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june-book-stack

We’re halfway through June, somehow – and what a ride it has been. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque
Most people imagine astronomers gazing into a backyard telescope, discovering new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. The reality is a little different, and Levesque’s memoir tells that story with humor and heart. She traces her own journey from backyard stargazer to Ph.D.-holding astronomer, and gives readers a tour of some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Plenty of fun anecdotes about her colleagues and the field, too. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 4).

Song of the Trees, Mildred D. Taylor
I love Taylor’s series about the Logan family. This novella, narrated by Cassie, tells the story of a white landowner threatening to cut down some of the trees on her family’s land. Short and powerful.

Black History in Its Own Words, Ronald Wimberly
My guy gave me this book a while back – a collection of powerful quotes and portraits of black leaders, past and present. Some were familiar to me (bell hooks, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali), others less so (Kimberly Bryant, Emory Douglas). Made me want to learn more about all of them.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
I needed a cozy, familiar story, so I picked up my friend Louise’s lovely debut novel. Boston baker Olivia Rawlings escapes to Vermont after setting her workplace (literally) on fire. Once there, she finds herself with a baking job, some new friends and a possible love interest. I love Livvy’s story and its warm, good-hearted cast of characters.

The Nesting Dolls, Alina Adams
Spanning eight decades, from Siberian work camps to 1970s Odessa to present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Adam’s saga follows three protagonists in the same Soviet family: Daria, her granddaughter Natasha, and Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe. It’s a compelling look at how the Soviet state’s ideas affected every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but it’s also a really good family saga – so good I flew through it, even on the Kindle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
We are living in polarized times – and it can feel difficult and daunting to have conversations with people who think/vote/believe differently than we do. Sarah and Beth, hosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, share what they’ve learned through several years of digging into the issues together, and trying to do it with humility, curiosity and grace. So thoughtful and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

The Scent of Murder, Kylie Logan
School admin assistant Jazz Ramsey spends her spare time training cadaver dogs. But she’s not prepared to find a body one Saturday night – much less one that belongs to a former student Jazz knew. Troubled by Florie Allen’s death, Jazz searches for answers while dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her personal life, including her detective ex-boyfriend. A solid entry in a new mystery series.

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Jones’ breakout novel tells the story of two girls who share a father, but only one of them knows it. In 1980s Atlanta, Dana and Chaurisse navigate both their teenage years and the complications of their family’s story. I loved (and was stunned by) Jones’ An American Marriage, and am glad I finally read this one.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis
Jaclyn sent me the first two volumes of this highly entertaining comic, which follows five friends at an unconventional summer camp. I loved their exclamations (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and the ways they band together. Lots of setup in this volume for whatever is coming next. So much fun.

The Late Bloomers’ Club, Louise Miller
Nora Huckleberry is mostly content running the town diner in Guthrie, Vermont. But when she and her free-spirited sister inherit some land from an acquaintance, Nora’s life suddenly gets complicated. Miller’s second novel features some familiar faces and lots of new ones, and a protagonist wrestling with big life questions. Full of charm and heart.

Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Twyla Tharp
Anne recommended this follow-up to Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I loved. Tharp, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, gives practical advice for building stamina and maintaining creativity and vitality as you age. She’s no-nonsense and wise, and this was a worthwhile read.

Spiderweb for Two, Elizabeth Enright
Randy and Oliver, the two youngest Melendys, are lonely without their older siblings. But a mysterious scavenger hunt fills their winter with adventures. I like the Melendys best when they are all together, but this final book in the quartet is charming and fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I’ve also linked to Frugal Bookstore, a black-owned bookstore here in Boston. Y’all know I love independent bookstores, and I am also trying to support black-owned businesses more often as part of my commitment to anti-racist work.

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brazen-book

Somehow, it’s June – and my heart is heavy from the last week or so of murders, police violence and protests. I’m doing a lot of reading and listening to black folks online, and I urge you to do the same. These horrors cannot continue, and we are all responsible for our part in making sure they don’t.

