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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

Here we are, two weeks into a new year, and it’s time to share what I have been reading:

Hannah’s War, Jan Eliasberg
As World War II rages on, an international team of brilliant scientists are working on a top-secret bomb in the lab at Los Alamos. Among them is Dr. Hannah Weiss, who fled Berlin in the wake of Nazi persecution. Major Jack Delaney, sent to catch a spy, begins investigating Hannah, but finds himself drawn to her instead – and they’re both hiding secrets. I read this in one day; it’s gorgeous, compelling and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald
Anne recommended this last summer, and I grabbed it at the library. It’s a bittersweet love story set in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal – Nora, a young woman who died in a 1925 subway crash, keeps reappearing in the terminal, where she falls in love with Joe, a train leverman. I loved the period details, the vivid characters, the honest way they dealt with the complexities of love. Still thinking about the ending.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
I’m several years late to Woodson’s gorgeous memoir-in-verse. I both devoured and savored her lyrical, plainspoken, vivid memories of childhood with her brothers and sister, her grandparents’ love, their transition from Greenville, S.C., to Brooklyn, and the beginnings of her desire to be a writer. Powerful and lovely.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
Harry and his friends are back at Hogwarts – and he finds himself competing in the Triwizard Tournament, somewhat against his will. The story grows darker, and I love how Rowling draws us deeper into the wizarding world. Also, Rowling’s wit (and the Weasley twins’ ingenuity) shines: “Just then, Neville caused a slight diversion by turning into a large canary.”

The Case of the Wandering Scholar, Kate Saunders
Widowed clergyman’s wife Laetitia Rodd takes on a second case, this one involving a scholar/hermit living near Oxford. She’s trying to track him down to deliver a message from his dying brother – but then, two local priests (one a friend of hers) are murdered, and it’s all connected somehow. Mrs. Rodd is a sharp, compassionate, no-nonsense amateur sleuth and this mystery (whose setting reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford) was thoroughly enjoyable.

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

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Somehow, it’s 2020 – and I’m still catching up from Christmas break. Here’s my last list of reads for 2019:

Red Letter Days, Sarah-Jane Stratford
When the House Un-American Activities Committee begins blacklisting writers, Phoebe Adler flees to London after receiving a subpoena. There, she begins working for Hannah Wolfson, a fellow exiled American who’s creating a new hit show. But both women are in more danger than they realize. A well-plotted historical novel with great characters – I wanted to meet Phoebe, Hannah and all their friends for a cocktail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 25).

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison, Jason Hardy
Hardy spent four years working as a parole officer in New Orleans. This book gives an insider’s account of the probation and parole (P&P) system, which aims to keep offenders from relapsing into addiction, going back to jail or prison, or hurting themselves or other people. Hardy wrestles with the lack of resources, the staggering problems facing most of his offenders, and his own privilege. A thoughtful, timely, compelling account. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 18).

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin
This fun Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in Toronto’s Indian Muslim community, came recommended by Anne and others. I loved Ayesha, the Elizabeth Bennet character, and her supporting cast, especially her Shakespeare-quoting grandfather. Witty, entertaining and sweet, with some fresh twists on the classic story.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
Brown is well known for her work on race relations, and her memoir shares her experience with race and faith, and poses some tough questions. Well-written, hard-hitting and powerful; I’ll be processing this one for a while.

The Queen Con, Meghan Scott Molin
MG Martin, comic-book writer and costume designer extraordinaire, gets drawn into a second mystery involving a local superhero vigilante. But this time several of her friends, including drag queen Lawrence, may be in danger. The plot gets a bit convoluted, but this series is full of nerddom and great characters.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s third year at Hogwarts starts (and in some ways ends) with Sirius Black, a notorious wizard who has escaped Azkaban, the wizard prison. This book is one of my favorites in the series – especially the last bit, where everything (thanks in large part to Lupin and Hermione) blows wide open. So much fun.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, Amaryllis Fox
I blew through Fox’s memoir on my plane ride home. She gives a clear, thoughtful account of her career in the CIA, and the ways an undercover life prevented her from building a true marriage or family. Fascinating and thought-provoking – parts of it read like a spy thriller.

