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I’m a longtime fan of Rachel Bertsche’s fun blog, MWF Seeking BFF, and have been eagerly anticipating her book by the same name. I was jazzed when I won an ARC through Goodreads, and immediately emailed my editor at Shelf Awareness begging to review it. “I read her blog and am so excited to read this book,” I wrote. “Is that a conflict of interest?” Marilyn responded, “No – that’s just interest!”

Spotting the book "in the wild"

So I read it, loved it and sent in my review (which appeared as my first starred review in Shelf Awareness!). And last week, Rachel came to Boston for the first leg of her book tour, and we met up for lunch. And I fell in friend-love.

Our conversation was like one long continuous sentence – topics crisscrossing and doubling back, both of us saying, “Oh! That makes me think of…” or “I thought of you when I saw…” several times. It felt more like a good gab with an old friend than a first meeting with someone I’d never seen before. (Which I suppose it was – we’ve tweeted and emailed for months.) I could have sat there and talked with her over Thai food all afternoon – but I had to get back to work, so I hugged her goodbye (I am a hugger, so I love it when my new friends are too).

That night, I headed to Brookline Booksmith to watch Rachel give her first reading ever. And judging by the packed house and the fact that they sold OUT of books, I’d say it was a huge success.

I’m kicking myself that we didn’t get a picture together – but we had a glorious lunch, and she signed my book, and then we met up with Lindsey the next morning for coffee before Rachel had to jet off to New York. The whole experience was just lovely – it’s such a treat to meet online friends in person, and discover that they’re just as delightful as you thought they were.

I’m posting my Shelf Awareness review of Rachel’s book below, and would urge you to buy it, if you’re looking for a fun, thoughtful read about friendship.*

Review: MWF Seeking BFF

When Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally live in the same city as her boyfriend. But since she left most of her friends behind in New York, she needs to find some local pals, stat.

Longing for a BFF to call for brunch or a pedicure, or a gossip partner to dissect the latest pop-culture news, Bertsche goes on 52 friend-dates – one per week for a year. She scours her existing network for potential friends-of-friends, then branches out to joining an improv class, forming a cooking club, and even going on a mortifying “date” with a “Rent-a-Friend.” As she sizes up potential BFFs, Bertsche also delves into research on friendship – from how a person’s number of friends affects her health to how our ultra-connected culture can propagate loneliness and isolation.

Throughout her quest, Bertsche’s self-deprecating humor shines through as she recounts her adventures and admits that meeting girls, juggling schedules and maintaining new relationships can be exhausting. (Comparisons with dating memoirs are inevitable here, and Bertsche wonders: why isn’t there a better vocabulary for making friends?)

By the end of her Year of Friending, Bertsche has a slew of new phone numbers, several promising relationships, and a renewed sense of confidence and warmth – because acting friendlier has actually made her a better friend. As they cheer Bertsche on in her quest, readers will appreciate the friends they have and even pick up useful – and entertaining – tips for finding new friends of their own.

*(I don’t get any compensation for urging you to buy Rachel’s book – I just think it’s great!)

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When Book Club Girl announced her read-along of the Maisie Dobbs series back in December, I was intrigued. Usually I’ve at least heard of popular series even if I haven’t read them, but somehow Maisie and her creator, Jacqueline Winspear, had escaped my notice. I found the first book in the series at the Brattle, took it as a sign and bought it – and well, I was hooked. You might say I’m “mad for Maisie.”

I’ve spent a good part of this winter following Maisie’s adventures around 1920s/1930s London, with frequent trips to Kent and occasional ventures to France and other locales. She’s a psychologist and private investigator, and she is smart, strong, independent and determined – one of a generation of women who survived the Great War and then built their own lives in new and unexpected ways.

The books are full of fascinating period detail, from clothes to accents to social mores, and the supporting cast of characters is rich and compelling. (I especially love Billy Beale, Maisie’s cheerful Cockney assistant; Frankie Dobbs, her steadfast, loving father; and Priscilla, her socialite college chum who has her own demons to fight.) As much historical fiction as mystery, these books are filling an important gap for me; I hadn’t read much fiction about World War I and its aftermath until lately. (Except Rilla of Ingleside, which has done more for my understanding of the Great War than any other book, fiction or nonfiction.)

Jacqueline Winspear came recently to the Harvard Book Store to read from the latest Maisie adventure, A Lesson in Secrets. I talked my sweet husband into coming straight from work on a Friday night to hear an author whose books he hasn’t read, and bless him, he agreed, and even enjoyed himself. As for me? I was in heaven.

Like any author worth her salt, Ms. Winspear didn’t give away the plot of her new book – fortunately for me, since I hadn’t yet read it. Instead, she talked about a few of the threads weaving through the whole series, including the legacy of the Great War in England, the shifting social mores of the time, a bit of family history (her grandparents bore scars, physical and otherwise, from the war), and her own interest in secrets and mysteries. And then, in her clear, pleasant English accent, she read us a brief passage from A Lesson in Secrets. I was spellbound. I wish I could have written down every word.

I did speak with her briefly afterward, feeling tongue-tied (as I always do when I meet authors I admire), but managing to tell her I love her work, and mention my time in Oxford, as she signed a couple of books for me and one for a friend. And I didn’t tell her this, but it’s true: next time she’s on a Maisie tour, I hope she comes back this way.

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