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strand bookstore cookbook shelves

Early December always leaves me breathless. But – thank goodness – there are the books. (Photo from my recent trip to the Strand.)

Here’s the latest roundup:

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Abbi Waxman
I loved Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings. (I was ambivalent about her second novel, Other People’s Houses.) And I liked this, her third novel following introvert, bookseller and trivia whiz Nina Hill as she deals with various unexpected pieces of news. Really witty, though a lot of the characters felt two-dimensional. I liked seeing Lili and her daughters (from Small Beginnings) again. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9, 2019).

How to Be a Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much, Samantha Ellis
In her thirties, Ellis began to wonder: did the literary heroines she’d loved as a child still have something to teach her? The answer, of course, is yes. I loved Ellis’ memoir of finding her way as a person and a writer, and revisiting characters like Sara Crewe, Scarlett O’Hara and others. Some are my heroines too (Anne Shirley!) and some are newer to me, like Lucy Honeychurch and Scheherazade. So much fun.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and his memoir traces his journey to public service and his experience in the mayor’s office. He’s a Harvard grad, a Navy reserve veteran, a data-driven geek and a warm, thoughtful writer. City government may not sound exciting, but I found his narrative so compelling and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 26).

The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory
Freelance writer Nikole Patterson is blindsided when her actor boyfriend proposes via the JumboTron at a Dodgers game – and he spells her name wrong! When Carlos and his sister rescue Nik from a camera crew, Carlos and Nik become friends and then something more. But what, exactly? A really fun romance with lots of tacos, cupcakes and women’s empowerment messages. The latter felt a bit heavy-handed, but I enjoyed the story – especially since I knew (and liked) Carlos from Guillory’s debut, The Wedding Date.

A Borrowing of Bones, Paula Munier
After a tour in Afghanistan where she lost her fiancé, Martinez, Mercy Carr has retreated to rural Vermont along with Martinez’s working dog, Elvis. When they find an adult skeleton and a baby girl (very much alive) in the woods, Mercy teams up with game warden Troy Warner to find the baby’s mother and the identity of the victim. A well-plotted, thoughtful mystery; first in a new series. Reminded me a bit of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mysteries, which I adore.

Hope Never Dies, Andrew Shaffer
After the 2016 election, former VP Joe Biden is bored and restless. But when his favorite Amtrak conductor dies under suspicious circumstances, Biden and his old friend Barack Obama team up (with Obama’s requisite Secret Service escort) to solve the mystery. A fun, often witty bromance and a pretty good mystery. (I love the premise almost more than the execution.)

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Conversations about race are often fraught, and Oluo, a black activist and writer, pulls no punches in this primer about how to talk and listen. It’s meant (mostly) for well-meaning white folks like me. Powerful and thought-provoking.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. If you’re shopping for holiday gifts, please consider supporting indie bookstores – either in your community or by ordering from them online. 

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glass ocean book tea cafe

We’re headed for December already – and between the feasting, the commuting, the running and the rest of life, this month included some fantastic books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, Emily Bernard
“Brown is the body I was born into. Black is the body of the stories I tell.” Bernard, an author and professor, explores race and family history in these powerful essays. Incisive and moving and so compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 29).

The Matchmaker’s List, Sonya Lalli
Still single at 29, Raina Anand reluctantly agrees to let her Indian grandmother play matchmaker. Secretly, she’s still in love with her ex, who reappears while Raina is helping plan her best friend’s wedding. A fun story of clashing cultural expectations (Canadian and Indian), with a likable (if frustrating) protagonist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 22).

Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist, Meredith Goldstein
Goldstein writes the Love Letters column for the Boston Globe. This memoir is about that work, her mother’s illness, her own struggle to find love, and the surprising community she’s found through Love Letters. Funny, warm and surprisingly insightful.

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, Kate Christensen
Christensen has a complex relationship with food: finding comfort in it, avoiding it, exploring it in new contexts. She recounts her peripatetic childhood, her lost teenage years, her fierce love for her sisters and mother and her romantic travails, with accompanying food experiences and occasional recipes. Some delicious moments (and a lot of ill-advised decisions). Found last month at the wonderful Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine.

The Huntress, Kate Quinn
In the aftermath of the Nuremberg trials, most people want to move on from war stories. But British journalist Ian Graham has made hunting down war criminals his life’s work. His estranged Russian wife, former pilot Nina Markova, joins Ian and his partner in a quest to track down the titular huntress. Their story becomes intertwined with that of Jordan McBride, a young aspiring photographer in Boston, and her family. A gripping narrative of war, revenge and love – even bigger, darker and deeper than Quinn’s excellent The Alice Network. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 26).

Not For the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence, Wendy Sherman
Sherman is a distinguished diplomat and a faculty member at my former workplace, the Harvard Kennedy School. Her memoir chronicles her deep involvement in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, as well as her background in social work and the lessons she’s learned as a woman in high-stress workplaces and unexpected situations. A solid, thoughtful political memoir.

