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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

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We are nearly through June – which has felt endless – and I’ve been reading a lot. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo from Manchester by the Book, where I popped in for a properly masked/distanced browse with a girlfriend recently. It was so nourishing to be in a real bookstore again.)

I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Camille Pagán
Penelope Ruiz-Kar loves her husband and kids, but she’s exhausted from juggling it all, and secretly envious of her put-together best friend Jenny. When tragedy strikes, Penelope is forced to examine her misconceptions about Jenny’s life, and take a hard look at her own. Funny and breezy with surprising depth – Pagán does that combination so well.

Two Truths and a Lie, Meg Mitchell Moore
When Sherri Griffin and her daughter arrive in Newburyport, Mass., they’re running from more than just a “bad divorce.” The local Mom Squad is curious, but it’s the former squad queen, Rebecca, who actually connects with Sherri. Recently widowed, Rebecca has struggles and secrets of her own, and so does her teenage daughter. Fast-paced and compelling, full of summer sunsets, compassion and snark.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer in New England and the Penderwick sisters (with their widowed father and big dog, Hound) are staying at a lovely estate in the Berkshires. All sorts of adventures ensue, as they make friends with the resident boy, try to dodge his snooty mother, and do their best to take care of each other. This series is a little bit precious, but the characters are so much fun.

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
I loved Acevedo’s second novel, With the Fire on High, and finally picked up her debut novel-in-verse. Xiomara Batista is a Dominican-American teenager living in Harlem. She has lots of questions about God, boys and life (and her strict Catholic mami doesn’t want to hear them). She starts writing poetry, then gets invited to join her school’s slam poetry club. I loved reading Xiomara’s powerful, honest, fiery words, and seeing how she cares for her twin brother and friends.

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Barbara Neely
I read about Neely in a recent Shelf Awareness obituary, and picked up her second mystery (for $3!) at Manchester by the Book. (Serendipity!) Blanche White is a domestic worker who’s spending a well-earned vacation at an all-black resort in Maine. Two dead bodies turn up, and she gets mixed up in a nest of secrets, while dealing with tricky interpersonal dynamics. A well-plotted mystery and an incisive look at colorism in the black community.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick girls are back at home, dealing with school, sports, new neighbors and – to their chagrin – their father’s attempts at dating. This sequel is sweet and funny, and I love the ending.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
When Alaine Beauparlant’s journalist mother makes a scene on the air, and Alaine herself gives a disastrous school presentation, they both end up back in Haiti with Alaine’s aunt Estelle. Alaine is a sassy, snappy narrator who’s trying to figure out some family business (a curse?) while working for her aunt’s nonprofit (where something definitely smells fishy). This epistolary YA novel, written by two sisters, was so much fun.

Atomic Love, Jennie Fields
Rosalind Porter enjoyed success as a scientist, working on nuclear projects during World War II. But she’s haunted by the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. When her British ex-lover turns back up, so does the FBI: they think he might be selling secrets to the Russians. Rosalind walks a fine line as she tries to help the FBI and protect her own heart. A compelling, twisty story of love, science and conflicting loyalties. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 18).

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book back in fourth grade and it has stayed with me all these years. It’s the centerpiece of Taylor’s family saga about the Logans, a black landowning family in Depression-era Mississippi. Narrated by Cassie, age nine, this book tells the story of one year when racial tensions erupt, with disastrous consequences, but it’s also a story of love and strength. I adore Cassie – opinionated, headstrong, with a firm sense of justice – and Taylor’s writing is so powerful.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
This book is everywhere right now, and for good reason: so many of us white folks are waking up to conversations about race. DiAngelo (who is white, and has been doing inclusion/antiracism work for years) pulls no punches in her examination of white supremacy as a system, the ways it shapes all of us, and how we can begin to interrupt that system. Powerful and thought-provoking.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer and the three younger Penderwick girls are off to Maine with Aunt Claire. Before long, their friend Jeffrey turns up too, and all sorts of adventures ensue while Skye tries to wrap her head around being in charge. Sweet and funny, like its predecessors.

Why I Wake Early, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and have been reading a few of these each morning. Her luminous imagery is helping me to pay attention in these strange days.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor’s sequel to Roll of Thunder (above) picks up the adventures of the Logan family in the 1930s. A friend of theirs stands trial for robbery and murder; their biracial cousin comes to visit and tries to pass as white; and Cassie and her siblings continue learning what it means to be black in America. So compelling and vivid.

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks are back, and Batty is finding her singing voice, starting a dog-walking business, and dealing with some really tough emotional stuff. Some sad parts in this one, but I love Birdsall’s fictional family.