Meanwhile: I have been reading a combination of long-unread paper books, old favorites, physical books borrowed from friends, and digital books on my sister’s old Kindle. I do not love ebooks, but the Kindle is a lot better than scrolling through pdf files on my laptop. In all formats and at all times, here’s what I’ve been reading:

Everything is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here, Rob Bell
Bell is a former megachurch evangelical pastor, who these days is (still) a writer, speaker, podcaster and thinker. His new book traces his journey from small-town Michigan through his young adulthood and those pastoring days to the point where he wanted something more, outside the confines of church work. It’s got quantum physics and family history and lots of Big Questions. The style is unusual and it wanders, but the ideas are big and interesting, and Bell’s style is warm and conversational. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I was in serious need of some cheer, so I turned back to this first book about the Melendys. Siblings Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver live in pre-WWII Manhattan with their father and their beloved housekeeper, Cuffy. They decide to pool their allowances for Saturday adventures, and they have all sorts of fun. I adore this series – the characters are all so creative and funny and kind.

The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys (see above) move to a big house (topped by a teeny cupola, hence the “mistake”) in upstate New York, and continue having adventures. Enright’s writing is both lyrical and funny, and I adore the siblings and the fun they get up to together.

The War Widow, Tara Moss
World War II is officially over, but even in Australia its effects are still being felt. Journalist Billie Walker, who lost her photographer husband in the war, takes up the mantle of her late father’s investigative agency. This first book in a new series follows Billie and her assistant, Sam, as they look for a missing teenage boy and try to unravel a case that points to war crimes, theft and kidnapping. Lots of setup, but once it got going this was a solid mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I rediscovered Jane a few years ago, and I reach for her story almost every spring/summer. She (grudgingly) goes to PEI to visit her estranged father, and ends up falling totally in love with both him and the Island. I love PEI almost as much as Jane does, and her story is so full of hope and charm and spunk. Wonderful.

Words in Deep Blue, Cath Crowley
Henry and Rachel used to be best friends. But then Rachel moved away and her brother drowned, and she’s been reeling ever since. When she moves back to town, Henry’s family bookshop is struggling, and the two of them gradually find their way back to one another. I liked the setting (Howling Books) and the secondary characters much better than Rachel and Henry, but this is still a sweet, sad story. Recommended by Anne.

The Wedding Party, Jasmine Guillory
I like Guillory’s fun, snappy romance novels featuring loosely connected characters. This one centers on Maddie and Theo, who are the two BFFs of Alexa (from The Wedding Date). They think they hate each other, but (spoiler alert) this is not the case, as they embark on a secret affair that might be something more. I had to seriously suspend my disbelief (did they really think no one would catch on?) and skip over a few steamy scenes (not my thing), but this was fun holiday weekend reading.

Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise, Richard Beck
Richard is a friend of mine, and a psychology professor at my alma mater. He writes an excellent blog, and he also spends a lot of time these days with prisoners and low-income folks. Stranger God is his memoir-cum-psychological exploration of why most of us (privileged) Christians don’t do that, and why we should. Thoughtful, straightforward and very well-researched (in other words, vintage Richard).

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Friendships are vital to most of our lives, but there’s hardly any sound research or advice on how to make them work long-term. Sow and Friedman, who have been close for more than a decade, unfold the story of their Big Friendship (known to some through their Call Your Girlfriend podcast) alongside expert voices on friendship. They share their hard-won wisdom and their challenges, in a wise, fresh, thought-provoking format. I want to buy this for all my girlfriends when it comes out. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

Then There Were Five, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys (see above) are loving their lives at the Four-Story Mistake. This third book introduces them (and readers) to Mark Herron, an orphan who (spoiler alert) ends up becoming part of their family. Full of warmth, charm and summer adventures. (The cover art on these new editions is kind of terrible, but the stories are so good.)

The Land, Mildred D. Taylor
I loved Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as a child, and picked up this prequel, which tells the story of her biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan. It’s set in post-Civil War Mississippi, and it is powerful and compelling. I raced through it in two nights.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, Pénélope Bagieu
My comics-loving guy gave me this book for Christmas. It’s a collection of graphic mini-biographies of badass women, from a Chinese empress and a gynecologist in ancient Greece to contemporary figures like Leymah Gbowee and Temple Grandin. The art is both whimsical and arresting and the stories are fantastic.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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cp-book-ratatouille

April has felt like the longest, strangest month ever. But we’ve (nearly) made it to May – and whatever it may bring. Here’s what I have been reading (with ratatouille, sometimes):

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
I picked this novel up months ago at our street’s Little Free Library (which is now closed). It’s set in rural Montana in 1909, when a widower with three sons hires a housekeeper, and her arrival – along with her brother’s – has all kinds of effects on the community. Warm, witty and absorbing; Doig evokes place so well and I loved his narrator’s voice.