The Glass Ocean, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoyed The Forgotten Room by these three authors (and I’ll read pretty much anything Williams writes). I also enjoyed this compelling novel of three women: two aboard the RMS Lusitania and one historian trying to piece together their story a century later. Tess, the young con woman trying to go straight, was my favorite.

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

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papercuts jp bookstore twinkle lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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read bbf ya panel Boston public library

November. Already. How did that happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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id rather be reading book flowers Anne bogel

I’m not quite sure how September is half over (I say this every month), but here’s the latest reading roundup. I’ll be linking up with Anne Bogel and others for Quick Lit, and in a moment of serendipity, the first book is hers…

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend (and we met IRL in NYC a couple of years ago). She sent me a copy of her brand-new book of essays on reading and the bookworm life. As expected, it was delightful, and I saw myself in many of its pages. A perfect gift for the book fanatic in your life.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch may finally get to marry her intended, Darcy – but, of course, a spot of murder will intervene first. I’ve enjoyed this series, but this wasn’t my favorite entry: several key characters were largely offstage, and the mystery was confusing. Still, Georgie and her world are a lot of fun.

The Endless Beach, Jenny Colgan
Flora MacKenzie is trying to make a go of both her seaside cafe and her brand-new relationship. But as she prepares for her brother’s wedding and tries to balance accounts, she’s facing romantic trouble too. The setting (the Scottish island of Mure) is enchanting, but I was far more interested in the secondary characters, including a Syrian refugee doctor, than Flora or her (irritating) boyfriend.

Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found, Bella Bathurst
Bathurst is a British journalist who lost much of her hearing in her mid-20s, and dove into all sorts of research about hearing loss, deaf culture and remedies for deafness. She has since regained much of her hearing via surgery. This slim memoir was slow to start, but was a fascinating look at various aspects of sound, listening, audiology and the simple things hearing people take for granted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 2).

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy, a young black couple in Atlanta, are newly married and on their way up the career ladder when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The book traces their relationship over the next five years, until Roy gets out of prison (early) and they both must reckon with the changes those years have wrought. I read this novel with my heart in my throat; powerful and stunning don’t quite do it justice. It speaks with equal potency to this racial moment and to the inner intricacies of a marriage.

Little Big Love, Katy Regan
This was an impulse grab at the library, and I loved it: a big-hearted, funny, bittersweet British novel about a boy named Zac who goes on a quest to find his dad. It’s narrated by Zac; his mum, Juliet; and Juliet’s dad, Mick. All three of them are hiding secrets. It weaves together themes of family, loss, fitness and body image, and love in many of its forms.

The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ elegant novels about love and secrets, often involving the sprawling, blue-blood Schuyler family. This one takes place on Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound: the story of a fateful summer and all that came after. An engaging story of love and jealousy and murder, though Miranda (the main character) struck me as a bit passive.

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, Kayleen Schaefer
Women are often stereotyped as catty and competitive – but for many of us, female friendship is a saving and sustaining grace. Schaefer explores the evolution of female friendship over the last half century or so, via her own experience and a bit of sociology. I liked her honesty and enjoyed a lot of her modern-day references, but wanted more context (and more diversity).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
My husband read this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve never heard him laugh so hard over anything he’s read. So I picked it up and blazed through it in a day. It was…baffling. There were some truly funny moments, but overall it wasn’t quite my bag.

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

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nonfiction tbr book stack

Back in March, I posted a photo of my then-teetering stack of nonfiction, some of which had been hanging around for months or (eek!) more than a year. Six months later, I’ve diligently worked my way through most of the stack.

So I thought I’d share an update, and what lessons (if any) I’ve learned.

First of all, the mere fact of a challenge was enough to make me dive in and keep at it. And I admit to a certain amount of bookworm guilt: some of those titles had lingered for years. (Several of them were gifts, which may have had something to do with it – though my friends mostly do know what I like.)

It took a little discipline to make myself reach for these titles instead of the shiny new ones that are always coming in, but I’m glad I did. Most of them were entirely worth it, whether because they were charming (Encore Provence), highly informative (Love of Country), thought-provoking (Crossing the Unknown Sea) or for other reasons.

I’ve now read 10 of the 11 books I had on the nonfiction stack at that time, and – bonus – I loved most of them, especially Ivan Doig’s memoir This House of Sky and Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon collection, Home By Another Way. I’ll likely return to both of those, for different reasons. I didn’t finish Pigtails and Pernod, but I’m keeping it anyway: I bought my lovely used hardcover on a long-ago afternoon with Caroline in London, and I like looking at it and remembering that day.

I still need to read The Butterfly Hours, and tackle the five nonfiction books I’ve since added to the stack. So the process may start all over again. But it was a helpful lesson in reading what I’d bought (or been given), and a nice break from the sometimes frenetic pace of reading books for review.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with my progress: now I just need to decide which nonfiction book to read next…

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spirit of 76 bookstore interior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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