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We are nearly at the end of this bizarre year (and I agree with Oscar the Grouch – 2020 can scram). Here’s what I have been reading as we head for a (hopefully) brighter new year:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
It’s rare that I read the same book twice in a year, but 2020 is unusual (as we all know). I read Maggie’s book back in the spring, reviewed it for Shelf Awareness, and bought myself a finished copy when it came out. I’ve been rereading it slowly since October. (I also bought it for a friend or two for Christmas.) Her notes and essays about loss, hope, despair, divorce, change and moving forward are exactly what I need right now.

A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews, Annie Darling
It’s December in London, and pastry chef Mattie and bookshop manager Tom, both of whom hate Christmas, are not pleased with their colleagues’ merriment. But as the bookshop struggles toward Christmas – helped along by record snow, staffing problems and a very pregnant (and neurotic) owner – Mattie and Tom are forced to band together to help the shop survive. A sweet, witty British rom-com with great characters and dialogue. An impulse buy at the Booksmith – totally worth it.

The List of Things That Will Not Change, Rebecca Stead
I like Stead’s thoughtful middle-grade novels. This one features Bea, whose dad is getting remarried, and her struggles to welcome her new stepsister, Sonia, and also be sensitive to Sonia’s feelings. Funny and sweet and so real.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
My friend Julie gave me this book years ago, and I reread it nearly every Christmas. It’s a lovely, absorbing story of five people who find themselves in a Scottish village at Christmastime. I love living in it for a few weeks every December.

A Deception at Thornecrest, Ashley Weaver
Preparing to welcome her first child, Amory Ames is shocked when several visitors, including a previously unknown relative, show up on her doorstep. Then two suspicious deaths happen in the village, and Amory – as always – can’t resist a bit of sleuthing. A fun mystery, but not as compelling as some of the others in this series.

A Promised Land, Barack Obama
I love a thoughtful, compelling political memoir, and I truly enjoyed the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs. Clear-eyed and compassionate, with flashes of humor and so much fascinating behind-the-scenes info. I learned a lot about his first term, and gained even more respect for the man himself and many of his colleagues.

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way, Caseen Gaines
In the 1920s, Broadway was lily-white, and Black performers were often relegated to vaudeville. Shuffle Along, the first all-Black show to hit Broadway, helped transform the industry. Gaines meticulously tells the story of the show, its creators and its afterlife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 25).

The Hiding Place, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr’s third adventure finds her digging into the cold case that haunted her sheriff grandfather (now long dead). When the man who shot him breaks out of prison, and Mercy’s grandmother is kidnapped, Mercy and game warden Troy Warner (and their dogs) must act fast to solve the case and save several lives. I like this fast-paced mystery series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30).

Links (not affiliate links) are to Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Y’all. It has been (need I say it?) such a weird year. Pandemic, furlough, layoff, still adjusting to post-divorce life and living alone, a holiday season profoundly unlike any I’ve ever spent. There have been days and even weeks I couldn’t focus on a book. And yet: I have still been reading (around 220 books, give or take), which means it’s time for a year-end roundup post.

I’ve (begrudgingly) read more ebooks this year than ever before, because Shelf Awareness (my review gig) switched to e-galleys in March, when the pandemic hit. It is not my favorite way to read, but I’m making do, thanks to my sister’s old e-reader.

Here are some standouts from the year:

Most Gripping Mystery Series (and Most Wisecracking Sleuth): Sara Paretsky’s series featuring V.I. Warshawski.

Loveliest Nature Writing: a tie between Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto and Two in the Far North by Margaret E. Murie.

Best Conclusion to a Beloved Series: All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor.

Sweet Escapist Fiction: The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke, The Switch by Beth O’Leary, Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey.

Best Reread: Mornings with Rosemary by Libby Page, and so much Mary Oliver.

Wisest Essay Collection: Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, which I read twice.

Smartest Science Writing: The Last Stargazers by Emily Levesque.

Most Timely Book on Writing: Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta.

Most Thoughtful Political Memoir: A Promised Land by Barack Obama, which I just finished last night.

What were your favorite books this year?

