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And somehow, it’s October. I’m back from a trip to Texas (we surprised my grandfather for his 85th birthday), back at work, wrapping up another round of dog-sitting. Here’s what I have been reading, when I can:

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, Katherine Howe
I read and enjoyed Howe’s debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, soon after moving to Boston. This sequel picks up Constance (Connie) Goodwin’s story as she’s angling for tenure, juggling job responsibilities and trying to neutralize a family curse. I wanted to like this, but it was a slog for me – disjointed and heavy-handed, and Connie is frustratingly obtuse.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key, Lena Jones
Named after Agatha Christie, 13-year-old Agatha Oddlow is hankering for a case to solve. She gets one when London’s water systems are clogged by a noxious red slime. A fun middle-grade mystery – first in a new series – with a charming protagonist. Found at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, pictured above.

I Owe You One, Sophie Kinsella
When Fixie Farr saves a stranger’s laptop from disaster at a cafe, he scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve. She’s not going to take him up on it – but then she does, while juggling family issues, business woes and a suddenly complicated love life. A fun, witty, unexpectedly moving romantic comedy; Kinsella does these so well. Found at the Strand.

Now You See Them, Elly Griffiths
The fifth entry in Griffiths’ Magic Men series finds her protagonists settling down to family life. Edgar Stephens, now superintendent of Brighton’s police force, is on the tail of a kidnapper while his wife, former DS Emma Holmes, wishes she could join the chase. Their magician friend Max Mephisto is also involved. An engaging mystery, but I think it’s more fun if you’ve read the previous books in the series (I hadn’t). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 3).

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary
After a bad breakup, editor Tiffy Moore needs a cheap place to live. Leon Twomey, a night hospice worker, needs a bit of cash. They agree to share a flat and a bed – just not at the same time. I loved this charming, witty, original novel – watching Tiffy and Leon bond via Post-Its was so much fun.

Sword and Pen, Rachel Caine
The Great Library is in turmoil, and Jess Brightwell and his band of rebel friends must act to restore order before the exiled Archivist destroys everything. Perfect airplane reading: fast-paced and dramatic. I’ve enjoyed this YA series – the characters are great – though the plot got a bit dense for me. Still a satisfying conclusion.

The View From Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity, Lewis Raven Wallace
Accusations of bias and “fake news” plague journalism, and Wallace – after being fired from Marketplace – set out to investigate the idea of “objectivity” and examine the role of journalism in our current age. A fascinating, thoroughly researched, compelling account of how we got here, and some thoughtful arguments for independent, humane journalism. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 31).

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

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Starting with a Labor Day weekend jaunt to NYC, here’s what I have been reading:

The Accidental Beauty Queen, Teri Wilson
Anne put this one in her Summer Reading Guide and I flew through it on the train to NYC. Charlotte gets tapped to impersonate her identical twin, Ginny, in a beauty pageant, much to both their chagrin. I loved the nods to Harry Potter (Charlotte is a fan), the way both women had their preconceived notions tested, and the insights about family. So much fun.

Here if You Need Me, Kate Braestrup
When her husband died, Braestrup took up his dream of becoming a minister, and found herself serving as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. This thoughtful, often wry memoir is a glimpse into that world, and into her family life. Engaging, though I wanted more, somehow. Found recently at More Than Words.

We Walked the Sky, Lisa Fiedler
Calliope VanDrexel is following in her grandmother’s footsteps as a tightrope walker. But when her mother gets a new job at an animal sanctuary, Callie has to leave the circus and she’s not happy about it. This dual-narrative YA novel tells both Callie’s story and that of her grandmother, Victoria (in the 1960s). I enjoyed both narratives (though Callie drove me nuts), and the circus setting is so fun.

The Right Sort of Man, Allison Montclair
As London recovers from World War II, Gwen Bainbridge, widowed and bored, and Iris Sparks, a snarky former intelligence agent, join forces to launch the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. But when one of their clients is murdered, presumably by another one, the women jump into an investigation to clear his name (and theirs). I love plucky amateur sleuths, especially British ones, and this story was great fun, especially the witty dialogue. First in a new series; found at the Strand.