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston, Boston Comics Roundtable
My guy is a comic-book geek from way back, and he lent me this quirky collection of comics about incidents in Boston history. I’ve lived here for nearly a decade and I’m a history nerd, but I learned a lot from this collection, and chuckled several times. Link to the Million Year Picnic comic shop in Harvard Square, where it came from (and to whose owner it is dedicated).

I Was Told It Would Get Easier, Abbi Waxman
Single-mom lawyer Jessica and her teenage daughter, Emily, embark on a weeklong college bus tour of the East Coast. They see a lot of campuses, but spend even more time learning about themselves and each other. I like Waxman’s fun, quippy novels and this one was enjoyable, especially the witty dual narration. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change, Pramila Jayapal
Jayapal, a congresswoman from Seattle and a longtime activist, recounts her career and lays out her passionate arguments on several big issues: U.S. immigration policy, Medicare for All, a national $15 minimum wage. She’s whip-smart, warm, compassionate, super prepared and compelling – and so is her book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 30).

This Won’t End Well, Camille Pagán
After chemist Annie Mercer quits her job over her boss’s sexual harassment, and her fiancé tells her he needs to go find himself (in Paris), she swears off new people altogether. But that’s before Harper, a glamorous but mysterious young woman, moves in next door, and also before Mo, an annoyingly cheerful amateur PI, shows up too. I loved this sweet, witty novel about a woman trying to make sense of her life in the wake of big changes (sound familiar?). Recommended by Anne.

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery
I adore this underrated final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, set during World War I. This story stars the grit and gumption of the women of Ingleside, especially Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla, faithful cook-housekeeper Susan (whose wit is second to none) and local schoolteacher Miss Oliver. I needed its wisdom and warmth during these weeks of quarantine.

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m not big on mediation, but I am looking for ways to bring peace into my space these days, so I dipped into this slim book over the last few weeks. I like the notion of bringing peace to every aspect of one’s home – even a studio apartment – though the mantras themselves didn’t really work for me.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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Hello, everyone. March is (nearly) over – I don’t think anyone expected this month to go the way it has. But here we are. Photo of the last stack of books I was able to pick up before my beloved Boston Public Library closed for a while. And here are the ones I’ve been reading:

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, Marisa de los Santos
It is impossible to overstate how much I love de los Santos’ work. I turned back to this novel for some deep soul comfort, just as everything was going sideways. It’s the story of Clare, who inherits a house right after she calls off her wedding, and Edith, who gave Clare the house. Lovely, luminous and wise, like all her books.

Every Reason We Shouldn’t, Sara Fujimura
Olivia Kennedy is the daughter of two Olympic champions, and she had medal dreams, too, until a disastrous performance. When speed skater Jonah Choi starts skating at her parents’ ice rink, Olivia is forced to deal with her fears (and she might also be falling in love). Sweet and funny – I especially loved Olivia’s friend Mack, aspiring roller derby queen.

Revolutions: How Women Changed the World on Two Wheels, Hannah Ross
Cycling has long been a male-dominated sphere, but women have been riding for decades and they’re damn good at it. Ross charts the history of cycling and feminism, and calls for more representation in the industry and better bike-friendly infrastructure. (Yes please.) Well-written, informative and interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 9).

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagán
Libby Miller has always tried (relentlessly) to look on the bright side, since losing her mother to cancer at age 10. But then her marriage implodes in the same week she’s diagnosed with cancer herself. Libby escapes to Puerto Rico, where she tries to avoid (but eventually sorts out) her feelings about treatment and her future. Surprisingly light and funny for such serious subject matter.

