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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

scribe of siena book chai red

March has blown in like a lion – and good books are helping keep me from blowing entirely off course. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer
Neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato’s deep empathy for her patients is starting to interfere with her job. When her brother Ben dies suddenly, Beatrice travels to Italy to take care of his estate, and finds herself drawn into Ben’s scholarly research on the Plague – then, abruptly, transported to 14th-century Siena. A compelling, vivid story of love, time travel and being torn between different communities. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 16).

Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
Zoe Webster thought she’d adjusted to life in River Heights, and life without Digby, her maybe-more-than-a-friend who left town without a word. But now Digby’s back, still on the trail of his sister’s kidnappers, and Zoe and her complicated feelings get dragged along for the ride. Snarky, entertaining YA with a few plot holes. Still fun.

How Cycling Can Save the World, Peter Walker
Cycling is more than just a pleasant hobby: it has the potential to revolutionize our cities and our health. Avid cyclist Walker (who lives and rides in London) explores how governments can make the roads safer for cyclists, and the benefits of improving bike infrastructure and access for all. Sounds dry, but it’s not; made me want to hop on a bike. (I rode all the time in Oxford, and I miss it.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Curse of La Fontaine, M.L. Longworth
Newlyweds Antoine Verlaque (a judge) and Marine Bonnet (a law professor) are settling into life together and enjoying a new restaurant in their Aix-en-Provence neighborhood. But when a skeleton is found in the restaurant’s courtyard, the pair find themselves trying to solve an eight-year-old mystery. A charming French mystery with likable characters and lots of good food and wine. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 4).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan
As World War II heats up, the village of Chilbury in Kent finds itself with very few men. The local choir decides to carry on as an all-female group, and gradually becomes a force for good in the community. Told through the letters and journals of several choir members, this is a heartwarming, well-told story of music, friendship and banding together during tough times. Reminded me of the ITV series Home Fires.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Shauna Niequist
Niequist, a successful writer and speaker, found herself exhausted and burned out a few years ago, and has been feeling her way back to a slower, more connected life. I appreciated her honest rendering of her journey, and a few of the essays resonated with me. But this book felt less coherent than her others. Took me ages to finish.

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

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daffodils graceland book mug

My brain has been awfully full this month of non-book things (switching jobs and offices will do that to you). But I’ve still squeezed in a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading:

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Cassie Danvers loses her beloved grandmother June, she also inherits June’s crumbling mansion in a small Ohio town. The house has a few secrets it wants to tell – and an unexpected inheritance forces Cassie to ask some potentially explosive questions about her family. This absorbing novel shifts back and forth between 1955 and 2015. Full of rich detail, engaging characters and a twisty, satisfying plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Killer Takeout, Lucy Burdette
Key West is ready to party during its annual Fantasy Fest – a week of increasingly raucous, boozy events. But food critic Hayley Snow (naturally) stumbles across a murder during the festivities. When Hayley’s co-worker Danielle is named the chief suspect, Hayley deploys her amateur sleuthing skills to prove Danielle’s innocence. I like Hayley and her supporting cast, and this was a fun installment in the series. (The author sent me an early copy; it comes out April 5.)

The Secrets of Flight, Maggie Leffler
Elderly widow (and former WWII fly girl) Mary Browning has kept her past hidden for years. But when she meets Elyse, a budding novelist, through her writers’ group, Mary hires the teenager to type her memoir, deciding it’s time to tell some of her stories at last. A captivating story of flight, family, conflicting loyalties and the sometimes painfully high price of following one’s dreams. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
American witch Diana Bishop has avoided using magic since her parents were murdered, years ago. But while she’s doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a mysterious (spellbound) manuscript and the appearance of a handsome vampire upend her carefully constructed life. I do not like vampires, but Leigh finally convinced me to pick up this book. Some great characters and an interesting storyline – though I found Diana irritatingly passive. (I loved the Oxford bits, obviously.) I will still probably read the sequel.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This is the perfect book for early spring: the story of Jane Stuart – practical, capable, kind – discovering that her father is alive and spending a glorious summer with him on Prince Edward Island. I adore Jane and the Island, and I love watching both of them blossom in this book.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and also enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. So I was curious about this, her memoir of learning to write (and then immersing herself totally in) Italian. Lahiri is an American, the child of Bengali parents, who has struggled to feel at home in a language and culture her whole life. As she studies Italian – even moving to Rome – she experiences a different kind of alienation and also joy. This is a very interior book – I suppose because it documents an interior journey. Odd, often somber, but compelling.

