Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘music’

We’re nearly a week into May and I have been diving into books when life feels like too much, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Just Haven’t Met You Yet, Sophie Cousens
Journalist Laura LeQuesne has always believed in love – helped along in part by her parents’ epic love story. But when Laura goes to Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) to research a piece based on her family history, she uncovers some difficult truths. An utterly charming love story set in a gorgeous place, with a really likable main character.

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Anne and others recommended this slim story of a middle-aged man in 1980s Ireland, who is forced to make a quiet but important decision. The setting is so vividly drawn, and the main character’s family life is such a contrast to the situation of others in his town.

Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community, One Dish at a Time, Janet Reich Elsbach
Jenny recommended this book of recipes meant for a crowd, whether it’s a community supper, a struggling family or a celebration. Most of these consequently make too much food for me, as I live alone, but there are some yummy ideas in here.

Cold Clay, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow, and when the bones of a moose are discovered in the local orchard, reporter Vera Vixen starts sniffing around for clues. Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious new mink in town, and possible romantic trouble for Vera and her beau. A fun, charming second mystery in this series where all the characters are animals.

A Duet for Home, Karina Yan Glaser
Since her dad was killed in an accident, June Yang has been trying to keep her family together. When she, her younger sister and her mom have to move into a family shelter in the Bronx, it’s a tough transition. But June finds friends, a new viola teacher, and her own voice – even while things remain difficult. I loved this standalone novel from the author of the wonderful Vanderbeekers series.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Hello, friends. I’ve been across the country and back again – to Arizona and California to see some friends. Here’s what I have been reading:

Iced in Paradise, Naomi Hirahara
Leilani Santiago is trying to help keep her family’s shave ice shack afloat. When a young surfer – her father’s protege – ends up murdered, Leilani becomes an amateur sleuth as well. A fun cozy mystery where the Hawaiian setting really shines. I reviewed (and enjoyed) the sequel earlier this year.

Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be, Marissa Moss
Women have long been a mainstay of country music, but they’ve been all but pushed out of radio play in the last 20 years. Veteran journalist Moss follows the careers of Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Mickey Guyton and others like them who are blazing a new path for women in the genre. I am forever loyal to my ’90s country badass women, and I loved this fierce, unapologetic, brilliantly researched account of women (of multiple generations) who are making their own music, their own way. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 10).

All the Queen’s Men, SJ Bennett
I loved this second mystery featuring Queen Elizabeth as a behind-the-scenes sleuth. When an unpopular member of her staff turns up dead and a cherished painting goes missing, it seems unlikely they could be connected, but the Queen is convinced they are. With the help of her assistant private secretary, Rozie Oshodi, she investigates discreetly while still managing political and court business. A well-done mystery plot with some sharp social commentary, set quite deliberately in 2016.

Jackie & Me, Louis Bayard
Before Jacqueline Bouvier became that Jackie, she was a young socialite with journalistic ambitions – and the young congressman from Massachusetts asked his best friend, Lem Billings, to court her on his behalf. This was a fascinating fictional account of Jackie and Lem’s friendship, though it made me sad how much they both gave up for Jack and how little he appreciated it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

Adult Assembly Required, Abbi Waxman
Laura Costello wants to believe she’s a full-fledged adult – which to her means being able to handle everything on her own. But when she moves to L.A. for grad school, her apartment catches fire – plus she’s still struggling with the traumatic effects of a serious car accident. Waxman’s latest novel explores the challenges of leaving the nest while still loving your family, and learning to both stand up for yourself and ask for help. I loved this warmhearted story, which includes cameos from lots of familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 17).

