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almost sisters book christmas tree

We’re two weeks into a new year, which has included (so far) a foot of snow, a record-breaking cold snap and – thank goodness – a batch of fantastic books.

Here’s my first reading roundup for 2018:

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson
Leia Birch Briggs, a successful graphic artist, finds out she’s pregnant with a biracial baby after a one-night stand. Then she’s summoned to Alabama to check on her grandmother, Birchie, who’s been hiding her health problems and other damaging secrets. I loved this novel – it’s funny, wise, warmhearted and thought-provoking. Leia is a great narrator and her relationship with her stepsister, Rachel, felt so real – as did her experience as a well-meaning but often clueless white woman. Recommended by Leigh and Anne.

One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together, Amy Bass
Soccer, like other sports, has historically taken a backseat to hockey in Lewiston, Maine. But an influx of Somali immigrants to this white, working-class town began to change that. And Lewiston High School’s coach, Mike McGraw, saw his chance to build a championship team. Insightful, vividly told, deeply researched nonfiction about a group of boys who became the emblem of a changing town. I’m not even much of a soccer fan, but I loved it. Reminded me of The Newcomers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 27).

Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
After loving The Dark is Rising, I went back and read this first book in the series, in which three children find a mysterious treasure map while on holiday in Cornwall. With the help of their great-uncle (whom I recognized from TDIR), they embark on a quest while dodging some sinister folks. Fun and enjoyable, though not nearly as compelling as TDIR.

In the Bleak Midwinter, Julia Spencer-Fleming
During a bitterly cold Advent season in upstate New York, someone leaves a newborn baby on the Episcopal church steps. The Reverend Clare Fergusson, new to town, investigates the baby’s parentage plus a few murders alongside longtime police chief Russ Van Alstyne. I’d heard about this mystery series from Lauren Winner and loved this first book: Russ, Clare and the other characters felt satisfyingly real.

Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith
I’d heard of Smith but really started paying attention to her when she was named poet laureate last summer. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, is on my to-read stack. This new collection of her poems was the first I’d read. It includes several “erasure poems” based on text from correspondence of former slave owners, the Declaration of Independence and other documents. But my favorites were the others, like “Ash” and “4 1/2” and “Unrest in Baton Rouge.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman
Carpool mom Frances Bloom is used to taking care of everyone, including her neighbors’ kids. But when she catches her neighbor, Anne, in flagrante delicto with a younger man, the neighborhood is thrown for a loop and so is Frances. This was sharper and sadder than Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings (which I loved). Some great lines and realistic characters, but I thought it ended too abruptly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

The Library at the Edge of the World, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read Hayes-McCoy’s memoir, The House on an Irish Hillside, a few years ago and loved it. This novel was fluffier than that, but still enjoyable: librarian Hanna Casey, who has returned to her rural Irish hometown after a divorce, suddenly finds herself an unlikely community organizer. Lovely descriptions of western Ireland and several appealing characters.

The Woman in the Water, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s mystery series featuring Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox. This prequel explores Lenox’s start as a detective, as the recent Oxford graduate investigates the deaths of two unknown women. A satisfying mystery plot, and I also enjoyed the appearances by Lenox’s invaluable valet, Graham, and other familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 20).

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, Laura Thompson
Known today as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie led a long and interesting life. Thompson explores Christie’s childhood, her two marriages, her prodigious creative output and her 11-day disappearance in 1926. I found this biography engaging, though it dragged at times, and the section on Agatha’s disappearance was decidedly odd. I’m a Christie fan (but 485 pages is a serious commitment!). To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

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

What are you reading this winter?

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Dec 2012 003

Rather suddenly, it’s December, and I am a bit behind on the reading updates. But here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Iron Cast, Destiny Soria
Ada and Corinne are best friends in 1920s Boston who work for a notorious gangster in exchange for his protection. (Both girls are hemopaths: they have a blood condition which allows them to perform magic, but causes a strong aversion to iron.) Rich, complex characters, a twisty plot and a setting I adored, plus strong women in spades. (From the staff recs shelf at the Harvard Book Store.)

