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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Here we are, two weeks into a new year, and it’s time to share what I have been reading:

Hannah’s War, Jan Eliasberg
As World War II rages on, an international team of brilliant scientists are working on a top-secret bomb in the lab at Los Alamos. Among them is Dr. Hannah Weiss, who fled Berlin in the wake of Nazi persecution. Major Jack Delaney, sent to catch a spy, begins investigating Hannah, but finds himself drawn to her instead – and they’re both hiding secrets. I read this in one day; it’s gorgeous, compelling and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald
Anne recommended this last summer, and I grabbed it at the library. It’s a bittersweet love story set in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal – Nora, a young woman who died in a 1925 subway crash, keeps reappearing in the terminal, where she falls in love with Joe, a train leverman. I loved the period details, the vivid characters, the honest way they dealt with the complexities of love. Still thinking about the ending.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
I’m several years late to Woodson’s gorgeous memoir-in-verse. I both devoured and savored her lyrical, plainspoken, vivid memories of childhood with her brothers and sister, her grandparents’ love, their transition from Greenville, S.C., to Brooklyn, and the beginnings of her desire to be a writer. Powerful and lovely.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
Harry and his friends are back at Hogwarts – and he finds himself competing in the Triwizard Tournament, somewhat against his will. The story grows darker, and I love how Rowling draws us deeper into the wizarding world. Also, Rowling’s wit (and the Weasley twins’ ingenuity) shines: “Just then, Neville caused a slight diversion by turning into a large canary.”

The Case of the Wandering Scholar, Kate Saunders
Widowed clergyman’s wife Laetitia Rodd takes on a second case, this one involving a scholar/hermit living near Oxford. She’s trying to track him down to deliver a message from his dying brother – but then, two local priests (one a friend of hers) are murdered, and it’s all connected somehow. Mrs. Rodd is a sharp, compassionate, no-nonsense amateur sleuth and this mystery (whose setting reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford) was thoroughly enjoyable.

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

What are you reading?

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

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

What are you reading?

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book-knitting-muffin

I’ve blown through half a dozen books recently – which feels good after a stretch of not reading quite as much. Here’s what I have been reading lately:

Heart of Barkness, Spencer Quinn
Chet the dog and his pal Bernie Little, P.I., are back. Their ninth adventure finds them investigating a couple of suspicious deaths involving an elderly country singer. It was slow to start, but I love Chet’s entertaining narrative voice, and the mystery plot was satisfying.

The Bookshop on the Shore, Jenny Colgan
Single mother Zoe is desperate to get out of London, and when she lands two part-time gigs in Scotland, it seems like a good idea. I like Colgan’s fiction and this had more depth than usual, with the motherless children Zoe cares for and the challenges facing her young son. Nina (from The Bookshop on the Corner) features too, but I grew irritated with her. I gobbled this up in two days.

Death in a Desert Land, Andrew Wilson
After her divorce, Agatha Christie heads to Baghdad and Ur to visit an archaeological dig and do some spying for the British government. But she soon finds herself investigating a murder. Wilson’s third mystery featuring Christie as amateur detective (the first one I’ve read) was fast-paced (after a slow start) and engaging.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, Karina Yan Glaser
The five Vanderbeeker kids have all kinds of plans for spring break – which do not include accidentally ruining their mother’s baking business. But they band together to outwit a grumpy inspector, build a tree house and deal with mysterious pets (chickens!) guinea pigs!) that keep appearing on their doorstep. I love this middle-grade series and this third entry was so much fun.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown, Michael Cunningham
Set at the very end of Cape Cod, Provincetown has a unique character and mythology. I have several friends who love it there, and Cunningham’s memoir/history is evocative, fascinating and melancholy. I found this at Three Lives in NYC; the manager, whose taste I trust, waxed lyrical about it. Lovely.

How to Love a Country, Richard Blanco
Blanco, who served as President Obama’s inaugural poet, is back with a fierce, vivid, haunting collection exploring what it is to be an immigrant, to live between two worlds, to be gay in this country, to mourn various national tragedies (the Pulse shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings). These poems pull no punches and they’re also beautiful.

A Dangerous Engagement, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, sail to New York for the wedding of Amory’s childhood friend. But when one of the groomsmen is found murdered, Amory and Milo begin investigating. I love this stylish, well-plotted mystery series and this was a delightful entry.

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

What are you reading?

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alchemists-daughter-book-tea

We’re halfway through October, and the library holds are piling up, to my delight. Here’s what I have been reading:

An Irish Country Family, Patrick Taylor
I’ve read and enjoyed several earlier books in this gentle, amusing series set in 1960s Ulster, in the village of Ballybucklebo. Book 14 picks up the story of Dr. Barry Laverty when he was a medical student, and also as he’s trying to start a family with his wife, Sue. The plot also involves the usual small-town drama: births, deaths, local politics, love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 12).

