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april reads part 2The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton Disclafani
After a family tragedy, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent from her secluded Florida home to a riding camp/boarding school. Away from her parents and twin brother for the first time, she gradually learns to live with the other girls, while reflecting on the scandal that brought her there. Full of dark secrets and beautiful writing; Thea is a complex, compelling narrator. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith
The third 44 Scotland St. novel finds anthropologist Domenica studying the habits of pirates in the Strait of Malacca, Pat beginning her university course, and Matthew making a few disastrous fashion decisions. Gentle humor and philosophical questions, as always, abound. Good fun.

Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly, Susan Schorn
All her life, Susan Schorn wrestled with fear and anxiety. When she took up karate at a women-only dojo in Austin, she not only found a way to address her fear: she discovered an entirely new framework for life. Her smart, witty memoir traces her journey as a karate student and teacher, with plenty of pithy, often paradoxical life lessons and hilarious anecdotes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 28).

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, ed. Caroline Kennedy
Kennedy has gathered her favorite poems under a dozen or so headings (“Falling in Love,” “Breaking Up,” “Marriage,” “Work,” “Motherhood,” etc.), with essays introducing each section. Some sections felt a bit trite, but I loved others, such as “Growing Up and Growing Old” and especially the last section, “How to Live.” A wide range of poems from different eras, and an interesting array of perspectives on womanhood.

Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson
After a stint on a homestead claim in Montana (in Hattie Big Sky), orphan and aspiring writer Hattie Brooks heads to San Francisco to pursue her dreams. She starts out as a night janitress at a big newspaper, but quickly progresses to cub reporter – even gaining a few scoops. Hattie is a spunky heroine, but at times she seemed overly and improbably naive. Fun, but not as compelling as the original.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Deborah Yaffe
Although Deborah Yaffe was a longtime Austen fan, she had no idea how huge, diverse and sometimes bizarre the Janeite world could be. But she explores the spectrum of Austenmania in this fascinating blend of memoir and reportage. She interviews Jane fans ranging from pedantic academics to a Texan who orders custom-made Regency gowns every year. She also shares her travails with a Regency ball gown (and corset). Witty, informative and warmhearted. Jane would approve. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).

Garlic, Mint, and Sweet Basil: Essays on Marseilles, the Mediterranean, and Noir Fiction, Jean-Claude Izzo
These are more like mini-essays – snippets of Izzo’s thoughts about Marseilles (his beloved, multiethnic home), the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean region, which bridges Europe and Africa; and one scene featuring the protagonist of his noir novels. Some lovely sentences and images of Marseilles, mostly relating to food (see title), but the substance here felt lacking.

The World According to Bertie, Alexander McCall Smith
Our fourth visit to Scotland Street finds Bertie adjusting to the birth of his baby brother, Ulysses, while Angus Lordie fights to clear the name of his dog, Cyril, who has been impounded for biting people. I love these books for their gentle musings on our everyday interactions with one another and the philosophical questions arising from those. McCall’s love for Edinburgh is evident in every page.

The House at the End of Hope Street, Menna van Praag
The titular magical house in Cambridge, England, is visible only to those women who need it and managed by Peggy, a wise, white-haired mother figure with a weakness for cream. Alba, a young, timid student, finds herself there after a serious betrayal. Gradually she (and the house’s other guests) regain the courage to face their fears, helped by the house’s former residents, who dispense advice through their Hogwarts-esque talking portraits. Whimsical and wonderfully bookish.

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn
Though she only has a so-so voice and she’s not religious, Stacy Horn has sung with the choir of Grace Church in New York City for more than 30 years. Her memoir explores the joy we derive from group singing, with asides about the history of singing societies in the U.S. and the lives of several composers. As a singer, I enjoyed this book, though I got a bit tired of the author’s protesting-too-much assertions of agnosticism.

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