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tulips table oranges book

It has started snowing over here – not my favorite weather, but it’s good for curling up with books. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
I’ve enjoyed Klinkenborg’s columns in the New York Times, and loved this wise, thoughtful, wry, thought-provoking book on writing. I savored it over a couple of weeks. Bought at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2), Rachel Caine
After being trained as foot soldiers for the Great Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his friends are staging a rebellion – if they survive that long. Caine’s sequel to Ink and Bone is fast-paced, bold and really well done. I can’t wait for book 3.

No Time Like the Past, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell and her gang of time-traveling historians are back for a fifth adventure, which takes them to the Great Fire of London and Thermopylae, among other destinations. This series is so much fun – madcap, smart, hilarious and tea-soaked. This book was especially witty.

The Last Days of Café Leila, Donia Bijan
Since Noor left her homeland of Iran for the U.S. at 18, she’s missed her father and their family’s café – a neighborhood institution. After discovering her husband’s infidelity, Noor heads back to Tehran with her teenage daughter, Lily, in tow. The world they discover is both familiar and unknown to Noor, and totally new to Lily. A gorgeous novel of family, food, love and loss. (I also loved Bijan’s memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 18).

Lay Down Your Weary Tune, W.B. Belcher
With his love life and career both foundering, musician-cum-writer Jack Wyeth gets the chance to write the biography of his folk-music idol, Eli Page. But when Jack arrives at Eli’s rural farmhouse, he finds an enigmatic, irascible man reluctant to divulge his secrets. This one started slowly, but it’s a thoughtful, lovely novel about music, identity, family and the secrets we all keep. Found (for $6!) at the Center for Fiction in midtown Manhattan.

Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, Rob Dunn
Scientific food-growing techniques have wrought a series of transformations in our diets: we are increasingly dependent on a small number of crops grown on a massive scale. Dunn recounts the narrowing of our plates and warns of the dangers we face. Thoughtful and well-researched, though occasionally rambling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
In a series of lyrical flashbacks, Woodson evokes the experience of “growing up girl” in 1970s Brooklyn. Her narrator, August, navigates the world alongside her brother, her father and her three best friends. Poignant and beautifully written. (Julia recommended this one at Great New Books.)

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
Natasha is an illegal Jamaican immigrant whose family is about to be deported. Daniel is a dreamy Korean-American teenager who wants to write poetry instead of going to Yale and becoming a doctor. They meet one day in Manhattan, and their lives will never be the same. Funny and heartwarming – the epilogue took the whole book up a notch. I also loved Yoon’s debut, Everything, Everything.

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

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three lives bookstore interior

I’ve been (not surprisingly) digging into stacks of books as 2017 begins, and I’ve found some gems this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, Isabel Vincent
When Isabel Vincent’s friend Valerie asked her to look in on her recently widowed father, Isabel never dreamed she’d make a new friend. But she did – and this lovely memoir recounts many of their dinners á deux. Edward is a great cook, but also gives sound, practical advice, and Vincent writes their story with warmth and charm.

The Lost Book of the Grail, Charlie Lovett
Arthur Prescott is happily ensconced in his life in Barchester: teaching English at the university, spending untold hours in the library and secretly searching for the Holy Grail. But the arrival of an attractive young American who is digitizing the library’s manuscripts upends Arthur’s world. Lovett deftly moves back and forth in time between this present-day story and other historical eras (starting in the 500s). A fascinating, fun literary mystery – the third Lovett book I’ve read and possibly his best yet. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 28).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series gets bigger, deeper, darker and more heartbreaking with every book. I love this story so much, and I’m still loving my reread-along with a friend, which has prompted multiple discussions on everything from Rowling’s clever wordplays to the big questions of life and destiny at the heart of the series.

A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide, Stephanie Saldaña
After falling in love with a French novice monk in Syria, American writer Saldaña ended up making a home with her new husband on a street in the middle of Jerusalem. A luminous, thoughtful, achingly lovely memoir about home, family, time and searching for the beautiful, even – especially – in broken and hard places. Stunning. I also loved Saldaña’s previous memoir, The Bread of Angels. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7).