The Downstairs Girl, Stacey Lee
Chinese-American Jo Kuan and her guardian, Old Gin, don’t quite fit on either side of Atlanta’s strict racial divide. When Jo loses her job as a milliner’s assistant, she becomes a maid and also starts writing a newspaper column (anonymously). I’ve enjoyed Lee’s previous books, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, and I really liked this one: it draws together race, family, horse racing and feminism, with warmth and wit.

The Joys of Baking: Recipes and Stories for a Sweet Life, Samantha Seneviratne
I grabbed this at the BPL: mouthwatering recipes and brief essays about (among other things) navigating a divorce? Yes please. I liked the author’s voice and have marked a couple recipes to try during quarantine baking.

I’d Give Anything, Marisa de los Santos
At eighteen, Ginny Beale loves her life (in spite of her difficult mother): she has a brother she adores and fiercely loyal friends. But one terrible night changes everything. Nearly twenty years later, when Ginny’s marriage falls apart, she learns some new truths about that night, and about herself. Moving and lovely and well written, like all de los Santos’ books (see above). To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, Hope Jahren
I loved Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read back in 2016. This slim book is a cogent, straightforward explanation of how population growth, technological advances and (hugely) increased consumption of energy and food have led us to the current climate crisis. It’s packed with data but highly readable. The diagnosis is daunting, but Jahren does offer some practical tips and reasons for hope.

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief, Anna Meriano
Leo Logroño is finally learning some of the magic recipes that her family uses at their Texas bakery. But when her paternal abuelo shows up, telling her new things about her own magic, she’s not sure what to believe. And a new café in town just might mean trouble for her family. I like this sweet series, and this book was a fun conclusion.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I love them and it’s especially important to support independent bookstores right now. 

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garden-small-beginnings-book-journal

Hello, friends. March has been a bit of a whirlwind so far: the coronavirus is disrupting work and travel plans, among other things. I’m still running, cooking, reading—trying to stay sane. Here’s what I have been reading:

Chasing Utopia, Nikki Giovanni
Thanks to the library’s Black History Month display, I picked up this “hybrid” of poetry and prose poems. I know Giovanni is an important black poet but I’ve only read her work here and there. This was a great introduction: witty, wry, vivid, lots of jazz.

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
In a post-Harry Potter fiction slump, I picked up Waxman’s fun debut for a reread. (I read it a few years ago and loved it so much I bought it for my sister—twice. True story.) Lilian, a young widow who works as an illustrator, gets roped into taking a gardening class with her sister and kids. Hijinks (vegetable-related and otherwise) ensue, as well as new friendships and the possibility of romance. Witty, warm and downright hilarious.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend and a voice of wisdom on so many topics, including reading, fashion, personality types and, in this book, overthinking. She delves into the nitty-gritty of “analysis paralysis” and what we can do about it. Practical and wise, and you know I love any book that tells me to #buytheflowers.

The Women in Black, Madeleine St. John
In F.G. Goode’s department store in Sydney, the women in black run the dress department. Over the course of a Christmas season in the 1950s, four women (novices and veterans) form friendships that will change their lives. A lovely, witty period piece. An impulse buy at Trident. (I regret nothing.)

Good Bones, Maggie Smith
I love Smith’s heartening “Keep moving” affirmations on Twitter (can’t wait for her new book) and finally picked up this poetry collection. The titular poem is well known, but I loved lots of others too. Beautiful dark images shot through with light.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, Sasha Sagan
Sagan is the daughter of astronomer Carl Sagan, and a committed secular Jew, but she still craves ritual and believes in wonder, mystery and sacred moments. This lovely book explores times and seasons (the year’s cycle, but also birth, coming of age, death) that cry out for rituals. I’m a longtime (though currently wandering) Christian, but I think people of different faiths (or no faith at all) will find Sagan’s work thoughtful and wise.

Tweet Cute, Emma Lord
Pepper is a high-achieving perfectionist, and captain of the swim team at her elite Manhattan school (where she secretly feels like a fish out of water). Jack is the class clown, used to living in his twin brother’s shadow. When they get embroiled in a Twitter war over grilled cheese, they’re both forced to confront their assumptions about themselves and each other. Sweet, snarky and so much fun. Recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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feb-books-calendar

February is half over (happy Valentine’s Day!), and I have to say I’m relieved: the midwinter blahs have been hitting me hard. Here’s what I have been reading, to counter them:

Jewel of the Thames, Angela Misri
When Portia Adams’ beloved mother dies, she leaves her native Toronto for London, in the care of the kind but mysterious Mrs. Jones. In her new residence at 221B Baker Street, Portia begins investigating a few mysteries, including her possible connections to Holmes and Watson. A fun YA spin on the Holmes universe. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC. (I wish it and the sequels were readily available in the U.S.!)