Letters to a Young Muslim, Omar Saif Ghobash
Ghobash is the UAE’s ambassador to Russia and the father of two teenage sons. In a time when Islam is beset by extremism and anger, Ghobash shares his personal journey as a Muslim and some wise advice for his boys. Thoughtful, engaging and so timely – we all desperately need to hear from people who aren’t just like us, in this moment of fear and upheaval. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
I love this series so much, and it’s been a few years: it was time for another reread. The first book always goes fast, and it’s fun to discover the wizarding world right along with Harry and his friends.

The Wicked City, Beatriz Williams
After discovering her husband cheating, Ella Gilbert moves out – to a building in the West Village that might be haunted. Williams uses Ella’s narrative to frame the story of Geneva Rose “Gin” Kelly, who escaped backwoods Maryland to build a life in 1920s NYC. But Gin’s bootlegging stepfather, Duke, won’t let her alone. Witty and deliciously scandalous, like all Williams’ books – though I found Gin’s story much more compelling than Ella’s. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 17, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Rowling’s second book delves more deeply into the wizarding world, the (first) rise of Lord Voldemort and the odd similarities between Voldemort and Harry. (Plus it’s so much fun. Flying cars! Quidditch! More spellwork! And Fawkes the phoenix.)

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, Melissa Sweet
It’s no secret that I love E.B. White’s work – both his classic children’s books and his wry, witty letters and essays. Sweet tells White’s story through collage and illustration in this lovely children’s biography. (Bonus: adorable dachshunds!) Bought at Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte
I love Whyte’s poetry and also enjoyed this collection of brief, lyrical essays on words such as “solace,” “work,” “courage,” “heartbreak,” “Istanbul” and many others. A little esoteric and very lovely.

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

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strand bookstore awning nyc

My reading pace has been fairly slow (for me) this month. New apartment, still-new job, lots of other things crowding into my brain. But I’ve still found a few good books. Here they are:

A Sense of Wonder: The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane and the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle
An eclectic, luminous, often demanding collection of essays first published in Portland Magazine. My favorites are by Heather King, Robin Cody and Pico Iyer, but they are all worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Crowned and Dangerous, Rhys Bowen
This 10th entry in Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, which I love, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch unexpectedly in Ireland with her beau, Darcy, trying to exonerate his father of a murder charge. Frothy, fun and smart, like this entire series. (I adore Georgie.)

The House of Dreams, Kate Lord Brown
Journalist Sophie Cass interviews artist Gabriel Lambert about his experience as a refugee in Marseille during World War II. The true story of Varian Fry and others at the Emergency Rescue Committee, who worked tirelessly to get artists out of France, is fascinating. But the novel’s framing story was less so, and I did not like the ending. (I loved Brown’s previous novel, The Perfume Garden.)

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, David Hajdu
Music critic (and self-professed music geek) Hajdu takes readers on a tour of pop music in the U.S., from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, 45s to LPs to mixtapes and MP3s. Smart, entertaining and surprisingly deep. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope returns to WWII London and gets pulled onto a gruesome Scotland Yard case: a Jack-the-Ripper copycat serial killer targeting young professional women. I like Maggie (this is her sixth adventure), but this book was daaark. Also, the comments on the treatment of women felt heavy-handed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 4).

Faithful, Alice Hoffman
Since the night of the accident that left her best friend in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn’t believe she deserves to live. Faithful is the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way, with help from her stalwart mother, a few stray dogs and a few highly unlikely friends. Bleak and gritty at times (Shelby messes up over and over), but also beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Hoffman has written many books, but I’d never read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

The Boy is Back, Meg Cabot
Pro golfer Reed Stewart hasn’t been back to his Indiana hometown in a decade. But when his parents end up in the news (and in financial trouble), he returns to try and help out – which means facing his ex, Becky Flowers. Cabot tells this hilarious story through emails, texts and newspaper articles. Fluffy and really fun – smart chick lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Wonder Women: 25 Inventors, Innovators and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs
We are hearing a lot lately (it’s long overdue!) about brilliant, brave women whose stories have been overlooked. Sam Maggs writes bite-size biographies of 25 such women in this snappy, girl-power book. The colloquial tone got a little wearing, but these women – inventors, spies, scientists – are amazing. Would pair well with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

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

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book culture columbus interior nyc

Gunpowder Plot, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher travels to a country estate to write about its Guy Fawkes celebration, but the festivities are interrupted by murder. Of course, her husband Alec is called in to investigate. I liked the family dynamics in this one.