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

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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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the bookstore lenox ma

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, Rachel Bertsche
I loved Rachel’s first memoir, MWF Seeking BFF, about her quest to find friends in a new city. This book chronicles her attempts to make over her life á la celebrity role models: Jennifer Aniston’s workouts, Tina Fey’s work ethic, Julia Roberts’ brand of Zen. She also muses on the lure of celebrity culture and shares her struggle to have a baby. Funny, engaging and wise. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, Brigid Pasulka
Once upon a time (in the 1930s), a young man nicknamed “the Pigeon” fell in love with the beautiful Anielica. But war and hardship delayed their marriage and changed their journey in unexpected ways. Decades later, their granddaughter moves from her small village to Krakow after her mother dies, trying to find her way in life and love. Pasulka interweaves the two narratives masterfully. Moving and beautifully written. Recommended by Jaclyn.

You are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves, Hiawatha Bray
After working for millennia to map the world, humankind has solved the problem of location. Our smartphones, GPS devices and other transmitters can track our locations at any time – but at what cost? Bray summarizes the history of location technology and considers the issues surrounding modern tracking devices. Thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

The Sun and Other Stars, Brigid Pasulka
I loved Pasulka’s debut (see above) and loved her second novel even more. Set in a tiny Italian village, it’s a tale of family, love, grief and calcio (soccer). As Etto grieves the deaths of his mother and brother, he befriends a Ukrainian soccer star and his sister, who teach Etto a thing or two about calcio and about living with joy. Sharp, funny and beautiful. (My copy came from the publisher, but I was not compensated for this review.)

When the Cypress Whispers, Yvette Manessis Corporon
Daphne has always loved spending summers on the Greek island of Erikousa with her grandmother. But when she returns as a young widow struggling to raise a child and run a restaurant, she learns a few family secrets and meets an utterly exasperating man. A semi-predictable love story, given depth by the World War II events and enriched by mouthwatering descriptions of Greek food. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
As an infant, Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. When the authorities threaten to take her away from Charles, her kind but eccentric guardian, Sophie and Charles flee to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. Sophie meets a gang of “rooftoppers” – children who live on the roofs of Paris – who aid in her search. Whimsical and charming, though the ending felt abrupt.

The Collector of Dying Breaths, M.J. Rose
In the 16th century, a young Italian man becomes Catherine de Medici’s perfumer and co-conspirator in court intrigues. In the present day, Jac L’Etoile, perfumer and mythologist, is grieving her brother’s death and trying to solve several mysteries. The stories intertwine in surprising ways. Lush descriptions, but a bit creepy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 8).

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

I participated in Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, trying not to buy books this month. Look for a report on Monday.

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brookline booksmith shelves interior

Royal Blood, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch (Her Royal Spyness) travels to a spooky castle in Transylvania for a wedding. But odd things happen during her journey, and once she arrives, a wedding guest is poisoned. Georgie joins her beau, Darcy, in a spot of sleuthing to find the killer – but will she be next? And are there really vampires lurking nearby? A fun send-up of the gothic novel/vampire genre, plus an intriguing mystery. And Queenie, Georgie’s new maid, is hilarious.

Naughty in Nice, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana finally gets to go somewhere warm and exotic – Nice in the winter! Once there, she gets asked to model by the great Coco Chanel – but a valuable necklace goes missing after the fashion show, and then an odious neighbor turns up dead. Accused of murder by a bumbling inspector and determined to clear her name, Georgie tracks down yet another killer. (She does get a proper holiday after solving the case.) Great fun.

On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta, Jen Lin-Liu
While honeymooning in Italy, Jen Lin-Liu began wondering about the connections between noodles in China (where she had been living) and Italy. She traverses the ancient Silk Road, visiting Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan and other countries, taking cooking classes and sampling various cuisines. I enjoyed the social observations and descriptions of food; less appealing were Lin-Liu’s angst about her brand-new marriage and her frustrations with her non-foodie husband. Still an enjoyable (and at times mouthwatering) read.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana and the usual cast of characters – her actress mother, hapless maid, Cockney grandfather and handsome beau Darcy – end up in a quaint English village at Christmastime. But each day seems to bring a new and tragic death, and Georgie must keep up her duties as social hostess while worrying that a killer is lurking nearby. A clever mystery plot, with appearances from characters I love, and lots more Darcy (always a good thing). So much fun.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Emmuska Orczy
I knew Jaclyn had loved this book, so when I found it for fifty cents at a thrift shop, I snapped it up. The exploits of dashing Scarlet Pimpernel, his league of gentlemen, and his clever French wife Marguerite were so much fun. Romance, intrigue, swashbuckling adventure – a perfect, classic confection. (I do adore classics that don’t take themselves too seriously.)

