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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

We’re halfway through February and it’s snowing (again). I’ve been hunkering down with all the good books – here’s what I have been reading:

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Laura Taylor Namey
Lila Reyes has big plans to take over her abuela’s bakery in Miami. But when three big griefs hit her at once, her family ships her off to Winchester, England, for the summer. Determined to be miserable, Lila nevertheless finds herself giving a Cuban twist to British pastries and making new friends – including a dreamy boy. I loved this sweet YA novel with its mashup of Miami and England.

New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time, Craig Taylor
I’ve been reading e-galleys since March (one of the many changes wrought by the pandemic). But y’all, I got a print galley of this collection of interviews with the unsung heroes who make up New York: elevator repairmen, bodega managers, homeless people, nannies, ICU nurses, aspiring actors and singers, cops and firefighters. Joyous, cacophonous, loud, varied and wonderful. (Can you tell I miss NYC?) To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 23).

All the Greys on Greene Street, Laura Tucker
Twelve-year-old Olympia, known as Ollie, loves hanging out at her dad’s art restoration studio and sketching everything in her neighborhood. But when her dad disappears with a valuable piece of art, and her mom goes to bed and won’t get up, Ollie and her two best friends have to figure out what to do next. A vivid, sensitive, compelling middle-grade adventure set in 1980s SoHo.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy
I found Savoy’s work in Kathryn Aalto’s Writing Wild, and Roxani also recommended her. This is a thoughtful, layered exploration of how family and national histories are bound up with the land itself, and how race and silence and erasure all play roles. Savoy is mixed-race, with roots in several parts of the country, and she weaves her own story in with several deep dives into the physical landscape. So good.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May
Everyone seems to be reading this book right now, amid our endless pandemic winter. May writes honestly and thoughtfully about her own personal winters–chronic illness, her son’s anxiety, job angst–as well as physical winter and the way different cultures deal with it. I found some nuggets of wisdom to be more illuminating than the whole. Quiet and very worthwhile.

In a Book Club Far Away, Tif Marcelo
I enjoy Marcelo’s warmhearted fiction about strong women. This book features Adelaide, Sophie and Regina, three former military spouses (Regina is also a veteran) who met at a past posting in upstate New York. Ten years later, Adelaide sends her friends (now estranged from each other) an SOS. Sharing a house for two weeks, the three women must confront each other and their past secrets. Very relatable; by turns funny and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Beth Morrey
Millicent Carmichael, age 79, spends her days mostly alone, mourning her losses: estranged daughter, absent husband, son and grandson in Australia. But then an acquaintance asks her to look after a dog, and gradually, everything changes. Missy’s loneliness was hard to read about sometimes–it struck so close to home–but I loved the characters, especially Missy’s friend Angela, and watching Missy gradually open herself up to connection.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages, Cate Doty
Former society reporter Doty takes us inside the world of writing wedding announcements for The New York Times. Along the way, she muses on her own early obsession with weddings (influenced by her Southern roots), her doomed early-twenties love story, and the onetime coworker who became (spoiler) her lifelong love. Witty, warmhearted and at times juicy (though she doesn’t name names). So fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Last Bookshop in London, Madeline Martin
Grace Bennett has never been a great reader. But when she moves to London with her best friend in pursuit of a new life, she lands a position at a dusty bookshop. As Grace seeks to improve the store’s sales, the Blitz comes to London, and she and her new circle of acquaintances must dig deep to find the courage to get through. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

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

What are you reading?

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Penelope NYC interior restaurant

I spent my Labor Day weekend in NYC, staying in a little apartment near Park Slope and wandering in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The trip, like most of my New York weekends these days, was a mix of familiar and new: a long browse at the Strand, a fantastic musical I hadn’t seen (Come From Away, which made me laugh and cry), a lovely Friday evening in my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village. (The bookseller gossip at Three Lives continues to be the best.)

