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Posts Tagged ‘bookstores’

Another month has flown by! As we wrap up August, here’s what I have been reading:

Just Another Love Song, Kerry Winfrey
Sandy Macintosh has built a life for herself in her Ohio hometown – she’s even happy, most of the time. But when her first love Hank Tillman (now a successful musician) comes back to town with his son in tow, Sandy’s emotions go haywire. I love Winfrey’s warmhearted feel-good romances, and this one was sweet – full of fun summer vibes and serious questions about figuring out what you truly want.

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys and Struggles of Being Alone, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
Solitude and loneliness are, of course, not the same – but they often go hand in hand, and they’re both nearly universal experiences. This anthology explores loneliness in many forms – it is sad and lovely and extremely validating. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Argyles and Arsenic, Molly MacRae
The women of Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to helping host the local knitting competition in tiny Inversgail, Scotland. But when the director of the local museum is poisoned at a party, they can’t help but investigate (of course). I like the setting of this series, but the plot of this one didn’t do it for me – plus a super irritating plot device didn’t help.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, Clare Pooley
I loved Pooley’s first novel, The Authenticity Project, and also loved this one – about a group of strangers on a London commuter train (led by the titular Iona) who enter each other’s lives and become good friends. Sweet, heartwarming and so beautifully human. I loved vibrant Iona, shy Sanjay, gawky Martha and the kindness in all of them.

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, Jamie K. McCallum
We all spent the first part of the pandemic applauding essential workers (sometimes literally). But despite arguing and agitating for better wages and conditions, a lot of essential jobs are truly terrible. McCallum dives into the labor strikes, walkouts and other campaigns of the pandemic, connecting them to the long history of labor organizing in the U.S., and urgently calling for higher wages, government support and better working conditions for nurses, food service workers and others. Insightful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Death at the Manor, Katharine Schellman
Lily Adler is delighted to be visiting her aunts in Hampshire, with friends. But their visit takes a turn when a local elderly woman is murdered – ostensibly by a ghost. This third mystery featuring Lily had a bit of gothic flair; I thought the plot dragged for a while, though the conclusion was interesting.

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

What are you reading?

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On a recent Saturday afternoon, I took myself to Boston’s North End for some wandering, before meeting a friend and her kids for ice cream nearby. I’ve long enjoyed an occasional meal out there – the neighborhood is justly famous for its Italian food – but in the 12 years I have spent in Boston, I’ve rarely gone there simply to explore. It felt good to wander around while not worrying about making a dinner reservation, and I found a few new spots to enjoy.

My first stop, as you can tell from the photo, was I AM Books – a delightful Italian-American bookstore, which moved to its new home on Salem Street last fall. I’d never visited its first incarnation, to my shame, but this one is glorious. It has tons of space and an amazing selection of books about Italy, books in Italian, books on Italian food and culture, and books by Italian-American authors. I picked up a food memoir and some expensive (but delicious) chili-spiced chocolate.

The neighborhood has more than a few small shops, and I dropped into several: a funky vintage store, a sweet gift shop, a venerable wine shop with an incredible selection, a market called Going Bananas. There were lots of tourists around (it was a Saturday in July, after all), but it was fun to wander the streets as a local, picking up an item or two for dinner and noting restaurants I’d like to try soon.

My last stop was Salumeria Italiana, which my guy and I discovered only recently. Their sandwiches are delicious (and affordable!), but I was after something else: the briny mixed olives from their deli counter, which G loves. I picked up a bag of Tuscan crackers to go with them, and headed home via the T. I think I’ll save my next North End excursion for when the tourist traffic calms a bit – but it was still fun to explore a corner of my city in a way I rarely do.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Hello, friends. I am back from a much-needed midwinter jaunt to San Diego, and (I think) finally over the jet lag. Here’s what I have been reading:

