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Posts Tagged ‘letters’

Dec 2012 003

Rather suddenly, it’s December, and I am a bit behind on the reading updates. But here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Iron Cast, Destiny Soria
Ada and Corinne are best friends in 1920s Boston who work for a notorious gangster in exchange for his protection. (Both girls are hemopaths: they have a blood condition which allows them to perform magic, but causes a strong aversion to iron.) Rich, complex characters, a twisty plot and a setting I adored, plus strong women in spades. (From the staff recs shelf at the Harvard Book Store.)

Letters to a Young Muslim, Omar Saif Ghobash
Ghobash is the UAE’s ambassador to Russia and the father of two teenage sons. In a time when Islam is beset by extremism and anger, Ghobash shares his personal journey as a Muslim and some wise advice for his boys. Thoughtful, engaging and so timely – we all desperately need to hear from people who aren’t just like us, in this moment of fear and upheaval. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
I love this series so much, and it’s been a few years: it was time for another reread. The first book always goes fast, and it’s fun to discover the wizarding world right along with Harry and his friends.

The Wicked City, Beatriz Williams
After discovering her husband cheating, Ella Gilbert moves out – to a building in the West Village that might be haunted. Williams uses Ella’s narrative to frame the story of Geneva Rose “Gin” Kelly, who escaped backwoods Maryland to build a life in 1920s NYC. But Gin’s bootlegging stepfather, Duke, won’t let her alone. Witty and deliciously scandalous, like all Williams’ books – though I found Gin’s story much more compelling than Ella’s. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 17, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Rowling’s second book delves more deeply into the wizarding world, the (first) rise of Lord Voldemort and the odd similarities between Voldemort and Harry. (Plus it’s so much fun. Flying cars! Quidditch! More spellwork! And Fawkes the phoenix.)

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, Melissa Sweet
It’s no secret that I love E.B. White’s work – both his classic children’s books and his wry, witty letters and essays. Sweet tells White’s story through collage and illustration in this lovely children’s biography. (Bonus: adorable dachshunds!) Bought at Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte
I love Whyte’s poetry and also enjoyed this collection of brief, lyrical essays on words such as “solace,” “work,” “courage,” “heartbreak,” “Istanbul” and many others. A little esoteric and very lovely.

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

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tower of london poppies spill

London is a little bit like New York: it is constantly changing, and the books set there in different eras evoke very different Londons. Here are a handful of my favorites, from all sorts of time periods.

(I know I’m leaving out a lot of classics – A Tale of Two Cities, Mrs. Dalloway, much of the Sherlock Holmes canon – because I assume most people have read them already. These are my quirkier/lesser-known faves.)

Nonfiction/Memoir

Imagined London, Anna Quindlen
Quindlen is best known for her novels, but I adored this slim paperback about London as a city of imagination and literature. Quindlen adores both London and books about London, and mentions many classic London stories. Affectionate, well written and so much fun.

84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
I love this warm, witty collection of letters between Hanff (an American) and British bookseller Frank Doel, which began with Hanff’s inquiries about books and morphed into a longstanding friendship. The movie version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is also delightful. (Bonus: when I was last in London, I browsed some actual Charing Cross Road bookshops with my friend Caroline.)

paddington bear statue

Fiction/Mystery

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This delightful novel of love and rock ‘n’ roll in 1950s London is one of my favorites, ever. It beautifully evokes a postwar London waking up from its long grey sleep – and the result is dazzling.

Maisie Dobbs and sequels, Jacqueline Winspear
I’ve written before about my love for Maisie, who works as a private investigator in 1930s London. Her work takes her to many places, but London is the city of her heart, and I love watching her move around in it.

The Runaway Princess and The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Browne writes smart, funny, utterly British chick lit, and several of her books are set in modern-day London. These two are particularly fun (and The Little Lady Agency has two sequels).

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn
An enchanting novel of Queen Elizabeth II taking a totally unexpected journey, and the half-dozen members of her staff who follow her. Starts in London and meanders all over the country. (I also loved The Uncommon Reader – similar in some ways.)

