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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

We’ve (nearly) made it through February, and I’ve read some great books lately. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom
Broom is the youngest of 12 children born to Ivory Mae, who bought the titular house in New Orleans East in 1961. Broom’s memoir relates her family’s history with the house and neighborhood (wrecked by Hurricane Katrina) and her own wanderings, searching for a place to call home. Started slowly, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.

Hid from Our Eyes, Julia Spencer-Fleming
In Millers Kill, N.Y., an unidentified young woman is found dead: barefoot, wearing a party dress, not a mark on her. The case is uncannily like two others from 1952 and 1972, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne (then a young Vietnam vet) was a person of interest in the latter. As Russ tries to solve all three cases, his wife Clare Fergusson is juggling priesthood, new motherhood, a new intern and other troubles. I love this series and this ninth entry (we’d been waiting a while) was excellent: well plotted with compelling characters and plenty of depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 7).

The Sweeney Sisters, Lian Dolan 
Liza, Maggie and Tricia Sweeney shared a (mostly) idyllic childhood in a WASPy Connecticut town. But after their father, literary light William Sweeney, dies, they discover their former neighbor, Serena, is really their half sister. A smart, witty novel of all four grown women grappling with these revelations; juicy and funny and full of heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, Wes Moore
Police violence against black men is (unfortunately) nothing new in this country. But after Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, Baltimore exploded in protests and anger. Moore, himself a black Baltimore native, chronicles the week of the riots through the stories of seven people: protesters, lawyers, civic figures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Tessa Arlen
This book is my catnip: a British mystery set in wartime with a smart, witty heroine who feels a bit out of place. Poppy is a newly trained air raid warden who’s back from London patrolling her little village, when two local girls are murdered. With the help of her corgi, Bess, and a handsome American pilot, she tries to solve the case. So fun.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
I love this last book in the series: big, emotional, complex, satisfying, with so many great moments for so many characters. It’s a commitment but it’s one I’m always glad to make.

The Authenticity Project, Clare Pooley
How honest are we, really, with the people in our lives? That’s the question posed in a green notebook that London cafe owner Monica picks up. What’s written inside will have a ripple effect on her life and several others. I loved the characters in this sweet, fresh novel about secrets and friendship and admitting that life is messy.

Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself, Klancy Miller
I discovered Klancy via her risotto recipe on Cup of Jo, and have been loving her fresh, accessible cookbook full of yummy recipes and pithy advice on cooking for one. Favorites include her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, lemony pancakes, curried sweet potato-carrot soup, lentil soup, and that risotto.

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, Catriona Menzies-Pike
I read this book two winters ago, right after I became a runner. I’ve been savoring it again, slowly, this winter as I run through the grief from my divorce and the joys and challenges of my new life. Menzies-Pike surprised herself by becoming a runner (like me), and she writes well and honestly about the gifts, frustrations and soul-deep change that running can offer. Also some fascinating feminist history here. Highly recommended.

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

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This is the winter of lunchtime runs, hauling my running gear and bright blue sneakers to work in my gray backpack so I can get out on the Esplanade twice a week or so, catching the sunshine and whatever warmth it provides.

This is the winter of all the puzzles, spread out on my friend Chrissy’s coffee table: NYC signs and Italian hillsides and bucolic New England landscapes, worked a piece at a time while we talk about our lives.

This is the winter of Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant cookbook about doing just that. I’ve been eating her lentil soup (stuffed with other veggies), her lemony pancakes, her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, for weeks.

This is the winter of almost no snow and only a few extended cold snaps. I’m missing the brilliance of sunlight on reflected snowbanks (and worried about what it means for the climate) even as I give thanks for the lack of grey slush.

This is the winter of settling into Eastie, continuing to make a home in this neighborhood that became mine last year. I’m growing paperwhites in my kitchen window, meeting a few more neighbors, going to yoga and strength training classes at The Point on the regular.

This is the winter of a(nother) Harry Potter reread, undertaken in tandem with someone I love, walking alongside Harry and his companions as they learn and grow and face unbelievable evil with courage and love.

This is the winter of sharp loneliness and sudden tears, still mourning the death of my marriage and adjusting (in all ways) to a new landscape without it.

This is the winter of avocado toast, handfuls of clementines, chunks of Trader Joe’s crumbly English cheddar, Molly’s scones and Jessica Fechtor’s oatmeal cookies, soup simmered in my red stockpot, endless cups of Earl Grey.

This is the winter of runs along the Harborwalk, vivid sunset light reflected in the water, marking the tides and the miles with my feet and the pounding of my heart.