Simon the Fiddler, Paulette Jiles
As the Civil War in Texas ends with a whimper, fiddler Simon Boudlin and several other musicians form a scrappy band and begin seeking their fortunes. Simon also falls deeply and instantly in love with a pretty Irish governess, and begins scheming to win her heart. I like Jiles’ lyrical writing, though the plot of this seriously wandered and the ending was disappointing. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, Theodora Goss
When Mary Jekyll and her friends return to London from the Continent, they discover that both Sherlock Holmes and Alice, the kitchen maid, have disappeared. Dramatic rescue missions (in London and Cornwall) ensue–the girls uncover a plot to depose the Queen. Witty, a little macabre and so much fun. Give me a band of misfits (especially whip-smart female ones) trying to save the world, any day.

Six Square Metres: Reflections from a Small Garden, Margaret Simons
I love a gardening book in midwinter–the very idea of green growing things can be so hopeful. I loved Simons’ wry, witty reflections on the joys and struggles of her tiny Melbourne garden: planting, composting, harvesting, battling slugs and shade and McDonald’s burger wrappers. She celebrates the small joys and weaves in funny anecdotes from her family life. Reminded me quite a lot of Kate Bradbury’s The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

To Night Owl from Dogfish, Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
Bett Devlin does not want a sister. Neither does Avery Bloom. They also don’t want to go to the same camp and be forced to bond. But their dads have fallen in love, so that’s what’s happening. This Parent-Trap-style setup only gets more fun, as the girls become friends and then start scheming. Told entirely in letters/emails and full of smart, layered, compassionate characters.

More to the Story, Hena Khan
Jameela Mirza has dreams of being a great journalist. But although she’s been named features editor of her middle-school paper, things are tough: her dad is working overseas and her sister Bisma might be seriously ill. I loved this sweet, modern-day spin on Little Women featuring a Pakistani-American family in Georgia. Funny and lovely and smart.

Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics, Leonard Mlodinow
In Stephen Hawking’s later years, he and Mlodinow co-authored two books. This slim memoir is Mlodinow’s account of their friendship and their work on The Grand Design. I find physics fascinating but challenging, and Mlodinow summarizes his and Hawking’s ideas in an accessible way, while painting a nuanced portrait of the man. File under: much more interesting than I expected. (Flashbacks to the film The Theory of Everything, which I loved.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

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

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This January has felt years long. But it’s finally (almost) over. Here’s what I have been reading, on a whirlwind trip to NYC (I came home early) and since then:

The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
After fleeing her abusive husband, Lakshmi has made a name for herself doing elaborate henna designs for Jaipur’s wealthy women. But the arrival of her teenage sister upends her carefully constructed world, and the secrets it’s built on. An evocative novel of a woman fighting to make her own way in 1950s India. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Code Name Hélène, Ariel Lawhon
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was an Australian socialite who became one of World War II’s most daring, dangerous spies. Lawhon’s fourth novel explores her career, her heroics in France toward the end of the war, and her deep love for her French husband. I’ve read a lot of stories about badass female spies, but this one is great: powerful, fast-paced, heartbreaking and stylish. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 31).

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, ed. Glory Edim
This collection comprises 21 brief, powerful essays on what it means to be a black woman (and the books that helped shape these particular black women), plus several lists of book recommendations. My TBR just exploded, both because of the essays and the book lists. Well worth reading.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
This series grows with every book, and I love this one for its new elements and characters (Tonks! Luna!), and the emotional heft of the ending. (Also: Fred and George Weasley at their finest.) This sets up so much of what’s coming in the next two books, and Harry (though he is so angsty) does a lot of growing up.

