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May is flying by, between events at work, a wonderful weekend in Maine, and celebrating my sweet man’s birthday. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy, ed. James Crews
I’ve been reading this poetry anthology sloooowly for months; it offers glimmers of hope, like its predecessor (also edited by Crews). Full of poets familiar and new. Really lovely.

A Fatal Groove, Olivia Blacke
Juniper Jessup and her sisters are thrilled to be getting their record shop/cafe, Sip & Spin, off the ground. But when the mayor drops dead after sipping their coffee at the local bluebonnet festival, Juni and her sisters fall under suspicion. A fun second entry in Blacke’s Record Shop Mystery series; I like the cast of characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

West Side Love Story, Priscilla Oliveras
Musician and aspiring PA Mariana Capuleta doesn’t have time for love – till she kisses a handsome stranger on New Year’s Eve. He turns out to be Angelo Montero, part of a rival mariachi band. This modern-day Romeo & Juliet retelling set in San Antonio was way overwritten (so many similes!) but still a fun ride. Recommended by my friend Jess.

On Air with Zoe Washington, Janae Marks
After helping her birth father get out of prison, Zoe Washington is thrilled to be working with him at a bakery. But when Marcus reveals his dream of opening a restaurant, Zoe becomes determined to make that happen. She starts a podcast about the experiences of exonerees, launches a Kickstarter and brainstorms new desserts – all while juggling changing friend and family dynamics. I loved this sequel to Marks’ From the Desk of Zoe Washington, especially Zoe’s tenacity and the Boston references.

The Lady from Burma, Allison Montclair
A happily married (but terminally ill) woman visits The Right Sort Marriage Bureau to ensure her husband’s future happiness after her death. But when she’s found dead just days later, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge smell foul play. Meanwhile, Gwen is fighting to regain her legal status, and her court-appointed guardian may be involved in the case. This fifth mystery delves into each woman’s personal life, and the case is still well plotted; so enjoyable. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

Forever Hold Your Peace, Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
When Olivia and Zach meet, fall in love and get engaged in Positano, their parents (all divorced) understandably have reservations. But when all four parents plus the lovebirds meet for brunch, it turns out their moms are ex-best friends, estranged for 25 years. Olivia and Zach try to get them to play nice; the moms, June and Amy, try to one-up each other in wedding-planning hijinks; and the dads (one of whom has a secret) are along for the ride. A breezy, hilarious, juicy novel about weddings and secrets and (yes) trying to move on. I winced a lot; laughed often; and breathed several huge sighs of relief. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 11).

To Catch a Thief, Martha Brockenbrough
Amelia MacGuffin loves books, cocoa and mysteries – but she wishes she were braver. When someone steals a town treasure, Amelia (with her siblings and their new neighbors, twins Dot and Dash) steps up to solve the mystery. A delightful cozy middle-grade story; the mystery is fun, but it’s really about community and belonging and lots of hot chocolate.

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

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Suddenly, it’s lilac and tulip season – which means it’s inching closer to reading-barefoot-outdoors season. As we head into May, here’s what I have been reading:

Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World, Christian Cooper
Cooper gained some notoriety as the “Central Park birder” in 2020, but he’d been birding – and writing – for decades before that. This thoughtful memoir explores his experience as a queer Black man in New York City, his years writing for Marvel Comics (so cool!), his complex family relationships and, of course, his love for birds. Helpful tips on birding sprinkled throughout. I loved this book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 13).

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, Jesse Q. Sutanto
When a mysterious man ends up dead on her teahouse’s floor, Chinese grandmother Vera Wong quickly decides the police are useless and she’ll solve the case herself. Hilarity ensues, including a spot of matchmaking; elaborate meals (cooked by Vera, of course); a Hercule Poirot-style dramatic reveal; and skirmishes with the police. I cracked up at this wonderfully plotted mystery; I love Sutanto’s work and hope she makes this a series.

Mrs. Porter Calling, AJ Pearce
Emmy Lake is relishing her job running the Yours Cheerfully advice page at Woman’s Friend magazine. But when the new publisher, the titular Mrs. Porter, starts changing all the best parts of the magazine, Emmy and her colleagues must band together to save Woman’s Friend. Meanwhile, WWII continues; Emmy’s friend Thelma and her kids move into the flat upstairs; and Emmy and her best friend Bunty continue to be shining examples of Pluck and Compassion. I adore this series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 8).

