Posts Tagged ‘history’

roots and sky book table sunglasses

My reading this month – like my life – has been a little scattered. But I have still found a few really good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

The After-Room, Maile Meloy
Gifted teenagers Janie and Benjamin are trying to live a normal life in 1950s Michigan. But Benjamin is grieving his father’s death, and their friend Jin Lo is somewhere in China trying to avert a nuclear war. This third book in Meloy’s middle-grade trilogy is confusing (so many plotlines!) but full of engaging characters. I liked the first book, The Apothecary, the best.

The Baker’s Daughter, D.E. Stevenson
When artist John Darnay moves to a remote Scottish town, Sue Pringle goes to work as his housekeeper – and falls in love with him. Another lovely, gentle 1930s novel from Stevenson, with entertaining characters. I particularly liked Sue herself and her kind grandfather.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
I loved Cuddy’s TED talk on presence and “power poses.” Her book delves into the research behind her theories: she explores the body-mind connection and how we can “nudge” ourselves toward a more authentic, less anxious state of mind in challenging situations. A little long, but there’s some good stuff here.

Winter, Marissa Meyer
This fourth book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles finds Cinder (cyborg, mechanic, long-lost princess) and her ragtag crew scrambling to defeat the evil Queen Levana. Some witty lines (especially from Carswell Thorne) and so many battle scenes. Too long and too gory, but I’m glad I finished out the series.

The Murder of Mary Russell, Laurie R. King
I adore King’s series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his irascible, whip-smart, complicated partner Mary Russell. This 14th entry explores the origin story of Mrs. Hudson – a fascinating new angle. Richly layered, witty, gripping and so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, Christie Purifoy
Christie writes a beautiful blog about life at Maplehurst, the old Pennsylvania farmhouse where she lives with her family. Roots and Sky is the story of coming home to Maplehurst, enjoying the seasons there and sometimes struggling with this complicated, beautiful gift. Gorgeously written, wise, luminous and occasionally heartbreaking. This was my Most Anticipated pick for 2016 at Great New Books, and it did not disappoint.

Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley
Sisters Cassie and Sid Sunday adore one another, but have grown apart in adulthood. They begin writing snail-mail letters to reconnect, and it works beautifully – until the letters end up on the Internet. Funny, insightful and warmhearted. I particularly loved the deep bond between Sid and Cassie. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 5).

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick
Today, the name “Benedict Arnold” is synonymous with “traitor,” but it wasn’t always thus. Philbrick delves into the early uncertain years of the American Revolution to trace Arnold’s journey from war hero to turncoat. His portraits of Arnold and George Washington are complex and thoughtful. I got bogged down by the (many) detailed accounts of battles, but once the espionage began, I was riveted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
After Polly’s business and her relationship both fall apart, she moves to an isolated beach town on a whim. Baking bread is her hobby, but before long it becomes her livelihood – and she finds a new home in Mount Polbearne. Light, sweet chick lit with quirky characters. (I loved Neil the puffin.) Found at the Strand last fall.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I pick up this old favorite every winter – and though we haven’t had (nearly) as much snow as last year, I still love seeing Laura and Pa and their family weather the long winter on the South Dakota plains.

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

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harvard yard memorial church view

It’s summer – peak tourist season in Cambridge. Flocks of visitors, laden with maps, cameras and water bottles, trail around after Harvard student tour guides, who wear straw Panama hats with crimson bands. I get asked for directions at least twice a week.

I admit I tend to roll my eyes at tourists who stop dead in the middle of the sidewalks, but I have a little more patience for their directional queries. Navigating Harvard can be…complicated.

lowell house tower

Harvard reminds me, in so many ways, of Oxford: a storied university set right in the middle of a bustling town, with wrought-iron fences, hidden green quads and elaborate carvings on the corners of buildings. People come to both places and say, “Where’s the university?”

The answer seems like a cop-out, but it’s the truth: “All around you.”

sever hall harvard

Nearly every spire you see in the Square – with the exception of a few churches – belongs, or once belonged, to the university. Some of the undergraduate Houses are marked by colors: blue for Lowell, jade green for Eliot, gold for Adams.

memorial hall harvard

Memorial Hall (above), adjacent to Harvard Yard, invites frequent comparisons to Hogwarts, while Memorial Church’s spire reaches toward the sky, tall and white and proud. Many brick buildings around the Square – and a few modern glass-and-steel ones – are also part of Harvard.

