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Whew – September has been a ride. I turned 39, hosted my parents for a few days, drove to Amherst with a girlfriend and had a few other adventures. In the midst of all that, here’s what I have been reading:

The Midnight Orchestra, Jessica Khoury
Amelia Jones is finally settling in at Mystwick School for Magic. But then her school enters a high-stakes competition, and the pressure’s on Amelia to compose a fabulous spell. This second Mystwick novel goes much deeper into the world-building, Amelia’s complicated family history and her friendships with other students. Twisty, musical and lots of fun.

Marmee, Sarah Miller
I loved Miller’s previous novel, Caroline, which focuses on Ma from the Little House books. This one is a first-person narrative of Marmee March from my beloved Little Women. We follow the March family through war, illness, Mr. March’s absence, a couple of weddings and lots of everyday life. Margaret (Marmee) is a wonderful narrator, and I loved how Miller hits these familiar beats from a new angle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 25).

Nora Goes Off Script, Annabel Monaghan
Screenwriter Nora Hamilton has just sold a movie that could be her big break – though it’s about her husband leaving. When movie star Leo Vance, who plays Nora’s ex in the movie, begs her to let him stay on after filming, she reluctantly relents, and falls in love. But then Leo disappears, and Nora (plus her kids) must deal with the fallout. A witty, warmhearted, fun novel about love, family and second chances.

The Perfumist of Paris, Alka Joshi
Radha spent her childhood following her older sister Lakshmi around Jaipur, mixing henna for Lakshmi’s clients and – eventually – getting tangled up with a rich, careless boy. Now, she’s a grown woman and a budding perfumer in Paris, married with two children. A big assignment at work coincides with some long-held family secrets bubbling up. I loved this third installment in Joshi’s series that began with The Henna Artist: lushly described, with compelling characters (I loved the aging courtesans!) and lots of questions about work and womanhood. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Last Call at the Nightingale, Katharine Schellman
Vivian Kelly spends her days stitching dresses for the rich, and her nights dancing and drinking at the Nightingale. But when a man ends up dead in the alley out back, the club’s owner asks Vivian to sniff around for information. I like Schellman’s Regency-era Lily Adler series, and really enjoyed this start to a new series – Jazz Age NYC, complicated sisterly bonds, interracial friendships, an interesting love triangle.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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September is flying by so far – amid work and daily adventures, here’s what I have been reading:

The Lost Summers of Newport, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
I enjoy Team W’s richly detailed historical novels (and I’ve devoured nearly all of Williams’ books). This one follows the intertwined stories of three women connected to the same Newport, R.I., mansion during different eras: architectural preservationist Andie, music teacher Ellen, and Italian-American socialite Lucia. Rife with family secrets and dripping with diamonds – great escapist reading.

The House of Eve, Sadeqa Johnson
Ruby Pearsall is on track to be her family’s first college student – but a forbidden love may derail her plans to escape her rough neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles, a brilliant young woman from small-town Ohio, struggles to find her place at Howard University and with her rich boyfriend’s family. Their lives collide in an unexpected way. A powerful, sometimes wrenching novel about the struggles of Black women in the mid-1950s. So much here around shame and womanhood and making choices. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2023).

Love, Lies & Spies, Cindy Anstey
Miss Juliana Telford is more interested in publishing her research on ladybugs than diving into the London Season. Mr. Spencer Northam is far more preoccupied with espionage than with matrimony. But all this might change when they encounter one another by chance. A witty, hilarious, romantic tribute to Jane Austen and a really fun love story. Recommended by Anne.

Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead, Adam McHugh
After years as a hospice chaplain, McHugh found himself burned out, and needing not just an escape but a whole life change. His love of wine led him – several times – to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, where he began a career working in wine. An honest, sometimes snarky, well-researched, thoughtful memoir about wine and transformation. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man, Emily J. Edwards
Our titular heroine loves her job as secretary/girl Friday to NYC private eye Tommy Fortuna. But when she finds an unconscious man in the office and Tommy disappears – right after taking on a case for a wealthy client – Viv must marshal all her wits to solve the case and stay alive. A fun romp with an engaging heroine, though the dialogue read almost like a send-up of 1950s phrases. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 8).

Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration, Sara Dykman
I picked up this memoir last fall at the Harvard Book Store and have been reading it sloooowly. Dykman takes a months-long solo journey starting and ending in Mexico at the monarchs’ overwintering grounds, following their trail and giving presentations about the importance of these beautiful creatures. She’s a lovely writer, though the trip logistics dragged sometimes (as I’m sure they did in real life!). Fun bonus: she went through my dad’s tiny hometown in southwestern MO.

What Comes from Spirit, Richard Wagamese
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I., in June. Wagamese was an Indigenous Canadian writer who wrote extensively about his journey away from and back to his Native identity, as well as noticing the natural world, building community and paying attention. Short, lovely meditations – exactly my kind of thing for slow morning reading.

The Star That Always Stays, Anna Rose Johnson
When Norvia’s parents divorce, she and her siblings move from rural Beaver Island to a small Michigan city with their mother. Norvia must navigate a new school, a tricky blended family and her own shyness and anxiety, while striving to be a heroine. A sweet middle-grade story (though the middle dragged a bit); I loved Norvia’s family, especially her spunky younger sister, Dicta. Reminded me of Emily of Deep Valley.

Saving Main Street: Small Business in the Time of COVID-19, Gary Rivlin
Americans idolize small business – though we give a lot of our money to the colossal chains. It’s common knowledge now that small shops were hit hard by COVID-19. Veteran reporter Rivlin follows several business owners, including a restaurateur, a pharmacist, a Latina hairstylist and three Black brothers making chocolate, through the first 18 months or so of the pandemic. Full of fascinating anecdotes and a thorough explanation of the government’s confusing (but ultimately sort-of-effective) struggle to help small businesses. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 18).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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August has, so far, been hot and full and lovely. Between (and during) weekend adventures and heat waves, here’s what I have been reading:

Horse, Geraldine Brooks
I love Brooks’ thoughtful fiction that takes readers to unexpected places – all her novels are so different. This one deals with a discarded painting, a horse skeleton, a Civil War-era Black horse trainer and an NYC art dealer, among other things. I especially loved the sections about Jarret, the trainer. Rich and thought-provoking, like all her books.

Flying Solo, Linda Holmes
After calling off her wedding, Laurie Sassalyn returns to small-town Maine to clear out her elderly aunt’s house. She finds a carved wooden duck buried in a blanket chest, and tries to figure out how it got there. This is a sweet story with a bit of a mystery, but it’s mostly Laurie coming to terms with what she wants from her life. I loved the side characters like Laurie’s best friend June and actor brother Ryan, and I appreciated the musings on how womanhood and relationships don’t have to look the same for everyone.

By Any Other Name, Lauren Kate
Editor Lanie Bloom prides herself on handling crises at work, and snagging the perfect guy who fits her (long) list of criteria for a mate. But when Lanie gets (provisionally) promoted and finally meets her reclusive top-tier author, everything she thought she knew about life and love is thrown into question. I loved this sweet, witty publishing rom-com – shades of Nora Ephron, for sure – especially the subplot involving an elderly couple picnicking in Central Park. (Reminded me of this.)

Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion, Louise Willder
Blurbs are “the outside story” of a book – and there’s more to them than most people think. Veteran copywriter Willder takes readers through the (literal) A-Z of blurbs, touching on publishing history, literary snobbery, racism, gender politics, puns (so many puns!) and other entertaining absurdities. Smart, nerdy and so much bookish fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 11).

The Key to Deceit, Ashley Weaver
London, 1940: Ellie McDonnell, locksmith and sometime thief, has (mostly) gone straight since getting caught by British intelligence. When Major Ramsey comes asking for her help again (albeit reluctantly), Ellie gets swept up in a mystery involving a young drowned woman, espionage, and more. I love Weaver’s elegant Amory Ames series and enjoyed Ellie’s first adventure; this one was even better.

Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage, Nathalia Holt
The CIA as we know it is relatively new – it was founded after WWII, and a small cadre of sharp, accomplished women was instrumental in its founding and early years. Holt peels back the curtain on five “wise gals” who shaped the agency, fought for equity and did critical work. Insightful, compelling and so well researched – a brilliant slice of mostly unknown history. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

The Cannonball Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As the WWII Japanese occupation of Singapore drags on, Chen Su Lin is translating propaganda articles, cooking for Japanese officials and trying to stay alive. When a relative of hers – a known blackmailer – ends up dead, Su Lin gets drawn into the case, especially when she realizes it might involve sensitive photos and info relating to the war. This mystery was still fairly grim, but a bit more hopeful as Su Lin reconnects with a few friends and the tide of the war begins (slowly) to turn.

Summer Solstice: An Essay, Nina MacLaughlin
I loved MacLaughlin’s thoughtful, lyrical memoir, Hammer Head, and picked up this slim essay at the Booksmith. She writes about summer’s fullness, its nostalgia, its mythical status as a season, its beauty and lushness and even its end. Lovely.

Vinyl Resting Place, Olivia Blacke
Juniper “Juni” Jessup has just moved back to her hometown to open Sip & Spin, a record shop she co-owns with her sisters. But when a local young woman is found dead after the opening-night party – and their uncle, suspiciously, skips town – Juni and her sisters investigate. A fun cozy mystery; first in a new series. I liked Juni and the Texas setting, though the other characters were a little thin. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 27).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Suddenly, it’s July – the heat is here, as are the occasional summer thunderstorms. Nine days to Walk for Music; a couple weeks until a getaway I’m looking forward to. As we close out June, here’s what I have been reading:

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, Nina Totenberg
Totenberg, a longtime NPR reporter, met Ruth Bader Ginsburg early(ish) in both their careers. Her memoir traces their five-decade friendship, but it’s also a broader meditation on friendship, community, Washington insider politics and the challenges of being a woman in Washington’s highly rarefied environment. Thoughtful and insightful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 13).

In a New York Minute, Kate Spencer
Franny Doyle is having a terrible day: she got laid off, then her dress ripped in the subway door. Then a handsome guy offered her his suit jacket and their “love story” went viral. But is there maybe a spark there after all? I loved this sweet, sassy rom-com that’s also a love letter to NYC and a tribute to stalwart friendships (for both main characters). So much fun. Recommended by Annie.

The Last Mapmaker, Christina Soontornvat
Sai has spent her life (so far) struggling to rise above her family’s low-class background. When she gets a chance to join an exploratory voyage as a mapmaker’s assistant, she jumps at it. But on board ship, she discovers that so many things – including the voyage itself – are more complicated than they seem. A Thai-inspired adventure that asks some interesting questions; dragged in the middle but ultimately was really fun. Recommended by Karina Yan Glaser, whose books I adore.

My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
I admire Sotomayor, but didn’t know much about her before reading this wonderful memoir of her early life and career. She tells a compelling, warmhearted story of her early life in the Bronx, her Puerto Rican family, her journey to Princeton and Yale and her career as a lawyer and judge. Thoughtful, insightful and fascinating. Recommended by my friend Allison, who also loved it.

Portrait of a Thief, Grace D. Li
I loved this Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist novel that follows five Chinese-American college students as they attempt to steal back several priceless bronze pieces that Western museums have looted from China. I liked the characters, the fast pace and especially the questions about ethics, colonialism and who gets to decide where certain treasures belong. Fun and thought-provoking. Recommended by Anne.

