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Seven or eight years ago now, I got an email from an author, offering to send me an ARC of a cozy mystery for review. I said yes with reservations: I love a mystery, but cozies are sometimes too cutesy for me, plus the writing isn’t always very good. But I devoured (ha) Death with All the Trimmings, my introduction to Lucy Burdette’s series featuring Key West food critic Hayley Snow. The series – now 12 books strong, and counting – has continued to make me smile, and I’m always happy to get a new installment in the mail.

After following her boyfriend down to Key West and realizing he’s kind of a jerk (an understatement), Hayley has to build a new life for herself. She lives on a houseboat with Miss Gloria, the world’s spunkiest, sparkliest octogenarian, plus assorted cats, and makes her living writing foodie articles for Key Zest magazine. Of course, as Hayley zips around town on her scooter, she runs across lots of mysteries, which only multiply when her mom and stepdad move to the island and open a catering company.

Hayley’s sleuthing often puts her at cross purposes with Nathan Bransford, a handsome but grumpy detective, and his much friendlier fellow cop Steve Torrence. Gradually, Hayley builds up quite the reputation as an amateur sleuth, and quite the relationship with Bransford. I wasn’t a huge fan of his character for a long time, but I’ve gradually warmed to him, especially as Burdette has explored Nathan’s own history in the last few books.

After reading the first book Burdette sent me, I went back and read the previous four – all out of order, but it didn’t really matter. I’ve continued to enjoy Hayley’s (sometimes zany) adventures, all of which draw heavily on Key West local color and lore. The Hemingway House, the island’s mix of tourists and locals, the wacky festivals and (of course) the seafood are on full display; Burdette clearly loves the island, and it shows. Since Hayley’s job involves trying restaurants and writing about them, Burdette gets to glory in the island’s culinary offerings, and there are always a few recipes at the back of each book.

I’ve especially loved escaping to Key West a few times in the dead of winter; I’ve never been there in person, but it’s always a sun-soaked literary getaway. Hayley’s narration is keen-eyed, wryly humorous and often quite entertaining. And I love the ensemble cast, including Hayley’s levelheaded mom, her sweet stepdad, Lorenzo the tarot card reader, the local cops (including Bransford), and especially Miss Gloria, whose pluck and humor know no bounds. I love the cats and the wacky, friendly atmosphere of the island, and I love knowing everything will (mostly) turn out all right in the end.

Are you a fan of cozy mysteries? Any series I should check out?

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July is (almost) over, and while sweating through a heat wave, here’s what I have been reading:

The Mimosa Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As World War II rages, the Japanese have occupied Singapore, and Chen Su Lin finds herself coerced into helping them solve the murder of her neighbor, Mr. Mirza. Much grimmer than Su Lin’s first three adventures, this is a sobering look at life under Japanese occupation and a compelling mystery.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, Claudia Gray
I loved this fun mystery (recommended by Anne) that brings together the main characters from many of Jane Austen’s novels for a house party hosted by Emma and George Knightley. Mr. Wickham (that cad!) shows up uninvited, and before long he ends up dead. Juliet Tilney, Catherine’s daughter, and Jonathan Darcy, son of Elizabeth, band together to find the killer. Witty and entertaining, with some interesting subplots. I’d absolutely read a sequel.

Welcome to the School by the Sea, Jenny Colgan
I usually enjoy Colgan’s gentle British rom-coms, often set in charming small towns. This is an older book of hers, reissued, and it shows: there are some fun moments, but the character development is thin, and there is so much fat-shaming. First in a series.

Where There’s a Whisk, Sarah J. Schmitt
Peyton Sinclaire believes she has one shot to escape her trailer-park life in Florida: winning the Top Teen Chef reality show competition. But when she arrives in Manhattan and starts navigating the show’s cooking challenges and interpersonal dynamics, she learns a thing or two she didn’t expect. I loved this sweet, foodie YA novel, especially the way it wrapped up.

Finding Me, Viola Davis
I’ve been impressed by Davis as an actor, but didn’t know her story. She tells it at a sometimes breakneck pace – from growing up in abject poverty in Rhode Island to college to Juilliard to success on stage and film, to marriage and complicated family dynamics. A brutally honest account of her life; so much trauma, so much grit and hard work, and finally some joy. Recommended by Anne.