Dating is Murder, Harley Jane Kozak
An impulse grab at the library – the second mystery featuring greeting-card artist and amateur sleuth Wollstonecraft “Wollie” Shelley. When her friend Annika, a young au pair, disappears, Wollie tries to find her while juggling her part-time jobs (including reality TV). Wacky, fun, sometimes confusing, but enjoyable.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
It’s no secret that women are under stress–but Generation X women are particularly so, in every area of their lives. Calhoun takes on work, parenting, marriage and relationships, ambition, physical challenges and more from a witty, honest, thought-provoking perspective. I loved her previous book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, and her O Magazine essay, “The New Midlife Crisis for Women.” This book builds on the latter. I’m either a really young Gen Xer or an old Gen Y/Millennial, but so many of these concerns rang true for me. I will be handing this to so many friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 7).

The Bonniest Companie, Kathleen Jamie
I was looking for Jamie’s essays at the Strand (on Roxani’s advice) and found these poems instead. They are luminous and odd with occasional flashes of hope and loveliness, and lots of rugged Scottish landscapes.

The Second Home, Christina Clancy
The Gordon family has spent countless summers in Wellfleet, Cape Cod – but one summer when their kids were teenagers changed everything. As the family’s two grown daughters prepare to sell the house after their parents’ deaths, they must reckon with the long-term effects of that summer. Absorbing, heartbreaking and human; richly evocative. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2, 2020).

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss
I spotted this series at the Booksmith and decided to start at the beginning. Mary Jekyll is investigating some mysterious documents after her father’s death and finds more than she bargained for, including Diana, daughter of Edward Hyde, and a whole lot of mad-scientist craziness. This mystery-fantasy-girl-power-narrative (which also pulls in Holmes and Watson) was so much fun. I’ll definitely read the sequels.

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

What are you reading?

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Here we are in October – the days and nights are starting to draw in, the maples are turning brilliantly red, the occasional cold rains have arrived, and fall events are in full swing.

I’m feeling more settled in my new place, and between commutes and running and cooking dinner, I finally had a bit of time to note what’s saving my life now:

  • Sunflowers, at home and at work. I love their cheerful faces, and they remind me of that Mary Oliver poem.
  • My new Rebel Alliance logo earrings. I am not a hardcore Star Wars geek, but I am a diehard Leia Organa fan. These earrings are sterling silver, subtle and badass, and I love them.
  • Birchbox, which I tried thanks to a recent Cup of Jo post. Getting a few colorful boxes of samples in the mail has felt indulgent and also nourishing, somehow.
  • My brand-new travel mug from my friends at Obvious State, who make the best literary swag.

  • Trader Joe’s essentials: crumbly English cheddar, bags of tiny mandarins, Greek yogurt by the tub, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and smiles from the staff.
  • Texts from my girlfriends (always) and getting to hug a few of them (local and far-flung) in person.
  • A few recent visiting artist events at Berklee, where I work – I get to listen to fascinating, intelligent, talented, kind folks like rapper Dessa and film composer Pinar Toprak sharing their wisdom with our students.
  • A trip to my beloved florist the other day, for the first time in weeks. I caught up with my people and bought some scarlet tulips tipped with gold.

  • Jen Lee’s Morning, Sunshine videos – doses of kindness and wisdom twice a week. Go check out the series on YouTube.
  • The music of the Highwomen.
  • Sunshine on my shoulders, especially when I take my laptop to the plant-filled conference room at work.
  • Chai from the BPL cafe – best in Back Bay.
  • Poetry, including a whole slew of new-to-me gems via poet Maggie Smith.
  • The quilt my friend Carol made for me, so good for snuggling under on these chilly nights.
  • Ginger peach tea and Earl Grey in the mornings, spiced black tea in the afternoons, peppermint tea or pumpkin spice rooibos at night.
  • Rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, a longtime fave.

What’s saving your life these days?

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bargain poetry bookbook nyc

I love a well-crafted poetry collection as much as the next reader. But most often, I’m hankering for a story when I read. True or fictional, I want a compelling narrative, well told. Fortunately, many poets have turned their wordsmithing skills to prose, and their novels and memoirs are some of my favorites.

Marisa de los Santos began her career with the poetry collection From the Bones Out, but has found major success with her fiction, including Love Walked InBelong to Me; and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. Her prose is simple, warmhearted and truly lovely, as are many of her characters. (I reread those three novels again this spring, when I was heartbroken and badly in need of comfort and hope.)