A Beautiful Blue Death and sequels, Charles Finch
Finch writes meticulously plotted mystery novels about Charles Lenox, a gentleman investigator in Victorian London. The setting, from Lenox’s elegant home to the Houses of Parliament (which he frequents), is perfectly described.

A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
Paddington Bear, who arrives at the eponymous station “from darkest Peru,” is adorable. I loved revisiting his adventures after I saw the bear himself (above) on my most recent trip to London. A hilarious and perfect story of a newcomer adjusting to English life.

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

What are your favorite books about (or set in) London?

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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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book stack

(I went a little crazy at the bookstore recently.)

These Girls, Sarah Pekkanen
I loved this novel following the intertwined stories of three young, female roommates in NYC. Each one is struggling with big questions: career, love, life direction. All the characters were so relatable.

Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor explores the spiritual dimensions of darkness, arguing that we need it as much as we need light – that it may even save our lives and our spiritual health. Beautifully written and thought-provoking, like her other works.

The Accident, Chris Pavone
An anonymous author submits an explosive manuscript to a New York literary agency, and agent Isabel Reed must decide what to do with it while trying to stay alive. Fast-paced and entertaining, especially for publishing nerds, but I liked The Expats (Pavone’s debut) better.

The Opposite of Me, Sarah Pekkanen
Lindsey has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful twin sister Alex, carving out an identity as the smart, capable sister. But when Lindsey gets fired from her NYC job and moves home to Maryland, she makes new discoveries about her sister and herself. A compelling exploration of the complex, rich, frustrating relationships between sisters.

Netherwood, Jane Sanderson
A big, complex, Downton-esque saga set in a Yorkshire mining town, and the story of several strong women: Anna, a widowed Russian immigrant; Eve, hardworking wife of a miner; and Lady Henrietta, headstrong daughter of the earl. I loved it. Looking forward to the sequel.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, Nina Sankovitch
As her son heads off to college, Sankovitch begins writing him letters and reflects on the history, relationships and words of wisdom contained in letters. Full of amusing anecdotes but disjointed – I liked Simon Garfield’s To the Letter much better.

The Unexpected Waltz, Kim Wright
Wealthy widow Kelly takes up ballroom dancing, making new friends and discovering a new self-confidence. Lovely premise, but the writing and plot didn’t deliver. Pass.

I read most of these books on a recent trip to Texas – a work conference and then a weekend with family meant plenty of plane reading time. (Made me think of Anne’s post about good airplane reads.)

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

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My name is Katie and I am a stationery addict.

stationery notecards

I have a whole drawer in my desk dedicated to notecards, spare pens, stickers and envelope seals. (There’s a separate drawer for notebooks and notepads.) I have a snail mail pen pal with whom I exchange long, newsy handwritten letters. And despite the fact that I didn’t manage to send out Christmas cards this year, I think handwritten notes are always a good idea.

I’ve been looking for a challenge to pep up February – since the shortest month can feel awfully long when you’re caught in the grip of a New England winter. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February, it seemed like the perfect time to write love notes – not just to my husband (though he’s definitely on my list), but to lots of the people I care about. So, this month, I’m writing one snail mail love note a day.

This project will force me to use my stash of stationery and notecards instead of hoarding them, and I’m hoping my increasingly chicken-scratch handwriting will improve with a bit of practice. And, of course, I hope my loved ones will smile when they open up the mailbox and see a note from me.

The month has already started, and so far I’m right on target. (Here’s hoping I don’t lose steam after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.)

What are you doing to make February a little brighter? Want to join me in writing a few love notes?

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christmas books bookshop window tree stockings

City of God: Faith in the Streets, Sara Miles
My friend Kari loves Sara Miles, but this is the first book of hers I’ve read – a meditation on finding God in San Francisco, as Miles offers ashes to people on the streets on Ash Wednesday. She captures some tender, moving human moments, though some of the other themes (the gentrification of the Mission neighborhood, for example) felt repetitive. Messy, hopeful and sometimes lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 4).