I went back to the Chocolate Room, which I visited on my first-ever trip to NYC for a retreat led by Jen Lee, years ago. I finally went to Books Are Magic and then tried out Jolie, a French-Mexican cantina in Cobble Hill. I had brunch with dear Abilene friends (both of whom I’ve known since I was a college student and they were just kids) at Maman in TriBeCa, which was new to all of us.

And on Sunday night, I went back to Penelope.

Like so many of my NYC loves, Penelope was a gift from Allison, my dear friend who used to live in Queens and periodically take me to all her favorite NYC spots. Penelope is the kind of place we both love: cozy and inviting, with simple, homey comfort food and yummy desserts. We first ate there on a frigid January weekend, and it lived in my memory as twinkly and delicious.

There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of restaurants in NYC, and I love trying multiple new ones every time I go. Part of the adventure is simply walking into a new place that looks interesting, on whatever street I happen to be on. But I am also both a creature of habit and a person who and delights in repeating joys. When I find something I love, I generally want to enjoy it again and again.

A couple of years ago, during a work conference in midtown, I trudged over to Penelope for dinner one night, dry-eyed from staring at PowerPoint screens and nearly voiceless from a lingering cold. I sat at the bar, which was festooned with twinkle lights, and ate a bowl of spicy, orange carrot-ginger soup. The waitress, after hearing my scratchy voice, brought me a mug of hot water with honey and lemon, a vibrant yellow slice floating on top. Her kindness choked me up (even more than my sore throat). It was such a gesture of care.

I’ve spent enough time in New York now that parts of it feel like mine: there are places I can throw off the tourist mantle for a few minutes, neighborhoods I know well enough not to second-guess my every step. Much of it, of course, is either unfamiliar or constantly changing; the city is huge and dynamic, and even if I lived there, it wouldn’t stay the same. But I’ve drawn immense pleasure from coming back to my favorite places, including Penelope.

This time, it was late on a Sunday night and the place was nearly empty. But the waitress still had a smile for me, and I sat and read my book, savored my sandwich and glass of rosé, and relaxed into the quiet familiarity (and the nineties jams on the stereo). I walked back to the train through Murray Hill, with my leftovers in a brown paper bag, sleepy and footsore (I’d been walking for three days) and entirely satisfied.

Do you like going back to favorite places in cities you’ve visited? Or would you rather try something new every time?

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south portland st brooklyn

One of the delights of visiting and revisiting a city: there are neighborhoods that become yours.

Last month, the hubs and I spent our third weekend in Fort Greene, which has become our favorite pocket of Brooklyn. I’d just spent three days at a conference in midtown and I was ready to get out of the bustle and glitz, to a tangle of quieter streets where people actually live. Coming out of Manhattan, even dragging all my luggage, felt like a much-needed exhale. And coming up out of the subway onto Fulton Street – even into a cold winter wind – felt like coming home.

We rented the top floor of a brownstone near Fort Greene Park, and spent the weekend popping into our favorite places and discovering new ones. It was the kind of travel I adore: the new and novel blended with the comforting and familiar.

We didn’t even discuss where to go for dinner on Friday night, but headed straight to Madiba for bowls of spicy lamb curry with raisin-studded saffron rice. When we told our hostess we were headed to the farmers’ market in the park the next morning, she laughed. “You’re practically natives!” And, indeed, it felt wonderful to stroll the stands and buy a cup of steaming apple cider and a scone the size of my fist. We perched on a bench and sipped our cider, watching dogs and children running in the cold, crisp air.

k-j-ft-greene-park

I’d made a short list of places to revisit, and we hit all of them: Greenlight Bookstore, the winter Brooklyn Flea market, the wonderful Greene Grape and its adjacent wine shop, and the bagel place on Lafayette Avenue. We ate Sunday brunch at Walter’s and strolled up and down the streets we love. But we also visited new coffee shops, turned down unfamiliar corners, ate guacamole and huevos at Pequeña. And we did something I’ve long wanted to do: took the gorgeous walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

brooklyn bridge cables sky

New York, more than most cities, offers endless new discoveries, and I am surprised and delighted by it every time I visit. But I also love that certain parts of it have become mine, or ours. Fort Greene welcomed us back, and I’m already looking forward to our next trip there.

