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Another month has flown by! As we wrap up August, here’s what I have been reading:

Just Another Love Song, Kerry Winfrey
Sandy Macintosh has built a life for herself in her Ohio hometown – she’s even happy, most of the time. But when her first love Hank Tillman (now a successful musician) comes back to town with his son in tow, Sandy’s emotions go haywire. I love Winfrey’s warmhearted feel-good romances, and this one was sweet – full of fun summer vibes and serious questions about figuring out what you truly want.

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys and Struggles of Being Alone, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
Solitude and loneliness are, of course, not the same – but they often go hand in hand, and they’re both nearly universal experiences. This anthology explores loneliness in many forms – it is sad and lovely and extremely validating. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Argyles and Arsenic, Molly MacRae
The women of Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to helping host the local knitting competition in tiny Inversgail, Scotland. But when the director of the local museum is poisoned at a party, they can’t help but investigate (of course). I like the setting of this series, but the plot of this one didn’t do it for me – plus a super irritating plot device didn’t help.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, Clare Pooley
I loved Pooley’s first novel, The Authenticity Project, and also loved this one – about a group of strangers on a London commuter train (led by the titular Iona) who enter each other’s lives and become good friends. Sweet, heartwarming and so beautifully human. I loved vibrant Iona, shy Sanjay, gawky Martha and the kindness in all of them.

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, Jamie K. McCallum
We all spent the first part of the pandemic applauding essential workers (sometimes literally). But despite arguing and agitating for better wages and conditions, a lot of essential jobs are truly terrible. McCallum dives into the labor strikes, walkouts and other campaigns of the pandemic, connecting them to the long history of labor organizing in the U.S., and urgently calling for higher wages, government support and better working conditions for nurses, food service workers and others. Insightful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Death at the Manor, Katharine Schellman
Lily Adler is delighted to be visiting her aunts in Hampshire, with friends. But their visit takes a turn when a local elderly woman is murdered – ostensibly by a ghost. This third mystery featuring Lily had a bit of gothic flair; I thought the plot dragged for a while, though the conclusion was interesting.

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

What are you reading?

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Earlier this summer, one of my dear friends moved away (sniff), and we made a serious effort to soak up some time together before she left town. One afternoon in late June, she texted with a question: would I like to join her and her daughter at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that week? Of course, the answer was yes.

The Gardner is one of my favorite semi-hidden Boston gems; it’s tucked away in the Fenway neighborhood, built around a central courtyard that’s full of lush plantings year-round. Mrs. Gardner, as the docents still call her, was an avid collector of art, furniture and curiosities, from around the world. Her acquisitions are still arranged just as she specified – in multilayered, sometimes overwhelming splendor – at the mansion/museum she called Fenway Court.

The first few times I went to the Gardner, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art: there are thousands of objects, including paintings, textiles, furniture, dishes, sculptures, sketches, letters, tapestries and who knows what else. It took me a while to realize the goal isn’t to see or learn about everything: it’s to walk through and experience the total effect, the layers of history and different origin stories and artistic styles, all brought together by one woman’s passion for collecting. These days, I wander through, pausing when a piece catches my eye, but less focused on the details than on the whole.

This time was different, for several reasons: first, we enjoyed a snack at the cafe before our museum tour. I’d never been to the (relatively) new Cafe G before, but I have to say, the citrus pound cake was delicious (and felt fancy).

The three of us wandered around, starting at the top floor of the museum (for something different) and winding our way back down to the ground floor. I loved being there with 12-year-old Lucy, who noticed things I’d never have picked up on, and asked excellent questions (my favorite: “What would you want to ask Isabella, if you could?”).

In light of the current conversations around artistic objects, their provenance, and the recent encouraging trend of museums considering returning stolen objects, I also wondered about the collection at the Gardner. Where did all these objects come from? Who brought them to Isabella? Were they given freely (in exchange for money, of course) or stolen from their original homes? What happened to the people, buildings and communities who created them? I never used to consider these questions when I visited museums, but I am thinking about so many things differently now. (I am also, as ever, curious about the heist in 1990, which has never yet been solved.)

