Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

bookstore lenox ma interior

We recently (re)visited The Bookstore in Lenox, MA. A bookish wonderland.

We are heading straight for Thanksgiving and, as always, I’m thankful for good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks
Right before finishing her latest book, the novelist Serendipity Smith disappears. Her daughter, Tuesday McGillycuddy, must travel to the land of Story to find her mother (with her faithful dog, Baxterr) – but the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned. Sweet, whimsical and so fun. Found at Book Culture in NYC.

The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Why do we travel? What do we gain from exploring new places? How can we become more thoughtful travelers? Alain de Botton explores these and other questions in this series of travel essays, with “guides” such as Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin. He’s an observant, lyrical and occasionally cranky narrator. Thought-provoking and highly enjoyable. Recommended by Laura.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
It’s springtime in the Texas Hill Country, and Calpurnia Tate has all she can do to keep her brother, Travis, and his ever-expanding collection of stray animals out of trouble. Meanwhile, Callie keeps learning about astronomy and biology from her grandfather and starts assisting the local vet. A fun historical novel with a wonderful, spunky heroine. (I also loved Callie’s first adventure, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.)

A Place We Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy
For 13 days in October 1962, the U.S. held its breath as tensions in Cuba ratcheted up and up. McCarthy explores the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of a tightly knit family in a small Florida town. Tense and well-crafted. I loved protagonist Wes Avery: such a deeply compassionate man.

Between Gods, Alison Pick
Raised in a Christian household, Alison Pick was shocked to discover that her father’s Czech relatives were Jewish – some even died in the Holocaust. In her thirties, preparing for marriage, she undertakes the difficult journey of conversion to Judaism. Pick seems more interested in religious participation than a personal connection with (either) God, but this is still a luminous, moving, achingly honest memoir. Found at The Bookstore in Lenox.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart
After their mother’s death, Constance Kopp and her two sisters are living peacefully on their farm in rural New Jersey. But when a powerful, ruthless silk factory owner hits their buggy with his car and refuses to pay up, things get ugly. A witty, whip-smart, action-packed novel of a woman who became one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Two elderly rancher brothers take in a pregnant teenage girl, at the suggestion of a compassionate teacher. Another teacher must raise his two young sons alone after his wife leaves. A luminous, quietly powerful story of ordinary people acting with great generosity and kindness, told in Haruf’s spare, beautiful prose.

Sheer Folly, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s 18th adventure finds her at a(nother) country estate, doing research for an article and investigating a(nother) crime. These books are my Cadbury milk chocolate: smooth, sweet and delightfully English.

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

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library stack roses

(My latest library haul – all 14-day books. No pressure.)

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
Julia reviewed this delicious food memoir at Great New Books. It’s a series of brief essays on books Nicoletti has read and loved, with recipes inspired by each book. Wonderful glimpses into her childhood and career as a chef and butcher. I loved this line about Boston, where Nicoletti is from and where I live now: “bruised history and mixed-up streets and good, good people.”

The Two Mrs. Abbotts, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara (Buncle) Abbott, her niece and their fellow villagers are facing the changes brought about by World War II: evacuees from London, soldiers all around, German spies (!) in the woods. This book felt a bit disjointed, and I missed Sam, Barbara’s nephew. Still cozy and charming, like all Stevenson’s novels.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, ed. Martin Edwards
Christmas is ripe for mysteries and ghost stories, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the 16 shorts (all Golden Age and British) collected here. A little uneven, as anthologies tend to be. I particularly liked the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers, but some of the more obscure ones are also fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, Jennifer E. Smith
On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have to decide whether to stay together or break up. The result is a tour through the past two years of their relationship, including the sticky parts. I like Smith’s sweet YA love stories, but this one fell a little flat. (Though it vividly recalled the agony of breaking up with my high school boyfriend right before college.)