But the heart of it all – and the place where I usually direct tourists – is the Yard.

harvard yard autumn light leaves
Harvard Yard is technically two green spaces: Old Yard, surrounded by red-brick freshman dorms and featuring the statue of John Harvard, the university’s namesake; and New Yard, bordered by Memorial Church and Widener Library, the College’s main (imposing) library. In the summer, brightly colored metal chairs dot the grass in Old Yard; in the fall, the trees in both Old and New Yard are a kaleidoscope of vivid autumn leaves.

Even though my office is two blocks away, on the campus of the Graduate School of Education, I come back to the Yard over and over again.

This patch of ground is where undergraduates live during their first year at Harvard College, and the site of President Faust’s office (in Massachusetts Hall, the oldest extant building on campus). New Yard, renamed Tercentenary Theatre when the university reached that milestone, is where the Commencement exercises take place every year. Beginnings and endings, all tied up together.

widener library harvard convocation

I’ve loved working at the Ed School, a little removed from the bustle of the Square – but I also love walking over to the Yard, to feel a part of the life that travels through it every day. I love to sit on the steps of Memorial Church, my back against one of its wide wooden pillars, or perch on the steps of Widener Library, watching the constant traffic flow: tourists and students, faculty and parents.

widener library view harvard

The Yard makes me feel a little closer to the 379 years (and counting) of Harvard’s history. I never get tired of coming back here, feeling the pulse of history under my feet – and watching the future take shape right in front of me.

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christmas book stack charlie brown

The reading is haphazard this month. But it’s happening. (Above: the Christmas picture books I put out every year.)

 An Appetite for Murder, Lucy Burdette
When aspiring food writer Hayley Snow follows her new boyfriend to Key West, she falls in love with the island – and gets dumped. When her ex’s new girlfriend turns up dead, Hayley decides to investigate. A light, well-plotted cozy mystery.

Topped Chef, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow gets tapped to judge a foodie reality TV show. When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Hayley starts sniffing around for clues – hoping she isn’t next on the killer’s list. The mystery was a little thin, but I like Hayley and the cast of supporting characters.

Act One, Moss Hart
Moss Hart tells the story of his struggle to become a playwright – from working as a theatre office boy to directing theatrical summer camps, and finally his first hit. Warm, witty and big-hearted. Bought at Three Lives & Co. on our NYC trip.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
This Mitford Christmas tale makes me cry every year, as Father Tim works to restore a battered Nativity scene as a gift for his wife. So sweet and hopeful.

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, Helena Attlee
Attlee tells the long, convoluted tale of citrus production in Italy, covering its history, cultivation, connections to the Mafia, and unbeatable flavor. Fascinating, though a little dense. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien
I’m a longtime Lord of the Rings fan, but this collection of handwritten, gorgeously illustrated letters is new to me. Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas from 1920-1943 (with notes from his assistant, the North Polar Bear). Hilarious and inventive. Found at Blackwells in Oxford.

The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan
“To storm or fire the world must fall” – and a group of demigods must prevent an all-out war, before Gaea wakes. Fast-paced and fun, with lots of zany jokes and surprising depth.

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

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june books 2

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, Matthew Goodman
On Nov. 14, 1889, two young female journalists left New York City, headed in different directions. Nellie Bly (traveling east) and Elizabeth Bisland (traveling west) swung from train to ship to boat in their mad dash to circle the globe in under 80 days. Goodman captures the frenetic pace of their race, the dizzying array of countries they saw, the vagaries of shipboard life and the way the contest fired the public imagination. A fascinating glimpse of the Victorian era and a great real-life adventure tale. (Jaclyn read it at the same time and also loved it.)

I’ll Be Seeing You, Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
In 1943, two soldiers’ wives strike up a pen-pal correspondence spanning the miles from Iowa to Massachusetts. Rita Vincenzo, middle-aged and sensible, and Glory Whitehall, young and impulsive, are unlikely friends – but their letters help them weather the storms raging both abroad and at home. Beautifully written, evocative and sometimes heartbreaking – with occasional flashes of joy. Lovely.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen
Born into slavery in Richmond, Va., Mary Bowser is freed by her owner and sent to Philadelphia to be educated. When war breaks out, she returns to her native city to pose as a slave and spy for the Union – even working as a maid for Jefferson Davis. An absorbing historical read, based on the real life of its brave heroine.

Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
Alex Rider, age 14, is left alone in the world after his uncle Ian’s death – and he quickly discovers Ian’s life wasn’t what it seemed. Ian was a spy for MI6, and his bosses recruit Alex to help with a dangerous mission. Fast-paced, stuffed almost too full of shiny gadgets and death-defying moments, but fun. First in the nine-book Alex Rider series.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, Edward Kelsey Moore
Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean have been friends most of their lives, gathering every Sunday at the titular restaurant for gossip and good food. As they all face personal battles (illness, losing loved ones, a spouse’s infidelity) in middle age, they reflect on the long story of their friendship and how it has shaped their lives. A compelling story that swings from heartbreaking to hilarious, full of warm, wonderful characters (including the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt!). I loved it.

Spy School, Stuart Gibbs
Ben Ripley, age 12, is a math whiz – but he’s shocked when he’s recruited for the CIA’s top-secret spy training school. Once he arrives, though, Ben realizes there’s something fishy going on. He joins forces with Erica, the school’s top student, to try and figure it out. Fast-paced and funny, though not as richly developed as Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Anne convinced me to pick up this classic, set partly in my beloved Oxford. It’s the story of Charles Ryder and his entanglement with the Flyte family: charming Sebastian, beautiful Julia, quirky Cordelia, stodgy Brideshead. It’s also a portrait of a disappearing England, and encompasses several love stories and musings on faith. Gorgeously written, though also deeply sad.

Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, ed. Jeff O’Neal & Rebecca Joines Schinsky
I backed this book on Kickstarter last summer. The book nerds at Book Riot have collected lots of advice about “reading your way into” 25 authors (see subtitle), ranging across many genres. Fun to dip into (the sections are short), utterly practical and (in typical fashion) quite opinionated.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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I get a lot of questions from blog readers, real-life friends and some people who fit into both categories about “must-sees” in the Boston area. These questions ramp up in the summer, when the travel urge hits America and the tourists descend in hordes.

I love playing tour guide (real or virtual). So I’ve put together a few mini-tour posts to answer your questions. (Bonus: I can point people to these posts when they ask similar questions.)

First up: History! As we all know, Boston is teeming with it. (The series will also cover charming neighborhoods, food, gardens, college campuses and whatever else I decide you can’t miss.)

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My favorite thing about Boston’s history? It’s woven into everything else.

For example: you can spend an afternoon lounging on Boston Common and then tour the beautiful Massachusetts State House, above. (It’s free, though only open on weekdays from 9 to 5, and you can take an interesting guided tour or wander around on your own.)

You can also go for ice cream downtown (or in Harvard Square) and pop into a lovely old church or cemetery. You can tour Paul Revere’s house in the North End and walk down the street for an Italian dinner. You are always walking through – sometimes walking on – history.

The Freedom Trail links together many historical spots downtown, beginning on the Common and going all the way to the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill in Charlestown. I have a deep love for the Common itself (about which I have written many times). It is Boston’s (smaller) answer to Central Park, green and open, a hangout for all segments of Boston society. It’s also the home of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument and the Shaw Memorial (featuring the regiment from the film Glory).

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Just past the Common, behind the Park Street Church, is the Granary Burying Ground, where John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and Crispus Attucks (among others) are buried. (That’s my mom, above, perusing some of the epitaphs.) You can wander at will, or take a tour starting on the Common.

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Down the street is King’s Chapel, a lovely old Royalist church. That is an interior shot above; there are lots of helpful signs around the sanctuary. (As you walk down Tremont St. toward King’s Chapel, pause before you reach the Omni Parker Hotel and look up: you can see the spire of the Old North Church. The view is protected by city ordinance. I love that.)

paul revere house street view

There are many more stops along the Freedom Trail, varying in size and admission fees, but my other favorites are over in the North End: Paul Revere’s house (above) and the Old North Church.

The Revere House is smallish, and it gets crowded during the summer, but I love seeing where and how the Revere family lived, as well as seeing Revere’s handiwork on display (he was quite the silversmith). And it costs $3.50 per person: a bargain.

The Old North Church, where they hung the signal lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) is similar in style to King’s Chapel, but larger, and quite lovely. (All the cemeteries along the Freedom Trail are free; the churches are all “suggested donation.”)

