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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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We’re nearly a week into May and I have been diving into books when life feels like too much, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Sophie Cousens
Journalist Laura LeQuesne has always believed in love – helped along in part by her parents’ epic love story. But when Laura goes to Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) to research a piece based on her family history, she uncovers some difficult truths. An utterly charming love story set in a gorgeous place, with a really likable main character.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Anne and others recommended this slim story of a middle-aged man in 1980s Ireland, who is forced to make a quiet but important decision. The setting is so vividly drawn, and the main character’s family life is such a contrast to the situation of others in his town.

Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community, One Dish at a Time, Janet Reich Elsbach
Jenny recommended this book of recipes meant for a crowd, whether it’s a community supper, a struggling family or a celebration. Most of these consequently make too much food for me, as I live alone, but there are some yummy ideas in here.

Cold Clay, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow, and when the bones of a moose are discovered in the local orchard, reporter Vera Vixen starts sniffing around for clues. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious new mink in town, and possible romantic trouble for Vera and her beau. A fun, charming second mystery in this series where all the characters are animals.

A Duet for Home, Karina Yan Glaser
Since her dad was killed in an accident, June Yang has been trying to keep her family together. When she, her younger sister and her mom have to move into a family shelter in the Bronx, it’s a tough transition. But June finds friends, a new viola teacher, and her own voice – even while things remain difficult. I loved this standalone novel from the author of the wonderful Vanderbeekers series.

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

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Back from a beach vacation with my family – I did not read much on the actual beach, but squeezed in a few pages at night and a lot of plane reading. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Rehearsals, Annette Christie
Megan Givens and Tom Prescott are gathering their (difficult) families on San Juan Island to tie the knot. But after a disastrous rehearsal dinner, both Megan and Tom keep waking up on the morning of that day. They’ve got to figure out two things: how to get out of the time loop, and whether they really want to be together. A warm, funny, surprisingly insightful rom-com with a Groundhog Day twist. I expected to like it, but I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 13).

Death in a Darkening Mist, Iona Whishaw
Lane Winslow’s second adventure finds her stumbling over the dead body of a Russian at a hot spring. Her Russian language skills make her a valuable asset to the case. I love Lane and her supporting cast of characters in rural postwar British Columbia; I’m especially fond of young, good-hearted Constable Ames.

All the Little Hopes, Leah Weiss
In 1943, Lucy Brown’s family in eastern North Carolina gets a government contract to produce beeswax. They also get a new addition: Allie Bert Tucker, who arrives from the mountains to care for her pregnant aunt but ends up becoming part of the Brown clan. The girls (age 13-14) narrate their story in alternating chapters. It’s got mystery (Lucy fancies herself a Nancy Drew) and plenty of heartbreak, but it’s really a story about family and growing up. So good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 27).

The Windsor Knot, S.J. Bennett
After an evening of entertainment at Windsor Castle, a young pianist is found strangled in his room. MI5 suspect the Kremlin, but the Queen has other ideas, and enlists her secretary, Rozie, to help her pursue them. A smart, charming mystery featuring Her Majesty’s sleuthing skills and lots of palace intrigue. Rozie – a whip-smart British-Nigerian army veteran – is a fantastic character. More, please.

In All Good Faith, Liza Nash Taylor
Virginia, 1932: May Marshall is struggling to run her family’s market and care for two young children when tragedy strikes her husband’s family. In Boston, shy Dorrit Sykes struggles to cope after the loss of her mother, eventually heading to Washington with her father for a veterans’ march. The women’s two stories (eventually) intertwine, to fascinating effect. Richly detailed, engaging historical fiction; I loved May’s head for business and the way Dorrit eventually grows in confidence. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 10).

Caterpillar Summer, Gillian McDunn
Cat is the best at taking care of her brother, Chicken – especially since their dad died. But when they end up spending time with their estranged grandparents one summer, Cat gets to be a kid for a while. She learns to fish and digs into the reasons why her mom has been avoiding her own parents. Lovely, warm and insightful; a sensitive portrait of a biracial family that includes a neurodivergent child.

