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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

August has, so far, been hot and full and lovely. Between (and during) weekend adventures and heat waves, here’s what I have been reading:

Horse, Geraldine Brooks
I love Brooks’ thoughtful fiction that takes readers to unexpected places – all her novels are so different. This one deals with a discarded painting, a horse skeleton, a Civil War-era Black horse trainer and an NYC art dealer, among other things. I especially loved the sections about Jarret, the trainer. Rich and thought-provoking, like all her books.

Flying Solo, Linda Holmes
After calling off her wedding, Laurie Sassalyn returns to small-town Maine to clear out her elderly aunt’s house. She finds a carved wooden duck buried in a blanket chest, and tries to figure out how it got there. This is a sweet story with a bit of a mystery, but it’s mostly Laurie coming to terms with what she wants from her life. I loved the side characters like Laurie’s best friend June and actor brother Ryan, and I appreciated the musings on how womanhood and relationships don’t have to look the same for everyone.

By Any Other Name, Lauren Kate
Editor Lanie Bloom prides herself on handling crises at work, and snagging the perfect guy who fits her (long) list of criteria for a mate. But when Lanie gets (provisionally) promoted and finally meets her reclusive top-tier author, everything she thought she knew about life and love is thrown into question. I loved this sweet, witty publishing rom-com – shades of Nora Ephron, for sure – especially the subplot involving an elderly couple picnicking in Central Park. (Reminded me of this.)

Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, Louise Willder
Blurbs are “the outside story” of a book – and there’s more to them than most people think. Veteran copywriter Willder takes readers through the (literal) A-Z of blurbs, touching on publishing history, literary snobbery, racism, gender politics, puns (so many puns!) and other entertaining absurdities. Smart, nerdy and so much bookish fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

The Key to Deceit, Ashley Weaver
London, 1940: Ellie McDonnell, locksmith and sometime thief, has (mostly) gone straight since getting caught by British intelligence. When Major Ramsey comes asking for her help again (albeit reluctantly), Ellie gets swept up in a mystery involving a young drowned woman, espionage, and more. I love Weaver’s elegant Amory Ames series and enjoyed Ellie’s first adventure; this one was even better.

Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage, Nathalia Holt
The CIA as we know it is relatively new – it was founded after WWII, and a small cadre of sharp, accomplished women was instrumental in its founding and early years. Holt peels back the curtain on five “wise gals” who shaped the agency, fought for equity and did critical work. Insightful, compelling and so well researched – a brilliant slice of mostly unknown history. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cannonball Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As the WWII Japanese occupation of Singapore drags on, Chen Su Lin is translating propaganda articles, cooking for Japanese officials and trying to stay alive. When a relative of hers – a known blackmailer – ends up dead, Su Lin gets drawn into the case, especially when she realizes it might involve sensitive photos and info relating to the war. This mystery was still fairly grim, but a bit more hopeful as Su Lin reconnects with a few friends and the tide of the war begins (slowly) to turn.

Summer Solstice: An Essay, Nina MacLaughlin
I loved MacLaughlin’s thoughtful, lyrical memoir, Hammer Head, and picked up this slim essay at the Booksmith. She writes about summer’s fullness, its nostalgia, its mythical status as a season, its beauty and lushness and even its end. Lovely.

Vinyl Resting Place, Olivia Blacke
Juniper “Juni” Jessup has just moved back to her hometown to open Sip & Spin, a record shop she co-owns with her sisters. But when a local young woman is found dead after the opening-night party – and their uncle, suspiciously, skips town – Juni and her sisters investigate. A fun cozy mystery; first in a new series. I liked Juni and the Texas setting, though the other characters were a little thin. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 27).

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

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‘Tis the season for summer reading – which for me typically means mysteries, YA and lush, immersive novels. But I’m also reading some thoughtful nonfiction, as always. Here’s the latest roundup:

Tokyo Dreaming, Emiko Jean
Izumi Tanaka’s new royal life in Tokyo is going all right – until her boyfriend breaks up with her and the Imperial Council votes against her parents’ engagement. She embarks on a campaign to change their minds, but will it end in disaster? I liked this sequel to Tokyo Ever After, though Izumi drove me crazy at times. Still a fun ride.

Hello Goodbye, Kate Stollenwerck
Hailey Rogers isn’t thrilled about spending part of her summer with her almost-estranged grandmother. But as she gets to know Gigi, they bond over music and books, and Gigi shares some family secrets. This was a fun YA novel set in Texas – the ending got a little wild but I loved the book’s sensitive treatment of complicated family dynamics. And Blake, the neighbor/love interest, is a dream. Out August 2.