Agatha Oddly: Murder at the Museum, Lena Jones
Agatha Oddly is back on the case–investigating a murder at the British Museum and its possible links to a disused Tube station. The setup is a bit of a stretch, but Agatha is a great character (I love her sidekicks/friends, too) and this was a fun adventure. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Running: A Love Story, Jen A. Miller
I read one of Miller’s running essays in the New York Times a while back, and liked her voice. I blew through this memoir in one day: it’s breezy and accessible. I got tired of reading about her terrible romantic decisions, but the running parts were worthwhile.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
My friend Lisa recommended this book since I am navigating lots of change (hello, post-divorce transition). Sandberg lost her husband suddenly in 2015, and this book is her account of moving through grief, plus lots of research-backed strategies for building resilience (my word for 2020) after trauma and sadness. Practical, wise and “not too heavy,” as Lisa said. The right book at the right time for me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Harry and crew are back at Hogwarts: navigating grief, worrying about Lord Voldemort and (oh yeah) dealing with the usual teenage angst. Despite the increasing darkness, this is really the last book where they get to be normal teenagers: playing Quidditch, sneaking around the castle, making romantic missteps. (So. Much. Snogging.) I also love Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore and his gradual coming to terms with what he’s facing, with so much courage and love.

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

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Somehow, it’s 2020 – and I’m still catching up from Christmas break. Here’s my last list of reads for 2019:

Red Letter Days, Sarah-Jane Stratford
When the House Un-American Activities Committee begins blacklisting writers, Phoebe Adler flees to London after receiving a subpoena. There, she begins working for Hannah Wolfson, a fellow exiled American who’s creating a new hit show. But both women are in more danger than they realize. A well-plotted historical novel with great characters – I wanted to meet Phoebe, Hannah and all their friends for a cocktail. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 25).

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison, Jason Hardy
Hardy spent four years working as a parole officer in New Orleans. This book gives an insider’s account of the probation and parole (P&P) system, which aims to keep offenders from relapsing into addiction, going back to jail or prison, or hurting themselves or other people. Hardy wrestles with the lack of resources, the staggering problems facing most of his offenders, and his own privilege. A thoughtful, timely, compelling account. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 18).

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin
This fun Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in Toronto’s Indian Muslim community, came recommended by Anne and others. I loved Ayesha, the Elizabeth Bennet character, and her supporting cast, especially her Shakespeare-quoting grandfather. Witty, entertaining and sweet, with some fresh twists on the classic story.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
Brown is well known for her work on race relations, and her memoir shares her experience with race and faith, and poses some tough questions. Well-written, hard-hitting and powerful; I’ll be processing this one for a while.

The Queen Con, Meghan Scott Molin
MG Martin, comic-book writer and costume designer extraordinaire, gets drawn into a second mystery involving a local superhero vigilante. But this time several of her friends, including drag queen Lawrence, may be in danger. The plot gets a bit convoluted, but this series is full of nerddom and great characters.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s third year at Hogwarts starts (and in some ways ends) with Sirius Black, a notorious wizard who has escaped Azkaban, the wizard prison. This book is one of my favorites in the series – especially the last bit, where everything (thanks in large part to Lupin and Hermione) blows wide open. So much fun.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, Amaryllis Fox
I blew through Fox’s memoir on my plane ride home. She gives a clear, thoughtful account of her career in the CIA, and the ways an undercover life prevented her from building a true marriage or family. Fascinating and thought-provoking – parts of it read like a spy thriller.

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at Trident, and it was the perfect sweet, witty, British Christmas read. Widowed mum Kate is struggling to make Christmas merry for herself and her young son, Jack, while facing harassment at work. Daniel, grieving his sister’s death, is also struggling. I loved the ways their stories intertwined, as well as Daniel’s efforts to support a group of local businesses.

Blind Search, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr, former military police officer, and her retired bomb-sniffing dog Elvis are back on the case. This time, it’s multiple murder in the Vermont woods, with an autistic boy as the only witness. The writing is a bit labored, but I like Mercy and the other characters, including game warden Troy Warner.

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

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book-knitting-muffin

I’ve blown through half a dozen books recently – which feels good after a stretch of not reading quite as much. Here’s what I have been reading lately:

Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn
Chet the dog and his pal Bernie Little, P.I., are back. Their ninth adventure finds them investigating a couple of suspicious deaths involving an elderly country singer. It was slow to start, but I love Chet’s entertaining narrative voice, and the mystery plot was satisfying.

