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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

id rather be reading book flowers Anne bogel

I’m not quite sure how September is half over (I say this every month), but here’s the latest reading roundup. I’ll be linking up with Anne Bogel and others for Quick Lit, and in a moment of serendipity, the first book is hers…

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend (and we met IRL in NYC a couple of years ago). She sent me a copy of her brand-new book of essays on reading and the bookworm life. As expected, it was delightful, and I saw myself in many of its pages. A perfect gift for the book fanatic in your life.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch may finally get to marry her intended, Darcy – but, of course, a spot of murder will intervene first. I’ve enjoyed this series, but this wasn’t my favorite entry: several key characters were largely offstage, and the mystery was confusing. Still, Georgie and her world are a lot of fun.

The Endless Beach, Jenny Colgan
Flora MacKenzie is trying to make a go of both her seaside cafe and her brand-new relationship. But as she prepares for her brother’s wedding and tries to balance accounts, she’s facing romantic trouble too. The setting (the Scottish island of Mure) is enchanting, but I was far more interested in the secondary characters, including a Syrian refugee doctor, than Flora or her (irritating) boyfriend.

Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found, Bella Bathurst
Bathurst is a British journalist who lost much of her hearing in her mid-20s, and dove into all sorts of research about hearing loss, deaf culture and remedies for deafness. She has since regained much of her hearing via surgery. This slim memoir was slow to start, but was a fascinating look at various aspects of sound, listening, audiology and the simple things hearing people take for granted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 2).

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy, a young black couple in Atlanta, are newly married and on their way up the career ladder when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The book traces their relationship over the next five years, until Roy gets out of prison (early) and they both must reckon with the changes those years have wrought. I read this novel with my heart in my throat; powerful and stunning don’t quite do it justice. It speaks with equal potency to this racial moment and to the inner intricacies of a marriage.

Little Big Love, Katy Regan
This was an impulse grab at the library, and I loved it: a big-hearted, funny, bittersweet British novel about a boy named Zac who goes on a quest to find his dad. It’s narrated by Zac; his mum, Juliet; and Juliet’s dad, Mick. All three of them are hiding secrets. It weaves together themes of family, loss, fitness and body image, and love in many of its forms.

The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ elegant novels about love and secrets, often involving the sprawling, blue-blood Schuyler family. This one takes place on Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound: the story of a fateful summer and all that came after. An engaging story of love and jealousy and murder, though Miranda (the main character) struck me as a bit passive.

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, Kayleen Schaefer
Women are often stereotyped as catty and competitive – but for many of us, female friendship is a saving and sustaining grace. Schaefer explores the evolution of female friendship over the last half century or so, via her own experience and a bit of sociology. I liked her honesty and enjoyed a lot of her modern-day references, but wanted more context (and more diversity).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
My husband read this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve never heard him laugh so hard over anything he’s read. So I picked it up and blazed through it in a day. It was…baffling. There were some truly funny moments, but overall it wasn’t quite my bag.

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

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thought bookstore shelf books nbc

August has flown. Between two back-to-back weekends away and starting a new job, I don’t know where I am half the time these days.

The books, as always, are helping preserve what sanity I have. (Bookshelf photo from Spoonbill & Sugartown, snapped on my recent Williamsburg trip.)

Here’s the latest roundup:

Smoke and Iron, Rachel Caine
The Great Library‘s grip on power is slipping, but its leaders can still do a lot of damage. Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have hatched a crazy plan to bring them down. A fast-paced, compelling addition to a great series: I love the way several characters have grown into themselves. So curious to see how Caine will wrap it up in the next book.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Before Khan-Cullors was an activist, she was a young black girl trying to love and live in a world that often didn’t want her to do either. She weaves her own story together with the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her account of her brother Monte’s suffering at the hands of law enforcement is especially moving. The style didn’t always work for me, but this is a powerful and necessary story.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton
Elodie Winslow, an archivist in London, uncovers a mystery: an old photograph of a beautiful unknown woman, presumably associated with the painter Edward Radcliffe and Birchwood Manor, the house he loved. The narrative switches back and forth from the present day to various points in Birchwood’s (and the woman’s) history. Mysterious and atmospheric and quite odd, at times, but I enjoyed it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
I’ve been a Lamott fan since I discovered Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies as a college student. I haven’t loved her last few books as much, but thoroughly enjoyed this pithy, straight-shooting collection of essays on hope in a time of despair. Lamott is funny and wise, kind and honest, which is exactly what you’d hope for in such a collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 16).

Dear Mrs. Bird, AJ Pearce
The premise of this book is my catnip: plucky female British heroine having wartime adventures. Emmeline Lake takes a job working for Mrs. Bird, a no-nonsense advice columnist in London, and starts writing her own replies to the readers whose problems fall under Mrs. Bird’s idea of Unpleasantness. Predictably, a certain amount of chaos ensues. I loved Emmy and her best friend Bunty, and the story was charming.

This Side of Murder, Anna Lee Huber
England, 1919: Verity Kent, a young WWI widow, is trying to move forward with her life. When she’s invited to a house party with her late husband’s fellow officers, she finds coded messages, contention among the other guests, and murder. This one was so-so for me, though the mystery did compel me enough to keep reading.