For the Love of the Bard, Jessica Martin
Miranda Barnes – literary agent, middle child, YA writer under a pseudonym – goes back to her Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for its annual Bard festival. While there, she has to deal with scary health news for a family member, festival committee politics, and – oh yeah – the guy who broke her heart back in high school. I loved this theater-nerd romance with complex sibling dynamics, totally relatable life struggles and a swoony romance. Found at the wonderful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT.

They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom, Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri
Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi made international news after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral. This memoir recounts her childhood, her family’s life under the Israeli occupation, her arrest and imprisonment (and other traumas), and her continuing fight to liberate Palestine. Short, but heavy and heartbreaking. An important perspective we don’t often get in the U.S. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 6).

The Marlow Murder Club, Robert Thorogood
I picked this one up on a whim at the library and blew through it in two days. Judith Potts, age 77, is swimming naked in the Thames (her daily ritual) when she hears a gunshot from her neighbor’s garden. It turns out he was murdered – but by whom? Judith joins forces with local dog walker Suzie and the vicar’s buttoned-up wife, Becks, to solve the case. Witty and clever and so British. I loved it.

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

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We are nearly halfway through June, and it’s finally (sometimes) sit-outside-and-read weather. Here’s what I have been reading:

Fencing with the King, Diana Abu-Jaber
To celebrate the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Gabriel Hamdan (once the King’s favorite fencing partner) and his daughter, Amani, travel back to their home country. Reeling from her divorce, Amani becomes intent on uncovering the story of her mysterious grandmother, a Palestinian refugee. Meanwhile, her smooth-talking powerful uncle is keeping other secrets. Abu-Jaber’s writing is lush and thoughtful; I was totally swept up by Amani’s story. Recommended by Anne.

The Unsinkable Greta James, Jennifer E. Smith
I love Smith’s sweet, thoughtful YA novels. This, her adult debut, follows Greta James, an indie musician who’s struggling after the death of her mother. Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dad and some family friends. She meets a guy, yes, but it’s more about her internal journey as a musician and a daughter. I liked it; didn’t love it, but it kept me reading.

The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
Seven years ago, Nell Young lost her job, her professional reputation and her relationship with her father after an argument over a cheap gas station map. When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell follows the clues – including that map – to a mysterious group of mapmakers and some long-held family secrets. I loved this twisty, literary mystery with so much depth and heart. A truly fantastic ride.

The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Anastasia Cole Plakias
Plakias is a cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, a pioneering urban rooftop farm in NYC. This book tells the story of the farm’s founding, from a (mostly) business perspective. Super interesting to see all the facets of starting – and sustaining – a green rooftop farm. Found at the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar.

Room and Board, Miriam Parker
After her PR business implodes, Gillian Brodie finds herself working as a dorm mother at the California boarding school she attended as a teenager on scholarship. Parker’s second novel follows Gillian as she confronts old wounds and deals with new scandals (and extremely privileged students). I liked the premise, but this one fell flat for me. Out Aug. 16.

A Dish to Die For, Lucy Burdette
Food critic Hayley Snow is out for a relaxing lunch with a friend when her dog finds a body in the sand. The deceased, a local real estate developer, had plenty of enemies, and soon Hayley (of course) gets drawn into investigating the case. I love this series, and this was a really fun entry, exploring marriage and family and vintage recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

The Codebreaker’s Secret, Sara Ackerman
After losing her beloved brother Walt at Pearl Harbor, codebreaker Isabel Cooper is thrilled to accept an assignment in Hawaii to help defeat the Japanese. Two decades later, a young reporter on assignment at a swank Hawaiian hotel uncovers some old secrets that may have a connection to Isabel. Enigmatic flyboy turned photographer Matteo Russi may prove to hold the key. A fast-paced, lushly described historical adventure with engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Where the Rhythm Takes You, Sarah Dass
Reyna’s whole life has been devoted to her family’s hotel in Tobago, especially since her mother died. But when her first love, Aiden, returns to the island for a vacation with the members of his band, she’s forced to confront not only her heartache over their breakup, but the other ways she’s struggling to move forward. A wonderful YA novel with so much emotion and a great setting; made me want to listen to soca music. Reyna’s anger and grief felt so authentic. Recommended by Anne.