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at Trident, and it was the perfect sweet, witty, British Christmas read. Widowed mum Kate is struggling to make Christmas merry for herself and her young son, Jack, while facing harassment at work. Daniel, grieving his sister’s death, is also struggling. I loved the ways their stories intertwined, as well as Daniel’s efforts to support a group of local businesses.

Blind Search, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr, former military police officer, and her retired bomb-sniffing dog Elvis are back on the case. This time, it’s multiple murder in the Vermont woods, with an autistic boy as the only witness. The writing is a bit labored, but I like Mercy and the other characters, including game warden Troy Warner.

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

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It’s been…a year. Somehow, amid all the upheaval, I have read more than 150 books, and as usual, I’m highlighting a few of the best to share with you. Here are my faves:

Most Honest, Insightful Book on Women Entering Midlife: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun. This one comes out next month and if you are, or if you love, a woman in her 30s or 40s, please go get yourself (or her) a copy. I will be talking about this one with lots of my girlfriends.

Most Eye-Opening, Validating Book About Sexuality: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. I was late to the party on this one and I am still so glad I read it. Smart, funny, packed with valuable information and absolutely fantastic.

Best Reread: either I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos or The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. The latter is charming and British and lovely, and the former felt like a friend holding my hand through a rough time.

Most Inventive WWII Love Story: Lovely War by Julie Berry, narrated largely by Aphrodite as she stands trial (after a fashion) in a Manhattan hotel room. It’s wonderful.

Truest Novel About Friendship and Faith: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall, about which I have already gushed. So good.

Best Celebration of Joy: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, which is full of robust, irreverent, real delight.

Most Powerful Memoir of Making Change: The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. Thoughtful, wise, fascinating, so interesting.

What were your favorite books this year?

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Due to review deadlines, library deadlines and general pre-holiday craziness, my brain feels scrambled lately. Here’s what I have been reading – much of it several months ahead:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s second adventure at Hogwarts is as much fun as the first. I love seeing the characters grow, and the narrative of the series begin to build. Fast, fun and highly enjoyable.

Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, Eitan Hersh
Most people who are engaged in political hobbyism – following, and wringing their hands about, the news – aren’t doing work to make real, appreciable change. Hersh investigates the history of political engagement in the U.S., interviews grassroots activists (the strongest part of the book) and asks how to truly get involved in local politics. Interesting, though a bit tedious at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).

The Golden Hour, Beatriz Williams
Widowed journalist Lulu Randolph is sent to Nassau in 1941 to write a society column focusing mainly on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she falls in love – but when her new husband becomes a POW, she goes to London to try to rescue him. The narrative shifts between Lulu’s story and that of her husband’s German mother, Elfriede, in the early 1900s. Lush, compelling, slightly scandalous.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, Noé Álvarez
The son of Mexican immigrants, Álvarez grew up poor in eastern Washington. Feeling aimless as a college student, he joined the Peace and Dignity Journeys to run a punishing 6,000-mile ultramarathon through North America, in a quest to honor indigenous peoples and their stories. This memoir is beautifully written and contains some compelling ideas, but I couldn’t always find the through line of his insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Siri, Who Am I?, Sam Tschida
A young woman wakes up in the hospital wearing a yellow Prada gown, with nothing in her possession but a tube of Chanel lipstick and an iPhone. She can’t even remember her own name (Mia), but gamely tries to reconstruct her life via Instagram. A snarky, fast-paced take on the selfie culture – fun, though I wanted more depth. I really liked Mia’s sidekick/love interest, Max the “Black Einstein” neuroscientist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

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

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

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

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And just like that (after a rainy, blustery Halloween), it’s November. Here’s what I have been reading:

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende
Amid the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, thousands of refugees fled the continent, some ending up in Chile (thanks to the poet Pablo Neruda). Allende traces the lives of two families, a Spanish refugee couple and a wealthy Chilean family they meet on arrival, from the 1930s to the 1990s. A complex, fascinating, often heartbreaking story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 21).