Leeva at Last, Sara Pennypacker
What are people for? This question propels Leeva Spayce Thornblossom out of her constricted existence (her parents are truly terrible people) and into the wider world. She meets the local librarians, makes a few friends and figures out how to save her town from bankruptcy. A sweet Roald Dahl-style middle-grade novel; I enjoyed Leeva and her new friends. Spotted at Symposium Books in Providence, RI.

My Lady Jane, Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand & Jodi Meadows
I was thinking about this book after seeing Six and then scored a copy at a Little Free Library. It’s a fresh, badass, feminist, hilarious take on Lady Jane Grey. England is split between Eðians – people who can change into animal form – and Verities – those who can’t. Edward VI is dying and hands his crown over to Jane, who is forced to marry a young lord who turns into a horse every morning. That’s inconvenient, but the real fun comes when politics, love and sly references to other stories collide. I raced through this in a weekend and adored it. Recommended by Anne.

Poet Warrior, Joy Harjo
I admire Harjo’s poetry (“Praise the Rain” is a favorite). This, her second memoir, explores her own identity as a poet and warrior, with a loosely chronological narrative of her life. It is wise and lovely, sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally a little hard to follow. Poems sprinkled throughout. Best read slowly, but definitely worth reading.

Symphony of Secrets, Brendan Slocumb
Musicologist Bern Hendricks is thrilled at the chance to work on a newly unearthed manuscript by his musical hero, Frederic Delaney. But as Bern and his tech-whiz colleague Eboni dig deeper, they discover a Black woman named Josephine Reed – was she Delaney’s lover, collaborator or something else? A fast-paced, fascinating musical mystery with a great dual narrative and engaging characters.

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

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I can’t believe it’s already April – Easter is this weekend, and Marathon Monday is around the corner. Between work and yoga classes, here’s what I have been reading:

The Vintage Shop of Second Chances, Libby Page
I love Page’s warmhearted, poignant novels that focus on female friendship. This one follows a special yellow dress and its effect on the lives of three women: vintage shop owner Lou, American innkeeper Donna and 70-something divorcee Maggy. I loved how their stories intertwined. Full of charm and cheer and delicious clothing – I adored this one.

March: Book Two, Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
John Lewis continues his story with the Freedom Rides in the American South, and the involvement of Dr. King and other leaders in the student-led Civil Rights Movement. A fascinating, often harrowing account of what the Freedom Riders were up against, and what they suffered. So powerful and important – gave a lot of context to events I’d only heard the outlines of.

The Princess Bride, William Goldman
I love this movie (who doesn’t?) but had never read the book, until my guy bought it for me and we read it together. We both loved seeing familiar scenes come to life on the page, but I got tired of the narrator’s asides. (The torture scenes are also a lot grimmer than the movie.) I almost never say this, but I’d stick with the film.

Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, Neema Avashia
I loved this thoughtful, vivid, sometimes funny collection of essays exploring Avashia’s experience as one of very few Indians in her West Virginia hometown. She delves into the complexities of her identity, the people she loves, the way her upbringing has clashed with her experience in Boston (I related to that), and a bit of her journey to coming out. Recommended and lent by my friend Jackie.

A Quiet Life in the Country, T.E. Kinsey
Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence Armstrong, have left London for the country – but when they stumble across a dead body in the woods, things get interesting. A fun British mystery with a delightful pair of leading ladies; first in a series. Recommended by my friend Jess.

The Light Over London, Julia Kelly
Cara Hargraves, an antique dealer reeling from her divorce, stumbles on a WWII diary during a work assignment. Kelly weaves together Cara’s story with that of Louise Keene, a girl from rural Cornwall who becomes a gunner girl during the war. I love Kelly’s absorbing historical fiction; this one also dealt sensitively with the aftermath of divorce, which made me feel seen.

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

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March has been up and down, as always – varied weather, great music at ZUMIX and a few local adventures. As the month wraps up, here’s what I have been reading:

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, Katryn Bury
True crime nerd Drew Leclair prides herself on solving local mysteries (even when her zeal gets ahead of her social skills). But when her mom skips town with the school counselor and a new cyberbully at Drew’s school goes on the attack, Drew has her hands full. I loved this sweet middle-grade mystery with a likable protagonist – first in a new series.

Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, Camille T. Dungy
Dungy has spent years tending and diversifying her garden in Ft. Collins, Colorado – a primarily white community. She writes in beautiful, powerful prose about native plants, community, belonging, parenting (especially during the pandemic), and the ways Black people have contributed (or been prevented from contributing) to gardens in this country. Absolutely fantastic – thoughtful and lovely and incisive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

A Courage Undimmed, Stephanie Graves
Winter, 1941: Olive Bright has her hands full managing her courier pigeons, her irascible father and her sort-of-real (but is it?) relationship/cover story with Captain Jamie Aldridge. When a seance in the village results in a death, Olive (of course) does some sleuthing. A delightful third mystery in a really fun WWII series.

What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World, Dorothy Lazard
Lazard, a longtime Oakland librarian and public historian, tells the story of her childhood in St. Louis, San Francisco and later Oakland: her big, chaotic, loving family; her hunger to learn and find her place in the world; and the challenges and joys of being a young Black woman in the 1970s. Such a compelling slice of American life. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 16).

The Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich
I have such respect for Erdrich’s adult novels, and picked up this middle-grade novel at Verbatim. It follows Omakayas, a young Ojibwe girl, and her family through a cycle of seasons: foraging, fishing, tanning hides, picking berries, wrestling with the presence of white people (and their diseases). It’s sweet, funny and fascinating (with some real heartbreak in the winter chapter). First in a series and so enjoyable.

Ruby Finley vs. the Interstellar Invasion, K. Tempest Bradford
Budding scientist Ruby captures a huge red bug in her yard – but after it escapes (!) and weird things start happening around the neighborhood, she and her friends investigate. I flew through this fresh, smart, funny middle-grade novel (though the bugs did gross me out) and loved Ruby and her crew.

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

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We’re halfway through March (how??) and I’ve been blazing through some great books. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Violin Conspiracy, Brendan Slocumb
Violin prodigy Ray McMillian is catapulted to fame when his grandmother’s violin (passed down from her formerly enslaved grandfather) turns out to be a Stradivarius. When the violin is stolen on the eve of a major competition, Ray tries to find the thief – but everyone’s got a motive. I raced through this insightful, compelling novel exploring race, complicated family dynamics and the inner workings of the classical music world. Just fantastic.

Life and Other Love Songs, Anissa Gray
Gray’s second novel follows a Black family – Deborah and Oz Armstead and their daughter, Trinity – from the 1960s in Detroit (when Deborah and Oz meet) to the 1980s, when Oz disappears one day. A powerful exploration of family, loss and loyalty, guilt and love, and how to move forward. (I also loved Gray’s debut, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 11).

The Agathas, Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
Alice Ogilvie got a lot of flak when she disappeared with no explanation (and then reappeared) last summer. But now Alice’s former best friend, Brooke, has also disappeared, and something’s not right. Alice (an Agatha Christie fan) teams up with her tutor, Iris, to solve the case. A fresh, funny mystery with serious Veronica Mars vibes: set in a ritzy California town, but also an exploration of whose stories do and do not get believed.

How to Be True, Daisy May Johnson
Edie Berger and the girls from How to Be Brave end up in Paris on a school trip, staying with Edie’s cranky great-grandmother. But they quickly get drawn into a mystery involving a painting, a lost love and some wartime stories. A fun, zany story with more depth than Johnson’s first book.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas, Lizzie Shane
Yes, I know it’s March. But I loved this sweet Christmas novel (from the author of Pride and Puppies). Ally Gilmore has landed in Pine Hollow, Vt., to help her grandparents and figure out her life. When a grumpy town councilman votes to cut funding for her family’s dog shelter, Ally springs into action to try and get all the dogs adopted. To her surprise, she finds herself falling for the councilman – and for Pine Hollow. A super fun, canine-filled romance.

The League of Gentlewomen Witches, India Holton
Charlotte Pettifer has spent her life trying to be a dutiful witch, as the heir to the titular League’s power. But when their ancestor’s powerful amulet comes up for theft, she finds herself consorting with pirates (especially a handsome Irish one), taking unsupervised adventures (and other liberties) and even making friends. I loved this wild, funny, literary sequel to the Wisteria Society; so much fun. Can’t wait for book 3.