The Bangalore Detectives Club, Harini Nagendra
Newlywed and budding mathematician Kaveri Murthy is adjusting to married life in Bangalore, when a man is murdered at a dinner she’s attending with her doctor husband. Shocked and also intrigued – especially when several more attacks follow – Kaveri plunges into solving the mystery. An engaging cozy mystery set in India under the Raj, with charming characters and some insight into the friction between British colonists and Indian locals. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Well. We are digging out from a serious snowstorm, and it’s also (according to the calendar) the halfway point of winter. I’m linking up with Anne Bogel and others to share a list of what’s saving my life these days – because any and all lifesavers are worth celebrating. Here’s mine:

  • My final paperwhite bulb and the pink hyacinth in a glass vase I bought at Trader Joe’s – both blooming away.
  • The salsa class I’m taking on Thursday nights in Cambridge. It’s fun to learn something new, and it reminds me of the swing dance club I was in, back in college.
  • The big box of fresh citrus my California friend sent last week – most of it from her parents’ trees.
  • Strong black tea in my favorite mugs – a year-round lifesaver.
  • Tuesday writing class, which is back (on zoom) – I adore these ladies and the work we do together.
  • My cozy plaid infinity scarf and every sweater dress I own.
  • Yoga, which feels especially good when it’s so dang cold.
  • Spotify mixes – nineties country, mellow jazz, nineties pop hits, contemplative movie soundtracks and Natalie Cole.
  • Trying new ciders with my guy and writing about them for our cider Instagram account.
  • Dreaming and scheming about spring travel.
  • Baking treats from the Flour cookbook with my partner.
  • Good books: thoughtful nonfiction, plenty of YA and middle grade, and James Herriot before bed.
  • Related: All Creatures Great and Small season 2!

What’s saving your life in these winter days?

Read Full Post »

We are halfway through January (almost) and the books have been saving my life, especially in this isolation period. Here’s what I have been reading:

Incognegro, Mat Johnson
My partner lent me this graphic novel, in which a (very) light-skinned Black reporter passes as white so he can report on lynchings in the American South. When he goes down to try and help his brother out of a murder accusation, things get (even more) dangerous. Compelling, heartbreaking, deeply unsettling.

If You Ask Me, Libby Hubscher
Advice columnist Violet Covington finds out her newspaper column is up for syndication – then comes home to find her husband in bed with a neighbor. She goes off the rails a bit trying to process the news and figure out how she wants to handle this new stage of life. I relished this smart, funny, mostly closed-door rom-com; the romance is fun but I also loved Violet’s relationships with her mother, her boss/college roommate and several friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 8).

An Eternal Lei, Naomi Hirahara
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leilani Santiago and her sisters find a woman unconscious on a beach in Kaua’i. Leilani – an amateur sleuth – digs into the woman’s life and uncovers a few connections to their island community. A fun mystery with lots of Hawaiian details; the food especially reminded me of my trip there in college. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 22).

The Weekday Vegetarians, Jenny Rosenstrach
I love Jenny’s blog and her down-to-earth newsletters; I own her first cookbook, though I haven’t used it in a while. So naturally I was primed to enjoy this cookbook packed with recipes and tips for going vegetarian during the week (or any time). I’ve already made a couple of the recipes. Many of them are better shared with others, but I like her style and appreciated the inspiration here.

Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return, Rebecca Mead
Increasingly worried by Trumpism in the U.S., Mead and her American husband (with their teenage son) decide to pull up stakes and move to London. Mead writes thoughtfully about her family history and her life split between two cities: her youth on England’s south coast, her two decades in NYC and the ways in which she discovers you can (and can’t) go home again. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 8).

Sisters of Night and Fog, Erika Robuck
As World War II sweeps Europe, two very different women find themselves working against the Nazis. Calm, quiet Virginia d’Albert Lake is determined to survive the war alongside her French husband, while fiery young French-British widow Violette Szabo will stop at nothing to destroy the regime that took her husband. Robuck weaves a gripping tale of the women’s stories, which intersect when both are captured by the Nazis. Well done, though heartrending at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Most Likely, Sarah Watson
Ava, CJ, Jordan and Martha have been BFFs since kindergarten. One of them will become president of the U.S. in 2049. But which one? Watson takes us through the girls’ senior year in high school, showing us their challenges, triumphs and deep bond. I loved this smart, warmhearted YA novel. Found at the wonderful Crow Bookshop in Burlington, VT.

Search, Michelle Huneven
Somewhat to my own surprise, I devoured this novel of a Unitarian Universalist pastoral search committee in California. It was both familiar and different from my own church experience; it was also funny, sharp and an insightful look at human nature. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 26).

