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Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

Hello, friends. I’ve been across the country and back again – to Arizona and California to see some friends. Here’s what I have been reading:

Iced in Paradise, Naomi Hirahara
Leilani Santiago is trying to help keep her family’s shave ice shack afloat. When a young surfer – her father’s protege – ends up murdered, Leilani becomes an amateur sleuth as well. A fun cozy mystery where the Hawaiian setting really shines. I reviewed (and enjoyed) the sequel earlier this year.

Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be, Marissa Moss
Women have long been a mainstay of country music, but they’ve been all but pushed out of radio play in the last 20 years. Veteran journalist Moss follows the careers of Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Mickey Guyton and others like them who are blazing a new path for women in the genre. I am forever loyal to my ’90s country badass women, and I loved this fierce, unapologetic, brilliantly researched account of women (of multiple generations) who are making their own music, their own way. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

All the Queen’s Men, SJ Bennett
I loved this second mystery featuring Queen Elizabeth as a behind-the-scenes sleuth. When an unpopular member of her staff turns up dead and a cherished painting goes missing, it seems unlikely they could be connected, but the Queen is convinced they are. With the help of her assistant private secretary, Rozie Oshodi, she investigates discreetly while still managing political and court business. A well-done mystery plot with some sharp social commentary, set quite deliberately in 2016.

Jackie & Me, Louis Bayard
Before Jacqueline Bouvier became that Jackie, she was a young socialite with journalistic ambitions – and the young congressman from Massachusetts asked his best friend, Lem Billings, to court her on his behalf. This was a fascinating fictional account of Jackie and Lem’s friendship, though it made me sad how much they both gave up for Jack and how little he appreciated it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

Adult Assembly Required, Abbi Waxman
Laura Costello wants to believe she’s a full-fledged adult – which to her means being able to handle everything on her own. But when she moves to L.A. for grad school, her apartment catches fire – plus she’s still struggling with the traumatic effects of a serious car accident. Waxman’s latest novel explores the challenges of leaving the nest while still loving your family, and learning to both stand up for yourself and ask for help. I loved this warmhearted story, which includes cameos from lots of familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 17).

The Bangalore Detectives Club, Harini Nagendra
Newlywed and budding mathematician Kaveri Murthy is adjusting to married life in Bangalore, when a man is murdered at a dinner she’s attending with her doctor husband. Shocked and also intrigued – especially when several more attacks follow – Kaveri plunges into solving the mystery. An engaging cozy mystery set in India under the Raj, with charming characters and some insight into the friction between British colonists and Indian locals. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

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

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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!

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I love surprises of the everyday variety; I don’t always relish big life surprises. But here, a handful of the most delightful:

1. Loving my first job out of college – an admin job on campus – as much as I did.
2. Bethany moving back to Abilene, for a year and a half of wonderful “borrowed time.”
3. Finding another family in Abilene (and staying there as long as I did).
4. Becoming a total tea addict. (I never touched the stuff until college.)
5. Interning in Hawaii for a month one summer. (Surprises every DAY.)
6. Learning to navigate traffic on a bike in Oxford, and loving that, too.
7. Moving to Boston – the difficulty and the richness, and lots of other things besides, have surprised me.
8. Actually writing a novel in a month in 2008.
9. The surprise party Jeremiah gave me when I turned 21. (Yes, I was totally surprised.)
10. Singing a brief solo in the Les Miserables medley during a choir concert in college. (I was so sure I hadn’t gotten it – but I ended up with a solo from “On My Own,” my favorite Les Mis song.)
11. Writing a cover story for Radiant magazine – how surprised I was to be asked!
12. Being told (not asked) to learn to play the piccolo for a high school band concert in London.

How about you? Any wonderful life surprises to share?

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If you’re a reader, a writer, a reviewer or just a book junkie, you’ve probably heard the news about Borders – after closing a few dozen stores this winter in a desperate effort to stay afloat, the company has filed for bankruptcy and is liquidating its 399 remaining stores. Sadly, this includes the two-story behemoth in Boston’s Downtown Crossing area – easily one of the company’s biggest stores, and the only one close enough (since they closed the Copley Square store) for me to browse on my lunch break.

As much as I love my indies – the Brattle, the Booksmith, the Concord Bookshop, the Harvard Book Store and any other indie I happen upon – I’m still sad to see Borders go. For one thing, as so many folks have said, fewer bookstores always means bad news for the book industry – fewer outlets for books to reach readers. (This is, of course, particularly bad news for little-known authors.) For another, many towns will now be bereft of their only physical bookstores, which simply breaks my heart. I grew up in a town whose only bookstore is Barnes & Noble, and went to college in a town with only Books-a-Million – and I would grieve if either of my hometowns were left completely without a bookstore.

Perhaps most importantly, I have good memories of time spent and books purchased at Borders stores – which were there for me when I needed a bookstore in several different states and even across the ocean. I used to stop in at Borders in Oxford on my way home from the grocery store (it was open later than Blackwells or Oxfam), and browse the 3-for-2 tables or the new bestseller lists or the plentiful magazine selection. I still have the copies of Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating and Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days (the gorgeous UK edition, of course) bought there. Sometimes I’d meet a friend at the little Starbucks in the back, and we’d sit at a round table and drink chai lattes to ward off the misty chill outside.