Learning America: One Woman’s Fight for Educational Justice for Refugee Children, Luma Mufleh
After surviving serious trauma, young refugees often struggle academically in settings that don’t meet their needs. Mufleh–herself a refugee from Jordan–began coaching refugee children in soccer and ended up founding a school, Fugees Academy, aimed at helping them succeed. A powerful, well-told story – a testament both to Mufleh’s dedication and the serious limits of the U.S. educational system. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

The Month of Borrowed Dreams, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I love this sweet series set in western Ireland. This entry follows librarian Hanna Casey’s attempts to start a film club; the romantic trials of her daughter Jazz; and other familiar characters who are dealing with their own troubles. Bookish and lovely.

The Printed Letter Bookshop, Katherine Reay
I like Reay’s gentle novels about people finding their way. This one, set in a bookshop just outside Chicago, features three women all grappling with life changes and mourning the death of Maddie, the bookshop’s owner. Compelling and thoughtful, with insights about taking responsibility for your own actions. Found at the wonderful Verbatim Books in San Diego.

Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller, Nadia Wassef
When Wassef and her two business partners founded Diwan, Egypt’s first modern bookstore, they didn’t know the scale of what they were tackling. I loved this frank, wry memoir of trying to balance work and motherhood, taking on Egyptian bureaucracy, navigating tricky work relationships and championing books. Found at the marvelous Book Catapult in San Diego.

Small Marvels, Scott Russell Sanders
I heard Sanders speak years ago at the Glen Workshop and have enjoyed his wise, thought-provoking essays. This novel-in-stories follows Gordon Mills, a city maintenance worker in small-town Indiana, and his rambunctious family. Joyful, whimsical and lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 1).

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World, Clara Parkes
Parkes is famous for writing about yarn, and this memoir traces (some of) her travels to yarn festivals, conferences, filming sites, etc. An entertaining collection of reminiscences about the wonderful world of knitting. Also found at Verbatim.

Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, Osheta Moore
Moore is a voice for peace and justice on Instagram and elsewhere. This, her second book, speaks directly to white folks who want – or think we want – to engage in racial justice work. Thought-provoking and humbling; she is kind but pulls no punches.

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

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It’s no secret I love a solo trip to NYC. Some of my favorite memories of the Big Apple are from weekends spent wandering the streets by myself. My last trip there, though, was kind of a failure: it was January 2020, just days after my divorce court date. I thought I wanted an adventure to look forward to, but once I was there, all I wanted was to be back home. I came back early and didn’t regret it, but I’ve been wanting to revisit NYC alone (and basically unable to do so) ever since.

I hopped down to NYC a few weekends ago for my shortest trip to date: I was there for just over 24 hours, and it was a hot, humid whirlwind. But I loved wandering my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village, browsing bookstores and drinking my weight in iced tea. Here, a few highlights:

My beloved Three Lives & Co. is in a temporary space due to renovation, but I made sure to walk down West 10th to visit their new digs. I had a long browse and a lovely conversation with Nora, one of the booksellers, and bought a fabulous compendium of essays about Manhattan.

I headed straight for Bryant Park (see above) when I arrived, for lunch and a lemonade. But once I made my way to the Jane, where I stayed, I stuck to Chelsea and the Village all weekend.

I walked and walked – to Pink Olive, to Chelsea Market (above), to various shops that looked intriguing. I popped into cafes for iced tea and took photos of flowers and street art. And I had dinner at Roey’s (the most fantastic burrata pizza), and sat outside on one of my favorite corners in the city, sipping a gin cocktail and scribbling in my journal until nearly closing time.

Sunday morning meant a long run through the Hudson River Park (the High Line wasn’t open yet, but I loved discovering a new-to-me running route). Then I had a fantastic sandwich (with iced chai) at Three Owls Market, and wandered up to 192 Books, where I’d never been.

I grabbed some snacks for the train, walked around some more, and headed back to Penn Station to catch my train home. I was exhausted and delighted, and so glad I went. The city is waking back up, and it felt like mine again.

