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Posts Tagged ‘family’

We’re 10 days into June and the books are flowing – which is just how I like it. Here’s what I have been reading:

City of Flickering Light, Juliette Fay
Desperate to escape a cruel employment situation, three young people jump off a moving train and make their way to Hollywood. Fay’s novel follows sensible Irene, guileless but thoughtful Millie, and dependable Henry as they navigate the sparkle and grit of 1920s Tinseltown. I flew through this in two days – it was captivating.

Dear Martin, Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is a top student at a tony Atlanta prep school. But none of that matters when he encounters a police officer, or when his best friend gets shot – the police (and most of the public) only care that they’re Black. A thoughtful, compelling YA novel about race, first love and navigating friendships, with some parallels to The Hate U Give.

An Old, Cold Grave, Iona Whishaw
It’s early spring and the Hughes ladies are cleaning out their root cellar when they stumble on a child’s skeleton. Who was the child, and how did he/she get buried there? The local police ask Lane Winslow to help investigate. This third mystery digs into the complex relationships in King’s Cove, and delves into the mutual attraction between Lane and Inspector Darling. So thoughtful and well plotted.

The Queen Bee and Me, Gillian McDunn
Shy Meg has always been happy to live in her best friend Beatrix’s shadow. But both girls are changing as they go through middle school. When Meg takes a science elective on her own and makes friends with a quirky new girl, Beatrix is not pleased. A warm, honest middle-grade story of tricky friendships and learning to stand up for yourself.

Fortune Favors the Dead, Stephen Spotswood
Willowjean “Will” Parker is a circus girl working a side gig when she meets intrepid investigator Lillian Pentecost. Will becomes Lillian’s apprentice, and together the two crack some tough cases in 1940s New York City. A smart, hard-boiled noirish mystery with a sassy, slangy narrator. Lots of fun.

Dial A for Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutanto
When photographer Meddelin “Meddy” Chan accidentally kills her blind date, she calls her mother and three aunts to help her move the body. Unfortunately, all five women are in the middle of a big wedding weekend, which could be huge for their family business. A hilarious, zany story featuring complex Chinese-Indonesian family dynamics, a sweet love story and some insight about claiming your own independence. An impulse buy at Target and totally worth it.

Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest, Trina Moyles
Writer and development worker Trina Moyles loved her childhood in rural Canada, but she never expected to find herself spending summers as a fire lookout. This is the story of Moyles’ journey deep into the woods, her first few summers there, and the challenges and beauty she found. Gorgeous, insightful writing and vivid characters – I loved Holly the tower dog and Trina’s lookout neighbors. One of my faves of 2021. Found at the wonderful Sundog Books in Seaside, FL.

The Memory Keeper, Jennifer Camiccia
Lulu Carter, almost 13, has a highly unusual memory: she can remember specific details from every day in her life. As Lulu’s memory sharpens, her beloved Gram seems to be losing hers, so Lulu and her friends dig into Gram’s past to see if they can help. Funny and sweet, with tons of information about the brain and a sensitive handling of tough family stories. Also found at Sundog Books.

The Paris Connection, Lorraine Brown
Hannah and her boyfriend Si are traveling from Venice to Si’s sister’s wedding in Amsterdam, when the train uncouples in the middle of the night and takes Hannah to Paris. She spends the day with Leo, a handsome but irritating (aren’t they always?) French guy who is also stranded. The day, and Leo, prompt her to rethink her life. A sweet rom-com with some deep introspection on Hannah’s part and lots of lovely Paris details. To review for Shelf Awareness out Aug. 24).

All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Herriot
In this third volume of his memoirs, Herriot has signed up for the RAF and spends a lot of his time in training immersed in thoughts of Yorkshire. I remembered a few moments in this book from reading it 20 years ago, but most of it was fresh to me. Witty, warm and so comforting.

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

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I rewatched While You Were Sleeping around Christmastime – which is when I usually watch it, since it takes place during Christmas week. I cracked up at all the best lines – “These mashed potatoes are so creamy!” “New Year’s Eve hasn’t been the same since Guy Lombardo died!” “I got Ice Capades!” – and reveled in the happy cacophony of the Callaghan family’s holiday celebrations. But this time, I was focused on a different aspect of the story: the loneliness.

