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Posts Tagged ‘children’s lit’

This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

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

What are you reading?

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tower of london poppies spill

London is a little bit like New York: it is constantly changing, and the books set there in different eras evoke very different Londons. Here are a handful of my favorites, from all sorts of time periods.

(I know I’m leaving out a lot of classics – A Tale of Two Cities, Mrs. Dalloway, much of the Sherlock Holmes canon – because I assume most people have read them already. These are my quirkier/lesser-known faves.)

Nonfiction/Memoir

Imagined London, Anna Quindlen
Quindlen is best known for her novels, but I adored this slim paperback about London as a city of imagination and literature. Quindlen adores both London and books about London, and mentions many classic London stories. Affectionate, well written and so much fun.

84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
I love this warm, witty collection of letters between Hanff (an American) and British bookseller Frank Doel, which began with Hanff’s inquiries about books and morphed into a longstanding friendship. The movie version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is also delightful. (Bonus: when I was last in London, I browsed some actual Charing Cross Road bookshops with my friend Caroline.)

paddington bear statue

Fiction/Mystery

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This delightful novel of love and rock ‘n’ roll in 1950s London is one of my favorites, ever. It beautifully evokes a postwar London waking up from its long grey sleep – and the result is dazzling.

Maisie Dobbs and sequels, Jacqueline Winspear
I’ve written before about my love for Maisie, who works as a private investigator in 1930s London. Her work takes her to many places, but London is the city of her heart, and I love watching her move around in it.

The Runaway Princess and The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Browne writes smart, funny, utterly British chick lit, and several of her books are set in modern-day London. These two are particularly fun (and The Little Lady Agency has two sequels).

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn
An enchanting novel of Queen Elizabeth II taking a totally unexpected journey, and the half-dozen members of her staff who follow her. Starts in London and meanders all over the country. (I also loved The Uncommon Reader – similar in some ways.)

A Beautiful Blue Death and sequels, Charles Finch
Finch writes meticulously plotted mystery novels about Charles Lenox, a gentleman investigator in Victorian London. The setting, from Lenox’s elegant home to the Houses of Parliament (which he frequents), is perfectly described.

A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
Paddington Bear, who arrives at the eponymous station “from darkest Peru,” is adorable. I loved revisiting his adventures after I saw the bear himself (above) on my most recent trip to London. A hilarious and perfect story of a newcomer adjusting to English life.

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

What are your favorite books about (or set in) London?

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hopefuls book stack books

We are all drawing a few deep breaths after Commencement, and I’m diving into summer reading – woohoo! Here’s the latest roundup:

The Hopefuls, Jennifer Close
After Obama wins the presidency in 2008, Beth moves with her husband (a campaign staffer) to D.C. As Beth struggles to find her place in a new city, she and Matt meet a charismatic couple, Jimmy and Ash, who quickly become their best friends. But like so many friendships, this one is complicated, and Close expertly explores the shifting loyalties and the fault lines in both marriages. So well done. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 19).

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, Erin Dionne
Elsie Wyatt is a top-notch French horn player, determined to get into a prestigious summer music program. But this means she has to (gasp!) join marching band. Elsie is a brat at first, but I loved watching her fall in love with band. (I’m a proud band geek from way back.) Super fun.

Girl in the Blue Coat, Monica Hesse
Hanneke spends her days finding and distributing black-market goods in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. But when a customer asks for her help in finding a missing Jewish girl, Hanneke is drawn into a web of Resistance activities. A compelling evocation of bravery, cowardice and betrayal during wartime – tense and well crafted.

Gone Crazy in Alabama, Rita Williams-Garcia
Sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern travel from Brooklyn to Alabama to spend the summer with relatives. Being black in both places carries a particular challenge in 1969, and the girls struggle to adjust while listening to the (warring) family stories from their great-grandmother and her sister. Delphine’s voice is smart and so engaging.

Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
I’d never read this classic but picked it up after it featured prominently in Mother-Daughter Book Camp. Elizabeth Ann, sheltered and timid, is sent to Vermont to stay with cousins she’s never met. To everyone’s surprise – including her own – she blossoms there. A sweet, gentle story.