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We’re halfway through December of the strangest year ever. As always, I’m reading – albeit sporadically, these days. Here’s the latest roundup:

Why We Swim, Bonnie Tsui
Swimming attracts and fascinates humans the world over, and Tsui (an avid swimmer and surfer) explores some of the history, science and psychology behind why. I loved her interviews with famous swimmers like Dara Torres, and her personal stories of swimming from childhood to now. Recommended by Libby Page, whose newsletter is the cheeriest thing lately.

Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, Jennifer J. Chow
Mimi Lee has finally opened her own pet-grooming business, Hollywoof – and things get interesting right away, with a talking cat named Marshmallow, a murdered Chihuahua breeder, and a cute young lawyer. An impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store – totally ridiculous and really fun.

Killer Content, Olivia Blacke
Odessa Dean is enjoying her summer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, house-sitting for her aunt and waitressing at a local bookstore/cafe. But when one of her coworkers ends up dead (coinciding with a flash mob gone wrong), Odessa begins nosing around for clues. Fast-paced and funny, with a great setting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 2).

The Soul of a Woman, Isabel Allende
Bestselling novelist Allende is a passionate feminist, and this slim memoir details her own experiences as a woman and her beliefs about women’s value, worth and power. She is charmingly cranky, often wryly funny and makes a cogent case for putting women in charge. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2).

The Next Great Jane, K.L. Going
Jane Brannen, aspiring novelist, is thrilled when a real live writer moves to her tiny Maine town. But the author’s son is so annoying, and Jane’s mostly-absent mother turns up unexpectedly, with her filmmaker fiance in tow. A super fun middle-grade novel and a sweet homage to Jane Austen. Recommended by Anne.

Hardball, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski, private eye, picks up a 40-year-old missing-persons case right as her young cousin shows up in Chicago to work on a political campaign. Of course, they are connected, and Paretsky weaves in race, class and Chicago history. This one was powerful and intense – especially the ending – and so good.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
Christmas is coming in Mitford, and Father Tim ends up restoring a derelict Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, change is afoot at Happy Endings Books, and various townspeople are getting ready for Christmas. I love revisiting this book every year.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Suddenly, it’s the end of November – I’ve been squeezing in books between NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving cooking. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
This book had been on my TBR for a long time. It consists of two letters written in 1963: one to Baldwin’s nephew James, about being a Black man in America, and one to the nation, about his experiences mingled with the history of Black people in the U.S. Some parts are intensely focused on issues of the moment (e.g. the Black Muslim movement), but so much of it is painfully true today. Blistering and essential.

Dear Miss Kopp, Amy Stewart
It’s 1918 and the three Kopp sisters are doing their bit for the war: Constance as an intelligence agent, Fleurette as a touring performer in army camps, and Norma running her pigeon messenger program in France. The sisters’ sixth adventure is entirely epistolary, and it’s witty, wry and so much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder, Jodi Picoult et al.
My guy lent me this comic a while ago; I am not a huge comic reader, but I love Wonder Woman. This story features Diana trying to save humanity from a diabolical plot and going head-to-head with her own mother. Action-packed and also thought-provoking.

Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
Chelsea and Jasmine are fed up with the sexism (and racism, and fat-shaming) at their NYC high school, so they start a club focused on elevating women’s voices. But some of their words and methods get them into trouble. An inspiring (if slightly didactic) YA novel about learning to speak up and be truly inclusive.

Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, Hilda Eunice Burgos
Aspiring pianist Ana Maria Reyes is practicing for a scholarship audition, but her sisters are driving her crazy and her mami is going to have another baby. A family trip to the Dominican Republic and some other events help change her perspective a bit. I loved watching Anamay (as her family calls her) grow as a character.

The Library of Lost Things, Laura Taylor Namey
Darcy Jane Wells spends most of her time reading, and the rest of it trying to cope with her mother’s hoarding. But a new on-site apartment manager and a new boy upend her carefully constructed world. A sweet, literary YA novel. My favorite parts were Darcy’s best friend, Marisol, and the wig shop next door to the bookstore where Darcy works.

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World, Kathryn Aalto
I loved this collection of 25 mini-biographies of female nature writers, from Dorothy Wordsworth to Leslie Marmon Silko to multiple contemporary authors I hadn’t heard of. Lyrical, lovely, informative and made my TBR explode (in a good way).

Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am, Julia Cooke
In the golden age of flying, Pan Am stewardesses were a potent symbol of independence, glamour and sexual empowerment. But they were also real women, with varied backgrounds and experiences. Cooke explores the rise and fall of Pan Am against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, with first-person interviews from several former stewardesses. Fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2).

Recommended for You, Laura Silverman
Shoshanna Greenberg really needs to earn the bonus being offered to the highest-earning bookseller at her job. But the new hire, Jake, is annoyingly good at selling books – even though he doesn’t read. A cute YA romance (though Shoshanna drove me crazy sometimes) with a wonderful cast of diverse, warmhearted friends and family.

Earth’s Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World, Kathleen Dean Moore
Moore (mentioned in Aalto’s collection, above) is an avid lover of the natural world and its songs: those of bird, bear, ocean, lake, glacier, grasses and more. This collection of new and selected essays renders her love for nature in striking detail, and urgently calls for its protection against fossil fuels, overdevelopment and other ills. Passionate, vivid and thoughtful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 16).

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

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We’re nearly halfway through November, which so far has included gorgeous weather, serious election stress and (more) pandemic uncertainty. Here’s what I have been reading:

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, Luisana Duarte Armendariz
Nine-year-old Julieta is so excited – she gets to go to Paris to help her dad bring some valuable pieces from the Louvre back to Boston. But then a rare diamond is stolen. Julieta tries to help catch the thief – but she seems to make things worse. A cute middle-grade mystery with fun details about Paris and Boston (Julieta’s parents both work at the MFA).

This is My Brain in Love, I.W. Gregorio
Jocelyn Wu is trying to save her family’s Chinese restaurant from failure. Will Domenici just needs a summer job. But when he becomes Jocelyn’s first employee, they become friends – and maybe something more. A witty, sweet YA novel with two protagonists who both struggle with their mental health.

The Last Garden in England, Julia Kelly
When garden designer Emma Lovell is hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House, she unearths not only overgrown plants, but secrets: some related to the house and its family, some to the garden’s original designer, Venetia Smith. An engaging multi-timeline story about strong women fighting to make their own choices: Emma in 2021, Venetia in 1907, and three different women during World War II. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Holly Jackson
Pippa Fitz-Amobi has never believed that Sal Singh killed his girlfriend, Andie Bell. So when she needs a senior capstone project, she launches her own murder investigation with the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi. This was very Veronica Mars (though Pippa often has terrible judgment) – a real nail-biter, but a very effective distraction from election news.

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson
Amara is dying to go visit her dad’s family in Harlem for her 12th birthday – she’s never been to NYC, or met her cousins. But once she gets there, she has to deal with some unexpected friction. I loved this sweet middle-grade story about family, forgiveness and finding yourself in a new place.

Birds by the Shore, Jennifer Ackerman
I found this essay collection in September at the beautiful Bookstore of Gloucester. Ackerman shares quiet, keen-eyed observations about the wildlife (birds, yes, but also fish, crabs, invertebrates) and shifting microclimate of the Delaware shore. A little slow, but worthwhile.

Finding Refuge, Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Our society tends to see grief as an individual, linear process–but it has collective aspects, too, and it’s much messier than that. Johnson shares some of her own story and practices around processing grief. I applaud her premise, but the writing style was hard for me to follow (could be election brain). Includes meditations/journaling prompts. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski gets roped into (temporarily) coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old high school, she’s drawn into a web of other problems: poverty, teenage pregnancy, unsavory conditions at a couple of local manufacturing plants. This entry was intense (I shouldn’t have read it before bed!), but so compelling. I love this series.