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red christmas books

December is a lovely month, but man, it’s full. Here’s what I have been reading in this holiday season:

Moonlight Over Paris, Jennifer Robson
After recovering from a broken engagement and a near-fatal illness, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr moves to Paris in 1924 to reinvent herself as an artist. Robson writes enchanting historical fiction. I didn’t love Helena as much as her previous heroines (she’s rather timid), but still enjoyed this story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 19).

The Admissions, Meg Mitchell Moore
Nora and Gabe Hawthorne have built a seemingly perfect life for themselves and their three daughters. But as their eldest works on her Harvard application, their youngest (age seven) struggles with reading, and both Gabe and Nora face mounting pressures at work, their carefully calibrated existence seems set to unravel. Funny, incisive and so real, written in Moore’s delicious, addictive prose. I devoured this one. (I also loved Moore’s previous two novels, The Arrivals and So Far Away.)

The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley, Eric Weiner
Why do some places seem to produce dozens of geniuses and brilliant ideas? Eric Weiner travels to seven great cities of ideas – Athens, Edinburgh, Vienna, even Silicon Valley – to explore the concept of genius and the conditions that help nourish it. Fascinating and dryly witty. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Felicity, Mary Oliver
Oliver turns her attention to romantic love in this new poetry collection – a bit of a departure for her, though the natural world still makes frequent appearances. Slim and luminous.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
New York in the 1950s was a glittering whirl of parties, lunches and social maneuvering. At the center of it all were Truman Capote, flamboyant literary darling, and the socialites he called his “swans” – Babe Paley and a handful of other wealthy, gorgeous, married women. Benjamin explores their tangled, intimate relationships, focusing on Truman and Babe’s friendship, and how it all eventually went south. Richly detailed and full of both catty asides and moments of startling vulnerability. I also adored Benjamin’s previous novel, The Aviator’s Wife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 26).

Shepherds Abiding, Jan Karon
It’s nearly Christmas in Mitford, and Father Tim Kavanagh is hard at work on a special project: restoring a battered Nativity scene as a surprise for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, other Mitford folks are making their own Christmas plans, and the mystery and wonder of the season sneaks in, often in unexpected ways. I love revisiting this story every year.

White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, Jody Rosen
Written by a Russian Jewish immigrant, “White Christmas” has become the quintessential American secular carol. Rosen explores the life, career and musical heritage of Irving Berlin, and the historical and musical context in which the song became such a massive hit. Interesting, though I wanted more about the eponymous film, which I adore. Found at the Dogtown Book Shop in Gloucester, MA.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
I love this gentle, hopeful story of five people who end up in a small Scottish village at Christmastime, each nursing different griefs and finding unexpected joy during their time together. I reread it every December.

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

What are you reading?

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brookline booksmith twinkle lights

It’s been a slow reading month so far. But I’ve still spent time with a few good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Midnight Queen, Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Merlin College student Graham Marshall agrees to participate in a dangerous prank. But when a classmate ends up dead, he suspects a more sinister plot. An entertaining (if slightly confusing) fantasy set in an alternate Regency-era England and France. Great settings, though I wanted more Oxford. The magical stuff was a little obtuse, but I liked the characters.

Counting Thyme, Melanie Conklin
When Thyme Owens’ brother gets into a new drug trial for cancer patients, her family moves from San Diego to New York City. All Thyme wants is to go home, but she gradually finds a few things (and people) to love in New York. A fresh, winsome middle-grade novel about home, family and building a good life even when things are hard. (Out in April 2016 – I received an ARC from the author.)

Home by Nightfall, Charles Finch
While investigating the disappearance of a German pianist in London, gentleman detective Charles Lenox is called away to stay with his recently widowed brother in Sussex. The brothers are drawn into a mystery in their home village. I like Lenox and his supporting cast, and this mystery was well plotted and satisfying, though I rather wish the two cases had connected. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 10).

