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papercuts jp bookstore twinkle lights

And just like that, it’s nearly Thanksgiving. Here are the books that have gotten me through the first half of November – including some real gems. (Photo from the lovely Papercuts JP, which I just visited for the first time.)

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship, Katherine Towler
For years, Robert Dunn was a fixture on the streets of Portsmouth, N.H.: a solitary, self-contained wandering poet who nonetheless seemed to know everyone. Towler’s memoir traces her friendship with Dunn, his literary career and later illness, and his effect on her. Moving and poignant and clear; the writing is so good. (Liberty recommended this and I found it for $2 at the Harvard Book Store.)

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker
Humans have long dreamed of flight, and Vanhoenacker’s career as a pilot moves him to reflect on its many aspects. A lovely, well-written, accessible blend of memoir, history, aviation tech, and reflections on globalization, interconnectedness and journeys. So many beautiful lines and interesting facts. Found at the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox this summer.

Circe, Madeline Miller
The least favored child of the sun god Helios, Circe is ignored and eventually exiled to a remote island. But there, she discovers her powers of witchcraft, and builds a life for herself. I grabbed this at the library and I could not put it down: Miller’s writing is gorgeous and compelling, and I loved Circe as a character. She interacts with many of the mortal men (sailors) who visit her island, but I especially loved watching her discover her strength in solitude.

Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy
Before Anne, there was Marilla – whom L.M. Montgomery fans know as Anne’s stern but loving guardian. McCoy gives us a richly imagined account of Marilla’s early life: her teenage years, her budding romance with John Blythe, her deep bond with Matthew and their family farm. Lovely and nourishing. Now I want to go back to Avonlea again.

Greenwitch, Susan Cooper
This third book in Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence brings the heroes of the first two books together: the three Drew children, Will Stanton and Merriman Lyon. They gather in Cornwall to retrieve a grail stolen by the Dark. I find the magic in these books confusing, but I like the characters.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown
We can’t belong anywhere in the world until we belong to ourselves: this is Brown’s assertion, and she makes a compelling case for it. I have mixed feelings about her work; she articulates some powerful ideas and I admire her commitment to storytelling and nuance. But sometimes, for me, the whole is not quite as great as the sum of its parts. Still worth reading.

A Forgotten Place, Charles Todd
The Great War is (barely) over, but for the wounded, life will never be the same. Bess Crawford, nurse and amateur sleuth, still feels bound to the men she has served. She travels to a bleak, isolated peninsula in Wales to check on a captain she has come to know, but once there, finds herself caught up in a web of local secrets and unable to leave. These are good mysteries, but this book’s real strength is its meditation on adjusting to life after war.

A Study in Honor, Claire O’Dell
This was an impulse grab at the library: a Sherlock Holmes adaptation featuring Holmes and Watson as black queer women in late 21st-century Washington, D.C. Janet Watson has lost an arm in the New Civil War, and meets Sara Holmes through a mutual friend. Together, they work to solve the mystery of several veterans’ deaths, which may be related to big pharma. I love the concept of this one, though the plot and characters didn’t quite work for me.

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
After her sister’s death, Eva Ward returns to the Cornwall house where she spent many happy childhood summers. There, she finds herself slipping between worlds and falling in love with a man from the past. Engaging historical fiction with a bit of time travel – though that part of this one was a bit odd. Still really fun.

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

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read bbf ya panel Boston public library

November. Already. How did that happen?

The second half of October was a wild ride. Here’s what I’ve been reading on commutes, before bed and whenever else I can squeeze in a few pages:

Nothing Happened, Molly Booth
I heard Booth speak on a YA panel at the Boston Book Festival (she’s second from left, above). Her second novel is a modern-day retelling of Much Ado About Nothing set at a Maine summer camp. Lots of mixed signals, crossed wires, teenage drama and a whole range of gender identities. So much fun.

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It, Lauren Graham
Does a commencement speech count as a book? I don’t know, but this one was lighthearted, fun and wise, as you might expect from Lorelai Gilmore. I’m trying to take her titular advice. Short and sweet – recommended for drama nerds and Gilmore Girls fans.

The Law of Finders Keepers, Sheila Turnage
Mo LoBeau and her Desperado Detectives are back, trying to locate both Blackbeard’s treasure and Mo’s long-lost birth mother. A sleazy treasure hunter, unexpected snow and several mysterious objects keep them plenty busy. This middle-grade series has so much heart, and I loved this fourth installment.

