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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Due to review deadlines, library deadlines and general pre-holiday craziness, my brain feels scrambled lately. Here’s what I have been reading – much of it several months ahead:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s second adventure at Hogwarts is as much fun as the first. I love seeing the characters grow, and the narrative of the series begin to build. Fast, fun and highly enjoyable.

Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, Eitan Hersh
Most people who are engaged in political hobbyism – following, and wringing their hands about, the news – aren’t doing work to make real, appreciable change. Hersh investigates the history of political engagement in the U.S., interviews grassroots activists (the strongest part of the book) and asks how to truly get involved in local politics. Interesting, though a bit tedious at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).

The Golden Hour, Beatriz Williams
Widowed journalist Lulu Randolph is sent to Nassau in 1941 to write a society column focusing mainly on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she falls in love – but when her new husband becomes a POW, she goes to London to try to rescue him. The narrative shifts between Lulu’s story and that of her husband’s German mother, Elfriede, in the early 1900s. Lush, compelling, slightly scandalous.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, Noé Álvarez
The son of Mexican immigrants, Álvarez grew up poor in eastern Washington. Feeling aimless as a college student, he joined the Peace and Dignity Journeys to run a punishing 6,000-mile ultramarathon through North America, in a quest to honor indigenous peoples and their stories. This memoir is beautifully written and contains some compelling ideas, but I couldn’t always find the through line of his insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Siri, Who Am I?, Sam Tschida
A young woman wakes up in the hospital wearing a yellow Prada gown, with nothing in her possession but a tube of Chanel lipstick and an iPhone. She can’t even remember her own name (Mia), but gamely tries to reconstruct her life via Instagram. A snarky, fast-paced take on the selfie culture – fun, though I wanted more depth. I really liked Mia’s sidekick/love interest, Max the “Black Einstein” neuroscientist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

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

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And just like that, it’s December – it’s sleeting today (ugh), but the world is still twinkly. (The photo above is from Brookline Booksmith’s cheery holiday pop-up shop.) Here’s what I have been reading, over Thanksgiving and beforehand:

Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s latest slim novel follows three generations of a black family in Brooklyn: teenager Melody, her mother Iris (who got pregnant at 15) and Iris’s parents. It’s spare and lovely, a lyrical exploration of complicated family dynamics. I did want more from the ending, but I remember feeling that way about Another Brooklyn, too.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
I love this series so much, and this first book is pure joy, as Harry discovers Hogwarts and makes new friends. Rereading these means I see more of the threads that will make up the tapestry of the whole series.

You Were There Too, Colleen Oakley
Reeling from a miscarriage, artist Mia and her surgeon husband (who is racked with guilt from losing a patient) move from Philly to a tiny town. While there, Mia meets Oliver, a man who has been appearing in her dreams for years, with no rational explanation. They try to figure out what it means, as Mia struggles to settle into her new life. This was mostly engaging, but the ending killed me. I received an ARC (it’s out Jan. 7).

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray
I picked this up at the library and read it in one day. When Althea and her husband, Proctor, are sent to prison for fraud, her sisters Viola and Lillian must step in to care for Althea’s twin teenage daughters. A powerful exploration of family – love and loss and the effects of past traumas. Really well done.

Thistles and Thieves, Molly MacRae
MacRae’s third Highland Bookshop mystery finds her characters trying to solve several murders, while one of them gets back into cycling and another one takes up darts. I like the gentle village setting and the banter, though the plot of this one was so-so. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, Theodora Goss
Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, and Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde and their compatriots set off for the Continent to rescue her and thwart the activities of a sinister society. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes has disappeared. This second book in Goss’s series is engaging, but way too long. I like the characters, but we didn’t need every single plot incident. (Also: too many vampires for me.)

Live Alone and Like It, Marjorie Hillis
My friend Rachel sent me this archly witty guide to single-girl living, first published in 1936. I loved it – while it’s (obviously) a bit outdated in spots, it’s full of practical, pert, entertaining advice for women living on their own.

Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes
After Evvie Drake’s husband dies, everyone thinks she’s grieving – no one knows she was on the point of leaving him. When a struggling major-league pitcher moves to town and becomes Evvie’s tenant, they become friends and both begin to inch toward the next chapter of their lives. This novel was so much fun – witty, warm and engaging.

The Irregulars, Steven-Elliot Altman, J. Michael Reaves and Bong Dazo
A friend passed on this slim graphic novel about Sherlock Holmes’ Irregulars, a ragtag band of children who are trying to stop a serial kidnapper/killer in London. I love Holmes, but I’m not a huge graphic novel fan and this one didn’t really work for me.