The Bloody Tower, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher spends a night at the Tower of London to gather material for an article. But when a guard is murdered, she and her husband end up investigating. I love Daisy, but this story dragged. Too much focus on the layout of the Tower and the politics of its military troops.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
I’ve been loving Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, which is a companion to this series of essays and musings on creativity. But the book was a mixed bag. Some gorgeous lines that rang true and wise; some advice that felt too woo-woo or patronizing. It’s still worth reading if you’re curious.

I’m in the middle of several books and recently put down a couple I wasn’t loving. I’m hoping for a better reading roundup next time, though I did love Counting Thyme. 

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. It’s also pictured above.

I’m linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

What are you reading?

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strand books nyc exterior

September was a good reading month. (I took the latter half of it off from buying books, so I could try to make a dent in the TBR stacks.) Here’s the final roundup:

A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan
I picked up this novel after reading Lindsey’s glowing review. It follows Alice Pearse, a thirtysomething mother of three and book lover who takes a job at a flashy “new media” company. Alice juggles her kids’ schedules, her father’s healthcare and her husband’s struggles, while harboring serious doubts about her job. Compulsively readable and often witty; flawed but thought-provoking.

Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead
Tabitha, Bridget and Emily have been best friends for years. But seventh grade brings new challenges for them all, and tests their long-standing “no fighting” rule. I loved the girls’ intertwined story; I especially loved Bridge, who isn’t quite sure how to navigate this new world, and her friend Sherm. Wise, moving and true. (I also loved Stead’s When You Reach Me.)

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Bee Wilson
The way we learn to eat as young children can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives. Wilson explores eating patterns through the lens of weaning, baby food, social experiments, family dinner, eating disorders and more. She occasionally gets bogged down in the research, but gleans some fascinating insights. (I also loved her book Consider the Fork.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, Trudi Kanter
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Viennese hat designer Trudi Kanter (a Jew) and her family had to flee the country. Trudi’s memoir chronicles their roundabout journey to England (with some lovely scenes of prewar Paris and Vienna). A bit disjointed at times, but vividly told. Trudi is a sharp-eyed, resourceful, even cheeky narrator.

A Century of November, W.D. Wetherell
After losing his son, Billy, in World War I, widower Charles Marden travels to France from western Canada to see the place where his son died. A harrowing journey, told in beautiful sentences; a stark, often surreal portrait of the aftermath of trench warfare.

Miss Buncle Married, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara Buncle (now Mrs. Abbott) and her husband move to a new village, and find themselves exasperated and delighted by their new neighbors. I missed the fun of Barbara-as-author, and the beginning was slow, but in the end, this novel was as much fun as the first one.

The Case of the Missing Marquess, Nancy Springer
Who knew Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister? Enola Holmes, left alone when her mother disappears on her 14th birthday, heads to London to try and find her. Along the way, she solves the titular kidnapping case. A fun beginning to a middle-grade series, with cameos by Sherlock and Mycroft. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

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

What are you reading?

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strand books nyc exterior

It’s no secret by now that the bookstores are the first place I go when I visit a city. This is particularly true of New York City, which has tons of great bookshops.

On my recent solo trip to NYC, I visited half a dozen – several new-to-me spots and one old favorite. So here’s a roundup of the bookstores I visited, what I bought and what I loved.

book culture columbus interior nyc

Book Culture has three locations on the Upper West Side. I’d visited the one on 112th Street before, but didn’t even know about the one on 82nd and Columbus Avenue. Luckily for me, it was right around the corner from where I was staying. The first floor is packed with beautiful books and gifts, and the children’s area in the basement is enchanting.

book culture childrens department

I spent ages in there on the first night of my trip, browsing the shelves. I bought three books (and a couple of other treasures) that night – then went back the next day and scored a lovely copy of Anne of Green Gables from the remainder table. (Because you can never have too many editions of Anne.)

westsider used books nyc

Westsider Used & Rare Books on 81st and Broadway is narrow, crowded and fascinating. I popped in for a browse on my first day in NYC, and loved eavesdropping on other patrons’ conversations with the owner. She said about an author whose name I didn’t catch, “Sometimes we put him in the philosophy section because he’s weird.”