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

What are you reading?

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March is nearly halfway done – and has included a wild mix of weather, as usual. The daffodils are sprouting, though. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Wide Starlight, Nicole Lesperance
When Eline was six years old, her mother disappeared under the northern lights on Svalbard. Ten years later, Eline – now living on Cape Cod with her dad – starts receiving strange messages, and goes back to try and find her mother. A complex, atmospheric, magical (sometimes creepy) story about family, loss, and the unexplainable at the edges of things. Found at Copper Dog Books in Beverly.

The Last Dance of the Debutante, Julia Kelly
I enjoy Kelly’s historical novels about female friendship. This one follows several of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth in the late 1950s. Protagonist Lily Nicholls, who has always felt like an outsider, learns to navigate the swirl of the Season amid various family secrets. Compelling (though a little sad) and a fascinating slice of history.

Shady Hollow, Juneau Black
Nothing much ever happens in Shady Hollow – until the local curmudgeonly toad ends up murdered. Vera Vixen, a reporter with a nose for news, and her friend Lenore (a raven who runs Nevermore Books, naturally) begin to investigate. A totally charming murder mystery set in a village full of different creatures. First in a series and I can’t wait to read the others.

Our Last Days in Barcelona, Chanel Cleeton
Cleeton returns to the saga of the Cuban-American Perez sisters in this lush historical novel. It flips back and forth in time between the 1960s, when eldest sister Isabel goes to Barcelona to find her sister Beatriz (and do some soul-searching of her own), and the 1930s, when Alicia – the Perez matriarch – finds herself in Barcelona as the Spanish Civil War escalates. There’s romance here, but what I really loved was Isabel’s inner journey, and Alicia’s, too. Cleeton writes strong female leads so well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 24).

A Trip of One’s Own: Hope, Heartbreak, and Why Traveling Solo Could Change Your Life, Kate Wills
Travel writer Kate Wills spent years relishing her solo trips – but when her marriage fell apart, she found herself thinking about travel very differently. I loved this frank, funny memoir that weaves together Wills’ own experiences with practical tips and the stories of other intrepid female explorers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

Homicide and Halo-Halo, Mia P. Manansala
Lila Macapagal is getting ready to open the Brew-ha cafe with her friends – but she’s also still dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic murder case and judging a local beauty pageant (as one does). When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Lila gets pulled into the case and is also forced to confront her complicated feelings about pageants. I loved this second cozy mystery from Manansala – yummy food descriptions and more depth than the first one.

When You Get the Chance, Emma Lord
Millie Price is going to be a Broadway star – just as soon as she rocks the prestigious precollege program she’s been accepted into. But when her dad refuses to let her go, Millie embarks on a Mamma Mia-style search for her birth mom. This was the most fun theater-kid YA rom-com, with serious themes of identity and friendship. I loved Millie’s journey.

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

What are you reading?

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How is it March already? There’s still snow on the ground (so much snow!) but we are heading for spring. Here’s my last slew of February books:

Love & Saffron, Kim Fay
My friend Louise raved about this book and she wasn’t wrong – it’s a charming epistolary novel of a friendship between two women who love food. (Shades of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto!) I picked it up at the Book Catapult and savored its gentle, witty prose and tasty food descriptions.

A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times: Stories, Meron Hadero
I don’t usually read short stories – but this collection, centered on the experiences of Ethiopians in their home country and the U.S., was sharply observed and fascinating. Hadero sensitively explores the challenges of assimilating, navigating race in the U.S. – or scratching out a living at home. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

Lost and Found in Paris, Lian Dolan
After her marriage implodes, Joan Bright Blakely hops a plane to Paris as an art courier, transporting some valuable sketches. But after a lovely night with a new man, she wakes to find the sketches gone – and a sketch by her deceased artist father in their place. A warmhearted, compelling novel about family, loss, art and new beginnings. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion, R.A. Spratt
Girl detective Friday Barnes is arrested on unclear charges – then she retrieves a valuable bracelet, makes friends with an ex-con and tries to solve various mysteries on campus at her boarding school. A zany middle-grade mystery with likable characters. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop.