The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
Rosalind is getting married – and all the Penderwicks are back at Arundel, the estate where the series began. Eleven-year-old Lydia takes center stage in this last book, and it’s so much fun.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside, Susan Branch
My friend Kate sent me this book months ago, and I’ve been dipping into its pages at night when life feels too hard. Branch and her husband, Joe, sail on the Queen Mary 2 for an extended tour of charming English villages, and her illustrated travelogue is cozy and sweet.

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

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Somehow, it’s 2020 – and I’m still catching up from Christmas break. Here’s my last list of reads for 2019:

Red Letter Days, Sarah-Jane Stratford
When the House Un-American Activities Committee begins blacklisting writers, Phoebe Adler flees to London after receiving a subpoena. There, she begins working for Hannah Wolfson, a fellow exiled American who’s creating a new hit show. But both women are in more danger than they realize. A well-plotted historical novel with great characters – I wanted to meet Phoebe, Hannah and all their friends for a cocktail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 25).

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison, Jason Hardy
Hardy spent four years working as a parole officer in New Orleans. This book gives an insider’s account of the probation and parole (P&P) system, which aims to keep offenders from relapsing into addiction, going back to jail or prison, or hurting themselves or other people. Hardy wrestles with the lack of resources, the staggering problems facing most of his offenders, and his own privilege. A thoughtful, timely, compelling account. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 18).

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin
This fun Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in Toronto’s Indian Muslim community, came recommended by Anne and others. I loved Ayesha, the Elizabeth Bennet character, and her supporting cast, especially her Shakespeare-quoting grandfather. Witty, entertaining and sweet, with some fresh twists on the classic story.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
Brown is well known for her work on race relations, and her memoir shares her experience with race and faith, and poses some tough questions. Well-written, hard-hitting and powerful; I’ll be processing this one for a while.

The Queen Con, Meghan Scott Molin
MG Martin, comic-book writer and costume designer extraordinaire, gets drawn into a second mystery involving a local superhero vigilante. But this time several of her friends, including drag queen Lawrence, may be in danger. The plot gets a bit convoluted, but this series is full of nerddom and great characters.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s third year at Hogwarts starts (and in some ways ends) with Sirius Black, a notorious wizard who has escaped Azkaban, the wizard prison. This book is one of my favorites in the series – especially the last bit, where everything (thanks in large part to Lupin and Hermione) blows wide open. So much fun.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, Amaryllis Fox
I blew through Fox’s memoir on my plane ride home. She gives a clear, thoughtful account of her career in the CIA, and the ways an undercover life prevented her from building a true marriage or family. Fascinating and thought-provoking – parts of it read like a spy thriller.

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at Trident, and it was the perfect sweet, witty, British Christmas read. Widowed mum Kate is struggling to make Christmas merry for herself and her young son, Jack, while facing harassment at work. Daniel, grieving his sister’s death, is also struggling. I loved the ways their stories intertwined, as well as Daniel’s efforts to support a group of local businesses.

Blind Search, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr, former military police officer, and her retired bomb-sniffing dog Elvis are back on the case. This time, it’s multiple murder in the Vermont woods, with an autistic boy as the only witness. The writing is a bit labored, but I like Mercy and the other characters, including game warden Troy Warner.

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

What are you reading?

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

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

What are you reading?

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I feel like I blinked and it’s mid-August. I’m still settling into my new apartment and all the life changes (thank you for the kind comments on my recent post about that). Here’s what I have been reading, when my overstuffed brain will allow:

Where the Light Enters, Sara Donati
Donati’s sequel to The Gilded Hour (which I haven’t read) picks up the lives of her characters, notably two female physicians (who are cousins) in 1880s New York. Sophie is grieving the death of her husband, trying to decide whether to resume practicing obstetrics, and planning to establish a scholarship for young women of color to study medicine. Anna is struggling with various personal and professional challenges. Both of them are called in by Anna’s cop husband, Jack, to consult on a tricky case of multiple murders of pregnant women. A sweeping, complicated, engaging novel set largely in my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).

American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson
I grabbed this at the library after reading a review in the Shelf. Marie Mitchell is a frustrated FBI agent in 1980s NYC who is tapped for a mission involving Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkina Faso. A young, intelligent black woman, she’s perfect for the role, but she feels uneasy about it, especially since one of her handlers has a connection to her deceased sister. An ambitious spy thriller and family drama – Marie is a great character – but the ending was far too abrupt.

With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo
A high school senior and gifted chef, Emoni Santiago has a lot to juggle, including caring for her young daughter and helping out her abuela. When she gets the chance to take a cooking class, it might catapult her dreams forward–but she’s keenly aware of her obligations. A vivid, thoughtful, sweet, funny, engaging YA novel about a teen mom who’s much more than that. So good.

