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three lives bookstore interior

The reading has been slow lately, due to the election and the general life craziness. But here are a few good books I’ve discovered this month. (Photo: the wonderful Three Lives & Co. bookstore in NYC.)

Goodbye to a River, John Graves
I loved this wise, wry, observant, slightly cranky account of a canoe trip down the Brazos River (in central Texas) in the 1950s. Graves and a dachshund pup he calls “the passenger” paddle through a stark, isolated, often beautiful stretch of country, and Graves muses on history, change, nature and whatever else comes into his head. Reminded me of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which I adored.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, Yee-Lum Mak (illus. Kelsey Garrity-Riley)
This was an impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store: a gorgeous, whimsical illustrated compendium of untranslatable words in English and other languages. I am particularly enchanted by raðljóst, an Icelandic word that means “enough light to find your way by.” So lovely.

Like a River Glorious, Rae Carson
Leah “Lee” Westfall and her companions have made it to California, and they set about staking claims and establishing a small town they dub “Glory.” But Lee’s evil uncle Hiram is still hot on her trail, and she must thwart his plans before he destroys everything she loves. A rich, adventurous, well-plotted sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger (which I loved) – and there’s a third book forthcoming.

A Most Novel Revenge, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames, amateur sleuth, and her husband Milo are summoned to an odd country-house party: the other guests all witnessed a murder several years ago. As secrets and lies simmer beneath the surface, another guest is found dead and Amory tries to ferret out the killer. This third case wasn’t quite as engaging as the first two, but I like Amory and I love a good British mystery.

A Symphony of Echoes, Jodi Taylor
This sequel to Just One Damned Thing After Another (which I so enjoyed) finds the time-traveling historians of St. Mary’s grappling with a sneaky enemy – one bent on destroying their institute and possibly doing violence to history itself. I love Max, the whip-smart, fierce, damaged narrator, and her loyal, brilliant, eccentric companions. Snarky, hilarious and so smart, with copious amounts of wit and tea.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be, Carol D. Marsh
Marsh had no idea what she was getting into when she founded Miriam’s House, a resident community for homeless women living with AIDS in Washington, D.C. This memoir tells the stories of many Miriam’s House residents alongside Marsh’s own story of learning to live in relationship with them. Powerful, well-written and so timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 10, 2017).

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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belong to me book tulips mug

April has brought the craziest weather so far: six inches of snow, torrential rain, mild sunshine. Here’s what I have been reading:

Last Ride to Graceland, Kim Wright
Blues musician Cory Beth Ainsworth has always known her mama spent a year as a backup singer for Elvis – but she’s never known the details. After her mother dies, Cory stumbles upon a vintage Stutz Blackhawk in her stepfather’s shed: a car that belonged to the King himself. Fueled by a need to know more about her own history, Cory takes to the road, driving the Blackhawk from South Carolina to Memphis. A sweet road-trip story, though Cory is seriously flaky. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 24).

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
During a serious reading slump, I picked up this book and fell head over heels (again) into this luminous, funny, utterly genuine story about a few families whose lives become intertwined. I adore Cornelia, who also narrates Love Walked In, and I love how her world gets bigger and richer in this book. I am amazed at de los Santos’ deep compassion for her characters, even prickly Piper (Cornelia’s neighbor).

West Wind, Mary Oliver
I need a Mary Oliver fix every once in a while (especially during National Poetry Month). This collection of poems and prose poems is luminous and lovely. Some favorites: “Fox,” “It is midnight, or almost,” and the last poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

Audacity Jones to the Rescue, Kirby Larson
Audacity Jones is whisked away from Miss Maisie’s Home for Wayward Girls as part of a top-secret mission involving President Taft – but neither the mission nor its consequences are what she expects. A fun, fast-paced middle-grade novel with a spunky, clever heroine. (I love her name!)

The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons
After World War II, the Fox-Talbot estate in Dorset (Hartgrove Hall) is falling apart, and the family’s three sons work to try and save it. Harry, the youngest, is a gifted composer and avid folk-song collector, but he’s also in love with his brother’s girlfriend. Solomons’ writing is gorgeous – she evokes both music and the English countryside so well – though the love triangle didn’t feel quite believable to me. (I loved her earlier novel The House at Tyneford.)

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
The four Melendy children – Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver – live with their father in a comfortable, shabby brownstone in 1940s New York City. They decide to pool their allowances so they can have adventures on Saturdays, and do they ever! I love this book – the writing is simple and lovely and the characters are so much fun. First in a series.

Under a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee
After Samantha Young loses her father and her home, she finds herself fleeing town in the company of a runaway slave, Annamae. The two girls disguise themselves as boys and strike out for the Oregon Trail, hoping to outrun their problems and chase their dreams to California. A smart, vivid YA novel with two brave heroines and some really fun supporting characters (human and animal). Reminded me a bit of Walk on Earth a Stranger.

A Front Page Affair, Radha Vatsal
Capability “Kitty” Weeks has ambitions of being a journalist, but she’s stuck writing for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel. But when a man is murdered at a society picnic on her beat, Kitty finds herself drawn into a twisty conspiracy. This one had a slow start but picked up later on. Kitty is a likable heroine and the setting (1915 NYC) will appeal to lovers of historical mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
Four Englishwomen, unacquainted and all variously miserable for their own reasons, rent a charming Italian villa for the month of April. A winsome comedy of manners with plenty of wit and many amusing misunderstandings. (Also: gorgeous descriptions.) Utterly delightful. Recommended by my pen pal Jaclyn.

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

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walk on earth a stranger book rae carson mug

Leah “Lee” Westfall has a secret: she can sense the presence of gold. Whether it’s a few flakes of gold dust in a riverbed or a nugget hidden under a floorboard, the metal calls to Lee, tugging at her fingers and tingling in her throat.

Since her father fell ill, Lee’s gold sense (as well as her skill with a gun) has allowed her to help provide for her family. But when her beloved parents are both murdered, Lee runs away from her greedy uncle – the only other person who knows her secret. Disguising herself as a boy, Lee joins a wagon train headed for California, where the promise of gold beckons to settlers and opportunists longing to build a new life.

I’ve read and loved my fair share of fantasy novels peopled by witches, wizards, demigods and other magical creatures: books by J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Rick Riordan. But I also love this kind of fantasy: the kind that weaves a glittering thread of magic into a story set in our own world.

In Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson brings the historical detail of the California Gold Rush to vivid life, tracing Lee’s journey from rural Georgia to Independence, Missouri, and then across the largely uncharted territory of the American West.

It’s my turn to share a recommendation at Great New Books today, and I’m talking about how much I loved Walk on Earth a Stranger. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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