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three lives bookstore interior

The reading has been slow lately, due to the election and the general life craziness. But here are a few good books I’ve discovered this month. (Photo: the wonderful Three Lives & Co. bookstore in NYC.)

Goodbye to a River, John Graves
I loved this wise, wry, observant, slightly cranky account of a canoe trip down the Brazos River (in central Texas) in the 1950s. Graves and a dachshund pup he calls “the passenger” paddle through a stark, isolated, often beautiful stretch of country, and Graves muses on history, change, nature and whatever else comes into his head. Reminded me of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which I adored.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, Yee-Lum Mak (illus. Kelsey Garrity-Riley)
This was an impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store: a gorgeous, whimsical illustrated compendium of untranslatable words in English and other languages. I am particularly enchanted by raðljóst, an Icelandic word that means “enough light to find your way by.” So lovely.

Like a River Glorious, Rae Carson
Leah “Lee” Westfall and her companions have made it to California, and they set about staking claims and establishing a small town they dub “Glory.” But Lee’s evil uncle Hiram is still hot on her trail, and she must thwart his plans before he destroys everything she loves. A rich, adventurous, well-plotted sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger (which I loved) – and there’s a third book forthcoming.

A Most Novel Revenge, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames, amateur sleuth, and her husband Milo are summoned to an odd country-house party: the other guests all witnessed a murder several years ago. As secrets and lies simmer beneath the surface, another guest is found dead and Amory tries to ferret out the killer. This third case wasn’t quite as engaging as the first two, but I like Amory and I love a good British mystery.

A Symphony of Echoes, Jodi Taylor
This sequel to Just One Damned Thing After Another (which I so enjoyed) finds the time-traveling historians of St. Mary’s grappling with a sneaky enemy – one bent on destroying their institute and possibly doing violence to history itself. I love Max, the whip-smart, fierce, damaged narrator, and her loyal, brilliant, eccentric companions. Snarky, hilarious and so smart, with copious amounts of wit and tea.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be, Carol D. Marsh
Marsh had no idea what she was getting into when she founded Miriam’s House, a resident community for homeless women living with AIDS in Washington, D.C. This memoir tells the stories of many Miriam’s House residents alongside Marsh’s own story of learning to live in relationship with them. Powerful, well-written and so timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 10, 2017).

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

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red books flowers

I’ve been diving into allll the books this month – several of them on vacation (of which more soon). Here’s the latest roundup:

When in French: Love in a Second Language, Lauren Collins
North Carolina native Lauren Collins never expected to fall in love with a Frenchman. But when she found herself married to Olivier and living in Geneva, she decided to get serious about learning French. Her memoir muses on the difficulties of language and culture clashes, American monolingualism and the blending of two families. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi’s graphic novel tells the story of her childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Powerful, often irreverent, sometimes funny. I reread this one for the RTFEBC (though it is definitely for older kids/teens).

The One-in-a-Million Boy, Monica Wood
This novel is the first pick for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s online Summer Reading Club. It follows the friendship between an 11-year-old boy and Miss Ona Vitkus, age 104 (he’s recording her life story on tape). Funny, poignant and sweet without being saccharine. So many wonderful lines.

The Darkness Knows, Cheryl Honigford
Vivian Witchell is an aspiring radio actress in 1930s Chicago. She’s just landed a plum new role when one of her colleagues is murdered – and Vivian is threatened. With the help of a handsome private eye, Vivian is determined to catch the killer. A fun period mystery; I loved the radio details. Vivian is spunky (if a little bullheaded) and engaging. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

At the Edge of Summer, Jessica Brockmole
In the summer of 1911, orphaned Clare Ross arrives at a quiet French chateau. She forges a deep friendship with Luc, the house’s son, but they are separated by life and war. Years later, they meet again in Paris and must try to bridge the gaps of time and grief. A subtle, lovely story of art, love and human connection, beautifully told.

The Unexpected Everything, Morgan Matson
Andie Walker always has a plan. She’s all set for a summer program at Johns Hopkins when a political scandal (her dad’s a congressman) puts her back at square one. Suddenly, Andie finds herself working as a dog walker and spending hours with a very cute boy. It’s idyllic, until a series of secrets threatens to ruin everything. I love Matson’s smart, sensitive, fun YA novels, and this one is great. Especially fun for writers, as Anne said.

Arsenic for Tea, Robin Stevens
Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the school holidays. When an unlikable houseguest is poisoned at afternoon tea, the girls take on the case. A really fun second mystery featuring these characters – so very English. (I have the UK edition; link is to the U.S. edition, called Poison is Not Polite.)

The Invitation, Lucy Foley
A glamorous party in Rome. A chance encounter. English journalist Hal never expects to see the mysterious Stella again. But a year later, they meet on a yacht, both of them loosely tied to a movie cast sailing to Cannes for the premiere of a new film. A gorgeous, bittersweet novel of loss and redemption, alternating between the Spanish Civil War and 1950s Italy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
Polly Waterford has a lovely little bakery, a doting boyfriend, a pet puffin and a quirky home in an old lighthouse. But when her landlady dies and her boyfriend has to go back to the U.S. for work, her carefully constructed life begins to unravel. A sweet (though often really sad) novel about baking, second chances and fighting to hold onto the good.