Shadow of the Batgirl, Sarah Kuhn et al.
Cassandra Cain is a trained assassin, and that’s all she knows how to be – until she breaks away from her father and his gang. With the help of a kind noodle-shop owner and a librarian named Barbara Gordon, Cass begins to step into her own powers and figure out how to use them for good. I loved this YA graphic take on Batgirl, found at Million Year Picnic.

The Bookshop of Second Chances, Jackie Fraser
In the same week, Thea Mottram loses her job and her husband tells her he’s leaving. Then her great-uncle Andrew dies and leaves her his house in Scotland, plus his extensive book collection, so Thea heads there to sort out his estate and collect herself. Soon, she begins to make friends and even (possibly) fall in love. Sweet, though sort of problematic – the main love interest and his brother had a very strange feud – but I liked Thea and her new community.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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I watched Runaway Bride a few weeks ago, because I desperately needed to laugh and feel like part of a community, and a visit to Hale, Maryland, sounded just right. The community there – the women at the hair salon, the bakery where people buy muffins and trade gossip, the multigenerational town softball game – is one of my favorite parts of this sweet film. Peggy Flemming (not the ice skater!), played by Joan Cusack, is my favorite character: she’s hilarious and wise, and such a good friend.

As with You’ve Got Mail, there is a love story here, but I find it less important (and, frankly, a little more troubling) the more times I watch this movie. Richard Gere’s character, New York journalist Ike Graham, is so convinced of his own importance that it’s refreshing to watch multiple women – including his editor and ex-wife, played by Rita Wilson – take him down a peg (or smack him with his own newspaper). But the main character, and the one in whose journey I’m most interested, is Maggie Carpenter, played by Julia Roberts.

When we meet Maggie, she’s running the family hardware store; she clearly enjoys her work and her customers, though we find out later that she’s also there because of her dad’s drinking problem. She’s also getting ready – for the fourth time – to get married. She has never been able to go through with it, and later in the film, as Ike Graham predicts, we see her run again (this time from him).

Her fifth failed wedding finally prompts some much-needed introspection: who is Maggie Carpenter, and what does she actually want? I love the scene where she’s prepared about ten different kinds of eggs to try, since she’s been ordering whatever her current guy wanted for years now. She goes for long solo runs, finally confronts her father about his drinking, and places her lamps made of industrial parts up for sale in New York stores. She doesn’t blow up her life entirely, but tries to figure out if it’s actually the one she wants – or if she has simply been living by everyone else’s expectations for far too long.

Maggie didn’t grow up in the Bible Belt, like I did, but her rush to the altar – not because she necessarily wants a wedding but because that’s what everyone expects – rings true for me. I went to a small Christian college in Texas where “ring by spring” was not just a catchy phrase but a real phenomenon. (My ex and I, at 24, were actually the last couple in one of our groups of friends to get married.) There is so much pressure for women to conform to the cultural norm – in this case, a big white wedding to a handsome man – that there’s not always a lot of space to figure out what you might want instead.

At the end of the film, Maggie comes to New York, having figured out what she wants – namely, eggs Benedict, and Ike – and made the decision on her own terms for the first time. I love that she quotes his proposal speech from earlier in the movie, but I love even more her admission that she didn’t know herself, not really, and that she needed to before she could commit to another person. (The journey is often longer in real life, of course, but this is still the movies, and we know these characters are heading for a happy ending.)

When Maggie ran away from the altar all those times, she was instinctively backing away from the wrong men, but I think she was also running from a deeper truth: knowing, and liking, yourself can be much harder than meeting all of society’s expectations for you. I never ran from a wedding, but I did get divorced after more than a decade of marriage, and the last two years have been (among other things) an exercise in getting to know myself and the kind of life I actually want.

