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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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I’ve been reading up a storm this month, so far. Here’s the latest roundup:

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
I loved Emily Nagoski’s previous book, Come As You Are, a brilliant exploration of women’s sexuality. This book, co-written with Emily’s identical twin sister Amelia, explores the stress we experience as women, and shares strategies for naming and dealing with it. Witty, insightful and thought-provoking. I especially liked the parts about completing the stress cycle (so it doesn’t just build up in your body) and befriending your inner madwoman. Will be thinking about this one for a while.

The Women and the Men, Nikki Giovanni
I picked up this poetry collection at Manchester by the Book and have been reading it slowly. I find Giovanni’s work powerful and engaging – I love her imagery and the way she plays with language.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, Mira Jacob
I loved this wry, warmhearted, piercingly honest graphic memoir about what it means to live in the U.S. as a person of color, a woman, an artist and a part of an interracial family. Jacob is American-born to Indian parents; her husband is a white Jewish man. Their son, Z, is funny and smart and asks really good questions. This memoir chronicles many of their conversations as well as Jacob’s personal history. Fantastic.

Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, Angie Schmitt
Pedestrians are dying in the U.S. at a truly alarming rate – especially older folks, disabled people and people of color. Schmitt delves into the urban planning, car design and systemic inequalities that created this epidemic, and offers some solutions for reversing it. Incisive, accessible and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 27).

Float Plan, Trish Doller
Ben and Anna had planned to sail the Caribbean together, until Ben’s death by suicide. But Anna, in a desperate attempt to move forward somehow, decides to take their boat and sail anyway. She meets Keane, a handsome Irishman, and still has to deal with her grief. Funny, sweet and romantic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

The Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor
Cassie Logan and her friends all know to keep their cool around white people – but one day her friend Moe has had enough and severely injures three white men. Cassie, her brother Stacey and two of their friends flee town with Moe, hoping to get him to Memphis so he can head north. A powerful installment in Taylor’s Logan series.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, Mildred D. Taylor
This book picks up Cassie’s story in the 1940s, when she’s a young woman and her brothers are also reaching adulthood. It spans two decades, as Cassie moves from Mississippi to Toledo to California and finally back south, to participate in voter registration drives. I love Cassie’s honesty, her stubborn sense of justice and her warm, fiercely loving family. I wanted her adventures to go on and on.

Yes No Maybe So, Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Jamie Goldberg gets roped into political canvassing by his cousin, the campaign manager. Maya Rehman is missing her best friend, her parents are separating, and she grudgingly agrees to canvass with Jamie. To both their surprise, the work isn’t that bad – and they like each other’s company, too. A sweet, funny YA romance about dealing with big change and standing up for what’s right.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, Kaitlin B. Curtice
Curtice is a Potawatomi woman who is also a Christian, and she explores that tension in this book. It’s beautifully written, and at times it’s clear and powerful. At times it didn’t quite land for me. Still important, as we continue to face tough, long-overdue conversations about race and discrimination.

Watson & Holmes: A Study in Black, Karl Bollers, Rick Leonardi & Larry Stroman
My guy lent me this graphic-novel reimagining of Watson and Holmes as black men fighting crime in 21st-century NYC. I’m not a huge comics reader but I liked their witty banter. It amazes me how Conan Doyle’s characters are endlessly being reinterpreted.

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys
I love Sepetys’ gripping YA novels about largely forgotten corners of history. This one explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and the effects of Franco’s regime on young people in the 1950s. I loved the two main characters: Daniel, a visiting Texan who is half Spanish, and Ana, who works as a maid at his hotel. Compelling, lushly described and very romantic.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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We’re halfway through June, somehow – and what a ride it has been. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque
Most people imagine astronomers gazing into a backyard telescope, discovering new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. The reality is a little different, and Levesque’s memoir tells that story with humor and heart. She traces her own journey from backyard stargazer to Ph.D.-holding astronomer, and gives readers a tour of some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Plenty of fun anecdotes about her colleagues and the field, too. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 4).

