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It has been a year, y’all. There’s no way a list can capture it all, but here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

  • run miles and miles through my beloved neighborhood of Eastie, mostly in the mornings before work
  • knitted myself a pair of gloves, a cozy headband and two sets of legwarmers
  • lived in leggings, jeans, Allbirds sneakers, scarves and my green coat (see above)
  • discovered volunteer ushering and leaned hard into it
  • returned to Vermont, and adventured to western MA and the North Shore, with my guy
  • spent a couple of sweet solo weekends in NYC
  • delighted in hearing and promoting our young people’s music at ZUMIX
  • made lots of chickpea curry, ratatouille, black bean soup and other simple meals
  • drunk hundreds of cups of tea
  • spent a sweet Thanksgiving with my guy
  • interviewed several authors for Shelf Awareness
  • read roughly 230 books
  • done a lot of yoga, mostly at The Point
  • sung in a local carol choir for the fourth year
  • said goodbye to my beloved Darwin’s
  • written a couple of pieces for ACU Today
  • spent a little time in Texas
  • hosted my parents for their first joint visit to Boston since 2018
  • continued to savor my writing class on Tuesdays
  • worked the polls again, twice
  • gone to the movies alone (and with my guy)
  • helped pull off the ZUMIX Gala and Walk for Music
  • started a newsletter
  • done a “Southwest tour” to visit friends in Arizona and California
  • become a regular at the Eastie library
  • published a couple of essays online
  • gone back to some local museums
  • been to Portsmouth, Amherst and Westerly with my girl Jackie
  • taken a salsa dancing class
  • been to my first Comic-Con
  • survived having COVID
  • attended a number of outdoor concerts here in Eastie
  • seen both the Indigo Girls and the Wailin’ Jennys in concert (!!)
  • loved All Creatures season 2 and Magpie Murders
  • turned 39
  • tended geraniums, a fern, an African violet, paperwhite bulbs and cherry tomatoes
  • tried my best to pay attention, love my people and be brave and true

What has this year looked like for you?

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We are (somehow) halfway through December, and the world feels twinkly and dark and (sometimes) chaotic. Here’s what I have been reading:

Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons, Jeremy Denk
I spotted this book at Three Lives this summer, and snagged it at the library recently. Denk charts his journey from piano-nerd kid to classical pianist, via lots of lessons with idiosyncratic, brilliant teachers (and some personal growth). Writing about music can be hard to do, but Denk pulls it off. Entertaining, witty and wonderfully geeky.

Peril in Paris, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is thrilled to visit her dear friend Belinda in Paris. But once Georgie gets there, she becomes entangled in both a Chanel fashion show and a mysterious death – which leaves a police inspector convinced she’s a criminal. I love this fun historical mystery series and this was an entertaining entry.

What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest, ed. Susan Wittig Albert, Susan Hanson, Jan Epton Seale and Paula Stallings Yost
I stumbled on this collection in an Airbnb in Amherst, and immediately got it from the library when I came home. It’s a stunning anthology of essays and poetry: incisive, moving female perspectives on how we interact with the land, what we take from and give to it, what we leave behind. I loved reading this slowly in the mornings.

Killers of a Certain Age, Deanna Raybourn
Billie, Natalie, Helen and Mary Alice have spent 40 years working as assassins for the Museum, a secret extra-governmental organization. On their retirement cruise, someone targets them, and they work to find out why – and take out their would-be killers. A hilarious, incisive romp showcasing the skills (and ingenuity) of older women.

Maureen, Rachel Joyce
I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which follows a man taking a much-longer-than-planned walk that turns into a journey of self-discovery. 10 years later, this slim novel shares the perspective of Harold’s wife, Maureen. She makes a pilgrimage of her own – which doesn’t go quite as she expected. Lyrical, sad and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7, 2023).

Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya H
I enjoyed this unusual memoir by a queer Muslim woman exploring all the intersections of her identities. A lot here about Muslim faith and practice; many familiar Bible stories retold as they appear in the Quran; and an honest examination of inner struggle. Heavy at times, and thoughtful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7, 2023).

The Holiday Switch, Tif Marcelo
Lila Santos is ready to plunge into the Christmas season (and work all the hours at her local inn’s gift/book shop to save for college). She’s also an anonymous book blogger. When her boss’s nephew, Teddy, shows up to work the holiday season, the two of them clash – but gradually find themselves drawn to one another. A super fun YA holiday romance featuring Filipino-American characters; I also love Marcelo’s adult fiction.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We reach a point every December where I wake up with carols in my head: ribbons of lyrics old and new, lines I’ve known since I was a little girl and lines I’ve learned only in the last few years. They wind and stretch and run through my days, an undercurrent of magic and anticipation, a soundtrack to this time of year I have always loved.