I was a little overwhelmed, but picked up a Mrs. Pollifax mystery for just $3.

mysterious bookshop sign nyc

On my second day in NYC, I hopped a train down to TriBeCa for the express purpose of visiting the Mysterious Bookshop. What a fabulous name, no? (That’s the door sign above.) It’s nearly all mysteries, and the entire back wall is dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockiana.

mysterious bookshop nyc

Also: multiple ladders you can climb to browse the stacks! Be still, my mystery-geek heart.

I left with three mysteries: one set in Oxford, one fun vintage find and one middle-grade mystery featuring Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s younger sister.

idlewild books nyc exterior

I love books and I love travel, so a travel bookstore is my happy place. Idlewild Books, on 19th St. just north of Union Square, is tiny but delightful. I picked up a Chicago travel guide for a friend (on sale) and a book about English football for my Tottenham Hotspur-loving husband.

The Strand needs no introduction from me. It’s a hulking wonderland at 12th and Broadway, near Union Square. It has 18 miles (!) of shelving on four floors.

strand bookstore exterior nyc

I’d been there once before, but couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. This is a slice of the first floor, taken from the staircase above:

strand interior nyc

And this is how my head felt after browsing the fiction, poetry, mysteries, food and kids’ sections:

fiction essentials sign strand bookstore

I did pop down to the basement to check out the travel and essay sections, too. Here’s what I bought:

strand books bag

Board books for a friend’s baby girl, a foodie exploration of New York, a meditation on “idle travel,” a chick-lit novel by an author I like, and possibly the only E.B. White essay collection I didn’t already own. (I love him.)

My shoulders were so sore from lugging my purchases around (and of course I’d brought half a dozen books with me). But my bookworm heart was so, so happy.

What are your favorite NYC bookstores? Any spots I missed?

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argo bookshop interior montreal quebec canada

The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurain
This fun novel was a serendipitous find at Brookline Booksmith. It begins with Daniel Mercier, a Paris accountant who finds himself sitting next to President Francois Mitterrand at a restaurant. Mitterrand leaves his hat behind and Daniel takes it home with him – and the most extraordinary things begin to happen. The hat eventually finds its way to several other new owners, who find their lives changed after its arrival. Whimsical, mischievous, clever, and a loving portrait of 1980s France.

Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
I loved my recent reread of Gaudy Night so much that I picked up its sequel, which follows Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey on their honeymoon in a (supposedly) quiet English village. Of course, a corpse turns up soon after they arrive, and our intrepid detectives must solve the mystery. I’d read this years ago, but had forgotten Lord Peter’s delight in quoting writers and philosophers at every turn, and the calm efficiency of his man, Bunter. And as a married woman with a career, I appreciated this sensitive portrait of a fledgling marriage between two strong-minded people. Slower going than Gaudy Night, but rich and rewarding.

I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, Elinor Lipman
I loved Lipman’s novel The View from Penthouse B and enjoyed this collection of her essays on family, writing, friendship and other topics. Lipman is warm, witty, often sarcastic but deeply loving – especially when it comes to her family. Amusing and sometimes insightful, in the vein of Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Michelle Cooper
After her uncle’s death and a Nazi invasion, Princess Sophia and her family have fled to England from their native island of Montmaray. Now living with their aunt – who is determined to marry off Sophie and her cousin Veronica, and mold tomboy Henry into a young lady – Sophie records her hopes, fears and impressions of the London Season. A fun glimpse of the social whirl (including appearances by the Kennedy clan) and a sensitive exploration of a young woman trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. My favorite of the series.