News of the World, Paulette Jiles
Captain Jefferson Kidd, an itinerant news reader in post-Civil War Texas, is asked to return a young girl, Johanna, to her family after she has been “recovered” from the Kiowa tribe. Slowly, as Kidd and Johanna make the treacherous journey from north Texas to San Antonio, they form a tight, tenuous bond. A slim story told in spare, powerful prose.

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Madeline Whittier hasn’t left her house in 17 years, due to a rare immune disease. But when a boy named Olly moves in next door, she starts questioning the protected life she’s been living. A sweet, heartbreaking, funny, wonderful YA novel. I read it in one sitting.

A Trail Through Time, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell, time-jumping historian, has been yanked out of her own world by the Muse of History and deposited in a very similar one, where she and the man she loves are trying to outrun the Time Police. (Confused yet?) This fourth installment in Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s series gave me whiplash, but it was so much fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. Pictured above: the interior of Three Lives & Co. in NYC, where I spent a very happy hour this week.

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book stack july 2016

July has been a tough month so far, as you know if you’ve been watching the news. As always, I am taking refuge in good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
Anne and Leigh finally talked me into this whip-smart, witty, engaging homage to Jane Eyre and I’m so glad they did. Jane Steele, an orphan with few resources but a strong sense of justice, loves that other Jane, but her life turns out rather differently. I loved Steele’s take on the Brontë classic, and her supporting cast – especially the enigmatic Sikh butler – is fantastic.

The Apple Tart of Hope, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Meg Molony can’t believe her best friend Oscar has taken his own life. But Meg’s been in New Zealand for six months, and during that time, a lot of things have changed. A melancholy but sweet novel about friendship, the complicated gaps between perception and reality, and the world’s best apple tarts.

Cooking for Picasso, Camille Aubray
Céline hops a plane to the French Riviera in pursuit of a long-held family legend: did her grandmother, Ondine, really spend several months as Picasso’s personal chef? Aubray’s novel alternates between Céline’s and Ondine’s perspectives, weaving together art, family and choices. A great premise with mouthwatering food descriptions, though several plot points felt rushed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

See How They Run, Ally Carter
Grace Blakely was determined to solve her mother’s murder and was devastated by what she found. Grace’s second adventure finds her grappling with new secrets: an ancient underground society, another murder, and her own crippling anxiety. Fast-paced, well plotted and a powerful portrait of PTSD. (Carter writes smart, addictive YA with a little glamour and a lot of intrigue.)

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, Mamen Sánchez
Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey. In fact, he’d rather not leave England at all. But when his father sends him to Madrid to close down a failing literary magazine, Atticus finds himself at the mercy of five whip-smart Spanish women who care deeply about one another and their jobs. Highly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
I tore through most of this gorgeous, heartbreaking novel in a day. Cleave tells the story of the Blitz (1939-41 in London) through the lives of several young people: Mary, Tom, Alistair and Mary’s student, Zachary. A stunning evocation of small decisions and their far-reaching effects, and the utter desolation of war. (The third pick for the MMD Summer Reading Club.)

Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart
I loved Stewart’s novel Girl Waits with Gun and was thrilled to read a second book about Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S. This book finds Constance serving as jail matron, accidentally letting a slippery fugitive escape and pursuing him all over NYC and New Jersey. Smart, fast-paced and often funny; I love Constance’s narrative voice. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 6).

Geek Girl: Picture Perfect, Holly Smale
Smale’s third novel featuring geeky model Harriet Manners whisks Harriet and her family away to New York. Harriet is amusing, but she never does learn from her mistakes and I found myself losing patience with her. But this was still a fun, quick read. Pure YA fluff.

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

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favorite books 2016 part 1

We are halfway through the year already, and I’m reading at my usual breakneck pace – nearly 130 books. I talk about what I’m reading in my semi-monthly roundups, but I wanted to share the best of my reading year (so far) with you.

Here are the books I have loved the most this year. (Not all of them were published in 2016, though about half of them were.)

Book That Best Embodies Its Title: Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett. She writes with such grace and (yes) wisdom about the Big Questions of what it means to be human, and draws many other voices into that conversation. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time. So many great, thought-provoking sentences.

Loveliest Quiet Novel: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. This gorgeously written novel follows the intertwined lives of two couples, the Morgans and the Langs, over several decades. Beautiful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking and wise. A book worth reading and rereading. (Recommended by Anne and others.)

