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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

roots and sky book table sunglasses

What does it mean to come home?

How does a person, or a family, decide to build a home in our frantic, increasingly mobile society? Is it possible to set down genuine roots in a place far from where you grew up? And how is the concept of “home” intertwined with making, and living, a meaningful life?

Christie Purifoy doesn’t answer all these questions in her memoir, Roots and Sky. But she wrestles with them, in honest, lyrical prose.

Roots and Sky is the story of how Christie, her husband, and their four children have made a home at Maplehurst, an old farmhouse in eastern Pennsylvania. That journey, like so many worthwhile ones, has been both more difficult and more beautiful than they imagined.

Like me, Christie is a Texas girl who has traveled far from her childhood home: first to Chicago, then to Florida, then eventually to Maplehurst. I nodded my head as I read her words about travel and movement, about the longing to arrive. She wanted a place where she and her family could set down roots, where they could live into the rhythm of the seasons. At Maplehurst, she found a solid foundation – but quickly realized she had underestimated the work of building it up.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Roots and Sky. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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book stack purple tulips

The latest library stack (above) came in the week before Commencement, which caused a tiny bit of panic over here. But I’m working through it. Here’s the latest roundup:

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
Jahren is a botanist who has built three successful labs, and this memoir tells the story of her career and her longtime bond with her lab partner, Bill. Gorgeous writing, wry humor, and wonderful insights on plants and people. (Also: packed with fascinating information but not didactic at all.) Recommended by Lindsey and by Ann at Books on the Nightstand.

Model Misfit, Holly Smale
Geeky teen model Harriet Manners finds herself spending the summer in Japan for a modeling gig, where everything promptly goes wrong. I like Harriet but couldn’t quite believe she was that clueless. Really fun supporting characters and a great setting, though.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp, Heather Vogel Frederick
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Frederick’s series about a group of teenage girls in Concord, Mass., who start a book club with their mothers. This final volume takes them to summer camp, where they’re working as counselors before heading to college (sniff). They start a book club with their campers to counter homesickness. Super sweet and funny. A great ending to the series.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
When pastry chef Olivia Rawlings sets her workplace on fire, she flees Boston for tiny Guthrie, Vermont, where her best friend helps her find a job baking at the Sugar Maple Inn. The owner is stern but the locals are kind – but Livvy, used to leaving and being left, isn’t sure she can settle down in Guthrie. A heartwarming debut novel with mouthwatering descriptions of pastry and really engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of a dying breed: Antari, magicians who can slip through the doors between worlds. As he navigates between three different Londons (Red, Grey and White), he stumbles upon a dangerous talisman from the fabled Black London and meets Lila, a trenchant pickpocket who proves a worthy partner in crime. A gripping, fast-paced fantasy novel, but I was seriously creeped out by some of the magic. Recommended by Jaclyn and Leigh.

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

What are you reading?

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time to read clock mv

May is a crazy month when you work in higher education. This May is especially so, since I’m temping at the Harvard Gazette and we are in the thick of Commencement madness. (Three days to go!)

Here, the books that are keeping me sane:

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett
Tippett is the longtime host of On Being, a radio show that examines the big questions of what it means to be human. This memoir beautifully distills what she has learned from her conversation partners over nearly 15 years. Her insights are grouped into five big categories: words, flesh, love, faith and hope (which all overlap). Lots of quotes from On Being guests, who range from physicists to poets (and everyone in between). Tippett writes in luminous, wise prose. Absolutely stunning on every page. If I could give it six stars (out of five), I would.

Geek Girl, Holly Smale
Harriet Manners is a geek – a fact she mostly embraces, though it occasionally causes her great social pain at school. But when she gets “spotted” by a modeling agency, Harriet wonders if this is her chance to reinvent herself. Smart, British, wacky and so much fun. Found at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thursdays with the Crown, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie, her siblings and their friend Prince Lulath end up in a different world by accident, and must outsmart two evil wizards to get back home (with a load of griffin eggs). These characters are fun and engaging, though the magic in this book didn’t really hold together. Book 3 in a series.

