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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

We’re nearly halfway through November, which so far has included gorgeous weather, serious election stress and (more) pandemic uncertainty. Here’s what I have been reading:

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, Luisana Duarte Armendariz
Nine-year-old Julieta is so excited – she gets to go to Paris to help her dad bring some valuable pieces from the Louvre back to Boston. But then a rare diamond is stolen. Julieta tries to help catch the thief – but she seems to make things worse. A cute middle-grade mystery with fun details about Paris and Boston (Julieta’s parents both work at the MFA).

This is My Brain in Love, I.W. Gregorio
Jocelyn Wu is trying to save her family’s Chinese restaurant from failure. Will Domenici just needs a summer job. But when he becomes Jocelyn’s first employee, they become friends – and maybe something more. A witty, sweet YA novel with two protagonists who both struggle with their mental health.

The Last Garden in England, Julia Kelly
When garden designer Emma Lovell is hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House, she unearths not only overgrown plants, but secrets: some related to the house and its family, some to the garden’s original designer, Venetia Smith. An engaging multi-timeline story about strong women fighting to make their own choices: Emma in 2021, Venetia in 1907, and three different women during World War II. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Holly Jackson
Pippa Fitz-Amobi has never believed that Sal Singh killed his girlfriend, Andie Bell. So when she needs a senior capstone project, she launches her own murder investigation with the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi. This was very Veronica Mars (though Pippa often has terrible judgment) – a real nail-biter, but a very effective distraction from election news.

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson
Amara is dying to go visit her dad’s family in Harlem for her 12th birthday – she’s never been to NYC, or met her cousins. But once she gets there, she has to deal with some unexpected friction. I loved this sweet middle-grade story about family, forgiveness and finding yourself in a new place.

Birds by the Shore, Jennifer Ackerman
I found this essay collection in September at the beautiful Bookstore of Gloucester. Ackerman shares quiet, keen-eyed observations about the wildlife (birds, yes, but also fish, crabs, invertebrates) and shifting microclimate of the Delaware shore. A little slow, but worthwhile.

Finding Refuge, Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Our society tends to see grief as an individual, linear process–but it has collective aspects, too, and it’s much messier than that. Johnson shares some of her own story and practices around processing grief. I applaud her premise, but the writing style was hard for me to follow (could be election brain). Includes meditations/journaling prompts. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski gets roped into (temporarily) coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old high school, she’s drawn into a web of other problems: poverty, teenage pregnancy, unsavory conditions at a couple of local manufacturing plants. This entry was intense (I shouldn’t have read it before bed!), but so compelling. I love this series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Books and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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There are Birds Here

for Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

—Jamaal May

I found this poem two years ago in the anthology How Lovely the Ruins, and it has echoed in my head periodically ever since. May’s words, though they speak of a different kind of terror, seem apt for this current moment. We are all tattered, right now, and yet there is also “shadow pierced by sun.”

I hope you’re keeping well, friends.

(I usually share poetry here on Fridays during April, which is National Poetry Month, but I decided to start early this year.)

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birds art life mug

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

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

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

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birds art life mug

We’re halfway through April and I’m really counting on this whole “April showers bring May flowers” thing. But the showers are bringing good books. (Above: the endpapers of Birds Art Life, and a mug I love, from Obvious State.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

‘Round Midnight, Laura McBride
June Stein never expected to end up a casino owner’s wife in Las Vegas. But that’s where she finds herself, and her story intertwines with those of several other women in surprising ways. McBride tells a compelling, heartbreaking story of four women deeply affected by the El Capitan, the casino June owns with her husband, and the evolution of Vegas from the 1950s to the present. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, Kyo Maclear
I picked up Maclear’s luminous, quiet memoir at Idlewild Books in the West Village. She chronicles a year spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto, while dealing with her father’s illness and generally feeling unmoored. Melancholy and beautiful, with insights on bravery, marriage, noticing the small things, and making a world where birds (and humans) can thrive.

Ashes, Laurie Halse Anderson
After years of searching, Isabel Gardener has finally found her sister Ruth, who was kidnapped by their old slave mistress. But more trials await the sisters and their friend Curzon as the American Revolution drags on. Compelling, heartbreaking YA fiction (the third volume in a trilogy) with a sharp-tongued, brilliant protagonist. (Set during and around the Battle of Yorktown, so you can guess what was in my head the whole time.)

Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh
Bonnelyn Parker has always been a good girl: working hard in school, helping her mama, working at a diner to earn extra money. But when she loses her job and her best friend Blanche convinces her to try bartending at a speakeasy, Bonnelyn may be on her way to becoming someone else: Bonnie. A really fun historical novel of the woman who became one half of Bonnie and Clyde. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
I’d never read this seminal work on the plight of black people in the U.S., and I figured it was long overdue. Du Bois is eloquent, passionate and thoughtful (though some of his language feels a little quaint, 100 years later). Of particular interest: his notions of the Veil and the double life led by black Americans. I also love his thoughts on the “sorrow songs” and their place in black history.

The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be: Prose Poems and Cheerful Chants Against the Dark, Brian Doyle
More prose poems from Doyle: keen-eyed, thoughtful, wide-ranging, humorous and occasionally so luminous they make me cry. (Besides, April is always a good time to read poetry.) My favorites include “Your Theatrical Training” and “The Western Yellowjacket: A Note.”

Girl on the Leeside, Kathleen Anne Kenney
Since her mother’s death in an IRA bombing when she was just a toddler, Siobhan Doyle has lived a quiet life with her uncle Keenan, working alongside him in their family’s pub, the Leeside, and writing poetry. She’s content with her sheltered existence until the arrival of an American professor, whose visit makes her ask all sorts of questions. A lovely, lyrical coming-of-age novel, set in a quiet corner of Ireland. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn came to the U.S. from Ireland together as teenagers. When Theresa ends up pregnant, both sisters must make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences for their family. Sullivan writes with warmth, sensitivity and keen observation about family, regret and love in her fourth novel. (Set in Boston’s Irish and Irish-American communities – vividly and accurately rendered.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

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

What are you reading?

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charles river cambridge sunset

Hope and Love

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark.
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will – as is my tradition – be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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buddha book stack

I’ve been running hither and yon this month: starting a new job, packing up my apartment, hopping down to Texas for a quick visit with my family. Here, the books that are keeping me (moderately) sane:

I Shot the Buddha, Colin Cotterill
Dr. Siri Paiboun, retired coroner of Laos, and his wife, Madam Daeng, stumble onto a mystery when their friend Noo, a Buddhist monk, disappears. A slightly wacky mystery with quirky, entertaining characters and occasional paranormal elements, set in 1970s Laos (a brand-new location for me). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church
Meridian Wallace, an aspiring ornithologist, moves to Los Alamos, N.M., with her scientist husband as he works on a top-secret government project (the atomic bomb). Over several decades, Meri wrestles with her own choices and the realities of womanhood and marriage, while observing a certain group of crows in a nearby canyon. Church’s writing is gorgeous and I loved Meri’s narrative voice. Beautiful.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book needs no introduction from me; I’m late to the game here, but very glad I finally read it. Coates writes a searing indictment of the way black people have been treated in this country since its inception, in the form of a letter to his son. Powerful and thought-provoking.

To Catch a Cheat, Varian Johnson
The gang from The Great Greene Heist is back, and this time they’re on a mission to stop a blackmail plot. A smart, funny middle-grade novel with highly entertaining characters (and pretty believable teenage bickering). Like Ocean’s 12 for teens, with lots of computer hacking.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Hamilton has taken the country by storm – count me among its legions of fans. The “Hamiltome” combines the show’s complete libretto with stunning color photos and richly layered essays about Hamilton’s origins, its cast and crew, and the conversations it is sparking. A treat from start to finish.

Finding Audrey, Sophie Kinsella
Audrey is struggling with serious anxiety after a bullying incident at school. With the help of her therapist, her wacky family and her brother’s friend Linus, she gradually finds her way out of the dark. Sweet, poignant and often hilarious (Audrey’s mom is particularly funny). My sister loves Kinsella, but this – her first YA novel – is the only one of her books I’ve read. Recommended by Anne.

Ashes of Fiery Weather, Kathleen Donohoe
The O’Reilly men have been firefighters in Brooklyn for decades – which means the O’Reilly women know a thing or two about grief and sacrifice. A sweeping family saga, told from the perspectives of seven different women, moving back and forth in time. Well written and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 30).

