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Another month, another reading roundup. Somehow it’s May already (!). Here’s the latest batch of good reads:

Home By Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor
A friend gave me this collection of Brown Taylor’s sermons last summer. That sounds dry as dust – but as I already knew, she’s anything but. I love her luminous memoirs, and these sermons are brief, thoughtful reflections on scripture and life. They’re pegged to the church year, and I think they’ll be worth coming back to. (Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.)

Literally, Lucy Keating
Annabelle Burns has her senior year all planned out – color-coded, even. But when an author named Lucy Keating visits her English class, Annabelle learns she’s actually a character in Keating’s new novel. Does she have any control over her choices – even regarding the new boy who’s literally perfect for her? A fun, very meta YA novel, though the ending fell a bit flat.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, Kelly Corrigan
I love Corrigan’s wise, witty memoirs, and this one cracked me up and made me cry. She builds it around 12 essential phrases: “I was wrong,” “I love you,” “No,” “Yes” and others, with funny, honest vignettes from her life. My favorite line is in the first chapter: “Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart.”

Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older
Sierra Santiago expected to spend her Brooklyn summer painting murals and hanging with her friends. Never did she dream of getting caught up in an epic battle between spirits involving members of her own family. But Sierra is a shadowshaper, heir to a kind of magic channeled through art, and she must figure out how to stop the spirits before they destroy everyone she loves. A fantastic beginning to a YA series with great characters. I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadowhouse Fall.

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Stephanie Rosenbloom
I love a solo trip, so I expected to enjoy Rosenbloom’s memoir of traveling alone. She visits Paris, Istanbul, Florence and her hometown of New York, reveling in the pleasures of solitude in each city. This was pleasant and charming; I wanted a bit more from some of her experiences, but really enjoyed it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 5).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This novel is less well known than Montgomery’s beloved Anne series, but I love it, and I’ve returned to it every spring for several years now. Jane is a wonderful character – wise, practical and kind. Watching her discover Prince Edward Island, her estranged father and herself all at once is an utter delight.

Shopgirls, Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley
I picked this one up in Oxford last fall (for £2!). It’s a fascinating nonfiction history of women working in shops and department stores in Britain. There’s a lot here: unionization, national politics, sexism, drastic changes in business practices and social norms, the impact of two world wars. Really fun and well-researched. Also part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lost Vintage, Ann Mah
As she’s cramming (again) for the arduous Master of Wine exam, Kate Elliott returns to her family’s vineyard in Burgundy. Helping her cousin clear out the basement, Kate discovers a secret room filled with Resistance literature and valuable wine. Mah weaves a layered, lush, gripping story of family secrets, wartime and terroir. I loved Mah’s memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and savored every sip of this delicious novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 19).

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

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It is officially spring, but there’s snow in the forecast – so, naturally, I have stocked up on books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (descendants of that Holmes and Watson) end up at the same posh Connecticut boarding school. When a student they both despise is murdered, they join forces to clear their names and solve the case. I love a good Sherlock riff (see also: Mary Russell), and this one crackles with great dialogue and entertaining details. Bought at Greenlight on our recent NYC trip.

The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
I enjoyed this gentle tale of two brothers preparing for a kite-fighting competition in 15th-century Korea. For the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club (which Moira is hosting this month).

What Works: Gender Equality By Design, Iris Bohnet
Bohnet teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, where I’ve been temping. Her book uses (lots of) research to explore ways to improve equality and neutralize biases through organizational design. The research gets dry at times, but there are some fascinating case studies. (Watch the video for a quick précis.)

Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys
The Wilhelm Gustloff sank in the Baltic Sea on Jan. 30, 1945, killing more than 9,000 soldiers and refugees. Sepetys brings this little-known tragedy to life through four young narrators: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian artist; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a Nazi soldier. Vividly told and tensely compelling; I read it with my heart in my throat.

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman
Desperate for some warmth and light during a frigid Minnesota winter, Addie loads her two preschoolers into their van and takes off for Florida. Along the way, she explores what it means to reach the end of your easy certainties and light-filled metaphors relating to God. Powerful, honest and beautifully written.

Celia’s House, D.E. Stevenson
This is the story of Dunnian, a family estate in Scotland where the Dunnes have always lived. A sweet, multi-generational family saga (which begins with one Celia Dunne and ends with another). I love Stevenson’s gentle novels.