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ed. Mary Savig
This book is exactly what it sounds like: full-color scans of handwritten letters by visual artists, each accompanied by a brief essay from a scholar or curator. Engaging and unusual. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

First Comes Love, Emily Giffin
Sisters Josie and Meredith have always had a fractious relationship, made more so by their brother’s tragic death 15 years ago. Now Meredith is at a crisis point in her marriage and Josie is contemplating single motherhood. Giffin deftly explores the complex bonds between sisters and the ways we can both wound and heal each other. I’ve read three of her other books (my sister loves them) and I thought this one (her eighth) was a big leap forward. She’s really matured as a writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

The Forgotten Room, Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
I picked up this historical novel (which shifts between three different periods and narrators in NYC) because I love Williams’ elegant, witty novels about the Schuyler family. This one doesn’t glitter quite like her others, but it’s a rich, engaging story of three women who are all connected (to each other and the Schuylers) I saw several twists coming a mile away, but there were a couple I didn’t expect. I particularly liked Dr. Kate Schuyler, fighting to make her way as an independent woman in 1944.

Fridays with the Wizards, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie and her friends are safely home in Sleyne. But trouble strikes when an evil wizard disappears and then starts making mischief in Celie’s beloved Castle. Book 4 in a series.

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

What are you reading?

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central park yellow flowers nyc

Confession: I had a hard time at first coming up with books for this post.

There are a million books set in NYC, but the New York in my head is the New York of TV and movies: Friends, Castle, pretty much every Nora Ephron film ever made. (I once spent an entire solo vacation pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.) Plus, New York is always changing: every book set there captures a slightly different city, filtered through a different historical era or narrator’s perspective.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t gather up a handful of books about this beautiful, gritty, bewitching city. So here are my New York favorites for you. Please add yours in the comments!

Children’s Lit/Classics

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I loved this book as a child – dreamy Francie, her hardworking mother and exuberant Aunt Sissy, and the hope and heartbreak of growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn.

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I adore this first book in the Melendy series, about four siblings who live in a big, comfortably shabby brownstone with their father and their housekeeper-general, Cuffy. The siblings take turns exploring the city by themselves on Saturdays, and the sense of wonder and independence is exactly right.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg
Claudia and her little brother Jamie run away from home – to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as one does. When I visited the Met for the first time as an adult, I thought about them sneaking through the halls at night and scrounging coins from the fountain.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet’s childhood was so different from mine: a brownstone with a dumbwaiter! Ole Golly! Tomato sandwiches and chocolate egg creams! It all seemed fantastically exotic to me. But Harriet is a New York girl through and through.

Remember Me to Harold Square, Paula Danziger
This fun middle-grade novel is built around a New York scavenger hunt undertaken by three kids – so it contains lots of city trivia. But it’s fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining.

strand books nyc exterior

Nonfiction/Memoir

Here is New York, E.B. White
White wrote this long essay in 1949, after the city and the world had been transformed by two world wars. But reading it in the wake of 9/11, it still feels eerily relevant. He evokes so well the combination of hope and possibility and fear, the vibrant rhythm of the city streets. (I found my copy at the Strand, pictured above.)

Act One, Moss Hart
An inside look at the mid-century NYC theatre world from one of the great playwrights. Hart’s voice is wry, witty and warm. (I picked this one up at Three Lives & Co. in the West Village.)

My First New York, various authors
New York is beautiful and brutal, and it glitters with possibility. This collection of about 50 essays captures the dazzling range of New York experiences: gorgeous, bewildering, always exciting. (I bought my copy at Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side.)

Eat the City, Robin Shulman
Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, NYC teems with food production: gardens, breweries, farms. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. (Another Strand find.)

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
Colwin writes with wit and grace about food, love, and tiny New York apartments. I especially love “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
Reichl visited dozens of restaurants as the New York Times food critic, often in disguise. This is a rarefied New York, but it’s so much fun (and mouthwateringly described).

brooklyn brownstones light

Fiction

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
A glittering tale of high society, love and ambition in 1930s New York. Gorgeously written.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
A razor-sharp, elegantly written imagining of Truman Capote and the circle of wealthy socialite “swans,” notably Babe Paley, who were his darlings in 1950s NYC.

The View from Penthouse B and The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
Lipman writes witty comedies of manners, and these two novels both draw New York in quick, loving strokes.

Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
Kwok’s novels both feature Chinese-American protagonists struggling to make their way in NYC. She draws the sharp contrasts of New York – enormous privilege next to great poverty; immigrant traditions and the siren call of the new – so well.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This novel is tragic, moving and sometimes very funny . It is an incredible mosaic of New York: all the lives and the loneliness (and the post-9/11 cocktail of fear, love and loss).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Eilis Lacey emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s, struggling to build a life for herself. This is a lovely evocation of a vanished New York, with a quietly appealing main character.

Bunheads, Sophie Flack
A well-written YA novel about a young ballet dancer in New York – who starts to wonder if the world of ballet is where she truly belongs. Captures the constant possibility that thrums through the city.

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

What are your favorite books about (or set in) NYC?

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bunch of grapes bookstore marthas vineyard ma

We began May with a string of grey, rainy days – which are good reading weather, if nothing else. (We did get some sunshine while visiting the enchanting Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on our Martha’s Vineyard trip.)

Here, the books I have loved lately:

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
This much-heralded 21st-century retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a wild ride. Sittenfeld elegantly skewers both the Bennets and 21st-century social mores in biting prose (and on reality TV). Most of the relationships herein are more than a little depressing, but it’s still fun to read. I thought the elder Bennets were particularly well done. Reminiscent of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I adored.

Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George
This sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle finds Princess Celie and her siblings dealing with (more) new rooms, a gallery full of mysterious armor, a highly suspect wizard, and a newly hatched griffin. Really fun – though the ending felt quite abrupt. Made me curious to read book 3!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly
After her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster is not excited about moving to tiny River Heights, N.Y., with her mom. But then Digby – rude, sarcastic, brilliant and obsessed with crime-solving – shows up on her doorstep. Think Veronica Mars with a male sleuth and a smart female narrator. Snarky and fun, though a few plot threads were left dangling.

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year, Neil Hayward
After quitting his executive job, Neil Hayward found himself drifting. A longtime avid birder, he began spending copious amounts of time on birding trips, and found himself pursuing a Big Year (a birder’s quest to see as many species as possible in a year). This memoir traces his journey (geographical and personal). Slow at times, but full of lovely descriptions of birds, and insights into Hayward’s struggle with depression. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow, Tara Austen Weaver
I adore Tara’s blog and liked her first book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian. But this memoir is in a whole other league. She writes in gorgeous, sensitive prose about the ramshackle Seattle house and overgrown garden that her mother bought, and how their family brought it back to life together. So many insights on family, growth and community, through the lens of gardening. Beautiful.

Hour of the Bees, Lindsey Eagar
Carol, age 12, isn’t thrilled about spending her summer at her grandpa’s ranch in the middle of the New Mexico desert. But as she listens to Grandpa Serge’s stories, she comes to appreciate the ranch’s wild beauty, and gains some surprising insights into her family and herself. A lovely, bittersweet middle-grade novel about family, imagination and the titular bees.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl
When Gourmet magazine folded unexpectedly, Reichl, its longtime editor, wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. This memoir-cum-cookbook chronicles the year after Gourmet‘s demise, when Reichl spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, cooking her favorites and trying new things. Beautifully written (with her lyrical, haiku-like tweets sprinkled throughout) and so many tempting recipes. (I’ve already made two and have plans to try more.) Delectable.

A Certain Age, Beatriz Williams
New York, 1922: Mrs. Theresa Marshall’s dissolute brother, Ox, is finally getting married and he wants to employ an old family tradition: having a cavalier, a proxy, present the ring. Theresa enlists her lover, Octavian, as cavalier to the beautiful Sophie, which naturally leads to all sorts of tangled passions. Deliciously scandalous and elegantly written, like all Williams’ novels. (With cameos by members of the sprawling, blue-blooded Schuyler clan.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

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

What are you reading?

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rtfebc iran books persia persepolis

I’m participating this year in the the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club over on Facebook, co-hosted by Jessica and Sheila. Together, we are reading a variety of children’s and young adult lit focused on a handful of themes and/or countries: Korea, the Arctic, Australia and others.

I’m the co-host for the months of May and June, and our theme is Iran.

Each theme includes a picture book, a middle-grade novel and a young adult novel. Our picks for Iran are Forty Fortunes by Aaron Shepard, Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, respectively. The idea is to read these books with your kids and talk to them about countries and cultures they might not otherwise encounter – but anyone is welcome to participate, whether or not you’re a parent (I’m not).