The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan
Single mother Zoe is desperate to get out of London, and when she lands two part-time gigs in Scotland, it seems like a good idea. I like Colgan’s fiction and this had more depth than usual, with the motherless children Zoe cares for and the challenges facing her young son. Nina (from The Bookshop on the Corner) features too, but I grew irritated with her. I gobbled this up in two days.

Death in a Desert Land, Andrew Wilson
After her divorce, Agatha Christie heads to Baghdad and Ur to visit an archaeological dig and do some spying for the British government. But she soon finds herself investigating a murder. Wilson’s third mystery featuring Christie as amateur detective (the first one I’ve read) was fast-paced (after a slow start) and engaging.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, Karina Yan Glaser
The five Vanderbeeker kids have all kinds of plans for spring break – which do not include accidentally ruining their mother’s baking business. But they band together to outwit a grumpy inspector, build a tree house and deal with mysterious pets (chickens!) guinea pigs!) that keep appearing on their doorstep. I love this middle-grade series and this third entry was so much fun.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, Michael Cunningham
Set at the very end of Cape Cod, Provincetown has a unique character and mythology. I have several friends who love it there, and Cunningham’s memoir/history is evocative, fascinating and melancholy. I found this at Three Lives in NYC; the manager, whose taste I trust, waxed lyrical about it. Lovely.

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco
Blanco, who served as President Obama’s inaugural poet, is back with a fierce, vivid, haunting collection exploring what it is to be an immigrant, to live between two worlds, to be gay in this country, to mourn various national tragedies (the Pulse shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings). These poems pull no punches and they’re also beautiful.

A Dangerous Engagement, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, sail to New York for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend. But when one of the groomsmen is found murdered, Amory and Milo begin investigating. I love this stylish, well-plotted mystery series and this was a delightful entry.

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

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alchemists-daughter-book-tea

We’re halfway through October, and the library holds are piling up, to my delight. Here’s what I have been reading:

An Irish Country Family, Patrick Taylor
I’ve read and enjoyed several earlier books in this gentle, amusing series set in 1960s Ulster, in the village of Ballybucklebo. Book 14 picks up the story of Dr. Barry Laverty when he was a medical student, and also as he’s trying to start a family with his wife, Sue. The plot also involves the usual small-town drama: births, deaths, local politics, love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 12).

Dating is Murder, Harley Jane Kozak
An impulse grab at the library – the second mystery featuring greeting-card artist and amateur sleuth Wollstonecraft “Wollie” Shelley. When her friend Annika, a young au pair, disappears, Wollie tries to find her while juggling her part-time jobs (including reality TV). Wacky, fun, sometimes confusing, but enjoyable.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
It’s no secret that women are under stress–but Generation X women are particularly so, in every area of their lives. Calhoun takes on work, parenting, marriage and relationships, ambition, physical challenges and more from a witty, honest, thought-provoking perspective. I loved her previous book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and her O Magazine essay, “The New Midlife Crisis for Women.” This book builds on the latter. I’m either a really young Gen Xer or an old Gen Y/Millennial, but so many of these concerns rang true for me. I will be handing this to so many friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

The Bonniest Companie, Kathleen Jamie
I was looking for Jamie’s essays at the Strand (on Roxani’s advice) and found these poems instead. They are luminous and odd with occasional flashes of hope and loveliness, and lots of rugged Scottish landscapes.

The Second Home, Christina Clancy
The Gordon family has spent countless summers in Wellfleet, Cape Cod – but one summer when their kids were teenagers changed everything. As the family’s two grown daughters prepare to sell the house after their parents’ deaths, they must reckon with the long-term effects of that summer. Absorbing, heartbreaking and human; richly evocative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2, 2020).

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
I spotted this series at the Booksmith and decided to start at the beginning. Mary Jekyll is investigating some mysterious documents after her father’s death and finds more than she bargained for, including Diana, daughter of Edward Hyde, and a whole lot of mad-scientist craziness. This mystery-fantasy-girl-power-narrative (which also pulls in Holmes and Watson) was so much fun. I’ll definitely read the sequels.

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

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