The Book of Lost and Found, Lucy Foley
I picked up this novel (Foley’s debut) after loving her second book, The Invitation. This story follows Kate, the daughter of an orphaned ballerina, and her quest to discover more about her mother’s history. Foley weaves together art, love, war and self-sacrifice. Beautifully told (and now I want to go to Corsica, where the book is partly set).

Outrun the Moon, Stacey Lee
Mercy Wong isn’t like most girls in Chinatown: her “bossy cheeks” mark her as a woman of action. She talks her way into an exclusive boarding school, hoping to gain important business connections. But the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 changes everything. A fast-paced story with an engaging heroine and wonderful supporting characters (I loved Mercy’s friend Francesca). I also enjoyed Lee’s debut, Under a Painted Sky.

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

What are you reading?

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bunch of grapes bookstore marthas vineyard ma

We began May with a string of grey, rainy days – which are good reading weather, if nothing else. (We did get some sunshine while visiting the enchanting Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on our Martha’s Vineyard trip.)

Here, the books I have loved lately:

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
This much-heralded 21st-century retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a wild ride. Sittenfeld elegantly skewers both the Bennets and 21st-century social mores in biting prose (and on reality TV). Most of the relationships herein are more than a little depressing, but it’s still fun to read. I thought the elder Bennets were particularly well done. Reminiscent of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I adored.

Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George
This sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle finds Princess Celie and her siblings dealing with (more) new rooms, a gallery full of mysterious armor, a highly suspect wizard, and a newly hatched griffin. Really fun – though the ending felt quite abrupt. Made me curious to read book 3!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly
After her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster is not excited about moving to tiny River Heights, N.Y., with her mom. But then Digby – rude, sarcastic, brilliant and obsessed with crime-solving – shows up on her doorstep. Think Veronica Mars with a male sleuth and a smart female narrator. Snarky and fun, though a few plot threads were left dangling.

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year, Neil Hayward
After quitting his executive job, Neil Hayward found himself drifting. A longtime avid birder, he began spending copious amounts of time on birding trips, and found himself pursuing a Big Year (a birder’s quest to see as many species as possible in a year). This memoir traces his journey (geographical and personal). Slow at times, but full of lovely descriptions of birds, and insights into Hayward’s struggle with depression. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow, Tara Austen Weaver
I adore Tara’s blog and liked her first book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian. But this memoir is in a whole other league. She writes in gorgeous, sensitive prose about the ramshackle Seattle house and overgrown garden that her mother bought, and how their family brought it back to life together. So many insights on family, growth and community, through the lens of gardening. Beautiful.

Hour of the Bees, Lindsey Eagar
Carol, age 12, isn’t thrilled about spending her summer at her grandpa’s ranch in the middle of the New Mexico desert. But as she listens to Grandpa Serge’s stories, she comes to appreciate the ranch’s wild beauty, and gains some surprising insights into her family and herself. A lovely, bittersweet middle-grade novel about family, imagination and the titular bees.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl
When Gourmet magazine folded unexpectedly, Reichl, its longtime editor, wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. This memoir-cum-cookbook chronicles the year after Gourmet‘s demise, when Reichl spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, cooking her favorites and trying new things. Beautifully written (with her lyrical, haiku-like tweets sprinkled throughout) and so many tempting recipes. (I’ve already made two and have plans to try more.) Delectable.

A Certain Age, Beatriz Williams
New York, 1922: Mrs. Theresa Marshall’s dissolute brother, Ox, is finally getting married and he wants to employ an old family tradition: having a cavalier, a proxy, present the ring. Theresa enlists her lover, Octavian, as cavalier to the beautiful Sophie, which naturally leads to all sorts of tangled passions. Deliciously scandalous and elegantly written, like all Williams’ novels. (With cameos by members of the sprawling, blue-blooded Schuyler clan.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

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

What are you reading?

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Poem for January

winter sunset gold

Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter
by Robert Frost

The west was getting out of gold,
The breath of air had died of cold,
When shoeing home across the white,
I thought I saw a bird alight.

In summer when I passed the place,
I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.

No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.

From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn’t show.

A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.

(Photo: the view from my front porch at sunset, in December.)

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