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daffodils books ruth fitzmaurice

January was a long month – which, thank goodness, contained so many books that I needed a third roundup, for the first time in a while. Here’s the last batch:

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law, Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson and Anthony C. Thompson
In February 2017, these four brilliant black thinkers gathered at NYU for a conversation on systemic racism in the U.S.: its long history, the complicated gains under President Obama and their fears of what might happen under Donald Trump. This book is a transcript of that conversation: it’s short, but powerful and insightful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun
I loved Calhoun’s candid, witty, clear-eyed essays on the long game of marriage. With chapters like “The Boring Parts,” she delves into the nitty-gritty of staying not only physically near, but committed to and considerate of – even devoted to – one person. I’ve been married nine (and a half) years, and Calhoun’s perspective rang so true. Inspired by her Modern Love essay, and recommended by Rebecca on All the Books!.

The Inheritance, Charles Finch
Reading The Woman in the Water (the upcoming prequel to the Charles Lenox series) reminded me that I’d missed this latest installment. Lenox’s 10th adventure involves an old school friend, the Royal Society of naturalists and a mysterious inheritance. I always enjoy spending time with Lenox and his supporting cast, and this was a pleasantly twisty case.

Out of the Deep I Cry, Julia Spencer-Fleming
This third mystery featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne finds them trying to solve two missing-persons cases: one present-day, one decades-old. A layered plot involving land use, vaccinations and family secrets. I’m loving this series, which (so far) is compelling and also honest about the struggles of living a faithful life.

I Found My Tribe, Ruth Fitzmaurice
Ruth’s life changed drastically when her husband Simon was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND). She’s kept her sanity by chasing her five rambunctious children, wrangling a never-ending stream of nurses, and jumping into the frigid Irish Sea with her two dear friends. This memoir of swimming, grief and never-ending change is fragmented but lovely, like the sea glass her son Arden gathers on the beach. Honest and tender, sometimes raw, often beautiful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6). I also enjoyed Simon’s memoir, It’s Not Yet Dark.

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

What are you reading this winter?

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almost sisters book christmas tree

We’re two weeks into a new year, which has included (so far) a foot of snow, a record-breaking cold snap and – thank goodness – a batch of fantastic books.

Here’s my first reading roundup for 2018:

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson
Leia Birch Briggs, a successful graphic artist, finds out she’s pregnant with a biracial baby after a one-night stand. Then she’s summoned to Alabama to check on her grandmother, Birchie, who’s been hiding her health problems and other damaging secrets. I loved this novel – it’s funny, wise, warmhearted and thought-provoking. Leia is a great narrator and her relationship with her stepsister, Rachel, felt so real – as did her experience as a well-meaning but often clueless white woman. Recommended by Leigh and Anne.

One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together, Amy Bass
Soccer, like other sports, has historically taken a backseat to hockey in Lewiston, Maine. But an influx of Somali immigrants to this white, working-class town began to change that. And Lewiston High School’s coach, Mike McGraw, saw his chance to build a championship team. Insightful, vividly told, deeply researched nonfiction about a group of boys who became the emblem of a changing town. I’m not even much of a soccer fan, but I loved it. Reminded me of The Newcomers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 27).

Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
After loving The Dark is Rising, I went back and read this first book in the series, in which three children find a mysterious treasure map while on holiday in Cornwall. With the help of their great-uncle (whom I recognized from TDIR), they embark on a quest while dodging some sinister folks. Fun and enjoyable, though not nearly as compelling as TDIR.

In the Bleak Midwinter, Julia Spencer-Fleming
During a bitterly cold Advent season in upstate New York, someone leaves a newborn baby on the Episcopal church steps. The Reverend Clare Fergusson, new to town, investigates the baby’s parentage plus a few murders alongside longtime police chief Russ Van Alstyne. I’d heard about this mystery series from Lauren Winner and loved this first book: Russ, Clare and the other characters felt satisfyingly real.

Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith
I’d heard of Smith but really started paying attention to her when she was named poet laureate last summer. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, is on my to-read stack. This new collection of her poems was the first I’d read. It includes several “erasure poems” based on text from correspondence of former slave owners, the Declaration of Independence and other documents. But my favorites were the others, like “Ash” and “4 1/2” and “Unrest in Baton Rouge.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman
Carpool mom Frances Bloom is used to taking care of everyone, including her neighbors’ kids. But when she catches her neighbor, Anne, in flagrante delicto with a younger man, the neighborhood is thrown for a loop and so is Frances. This was sharper and sadder than Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings (which I loved). Some great lines and realistic characters, but I thought it ended too abruptly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

The Library at the Edge of the World, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read Hayes-McCoy’s memoir, The House on an Irish Hillside, a few years ago and loved it. This novel was fluffier than that, but still enjoyable: librarian Hanna Casey, who has returned to her rural Irish hometown after a divorce, suddenly finds herself an unlikely community organizer. Lovely descriptions of western Ireland and several appealing characters.