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

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spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We’re halfway through August already (!) and I’m trying to hang on – and diving into all the books, naturally. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Natalie Goldberg
I heard Natalie read from this, her newest memoir, last month in Lenox, Mass. She was a delight, and this book about her journey with cancer contains both great pain and moments of joy. Short, lyrical chapters trace Natalie’s diagnosis, treatment and wrestling with her own mortality, all while her partner was also fighting cancer. I carried it in my bag for weeks, reading it slowly. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes lovely, fiercely honest all the way through.

Island of the Mad, Laurie R. King
When a college friend of Mary Russell’s asks Mary to locate her missing aunt, Russell and Holmes find themselves wandering Venice, which (in 1925) is brimming with both carefree aristocrats and grim Blackshirts. I love Russell’s narrative voice – so smart and insightful. The case and the elaborate parties (and Cole Porter!) are extremely diverting.

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster, Stephen L. Carter
Few people know that a black female lawyer – Eunice Hunton Carter – was part of the team that took down NYC mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Stephen Carter – her grandson – sets out to tell her remarkable story. A deeply researched, insightful biography of an extraordinary woman. (I also enjoyed Carter’s novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln a few years back.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Tango Lessons, Meghan Flaherty
Flaherty first fell in love with tango as a teenager visiting Argentina, but it took her years to try it for herself. She chronicles her journey into New York’s tango scene, and the ways tango has challenged her ideas about dance, desire, taking risks and many other things. Well written and engaging, if occasionally too self-conscious.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I picked up this old favorite and fell instantly back in love with Francie Nolan’s story of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Francie is smart, thoughtful, keenly observant – so many of her insights still ring true. I also love her fiercely hardworking mother, Katie, and her generous aunt, Sissy. This is a story of deep poverty and struggle, but it’s also about fighting to make your way in the world, being proud of where you came from, and the joys and disappointments of love (romantic and otherwise). So good.

Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz
Marseilles, 1950: The original 007 has been killed by three bullets, and the British intelligence service has sent a new man – James Bond – to find out who killed him and why. This prequel gives Bond an intriguing first assignment, complete with a mysterious woman (of course) and associates who may or may not be what they seem. Well done, though the ending fell a bit flat. I’ve never read the original Ian Fleming novels, but now I want to. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

The Valley at the Centre of the World, Malachy Tallack
To most people, Shetland is the end of the world – but to its residents, it’s the titular center. Tallack’s novel follows the intertwined lives of a few people living in the titular valley. Beautiful and quiet. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

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

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Libros de España

libros viajes casa del libro sevilla

As regular readers know, earlier this summer, I returned to Spain for the first time in nearly a decade. Naturally, my favorite way to prepare for travel is to dive into a stack of relevant books.

Besides the excellent Lonely Planet Andalucía, which I found indispensable, I discovered several books that made my trip both más fácil (easier) and más divertido (more fun).

Patricia Harris writes with verve and a keen eye for detail about 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go (which I picked up at the Book Catapult in San Diego this spring). Divided by region, Harris’ guide includes all the classics: Granada’s stunning Alhambra, live flamenco performances, tiny tapas bars and sprawling markets. But it’s also full of quirky gems: an olive oil tasting workshop; the house of a former duchess, now a museum; a meditation on the title character of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Harris’s book sparked my enthusiasm and inspired me to take in a few unusual sights.

While I did rent a bike one afternoon in Sevilla, I still stand in awe of British cyclist Polly Evans’s intrepid journey through Spain on two wheels, chronicled with dry wit in her memoir It’s Not About the Tapas (which I read years ago, on another trip to Spain). From San Sebastián to the Costa del Sol, Evans battled fatigue, recalcitrant bike gears and the local wildlife (including goats), as she sampled the food, culture and cycling trails in every region of Spain. It’s a highly entertaining journey through a vivid, fascinating country.

My vacation reading stack included Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I’d been meaning to read for years. Though I didn’t visit Barcelona on this trip, Zafón’s utterly bewitching novel of postwar love and revenge–set in a bookshop!–had me spellbound on our bus rides between various cities.

Needless to say, I’m already planning my next viaje a España–and the requisite reading material. ¡Olé!

Note: I originally wrote most of this post as a column for Shelf Awareness, where I’m a regular contributor.

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lido book tea toast breakfast table

The second half of July has been fast. The freelance work and other activities have been piling up, to my delight. And so have the books (as always).

Here’s the latest roundup:

At the Wolf’s Table, Rosella Postorino
Adolf Hitler famously feared death by poisoning, so he conscripted a handful of women to taste his food. Postorino’s novel imagines the story of one of them, Rosa Sauer, whose parents are dead and whose husband is missing in action. A somber, compelling, troubling account of wartime, complicity and wrestling with the consequences of one’s actions. Really well written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2019).