The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Plumb siblings are arguing about money again. Years ago, their father set up a modest trust fund (“The Nest”), and they were all counting on it until Leo, the eldest, got himself into trouble and their mother used The Nest to bail him out. Now, they all may have to reimagine their financial futures and rethink their relationships to one another. A smart, satirical but warmhearted novel of family and finances. (The second pick for the MMD Summer Reading Club.)

Lois Lane: Double Down, Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane, girl reporter, finally has friends and a place to belong: the Scoop, teen arm of the Daily Planet. Her second adventure involves following her nose to a big story involving the mayor’s office, her best friend’s sister and some seriously weird mind control. Lois is snarky but compassionate (think Veronica Mars) and her supporting cast is great. So fun.

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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jer reading greenlight bookstore brooklyn ny

March has been up and down so far: we’ve had snow flurries, several mild days and lots of events on the calendar. So it also goes with books. (This is the hubs at Greenlight Bookstore on a recent NYC jaunt, about which more soon.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, Erin Moore
London-dwelling expat Erin Moore is delighted (and often confused) by the differences between American and British English. Through a handful of vital words and phrases, she explores the history and current state of English on both sides of the Atlantic (and cautions readers to “mind the gap!”). Witty, smart and such fun for Anglophiles.

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
I’m not usually drawn to Westerns, but this epic story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana (led by two Texas Rangers) has been on my list for YEARS. (My dad loves it and the miniseries.) It’s 840 pages long, but I was still heartbroken when it ended. It is simply told but rich, deeply layered, and full of wonderful characters. I particularly adored Deets, Newt, and Augustus McCrae. My mom said it best on Instagram: “So good! Love, loss, friendship, adventure, life, death: everything.”

Design for Dying, Renee Patrick
Lillian Frost came to Hollywood to be in the movies, but settled for a role as a department-store shopgirl. But when her former roommate is murdered, Lillian joins forces with the police – and Edith Head, of all people – to catch the killer. A sparkling, smart, funny (if occasionally too-aware-of-its-own-cleverness) period mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 19).

The Ramblers, Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Rowley’s second novel follows three college friends now in their 30s, trying to make sense of life and love in NYC over one jam-packed Thanksgiving week. A mixed bag: some lovely moments and a lot of (gratuitous, I thought) profanity; some insights that rang true and others that felt hollow. I did love the nods to E.B. White’s Here is New York, which I adore. I met Aidan recently at Lindsey’s house, and enjoyed hearing her talk about the book.

A Finer End, Deborah Crombie
Crombie’s seventh novel featuring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James takes them to Glastonbury, where Duncan’s cousin is mixed up in a strange situation involving a long-dead monk, an ancient chant and a group of local eccentrics. I like Duncan and Gemma, and wanted to give this series another shot, but the odd paranormal elements of this plot were not my favorite.

The Doldrums, Nicholas Gannon
Archer B. Helmsley is the grandson of two famed explorers. But since his grandparents disappeared on a voyage, his mother will hardly let him leave the house. So Archer and his two friends, Oliver and Adelaide, hatch a plan to escape to Antarctica. A fun premise with charming illustrations, though the execution fell a little flat.

Falling: A Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back, Elisha Cooper
Elisha Cooper’s world changed when his young daughter, Zoe, was diagnosed with cancer. This memoir traces their family’s journey through Zoe’s treatment and recovery. But it’s less about hospitals and chemo than it is about living – Cooper wants to teach his daughters to take risks and throw balls and eat gelato, and to pay attention to his own mundane, dazzling life. Wry and honest, with some luminous moments. I received an ARC because I’m going to interview the author for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

The Perfume Collector, Kathleen Tessaro
My mom lent me this lovely novel about a young Englishwoman who receives an inheritance from a Frenchwoman she’s never met, and travels to Paris to investigate. A dual-time-period narrative (1927 and 1955) with gorgeous details and interesting characters. I saw the main plot twist coming, but was surprised by several others.

Chasing Secrets, Gennifer Choldenko
Lizzie Kennedy loves making house calls with her doctor father – a rarity in San Francisco in 1900. But when rumors of the plague start to swirl, the city’s Chinatown is put under quarantine and Lizzie is cautioned to stay away. Worried for the safety of her family’s Chinese cook, Lizzie breaks all kinds of rules to search for answers. A fun, well-told story of unlikely friendship and a slice of history I didn’t know about before.

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

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island books newport ri

More (more!) summer reading, as the calendar slides toward fall. Here’s my latest crop of reads:

Fall of a Philanderer, Carola Dunn
A seaside holiday means first relaxation and then a murder investigation for Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her policeman husband. A fun, twisty mystery full of entertaining minor characters. This one reminded me somehow of a Miss Marple case.

