Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

strand books nyc exterior

September was a good reading month. (I took the latter half of it off from buying books, so I could try to make a dent in the TBR stacks.) Here’s the final roundup:

A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan
I picked up this novel after reading Lindsey’s glowing review. It follows Alice Pearse, a thirtysomething mother of three and book lover who takes a job at a flashy “new media” company. Alice juggles her kids’ schedules, her father’s healthcare and her husband’s struggles, while harboring serious doubts about her job. Compulsively readable and often witty; flawed but thought-provoking.

Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead
Tabitha, Bridget and Emily have been best friends for years. But seventh grade brings new challenges for them all, and tests their long-standing “no fighting” rule. I loved the girls’ intertwined story; I especially loved Bridge, who isn’t quite sure how to navigate this new world, and her friend Sherm. Wise, moving and true. (I also loved Stead’s When You Reach Me.)

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Bee Wilson
The way we learn to eat as young children can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives. Wilson explores eating patterns through the lens of weaning, baby food, social experiments, family dinner, eating disorders and more. She occasionally gets bogged down in the research, but gleans some fascinating insights. (I also loved her book Consider the Fork.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, Trudi Kanter
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Viennese hat designer Trudi Kanter (a Jew) and her family had to flee the country. Trudi’s memoir chronicles their roundabout journey to England (with some lovely scenes of prewar Paris and Vienna). A bit disjointed at times, but vividly told. Trudi is a sharp-eyed, resourceful, even cheeky narrator.

A Century of November, W.D. Wetherell
After losing his son, Billy, in World War I, widower Charles Marden travels to France from western Canada to see the place where his son died. A harrowing journey, told in beautiful sentences; a stark, often surreal portrait of the aftermath of trench warfare.

Miss Buncle Married, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara Buncle (now Mrs. Abbott) and her husband move to a new village, and find themselves exasperated and delighted by their new neighbors. I missed the fun of Barbara-as-author, and the beginning was slow, but in the end, this novel was as much fun as the first one.

The Case of the Missing Marquess, Nancy Springer
Who knew Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister? Enola Holmes, left alone when her mother disappears on her 14th birthday, heads to London to try and find her. Along the way, she solves the titular kidnapping case. A fun beginning to a middle-grade series, with cameos by Sherlock and Mycroft. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

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

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book culture columbus interior nyc

Gunpowder Plot, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher travels to a country estate to write about its Guy Fawkes celebration, but the festivities are interrupted by murder. Of course, her husband Alec is called in to investigate. I liked the family dynamics in this one.

Rising Strong, Brené Brown
Brown, a social worker and vulnerability researcher, writes about recovering from falls and failure: delving into our emotions and stories, and being honest with ourselves about them. Some great lines, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Still thought-provoking, though.

Murder at Beechwood, Alyssa Maxwell
Newport society reporter and Vanderbilt cousin Emma Cross finds a baby boy on her doorstep. As she tries to find the baby’s mother, she also ends up investigating several murders. I really like Emma and the Newport setting; curious to see where Maxwell takes the series after this.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland
I saw Copeland dance in On the Town during my recent NYC trip and was blown away. I enjoyed her memoir of discovering ballet at age 13 and building a whole new life for herself. A little gushy at times, but an inspiring story.

The Idle Traveller, Dan Kieran
Kieran is a proponent of “slow travel”: taking your time to arrive at a destination, embracing disaster and being willing to wander. This book dragged a bit in the middle, but was still a charming account of his philosophy. Found at the Strand.

Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen, Kate Williams
A well-known yet enigmatic figure, Queen Elizabeth II was something of an accidental ruler. Williams explores the Queen’s childhood, her experiences in World War II and the turbulent family politics that set the stage for her reign. Quite readable, and fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Miss Buncle’s Book, D.E. Stevenson
Desperate for some extra money, Barbara Buncle writes a novel under a pen name – all about her fellow villagers and their escapades. The book is a runaway bestseller, but Barbara is terrified of what will happen if she’s found out. Another joyous, charming English novel from D.E. Stevenson. Found at Book Culture.

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

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hammer head coverI’m a writer. I have always wanted to be a writer.

Since I was a little girl scribbling in my first couple of diaries (the kind with locks and keys), or making up stories to tell myself before bed at night, I’ve loved playing with words. But in this digital age, writing can sometimes look a lot like moving pixels around a screen, and less like anything real. Sometimes, after a day of hitting the delete key once too often, I go home and plunge myself into more tangible tasks: cooking, knitting, washing dishes.