Song of the Trees, Mildred D. Taylor
I love Taylor’s series about the Logan family. This novella, narrated by Cassie, tells the story of a white landowner threatening to cut down some of the trees on her family’s land. Short and powerful.

Black History in Its Own Words, Ronald Wimberly
My guy gave me this book a while back – a collection of powerful quotes and portraits of black leaders, past and present. Some were familiar to me (bell hooks, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali), others less so (Kimberly Bryant, Emory Douglas). Made me want to learn more about all of them.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
I needed a cozy, familiar story, so I picked up my friend Louise’s lovely debut novel. Boston baker Olivia Rawlings escapes to Vermont after setting her workplace (literally) on fire. Once there, she finds herself with a baking job, some new friends and a possible love interest. I love Livvy’s story and its warm, good-hearted cast of characters.

The Nesting Dolls, Alina Adams
Spanning eight decades, from Siberian work camps to 1970s Odessa to present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Adam’s saga follows three protagonists in the same Soviet family: Daria, her granddaughter Natasha, and Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe. It’s a compelling look at how the Soviet state’s ideas affected every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but it’s also a really good family saga – so good I flew through it, even on the Kindle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
We are living in polarized times – and it can feel difficult and daunting to have conversations with people who think/vote/believe differently than we do. Sarah and Beth, hosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, share what they’ve learned through several years of digging into the issues together, and trying to do it with humility, curiosity and grace. So thoughtful and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

The Scent of Murder, Kylie Logan
School admin assistant Jazz Ramsey spends her spare time training cadaver dogs. But she’s not prepared to find a body one Saturday night – much less one that belongs to a former student Jazz knew. Troubled by Florie Allen’s death, Jazz searches for answers while dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her personal life, including her detective ex-boyfriend. A solid entry in a new mystery series.

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Jones’ breakout novel tells the story of two girls who share a father, but only one of them knows it. In 1980s Atlanta, Dana and Chaurisse navigate both their teenage years and the complications of their family’s story. I loved (and was stunned by) Jones’ An American Marriage, and am glad I finally read this one.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis
Jaclyn sent me the first two volumes of this highly entertaining comic, which follows five friends at an unconventional summer camp. I loved their exclamations (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and the ways they band together. Lots of setup in this volume for whatever is coming next. So much fun.

The Late Bloomers’ Club, Louise Miller
Nora Huckleberry is mostly content running the town diner in Guthrie, Vermont. But when she and her free-spirited sister inherit some land from an acquaintance, Nora’s life suddenly gets complicated. Miller’s second novel features some familiar faces and lots of new ones, and a protagonist wrestling with big life questions. Full of charm and heart.

Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Twyla Tharp
Anne recommended this follow-up to Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I loved. Tharp, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, gives practical advice for building stamina and maintaining creativity and vitality as you age. She’s no-nonsense and wise, and this was a worthwhile read.

Spiderweb for Two, Elizabeth Enright
Randy and Oliver, the two youngest Melendys, are lonely without their older siblings. But a mysterious scavenger hunt fills their winter with adventures. I like the Melendys best when they are all together, but this final book in the quartet is charming and fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I’ve also linked to Frugal Bookstore, a black-owned bookstore here in Boston. Y’all know I love independent bookstores, and I am also trying to support black-owned businesses more often as part of my commitment to anti-racist work.

What are you reading?

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April has felt like the longest, strangest month ever. But we’ve (nearly) made it to May – and whatever it may bring. Here’s what I have been reading (with ratatouille, sometimes):

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
I picked this novel up months ago at our street’s Little Free Library (which is now closed). It’s set in rural Montana in 1909, when a widower with three sons hires a housekeeper, and her arrival – along with her brother’s – has all kinds of effects on the community. Warm, witty and absorbing; Doig evokes place so well and I loved his narrator’s voice.

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston, Boston Comics Roundtable
My guy is a comic-book geek from way back, and he lent me this quirky collection of comics about incidents in Boston history. I’ve lived here for nearly a decade and I’m a history nerd, but I learned a lot from this collection, and chuckled several times. Link to the Million Year Picnic comic shop in Harvard Square, where it came from (and to whose owner it is dedicated).