The First Rule of Punk, Celia C. Pérez
Malú (don’t call her Maria Luisa!) is not happy about moving to Chicago with her mom. But gradually, she finds her way at her new school – forming a band, making friends, messing up and learning to own her mistakes. A sweet, funny middle-grade story.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
I’ve been reading this one slowly for months; it is dense but readable, fascinating, multilayered, packed with good storytelling. Wilkerson brings the Great Migration to vivid life through the stories of her three protagonists, who all left the South for different regions. Just as thoughtful and important and interesting as everyone said it was.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

December has been rushing past, and between work craziness (so many thank-you letters!) and trips to the post office, I’ve been reading. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Man Who Died Twice, Richard Osman
The Thursday Murder Club is back on the case! An ex of Elizabeth’s shows up, spinning an interesting tale (he does that) involving stolen diamonds and international intrigue. People start dying, naturally, but this crew of elderly folks (plus their police compatriots) are on it. A really fun second outing for these characters, and so very British.

God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana is preparing for her first Christmas as a married woman when she’s summoned to Sandringham by the queen. With family in tow, Georgie and her husband Darcy spend Christmas with Darcy’s eccentric aunt and an odd mix of guests – and of course there are a few murders. I love this series and this was a jolly Christmas entry.

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles
I loved Towles’ two previous novels so I was excited about this one. It follows several young men (and one younger boy) on a road trip gone sideways. I enjoyed the characters and some pieces of the story, but didn’t really feel like the whole of it came together.

The People We Keep, Allison Larkin
I’ve enjoyed Larkin’s previous novels and loved this one, about a young woman who scrapes together a career as a singer-songwriter in 1990s New York. The details (especially the coffeehouse where she works) felt so real, and many of the characters were so well drawn. Heartbreaking sometimes, but ultimately hopeful, and lovely.

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
I love this Mitford Christmas story – it’s sweet and funny and makes me cry every year. This year I had some extra sympathy for Father Tim and the overwhelm of the season. A lovely December reread.

The Bright Side Running Club, Josie Lloyd
Keira is feeling pretty good about her life: happily married, mother of three, owner of a thriving small business. But then she’s diagnosed with breast cancer and things begin to spin out of control. Keira joins a running group made up of women dealing with cancer, and her new friends – not surprisingly – help her get through not only treatment, but some other struggles. Heartwarming and witty despite the heavy subject matter. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 8).

It’s a Wonderful Woof, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back just in time for Christmas – with a tricky case involving a fellow private eye, a deconsecrated church and the painter Caravaggio. Not to mention a little romantic trouble for Bernie, and plenty of treats for Chet. This series is so much fun and this was a great installment.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Last Monday, I threw on my green coat over my pajamas and went out for a walk instead of my usual morning run. My running coach and many other wise people remind me regularly that rest days are important, and I also know I always feel better when I move.

I walked down the hill under grey misty skies, past the community garden with tidy beds mostly dug up for winter. There are a few roses, ragged and papery but still bright red, clinging to a bush up against the fence. I love them in all seasons, but this year I am particularly taken by the fact that they’re hanging on in the face of frosts and bitter winds.

Although I’d forgotten my headphones, I found The Civil Wars’ version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and played it on repeat as I walked through the park. Every year there’s at least one morning in December when I listen to it over and over again, the haunting harmonies melding perfectly with the lyrics and their longing: O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh. We used to start every Advent service at my former church with that hymn, the a cappella notes soaring up into the high-ceilinged sanctuary, setting the tone for the time of year when we watch for the light as the world grows dark.

I am where I often find myself in mid-December: slowly tiptoeing into the season, putting up my two Christmas trees (one tiny, one medium-size) but waiting a few days to add ornaments to the branches. I am listening to quiet Christmas music (Kate Rusby, Nichole Nordeman, Sarah MacLachlan) and some brighter melodies (She & Him, Broadway carol renditions on Spotify). I am rehearsing twice a week in a dusty church sanctuary with a group of friends for a Christmas carol performance, and singing those pieces – some familiar, some new – to myself as I wash dishes or walk to work. This year, we are singing the Magnificat (my idea), and those familiar lines weave in and over and around these days that feel both twinkly and edged with deep dark.