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

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I love a good reinvention narrative. There’s something empowering about watching a character, especially a real person, steer their life in an entirely new direction. But some of my favorite reinvention stories aren’t necessarily 180-degree turns. Rather, they involve a series of changes (some drastic, it’s true) that lead the protagonist to become more fully the self she’s always been meant to be. 

Trina Moyles had always loved the Canadian boreal forest where she grew up, but she never expected to spend multiple summers there, spotting smoke from atop an isolated fire tower. Moyles’ gorgeously written memoir, Lookout, dives into the logistical and emotional challenges of that life of deep solitude. She charts not only the ground around her fire tower, but her own internal growth during a difficult but formative season. (This was an impulse buy at Sundog Books and one of my favorites of 2021.)

Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French spent a lot of time at the diner her dad owned, but she wasn’t planning (then) on running her own restaurant one day. French’s memoir, Finding Freedom, chronicles her journey of culinary and personal discovery, and the founding of The Lost Kitchen, the restaurant she now owns in Freedom, Maine. 

Memphis-born Elizabeth Passarella didn’t leave behind her Southern identity when she became a New Yorker. Rather, her adult life–and her memoir, Good Apple–centers on learning to reconcile the two, or at least laugh at the tension between them. In short, punchy essays, Passarella takes readers through the highs and lows of her life in Manhattan: rats in her bedroom, public marital disputes, the Rockettes, and the trickiness of navigating politics (electoral and cultural) with grace. (I forget where I heard about this one, but it made me laugh so hard and say “Amen” every few pages.) All three women write with humor and insight about the situations that have shaped them into their truest selves. 

What are your favorite reinvention stories?

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran this past December.

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We are (nearly) through a very cold January, and post-omicron, here’s what I have been reading:

Kisses and Croissants, Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
Mia is convinced it’s her destiny to be a ballerina – especially since family legend has it her ancestor was painted by Degas. A summer program in Paris teaches her a few things about dedication, friendship, the stories we tell ourselves – and romance with a cute French boy. Fluffy and sweet – perfect isolation reading.

Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer
I loved this memoir of two women who fell in love with a big piece of land in rural Scotland, and are pursuing their dream of a small-scale sustainable farm. A bit too much technical detail in the middle, but mostly a warm, fascinating account of the life they’ve built. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 10).

Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci
I love Tucci’s film work (who doesn’t?) and was keen to read this memoir after hearing Anne and others recommend it. (I kept picturing him as Paul Child from Julie & Julia.) He’s definitely more of a storyteller than a writer, but this is an engaging account of his encounters with food throughout his life (plus recipes).

Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely
Domestic worker Blanche White goes to court for bad checks (not her fault!) – and ends up hiding out in the country, working as a maid for a wealthy family with secrets. I’d read the sequel to this one, but it was fun to read Blanche’s first adventure. Sharp and sobering.

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Annie Darling
Posy Morland isn’t great at adulting, though she manages to care for herself and her teenage brother Sam. But when Posy inherits the bookshop where she works and decides to turn it into a romance bookshop, she’s faced with all sorts of new challenges. A fun, fluffy British story – I’d read one of the sequels, so I knew the characters. I found Posy rather irritating, but this was good bedtime reading.

Strange Birds: A Guide to Ruffling Feathers, Celia C. Perez
I loved Perez’s debut so much that I picked this, her second novel, up at the library. Ofelia, Cat, Aster and Lane are four oddballs who form a secret club/Scout troop one summer in their small Florida town. A funny, thoughtful story of friendship and standing up for what you believe in. I love seeing more multiracial casts of characters in middle-grade novels.

The Joy of Small Things, Hannah Jane Parkinson
I picked up this essay collection at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC. Parkinson writes a column for The Guardian on small delights, and many of those columns are collected here. Perfect January cheer.

