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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

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We’re halfway through the year already (how??), and I’ve read some truly great books. Here are the year’s best, so far:

Richest Southern Novel of Nature and Love: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I loved every page of this gorgeous, layered book about Kyra, the young woman who lives alone in the marsh near her town.

Best Rereads: Marisa de los Santos’ three connected novels about Cornelia and Clare and their loved ones: Love Walked In, Belong to Me and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. So many wise, heartfelt, luminous lines that seemed to speak directly to me. (Also The Precious One, by the same author.)

Best Book on Faith and Friendship: Cara Wall’s stunning debut novel, The Dearly Beloved, which follows the intertwined lives of two ministers and their wives in Greenwich Village. It’s lovely and thoughtful and so real.

Most Sweeping Novel of Alaska and Love: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. An ideal midwinter read – one of the first and best books I read this year.

Sweetest, Wittiest British Chick Lit: A Dog Called Jack by Ivy Pembroke. The perfect book to curl up with on a snowy weekend in March.

Best Memoir By Someone I’d Love to Be Friends With: Becoming by Michelle Obama. The Internet has gushed about this one enough – but I will say it is warmhearted, wise and fascinating.

Loveliest Clarion Call to Joy: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – dozens of small essays on delights that take you to unexpected places.

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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The second half of June has flown by – life is a bit scattered but the books are helping keep me sane. (As is my library – pictured above.) Here’s the latest roundup:

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, Ruth Reichl
Reichl, a longtime food critic, became the editor of Gourmet magazine in 1998. This memoir is the inside-baseball story of her years there, Gourmet’s evolution, some of its most famous stories (and personalities), and its eventual end. I like Reichl’s writing, but I want to love her and I don’t quite. I can’t figure out why. Still an entertaining, well-written story for foodies.

The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good, Elizabeth L. Cline
I loved Cline’s first book, Overdressed – a hard look at the fast-fashion culture and what it’s costing us. Her second book lays out methods for clearing out our closets and then shopping consciously: buying less, recycling or donating old clothes responsibly, and buying better-quality clothing made by brands that pay fair wages and treat the earth with care. Lots of common sense, but it’s great to have all this info in one place. Several fascinating Q&As with fashion industry pros. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 20).

The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
I’d only read this little-known Montgomery novel once, and then Jenny co-hosted a read-along on Instagram. I was way too late to join, but loved my second read of Valancy’s story. She’s a delight, and I loved watching her step into exactly the life she wanted.

Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes
When Larkin Bennett comes back home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she’s grieving the death of her best friend Sarah and struggling with PTSD. Among Sarah’s possessions, Larkin finds a diary written by Emily Wilson, an ancestor of Sarah’s who lived and fought as a man during the Civil War. Estes’ second novel is a solid dual-narrative story of several strong women, a century and a half apart, fighting to be taken seriously on and off the battlefield. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 3).

The Library of Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick
Martha Storm, volunteer librarian, spends her time offering to do tasks for other people so she can feel useful. But when she reconnects with her grandmother Zelda–after believing Zelda died 30 years ago–Martha starts rethinking some of her life choices and possibilities. A sweet, engaging, bookish story, though I had trouble believing Martha was quite that naive.

The Scent Keeper, Erica Bauermeister
Emmeline spends her childhood on a remote island with her father in the Pacific Northwest. He keeps drawers full of scents in glass bottles, and they forage for food. But as a teenager, Emmeline is forced into the outside world, where she finds friends but also betrayal. I’ve loved Bauermeister’s previous novels, and this one – despite a slow start – is engaging and lovely. I don’t think the plot is quite as strong as her others, but I loved the characters and the musings on scent and memory.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You, Dina Nayeri
Most of us see “the refugee crisis” in the headlines but don’t have a sense of what these individual human experiences are like. Nayeri, a former refugee from Iran, delves into her own experience and that of many others: living in camps, awaiting asylum hearings, living underground (in various countries) after being rejected. She’s blistering in some of her critiques, strikingly human in her storytelling. Compassionate, prickly and compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 3).

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

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Since June began, I’ve flown to Texas and back, endured flight delays and up-and-down weather, taken on all the new writing assignments at work, and squeezed in half a dozen books. Here they are:

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares, Aarti Namdev Shahani
Like so many immigrants, the Shahani family came to the U.S. for a better life. When Aarti was a young teenager, her father and uncle were accused of selling electronics to a notorious cartel. The case dragged on for years and had a powerful effect on the whole family. She brings it to vivid life: both her family’s experience and the glaring failures of the U.S. immigration and legal systems. Powerful and timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 1). I also got to interview Aarti, who is now an NPR correspondent, and she was lovely.

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
France, 1940: the world is at war, the Nazis are suddenly everywhere, and many Frenchmen are conscripted. Sisters Vianne and Isabelle, who have long had a contentious relationship, must figure out how to survive. I finally read this novel at my sister’s (repeated) urging. A super slow start, and Vianne and Isabelle both drove me crazy for a while, but it was a compelling look at women in France during the war. (The ending will break your heart several times over.)