When I spent a month interning in Honolulu one summer, Borders provided me with good beach reading and a quiet, bookish escape when I needed some solo time. I’d grab the keys to the church van (known affectionately as the “blue whale”), back out of the driveway and head to Volcano Joe’s for a chai latte or a smoothie, or to Borders to grab a new book. My copy of The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (Traveling Pants #2) from that summer still has sand in it, I think.

And finally, I’ve enjoyed browsing the Borders in Downtown Crossing once in a while since we moved to Boston a year ago. I loved its solid, steady presence overlooking a bustling square, which contains the Irish Famine Memorial, the Old South Meeting House, and plenty of street musicians, pigeons, businesspeople and tourists. The area will be poorer without it, and I’ll no longer have a place to pick up a new book if I decide I just have to have it today (as I did a couple of months ago with The Penderwicks on Gardam Street).

I’ve been to the closing sale once or twice – but the chaos, with Caution tape everywhere, just makes me sad. (And so far, the discounts aren’t enticing enough to make me buy books there instead of at my other favorite bookish places.) I hope the store doesn’t stand empty long – but I wish it weren’t closing at all.

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Being a landlocked girl from West Texas, I’ve spent very little of my life on coastlines. I live on one now, of course, but the beach near our house is a city beach, and the view includes the skyline of Boston. It’s a lovely view, but it doesn’t quite give you the feeling of being on the coast, indeed on the edge of our continent.

But last Sunday, I found myself in Rockport, tramping through a state park with my husband and a few dear friends. And we walked to the cliffs, big chunks of granite leading down to rough rocky beaches, with red seaweed growing on the stones. The water was gray and so was the sky, with glimmers of light and the occasional duck paddling around. And it was literally impossible to tell where sea ended and sky began.

I’ve only had that feeling a few other times – standing on the shore of the North Sea in Whitby; walking along the beach or standing on Diamond Head on Oahu, Hawaii; and standing on the cliffs of the Aran Islands, watching the sunlight glitter on the sea, the wind so strong it literally pulled my breath out of my lungs. Sunday’s breeze was a little gentler, the light softer, the weather cooler. But as I stood there I remembered what it felt like to stand on the other edge of the Atlantic. And in both cases, I felt like an explorer, standing on the edge of the world, looking out to endless new horizons and possibilities.

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linen trouser thoughts

The trouble with wearing linen trousers – even smart, black well-cut ones – to work is that they were meant to be worn barefoot. And they’ve been insistently whispering that to me all day. My work flats are just a little too sensible and suburban. These trousers, and their owner, want to be on a beach somewhere.

Which is odd. I’m not really a “beach person” – I have fair skin and burn rather easily, and I’d rather cool breezes than hot sun, usually. But today I’d love to feel warm sand between my toes, play chicken with the waves at Makapu’u Beach as I did four years ago, and flop down for a couple of hours (under a tree, but still on the beach) and lose myself in a good summer paperback.

(I did buy these trousers to wear on the beach in Spain this summer. Maybe they’ve already picked up an intimation of their destiny.)

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Sixty-five years ago today, Japanese forces attacked a sleepy airbase on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. About 16 months ago, I made a trip out there myself, to see what has become a name that looms large in the American consciousness. Pearl Harbor: everyone knows about it, and everyone instantly grows quiet and somber when it gets mentioned.

Cole and I got up at the crack of dawn on my last morning in Hawaii, and we drove out to Pearl Harbor together in Scott’s big blue whale of a van. We arrived early enough to beat most of the crowds, and were ushered into a small theater where we watched a film – actual newsreel footage of the attack. (I always wonder who is brave and foolhardy enough to film these things as they’re actually happening.)

After the film, we wandered around the exhibits for a while, reading all sorts of information about the war, both armies, the ships and other equipment they used, battles on other Pacific islands, and firsthand accounts from servicemen, which I found most interesting. Many of them were near my age, which was 21 at the time. They witnessed horrific destruction that day, and lost people who were very dear to them. War is no respecter of persons. It cuts down the young, old, infirm or healthy, and wounds the hearts of all.

The morning ended with a short ferry ride out into the harbor, where the remains of the USS Arizona still lie sunken under a white floating dock of sorts. There is a wall of names, much like the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. – the casualty list of those who died that day. There’s an open space surrounded by railing where you can look down into the water, and I remember seeing flowers. Bunches of flowers – leis and bouquets that people had brought in memory of their loved ones or in honor of the soldiers. And on the water around, patches of oil still leak up from one of the hatches. A fitting, if obvious, metaphor for the fact that wars don’t end when peace treaties are signed. Their effects go on and on and on.

That day, Cole told me about a song he was writing called “Infamy,” which has since become one of my favorite JamisonPriest songs. It’s about a woman who lost her husband at Pearl Harbor, and it weaves together the attack, swing dance, grief and memory. That song has perhaps done more than anything to ensure that I will never forget. In my mind with the images of the Arizona and the exhibits is an image of her, remembering…

She dreams about a soldier in the dark
Shaven face, a pretty diamond ring
She holds onto a chain of metal tags
And fifty years unbroken wondering

In her closet underneath his uniform
A pair of Mary Janes that she has never worn
He brought them home to her in 1941
The day their child was born
And now she’s waiting patiently for Friday night
The big band and the horns…

You can read the full lyrics at http://www.jamisonpriest.com. And whether you do or don’t, stop and take a moment to remember.

*title from “Infamy” by Cole Bennett

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