Emma of 83rd Street, Audrey Bellezza & Emily Harding
I adore both Austen’s original Emma and Clueless – and this novel is a charming modern twist on the former, with shades of the latter. Set on the Upper East Side, the novel follows Emma Woodhouse as she navigates grad school, makes (and tries to transform) a new friend, and struggles to figure out her feelings for her neighbor, George Knightley. Witty and fun; heads up for some seriously steamy scenes near the end. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 23).

Sunshine Nails, Mai Nguyen
Vietnamese immigrants Debbie and Phil Tran have spent two decades working to keep their Toronto nail salon afloat. But right after their daughter, Jessica, comes home from L.A. (smarting from setbacks in love and career), a hip new salon moves in across the street. Along with their son Dustin and their niece Thuy, the Trans try to fight the interlopers. But is taking down the other salon worth it if it destroys their family? A sharp, witty, warmhearted novel exploring small business ownership, immigrant family dynamics and the power of changing course. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 4).

Everybody Come Alive: A Memoir in Essays, Marcie Alvis Walker
Walker’s memoir explores her experience as a Black woman in America: the mingled love and racism she experienced in childhood, her mother’s mental illness, the challenges of navigating a white world as a dark-skinned Black woman, and her fierce love for her transgender child. I appreciate Walker’s truth-telling over on Instagram; this book goes deeper and broader. Reflective, spiritual, pull-no-punches. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 30).

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

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February was a strange month – short and long, sunny and snowy, plagued by the sniffles. But it ended with a batch of great books. Here’s what I have been reading:

Bloomsbury Girls, Natalie Jenner
London, 1949: Bloomsbury Books is clinging to the past, but its female staff – whip-smart Vivien, quiet Evie and steady, reliable Grace – are poised to push it into the future. I loved this charming story of a bookshop full of varying (sometimes clashing) personalities, bookish (and other) secrets, and women willing to take major risks to change the bookshop and their lives. Just the thing for a cold, snowy week.

Same Time Next Summer, Annabel Monaghan
Monaghan’s second novel follows Sam and Wyatt, neighbors on Long Island who fell in love as teenagers. After an eruption of a family secret and a bad breakup, Sam has convinced herself she’s moved on. But returning to the beach (with her fiance, Jack), she encounters Wyatt, and they have to reckon with their past and present selves. Funny, moving and real; I got a little frustrated with Sam but enjoyed this story. (I received an ARC; it’s out June 6.)

Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library, Scott Sherman
I stumbled across this nonfiction account (fittingly) at Mercer Street Books in NYC. Sherman expands on his reporting in The Nation to detail how the New York Public Library’s trustees nearly gutted the historic 42nd Street building. I read with fascination (and sometimes horror). I love the NYPL, and Sherman deftly captures the competing interests (and characters) at play.

March: Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
My guy lent me the 3-book set of Congressman Lewis’ graphic memoirs. Book One (framed around President Obama’s inauguration) traces Lewis’ childhood and his student days, getting involved in activism and sit-ins and learning the principles of nonviolence from Dr. King. Powerful and engaging; I loved getting more context and details for events I’d heard of (and some I hadn’t). Can’t wait to keep going.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, India Holton
Cecilia Bassingthwaite is anxious for the day when she’ll be a senior member of the titular society. (She’s also keen to avenge her mother’s death.) But the arrival of a handsome assassin, a mass kidnapping, her aunt’s harping about her health, and some highly inconvenient feelings make all that a bit difficult. A madcap romp set in Victorian England – lots of flying houses, literary references and absurdities. Really good fun.

Mrs. Tim Carries On, D.E. Stevenson
I adore the adventures of Mrs. Tim (Hester) Christie – military wife, mother, confidant, keen observer of daily life as WWII begins in England. I picked up this used copy (for $4!) at the Bryn Mawr Bookstore, and have been reading it slowly at bedtime. Such a comfort, and a joy.

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

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P.S. The latest issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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January has been a long year, as someone commented on social media recently. The latest batch of books, fortunately, has been excellent. Here’s what I have been reading:

Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them, Tove Danovich
Danovich dreamed of owning chickens during her years in Brooklyn – but when she moved to Oregon and ordered three chicks, she had no idea how they’d change her life. A warm, engaging, often hilarious deep dive into chicken-keeping, the poultry industry, chicken care and the ways these little birds steal their owners’ hearts. Informative and fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 28).