I’m not sure if Maggie is still running the hardware store, working full-time as a lighting designer in Manhattan, or doing something else altogether. I hope her marriage to Ike brought her years of happiness; they make each other laugh and keep each other honest, which I think is important for love. But most of all, I hope she kept following her own inner compass, wherever it led. And as with Kathleen Kelly, my hopes for Maggie are also, ultimately, my hopes for myself.

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We are (almost) at the end of January, and it has felt so long (and cold!). But as always, the books are helping me get through. Here’s what I have been reading:

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
I’ve been hearing about this novel for years and finally picked it up as part of my ongoing efforts to read more Black voices. It’s a powerful collection of linked stories tracing the different destinies of two half sisters, Effia and Esi, and their descendants in Ghana and the U.S. Heavy and thought-provoking.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Sonali Dev
Trisha Raje is a brilliant neurosurgeon who has to tell Emma, an artist patient, that a lifesaving surgery will cause her to go blind. Emma’s brother, DJ Caine, is a talented chef who caters several events for Trisha’s wealthy, close-knit family. Trisha and DJ give each other all kinds of wrong impressions, but are forced to reexamine their assumptions. I loved the gender-swapped nods to Pride & Prejudice, the complex dynamics of Trisha’s family, and the fierce dedication to work and family displayed by all the main characters. Recommended by Vanessa.

March Sisters: On Life, Death and Little Women, Kate Bolick et al.
As a longtime fan of Little Women, I expected to enjoy these essays about the March sisters much more than I did. They were well written, but felt forced, and (except for Beth’s) seemed to focus on less significant aspects of each character.

Hope Rides Again, Andrew Shaffer
Joe Biden and Barack Obama are back chasing down criminals, this time on the mean streets of Chicago. When Obama’s BlackBerry is stolen, Joe tracks down the thief, but quickly realizes he might be in over his head. Funny and very meta; the mystery plot was thin, but I read this for the bromance and the laughs.

The Fixed Stars, Molly Wizenberg
I adore Wizenberg’s first foodie memoir, A Homemade Life, and enjoyed her second, Delancey. This one is quite different: an exploration of how her sexuality shifted and what that meant for her life and marriage. She’s an excellent writer, and the parts about her divorce and soul-searching are well done. But I agree with my pal Jaclyn – some other parts felt too personal, even voyeuristic. Complicated, but still worthwhile.

Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev
Chef Ashna Raje is struggling to keep her father’s restaurant afloat, when her cousin (Trisha – see above) convinces her to compete on a potentially lucrative reality show. The catch? Her celebrity partner on the show is her estranged first love, footballer Rico Silva – and they’ve got 12 years of secrets sitting between them. I really enjoyed this Persuasion retelling (and sequel-of-sorts to Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors), though there was a lot of trauma (especially for Ashna) that never quite got properly dealt with.

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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manchester-by-the-book-canoe

We are nearly through June – which has felt endless – and I’ve been reading a lot. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo from Manchester by the Book, where I popped in for a properly masked/distanced browse with a girlfriend recently. It was so nourishing to be in a real bookstore again.)

I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Camille Pagán
Penelope Ruiz-Kar loves her husband and kids, but she’s exhausted from juggling it all, and secretly envious of her put-together best friend Jenny. When tragedy strikes, Penelope is forced to examine her misconceptions about Jenny’s life, and take a hard look at her own. Funny and breezy with surprising depth – Pagán does that combination so well.

Two Truths and a Lie, Meg Mitchell Moore
When Sherri Griffin and her daughter arrive in Newburyport, Mass., they’re running from more than just a “bad divorce.” The local Mom Squad is curious, but it’s the former squad queen, Rebecca, who actually connects with Sherri. Recently widowed, Rebecca has struggles and secrets of her own, and so does her teenage daughter. Fast-paced and compelling, full of summer sunsets, compassion and snark.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer in New England and the Penderwick sisters (with their widowed father and big dog, Hound) are staying at a lovely estate in the Berkshires. All sorts of adventures ensue, as they make friends with the resident boy, try to dodge his snooty mother, and do their best to take care of each other. This series is a little bit precious, but the characters are so much fun.