Former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has published four books of poetry, including the 2019 collection Wade in the Water. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, which my friend Colleen gave me a while back, chronicles Smith’s childhood in California, her deep and loving (and sometimes fraught) relationship with her mother, and her journey toward poet as vocation. Her prose is as luminous and (sometimes) as sharp-edged as her poems.

Brian Doyle, the late editor of Portland magazine, wrote anything and everything: poems, prose poems, rambling essays, rollicking or thoughtful novels like Chicago and Mink River, both of which I adored. I’ll read any and all of his work, though my absolute favorite is his essay on how he became a writer. (Also: I reviewed an essay collection he edited a few years ago, and he wrote me a brief, lovely email of thanks, which I still have.)

Poet Ross Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude) spent his 43rd year capturing ordinary joyful moments almost every day, and spinning them into “essayettes” that became his collection The Book of Delights. Like the subject matter, the result is delightful–both the mosaic of quotidian, unexpected pleasures, and Gay’s commentary on them.

For readers who appreciate a well-turned phrase and an engaging story arc, poets who write prose offer the best of both literary worlds.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it appeared last week. 

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lost-in-stacks-strand

Starting with a Labor Day weekend jaunt to NYC, here’s what I have been reading:

The Accidental Beauty Queen, Teri Wilson
Anne put this one in her Summer Reading Guide and I flew through it on the train to NYC. Charlotte gets tapped to impersonate her identical twin, Ginny, in a beauty pageant, much to both their chagrin. I loved the nods to Harry Potter (Charlotte is a fan), the way both women had their preconceived notions tested, and the insights about family. So much fun.

Here if You Need Me, Kate Braestrup
When her husband died, Braestrup took up his dream of becoming a minister, and found herself serving as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. This thoughtful, often wry memoir is a glimpse into that world, and into her family life. Engaging, though I wanted more, somehow. Found recently at More Than Words.

We Walked the Sky, Lisa Fiedler
Calliope VanDrexel is following in her grandmother’s footsteps as a tightrope walker. But when her mother gets a new job at an animal sanctuary, Callie has to leave the circus and she’s not happy about it. This dual-narrative YA novel tells both Callie’s story and that of her grandmother, Victoria (in the 1960s). I enjoyed both narratives (though Callie drove me nuts), and the circus setting is so fun.

The Right Sort of Man, Allison Montclair
As London recovers from World War II, Gwen Bainbridge, widowed and bored, and Iris Sparks, a snarky former intelligence agent, join forces to launch the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. But when one of their clients is murdered, presumably by another one, the women jump into an investigation to clear his name (and theirs). I love plucky amateur sleuths, especially British ones, and this story was great fun, especially the witty dialogue. First in a new series; found at the Strand.

The Book of Lost Saints, Daniel José Older
Marisol disappeared during the Cuban Revolution, lost to her family and the world. Half a century later, her spirit visits her nephew, Ramon, a hospital worker by day/DJ by night in New Jersey. Haunted by dreams that are really Marisol’s memories, Ramon starts digging into his family’s messy history. I love Older’s Shadowshaper YA series. This novel (for adults) is a gritty, sometimes bleak, often wisecracking look at cubano family ties and the ways past actions reverberate down through the generations. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 5).

Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke
Temporarily in limbo in both his job and his marriage, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews drives up to tiny Lark, Texas, to investigate two murders: a local white girl and a black man who was passing through. This well-crafted mystery explores the layers of race, love and conflicting loyalties in East Texas. (Darren is black, raised by two uncles: a Texas Ranger and a lawyer.) I loved the true-to-life portraits of locals and the exploration of exile and the pull of home.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
I loved Gay’s essay collection, The Book of Delights, and my friend Kate sent me this book of his poetry. The poems are – as one of the blurbs says – “bold and wild and weird.” Family, love, racial politics, music, grief, and the orchard Gay works in and loves – they’re all here.

This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession, Cameron Dezen Hammon
After converting to Christianity as a young woman, Hammon moved to Houston with her then-boyfriend and became a worship minister. This memoir traces her struggle to reconcile the gender politics of evangelical churches with her own craving for love and past scars. Thoughtful, though a bit vague at times; some of her frustrations definitely reflected my own. We need more stories like these. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 22).

Death and Love Among the Cheetahs, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is finally married, and she and her Irish husband, Darcy, head to Kenya for an extended honeymoon. But instead of paradise, they find complicated sexual politics, theft and murder. I love Georgie and her adventures, but I’d hoped for a slightly more peaceful honeymoon for her!

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

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