The Woman in the Water, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s mystery series featuring Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox. This prequel explores Lenox’s start as a detective, as the recent Oxford graduate investigates the deaths of two unknown women. A satisfying mystery plot, and I also enjoyed the appearances by Lenox’s invaluable valet, Graham, and other familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 20).

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, Laura Thompson
Known today as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie led a long and interesting life. Thompson explores Christie’s childhood, her two marriages, her prodigious creative output and her 11-day disappearance in 1926. I found this biography engaging, though it dragged at times, and the section on Agatha’s disappearance was decidedly odd. I’m a Christie fan (but 485 pages is a serious commitment!). To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

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

What are you reading this winter?

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katie st marys tower oxford england

I don’t consider myself a tourist in Oxford.

It is home, and has been home now for over a decade: almost since I first stepped off the bus after an overnight flight, back in 2004. I carry its map in my heart; the streets are full of memories, and I spend a lot of my time there revisiting favorite haunts and catching up with my people.

Every time I go back to visit, though, I can’t resist a few of its tourist attractions. The cobblestoned beauty of Radcliffe Square; the green vistas of University Parks; the shops on the Broad stuffed with T-shirts and postcards (because I always need a souvenir for someone). I roll my eyes at the tour groups as much as the next person, and then I, too, pull out my camera to snap photo after photo of the dreaming spires I love.

My favorite tourist spot, though, is a little higher up: 127 steps, to be exact. It’s the tower at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin: the highest point from which to view the city, and easily my favorite.

radcliffe camera oxford tower sky all souls

Looking north, you can see Radcliffe Square with the iconic Camera (in the foreground), with the bulk of the Bodleian just behind and All Souls College off to the right. If I squint, I can see past the Broad and the Science Center to the towers of St Anne’s and St Antony’s Colleges, up the Woodstock Road. You can’t quite see the North Oxford street where I used to live (and where I stayed this time), but I know exactly where it is: true north indeed.

all souls college view towers oxford

From the eastern side of the tower, All Souls is on full display. The colleges further along the High – Queen’s, University, Magdalen – are a little more coy, hiding themselves behind gates and battlements. Past Magdalen’s tower is the roundabout of St Clements, which leads to East Oxford and Headington Hill, down which the green sweep of South Park rolls like a velvet carpet. The middle road off St Clements leads to Cowley, which was my neighborhood as a graduate student: I lived there in a little chocolate-box house with three British girls who are still dear to me.

magdalen college tower oxford buildings

To the south lies a tangle of college buildings, old even by Oxford standards: Merton, Oriel, Corpus Christi, Christ Church with its famous Tom Tower. Right across from Christ Church is a less famous spire, but one that holds pride of place in my heart: St Aldates, the church where I have found grace and community since my first Sunday in Oxford.

christ church oxford towers south view

The western view, bounded by hills that glow yellow with rapeseed in spring, includes yet more colleges: Exeter, Jesus, Lincoln. I always feel I could step onto the rooftops and dance across them from here, like Bert and his chimney-sweep friends in Mary Poppins. This view of the city feels at once lofty and completely, utterly mine: I can pick out individual buildings I know while appreciating the whole sweep of it at once.

exeter college oxford view towers

I lingered as I always do, snapping photos from every angle, taking deep breaths and letting other visitors squeeze past me, talking in their various languages. Many of them are seeing Oxford from above for the first time, and I smile at their wonder, but it’s different from mine. They are seeing a place that is new and foreign. I am looking down, with love, at my home.

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mostly books interior abingdon uk bookshop

October began with a much-needed break: a trip across the pond to Oxford, my heart’s home, to see friends and dive into bookshops and drink so much tea. I bought half a dozen books there, of course. Here’s what I have been reading, on my long plane rides and since then:

The Austen Escape, Katherine Reay
Engineer Mary Davies is in a slump at work when her childhood best friend Isabel talks her into joining an Austen-themed country house party in England. Once there, Mary thinks they might actually enjoy themselves, until Isabel has a sudden memory lapse and believes the costume party is real. I like Reay’s sweet lit-nerd novels, though the mental health plotline here felt like a stretch. (NB: I’m married to a therapist.) I did enjoy seeing Mary come into her own. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 7).

The Troutbeck Testimony, Rebecca Tope
Persimmon “Simmy” Brown is celebrating her one-year anniversary of moving to the Lake District and opening a flower shop. But a series of disturbing events, including the body of a dead dog and the murder of a local man, mar her joy and draw her into a tangled investigation. Fourth in a series I hadn’t previously read; I liked Simmy, but found some of the other characters a bit annoying. Still an engaging airplane read. Found at the Oxfam bookshop on Turl Street, in Oxford.