This year, for the fourth time, I’ve been singing with friends in a local carol choir: a handful of us holding black and white binders, filled with songs we already knew (The First Noel, Silent Night) and unfamiliar tunes (Dadme Albricias, O Jesulein Suss, Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light). Just to keep it interesting, Peter always throws in a remix or two of carols we think we know – this year it’s The Holly and The Ivy, with syncopation where we didn’t expect it, and a slightly different version of Ding Dong Merrily on High (still with those Glorias).

There is much laughter, and a lot of wrong notes, and at least a moment or two where we all despair of ever getting it right. But every year, a couple of weeks before our performance, it somehow starts to come together. The phrases begin to make sense, and the chords coalesce into something beautiful. It starts to sound less like we’re stumbling our way through, and for a moment – as my choral director used to say – we actually make music together.

The Christmas music is coming in from all sides, these days. There are Spotify mixes on my morning runs or mellow evenings with my partner, and carols by our Sprouts at ZUMIX, and blaring pop renditions in every store or business I walk into. It’s impossible to escape it – but mostly I am happy to soak it in.

I also wake up, some mornings, with the songs of Christmas past: the youth choir singing verse after verse of Do You Hear What I Hear, led ably by George, our beloved music minister. My dad’s friends Buddy and Clay, singing O Holy Night in a church sanctuary in Dallas, thirty years ago. The Magnificat and other a cappella carols at Brookline and at Highland, those churches that were both once mine. And so many memories of Christmas Eve services with my parents, filled with classics like O Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night.

Last night, my guy and I went to the Harvard carol service, arriving – to our surprise – during the season’s first snow. We sat in a dark wooden pew in the chapel where I used to go to Morning Prayers, and sang our hearts out: Adeste Fideles and Lo, How a Rose; Hark the Herald and Angels We Have Heard on High. It felt nourishing to be there, among poinsettias and candlelight, to wave at a few Harvard friends and see new faces in the pews. To hear again the words that have framed this season all my life: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior. My soul magnifies the Lord. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Glory to God in the highest.

The music of the season is indelible for me; it expresses the wonder and joy through familiar melodies and the lyrics I have loved all my life. I’m grateful – through so much loss and change – that the songs have endured, and that I get to sing them in community, and take my annual turn at trilling the Glorias. This season is full of bustle and swing, but it also calls us back to awe and wonder, and these songs help steady me as I prepare to celebrate.

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It seems to start earlier every year: the full-on blitz of evergreens, candy-cane decorations, tinsel and twinkle lights. Red cups at Starbucks, Santa hats all over the place, peppermint-flavored everything…the list goes on.

I’m here for the twinkle lights and the peppermint treats – and y’all know I love Christmas music and movies. But for the last several years, I’ve been edging into the season: tiptoeing, observing tiny rituals, looking for the light. It feels like too much to turn the Christmas-ness up full blast in mid-November, if I want to actually enjoy it. As Father Tim once observed, it feels like “hitting, and holding, high C” for weeks on end. As a singer, I know that is both screechy and impossible.

This year, I am taking the season in small doses: putting up my two trees, both of them festooned with lights, but not rushing to hang the ornaments. I’m taping Christmas cards around my door frame, wearing the tiny raccoon-holding-a-holly-sprig pin that was my mother’s in the ’90s. I’m listening to Christmas music when I feel like it (Sara Groves, Kate Rusby, the Indigo Girls, Vince Guaraldi), and turning it off when I’ve had enough.

I’ve been rehearsing for our annual neighborhood carol service with friends, trying to hear how the phrases should sound, relaxing into the familiarity of “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” The music is still creaky, but it will come together. We will probably miss a cue or two, stumble over words in an unfamiliar language. And we will also create chords of beauty and longing, both from carols we know and pieces we have only learned this year.

“The light shines in the darkness,” we are told, and we hear it often this time of year. But living in the Northeast reminds me that the darkness is necessary, too. I can savor the fiery sunsets and crisp moonlit nights, while also appreciating the longer evenings. The light and the darkness need one another; neither one can exist alone.