Before We Visit the Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This is one of the picks for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s online Summer Reading Club. It’s a bittersweet story of mothers and daughters, spanning three generations and shifting in time, place and point of view: India to California to Texas, mother to daughter to granddaughter. Lovely and melancholy, though I wanted more resolution at the end.

Graveyard of the Hesperides, Lindsey Davis
Davis’ fourth novel featuring Flavia Albia, a private informer in ancient Rome, finds Albia approaching wedded bliss with her beloved, Manlius Faustus. But they get sidetracked when the remains of six bodies turn up in the garden of a bar he’s renovating. The plot meanders, but Albia is a sharp-tongued, engaging narrator. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

Nine Women, One Dress, Jane L. Rosen
Everyone is desperate to get their hands on the little black dress of the season – and it changes the fortunes of nine women, including a runway model, two saleswomen at Bloomingdale’s, an aging Broadway diva and more. Light and frothy and highly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

The Seafront Tea Rooms, Vanessa Greene
A journalist researching tea rooms, a young mother at the end of her rope, and a French au pair bond over tea and struggles in Scarborough. Light, refreshing and lovely. Fun for Anglophiles.

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

What are you reading?

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time to read clock mv

May is a crazy month when you work in higher education. This May is especially so, since I’m temping at the Harvard Gazette and we are in the thick of Commencement madness. (Three days to go!)

Here, the books that are keeping me sane:

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett
Tippett is the longtime host of On Being, a radio show that examines the big questions of what it means to be human. This memoir beautifully distills what she has learned from her conversation partners over nearly 15 years. Her insights are grouped into five big categories: words, flesh, love, faith and hope (which all overlap). Lots of quotes from On Being guests, who range from physicists to poets (and everyone in between). Tippett writes in luminous, wise prose. Absolutely stunning on every page. If I could give it six stars (out of five), I would.

Geek Girl, Holly Smale
Harriet Manners is a geek – a fact she mostly embraces, though it occasionally causes her great social pain at school. But when she gets “spotted” by a modeling agency, Harriet wonders if this is her chance to reinvent herself. Smart, British, wacky and so much fun. Found at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thursdays with the Crown, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie, her siblings and their friend Prince Lulath end up in a different world by accident, and must outsmart two evil wizards to get back home (with a load of griffin eggs). These characters are fun and engaging, though the magic in this book didn’t really hold together. Book 3 in a series.

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ed. Mary Savig
This book is exactly what it sounds like: full-color scans of handwritten letters by visual artists, each accompanied by a brief essay from a scholar or curator. Engaging and unusual. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

First Comes Love, Emily Giffin
Sisters Josie and Meredith have always had a fractious relationship, made more so by their brother’s tragic death 15 years ago. Now Meredith is at a crisis point in her marriage and Josie is contemplating single motherhood. Giffin deftly explores the complex bonds between sisters and the ways we can both wound and heal each other. I’ve read three of her other books (my sister loves them) and I thought this one (her eighth) was a big leap forward. She’s really matured as a writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

The Forgotten Room, Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
I picked up this historical novel (which shifts between three different periods and narrators in NYC) because I love Williams’ elegant, witty novels about the Schuyler family. This one doesn’t glitter quite like her others, but it’s a rich, engaging story of three women who are all connected (to each other and the Schuylers) I saw several twists coming a mile away, but there were a couple I didn’t expect. I particularly liked Dr. Kate Schuyler, fighting to make her way as an independent woman in 1944.

Fridays with the Wizards, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie and her friends are safely home in Sleyne. But trouble strikes when an evil wizard disappears and then starts making mischief in Celie’s beloved Castle. Book 4 in a series.

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

What are you reading?

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central park yellow flowers nyc

Confession: I had a hard time at first coming up with books for this post.

