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Posts Tagged ‘essays’

birds art life mug

We’re halfway through April and I’m really counting on this whole “April showers bring May flowers” thing. But the showers are bringing good books. (Above: the endpapers of Birds Art Life, and a mug I love, from Obvious State.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

‘Round Midnight, Laura McBride
June Stein never expected to end up a casino owner’s wife in Las Vegas. But that’s where she finds herself, and her story intertwines with those of several other women in surprising ways. McBride tells a compelling, heartbreaking story of four women deeply affected by the El Capitan, the casino June owns with her husband, and the evolution of Vegas from the 1950s to the present. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, Kyo Maclear
I picked up Maclear’s luminous, quiet memoir at Idlewild Books in the West Village. She chronicles a year spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto, while dealing with her father’s illness and generally feeling unmoored. Melancholy and beautiful, with insights on bravery, marriage, noticing the small things, and making a world where birds (and humans) can thrive.

Ashes, Laurie Halse Anderson
After years of searching, Isabel Gardener has finally found her sister Ruth, who was kidnapped by their old slave mistress. But more trials await the sisters and their friend Curzon as the American Revolution drags on. Compelling, heartbreaking YA fiction (the third volume in a trilogy) with a sharp-tongued, brilliant protagonist. (Set during and around the Battle of Yorktown, so you can guess what was in my head the whole time.)

Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh
Bonnelyn Parker has always been a good girl: working hard in school, helping her mama, working at a diner to earn extra money. But when she loses her job and her best friend Blanche convinces her to try bartending at a speakeasy, Bonnelyn may be on her way to becoming someone else: Bonnie. A really fun historical novel of the woman who became one half of Bonnie and Clyde. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
I’d never read this seminal work on the plight of black people in the U.S., and I figured it was long overdue. Du Bois is eloquent, passionate and thoughtful (though some of his language feels a little quaint, 100 years later). Of particular interest: his notions of the Veil and the double life led by black Americans. I also love his thoughts on the “sorrow songs” and their place in black history.

The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be: Prose Poems and Cheerful Chants Against the Dark, Brian Doyle
More prose poems from Doyle: keen-eyed, thoughtful, wide-ranging, humorous and occasionally so luminous they make me cry. (Besides, April is always a good time to read poetry.) My favorites include “Your Theatrical Training” and “The Western Yellowjacket: A Note.”

Girl on the Leeside, Kathleen Anne Kenney
Since her mother’s death in an IRA bombing when she was just a toddler, Siobhan Doyle has lived a quiet life with her uncle Keenan, working alongside him in their family’s pub, the Leeside, and writing poetry. She’s content with her sheltered existence until the arrival of an American professor, whose visit makes her ask all sorts of questions. A lovely, lyrical coming-of-age novel, set in a quiet corner of Ireland. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn came to the U.S. from Ireland together as teenagers. When Theresa ends up pregnant, both sisters must make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences for their family. Sullivan writes with warmth, sensitivity and keen observation about family, regret and love in her fourth novel. (Set in Boston’s Irish and Irish-American communities – vividly and accurately rendered.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

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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shakespeare and co bookstore upper east side nyc

The hubs and I spent a recent long weekend in NYC, dipping into a few bookstores as we hopped around the city. This is the lovely Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side, and here’s my latest reading roundup:

The Kite and the String: How to Write with Spontaneity and Control—And Live to Tell the Tale, Alice Mattison
Mattison, a novelist and poet, gives practical, down-to-earth advice and shares her own experience as a writer. I liked her dryly humorous voice; some wise advice here, though more centered on fiction than nonfiction. Recommended by my writer friends Hannah and Elena.

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe
I loved Schwalbe’s first memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club. In this book, he writes brief essays on the books that have resonated throughout his life – relating to such topics as Napping, Connecting, Remembering, and Choosing Your Life. Witty, wise, totally unpretentious and so good. I’d love to get coffee and talk books with Schwalbe. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 27).

The Champagne Conspiracy, Ellen Crosby
Crosby’s seventh Wine Country mystery (the first I’ve read) finds vintner Lucie Montgomery trying to untangle a mystery involving murders past and present, complicated family relationships and blackmail. A light mystery with a compelling plot and a likable protagonist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture, Matt Goulding
Goulding, an American food writer living in Barcelona, takes readers on a tour through Spain’s regional cuisines: tapas, paella, migas and much more. My favorite parts are his anecdotes of memorable nights in this or that Spanish city, and his deep love for his Catalan wife, Laura. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor
I heard Liberty mention this one on All the Books. Madeleine Maxwell (“Max”) joins a coterie of time-jumping historians at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, and all hell quickly breaks loose. Dinosaurs, romantic tension and a nefarious conspiracy, told with dry wit, lots of (literal and metaphorical) explosions and countless cups of tea. So much fun. First in a series.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce, chemist and sleuth, is back in England from Canada, and back to solving mysteries after she finds an elderly woodcarver hung upside down from his bedroom door. I love Flavia’s narrative voice, though her loneliness (which she never admits) breaks my heart.