An Argumentation of Historians, Jodi Taylor
Max and her crew of time-traveling historians are back: scything up and down the timeline, from medieval England to ancient Persepolis. When Max finds herself stranded in 1399, she must adapt to an entirely new life, but there’s always a chance she’ll be rescued – isn’t there? This British sci-fi-ish series is so much fun, though I agree with a friend who said they need a new villain.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, lady deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on: watching over her female inmates, checking in on probationers, chasing down the occasional thief, and supporting her two sisters. But 1916 is a contentious (local) election year, and a lot of men aren’t too happy about Constance’s position anyhow. A smart, witty entry in this great series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City, Albert Samaha
The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Samaha’s book traces their story over two recent seasons, addressing the systemic  forces of racism and gentrification, the effects of family and school issues, recent research on concussions, and the spirit and grit of these young boys and their families. Reminded me strongly of Amy Bass’ One Goal, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig
A friend passed on this memoir last summer and I finally got to it. Doig sets down the story of his childhood: raised by his father and grandmother, doing ranching work in rural Montana. Thoughtful and quiet, with so many good sentences and insights into how we are shaped by our families and landscapes. Well worthwhile. Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lido, Libby Page
Rosemary Peterson, 86, has been swimming at her local lido (an outdoor pool in Brixton, London) nearly all her life. When the lido is threatened with closure, she joins forces with Kate, an anxious young journalist, and their community to try and save it. A charming, hopeful story of unlikely friendship and banding together to fight for what matters. I also loved Rosemary’s memories of life in London during the war, and her long, contented marriage to her husband, George. Just wonderful.

League of Archers, Eva Howard
Elinor Dray, orphan and novice nun, has grown up hearing stories of the great Robin Hood. But when he’s killed in front of Ellie’s eyes, and she’s accused of the crime, Ellie and her friends (the titular league) take to the forest to continue Robin’s work and contact his Merry Men. I love a Robin Hood story and I wanted to love this one, but the pacing and plot didn’t quite work for me.

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

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

I know we’re more than halfway through the year, but I still thought it would be worthwhile (and fun!) to share the best books I’ve read so far this year. Technically I’d read 102 books by the end of June, so here are the real standouts from the first half of 2018:

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Candid, Witty Essays on Marriage: Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun. Honest and funny and so real – perfect for reading after a decade of marriage.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s brilliant series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. I cannot shut up about these books: the mystery plots are solid, but the characters and their complex relationships are on another level.

Best Twisty Tale of Badass Female Spies: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Just so good.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Best Reread: A Wrinkle in Time, which I picked up after seeing the new film. I liked the movie, but L’Engle’s classic has more depth and heart and grit – and oh, I love Meg Murry.

Best Travel Memoir That’s About So Much More: Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’ luminous, gritty memoir of spending nearly a year cycling along the Silk Road.

Most Perfect Gothic Novel to Read in Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Twisty, atmospheric, witty, packed with great characters and surprise moments.

Your turn: what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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dinner list book stripes bench shoes

June means diving into the first stacks of summer reading, amid work and life craziness. Here’s the latest roundup:

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World, Sarah Smarsh
The American class divide is in the news a lot these days. But Smarsh, a fifth-generation Kansas farm girl who comes from a long line of teenage moms, has lived it. A searing portrait of one family in the rural heartland, a timely meditation on economic and social chasms, and a fiercely loving story of one girl’s struggle to embrace and escape her roots. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 18).

A Storied Life, Leigh Kramer
Olivia Frasier has fought hard to build a life apart from her banking family, opening her own art gallery. But when Liv’s grandmother announces she’s terminally ill and appoints Liv her chief decision-maker, Olivia is forced to confront both her family dynamics and her own issues. An engaging, thoughtful novel about grief, love and living life on your own terms. I’m so proud of Leigh, a longtime Internet pal of mine. She sent me an advance copy.

The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle
It’s a common question: who are the five people, living or dead, you’d love to have dinner with? When Sabrina shows up to her birthday dinner, she finds not only her best friend, but a beloved professor, her estranged father, her fiancé, and Audrey Hepburn. Serle’s novel unfolds over the course of the evening, spinning out a narrative of romance, regrets and the complicated ways we love. Funny, sweet and unexpectedly moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

The Masterpiece, Fiona Davis
Today, Grand Central Terminal is a New York City landmark. (The ceiling alone is stunning.) But in the 1970s, it stood in danger of being torn down. Davis’ novel tells the intertwined stories of Virginia Clay, a recent divorcée who takes a job at the station, and Clara Darden, an illustrator who taught at the terminal’s art school in the 1920s. Richly detailed and compelling. I especially liked watching Virginia take charge of her life. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 7).

Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution, Julia Alekseyeva
I picked up this graphic memoir off a table at the library, and read it in one sitting. Alekseyeva narrates her great-grandmother Lola’s life story: growing up Jewish in Kiev, surviving several wars and the Holocaust, working for the government and the Red Army. Interwoven are scenes from Alekseyeva’s own childhood in the U.S. (which are frankly far less compelling). Lola was a fascinating protagonist.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney
Lillian Boxfish, longtime New Yorker, former darling of the advertising world, decides to take a long, rambling walk through Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. Since I love walking, NYC, and whip-smart female narrators, I expected to love this book, and I did. It dragged a bit in the middle, but I adored Lillian. I’d walk with her any time.

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

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