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Posts Tagged ‘London’

September is flying by so far – amid work and daily adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

The Lost Summers of Newport, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoy Team W’s richly detailed historical novels (and I’ve devoured nearly all of Williams’ books). This one follows the intertwined stories of three women connected to the same Newport, R.I., mansion during different eras: architectural preservationist Andie, music teacher Ellen, and Italian-American socialite Lucia. Rife with family secrets and dripping with diamonds – great escapist reading.

The House of Eve, Sadeqa Johnson
Ruby Pearsall is on track to be her family’s first college student – but a forbidden love may derail her plans to escape her rough neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles, a brilliant young woman from small-town Ohio, struggles to find her place at Howard University and with her rich boyfriend’s family. Their lives collide in an unexpected way. A powerful, sometimes wrenching novel about the struggles of Black women in the mid-1950s. So much here around shame and womanhood and making choices. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Love, Lies & Spies, Cindy Anstey
Miss Juliana Telford is more interested in publishing her research on ladybugs than diving into the London Season. Mr. Spencer Northam is far more preoccupied with espionage than with matrimony. But all this might change when they encounter one another by chance. A witty, hilarious, romantic tribute to Jane Austen and a really fun love story. Recommended by Anne.

Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead, Adam McHugh
After years as a hospice chaplain, McHugh found himself burned out, and needing not just an escape but a whole life change. His love of wine led him – several times – to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, where he began a career working in wine. An honest, sometimes snarky, well-researched, thoughtful memoir about wine and transformation. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man, Emily J. Edwards
Our titular heroine loves her job as secretary/girl Friday to NYC private eye Tommy Fortuna. But when she finds an unconscious man in the office and Tommy disappears – right after taking on a case for a wealthy client – Viv must marshal all her wits to solve the case and stay alive. A fun romp with an engaging heroine, though the dialogue read almost like a send-up of 1950s phrases. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 8).

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration, Sara Dykman
I picked up this memoir last fall at the Harvard Book Store and have been reading it sloooowly. Dykman takes a months-long solo journey starting and ending in Mexico at the monarchs’ overwintering grounds, following their trail and giving presentations about the importance of these beautiful creatures. She’s a lovely writer, though the trip logistics dragged sometimes (as I’m sure they did in real life!). Fun bonus: she went through my dad’s tiny hometown in southwestern MO.

What Comes from Spirit, Richard Wagamese
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I., in June. Wagamese was an Indigenous Canadian writer who wrote extensively about his journey away from and back to his Native identity, as well as noticing the natural world, building community and paying attention. Short, lovely meditations – exactly my kind of thing for slow morning reading.

The Star That Always Stays, Anna Rose Johnson
When Norvia’s parents divorce, she and her siblings move from rural Beaver Island to a small Michigan city with their mother. Norvia must navigate a new school, a tricky blended family and her own shyness and anxiety, while striving to be a heroine. A sweet middle-grade story (though the middle dragged a bit); I loved Norvia’s family, especially her spunky younger sister, Dicta. Reminded me of Emily of Deep Valley.

Saving Main Street: Small Business in the Time of COVID-19, Gary Rivlin
Americans idolize small business – though we give a lot of our money to the colossal chains. It’s common knowledge now that small shops were hit hard by COVID-19. Veteran reporter Rivlin follows several business owners, including a restaurateur, a pharmacist, a Latina hairstylist and three Black brothers making chocolate, through the first 18 months or so of the pandemic. Full of fascinating anecdotes and a thorough explanation of the government’s confusing (but ultimately sort-of-effective) struggle to help small businesses. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

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

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I love a good spy story – even better if it involves a canny female protagonist racing against the clock and a formidable enemy. So I jumped at the chance to review Ava Glass’ debut thriller, Alias Emma, which introduces intelligence officer Emma Makepeace. This interview originally ran in Shelf Awareness.

Tell us about the inspiration for Alias Emma.

It’s fair to say Alias Emma was inspired by real life. Britain has always been a hotbed of espionage. Perched at the edge of Europe but a strong ally of the U.S., it’s a magnet for spies from around the world. People are murdered here with poison-tipped umbrellas, radiation in tea cups, nerve agents on door knobs–these are the headlines I’m reading. How could I not want to write about this? It’s crying out to be explored.

Besides the headlines, how did you originally become interested in spies and espionage?

Before I started writing books, I worked for the British government in the department that’s sort of the equivalent of the U.S. Homeland Security agency. My job brought me into glancing contact with spies, and that gave me just the merest glimpse of their world. Before then I’d been a journalist and an editor, so I knew nothing at all about espionage or intelligence work. I was a complete innocent in that way. During that time, I met a young female intelligence officer. She was in her 20s and so smart and fearless; she seemed decades older than her age, and incredibly capable. Alias Emma is my opportunity to imagine what her life might be like.