When the movie opens, Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock’s character) sits all day in a CTA booth taking subway tokens from strangers. She’s single, childless, without family since her dad’s passing, and her boss is asking her (again) to work on Christmas. Although she spends a lot of the movie interacting with the Callaghans (and trying to figure out how to tell them she’s not actually engaged to their comatose son), there are a number of scenes where she’s alone in her apartment, with her cat and the Christmas tree that broke the window early in the film. She’s so desperate for connection that she goes along with a lie, and nearly ends up marrying the wrong man just so she can be part of a family.

I read an article this winter about how While You Were Sleeping is the perfect movie for a pandemic: many of us, like Lucy, have spent the past year missing the communities we used to have (or wanted to have, or thought we were supposed to have). Lucy has never been part of a big family, but she’s thrilled to be welcomed into the Callaghan clan. She accepts hugs, chokes on Christmas eggnog, and cradles her wrapped present as the others tear into theirs; having spent years starved for community, she doesn’t want to miss savoring even a moment of it.

That scene made me well up: after I’ve spent so much of the past 14-ish months alone in my apartment, Lucy’s loneliness hit much closer to home. I have been grateful for every scrap of community I’ve found this year, including my online writing class, the few neighborhood friends I’ve been seeing, and in-person time with my sweet guy. But I have missed other connections: time with my family; in-person interactions with coworkers and other friends; the chance to build on new neighborhood relationships I had just started forming when the pandemic hit.

Ultimately, Lucy – and I – must make some choices about the kind of community that’s really worth pursuing. She decides, in the end, to tell the truth rather than end up married to a man she doesn’t love (and barely knows), even if that means losing the family she’s recently gained. As I continue to navigate life post-divorce (and as we all emerge slowly from the pandemic), I have to make choices, too. Which relationships are worth continuing to foster, and which ones do I need to let go? Was I hanging onto some connections – or the idea of them – long past their sell-by date? Where I can I find, or continue to seek, community that lets me be seen and loved?

After New Year’s, Lucy gets her happy ending – including a honeymoon to Florence with her beloved Jack. I’m hopeful, these days, that more connection is coming for me, too. But I think it’s worth remembering that loneliness isn’t limited to times of great isolation, and that we can all work to provide (and ask for) connections to those we love or those we encounter. (It is also, of course, worth remembering that Argentina has great beef, that Guy Lombardo didn’t play the clarinet, and that John Wayne was tall.)

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Hi friends. April is nearly over, and I’m back from a stint of dog-sitting in Cambridge (down the street from my beloved Darwin’s, so of course I treated myself – see above).

Here’s what I have been reading:

The 24-Hour Cafe, Libby Page
I adore Page’s debut novel, Mornings with Rosemary, and finally ordered this one from my beloved Blackwell’s in Oxford because it’s not out in the U.S. It follows Hannah and Mona, flatmates and friends who work at the titular cafe and are each facing career crossroads (Hannah is a singer, Mona a dancer). It’s lovely and bittersweet – Page really digs into the complexities of female friendship – and I loved glimpsing the lives of their colleagues and customers, too.

God Spare the Girls, Kelsey McKinney
Pastor’s daughter Caroline Nolan has always lived in the shadow of her adored big sister, Abigail. But she’s starting to question both her faith and the rules of the community she grew up in. When the sisters find out their father has had an affair–weeks before Abigail’s wedding–they retreat to their grandmother’s ranch. McKinney is a fellow transplanted Texan and she writes so well about summer heat and tangled church politics. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 22).

A Woman of Intelligence, Karin Tanabe
Katharina “Rina” Edgeworth speaks four languages, has a graduate degree from Columbia – and is bored stiff with her life as a Manhattan society wife. When she’s recruited by the FBI to work as an informant, she says yes so she can find a purpose again. An interesting, complicated novel in McCarthy-era New York; Rina’s inner journey is stronger than the external plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 20).

How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, ed. James Crews
I found this lovely anthology at the beginning of April and have savored its entries about delights, gratitude, family, the natural world and other loveliness. Poignant and lovely. (I wanted more poems from poets of color, but know I need to seek them out on my own.)

Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor, Anna Qu
As a teenager, Qu was forced to work in her family’s Manhattan sweatshop, and treated as a maid at home. She eventually calls child services on her mother, and as an adult, tries to piece together the fragments of her growing-up years. This was powerful at times but felt really disjointed; parts of the narrative seemed to be missing. I received an ARC from the publisher; it’s out Aug. 11.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Herriot
This second volume of Herriot’s memoirs picks up when he’s a newlywed and hitting his stride in veterinary practice. I love the familiar characters – Siegfried, Tristan, Helen – and the local folk they encounter. Charming and gentle.