Here we are, I say every year in mid-December, mid-Advent: aching and tired and desperate for hope, working hard to make magic and grab hold of joy and balance our daily lives with the special moments of the season. Here we are, still mid-pandemic, still treading carefully but yearning to celebrate, still waiting for Emmanuel to come. Here we are, praying God will be with us, stubbornly nurturing that flame of hope amid wars and rumors of wars, disease and pain. Here we are: weary, anxious, but alive. I want to stay awake, alert to those flickers of hope, attuned to those whispers of joy.

Read Full Post »

For leggy geraniums in my kitchen window and brilliant afternoon light.

For morning runs along the harbor and the greenway. For so much outdoor public space in my neighborhood, and a body that is strong and healthy, beautiful and resilient.

For a kind, brilliant, passionate, funny, fierce man whose love sustains me.

For a few local friends who are my lifelines, every single day.

For my faraway family, both blood kin and chosen.

For texts and calls with my girlfriends scattered across the miles. For the technologies that allow us to share in the details of one another’s lives.

For vaccines, nurses, doctors, public health officials and everyone who is (still) working so hard to keep us safe.

For a job at a neighborhood nonprofit that I love, working with good people to bring music and creative empowerment to our young folks.

For nourishing trips this summer and fall – to Texas, Minneapolis, Vermont and beyond – to explore new and beloved places and spend time with folks dear to me.

For music in all its forms: the Wailin’ Jennys and the women of country on my long runs, humming favorites in my kitchen, singing carols with others at Christmas choir rehearsal, hearing our ZUMIX students play ukulele or drums or guitar.

For good books, those who write them, and the chance to read and review them regularly.

For a place – my studio, my neighborhood, this city, my communities – where I have built a home and been welcomed into other people’s homes.

For all – as my friend Amy would say – that we have been given.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Read Full Post »

Continuing the theme of collective experiences: I have sorely missed live music during the pandemic. I wasn’t ready to go back to Newport or another festival this year (though I thought about it), but I’ve been spending a few Sunday nights soaking in live music closer to home.

ZUMIX, my new employer, is a nonprofit that offers free and low-cost music lessons, ensembles and other creative opportunities for young people. We also put on a number of community events, including a summer concert series in Piers Park, down the hill from my house. I loved going to these concerts when I moved to Eastie in 2019, and then they were cancelled last summer (like everything). So it’s been a real joy to be back.

Everyone brings lawn chairs and picnic blankets and snacks; the kids run around blowing bubbles and dancing and generally having fun. Several of our ZUMIX students run the sound board, and others provide the opening acts for our local headliners. It’s a fun neighborhood outing and a great way to (finally) be back together in person.

We’ve got a few more concerts left this month and I’m crossing my fingers for good weather – and more chances to wave at (and maybe dance with) my neighbors.

Read Full Post »

Happy July, y’all. I can’t believe we’re here. We always seem to wait forever for summer in New England (certainly this spring dragged, for several reasons), and then when it’s here, it feels rich and fleeting. The trees are lush, the roses and daylilies are showing off, and I’m cranking up the country music on my morning runs. Though, really, I’ve been doing that for months.

I was raised on country music, as you may know (or assume) if you know that I grew up in West Texas. My hometown had a half-dozen country radio stations, and my parents had a stack of George Strait cassettes that we nearly wore out on our long summer road trips. (I shocked a colleague at Harvard, years later, by telling him – and I am still confident in this assertion – that I could probably sing, on demand, at least 50 of George’s 60 number one hits.)

George was and is the king of country as far as my family is concerned, and I love a lot of his male compatriots: Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Randy Travis, the guys who sang in Alabama and Diamond Rio. I have a soft spot for Brad Paisley (especially “She’s Everything”) and I still adore Garth Brooks. But this year, I’ve been spending my miles mostly listening to the women of country music.

I loved them all as a child and teenager: Reba, Martina, Trisha, Shania, the women of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks) and SheDAISY. I marveled at LeAnn Rimes (what a prodigy!) and based my high school graduation speech around Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I can still sing you most of Faith Hill’s hits from that era, and Deana Carter’s dreamy debut album takes me right back to middle school.