Modern-day intelligence work often relies on technology: mobile phones, tracking devices, surveillance systems. Tell us how you explore those technologies–either using them or eliminating them–as part of this story.

This is always somewhat tricky. In Alias Emma, the job Emma’s assigned is extracting Michael, the son of a Russian spy who has defected to the U.K. The Russians want their asset back, so she and her husband are taken into protective custody [by British officials], but their adult son refuses to go with them. If Emma can’t get him to safety, he’ll be killed. He doesn’t understand the danger he’s in. During this rescue, Emma is ordered to use no technology that can be tracked. So, she can use no phones, bank cards, computers or tablets. At the same time, London’s extensive CCTV system has been hacked by the Russians who are using the cameras to hunt for Emma and Michael. Technology is everywhere (including the CCTV cameras), but Emma can’t access any of it.

Britain and Russia are old enemies (the Great Game and the Cold War both come to mind), but this story is set in the 21st century and feels very fresh. Why a British/Russian conflict?

I believe the Great Game never ended. We all thought it stopped when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, but we were wrong. It went on. That became quite clear when a former Russian FSB agent named Alexander Litvenenko was murdered by his ex-colleagues with polonium placed in a teapot in an expensive London hotel in 2006. That was followed by a spate of mysterious deaths of Russian exiles and former spies and government officials in the U.K. until, finally, a Russian exile named Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked with nerve gas in a leafy town (near where I live) in 2018. That was when it occurred to me that this secret war might make an interesting subject for a series of novels.

Much of this story is about identity. There are false identities, conflicting identities, Michael’s reluctance to leave the life he’s built for himself behind. Can you speak to that?

To an extent. In my time, I’ve changed careers, towns, even nations. Each move always feels like an opportunity to reinvent yourself. And yet, in my experience, no matter how far you travel, you can’t escape yourself. The past tags along. No matter how hard you try to leave it behind, it always packs itself in your luggage. And this is one lesson that Emma Makepeace is learning in Alias Emma. She can change her appearance, her name, even her eye color–but she will always be shaped by her past.

Will we see Emma in future adventures? Can you give us a teaser?

I’m actually writing the last chapters of book two now! The second book takes Emma out of London and into an undercover operation on an oligarch’s yacht in the Mediterranean. An MI6 analyst has been murdered in a bizarre way that looks like a hallmark of the Russian spy agency GRU. The Agency believes the analyst got too close to revealing a conspiracy by Russian businessmen in London to sell chemical weapons to rogue nations. But the conspiracy may run much deeper than Emma thinks. And it will take her to very dangerous places.

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Another month has flown by! As we wrap up August, here’s what I have been reading:

Just Another Love Song, Kerry Winfrey
Sandy Macintosh has built a life for herself in her Ohio hometown – she’s even happy, most of the time. But when her first love Hank Tillman (now a successful musician) comes back to town with his son in tow, Sandy’s emotions go haywire. I love Winfrey’s warmhearted feel-good romances, and this one was sweet – full of fun summer vibes and serious questions about figuring out what you truly want.

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys and Struggles of Being Alone, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
Solitude and loneliness are, of course, not the same – but they often go hand in hand, and they’re both nearly universal experiences. This anthology explores loneliness in many forms – it is sad and lovely and extremely validating. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Argyles and Arsenic, Molly MacRae
The women of Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to helping host the local knitting competition in tiny Inversgail, Scotland. But when the director of the local museum is poisoned at a party, they can’t help but investigate (of course). I like the setting of this series, but the plot of this one didn’t do it for me – plus a super irritating plot device didn’t help.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, Clare Pooley
I loved Pooley’s first novel, The Authenticity Project, and also loved this one – about a group of strangers on a London commuter train (led by the titular Iona) who enter each other’s lives and become good friends. Sweet, heartwarming and so beautifully human. I loved vibrant Iona, shy Sanjay, gawky Martha and the kindness in all of them.

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, Jamie K. McCallum
We all spent the first part of the pandemic applauding essential workers (sometimes literally). But despite arguing and agitating for better wages and conditions, a lot of essential jobs are truly terrible. McCallum dives into the labor strikes, walkouts and other campaigns of the pandemic, connecting them to the long history of labor organizing in the U.S., and urgently calling for higher wages, government support and better working conditions for nurses, food service workers and others. Insightful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Death at the Manor, Katharine Schellman
Lily Adler is delighted to be visiting her aunts in Hampshire, with friends. But their visit takes a turn when a local elderly woman is murdered – ostensibly by a ghost. This third mystery featuring Lily had a bit of gothic flair; I thought the plot dragged for a while, though the conclusion was interesting.