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Suddenly, it’s the end of November – I’ve been squeezing in books between NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving cooking. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
This book had been on my TBR for a long time. It consists of two letters written in 1963: one to Baldwin’s nephew James, about being a Black man in America, and one to the nation, about his experiences mingled with the history of Black people in the U.S. Some parts are intensely focused on issues of the moment (e.g. the Black Muslim movement), but so much of it is painfully true today. Blistering and essential.

Dear Miss Kopp, Amy Stewart
It’s 1918 and the three Kopp sisters are doing their bit for the war: Constance as an intelligence agent, Fleurette as a touring performer in army camps, and Norma running her pigeon messenger program in France. The sisters’ sixth adventure is entirely epistolary, and it’s witty, wry and so much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder, Jodi Picoult et al.
My guy lent me this comic a while ago; I am not a huge comic reader, but I love Wonder Woman. This story features Diana trying to save humanity from a diabolical plot and going head-to-head with her own mother. Action-packed and also thought-provoking.

Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
Chelsea and Jasmine are fed up with the sexism (and racism, and fat-shaming) at their NYC high school, so they start a club focused on elevating women’s voices. But some of their words and methods get them into trouble. An inspiring (if slightly didactic) YA novel about learning to speak up and be truly inclusive.

Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, Hilda Eunice Burgos
Aspiring pianist Ana Maria Reyes is practicing for a scholarship audition, but her sisters are driving her crazy and her mami is going to have another baby. A family trip to the Dominican Republic and some other events help change her perspective a bit. I loved watching Anamay (as her family calls her) grow as a character.

The Library of Lost Things, Laura Taylor Namey
Darcy Jane Wells spends most of her time reading, and the rest of it trying to cope with her mother’s hoarding. But a new on-site apartment manager and a new boy upend her carefully constructed world. A sweet, literary YA novel. My favorite parts were Darcy’s best friend, Marisol, and the wig shop next door to the bookstore where Darcy works.

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World, Kathryn Aalto
I loved this collection of 25 mini-biographies of female nature writers, from Dorothy Wordsworth to Leslie Marmon Silko to multiple contemporary authors I hadn’t heard of. Lyrical, lovely, informative and made my TBR explode (in a good way).

Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am, Julia Cooke
In the golden age of flying, Pan Am stewardesses were a potent symbol of independence, glamour and sexual empowerment. But they were also real women, with varied backgrounds and experiences. Cooke explores the rise and fall of Pan Am against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, with first-person interviews from several former stewardesses. Fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2).

Recommended for You, Laura Silverman
Shoshanna Greenberg really needs to earn the bonus being offered to the highest-earning bookseller at her job. But the new hire, Jake, is annoyingly good at selling books – even though he doesn’t read. A cute YA romance (though Shoshanna drove me crazy sometimes) with a wonderful cast of diverse, warmhearted friends and family.

Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World, Kathleen Dean Moore
Moore (mentioned in Aalto’s collection, above) is an avid lover of the natural world and its songs: those of bird, bear, ocean, lake, glacier, grasses and more. This collection of new and selected essays renders her love for nature in striking detail, and urgently calls for its protection against fossil fuels, overdevelopment and other ills. Passionate, vivid and thoughtful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 16).

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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Last week, my guy and I hopped on the commuter rail (for the first time since March) and headed to Gloucester, about an hour north of Boston. We’d each been up there before, but not together, and we reveled in wandering around, eating seafood and soaking in some time away.

Because I am me, and because we were there to celebrate my birthday, we went to two bookstores, both of which were utter delights.

The Bookstore of Gloucester was our first stop: it’s a cozy, well-curated shop with green walls, situated right at the bend of Main Street. I loved browsing their local section at the front, and picked up one of Jennifer Ackerman’s books on birds. They have a huge children’s/young adult section (this is only a slice, above), a handful of cards and journals, and interesting stuff in all genres. I always enjoy seeing what bookstore owners choose to highlight in their spaces – it’s such a reflection of both the staff and the community.