This truth is harder to accept on an emotional level; I’d rather skip over the grief that comes up this time of year, and focus on the joy. But I know I can’t do that. Ignoring the sadness will only make it worse. Naming it, and leaning into the music and rituals that make room for complexity, is vital if I want to live honestly in – and enjoy – this season.

I do miss some of the Advent rituals of my old life: greening the church on a Saturday morning, gathering with friends I don’t see anymore, singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a community that is no longer mine. There is brokenness and longing in these memories, and also joy: those rituals nourished me, for a time, and now I have to find new rituals to carry me through.

As is so often the case, there’s a metaphor here. Advent is about what happens when the old ways don’t work anymore. It is a sudden interruption, a dramatic entrance, into a world that is desperate for all things to be made new. It is making sense of the light and the darkness – or, failing that, accepting the presence of both in this world.

How are you savoring the season this year? I’d love to hear.

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Last week, I spent an hour (alongside some colleagues) placing red and silver sparkly macarons into cocktail glasses, along with turquoise stickers and quotes from our student participants. Days before, I brainstormed cocktail names with my supervisor. (We landed on Razzle Dazzle, Stardust, and Fancy Was My Name – sometimes, it’s nice having another Southern girl in the office.)

In the weeks before that, I wrote, rewrote and proofread program text; ordered several life-size cardboard celebrity cutouts online; maneuvered our office van through the winding streets near Boston’s North Station; and bought a fabulous pair of cascading rhinestone earrings. It all came together beautifully last Wednesday, at the aptly named Glitter and Glam version of the annual ZUMIX gala.

When people ask me what we do at ZUMIX, I usually tell them that we provide free and low-cost music lessons and other creative classes for young people, ages 7-18. And we do that, every day, at the Firehouse in East Boston. But the Gala was a chance to celebrate the broader definition of what we do: help young people discover their shine.

One of our youth musicians, Andres, bounded in two hours early, fizzing with excitement for his first-ever paying gig. Julian, sporting a fedora along with his usual funky glasses, played in three different ensembles (a fact Wendy, one of his fellow musicians, made sure to mention onstage). Angelica, rocking a slinky green sequined dress, worked the room at the cocktail party, interviewing guests for her show on ZUMIX Radio. And sisters Layla and Maya – neither one of them out of elementary school – brought the house down with their rendition of Selena’s “La Carcacha.”

I could go on, and tell you about Elia on the drums, Camille rocking both the bass guitar and her elegant blue dress, Samantha swirling around in a sparkly gown and Brandon adding a few rhinestones to his sharp suit (and playing guitar with his usual cool). And my colleagues: Ben and Chris and Brian doing double-time to get there after their other teaching gigs across town. Kadahj and Corey (both ZUMIX alumni) speaking eloquently about the impact this place has had on their lives and so many others. Esther, my supervisor, dashing around in a sequined red fedora and a light-up tutu. And Madeleine – our co-founder, executive director and the hardest-working woman I know – doing everything from setup to schmoozing to calling the ZUMIX Latin Ensemble back out for an encore.

I loved so many moments: getting dressed in the bathroom alongside the setup crew, giggling like girlfriends as we glammed up for the evening. Hugging former staff and alumni whom I’ve grown to love. Applauding my friend Roberto (above), manager at Eastie Farm and community-builder extraordinaire, as he received an award (and, later, getting down with his crew on the dance floor). Dancing with Esther to the Cotton-Eyed Joe after the DJ had finished his set. Sipping a Razzle Dazzle cocktail and snapping photos of our board and staff and community enjoying each other. Handing out light-up plastic rings to those who donated, and to any teenager who wanted one. Snagging a selfie with Madeleine as the party swirled around us. And driving back to Eastie in the van, close to midnight, exhausted but entirely satisfied.

Listen: there are all kinds of scrappy small organizations like ours, doing the work of building communities and giving young people a safe place to be themselves. We’ve made it through 31 years of this work, tied together by red Firehouse doors and ukulele strings and a whole lot of duct tape and hope. We are bolstered by smiles and crashing piano chords and a student’s look of astonishment as they land a guitar riff for the first time. We are scribbled song lyrics and sound-mixing wizardry; we are pupusas and potato chips and endless cups of tea from the office kettle. We are, also, budgets and grant proposals and donor acknowledgments and social media posts; the magic doesn’t happen without the admin grunt work, as my colleagues and I know all too well. But at events like the Gala, it all braids together beautifully, and like those macarons (courtesy of a Latin bakery in East Boston), it all sparkles.

