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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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January has been a long year, as someone commented on social media recently. The latest batch of books, fortunately, has been excellent. Here’s what I have been reading:

Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them, Tove Danovich
Danovich dreamed of owning chickens during her years in Brooklyn – but when she moved to Oregon and ordered three chicks, she had no idea how they’d change her life. A warm, engaging, often hilarious deep dive into chicken-keeping, the poultry industry, chicken care and the ways these little birds steal their owners’ hearts. Informative and fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 28).

Island of Spies, Sheila Turnage
Hatteras Island, 1942: As World War II heats up, Sarah Stickley “Stick” Lawson and her two best friends, Rain and Neb, hunt for mysteries to solve on the island. They’re soon caught up in some real espionage, possibly involving the cranky postmistress, two enigmatic visitors, a couple of baseball players and Stick’s older sister. I loved this middle-grade novel about family and secrets and standing up for what’s right; I also adore Turnage’s Three Times Lucky and its sequels.

The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything, Kara Gnodde
Siblings Mimi and Art have always been close – especially since their parents’ tragic death. But in her thirties, Mimi gets restless and wants to find love. Art – a mathematical genius – agrees to help her if he can use an algorithm. When Mimi falls for Frank, another mathematician, Art is distressed for a few reasons. A thoughtful exploration of sibling dynamics; I loved Mimi’s friend Rey, and Frank himself. (Heads up for a few seriously heartbreaking death and hospital scenes.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out February 28).

Other Birds, Sarah Addison Allen
When 19-year-old Zoey moves into the condo she inherited from her mother on tiny, beautiful Mallow Island, she’s hoping to uncover some family secrets – but other secrets start to emerge almost immediately. From the resident turquoise birds to the suspicious death of one of her neighbors, plus a local reclusive author, Mallow Island is teeming with mystery. I love Addison Allen’s warm, enchanting Southern fiction; this one has some engaging characters, but also lots of deep sadness around abuse and addiction.

Operation Sisterhood, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Bo and her mum have always been a team, and Bo likes it that way. But when Mum announces she’s getting married, they move from the Bronx to Harlem and in with Bo’s new stepdad, his daughter, another family who shares their house, and a menagerie of pets. Bo – an introvert, baker and happy only child – likes her new family, but struggles to adjust. A warm, funny middle-grade novel (like the Vanderbeekers turned up to 11) with lashings of Black girl magic.

The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese
Verghese’s second novel traces the epic story of a family in southern India afflicted by a mysterious condition: one person in every generation dies by drowning. Spanning seven decades, the story begins with a child bride coming to Parambil, the family estate, and continues through several generations of love, loss, marriage, death, medical school and social change. Verghese is a medical doctor and it shows; the medical detail is painstaking (and occasionally gruesome). I read his memoir My Own Country in college and was blown away; he’s a powerful writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry
Poppy and Alex – polar opposites – have been best friends since college, taking an annual summer trip together. Until two years ago when they ruined everything. Poppy, floundering at work, is determined to salvage their friendship with one last trip to Alex’s brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. A funny story of travel disasters and friendship that might tip over into love; Poppy is wacky and oblivious, but eventually gains a little self-awareness. Fun for the winter doldrums.

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

What are you reading?

P.S. The February issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, will come out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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I’ve been blowing through books in the first days of 2023 – so it’s time for a roundup (already!). As we dive into a new year, here’s what I have been reading:

Mastering the Art of French Murder, Colleen Cambridge
Tabitha Knight is loving her sojourn in postwar Paris with her grand-pere – especially since she has Julia Child for a neighbor. But when an acquaintance is found stabbed with Julia’s kitchen knife, Tabitha undertakes a bit of amateur sleuthing. A fun, clever start to a new mystery series; technically my last book of 2022. Coming out in April; I read an ARC.

God’s Ex-Girlfriend: A Memoir About Loving and Leaving the Evangelical Jesus, Gloria Beth Amodeo
Raised in a fairly laid-back Catholic faith, Amodeo joined Campus Crusade for Christ as a college student. This memoir details her experience with Cru, as it’s now called; explores the reasons she clung to the community she found; and charts her struggles to get out of it. Thoughtful and relatable, though the ending felt rushed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21).

Code Name Sapphire, Pan Jenoff
German political cartoonist Hannah Martel escapes to her cousin Lily’s house in Belgium after the Nazis discover her true identity. There, she joins the Sapphire Line resistance network, working with the prickly Micheline and her brother Matteo. But the network is (always) in jeopardy, and its members face danger and compromise at every turn. A compelling WWII story inspired by a real-life train break; Hannah and Lily’s relationship is especially complex. I found the ending really depressing. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7).