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
I loved Acevedo’s second novel, With the Fire on High, and finally picked up her debut novel-in-verse. Xiomara Batista is a Dominican-American teenager living in Harlem. She has lots of questions about God, boys and life (and her strict Catholic mami doesn’t want to hear them). She starts writing poetry, then gets invited to join her school’s slam poetry club. I loved reading Xiomara’s powerful, honest, fiery words, and seeing how she cares for her twin brother and friends.

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Barbara Neely
I read about Neely in a recent Shelf Awareness obituary, and picked up her second mystery (for $3!) at Manchester by the Book. (Serendipity!) Blanche White is a domestic worker who’s spending a well-earned vacation at an all-black resort in Maine. Two dead bodies turn up, and she gets mixed up in a nest of secrets, while dealing with tricky interpersonal dynamics. A well-plotted mystery and an incisive look at colorism in the black community.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick girls are back at home, dealing with school, sports, new neighbors and – to their chagrin – their father’s attempts at dating. This sequel is sweet and funny, and I love the ending.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
When Alaine Beauparlant’s journalist mother makes a scene on the air, and Alaine herself gives a disastrous school presentation, they both end up back in Haiti with Alaine’s aunt Estelle. Alaine is a sassy, snappy narrator who’s trying to figure out some family business (a curse?) while working for her aunt’s nonprofit (where something definitely smells fishy). This epistolary YA novel, written by two sisters, was so much fun.

Atomic Love, Jennie Fields
Rosalind Porter enjoyed success as a scientist, working on nuclear projects during World War II. But she’s haunted by the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. When her British ex-lover turns back up, so does the FBI: they think he might be selling secrets to the Russians. Rosalind walks a fine line as she tries to help the FBI and protect her own heart. A compelling, twisty story of love, science and conflicting loyalties. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 18).

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book back in fourth grade and it has stayed with me all these years. It’s the centerpiece of Taylor’s family saga about the Logans, a black landowning family in Depression-era Mississippi. Narrated by Cassie, age nine, this book tells the story of one year when racial tensions erupt, with disastrous consequences, but it’s also a story of love and strength. I adore Cassie – opinionated, headstrong, with a firm sense of justice – and Taylor’s writing is so powerful.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
This book is everywhere right now, and for good reason: so many of us white folks are waking up to conversations about race. DiAngelo (who is white, and has been doing inclusion/antiracism work for years) pulls no punches in her examination of white supremacy as a system, the ways it shapes all of us, and how we can begin to interrupt that system. Powerful and thought-provoking.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer and the three younger Penderwick girls are off to Maine with Aunt Claire. Before long, their friend Jeffrey turns up too, and all sorts of adventures ensue while Skye tries to wrap her head around being in charge. Sweet and funny, like its predecessors.

Why I Wake Early, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and have been reading a few of these each morning. Her luminous imagery is helping me to pay attention in these strange days.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor’s sequel to Roll of Thunder (above) picks up the adventures of the Logan family in the 1930s. A friend of theirs stands trial for robbery and murder; their biracial cousin comes to visit and tries to pass as white; and Cassie and her siblings continue learning what it means to be black in America. So compelling and vivid.

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks are back, and Batty is finding her singing voice, starting a dog-walking business, and dealing with some really tough emotional stuff. Some sad parts in this one, but I love Birdsall’s fictional family.

The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
Rosalind is getting married – and all the Penderwicks are back at Arundel, the estate where the series began. Eleven-year-old Lydia takes center stage in this last book, and it’s so much fun.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside, Susan Branch
My friend Kate sent me this book months ago, and I’ve been dipping into its pages at night when life feels too hard. Branch and her husband, Joe, sail on the Queen Mary 2 for an extended tour of charming English villages, and her illustrated travelogue is cozy and sweet.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

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id rather be reading book flowers Anne bogel

I’m not quite sure how September is half over (I say this every month), but here’s the latest reading roundup. I’ll be linking up with Anne Bogel and others for Quick Lit, and in a moment of serendipity, the first book is hers…

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend (and we met IRL in NYC a couple of years ago). She sent me a copy of her brand-new book of essays on reading and the bookworm life. As expected, it was delightful, and I saw myself in many of its pages. A perfect gift for the book fanatic in your life.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch may finally get to marry her intended, Darcy – but, of course, a spot of murder will intervene first. I’ve enjoyed this series, but this wasn’t my favorite entry: several key characters were largely offstage, and the mystery was confusing. Still, Georgie and her world are a lot of fun.

