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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

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A Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers
I’m usually wary of authors adapting another author’s characters – but Jill Paton Walsh superbly continues the story of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. As World War II heats up, Peter goes abroad on a secret mission and Harriet takes the children to the country, where (of course) she has to solve a mystery. Full of familiar village characters (from Busman’s Honeymoon) and two truly wonderful bits of code-breaking.

Hoot, Carl Hiaasen
As the new kid at his Florida middle school, Roy is trying to stay under the radar. But a mysterious barefoot boy and his tough soccer-player sister introduce Roy to a group of tiny burrowing owls – which lead all three kids into a confrontation they hadn’t expected. Funny at times, but definitely aimed at middle-school boys.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home, Laura Vanderkam
I loved Vanderkam’s 168 Hours and enjoyed these three short, pithy productivity e-guides. Useful tips for making the most of your mornings, weekends and work hours. I’m paying more attention to where my time goes, and am planning to implement some of Vanderkam’s ideas. Smart and practical.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, Ann Mah
When Ann Mah’s diplomat husband was posted to Paris, she began planning all the culinary adventures they’d have together. But when he was called to Iraq for a year – alone – she had to revise her plans. A lovely memoir of creating a home in a new place, with lots of French culinary history, mouthwatering recipes and nods to that other American diplomatic wife, Julia Child.

The Attenbury Emeralds, Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter Wimsey recounts his first case – the recovery of a stolen emerald – to his wife Harriet. Then the emerald’s current owner turns up, needing Peter’s help again. The retelling of the first mystery dragged on and on – it only got interesting when the second case started to pick up. Not nearly as good as Walsh’s other two adaptations, but still entertaining once it picked up steam.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I reach for this book every year when winter digs in its heels and it seems spring will never come. I love watching Jane discover the world of P.E. Island, but even better is watching her blossom into a confident, happy young woman. Charming and fun.

Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Linh Cinder, gifted mechanic, has a secret: she’s part cyborg. When the prince asks her to fix his personal android and her sweet stepsister falls ill, Cinder gets drawn into a web of politics, medical testing and the secrets of her own past. A slow start, but a really fun take on the story of Cinderella. First in a series – I can’t wait to read the sequel! Recommended by Leigh and Jessica.

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

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One of my best friends was about to become a mother, and I wouldn’t be there. Oh, we still had e-mails, phone calls, visits, but I would miss the small events—like visiting her in the hospital or leaving a tray of lasagna in her fridge—the mundane participation that is the true meaning of friendship. She was over there and I was here, and the circles of our daily lives overlapped less and less, until they barely touched at all.

I knew it wasn’t her fault, or mine, just the natural consequence of distance. And yet recently the distance had started to loom unforgiving and unmanageable, shadowing almost all my relationships. I felt it when I saw photos of friends’ new boyfriends-turned-husbands, with my baby nieces who were suddenly young girls weaving me pot holders, with my parents who grew a little grayer every time I visited. The people I loved most in the world were living the most important moments of their lives without me, and I was living mine without them. It took me a while to recognize the emotion, unfamiliar as it was, but when I did, it scratched at me with thorny immediacy: I was homesick.”

—Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating

mom betsy kitchen

(My mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen at Christmastime)

I devoured Mah’s lovely, warm memoir of the year she spent alone in Paris while her husband was on a diplomatic assignment in Iraq. (He was originally posted to Paris, but when he was called away, she had to stay behind.) I savored Mah’s descriptions of Parisian cafés and her accounts of trips to Lyon, Brittany, Provence and other locales, as she researched the origins of such classic French dishes as crêpes, cassoulet and boeuf bourgignon. But this passage about love and homesickness made my breath catch in my chest.

Because I know. I know what it’s like to stand on a city street corner, the wind whipping my hair around my face as my sister tells me over the phone, from two thousand miles away, that she’s pregnant. I know the mingled ache and joy of receiving texted pictures of a friend’s sparkling new engagement ring, and the unmitigated ache of not being able to travel to a family funeral. I understand the annual balancing act of splitting my vacation time between exciting destinations (like our recent trip to San Diego) and booking plane tickets back home, squeezing out a few extra days here and there to play with my nephew and quote old movies with my dad.