High Tide, Veronica Henry
I loved Henry’s novel How to Find Love in a Bookshop and picked this one up at the Oxfam shop in Summertown, Oxford. It’s a charming story of several people who find themselves in the Cornwall village of Pennfleet, just as summer is turning to autumn. Love and soul-searching and dramatic life changes lie ahead, and I loved each character’s arc – they all felt satisfying, and the tone is so engaging. Light and lovely. (I enjoy a dose of British chick lit once in a while.)

The War I Finally Won, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Bradley’s sequel to The War That Saved My Life (which I adored) picks up with Ada Smith and her brother, Jamie, living in the Kentish countryside with their guardian, Susan. As World War II heats up, Ada and her family find themselves hosting Ruth, a German Jewish refugee. Ada’s struggle to accept Ruth, to trust that Susan will care for her and Jamie, and to reckon with her own losses and fears (war-related and otherwise) broke my heart and mended it again. She is so brave, and this is such a great story. Found at Mostly Books in Abingdon (pictured above) on my trip.

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

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textbook akr book sky

Thanks to three glorious days in Florida last week (see above), my reading list has been long lately. (I read four and a half books on vacation!) Here’s the latest roundup:

How the Light Gets In: And Other Headlong Epiphanies, Brian Doyle
I love Brian Doyle’s wise, warm, witty voice and these prose poems – rambling, insightful, observant, funny – are just about perfection. I savored this, dipping into it a few poems at a time over several weeks. Full of wonder, grace and laughter. Found at the Strand.

Starry Night, Isabel Gillies
When 15-year-old Wren goes to a fancy benefit at the Met (where her dad works) wearing her mother’s vintage red Oscar de la Renta dress, and meets a fascinating boy, everything changes. But love, even first love, isn’t always smooth. A bittersweet YA romance; Wren is a little spoiled, but she learns some hard lessons (and says some wise things) about art and love. Found at Greenlight in Brooklyn.

The Jane Austen Project, Kathleen Flynn
“What kind of maniac travels in time?” For Rachel Katzman, the answer is: a devoted Jane Austen fan who’s keen to retrieve a lost manuscript and perhaps unravel the mystery surrounding Jane’s death. Rachel and her colleague, Liam, travel back to 1815 and make friends with Jane and her family – but, of course, nothing goes quite as planned. A fun mix of time travel, love and catnip for Austen fans, though the ending was quite abrupt. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

The Romantics, Leah Konen
Gael Brennan is a class-A certified Romantic – so it hits him particularly hard when he catches his girlfriend kissing his best friend (right after his parents have separated). But Love – the sly, witty narrator of this YA novel – has lots of plans for Gael and his nearest and dearest. An absolutely delightful look at love in all its forms. The narration is so clever and fun. My favorite line: “Real love makes you better than you ever knew you could be.”

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I loved Rosenthal’s previous memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. This one is organized topically: Pre-Assessment, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, etc. Rosenthal’s writing is quirky and luminous – she holds a mirror up to the beautiful pieces of everyday life. Her Modern Love essay recently went viral, right before she passed away – and before Nina recommended this book at Great New Books. The timing, as well as the whimsy and gentle gravity of the memoir itself, make it even more worth reading.

Summerlost, Ally Condie
Since the car crash that killed her dad and brother, Cedar Lee has felt lost in her grief. But when she, her mom and other brother return to her mom’s hometown for the summer, Cedar makes a new friend, and begins edging back toward feeling whole again. A funny, sweet, gorgeous middle-grade novel of friendship, summer theatre festivals and learning to dream again. I loved it.

The Secrets of Wishtide, Kate Saunders
Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow in 1850s England, uses her entirely correct social position as excellent cover for solving mysteries. Her narrative voice is wonderful – wry and keen-eyed – and the mystery was satisfyingly tangled. Her supporting cast – including her lawyer brother and plainspoken landlady – is also highly enjoyable. First in a planned series, and I’d gladly read the others.

The Lost Letter, Jillian Cantor
As Katie Nelson faces the dissolution of her marriage and her father’s increasing memory problems, she finds an intriguing item in his stamp collection: an unsent letter with an unusual German stamp from World War II. With the help of a stamp dealer, Katie digs into the stamp’s history and uncovers a connection to her own past. I like Cantor’s thoughtful, compelling historical novels and this dual-narrative one was satisfying. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 13).

Mary Russell’s War, Laurie R. King
I love King’s series of novels about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and enjoyed this collection of short stories featuring same. Russell’s narrative voice is always a delight, and appearances by Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson and others are pure fun.