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At the other end of the Freedom Trail, the U.S.S. Constitution (above), alias “Old Ironsides,” sits anchored in the Charlestown Navy Yard. She is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and manned by active duty members of the U.S. Navy. They give free and informative tours every day except Monday. You can walk there over a bridge (it’s about a mile from the Old North Church), or you can take the ferry from Long Wharf to save your tired feet.

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And finally, in Quincy (where I live), you can tour three houses connected with the John Adams/John Quincy Adams family. The tour center is directly across from a subway station (on the Red Line); the tour costs $5 and includes a trolley ride. The two original Adams birthplaces stand 75 feet apart from one another, and then you board the trolley again to tour Peacefield, the family “mansion” pictured above. (It features a detached library lined with ancient, beautiful books – obviously my favorite part.)

This is just a taste of Boston’s history – but if you’re visiting for a few days, these are my can’t-miss places. Stay tuned for more mini-tours, and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

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leaving everything most loved maisie dobbs

Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite fictional detectives. I love her deep compassion and sensitivity, her probing mind and brave spirit, and her struggle to define herself as an independent woman in 1920s and 1930s London.

Trained as a nurse and wounded (physically and mentally) by World War I, Maisie sets up her own business as a psychologist and investigator, some years after the war. Her tenth adventure, Leaving Everything Most Loved (out tomorrow), finds her investigating the murders of two Indian women in London, and weighing some big personal questions.

An Indian man approaches Maisie about the murder of his sister, Usha Pramal, who came to Britain as a governess and later lived in a hostel with other Indian women, taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet. By all accounts, Usha was a well-educated woman and a radiant spirit, touching everyone she knew with her kindness. Who would kill such a glowing soul, and why?

As Maisie seeks to unravel the threads of Usha’s life, another young woman from the hostel is killed. Meanwhile, Maisie worries that the strain of her last case is still affecting her longtime assistant, Billy Beale, and finds herself (still) wondering whether she can commit to marrying James, the man she loves.

Winspear writes sensitively of Maisie’s inner struggles, with nods to previous cases and Maisie’s personal history, from scullery maid to college student, war nurse to private investigator. Longtime readers of the series will appreciate a subplot or two involving familiar characters, while new readers will warm to Maisie and her thoughtful, incisive method of detecting.

This book had an Indian flavor, partly because of the murder victims and partly due to Maisie’s growing interest in the country. I loved the references to saris and spices, and Maisie’s first attempt at cooking curry. (There are Indian restaurants all over England now, but this certainly wasn’t the case in 1933.)

Well written, fascinating and layered (like all Winspear’s books), Leaving Everything Most Loved provides both a satisfying mystery and an intriguing new adventure for its heroine.

I’m participating in TLC Book Tours’ Month of Maisie Blog Tour. I received a free copy of this book for review; opinions, of course, are my own. I’ll also be reviewing the book for Shelf Awareness.

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march books 2

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick
Since moving to Boston, I love reading about it and its history. This account of the British occupation of Boston, the mustering of the ragtag colonial army, the battle of Bunker Hill, and the evacuation of the redcoats, was fascinating. Philbrick focuses on Dr. Joseph Warren, friend of Paul Revere and leader of the patriot movement, as well as Samuel Adams and other colonial leaders. He traces the events leading up to Bunker Hill and the later fight on Dorchester Heights, complete with maps and interesting asides. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 30).

An Irish Country Wedding, Patrick Taylor
I love this series following the adventures of Drs. Fingal O’Reilly and Barry Laverty in Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland, in the 1960s. This book features O’Reilly’s long-awaited wedding to the sweetheart of his youth, but first the doctors must solve several problems. Their indispensable housekeeper falls ill; a young couple seeks advice on buying their first house; Barry begins dating a pretty schoolteacher; and the crooked town councillor, O’Reilly’s nemesis, is scheming again. Great fun.

Writings from the New Yorker 1927-1976, E.B. White (ed. Rebecca Dale)
I love E.B. White (as you may have noticed): his keen observations and quiet wisdom, so perfectly rendered. This collection of short, witty pieces from his many years at The New Yorker was delightful, instructive, hilarious and occasionally profound. Wonderful for dipping into or reading straight through (if, like me, you can’t get enough).

