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We are nearly halfway through October – and between bike rides, a major work event and daily life, here’s what I have been reading:

Picture in the Sand, Peter Blauner
In 2014, a young Egyptian-American man leaves his home suddenly to join a jihadist uprising overseas. His grandfather, Ali Hassan, decides to share his own story with his grandson: his experience working on the movie set of The Ten Commandments and getting swept up in political forces larger than himself. I flew through this – it’s part thriller, part historical epic, part love story, part intergenerational family saga. Fascinating and layered. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

Book Lovers, Emily Henry
Nora Stephens is not a rom-com heroine: she’s the other woman, the sharp-edged, stiletto-wearing city person who loses the guy. When her sister Libby begs her to go to a tiny North Carolina town, Nora reluctantly agrees – and even begins to enjoy herself. But the presence of a handsome, infuriating editor from the city throws a wrench into Nora’s plans. A fun, sometimes steamy rom-com with plenty of bookish references, but at its heart this is a story about sisters, family, and the stories we tell ourselves.

Seasons: Desert Sketches, Ellen Meloy
I picked up this collection at the Desert Museum in Arizona last spring. They’re short, bracing essays (originally recorded for radio) on life in southern Utah: flora, fauna, human community. Meloy is smart and salty and often hilarious. Perfect for morning reading.

The Verifiers, Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is loving her new hush-hush job working for an online-dating detective agency. But when a client turns up dead, and it turns out she was impersonating her sister, things get complicated fast. Claudia, like any good amateur sleuth, keeps digging into the case, even after she’s warned off. I loved this smart mystery about choices and expectations (our own, our families’, our potential partners’). Well plotted and I hope the author writes more.

The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, Kitty Zeldis
Brooklyn, 1924: Catherine Berrill is desperate for a child to complete the family she’s started with her kind husband, Stephen. Dressmaker Beatrice Jones, newly arrived from New Orleans with her ward Alice, has a secret that connects her to Catherine’s past. I really enjoyed this twisty historical novel about three different women trying to make their way. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

The Vanderbeekers on the Road, Karina Yan Glaser
I loooove this warmhearted middle-grade series (and loved meeting Karina in person recently!). The Vanderbeekers (plus assorted animals) pile into a friend’s van for a cross-country road trip. As is often the case with road trips, not everything goes to plan. Sweet and funny, like this whole series.

Take My Hand, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Montgomery, Alabama, 1973: nurse Civil Townsend is working at a women’s clinic purporting to serve poor patients, but she grows concerned about the side effects of birth-control shots (and the necessity of giving them to young girls). A powerful, often heavy, brilliantly told novel about a woman who gets caught up trying to save the lives of the people she’s serving. Highly recommended.

The Woman with the Cure, Lynn Cullen
As polio infects thousands of young children, the race for a cure is on. Too-tall Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, obsessed with detecting the virus in the blood, becomes caught up in the science – and the politics – around finding a vaccine. A well-done historical novel (with lots of real-life characters, including Horstmann) about science and feminism and sacrifice. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21, 2023).

Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, Laura Everett
Everett, a minister and four-season cyclist, shares what she’s learned about spiritual practice from riding the streets of Boston. Thoughtful, forthright and wryly funny – I loved reading about her journeys around my adopted city. (I haven’t met her yet, but we know a lot of the same bike folks, including my guy.)

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

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September is flying by so far – amid work and daily adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

The Lost Summers of Newport, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoy Team W’s richly detailed historical novels (and I’ve devoured nearly all of Williams’ books). This one follows the intertwined stories of three women connected to the same Newport, R.I., mansion during different eras: architectural preservationist Andie, music teacher Ellen, and Italian-American socialite Lucia. Rife with family secrets and dripping with diamonds – great escapist reading.

The House of Eve, Sadeqa Johnson
Ruby Pearsall is on track to be her family’s first college student – but a forbidden love may derail her plans to escape her rough neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles, a brilliant young woman from small-town Ohio, struggles to find her place at Howard University and with her rich boyfriend’s family. Their lives collide in an unexpected way. A powerful, sometimes wrenching novel about the struggles of Black women in the mid-1950s. So much here around shame and womanhood and making choices. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Love, Lies & Spies, Cindy Anstey
Miss Juliana Telford is more interested in publishing her research on ladybugs than diving into the London Season. Mr. Spencer Northam is far more preoccupied with espionage than with matrimony. But all this might change when they encounter one another by chance. A witty, hilarious, romantic tribute to Jane Austen and a really fun love story. Recommended by Anne.

Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead, Adam McHugh
After years as a hospice chaplain, McHugh found himself burned out, and needing not just an escape but a whole life change. His love of wine led him – several times – to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, where he began a career working in wine. An honest, sometimes snarky, well-researched, thoughtful memoir about wine and transformation. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man, Emily J. Edwards
Our titular heroine loves her job as secretary/girl Friday to NYC private eye Tommy Fortuna. But when she finds an unconscious man in the office and Tommy disappears – right after taking on a case for a wealthy client – Viv must marshal all her wits to solve the case and stay alive. A fun romp with an engaging heroine, though the dialogue read almost like a send-up of 1950s phrases. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 8).

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration, Sara Dykman
I picked up this memoir last fall at the Harvard Book Store and have been reading it sloooowly. Dykman takes a months-long solo journey starting and ending in Mexico at the monarchs’ overwintering grounds, following their trail and giving presentations about the importance of these beautiful creatures. She’s a lovely writer, though the trip logistics dragged sometimes (as I’m sure they did in real life!). Fun bonus: she went through my dad’s tiny hometown in southwestern MO.

What Comes from Spirit, Richard Wagamese
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I., in June. Wagamese was an Indigenous Canadian writer who wrote extensively about his journey away from and back to his Native identity, as well as noticing the natural world, building community and paying attention. Short, lovely meditations – exactly my kind of thing for slow morning reading.

The Star That Always Stays, Anna Rose Johnson
When Norvia’s parents divorce, she and her siblings move from rural Beaver Island to a small Michigan city with their mother. Norvia must navigate a new school, a tricky blended family and her own shyness and anxiety, while striving to be a heroine. A sweet middle-grade story (though the middle dragged a bit); I loved Norvia’s family, especially her spunky younger sister, Dicta. Reminded me of Emily of Deep Valley.

Saving Main Street: Small Business in the Time of COVID-19, Gary Rivlin
Americans idolize small business – though we give a lot of our money to the colossal chains. It’s common knowledge now that small shops were hit hard by COVID-19. Veteran reporter Rivlin follows several business owners, including a restaurateur, a pharmacist, a Latina hairstylist and three Black brothers making chocolate, through the first 18 months or so of the pandemic. Full of fascinating anecdotes and a thorough explanation of the government’s confusing (but ultimately sort-of-effective) struggle to help small businesses. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

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

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My guy and I love a good bike ride, and he, in particular, can rarely resist a new trail. So when a friend of his told G about a recently completed project that links Cambridge with Watertown – and takes you from a busy retail area to the quiet of Fresh Pond – we had to check it out.

We started in Watertown on a humid Sunday, picking up the trail behind the Arsenal Mall and riding it through neighborhoods neither of us had ever seen. The area is a mix of residential and old industrial buildings, and it’s all suddenly lush with early-summer green. We crossed a few streets G knew, but so much of it was unexplored territory to him, and it was all fresh to me.

We took a snack break near Fresh Pond, eyeing the sky because a storm was rumored to be blowing in. The wind did kick up, but we decided to take our chances, and it was a beautiful ride (my first) around the pond.

I’ve been riding in Boston for several years, but there’s still so much I don’t know about the bike paths in the area. It was a particular treat, though, to explore a trail that neither of us knew – G’s delight in discovery was evident at every turn.

We’ll be riding more this summer, of course, and having other local adventures. I’m looking forward to every single one.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last Saturday, I took my bike down to Franklin Park for the Ride for Black Lives. Since last summer, a group of us have been meeting there for monthly protest rides through the streets of Boston. The rides began in the wake of George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, and they have continued (with a winter hiatus) as the racial conversations in this country have shifted, quieted and occasionally flared up again.

This month’s ride drew a much smaller crowd: a few dozen instead of the several hundred we often had last summer. It was a hot day, and there were several other events happening at the same time; people are also taking vacations while they can. More worryingly, it seems some folks have simply moved on from wanting to talk or hear (or ride) about racial justice. (Though I know showing up to an event is far from the only way to participate.)

I often wonder if what we’re doing matters: if a bike ride (or five) will make any difference in the struggle for racial equality. For me personally, it’s often important and moving to show up and hear Black people share their experiences, but these rides are absolutely not about me. My partner is on the organizing committee, so of course I show up for him, too. But sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. If what we do matters at all.

Last week, our speakers were several young people who have worked with Bikes Not Bombs, which (among other things) trains young people in bike mechanics and leadership skills. I was astounded by their bravery in sharing with us, and their vulnerability in admitting how hard life can be when you’re a Black teenager. Their stories (and one poem) reminded me: we are riding because their lives, and other Black lives, matter.

One of the speakers talked about his experience in mostly white schools, how there are so many spaces where he doesn’t feel he can be himself. Another one said simply that his experience is probably “typical” for a Black teenager, and listed a few of the slights he’s received. And another read a poem called “Can You Hear Me?”, a river of spoken word urging us – the adults in the room – to listen to the teenagers we often overlook.