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

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

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

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And just like that (after a rainy, blustery Halloween), it’s November. Here’s what I have been reading:

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende
Amid the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, thousands of refugees fled the continent, some ending up in Chile (thanks to the poet Pablo Neruda). Allende traces the lives of two families, a Spanish refugee couple and a wealthy Chilean family they meet on arrival, from the 1930s to the 1990s. A complex, fascinating, often heartbreaking story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 21).

The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles
When Odile Souchet lands a job at the American Library in Paris, she’s over the moon – but the Nazis are trying to conquer Europe, and Odile and her cadre of international colleagues are inevitably caught up in their net. Charles interweaves Odile’s story with that of a young teenager, Lily, who lives next door to Odile in 1980s Montana. So engaging, full of wonderful characters and book catnip. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God, Sarah Bessey
Sarah is a longtime Internet friend. Like me, she’s spent the past several years wrestling with the black-and-white certainty of the evangelical faith we both once knew. This book tells the story of a car accident, a trip to Rome to meet the Pope, miraculous healing and chronic pain living side by side. I love Sarah’s writing and while this book wanders a bit (on purpose), it ends with fierce, tender, powerful hope.

Heaven, My Home, Attica Locke
Still reeling from his last complicated case (and his mother’s blackmail), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is called out to find a missing child – the son of white supremacists – in an East Texas town simmering with racial tension. Locke’s writing crackles and her characters, especially Darren, feel complicated and real.

The Wicked Redhead, Beatriz Williams
Flapper Geneva “Gin” Kelly surprised herself and everyone else by falling in love with a Prohibition agent. In this sequel to The Wicked City, Gin tries to reckon with her new love and care for her orphaned young sister, while a woman named Ella (connected both to Gin and Williams’ illustrious Schuyler family) tries to extricate herself from a troublesome marriage. Deliciously addictive and entertaining (though Ella drove me nuts) – Gin is a stellar character. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 10).

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

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book-knitting-muffin

I’ve blown through half a dozen books recently – which feels good after a stretch of not reading quite as much. Here’s what I have been reading lately:

Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn
Chet the dog and his pal Bernie Little, P.I., are back. Their ninth adventure finds them investigating a couple of suspicious deaths involving an elderly country singer. It was slow to start, but I love Chet’s entertaining narrative voice, and the mystery plot was satisfying.

The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan
Single mother Zoe is desperate to get out of London, and when she lands two part-time gigs in Scotland, it seems like a good idea. I like Colgan’s fiction and this had more depth than usual, with the motherless children Zoe cares for and the challenges facing her young son. Nina (from The Bookshop on the Corner) features too, but I grew irritated with her. I gobbled this up in two days.

Death in a Desert Land, Andrew Wilson
After her divorce, Agatha Christie heads to Baghdad and Ur to visit an archaeological dig and do some spying for the British government. But she soon finds herself investigating a murder. Wilson’s third mystery featuring Christie as amateur detective (the first one I’ve read) was fast-paced (after a slow start) and engaging.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, Karina Yan Glaser
The five Vanderbeeker kids have all kinds of plans for spring break – which do not include accidentally ruining their mother’s baking business. But they band together to outwit a grumpy inspector, build a tree house and deal with mysterious pets (chickens!) guinea pigs!) that keep appearing on their doorstep. I love this middle-grade series and this third entry was so much fun.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, Michael Cunningham
Set at the very end of Cape Cod, Provincetown has a unique character and mythology. I have several friends who love it there, and Cunningham’s memoir/history is evocative, fascinating and melancholy. I found this at Three Lives in NYC; the manager, whose taste I trust, waxed lyrical about it. Lovely.

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco
Blanco, who served as President Obama’s inaugural poet, is back with a fierce, vivid, haunting collection exploring what it is to be an immigrant, to live between two worlds, to be gay in this country, to mourn various national tragedies (the Pulse shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings). These poems pull no punches and they’re also beautiful.

A Dangerous Engagement, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, sail to New York for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend. But when one of the groomsmen is found murdered, Amory and Milo begin investigating. I love this stylish, well-plotted mystery series and this was a delightful entry.

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

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We’re halfway through October, and the library holds are piling up, to my delight. Here’s what I have been reading:

An Irish Country Family, Patrick Taylor
I’ve read and enjoyed several earlier books in this gentle, amusing series set in 1960s Ulster, in the village of Ballybucklebo. Book 14 picks up the story of Dr. Barry Laverty when he was a medical student, and also as he’s trying to start a family with his wife, Sue. The plot also involves the usual small-town drama: births, deaths, local politics, love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 12).