Our second bookstore was down the street: Dogtown Books (“used and unusual”). It had an entirely different feel – a huge space lined with crowded bookshelves, bursting with titles of all types and eras.

I headed straight for local history and fiction, where I picked up Anita Diamant’s novel Good Harbor. I browsed the poetry, too, and the children’s section in the “way back” of the store. (I did not buy any awesome pulp fiction, but I appreciated the sign.)

There was entirely too much to take in, but I did snap a half-dozen shots of fun used-bookstore touches, like this typewriter. (Yes, I did type a few letters and yes, some of the keys do stick.)

Bookstore browsing feels different these days: lots of places have limited hours, and of course everyone – staff and customers – is distanced and masked. I made some online orders from my favorite stores during quarantine in the spring, but I am so glad to be able to wander the shelves again. The booksellers at both Gloucester shops were friendly and kind, and it felt good to lose myself in the stacks for a little while.

Despite their good cheer, I am sure both stores, like lots of indie bookstores, have struggled mightily during the pandemic. If you can, please order your books (and anything else they sell) from independent bookstores instead of online retail giants. It makes such a difference to those stores and the communities to which they belong.

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I’ve got a new mystery obsession this summer. As is so often the case, it came about by pure serendipity.

One of my neighbors used to run a Little Free Library, and someone else in the neighborhood would drop off advanced copies (in addition to the ones I would contribute). I found an ARC of Dead Land, Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, on the shelf back in April, and finally got around to reading it in July.

I usually don’t like starting a series at the end, but I was hankering for a new mystery and I liked V.I.: she’s whip-smart, tenacious and fiercely committed to justice. Plus she’s a master of both sharp, snarky wit and getting herself into (and out of) tight corners.

I checked out the first two books, Indemnity Only and Deadlock, from the library, and then decided to see if I could find used copies of V.I.’s other adventures around town. I hit the jackpot at the Harvard Book Store: three mass-market paperbacks (in series order!) for under $4 each. So I scooped them up and have been popping into the other used bookstores I know, to see what I can find.

Rodney’s in Cambridge yielded an old hardcover of Tunnel Vision, and I later found one book each (Fallout and Critical Mass, respectively) at the Booksmith and Commonwealth Books. I like the varied, sometimes campy cover art, the portability of the mass markets, and the fact that they’re so darn affordable. I love a glossy new hardcover as much as the next reader, but I also like collecting a series this way, scavenger hunt-style. I didn’t have any luck at the Brattle, but I’m getting the ones I don’t find from the library. (Thank heaven for library holds pickup.)

Do you hunt for series like this?

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Happy Tuesday, friends. Here we are in week 11 of this strange restricted life, and the world is turning toward summer. I ran this morning by the water, through haze and humidity and (eventual) bright sunshine. The beach roses are blowing and the purple iris are budding, and I’m wearing my favorite denim shorts and growing herb seedlings in my kitchen window (until I can get some soil to pot them).

We are deep into whatever kind of “now normal” we are all creating for ourselves, and while there’s beauty and joy in that, today I wanted to acknowledge: I miss how it used to be.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re moving slowly into a phased reopening, but masks and social distancing and other restrictions will be part of our lives for a long while. There are some parts of “normal” we simply won’t get back, at least not for the foreseeable future. And that hurts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things I miss:

  • Hugging my friends.
  • Browsing my favorite bookstores.
  • The library, especially the central BPL branch near my office.
  • Hanging out at coffee shops.
  • Making travel plans, which are all obviously on hold at the moment.
  • Running to the grocery store to grab “just one thing.”
  • Walking outside without a mask.
  • My family in Texas (the Zoom calls are fun, but not the same).
  • Going to friends’ houses for dinner or just to hang out.
  • By the same token: having people over to my house.
  • My colleagues, and the musical chitchat that passes for water-cooler talk at Berklee.
  • Sitting in on workshops and talking to our students.
  • The buzz of commencement season in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Going to yoga classes in a real studio.
  • Going to book events at a bookstore.
  • Walking to Downeast with my guy on a Saturday night to sample ciders and talk to the folks behind the counter.
  • Planning for summer festivals and concerts.
  • Going to the hair salon (they’re starting to reopen, but I’m going to wait a while).
  • My florist.
  • Waking up without the constant low-level (or higher-level) pandemic anxiety.