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix, Bethany Morrow
It’s 1863 and the March women are building a life for themselves in the freedpeople’s colony of Roanoke Island, Virginia. I loved this thoughtful remix of a beloved story; the sisters are recognizably themselves, but also distinct from Alcott’s characters. The warmth of family love and the past trauma of enslavement are strong, and I appreciated the questions Morrow’s characters ask about equality and freedom. Excellent. Also recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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March is nearly halfway done – and has included a wild mix of weather, as usual. The daffodils are sprouting, though. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Wide Starlight, Nicole Lesperance
When Eline was six years old, her mother disappeared under the northern lights on Svalbard. Ten years later, Eline – now living on Cape Cod with her dad – starts receiving strange messages, and goes back to try and find her mother. A complex, atmospheric, magical (sometimes creepy) story about family, loss, and the unexplainable at the edges of things. Found at Copper Dog Books in Beverly.

The Last Dance of the Debutante, Julia Kelly
I enjoy Kelly’s historical novels about female friendship. This one follows several of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth in the late 1950s. Protagonist Lily Nicholls, who has always felt like an outsider, learns to navigate the swirl of the Season amid various family secrets. Compelling (though a little sad) and a fascinating slice of history.

Shady Hollow, Juneau Black
Nothing much ever happens in Shady Hollow – until the local curmudgeonly toad ends up murdered. Vera Vixen, a reporter with a nose for news, and her friend Lenore (a raven who runs Nevermore Books, naturally) begin to investigate. A totally charming murder mystery set in a village full of different creatures. First in a series and I can’t wait to read the others.

Our Last Days in Barcelona, Chanel Cleeton
Cleeton returns to the saga of the Cuban-American Perez sisters in this lush historical novel. It flips back and forth in time between the 1960s, when eldest sister Isabel goes to Barcelona to find her sister Beatriz (and do some soul-searching of her own), and the 1930s, when Alicia – the Perez matriarch – finds herself in Barcelona as the Spanish Civil War escalates. There’s romance here, but what I really loved was Isabel’s inner journey, and Alicia’s, too. Cleeton writes strong female leads so well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 24).

A Trip of One’s Own: Hope, Heartbreak, and Why Traveling Solo Could Change Your Life, Kate Wills
Travel writer Kate Wills spent years relishing her solo trips – but when her marriage fell apart, she found herself thinking about travel very differently. I loved this frank, funny memoir that weaves together Wills’ own experiences with practical tips and the stories of other intrepid female explorers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

Homicide and Halo-Halo, Mia P. Manansala
Lila Macapagal is getting ready to open the Brew-ha cafe with her friends – but she’s also still dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic murder case and judging a local beauty pageant (as one does). When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Lila gets pulled into the case and is also forced to confront her complicated feelings about pageants. I loved this second cozy mystery from Manansala – yummy food descriptions and more depth than the first one.

When You Get the Chance, Emma Lord
Millie Price is going to be a Broadway star – just as soon as she rocks the prestigious precollege program she’s been accepted into. But when her dad refuses to let her go, Millie embarks on a Mamma Mia-style search for her birth mom. This was the most fun theater-kid YA rom-com, with serious themes of identity and friendship. I loved Millie’s journey.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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I love a good reinvention narrative. There’s something empowering about watching a character, especially a real person, steer their life in an entirely new direction. But some of my favorite reinvention stories aren’t necessarily 180-degree turns. Rather, they involve a series of changes (some drastic, it’s true) that lead the protagonist to become more fully the self she’s always been meant to be. 

Trina Moyles had always loved the Canadian boreal forest where she grew up, but she never expected to spend multiple summers there, spotting smoke from atop an isolated fire tower. Moyles’ gorgeously written memoir, Lookout, dives into the logistical and emotional challenges of that life of deep solitude. She charts not only the ground around her fire tower, but her own internal growth during a difficult but formative season. (This was an impulse buy at Sundog Books and one of my favorites of 2021.)

Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French spent a lot of time at the diner her dad owned, but she wasn’t planning (then) on running her own restaurant one day. French’s memoir, Finding Freedom, chronicles her journey of culinary and personal discovery, and the founding of The Lost Kitchen, the restaurant she now owns in Freedom, Maine. 