The Endless Beach, Jenny Colgan
Flora MacKenzie is trying to make a go of both her seaside cafe and her brand-new relationship. But as she prepares for her brother’s wedding and tries to balance accounts, she’s facing romantic trouble too. The setting (the Scottish island of Mure) is enchanting, but I was far more interested in the secondary characters, including a Syrian refugee doctor, than Flora or her (irritating) boyfriend.

Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found, Bella Bathurst
Bathurst is a British journalist who lost much of her hearing in her mid-20s, and dove into all sorts of research about hearing loss, deaf culture and remedies for deafness. She has since regained much of her hearing via surgery. This slim memoir was slow to start, but was a fascinating look at various aspects of sound, listening, audiology and the simple things hearing people take for granted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 2).

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy, a young black couple in Atlanta, are newly married and on their way up the career ladder when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The book traces their relationship over the next five years, until Roy gets out of prison (early) and they both must reckon with the changes those years have wrought. I read this novel with my heart in my throat; powerful and stunning don’t quite do it justice. It speaks with equal potency to this racial moment and to the inner intricacies of a marriage.

Little Big Love, Katy Regan
This was an impulse grab at the library, and I loved it: a big-hearted, funny, bittersweet British novel about a boy named Zac who goes on a quest to find his dad. It’s narrated by Zac; his mum, Juliet; and Juliet’s dad, Mick. All three of them are hiding secrets. It weaves together themes of family, loss, fitness and body image, and love in many of its forms.

The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ elegant novels about love and secrets, often involving the sprawling, blue-blood Schuyler family. This one takes place on Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound: the story of a fateful summer and all that came after. An engaging story of love and jealousy and murder, though Miranda (the main character) struck me as a bit passive.

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, Kayleen Schaefer
Women are often stereotyped as catty and competitive – but for many of us, female friendship is a saving and sustaining grace. Schaefer explores the evolution of female friendship over the last half century or so, via her own experience and a bit of sociology. I liked her honesty and enjoyed a lot of her modern-day references, but wanted more context (and more diversity).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
My husband read this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve never heard him laugh so hard over anything he’s read. So I picked it up and blazed through it in a day. It was…baffling. There were some truly funny moments, but overall it wasn’t quite my bag.

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

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

I know we’re more than halfway through the year, but I still thought it would be worthwhile (and fun!) to share the best books I’ve read so far this year. Technically I’d read 102 books by the end of June, so here are the real standouts from the first half of 2018:

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Candid, Witty Essays on Marriage: Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun. Honest and funny and so real – perfect for reading after a decade of marriage.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s brilliant series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. I cannot shut up about these books: the mystery plots are solid, but the characters and their complex relationships are on another level.

Best Twisty Tale of Badass Female Spies: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Just so good.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Best Reread: A Wrinkle in Time, which I picked up after seeing the new film. I liked the movie, but L’Engle’s classic has more depth and heart and grit – and oh, I love Meg Murry.

Best Travel Memoir That’s About So Much More: Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’ luminous, gritty memoir of spending nearly a year cycling along the Silk Road.

Most Perfect Gothic Novel to Read in Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Twisty, atmospheric, witty, packed with great characters and surprise moments.

Your turn: what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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k j alhambra view spain

When you say those wedding vows at eighteen, you are committing yourselves—with all that you are and all that you have—to only each other because you are young and wreathed in glory and take up all the space there is.

