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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

disappearance damascus book plum

How is it mid-September already? I love this golden month, but my brain is all over the place lately. I have finished a few books, though, and here they are:

The Unlikelies, Carrie Firestone
Sadie Sullivan is bummed: the summer before her senior year looks like a dud. But when she saves a baby from her drunk father (and gets badly beaten up), Sadie becomes a “homegrown hero.” She and four other local teens (the Unlikelies) band together to fight hate and do some good in their town. I read this sweet, sharp, funny YA novel in one night. Recommended by my colleagues at Shelf Awareness.

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman
I picked up this linked story collection after loving Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic: I just wanted to stay in her world a while longer. The stories wind around the titular house, on Cape Cod, and its occupants over generations. Deeply bittersweet, with a fairy-tale quality and beautiful, melancholy descriptions.

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Esther Perel
Infidelity is as common as it is heartbreaking, and Perel, a renowned couples therapist, argues that we need a new conversation around it. She delves into many facets of affairs: secrecy, lies, jealousy, the effects of modern technology, the politics of open marriages and the ways marriage and infidelity shape our sense of identity. Fascinating and thoughtful; a sensitive take on a really sensitive topic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 10).

A Disappearance in Damascus, Deborah Campbell
Soon after Campbell landed in Damascus on assignment for Harper’s in 2007, she met Ahlam, an Iraqi refugee and “fixer” who worked with journalists and humanitarian groups to help tell the story of Iraqis who had fled to Syria after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. When Ahlam was arrested and imprisoned, Campbell became determined to find her, however long it took. Vivid and compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (published Sept. 5).

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana, a minor British royal, ends up in Italy trying to help out a friend and doing a(nother) small errand for the queen. Of course, the house party she’s attending doesn’t go as planned: there’s a murder, and Georgie tries to solve it before the killer strikes again. A really fun entry in this highly entertaining series.

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

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kitchen aprons book stack

Trying to catch up a little here: my reading pace has slowed during our move, but here’s what I’ve been reading as we settle into the new place:

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in the White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco
I devoured this smart, engaging, chatty memoir by Mastromonaco, who worked for Barack Obama for almost 10 years. She tells crazy campaign stories, writes about confidence and kindness (and other key qualities), and shares a few personal anecdotes. The narrative wanders at times, but it’s honest, fascinating and a lot of fun. Recommended by Rebecca on All the Books, and by my pen pal Jaclyn.

When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
I’d been seeing this Indian-American YA love story everywhere, so I picked it up at the library and took it to the beach. Two teenagers meet at a web-development seminar in San Francisco, but Dimple doesn’t know that their parents are scheming to set them up (for marriage!). She throws her iced coffee in his face; they end up as project partners; and (spoiler) they fall in love anyway. Sweet and funny; I loved how both Dimple and Rishi wrestled with their family’s culture and traditions in honest, interesting ways.

Ash and Quill, Rachel Caine
Fugitives on the run from the powerful Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have escaped to Philadelphia – which is full of enemies and also under threat from the Library’s forces. The best yet in Caine’s smart, fast-paced YA series: so much here about knowledge and power, information and freedom. Also: a motley crew of friends trying to save the world – knowing full well they might die in the attempt – is a story I always love.

The Book of Separation, Tova Mirvis
After spending her life ensconced in Orthodox Judaism, Mirvis found herself unable to remain there: even though it meant dismantling her marriage and uprooting her children’s lives, she knew she had to leave. A stunning, gorgeously written memoir of leaving and belonging, community and isolation, questioning and loving and figuring out different ways to be. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 19).

Evidence, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry, and it is saving my life these days: wise, whimsical, keenly observed, insistent. I’ve been carrying this collection in my purse like a talisman. Some favorites: “Halleluiah,” “Mysteries, Yes,” “Evidence,” “The Singular and Cheerful Life.”

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

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snapdragons salad book essence of malice table

I know, I know – we’re a week into August. But I have a good excuse: I’m poking my head up out of a sea of boxes (we moved!) and I’ve been shelving all the books in addition to reading a few.

Here’s what I have been managing to read lately:

The Essence of Malice, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, are enjoying a holiday on Lake Como – but then Milo’s former nanny summons them to Paris to investigate her employer’s death. A witty, well-plotted mystery involving a powerful parfumier and his family. I love Amory’s narrative voice and enjoyed this, her fourth adventure. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

Summer of Lost and Found, Rebecca Behrens
When Nell Dare’s botanist mom drags her to Roanoke (from NYC) for a summer research trip, Nell expects to be bored. But she quickly becomes fascinated by the lost colony and starts digging for clues to its history. A sweet middle-grade novel with an engaging protagonist and some lovely insights. Found at the Bookstore of Gloucester.