Memphis-born Elizabeth Passarella didn’t leave behind her Southern identity when she became a New Yorker. Rather, her adult life–and her memoir, Good Apple–centers on learning to reconcile the two, or at least laugh at the tension between them. In short, punchy essays, Passarella takes readers through the highs and lows of her life in Manhattan: rats in her bedroom, public marital disputes, the Rockettes, and the trickiness of navigating politics (electoral and cultural) with grace. (I forget where I heard about this one, but it made me laugh so hard and say “Amen” every few pages.) All three women write with humor and insight about the situations that have shaped them into their truest selves. 

What are your favorite reinvention stories?

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran this past December.

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Here we are at the end of this strange, long year. I may have more to say about 2021 soon, but for now, I wish you a gentle transition into 2022. Here’s what I have been reading:

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at the Trident in 2019, and I loved it just as much this time. Widowed mum Kate is barely making ends meet with her job selling Christmas trees, while Daniel is struggling after the death of his sister. They meet, become friends (and maybe something more) and help each other figure out how to move forward. Sweet, witty and heartwarming.

Swimming with Seals, Victoria Whitworth
I found this at the Booksmith a while back and have been reading it sloooowly over breakfast. Whitworth is an archaeologist and cold-weather swimmer who chronicles her swims on Orkney, along with musings on the island’s ancient cultures, her relationship with her mother, and humankind’s relationship to the sea. It dragged a bit at times but the writing is lovely – so many good sentences.

Peach Blossom Spring, Melissa Fu
As the Japanese army advances through China, a young woman named Meilin flees with her son, Renshu, and their family. This absorbing novel tells their family’s story: Meilin’s constant efforts to keep Renshu safe and happy; his eventual emigration to the U.S.; and the life he builds there as a scientist and a father. Thoughtful and vividly described; a haunting tribute to immigrant families and being caught between worlds. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 15).

All I Want for Christmas, Wendy Loggia
Bailey Briggs, Christmas fanatic, can’t wait for the holiday – but she wants to kiss someone under the mistletoe. This YA rom-com features plenty of cheer, though the plot is a little thin. Still fun – Bailey works in a bookstore, and her friends and family are sweet. Found at the charming Book Shop of Beverly Farms and saved for this season.

Marvelous Manhattan, Reggie Nadelson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives (my favorite NYC bookstore, which is featured!) in August, and have been sloooowly reading it since. Nadelson gives an insider’s tour, peppered with history (some of it personal), cultural commentary and yummy food descriptions. I want to try a lot of these places. Mouthwatering and enjoyable.

The Body in the Garden, Katharine Schellman
English widow Lily Adler is trying to figure out what to do with herself after her husband’s death – and stumbles (literally) on a dead body. I enjoyed this first outing in Lily’s adventures; the Regency London details are fun and I like Lily herself and the other characters. (I read the sequel, Silence in the Library, earlier this fall.)

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
It’s 12 days before Christmas and Lily’s holiday spirit has all but disappeared – so Dash hatches a scheme with Lily’s brother, Langston, to bring back the cheer. I loved this sequel to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – sweet, funny, full of NYC Christmas magic, and a sensitive exploration of how the holidays can be tough when you’re struggling, for whatever reason.

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, Mindy Thompson
Poppy Fulbright adores her family’s magical bookshop, Rhyme and Reason – she feels safe there. But strange things start happening when her brother’s best friend is killed in the war and her father falls ill. A bookish middle-grade fantasy novel with an engaging protagonist.

Intimations, Zadie Smith
I heard about Smith’s pandemic essay collection a while ago, but I wasn’t ready for it then. But I picked it up at the delightful Crow Bookshop in Vermont this week and read the essays in one sitting. I think she does tiny details – tulips in a New York City garden, the small encounters in “Screengrabs” – better than high philosophy. But she also writes well about love and work and isolation.

The Last Chance LibraryFreya Sampson
Shy librarian June Jones has rarely left her home village or tried anything new – especially since her mother’s death, eight years ago. But when June’s beloved library is threatened with closure, June joins a ragtag group of protesters fighting to keep it open. An engaging British story about a woman finding her own voice and (of course) the power of libraries. Found, fittingly, at the BPL.