Feel free to join the Facebook group and participate in our discussions, or just pick up the books and read along with us. We’re discussing Forty Fortunes and Shadow Spinner this month, and we’ll discuss Persepolis in June. I’m a little late in getting this post up, but it’s not too late to join us!

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library book stack tulips

I posted this photo on Instagram recently after all six of my two-week (!) library holds came in at once. (I may have a slight problem.)

Here’s a roundup of some of those books, and others:

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
After having a brain aneurysm at age 28, Fechtor found solace and recovery in the kitchen: eating the meals she loved, cooking them when she was well enough, and later writing about them. A gorgeously written, insightful memoir of how food connects us to ourselves and those we love. I loved it, and now I want to make every recipe. (Bonus: Fechtor used to live in Cambridge, and she evokes Harvard Square perfectly.) I also got to meet Fechtor and hear her read at Brookline Booksmith – a delight. (Recommended by Leigh.)

The Key to Extraordinary, Natalie Lloyd
Emma Pearl Casey comes from a long line of extraordinary women. But as she grieves her mother’s death and watches her Granny Blue struggle to keep the family cafe afloat, she wonders how to fulfill her own destiny. A sweet, whimsical, brave middle-grade novel about family, courage and stepping into your true self. (I also loved Lloyd’s debut, A Snicker of Magic.)

When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park
This was the April pick for the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club. Through the eyes of two young narrators (Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul), Park vividly describes life in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. (The title refers to Koreans being forced to adopt Japanese names.) Fascinating and heartbreaking, and the first book I’ve read about this particular facet of WWII.

The Travelers, Chris Pavone
Will Rhodes is a travel writer for an international magazine – until he gets recruited by a woman who claims she’s CIA. Then Will starts to suspect that nothing in his life is what it seems – including his work and his marriage. Pavone writes such smart thrillers with sharp social commentary. Some great twists in this one, though it also struck me as deeply cynical.

Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Aaron remembers everything he hears and reads, but sometimes spouts facts at the wrong moment. Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, and has decided it’s not worth having friends. But when they end up at the same wilderness camp in West Texas, they both learn a few things about truth and friendship. A beautifully written middle-grade novel with very real characters (though the plot dragged a bit). Reminded me of my time at Camp Blue Haven, a decade ago.

Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye
I’d come across Nye’s poems (like “Gate A-4“) occasionally, and wanted to read more. (Plus I always make an effort to read poetry in April.) She writes in lovely, simple language about loss and love and everyday things. Some favorites: “Song,” “Daily,” “What People Do,” “Burning the Old Year.”

The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown
1999: Madeleine feels trapped in her loveless marriage. 1924: Madeleine’s grandmother, Margie, feels trapped by the rigid mores of her social class. Margie escapes to Paris and gradually comes out of her shell; Madeleine discovers Margie’s story through her journals and letters. A lovely dual-narrative story about learning to shake off other people’s expectations and change the stories we tell ourselves. (I adored Brown’s debut, The Weird Sisters.)

Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George
Anne mentioned this middle-grade novel on her blog recently. Princess Celie and her siblings live in Castle Glower, which (sort of like Hogwarts) adds new rooms and staircases at whim, usually on Tuesdays. When their parents go missing and are presumed dead, the siblings (and the Castle) must work to prevent their kingdom from being seized. Really fun. First in a series.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim
After loving The Enchanted April, I picked up von Arnim’s autobiographical novel of life at her German country estate, and rhapsodies about its garden. The descriptions of flowers and trees are gorgeous, but von Arnim’s marriage (to “the Man of Wrath”) made me so sad, as Jaclyn noted.

Shadow Spinner, Susan Fletcher
I’m getting a jump on the May pick for the RTFEBC. This is a spin on the tale of Scheherazade, narrated by a crippled servant girl who helps the young queen find new stories to tell the Sultan. Beautifully written, with engaging characters, though I saw some of the twists coming a mile away.

A Bed of Scorpions, Judith Flanders
Book editor Samantha Clair is drawn into another mystery when her old friend’s business partner dies unexpectedly. A witty mystery set in London’s art world. I like Sam and her supporting cast (her mother, neighbor, Scotland Yard detective boyfriend), though the plot got confusing at times.

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

What are you reading?

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