The Reading List, Sara Nisha Adams
Mukesh is a lonely widower living in west London. Aleisha is a teenager reluctantly spending her summer working at the local library. Through a handwritten reading list, the two (and a handful of other characters) form unexpected connections. This was so lovely – both joyful and sad, lots of depth, and wonderful characters. I loved Mukesh’s relationships with his daughters and granddaughter.

Room to Dream, Kelly Yang
Mia Tang is going back to China to visit family and she can’t wait! But once she’s there, she realizes how much has changed – in the country and in herself – since she immigrated to the U.S. Back home, she’s facing challenges at school and with her parents’ motel. I loved this spunky third installment in Yang’s series, and I especially loved watching Mia grow as a writer and a person.

Majesty, Katharine McGee
Beatrice Washington is America’s first (young!) queen after the death of her father. As she tries to figure out how to rule, she’s also planning a wedding – and relationships are getting complicated for her sister Sam and their friends, too. A deliciously scandalous sequel to American Royals, with some real insight on confidence and what it means to truly love someone.

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

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We are halfway through January (almost) and the books have been saving my life, especially in this isolation period. Here’s what I have been reading:

Incognegro, Mat Johnson
My partner lent me this graphic novel, in which a (very) light-skinned Black reporter passes as white so he can report on lynchings in the American South. When he goes down to try and help his brother out of a murder accusation, things get (even more) dangerous. Compelling, heartbreaking, deeply unsettling.

If You Ask Me, Libby Hubscher
Advice columnist Violet Covington finds out her newspaper column is up for syndication – then comes home to find her husband in bed with a neighbor. She goes off the rails a bit trying to process the news and figure out how she wants to handle this new stage of life. I relished this smart, funny, mostly closed-door rom-com; the romance is fun but I also loved Violet’s relationships with her mother, her boss/college roommate and several friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 8).

An Eternal Lei, Naomi Hirahara
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leilani Santiago and her sisters find a woman unconscious on a beach in Kaua’i. Leilani – an amateur sleuth – digs into the woman’s life and uncovers a few connections to their island community. A fun mystery with lots of Hawaiian details; the food especially reminded me of my trip there in college. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 22).

The Weekday Vegetarians, Jenny Rosenstrach
I love Jenny’s blog and her down-to-earth newsletters; I own her first cookbook, though I haven’t used it in a while. So naturally I was primed to enjoy this cookbook packed with recipes and tips for going vegetarian during the week (or any time). I’ve already made a couple of the recipes. Many of them are better shared with others, but I like her style and appreciated the inspiration here.

Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return, Rebecca Mead
Increasingly worried by Trumpism in the U.S., Mead and her American husband (with their teenage son) decide to pull up stakes and move to London. Mead writes thoughtfully about her family history and her life split between two cities: her youth on England’s south coast, her two decades in NYC and the ways in which she discovers you can (and can’t) go home again. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 8).

Sisters of Night and Fog, Erika Robuck
As World War II sweeps Europe, two very different women find themselves working against the Nazis. Calm, quiet Virginia d’Albert Lake is determined to survive the war alongside her French husband, while fiery young French-British widow Violette Szabo will stop at nothing to destroy the regime that took her husband. Robuck weaves a gripping tale of the women’s stories, which intersect when both are captured by the Nazis. Well done, though heartrending at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Most Likely, Sarah Watson
Ava, CJ, Jordan and Martha have been BFFs since kindergarten. One of them will become president of the U.S. in 2049. But which one? Watson takes us through the girls’ senior year in high school, showing us their challenges, triumphs and deep bond. I loved this smart, warmhearted YA novel. Found at the wonderful Crow Bookshop in Burlington, VT.

Search, Michelle Huneven
Somewhat to my own surprise, I devoured this novel of a Unitarian Universalist pastoral search committee in California. It was both familiar and different from my own church experience; it was also funny, sharp and an insightful look at human nature. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 26).

The First Rule of Punk, Celia C. Pérez
Malú (don’t call her Maria Luisa!) is not happy about moving to Chicago with her mom. But gradually, she finds her way at her new school – forming a band, making friends, messing up and learning to own her mistakes. A sweet, funny middle-grade story.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
I’ve been reading this one slowly for months; it is dense but readable, fascinating, multilayered, packed with good storytelling. Wilkerson brings the Great Migration to vivid life through the stories of her three protagonists, who all left the South for different regions. Just as thoughtful and important and interesting as everyone said it was.