We do provide music lessons, and theatre classes, and teach young people how to operate sound boards and create their own radio shows. But they teach us, too: how to be brave and silly and kind and fearless, how to try out new things – sometimes in front of a roomful of people – and not be afraid of what might happen. They demand honesty from us; they ask good questions; they push us to be better than we are. They ask us to build a world that is safe and creative and just. And they eat a lot of pizza – while making a lot of amazing music.

We have so many reasons to shine, Madeleine wrote in the event program last week. Gonzalo, one of our awardees, added, There is no stronger light than the one we receive from our young people. I am grateful – not just on Gala days, but every day – to be part of the string of lights that allows ZUMIX to keep on shining.

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Whew – September has been a ride. I turned 39, hosted my parents for a few days, drove to Amherst with a girlfriend and had a few other adventures. In the midst of all that, here’s what I have been reading:

The Midnight Orchestra, Jessica Khoury
Amelia Jones is finally settling in at Mystwick School for Magic. But then her school enters a high-stakes competition, and the pressure’s on Amelia to compose a fabulous spell. This second Mystwick novel goes much deeper into the world-building, Amelia’s complicated family history and her friendships with other students. Twisty, musical and lots of fun.

Marmee, Sarah Miller
I loved Miller’s previous novel, Caroline, which focuses on Ma from the Little House books. This one is a first-person narrative of Marmee March from my beloved Little Women. We follow the March family through war, illness, Mr. March’s absence, a couple of weddings and lots of everyday life. Margaret (Marmee) is a wonderful narrator, and I loved how Miller hits these familiar beats from a new angle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 25).

Nora Goes Off Script, Annabel Monaghan
Screenwriter Nora Hamilton has just sold a movie that could be her big break – though it’s about her husband leaving. When movie star Leo Vance, who plays Nora’s ex in the movie, begs her to let him stay on after filming, she reluctantly relents, and falls in love. But then Leo disappears, and Nora (plus her kids) must deal with the fallout. A witty, warmhearted, fun novel about love, family and second chances.

The Perfumist of Paris, Alka Joshi
Radha spent her childhood following her older sister Lakshmi around Jaipur, mixing henna for Lakshmi’s clients and – eventually – getting tangled up with a rich, careless boy. Now, she’s a grown woman and a budding perfumer in Paris, married with two children. A big assignment at work coincides with some long-held family secrets bubbling up. I loved this third installment in Joshi’s series that began with The Henna Artist: lushly described, with compelling characters (I loved the aging courtesans!) and lots of questions about work and womanhood. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Last Call at the Nightingale, Katharine Schellman
Vivian Kelly spends her days stitching dresses for the rich, and her nights dancing and drinking at the Nightingale. But when a man ends up dead in the alley out back, the club’s owner asks Vivian to sniff around for information. I like Schellman’s Regency-era Lily Adler series, and really enjoyed this start to a new series – Jazz Age NYC, complicated sisterly bonds, interracial friendships, an interesting love triangle.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Another month has flown by! As we wrap up August, here’s what I have been reading:

Just Another Love Song, Kerry Winfrey
Sandy Macintosh has built a life for herself in her Ohio hometown – she’s even happy, most of the time. But when her first love Hank Tillman (now a successful musician) comes back to town with his son in tow, Sandy’s emotions go haywire. I love Winfrey’s warmhearted feel-good romances, and this one was sweet – full of fun summer vibes and serious questions about figuring out what you truly want.

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys and Struggles of Being Alone, ed. Natalie Eve Garrett
Solitude and loneliness are, of course, not the same – but they often go hand in hand, and they’re both nearly universal experiences. This anthology explores loneliness in many forms – it is sad and lovely and extremely validating. Bittersweet and worthwhile.

Argyles and Arsenic, Molly MacRae
The women of Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to helping host the local knitting competition in tiny Inversgail, Scotland. But when the director of the local museum is poisoned at a party, they can’t help but investigate (of course). I like the setting of this series, but the plot of this one didn’t do it for me – plus a super irritating plot device didn’t help.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, Clare Pooley
I loved Pooley’s first novel, The Authenticity Project, and also loved this one – about a group of strangers on a London commuter train (led by the titular Iona) who enter each other’s lives and become good friends. Sweet, heartwarming and so beautifully human. I loved vibrant Iona, shy Sanjay, gawky Martha and the kindness in all of them.