You Have a Match, Emma Lord
Abby sent away for a DNA test in solidarity with her best friend, Leo, who’s searching for info about his birth family. But Abby’s the one who ends up with a surprise sister – Instagram sensation Savannah. They all head to summer camp and shenanigans ensue: tree-climbing, kitchen duty, family secrets and first love. This was my post-vaccine impulse buy at Target and I regret nothing. So much fun.

A Killer in King’s Cove, Iona Whishaw
After World War II, former intelligence agent Lane Winslow has moved to rural British Columbia for some peace and quiet. She’s just getting to know her neighbors when a stranger comes to town and ends up dead – and she’s a suspect. I loved this smart first entry in a series and will definitely read more.

Blue Horses, Mary Oliver
This was one of the only Oliver collections I hadn’t read. I loved spending a few mornings with late-life Mary and her keen, unsentimental eye. She writes so well about nature: its beauty, its darkness, its details.

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

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Notions

Look at the silver lining, they say.
But what if, instead,
I pluck it off
and use that tensile strand to bind
myself to those things I do not 
want to lose sight of.

Families knit together by evening walks,
board games, laughter. 
The filament fixing us to friends
no matter the distance apart.
A braid of gratitude for small kindnesses.
The thin gauge wire of loss.

Let me twist that lining 
around my finger, 
it’s silvery glint a reminder 
of just how quickly life can change. 
I will remember to love more.
I will remember to give more.

I will remember to be still

I will knot the string tightly. 
So it won’t slip away.
So I won’t forget.

I found Paula’s poem in the anthology How to Love the World, and was struck by the idea of silver linings becoming tangible. You can read more of her poetry on her Facebook page.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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How is it the end of March already? Then again, we’ve been stuck in a strange time warp for a year. Here’s what I have been reading:

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, Clint Smith III
Poet and educator Clint Smith visits eight locations with deep ties to the history of slavery, to explore how the U.S. has (and has not) reckoned with the brutality and the deep scars. He’s such a good writer–this book is thoughtful, clear and evocative, though obviously heavy, given the subject matter. Highly recommended. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 1).

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing, Jacqueline Winspear
I love Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs mystery series. This memoir chronicles her childhood in rural Kent, but also explores her family dynamics and the effects of two wars on her elders (a theme she continually returns to in her novels). Elegant, thoughtful and full of rich period detail.

84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
A friend mentioned the lovely film adaptation of this book and I pulled out my old copy, above (bought at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, years ago). Hanff struck up a friendship with the booksellers at Marks & Co. in London, and their letters make for warm, amusing reading. So much fun.

You Go First, Erin Entrada Kelly
Charlotte’s dad just had a heart attack. Ben’s parents are getting a divorce. Through their online Scrabble game, they help each other navigate a seriously tough week (plus the usual middle school ugh). This was cute, but I wanted more from the connection between the characters.

A Deadly Inside Scoop, Abby Collette
Bronwyn Crewse is thrilled to be reopening her family’s ice cream shop. But when a dead body turns up and her dad is a prime suspect, she turns her attention to amateur sleuthing. This premise was cute, but Win’s best friend Maisie, who helps her solve the case, was seriously obnoxious. So-so, in the end.

Murder-on-Sea, Julie Wassmer
It’s nearly Christmas in Whitstable, and Pearl Nolan is juggling work and holiday plans when several of her neighbors receive nasty Christmas cards and ask her to investigate. The plot of this one was so-so, but I like Pearl and her cast of supporting characters.

Perestroika in Paris, Jane Smiley
I adored this charming tale about a curious filly–Paras, short for Perstroika–who noses out of her stall one night and finds her way to Paris. She joins up with Frida, a savvy dog; Raoul, a voluble raven; a pair of ducks and a lonely young boy, Etienne. A delight from start to finish.

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

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Casual weeknights around the table: spaghetti, chicken, pizza or takeout Chinese. The kids (and Chloe the cat) drift in and out. We watch videos, laugh, and I’m part of a family. 

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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My antiracist reading list this summer includes some of the usual suspects (White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, among others). But just as crucially, I’ve been spending time with Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan family.

Outspoken, whip-smart Cassie Logan entered my life in the fourth grade, when I first discovered her story in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Unusually for Depression-era Mississippi, Cassie’s tightly knit Black family owned their land, and the book tells of a year when they fought to keep it. I adore Cassie and her brothers, their no-nonsense grandma and their wise, thoughtful parents. I remember extensive classroom discussions about racism, and it was also important for me to encounter a Black protagonist who was not a slave.

