Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘romance’

We are (somehow) halfway through December, and the world feels twinkly and dark and (sometimes) chaotic. Here’s what I have been reading:

Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons, Jeremy Denk
I spotted this book at Three Lives this summer, and snagged it at the library recently. Denk charts his journey from piano-nerd kid to classical pianist, via lots of lessons with idiosyncratic, brilliant teachers (and some personal growth). Writing about music can be hard to do, but Denk pulls it off. Entertaining, witty and wonderfully geeky.

Peril in Paris, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is thrilled to visit her dear friend Belinda in Paris. But once Georgie gets there, she becomes entangled in both a Chanel fashion show and a mysterious death – which leaves a police inspector convinced she’s a criminal. I love this fun historical mystery series and this was an entertaining entry.

What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest, ed. Susan Wittig Albert, Susan Hanson, Jan Epton Seale and Paula Stallings Yost
I stumbled on this collection in an Airbnb in Amherst, and immediately got it from the library when I came home. It’s a stunning anthology of essays and poetry: incisive, moving female perspectives on how we interact with the land, what we take from and give to it, what we leave behind. I loved reading this slowly in the mornings.

Killers of a Certain Age, Deanna Raybourn
Billie, Natalie, Helen and Mary Alice have spent 40 years working as assassins for the Museum, a secret extra-governmental organization. On their retirement cruise, someone targets them, and they work to find out why – and take out their would-be killers. A hilarious, incisive romp showcasing the skills (and ingenuity) of older women.

Maureen, Rachel Joyce
I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which follows a man taking a much-longer-than-planned walk that turns into a journey of self-discovery. 10 years later, this slim novel shares the perspective of Harold’s wife, Maureen. She makes a pilgrimage of her own – which doesn’t go quite as she expected. Lyrical, sad and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7, 2023).

Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya H
I enjoyed this unusual memoir by a queer Muslim woman exploring all the intersections of her identities. A lot here about Muslim faith and practice; many familiar Bible stories retold as they appear in the Quran; and an honest examination of inner struggle. Heavy at times, and thoughtful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 7, 2023).

The Holiday Switch, Tif Marcelo
Lila Santos is ready to plunge into the Christmas season (and work all the hours at her local inn’s gift/book shop to save for college). She’s also an anonymous book blogger. When her boss’s nephew, Teddy, shows up to work the holiday season, the two of them clash – but gradually find themselves drawn to one another. A super fun YA holiday romance featuring Filipino-American characters; I also love Marcelo’s adult fiction.

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

What are you reading?

Advertisement

Read Full Post »

Suddenly, it’s December – and the holiday season is here in all its twinkly chaos. To counter the madness a bit, here’s what I have been reading:

My Own Lightning, Lauren Wolk
After a lightning strike, Annabelle McBride has a heightened understanding of animals, especially dogs. When her brother’s dog goes missing and a stranger comes to town looking for his own dog, Annabelle has to make some tough choices, and re-examine some things she thought she knew. A beautiful, wise middle-grade novel (sequel to Wolf Hollow, which I also loved).

The Siren of Sussex, Mimi Matthews
Evelyn Maltravers is in London to make her debut – but she’s determined to dazzle on horseback rather than in the ballroom. When she engages Ahmad Malik, a skilled Anglo-Indian tailor, to make her riding habits, she finds herself drawn to him. The attraction is mutual, but there are obstacles (financial and otherwise) in the way. I loved this smart, witty romance, especially the nuanced relationship between Evelyn and Ahmad, and Evelyn’s group of unconventional friends.

Really Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Truly Lovejoy is excited for the perfect summer in Pumpkin Falls, but her plans start to fall apart when she’s sent to mermaid camp on Cape Cod. Meanwhile, a town heirloom goes missing, and Truly and her friends get roped into both a performance of The Pirates of Penzance and a real-life treasure hunt. Such a fun third installment in this series.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, Sangu Mandanna
Because of her witchy powers, Mika Moon has spent her life never getting close to anyone. But when she’s hired to be a tutor for three young witches at Nowhere House, Mika finds herself falling in love: with the girls, their quirky caretakers and the grumpy librarian, Jamie, who’s their surrogate dad. This was British, irreverent and completely charming; shades of Ballet Shoes but totally modern.