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, Jamie K. McCallum
We all spent the first part of the pandemic applauding essential workers (sometimes literally). But despite arguing and agitating for better wages and conditions, a lot of essential jobs are truly terrible. McCallum dives into the labor strikes, walkouts and other campaigns of the pandemic, connecting them to the long history of labor organizing in the U.S., and urgently calling for higher wages, government support and better working conditions for nurses, food service workers and others. Insightful and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Death at the Manor, Katharine Schellman
Lily Adler is delighted to be visiting her aunts in Hampshire, with friends. But their visit takes a turn when a local elderly woman is murdered – ostensibly by a ghost. This third mystery featuring Lily had a bit of gothic flair; I thought the plot dragged for a while, though the conclusion was interesting.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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August is flying by – between work and yoga and other adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

Rivals, Katharine McGee
Queen Beatrice is hosting her first international diplomatic conference, and alliances will be formed and shattered – but by whom? Meanwhile, Princess Samantha might be falling in love – for real this time – and Prince Jeff’s girlfriend, Daphne, is reconsidering her usual scheming ways. A fun third installment in McGee’s alternate-reality YA series where America is a monarchy.

The Matchmaker’s Gift, Lynda Cohen Loigman
Sara Glikman makes her first match at age 10, as her family immigrates to the U.S. When Sara keeps using her unusual gift to make love matches, the local matchmakers – all male – join forces against her. Decades later, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, uncovers some of her grandmother’s stories and begins to suspect she might have the gift, too. A highly enjoyable historical novel with a touch of magic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 20).

The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston
Romance ghostwriter Florence Day is in trouble: she doesn’t believe in love anymore, but her handsome new editor is pushing her to submit a manuscript on deadline. Then Florence’s father dies, and she flies home to South Carolina (where her family runs the funeral home) – and a very handsome ghost shows up unexpectedly. Quirky and fun and really sweet; the premise is bonkers, but I loved it. Found at the delightful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT, and recommended by Anne.

Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem, April Ryan
Black women are the often unsung “sheroes” who make immeasurable contributions to America’s democracy, institutions, families and communities, while facing the double bind of sexism and racism. Veteran White House reporter Ryan – herself a trailblazing Black woman – champions the accomplishments of leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris and the cofounders of Black Lives Matter. Thoughtful and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

The Mystwick School of Musicraft, Jessica Khoury
All her life, Amelia Jones has dreamed of studying at Mystwick, the school where her mother learned Musicraft. After a botched audition, Amelia still gets in due to a mix-up, but she gets a chance to prove she belongs there. A fun middle-grade novel with adventures, music, magic and complicated friend/frenemy dynamics. First in a series.

London’s Number One Dog Walking Agency, Kate MacDougall
In 2006, MacDougall quit her job at Sotheby’s – where she was safe but bored – to start a dog-walking company. This delightful memoir chronicles her trials and triumphs in setting up the business, navigating adulthood, getting her own dog and starting a family. Witty and warm, with lovely insights on work and building a life. Found at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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‘Tis the season for summer reading – which for me typically means mysteries, YA and lush, immersive novels. But I’m also reading some thoughtful nonfiction, as always. Here’s the latest roundup:

Tokyo Dreaming, Emiko Jean
Izumi Tanaka’s new royal life in Tokyo is going all right – until her boyfriend breaks up with her and the Imperial Council votes against her parents’ engagement. She embarks on a campaign to change their minds, but will it end in disaster? I liked this sequel to Tokyo Ever After, though Izumi drove me crazy at times. Still a fun ride.

Hello Goodbye, Kate Stollenwerck
Hailey Rogers isn’t thrilled about spending part of her summer with her almost-estranged grandmother. But as she gets to know Gigi, they bond over music and books, and Gigi shares some family secrets. This was a fun YA novel set in Texas – the ending got a little wild but I loved the book’s sensitive treatment of complicated family dynamics. And Blake, the neighbor/love interest, is a dream. Out August 2.

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Chen Su Lin is enjoying her work as a detective’s assistant for the Singapore police force, until the new administrator replaces her with a privileged white girl. When the administrator is found dead, Su Lin takes on some unofficial sleuthing, which becomes even more important when her best friend’s father is arrested. Third in a wonderful series set in 1930s Singapore; I’m learning a lot about colonial history, and I love Su Lin’s voice. She’s smart and capable (but still gets it wrong once in a while).

Barakah Beats, Maleeha Siddiqui
Nimra Sharif is nervous about starting public school in seventh grade – especially when her (white) best friend starts acting weird. But then Nimra gets invited to join a band made up of other Muslim kids. The problem? She’s not sure if making music goes against her beliefs. A fun, sensitive middle-grade novel about navigating friendships and faith, and being true to yourself.