The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts, Charity Tillemann-Dick
Opera singers know drama: they have to, to pour themselves into demanding, heart-stirring roles. But Charity didn’t expect her own personal drama to include two double lung transplants. A compelling memoir of illness, recovery and the incredible love and support of Charity’s family, doctors and fiancé. I wanted more music, but enjoyed this one. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 3).

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, Daniel Tammet
Tammet’s brain processes language a bit differently than mine: he’s a high-functioning autistic who’s also brilliant, bilingual and slightly synesthetic. He dives into multiple facets of language: telephone grammar, Esperanto, lipograms, disappearing dialects and more. Witty, thoughtful and erudite; probably best suited for language nerds, but highly accessible. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 12). I also enjoyed Tammet’s book Thinking in Numbers.

It’s Not Yet Dark, Simon Fitzmaurice
Fitzmaurice, an Irish filmmaker and writer, was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. This luminous memoir tells his journey in brief, vivid snippets. Slim and lovely. My favorite line: “Those I count as friends are the brave.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 1).

Chicago, Brian Doyle
A young aspiring writer moves to Chicago after graduating college, and falls completely in love with the city he lives in for five seasons. I love Doyle’s big-hearted, rambling voice (I imagined this unnamed protagonist as his twentysomething self), and I loved every page of this novel. Found at the Strand, on a solo late-night browsing trip this winter.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I adore de los Santos’ fiction and this one hooked me from the first page: “a sky the color of moonstones and raspberry jam.” This was a reread, and I found I remembered the outlines but had forgotten many of the details. I loved the story of Taisy, her half sister Willow, their complicated family, and love in all its forms just as much the second time around.

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

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roots sky book sunflowers table

July has been full, so far – of sunshine, heat, dinners with friends, yoga classes, and (thank heaven) good books. I’ve been flipping back through Christie’s lovely memoir, as you can see. Here’s what else I’ve been reading:

The Pearl Thief, Elizabeth Wein
This prequel to Code Name Verity (which I loved) centers on Julia Beaufort-Stuart’s last summer at her family’s ancestral home in Scotland. It’s a richly described history/mystery involving an unknown attacker, an archaeologist who disappears, and some valuable river pearls. Full of cracking characters, including two Traveller teenagers who befriend Julie; the town librarian, Mary; and Julie’s family, who are both shrewd and kind. A slow start, but so good.

Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from an Unlikely Life on a Farm, Molly Yeh
I picked up this breezy, yummy cookbook off the library’s New Books shelf, and so enjoyed it. I’d heard of Yeh’s blog, but wasn’t that familiar with her. This was a fun, cozy look at her journey from Juilliard to a North Dakota farm, with lots of recipes. We’ve tried the Cauliflower Shawarma Tacos (twice) and the shakshuka. Delicious.

Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane
Macfarlane is a word-lover and a wanderer: fortunately for us, he writes about both well. This book explores the particular landscapes of the British Isles and collects hundreds of expressive, little-known place- and weather-words. He also highlights the work of other nature writers. I loved Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways and absolutely adored this one: it is clear, thoughtful, generous, descriptive and full of wonderful images. Found at Three Lives, last fall.

Lies, Damned Lies, and History, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell, disgraced time-traveling historian, is back for a seventh adventure – trying to pick up the pieces from her latest fiasco. I love this series, though this book about broke my heart in half (several times). Dryly witty, full of wonderful characters and absolutely soaked with tea.

In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, Pádraig Ó Tuama
I discovered Ó Tuama when I listened to his wise, lovely On Being conversation with Krista Tippett. His memoir explores the wisdom and challenges of saying “hello to here”: looking steadily at the truth of where and who we are, and doing our best to live well in the world. He writes about faith, coming to terms with his sexuality and doing the work of reconciliation in Belfast. So many luminous lines that spoke to my soul, and each chapter ends with a poem. Tippett called it “incandescent” and I agree with her.

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

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three lives bookstore interior nook nyc

We are (somehow) halfway through the year already, and I’m doing what I always do: taking stock of the books I’ve read so far, and sharing a handful of my favorites with you.

I’ve read about 75 books thus far in 2017, and here are a few I have particularly loved. (I found a couple of them at the wonderful Three Lives & Co., pictured above.)