The Wild Robot Escapes, Peter Brown
My nephew requested this one for his birthday (after loving The Wild Robot), so I sent it to him and then wanted to read it for myself. Roz the robot finds herself working on a farm; she enjoys the cows and children, but plots her escape back to her island home and animal friends. Fun and thoughtful, though I liked the first one better.

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

What are you reading?

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

Read Full Post »

We are nearly halfway through October – and between bike rides, a major work event and daily life, here’s what I have been reading:

Picture in the Sand, Peter Blauner
In 2014, a young Egyptian-American man leaves his home suddenly to join a jihadist uprising overseas. His grandfather, Ali Hassan, decides to share his own story with his grandson: his experience working on the movie set of The Ten Commandments and getting swept up in political forces larger than himself. I flew through this – it’s part thriller, part historical epic, part love story, part intergenerational family saga. Fascinating and layered. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

Book Lovers, Emily Henry
Nora Stephens is not a rom-com heroine: she’s the other woman, the sharp-edged, stiletto-wearing city person who loses the guy. When her sister Libby begs her to go to a tiny North Carolina town, Nora reluctantly agrees – and even begins to enjoy herself. But the presence of a handsome, infuriating editor from the city throws a wrench into Nora’s plans. A fun, sometimes steamy rom-com with plenty of bookish references, but at its heart this is a story about sisters, family, and the stories we tell ourselves.

Seasons: Desert Sketches, Ellen Meloy
I picked up this collection at the Desert Museum in Arizona last spring. They’re short, bracing essays (originally recorded for radio) on life in southern Utah: flora, fauna, human community. Meloy is smart and salty and often hilarious. Perfect for morning reading.

The Verifiers, Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is loving her new hush-hush job working for an online-dating detective agency. But when a client turns up dead, and it turns out she was impersonating her sister, things get complicated fast. Claudia, like any good amateur sleuth, keeps digging into the case, even after she’s warned off. I loved this smart mystery about choices and expectations (our own, our families’, our potential partners’). Well plotted and I hope the author writes more.

The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, Kitty Zeldis
Brooklyn, 1924: Catherine Berrill is desperate for a child to complete the family she’s started with her kind husband, Stephen. Dressmaker Beatrice Jones, newly arrived from New Orleans with her ward Alice, has a secret that connects her to Catherine’s past. I really enjoyed this twisty historical novel about three different women trying to make their way. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

The Vanderbeekers on the Road, Karina Yan Glaser
I loooove this warmhearted middle-grade series (and loved meeting Karina in person recently!). The Vanderbeekers (plus assorted animals) pile into a friend’s van for a cross-country road trip. As is often the case with road trips, not everything goes to plan. Sweet and funny, like this whole series.

Take My Hand, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Montgomery, Alabama, 1973: nurse Civil Townsend is working at a women’s clinic purporting to serve poor patients, but she grows concerned about the side effects of birth-control shots (and the necessity of giving them to young girls). A powerful, often heavy, brilliantly told novel about a woman who gets caught up trying to save the lives of the people she’s serving. Highly recommended.

The Woman with the Cure, Lynn Cullen
As polio infects thousands of young children, the race for a cure is on. Too-tall Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, obsessed with detecting the virus in the blood, becomes caught up in the science – and the politics – around finding a vaccine. A well-done historical novel (with lots of real-life characters, including Horstmann) about science and feminism and sacrifice. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21, 2023).

Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, Laura Everett
Everett, a minister and four-season cyclist, shares what she’s learned about spiritual practice from riding the streets of Boston. Thoughtful, forthright and wryly funny – I loved reading about her journeys around my adopted city. (I haven’t met her yet, but we know a lot of the same bike folks, including my guy.)

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

July is (almost) over, and while sweating through a heat wave, here’s what I have been reading:

The Mimosa Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
As World War II rages, the Japanese have occupied Singapore, and Chen Su Lin finds herself coerced into helping them solve the murder of her neighbor, Mr. Mirza. Much grimmer than Su Lin’s first three adventures, this is a sobering look at life under Japanese occupation and a compelling mystery.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham, Claudia Gray
I loved this fun mystery (recommended by Anne) that brings together the main characters from many of Jane Austen’s novels for a house party hosted by Emma and George Knightley. Mr. Wickham (that cad!) shows up uninvited, and before long he ends up dead. Juliet Tilney, Catherine’s daughter, and Jonathan Darcy, son of Elizabeth, band together to find the killer. Witty and entertaining, with some interesting subplots. I’d absolutely read a sequel.

