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The books (and the rest of life) are coming thick and fast this month, friends. (Photo from the wonderful Dogtown Books in Gloucester.)

Here’s what I have been reading:

Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Lewis is a minister and speaker dedicated to ubuntu – the Zulu concept of interdependence, humanity and compassion. She shares her own experience as a Black woman and a minister, and calls repeatedly for her readers to pursue both joy and justice. The parts about her own story resonated with me the most. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 9).

Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story: Remaking a Life from Scratch, Erin French
Annie recommended this memoir about food and love and mistakes and finding one’s way to a calling. I read it in two days – French’s writing is compelling, with lots of gorgeous food descriptions and some hard, honest reflection on her family and herself. Lovely.

The Parker Inheritance, Varian Johnson
I loved Johnson’s YA novel The Great Greene Heist. This (much more serious) middle-grade story follows two Black kids in a small Southern town who stumble on a mystery. What they dig up deals with sports, pervasive racism, an heirloom bracelet and a former tennis coach and his family who got run out of town decades ago. Compelling, though a bit confusing at times.

Castle Shade, Laurie R. King
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes find themselves in the depths of Roumania, investigating rumors of vampires (as one does). I loved this 17th installment in the series; it deals with village secrets, the effects of war and the challenge (for Russell and Holmes) of being married to a prickly, independent person. So fun.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina
Sixth grade is no joke for Merci Suarez – homework is getting tougher, the school’s queen bee has it out for her, and she can’t play soccer this year. Her beloved Lolo is also acting strange lately. I loved this warm, funny, thoughtful middle-grade novel about family and change and growing up.

Life is Like a Musical: How to Live, Love, and Lead Like a Star, Tim Federle
Former dancer and current writer/screenwriter Federle shares the wisdom he’s gained from a life in the theater. These bite-size essays are full of fun anecdotes and musical references, and basically boil down to: work hard, be a good person and celebrate when you can. Lots of fun.

The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Betweens to Remake the World, Kaya Oakes
Women often find themselves caught between conflicting expectations and even more complicated realities. Journalist Oakes examines the lives of women of faith – mostly women from the Bible, and saints – to make the point that feminine identity has always been transgressive and complicated. Thought-provoking– the chapters on “Barren” and “Alone” struck me especially. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 30).

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

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We are, somehow, at the end of August: poised on the edge of a new season, none of us quite sure what’s next. As we head into September, here’s what I have been reading:

Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Patricia Hanlon
I found this lovely memoir at Trident and dove in headfirst (ha). Hanlon and her husband frequently swim the creeks and salt marsh near their home north of Boston. She writes with a painter’s eye about color and seasons, and with concern about climate change. Lyrical and lovely.

Luck of the Titanic, Stacey Lee
Valora Luck has dreams of an acrobatic career with her twin brother, Jamie. But when she tries to board the Titanic, she learns Chinese people aren’t allowed in America. So Val stows away and tries to figure out a new plan. A fast-paced, compelling YA story inspired by real Chinese people on board the doomed ship.

The Guncle, Steven Rowley
Semi-retired actor Patrick loves being the fun “guncle” to his niece and nephew – occasionally. But when they come to spend the summer with him after losing their mother, it’s an adjustment for everyone. Took me a bit to get into this novel, but I ended up loving this funny, unusual family story. Recommended by Annie.

The Lost Spells, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
I love everything Macfarlane writes and adored this pocket-size, gorgeously illustrated book of acrostic “spells” about birds and beasts and flowers and trees. Utterly lovely.

A Match Made for Murder, Iona Whishaw
On their honeymoon in Arizona, Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling stumble onto a murder case – and some complications involving an old colleague of Darling’s. Meanwhile, back in King’s Cove, Sergeant Ames and his new constable are dealing with vandalism and murder. A wonderful installment in this great series. (I received a free copy from the publisher.)

On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed
I remember learning about Juneteenth as a child (like Gordon-Reed, I grew up in Texas), but it’s gotten national attention recently. These essays blend memoir with history about Texas independence and statehood, Black people in Texas and the Juneteenth holiday itself. Fascinating and so readable – I learned a lot.

The Shape of Thunder, Jasmine Warga
Cora and Quinn, former best friends, haven’t spoken in a year since a tragedy divided them. But then Quinn leaves Cora a birthday present that starts the girls on a journey toward time travel. A powerful, often heartbreaking book about grief and friendship, race and adolescence. Really well done.

Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, ed. Colleen Kinder
We all have them: those brief encounters with strangers that echo throughout our lives. Kinder, cofounder of Off Assignment magazine, collects 65 essays exploring that topic in this book. A lovely, often poignant, kaleidoscopic collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

Roll with It, Jamie Sumner
Ellie Cowan dreams of being a professional baker – but her problems (like being the kid in a wheelchair) are more immediate. When Ellie and her mom move to Oklahoma to help out her grandparents, Ellie finds some unexpected friends – and new challenges. A sweet, funny middle-grade novel that gets real about disability and prejudice.

Wholehearted Faith, Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu
Rachel (whom some of you may remember) was a passionate thinker, writer and speaker who wrestled mightily with faith, and insisted on God’s big, deep, ungraspable love. This, her last posthumous book for adults, is a collection of her writings on faith, doubt and Christian community. Jeff Chu did a masterful job of weaving her words together, and I loved the epilogue by Nadia Bolz-Weber. There’s some familiar and some new material, but it all sounds like Rachel. Warm, thoughtful and honest, just like her. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 2).

A Rogue’s Company, Allison Montclair
After solving a murder, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting back on its feet. But the arrival of a new African client and the return of Gwen’s tyrannical father-in-law from his travels spell trouble for Gwen and the bureau. An adventurous, witty installment in a really fun mystery series.

Eighty Days to Elsewhere, kc dyer
Travel-shy Romy Keene loves working at her uncles’ East Village bookstore. But when a new landlord threatens the shop, she takes off on a round-the-world adventure (trying to score a lucrative new job). The problem? The landlord’s nephew is her main competitor for the job – and he’s really cute. I found this one on the sale table at Trident and flew through it – so much fun, with some insights about travel and privilege.

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

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We’re halfway through April (how?) and the job hunt slog continues, while the neighborhood is starting to bloom. Here’s what I have been reading:

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
I read these books as a teenager (my dad loves them), but the charming new TV series inspired me to pick Herriot’s memoirs back up. I adored his dry wit and vivid descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales and their people, and I loved re-meeting characters from the TV show, like Tristan and Mrs. Pumphrey. Warm and comforting.

Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones longs to be a pilot like her daddy, but as a Black woman, she knows it’s a long shot. But when her brother gets sent to serve as a medic in the Philippines, Ida Mae decides to join the WASP. The catch? She’ll have to pass for white–a choice not only heartbreaking, but dangerous. I loved this YA novel with a brave heroine who’s determined to fly and struggles to find her place. Recommended by Anne (as part of a great list).

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, Kathrine Switzer
Switzer made history in 1967 with her Boston Marathon run–but that was only the beginning of her journey in racing, sports reporting and organizing for women’s sports. Her memoir is engaging, relatable, often funny and inspiring. I especially loved reading about the history of modern marathons like Boston and New York, and watching Switzer’s confidence grow.

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig
Claire “Neely” O’Neil opens a cake shop in her Ohio hometown after leaving her cheating football-star husband. But she’s dealing with not just the usual new-business-owner snags, but a mystery involving an antique ring and several local families. Both the plot and the characters were so-so. Delicious food descriptions, though.

Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up–and What We Make When We Make Dinner, Liz Hauck
Hauck and her dad had planned to start a cooking program for teens in a group home run by the agency he worked for. After his death at age 57, she decided to do it without him. This memoir chronicles her three years of cooking with and for a rotating cast of teenage boys dealing with all kinds of trauma and challenges. It’s vivid, moving and often funny. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 8).

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times In Between, Mari Andrew
I enjoy Mari’s whimsical illustrations and musings on life, love, travel and grief. This essay collection digs deeper into all those themes–plus loneliness, transitions, unexpected joys and more. So apt for right now.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, Alka Joshi
This sequel to Joshi’s The Henna Artist picks up with her main characters, Lakshmi (the artist) and Malik (her young protege), eight years later. Malik is apprenticing at a prestigious construction firm in Jaipur while Lakshmi runs a healing garden in Shimla. When the firm’s shiny new cinema suffers a collapse on opening night, Malik smells a rat and begins to investigate, digging up old and new secrets. Joshi’s storytelling is engaging, but I didn’t like this book as well as its predecessor. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 22).