Every time I go to the Gardner, I find myself drawn to the windows in every room, gazing out onto the courtyard, which I find both restful and beautiful. (I’ve never seen the famous nasturtium plantings there, but it’s on my list for this winter.) Mostly, I was grateful to share a lovely afternoon with two women I love, in a place we all enjoy.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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It’s suddenly August (how??) and between work, a couple of weekend getaways and serious summer heat, here’s what’s saving my life right now:

  • Poetry Unbound. I had missed the most recent season, but am catching up, and it’s a joy to hear Padraig’s lilting Irish voice and discover new-to-me poets.
  • Daylilies, echinacea and sunflowers – it’s hot, but these beauties (like me) are hanging on.
  • The teeny tiny cherry tomatoes I’m growing on the back patio.
  • Sitting out back in the evenings with a book and some lemonade, when I can.
  • My favorite denim shorts, my trusty Allbirds sneakers and a few new tops from a friend, which amounts to a mini wardrobe refresh.
  • Lots and lots (and lots) of water.
  • Tea, always tea: MEM ginger peach, Trader Joe’s watermelon mint, the occasional iced chai.
  • Texts from a couple of lifesaving faraway friends.
  • Planning a couple of August adventures.
  • Watermelon facial mist from Trader Joe’s, which sounds ridiculous but is very refreshing.
  • Ukulele fun at my workplace: “Ode to Joy,” Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and assorted other tunes.
  • Fun books: rom-coms, mysteries, middle grade, a super nerdy nonfiction book about blurbs.
  • An occasional walk to the neighborhood park to watch the sunset (see above).

What’s saving your life in these deep summer days?

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Suddenly, it’s July – the heat is here, as are the occasional summer thunderstorms. Nine days to Walk for Music; a couple weeks until a getaway I’m looking forward to. As we close out June, here’s what I have been reading:

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, Nina Totenberg
Totenberg, a longtime NPR reporter, met Ruth Bader Ginsburg early(ish) in both their careers. Her memoir traces their five-decade friendship, but it’s also a broader meditation on friendship, community, Washington insider politics and the challenges of being a woman in Washington’s highly rarefied environment. Thoughtful and insightful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

In a New York Minute, Kate Spencer
Franny Doyle is having a terrible day: she got laid off, then her dress ripped in the subway door. Then a handsome guy offered her his suit jacket and their “love story” went viral. But is there maybe a spark there after all? I loved this sweet, sassy rom-com that’s also a love letter to NYC and a tribute to stalwart friendships (for both main characters). So much fun. Recommended by Annie.

The Last Mapmaker, Christina Soontornvat
Sai has spent her life (so far) struggling to rise above her family’s low-class background. When she gets a chance to join an exploratory voyage as a mapmaker’s assistant, she jumps at it. But on board ship, she discovers that so many things – including the voyage itself – are more complicated than they seem. A Thai-inspired adventure that asks some interesting questions; dragged in the middle but ultimately was really fun. Recommended by Karina Yan Glaser, whose books I adore.

My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
I admire Sotomayor, but didn’t know much about her before reading this wonderful memoir of her early life and career. She tells a compelling, warmhearted story of her early life in the Bronx, her Puerto Rican family, her journey to Princeton and Yale and her career as a lawyer and judge. Thoughtful, insightful and fascinating. Recommended by my friend Allison, who also loved it.

Portrait of a Thief, Grace D. Li
I loved this Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist novel that follows five Chinese-American college students as they attempt to steal back several priceless bronze pieces that Western museums have looted from China. I liked the characters, the fast pace and especially the questions about ethics, colonialism and who gets to decide where certain treasures belong. Fun and thought-provoking. Recommended by Anne.