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

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scribe of siena book chai red

March has blown in like a lion – and good books are helping keep me from blowing entirely off course. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer
Neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato’s deep empathy for her patients is starting to interfere with her job. When her brother Ben dies suddenly, Beatrice travels to Italy to take care of his estate, and finds herself drawn into Ben’s scholarly research on the Plague – then, abruptly, transported to 14th-century Siena. A compelling, vivid story of love, time travel and being torn between different communities. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 16).

Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
Zoe Webster thought she’d adjusted to life in River Heights, and life without Digby, her maybe-more-than-a-friend who left town without a word. But now Digby’s back, still on the trail of his sister’s kidnappers, and Zoe and her complicated feelings get dragged along for the ride. Snarky, entertaining YA with a few plot holes. Still fun.

How Cycling Can Save the World, Peter Walker
Cycling is more than just a pleasant hobby: it has the potential to revolutionize our cities and our health. Avid cyclist Walker (who lives and rides in London) explores how governments can make the roads safer for cyclists, and the benefits of improving bike infrastructure and access for all. Sounds dry, but it’s not; made me want to hop on a bike. (I rode all the time in Oxford, and I miss it.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Curse of La Fontaine, M.L. Longworth
Newlyweds Antoine Verlaque (a judge) and Marine Bonnet (a law professor) are settling into life together and enjoying a new restaurant in their Aix-en-Provence neighborhood. But when a skeleton is found in the restaurant’s courtyard, the pair find themselves trying to solve an eight-year-old mystery. A charming French mystery with likable characters and lots of good food and wine. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan
As World War II heats up, the village of Chilbury in Kent finds itself with very few men. The local choir decides to carry on as an all-female group, and gradually becomes a force for good in the community. Told through the letters and journals of several choir members, this is a heartwarming, well-told story of music, friendship and banding together during tough times. Reminded me of the ITV series Home Fires.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Shauna Niequist
Niequist, a successful writer and speaker, found herself exhausted and burned out a few years ago, and has been feeling her way back to a slower, more connected life. I appreciated her honest rendering of her journey, and a few of the essays resonated with me. But this book felt less coherent than her others. Took me ages to finish.

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

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three lives bookstore interior

I’ve been (not surprisingly) digging into stacks of books as 2017 begins, and I’ve found some gems this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, Isabel Vincent
When Isabel Vincent’s friend Valerie asked her to look in on her recently widowed father, Isabel never dreamed she’d make a new friend. But she did – and this lovely memoir recounts many of their dinners á deux. Edward is a great cook, but also gives sound, practical advice, and Vincent writes their story with warmth and charm.

The Lost Book of the Grail, Charlie Lovett
Arthur Prescott is happily ensconced in his life in Barchester: teaching English at the university, spending untold hours in the library and secretly searching for the Holy Grail. But the arrival of an attractive young American who is digitizing the library’s manuscripts upends Arthur’s world. Lovett deftly moves back and forth in time between this present-day story and other historical eras (starting in the 500s). A fascinating, fun literary mystery – the third Lovett book I’ve read and possibly his best yet. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 28).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series gets bigger, deeper, darker and more heartbreaking with every book. I love this story so much, and I’m still loving my reread-along with a friend, which has prompted multiple discussions on everything from Rowling’s clever wordplays to the big questions of life and destiny at the heart of the series.

A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, Stephanie Saldaña
After falling in love with a French novice monk in Syria, American writer Saldaña ended up making a home with her new husband on a street in the middle of Jerusalem. A luminous, thoughtful, achingly lovely memoir about home, family, time and searching for the beautiful, even – especially – in broken and hard places. Stunning. I also loved Saldaña’s previous memoir, The Bread of Angels. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7).

News of the World, Paulette Jiles
Captain Jefferson Kidd, an itinerant news reader in post-Civil War Texas, is asked to return a young girl, Johanna, to her family after she has been “recovered” from the Kiowa tribe. Slowly, as Kidd and Johanna make the treacherous journey from north Texas to San Antonio, they form a tight, tenuous bond. A slim story told in spare, powerful prose.

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Madeline Whittier hasn’t left her house in 17 years, due to a rare immune disease. But when a boy named Olly moves in next door, she starts questioning the protected life she’s been living. A sweet, heartbreaking, funny, wonderful YA novel. I read it in one sitting.

A Trail Through Time, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell, time-jumping historian, has been yanked out of her own world by the Muse of History and deposited in a very similar one, where she and the man she loves are trying to outrun the Time Police. (Confused yet?) This fourth installment in Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s series gave me whiplash, but it was so much fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. Pictured above: the interior of Three Lives & Co. in NYC, where I spent a very happy hour this week.

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