The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste
Ethiopia, 1935: the country is bracing for an Italian invasion, and Hirut, a young servant girl, is caught up in her masters’ plans to raise an army. She becomes a warrior and a guard, and her path crosses with an Italian Jewish photographer who isn’t sure he wants to be a soldier. Powerful, complicated and dark; I didn’t know about this piece of history and it’s a brutal one. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).

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

What are you reading?

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It’s no secret I love a good spy story – especially if it features a badass female protagonist. This column originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Spies are paradoxically famous for flying under the radar. Both their livelihood and their success depend on remaining undetected. For women, their gender often provides an additional layer of disguise: many men overlook women or doubt them to be capable of a spy’s cunning and deceit. (They’re wrong.)

Kate Quinn’s 2017 novel The Alice Network brings to life the work of female spies in occupied France during World War I. The titular network revolves around whip-smart Alice Dubois (an alias, of course), who smuggles information up the Allied ranks via hairpins, skirt seams and her web of crackerjack female agents. Though Quinn’s protagonist Eve Gardiner is fictional, “Alice” and her compatriots really existed, and the novel is a fitting homage to their courage.

Spanish seamstress Sira Quiroga finds herself swept up and then abandoned by a charming man in Maria Duenas’s powerful novel The Time in Between. Stranded in Morocco, Sira hones her sewing skills and becomes a successful couturier whose designs eventually catch the eye of Nazi diplomats’ wives. As war swirls on the Continent, first in Spain and then everywhere, Sira passes coded information through her elegant gowns, stitching herself into the complex worlds of high fashion and espionage.

Mrs. Virgil (Emily) Pollifax is used to being underestimated: as a retired widow, she’s also downright bored. Presenting herself at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., she argues her way into a position as an undercover agent, launching an unorthodox career that has her crisscrossing continents throughout the Cold War (though her neighbors never know it). Dorothy Gilman’s series, which spans 14 novels, lives up to the name of its first book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, in delightful fashion.

In fiction as in real life, female spies are often underrated–but their stories are reliably fascinating.

Who are your favorite lady spies – real or fictional?

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We recently (re)visited The Bookstore in Lenox, MA. A bookish wonderland.

We are heading straight for Thanksgiving and, as always, I’m thankful for good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks
Right before finishing her latest book, the novelist Serendipity Smith disappears. Her daughter, Tuesday McGillycuddy, must travel to the land of Story to find her mother (with her faithful dog, Baxterr) – but the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned. Sweet, whimsical and so fun. Found at Book Culture in NYC.

The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Why do we travel? What do we gain from exploring new places? How can we become more thoughtful travelers? Alain de Botton explores these and other questions in this series of travel essays, with “guides” such as Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin. He’s an observant, lyrical and occasionally cranky narrator. Thought-provoking and highly enjoyable. Recommended by Laura.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
It’s springtime in the Texas Hill Country, and Calpurnia Tate has all she can do to keep her brother, Travis, and his ever-expanding collection of stray animals out of trouble. Meanwhile, Callie keeps learning about astronomy and biology from her grandfather and starts assisting the local vet. A fun historical novel with a wonderful, spunky heroine. (I also loved Callie’s first adventure, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.)

A Place We Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy
For 13 days in October 1962, the U.S. held its breath as tensions in Cuba ratcheted up and up. McCarthy explores the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of a tightly knit family in a small Florida town. Tense and well-crafted. I loved protagonist Wes Avery: such a deeply compassionate man.

Between Gods, Alison Pick
Raised in a Christian household, Alison Pick was shocked to discover that her father’s Czech relatives were Jewish – some even died in the Holocaust. In her thirties, preparing for marriage, she undertakes the difficult journey of conversion to Judaism. Pick seems more interested in religious participation than a personal connection with (either) God, but this is still a luminous, moving, achingly honest memoir. Found at The Bookstore in Lenox.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart
After their mother’s death, Constance Kopp and her two sisters are living peacefully on their farm in rural New Jersey. But when a powerful, ruthless silk factory owner hits their buggy with his car and refuses to pay up, things get ugly. A witty, whip-smart, action-packed novel of a woman who became one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Two elderly rancher brothers take in a pregnant teenage girl, at the suggestion of a compassionate teacher. Another teacher must raise his two young sons alone after his wife leaves. A luminous, quietly powerful story of ordinary people acting with great generosity and kindness, told in Haruf’s spare, beautiful prose.

Sheer Folly, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s 18th adventure finds her at a(nother) country estate, doing research for an article and investigating a(nother) crime. These books are my Cadbury milk chocolate: smooth, sweet and delightfully English.

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

What are you reading?

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