Joy Enough, Sarah McColl
Sarah used to write the wonderful blog Pink of Perfection, and I was excited to read her debut memoir. It is slim and tense and poignant: it is about her mother, love, grief and womanhood. Some luminous lines and some sections I really struggled with: beauty and frustration, like life. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

Annelies, David R. Gillham
What if Anne Frank had survived? That is the question Gillham addresses in his new novel, as Anne tries to adjust to life in Amsterdam after the camps. Reunited with her father, but deeply traumatized, Anne struggles to make peace with her wartime experiences and move forward. This was a hard read: well done, but heavy, as you might expect. Anne did seem real to me, and Gillham renders postwar Amsterdam in vivid detail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15).

Saving Hamlet, Molly Booth
Emma Allen is looking forward to sophomore year and her school’s production of Hamlet. But everything starts going horribly wrong – and that’s before Emma falls through a (literal) unauthorized trapdoor and lands in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, circa 1600, where everyone thinks she’s a boy. Time travel, Shakespeare, snarky friendships and budding romance – what’s not to love? I liked this even better than Nothing Happened.

Seafire, Natalie C. Parker
Caledonia Styx runs a tight ship: her female-only crew is fast, cohesive and skilled at staying alive. As they navigate the dangerous seas, Caledonia receives word that the brother she’d given up for dead may still be alive out there. A fast-paced beginning to a badass adventure trilogy. Recommended by Liberty.

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

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book apple bench sunlight

Halfway through October and I can’t believe it, as ever. Here are the books I’ve been reading on the train, before bed, and on (rare) sunny lunch breaks:

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
I’ve been following Evans’ work since the publication of her first book, Faith Unraveled. We’re about the same age and we come from similar evangelical backgrounds. Her latest book is an exploration of the Bible as the messy, often frustrating, powerful text it is, rather than the tidy answer book some folks would like it to be. I loved Evans’ reimaginings of well-worn biblical stories, and appreciated her broad-minded perspective on what the Bible can be.

An Act of Villainy, Ashley Weaver
Amateur sleuth Amory Ames and her dashing husband, Milo, are drawn into a mystery involving the players in a theatrical production. The director is a friend of theirs (and the leading actress is his mistress). When murder ensues, Amory and Milo work to unmask the killer. I like this elegant series, set in London between the wars; Amory is an engaging narrator and this fifth entry was fun.

Digging In, Loretta Nyhan
Two years widowed, Paige Moresco is struggling: she and her teenage son are still grieving and now her graphic design job is in jeopardy. On impulse, she digs up half her backyard and plants a garden, to the horror of her neighbors. A fun novel about digging (literally) through grief, though I wanted more depth. Reminiscent of The Garden of Small Beginnings; not as strong, but still really enjoyable.

The Lost for Words Bookshop, Stephanie Butland
Loveday Cardew has spent her whole adult life (so far) working in the same York bookshop and avoiding her past. But the appearance of a handsome magician and copies of her estranged mother’s favorite books throw all that into question. This book broke my heart with every chapter; it’s well done and lovely but so, so sad.

The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory
Two people meet in a stalled elevator and end up going to a wedding together; he needs a date, and she thinks he’s cute. But, of course, it doesn’t end there. This delightful, sexy novel follows Drew and Alexa as they navigate a modern-day, long-distance relationship and face their own fears (and Alexa digs into a major work project). Sweet and spicy and so much fun.

The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Ben Rhodes
One of my coping mechanisms in the current political climate is reading these Obama staffer memoirs. Rhodes worked on communications and foreign policy for Obama for a decade. This thoughtful, fascinating, well-written insider account recalls a saner time in national politics and helps explain how we got to where we are now. Lots of flashbacks to my last job at HKS; Rhodes’ days – not the setting but the focus and the rhythm – bore some striking parallels to mine.

Our Homesick Songs, Emma Hooper
As the fish disappear from Newfoundland’s waters in the 1990s, the local families leave to find work. Ten-year-old Finn Connor, left almost alone, hatches a plan to bring the fish back. Meanwhile, his parents are taking turns leaving the island to work, and his older sister Cora is trying to find her own way. Haunting and beautiful and sad; started off slowly but I ended up loving it. I also adored Hooper’s debut, Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life, Marianne Power
I’m a little tired of “stunt” memoirs, but gave this one a go. British journalist Power recounts her year-plus of reading and trying to follow one self-help tome per month. Predictably, she does not turn into a perfect, worry-free version of herself – but she does learn some important lessons, often with hilarious effects. Dragged in the middle (when she became a bit self-obsessed), but I thought it ended well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15 in the U.S.).