After spending her twenties working as a journalist for a Boston newspaper, Nina MacLaughlin found herself similarly dragged down by the endless clicking and digital noise of her day job. Finally, exhausted and soul-weary, MacLaughlin quit, and applied for a carpenter’s assistant position she found on Craigslist. Her gorgeous memoir, Hammer Head, charts her journey into the world of carpentry, working for a tough, wise woman named Mary and discovering an entirely new way of life.

I’m over at Great New Books today talking about Nina’s memoir – one of my favorite books of 2015. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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august books 1

The summer reading continues – with some great books. Here’s what I’ve been reading so far this month:

The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon
In the not-so-distant future, print books are entirely dead, except for a couple of stubborn dictionaries. When Anana Johnson’s lexicographer father goes missing, she’s worried that his disappearance is linked to a “word flu” sweeping the country. Witty, well plotted and slightly terrifying. (Oxford plays a small but vital role, which made me so happy.) Recommended by Kerry and Leigh.

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, Megan Kimble
Busy, broke and increasingly concerned about where her food comes from, Kimble spends a year eating as little processed food as possible. This means joining a CSA and baking bread, but it also means interviewing farmers, butchering a sheep, and trying to understand the systems our food goes through – and where they’ve gone wrong. Insightful, eye-opening and not at all preachy. Found at Porter Square Books.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
The children of two stuntwoman pilots, Emilia (half Italian) and Teo (half Ethiopian) have grown up together. After Teo’s mother dies in a plane crash, Emilia’s mother takes the children to live in Ethiopia. But as war with Italy looms in 1936, life becomes increasingly complicated for all of them. Narrated by Emilia and Teo, this is a fascinating, heartbreaking look at a war (and a country) I knew almost nothing about.

Die Laughing, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple finds her dentist murdered in his chair, and helps her policeman husband investigate – finding it tricky to navigate her new middle-class social circle, several of whom are suspects. A decent mystery, but I really liked the portrayal of Daisy adjusting to married life and a new neighborhood.

The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain
Parisian bookseller Laurent Letellier finds a woman’s handbag on the street – and becomes obsessed with locating the owner. A charming, whimsical, beautifully told story – sweet without being saccharine. I loved it. (I received a free copy of this book from the publicist.)

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd
Felicity Pickle is used to moving around a lot. But when her family lands back in Midnight Gulch, her mama’s hometown, Felicity longs to put down roots. With the help of a new friend, some magical ice cream and a little banjo music, everything may turn out right after all. A sweet, whimsical middle-grade debut.

Absolutely Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Too-tall Truly Lovejoy is not thrilled when her family moves to tiny Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire. Even worse: her father hasn’t been the same since he lost an arm in the war. But as Truly helps renovate the family bookshop, she stumbles onto a mystery – which she solves with the help of a few new friends. I love Frederick’s work and adored this charming, moving story. (Bonus: includes a delicious recipe for mini pumpkin whoopie pies.)

Wicked Autumn, G.M. Malliet
Max Tudor, former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, has settled into his new life in Nether Monkslip. But when the village busybody turns up murdered at the annual Harvest Fayre, Max dusts off his investigative skills (and begins facing his demons). A delightful, slyly witty village mystery – first in a series.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick
A fascinating, often frustrating exploration of single womanhood, via Bolick’s own experience and that of her five “awakeners” – women writers who forged their own unconventional paths. I enjoyed learning about Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan (both new to me), but was put off by Bolick’s self-sabotage and glaring lack of self-awareness. Still thought-provoking, and a different angle on the cultural conversation about womanhood.

(More about the stack above: I’m dipping back into The Sound of Paper, as I seem to do every summer, and working through Middlemarch for my book club. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be finished by the time we meet!)

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

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ana of california book geraniums front porch

Summer reading is some of my favorite reading, and I’ve been getting through stacks of books this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Ana of California, Andi Teran
Shuttled around the foster system for years, Ana Cortez has run out of chances when she comes to work on a farm in Northern California. A vivid, lovely 21st-century reimagining of Anne of Green Gables. Ana is fierce and vulnerable and I loved her (and the whole cast of characters). Found recently at the Concord Bookshop.

The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh
Khalid, the boy-king of Rey, murders a new bride every morning. After her best friend falls victim to his cruelty, Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid, planning to take revenge. But his story is more complicated than she’d thought. A riff on One Thousand and One Nights with two likable heroines, though the magical element felt forced.

The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, Carola Dunn
On a working holiday in New York, Daisy Dalrymple (now Fletcher) witnesses a murder. A mad chase for the killer and plenty of culture shock ensue. A fun variation on the series, but I missed the usual supporting characters.