This is the winter of Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru, hearty soups decanted into red-lidded Tupperware and heated in the office microwave, cloth napkins and on-the-go utensils and laughter before we hug and go our separate ways.

This is the winter of starting to heal, doing my best to welcome unexpected joys where they appear.

What does life look like for you this winter?

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This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

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

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Here we are, two weeks into a new year, and it’s time to share what I have been reading:

Hannah’s War, Jan Eliasberg
As World War II rages on, an international team of brilliant scientists are working on a top-secret bomb in the lab at Los Alamos. Among them is Dr. Hannah Weiss, who fled Berlin in the wake of Nazi persecution. Major Jack Delaney, sent to catch a spy, begins investigating Hannah, but finds himself drawn to her instead – and they’re both hiding secrets. I read this in one day; it’s gorgeous, compelling and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald
Anne recommended this last summer, and I grabbed it at the library. It’s a bittersweet love story set in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal – Nora, a young woman who died in a 1925 subway crash, keeps reappearing in the terminal, where she falls in love with Joe, a train leverman. I loved the period details, the vivid characters, the honest way they dealt with the complexities of love. Still thinking about the ending.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
I’m several years late to Woodson’s gorgeous memoir-in-verse. I both devoured and savored her lyrical, plainspoken, vivid memories of childhood with her brothers and sister, her grandparents’ love, their transition from Greenville, S.C., to Brooklyn, and the beginnings of her desire to be a writer. Powerful and lovely.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
Harry and his friends are back at Hogwarts – and he finds himself competing in the Triwizard Tournament, somewhat against his will. The story grows darker, and I love how Rowling draws us deeper into the wizarding world. Also, Rowling’s wit (and the Weasley twins’ ingenuity) shines: “Just then, Neville caused a slight diversion by turning into a large canary.”

The Case of the Wandering Scholar, Kate Saunders
Widowed clergyman’s wife Laetitia Rodd takes on a second case, this one involving a scholar/hermit living near Oxford. She’s trying to track him down to deliver a message from his dying brother – but then, two local priests (one a friend of hers) are murdered, and it’s all connected somehow. Mrs. Rodd is a sharp, compassionate, no-nonsense amateur sleuth and this mystery (whose setting reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford) was thoroughly enjoyable.

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

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Somehow, it’s 2020 – and I’m still catching up from Christmas break. Here’s my last list of reads for 2019:

Red Letter Days, Sarah-Jane Stratford
When the House Un-American Activities Committee begins blacklisting writers, Phoebe Adler flees to London after receiving a subpoena. There, she begins working for Hannah Wolfson, a fellow exiled American who’s creating a new hit show. But both women are in more danger than they realize. A well-plotted historical novel with great characters – I wanted to meet Phoebe, Hannah and all their friends for a cocktail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 25).

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison, Jason Hardy
Hardy spent four years working as a parole officer in New Orleans. This book gives an insider’s account of the probation and parole (P&P) system, which aims to keep offenders from relapsing into addiction, going back to jail or prison, or hurting themselves or other people. Hardy wrestles with the lack of resources, the staggering problems facing most of his offenders, and his own privilege. A thoughtful, timely, compelling account. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 18).

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin
This fun Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in Toronto’s Indian Muslim community, came recommended by Anne and others. I loved Ayesha, the Elizabeth Bennet character, and her supporting cast, especially her Shakespeare-quoting grandfather. Witty, entertaining and sweet, with some fresh twists on the classic story.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
Brown is well known for her work on race relations, and her memoir shares her experience with race and faith, and poses some tough questions. Well-written, hard-hitting and powerful; I’ll be processing this one for a while.

The Queen Con, Meghan Scott Molin
MG Martin, comic-book writer and costume designer extraordinaire, gets drawn into a second mystery involving a local superhero vigilante. But this time several of her friends, including drag queen Lawrence, may be in danger. The plot gets a bit convoluted, but this series is full of nerddom and great characters.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s third year at Hogwarts starts (and in some ways ends) with Sirius Black, a notorious wizard who has escaped Azkaban, the wizard prison. This book is one of my favorites in the series – especially the last bit, where everything (thanks in large part to Lupin and Hermione) blows wide open. So much fun.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, Amaryllis Fox
I blew through Fox’s memoir on my plane ride home. She gives a clear, thoughtful account of her career in the CIA, and the ways an undercover life prevented her from building a true marriage or family. Fascinating and thought-provoking – parts of it read like a spy thriller.

