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Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

get your jingle on sign christmas

The holiday season is in full swing over here, and the reading has slowed waaaay down. But here’s what I have been reading lately, when I’ve had the chance (and the brain space):

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, Doug Mack
What, exactly, is a U.S. territory? What rights and privileges do its residents have? Should the U.S. even have territories if it calls itself a leading democracy? Mack delves deeply into the convoluted history of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa (and travels to all of the above) to find out. Witty, thoughtful and very informative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 14, 2017).

A Second Chance, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell (“Max”) and her crew of time-jumping historians are at it again – this time headed to Bronze Age Troy. This third book in Taylor’s series skips around wildly in history, often to confusing effect – still fun, though sometimes frustrating.

The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, Emily Esfahani Smith
What is the key to a meaningful life? Smith explores four “pillars” of meaning – belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence – and shares lots of data and case studies to explore how people can seek and find meaning. Thoughtful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 10, 2017).

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France, Thad Carhart
I adored Carhart’s first memoir, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. This book recounts the three years Carhart spent in Fontainebleau (near Paris) as a young boy in the 1950s, when his dad was a NATO officer. The memories are interspersed with reflections on the history and ongoing restoration of the Château de Fontainebleau. Charming, thoughtful and vividly described. (Bought at the gorgeous Albertine Books in NYC.)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
This is – I’ve said it before – the book that breaks this series wide open. It all builds up to the last 70 or so pages, when suddenly everything is darker and bigger and wildly different than you thought it was. (It also introduces two of my favorite characters – Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.) LOVE.

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

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Dec 2012 003

Rather suddenly, it’s December, and I am a bit behind on the reading updates. But here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Iron Cast, Destiny Soria
Ada and Corinne are best friends in 1920s Boston who work for a notorious gangster in exchange for his protection. (Both girls are hemopaths: they have a blood condition which allows them to perform magic, but causes a strong aversion to iron.) Rich, complex characters, a twisty plot and a setting I adored, plus strong women in spades. (From the staff recs shelf at the Harvard Book Store.)

Letters to a Young Muslim, Omar Saif Ghobash
Ghobash is the UAE’s ambassador to Russia and the father of two teenage sons. In a time when Islam is beset by extremism and anger, Ghobash shares his personal journey as a Muslim and some wise advice for his boys. Thoughtful, engaging and so timely – we all desperately need to hear from people who aren’t just like us, in this moment of fear and upheaval. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
I love this series so much, and it’s been a few years: it was time for another reread. The first book always goes fast, and it’s fun to discover the wizarding world right along with Harry and his friends.

The Wicked City, Beatriz Williams
After discovering her husband cheating, Ella Gilbert moves out – to a building in the West Village that might be haunted. Williams uses Ella’s narrative to frame the story of Geneva Rose “Gin” Kelly, who escaped backwoods Maryland to build a life in 1920s NYC. But Gin’s bootlegging stepfather, Duke, won’t let her alone. Witty and deliciously scandalous, like all Williams’ books – though I found Gin’s story much more compelling than Ella’s. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 17, 2017).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Rowling’s second book delves more deeply into the wizarding world, the (first) rise of Lord Voldemort and the odd similarities between Voldemort and Harry. (Plus it’s so much fun. Flying cars! Quidditch! More spellwork! And Fawkes the phoenix.)

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, Melissa Sweet
It’s no secret that I love E.B. White’s work – both his classic children’s books and his wry, witty letters and essays. Sweet tells White’s story through collage and illustration in this lovely children’s biography. (Bonus: adorable dachshunds!) Bought at Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte
I love Whyte’s poetry and also enjoyed this collection of brief, lyrical essays on words such as “solace,” “work,” “courage,” “heartbreak,” “Istanbul” and many others. A little esoteric and very lovely.

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

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hidden figures book tea scone

Before “computer” came to mean a sophisticated calculating machine, it meant a person: someone with a firm grasp of numbers and their myriad practical applications in the real world. In the 1940s, as the U.S. rapidly expanded its flight program to fight the Axis Powers, the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia tapped into a new source of computing power: a group of whip-smart, highly educated African American women.

For the next two decades, the “colored computers” applied their mathematical knowledge to solve problems of flight at Langley, first in aviation and eventually in the space race. Margot Lee Shetterly tells the previously unknown story of these women in her first nonfiction book, Hidden Figures.