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix, Bethany Morrow
It’s 1863 and the March women are building a life for themselves in the freedpeople’s colony of Roanoke Island, Virginia. I loved this thoughtful remix of a beloved story; the sisters are recognizably themselves, but also distinct from Alcott’s characters. The warmth of family love and the past trauma of enslavement are strong, and I appreciated the questions Morrow’s characters ask about equality and freedom. Excellent. Also recommended by Anne.

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

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June is flying by, and I’m flying through stacks of review and library books. Here’s what I have been reading:

Empathy Economics: Janet Yellen’s Remarkable Rise to Power and Her Drive to Forge Prosperity for All, Owen Ullmann
Janet Yellen is a fascinating figure: not only is she the first woman to hold several key US financial positions, including Treasury secretary, but her approach to economics consistently aims to benefit ordinary citizens. Ullmann has written a thorough, well-researched biography of Yellen’s life and career, which is also a crash course in the U.S. financial system. Dense at times, but mostly very clear, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything), Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
I love the ladies of Pantsuit Politics and their wise, thoughtful approach to politics and other difficult conversations. This, their second book, explores how to talk about tough stuff with our families, friends and communities. Practical and thought-provoking, with examples from their own lives; I loved it.

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Just after Britain’s king abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson, a wealthy British man (engaged to an American widow) is murdered in Singapore. Chen Su Lin, assistant to Chief Inspector Le Froy, investigates. A fun second adventure with an engaging protagonist, and a fascinating slice of colonial life.

The Last Karankawas, Kimberly Garza
Garza’s stunning debut novel takes us into the Filipino- and Mexican-American communities in Galveston and nearby parts of south Texas. I loved her narrative voice, and the way her characters’ lives are intertwined. As Hurricane Ike heads for the Gulf Coast, residents must make the choice to evacuate or to stay and hunker down. This is a part of Texas I don’t know as well; it is recognizable but also new. Gorgeous. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

Alias Emma, Ava Glass
Emma Makepeace (not her real name, of course) always wanted to be a spy: her father died honorably attempting to help bring democracy to Russia. Years later, Emma receives her first major assignment: she must ferry the son of Russian dissidents across London, before sunrise, while staying well away from the city’s surveillance system. A fun, twisty modern-day British spy thriller; first in a new series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

With Love from Wish & Co., Minnie Darke
Marnie Fairchild has spent her adult life working hard to build up her gift-wrapping and -buying business – and wishing she could move into her grandfather’s old shop. When she mixes up the gifts intended for a wealthy client’s wife and his mistress, trouble ensues – and to top it off, Marnie finds herself falling for the client’s son. A warmhearted story with some interesting ethical questions at its center and engaging characters. I particularly liked Suzanne, the client’s wife, and Saski, Marnie’s big-hearted accountant and friend. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 16).

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

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  • A (tiny) bit about cricket, thanks to Matthew Lewis’ explanatory video after the cricket episode of All Creatures Great and Small.
  • Worldle is much harder than Wordle (at least for me!).
  • It is lovely to let yourself be cared for. (This is one I have to learn over and over again.)
  • Red-eye jet lag is real.
  • Beverly, north of Boston, is charming (this after a recent weekend spent there with my guy).
  • How to do a few salsa turns.
  • Having local adventures again feels really good.
  • Just ask. (This might be one of my taglines for the year.)

What did you learn in this short, frigid month?

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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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Well, friends, it happened: after nearly two years of wearing a mask, washing my hands incessantly, getting vaccinated and taking all the other precautions we’re all used to now, I tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

I was lucky. My symptoms were fairly mild, mostly fatigue and congestion (though I will say the brain fog is real). My employer has been generous about giving us extra sick time for isolation and recovery (though I did work from home when I felt well enough, to stave off the boredom). I felt tired and draggy for nearly a week, and I’ve still had some fatigue and a lingering cough – but mostly, I feel grateful it wasn’t much worse.

My mild-ish symptoms didn’t surprise me too much: I’m vaxxed, boosted, in a low-risk demographic, etc. What did surprise me were some of the emotions I felt. They ran the gamut from fear (what if I become severely ill?) to worry (does my partner have it too? Spoiler: he did, and he’s also fine now) to eye-rolling frustration (here we go with the isolation and counting days).