Freestyle, Gale Galligan
Cory Tan loves nothing more than dancing with his crew of friends. But when his parents freak out about his grades and get him a tutor, he makes a friend and discovers a new hobby – yo-yo throwing. I adored this sweet middle-grade graphic novel (a Christmas gift from my guy) about friendship, stretching your horizons, apologizing and trying new things. So joyful and fun.

The Porcelain Moon, Janie Chang
Pauline Deng loves working in her uncle’s antique shop in Paris with her beloved cousin Theo. When war breaks out and Theo joins the Chinese Labour Corps as a translator, big changes come for them both, as well as for Camille, a young woman in the village where Theo is stationed. I flew through this well-written novel about a relatively unknown slice of WWI history. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21).

A Perilous Undertaking, Deanna Raybourn
Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her colleague Stoker have settled into their jobs cataloging the collection of a London gentleman. But when they get asked to investigate a murder, things get way more interesting. A fun, well-plotted mystery (though I agree with my friend Jess – too many phallic jokes). I like Stoker and Veronica, and Raybourn’s writing is highly entertaining.

Her Lost Words, Stephanie Marie Thornton
Both Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley (who never knew her mother) longed to take the world by storm. Thornton’s novel unfolds both women’s stories in alternating timelines, charting their emotional and financial struggles as well as their writing (with despairs and successes). A little long, but ultimately fascinating – like its subjects. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 28).

A Spoonful of Murder, Robin Stevens
Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells travel to Hong Kong to mourn Hazel’s grandfather. When they arrive, they find some surprises – including a new baby brother for Hazel, and soon, a murder. I enjoy this British middle-grade series; I love Hazel as a narrator, and I especially enjoyed the sensitive explorations of the dynamics between the girls in a new setting.

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

What are you reading?

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for next time!

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Happy New Year, friends. However you celebrated, I hope your holidays were lovely.

I spent some time in Texas with family and longtime friends, then came back here for a few days to settle back in and hang with my guy. I’m grateful for the time away and also thankful to have had some time here, in my little book-lined flat near the harbor, which is currently filled with winter sunshine.

I often need a writing project to kick-start a new year or season, and – inspired by Ross Gay’s wonderful The Book of Delights – I’ve decided to share a different delight on the blog each Monday in 2023. I want to celebrate the good, especially after the last few difficult years, and this feels both fun and doable. Each week I’ll share a brief meditation on an everyday – sometimes overlooked, but truly wonderful – delight.

In the spirit of the holidays, here’s the first delight: giving, and receiving, gifts that make you feel seen.

I’ve written before about my gift-giving anxiety, the way I can get tied up in knots over what to get my people to properly express my love. Sometimes, I’ve put too much weight on the buying of said gifts: expecting them to somehow make up for the time I can’t spend with people, or the conversations we don’t have. But increasingly, when I can (mostly) let go of all that pressure, I truly enjoy searching for gifts that my people will love.

This year, I bought my guy a few things he adored: a new graphic novel, a bag of his favorite tea, a beautiful ramen bowl he’d admired, a bandana from Janine Kwoh’s wonderful shop. I found fun novels for a few girlfriends that I knew would suit their tastes, and bought my nephew the sequel to an adventure book he loves. And each time, I loved watching their faces light up (or receiving the joyous text) that let me know: I’d gotten them something that would bring them delight, something suited to their particular ways of experiencing joy.

I was also on the receiving end of this delight: my sister bought me a sweatshirt that says, “Drink tea, read books, be happy” (basically my life motto). A friend got me a gift card to the charming new bookstore in Abilene, so I could browse and pick out just what I wanted. Other friends sent citrus shower steamers and cute spatulas and a darling red hat (my favorite color). My guy bought me a stack of thoughtfully chosen books, and a delicate pair of gingko-leaf earrings I’d wanted. And my parents got me a couple of gift cards that will help me plan my next trip – plus a chic plaid scarf, a Christmas ornament from a favorite local shop, and a big bar of creamy Cadbury chocolate.

I often quote Clare from I’ll Be Your Blue Sky: “I am one of those people who believe at least half of love is paying attention.” Giving, and receiving, gifts like this lets me know that my people and I are paying attention to each other. They see me, with my quirks and preferences and particular tastes, and I see them, too, and celebrate their unique souls. Tangible gifts aren’t the only way to pay attention, of course, but they can certainly be a delightful one.

What’s delighting you so far in this new year? I’d love to hear.

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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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!

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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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