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at Trident, and it was the perfect sweet, witty, British Christmas read. Widowed mum Kate is struggling to make Christmas merry for herself and her young son, Jack, while facing harassment at work. Daniel, grieving his sister’s death, is also struggling. I loved the ways their stories intertwined, as well as Daniel’s efforts to support a group of local businesses.

Blind Search, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr, former military police officer, and her retired bomb-sniffing dog Elvis are back on the case. This time, it’s multiple murder in the Vermont woods, with an autistic boy as the only witness. The writing is a bit labored, but I like Mercy and the other characters, including game warden Troy Warner.

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

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Several years ago, when my sister had her first baby, I knitted a surprise for his first Christmas: three ornaments in the shape of Weasley sweaters, each with a monogrammed initial, of course. Even my brother-in-law, who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, was delighted, and they’ve hung on the tree every year since.

Harrison, my second nephew, was born two and a half years later, and every December since then I’ve gotten a text from my sister, reminding me: we need another Weasley sweater. (She’s not a knitter, but she is excellent at reminding people about stuff.)

I finally got my act together this year and made Harrison his own Weasley sweater, to match the other three. I’d forgotten how easy and fun they are to knit. And how cute the final result is.

I’m thinking I need to knit myself one to hang on my own tree – maybe next year. (Also in Gryffindor colors, of course.)

In case you’re wondering, the pattern is from Alison Hansel’s Charmed Knits, though I used another knitter’s mods to make them top-down instead of knitting them in pieces and seaming them. Much easier, and so cute.

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Due to review deadlines, library deadlines and general pre-holiday craziness, my brain feels scrambled lately. Here’s what I have been reading – much of it several months ahead:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s second adventure at Hogwarts is as much fun as the first. I love seeing the characters grow, and the narrative of the series begin to build. Fast, fun and highly enjoyable.

Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, Eitan Hersh
Most people who are engaged in political hobbyism – following, and wringing their hands about, the news – aren’t doing work to make real, appreciable change. Hersh investigates the history of political engagement in the U.S., interviews grassroots activists (the strongest part of the book) and asks how to truly get involved in local politics. Interesting, though a bit tedious at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).

The Golden Hour, Beatriz Williams
Widowed journalist Lulu Randolph is sent to Nassau in 1941 to write a society column focusing mainly on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she falls in love – but when her new husband becomes a POW, she goes to London to try to rescue him. The narrative shifts between Lulu’s story and that of her husband’s German mother, Elfriede, in the early 1900s. Lush, compelling, slightly scandalous.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, Noé Álvarez
The son of Mexican immigrants, Álvarez grew up poor in eastern Washington. Feeling aimless as a college student, he joined the Peace and Dignity Journeys to run a punishing 6,000-mile ultramarathon through North America, in a quest to honor indigenous peoples and their stories. This memoir is beautifully written and contains some compelling ideas, but I couldn’t always find the through line of his insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Siri, Who Am I?, Sam Tschida
A young woman wakes up in the hospital wearing a yellow Prada gown, with nothing in her possession but a tube of Chanel lipstick and an iPhone. She can’t even remember her own name (Mia), but gamely tries to reconstruct her life via Instagram. A snarky, fast-paced take on the selfie culture – fun, though I wanted more depth. I really liked Mia’s sidekick/love interest, Max the “Black Einstein” neuroscientist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

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

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And just like that, it’s December – it’s sleeting today (ugh), but the world is still twinkly. (The photo above is from Brookline Booksmith’s cheery holiday pop-up shop.) Here’s what I have been reading, over Thanksgiving and beforehand:

Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s latest slim novel follows three generations of a black family in Brooklyn: teenager Melody, her mother Iris (who got pregnant at 15) and Iris’s parents. It’s spare and lovely, a lyrical exploration of complicated family dynamics. I did want more from the ending, but I remember feeling that way about Another Brooklyn, too.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
I love this series so much, and this first book is pure joy, as Harry discovers Hogwarts and makes new friends. Rereading these means I see more of the threads that will make up the tapestry of the whole series.

You Were There Too, Colleen Oakley
Reeling from a miscarriage, artist Mia and her surgeon husband (who is racked with guilt from losing a patient) move from Philly to a tiny town. While there, Mia meets Oliver, a man who has been appearing in her dreams for years, with no rational explanation. They try to figure out what it means, as Mia struggles to settle into her new life. This was mostly engaging, but the ending killed me. I received an ARC (it’s out Jan. 7).