I Was Told It Would Get Easier, Abbi Waxman
Single-mom lawyer Jessica and her teenage daughter, Emily, embark on a weeklong college bus tour of the East Coast. They see a lot of campuses, but spend even more time learning about themselves and each other. I like Waxman’s fun, quippy novels and this one was enjoyable, especially the witty dual narration. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change, Pramila Jayapal
Jayapal, a congresswoman from Seattle and a longtime activist, recounts her career and lays out her passionate arguments on several big issues: U.S. immigration policy, Medicare for All, a national $15 minimum wage. She’s whip-smart, warm, compassionate, super prepared and compelling – and so is her book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 30).

This Won’t End Well, Camille Pagán
After chemist Annie Mercer quits her job over her boss’s sexual harassment, and her fiancé tells her he needs to go find himself (in Paris), she swears off new people altogether. But that’s before Harper, a glamorous but mysterious young woman, moves in next door, and also before Mo, an annoyingly cheerful amateur PI, shows up too. I loved this sweet, witty novel about a woman trying to make sense of her life in the wake of big changes (sound familiar?). Recommended by Anne.

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery
I adore this underrated final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, set during World War I. This story stars the grit and gumption of the women of Ingleside, especially Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla, faithful cook-housekeeper Susan (whose wit is second to none) and local schoolteacher Miss Oliver. I needed its wisdom and warmth during these weeks of quarantine.

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m not big on mediation, but I am looking for ways to bring peace into my space these days, so I dipped into this slim book over the last few weeks. I like the notion of bringing peace to every aspect of one’s home – even a studio apartment – though the mantras themselves didn’t really work for me.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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We are halfway through April (how??), and I’m mostly able to focus on books again. The days feel both long and short and somehow suspended – time is moving differently, I suspect, for many of us. But I’m still reading, and here are the books I’ve been enjoying:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
Maggie’s poetry and “keep moving” notes speak right to my heart. This collection combines some of those notes with longer essays about dealing with loss, grief, upended expectations, and the surprising new spaces created by upheaval. She and I are both recently divorced, but I believe these essays will resonate with many people’s experiences. Wise and honest and so lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6 – it was originally May 5).

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime, Maggie Downs
Downs undertook a trip around the world as her mother was slipping into late-stage Alzheimer’s: she wanted to see and do all the things her mother never got to do. She has some rather harrowing adventures (and stays in lots of grubby hostels), but gains a few hard-won insights about her mother and herself. Compelling and moving, for fans of travel memoir and self-discovery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

American Royals, Katharine McGee
What if George Washington had been the first king of America? What would his 21st-century descendants look like, and how would they rule? That’s the premise of this fun YA novel (first in a series), which follows Princess Beatrice (future queen) and her siblings as they navigate the expectations that come with their crowns. Witty, juicy and so much fun – a perfect distraction for these times.

The Paris Hours, Alex George
Paris, 1927: the lives of four ordinary people intertwine on one extraordinary day. A struggling artist, an Armenian refugee, Marcel Proust’s former maid and a grieving journalist are all searching for different things, but their paths cross and recross in fascinating ways. With cameos by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and others. I have read a lot of Paris novels, and am glad I picked this one up: it was really engaging. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

Waterlight: Selected Poems, Kathleen Jamie
My friend Roxani has raved about Jamie’s essays, and I picked this poetry collection up at the library. Some of it, especially the poems written in Scots, didn’t really work for me, but some of them are melancholy and lovely.

Of Mutts and Men, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back on the case – this one involving a hydrologist who was murdered, a vineyard perched in a strange place, and a lawyer who might be up to something. Chet (the dog) is a great narrator, and I was so glad to escape into this series again. To (maybe) review for Shelf Awareness (out July 7).

Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
As a hurricane bears down on Key West in 1935, the paths of three very different women – Cuban newlywed Mirta, former New York society girl Elizabeth, and battered wife Helen – intersect in interesting ways. I like Cleeton’s fiction about the Perez family and this was a solid historical novel. (Also the first ebook I’d read in quite a while.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

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Due to review deadlines, library deadlines and general pre-holiday craziness, my brain feels scrambled lately. Here’s what I have been reading – much of it several months ahead:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s second adventure at Hogwarts is as much fun as the first. I love seeing the characters grow, and the narrative of the series begin to build. Fast, fun and highly enjoyable.

Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, Eitan Hersh
Most people who are engaged in political hobbyism – following, and wringing their hands about, the news – aren’t doing work to make real, appreciable change. Hersh investigates the history of political engagement in the U.S., interviews grassroots activists (the strongest part of the book) and asks how to truly get involved in local politics. Interesting, though a bit tedious at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).

The Golden Hour, Beatriz Williams
Widowed journalist Lulu Randolph is sent to Nassau in 1941 to write a society column focusing mainly on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she falls in love – but when her new husband becomes a POW, she goes to London to try to rescue him. The narrative shifts between Lulu’s story and that of her husband’s German mother, Elfriede, in the early 1900s. Lush, compelling, slightly scandalous.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, Noé Álvarez
The son of Mexican immigrants, Álvarez grew up poor in eastern Washington. Feeling aimless as a college student, he joined the Peace and Dignity Journeys to run a punishing 6,000-mile ultramarathon through North America, in a quest to honor indigenous peoples and their stories. This memoir is beautifully written and contains some compelling ideas, but I couldn’t always find the through line of his insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Siri, Who Am I?, Sam Tschida
A young woman wakes up in the hospital wearing a yellow Prada gown, with nothing in her possession but a tube of Chanel lipstick and an iPhone. She can’t even remember her own name (Mia), but gamely tries to reconstruct her life via Instagram. A snarky, fast-paced take on the selfie culture – fun, though I wanted more depth. I really liked Mia’s sidekick/love interest, Max the “Black Einstein” neuroscientist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

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

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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.

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January has been unpredictable, weather-wise: frigid, icy, blustery, mild, wet, sunshiny. As always, the books are getting me through. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Island of Sea Women, Lisa See
The women of Jeju, an island off the south coast of Korea, traditionally made their living as haenyeo, deep-sea divers. See explores the island’s matriarchal culture and the powerful changes wrought by the 20th century (wars, occupation, new technologies) through the story of two haenyeo, Kim Young-sook and Han Mi-ja. Young-sook recounts their childhood friendship, their years of diving together and the heart-wrenching losses they suffered. Really well done; See is prolific but I hadn’t read her before. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 5).

Christmas on the Island, Jenny Colgan
Colgan returns to the Scottish island of Mure for a Christmas-themed novel. I find Flora and Joel (the main couple) frustrating, but I like Flora’s family, her teacher friend Lorna, and Saif, the Syrian refugee doctor. Entertaining, though not my favorite Colgan.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway: A Year of Gardening and (Wild)Life, Kate Bradbury
The tiny back garden of Kate Bradbury’s flat in Brighton, England, was covered in decking when she bought it. She set out to revive it: ripping up the decking, planting ground cover and shrubs, finding flowers to attract bees and birds. She writes movingly about her childhood garden memories, the loss of habitat for wildlife in the UK, and her mother’s illness. Keenly observed; slow in places. Took me weeks, but it was lovely. Found, as so many good things are, at Three Lives (in December).

To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey
In 1885, Colonel Allen Forrester heads out into the (mostly) unmapped Alaska Territory with two men, while his wife Sophie must stay behind. Ivey tells their story, and that of the Colonel’s encounters with Alaska and its people, through journal entries and letters. I loved Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, but loved this one even more. Ivey’s writing is stunning, and I adored Sophie (bright, curious, determined and so human) and the Colonel’s keen eye and compassion.