All of us who have moved away from the places we grew up, or the places where we have lived and made friends as adults, know this particular kind of homesickness. We wish we could gather all our loved ones in one place, so we could be there for all the important moments instead of seeing them on Facebook, or drop in for dinner instead of making do with phone calls and emails and tweets. We do our best to put down roots where we are, digging deeply into a few new relationships, but we miss the everyday joy of the “mundane participation” Mah mentions. We know we are lucky to have friends in multiple states, sometimes even on several continents. But our heartstrings get sore from the constant tugging in so many directions, and we wish it were simpler, but we know it never will be.

I don’t have any answers, and Mah admits she doesn’t either, other than the tried-and-true remedies of spending time with loved ones when possible, and aiming to be present in the life she had, rather than wallowing in nostalgia. (Though sometimes the wallowing is unavoidable.) But I wanted to share this passage because this is what I love best about reading: the shock of recognition when someone else’s words express an emotion or a thought so perfectly that all you can say is “Me too.”

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vacation reading books

(Pictured above: my vacation reading.)

A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, ed. Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger
I love Sherlock Holmes; I love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels featuring him; and I love the BBC series Sherlock. So I loved this story collection by various authors, riffing on the character and methods of the great detective. Pure Holmesian enjoyment.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
I read Austen’s last (and quietest) novel some years ago, but had been hankering for a reread. I love Anne Elliot, though I wish she were more assertive (and I want to smack her whiny younger sister), and that letter from Captain Wentworth makes me swoon. Austen’s wit, as always, is biting and astute, and her characters are delightful.

An Old Betrayal, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s Charles Lenox mystery series, and this seventh entry was a treat. Lenox interrupts his Parliament career (again) to investigate a murder, gradually realizing that the Queen of England may be in danger. Some wonderful scenes with historical figures, including Benjamin Disraeli and Queen Victoria herself.

Paris Letters, Janice MacLeod
Frustrated artist leaves the corporate rat race for Paris and falls in love with her (Polish) butcher. To support her new lifestyle, she begins selling “painted letters” – paintings of Paris scenes with accompanying text. The painted letters are lovely, but the memoir fell flat. I’ve read better ones.

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
Jessica has raved about this mystery series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, and this first book was excellent. When a famous opera conductor is found dead in his dressing room during intermission, Brunetti must solve the case. Evocative descriptions of Venice, and a well-plotted mystery.

A Mad, Wicked Folly, Sharon Biggs Waller
Victoria Darling longs to be taken seriously as an artist. But as a daughter of aristocrats, she’s only expected to marry well. After scandal erupts at her French finishing school, Vicky returns to London and finds herself caught up in the suffragette movement. Witty and fun, with a sweet romance. Hoping for a sequel!

Paris to Die For, Maxine Kenneth
Before Jacqueline Bouvier married Jack Kennedy, she went on a secret mission for the CIA…in Paris! This romp of a spy novel takes Jackie all over the city, often in the company of a handsome Frenchman. Too fun. (Inspired by an actual letter written by Jackie.) Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Spy in a Little Black Dress, Maxine Kenneth
This sequel to the above takes Jackie to Havana, where she meets Fidel Castro and his band of rebels. Not as good as the first book; a bit too conscious of its own cleverness, but still fun. Perfect vacation reading.

Thrones, Dominations, Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
It’s no secret I adore Lord Peter Wimsey and his love, Harriet Vane. Walsh used Sayers’ unfinished notes and chapters to flesh out this novel, and it is well plotted and satisfying. I loved spending time with Harriet and Peter again.

A Fall of Marigolds, Susan Meissner
Two women – a nurse on Ellis Island in 1911 and a survivor of the 9/11 attacks – are connected by a scarf (which features the titular marigolds). Both of them must learn to move on from loss and open themselves to living again. Heartbreaking, sometimes frustrating, ultimately lovely.

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

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the bookstore lenox ma

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, Rachel Bertsche
I loved Rachel’s first memoir, MWF Seeking BFF, about her quest to find friends in a new city. This book chronicles her attempts to make over her life á la celebrity role models: Jennifer Aniston’s workouts, Tina Fey’s work ethic, Julia Roberts’ brand of Zen. She also muses on the lure of celebrity culture and shares her struggle to have a baby. Funny, engaging and wise. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, Brigid Pasulka
Once upon a time (in the 1930s), a young man nicknamed “the Pigeon” fell in love with the beautiful Anielica. But war and hardship delayed their marriage and changed their journey in unexpected ways. Decades later, their granddaughter moves from her small village to Krakow after her mother dies, trying to find her way in life and love. Pasulka interweaves the two narratives masterfully. Moving and beautifully written. Recommended by Jaclyn.

