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Posts Tagged ‘middle grade lit’

We are nearly at the end of this bizarre year (and I agree with Oscar the Grouch – 2020 can scram). Here’s what I have been reading as we head for a (hopefully) brighter new year:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
It’s rare that I read the same book twice in a year, but 2020 is unusual (as we all know). I read Maggie’s book back in the spring, reviewed it for Shelf Awareness, and bought myself a finished copy when it came out. I’ve been rereading it slowly since October. (I also bought it for a friend or two for Christmas.) Her notes and essays about loss, hope, despair, divorce, change and moving forward are exactly what I need right now.

A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews, Annie Darling
It’s December in London, and pastry chef Mattie and bookshop manager Tom, both of whom hate Christmas, are not pleased with their colleagues’ merriment. But as the bookshop struggles toward Christmas – helped along by record snow, staffing problems and a very pregnant (and neurotic) owner – Mattie and Tom are forced to band together to help the shop survive. A sweet, witty British rom-com with great characters and dialogue. An impulse buy at the Booksmith – totally worth it.

The List of Things That Will Not Change, Rebecca Stead
I like Stead’s thoughtful middle-grade novels. This one features Bea, whose dad is getting remarried, and her struggles to welcome her new stepsister, Sonia, and also be sensitive to Sonia’s feelings. Funny and sweet and so real.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
My friend Julie gave me this book years ago, and I reread it nearly every Christmas. It’s a lovely, absorbing story of five people who find themselves in a Scottish village at Christmastime. I love living in it for a few weeks every December.

A Deception at Thornecrest, Ashley Weaver
Preparing to welcome her first child, Amory Ames is shocked when several visitors, including a previously unknown relative, show up on her doorstep. Then two suspicious deaths happen in the village, and Amory – as always – can’t resist a bit of sleuthing. A fun mystery, but not as compelling as some of the others in this series.

A Promised Land, Barack Obama
I love a thoughtful, compelling political memoir, and I truly enjoyed the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs. Clear-eyed and compassionate, with flashes of humor and so much fascinating behind-the-scenes info. I learned a lot about his first term, and gained even more respect for the man himself and many of his colleagues.

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way, Caseen Gaines
In the 1920s, Broadway was lily-white, and Black performers were often relegated to vaudeville. Shuffle Along, the first all-Black show to hit Broadway, helped transform the industry. Gaines meticulously tells the story of the show, its creators and its afterlife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 25).

The Hiding Place, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr’s third adventure finds her digging into the cold case that haunted her sheriff grandfather (now long dead). When the man who shot him breaks out of prison, and Mercy’s grandmother is kidnapped, Mercy and game warden Troy Warner (and their dogs) must act fast to solve the case and save several lives. I like this fast-paced mystery series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30).

Links (not affiliate links) are to Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We’re halfway through December of the strangest year ever. As always, I’m reading – albeit sporadically, these days. Here’s the latest roundup:

Why We Swim, Bonnie Tsui
Swimming attracts and fascinates humans the world over, and Tsui (an avid swimmer and surfer) explores some of the history, science and psychology behind why. I loved her interviews with famous swimmers like Dara Torres, and her personal stories of swimming from childhood to now. Recommended by Libby Page, whose newsletter is the cheeriest thing lately.

Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, Jennifer J. Chow
Mimi Lee has finally opened her own pet-grooming business, Hollywoof – and things get interesting right away, with a talking cat named Marshmallow, a murdered Chihuahua breeder, and a cute young lawyer. An impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store – totally ridiculous and really fun.

Killer Content, Olivia Blacke
Odessa Dean is enjoying her summer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, house-sitting for her aunt and waitressing at a local bookstore/cafe. But when one of her coworkers ends up dead (coinciding with a flash mob gone wrong), Odessa begins nosing around for clues. Fast-paced and funny, with a great setting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 2).

The Soul of a Woman, Isabel Allende
Bestselling novelist Allende is a passionate feminist, and this slim memoir details her own experiences as a woman and her beliefs about women’s value, worth and power. She is charmingly cranky, often wryly funny and makes a cogent case for putting women in charge. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2).

The Next Great Jane, K.L. Going
Jane Brannen, aspiring novelist, is thrilled when a real live writer moves to her tiny Maine town. But the author’s son is so annoying, and Jane’s mostly-absent mother turns up unexpectedly, with her filmmaker fiance in tow. A super fun middle-grade novel and a sweet homage to Jane Austen. Recommended by Anne.