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

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August is flying by – between work and yoga and other adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

Rivals, Katharine McGee
Queen Beatrice is hosting her first international diplomatic conference, and alliances will be formed and shattered – but by whom? Meanwhile, Princess Samantha might be falling in love – for real this time – and Prince Jeff’s girlfriend, Daphne, is reconsidering her usual scheming ways. A fun third installment in McGee’s alternate-reality YA series where America is a monarchy.

The Matchmaker’s Gift, Lynda Cohen Loigman
Sara Glikman makes her first match at age 10, as her family immigrates to the U.S. When Sara keeps using her unusual gift to make love matches, the local matchmakers – all male – join forces against her. Decades later, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, uncovers some of her grandmother’s stories and begins to suspect she might have the gift, too. A highly enjoyable historical novel with a touch of magic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 20).

The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston
Romance ghostwriter Florence Day is in trouble: she doesn’t believe in love anymore, but her handsome new editor is pushing her to submit a manuscript on deadline. Then Florence’s father dies, and she flies home to South Carolina (where her family runs the funeral home) – and a very handsome ghost shows up unexpectedly. Quirky and fun and really sweet; the premise is bonkers, but I loved it. Found at the delightful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT, and recommended by Anne.

Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem, April Ryan
Black women are the often unsung “sheroes” who make immeasurable contributions to America’s democracy, institutions, families and communities, while facing the double bind of sexism and racism. Veteran White House reporter Ryan – herself a trailblazing Black woman – champions the accomplishments of leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris and the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. Thoughtful and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, Jessica Khoury
All her life, Amelia Jones has dreamed of studying at Mystwick, the school where her mother learned Musicraft. After a botched audition, Amelia still gets in due to a mix-up, but she gets a chance to prove she belongs there. A fun middle-grade novel with adventures, music, magic and complicated friend/frenemy dynamics. First in a series.

London’s Number One Dog Walking Agency, Kate MacDougall
In 2006, MacDougall quit her job at Sotheby’s – where she was safe but bored – to start a dog-walking company. This delightful memoir chronicles her trials and triumphs in setting up the business, navigating adulthood, getting her own dog and starting a family. Witty and warm, with lovely insights on work and building a life. Found at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC.

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

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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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It’s no secret I love a British mystery – particularly one featuring a whip-smart female sleuth or two. Bonus points for chic fashions, romantic tensions, and lingering effects of one or both world wars. (Maisie Dobbs does this last particularly well.) During a browse at the Strand a few years ago, I discovered a (then) brand-new series that I’ve continued to enjoy: the adventures of The Right Sort Marriage Bureau and its proprietors, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge.

As London recovers from World War II, both women are also recovering: Gwen lost her husband and suffered a subsequent mental breakdown, which led to her aristocratic in-laws taking away her rights of guardianship over her young son, Ronnie. Iris is less forthcoming about her war wounds, but her top-secret job in British intelligence and her romantic entanglements have both left their scars.

The two women, who meet at a mutual friend’s wedding, join forces to launch the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. (Their motto: “The world must be peopled!”) But when one of their clients is murdered, presumably by another one, the women jump into an investigation to clear his name (and theirs). Of course, they’re not professionals, though Iris has a few clues – so they stumble about a bit, but do eventually manage to save the day (and their agency).

Montclair’s series is four books strong now, and I think it’s getting better with each book: the protagonists, while smart and compassionate to begin with, are learning (more) street savvy and also taking leaps in their personal lives. Gwen, at first completely cowed by her in-laws, begins to fight back (with the help of Iris and her therapist), determined to gain back custody of her son and build their life together on her own terms. Iris insists she doesn’t really believe in love, but she finds herself cautiously optimistic in that area, as well as opening up to friendships with Gwen and others. I recently reviewed the fourth book, The Unkept Woman, for Shelf Awareness, and I’m looking forward to the next adventures of Sparks and Bainbridge.

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June is flying by, and I’m flying through stacks of review and library books. Here’s what I have been reading:

Empathy Economics: Janet Yellen’s Remarkable Rise to Power and Her Drive to Forge Prosperity for All, Owen Ullmann
Janet Yellen is a fascinating figure: not only is she the first woman to hold several key US financial positions, including Treasury secretary, but her approach to economics consistently aims to benefit ordinary citizens. Ullmann has written a thorough, well-researched biography of Yellen’s life and career, which is also a crash course in the U.S. financial system. Dense at times, but mostly very clear, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything), Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
I love the ladies of Pantsuit Politics and their wise, thoughtful approach to politics and other difficult conversations. This, their second book, explores how to talk about tough stuff with our families, friends and communities. Practical and thought-provoking, with examples from their own lives; I loved it.