Rising Strong, Brené Brown
Brown, a social worker and vulnerability researcher, writes about recovering from falls and failure: delving into our emotions and stories, and being honest with ourselves about them. Some great lines, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Still thought-provoking, though.

Murder at Beechwood, Alyssa Maxwell
Newport society reporter and Vanderbilt cousin Emma Cross finds a baby boy on her doorstep. As she tries to find the baby’s mother, she also ends up investigating several murders. I really like Emma and the Newport setting; curious to see where Maxwell takes the series after this.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland
I saw Copeland dance in On the Town during my recent NYC trip and was blown away. I enjoyed her memoir of discovering ballet at age 13 and building a whole new life for herself. A little gushy at times, but an inspiring story.

The Idle Traveller, Dan Kieran
Kieran is a proponent of “slow travel”: taking your time to arrive at a destination, embracing disaster and being willing to wander. This book dragged a bit in the middle, but was still a charming account of his philosophy. Found at the Strand.

Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen, Kate Williams
A well-known yet enigmatic figure, Queen Elizabeth II was something of an accidental ruler. Williams explores the Queen’s childhood, her experiences in World War II and the turbulent family politics that set the stage for her reign. Quite readable, and fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Miss Buncle’s Book, D.E. Stevenson
Desperate for some extra money, Barbara Buncle writes a novel under a pen name – all about her fellow villagers and their escapades. The book is a runaway bestseller, but Barbara is terrified of what will happen if she’s found out. Another joyous, charming English novel from D.E. Stevenson. Found at Book Culture.

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

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june books

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis, Abigail Santamaria
Joy Davidman is chiefly known as the wife of C.S. Lewis – but before she married him, she was a writer and spiritual seeker in her own right. A well-written biography of a difficult, complicated woman. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 4).

Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Carola Dunn
En route from London to Edinburgh by train, Daisy Dalrymple gets mixed up in another murder case – as well as taking charge of her love interest’s runaway daughter. A crazy cast of characters – sort of a comedic version of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Light and fun.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, Kelli Estes
When Inara Erickson inherits her aunt’s estate on Orcas Island, Washington, she discovers a richly embroidered silk sleeve hidden under the staircase. Estes’ dual narrative links Inara’s story to that of Liu Mei Lien, a Chinese woman who faced hardship and prejudice in 1880s Seattle. Some plot elements wrapped up too neatly, but Mei Lien’s story kept me turning the pages. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 7).

The Flying Circus, Susan Crandall
In the 1920s, aviation was still a new, risky phenomenon – and daredevil pilots drew huge crowds with their “barnstorming” stunts. Crandall’s novel follows a WWI pilot, a young mechanic and a runaway society girl as they build an unconventional family with their “flying circus.” Full of adrenaline and heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 7).

The Suspicion at Sanditon, Carrie Brebis
On their first visit to the seaside village of Sanditon, Elizabeth (née Bennet) and Fitzwilliam Darcy are invited to a dinner party. But when their hostess disappears before dinner, the Darcys must search for her while keeping a close eye on the other guests. A little silly, but fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin
I’ve read Rubin’s two previous books on happiness and appreciated this fresh topic: the particulars and strategies of habits. Interesting and insightful (though I’d read a lot of the content on her blog). I do like her Four Tendencies framework (I’m definitely an Obliger). My friend and fellow writer Nina Badzin reviewed this one at Great New Books.

Damsel in Distress, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s fifth case involves a kidnapping, blackmail and some interesting romantic developments – for herself and several friends. Light, witty and so much fun.

The Boston Girl, Anita Diamant
Born and raised in Boston in the early 1900s, Addie Baum recounts the story of her life to her granddaughter, Ava. I loved the glimpses of 1920s/30s Boston and Addie’s adventures as a young, spunky working girl (and writer).

Dead in the Water, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple plans to enjoy her weekend at the Henley Regatta – but of course murder intervenes. A witty, very English entry in this series.

The Garden of LettersAlyson Richman
A young, gifted Italian cellist finds herself hiding out in Portofino as the Nazis invade her home city of Verona. Both she and the widowed doctor who gives her shelter are harboring some painful secrets. Richman weaves an exquisite story of love and tragedy against the backdrop of World War II.