Hardball, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski, private eye, picks up a 40-year-old missing-persons case right as her young cousin shows up in Chicago to work on a political campaign. Of course, they are connected, and Paretsky weaves in race, class and Chicago history. This one was powerful and intense – especially the ending – and so good.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
Christmas is coming in Mitford, and Father Tim ends up restoring a derelict Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, change is afoot at Happy Endings Books, and various townspeople are getting ready for Christmas. I love revisiting this book every year.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We’re nearly halfway through November, which so far has included gorgeous weather, serious election stress and (more) pandemic uncertainty. Here’s what I have been reading:

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, Luisana Duarte Armendariz
Nine-year-old Julieta is so excited – she gets to go to Paris to help her dad bring some valuable pieces from the Louvre back to Boston. But then a rare diamond is stolen. Julieta tries to help catch the thief – but she seems to make things worse. A cute middle-grade mystery with fun details about Paris and Boston (Julieta’s parents both work at the MFA).

This is My Brain in Love, I.W. Gregorio
Jocelyn Wu is trying to save her family’s Chinese restaurant from failure. Will Domenici just needs a summer job. But when he becomes Jocelyn’s first employee, they become friends – and maybe something more. A witty, sweet YA novel with two protagonists who both struggle with their mental health.

The Last Garden in England, Julia Kelly
When garden designer Emma Lovell is hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House, she unearths not only overgrown plants, but secrets: some related to the house and its family, some to the garden’s original designer, Venetia Smith. An engaging multi-timeline story about strong women fighting to make their own choices: Emma in 2021, Venetia in 1907, and three different women during World War II. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Holly Jackson
Pippa Fitz-Amobi has never believed that Sal Singh killed his girlfriend, Andie Bell. So when she needs a senior capstone project, she launches her own murder investigation with the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi. This was very Veronica Mars (though Pippa often has terrible judgment) – a real nail-biter, but a very effective distraction from election news.

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson
Amara is dying to go visit her dad’s family in Harlem for her 12th birthday – she’s never been to NYC, or met her cousins. But once she gets there, she has to deal with some unexpected friction. I loved this sweet middle-grade story about family, forgiveness and finding yourself in a new place.

Birds by the Shore, Jennifer Ackerman
I found this essay collection in September at the beautiful Bookstore of Gloucester. Ackerman shares quiet, keen-eyed observations about the wildlife (birds, yes, but also fish, crabs, invertebrates) and shifting microclimate of the Delaware shore. A little slow, but worthwhile.

Finding Refuge, Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Our society tends to see grief as an individual, linear process–but it has collective aspects, too, and it’s much messier than that. Johnson shares some of her own story and practices around processing grief. I applaud her premise, but the writing style was hard for me to follow (could be election brain). Includes meditations/journaling prompts. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski gets roped into (temporarily) coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old high school, she’s drawn into a web of other problems: poverty, teenage pregnancy, unsavory conditions at a couple of local manufacturing plants. This entry was intense (I shouldn’t have read it before bed!), but so compelling. I love this series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Books and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We’ve made it to Friday, and nearly to November – and it’s snowing, y’all. I’m joining my friend Jess in her #votedearlyreadathon to stay away from scrolling the news. Here’s what I have been reading:

Heather and Homicide, Molly MacRae
MacRae’s fourth Highland Bookshop mystery takes us back to Inversgail, where a true-crime writer is sniffing around a recent murder case. Heather (the writer) is likable, but odd – and when she’s found dead, both the police and the women who own the local bookshop have questions. A so-so plot, but I like retired librarian Janet Marsh and her colleagues. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow
Anne and others recommended this lushly written fantasy novel about January, a girl who discovers a Door to another world, which might also hold clues to her own history. The world-building is fun, but I found January really irritating, and the action took a while to pick up. Still enjoyable. Found at the Book Shop of Beverly Farms.

The Chanel Sisters, Judithe Little
Before Coco Chanel became a famous designer, she was simply Gabrielle: one of three sisters abandoned by their peddler father and left at a convent. Narrated by Gabrielle’s younger sister, Antoinette, this novel follows the girls as they struggle to make their own way, eventually opening Chanel Modes in Paris. I didn’t know anything about Ninette, but I enjoyed her voice. An engaging, sometimes tragic novel full of romance, fashion and gritty hard work. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Stella by Starlight, Sharon M. Draper
Stella mostly likes living in Bumblebee, North Carolina: she and her friends make their own fun, and stay away from the white folks. But then she spots a burning cross in the night, and her father and his friends are determined to go register to vote. Stella is a budding (if ambivalent) writer, and she tries to make sense of what she sees through words. Similar setting and thematic ground to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and full of warmth and heart.