Wittiest Love Story: The Romantics by Leah Konen. I read this YA love story – ably narrated by Love herself – on our Florida beach vacation in March, and loved every page. The footnotes are hilarious.

Most Beautiful Memoir: A Country Between by Stephanie Saldaña. An American journalist married to a Frenchman (and former monk) moves with him to Jerusalem, and this luminous, wise, honest book is the story of their navigating so many cultural in-betweens.

Best Novel about Family and Food: The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan. Mouthwatering descriptions, a really wonderful family saga, and a few lines near the end that kept me going all spring.

Series That Keeps on Getting Better: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. This series about time-traveling historians with a penchant for disaster – including, but not limited to, copious explosions – is so much fun. Lots of dry British wit and so much tea, but my favorite thing is how fiercely this (truly) motley crew fights for one another, in every era.

Best Story About Friendship: Summerlost by Ally Condie. The story of Leo and Cedar, who become friends while working a summer theatre festival, captured my heart and still won’t let it go.

Poetry That Sings: anything by the wonderful Brian Doyle (whom we lost last month, sadly). I’ve read three collections of his wise, funny, thoughtful, keenly observed “proems” this year: How the Light Gets In, A Shimmer of Something and The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be. Each of them cracked my heart open in the best way.

Best Book on Writing: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I savored this one over many commutes, and it was a treat: incisive, plainspoken, inspiring.

Best Lit Crit I’ve Read in Years: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. A whip-smart tour of seven little-known badass feminist British writers = catnip for my brainy English-major side.

The Wise, Luminous, Lovely Book I Didn’t Know I Needed: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. I keep coming back to this slim book, with so many lines about loss, building a creative life, loving your people well and paying attention.

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

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birds art life mug

“I found myself with a broken part,” Kyo Maclear writes in the introduction to her luminous memoir, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. During a year of dealing with her father’s illness and other challenges, Maclear found herself unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes. Struggling with her responsibilities to her father, husband and sons, she found herself with no words: a troubling state of affairs for a writer.

Searching for a way to relocate herself in the everyday, Maclear met a musician whose passion was urban birdwatching. Birds Art Life chronicles the year they spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Maclear’s quiet, gorgeous memoir, which I picked up at Idlewild Books in NYC this winter. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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plot thickens boston public library steps

We recently took some visiting friends on a tour of the renovated Boston Public Library, and found this wonderful staircase. I love a good literary pun – and I adore the BPL. Here’s my latest reading roundup:

Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan
Jim is the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I used to work. This book is based on his 2016 Commencement speech, which went viral, and it’s good stuff. He explores five essential questions (plus a “bonus question”) to ask in tough situations. Lots of wisdom and humor (and I could hear his voice in my ear, telling these stories). A short, worthwhile read.

Shuffle, Repeat, Jen Klein
June Rafferty can’t wait for high school to be over. Oliver Flagg is soaking up every minute. When these two seniors end up riding to school together every day (thanks to their moms), they start a competition: whoever can prove that high school does or doesn’t matter gets to add a song to their car playlist. Despite their wildly divergent musical tastes (and other differences), they become friends – and possibly more. I loved this sweet, funny YA novel (and June’s hilarious BFF, Shaun). Recommended by Anne.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell is back for a sixth adventure: this time as the training officer for five historians-to-be at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. With the help of her stalwart crew (and so much tea), Max takes the trainees on some truly wild time-travel adventures and faces some agonizing decisions. (The answer to the titular question is “nearly everything.”) Witty, fast-paced, unexpectedly moving and so much fun, like this entire series. Can’t wait for book 7.

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz
Nina Ross is feeling a bit lost as summer begins: anxious about starting high school, worried that her best friend is changing too fast, missing her beloved grandma (who died last year). On an impulse, Nina decides to do one good thing every day over the summer, and the results – for herself and her neighborhood – are surprising. Sweet and hopeful without being saccharine; a lovely middle-grade novel.

The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues, Edward Kelsey Moore
When wandering blues man El Walker returns to his hometown of Plainview, Indiana, he shakes things up: for his estranged son, James; James’ wife, Odette, who can talk to ghosts; and Odette’s best friend Barbara Jean, whose damaged mother, Loretta, knew El when they were young. Meanwhile, Odette, Barbara Jean and their other best friend, Clarice, are dealing with other major struggles. A heartfelt, heartwarming novel of friendship and music and learning to forgive (even when you don’t want to). To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

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

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