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Chen Su Lin is enjoying her work as a detective’s assistant for the Singapore police force, until the new administrator replaces her with a privileged white girl. When the administrator is found dead, Su Lin takes on some unofficial sleuthing, which becomes even more important when her best friend’s father is arrested. Third in a wonderful series set in 1930s Singapore; I’m learning a lot about colonial history, and I love Su Lin’s voice. She’s smart and capable (but still gets it wrong once in a while).

Barakah Beats, Maleeha Siddiqui
Nimra Sharif is nervous about starting public school in seventh grade – especially when her (white) best friend starts acting weird. But then Nimra gets invited to join a band made up of other Muslim kids. The problem? She’s not sure if making music goes against her beliefs. A fun, sensitive middle-grade novel about navigating friendships and faith, and being true to yourself.

Mirror Lake, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow and the election for police chief (between two bears) is heating up. And then Dorothy Springfield, an eccentric local rat, becomes convinced her husband has been murdered and replaced by an impostor. Intrepid reporter Vera Vixen and her raven friend Lenore are on the case, of course. A charming third entry in this delightful mystery series.

Jacqueline in Paris, Ann Mah
In 1949, Jacqueline Bouvier arrives in Paris to spend her junior year abroad. Mah’s novel dives into the people Jackie met, the man she almost loved, her sobering trip to Dachau and the deep, lifelong impression France left on her. Compelling and engaging (even though I am a little tired of Kennedy stories). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Church: Why Bother?, Philip Yancey
My dad sent me this slim book detailing Yancey’s experiences with church and his musings on why it’s still worth it. I am not sure I agree, but there are some interesting insights here. (There is also a lot of older-white-man mild surprise that people different from him have something to teach him.) Frustrating at times, but thought-provoking.

The Emma Project, Sonali Dev
Naina Kohli wants nothing more to do with the Raje family after ending a 10-year fake relationship with its eldest son. But then youngest child Vansh comes back home, and he and Naina find themselves competing for philanthropic funding, as well as fighting a mutual attraction. This was way steamier than I expected, but a fun romance with great witty banter.

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

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We’ve made it to the end of May – with a serious dose of heavy headline news, lately. I am doing my best to stay engaged, but escaping into books when I need to. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Many Meanings of Meilan, Andrea Wang
I found this wonderful middle-grade novel at the library and read it in one sitting. It follows Meilan Hua as she moves from Boston’s Chinatown to small-town Ohio with her parents and grandfather, in the wake of a family feud following her grandmother’s death. Unsurprisingly, she struggles to adjust and fit in, but she uses the different meanings of her name to find creative ways to cope. Beautifully written and so compelling and vivid – I loved it.

The Suite Spot, Trish Doller
I loved Doller’s adult debut, Float Plan, which I read in 2020 (I interviewed her, too). This novel follows Rachel Beck (sister of Anna from Float Plan) as she and her young daughter move to a remote island in Lake Erie so Rachel can take a new job. Rachel’s new boss, a hotel owner/beer brewer, is struggling with his own losses but they find themselves becoming friends, then something more. A sweet, relatable story with some swoony romance moments; I loved Rachel’s new friends, too.

Across the Pond, Joy McCullough
After a friendship disaster back home in San Diego, Callie is thrilled to be moving with her family to Scotland. But when she gets there, she finds herself petrified of making new friends, until a friendly librarian, a prickly neighbor and a local birding club help her out. A sweet middle-grade story of finding new friends/interests and learning how to keep going.

One Italian Summer, Rebecca Serle
When Katy Silver’s mother dies, she is distraught: not even sure she can stay in her marriage anymore. On a trip to Positano, Italy (which was supposed to be a mother-daughter trip), Katy – unbelievably – encounters her mother in the flesh: young, vibrant and full of life. A lovely time-travel story about love and grief, letting go, and taking ownership of your own life. (I loved Serle’s The Dinner List, too.)

Tokyo Ever After, Emiko Jean
Raised by a strong, loving single mom, Izumi “Izzy” Tanaka has always wondered about her mysterious dad. When she finds out he’s the Crown Prince of Japan, she’s whisked away for a crash course in royal behavior and (maybe) a chance to find out if Japan is where she belongs. A funny, modern YA fairy tale; think Princess Diaries goes to Japan with thoughtful commentary on race and family.

The Frangipani Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
My friend Jess’ Instagram book club prompted me to pick up this book, set in 1930s Singapore. The narrator, Chen Su Lin, steps in as temporary governess to a mentally disabled teenage girl after her Irish governess dies under mysterious circumstances. Working (mostly) undercover with the local inspector, Su Lin attempts to solve the mystery and carve a path for herself in a rigid society. Charming and so interesting – first in a series and I’ll definitely read more.