We ride – I was reminded – for them. For the students who spoke and the students we serve at ZUMIX, where I work, and my partner’s son, who leaves for college this week. We ride, and continue the conversation, so that these young people can be their full selves in a country that is theirs as much as it is mine. We are thinking about how to expand our work, starting with a backpack and school supply drive. (We would love your support, if you’re able.) We keep showing up because no matter what the headlines say, it is unjustly hard to be a Black person in this country, and that should change.

I have more of a personal stake in this than ever before: loving a Black man makes a difference, even when you already believe in justice and equality in the abstract. I am proud to stand beside my guy and the others who make these rides happen. I am humbled and honored to fight alongside them. And I – we – will keep doing the work. Which includes, but is in no way limited to, these rides.

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My guy and I love Salem, that famously witchy town a bit north of Boston. We spent a few weekends there in 2019, but hadn’t been back since March 2020, for the obvious pandemic and life reasons. But a couple of weeks ago, we decided to just go for the day – hopping on the commuter rail in the morning and coming back in time for dinner. It was, in a word, fabulous.

We started the day with iced chai and treats from Caffe Ducali (see above) and then hopped on the train. When we arrived, we did some browsing of favorites old and new: the bike shop, the comic-book shop, the fabulous consignment shop Re-find (where I always find the best stuff). We ran into an old friend of G’s and chatted a minute, then headed down the street for hot dogs. I almost never eat hot dogs unless I’m at a ballpark, but I made an exception for these:

Thus fortified, we wandered some more (stopping at Front Street Coffee for iced tea – it was hot!), then headed out on a bike ride. I love exploring new parts of familiar places with G, and we adore a good long bike ride. We ended up at Winter Island, which has campgrounds, a beach and ocean views.

We rode back to town and headed to Far From the Tree, Salem’s wonderful local cider house, for some sampling (G) and an old favorite (me). We have a cider-focused Instagram account these days, and it’s so fun to taste different ciders and compare notes.

After a ride back on the commuter rail, we ended the day where we began it: at Ducali for a delicious dinner. It was so lovely to revisit one of our favorite towns together. I want to go back (again).

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As spring approaches, I’m taking my Wild Irish Rose out for spins around the neighborhood. Sore hamstrings, pumping pedals, the wind in my face, that feeling of freedom—it’s all good.

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As I’ve grown to love running, and explored various running routes around the Boston area, I’ve been doing a similar thing with cycling.

I used to love riding bikes in my neighborhood as a child, and I spent hours on my jade-green bike as a grad student in Oxford. But I’d lived in Boston for eight years before I got up the gumption to try riding the city streets on a bike. The traffic terrified me, and I didn’t have a bike of my own.

My guy (though we were just friends then) convinced me to try out Bluebikes, Boston’s bike-share program, two years ago after I’d started a new job at Berklee. My first dozen or more rides followed the same route between Berklee and Harvard Square – much more pleasant than the 1 bus, except in driving rain. As I got stronger and more confident, I began trying new things occasionally: turning down a side street to see where it would go, trying out part of my commute on a bike, riding around Eastie when I moved here. I began paying more attention to bike lanes and traffic signals, and I’m still trying to make my peace with the hills in certain parts of Boston. This summer, I inherited a bright pink single-speed from a friend, and I’ve participated in several protest rides, plus a number of long rides with my guy (who is a cycling instructor, advocate and general bike fanatic).

As with yoga, I didn’t really think of cycling as having any connection to running. But they inform one another, sometimes in surprising ways. I’ve gained confidence on a bike in a similar way to the confidence I’ve gained with running: in this case, the muscle memory was there, but it needed to be revived. I keep learning that I can go farther, pedal stronger and even ride faster than I think I can. Sometimes I need a rest day after a seriously long ride. And in both cases, the main motivation is the sheer joy of moving through the world in this particular way.

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Hello, everyone. March is (nearly) over – I don’t think anyone expected this month to go the way it has. But here we are. Photo of the last stack of books I was able to pick up before my beloved Boston Public Library closed for a while. And here are the ones I’ve been reading:

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, Marisa de los Santos
It is impossible to overstate how much I love de los Santos’ work. I turned back to this novel for some deep soul comfort, just as everything was going sideways. It’s the story of Clare, who inherits a house right after she calls off her wedding, and Edith, who gave Clare the house. Lovely, luminous and wise, like all her books.

Every Reason We Shouldn’t, Sara Fujimura
Olivia Kennedy is the daughter of two Olympic champions, and she had medal dreams, too, until a disastrous performance. When speed skater Jonah Choi starts skating at her parents’ ice rink, Olivia is forced to deal with her fears (and she might also be falling in love). Sweet and funny – I especially loved Olivia’s friend Mack, aspiring roller derby queen.

Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels, Hannah Ross
Cycling has long been a male-dominated sphere, but women have been riding for decades and they’re damn good at it. Ross charts the history of cycling and feminism, and calls for more representation in the industry and better bike-friendly infrastructure. (Yes please.) Well-written, informative and interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 9).

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagán
Libby Miller has always tried (relentlessly) to look on the bright side, since losing her mother to cancer at age 10. But then her marriage implodes in the same week she’s diagnosed with cancer herself. Libby escapes to Puerto Rico, where she tries to avoid (but eventually sorts out) her feelings about treatment and her future. Surprisingly light and funny for such serious subject matter.

The Downstairs Girl, Stacey Lee
Chinese-American Jo Kuan and her guardian, Old Gin, don’t quite fit on either side of Atlanta’s strict racial divide. When Jo loses her job as a milliner’s assistant, she becomes a maid and also starts writing a newspaper column (anonymously). I’ve enjoyed Lee’s previous books, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, and I really liked this one: it draws together race, family, horse racing and feminism, with warmth and wit.

The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life, Samantha Seneviratne
I grabbed this at the BPL: mouthwatering recipes and brief essays about (among other things) navigating a divorce? Yes please. I liked the author’s voice and have marked a couple recipes to try during quarantine baking.

I’d Give Anything, Marisa de los Santos
At eighteen, Ginny Beale loves her life (in spite of her difficult mother): she has a brother she adores and fiercely loyal friends. But one terrible night changes everything. Nearly twenty years later, when Ginny’s marriage falls apart, she learns some new truths about that night, and about herself. Moving and lovely and well written, like all de los Santos’ books (see above). To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, Hope Jahren
I loved Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read back in 2016. This slim book is a cogent, straightforward explanation of how population growth, technological advances and (hugely) increased consumption of energy and food have led us to the current climate crisis. It’s packed with data but highly readable. The diagnosis is daunting, but Jahren does offer some practical tips and reasons for hope.

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief, Anna Meriano
Leo Logroño is finally learning some of the magic recipes that her family uses at their Texas bakery. But when her paternal abuelo shows up, telling her new things about her own magic, she’s not sure what to believe. And a new café in town just might mean trouble for her family. I like this sweet series, and this book was a fun conclusion.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I love them and it’s especially important to support independent bookstores right now. 

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velocipede races book

May is a whirlwind when you work in higher ed (I say this every year). Here are the books I’ve been dipping into on my commutes, at lunch, before bed and whenever else I can:

The American Agent, Jacqueline Winspear
1940: London is under siege as the Blitz takes hold, and an American broadcaster is found murdered in her flat. Two shadowy government agencies call Maisie Dobbs onto the case; she’s also volunteering as an ambulance driver and hoping to adopt Anna, a young evacuee. I am a longtime Maisie fan, and I loved this 15th (!) entry in the series. Solid writing, a well-done plot and so much British grit.

The Velocipede Races, Emily June Street
Emmeline longs to compete in bicycle races like her twin brother. But aristocratic women are forbidden to ride, much less race. When she’s forced into marriage to a rich man, she sees a chance to pursue her dreams secretly–but several surprises are in store. A friend snagged this novel for me at a cycling conference. Emmy is frustrating at times, but the plot is fun – especially if you love bikes.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane
I will read anything Macfarlane writes. He’s a brilliant nature writer who renders physical details beautifully, but sees under them, into the shape of things. This book – his latest and longest – is a sort of inversion of his previous work: an exploration of caves, crevices, burial grounds and other hidden places. I struggled with the subject matter a bit, but his adventures are fascinating. (I highly recommend his previous books: I particularly loved Landmarks.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, Anna Meriano
Leo (age 11), the youngest of five daughters, stumbles on a secret: all the women in her family are brujas (witches) whose magic comes out through their baking. Naturally, she’s dying to experiment, with sometimes disastrous results. A sweet, funny middle-grade story of family, baking and magic. Found at Trident.

In Another Time, Jillian Cantor
Max, a bookseller, and Hanna, a Jewish violinist, meet in Germany just as Hitler is coming to power. They fall in love, and then Hanna wakes up in a field in 1946 with a decade of her memory gone. She tries to build a new life, not knowing what has happened to Max. I’ve liked Cantor’s previous historical novels, but this one had a plot element that really didn’t work for me. I did love Hanna’s bond with her nephew, and appreciated her fraught but loving relationship with her sister.

The Beautiful Strangers, Camille Di Maio
“Find the beautiful stranger.” That’s what Kate Morgan’s granddad begs of her when she hops a train from San Francisco to San Diego, to work on the set of Some Like It Hot. Soon Kate discovers a mystery surrounding the Hotel del Coronado, including a ghost who shares her name. I love Coronado Island – I’ve stayed there several times – and this sweet love story evokes it perfectly.

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

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