Blacklist, Sara Paretsky
In the wake of 9/11, V.I. Warshawski accepts a simple-sounding surveillance job for a regular client’s elderly mother. But then she finds a dead black man – a reporter – in a nearby pond, and stumbles onto a nest of secrets. One of Paretsky’s most compelling novels yet: so much here about keeping up appearances, giving in to fear, racial profiling and more. Some startling parallels to our current moment.

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
I can’t remember where I heard about this essay collection, but I adored it. Thirty-one writers (like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Anthony Doerr) share childhood favorites, the foods that got them through grief and divorce and transition, and simple favorites. Warm and funny and delicious (with recipes!).

The Book of Longings, Sue Monk Kidd
“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.” This declaration begins Monk Kidd’s latest absorbing novel, which is lovely and wise and full of well-drawn characters, including Ana, her aunt Yaltha, her adopted brother Judas, and Jesus himself. This version of Jesus is fascinating and utterly human – and I loved Ana and her stalwart female friends.

Our Darkest Night, Jennifer Robson
I adore Robson’s novels about strong women in wartime, and devoured this one in a day. Antonina, a young Venetian Jewish woman, must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife to escape the Nazis. I especially loved watching Nina make friends with Rosa, her “husband’s” prickly sister, and discover her own strength. Powerful and at times heartbreaking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Love is All Around: And Other Lessons We’ve Learned from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Paula Bernstein
I am a longtime Mary Tyler Moore fan (I went through a serious phase a few years ago). I saw this book on the Bookshelf Thomasville’s Instagram feed and ordered it from them. It’s a fun, heartwarming look at how the show was a pioneer in its era of TV, the close-knit relationships among the characters, and the inspiration we all draw from Mary’s spunk and gumption (and very human struggles).

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident (which has a brand new website!), Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith. Support indie bookstores!

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July has been a long hot month – and clearly books are one of my coping mechanisms, as always. Here’s what I have been reading:

Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga
I flew through this sweet middle-grade novel in verse, narrated by Jude, who leaves her native Syria (with her mother) to live with relatives in Cincinnati. She misses her father, brother and best friend terribly, but gradually adjusts to her new life. Lovely.

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, Kate Hattemer
It’s April of Jemima Kincaid’s senior year and she’s burning to do something big to leave a legacy at her tony prep school. But she’s also dealing with teenage stuff: learning to drive, an inconvenient crush, friction with her best friend. A fun novel with a likable, flawed protagonist learning to confront her own privilege. (Warning: some truly cringeworthy teenage sex.)

Flying Free: My Victory Over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team, Cecilia Aragon
Bullied as a child in her small Indiana town, Aragon found her way to a career in computer science, but still struggled with crippling fear and anxiety. A coworker’s love for flying ignited her own, and she threw herself into her new hobby, eventually competing on the U.S. Aerobatic Team. This straightforward, fascinating memoir chronicles her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 22).

Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, Osheta Moore
Moore is a wise, compassionate voice on Instagram and elsewhere, and this, her first book, is about pursuing shalom – God’s vision for true peace. It’s part memoir, part theology, part real talk. Warm and thoughtful.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I picked up this lesser-known classic by the author of the Betsy-Tacy series for a reread. Emily Webster is one of my favorite heroines: thoughtful, sensitive and brave. She struggles with loneliness after finishing high school and feeling stuck in her small town, but she learns to “muster her wits” and build a life for herself. I love her story so much.

Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, Kate Sekules 
Mending has existed as long as clothing has, and Sekules is here for the visible mending revolution. Packed with clothing/mending history (chiefly in the West), practical tips for sourcing vintage/mendable clothing, an extensive stitch guide and lots of snark. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 8).

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I’ve been rereading Oliver’s poems over breakfast. They are “lovely, dark and deep,” to quote Frost. Most of them are set in the woods or ponds. She is so good at paying attention.

Deadlock, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski’s cousin, a former hockey star, dies under mysterious circumstances, V.I. begins to investigate. She finds herself drawn into a complex case involving corruption in the shipping industry. I like her snark and smarts and will keep going with the series.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed
Twelve-year-old Amal dreams of becoming a teacher, though her family struggles as her mother deals with postpartum depression. But then Amal unwittingly offends the village landlord, and is forced to work as a servant in his house. She’s determined to find a way out, though. Bittersweet and inspiring, with a great cast of characters.