The Book of Lost Saints, Daniel José Older
Marisol disappeared during the Cuban Revolution, lost to her family and the world. Half a century later, her spirit visits her nephew, Ramon, a hospital worker by day/DJ by night in New Jersey. Haunted by dreams that are really Marisol’s memories, Ramon starts digging into his family’s messy history. I love Older’s Shadowshaper YA series. This novel (for adults) is a gritty, sometimes bleak, often wisecracking look at cubano family ties and the ways past actions reverberate down through the generations. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 5).

Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke
Temporarily in limbo in both his job and his marriage, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews drives up to tiny Lark, Texas, to investigate two murders: a local white girl and a black man who was passing through. This well-crafted mystery explores the layers of race, love and conflicting loyalties in East Texas. (Darren is black, raised by two uncles: a Texas Ranger and a lawyer.) I loved the true-to-life portraits of locals and the exploration of exile and the pull of home.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
I loved Gay’s essay collection, The Book of Delights, and my friend Kate sent me this book of his poetry. The poems are – as one of the blurbs says – “bold and wild and weird.” Family, love, racial politics, music, grief, and the orchard Gay works in and loves – they’re all here.

This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession, Cameron Dezen Hammon
After converting to Christianity as a young woman, Hammon moved to Houston with her then-boyfriend and became a worship minister. This memoir traces her struggle to reconcile the gender politics of evangelical churches with her own craving for love and past scars. Thoughtful, though a bit vague at times; some of her frustrations definitely reflected my own. We need more stories like these. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 22).

Death and Love Among the Cheetahs, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is finally married, and she and her Irish husband, Darcy, head to Kenya for an extended honeymoon. But instead of paradise, they find complicated sexual politics, theft and murder. I love Georgie and her adventures, but I’d hoped for a slightly more peaceful honeymoon for her!

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

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book stack pink table

August was a whirlwind, and I capped it off with a quick solo trip to NYC. Between working, running and settling into my new place, here’s what I have been reading:

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
Vassar dropout Vivian Morris moves to Manhattan to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg, who runs a down-at-heel theatre company. Amid the glitz and heartbreak of the city, Vivian and her compatriots find, lose and reinvent themselves many times over. This novel is a champagne cocktail with some unexpected depth (and occasional bite). I loved Vivian (much more once she gained a little self-awareness) and the theatre crew, especially Peg and Olive, her stalwart secretary-general. So much fun.

Celine, Peter Heller
Private eye Celine Watkins is handed an intriguing cold case: that of a National Geographic photographer who disappeared in a national park years ago. She and her husband, Pete, take off in her son’s camper van to figure out what became of Paul Lamont. Witty and well plotted, with wonderful characters; I’d read a whole series about Celine. Recommended by Anne and Jaclyn.

Good Husbandry: Growing Food, Love and Family on Essex Farm, Kristin Kimball
I loved Kimball’s first memoir, The Dirty Life, about how she met and started a farm with her husband, Mark (entirely contrary to her former life plan). This, her second, digs deeper (ha) into their years of working the farm and making it sustainable in various ways (physical, financial, etc.). I love her warm honesty, her crisp, vivid prose, and the way she weaves together the day-to-day of farm life with the big questions of love, work, parenting and identity. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 15).

Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey
Aspiring screenwriter Annie Cassidy is waiting: for her hair to calm down, for her life to improve, for her perfect rom-com hero (a la ’90s Tom Hanks) to materialize. But when she gets an assistant job on a movie set, the guy she meets isn’t quite what she expected (and neither is anyone else). Sweet, fast and funny; perfect weekend reading. Recommended by Anne.

Why Can’t I Be You, Allie Larkin
Jenny Shaw gets dumped on her way to a business conference – then gets mistaken for a stranger in the hotel lobby of said conference. Before she knows it, she’s swept up in pretending to be Jessie Morgan, attending her high school reunion and finding real connection with Jessie’s friends. But of course, the illusion can’t last. This one was equal parts fun and cringe-y for me, though I loved the supporting cast.

Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames, Lara Meiklem
The River Thames has long been a repository for lost things, accidentally or on purpose. Meiklem is a veteran “mudlark”–a scavenger who’s fascinated by the river’s trash and treasure. Her book charts her own journeys on the Thames foreshore, the objects she finds and their histories, and so much fascinating backstory about the river, the city and its people. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 5).

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

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lido book tea toast breakfast table

The second half of July has been fast. The freelance work and other activities have been piling up, to my delight. And so have the books (as always).