Most Captivating Young Adult Adventure Story: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. I loved every page of Leah Westfall’s journey from her Georgia homestead to the gold fields of California. She’s hiding a lot of secrets (including her ability to sense gold), but she is strong, compassionate and utterly human. I wrote about this book for Great New Books.

Most Sweeping, Heartbreaking, Absorbing Epic Novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Four words: my dad was right. I should have read this years ago, but I’m so glad I finally did. I fell head over heels for Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their band of cowboys and wanderers, making the journey from Texas to Montana. It’s long, but powerfully rendered in simple prose. So good.

Wisest Memoir on Faith, Seasons and Home: Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. I loved Christie’s honest, lyrical writing about making a home with her family in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, and the struggles of staying put and building a worthwhile life. Luminous, clear-eyed and utterly lovely.

Freshest Take on Holmes & Watson: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, which reimagines Holmes and Watson as 21st-century teenagers at a Connecticut boarding school. Charlotte Holmes is sharp, jagged and brilliant, and Jamie Watson is insightful and kind. (The dialogue is fantastic.)

Most Insightful Foodie Memoir: Stir by Jessica Fechtor, which recounts the author’s journey to recovery after a brain aneurysm, and how she found her everyday (and a lot of delicious, life-giving meals) in the kitchen. Warm, wry and beautifully written, with so many insightful lines on food, family and living well.

Most Brilliant Homage to a Classic: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, whose orphaned protagonist loves Jane Eyre but is not nearly so meek as that other Jane. Whip-smart writing, some truly wonderful supporting characters and so many fantastic lines.

Best Combination of Recipe Inspiration and Food Haiku: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, which includes mouthwatering recipes, lyrical tweets and some plainspoken wisdom about a tough year in Reichl’s life.

Best Reread: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos, which pulled me out of a serious reading slump. Beautifully written, deeply compassionate and so smart.

Best Book About Science and Life for Non-Scientists: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. A memoir about botany and building a life. Fascinating, sarcastic, lovely and wise.

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

What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2016?

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red books flowers

I’ve been diving into allll the books this month – several of them on vacation (of which more soon). Here’s the latest roundup:

When in French: Love in a Second Language, Lauren Collins
North Carolina native Lauren Collins never expected to fall in love with a Frenchman. But when she found herself married to Olivier and living in Geneva, she decided to get serious about learning French. Her memoir muses on the difficulties of language and culture clashes, American monolingualism and the blending of two families. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi’s graphic novel tells the story of her childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Powerful, often irreverent, sometimes funny. I reread this one for the RTFEBC (though it is definitely for older kids/teens).

The One-in-a-Million Boy, Monica Wood
This novel is the first pick for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s online Summer Reading Club. It follows the friendship between an 11-year-old boy and Miss Ona Vitkus, age 104 (he’s recording her life story on tape). Funny, poignant and sweet without being saccharine. So many wonderful lines.

The Darkness Knows, Cheryl Honigford
Vivian Witchell is an aspiring radio actress in 1930s Chicago. She’s just landed a plum new role when one of her colleagues is murdered – and Vivian is threatened. With the help of a handsome private eye, Vivian is determined to catch the killer. A fun period mystery; I loved the radio details. Vivian is spunky (if a little bullheaded) and engaging. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

At the Edge of Summer, Jessica Brockmole
In the summer of 1911, orphaned Clare Ross arrives at a quiet French chateau. She forges a deep friendship with Luc, the house’s son, but they are separated by life and war. Years later, they meet again in Paris and must try to bridge the gaps of time and grief. A subtle, lovely story of art, love and human connection, beautifully told.

The Unexpected Everything, Morgan Matson
Andie Walker always has a plan. She’s all set for a summer program at Johns Hopkins when a political scandal (her dad’s a congressman) puts her back at square one. Suddenly, Andie finds herself working as a dog walker and spending hours with a very cute boy. It’s idyllic, until a series of secrets threatens to ruin everything. I love Matson’s smart, sensitive, fun YA novels, and this one is great. Especially fun for writers, as Anne said.

Arsenic for Tea, Robin Stevens
Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the school holidays. When an unlikable houseguest is poisoned at afternoon tea, the girls take on the case. A really fun second mystery featuring these characters – so very English. (I have the UK edition; link is to the U.S. edition, called Poison is Not Polite.)