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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We are halfway through March and it is SO cold – and it also feels like we have been in exactly the same place for a year. Sigh. But there are new books. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Transatlantic Book Club, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I enjoy Hayes-McCoy’s gentle novels about the fictional community of Finfarran on the west coast of Ireland. This one follows Cassie, a visitor from Canada, helping out her grieving grandmother Pat and starting a Skype book club with a town in upstate New York. Fun to see familiar characters again, and learn a bit about Pat’s past.

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul, Eric Maisel
I picked this one up (used) at the Booksmith and have been dipping in over many weeks. I miss travel (don’t we all?) but Maisel’s book is full of wise, practical nudges to prioritize your writing and write where you are.

Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl
After a high-risk pregnancy and delivering twins, Sarah Ruhl lost the ability to move one side of her face–for a decade. This memoir chronicles her struggle with Bell’s palsy and how it affected her sense of self, as well as her search for healing and her reflections on the personal and cultural implications of not being able to smile. Sharply observed; very dark in the middle, but ultimately thought-provoking and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

The Summer Seekers, Sarah Morgan
After fending off an intruder, former travel show host Kathleen decides she’s had enough of sitting at home. Much to her type-A daughter’s chagrin, Kathleen (age 80) hires a young woman to drive her on a road trip across the U.S. All three women learn a lot about themselves during the summer. Delightful and refreshing; my kind of cozy Brit lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 18).

Diana and the Island of No Return, Aisha Saeed
Princess Diana is excited about the annual festival on Themyscira, and getting to hang with her best friend. But the girls find themselves tangled up with a forbidden visitor (a boy) and a kidnapping attempt. I read this fun middle-grade adventure in one sitting; I love me some Wonder Woman.

A Peculiar Combination, Ashley Weaver
Electra “Ellie” O’Donnell is proud (if a bit conflicted) to be part of her family’s safecracking operation. But when she and her uncle are caught, and she’s offered some work with British intelligence in exchange for their freedom, she adjusts to a different kind of job. A whip-smart mystery from the author of the Amory Ames series; I loved Ellie and look forward to her next adventure. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 11).

The Parted Earth, Anjali Enjeti
1947: Deepa is happy with her life in New Delhi, but riots and hate fill the streets as Partition approaches. Her Muslim boyfriend, Amir, flees to Lahore with his family, and soon Deepa is forced to leave, too. Decades later, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan tries to piece together her family’s story. Heartbreaking and thought-provoking; I learned a lot about Partition. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Julie Wassmer
I stumbled on this series while searching for something else – but I love a good British mystery, and this one is so fun. Pearl owns an oyster restaurant in Whitstable and is also trying to start an investigative agency. When two men are murdered during the annual Oyster Festival, she starts sleuthing, alongside a police inspector. I liked the characters and would read more of this series.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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We’re halfway through February and it’s snowing (again). I’ve been hunkering down with all the good books – here’s what I have been reading:

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Laura Taylor Namey
Lila Reyes has big plans to take over her abuela’s bakery in Miami. But when three big griefs hit her at once, her family ships her off to Winchester, England, for the summer. Determined to be miserable, Lila nevertheless finds herself giving a Cuban twist to British pastries and making new friends – including a dreamy boy. I loved this sweet YA novel with its mashup of Miami and England.

New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time, Craig Taylor
I’ve been reading e-galleys since March (one of the many changes wrought by the pandemic). But y’all, I got a print galley of this collection of interviews with the unsung heroes who make up New York: elevator repairmen, bodega managers, homeless people, nannies, ICU nurses, aspiring actors and singers, cops and firefighters. Joyous, cacophonous, loud, varied and wonderful. (Can you tell I miss NYC?) To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 23).

All the Greys on Greene Street, Laura Tucker
Twelve-year-old Olympia, known as Ollie, loves hanging out at her dad’s art restoration studio and sketching everything in her neighborhood. But when her dad disappears with a valuable piece of art, and her mom goes to bed and won’t get up, Ollie and her two best friends have to figure out what to do next. A vivid, sensitive, compelling middle-grade adventure set in 1980s SoHo.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy
I found Savoy’s work in Kathryn Aalto’s Writing Wild, and Roxani also recommended her. This is a thoughtful, layered exploration of how family and national histories are bound up with the land itself, and how race and silence and erasure all play roles. Savoy is mixed-race, with roots in several parts of the country, and she weaves her own story in with several deep dives into the physical landscape. So good.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May
Everyone seems to be reading this book right now, amid our endless pandemic winter. May writes honestly and thoughtfully about her own personal winters–chronic illness, her son’s anxiety, job angst–as well as physical winter and the way different cultures deal with it. I found some nuggets of wisdom to be more illuminating than the whole. Quiet and very worthwhile.