Bitter Medicine, Sara Paretsky
In V.I. Warshawski’s fourth adventure, she’s investigating the death of a young pregnant woman, a family friend. What she finds is potential malpractice, corruption and gang involvement – not to mention her smarmy lawyer ex. I especially loved the role played here by her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras.

Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, Nicole Gulotta
My friend Sonia recommended this book months ago, and I’ve been reading it slowly all summer. Gulotta is wise, warm and practical, and this book (organized by “season”) has been deeply helpful for me.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is an ordinary teenager, until she’s suddenly invested with strange powers she can’t quite control. A girlfriend lent me this first volume of the adventures of a young superhero growing into herself. The plot is a bit thin, but it was fun.

Blood Shot, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski isn’t crazy about going back to her South Chicago neighborhood. But a high school basketball reunion and an odd request from a friend pull her back in. Soon she’s investigating chemical corruption, chasing a friend’s (unknown) birth father and trying not to get killed. This was a grim one, but (see above) I am hooked on V.I.’s adventures.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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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.

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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.

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belong to me book tulips mug

April has brought the craziest weather so far: six inches of snow, torrential rain, mild sunshine. Here’s what I have been reading:

Last Ride to Graceland, Kim Wright
Blues musician Cory Beth Ainsworth has always known her mama spent a year as a backup singer for Elvis – but she’s never known the details. After her mother dies, Cory stumbles upon a vintage Stutz Blackhawk in her stepfather’s shed: a car that belonged to the King himself. Fueled by a need to know more about her own history, Cory takes to the road, driving the Blackhawk from South Carolina to Memphis. A sweet road-trip story, though Cory is seriously flaky. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 24).

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
During a serious reading slump, I picked up this book and fell head over heels (again) into this luminous, funny, utterly genuine story about a few families whose lives become intertwined. I adore Cornelia, who also narrates Love Walked In, and I love how her world gets bigger and richer in this book. I am amazed at de los Santos’ deep compassion for her characters, even prickly Piper (Cornelia’s neighbor).

West Wind, Mary Oliver
I need a Mary Oliver fix every once in a while (especially during National Poetry Month). This collection of poems and prose poems is luminous and lovely. Some favorites: “Fox,” “It is midnight, or almost,” and the last poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

Audacity Jones to the Rescue, Kirby Larson
Audacity Jones is whisked away from Miss Maisie’s Home for Wayward Girls as part of a top-secret mission involving President Taft – but neither the mission nor its consequences are what she expects. A fun, fast-paced middle-grade novel with a spunky, clever heroine. (I love her name!)

The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons
After World War II, the Fox-Talbot estate in Dorset (Hartgrove Hall) is falling apart, and the family’s three sons work to try and save it. Harry, the youngest, is a gifted composer and avid folk-song collector, but he’s also in love with his brother’s girlfriend. Solomons’ writing is gorgeous – she evokes both music and the English countryside so well – though the love triangle didn’t feel quite believable to me. (I loved her earlier novel The House at Tyneford.)

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
The four Melendy children – Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver – live with their father in a comfortable, shabby brownstone in 1940s New York City. They decide to pool their allowances so they can have adventures on Saturdays, and do they ever! I love this book – the writing is simple and lovely and the characters are so much fun. First in a series.

Under a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee
After Samantha Young loses her father and her home, she finds herself fleeing town in the company of a runaway slave, Annamae. The two girls disguise themselves as boys and strike out for the Oregon Trail, hoping to outrun their problems and chase their dreams to California. A smart, vivid YA novel with two brave heroines and some really fun supporting characters (human and animal). Reminded me a bit of Walk on Earth a Stranger.

A Front Page Affair, Radha Vatsal
Capability “Kitty” Weeks has ambitions of being a journalist, but she’s stuck writing for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel. But when a man is murdered at a society picnic on her beat, Kitty finds herself drawn into a twisty conspiracy. This one had a slow start but picked up later on. Kitty is a likable heroine and the setting (1915 NYC) will appeal to lovers of historical mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
Four Englishwomen, unacquainted and all variously miserable for their own reasons, rent a charming Italian villa for the month of April. A winsome comedy of manners with plenty of wit and many amusing misunderstandings. (Also: gorgeous descriptions.) Utterly delightful. Recommended by my pen pal Jaclyn.

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

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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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