Welcome to the School by the Sea, Jenny Colgan
I usually enjoy Colgan’s gentle British rom-coms, often set in charming small towns. This is an older book of hers, reissued, and it shows: there are some fun moments, but the character development is thin, and there is so much fat-shaming. First in a series.

Where There’s a Whisk, Sarah J. Schmitt
Peyton Sinclaire believes she has one shot to escape her trailer-park life in Florida: winning the Top Teen Chef reality show competition. But when she arrives in Manhattan and starts navigating the show’s cooking challenges and interpersonal dynamics, she learns a thing or two she didn’t expect. I loved this sweet, foodie YA novel, especially the way it wrapped up.

Finding Me, Viola Davis
I’ve been impressed by Davis as an actor, but didn’t know her story. She tells it at a sometimes breakneck pace – from growing up in abject poverty in Rhode Island to college to Juilliard to success on stage and film, to marriage and complicated family dynamics. A brutally honest account of her life; so much trauma, so much grit and hard work, and finally some joy. Recommended by Anne.

For the Love of the Bard, Jessica Martin
Miranda Barnes – literary agent, middle child, YA writer under a pseudonym – goes back to her Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for its annual Bard festival. While there, she has to deal with scary health news for a family member, festival committee politics, and – oh yeah – the guy who broke her heart back in high school. I loved this theater-nerd romance with complex sibling dynamics, totally relatable life struggles and a swoony romance. Found at the wonderful Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT.

They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl’s Fight for Freedom, Ahed Tamimi and Dena Takruri
Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi made international news after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral. This memoir recounts her childhood, her family’s life under the Israeli occupation, her arrest and imprisonment (and other traumas), and her continuing fight to liberate Palestine. Short, but heavy and heartbreaking. An important perspective we don’t often get in the U.S. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 6).

The Marlow Murder Club, Robert Thorogood
I picked this one up on a whim at the library and blew through it in two days. Judith Potts, age 77, is swimming naked in the Thames (her daily ritual) when she hears a gunshot from her neighbor’s garden. It turns out he was murdered – but by whom? Judith joins forces with local dog walker Suzie and the vicar’s buttoned-up wife, Becks, to solve the case. Witty and clever and so British. I loved it.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

‘Tis the season for summer reading – which for me typically means mysteries, YA and lush, immersive novels. But I’m also reading some thoughtful nonfiction, as always. Here’s the latest roundup:

Tokyo Dreaming, Emiko Jean
Izumi Tanaka’s new royal life in Tokyo is going all right – until her boyfriend breaks up with her and the Imperial Council votes against her parents’ engagement. She embarks on a campaign to change their minds, but will it end in disaster? I liked this sequel to Tokyo Ever After, though Izumi drove me crazy at times. Still a fun ride.

Hello Goodbye, Kate Stollenwerck
Hailey Rogers isn’t thrilled about spending part of her summer with her almost-estranged grandmother. But as she gets to know Gigi, they bond over music and books, and Gigi shares some family secrets. This was a fun YA novel set in Texas – the ending got a little wild but I loved the book’s sensitive treatment of complicated family dynamics. And Blake, the neighbor/love interest, is a dream. Out August 2.

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery, Ovidia Yu
Chen Su Lin is enjoying her work as a detective’s assistant for the Singapore police force, until the new administrator replaces her with a privileged white girl. When the administrator is found dead, Su Lin takes on some unofficial sleuthing, which becomes even more important when her best friend’s father is arrested. Third in a wonderful series set in 1930s Singapore; I’m learning a lot about colonial history, and I love Su Lin’s voice. She’s smart and capable (but still gets it wrong once in a while).

Barakah Beats, Maleeha Siddiqui
Nimra Sharif is nervous about starting public school in seventh grade – especially when her (white) best friend starts acting weird. But then Nimra gets invited to join a band made up of other Muslim kids. The problem? She’s not sure if making music goes against her beliefs. A fun, sensitive middle-grade novel about navigating friendships and faith, and being true to yourself.

Mirror Lake, Juneau Black
It’s autumn in Shady Hollow and the election for police chief (between two bears) is heating up. And then Dorothy Springfield, an eccentric local rat, becomes convinced her husband has been murdered and replaced by an impostor. Intrepid reporter Vera Vixen and her raven friend Lenore are on the case, of course. A charming third entry in this delightful mystery series.

