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We are (only?) two weeks into 2021, and it has been a ride. I’ve been doing some serious escapist reading, and it – along with paperwhites, good music and hugs from my guy – is keeping me (mostly) sane. Here’s my first reading roundup of the year:

Once a Midwife, Patricia Harman
I loved this warm, honest novel set in West Virginia during World War II. Midwife Patience Hester is mothering four children, helping her veterinarian husband with the farm work, and delivering babies. Then the U.S. enters World War II and her husband is persecuted for his stance as a conscientious objector. Lovely and thought-provoking. Part of a series (see below).

Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines, Jennifer J. Chow
Mimi Lee, pet groomer and occasional sleuth, goes to meet her sister Alice for a girls’ night out and finds one of Alice’s colleagues dead in her car. Determined to clear Alice’s name (since she’s a prime suspect), Mimi noses around (with the help of her talking cat, Marshmallow). Super fluffy and really fun.

Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, Isabel Gillies
I picked this one up on remainder at the Booksmith – seems apt for the winter we’re in. Gillies explores the concept of coziness in both familiar ways (cups of tea, blankets, soup) and unexpected ones (an ode to blue mailboxes, a section on “When it Feels Hard”). A bit uneven: some lovely moments and also times when she’s a bit out of touch. (I felt the same about Gillies’ YA novel, Starry Night.)

The Enigma Game, Elizabeth Wein
Orphaned in the London Blitz, 15-year-old Louisa Adair (who is half Jamaican) accepts a position as companion to an old woman in a Scottish village. The catch? The old woman, Jane, is German–but she doesn’t want anyone to know (whereas Louisa can’t hide her heritage). Their adventures with a flying squadron, a German pilot, an Enigma coding machine and a volunteer driver with secrets of her own were just fantastic. I love Wein’s thrilling wartime YA novels and this one is so good.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
All alone for Christmas, 16-year-old Lily leaves a red Moleskine journal full of “dares” on a favorite shelf at the Strand. Dash, also alone for Christmas, picks it up and the two begin a sweet, funny whirlwind romance via correspondence. An entertaining, festive, witty YA novel with some great side characters; I especially enjoyed Lily’s Great-aunt Ida.

The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal, Horatio Clare
Winter is hard (in case you hadn’t heard) and Clare, a British writer, struggles with it particularly. This is a gorgeous, honest, lyrical book about winter in Yorkshire and seasonal depression and noticing the beauty. I loved it so much. Recommended by my friend Roxani.

The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman
I went back to the beginning of Patience’s story (see above): this traces her adventures delivering babies as a single woman during the Depression. The reader gets to know Patience via her present work as a midwife and flashbacks to her past as a union organizer. A little clunky at times, but comforting and absorbing.

Links are to Brookline Booksmith, a perennial local fave. Shop indie!

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We’re halfway through December of the strangest year ever. As always, I’m reading – albeit sporadically, these days. Here’s the latest roundup:

Why We Swim, Bonnie Tsui
Swimming attracts and fascinates humans the world over, and Tsui (an avid swimmer and surfer) explores some of the history, science and psychology behind why. I loved her interviews with famous swimmers like Dara Torres, and her personal stories of swimming from childhood to now. Recommended by Libby Page, whose newsletter is the cheeriest thing lately.

Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, Jennifer J. Chow
Mimi Lee has finally opened her own pet-grooming business, Hollywoof – and things get interesting right away, with a talking cat named Marshmallow, a murdered Chihuahua breeder, and a cute young lawyer. An impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store – totally ridiculous and really fun.

Killer Content, Olivia Blacke
Odessa Dean is enjoying her summer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, house-sitting for her aunt and waitressing at a local bookstore/cafe. But when one of her coworkers ends up dead (coinciding with a flash mob gone wrong), Odessa begins nosing around for clues. Fast-paced and funny, with a great setting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 2).

The Soul of a Woman, Isabel Allende
Bestselling novelist Allende is a passionate feminist, and this slim memoir details her own experiences as a woman and her beliefs about women’s value, worth and power. She is charmingly cranky, often wryly funny and makes a cogent case for putting women in charge. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2).

The Next Great Jane, K.L. Going
Jane Brannen, aspiring novelist, is thrilled when a real live writer moves to her tiny Maine town. But the author’s son is so annoying, and Jane’s mostly-absent mother turns up unexpectedly, with her filmmaker fiance in tow. A super fun middle-grade novel and a sweet homage to Jane Austen. Recommended by Anne.

Hardball, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski, private eye, picks up a 40-year-old missing-persons case right as her young cousin shows up in Chicago to work on a political campaign. Of course, they are connected, and Paretsky weaves in race, class and Chicago history. This one was powerful and intense – especially the ending – and so good.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
Christmas is coming in Mitford, and Father Tim ends up restoring a derelict Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, change is afoot at Happy Endings Books, and various townspeople are getting ready for Christmas. I love revisiting this book every year.

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

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