You are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves, Hiawatha Bray
After working for millennia to map the world, humankind has solved the problem of location. Our smartphones, GPS devices and other transmitters can track our locations at any time – but at what cost? Bray summarizes the history of location technology and considers the issues surrounding modern tracking devices. Thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

The Sun and Other Stars, Brigid Pasulka
I loved Pasulka’s debut (see above) and loved her second novel even more. Set in a tiny Italian village, it’s a tale of family, love, grief and calcio (soccer). As Etto grieves the deaths of his mother and brother, he befriends a Ukrainian soccer star and his sister, who teach Etto a thing or two about calcio and about living with joy. Sharp, funny and beautiful. (My copy came from the publisher, but I was not compensated for this review.)

When the Cypress Whispers, Yvette Manessis Corporon
Daphne has always loved spending summers on the Greek island of Erikousa with her grandmother. But when she returns as a young widow struggling to raise a child and run a restaurant, she learns a few family secrets and meets an utterly exasperating man. A semi-predictable love story, given depth by the World War II events and enriched by mouthwatering descriptions of Greek food. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
As an infant, Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. When the authorities threaten to take her away from Charles, her kind but eccentric guardian, Sophie and Charles flee to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. Sophie meets a gang of “rooftoppers” – children who live on the roofs of Paris – who aid in her search. Whimsical and charming, though the ending felt abrupt.

The Collector of Dying Breaths, M.J. Rose
In the 16th century, a young Italian man becomes Catherine de Medici’s perfumer and co-conspirator in court intrigues. In the present day, Jac L’Etoile, perfumer and mythologist, is grieving her brother’s death and trying to solve several mysteries. The stories intertwine in surprising ways. Lush descriptions, but a bit creepy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 8).

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

I participated in Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, trying not to buy books this month. Look for a report on Monday.

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The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurain
This fun novel was a serendipitous find at Brookline Booksmith. It begins with Daniel Mercier, a Paris accountant who finds himself sitting next to President Francois Mitterrand at a restaurant. Mitterrand leaves his hat behind and Daniel takes it home with him – and the most extraordinary things begin to happen. The hat eventually finds its way to several other new owners, who find their lives changed after its arrival. Whimsical, mischievous, clever, and a loving portrait of 1980s France.

Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
I loved my recent reread of Gaudy Night so much that I picked up its sequel, which follows Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey on their honeymoon in a (supposedly) quiet English village. Of course, a corpse turns up soon after they arrive, and our intrepid detectives must solve the mystery. I’d read this years ago, but had forgotten Lord Peter’s delight in quoting writers and philosophers at every turn, and the calm efficiency of his man, Bunter. And as a married woman with a career, I appreciated this sensitive portrait of a fledgling marriage between two strong-minded people. Slower going than Gaudy Night, but rich and rewarding.

I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, Elinor Lipman
I loved Lipman’s novel The View from Penthouse B and enjoyed this collection of her essays on family, writing, friendship and other topics. Lipman is warm, witty, often sarcastic but deeply loving – especially when it comes to her family. Amusing and sometimes insightful, in the vein of Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Michelle Cooper
After her uncle’s death and a Nazi invasion, Princess Sophia and her family have fled to England from their native island of Montmaray. Now living with their aunt – who is determined to marry off Sophie and her cousin Veronica, and mold tomboy Henry into a young lady – Sophie records her hopes, fears and impressions of the London Season. A fun glimpse of the social whirl (including appearances by the Kennedy clan) and a sensitive exploration of a young woman trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. My favorite of the series.

The FitzOsbornes at War, Michelle Cooper
Bombs are dropping on London, food rationing is taking effect, and Sophie and Veronica, princesses of Montmaray, are doing their bit for the war effort. Espionage, diplomacy and politics live side by side with personal drama in this conclusion to the Montmaray trilogy. Several minor plot elements seemed far-fetched to me, but I love Sophie’s voice and enjoyed following the characters through World War II (and, finally, back home to Montmaray).