Second Chance Summer, Morgan Matson
When Taylor Edwards’ father is diagnosed with cancer, her family heads back to their lake house for one last summer together. But Taylor has to face the consequences of a mistake she made five years ago. A wonderful, poignant, rich story of first love, teenage summer, deep grief and – yes – second chances.

The House on Nauset Marsh: A Cape Cod Memoir, Wyman Richardson
Richardson, a Boston doctor who kept a house on the Cape for many years, writes with keen observation and humor about the birds, fish, seasons and rhythms of life there. Lovely and often lyrical; reminded me of One Man’s Meat. Found at the Concord Bookshop last month.

How to Speak Brit: The Quintessential Guide to the King’s English, Cockney Slang, and Other Flummoxing British Phrases, Christopher J. Moore
A quirky, fun “glossary” of common British phrases, with some interesting historical tidbits. Catnip for an Anglophile like me (though I knew lots of the terms already). Found at Raven Used Books.

Grounded: Finding God in the World: A Spiritual Revolution, Diana Butler Bass
Church attendance continues to decline in the West, but increasingly, people of all religious stripes are practicing their faith out in the world. Bass examines the “new” spirituality through the lens of several natural elements (ground, water, sky) and social structures (home, neighborhood, community). Thoughtful, though a bit long-winded at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Pagan Spring, G.M. Malliet
Father Max Tudor, former MI5 spy turned priest, finds himself trying to solve the murder of a man no one particularly liked, while dealing with parish duties and his love life. Not my favorite entry in this series, but the village writing group scenes were hilarious.

Recipes for Love and Murder, Sally Andrew
Tannie (“Auntie”) Maria van Harten writes a recipe-and-advice column for the newspaper in her small South African town. When an abused woman who has written to her ends up murdered, Tannie Maria and her colleagues get mixed up in the police investigation. A satisfying mystery with charm, heart and recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

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

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favorites bookshelf

This is the summer of all the mysteries, as I said recently. But I’ve been reading a few other things too. Here’s the latest roundup:

Miss Emily, Nuala O’Connor
I picked up a copy of this lovely novel the day before Julia happened to review it at Great New Books. It’s a fictional account of Emily Dickinson’s friendship with an Irish maid, Ada, narrated in alternating chapters by Emily and Ada. The prose is gorgeous and I loved the bond between the two women.

A Fatal Winter, G.M. Malliet
In his second adventure, Father Max Tudor, former MI5 agent turned priest, is called upon to help solve a murder at the local castle. It’s packed full of greedy relatives, all of whom have a motive. A slow start, but an enjoyably twisty mystery, and I really like Max (and his inspector friend, DCI Cotton).

Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems, Mary Oliver
This collection includes a handful of essays on the natural world, literary criticism on a few poets, and some poetry. Lyrical and thoughtful and full of good noticing, like all Oliver’s work. (And, despite the title, great beach reading.)

A Mourning Wedding, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her husband Alec are invited to her best friend’s wedding – but a double murder complicates matters. A really fun, Christie-esque country house mystery with a dizzying array of characters. Alec and his team are in fine crime-fighting form, but of course Daisy saves the day in the end.

Scents and Sensibility, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back for an eighth adventure involving a stolen cactus, an old kidnapping case and (as always) plenty of canine humor from narrator Chet. A satisfying mystery and so much fun.

I’m in the middle of half a dozen books right now – so, more to come in the end-of-month roundup!

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

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fall books window mcnally jackson nyc

(Window display at McNally Jackson in NYC)

The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongues, ed. Wendy Lesser
A fascinating, varied collection of essays by writers – most of whom write in English – on the (often fraught) relationship between English and their native tongues. Found at McNally Jackson on our NYC trip.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
I have read this book so many times, but I always reach for it in the fall. I love Anne’s adventures in Summerside – befriending the proud Pringles, doing a bit of matchmaking, spending many quiet evenings in her wonderful tower room.

Lila, Marilynne Robinson
I adore Gilead and Home, Robinson’s previous two novels. This book views some of the same characters from a different angle, telling the life story of Lila, Reverend John Ames’ wife. Heartbreaking and beautiful, and an unflinching look at Dust Bowl poverty.

Death in Four Courses, Lucy Burdette
Key West food critic Hayley Snow’s second adventure (I recently read book #5) finds her at a food writing seminar where the star speaker turns up dead. Full of backstabbing foodies, yummy meals and quirky characters.

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil, James Runcie
Newlywed priest Sidney Chambers continues solving crimes in 1960s Cambridge and musing on the universe’s big questions. The cases are slow-paced and never too hard to solve, but still enjoyable.

The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
A gorgeous, sweeping novel telling the life story of Thea Kronborg, a Colorado girl who becomes a famous opera singer. So much here about art and passion, love and striving. And I love Cather’s lyrical prose.

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
I read this book years ago and fell in love with the gorgeous language and unusual storyline. I reread it for book club and found it as beautiful and heartbreaking as ever.

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

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