Dating is Murder, Harley Jane Kozak
An impulse grab at the library – the second mystery featuring greeting-card artist and amateur sleuth Wollstonecraft “Wollie” Shelley. When her friend Annika, a young au pair, disappears, Wollie tries to find her while juggling her part-time jobs (including reality TV). Wacky, fun, sometimes confusing, but enjoyable.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
It’s no secret that women are under stress–but Generation X women are particularly so, in every area of their lives. Calhoun takes on work, parenting, marriage and relationships, ambition, physical challenges and more from a witty, honest, thought-provoking perspective. I loved her previous book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and her O Magazine essay, “The New Midlife Crisis for Women.” This book builds on the latter. I’m either a really young Gen Xer or an old Gen Y/Millennial, but so many of these concerns rang true for me. I will be handing this to so many friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

The Bonniest Companie, Kathleen Jamie
I was looking for Jamie’s essays at the Strand (on Roxani’s advice) and found these poems instead. They are luminous and odd with occasional flashes of hope and loveliness, and lots of rugged Scottish landscapes.

The Second Home, Christina Clancy
The Gordon family has spent countless summers in Wellfleet, Cape Cod – but one summer when their kids were teenagers changed everything. As the family’s two grown daughters prepare to sell the house after their parents’ deaths, they must reckon with the long-term effects of that summer. Absorbing, heartbreaking and human; richly evocative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2, 2020).

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
I spotted this series at the Booksmith and decided to start at the beginning. Mary Jekyll is investigating some mysterious documents after her father’s death and finds more than she bargained for, including Diana, daughter of Edward Hyde, and a whole lot of mad-scientist craziness. This mystery-fantasy-girl-power-narrative (which also pulls in Holmes and Watson) was so much fun. I’ll definitely read the sequels.

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

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books-magic-fiction

And somehow, it’s October. I’m back from a trip to Texas (we surprised my grandfather for his 85th birthday), back at work, wrapping up another round of dog-sitting. Here’s what I have been reading, when I can:

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, Katherine Howe
I read and enjoyed Howe’s debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, soon after moving to Boston. This sequel picks up Constance (Connie) Goodwin’s story as she’s angling for tenure, juggling job responsibilities and trying to neutralize a family curse. I wanted to like this, but it was a slog for me – disjointed and heavy-handed, and Connie is frustratingly obtuse.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key, Lena Jones
Named after Agatha Christie, 13-year-old Agatha Oddlow is hankering for a case to solve. She gets one when London’s water systems are clogged by a noxious red slime. A fun middle-grade mystery – first in a new series – with a charming protagonist. Found at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, pictured above.

I Owe You One, Sophie Kinsella
When Fixie Farr saves a stranger’s laptop from disaster at a cafe, he scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve. She’s not going to take him up on it – but then she does, while juggling family issues, business woes and a suddenly complicated love life. A fun, witty, unexpectedly moving romantic comedy; Kinsella does these so well. Found at the Strand.

Now You See Them, Elly Griffiths
The fifth entry in Griffiths’ Magic Men series finds her protagonists settling down to family life. Edgar Stephens, now superintendent of Brighton’s police force, is on the tail of a kidnapper while his wife, former DS Emma Holmes, wishes she could join the chase. Their magician friend Max Mephisto is also involved. An engaging mystery, but I think it’s more fun if you’ve read the previous books in the series (I hadn’t). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 3).

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary
After a bad breakup, editor Tiffy Moore needs a cheap place to live. Leon Twomey, a night hospice worker, needs a bit of cash. They agree to share a flat and a bed – just not at the same time. I loved this charming, witty, original novel – watching Tiffy and Leon bond via Post-Its was so much fun.

Sword and Pen, Rachel Caine
The Great Library is in turmoil, and Jess Brightwell and his band of rebel friends must act to restore order before the exiled Archivist destroys everything. Perfect airplane reading: fast-paced and dramatic. I’ve enjoyed this YA series – the characters are great – though the plot got a bit dense for me. Still a satisfying conclusion.

The View From Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity, Lewis Raven Wallace
Accusations of bias and “fake news” plague journalism, and Wallace – after being fired from Marketplace – set out to investigate the idea of “objectivity” and examine the role of journalism in our current age. A fascinating, thoroughly researched, compelling account of how we got here, and some thoughtful arguments for independent, humane journalism. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 31).

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

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