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray
I picked this up at the library and read it in one day. When Althea and her husband, Proctor, are sent to prison for fraud, her sisters Viola and Lillian must step in to care for Althea’s twin teenage daughters. A powerful exploration of family – love and loss and the effects of past traumas. Really well done.

Thistles and Thieves, Molly MacRae
MacRae’s third Highland Bookshop mystery finds her characters trying to solve several murders, while one of them gets back into cycling and another one takes up darts. I like the gentle village setting and the banter, though the plot of this one was so-so. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, Theodora Goss
Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, and Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde and their compatriots set off for the Continent to rescue her and thwart the activities of a sinister society. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes has disappeared. This second book in Goss’s series is engaging, but way too long. I like the characters, but we didn’t need every single plot incident. (Also: too many vampires for me.)

Live Alone and Like It, Marjorie Hillis
My friend Rachel sent me this archly witty guide to single-girl living, first published in 1936. I loved it – while it’s (obviously) a bit outdated in spots, it’s full of practical, pert, entertaining advice for women living on their own.

Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes
After Evvie Drake’s husband dies, everyone thinks she’s grieving – no one knows she was on the point of leaving him. When a struggling major-league pitcher moves to town and becomes Evvie’s tenant, they become friends and both begin to inch toward the next chapter of their lives. This novel was so much fun – witty, warm and engaging.

The Irregulars, Steven-Elliot Altman, J. Michael Reaves and Bong Dazo
A friend passed on this slim graphic novel about Sherlock Holmes’ Irregulars, a ragtag band of children who are trying to stop a serial kidnapper/killer in London. I love Holmes, but I’m not a huge graphic novel fan and this one didn’t really work for me.

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

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We’ve had nearly a week of grey skies and misty rain – yesterday was the first sunny day since last Saturday. I finally felt I could breathe again.

In between meetings, construction noise at work and cooking dinner, here’s what is saving my life now:

  • Fresh pomegranates – seeding them is somehow satisfying, and the seeds themselves are delicious, like little tart jewels.
  • My colleagues’ sly humor and good cheer, which came in especially handy during a three-hour meeting (yes, really) this week.
  • The olive green textured leggings my mom passed on to me this fall, which (it turns out) go with nearly everything.
  • Replacing a few worn-out wardrobe staples: ankle boots, slippers, running shoes.
  • Shalane Flanagan’s superhero muffins – filling, delicious and healthy.

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  • My red geraniums, which I’ve brought indoors for the winter. So far, they are thriving.
  • Starting (another) reread of the Harry Potter series.
  • Several recent phone and in-person chats with dear friends.
  • It’s soup season and I’ve been making my classics: black bean, chicken enchilada, tomato, jalapeño. Yum.
  • Related: leftovers for lunch and dinner, some days.
  • My new bright teal running headband.

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  • Related: lunchtime running on the Esplanade, when I can swing it. (Those skies.)
  • Sunshine, whenever I can get it.
  • Grocery delivery and online shopping – without a car, it’s a huge help.
  • Strong black tea, several times a day.
  • Maggie Smith’s gentle, wise, beautifully crafted tweets, which always end with “Keep moving.”

What’s saving your life on these dark, chilly evenings?

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A few weeks ago, I was at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon when I noticed my cashier had a tattoo: the word Lumos surrounded by a few small starbursts, on the inside of her wrist.

“I like your tattoo,” I said, and her expression – tired and preoccupied – transformed into a grin. “Thanks,” she said. “It reminds me to be happier.”

I puzzled over that for a second and then realized what she meant: that Dumbledore quote about happiness. He tells the Hogwarts students that it can be found “in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” I told her I have that line on a t-shirt – my mom gave it to me for Christmas.

“Ah, the Harry Potter generation,” she said with a smile. I confessed I was late to that particular party (my friend Val finally talked me into reading the books, to my everlasting delight and gratitude).

We chatted as she kept bagging my groceries, and she told me she used to have a job at Scholastic, where she got to work on Goblet of Fire during the publishing process. (!!!) She recalled having to sign nondisclosure agreements, and refusing to answer pointed questions from her friends and fellow students. (I wanted to invite her out for a drink and ask her all the questions – but I restrained myself, since I didn’t want to creep her out.)

“What’s your house?” she asked. “You look like you might be a Ravenclaw.”

“I’m a Gryffindor,” I said. (Though – like Hermione – I have strong Ravenclaw tendencies, which I told her.) She nodded, and proudly owned being a Ravenclaw herself. We smiled in shared understanding.

I walked away with full grocery bags and a grin on my face, thinking: she has no idea, but she helped turn on the light for me that afternoon.

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