The Invitation, Lucy Foley
A glamorous party in Rome. A chance encounter. English journalist Hal never expects to see the mysterious Stella again. But a year later, they meet on a yacht, both of them loosely tied to a movie cast sailing to Cannes for the premiere of a new film. A gorgeous, bittersweet novel of loss and redemption, alternating between the Spanish Civil War and 1950s Italy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
Polly Waterford has a lovely little bakery, a doting boyfriend, a pet puffin and a quirky home in an old lighthouse. But when her landlady dies and her boyfriend has to go back to the U.S. for work, her carefully constructed life begins to unravel. A sweet (though often really sad) novel about baking, second chances and fighting to hold onto the good.

The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Plumb siblings are arguing about money again. Years ago, their father set up a modest trust fund (“The Nest”), and they were all counting on it until Leo, the eldest, got himself into trouble and their mother used The Nest to bail him out. Now, they all may have to reimagine their financial futures and rethink their relationships to one another. A smart, satirical but warmhearted novel of family and finances. (The second pick for the MMD Summer Reading Club.)

Lois Lane: Double Down, Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane, girl reporter, finally has friends and a place to belong: the Scoop, teen arm of the Daily Planet. Her second adventure involves following her nose to a big story involving the mayor’s office, her best friend’s sister and some seriously weird mind control. Lois is snarky but compassionate (think Veronica Mars) and her supporting cast is great. So fun.

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

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bunch of grapes bookstore marthas vineyard ma

We began May with a string of grey, rainy days – which are good reading weather, if nothing else. (We did get some sunshine while visiting the enchanting Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on our Martha’s Vineyard trip.)

Here, the books I have loved lately:

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
This much-heralded 21st-century retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a wild ride. Sittenfeld elegantly skewers both the Bennets and 21st-century social mores in biting prose (and on reality TV). Most of the relationships herein are more than a little depressing, but it’s still fun to read. I thought the elder Bennets were particularly well done. Reminiscent of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I adored.

Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George
This sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle finds Princess Celie and her siblings dealing with (more) new rooms, a gallery full of mysterious armor, a highly suspect wizard, and a newly hatched griffin. Really fun – though the ending felt quite abrupt. Made me curious to read book 3!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly
After her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster is not excited about moving to tiny River Heights, N.Y., with her mom. But then Digby – rude, sarcastic, brilliant and obsessed with crime-solving – shows up on her doorstep. Think Veronica Mars with a male sleuth and a smart female narrator. Snarky and fun, though a few plot threads were left dangling.

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year, Neil Hayward
After quitting his executive job, Neil Hayward found himself drifting. A longtime avid birder, he began spending copious amounts of time on birding trips, and found himself pursuing a Big Year (a birder’s quest to see as many species as possible in a year). This memoir traces his journey (geographical and personal). Slow at times, but full of lovely descriptions of birds, and insights into Hayward’s struggle with depression. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow, Tara Austen Weaver
I adore Tara’s blog and liked her first book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian. But this memoir is in a whole other league. She writes in gorgeous, sensitive prose about the ramshackle Seattle house and overgrown garden that her mother bought, and how their family brought it back to life together. So many insights on family, growth and community, through the lens of gardening. Beautiful.

Hour of the Bees, Lindsey Eagar
Carol, age 12, isn’t thrilled about spending her summer at her grandpa’s ranch in the middle of the New Mexico desert. But as she listens to Grandpa Serge’s stories, she comes to appreciate the ranch’s wild beauty, and gains some surprising insights into her family and herself. A lovely, bittersweet middle-grade novel about family, imagination and the titular bees.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl
When Gourmet magazine folded unexpectedly, Reichl, its longtime editor, wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. This memoir-cum-cookbook chronicles the year after Gourmet‘s demise, when Reichl spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, cooking her favorites and trying new things. Beautifully written (with her lyrical, haiku-like tweets sprinkled throughout) and so many tempting recipes. (I’ve already made two and have plans to try more.) Delectable.