There are a million books set in NYC, but the New York in my head is the New York of TV and movies: Friends, Castle, pretty much every Nora Ephron film ever made. (I once spent an entire solo vacation pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.) Plus, New York is always changing: every book set there captures a slightly different city, filtered through a different historical era or narrator’s perspective.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t gather up a handful of books about this beautiful, gritty, bewitching city. So here are my New York favorites for you. Please add yours in the comments!

Children’s Lit/Classics

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I loved this book as a child – dreamy Francie, her hardworking mother and exuberant Aunt Sissy, and the hope and heartbreak of growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn.

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I adore this first book in the Melendy series, about four siblings who live in a big, comfortably shabby brownstone with their father and their housekeeper-general, Cuffy. The siblings take turns exploring the city by themselves on Saturdays, and the sense of wonder and independence is exactly right.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg
Claudia and her little brother Jamie run away from home – to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as one does. When I visited the Met for the first time as an adult, I thought about them sneaking through the halls at night and scrounging coins from the fountain.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet’s childhood was so different from mine: a brownstone with a dumbwaiter! Ole Golly! Tomato sandwiches and chocolate egg creams! It all seemed fantastically exotic to me. But Harriet is a New York girl through and through.

Remember Me to Harold Square, Paula Danziger
This fun middle-grade novel is built around a New York scavenger hunt undertaken by three kids – so it contains lots of city trivia. But it’s fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining.

strand books nyc exterior

Nonfiction/Memoir

Here is New York, E.B. White
White wrote this long essay in 1949, after the city and the world had been transformed by two world wars. But reading it in the wake of 9/11, it still feels eerily relevant. He evokes so well the combination of hope and possibility and fear, the vibrant rhythm of the city streets. (I found my copy at the Strand, pictured above.)

Act One, Moss Hart
An inside look at the mid-century NYC theatre world from one of the great playwrights. Hart’s voice is wry, witty and warm. (I picked this one up at Three Lives & Co. in the West Village.)

My First New York, various authors
New York is beautiful and brutal, and it glitters with possibility. This collection of about 50 essays captures the dazzling range of New York experiences: gorgeous, bewildering, always exciting. (I bought my copy at Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side.)

Eat the City, Robin Shulman
Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, NYC teems with food production: gardens, breweries, farms. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. (Another Strand find.)

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
Colwin writes with wit and grace about food, love, and tiny New York apartments. I especially love “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
Reichl visited dozens of restaurants as the New York Times food critic, often in disguise. This is a rarefied New York, but it’s so much fun (and mouthwateringly described).

brooklyn brownstones light

Fiction

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
A glittering tale of high society, love and ambition in 1930s New York. Gorgeously written.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
A razor-sharp, elegantly written imagining of Truman Capote and the circle of wealthy socialite “swans,” notably Babe Paley, who were his darlings in 1950s NYC.

The View from Penthouse B and The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
Lipman writes witty comedies of manners, and these two novels both draw New York in quick, loving strokes.

Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
Kwok’s novels both feature Chinese-American protagonists struggling to make their way in NYC. She draws the sharp contrasts of New York – enormous privilege next to great poverty; immigrant traditions and the siren call of the new – so well.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This novel is tragic, moving and sometimes very funny . It is an incredible mosaic of New York: all the lives and the loneliness (and the post-9/11 cocktail of fear, love and loss).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Eilis Lacey emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s, struggling to build a life for herself. This is a lovely evocation of a vanished New York, with a quietly appealing main character.

Bunheads, Sophie Flack
A well-written YA novel about a young ballet dancer in New York – who starts to wonder if the world of ballet is where she truly belongs. Captures the constant possibility that thrums through the city.

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

What are your favorite books about (or set in) NYC?

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the bookstore lenox ma

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam
I reread this one after reading Vanderkam’s three short productivity guides. Vanderkam is practical, insightful and no-nonsense: she believes everyone has time to create a life they love. I’m rethinking my routines and hoping to make some good changes.

Goodnight June, Sarah Jio
June Andersen has built a successful career as a New York banker. But when her great-aunt Ruby dies and leaves June the children’s bookstore she owned in Seattle, June must return home and face her painful past. Sifting through Ruby’s papers, June finds a stack of letters exchanged by Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown – the genesis of Goodnight Moon? A sweet, bookish story with surprising depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 27).