Mirror Lake, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow and the election for police chief (between two bears) is heating up. And then Dorothy Springfield, an eccentric local rat, becomes convinced her husband has been murdered and replaced by an impostor. Intrepid reporter Vera Vixen and her raven friend Lenore are on the case, of course. A charming third entry in this delightful mystery series.

Jacqueline in Paris, Ann Mah
In 1949, Jacqueline Bouvier arrives in Paris to spend her junior year abroad. Mah’s novel dives into the people Jackie met, the man she almost loved, her sobering trip to Dachau and the deep, lifelong impression France left on her. Compelling and engaging (even though I am a little tired of Kennedy stories). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Church: Why Bother?, Philip Yancey
My dad sent me this slim book detailing Yancey’s experiences with church and his musings on why it’s still worth it. I am not sure I agree, but there are some interesting insights here. (There is also a lot of older-white-man mild surprise that people different from him have something to teach him.) Frustrating at times, but thought-provoking.

The Emma Project, Sonali Dev
Naina Kohli wants nothing more to do with the Raje family after ending a 10-year fake relationship with its eldest son. But then youngest child Vansh comes back home, and he and Naina find themselves competing for philanthropic funding, as well as fighting a mutual attraction. This was way steamier than I expected, but a fun romance with great witty banter.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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We are nearly halfway through June, and it’s finally (sometimes) sit-outside-and-read weather. Here’s what I have been reading:

Fencing with the King, Diana Abu-Jaber
To celebrate the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Gabriel Hamdan (once the King’s favorite fencing partner) and his daughter, Amani, travel back to their home country. Reeling from her divorce, Amani becomes intent on uncovering the story of her mysterious grandmother, a Palestinian refugee. Meanwhile, her smooth-talking powerful uncle is keeping other secrets. Abu-Jaber’s writing is lush and thoughtful; I was totally swept up by Amani’s story. Recommended by Anne.

The Unsinkable Greta James, Jennifer E. Smith
I love Smith’s sweet, thoughtful YA novels. This, her adult debut, follows Greta James, an indie musician who’s struggling after the death of her mother. Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dad and some family friends. She meets a guy, yes, but it’s more about her internal journey as a musician and a daughter. I liked it; didn’t love it, but it kept me reading.

The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
Seven years ago, Nell Young lost her job, her professional reputation and her relationship with her father after an argument over a cheap gas station map. When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell follows the clues – including that map – to a mysterious group of mapmakers and some long-held family secrets. I loved this twisty, literary mystery with so much depth and heart. A truly fantastic ride.

The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Anastasia Cole Plakias
Plakias is a cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, a pioneering urban rooftop farm in NYC. This book tells the story of the farm’s founding, from a (mostly) business perspective. Super interesting to see all the facets of starting – and sustaining – a green rooftop farm. Found at the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar.

Room and Board, Miriam Parker
After her PR business implodes, Gillian Brodie finds herself working as a dorm mother at the California boarding school she attended as a teenager on scholarship. Parker’s second novel follows Gillian as she confronts old wounds and deals with new scandals (and extremely privileged students). I liked the premise, but this one fell flat for me. Out Aug. 16.

A Dish to Die For, Lucy Burdette
Food critic Hayley Snow is out for a relaxing lunch with a friend when her dog finds a body in the sand. The deceased, a local real estate developer, had plenty of enemies, and soon Hayley (of course) gets drawn into investigating the case. I love this series, and this was a really fun entry, exploring marriage and family and vintage recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

The Codebreaker’s Secret, Sara Ackerman
After losing her beloved brother Walt at Pearl Harbor, codebreaker Isabel Cooper is thrilled to accept an assignment in Hawaii to help defeat the Japanese. Two decades later, a young reporter on assignment at a swank Hawaiian hotel uncovers some old secrets that may have a connection to Isabel. Enigmatic flyboy turned photographer Matteo Russi may prove to hold the key. A fast-paced, lushly described historical adventure with engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Where the Rhythm Takes You, Sarah Dass
Reyna’s whole life has been devoted to her family’s hotel in Tobago, especially since her mother died. But when her first love, Aiden, returns to the island for a vacation with the members of his band, she’s forced to confront not only her heartache over their breakup, but the other ways she’s struggling to move forward. A wonderful YA novel with so much emotion and a great setting; made me want to listen to soca music. Reyna’s anger and grief felt so authentic. Recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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