Island of Spies, Sheila Turnage
Hatteras Island, 1942: As World War II heats up, Sarah Stickley “Stick” Lawson and her two best friends, Rain and Neb, hunt for mysteries to solve on the island. They’re soon caught up in some real espionage, possibly involving the cranky postmistress, two enigmatic visitors, a couple of baseball players and Stick’s older sister. I loved this middle-grade novel about family and secrets and standing up for what’s right; I also adore Turnage’s Three Times Lucky and its sequels.

The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything, Kara Gnodde
Siblings Mimi and Art have always been close – especially since their parents’ tragic death. But in her thirties, Mimi gets restless and wants to find love. Art – a mathematical genius – agrees to help her if he can use an algorithm. When Mimi falls for Frank, another mathematician, Art is distressed for a few reasons. A thoughtful exploration of sibling dynamics; I loved Mimi’s friend Rey, and Frank himself. (Heads up for a few seriously heartbreaking death and hospital scenes.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out February 28).

Other Birds, Sarah Addison Allen
When 19-year-old Zoey moves into the condo she inherited from her mother on tiny, beautiful Mallow Island, she’s hoping to uncover some family secrets – but other secrets start to emerge almost immediately. From the resident turquoise birds to the suspicious death of one of her neighbors, plus a local reclusive author, Mallow Island is teeming with mystery. I love Addison Allen’s warm, enchanting Southern fiction; this one has some engaging characters, but also lots of deep sadness around abuse and addiction.

Operation Sisterhood, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Bo and her mum have always been a team, and Bo likes it that way. But when Mum announces she’s getting married, they move from the Bronx to Harlem and in with Bo’s new stepdad, his daughter, another family who shares their house, and a menagerie of pets. Bo – an introvert, baker and happy only child – likes her new family, but struggles to adjust. A warm, funny middle-grade novel (like the Vanderbeekers turned up to 11) with lashings of Black girl magic.

The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese
Verghese’s second novel traces the epic story of a family in southern India afflicted by a mysterious condition: one person in every generation dies by drowning. Spanning seven decades, the story begins with a child bride coming to Parambil, the family estate, and continues through several generations of love, loss, marriage, death, medical school and social change. Verghese is a medical doctor and it shows; the medical detail is painstaking (and occasionally gruesome). I read his memoir My Own Country in college and was blown away; he’s a powerful writer. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry
Poppy and Alex – polar opposites – have been best friends since college, taking an annual summer trip together. Until two years ago when they ruined everything. Poppy, floundering at work, is determined to salvage their friendship with one last trip to Alex’s brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. A funny story of travel disasters and friendship that might tip over into love; Poppy is wacky and oblivious, but eventually gains a little self-awareness. Fun for the winter doldrums.

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

What are you reading?

P.S. The February issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, will come out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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As the snow swirls down outside, I’ve been plowing (ha) through books – poetry, fiction, memoir and strong women, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Swan, Mary Oliver
I adored this Oliver collection, unsurprisingly – especially the first poem, and several others. She writes so well about nature, the interior life, seasons and paying attention. Perfect morning reading.

Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women, Alissa Wilkinson
I’ve known Alissa online for years, and loved her book of essays on smart, strong, bold women – Hannah Arendt, Edna Lewis, Maya Angelou, Laurie Colwin and others – who had interesting things to say about food, gathering, womanhood and community. If that sounds dry, it isn’t; Alissa’s writing sparkles, and each chapter ends with a delectable-sounding recipe. Found at the lovely new Seven and One Books in Abilene.

Running, Lindsey A. Freeman
As a longtime runner, a queer woman and a scholar, Freeman explores various aspects of running through brief essays – part memoir, part meditation, part academic inquiry. I enjoyed this tour of her experience as a runner, and the ways she writes about how running shapes us. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Beyond That, the Sea, Laura Spence-Ash
During World War II, Beatrix Thompson’s parents send her to the U.S. to escape the bombings in London. Bea lands with a well-off family, the Gregorys, and her bond with them – deep and complicated – endures over the following years and decades. A gorgeous, elegiac, thoughtful novel about love and loss and complex relationships. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

Winterhouse, Ben Guterson
Elizabeth Somers, an orphan who lives with her curmudgeonly relatives, spends a surprise Christmas vacation at Winterhouse, an old hotel full of delights. She makes a friend, uncovers a dastardly plot, makes some mistakes and discovers family secrets. I liked Elizabeth, but I really wanted this to be better than it was.