What do you miss?

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bookstore lenox interior shelves

One thing I miss, in this strange time of restricted movement: popping into my favorite shops (and restaurants).

A couple of my faves, like my beloved florist and the best taqueria in Maverick Square, have simply closed down for the duration. There’s not much I can do except look forward to the day when I can visit them again. (You can bet I’ll be hugging my florist, when it’s safe to do so.) But there are a few other small businesses I’m supporting with my dollars, during this crazy time. Here’s a list, in case you’re in need of books or tea or stationery, or other fun things, and have a bit of cash to spare.

  • Trident, Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store are my three favorite indie bookshops in Boston, and they’re all still operating online. (Trident’s cafe is still open, too, if you’re local.) If you’re a book lover, please support an indie bookstore during this time – they are such centers of creativity and joy, and they really need the cash flow.
  • My two favorite yoga/fitness studios, The Point EB and Savin Hill Fitness, are offering online classes via Zoom. They’re super reasonable – Savin Hill even offers one free class each day – and the instructors are great.
  • Mem Tea Imports, based in Somerville, is still shipping their delicious teas. I stocked up in mid-March, and I’m sure I’ll be making another order soon. They always stick an extra sample or two in each order.
  • I ordered some fun quarantine correspondence cards from 1canoe2, a small stationery business I’ve loved for years. They are hilarious and cute.
  • Jenny at Carrot Top Paper Shop is still bringing the cheer, even drawing some of her heroines wearing masks. Love love love.
  • Marathon Sports, my favorite Boston-based running store, is still shipping online orders. They’ve provided me with new running shoes and a much-needed foam roller since this all started.

What are some favorite small businesses you’re supporting right now?

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cobble hill Brooklyn NYC

One of my favorite things about NYC: there are endless new neighborhoods to explore.

I love returning to my well-loved haunts there. I’ve spent some time in Fort Greene, and I was happy to revisit Park Slope (especially the Chocolate Room) on this most recent trip. But on Saturday, I decided to walk a few blocks west and wander Cobble Hill – partly motivated, you will not be surprised, by a bookstore.

Novelist Emma Straub opened a bookstore, aptly named Books Are Magic, a while back. It was an easy walk from my Airbnb, so I headed that way, grabbing an iced tea and popping into a few shops. I bought a long green dream of a dress at Something Else, then headed for the bookstore. It was well-lit and well-stocked, a little bit funky and yes, a little bit magical.

I browsed for a while, dipping into novels and mysteries, and saying “amen” to a fellow customer who was recommending Anne Lamott to her friend. (Bird by Bird!) I picked up a fun kids’ mystery featuring Agatha Oddly, then went down the street for an early dinner at Jolie – the only French-Mexican bistro I’ve ever seen.

Even though I’m living in Eastie, land of delicious tacos, I rarely pass up an opportunity for good Mexican food. The enchiladas, the fresh guacamole, and the late afternoon light at Jolie were all perfect.

My next stop was Whisk, which I discovered a while back via their store near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. That location has closed, but their main store is in Cobble Hill, so I popped in to buy a couple of new tea strainers. (I can always use them.) From there, I headed for the subway and my Saturday-night plans: Come From Away, which I adored.

I was a little bit worried about coming to Brooklyn: it holds some tender associations for me. But I was very glad to discover a new pocket of it for myself, and make some new memories.

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