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Just after Britain’s king abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson, a wealthy British man (engaged to an American widow) is murdered in Singapore. Chen Su Lin, assistant to Chief Inspector Le Froy, investigates. A fun second adventure with an engaging protagonist, and a fascinating slice of colonial life.

The Last Karankawas, Kimberly Garza
Garza’s stunning debut novel takes us into the Filipino- and Mexican-American communities in Galveston and nearby parts of south Texas. I loved her narrative voice, and the way her characters’ lives are intertwined. As Hurricane Ike heads for the Gulf Coast, residents must make the choice to evacuate or to stay and hunker down. This is a part of Texas I don’t know as well; it is recognizable but also new. Gorgeous. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

Alias Emma, Ava Glass
Emma Makepeace (not her real name, of course) always wanted to be a spy: her father died honorably attempting to help bring democracy to Russia. Years later, Emma receives her first major assignment: she must ferry the son of Russian dissidents across London, before sunrise, while staying well away from the city’s surveillance system. A fun, twisty modern-day British spy thriller; first in a new series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

With Love from Wish & Co., Minnie Darke
Marnie Fairchild has spent her adult life working hard to build up her gift-wrapping and -buying business – and wishing she could move into her grandfather’s old shop. When she mixes up the gifts intended for a wealthy client’s wife and his mistress, trouble ensues – and to top it off, Marnie finds herself falling for the client’s son. A warmhearted story with some interesting ethical questions at its center and engaging characters. I particularly liked Suzanne, the client’s wife, and Saski, Marnie’s big-hearted accountant and friend. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 16).

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’re halfway through May (I think?) and I’ve been blowing through review books and mysteries, as per usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After, Elizabeth Crane
Crane had a good marriage – or thought she did – until her husband admitted he wasn’t happy. This memoir chronicles the dissolution of their marriage; chapters vary from a few sentences to several pages. I found it both heartbreaking and validating in the extreme; I saw so much of myself (and my ex) in Crane’s narrative. Wry, sometimes self-absorbed (but aren’t we all, in crisis?) and sharply observed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, Beth Morrey
Delphine Jones’ life plan went off the rails when she got pregnant at 16 (three years after her mother’s death). Now, at 28, she’s trying to get back on track – with the help of her precocious daughter, a cranky Frenchwoman, a kindhearted teacher and a Welsh pianist. I loved this sweet novel about facing our demons and finding our way. I loved Morrey’s first novel, too.

The Unkept Woman, Allison Montclair
Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge are happily back to their matchmaking business after several murder investigations. But then – of course – Iris is followed home by an unknown woman, who ends up dead in Iris’ flat a few days later. A witty, post-WWII British mystery (fourth in a fun series) with a few great twists. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 26).

Any Other Family, Eleanor Brown
I love Brown’s thoughtful fiction; The Weird Sisters is a longtime fave. This, her third novel, follows an unconventional family formed by three sets of parents who all adopted biological siblings. On a family vacation in Aspen, all the parents–especially the women–are forced to confront some hard truths about themselves and one another, and what future changes might mean for their family. Such a compelling story and an insightful exploration of adoption, family dynamics, what we carry forward from our own experiences and what truly makes a family. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

The Bodyguard, Katherine Center
Hannah Brooks is good at her job, which involves providing private security for wealthy clients. But while she’s reeling from her mother’s death and a breakup, she gets an unconventional assignment – protecting actor Jack Stapleton by posing as his girlfriend. This was a super cute, witty rom-com (I could totally see it as a movie) with a sweet slow-burn romance. Set in Texas, which I loved, and I also appreciated how Hannah became (gradually!) more self-aware. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 19).

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Life When the Old Ones Stop Working, Shauna Niequist
Niequist has gone through upheaval in the last few years: not only the pandemic, but serious personal chaos and a cross-country move to NYC. She writes thoughtfully about big changes, health problems, learning to forgive and keep going, and the delights to be found in the unexpected. Occasionally veered into cliche for me but was mostly real and relatable. I especially liked the parts about “living lightly,” moving through anger and resentment (so hard!), and coming to terms with who you are in different seasons.

Framed in Fire, Iona Whishaw
The publisher sent me a copy of this 9th Lane Winslow mystery (I adore this series). Lane stumbles on (another) dead body when she’s visiting a friend, and meets an Indigenous man who may have some connection to both the area and the body. Meanwhile, an Italian restaurateur finds himself the target of arson and a smear campaign; the whole police force gets caught up in both cases. Thoughtful, compelling and well plotted, as always.

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

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Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

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

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