The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
A phone call from his newly widowed ex-wife, Denise, turns Henry Archer’s quiet, lonely life upside down. Soon, Denise’s charming actress daughter has moved into Henry’s basement apartment; Denise is setting Henry up with her eligible (gay) friends; and Henry finds himself acting as lawyer to both Denise and her daughter. A fun, modern comedy of manners – occasionally veering into stereotype, but highly entertaining.

Margot, Jillian Cantor
It’s 1959, and The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen (after the book took the world by storm). Meanwhile, quiet Margie Franklin, secretary in a Philadelphia law firm, has a secret. She is really Margot Frank, Anne’s sister, who escaped from the death camps and somehow survived. Cantor presents a compelling what-if story, a nuanced exploration of sibling rivalry (and love), and a sensitive portrait of a deeply wounded young woman. Wistful and moving.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
Duhigg examines the neuroscience of “habit loops” – how our brains form patterns related to cravings, routines and rewards. He looks at individuals’ habits, then widens his focus to companies (Starbucks, Target and others) and social movements (the Montgomery bus boycott; Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church). Interesting stuff, with some truly disturbing examples.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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les-mis-penguin-coverI’ve loved the story of Les Misérables for a long time – ever since my friend Kate played part of the musical’s soundtrack for me, one afternoon when we were in about eighth grade. I fell instantly in love with Jean Valjean and Fantine, Eponine and Cosette and Marius, and that plucky, saucy urchin, Gavroche. Then and now, the opening chords of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” send chills up my spine.

Back in January, after seeing the new film version (which made me weep), I picked up a beautiful hardcover edition of the book. At 1232 pages, it’s too bulky for subway reading, so I’ve been reading a few pages before breakfast nearly every morning for the last six months. And as of July 8, I am finished.

(Warning: major spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book or seen the musical or film.)

My husband asked me, early on, if the book was quite different from the musical adaptation, and at the time, I answered, “Not really.” Reading about Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and the Thenardiers, Javert and Marius and Enjolras and all the others, felt like revisiting old friends. The outlines of the plot, from Valjean’s initial encounter with the bishop to his death at the end, were familiar.

Part of the joy of reading the book was tracing the story arc I already knew. I felt a prick of recognition every time I came across a familiar detail: the silver candlesticks; Fantine cutting off her hair; the ABC Cafe; the red flag Enjolras holds up before his death. During the scenes that also appear in the musical, I could hear the songs playing in my head. (Yes, I am a serious musical theatre nerd.)

However, over 1200 pages, Hugo (obviously) has much more room to roam than the writers and producers of the musical. He uses quite a few of those pages to recount the Battle of Waterloo, muse on argot, the dialect of Paris’ criminal underworld, and explore the structure and history of Paris’ sewer system. (The latter was a low point, in several senses.) Although the subjects of the digressions are all at least distantly related to the story, I found myself wishing frequently for a red pen. The man needed a good – and ruthless – editor.

But what I loved about Les Mis – what kept me going through five parts, 1200-plus pages and all those digressions – was the deeper insight into these characters I already knew.

Rich though the musical is, it contains polished-up versions of several characters (Grantaire, Eponine, Marius), and its portraits of others, particularly the Thénardiers, often slide into stereotype. The book contains the full history of these characters, presenting them in all their complexity, filling in the broad strokes of the musical with plenty of shadow and depth.

For example, we find out what happens in the nine-year gap between Valjean’s rescue of Cosette and the rumblings of revolution in Paris (the gap is briefly mentioned midway through Act I in the musical). Hugo serves up a generous helping of political and social context for the 1832 uprising (never mind that I hadn’t heard of half the politicians he mentions). Marius’ grandfather Monsieur Gillenormand (who does not appear in the stage musical) holds the key to understanding Marius himself, and we learn vital information about all the characters, including Gavroche’s parentage, Fantine’s ill-fated love affair (which produced Cosette), and the telling fact of Javert’s birthplace (a prison).

Besides feeling virtuous for tackling such a hefty classic, I was moved by the novel’s themes of grace, hope and redemption amid squalor and despair. I loved peeling back the layers of these characters whose songs have lived in my head for years. The musical and the book are separate but intertwined entities, and I’m glad to know them both now.

Have you read or seen Les Mis? Do you feel the need to seek out the book when you see a theatrical or film adaptation of a story?

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the bookstore lenox ma

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
I read Lahiri’s debut collection Interpreter of Maladies in college and was blown away. I did not love her novel, The Namesake, but I do love her writing – elegant, understated, evocative. These stories, like her other work, feature Indian immigrants to the U.S. and their children, all caught between differing cultures and expectations of family and love. Some stories felt satisfying, others less so. Beautifully written and at times intensely sad.

The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones is tired of office jobs – and of getting laid off from them. When she’s sacked yet again, she founds an agency (and a blonde alter ego) offering social advice and fashion help to London’s hapless bachelors. But her work soon begins spilling over into her personal life. Fun and witty, though it took Melissa long enough to stand up for herself.

Applewhites at Wit’s End, Stephanie S. Tolan
The zany Applewhites are back – this time running a summer camp for creative kids on their ramshackle property in the North Carolina woods. The campers, though, are just as eccentric as the Applewhites, and then threatening letters start appearing in the mailbox. Fun and kooky, like the first book.

Little Lady, Big Apple, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones (see above) heads to New York for a holiday with her American boyfriend (a former client). While there, she can’t resist a chance to help out a fellow Brit – but she quickly ends up in the tabloids. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is pressuring her to choose between him and her business. (I really wanted her to dump him.) Entertaining, but not as good as the first one.

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, Hester Browne
Melissa’s grandmother asks her to work her makeover magic on a playboy prince. It’s a fun assignment, but Melissa is also trying to plan her own wedding, make some decisions about her agency and deal with her family’s never-ending stream of crises. After a few late-night sob sessions, Melissa ends up with the right man (finally!) and gets to keep her business. Clever and charming.

Astor Place Vintage, Stephanie Lehmann
Amanda, owner of the titular NYC vintage shop, finds a journal from 1907 sewn into a fur muff. Olive, the journal’s author, struggles to build a career after her father dies and she is left penniless. Meanwhile, Amanda is facing eviction and having a depressing affair with a married man. The book alternates between Olive’s and Amanda’s voices – I found Olive much more interesting and less whiny. The ending wrapped up too quickly for me, but I did love the glimpses of 1907 New York.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
I’ve been reading this book since January and finally finished it. It’s a big, sprawling, rambling, heartbreaking story – similar in outline to the popular musical (which I love) but much more layered and complex. (It also involves several long philosophical digressions.) This one deserves its own post, so look for it soon.

Me, My Goat, and My Sister’s Wedding, Stella Pevsner
Doug and his friends are goat-sitting – but Doug’s sister is getting married and it isn’t long before chaos ensues. I read this book years ago and it was such fun to pick it up again.

The House Girl, Tara Conklin
I loved this novel, which alternates between two women: Josephine, the titular house slave, who tends to her mistress in 1850s Virginia and is also a talented artist, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer anxious to prove herself in New York, 2004. When Lina gets assigned to a case involving the artwork of Josephine’s mistress, she finds herself researching Josephine’s life, trying to discover which woman was the real artist. I found both stories absorbing (Josephine’s even more so than Lina’s), and the writing evocative. Lovely.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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kramerbooks interior washington dc

Kramerbooks in D.C., which I recently visited

Paris in Love, Eloisa James
This memoir of a year in Paris sparkles with delightful anecdotes and wry commentary. It’s no easy feat to move your family across the Atlantic, and James and her Italian husband managed it rather well. (Their 11-year-old daughter, Anna, is particularly hilarious.) James admits that living in Paris has its challenges, but she loves this city and it’s such fun to walk with her through it. Utterly charming, and the bite-size bon mot format is addictive.

Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame, Ty Burr
Burr, the film critic for the Boston Globe, examines our culture of stardom in the U.S., from early silent actors to the talkies, all the way up to the Internet and our current obsessive celebrity culture. His anecdotes about stars past and present (Chaplin, Wayne, Stanwyck and many more) are fascinating, and his questions about why we have stars – why we need stars – are insightful, timely and rather unsettling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 18).

A Pocket Full of Rye, Agatha Christie
When a wealthy financier is poisoned, police inspectors are surprised to find cereal in his pockets. Then his wife and the maid are also killed, with each death containing a link to the “Sing a song of sixpence” rhyme. Enter Miss Marple, who (of course) befriends nearly everyone in the household, picks up bits of useful information, and helps Inspector Neele connect the dots. This is classic Christie, clever and fun, with a fair dose of coincidence and a tidy wrap-up at the end.

The Secret Adversary, Agatha Christie
I loved this first novel in Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence series, featuring two young adventurers in post-World War I London. They set up a detective agency and quickly find themselves drawn into a web of political intrigue. This era fascinates me, and the easy banter between Tommy and Tuppence reminds me of Castle. Lots of red herrings, as usual, with a chilling twist near the end. (Bought during my D.C. indie bookstore crawl.)

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt
Turner Buckminster, minister’s son and new transplant to Maine, has a tough time fitting in – but then he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, who lives on a nearby island. Lizzie teaches Turner to dig clams and hit a Maine baseball, but their friendship is threatened by the town’s elders, who are trying to evict Lizzie and her fellow African-Americans from their island. Based on a true story and told in Schmidt’s skilled prose, this was a moving story and a gorgeous evocation of the New England landscape.

So Far Away, Meg Mitchell Moore
I enjoyed Meg’s debut, The Arrivals, but I loved So Far Away. (I couldn’t put it down even when watching Olympics diving – I had to know what happened.) Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher, who is dealing with her parents’ divorce and cyberbullying at school, is a proud, strong, confused, completely authentic teenager. And archivist Kathleen Lynch, who helps Natalie decipher an old diary she unearthed in her basement, is also a great character. So much heartbreak – Kathleen’s runaway daughter, Natalie’s mom’s depression, and the struggles mentioned above – but also hope. (And it’s set in and near Boston, which I enjoyed.)

Whew. So many books in July. I’m slowing the pace a bit in August, but still digging into the to-read stacks with enthusiasm. What are you reading these days?

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Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the best-known book of the series, following the Ingalls as they build a home in Kansas (three miles into Indian Territory). I loved returning to so many familiar scenes – Laura and Mary finding beads at the Indian camp, Laura helping Pa build doors for the house and barn, Mr. Edwards going all the way to Independence to meet Santa Claus and bring back tin cups and candy and pennies for Laura and Mary. I welled up at that part – and it about broke my heart when they had to leave that cozy little house, with its glass windows and stone chimney and leather latch-string. Some of these sentences have lived in my memory for years – what fun to revisit them again.

Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I always found it strange that we leap suddenly from Laura’s life to Almanzo’s and back again – they don’t even meet for another few books. But I always loved Almanzo’s adventures on his father’s farm in New York, from breaking oxen to hauling wood to making ice cream and taffy and eating popcorn around the fire. The best part of this book is the food – nearly every chapter contains mouthwatering descriptions of Mother’s good cooking. And the ending is just perfect.

Promise Me This, Cathy Gohlke
An Irish street orphan meets a kindhearted English gardener, and they sail on the Titanic together – one dies, one lives. A compelling plot, likable characters (with faith as an overt, but not heavy-handed, story element). Also a sweet love story, and wonderful details about the lives of nurses, soldiers and ambulance drivers during World War I. (World War I stories seem to be everywhere right now – and I’m pondering why.) To review for Shelf Awareness.

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate), Amy Thomas
I love chocolate, pastries, New York, travel memoirs and Paris – in the springtime, in the fall, any time. So of course I loved this little bonbon of a travel memoir, written by a fellow chocoholic and Francophile. Thomas moved to Paris for a couple of years and loved it – but she also missed New York, and she writes love letters to both, complete with long lists of patisseries, chocolateries and cafes to try in both cities. Yum. (To review for Shelf Awareness.)

The Comeback Season, Jennifer E. Smith
After reading Smith’s latest, I picked up her debut – and enjoyed the story of Ryan Walsh, struggling to move past her father’s death, navigate high school and cheer (always) for the Chicago Cubs. The writing is thoughtful and honest, and the characters – Ryan, her mom, her new friend Nick – lovingly detailed. There’s great sadness here, but also hope.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
Utterly and completely fascinating. Cain examines the cultural ideas of introvert and extrovert (as well as great swathes of research) and sounds a clarion call for the strengths of introverts: persistence, focus, depth, sensitivity, compassion. As an introvert, I appreciated this book deeply – it’s thoughtful, well-researched and wonderfully affirming. I’ve always known I was an introvert, but this book has already helped me better understand myself and the other introverts in my life. Highly recommended.

Murder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood
Phryne Fisher returns for a third Australian adventure – involving chloroform on a train, two orphan girls, a stray kitten and a very angry medical student. She solves the case and saves the day, of course (and for once I saw the solution coming a mile off). Good fun.

Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting, Peggy Rosenthal
The author (who blogs at Good Letters) sent me this book to review, and I enjoyed it. A thoughtful, well-written meditation on how knitting can calm, soothe and even help us tap into our spiritual sides. (Rosenthal is a Christian, but the book is peppered with anecdotes from knitters of all spiritual stripes.) Nice, quiet before-bed reading.

(Part 3 to come on Friday – I’ve gone through a lot of books this month!)

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I’ve collected quite a library of books over the years. Books I’ve read for school, received as gifts or heirlooms, read for review or just picked up somewhere. My library, though always too large for my bookshelves, is better curated than it used to be, thanks to my recent efforts to create a library of friends.

Not all the books I buy have a story attached to their purchase. Often I simply love the book, and want it for my own. I buy new books on a regular basis, often from the Booksmith, and every couple of weeks I come home with a used book or two from the Brattle. (And, well, when Borders was closing, I may or may not have hit the sales at least once a week. Ahem.)

But in my travels I’ve picked up a few books that serve a dual purpose: they are mementos of days in faraway places, of hours spent browsing on foreign shelves and shores. I love the words in their pages, but I also love the things themselves, the tangible reminders of specific experiences, of the person I was when I bought them. Here, for your pleasure, a tour:

It’s no secret I’m in love with Oxford, England – a literary city par excellence. I’ve got so many books from its bookshops (Oxfam, Blackwells – I love ‘em all), but these are some of my favorites:

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a book I discovered in Oxford, and I spent the year buying up every copy I could find in used bookshops and sending them back home to friends. I even (accidentally) bought myself an extra copy after panicking that I’d given them all away.

I found this advance copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in the Oxfam bookshop on Turl Street, a couple of months before its publication. It was the first ARC I’d ever read, and I was thrilled to be “in the know” about a book – and such a beautiful book! – before it was published.

I’d read the Harry Potter series after my first semester in Oxford (thanks to Val), but hadn’t bought them – so I collected the whole series from charity shops during my year there as a graduate student. I love the British editions, and they are a happy, colorful reminder of Oxford on my bookshelves.

Oxford Sketchbook was my going-away present to myself – I bought it before I left Oxford, so I could carry its gorgeous watercolor drawings back across the ocean with me.

This isn’t exactly a bookshop, but St Giles’ Church in Oxford runs a book-and-magazine stall outside its doors, and I found an old copy of Pride & Prejudice there for a pound. Yes, please.

During my first semester in Oxford, I found this little green volume in a bookshop in York. Gorgeous, no? All kinds of love poems, arranged topically in such quaint sections as “Love’s Tragedies” and “Love With Many Lyres.” And at another bookshop there, I found this lovely edition of Winnie-the-Pooh.

The ACU Century may never be a best-seller, but it’s the first book I ever had a hand in making (by which I mean writing, editing, research and hours of proofreading). It was published in 2006 to celebrate my university’s centennial year, and the process of putting it together was fabulous on-the-job training and a heck of a lot of fun. And it’s signed by all my beloved coworkers from ACU Creative Services.

I totally missed Shakespeare & Company the first time I went to Paris – so I was determined not to miss it the next time. I went twice, and was rewarded with the perfect vintage edition of The Two Towers, helping to fulfill my Lord of the Rings quest.

The following April, also at Shakespeare & Co., I found this darling edition of 84 Charing Cross Road, written (appropriately enough) by an American in love with an English bookshop.

I’ve bought lots of books at the Brattle since I moved to Boston, but Daddy-Long-Legs was the first, and is still one of the prettiest.

Ten Novembers ago, in the wake of 9/11, I toured the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on a school trip, and bought this collection of Advent readings from its beautiful gift shop. I still pull it out every year.

What books do you treasure as souvenirs? I’d love to hear your stories.

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