The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles
When Odile Souchet lands a job at the American Library in Paris, she’s over the moon – but the Nazis are trying to conquer Europe, and Odile and her cadre of international colleagues are inevitably caught up in their net. Charles interweaves Odile’s story with that of a young teenager, Lily, who lives next door to Odile in 1980s Montana. So engaging, full of wonderful characters and book catnip. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God, Sarah Bessey
Sarah is a longtime Internet friend. Like me, she’s spent the past several years wrestling with the black-and-white certainty of the evangelical faith we both once knew. This book tells the story of a car accident, a trip to Rome to meet the Pope, miraculous healing and chronic pain living side by side. I love Sarah’s writing and while this book wanders a bit (on purpose), it ends with fierce, tender, powerful hope.

Heaven, My Home, Attica Locke
Still reeling from his last complicated case (and his mother’s blackmail), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is called out to find a missing child – the son of white supremacists – in an East Texas town simmering with racial tension. Locke’s writing crackles and her characters, especially Darren, feel complicated and real.

The Wicked Redhead, Beatriz Williams
Flapper Geneva “Gin” Kelly surprised herself and everyone else by falling in love with a Prohibition agent. In this sequel to The Wicked City, Gin tries to reckon with her new love and care for her orphaned young sister, while a woman named Ella (connected both to Gin and Williams’ illustrious Schuyler family) tries to extricate herself from a troublesome marriage. Deliciously addictive and entertaining (though Ella drove me nuts) – Gin is a stellar character. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 10).

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

What are you reading?

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We’re halfway through October, and the library holds are piling up, to my delight. Here’s what I have been reading:

An Irish Country Family, Patrick Taylor
I’ve read and enjoyed several earlier books in this gentle, amusing series set in 1960s Ulster, in the village of Ballybucklebo. Book 14 picks up the story of Dr. Barry Laverty when he was a medical student, and also as he’s trying to start a family with his wife, Sue. The plot also involves the usual small-town drama: births, deaths, local politics, love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 12).

Dating is Murder, Harley Jane Kozak
An impulse grab at the library – the second mystery featuring greeting-card artist and amateur sleuth Wollstonecraft “Wollie” Shelley. When her friend Annika, a young au pair, disappears, Wollie tries to find her while juggling her part-time jobs (including reality TV). Wacky, fun, sometimes confusing, but enjoyable.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
It’s no secret that women are under stress–but Generation X women are particularly so, in every area of their lives. Calhoun takes on work, parenting, marriage and relationships, ambition, physical challenges and more from a witty, honest, thought-provoking perspective. I loved her previous book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and her O Magazine essay, “The New Midlife Crisis for Women.” This book builds on the latter. I’m either a really young Gen Xer or an old Gen Y/Millennial, but so many of these concerns rang true for me. I will be handing this to so many friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

The Bonniest Companie, Kathleen Jamie
I was looking for Jamie’s essays at the Strand (on Roxani’s advice) and found these poems instead. They are luminous and odd with occasional flashes of hope and loveliness, and lots of rugged Scottish landscapes.

The Second Home, Christina Clancy
The Gordon family has spent countless summers in Wellfleet, Cape Cod – but one summer when their kids were teenagers changed everything. As the family’s two grown daughters prepare to sell the house after their parents’ deaths, they must reckon with the long-term effects of that summer. Absorbing, heartbreaking and human; richly evocative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2, 2020).

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
I spotted this series at the Booksmith and decided to start at the beginning. Mary Jekyll is investigating some mysterious documents after her father’s death and finds more than she bargained for, including Diana, daughter of Edward Hyde, and a whole lot of mad-scientist craziness. This mystery-fantasy-girl-power-narrative (which also pulls in Holmes and Watson) was so much fun. I’ll definitely read the sequels.

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

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