The House of Hades, Rick Riordan
Seven demigods are racing toward the Doors of Death – five of them on a flying ship, the other two from inside Tartarus. If they don’t seal the Doors, the earth goddess Gaea will wreak havoc on the world, but can they complete the quest and survive? A fun installment in Riordan’s fast-paced Heroes of Olympus series, jam-packed with entertaining mythological references. Lots of slapstick and adolescent humor, but some moments of self-awareness too: the demigods are growing up.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
My friend Julie gave me this book years ago, and I read it every December. It’s a gentle story of love, loss and new beginnings, of Christmas in a tiny Scottish village and unlikely friendships. The familiar scenes make me smile and the ending makes me teary. Rereading it is one of my favorite Advent rituals.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
I love Patchett’s novel Bel Canto and adored this collection of essays on marriages (failed and successful ones), the writing life, the genesis of the bookstore Patchett co-owns (Parnassus Books), and her friendship with an elderly nun. Witty, wise and beautifully written. Now I’m debating which of Patchett’s other novels to read next.

To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, Simon Garfield
I loved Garfield’s On the Map, and he tackles the subject of letter writing with his signature gusto. He traces the evolution of letters’ role in society, the development of the postal service, and provides excerpts – some touching, some scandalous – from great letter writers. Woven throughout are a series of World War II love letters, which are romantic, frustrating and endearingly human. A fabulous book on a wonderful subject.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
It’s almost Christmas in Mitford and Father Tim Kavanagh has a secret – he’s restoring a lovely old Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Several of his fellow townspeople have Christmas secrets, too. Sweet and heartwarming and funny, like all the Mitford novels.

The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers
A stalled car brings Lord Peter Wimsey to a remote East Anglian village with a beautiful set of church bells, and a set of dark secrets. Murder and floods follow, but of course our intrepid detective solves the mystery. Moody and fascinating, with an unusual solution to the case.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading, as the year winds down?

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From mid-September to early November, E.B. White’s collected letters lived on my bedside table. At nearly 700 pages, it’s too heavy to carry on the subway and hold in one hand, so I kept it at home, dipping into it morning and evening.

After reading a fascinating biography of White and then his essays last fall, I found his letters at the Brattle (complete with newspaper clippings from 1977 featuring an interview with White and a New Yorker tribute to his wife, Katharine, after her death). Intimidated by the collection’s size, I let it sit on my shelf for a year.

e.b. white writer dachshund dog minnie

(Image from amsaw.org)

Once I finally picked it up, I found myself charmed again by White’s keen eye, dry humor and gift for understatement. His life may have been quiet, but it was peopled with fascinating characters, including Katharine; Harold Ross, longtime editor of The New Yorker; fellow writers; his family members; and Ursula Nordstrom, the longtime children’s editor at Harper’s, whose letters I also read and loved.

As I read White’s letters, chuckling at his witty observations (and frequently reading the choicest bits aloud to J), I kept thinking of a scene from The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Polynesia, the Doctor’s wise parrot, is talking to the narrator, Tommy Stubbins, a boy who will become the Doctor’s new assistant. She dismisses his worries about never having been to school, but when he wonders if he could learn animal language, she asks him a vital question:

Are you a good noticer? Do you notice things well?

White often doubted his own skill as a writer, even as he wrote weekly essays and shorter pieces for The New Yorker, and worked on his three books for children. He never quite understood all the fuss people made over him and his work. He harbored a deep love for New York, where he was born and raised, even writing a gorgeous, elegiac essay about it. But as he grew older, he spent more and more time on his farm in Brooklin, Maine, raising chickens and pigs and various other animals, followed around by his dogs.

White was, at times, a poet, a social critic, a quixotic dreamer, a children’s novelist, a newspaperman, a humorist, an amateur cartoonist and an essayist. But at all times, in all places, he was a good noticer. His precise observations of daily life, his keen insights into human nature, all hinged on his powers of observation. His noticing, and the care he took in writing down his noticing, are what makes his letters so much fun to read.

Do you enjoy reading collections of letters? (I love them.) And are you a good noticer?

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