Sixty years after the narrative of Hidden Figures begins, we are living in fraught times here in the U.S. Many voices are calling for respect, equality and civil discourse while other voices–which often seem louder–are trumpeting hatred, bigotry and violence. I don’t always know how best to add my own (white, privileged) voice to the chorus of the former. But I believe that listening to, and helping tell, the stories of people whose experiences are different from my own is a vital first step.

It’s my turn again at Great New Books today, and I’m raving about the brilliant, bold women of Hidden Figures. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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three lives bookstore interior

The reading has been slow lately, due to the election and the general life craziness. But here are a few good books I’ve discovered this month. (Photo: the wonderful Three Lives & Co. bookstore in NYC.)

Goodbye to a River, John Graves
I loved this wise, wry, observant, slightly cranky account of a canoe trip down the Brazos River (in central Texas) in the 1950s. Graves and a dachshund pup he calls “the passenger” paddle through a stark, isolated, often beautiful stretch of country, and Graves muses on history, change, nature and whatever else comes into his head. Reminded me of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which I adored.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, Yee-Lum Mak (illus. Kelsey Garrity-Riley)
This was an impulse buy at the Harvard Book Store: a gorgeous, whimsical illustrated compendium of untranslatable words in English and other languages. I am particularly enchanted by raðljóst, an Icelandic word that means “enough light to find your way by.” So lovely.

Like a River Glorious, Rae Carson
Leah “Lee” Westfall and her companions have made it to California, and they set about staking claims and establishing a small town they dub “Glory.” But Lee’s evil uncle Hiram is still hot on her trail, and she must thwart his plans before he destroys everything she loves. A rich, adventurous, well-plotted sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger (which I loved) – and there’s a third book forthcoming.

A Most Novel Revenge, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames, amateur sleuth, and her husband Milo are summoned to an odd country-house party: the other guests all witnessed a murder several years ago. As secrets and lies simmer beneath the surface, another guest is found dead and Amory tries to ferret out the killer. This third case wasn’t quite as engaging as the first two, but I like Amory and I love a good British mystery.

A Symphony of Echoes, Jodi Taylor
This sequel to Just One Damned Thing After Another (which I so enjoyed) finds the time-traveling historians of St. Mary’s grappling with a sneaky enemy – one bent on destroying their institute and possibly doing violence to history itself. I love Max, the whip-smart, fierce, damaged narrator, and her loyal, brilliant, eccentric companions. Snarky, hilarious and so smart, with copious amounts of wit and tea.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be, Carol D. Marsh
Marsh had no idea what she was getting into when she founded Miriam’s House, a resident community for homeless women living with AIDS in Washington, D.C. This memoir tells the stories of many Miriam’s House residents alongside Marsh’s own story of learning to live in relationship with them. Powerful, well-written and so timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 10, 2017).

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

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keep calm browse books sign

We’re digging out from moving chaos over here and my brain feels like scrambled eggs. But I have (as always) been reading to stay sane. Here’s the latest roundup:

Radio Girls, Sarah-Jane Stratford
It’s 1926 and Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job at the fledgling BBC. She quickly finds herself swept up by this exciting new medium and by her colleagues, especially her bold, brilliant supervisor, Hilda Matheson. I loved this novel – full of strong women, witty dialogue and thoughts on the power of ideas, in a setting (interwar London) that I adore.

The Tea Planter’s Wife, Dinah Jefferies
Young, naive and hopelessly in love, Gwendolyn Hooper follows her new husband from London to his Ceylon tea plantation. But her new home isn’t paradise: a meddling sister-in-law, an irritating American widow and family secrets threaten her happiness. I loved the lush, exotic setting, though I found Gwen irritatingly passive for half the book. Still a solid historical novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
I’ve been curious for a while about this first adult mystery by J.K. Rowling (written under a pseudonym). Engaging characters – I liked gruff PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott – but a bit grim and gritty for me.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly
Before computers were machines, they were people, and many of the most brilliant computers at NACA (later NASA) were black women. Shetterly tells the story of the women who played an integral (hitherto unsung) role in the U.S. flight program and later helped launch astronauts into orbit. Meticulous research + engaging writing + fantastic real-life characters = amazing. (It’s going to be a movie too!) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Perfume Garden, Kate Lord Brown
I picked up this novel at Bookmark in Halifax. It’s a gorgeous, moving story of family, love and perfume, told in two intertwined narratives set during the Spanish Civil War and right after 9/11. I loved main character Emma and her wise, brave grandmother, Freya. Bonus: it’s largely set in Valencia, a city I adore.