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Karina Yan Glaser
When their elderly neighbor has a stroke, the Vanderbeeker kids want to do something good for him, so they begin turning an abandoned lot into a garden. Challenges and hilarity (as well as the threat of a condo complex) ensue. A heartwarming sequel to the first Vanderbeeker book. These siblings are the 21st-century Harlem version of the Melendys, whom I adore. So much fun.

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

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thought bookstore shelf books nbc

August has flown. Between two back-to-back weekends away and starting a new job, I don’t know where I am half the time these days.

The books, as always, are helping preserve what sanity I have. (Bookshelf photo from Spoonbill & Sugartown, snapped on my recent Williamsburg trip.)

Here’s the latest roundup:

Smoke and Iron, Rachel Caine
The Great Library‘s grip on power is slipping, but its leaders can still do a lot of damage. Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have hatched a crazy plan to bring them down. A fast-paced, compelling addition to a great series: I love the way several characters have grown into themselves. So curious to see how Caine will wrap it up in the next book.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Before Khan-Cullors was an activist, she was a young black girl trying to love and live in a world that often didn’t want her to do either. She weaves her own story together with the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her account of her brother Monte’s suffering at the hands of law enforcement is especially moving. The style didn’t always work for me, but this is a powerful and necessary story.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton
Elodie Winslow, an archivist in London, uncovers a mystery: an old photograph of a beautiful unknown woman, presumably associated with the painter Edward Radcliffe and Birchwood Manor, the house he loved. The narrative switches back and forth from the present day to various points in Birchwood’s (and the woman’s) history. Mysterious and atmospheric and quite odd, at times, but I enjoyed it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
I’ve been a Lamott fan since I discovered Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies as a college student. I haven’t loved her last few books as much, but thoroughly enjoyed this pithy, straight-shooting collection of essays on hope in a time of despair. Lamott is funny and wise, kind and honest, which is exactly what you’d hope for in such a collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 16).

Dear Mrs. Bird, AJ Pearce
The premise of this book is my catnip: plucky female British heroine having wartime adventures. Emmeline Lake takes a job working for Mrs. Bird, a no-nonsense advice columnist in London, and starts writing her own replies to the readers whose problems fall under Mrs. Bird’s idea of Unpleasantness. Predictably, a certain amount of chaos ensues. I loved Emmy and her best friend Bunty, and the story was charming.

This Side of Murder, Anna Lee Huber
England, 1919: Verity Kent, a young WWI widow, is trying to move forward with her life. When she’s invited to a house party with her late husband’s fellow officers, she finds coded messages, contention among the other guests, and murder. This one was so-so for me, though the mystery did compel me enough to keep reading.

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

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spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We’re halfway through August already (!) and I’m trying to hang on – and diving into all the books, naturally. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Natalie Goldberg
I heard Natalie read from this, her newest memoir, last month in Lenox, Mass. She was a delight, and this book about her journey with cancer contains both great pain and moments of joy. Short, lyrical chapters trace Natalie’s diagnosis, treatment and wrestling with her own mortality, all while her partner was also fighting cancer. I carried it in my bag for weeks, reading it slowly. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes lovely, fiercely honest all the way through.

Island of the Mad, Laurie R. King
When a college friend of Mary Russell’s asks Mary to locate her missing aunt, Russell and Holmes find themselves wandering Venice, which (in 1925) is brimming with both carefree aristocrats and grim Blackshirts. I love Russell’s narrative voice – so smart and insightful. The case and the elaborate parties (and Cole Porter!) are extremely diverting.

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster, Stephen L. Carter
Few people know that a black female lawyer – Eunice Hunton Carter – was part of the team that took down NYC mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Stephen Carter – her grandson – sets out to tell her remarkable story. A deeply researched, insightful biography of an extraordinary woman. (I also enjoyed Carter’s novel The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln a few years back.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Tango Lessons, Meghan Flaherty
Flaherty first fell in love with tango as a teenager visiting Argentina, but it took her years to try it for herself. She chronicles her journey into New York’s tango scene, and the ways tango has challenged her ideas about dance, desire, taking risks and many other things. Well written and engaging, if occasionally too self-conscious.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I picked up this old favorite and fell instantly back in love with Francie Nolan’s story of growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Francie is smart, thoughtful, keenly observant – so many of her insights still ring true. I also love her fiercely hardworking mother, Katie, and her generous aunt, Sissy. This is a story of deep poverty and struggle, but it’s also about fighting to make your way in the world, being proud of where you came from, and the joys and disappointments of love (romantic and otherwise). So good.

Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz
Marseilles, 1950: The original 007 has been killed by three bullets, and the British intelligence service has sent a new man – James Bond – to find out who killed him and why. This prequel gives Bond an intriguing first assignment, complete with a mysterious woman (of course) and associates who may or may not be what they seem. Well done, though the ending fell a bit flat. I’ve never read the original Ian Fleming novels, but now I want to. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

The Valley at the Centre of the World, Malachy Tallack
To most people, Shetland is the end of the world – but to its residents, it’s the titular center. Tallack’s novel follows the intertwined lives of a few people living in the titular valley. Beautiful and quiet. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 6).

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

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lido book tea toast breakfast table

The second half of July has been fast. The freelance work and other activities have been piling up, to my delight. And so have the books (as always).

Here’s the latest roundup:

At the Wolf’s Table, Rosella Postorino
Adolf Hitler famously feared death by poisoning, so he conscripted a handful of women to taste his food. Postorino’s novel imagines the story of one of them, Rosa Sauer, whose parents are dead and whose husband is missing in action. A somber, compelling, troubling account of wartime, complicity and wrestling with the consequences of one’s actions. Really well written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2019).

An Argumentation of Historians, Jodi Taylor
Max and her crew of time-traveling historians are back: scything up and down the timeline, from medieval England to ancient Persepolis. When Max finds herself stranded in 1399, she must adapt to an entirely new life, but there’s always a chance she’ll be rescued – isn’t there? This British sci-fi-ish series is so much fun, though I agree with a friend who said they need a new villain.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart
Constance Kopp, lady deputy sheriff of Hackensack, N.J., is doing her best to keep on keeping on: watching over her female inmates, checking in on probationers, chasing down the occasional thief, and supporting her two sisters. But 1916 is a contentious (local) election year, and a lot of men aren’t too happy about Constance’s position anyhow. A smart, witty entry in this great series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 11).

Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City, Albert Samaha
The Mo Better Jaguars of Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a longtime Pee Wee football powerhouse. Samaha’s book traces their story over two recent seasons, addressing the systemic  forces of racism and gentrification, the effects of family and school issues, recent research on concussions, and the spirit and grit of these young boys and their families. Reminded me strongly of Amy Bass’ One Goal, which I loved. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig
A friend passed on this memoir last summer and I finally got to it. Doig sets down the story of his childhood: raised by his father and grandmother, doing ranching work in rural Montana. Thoughtful and quiet, with so many good sentences and insights into how we are shaped by our families and landscapes. Well worthwhile. Part of my nonfiction #unreadshelfproject.

The Lido, Libby Page
Rosemary Peterson, 86, has been swimming at her local lido (an outdoor pool in Brixton, London) nearly all her life. When the lido is threatened with closure, she joins forces with Kate, an anxious young journalist, and their community to try and save it. A charming, hopeful story of unlikely friendship and banding together to fight for what matters. I also loved Rosemary’s memories of life in London during the war, and her long, contented marriage to her husband, George. Just wonderful.

League of Archers, Eva Howard
Elinor Dray, orphan and novice nun, has grown up hearing stories of the great Robin Hood. But when he’s killed in front of Ellie’s eyes, and she’s accused of the crime, Ellie and her friends (the titular league) take to the forest to continue Robin’s work and contact his Merry Men. I love a Robin Hood story and I wanted to love this one, but the pacing and plot didn’t quite work for me.

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

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

I know we’re more than halfway through the year, but I still thought it would be worthwhile (and fun!) to share the best books I’ve read so far this year. Technically I’d read 102 books by the end of June, so here are the real standouts from the first half of 2018:

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Candid, Witty Essays on Marriage: Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun. Honest and funny and so real – perfect for reading after a decade of marriage.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s brilliant series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. I cannot shut up about these books: the mystery plots are solid, but the characters and their complex relationships are on another level.

Best Twisty Tale of Badass Female Spies: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Just so good.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Best Reread: A Wrinkle in Time, which I picked up after seeing the new film. I liked the movie, but L’Engle’s classic has more depth and heart and grit – and oh, I love Meg Murry.

Best Travel Memoir That’s About So Much More: Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’ luminous, gritty memoir of spending nearly a year cycling along the Silk Road.

Most Perfect Gothic Novel to Read in Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Twisty, atmospheric, witty, packed with great characters and surprise moments.

Your turn: what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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