Here’s the latest roundup:

At the Wolf’s Table, Rosella Postorino
Adolf Hitler famously feared death by poisoning, so he conscripted a handful of women to taste his food. Postorino’s novel imagines the story of one of them, Rosa Sauer, whose parents are dead and whose husband is missing in action. A somber, compelling, troubling account of wartime, complicity and wrestling with the consequences of one’s actions. Really well written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2019).

An Argumentation of Historians, Jodi Taylor
Max and her crew of time-traveling historians are back: scything up and down the timeline, from medieval England to ancient Persepolis. When Max finds herself stranded in 1399, she must adapt to an entirely new life, but there’s always a chance she’ll be rescued – isn’t there? This British sci-fi-ish series is so much fun, though I agree with a friend who said they need a new villain.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, lady deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on: watching over her female inmates, checking in on probationers, chasing down the occasional thief, and supporting her two sisters. But 1916 is a contentious (local) election year, and a lot of men aren’t too happy about Constance’s position anyhow. A smart, witty entry in this great series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City, Albert Samaha
The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Samaha’s book traces their story over two recent seasons, addressing the systemic  forces of racism and gentrification, the effects of family and school issues, recent research on concussions, and the spirit and grit of these young boys and their families. Reminded me strongly of Amy Bass’ One Goal, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig
A friend passed on this memoir last summer and I finally got to it. Doig sets down the story of his childhood: raised by his father and grandmother, doing ranching work in rural Montana. Thoughtful and quiet, with so many good sentences and insights into how we are shaped by our families and landscapes. Well worthwhile. Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lido, Libby Page
Rosemary Peterson, 86, has been swimming at her local lido (an outdoor pool in Brixton, London) nearly all her life. When the lido is threatened with closure, she joins forces with Kate, an anxious young journalist, and their community to try and save it. A charming, hopeful story of unlikely friendship and banding together to fight for what matters. I also loved Rosemary’s memories of life in London during the war, and her long, contented marriage to her husband, George. Just wonderful.

League of Archers, Eva Howard
Elinor Dray, orphan and novice nun, has grown up hearing stories of the great Robin Hood. But when he’s killed in front of Ellie’s eyes, and she’s accused of the crime, Ellie and her friends (the titular league) take to the forest to continue Robin’s work and contact his Merry Men. I love a Robin Hood story and I wanted to love this one, but the pacing and plot didn’t quite work for me.

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

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murder magpies book mystery judith flanders

It’s no secret around here that I love a mystery – especially a British one. In addition to classics like Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, I can appreciate a modern-day British detective with a sharp eye and a crackling wit. Bonus points for nosy amateur sleuths with enjoyable supporting characters (because I love a good ensemble cast).

Lately, I’ve found all of the above in Samantha Clair, whose adventures in twenty-first-century London are more Dorothy Parker than Miss Marple, but nonetheless highly enjoyable.

Sam is the sarcastic, red-pen-wielding protagonist and narrator of a newish mystery series by Judith Flanders. An editor at a London publishing house, Sam is both keen-eyed and curious by nature. She gets caught up in her first case when one of her authors, who’s also a friend, goes missing. Sam can’t help poking her nose into the investigation, and almost by accident, she ends up in a relationship with Jake Field, the no-nonsense detective inspector. (Their romance has always struck me as a bit odd, if only because neither of them seems particularly keen on the other for quite a while. Maybe they’re just understated? But four books in, I’m convinced they like each other now.)

As she pursues the various cases that come her way, Sam doesn’t quit her day job – which is a good thing, since Jake would probably tell her not to. But that also means we, the readers, get an inside glimpse into life at Sam’s office. There’s a lot of juggling paperwork, a little bit of reading new manuscripts, a lot of sweet-talking difficult authors and a lot – a LOT – of office politics. There’s also, sadly but truly, a hefty dose of office sexism, which Sam fights on the sly with help from a few female colleagues and her whip-smart assistant, Miranda.

Outside the office, there are Sam’s neighbors, Kay and Anthony, who live upstairs with their adorable young son, Bim. Mr. Rudiger, the elderly hermit who lives on the top floor, never goes out but knows everything that goes on in the building, and I’ve enjoyed watching his friendship with Sam develop. And Sam’s impeccably polished solicitor mother, Helena, who knows everyone worth knowing and irritates Sam to no end by frequently being right about everything, is a great foil for her daughter.