Ornaments of Death, Jane K. Cleland
New Hampshire antiques appraiser Josie Prescott is thrilled to have found a distant relative just in time for the holidays. But when he disappears after attending Josie’s Christmas party, she grows worried and puts her amateur sleuthing skills to work. A so-so cozy mystery; I liked Josie and the setting, but I saw a few twists coming. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Odds of Getting Even, Sheila Turnage
Right before the trial of the century in Tupelo Landing, N.C., the defendant – Dale Johnson’s good-for-nothing daddy – breaks out of jail. Miss Moses LoBeau, Dale’s best friend, rounds up the Desperado Detectives to track him down and solve a series of smaller mysteries (break-ins, a fire). I love Mo – sassy and big-hearted – and her wacky supporting cast of small-town characters. So fun.

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both elderly and widowed, strike up a friendship – spending nights together at Addie’s house, just talking. Haruf eloquently explores the terrain of this new relationship, in spare, melancholy language. Beautiful, evocative and bittersweet. Recommended by Lindsey.

Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon
It’s the wedding of the decade in Mitford – Dooley Barlowe and Lace Harper are getting married at Meadowgate Farm. Father Tim Kavanagh and various other family members and friends pitch in to make the big day a success. I liked hearing Lace’s and Dooley’s perspectives in this book, but it felt a little slight to me. Still, I always love a visit to Mitford.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
Emily Webster is feeling let down: she’s just graduated high school, but she can’t go to college like her friends. Feeling “stuck” in Deep Valley, Emily learns to “muster her wits” – designing a program of study for herself, making new friends and learning to build a life of her own. This was a reread – I love this book so much.

A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl
The young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Academy (well, most of them) are eager to marry well, but they’re stuck in a Yorkshire backwater with hardly any men. A few unexpected visitors and some clever scheming help to change things, however. A really fun YA send-up of Regency drawing-room comedies. I also enjoyed Kindl’s previous novel, Keeping the Castle.

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

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Over on Instagram this month, I’ve been enjoying Jessica’s #31bookpics challenge. She came up with an eclectic list of bookish photo prompts, and I’ve relished looking through my shelves for books to fit each one.

Early in the month, the prompt was “underrated,” and I pulled together this stack.

underrated books yellow roses

These are all books by authors who are much better known for their other work: Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery), A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle), Charlotte’s Web (White), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr). I have no quibbles with this – I’m a lifelong Anne fan and I loved All the Light (and who doesn’t adore Charlotte?). The fame, in every case, is well deserved.

But there’s something delicious about knowing and loving an author’s more obscure work, whether you come to it after reading the better-known books or discover the author through the “back door.”

For me, Montgomery, Doerr, White and Maud Hart Lovelace belong in the first category: I read and reread Anne of Green Gables and the first few Betsy-Tacy books as a little girl. (My sister is named after Betsy Ray.) It took a while for me to move on to Montgomery’s other work and Betsy’s high school (and later) adventures, but when I did, I adored them.

I’d only peripherally heard of Doerr before All the Light swept the bestseller lists. But after reading that, I snagged a beautiful hardcover copy of Four Seasons in Rome in a used bookshop in San Diego, and loved it just as much. And my E.B. White obsession, though it began with Charlotte and Wilbur, has expanded to include pretty much everything the man ever wrote.

In other cases, though, I read the lesser-known works first, and they’re still my favorites.

I bought Walking on Water, L’Engle’s wonderful book on faith and art, from a college friend who was selling off some of her books. I loved it so much I sought out A Circle of Quiet and L’Engle’s other memoirs before I ever read A Wrinkle in Time. Julia Cameron is best known for The Artist’s Way, but my college boyfriend (now my husband) plucked The Sound of Paper off a bookstore shelf and gave it to me for graduation, so I read it first. It is still true north for me.

I realize it’s an ultra-hipster-trendy move these days to insist that you loved a book before it was cool, or knew about an author before he or she became popular. But as I said above, I adore these authors’ more popular works. I am happily in the majority of readers who follow the interstellar adventures of Meg Murry or wish they could spend an afternoon in Avonlea with Anne.

But I’m always so pleased to discover an author’s overlooked work, or to introduce some lesser-known favorites to fellow bookworms who may never have heard of Rilla of Ingleside (Montgomery) or Emily of Deep Valley (Lovelace). For me, it simply expands the pleasure of reading. And really, anyone who hasn’t read E.B. White’s pitch-perfect essays is missing out.

What are your favorite overlooked books?

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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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