May B., Caroline Starr Rose
Thanks to Serenity’s enthusiastic rec, I picked this one up and read it in one sitting. It’s a spare, lovely tale of a pioneer girl hired out to work in western Kansas, then stranded alone when her employers disappear. Written in verse, but reminiscent of my beloved Little House series.

Restoring Grace, Katie Fforde
Grace, a lonely divorcée scrambling to restore her huge, dilapidated house near Bath, meets Ellie, a struggling (pregnant) artist, and the two join forces. Romance, art restoration and tangled family relationships all play a role here. Fforde’s writing is light and fun – just the ticket during a crazy week.

Cress, Marissa Meyer
An action-packed sequel to Cinder and Scarlet. Cinder and her band of fellow outlaws attempt to rescue Cress, a young hacker imprisoned on a Lunar satellite. But the rescue misfires and the group is separated, scrambling to reunite as the planet hurtles toward war. Confusing at times – too many characters and plotlines – but entertaining. Now to wait for Winter, Book 4, which comes out in 2015…

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin
An irascible, widowed bookstore owner adopts a toddler who was left in his store, and gradually opens up to life (and love) again. A charming tribute to book lovers, bookselling and the ways books shape our lives. The characters are great (I especially loved the non-reading cop who becomes a book nut), but I wanted the author to explore them more deeply.

Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood
“Each Mrs. Hemingway thought their love would last forever; each one was wrong.” Naomi Wood deftly portrays each of Ernest Hemingway’s four marriages – each one’s beginning tied up with the previous one’s end. Ernest is a central figure, of course, but this story belongs to the women: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Gorgeously written, elegiac, deeply melancholy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 27).

The Gilly Salt Sisters, Tiffany Baker
In their isolated Cape Cod village, the Gilly women have farmed salt for generations. Sisters Jo and Claire each struggle to come to terms with their family’s destiny, especially after a fire leaves Jo badly scarred and Claire’s marriage later falls apart. I could not put this one down. Haunting and gripping.

The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton
A friend brought me this pocket-sized collection several years ago and I finally picked it up. Father Brown is quietly clever – a mix of Father Tim Kavanagh and Miss Marple. Gentle, ingenious, entertaining detective stories.

Highland Fling, Katie Fforde
When Jenny Porter gets sent to assess a failing Scottish woolen mill, she never expects to make friends with the locals – or fall in love with the man who could foreclose the whole business. Light, entertaining chick lit. I especially loved Meggie, the outspoken but kind daughter-in-law.

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

What are you reading?

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My collection of Christmas books. Why, yes, I DID dig out four American Girl Christmas stories to add to the pile.

Among the Christmas decorations each year at my parents’ house is a stack of Christmas-themed books, a few for children but mostly for the whole family. My own stack is much smaller (see above), but here are the ones I remember flipping through in the living room when I was a kid:

1. The Tale of Three Trees – One becomes a feeding trough, one becomes a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, and one becomes a cross. So simple and powerful.
2. The Jolly Christmas Postman – Our favorite postman (we had the other book about him too) takes Christmas cards to all his friends. So many fun fairy-tale allusions here.
3. The Polar Express – a true classic, which needs no introduction. (We loved it for years before the movie came out.)
4. Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas – a charming story about a group of woodland friends (there’s a whole series and I have a few of them).
5. Precious Moments of Christmas – a story for each letter of the word “Christmas.” Sweet and simple.
6. The Mouse in the Manger – Oscar, a little runaway mouse, ends up being present at the first Christmas.
7. A Little Golden Book version of Jingle Bells, which involves lots of animals taking a sleigh ride.
8. A wee little book of Christmas carols (and pictures of furry woodland animals singing them, naturally).

It’s rather shocking how many of these books are out of print, but I’m keeping an eye out for these and others to add to my collection. What Christmas stories (besides the obvious one) do you remember from your childhood?

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