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

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We’ve made it to Friday, and nearly to November – and it’s snowing, y’all. I’m joining my friend Jess in her #votedearlyreadathon to stay away from scrolling the news. Here’s what I have been reading:

Heather and Homicide, Molly MacRae
MacRae’s fourth Highland Bookshop mystery takes us back to Inversgail, where a true-crime writer is sniffing around a recent murder case. Heather (the writer) is likable, but odd – and when she’s found dead, both the police and the women who own the local bookshop have questions. A so-so plot, but I like retired librarian Janet Marsh and her colleagues. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow
Anne and others recommended this lushly written fantasy novel about January, a girl who discovers a Door to another world, which might also hold clues to her own history. The world-building is fun, but I found January really irritating, and the action took a while to pick up. Still enjoyable. Found at the Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

The Chanel Sisters, Judithe Little
Before Coco Chanel became a famous designer, she was simply Gabrielle: one of three sisters abandoned by their peddler father and left at a convent. Narrated by Gabrielle’s younger sister, Antoinette, this novel follows the girls as they struggle to make their own way, eventually opening Chanel Modes in Paris. I didn’t know anything about Ninette, but I enjoyed her voice. An engaging, sometimes tragic novel full of romance, fashion and gritty hard work. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Stella by Starlight, Sharon M. Draper
Stella mostly likes living in Bumblebee, North Carolina: she and her friends make their own fun, and stay away from the white folks. But then she spots a burning cross in the night, and her father and his friends are determined to go register to vote. Stella is a budding (if ambivalent) writer, and she tries to make sense of what she sees through words. Similar setting and thematic ground to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and full of warmth and heart.

Blacklist, Sara Paretsky
In the wake of 9/11, V.I. Warshawski accepts a simple-sounding surveillance job for a regular client’s elderly mother. But then she finds a dead black man – a reporter – in a nearby pond, and stumbles onto a nest of secrets. One of Paretsky’s most compelling novels yet: so much here about keeping up appearances, giving in to fear, racial profiling and more. Some startling parallels to our current moment.

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
I can’t remember where I heard about this essay collection, but I adored it. Thirty-one writers (like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Anthony Doerr) share childhood favorites, the foods that got them through grief and divorce and transition, and simple favorites. Warm and funny and delicious (with recipes!).

The Book of Longings, Sue Monk Kidd
“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.” This declaration begins Monk Kidd’s latest absorbing novel, which is lovely and wise and full of well-drawn characters, including Ana, her aunt Yaltha, her adopted brother Judas, and Jesus himself. This version of Jesus is fascinating and utterly human – and I loved Ana and her stalwart female friends.

Our Darkest Night, Jennifer Robson
I adore Robson’s novels about strong women in wartime, and devoured this one in a day. Antonina, a young Venetian Jewish woman, must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife to escape the Nazis. I especially loved watching Nina make friends with Rosa, her “husband’s” prickly sister, and discover her own strength. Powerful and at times heartbreaking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Love is All Around: And Other Lessons We’ve Learned from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Paula Bernstein
I am a longtime Mary Tyler Moore fan (I went through a serious phase a few years ago). I saw this book on the Bookshelf Thomasville’s Instagram feed and ordered it from them. It’s a fun, heartwarming look at how the show was a pioneer in its era of TV, the close-knit relationships among the characters, and the inspiration we all draw from Mary’s spunk and gumption (and very human struggles).

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident (which has a brand new website!), Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith. Support indie bookstores!

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We are halfway through September (tomorrow is my birthday), and I’m struggling to find a fall rhythm. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Laura Imai Messina
Since Yui lost her mother and her daughter in the 2011 tsunami, she has been paralyzed by grief. But then she hears about a phone booth in a garden by the sea: a place for people to come and talk to their lost loved ones. When she starts visiting the phone booth, Yui meets others who are grieving, and they form a kind of community. Lovely and poignant. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

Windy City Blues, Sara Paretsky
I flew through this collection of short stories featuring my favorite Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski. Many familiar characters – her neighbor, several friends – make appearances, and the cases are entertaining.

Her Last Flight, Beatriz Williams
In 1947, photographer Janey Everett heads to Spain in search of downed pilot Sam Mallory. What she finds there leads her to rural Hawaii, in search of the woman who was his flying partner and possibly his lover. Williams writes lush, satisfying historical fiction with wry dialogue, and I enjoyed this story.

Ways to Make Sunshine, Renée Watson
Ryan Hart, age 10, is juggling a lot: her family’s new (old) house, her fear of public speaking, her irritating older brother, the school talent show. But she’s smart, spunky and creative, and I loved watching her face her problems with grit and joy.