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

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book stack purple tulips

The latest library stack (above) came in the week before Commencement, which caused a tiny bit of panic over here. But I’m working through it. Here’s the latest roundup:

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
Jahren is a botanist who has built three successful labs, and this memoir tells the story of her career and her longtime bond with her lab partner, Bill. Gorgeous writing, wry humor, and wonderful insights on plants and people. (Also: packed with fascinating information but not didactic at all.) Recommended by Lindsey and by Ann at Books on the Nightstand.

Model Misfit, Holly Smale
Geeky teen model Harriet Manners finds herself spending the summer in Japan for a modeling gig, where everything promptly goes wrong. I like Harriet but couldn’t quite believe she was that clueless. Really fun supporting characters and a great setting, though.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp, Heather Vogel Frederick
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Frederick’s series about a group of teenage girls in Concord, Mass., who start a book club with their mothers. This final volume takes them to summer camp, where they’re working as counselors before heading to college (sniff). They start a book club with their campers to counter homesickness. Super sweet and funny. A great ending to the series.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
When pastry chef Olivia Rawlings sets her workplace on fire, she flees Boston for tiny Guthrie, Vermont, where her best friend helps her find a job baking at the Sugar Maple Inn. The owner is stern but the locals are kind – but Livvy, used to leaving and being left, isn’t sure she can settle down in Guthrie. A heartwarming debut novel with mouthwatering descriptions of pastry and really engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of a dying breed: Antari, magicians who can slip through the doors between worlds. As he navigates between three different Londons (Red, Grey and White), he stumbles upon a dangerous talisman from the fabled Black London and meets Lila, a trenchant pickpocket who proves a worthy partner in crime. A gripping, fast-paced fantasy novel, but I was seriously creeped out by some of the magic. Recommended by Jaclyn and Leigh.

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

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time to read clock mv

May is a crazy month when you work in higher education. This May is especially so, since I’m temping at the Harvard Gazette and we are in the thick of Commencement madness. (Three days to go!)

Here, the books that are keeping me sane:

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett
Tippett is the longtime host of On Being, a radio show that examines the big questions of what it means to be human. This memoir beautifully distills what she has learned from her conversation partners over nearly 15 years. Her insights are grouped into five big categories: words, flesh, love, faith and hope (which all overlap). Lots of quotes from On Being guests, who range from physicists to poets (and everyone in between). Tippett writes in luminous, wise prose. Absolutely stunning on every page. If I could give it six stars (out of five), I would.

Geek Girl, Holly Smale
Harriet Manners is a geek – a fact she mostly embraces, though it occasionally causes her great social pain at school. But when she gets “spotted” by a modeling agency, Harriet wonders if this is her chance to reinvent herself. Smart, British, wacky and so much fun. Found at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thursdays with the Crown, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie, her siblings and their friend Prince Lulath end up in a different world by accident, and must outsmart two evil wizards to get back home (with a load of griffin eggs). These characters are fun and engaging, though the magic in this book didn’t really hold together. Book 3 in a series.

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ed. Mary Savig
This book is exactly what it sounds like: full-color scans of handwritten letters by visual artists, each accompanied by a brief essay from a scholar or curator. Engaging and unusual. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 14).

First Comes Love, Emily Giffin
Sisters Josie and Meredith have always had a fractious relationship, made more so by their brother’s tragic death 15 years ago. Now Meredith is at a crisis point in her marriage and Josie is contemplating single motherhood. Giffin deftly explores the complex bonds between sisters and the ways we can both wound and heal each other. I’ve read three of her other books (my sister loves them) and I thought this one (her eighth) was a big leap forward. She’s really matured as a writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

The Forgotten Room, Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
I picked up this historical novel (which shifts between three different periods and narrators in NYC) because I love Williams’ elegant, witty novels about the Schuyler family. This one doesn’t glitter quite like her others, but it’s a rich, engaging story of three women who are all connected (to each other and the Schuylers) I saw several twists coming a mile away, but there were a couple I didn’t expect. I particularly liked Dr. Kate Schuyler, fighting to make her way as an independent woman in 1944.

Fridays with the Wizards, Jessica Day George
Princess Celie and her friends are safely home in Sleyne. But trouble strikes when an evil wizard disappears and then starts making mischief in Celie’s beloved Castle. Book 4 in a series.

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

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