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Posts Tagged ‘London’

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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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bookshop window books charing cross road london
(Books on Charing Cross Road in London)

The Late Scholar, Jill Paton Walsh
I usually don’t like fanfiction. But Walsh’s mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers’ erudite pair of detectives, are well done and so fun. I loved this one because they return to Oxford, my beloved city and scene of my favorite Sayers book, Gaudy Night.

At Risk, Stella Rimington
This book introduces Liz Carlyle, MI5 agent, as she and her team attempt to stop a pair of terrorists bent on destruction and revenge. Grim, but compelling. Pretty good plane reading.

A Fatal Waltz, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton’s third case finds her trying to exonerate a friend suspected of murder, while struggling not to be jealous of her fiance’s elegant ex-lover, an Austrian countess. An engaging setting (Vienna), though the plot did go on a bit.

The Heart Has Its Reasons, Maria Dueñas
I adored Dueñas’ debut, The Time in Between, but was disappointed by this, her second novel. The characters and plot had potential, but they – and the writing – didn’t grip me. (I wonder if the translation is partly to blame.)

Murder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens
Two students at Deepdean School for Girls form a Detective Society – but are shocked when they find a real murder to investigate. Fun, witty and well-plotted. Found at Blackwell’s. (To be published in the U.S. as Murder is Bad Manners.)

Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins
I wanted to love this teenage love story set in Paris, but I found it melodramatic and lacking in substance. (I did enjoy Perkins’ debut, Anna and the French Kiss, several of whose characters reappear here.)

The Laws of Murder, Charles Finch
The eighth Charles Lenox mystery finds Lenox investigating the murder of a friend and colleague, while worrying he’s lost his detective edge. A leisurely, well-plotted mystery and a new stage in Lenox’s career. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 11).

A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
I picked up this old favorite at the Paddington Bear Shop in London, and thoroughly enjoyed getting reacquainted with Paddington. Such fun and funny adventures.

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery
I’ve made it a fall goal to reread this lovely, haunting series. This first book introduces the cast of characters and starts Emily on the path to becoming a writer. Full of gorgeous descriptions of PEI, old family legends and bits of whimsy and wonder.

Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and its People, 1602-1890, Nathaniel Philbrick
I loved Philbrick’s Bunker Hill and enjoyed this account of Nantucket’s early history, told via mini-biographies of colorful local characters. Occasionally gets bogged down in detail, but mostly quite interesting. Found in Gloucester.

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

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london view red bus

During my recent trip to Oxford, I hopped the train to London for a day (it’s only an hour’s ride each way). London is the first European city I ever visited (when I was 16, on a high school band trip), and while I find it a little overwhelming, I do love it.

From the house in North Oxford where I was staying, it’s a lovely walk to the train station along the canal.

oxford canal morning

For breakfast on the go, I snagged a bacon-and-egg baguette from On the Hoof, the best sandwich shop anywhere.

katie baguette breakfast

After a smooth ride in the quiet car (I adore train travel), I disembarked at Paddington Station, where I bought a large chai latte at Caffe Nero (combating jet lag with caffeine) and ran into an old friend:

paddington bear shop

Paddington Station boasts an entire Paddington Bear shop, full of stuffed animals, books and other Paddington merchandise. I had a delightful browse, and when I came down the escalator nearby, the bear himself was waiting for me.

paddington bear statue

After saying hello, I hopped on the Tube and rode over to Tower Hill, site of the Tower of London.

tower of london poppies

This fall, volunteers are planting 888,246 crimson ceramic poppies around the base of the Tower, one for every British fatality in World War I. The final poppy will be planted on Remembrance Day (Nov. 11), and the flowers will eventually be sold off for charity.

tower of london poppies spill

Even though the installation isn’t complete yet, the effect is truly stunning.

poppies tower of london

The jostling crowds at the railing detracted from the effect a little, but I still found myself getting choked up.

tower of london poppies

I walked around all four sides of the tower, snapping photos, and said hello to another old friend: Tower Bridge.

katie tower bridge

I hopped back on the Tube to meet the lovely Caroline for lunch in the National Gallery’s posh cafe. After finishing our salads, we headed out for an afternoon of book browsing.

bookshop window books charing cross road london

The bookshops along Charing Cross Road are legendary, and we talked each other into a couple of purchases (Gilead for her, The Handmaid’s Tale for me) before heading up the road to Foyles. Their new premises – five floors’ worth! – are rather dazzling.

foyles books london

We were a bit overwhelmed, but managed a tour of the fiction floor and the children’s area. I came away with a lovely edition of Sense and Sensibility and a copy of The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, the new Eva Rice novel I’ve been dying to read.

From Foyles, we caught the Tube to King’s Cross Station, where I wanted to get my photo taken at Platform 9 3/4. Unfortunately, the queue was long, Caroline had a train to catch and I had another friend to meet – so we contented ourselves with walking by, then snapping a slightly blurred selfie.

katie caroline selfie

London always feels like a mad dash – so many things to see and places to go, most of which seem to be across town from one another. This day was no exception – I made good use of my day pass on the Underground, and I was plenty tired by the time I got back to Oxford that night. But it was a wonderful day.

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