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

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Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater, Michael Sokolove
Touted as the ideal suburb when it was built, Levittown, Pa., is today a depressing, dead-end place. But in its high school theater program, generations of students have come alive under the direction of Lou Volpe, theater teacher extraordinaire. The author, a former student of Volpe’s, returns to his hometown to observe Volpe in action and watch his students develop several challenging, powerful shows. Fascinating and fun; took me back to my years watching all my best friends perform in high school plays. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 26).

Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, Susan Hill
While searching for an elusive book on her shelves, novelist Susan Hill encountered dozens of books she’d never read or wanted to reread. This collection of bookish, quirky, opinionated essays is a wonderful, often nostalgic tour through her shelves and her reading life. Catnip for fellow bookworms like me – so much fun.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg’s memoir-cum-business-book needs no introduction from me. I found it chock full of great stories from working women (Sandberg and others) who have struggled to balance career, family, and the ever-present guilt that comes from even attempting the balancing act in the first place. Sandberg freely admits her own privileged status, but I found many of her insights applicable to a broad range of women and workplace levels. A quick read, but deeply thought-provoking.

Songs of Willow Frost, Jamie Ford
In Depression-era Seattle, William Eng lives at the Sacred Heart orphanage with other children whose parents are dead or unable to care for them. While attending a movie (a rare treat), he sees a Chinese actress who looks like the mother he remembers. Is Willow Frost, the actress, really Liu Song, William’s mother? He embarks on a quest to find out. Shifting between the 1920s and the 1930s, Ford’s narrative exposes the often difficult lives of Chinese people in the Northwest at that time. Heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful – though the ending felt a bit abrupt to me.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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Last Thursday, I got up extra early, put on a snazzy wrap dress and my favorite boots, and headed downtown for a work conference at an elegant hotel. I was on the planning committee, so I’d known about the conference for months, and had spent the last few weeks attending to many last-minute details. I knew where to go and which sessions I was scheduled to introduce.

But as I rode the escalator up to the fourth floor, I was terrified.

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My roots, and work experience, are in the world of higher education, at small, friendly liberal arts schools with modest budgets. I am a bit awed by the slick world of corporate sponsorships, glossy banners and well-appointed conference rooms. I’d agreed to serve on this planning committee only if I didn’t have to chair a subcommittee, because I’d never attended a conference this large before, much less helped plan one. I am young and petite and introverted and still an outsider in this part of the country, and as such, I felt a bit like a kid among the grown-ups, like the wide-eyed wallflower who didn’t quite belong.

I kept thinking about the time, several years ago, when my husband flew to Nashville for a conference with a group of his co-workers. Several flight delays eventually resulted in them getting upgraded to first class. My husband, the youngest member of the group, who hadn’t done much flying, was dazzled by the experience. It must have shown on his face, because Gina, his supervisor, elbowed him and whispered, “Act like you’ve been here before.”

I got through the first day of the conference largely by repeating Gina’s phrase to myself, over and over again. I smiled and shook hands with fellow committee members and session presenters. I double-checked my program for the right times and rooms. During the lunch break, I pulled one of my classic self-care moves: escaping for a solitary burrito and a few chapters of the latest Flavia de Luce mystery. Armed with snacks, I then returned to the hotel to introduce my afternoon session and attend a keynote speech, then headed home to collapse.

The next day felt infinitely calmer. Part of it was my reduced assignment load: only one session (instead of three) to attend and introduce. But the unknown factor was wiped away. I didn’t have to act like I’d been there before, because I had. I was able to walk more confidently into the main room, spot people I knew, sit down next to them, make conversation. I knew what I was doing that day; I could handle it. I didn’t have to fake it any more.

Sometimes the only way to handle a situation is to bluff your way through. I am not good at bluffing; I prefer honesty and openness, even vulnerability. But faking it can sometimes hold you over until you’ve figured out what to expect. Sometimes acting like you’ve been there before provides a stopgap, until you’ve mapped out the lay of the land, until you can navigate it with relative ease.

I haven’t seen Gina for a couple of years, and I doubt she remembers that incident so long ago. But her advice helped me survive that nerve-racking first day. And next time (I hope), it won’t be so intimidating. Because I have been there before.

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