I’ve never stopped loving country music, but I did stop listening to it for a while. I grew older, my tastes expanded to include folk music and Broadway show tunes and so much Christian pop music (bless it), as well as jazz and big band and the classical stuff we sang in choir. I left Texas, stopped driving to work (and thus listening to the radio as often), and married a fellow Texan who was a real snob about country music.

With all that, I’ve been on hiatus from these ladies for a decade or so. But I’ve been tiptoeing back: I heard the Highwomen at Newport Folk 2019 and fell completely in love. Last spring, I loved Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Songs from Home” on Instagram during quarantine, and a few weeks in, I went down a Jo Dee Messina rabbit hole. This winter, in the depths of job-hunt woes and loneliness, I rediscovered Martina McBride. And since then, I have been pounding down the harbor walk singing along to classics like “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and “Take Me As I Am” and “She’s in Love with the Boy” and “Independence Day.”

These songs are a particular brand of badass feminism: it wears mascara and uses (a lot) of hairspray, and it doesn’t let a man (or anyone else) tell it what to do. It celebrates grit (“I’m a Survivor”) and individuality (“Wild One”), and it champions both true romance (“Perfect Love,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Wild Angels”) and the need to leave sometimes (“Ready to Run,” “Consider Me Gone”). There are power ballads and tender love songs; there are girl-power anthems and some good old-fashioned honky-tonk. These songs reconnect me to the teenager I was, but they are helping me shape and discover the woman I am now.

Read Full Post »

We’re in the thick of June (between heat waves), and I started a new day job this week (!!!), so am reading a bit less than usual. But here are my recent reads, which include both my favorite summer genres:

Dear Highlights: What Adults Can Learn from 75 Years of Letters and Conversations with Kids, Christine French Cully
For 75 (!) years, Highlights has been providing kids with entertaining, informative stories, quizzes and other features, including its “Dear Highlights” column where editors respond to reader mail. Longtime editor Cully collects and reflects on dozens of letters and drawings, on topics ranging from the everyday (sibling dynamics, dreams for adulthood, playground politics) to the super-tough (events like 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic). The letters and responses are joyful, quirky and heartening to read; it’s even more fun since I was an avid Highlights reader as a child. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 10).

Musical Chairs, Amy Poeppel
Bridget is hoping for the perfect summer in her rundown but beloved Connecticut house. But then her boyfriend dumps her over email, her grown twins descend with their dogs and quarter-life crises, the classical trio she’s a part of threatens to disintegrate, and her octogenarian father announces he’s remarrying. A joyful, zany, witty account of a chaotic family summer. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

It Begins in Betrayal, Iona Whishaw
Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling have finally begun a relationship. So when Darling is called to London and accused of murder, Lane promptly follows him and does her best to dig up answers. Meanwhile, Constable Ames is dealing with a murder back in King’s Cove. A great fourth entry in this wonderful series; fun to shake up the setting a bit.

Three Keys, Kelly Yang
Mia Tang and her parents are now the proud co-owners of the Calivista Motel, but ownership comes with its own problems – from cranky customers to widespread anti-immigrant sentiment. Add middle-school politics, and Mia’s got some challenges. But she’s plucky and kind, and she won’t give up. I loved this sequel to Front Desk.

Yours Cheerfully, A.J. Pearce
It’s the fall of 1941, and Emmeline Lake and her colleagues at Woman’s Friend magazine in London are Doing Their Bit to help win the war. This means providing recipes, dress patterns and sound advice, but Emmy thinks they need to do more. Her series on women working in factories opens up a few cans of worms and some surprising new friendships. Sweet, funny and Very Pluckily British; a lovely sequel to Dear Mrs Bird. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 10).

Amina’s Song, Hena Khan
After a summer vacation in Pakistan with her family, Amina is ready to start seventh grade and tell her friends all about her adventures. But she’s frustrated when her classmates seem to pay more attention to stereotypes than her experiences. A sweet, powerful sequel to Amina’s Voice.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »