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Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

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My brain has been awfully full this month of non-book things (switching jobs and offices will do that to you). But I’ve still squeezed in a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading:

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Cassie Danvers loses her beloved grandmother June, she also inherits June’s crumbling mansion in a small Ohio town. The house has a few secrets it wants to tell – and an unexpected inheritance forces Cassie to ask some potentially explosive questions about her family. This absorbing novel shifts back and forth between 1955 and 2015. Full of rich detail, engaging characters and a twisty, satisfying plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Killer Takeout, Lucy Burdette
Key West is ready to party during its annual Fantasy Fest – a week of increasingly raucous, boozy events. But food critic Hayley Snow (naturally) stumbles across a murder during the festivities. When Hayley’s co-worker Danielle is named the chief suspect, Hayley deploys her amateur sleuthing skills to prove Danielle’s innocence. I like Hayley and her supporting cast, and this was a fun installment in the series. (The author sent me an early copy; it comes out April 5.)

The Secrets of Flight, Maggie Leffler
Elderly widow (and former WWII fly girl) Mary Browning has kept her past hidden for years. But when she meets Elyse, a budding novelist, through her writers’ group, Mary hires the teenager to type her memoir, deciding it’s time to tell some of her stories at last. A captivating story of flight, family, conflicting loyalties and the sometimes painfully high price of following one’s dreams. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
American witch Diana Bishop has avoided using magic since her parents were murdered, years ago. But while she’s doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a mysterious (spellbound) manuscript and the appearance of a handsome vampire upend her carefully constructed life. I do not like vampires, but Leigh finally convinced me to pick up this book. Some great characters and an interesting storyline – though I found Diana irritatingly passive. (I loved the Oxford bits, obviously.) I will still probably read the sequel.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This is the perfect book for early spring: the story of Jane Stuart – practical, capable, kind – discovering that her father is alive and spending a glorious summer with him on Prince Edward Island. I adore Jane and the Island, and I love watching both of them blossom in this book.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and also enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. So I was curious about this, her memoir of learning to write (and then immersing herself totally in) Italian. Lahiri is an American, the child of Bengali parents, who has struggled to feel at home in a language and culture her whole life. As she studies Italian – even moving to Rome – she experiences a different kind of alienation and also joy. This is a very interior book – I suppose because it documents an interior journey. Odd, often somber, but compelling.

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

What are you reading?

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queens lane cream tea oxford

It’s been an unusual winter, weather-wise: a few snowfalls, a sub-zero arctic blast over Valentine’s Day weekend, a handful of springlike days in February. (I’ve been snapping pictures of crocuses in joy and disbelief.)

Despite the mild spells, though, we’ve had plenty of what I call Yorkshire weather.

Yorkshire is a place in northern England, of course (home to the lovely town of York and the fictional location of Downton Abbey). But it’s also a tea: a stout, strong black blend sold in green-printed boxes of generously sized teabags. I first encountered it, and fell in love, during a long-ago Oxford winter, when I learned the power of a cuppa (with milk and sugar, please) to combat the damp English cold that seeps into your bones.

The climate in Boston is a bit different from Oxford: we generally have more snow and lower humidity, more crisp, blue-skied days than grey, cloudy ones. But every winter, I can count on at least a few instances of that raw, biting wind that whips right through my green coat and makes me shiver.

Hurrying along the street, my head bent against the cold, I want nothing more in the world than a cup of Yorkshire, brewed strong and laced with milk till it’s the perfect shade of rich, creamy brown. (Sugar optional – but it helps balance out the deep, tannic taste.)

Every time I brew a cup of Yorkshire, pouring the boiling water from my red teakettle, I remember winter in Oxford: skimming down the High Street on my green bike, my hands in their fingerless gloves gripping the handlebars till they grew red and raw with the cold. Tramping with Jacque over muddy meadows to the Trout Inn, past the ponies and the canal crowded with boats and the ruins of Godstow Abbey. Making a pot of Yorkshire in a cluttered, homey kitchen with a half-dozen other American students, rummaging through drawers of mismatched silverware to find enough spoons for the sugar. Or sipping a cuppa brewed by Lizzie or Jo from a blue polka-dotted mug, in the spare but cozy downstairs lounge of the little house in Ablett Close.

I can get Yorkshire tea in the States, fortunately, but my English friend Caroline set me up with a big box last summer, and there’s still plenty left. It takes the chill off after a cold walk home, but it also reminds me of my favorite place, and the people and moments I loved there.

Spring is coming and I couldn’t be gladder. But I’m also fine with a few more days of Yorkshire weather.

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all souls college oxford radcliffe square

It’s no secret: Oxford is my very favorite place. In the world.

I fell in love with it more than a decade ago, when I stepped off the bus (after an overnight flight) as a wide-eyed college sophomore, who couldn’t believe her luck at getting to spend an entire semester in an ancient, lovely university town.

The ensuing four months, and the year I later spent there earning my master’s degree, only made me love it more.

all souls towers oxford england

I’ve been back to visit a few times, most recently a year and a half ago, but I’m always itching to go back. Until the next time, though, I always love (re)visiting it on the page. So here are my favorite Oxford books:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers is the first Oxford novel I ever read, and still the best. It’s a mystery, a love story, a feminist novel and a brilliantly rendered evocation of Oxford in the 1930s. Many of the streets and buildings have not changed, so the descriptions still feel utterly fresh. So do the insights on work and love, intellectual and emotional freedom, and whether it is possible for women to remain true to themselves and also be married.

Oxford Revisited is a slim, lyrical memoir by novelist and Oxford alumnus Justin Cartwright, whose love for the university matches my own. He writes about his time as an undergraduate and about Oxford itself: its ancient traditions, complicated architecture and captivating beauty. I got to meet him and hear him speak at the Oxford Literary Festival. He was kind and erudite, which made me love the book even more.

These Ruins are Inhabited was a serendipitous find: a memoir mistakenly shelved in the fiction stacks at the Montague Bookmill. Muriel Beadle was an American journalist whose husband was a visiting professor at Oxford in the late 1950s, and she describes their family’s time there with wit and spirit. Keenly observed and so much fun.

Isolarion by James Attlee charts “a different Oxford journey,” as the subtitle says: the relatively new, wildly multicultural East Oxford neighborhood of Cowley. I lived in Cowley during my second stay in Oxford and found it messy, confusing, sometimes frustrating and often delightful. Attlee brings it vividly to life.

radcliffe camera st mary's tower oxford

These are my faves, but I’ve read and loved a handful of other Oxford-centric books. So here are a few honorable mentions:

Fiction

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is hilarious chick lit with a soul. It’s set largely in Oxford, since the two main characters (Nick and Bex, inspired by Will and Kate) meet there.

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay is a highly entertaining mystery romp set in 1930s Oxford – essentially Gaudy Night lite. (With plenty of tea and biscuits.)

The Late Scholar takes Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey (of Gaudy Night fame) back to Oxford, to solve another mystery. I usually don’t like fan fiction, but Jill Paton Walsh’s continuation of Sayers’ series is so well done.

rowboats river cherwell oxford

Nonfiction

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter is a meticulously researched, detailed account of the famous literary group that included (among others) C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. You can hardly walk in Oxford without tripping over a reference to those two, and this is an excellent look at their work and influence.

My History by Antonia Fraser is a coming-of-age story, a Downton Abbey-esque peek into the early 20th century, and a love letter to Oxford, where she grew up.

Surprised by Oxford is Carolyn Weber’s journey of finding faith and love (among other things) in Oxford.

catte street oxford

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

Any favorite books set in Oxford that you’d recommend?

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strand books nyc exterior

We’re only nine days into November, but I’ve already read some cracking good books this month. (Hooray!) Here’s the latest roundup:

The Lake House, Kate Morton
In 1933, toddler Theo Edevane disappears from his family’s isolated country estate in Cornwall. His body is never found. Seventy years later, London detective Sadie Sparrow, reeling from a professional crisis, comes to the area on holiday and decides to reopen the cold case. Morton’s latest is full of lush descriptions, family secrets and hidden passions. A richly layered plot – I devoured it.

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, Nancy Springer
Springer’s second Enola Holmes mystery finds her protagonist living alone in London, dodging her brother Sherlock, helping the poor, and trying to solve a few cases. When a peer’s daughter goes missing, Enola investigates, with surprising results. Another fun middle-grade mystery.

The Stargazer’s Sister, Carrie Brown
The 18th-century astronomer William Herschel was justly famous for his pioneering work with telescopes and discovery of several celestial bodies. But his sister and longtime assistant, Caroline, was herself an accomplished astronomer. In this lyrical novelization of Caroline’s story, Brown explores the limits, sacrifices and rewards of love and dedication. Absolutely beautiful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 19).

Black Ship, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her family have moved into a new house near Hampstead Heath. But when a dead body turns up in the garden, Daisy and Alec get mixed up in another investigation. An engaging plot, combining the tricky business of British liquor sales during U.S. Prohibition with the delicate matter of interrogating one’s brand-new neighbors.

The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor
Before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage, they were simply a Jewish family living in New York. Cantor tells their story through a fictional neighbor, Millie Stein, who is struggling with her own troubled son and unhappy marriage, and is drawn into the Rosenbergs’ lives. Beautifully written and heartbreaking. I also loved Cantor’s previous novel, Margot.

Death on the Cherwell, Mavis Doriel Hay
The unpopular bursar of Persephone College, Oxford, is found dead in her canoe. Four spirited undergraduate ladies investigate. Oxford + mysteries + plucky heroines = my literary catnip. Well written and so much fun. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Eat The City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York, Robin Shulman
New York City is known as a concrete jungle, but it has supported robust production of various food products – vegetables, meat, beer and wine – over the years. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. Meticulously researched and fascinating. Found at the Strand on my solo trip to NYC.

The Way to Stay in Destiny, Augusta Scattergood
When Theo Thomas ends up in Destiny, Florida, with his taciturn uncle, he doesn’t plan on staying. But a baseball-crazy girl and a dance-studio piano might just save his summer – and help him find a new home. A sweet middle-grade novel about family, music and finding home. I also loved Scattergood’s previous novel, Glory Be.

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

I’ll be linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What are you reading?

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brookline booksmith twinkle lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading?

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ana of california book geraniums front porch

Summer reading is some of my favorite reading, and I’ve been getting through stacks of books this month. Here’s the latest roundup:

Ana of California, Andi Teran
Shuttled around the foster system for years, Ana Cortez has run out of chances when she comes to work on a farm in Northern California. A vivid, lovely 21st-century reimagining of Anne of Green Gables. Ana is fierce and vulnerable and I loved her (and the whole cast of characters). Found recently at the Concord Bookshop.

The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh
Khalid, the boy-king of Rey, murders a new bride every morning. After her best friend falls victim to his cruelty, Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid, planning to take revenge. But his story is more complicated than she’d thought. A riff on One Thousand and One Nights with two likable heroines, though the magical element felt forced.

The Case of the Murdered Muckraker, Carola Dunn
On a working holiday in New York, Daisy Dalrymple (now Fletcher) witnesses a murder. A mad chase for the killer and plenty of culture shock ensue. A fun variation on the series, but I missed the usual supporting characters.

The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl
In the days before copyright laws, literary piracy flourished. Pearl imagines a breed of “bookaneers,” swashbuckling thieves who made their fortunes stealing from authors. An engaging adventure tale full of colorful characters and some great lines about the literary life – though I didn’t like the ending. Recommended by Laura.

Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her family end up at an isolated Cornwall estate for Christmas, where (of course) someone is murdered. A highly enjoyable holiday twist on this series.

My History, Antonia Fraser
Biographer Antonia Fraser has always adored History with a capital H. She details her growing-up years and her burgeoning love of the field in this memoir. It is full of Oxford (where she grew up and went to university) and witty commentary on her family and herself as a young woman. Some lovely lines, though the whole thing felt a bit disjointed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Andrew Gant
Despite their pious lyrics, many Christmas carols have a checkered history. Choirmaster Andrew Gant tells the entertaining (often murky) stories of 21 classic carols. Occasionally obtuse but mostly accessible and really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
Reeling from a recent tragedy, Veronika rents a house in an isolated Swedish village. Her elderly neighbor, Astrid, is also carrying a heavy sorrow. Gradually, a friendship develops between the two women. Quiet, spare and beautifully written.

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

What are you reading?

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bay bopks coronado ca

During Commencement season, my reading has slowed down a little. But here are the books I’ve loved lately:

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, ed. Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger
King (who writes the Mary Russell series I adore) and Klinger asked a few of their fellow authors to write a second volume of stories featuring, parodying, or inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Fun, but a bit uneven; I thought the first volume (A Study in Sherlock) was better.

The Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn
The second cozy mystery featuring Miss Daisy Dalrymple finds her writing about another country estate – and stumbling into another murder. I saw a few plot twists coming a mile away, but I like Daisy and enjoyed spending more time with her.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, Anthony Doerr
I loved this gorgeous memoir of the year Doerr spent in Rome with his wife and their infant twin sons, exploring the city and trying to write a novel. Full of beautiful sentences and vivid vignettes of a liminal time for Doerr’s family, in an endlessly fascinating city. (I also loved his novel All the Light We Cannot See.) Found at Adams Avenue Book Store in San Diego.

The Royal We, Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
American Bex Porter expects to fall in love with Oxford – but not with an English prince – during her study abroad program. I loved this sassy, frothy, full-of-heart novel about Bex, her twin sister Lacey, Prince Nicholas and his rogue brother Freddie, and the complications of either being royal or dating a royal. Funny, heartbreaking and so good. (Also: Oxford! Love.)

Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard
I loved Bard’s first memoir, Lunch in Paris, but I may have loved this one even more. A gorgeous, warmhearted account of transition, marriage, new motherhood and opening an ice cream shop in Provence. Found at Bay Books in San Diego (pictured above).

Requiem for a Mezzo, Carola Dunn
A mezzo-soprano drops dead in the middle of a concert – and of course Daisy Dalrymple is on the case. Another amusing mystery with an entertaining cast of characters (I love the Chief Inspector’s two assistants).

The Tide Watchers, Lisa Chaplin
As unrest foments on both sides of the English Channel in 1802, a young Englishwoman is caught up in a complicated game of espionage. A fast-paced, well-written story full of adventure, intrigue and romance. (Warning: there are a lot of characters to keep track of.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 30).

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

What are you reading?

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