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson
Cussy Mary Carter is the last of her kind: a rare blue-skinned people living in the hills of Kentucky during the Depression. She’s also a Pack Horse librarian, delivering books and magazines (via her mule, Junia) to people in isolated rural communities. I loved learning about the Pack Horse librarians (who were real people), but some of the plot was a bit lacking.

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin
Fiona Skinner, youngest of four children and renowned poet, is asked about her most famous work and its origin. She goes back to a time they called the Pause: after her father died, her mother remained bedridden for nearly three years. The events of the Pause affect Fiona, her sisters and their brother for years to come. Conklin is a strong writer (I loved her first novel, The House Girl). This one kept me turning pages, but I wasn’t sure I really knew the characters by the end.

Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, Anna Meriano
Leo Legroño is trying to learn magic, keep her older sisters happy, and be there for her best friend, Caroline. When Leo’s deceased abuela and several other spirits accidentally cross into this world from the other side, Leo and Caroline must figure out how to send them back. A sweet, funny, magical second entry in this middle-grade series.

The Floating Feldmans, Elyssa Friedland
Annette Feldman is turning 70, and she’s determined to have the perfect family vacation to celebrate. But forcing her husband, two bickering grown children, their partners and her daughter’s two teenagers onto a cruise ship has unexpected results. A fast, funny, often bitingly witty novel about family and secrets. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 23).

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

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book apple bench sunlight

And just like that, it’s June. I’m still catching up from a very full May – so here are the books I’ve been reading lately. It’s a short list, but a good one:

The Chelsea Girls, Fiona Davis
Hazel Ripley is expected to follow in her actor father’s footsteps, especially after her brother is killed in WWII. But a USO tour to Italy sparks her budding creativity as a playwright. Davis tells the story of Hazel, her fellow actress and friend Maxine, and the legendary Chelsea Hotel in NYC. A solid historical novel about female friendship, ambition and secrets. (I like Davis’ work.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 30).

Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past, Sarah Parcak
Space archaeology sounds like a cross between Indiana Jones and Star Wars – but it’s a real thing, and it’s changing the face of archaeology. Parcak shares stories from the field and explains how high-tech satellite imagery can make a real difference to the future of her field. Engaging, smart nonfiction. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9).

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, Lyz Lenz
America is divided: we hear this all the time, and many of us are living some version of it. Lenz, a journalist who’s lived in the Midwest for years, saw her marriage and her church fall apart in the wake of the 2016 election. She’s spent time with many Christian pastors and congregants to try and understand what’s going on. The story, as you might imagine, is complicated. I’m a Texan living in New England and I have small-town Midwestern roots, so Lenz’s reporting and her personal experience resonated deeply with me. So insightful and honest. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 1).

Sherwood, Meagan Spooner
Robin of Locksley is dead, and his people – including Maid Marian – are devastated. When Will Scarlet is thrown into prison, Marian impersonates Robin to help get him out. But her actions create a ripple effect, and while she loves her new role as Robin, she must keep it secret for various reasons. A clever YA take on the Robin Hood myth – though I didn’t love a couple of the plot elements. (I did love the Merry Men, especially Alan-a-Dale, and Marian’s maid, Elena.)

Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal
Literature teacher Alys Binat, the second of five daughters, has sworn never to marry. But when she meets one Valentine Darsee, that may change. Kamal’s Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in early-2000s Pakistan, is funny and fresh. I especially loved Alys’ relationship with her best friend Sherry, and a few scenes between Alys and her father. Recommended by Anne.

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

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velocipede races book

May is a whirlwind when you work in higher ed (I say this every year). Here are the books I’ve been dipping into on my commutes, at lunch, before bed and whenever else I can:

The American Agent, Jacqueline Winspear
1940: London is under siege as the Blitz takes hold, and an American broadcaster is found murdered in her flat. Two shadowy government agencies call Maisie Dobbs onto the case; she’s also volunteering as an ambulance driver and hoping to adopt Anna, a young evacuee. I am a longtime Maisie fan, and I loved this 15th (!) entry in the series. Solid writing, a well-done plot and so much British grit.

The Velocipede Races, Emily June Street
Emmeline longs to compete in bicycle races like her twin brother. But aristocratic women are forbidden to ride, much less race. When she’s forced into marriage to a rich man, she sees a chance to pursue her dreams secretly–but several surprises are in store. A friend snagged this novel for me at a cycling conference. Emmy is frustrating at times, but the plot is fun – especially if you love bikes.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane
I will read anything Macfarlane writes. He’s a brilliant nature writer who renders physical details beautifully, but sees under them, into the shape of things. This book – his latest and longest – is a sort of inversion of his previous work: an exploration of caves, crevices, burial grounds and other hidden places. I struggled with the subject matter a bit, but his adventures are fascinating. (I highly recommend his previous books: I particularly loved Landmarks.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, Anna Meriano
Leo (age 11), the youngest of five daughters, stumbles on a secret: all the women in her family are brujas (witches) whose magic comes out through their baking. Naturally, she’s dying to experiment, with sometimes disastrous results. A sweet, funny middle-grade story of family, baking and magic. Found at Trident.