When you say them at thirty-five, you are signing on for something wider: a whole garden full of people to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in wheelchairs and sleepwalking and heart attacks, in arrogance and graciousness, stubbornness and forgiveness, stumbling and wisdom, in meanness and in kindness that falls like snow and shines brighter than the Dog Star.

To love and to cherish, yes. Like a tiger. A hurricane. A family. Relentlessly.

—Marisa de los Santos, The Precious One

Today we are celebrating a decade of marriage.

This passage comes from the end of de los Santos’ novel about Taisy and Willow, estranged half sisters who share a difficult father and eventually come to share much more. Taisy, who narrates the passage above, makes her wedding vows twice, to the same man. As she says, and as one might expect, the commitment has deepened and widened in the intervening 15 years.

J and I did not (quite) make our wedding vows at age 18. But we did begin dating as 20-year-olds, and at 34, we are standing on the edge of our second decade of marriage.

We knew, I think, that we were signing on for a broad and complicated commitment when we said our vows amid a crowd of people we loved, at age 24. But we did not – because nobody ever does – understand quite what the intervening years would entail.

Marriage is a joy, but it’s not always an easy one. It is a life-giving foundation, but it is neither unshakable nor unchanging. I have come, gradually, to believe that it’s more like a plant than a building. Like anything that lives, it requires tending and care. And like anything that lives, it sometimes changes in unexpected ways. Growth doesn’t always look the way you hope or assume it will. It is often surprising, and sometimes it hurts.

Because we met when we were so young, J and I have done a lot of growing up together: learning how to navigate the world as adults, especially during and after our cross-country move from Texas to Boston. In other ways, we have had to let each other grow on our own, and make space for the slightly different shapes we have taken on, even as each of our growth has informed the other’s.

We are facing (more) transition this summer, as I search for a new job and he continues to deal with changes at work. We are used to this by now, but we can’t just coast; marriage, like most things that are worthwhile, requires taking care. I am no expert on anyone’s marriage besides my own, but like Clare, another de los Santos character, I believe deeply that “at least half of love is paying attention.”

Celebrating a decade of marriage feels big, and it is. But it’s also simply waking up to another day together. It is daily and it is infinite. It is lifelong and it is right here, right now. It is doing our best to walk forward as flawed but loving human beings, trusting that our past experience and our present efforts will carry us into the future.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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heart sneakers trail

I’ve been reading a lot of great books about marriage lately, and decided to highlight a couple of them for a recent column in Shelf Awareness, which appears below.

They may go together like a horse and carriage, as the song has it. But love, when it’s meant to last a lifetime, can be messy, painful, even deadly dull. Two new books offer a complicated take on marriage that’s much more genuine – and more interesting – than the traditional fairy-tale narrative.

Essayist Ada Calhoun admits the truth: marriage is foundational and nourishing, but it’s also frustrating and just plain hard. Calhoun’s collection Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give delves into the facets of marriage that starry-eyed couples don’t always want to acknowledge. These include paying (literally) for a spouse’s mistakes, daydreaming about other partners (and other lives) and slogging through what she bluntly calls “the boring parts” of wedded bliss.

“Dating is poetry,” Calhoun writes. “Marriage is a novel. There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition.” Her mock “toasts” brim with wit, wisdom and gut-level honesty about the trials of staying married and the quiet rewards of remaining faithful, however imperfectly.

Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel explores a more dramatic but no less sticky aspect of long-term commitment–infidelity and its fallout–in The State of Affairs. Drawing on her years of work with couples (of various ethnicities and sexual orientations) who have dealt with infidelity, Perel explores the reasons people seek extramarital relationships and analyzes their effects.

Despite the pain they cause, she insists that affairs provide “a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart.” Her clients’ stories have many different endings, but most, encouragingly, are still in progress: an affair can expose the fault lines in a marriage, but doesn’t have to mean total destruction.

Both Calhoun and Perel present clear-eyed yet ultimately hopeful perspectives on marriage as a tough, flexible and ultimately life-giving endeavor.

Have you read either of these authors? What are your favorite books about marriage?

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