A Certain Age, Beatriz Williams
New York, 1922: Mrs. Theresa Marshall’s dissolute brother, Ox, is finally getting married and he wants to employ an old family tradition: having a cavalier, a proxy, present the ring. Theresa enlists her lover, Octavian, as cavalier to the beautiful Sophie, which naturally leads to all sorts of tangled passions. Deliciously scandalous and elegantly written, like all Williams’ novels. (With cameos by members of the sprawling, blue-blooded Schuyler clan.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

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

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library book stack tulips

I posted this photo on Instagram recently after all six of my two-week (!) library holds came in at once. (I may have a slight problem.)

Here’s a roundup of some of those books, and others:

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
After having a brain aneurysm at age 28, Fechtor found solace and recovery in the kitchen: eating the meals she loved, cooking them when she was well enough, and later writing about them. A gorgeously written, insightful memoir of how food connects us to ourselves and those we love. I loved it, and now I want to make every recipe. (Bonus: Fechtor used to live in Cambridge, and she evokes Harvard Square perfectly.) I also got to meet Fechtor and hear her read at Brookline Booksmith – a delight. (Recommended by Leigh.)

The Key to Extraordinary, Natalie Lloyd
Emma Pearl Casey comes from a long line of extraordinary women. But as she grieves her mother’s death and watches her Granny Blue struggle to keep the family cafe afloat, she wonders how to fulfill her own destiny. A sweet, whimsical, brave middle-grade novel about family, courage and stepping into your true self. (I also loved Lloyd’s debut, A Snicker of Magic.)

When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park
This was the April pick for the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club. Through the eyes of two young narrators (Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul), Park vividly describes life in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. (The title refers to Koreans being forced to adopt Japanese names.) Fascinating and heartbreaking, and the first book I’ve read about this particular facet of WWII.

The Travelers, Chris Pavone
Will Rhodes is a travel writer for an international magazine – until he gets recruited by a woman who claims she’s CIA. Then Will starts to suspect that nothing in his life is what it seems – including his work and his marriage. Pavone writes such smart thrillers with sharp social commentary. Some great twists in this one, though it also struck me as deeply cynical.

Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Aaron remembers everything he hears and reads, but sometimes spouts facts at the wrong moment. Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, and has decided it’s not worth having friends. But when they end up at the same wilderness camp in West Texas, they both learn a few things about truth and friendship. A beautifully written middle-grade novel with very real characters (though the plot dragged a bit). Reminded me of my time at Camp Blue Haven, a decade ago.

Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye
I’d come across Nye’s poems (like “Gate A-4“) occasionally, and wanted to read more. (Plus I always make an effort to read poetry in April.) She writes in lovely, simple language about loss and love and everyday things. Some favorites: “Song,” “Daily,” “What People Do,” “Burning the Old Year.”

The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown
1999: Madeleine feels trapped in her loveless marriage. 1924: Madeleine’s grandmother, Margie, feels trapped by the rigid mores of her social class. Margie escapes to Paris and gradually comes out of her shell; Madeleine discovers Margie’s story through her journals and letters. A lovely dual-narrative story about learning to shake off other people’s expectations and change the stories we tell ourselves. (I adored Brown’s debut, The Weird Sisters.)

Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George
Anne mentioned this middle-grade novel on her blog recently. Princess Celie and her siblings live in Castle Glower, which (sort of like Hogwarts) adds new rooms and staircases at whim, usually on Tuesdays. When their parents go missing and are presumed dead, the siblings (and the Castle) must work to prevent their kingdom from being seized. Really fun. First in a series.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim
After loving The Enchanted April, I picked up von Arnim’s autobiographical novel of life at her German country estate, and rhapsodies about its garden. The descriptions of flowers and trees are gorgeous, but von Arnim’s marriage (to “the Man of Wrath”) made me so sad, as Jaclyn noted.

Shadow Spinner, Susan Fletcher
I’m getting a jump on the May pick for the RTFEBC. This is a spin on the tale of Scheherazade, narrated by a crippled servant girl who helps the young queen find new stories to tell the Sultan. Beautifully written, with engaging characters, though I saw some of the twists coming a mile away.

A Bed of Scorpions, Judith Flanders
Book editor Samantha Clair is drawn into another mystery when her old friend’s business partner dies unexpectedly. A witty mystery set in London’s art world. I like Sam and her supporting cast (her mother, neighbor, Scotland Yard detective boyfriend), though the plot got confusing at times.

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

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