The FitzOsbornes at War, Michelle Cooper
Bombs are dropping on London, food rationing is taking effect, and Sophie and Veronica, princesses of Montmaray, are doing their bit for the war effort. Espionage, diplomacy and politics live side by side with personal drama in this conclusion to the Montmaray trilogy. Several minor plot elements seemed far-fetched to me, but I love Sophie’s voice and enjoyed following the characters through World War II (and, finally, back home to Montmaray).

The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
A phone call from his newly widowed ex-wife, Denise, turns Henry Archer’s quiet, lonely life upside down. Soon, Denise’s charming actress daughter has moved into Henry’s basement apartment; Denise is setting Henry up with her eligible (gay) friends; and Henry finds himself acting as lawyer to both Denise and her daughter. A fun, modern comedy of manners – occasionally veering into stereotype, but highly entertaining.

Margot, Jillian Cantor
It’s 1959, and The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen (after the book took the world by storm). Meanwhile, quiet Margie Franklin, secretary in a Philadelphia law firm, has a secret. She is really Margot Frank, Anne’s sister, who escaped from the death camps and somehow survived. Cantor presents a compelling what-if story, a nuanced exploration of sibling rivalry (and love), and a sensitive portrait of a deeply wounded young woman. Wistful and moving.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
Duhigg examines the neuroscience of “habit loops” – how our brains form patterns related to cravings, routines and rewards. He looks at individuals’ habits, then widens his focus to companies (Starbucks, Target and others) and social movements (the Montgomery bus boycott; Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church). Interesting stuff, with some truly disturbing examples.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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the bookstore lenox ma

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
I read Lahiri’s debut collection Interpreter of Maladies in college and was blown away. I did not love her novel, The Namesake, but I do love her writing – elegant, understated, evocative. These stories, like her other work, feature Indian immigrants to the U.S. and their children, all caught between differing cultures and expectations of family and love. Some stories felt satisfying, others less so. Beautifully written and at times intensely sad.

The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones is tired of office jobs – and of getting laid off from them. When she’s sacked yet again, she founds an agency (and a blonde alter ego) offering social advice and fashion help to London’s hapless bachelors. But her work soon begins spilling over into her personal life. Fun and witty, though it took Melissa long enough to stand up for herself.

Applewhites at Wit’s End, Stephanie S. Tolan
The zany Applewhites are back – this time running a summer camp for creative kids on their ramshackle property in the North Carolina woods. The campers, though, are just as eccentric as the Applewhites, and then threatening letters start appearing in the mailbox. Fun and kooky, like the first book.

Little Lady, Big Apple, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones (see above) heads to New York for a holiday with her American boyfriend (a former client). While there, she can’t resist a chance to help out a fellow Brit – but she quickly ends up in the tabloids. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is pressuring her to choose between him and her business. (I really wanted her to dump him.) Entertaining, but not as good as the first one.

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, Hester Browne
Melissa’s grandmother asks her to work her makeover magic on a playboy prince. It’s a fun assignment, but Melissa is also trying to plan her own wedding, make some decisions about her agency and deal with her family’s never-ending stream of crises. After a few late-night sob sessions, Melissa ends up with the right man (finally!) and gets to keep her business. Clever and charming.

Astor Place Vintage, Stephanie Lehmann
Amanda, owner of the titular NYC vintage shop, finds a journal from 1907 sewn into a fur muff. Olive, the journal’s author, struggles to build a career after her father dies and she is left penniless. Meanwhile, Amanda is facing eviction and having a depressing affair with a married man. The book alternates between Olive’s and Amanda’s voices – I found Olive much more interesting and less whiny. The ending wrapped up too quickly for me, but I did love the glimpses of 1907 New York.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
I’ve been reading this book since January and finally finished it. It’s a big, sprawling, rambling, heartbreaking story – similar in outline to the popular musical (which I love) but much more layered and complex. (It also involves several long philosophical digressions.) This one deserves its own post, so look for it soon.

Me, My Goat, and My Sister’s Wedding, Stella Pevsner
Doug and his friends are goat-sitting – but Doug’s sister is getting married and it isn’t long before chaos ensues. I read this book years ago and it was such fun to pick it up again.