The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl
In the days before copyright laws, literary piracy flourished. Pearl imagines a breed of “bookaneers,” swashbuckling thieves who made their fortunes stealing from authors. An engaging adventure tale full of colorful characters and some great lines about the literary life – though I didn’t like the ending. Recommended by Laura.

Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her family end up at an isolated Cornwall estate for Christmas, where (of course) someone is murdered. A highly enjoyable holiday twist on this series.

My History, Antonia Fraser
Biographer Antonia Fraser has always adored History with a capital H. She details her growing-up years and her burgeoning love of the field in this memoir. It is full of Oxford (where she grew up and went to university) and witty commentary on her family and herself as a young woman. Some lovely lines, though the whole thing felt a bit disjointed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Andrew Gant
Despite their pious lyrics, many Christmas carols have a checkered history. Choirmaster Andrew Gant tells the entertaining (often murky) stories of 21 classic carols. Occasionally obtuse but mostly accessible and really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
Reeling from a recent tragedy, Veronika rents a house in an isolated Swedish village. Her elderly neighbor, Astrid, is also carrying a heavy sorrow. Gradually, a friendship develops between the two women. Quiet, spare and beautifully written.

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

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july books 1

Summer reading season is in full swing – hooray! Here are the books I’ve enjoyed so far this month:

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, Jen Hatmaker
I read Jen Hatmaker’s funny, snarky blog occasionally, but hadn’t read any of her books. This essay collection covers her usual mix of topics: imperfect parenting, messy marriage, trying to be a faithful person while sometimes being disappointed by the church. Funny and relatable, though I think she occasionally oversimplifies things. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 18).

To Davy Jones Below, Carola Dunn
On their honeymoon voyage to America, Daisy and Alec Fletcher end up (of course) investigating a couple of murders. The shipboard setting made for a fun change of pace and the end twist was certainly unexpected.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris
Norris has been a copy editor at The New Yorker for 30-plus years. In that time, she’s learned a few things about grammar and punctuation. This witty book combines anecdotes from her career with practical, thoughtful advice on various matters of style. Gloriously geeky and wonderfully informative.

Lion Heart, A.C. Gaughen
As Prince John continues his campaign of terror and extortion, Scarlet (aka Lady Marian) and Robin Hood must protect the people of Nottingham. A great conclusion to the Scarlet trilogy; I loved watching Scarlet grow as a character. Romantic and full of adventure.

Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph, Kristina Rizga
Characterized as a “failing school” by national testing standards, Mission High in San Francisco is a vibrant, diverse community full of passionate, skilled teachers and intellectually curious students. Journalist Rizga spent four years at Mission and uses it as a case study to explore education reform in the U.S. Thoughtful and well-researched. Particularly interesting to me because of my work at HGSE. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 4).

An Unwilling Accomplice, Charles Todd
Nurse Bess Crawford is tapped to escort a wounded WWI soldier to a ceremony at the Palace – but the next morning, he has disappeared. Then he’s accused of murder and Bess is accused of negligence. To clear her own name, Bess embarks on a journey to find him. Full review coming soon as part of a TLC Book Tour.

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

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2015 favorite books

I read a lot, as y’all know – I’m almost at 100 books for the year. And we are (somehow) halfway through the year already, so here are the books I have loved the most over the last six months:

Frothiest, Sauciest, Most Fun Chick Lit: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Oxford, true love, tightly knit sibling bonds and a gaggle of quirky, loyal friends – what more could I ask for?

Most Insightful Memoir on Work & Life: Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin. A thoughtful, sensitive exploration of writing, carpentry and building a good life.

Best New Installment in a Beloved Series: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Classic Maisie Dobbs in a fresh new setting, with new challenges. I will follow Maisie to the ends of the earth.

Smart, Witty, Utterly Delightful Sherlockiana: The Great Detective by Zach Dundas. A fantastic exploration of the Holmes phenomenon (past and present).

Best Book on Yoga & Life: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco.

Cheeriest British Fictional Companion: Mrs. Tim, aka Hester Christie. I enjoyed every page of the four books about her.

Most Evocative Travel Memoir: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. So many beautiful sentences.

Best Retelling of a Legend I Thought I Knew: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, which made me fall in love with Robin Hood all over again. (I still have a crush on the handsome fox from the Disney movie.)

Most Delicious Memoir of Food & Marriage: Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard, which I reviewed at Great New Books.

Snarkiest, Most Entertaining YA Novel: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond.

Spunkiest Cozy Mystery Series: the adventures of Daisy Dalrymple.

Loveliest Story of a Quiet Life Well Lived: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan (out in September).

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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