Back then, I also read and loved Taylor’s powerful sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken. I’ve reread both books this summer, and they are as rich and compelling now as they were 25 years ago. But there’s more to their story, and I’ve been relishing and learning from the new-to-me chapters of the Logan family saga.

Taylor’s 2001 prequel, The Land, chronicles the childhood of Cassie’s biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan, and his quest to acquire his own land. Born to a plantation owner and a slave woman, Paul-Edward has to reckon with his heritage and make his own way, and he does both with strength and spirit. I also picked up The Road to Memphis, which follows the teenage Cassie, her brother Stacey and several friends as they spirit a friend out of town after a racially charged altercation with three white men. (Bonus: the reissued paperbacks feature covers by 2020 Caldecott Medalist Kadir Nelson, who recently illustrated a New Yorker cover featuring George Floyd.)

Taylor’s concluding Logan novel, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, picks up Cassie’s story in adulthood. She travels the country as part of the postwar Great Migration, finds both love and grief in California, and goes back home to Mississippi to participate in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Taylor returns to her perennial themes of justice, equality, fierce pride and the Logans’ deep love for their land and one another. Their strength and dignity in the face of discrimination are a potent reminder that Black people have suffered long enough: it’s time for white Americans to do better.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week. I love the Logans and I highly recommend these books for older kids and adults alike. 

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tif-marcelo-book-dinner

We’re halfway through May (how??), and while I am not nearly halfway through my long-unread stacks, I’ve been working through some of them. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a Sunset, Tif Marcelo
I really enjoyed Marcelo’s previous novel, The Key to Happily Ever After, and I liked this one, too. D.C.-based ob/gyn Diana Gallagher-Cary heads to the Philippines after a work crisis to investigate her family history. Her free-spirited photographer mother and various relatives and friends help Diana navigate a series of epiphanies. Lush descriptions of the Philippines, and several engaging subplots.

House Lessons: Renovating a Life, Erica Bauermeister
I love Bauermeister’s delicious, warmhearted novels, so was excited for this memoir about renovating a trash-filled house in Port Townsend, WA. She weaves together anecdotes about the physical house – staircases, windows, light fixtures – and learning to navigate her marriage and motherhood, and see herself, in new ways. Lovely and insightful.

Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie
The good folks at West Margin Press sent me this book after I wrote a Shelf Awareness column about women in Alaska, last year. Murie spent many years in Alaska, first as a young person and then with her biologist husband, Olaus. Her memoir describes some of their travels in detail, and oh my, it is lovely. Clear-eyed descriptions of birds, wildlife and flowers, and so much joy and wonder in the natural world. I’m so glad I kept it all this time, and finally read it.

Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig
This novel has sat on my shelf since last summer (!) – and I finally picked it up after loving The Whistling Season. Donal Cameron, age 11, is packed off to his great-aunt in Wisconsin when his grandmother has to have surgery. After enduring several maddening weeks, Donal and his great-uncle, Herman the German, head back to Montana on the Greyhound bus and have all sorts of adventures. A rollicking tale of adventure, and so much fun.

The Key Lime Crime, Lucy Burdette
It’s nearly New Year’s in Key West, and food critic Hayley Snow is juggling her new husband, her enigmatic mother-in-law, her octogenarian roommate and a local key lime pie competition. Things get stickier when one of the chef-contestants ends up murdered. I like this cozy mystery series following Hayley’s foodie adventures. To possibly review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 11).

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

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Several years ago, when my sister had her first baby, I knitted a surprise for his first Christmas: three ornaments in the shape of Weasley sweaters, each with a monogrammed initial, of course. Even my brother-in-law, who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, was delighted, and they’ve hung on the tree every year since.

Harrison, my second nephew, was born two and a half years later, and every December since then I’ve gotten a text from my sister, reminding me: we need another Weasley sweater. (She’s not a knitter, but she is excellent at reminding people about stuff.)

I finally got my act together this year and made Harrison his own Weasley sweater, to match the other three. I’d forgotten how easy and fun they are to knit. And how cute the final result is.

I’m thinking I need to knit myself one to hang on my own tree – maybe next year. (Also in Gryffindor colors, of course.)

In case you’re wondering, the pattern is from Alison Hansel’s Charmed Knits, though I used another knitter’s mods to make them top-down instead of knitting them in pieces and seaming them. Much easier, and so cute.

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