Sam’s wry first-person narrative makes the series; it’s like going out with a sharp-tongued friend and hearing about her adventures over a drink (or several). These stories are not quite literature on the level of Sayers or Christie, but they’re a lot of fun.

If you’re an Anglophile, a publishing geek and/or a mystery lover, you might enjoy Sam’s adventures: smart and well plotted with a hefty dose of snark.

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bank square books mystic ct window

I’m not quite sure how it’s June already – though the last half of May is always a bit of a blur (because Commencement). In any case, here are the books that have been getting me through:

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, Anne Lamott
Mercy, Lamott says, might be the key to navigating this broken world: extending it to others and especially to ourselves. I love Lamott’s wry, honest writing: this slim book of essays on mercy is a little uneven, but full of wisdom and so timely.

Gem & Dixie, Sara Zarr
Sisters Gem and Dixie True have always been a team: Gem takes care of Dixie when both their parents fail to step up. But as the girls reach high school and their absent dad reappears, Gem has to rethink her old strategies for survival. A heartbreaking portrait of addiction, neglect and the fierce, complicated bonds of sisterhood. I love Zarr’s YA novels, and this one was worthwhile, though not my favorite.

Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk
Since she washed up on a tiny island as an infant, Crow has lived happily with Osh, the man who took her in. But now Crow is twelve and she has questions Osh can’t answer: about where she came from and why she was sent away. A gorgeous, wise, lovely middle-grade novel about family and belonging. It broke my heart and then healed it. Found at the Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy
Cultural critic and children’s lit lover Handy revisits the classics of American kidlit: Goodnight Moon, Little House on the Prairie, The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are. He delves into the cultural forces that shape children’s lit and captures the essence of so many beloved childhood classics, plus he’s witty and articulate. I especially loved the chapters on Ramona Quimby and the Chronicles of Narnia. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

Goodnight from London, Jennifer Robson
Ruby Sutton, American journalist, is seconded to a London magazine as the Blitz heats up in 1940. She quickly finds a home in London: friends, colleagues and even the possibility of love. I love Robson’s historical novels and this one was excellent, though the ending felt a bit abrupt. Ruby and her fellow survivors are wonderfully human and brave.

The Essential Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC this winter. I love Emily D., and this collection includes lots of old favorites and many poems I’d never read before. (Plus it’s pocket-size and beautiful.)

Sourdough, Robin Sloan
Lois Clary spends her days writing code for robots and her nights passed out on the couch – until she inherits a sourdough starter from two mysterious brothers who own a local restaurant. Before long, Lois has become a baker – but the power of the sourdough, and the strange politics of the Bay Area foodie community, take her on a ride she didn’t expect. Quirky and geeky and so much fun (like Sloan’s wonderful debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

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

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We’re digging out from moving chaos over here and my brain feels like scrambled eggs. But I have (as always) been reading to stay sane. Here’s the latest roundup:

Radio Girls, Sarah-Jane Stratford
It’s 1926 and Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job at the fledgling BBC. She quickly finds herself swept up by this exciting new medium and by her colleagues, especially her bold, brilliant supervisor, Hilda Matheson. I loved this novel – full of strong women, witty dialogue and thoughts on the power of ideas, in a setting (interwar London) that I adore.

The Tea Planter’s Wife, Dinah Jefferies
Young, naive and hopelessly in love, Gwendolyn Hooper follows her new husband from London to his Ceylon tea plantation. But her new home isn’t paradise: a meddling sister-in-law, an irritating American widow and family secrets threaten her happiness. I loved the lush, exotic setting, though I found Gwen irritatingly passive for half the book. Still a solid historical novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
I’ve been curious for a while about this first adult mystery by J.K. Rowling (written under a pseudonym). Engaging characters – I liked gruff PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott – but a bit grim and gritty for me.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly
Before computers were machines, they were people, and many of the most brilliant computers at NACA (later NASA) were black women. Shetterly tells the story of the women who played an integral (hitherto unsung) role in the U.S. flight program and later helped launch astronauts into orbit. Meticulous research + engaging writing + fantastic real-life characters = amazing. (It’s going to be a movie too!) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Perfume Garden, Kate Lord Brown
I picked up this novel at Bookmark in Halifax. It’s a gorgeous, moving story of family, love and perfume, told in two intertwined narratives set during the Spanish Civil War and right after 9/11. I loved main character Emma and her wise, brave grandmother, Freya. Bonus: it’s largely set in Valencia, a city I adore.

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

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