The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews
Julia Wychwood would rather read than go to a ball – but the only way to placate her hypochondriac parents is to plead illness. She’s rather miserable when Captain Jasper Blunt, a brooding ex-soldier in need of a fortune, arrives in London and begins pursuing her. A fun romance that plays with some classic tropes; I loved Julia (a fellow bookworm!) and her relationship with Jasper. I also loved The Siren of Sussex; this is a sequel of sorts.

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, Michelle Obama
Michelle needs no introduction from me; this book discusses some of the tools she uses to steady her during challenging times, such as knitting, exercise, friendship and keeping her perspective straight. I loved the insights into her marriage and her relationship with her mom, and her practical, wise voice. So good.

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

What are you reading?

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for next time!

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We made it, friends – the end of 2022 is nigh. As we wrap up the year and I recover from Christmas travel, here’s what I have been reading:

The Sweet Spot, Amy Poeppel
I flew through Poeppel’s warm, witty, hilarious latest, which involves four different women (an artist, her buttoned-up mother, a divorcee bent on revenge and a young woman caught in the crossfire) taking care of a baby who belongs to none of them. I laughed out loud several times. Bonus: it’s set in my favorite tangle of streets in Greenwich Village. I also loved Poeppel’s Musical Chairs. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 31, 2023).

Inciting Joy: Essays, Ross Gay
I adored Gay’s The Book of Delights (and did a Q&A with him, itself a delight). This new collection explores joy as it’s intertwined with sorrow, grief and desire – and it’s fantastic. I love Gay’s rambling style (though the footnotes occasionally get out of control), and his warm, wise, human voice. So good.

Of Manners and Murder, Anastasia Hastings
Violet Manville is astonished to discover her aunt Adelia is behind the popular Dear Miss Hermione column – and even more shocked to be handed the reins when Aunt Adelia leaves town. Soon Violet has a real mystery on her hands: the suspicious death of a young bride named Ivy. A fun British mystery with a spunky bluestocking heroine. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 31).

Healer and Witch, Nancy Werlin
Sylvie, her mother and her grand-mere are revered as healers in their village. But when Grand-mere dies and Sylvie makes a terrible mistake, she sets out in search of help. A sweet, thoughtful middle-grade novel set in medieval France, with a few surprising twists and some insights about vocation and calling.

Love in the Time of Serial Killers, Alicia Thompson
Phoebe has reluctantly moved to Florida for the summer to clear out her dad’s house and try to finish her dissertation on true crime. But she keeps getting distracted by the (literal) guy next door: is he really as nice as he seems, or is he a killer? A snarky, hilarious mystery with a great main character; I also adored Phoebe’s sweet golden-retriever younger brother.

The Mushroom Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
The Allies have won the war in Europe, but things are still grim for Chen Su Lin and her compatriots in Singapore. When a young aide is found dead, Su Lin becomes a suspect – and between caring for a blind professor, supervising the houseboys, trying to decipher news of the atomic bomb and prove her innocence, she’s very busy. A gripping entry in this wonderful series.

Travel as a Political Act, Rick Steves
I loved this thoughtful memoir by Steves – a guidebook author and TV personality – about how travel has shaped and expanded his worldview. He tackles drug policy, autocrats, poverty and other political issues, but also writes engagingly about simply encountering other humans. My favorite line: “Understanding people and their lives is what travel is about, no matter where you go.” Amen.

Kantika, Elizabeth Graver

I flew through this epic novel based on the life of Rebecca Cohen Baruch Levy (the author’s grandmother), a Sephardic Jew whose early 20th-century life takes her from Istanbul to Spain to Cuba and eventually to New York. Richly detailed, full of family drama and rich insights on womanhood and the complexities of love. So so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 18, 2023).

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
I adore this gentle novel set in Scotland at Christmastime, which follows five loosely connected people who end up spending the holiday together. It proves transformative for all of them. I loved revisiting it, as always.

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

What are you reading?

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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Sadeqa Johnson is the award-winning author of five novels, including Yellow Wife. Her powerful fifth novel, The House of Eve, follows two young Black women in the 1950s who are forced to make difficult choices relating to motherhood and career ambitions. I interviewed Sadeqa for Shelf Awareness, and excerpts from our conversation are below.

What was the inspiration for The House of Eve?