The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef, Michael D. Beil
Prickly, athletic Lark Heron-Finch has been struggling since her mom died. When she goes back to their family’s vacation home with her sister, stepdad and stepbrothers, she uncovers a local mystery that could have serious present-day implications. I loved this middle-grade adventure that sensitively deals with grief and hard emotions; Pip, Lark’s younger sister, and Nadine, her friend/mentor, are especially wonderful.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer, Micha Boyett
I’ve been rereading Micha’s lovely book slowly, as she’s running a Zoom book club to celebrate its 8th anniversary. It traces her attempts at contemplative prayer as she adjusts to being a mother. Warm, wise, honest and lyrical; so many things resonated even more this time around.

Maame, Jessica George
George’s debut novel Madeleine “Maddie” Wright, a young Ghanaian-British woman living in London and caring for her dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. Maame (Maddie’s nickname) traces her attempts to find some independence, assert herself at work, deal with microaggressions, dip into online dating and figure out who she wants to be. Often sad; sometimes wryly funny. I was rooting for Maddie to find some happiness. To review for Shelf Awareness (out in Feb. 2023).

The Heart of Summer, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Hayes-McCoy returns to Lissbeg, Ireland, to her cast of warmhearted characters and their daily lives. This time, librarian Hanna Casey takes a holiday to London, which prompts some serious self-reflection; newlyweds Aideen and Conor navigate farm life; and local builder Fury O’Shea has a finger in every pie, as always. So charming and comforting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 5).

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

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We are halfway through September (tomorrow is my birthday), and I’m struggling to find a fall rhythm. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, Laura Imai Messina
Since Yui lost her mother and her daughter in the 2011 tsunami, she has been paralyzed by grief. But then she hears about a phone booth in a garden by the sea: a place for people to come and talk to their lost loved ones. When she starts visiting the phone booth, Yui meets others who are grieving, and they form a kind of community. Lovely and poignant. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

Windy City Blues, Sara Paretsky
I flew through this collection of short stories featuring my favorite Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski. Many familiar characters – her neighbor, several friends – make appearances, and the cases are entertaining.

Her Last Flight, Beatriz Williams
In 1947, photographer Janey Everett heads to Spain in search of downed pilot Sam Mallory. What she finds there leads her to rural Hawaii, in search of the woman who was his flying partner and possibly his lover. Williams writes lush, satisfying historical fiction with wry dialogue, and I enjoyed this story.

Ways to Make Sunshine, Renée Watson
Ryan Hart, age 10, is juggling a lot: her family’s new (old) house, her fear of public speaking, her irritating older brother, the school talent show. But she’s smart, spunky and creative, and I loved watching her face her problems with grit and joy.

The Arctic Fury, Greer Macallister
Boston, 1853: a wealthy Englishwoman recruits experienced trail guide Virginia Reeve and a dozen other women for an all-female Arctic expedition. A year later, Virginia is on trial for murder. Macallister expertly weaves together two timelines, delving into each woman’s viewpoint and building to a few terrible reveals. Compelling, if gruesome at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Switch, Beth O’Leary
Leena Cotton needs a break after blowing a big presentation at work. Her grandmother, Eileen, needs a change of scenery, too. So they switch lives: Leena goes to rural Yorkshire and Eileen goes to London. I loved watching these two women live each other’s lives: Leena dives headfirst into planning the May Day festival and Eileen discovers online dating, among other things. Sweet, warm and funny.

Evidence, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s poems have been keeping me company over breakfast this summer. This collection includes musings on flora and fauna, heartbreak and joy, and so much keen-eyed noticing. Lovely.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
I adore Doyle’s rambling joyous exuberant prose and “proems.” I once reviewed an anthology he had edited, and he sent me a lovely email about it. This posthumous collection of his essays is vintage Doyle: warmhearted, keen-eyed, sharp and sweet and compassionate.

In Praise of Retreat, Kirsteen Macleod
In our ultra-connected world, retreating is both frowned upon and immensely appealing. Macleod weaves her own story of various types of retreats (yoga ashrams, cabins in the woods) together with research and musings on retreat as a practice. Thoroughly researched and interesting, but reading this one during semi-quarantine was kind of a slog. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30, 2021).

By the Book, Amanda Sellet
Bookish Mary Porter-Malcolm knows all about the pitfalls awaiting young ladies who are trying to find eligible men. But when she’s thrust into the social politics of 21st-century high school, she starts to realize real life doesn’t always match the books. I loved this YA novel – Mary is both smart and endearingly clueless. Her big, loud family and professor parents were so much fun, and the dialogue is hilarious. Found at The Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

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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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