable, often funny and inspiring. I especially loved reading about the history of modern marathons like Boston and New York, and watching Switzer’s confidence grow.

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig
Claire “Neely” O’Neil opens a cake shop in her Ohio hometown after leaving her cheating football-star husband. But she’s dealing with not just the usual new-business-owner snags, but a mystery involving an antique ring and several local families. Both the plot and the characters were so-so. Delicious food descriptions, though.

Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up–and What We Make When We Make Dinner, Liz Hauck
Hauck and her dad had planned to start a cooking program for teens in a group home run by the agency he worked for. After his death at age 57, she decided to do it without him. This memoir chronicles her three years of cooking with and for a rotating cast of teenage boys dealing with all kinds of trauma and challenges. It’s vivid, moving and often funny. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 8).

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times In Between, Mari Andrew
I enjoy Mari’s whimsical illustrations and musings on life, love, travel and grief. This essay collection digs deeper into all those themes–plus loneliness, transitions, unexpected joys and more. So apt for right now.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, Alka Joshi
This sequel to Joshi’s The Henna Artist picks up with her main characters, Lakshmi (the artist) and Malik (her young protege), eight years later. Malik is apprenticing at a prestigious construction firm in Jaipur while Lakshmi runs a healing garden in Shimla. When the firm’s shiny new cinema suffers a collapse on opening night, Malik smells a rat and begins to investigate, digging up old and new secrets. Joshi’s storytelling is engaging, but I didn’t like this book as well as its predecessor. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 22).

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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‘Tis the season for treats – because it’s cold outside (good baking weather), because the holidays are coming, and because we are in month fourteen thousand of this pandemic year. (And because we got over a foot of snow here in Boston last night/today.)

I’ve been doing a bit of baking myself – mostly scones and superhero muffins – but have recently found myself the glad recipient of cookies made by friends. A girlfriend handed me a container of margarita shortbread cookies (with plenty of citrus and salt) on a recent walk in Cambridge. The following week, another friend texted to say she’d dropped off a tin of cookies (above) on my front porch. It contained crinkly chocolate cookies dusted with powdered sugar and, underneath, some classic sugar cookies. I stretched them out over nearly a week, to make them last.

The loneliness is hitting hard this week, but I am – as always – grateful for kind gestures from friends, which add sweetness to my life in more ways than one.

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One of the toughest things, so far, about quarantine is not being able to hang out with my friends.

I live alone, so I really rely on my friends in the neighborhood, my classes at the nearby yoga studio and my interactions with colleagues for human connection. We are doing the best we can – Zoom meetings and phone calls and virtual yoga (so much virtual yoga), but I miss just sitting in a friend’s living room, or inviting someone over for tea.

The other night, my friend Lauryn had a brilliant idea: a virtual baking date via FaceTime. We decided to start with Molly Wizenberg’s Scottish scones, about which I have raved here more times than I can count. They were on her blog a million years ago, then appeared in her first book, A Homemade Life – which, in addition to being gorgeous and funny and delicious, is one of the books that landed me my Shelf Awareness review gig. (I had to write a few sample reviews, and Marilyn, my editor, was already a Wizenberg fan – she asked me about Molly’s banana bread when she wrote me back to tell me I’d gotten the job.)

Anyway, I sent Lauryn the recipe and (for good measure) a photo of the ingredient list, and we gathered bags of flour and sugar and cartons of half-and-half and mixing bowls, and I propped up my phone inside the kitchen cabinet so it wouldn’t keep falling over. And we baked, with her husband and kids moving in and out of the frame, and me dashing to the cupboard to dig out the baking powder, and both of us struggling to scrape the zest (lemon for her, orange for me) off our respective graters.

We lost the connection a few times, and had to repeat ourselves more than once, but we caught up a bit, about the day and the weather and this weird new life we’re all living. And it helped. And the scones – need I say it? – were delicious. Mine (with dried cranberries and orange zest) are above; Lauryn’s (with lemon zest and crystallized ginger) are below.

Are you baking in these days, friends? (My friend Jess calls it “distractibaking,” and I suspect she’s not alone.) Do share, if you are. Be well.

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Hello, everyone. March is (nearly) over – I don’t think anyone expected this month to go the way it has. But here we are. Photo of the last stack of books I was able to pick up before my beloved Boston Public Library closed for a while. And here are the ones I’ve been reading:

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, Marisa de los Santos
It is impossible to overstate how much I love de los Santos’ work. I turned back to this novel for some deep soul comfort, just as everything was going sideways. It’s the story of Clare, who inherits a house right after she calls off her wedding, and Edith, who gave Clare the house. Lovely, luminous and wise, like all her books.

Every Reason We Shouldn’t, Sara Fujimura
Olivia Kennedy is the daughter of two Olympic champions, and she had medal dreams, too, until a disastrous performance. When speed skater Jonah Choi starts skating at her parents’ ice rink, Olivia is forced to deal with her fears (and she might also be falling in love). Sweet and funny – I especially loved Olivia’s friend Mack, aspiring roller derby queen.

Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels, Hannah Ross
Cycling has long been a male-dominated sphere, but women have been riding for decades and they’re damn good at it. Ross charts the history of cycling and feminism, and calls for more representation in the industry and better bike-friendly infrastructure. (Yes please.) Well-written, informative and interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 9).

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagán
Libby Miller has always tried (relentlessly) to look on the bright side, since losing her mother to cancer at age 10. But then her marriage implodes in the same week she’s diagnosed with cancer herself. Libby escapes to Puerto Rico, where she tries to avoid (but eventually sorts out) her feelings about treatment and her future. Surprisingly light and funny for such serious subject matter.

The Downstairs Girl, Stacey Lee
Chinese-American Jo Kuan and her guardian, Old Gin, don’t quite fit on either side of Atlanta’s strict racial divide. When Jo loses her job as a milliner’s assistant, she becomes a maid and also starts writing a newspaper column (anonymously). I’ve enjoyed Lee’s previous books, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, and I really liked this one: it draws together race, family, horse racing and feminism, with warmth and wit.

The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life, Samantha Seneviratne
I grabbed this at the BPL: mouthwatering recipes and brief essays about (among other things) navigating a divorce? Yes please. I liked the author’s voice and have marked a couple recipes to try during quarantine baking.

I’d Give Anything, Marisa de los Santos
At eighteen, Ginny Beale loves her life (in spite of her difficult mother): she has a brother she adores and fiercely loyal friends. But one terrible night changes everything. Nearly twenty years later, when Ginny’s marriage falls apart, she learns some new truths about that night, and about herself. Moving and lovely and well written, like all de los Santos’ books (see above). To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, Hope Jahren
I loved Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read back in 2016. This slim book is a cogent, straightforward explanation of how population growth, technological advances and (hugely) increased consumption of energy and food have led us to the current climate crisis. It’s packed with data but highly readable. The diagnosis is daunting, but Jahren does offer some practical tips and reasons for hope.

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief, Anna Meriano
Leo Logroño is finally learning some of the magic recipes that her family uses at their Texas bakery. But when her paternal abuelo shows up, telling her new things about her own magic, she’s not sure what to believe. And a new café in town just might mean trouble for her family. I like this sweet series, and this book was a fun conclusion.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I love them and it’s especially important to support independent bookstores right now. 

What are you reading?

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velocipede races book

May is a whirlwind when you work in higher ed (I say this every year). Here are the books I’ve been dipping into on my commutes, at lunch, before bed and whenever else I can:

The American Agent, Jacqueline Winspear
1940: London is under siege as the Blitz takes hold, and an American broadcaster is found murdered in her flat. Two shadowy government agencies call Maisie Dobbs onto the case; she’s also volunteering as an ambulance driver and hoping to adopt Anna, a young evacuee. I am a longtime Maisie fan, and I loved this 15th (!) entry in the series. Solid writing, a well-done plot and so much British grit.

The Velocipede Races, Emily June Street
Emmeline longs to compete in bicycle races like her twin brother. But aristocratic women are forbidden to ride, much less race. When she’s forced into marriage to a rich man, she sees a chance to pursue her dreams secretly–but several surprises are in store. A friend snagged this novel for me at a cycling conference. Emmy is frustrating at times, but the plot is fun – especially if you love bikes.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane
I will read anything Macfarlane writes. He’s a brilliant nature writer who renders physical details beautifully, but sees under them, into the shape of things. This book – his latest and longest – is a sort of inversion of his previous work: an exploration of caves, crevices, burial grounds and other hidden places. I struggled with the subject matter a bit, but his adventures are fascinating. (I highly recommend his previous books: I particularly loved Landmarks.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, Anna Meriano
Leo (age 11), the youngest of five daughters, stumbles on a secret: all the women in her family are brujas (witches) whose magic comes out through their baking. Naturally, she’s dying to experiment, with sometimes disastrous results. A sweet, funny middle-grade story of family, baking and magic. Found at Trident.

In Another Time, Jillian Cantor
Max, a bookseller, and Hanna, a Jewish violinist, meet in Germany just as Hitler is coming to power. They fall in love, and then Hanna wakes up in a field in 1946 with a decade of her memory gone. She tries to build a new life, not knowing what has happened to Max. I’ve liked Cantor’s previous historical novels, but this one had a plot element that really didn’t work for me. I did love Hanna’s bond with her nephew, and appreciated her fraught but loving relationship with her sister.

The Beautiful Strangers, Camille Di Maio
“Find the beautiful stranger.” That’s what Kate Morgan’s granddad begs of her when she hops a train from San Francisco to San Diego, to work on the set of Some Like It Hot. Soon Kate discovers a mystery surrounding the Hotel del Coronado, including a ghost who shares her name. I love Coronado Island – I’ve stayed there several times – and this sweet love story evokes it perfectly.

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

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