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Posts Tagged ‘London’

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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keep calm browse books sign

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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book stack july 2016

July has been a tough month so far, as you know if you’ve been watching the news. As always, I am taking refuge in good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
Anne and Leigh finally talked me into this whip-smart, witty, engaging homage to Jane Eyre and I’m so glad they did. Jane Steele, an orphan with few resources but a strong sense of justice, loves that other Jane, but her life turns out rather differently. I loved Steele’s take on the Brontë classic, and her supporting cast – especially the enigmatic Sikh butler – is fantastic.

The Apple Tart of Hope, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Meg Molony can’t believe her best friend Oscar has taken his own life. But Meg’s been in New Zealand for six months, and during that time, a lot of things have changed. A melancholy but sweet novel about friendship, the complicated gaps between perception and reality, and the world’s best apple tarts.

Cooking for Picasso, Camille Aubray
Céline hops a plane to the French Riviera in pursuit of a long-held family legend: did her grandmother, Ondine, really spend several months as Picasso’s personal chef? Aubray’s novel alternates between Céline’s and Ondine’s perspectives, weaving together art, family and choices. A great premise with mouthwatering food descriptions, though several plot points felt rushed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

See How They Run, Ally Carter
Grace Blakely was determined to solve her mother’s murder and was devastated by what she found. Grace’s second adventure finds her grappling with new secrets: an ancient underground society, another murder, and her own crippling anxiety. Fast-paced, well plotted and a powerful portrait of PTSD. (Carter writes smart, addictive YA with a little glamour and a lot of intrigue.)

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, Mamen Sánchez
Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey. In fact, he’d rather not leave England at all. But when his father sends him to Madrid to close down a failing literary magazine, Atticus finds himself at the mercy of five whip-smart Spanish women who care deeply about one another and their jobs. Highly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
I tore through most of this gorgeous, heartbreaking novel in a day. Cleave tells the story of the Blitz (1939-41 in London) through the lives of several young people: Mary, Tom, Alistair and Mary’s student, Zachary. A stunning evocation of small decisions and their far-reaching effects, and the utter desolation of war. (The third pick for the MMD Summer Reading Club.)

Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart
I loved Stewart’s novel Girl Waits with Gun and was thrilled to read a second book about Constance Kopp, one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S. This book finds Constance serving as jail matron, accidentally letting a slippery fugitive escape and pursuing him all over NYC and New Jersey. Smart, fast-paced and often funny; I love Constance’s narrative voice. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 6).

Geek Girl: Picture Perfect, Holly Smale
Smale’s third novel featuring geeky model Harriet Manners whisks Harriet and her family away to New York. Harriet is amusing, but she never does learn from her mistakes and I found myself losing patience with her. But this was still a fun, quick read. Pure YA fluff.

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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Dreaming Spies, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell get tangled up in a blackmail case in Japan, involving family honor, national politics and ninjas. (And a brief return to Oxford.) 13th in a series – it’s good, but read the other ones first. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 17).

The Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth
A family saga of three generations of midwives: Neva, her mother Grace and her grandmother Floss. A little soapy, but engaging and heartwarming. Great for fans of Call the Midwife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 10).

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
One of my very favorite Christmas stories – a warm, twinkly tale of five people finding themselves (and each other) in a Scottish village at Christmastime. Full of hope.

Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
A whimsical Regency-era YA novel, told in letters between cousins (and novice magicians) Kate and Cecelia. Confusing at times (the magic isn’t always well explained), but engaging and fun.

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, Eva Rice
A lovely, bittersweet novel of music and young love in 1960s London – a companion of sorts to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, one of my longtime faves. Bought at Foyles in London.

Paw and Order, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back on the case – this time in D.C., where Bernie’s love life, national politics and Slim Jims all play a role. Chet, the canine narrator, is as lovable (and easily distracted) as ever.

Honeymoon Hotel, Hester Browne
Type-A wedding planner Rosie McDonald spends her life creating perfect days for brides – but her own love life is sadly lacking. A bit like The Wedding Planner in book form. Predictable, but really fun.

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

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