44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith
I like McCall Smith’s mystery series about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana, and picked this novel up for my book club. It follows the loosely connected lives of half a dozen people who live at the titular address in Edinburgh. Some of the characters are likable, some not, but it’s fascinating to watch their paths crisscross and see how they all perceive one another. And since I’ve visited Edinburgh, it was fun to travel there again.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, Shauna Niequist
I love Shauna’s blog and her two previous books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. She writes with warmth and honesty about food (and our complicated relationship to it), the craziness of working and traveling and raising two little boys, finding time to build friendships as a grown-up, and memories of places she loves (her parents’ lake house, Chicago, Paris). This book made me nod in recognition, chuckle, and wipe my eyes – and I’ve already made three of the recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 9).

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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christmas books bookshop window tree stockings

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, Rachel Held Evans
I love Rachel’s blog and enjoyed her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, so was prepared to like this one. And I did. She digs into conflicting verses and ideas about womanhood in the Bible, from levitical purity laws to the nebulous concepts of “modesty” and “submission,” and the idealized Proverbs 31 woman. Some of her activities felt more like stunts, but this was mostly a thoughtful exploration of what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about being a woman. I applaud Rachel’s brave stand against those who would silence women, in the church and out of it.

Hemingway’s Girl, Erika Robuck
This novel brilliantly evokes the hardships and beauty of life in Depression-era Key West. Mariella Bennet – fiery, beautiful and stubborn – works odd jobs and occasionally gambles to provide for her mother and sisters after her father’s death. When she is hired as Ernest Hemingway’s maid, she glimpses a new, unsettling world of parties and power, finding herself drawn to the rowdy, larger-than-life writer. Mariella is a wonderful character – her complicated relationship with her mother, and her struggles with desire and love, felt real. I also loved Gavin, the steady, quiet World War I veteran who captures Mariella’s heart.

Still Life, Louise Penny
Jane Neal, artist and retired schoolteacher, is killed by an arrow in the woods near her home in Quebec. It’s hunting season, but it wasn’t an accident. Inspector Armand Gamache comes to Jane’s village of Three Pines to investigate her death. This is a quiet mystery, but I enjoyed watching Gamache untangle the threads, and spending time with the quirky cast of village characters. The slower pace allows for some wonderful insights into human nature. This is the first in a series; I’ll be reading more Gamache stories. (Recommended by Becca and Jessica.)

The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, Daniel Stashower
We recently saw Spielberg’s brilliant film Lincoln, so I was primed for this exploration of a plan to murder him before he even took office. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency, deployed his agents in Baltimore to thwart the plotters (by any means necessary). He and the other men (bodyguards, advisers, friends) who surrounded Lincoln on his pre-inaugural journey get plenty of play. Colorful characters, simmering political tension and lots of background information on the beginnings of the Civil War. Fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 29).

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
I love this Mitford Christmas story, with many beloved, familiar characters, and (as always) real insight into Father Tim’s daily life and struggles. I particularly love the way Hope Winchester, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, steps out in faith and embraces a new beginning. Sweet but not precious, this book always makes me cry several times. And this quote from Marcus Aurelius, shared by Father Tim, has been in my head for days: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Thirst, Mary Oliver
It took me a while to come around to Oliver’s work, but this collection is my favorite yet. A few familiar gems (“Messenger”) and many new favorites (“Walking Home from Oak-Head,” “Praying,” “The Place I Want to Get Back To”). Her poems about faith are particularly fascinating, and her poems about grief are so moving. I’ve been savoring these words before bed, and will carry them in my heart.

The Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin
Anne Morrow was a shy, bookish ambassador’s daughter, until Charles Lindbergh chose her for his wife and changed her life forever. This novel traces the arc of their marriage, including their son’s kidnapping and death, Charles’ anti-Semitic views in the 1930s and his later work with the military and civilian air industries. Anne was a rich, complicated character: pioneering aviatrix, grieving mother, neglected wife and (finally) brave woman and writer. A gorgeous, heartbreaking story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

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Practically since we moved here, J and I have been intending to visit Newport, R.I. It’s only an hour south of our house, but for some reason we’d never made it there. Until a recent Saturday afternoon, when we decided to take advantage of the autumn sunshine and hopped in the car.

It was lunchtime when we arrived, and after wandering a bit, we settled on lunch at the Gas Lamp Grille, which was clearly still in the Halloween spirit:

gas lamp grille pumpkin newport rhode island

Our meal began with cups of delicious clam chowder, spiked with cayenne pepper:

gas lamp grille clam chowder newport rhode island

Mmmm. I could have eaten a tureen of the stuff. (Not pictured: warm pear salad with cranberries, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette, J’s burger, and my spinach and garlic pizza. Amazing.)