The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister
Boston, 1853: a wealthy Englishwoman recruits experienced trail guide Virginia Reeve and a dozen other women for an all-female Arctic expedition. A year later, Virginia is on trial for murder. Macallister expertly weaves together two timelines, delving into each woman’s viewpoint and building to a few terrible reveals. Compelling, if gruesome at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Switch, Beth O’Leary
Leena Cotton needs a break after blowing a big presentation at work. Her grandmother, Eileen, needs a change of scenery, too. So they switch lives: Leena goes to rural Yorkshire and Eileen goes to London. I loved watching these two women live each other’s lives: Leena dives headfirst into planning the May Day festival and Eileen discovers online dating, among other things. Sweet, warm and funny.

Evidence, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s poems have been keeping me company over breakfast this summer. This collection includes musings on flora and fauna, heartbreak and joy, and so much keen-eyed noticing. Lovely.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
I adore Doyle’s rambling joyous exuberant prose and “proems.” I once reviewed an anthology he had edited, and he sent me a lovely email about it. This posthumous collection of his essays is vintage Doyle: warmhearted, keen-eyed, sharp and sweet and compassionate.

In Praise of Retreat, Kirsteen Macleod
In our ultra-connected world, retreating is both frowned upon and immensely appealing. Macleod weaves her own story of various types of retreats (yoga ashrams, cabins in the woods) together with research and musings on retreat as a practice. Thoroughly researched and interesting, but reading this one during semi-quarantine was kind of a slog. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30, 2021).

By the Book, Amanda Sellet
Bookish Mary Porter-Malcolm knows all about the pitfalls awaiting young ladies who are trying to find eligible men. But when she’s thrust into the social politics of 21st-century high school, she starts to realize real life doesn’t always match the books. I loved this YA novel – Mary is both smart and endearingly clueless. Her big, loud family and professor parents were so much fun, and the dialogue is hilarious. Found at The Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

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

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Somehow, we’ve reached the end of August. I’ve been writing lots of haiku, running, riding bikes with my guy, and trying to figure out what the fall will look like. And reading, of course. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo of my current library stack.)

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Fiona Davis
I adore the stone lions outside the New York Public Library – Patience and Fortitude. Davis’ fifth novel links two women who have strong ties to the library (and each other), 80 years apart. I found both women compelling (and frustratingly naive, at times), and the mystery of several book thefts was clever and well done.

Riviera Gold, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell find themselves in Monaco, not quite by accident, after the departure of their longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Mary falls in with a group of expats and starts unraveling a mystery involving smuggling, White Russians, a bronze sculptor and (possibly) Mrs. Hudson herself. I love this series and this was a great new installment.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War, Delphine Minoui
For four years, the Syrian town of Daraya endured constant siege from Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Minoui, a French journalist living in Istanbul, heard about a secret library in Daraya and tracked down the founders: young men who believed in the power of reading and the potential for peace. This book traces their story and the multiple challenges the citizens of Daraya faced. Heartbreaking, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Mornings with Rosemary, Libby Page
I read this book when it was published (as The Lido) in 2018, thanks to a colleague’s review at Shelf Awareness. It’s the story of a community pool in Brixton, London, and two women who spearhead a campaign to save it from developers: Kate, a lonely young journalist, and Rosemary, age 86, who has been swimming at the lido all her life. I snagged a remainder copy at the Booksmith recently and loved rediscovering the characters – and the writing is so good.

An Irish Country Welcome, Patrick Taylor
I love Taylor’s warm, engaging series about a group of doctors in rural 1960s Ulster. In this visit to Ballybucklebo, Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are expecting their first child, while sectarian violence is rising nearby. A pleasant visit with familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo
I’ve loved Acevedo’s two previous YA novels, and this novel-in-verse is powerful. Two teenage girls – Camino in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira in New York City – discover they share a father only after he dies in a plane crash. They each struggle to come to terms with his death, the secrets it revealed, and their new relationship. Heartbreaking, sometimes wryly funny, and so good.

500 Miles from You, Jenny Colgan
After witnessing a violent death, nurse-practitioner Lissa is sent to rural Scotland on an exchange program, to help her recover. Cormac, who takes her place in London, is completely overwhelmed by his new surroundings. I loved watching the two of them fall for each other via email and text, and I enjoyed going back to Kirrinfief (this is Colgan’s third book set there). Warmhearted and fun.

Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. LeGuin
In 10 no-nonsense chapters, LeGuin lays out some of the basics of writing: sentences, sound, narrative voice, point of view. Packed with exercises and examples, but my favorite part is LeGuin’s wry, wise voice. Found at Trident.

Tunnel Vision, Sara Paretsky 
Just as V.I. Warshawski’s office building is condemned, she meets a homeless woman who may be hiding out there – and then another woman is murdered in V.I.’s office. Vic’s eighth adventure pits her, as usual, against corrupt local bigwigs while she’s fighting tooth and nail for justice. All her usual helpers – snarky journalist Murray, Viennese doctor Lotty, and her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras – show up, too. Grim at times, but so good.

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

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I posted this book stack the other day on Instagram – it was/is the result of a quick scan of my shelves, pulling off books by black authors that have been (for me) powerful and thought-provoking. Some are longtime favorites, some newer discoveries.

Like any book list, it is only a small beginning. I am reading and listening to black voices on social media: Osheta Moore, Austin Channing Brown, Well-Read Black Girl. I am ordering and placing library holds on books by black authors. I signed a NAACP petition calling for an independent investigation into the murder of George Floyd, and broader police reform. I donated to my local bail fund after more than 50 protesters were arrested this weekend in Boston.

None of this is “enough” or gets me off the hook for doing more. I share what I’ve been doing because so many of us white folks don’t know where to start. But we have to start, if we haven’t already. Until everyone is able to thrive in this country, the work will not be done. And we have to look hard at our own hearts – our biases and hesitation and fear – because the real work happens internally, too.

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We are halfway through April (how??), and I’m mostly able to focus on books again. The days feel both long and short and somehow suspended – time is moving differently, I suspect, for many of us. But I’m still reading, and here are the books I’ve been enjoying:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
Maggie’s poetry and “keep moving” notes speak right to my heart. This collection combines some of those notes with longer essays about dealing with loss, grief, upended expectations, and the surprising new spaces created by upheaval. She and I are both recently divorced, but I believe these essays will resonate with many people’s experiences. Wise and honest and so lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6 – it was originally May 5).

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime, Maggie Downs
Downs undertook a trip around the world as her mother was slipping into late-stage Alzheimer’s: she wanted to see and do all the things her mother never got to do. She has some rather harrowing adventures (and stays in lots of grubby hostels), but gains a few hard-won insights about her mother and herself. Compelling and moving, for fans of travel memoir and self-discovery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

American Royals, Katharine McGee
What if George Washington had been the first king of America? What would his 21st-century descendants look like, and how would they rule? That’s the premise of this fun YA novel (first in a series), which follows Princess Beatrice (future queen) and her siblings as they navigate the expectations that come with their crowns. Witty, juicy and so much fun – a perfect distraction for these times.

The Paris Hours, Alex George
Paris, 1927: the lives of four ordinary people intertwine on one extraordinary day. A struggling artist, an Armenian refugee, Marcel Proust’s former maid and a grieving journalist are all searching for different things, but their paths cross and recross in fascinating ways. With cameos by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and others. I have read a lot of Paris novels, and am glad I picked this one up: it was really engaging. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

Waterlight: Selected Poems, Kathleen Jamie
My friend Roxani has raved about Jamie’s essays, and I picked this poetry collection up at the library. Some of it, especially the poems written in Scots, didn’t really work for me, but some of them are melancholy and lovely.

Of Mutts and Men, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back on the case – this one involving a hydrologist who was murdered, a vineyard perched in a strange place, and a lawyer who might be up to something. Chet (the dog) is a great narrator, and I was so glad to escape into this series again. To (maybe) review for Shelf Awareness (out July 7).

Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
As a hurricane bears down on Key West in 1935, the paths of three very different women – Cuban newlywed Mirta, former New York society girl Elizabeth, and battered wife Helen – intersect in interesting ways. I like Cleeton’s fiction about the Perez family and this was a solid historical novel. (Also the first ebook I’d read in quite a while.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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