In a Book Club Far Away, Tif Marcelo
I enjoy Marcelo’s warmhearted fiction about strong women. This book features Adelaide, Sophie and Regina, three former military spouses (Regina is also a veteran) who met at a past posting in upstate New York. Ten years later, Adelaide sends her friends (now estranged from each other) an SOS. Sharing a house for two weeks, the three women must confront each other and their past secrets. Very relatable; by turns funny and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Beth Morrey
Millicent Carmichael, age 79, spends her days mostly alone, mourning her losses: estranged daughter, absent husband, son and grandson in Australia. But then an acquaintance asks her to look after a dog, and gradually, everything changes. Missy’s loneliness was hard to read about sometimes–it struck so close to home–but I loved the characters, especially Missy’s friend Angela, and watching Missy gradually open herself up to connection.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages, Cate Doty
Former society reporter Doty takes us inside the world of writing wedding announcements for The New York Times. Along the way, she muses on her own early obsession with weddings (influenced by her Southern roots), her doomed early-twenties love story, and the onetime coworker who became (spoiler) her lifelong love. Witty, warmhearted and at times juicy (though she doesn’t name names). So fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Last Bookshop in London, Madeline Martin
Grace Bennett has never been a great reader. But when she moves to London with her best friend in pursuit of a new life, she lands a position at a dusty bookshop. As Grace seeks to improve the store’s sales, the Blitz comes to London, and she and her new circle of acquaintances must dig deep to find the courage to get through. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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We are (almost) at the end of January, and it has felt so long (and cold!). But as always, the books are helping me get through. Here’s what I have been reading:

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
I’ve been hearing about this novel for years and finally picked it up as part of my ongoing efforts to read more Black voices. It’s a powerful collection of linked stories tracing the different destinies of two half sisters, Effia and Esi, and their descendants in Ghana and the U.S. Heavy and thought-provoking.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Sonali Dev
Trisha Raje is a brilliant neurosurgeon who has to tell Emma, an artist patient, that a lifesaving surgery will cause her to go blind. Emma’s brother, DJ Caine, is a talented chef who caters several events for Trisha’s wealthy, close-knit family. Trisha and DJ give each other all kinds of wrong impressions, but are forced to reexamine their assumptions. I loved the gender-swapped nods to Pride & Prejudice, the complex dynamics of Trisha’s family, and the fierce dedication to work and family displayed by all the main characters. Recommended by Vanessa.

March Sisters: On Life, Death and Little Women, Kate Bolick et al.
As a longtime fan of Little Women, I expected to enjoy these essays about the March sisters much more than I did. They were well written, but felt forced, and (except for Beth’s) seemed to focus on less significant aspects of each character.

Hope Rides Again, Andrew Shaffer
Joe Biden and Barack Obama are back chasing down criminals, this time on the mean streets of Chicago. When Obama’s BlackBerry is stolen, Joe tracks down the thief, but quickly realizes he might be in over his head. Funny and very meta; the mystery plot was thin, but I read this for the bromance and the laughs.

The Fixed Stars, Molly Wizenberg
I adore Wizenberg’s first foodie memoir, A Homemade Life, and enjoyed her second, Delancey. This one is quite different: an exploration of how her sexuality shifted and what that meant for her life and marriage. She’s an excellent writer, and the parts about her divorce and soul-searching are well done. But I agree with my pal Jaclyn – some other parts felt too personal, even voyeuristic. Complicated, but still worthwhile.

Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev
Chef Ashna Raje is struggling to keep her father’s restaurant afloat, when her cousin (Trisha – see above) convinces her to compete on a potentially lucrative reality show. The catch? Her celebrity partner on the show is her estranged first love, footballer Rico Silva – and they’ve got 12 years of secrets sitting between them. I really enjoyed this Persuasion retelling (and sequel-of-sorts to Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors), though there was a lot of trauma (especially for Ashna) that never quite got properly dealt with.

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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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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