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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june reads books part 1The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana Trigiani
I love Trigiani’s work and enjoyed this sweeping novel about Enza and Ciro, who meet in Italy as teenagers and eventually find their way to America (and each other). Wonderful scenes of village life in Italy, Italian immigrant life in various parts of New York City (from Hoboken to the opera), and finally small-town Minnesota. I particularly enjoyed the bond between Ciro and his brother. Trigiani writes lushly, as always, of clothes and food and music. Sometimes she tells instead of showing, but I am always happily swept up in her stories. (For my book club’s June meeting.)

The Lark Shall Sing, Elizabeth Cadell
This was a truly serendipitous find: it was on the library shelf next to Meg Cabot’s books. So I picked it up and thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Waynes, six orphans who all rush home to prevent their eldest sister from selling the family house. They pick up some new friends along the way, and everything works out tidily. A bit predictable, but highly entertaining.

Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
Bought this in an airport bookstore and was totally captured by the story of Lina Vilkas and her family, Lithuanian refugees during World War II. Taken from their home in the night by Soviets, they endure cold, hunger, hard labor and abuse while traveling thousands of miles to Siberia. Painful but beautifully written, and a powerful tribute to the courage of the human spirit. Sepetys writes especially well about the tiny blessings and kindnesses that keep people going when life is bleak. (Not to be confused with that other “shades of grey” book…)

Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
Another story of immigrants, hard work and perseverance. Esperanza and her mother go from being Mexican nobility to immigrant farm workers in California’s produce fields. Esperanza is spoiled and bratty at first, but gradually grows strong and brave, and I enjoyed watching her learn to cook, clean, care for young children and adjust to her new circumstances.

The Christmas Mouse, Miss Read
Another brief Christmas tale from Fairacre, involving a real mouse and a mouselike boy who both visit an elderly widow on Christmas Eve. Sweet, if a bit moralistic (not Miss Read’s usual method). I enjoyed this, but I like the full-length Fairacre novels better.

An Irish Country Courtship, Patrick Taylor
The fifth in the highly enjoyable Irish Country series (I love these books). Barry Laverty, the young doctor of Ballybucklebo, is struggling with some big decisions, and so is his boss, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. They also find time to see to their patients, stop the local councilman from cheating at the horse races, and enjoy Mrs. Kinky Kincaid’s fine cooking. Possibly the best in the series so far – smart and comforting and often hilarious.

On the Outside Looking Indian, Rupinder Gill
Raised in Canada by strict Indian parents, Gill felt she missed out on a lot of “typical” North American childhood experiences: taking lessons (of any kind), learning to swim, going to Disney World. At 30, she set out on a quest to make those experiences happen. Along the way, she faced down quite a few fears, did some soul-searching and had her share of cringingly hilarious experiences. A “stunt” memoir, which at times veers into cliche, but overall fun and entertaining.

Gold, Chris Cleave
Kate and Zoe are the two fastest female cyclists in the world. They are also best friends (Kate is perhaps Zoe’s only friend), bound together by 13 years of racing and a complicated emotional history. Cleave brings a breathless, razor-sharp writing style to the world of competitive track cycling, as these women prepare for the 2012 Olympics (and as Kate’s daughter, Sophie, battles leukemia). Gripping, though the characters are always a bit detached from real life because of their devotion to cycling. (I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Six Impossible Things, Elizabeth Cadell
This is a sequel of sorts to The Lark Shall Sing (see above), set 10 years later. The Wayne siblings, notably eldest boy Nicholas and youngest sister Julia, are still trying to sort out their lives and loves. Weddings, foreign visitors, insightful friends and old-fashioned English village life combine to make this a fun and entertaining tale.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel
This was the first graphic narrative I’d ever read – and the subject matter (a lesbian writer’s complex relationship with her mother) is also way beyond my usual comfort zone. I found this book by turns provocative, fascinating, funny, offensive and sad. Bechdel explores her love life, her family life, Virginia Woolf, psychoanalysis and other subjects in a graphic format. (I read this for Lauren Winner’s memoir workshop at Glen East, of which more soon.)

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. Graphic by Sarah.

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