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

What are you reading?

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Here we are at the end of this strange, long year. I may have more to say about 2021 soon, but for now, I wish you a gentle transition into 2022. Here’s what I have been reading:

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at the Trident in 2019, and I loved it just as much this time. Widowed mum Kate is barely making ends meet with her job selling Christmas trees, while Daniel is struggling after the death of his sister. They meet, become friends (and maybe something more) and help each other figure out how to move forward. Sweet, witty and heartwarming.

Swimming with Seals, Victoria Whitworth
I found this at the Booksmith a while back and have been reading it sloooowly over breakfast. Whitworth is an archaeologist and cold-weather swimmer who chronicles her swims on Orkney, along with musings on the island’s ancient cultures, her relationship with her mother, and humankind’s relationship to the sea. It dragged a bit at times but the writing is lovely – so many good sentences.

Peach Blossom Spring, Melissa Fu
As the Japanese army advances through China, a young woman named Meilin flees with her son, Renshu, and their family. This absorbing novel tells their family’s story: Meilin’s constant efforts to keep Renshu safe and happy; his eventual emigration to the U.S.; and the life he builds there as a scientist and a father. Thoughtful and vividly described; a haunting tribute to immigrant families and being caught between worlds. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 15).

All I Want for Christmas, Wendy Loggia
Bailey Briggs, Christmas fanatic, can’t wait for the holiday – but she wants to kiss someone under the mistletoe. This YA rom-com features plenty of cheer, though the plot is a little thin. Still fun – Bailey works in a bookstore, and her friends and family are sweet. Found at the charming Book Shop of Beverly Farms and saved for this season.

Marvelous Manhattan, Reggie Nadelson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives (my favorite NYC bookstore, which is featured!) in August, and have been sloooowly reading it since. Nadelson gives an insider’s tour, peppered with history (some of it personal), cultural commentary and yummy food descriptions. I want to try a lot of these places. Mouthwatering and enjoyable.

The Body in the Garden, Katharine Schellman
English widow Lily Adler is trying to figure out what to do with herself after her husband’s death – and stumbles (literally) on a dead body. I enjoyed this first outing in Lily’s adventures; the Regency London details are fun and I like Lily herself and the other characters. (I read the sequel, Silence in the Library, earlier this fall.)

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
It’s 12 days before Christmas and Lily’s holiday spirit has all but disappeared – so Dash hatches a scheme with Lily’s brother, Langston, to bring back the cheer. I loved this sequel to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – sweet, funny, full of NYC Christmas magic, and a sensitive exploration of how the holidays can be tough when you’re struggling, for whatever reason.

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, Mindy Thompson
Poppy Fulbright adores her family’s magical bookshop, Rhyme and Reason – she feels safe there. But strange things start happening when her brother’s best friend is killed in the war and her father falls ill. A bookish middle-grade fantasy novel with an engaging protagonist.

Intimations, Zadie Smith
I heard about Smith’s pandemic essay collection a while ago, but I wasn’t ready for it then. But I picked it up at the delightful Crow Bookshop in Vermont this week and read the essays in one sitting. I think she does tiny details – tulips in a New York City garden, the small encounters in “Screengrabs” – better than high philosophy. But she also writes well about love and work and isolation.

The Last Chance LibraryFreya Sampson
Shy librarian June Jones has rarely left her home village or tried anything new – especially since her mother’s death, eight years ago. But when June’s beloved library is threatened with closure, June joins a ragtag group of protesters fighting to keep it open. An engaging British story about a woman finding her own voice and (of course) the power of libraries. Found, fittingly, at the BPL.

These Precious Days, Ann Patchett
Patchett needs no introduction from me. I picked up her new essay collection at my beloved Three Lives in NYC. These warm, wise, tender essays explore friendship, marriage, dogs, her relationship with her father (and father figures), her love of literature and so much more. A perfect book to end the year.

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

What are you reading?

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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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