The House Girl, Tara Conklin
I loved this novel, which alternates between two women: Josephine, the titular house slave, who tends to her mistress in 1850s Virginia and is also a talented artist, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer anxious to prove herself in New York, 2004. When Lina gets assigned to a case involving the artwork of Josephine’s mistress, she finds herself researching Josephine’s life, trying to discover which woman was the real artist. I found both stories absorbing (Josephine’s even more so than Lina’s), and the writing evocative. Lovely.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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kathleen-kelly-at-desk

(Image from Hooked on Houses)

I have this fantasy of a life in New York or Paris, where I live in a walk-up apartment filled with light, which holds all my possessions but somehow does not feel crammed (except, of course, for the overflowing bookshelves). I dream of doing all my food shopping at greenmarkets, swinging a tote bag over my shoulder, or at impossibly chic, overpriced corner markets filled with exotic cheeses, meats and wines. I dream of living my life in one city neighborhood, like so many New Yorkers do, without a car or a basement or a long commute, able to find everything I need within a few square blocks. (Including green space, because woman cannot live on concrete alone.)

In my daydream, which is clearly a result of having watched a handful of Nora Ephron films many times over, I manage to jettison the boxes of extra things-I-might-need-someday, the odd items of clothing, kitchenware or nostalgia that clutter the cabinets and drawers and spare room in my current apartment. (As it happens, I live in a second-floor walk-up, filled with light and also with overflowing bookshelves.)

In this dream, I finally get a handle on buying and keeping only what I need; I do not spend hours on public transportation every day; and the places where I live and work are within walking distance of one another. And life is manageable, because it has shrunk to a radius described by the path my feet can take on a given day.

But of course that’s not how my life really is.

I was raised in a sprawling, midsize town in a part of the country where people do not take public transportation unless they cannot afford to drive, and where no one lives in adorable little apartments or shops at chic city markets for the simple reason that there are none. (The one exception to the first rule: my tiny, adorable garage apartment during my first year out of college.)

I grew up with an attic and a walk-in closet and several big-box stores within easy driving distance, and that is (mostly) how I lived in the first years of my marriage, when my husband and I rented a three-bedroom house in a town similar to (and only a few hours away from) my hometown. We drove everywhere and we shopped at Target and we had, as my mother never failed to remind us, way more furniture and household goods than she and my dad had when they started out as newlyweds.

When we moved to the Boston area in 2010, we struck a compromise: an apartment in the first ring of suburbs, splitting the distance between the city itself (where we couldn’t have afforded the rent anyway) and his new job 25 miles south of Boston. As a result, we – especially I – live a sort of split-personality, urban-suburban life.

I park my car on the street next to our house. I do laundry in our basement. I store Christmas decorations and boxes of oddments down there. I drive to the grocery store and the library weekly, to the hair salon and Target every couple of months, and we drive to church on Sundays. Most of my best friends live farther out in the suburbs than we do.

But every weekday morning, I walk two blocks and then take the subway to Cambridge, where I walk to work and to lunch, to the post office and the bank, sometimes to the overpriced deli/market, and (soon, I hope) to the farmer’s market. It was this way when I worked in downtown Boston, too: I had a beat, a neighborhood, a series of paths, a set of places I went to shop and eat and do business. It was limited in distance, and it felt – it still feels – manageable, somewhat close to that New York fantasy. And yet every day I commute home, and the contradictions – space, logistics, mindset – surface again.

Most of the time, I am grateful for my glimpses of both worlds: the glamour, culture and walkability of a city, combined with the lower rent, relative spaciousness and affordable parking of the suburbs. But sometimes I wish I could live wholly in one place or the other, instead of always having one foot in each. I think it might be easier, or at least simpler, and less exhausting.

What do you think? Do you live in the city, the suburbs, a small town? Or do you live a life in between, like me? Do you like the situation you have, or do you wish you could trade it for something else?

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