The character of Ruby came out of an idea I had for a YA novel. She also was partly inspired by my family. I remembered my mother telling me that she didn’t know her mother was her mother till she was in the third grade. My grandmother had gotten pregnant at age 14 and had my mother at age 15, out of wedlock, and she had had her in secret. My mom had lived with her grandmother until she was eight, and then she found out that my grandmother was really her mother. I started thinking: How is that situation possible, and what does that do to the child?

I started researching how it was at that time, and I came upon these homes for women. They were largely for white women: teenagers and women in their 20s who were not married. They went into these homes when they were pregnant, and were usually forced to give up their babies. But I couldn’t find a Black woman in these stories.

I am a Black woman and I like to write about the Black woman experience. There is not just one single narrative, no matter what we see on TV. I was doing some research about the Black experience, and I read a book called Our Kind of People, about wealthy African Americans who knew their family history for two or three generations. They were doctors and lawyers, and I traced this research into Washington, D.C., and that was the beginning of William and Eleanor’s story.

Eleanor’s experience at Howard University is wildly different than she expects, after growing up in a mostly white town.

I was watching Toni Morrison’s documentary, The Pieces I Am. Morrison was from Ohio, and she said, “I didn’t know that [Black] people separated themselves by color until I set foot on Howard’s campus.” She lived on a block with Germans and Italians and Poles, and everyone looked out for each other. That wasn’t my experience, but I made that part of Eleanor’s experience. [At Howard], she gets a closer look at the way Black people separated themselves by color.

Of course, that is all leftover baggage from slavery: the light-skinned people who were the master’s children, who often worked in the house, and the darker-skinned folks often worked in the fields. The colorism and the social situations at Howard added an extra layer to this transition time for Eleanor–being away from home, being at school, being on the poorer end of the spectrum. There was the classism she faced as well.

Ruby falls in love with a Jewish boy, and both she and the adults in her life understand that this love might hamper her chances at a college degree.

Ruby says in the book that she was okay with being unhappy, but she was not okay with being poor. Sometimes, for girls like Ruby, it’s a choice. How long would her happiness last if she was poor?

For Ruby, I think the choices were easy. For her family members, the only jobs available were serving white people: cleaning their houses, nannying for them, chauffeuring them. The only way out was an education. And even that was sketchy–because, being poor, you couldn’t afford it. A young girl should not have to choose between falling in love and getting an education. But if she didn’t choose, she would be dependent on white folks. Being poor–or not being poor–is a strong motivator for a lot of decisions that people like Ruby had to make. Even now, really, that’s the case.

Eleanor loves her work at the Howard library, and finds a mentor in Mrs. Porter, the librarian. What was the inspiration for her character?

Mrs. Porter was based on a real person who worked at the Howard library. As a library geek, the library was my foundation for reading and writing. My relationships with the librarians totally fueled who I am today. The best secrets in books happen by accident, and when I stumbled upon Dorothy Porter’s character, I had to figure out how to weave her in.

Those scenes were a pure joy for me–writing about a woman who worked so hard to preserve African and African American and Caribbean history. I loved being able to tie Eleanor into something so historically sound, which was also very important to her character.

Shame is a common theme in the novel: both Eleanor and Ruby are shamed for their choices and also for their struggles.

Shame for women is just rampant in our culture. If my kids misbehave, people are going to blame me–not their father! Anything that happens in the family structure is the woman’s fault. My daughter couldn’t find a homecoming dress that fit her shape. I told her, “It’s not you that are wrong–it’s the dressmakers thinking that we all fit into this one category.”

I think that’s the case for Ruby and Eleanor: Ruby not fitting into Mrs. Shapiro’s world, checking any of the boxes she thought would be a good fit for her son. And as for Eleanor, she was not of this wealthy society that Rose Pride thought William should marry into. Women tend to think of this as their own fault, if they can’t get pregnant or they can’t carry a baby. Women are taught that at a very early age, and that’s something we deal with unless someone teaches you how to stop.

The House of Eve is ostensibly the story of two women, but really it’s about multiple women: Ruby and Eleanor, their mothers, Ruby’s aunt Marie, Mrs. Porter. What do you think is important about that ensemble cast?

So many of the Black women on TV look the same–they all act the same. In The House of Eve, we have different colors, different classes, different socioeconomic backgrounds. I think all these different Black characters in this story creates the melting pot. There’s all these different versions of our story that are being told.

You can read my full review of The House of Eve at Shelf Awareness – and I encourage you to give it a read when it comes out in February.

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