These Precious Days, Ann Patchett
Patchett needs no introduction from me. I picked up her new essay collection at my beloved Three Lives in NYC. These warm, wise, tender essays explore friendship, marriage, dogs, her relationship with her father (and father figures), her love of literature and so much more. A perfect book to end the year.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Suddenly October is upon us – I can’t believe it’s today. The leaves are starting to turn, and Trader Joe’s looks like a pumpkin factory exploded. I have been raiding the middle-grade section at the library, and here’s the latest list:

Tune it Out, Jamie Sumner
Lou Montgomery has a powerful singing voice – but she hates crowds, loud noises and uncertain situations. When a car accident separates Lou from her mom for a bit, she meets some new folks who help her name and address her struggles. A sweet middle-grade novel – well done, but it made me so sad for Lou and her mom.

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York, Elizabeth Passarella
I loved every page of this memoir-cum-reflection on being a Southerner in Manhattan, and other complicated identities. Passarella is from Memphis; she’s around my age and I laughed out loud at a lot of her adventures, and related to most of them. Funny, smart and warm.

Summer at Meadow Wood, Amy Rebecca Tan
Vic Brown is (reluctantly) spending her summer at camp while her home life is falling apart. Despite her resistance, she ends up enjoying it: working on the camp farm, being “big sister” to a precocious seven-year-old, and learning a few things about herself (and Eleanor Roosevelt). Loved this one.

Every Missing Piece, Melanie Conklin
Ever since her dad died in an accident, Maddy Gaines sees danger and deception everywhere. But is the new kid at school really the kid she saw on the news who went missing six months ago? A sensitive middle-grade novel dealing with anxiety, domestic abuse and big family changes.

Rewilding the Urban Soul: Searching for the Wild in the City, Claire Dunn
Claire Dunn once spent a year living in the Australian bush – but after moving to Melbourne, she wanted to find ways to seek wildness in the city. This memoir charts her experiments in foraging, exploring, learning about local species, kayaking a city river and more. A bit too long, but well written and lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 7).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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It’s no secret I love a solo trip to NYC. Some of my favorite memories of the Big Apple are from weekends spent wandering the streets by myself. My last trip there, though, was kind of a failure: it was January 2020, just days after my divorce court date. I thought I wanted an adventure to look forward to, but once I was there, all I wanted was to be back home. I came back early and didn’t regret it, but I’ve been wanting to revisit NYC alone (and basically unable to do so) ever since.

I hopped down to NYC a few weekends ago for my shortest trip to date: I was there for just over 24 hours, and it was a hot, humid whirlwind. But I loved wandering my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village, browsing bookstores and drinking my weight in iced tea. Here, a few highlights:

My beloved Three Lives & Co. is in a temporary space due to renovation, but I made sure to walk down West 10th to visit their new digs. I had a long browse and a lovely conversation with Nora, one of the booksellers, and bought a fabulous compendium of essays about Manhattan.

I headed straight for Bryant Park (see above) when I arrived, for lunch and a lemonade. But once I made my way to the Jane, where I stayed, I stuck to Chelsea and the Village all weekend.

I walked and walked – to Pink Olive, to Chelsea Market (above), to various shops that looked intriguing. I popped into cafes for iced tea and took photos of flowers and street art. And I had dinner at Roey’s (the most fantastic burrata pizza), and sat outside on one of my favorite corners in the city, sipping a gin cocktail and scribbling in my journal until nearly closing time.

Sunday morning meant a long run through the Hudson River Park (the High Line wasn’t open yet, but I loved discovering a new-to-me running route). Then I had a fantastic sandwich (with iced chai) at Three Owls Market, and wandered up to 192 Books, where I’d never been.

I grabbed some snacks for the train, walked around some more, and headed back to Penn Station to catch my train home. I was exhausted and delighted, and so glad I went. The city is waking back up, and it felt like mine again.

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