There was also abject sadness and terror at the thought of more isolation in my apartment, after spending most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 alone there. I broke down and sobbed to my mom on the phone after I got my positive results. I have worked so hard since my divorce to build a life for myself that includes community, but as a household of one with a highly contagious virus, I knew I was facing down at least a week of serious solitude.

I felt helpless and frustrated (there was nothing I could do about it), mildly outraged (but I’ve been doing everything right! The whole time!), and a little bit ashamed (I caught the virus anyway. Did I do something wrong?). And deep down, after a couple of days, I also felt a creeping sense of relief: now I’ve had it. So that happened.

In addition to all these emotions, I truly did feel lucky: my community stepped up for me, in ways both tangible and intangible. One friend dropped off groceries (and cough drops) on a bitterly cold afternoon. My supervisor called to check in on a few mornings. I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had tested positive the day after I did – which saved both of our sanity. Other friends texted; my parents called; my sister checked in on me every day. My partner and I did our best to support each other via FaceTime and phone calls, and on the weekend when we reunited in person, we hugged for minutes at a time. I felt loved and supported, even while I was physically alone.

As this pandemic drags on and on, the omicron wave has hit a lot of households in my circles that had so far managed to avoid the virus. My folks, my partner and various friends are all recovering; here in Boston we are still masking, sanitizing, flashing our vaccine cards to eat indoors and go to the gym and go hear live music (or dance salsa, in my case).

We are still here, I keep saying to my colleagues, my parents, my COVID-weary friends. I keep hearing Beth Silvers‘ voice in my head: It’s a virus, not a moral defect. Which is to say: keep doing everything you can, but testing positive is not a moral failure. It’s simply something many of us will have to deal with at some point.

I don’t have any neat and tidy conclusions, but wanted to share my experience in case it is helpful to someone here. (Beth also noted that, like childbirth, having COVID is a singular, isolating experience that creates some stuff we need to process together.) Thanks for reading, friends. If you have your own experiences/emotions to share, please feel free – I’m listening.

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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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Hello, friends. It is so cold – the high yesterday here in Boston was 14 (!) degrees. It feels much warmer today (we’re above freezing!), but between the cold and the endless pandemic anxiety, I’ve been struggling with the blues. At least the sun is (mostly) shining; we had a solid week of rain and fog around Christmas/New Year’s and it was rough.

I’m isolating in my apartment this week after a positive COVID test. My symptoms are mild and I have enough groceries, etc., but of course it’s a bummer. And the headlines – and their individual impacts on each of our lives – go on and on.

So, in the spirit of hope and trying to find some joy, here’s what’s saving my life this week:

  • Sunshine, as always. Even when it’s bitterly cold, these blue and silver winter days (and the sunlight pouring in my kitchen windows) are so beautiful.
  • The Twisted Tomboy shower bombs I found recently at the Booksmith – so potent and refreshing.
  • Abby Rasminsky’s gorgeous, honest newsletter – she writes so well about pandemic life and trying to find the good.
  • The teas I stocked up on in December: one batch from my beloved local MEM Tea, one from the wonderful McNulty’s in Greenwich Village, NYC.
  • Related: my favorite mugs, including an old one from Obvious State and a newish one from Flour.
  • My friend Micha’s lovely, contemplative podcast, The Slow Way.
  • Hannah Jane Parkinson’s quirky, lovely collection The Joy of Small Things, which I found at the marvelous Three Lives – exactly what it sounds like.
  • Texts and calls from my people, and a friend dropping off a bag of groceries the other day.
  • My leggy, lovely geraniums, which are reaching for the light in my kitchen window.
  • Good books, including a stack of library finds and a virtual stack of e-galleys for review.
  • Fun Spotify mixes: jazz and movie soundtracks, folk and Motown, nineties country – whatever I’m in the mood for.

What’s saving your life in these long winter days?

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