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

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may books owl

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, Zach Dundas
More than 120 years after his literary debut, Sherlock Holmes remains instantly recognizable and infinitely adaptable. Dundas – a longtime Sherlock nerd – dives into the Holmesian universe, exploring adaptations, fanfiction, and what makes the character so enduring. Witty, well-researched and so much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce
This companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I loved) tells the life story of Queenie, Harold’s former colleague, and the secrets she has kept for many years. Beautifully written, but deeply, agonizingly sad.

Lowcountry Boneyard, Susan M. Boyer
Private eye Liz Talbot searches for a wealthy young woman who has disappeared from Charleston, S.C., while juggling her complicated personal and professional lives. I like Liz, but the writing and mystery plot just didn’t do it for me. (I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)

Tiny Little Thing, Beatriz Williams
Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle has built a seemingly perfect life for herself as the perfect Boston society wife. But during one fateful summer, her personal life and her husband’s political campaign are rocked by long-hidden secrets. Deliciously scandalous, gorgeously written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 23).

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick siblings return for a fourth adventure, in which Batty (the fourth sister) discovers she can sing, starts a dog-walking business, and wrestles with a terrible secret. I love this series about a noisy, happy family, and this one was sweet and fun.

A Dangerous Place, Jacqueline Winspear
After several years away from England, Maisie Dobbs is on her way home – but she makes an unscheduled stop in Gibraltar (rocked by the Spanish Civil War) and stumbles onto a mystery. I adore Winspear’s series about her intrepid detective, and loved the way this book explores Maisie’s personal struggles. (Also: such a great new setting.)

All Four Stars, Tara Dairman
Gladys Gatsby, age 11, harbors a secret passion for cooking – but her parents ban her from the kitchen after a small crème brûlée fire. Then an essay contest turns into a freelance restaurant-critic gig – only Gladys can’t tell her fast-food-loving parents. A fun, witty middle-grade novel with delicious food descriptions. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Death at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn
The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is thrilled to land a plum writing assignment for Town & Country, writing about posh Wentwater Court. But when one of her fellow house-party guests ends up dead, she gets drawn into the investigation. A fun 1920s British cozy mystery with a likable heroine. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain
Raised on a horse farm in Kenya, Beryl Markham was fiercely unconventional – a half-wild girl who grew into a strong woman and a noted horse trainer and aviator. McLain brings Beryl and her world to life in this powerful novel. I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife, and I also read – and loved – Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, years ago. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 28).

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

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april books

The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, Martin Edwards
A fascinating, highly readable group biography of the men and women who transformed Golden Age (inter-war) detective fiction in the UK and beyond. Full of details about two of my favorites, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett
Trainee witch Tiffany Aching steps into a dance with the titular spirit of winter, and disaster ensues till she (and the Nac Mac Feegles) can figure out how to fix things. Funny and clever, but a little hard to follow.

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
I love the story of Mary, Colin, Dickon and their hidden garden – and there’s no better book to reread while I’m watching for spring. Old-fashioned and beautiful.

Lowcountry Bombshell, Susan M. Boyer
Private eye Liz Talbot takes a case involving a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and her crazy cast of hangers-on. Meanwhile, Liz’s personal life is getting complicated. Not as good as Boyer’s first mystery, but still fun.

The Truth According to Us, Annie Barrows
Layla Beck, pampered senator’s daughter, is sent to Macedonia, West Virginia, as a WPA writer in 1938. Boarding with the Romeyn family, she uncovers more than a few secrets – and learns a thing or two about truth and history. A big-hearted Southern novel; warm and charming. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 9).

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, Heather Lende
After a near-fatal bike accident, Lende muses on faith, grief and small-town Alaska life while recovering slowly (and continuing her work as an obituary writer). The title comes from her own mother’s final instructions. Wise and moving.

Lady Thief, A.C. Gaughen
The sequel to Scarlet finds Robin Hood’s band dealing with court intrigue, a dangerous archery tournament and the slippery Prince John. Gripping and well told, though I found Scarlet (the heroine) frustrating at times.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
Jane Stuart never knew she had a father – until he asks her to come spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. One of my favorite spring books – I love smart, practical, capable Jane. And I love the descriptions of PEI.

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

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