Needing to walk off our lunch, we decided to hike up to the famous mansions on Bellevue Avenue, and we passed this darling place on the way:

flower cottage gate roses newport rhode island

(It’s currently on the market, but I’m sure it’s still way out of my price range.)

We toured the first mansion we came to, which happened to be the stunning Chateau-sur-Mer:

chateau sur mer newport rhode island mansion tour

No photos allowed inside, sadly, but the house is full of hand-carved Italian woodwork, lovely old books in leather bindings, hand-painted walls and ceilings, ornate furniture, valuable silver and china…it’s like Downton Abbey, the American version (and dates from roughly the same era).

We walked back downtown after that, and saw this funny (and rather unfortunate!) sculpture:

waves feet sculpture ocean newport rhode island

It was growing dark (and chilly) by then, so we ended our afternoon with cups of chai at the People’s Cafe, and drove home tired, but happy.

I love our jaunts to New England towns, but it had been a while since we’d played tourist in our own neighborhood, so to speak. I so enjoyed hitting the road with my love and seeing a new, interesting place together.

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august reads books part 2Peaches for Father Francis, Joanne Harris
Vianne Rocher returns to Lansquenet, the village where she charmed some people and upset others with chocolates and magic (in Chocolat). Eight years have wrought many changes, including a new community of Moroccan Muslims who clash with some of the locals. As Vianne and her daughters reunite with old friends and make new ones, tensions between (and within) the two sides of Lansquenet rise to the boiling point. Caught in the middle are a teenage girl, a mysterious veiled woman, and Vianne’s old nemesis, Father Francis Reynaud. Harris writes lushly and explores deep questions of home and community, strangeness and belonging, and how we often judge people before we know their stories. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 2).

Dog On It, Spencer Quinn
I loved this first book in the Chet and Bernie mystery series, narrated by Chet, failed K-9 candidate and superb sleuth (with a fabulous sense of smell). Chet is tough, no-nonsense and yet endearingly doggy – he loves treats, naps and being scratched behind the ears. He and Bernie (who’s also tough but a little down on his luck) team up to solve the mystery of a teenage girl’s disappearance, and have a few wild adventures along the way. Smart and often hilarious. I’ll be sniffing out the rest of this series.

The Ruins of Lace, Iris Anthony
Through seven different characters’ points of view, Anthony weaves the intricate story of Flemish lace in the seventeenth century. Banned by the king of France but desired by all, lace prompted bribery, theft and a flourishing smuggling industry. Love, wealth, court intrigue, even the use of dogs to run lace are all elements in the story, whose complex plot is its best feature. The characters are a bit vague (maybe because there are so many points of view) and the ending felt abrupt. Still, a fascinating glimpse into a segment of history I didn’t know about before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 1).

The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie
Jerry Burton, injured airman, takes up residence in a nondescript village with his sister to recover from his wounds. But when many of the villagers – including Jerry – begin receiving anonymous hate mail, the peace of the place is shattered. Miss Marple solves the case, as always, though she’s rather a minor character in this book. The mystery kept me guessing, but it didn’t intrigue me as much as some of Christie’s other plots. Still fun.

The House of Velvet and Glass, Katherine Howe
I loved Howe’s debut, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and also enjoyed her second book. Sibyl Allston, daughter of a posh Boston family whose mother and sister died on the Titanic, struggles to deal with her grief, manage her father’s house and help her dissolute brother (who has just been expelled from Harvard). There are also flashbacks to her father’s seafaring youth and his time in Shanghai. A fascinating glimpse into World War I-era Boston and its Spiritualist movement (seances, scrying glasses, opium dens, etc.), a sharp contrast of two worlds (strait-laced Back Bay and seedy Chinatown), and musings on whether we really determine our own fate.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
A wry, heartbreaking story of two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. Never maudlin, though sometimes I felt the sarcasm veered into callousness. Hazel, the narrator, is keen-eyed and witty, yet intensely vulnerable, as is Gus, who shows up at a cancer support group one day and catches her eye. They’re trying to live while knowing they won’t see adulthood, and this makes everything rather fraught, even while they attempt to enjoy being teenagers. Wise and sad and yes, sometimes funny.

What are you reading these days?

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. Graphic by Sarah.

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