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

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brattle bookshop doors boston

Fall is the time to dig into new books (though, really, that’s every season around here). The doors above are from the outdoor sale lot of the fabulous Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and the books below are what I’ve been reading lately:

A Very Special Year, Thomas Montasser
I heard Liberty talk about this novel on All the Books and picked it up at Three Lives & Co. Valerie takes over her aunt Charlotte’s bookshop after Charlotte disappears. Despite her career plans, Valerie (of course) finds herself utterly seduced by the shop’s books and readers. A truly delightful slim novel, in the vein of The Haunted Bookshop or The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
I’d heard about this sweeping time-travel romance series from a dozen friends, plus my mom. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband in the Scottish Highlands after WWII when she steps through a circle of standing stones and finds herself in 1743. It’s a wild (often violent) ride as Claire adapts to an entirely different world and becomes tightly linked to the clan MacKenzie and a young outlaw called Jamie Fraser. Powerful storytelling, fascinating history and dry wit, though with waaaay more sex and violence than my usual fare.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell
Wilhelmina “Will” Silver relishes her life running wild on the farm her father manages in Zimbabwe. But after his death, she’s sent to England and finds herself completely unequipped for the foreign, catty world of boarding school. I found the book’s African scenes much more fully realized than the English ones, but I loved Will’s fierce, bold spirit and Rundell’s writing. Found at Book Culture.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, Richard Hugo
I’d never heard of Hugo’s poetry, but I found this essay collection at Book Culture and loved much of his wry, thoughtful advice on writing poetry and being a poet (two different things). Witty, aphoristic and encouraging, if a little uneven. A good read to start off the fall.

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, Kate Andersen Brower
The role of First Lady is visible, public and largely undefined – so each woman who takes on that mantle truly makes it her own. Brower draws a sharp, thoroughly researched, fascinating portrait of First Ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama. Really well done (and, obviously, so timely).

The Bell Family, Noel Streatfeild
I discovered Streatfeild via You’ve Got Mail, so I was delighted to find this novel at Book Culture on the Upper West Side (shades of The Shop Around the Corner!). The Bell family lives in a crowded vicarage in the East End of London, and their adventures are funny, sweet and altogether delightful.

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

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becoming wise book sunflowers tea

“I’m a person who listens for a living. I listen for wisdom, and beauty, and for voices not shouting to be heard.”

These are the opening sentences of Krista Tippett’s luminous memoir, Becoming Wise, which distills the best of what she has heard, and learned, in nearly 15 years of hosting the radio show On Being.

Each week, Tippett interviews a guest about his or her work in a stunning range of fields: from poetry to physics, counseling to yoga to social activism. She has listened to doctors and actors, priests and lawyers, people who are household names and those who work in quiet, unheralded spaces. Becoming Wise introduces us to some of those voices, and lets us listen in as they talk with Tippett about the big questions of what it means to be human.

If you’re a regular reader, chances are you’ve heard me rave about Becoming Wise in recent months. I’m over at Great New Books today, talking about it more fully. Please join me over there to read the rest of my (glowing) review.

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strand bookstore awning nyc

My reading pace has been fairly slow (for me) this month. New apartment, still-new job, lots of other things crowding into my brain. But I’ve still found a few good books. Here they are:

A Sense of Wonder: The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane and the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle
An eclectic, luminous, often demanding collection of essays first published in Portland Magazine. My favorites are by Heather King, Robin Cody and Pico Iyer, but they are all worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Crowned and Dangerous, Rhys Bowen
This 10th entry in Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, which I love, finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch unexpectedly in Ireland with her beau, Darcy, trying to exonerate his father of a murder charge. Frothy, fun and smart, like this entire series. (I adore Georgie.)

The House of Dreams, Kate Lord Brown
Journalist Sophie Cass interviews artist Gabriel Lambert about his experience as a refugee in Marseille during World War II. The true story of Varian Fry and others at the Emergency Rescue Committee, who worked tirelessly to get artists out of France, is fascinating. But the novel’s framing story was less so, and I did not like the ending. (I loved Brown’s previous novel, The Perfume Garden.)

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America, David Hajdu
Music critic (and self-professed music geek) Hajdu takes readers on a tour of pop music in the U.S., from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, 45s to LPs to mixtapes and MP3s. Smart, entertaining and surprisingly deep. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Queen’s Accomplice, Susan Elia MacNeal
Mathematician-turned-spy Maggie Hope returns to WWII London and gets pulled onto a gruesome Scotland Yard case: a Jack-the-Ripper copycat serial killer targeting young professional women. I like Maggie (this is her sixth adventure), but this book was daaark. Also, the comments on the treatment of women felt heavy-handed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 4).

Faithful, Alice Hoffman
Since the night of the accident that left her best friend in a coma, Shelby Richmond doesn’t believe she deserves to live. Faithful is the slow, rich, heartbreaking story of how Shelby finds her way, with help from her stalwart mother, a few stray dogs and a few highly unlikely friends. Bleak and gritty at times (Shelby messes up over and over), but also beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. Hoffman has written many books, but I’d never read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 1).

The Boy is Back, Meg Cabot
Pro golfer Reed Stewart hasn’t been back to his Indiana hometown in a decade. But when his parents end up in the news (and in financial trouble), he returns to try and help out – which means facing his ex, Becky Flowers. Cabot tells this hilarious story through emails, texts and newspaper articles. Fluffy and really fun – smart chick lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Wonder Women: 25 Inventors, Innovators and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs
We are hearing a lot lately (it’s long overdue!) about brilliant, brave women whose stories have been overlooked. Sam Maggs writes bite-size biographies of 25 such women in this snappy, girl-power book. The colloquial tone got a little wearing, but these women – inventors, spies, scientists – are amazing. Would pair well with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

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

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