In Another Time, Jillian Cantor
Max, a bookseller, and Hanna, a Jewish violinist, meet in Germany just as Hitler is coming to power. They fall in love, and then Hanna wakes up in a field in 1946 with a decade of her memory gone. She tries to build a new life, not knowing what has happened to Max. I’ve liked Cantor’s previous historical novels, but this one had a plot element that really didn’t work for me. I did love Hanna’s bond with her nephew, and appreciated her fraught but loving relationship with her sister.

The Beautiful Strangers, Camille Di Maio
“Find the beautiful stranger.” That’s what Kate Morgan’s granddad begs of her when she hops a train from San Francisco to San Diego, to work on the set of Some Like It Hot. Soon Kate discovers a mystery surrounding the Hotel del Coronado, including a ghost who shares her name. I love Coronado Island – I’ve stayed there several times – and this sweet love story evokes it perfectly.

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

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A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom, One Step at a Time, Antonia Malchik
Walking is a fundamentally human activity. But worldwide, humans – especially those living in cities – are losing the access and ability to walk. Malchik delves into the dangers of a non-walking life and explores the social, political, physical and spiritual implications of reclaiming walking. Well-researched and engaging – and as a walker/runner, of course I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 7).

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I adore de los Santos’ novels, and I loved diving back into this one: the story of Taisy and Willow, estranged half sisters who gradually, grudgingly become friends in spite of their (shared) tyrannical father. So much wisdom here about love and family and courage.

When the Men Were Gone, Marjorie Herrera Lewis
This was a total impulse buy at B&N: an engaging novel about a female high school football coach in Brownwood, Texas, during WWII. I grew up not far from (and went to college even closer to) Brownwood, and I spent many Friday nights in the stands with the marching band. I loved the story of Tylene Wilson and how she stepped up to coach the Brownwood Lions.

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder, Reshma Saujani
Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code (and an alumna of my former workplace, HKS). This book delves into the conditioning women receive to be perfect and pleasing, and how we can change that wiring to be brave. I loved – and related to – so much of what she wrote about. Worth reading and revisiting. (Found at the wonderful Book Catapult in San Diego.)

The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali
Tehran, 1953: Bahman and Roya, two teenagers who both frequent Mr. Fakhri’s stationery shop fall in love among the stacks, and plan to get married. But then Bahman disappears, and their lives take entirely different trajectories. Decades later, they cross paths again near Boston, and must unravel the truth of that long-ago missed meeting. Powerful and well written; Kamali’s descriptions of Persian food are mouthwatering and her characters are flawed and real. I loved (and reviewed) Kamali’s first novel, Together Tea, which is sweet and engaging, but this one is on another level. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 18).

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Doreen Green – aka Squirrel Girl – is back, trying to fight crime in the neighborhood and survive middle school. This second novel wasn’t as strong as the first, but I like Doreen and her friend Ana Sofia. The group texts with the Avengers are the best part.

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

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dog jack book blanket

I’ve had a couple of real duds lately: books I got pretty far into and then decided to jettison. But here’s the good stuff:

A Dog Called Jack, Ivy Pembroke
I love a sweet, witty chick-lit story once in a while – even better if it’s British. I grabbed this one at the library and happily curled up with it on a snowy weekend. It’s the story of Jack, a dog left behind by his previous owners who wins the hearts of a whole street in London. So lovely and fun.

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me and You, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun
It’s no secret I’m a Lin-Manuel fangirl (I even got to meet him last year). My husband gave me this warm, witty book of his good-morning and good-night tweets, illustrated. I’ve been flipping through it at night and – no surprise – it is so fun and encouraging.

The Weight of a Piano, Chris Cander
It took me a while to get into this novel – about two women, one in modern-day California and the other in 1960s Soviet Russia, who are linked by the Blüthner piano they both love. Despite the slow start, it’s a compelling story and the writing is really good. Especially enjoyable if you’re a musician.

The Farmer’s Son: Calving Season on a Family Farm, John Connell
Returning to his family’s farm in Ireland, John Connell wasn’t sure he wanted to stay. But helping his father (with whom he often clashes) through a calving and lambing season helped change his perspective. Beautifully written; a bit like a modern-day, more sober-eyed James Herriot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 7).

On Being 40(ish), edited by Lindsey Mead
Lindsey is a lovely Internet-to-real-life friend of mine, and I’m so proud of her work in editing this collection of smart, funny, honest essays. They address the experience of turning 40, navigating the next decade or so, and looking back on the experiences that led to 40. I’m 35, so I’m a little younger than the contributors, but I found much to ponder and relate to here. My favorite essay was Veronica Chambers’ “A Game of Two Halves.”

Correspondents, Tim Murphy
Since high school, Rita Khoury, the daughter of a large Lebanese-Irish Boston family, has longed to be a journalist. In the wake of 9/11, she’s sent to Beirut and then Baghdad to cover the U.S. occupation and its effects on ordinary Iraqis. She becomes close to her interpreter, Nabil, and a handful of other colleagues. Murphy tells their story with warmth and compassion. Vivid, compelling and so deeply human – highly recommended. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 14).

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

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