Mistletoe and Murder, Robin Stevens
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending Christmas (1935) in Cambridge, where, predictably, a murder finds them. Hazel narrates their fifth adventure in this fun British middle-grade series. I find Daisy a bit irritating, but I like Hazel and the mysteries are always good fun. I also liked the deft handling here of race and immigration in the UK – not a new issue but an important one.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, Sonia Purnell
Losing her leg in a hunting accident didn’t slow Virginia Hall down: she would go on to become a key force for the Allies in World War II, working undercover in France to coordinate and support the Resistance. Purnell delves deeply into Virginia’s (formerly classified) story to weave a gripping tale of an extraordinary woman. Fascinating, well-researched and cinematic at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 9).

This Much Country, Kristin Knight Pace
Reeling from a broken heart, Kristin Knight agreed to spend a winter in Alaska caring for a team of sled dogs. To her own surprise, she fell in love with the dogs and the place, becoming a dog musher and eventually opening her own kennel. She found romantic love again, too. Her memoir is a bit uneven, but the setting is captivating, and there are some wonderful lines. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 5).

Becoming, Michelle Obama
This memoir was on so many “best of 2018” lists (and broke all kinds of publishing records). It’s a wise, warm, thoughtful account of Obama’s childhood on the South Side of Chicago, her experiences at Princeton and beyond, and life as the First Lady. But it’s also more than that: a graceful meditation on how we become ourselves, a plainspoken tribute to all the folks who have supported her, and a call for all of us to keep investing in children who need it. Well written and just so good.

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

What are you reading?

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You don’t need me to say it: by any measure, the last two years in American politics have been turbulent, if not downright disorienting. As politicians engage in shouting matches on social media (and elsewhere), I’ve been turning to an unlikely source of comfort: memoirs by staffers from the Obama White House. (This is a little easier to do now that I no longer work inside the maelstrom of politics every day.)

It isn’t just nostalgia, or denial. Whether they’re youthful idealists like David Litt (Thanks, Obama), who jumped on the former senator’s campaign and ended up spending years working for him, or veteran public servants like Wendy R. Sherman (Not for the Faint of Heart), whose career spans multiple administrations, these voices have helped me in two key ways. They remind me of what it was like to live in slightly saner–if no less complicated–political times. And they help explain, with their insider views of the Obama administration’s triumphs and failures, how the U.S. reached its current moment.

Ben Rhodes, who spent nearly a decade working on foreign policy and communications for Obama, chronicles the complex issues, impossible decisions and flat-out unbelievable moments of his political career in The World As It Is – one of my favorite books of 2018. His thoughtful accounts of the Arab Spring and the reopening of U.S.-Cuba relations make a great pairing with Sherman’s blow-by-blow of negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and Litt’s breezy but sharply observed rendering of life as a speechwriter for Obama. These memoirs, plus Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, which I read last summer, offer insights on leadership and show their authors’ staunch commitment to hard work and public service.

Mastromonaco wins for best title (and most wry humor), but all four books provide fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into the daily lives unfolding alongside massive world events. Even more importantly, they remind me that even in fraught and divisive times, the American experiment of democracy is still–à la Mastromonaco–an excellent idea.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

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I read 191 books in 2018. So many of them were good ones – not least because I got to review a few dozen gems (and interview a few authors) for Shelf Awareness, my longtime freelance gig.

I shared some favorites halfway through the year, but looking back over all of 2018, these are the ones I couldn’t stop talking about. (A few from my half-year roundup are reposted below.)

Best Feminist Reimagining of Mythology: Circe by Madeline Miller. A fantastic, well-written story of a “minor” sorceress who steps into her own power.

Best Antidote to the Current Political Madness: The World As It Is, Ben Rhodes’ memoir of the near-decade he spent working on communications and foreign policy for President Obama. So insightful and interesting.

Most Essential Reading on Race: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which weaves together marriage and mass incarceration; and Black is the Body by Emily Bernard, an incisive essay collection about family, race and womanhood.

Best Conversation Starter: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle. Who would you have at your ideal dinner party? This one was fun and surprisingly moving.

Best Reread: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which grabbed my heart just as it did when I was protagonist Francie’s age.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne.

What were your favorite books of 2018?

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strand bookstore cookbook shelves

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

Here’s the latest roundup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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