Jacqueline in Paris, Ann Mah
In 1949, Jacqueline Bouvier arrives in Paris to spend her junior year abroad. Mah’s novel dives into the people Jackie met, the man she almost loved, her sobering trip to Dachau and the deep, lifelong impression France left on her. Compelling and engaging (even though I am a little tired of Kennedy stories). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 27).

Church: Why Bother?, Philip Yancey
My dad sent me this slim book detailing Yancey’s experiences with church and his musings on why it’s still worth it. I am not sure I agree, but there are some interesting insights here. (There is also a lot of older-white-man mild surprise that people different from him have something to teach him.) Frustrating at times, but thought-provoking.

The Emma Project, Sonali Dev
Naina Kohli wants nothing more to do with the Raje family after ending a 10-year fake relationship with its eldest son. But then youngest child Vansh comes back home, and he and Naina find themselves competing for philanthropic funding, as well as fighting a mutual attraction. This was way steamier than I expected, but a fun romance with great witty banter.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

We are nearly halfway through June, and it’s finally (sometimes) sit-outside-and-read weather. Here’s what I have been reading:

Fencing with the King, Diana Abu-Jaber
To celebrate the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Gabriel Hamdan (once the King’s favorite fencing partner) and his daughter, Amani, travel back to their home country. Reeling from her divorce, Amani becomes intent on uncovering the story of her mysterious grandmother, a Palestinian refugee. Meanwhile, her smooth-talking powerful uncle is keeping other secrets. Abu-Jaber’s writing is lush and thoughtful; I was totally swept up by Amani’s story. Recommended by Anne.

The Unsinkable Greta James, Jennifer E. Smith
I love Smith’s sweet, thoughtful YA novels. This, her adult debut, follows Greta James, an indie musician who’s struggling after the death of her mother. Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dad and some family friends. She meets a guy, yes, but it’s more about her internal journey as a musician and a daughter. I liked it; didn’t love it, but it kept me reading.

The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
Seven years ago, Nell Young lost her job, her professional reputation and her relationship with her father after an argument over a cheap gas station map. When her father is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell follows the clues – including that map – to a mysterious group of mapmakers and some long-held family secrets. I loved this twisty, literary mystery with so much depth and heart. A truly fantastic ride.

The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Anastasia Cole Plakias
Plakias is a cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, a pioneering urban rooftop farm in NYC. This book tells the story of the farm’s founding, from a (mostly) business perspective. Super interesting to see all the facets of starting – and sustaining – a green rooftop farm. Found at the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar.

Room and Board, Miriam Parker
After her PR business implodes, Gillian Brodie finds herself working as a dorm mother at the California boarding school she attended as a teenager on scholarship. Parker’s second novel follows Gillian as she confronts old wounds and deals with new scandals (and extremely privileged students). I liked the premise, but this one fell flat for me. Out Aug. 16.

A Dish to Die For, Lucy Burdette
Food critic Hayley Snow is out for a relaxing lunch with a friend when her dog finds a body in the sand. The deceased, a local real estate developer, had plenty of enemies, and soon Hayley (of course) gets drawn into investigating the case. I love this series, and this was a really fun entry, exploring marriage and family and vintage recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 9).

The Codebreaker’s Secret, Sara Ackerman
After losing her beloved brother Walt at Pearl Harbor, codebreaker Isabel Cooper is thrilled to accept an assignment in Hawaii to help defeat the Japanese. Two decades later, a young reporter on assignment at a swank Hawaiian hotel uncovers some old secrets that may have a connection to Isabel. Enigmatic flyboy turned photographer Matteo Russi may prove to hold the key. A fast-paced, lushly described historical adventure with engaging characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

Where the Rhythm Takes You, Sarah Dass
Reyna’s whole life has been devoted to her family’s hotel in Tobago, especially since her mother died. But when her first love, Aiden, returns to the island for a vacation with the members of his band, she’s forced to confront not only her heartache over their breakup, but the other ways she’s struggling to move forward. A wonderful YA novel with so much emotion and a great setting; made me want to listen to soca music. Reyna’s anger and grief felt so authentic. Recommended by Anne.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

Somehow we’re into July, and the weather has swung from the 90s two days ago to the 60s this morning. I’m finishing up week 2 at my new day job at ZUMIX here in East Boston, and trying to hang on. In between Zoom meetings and sweaty morning runs, here’s what I have been reading:

Very Sincerely Yours, Kerry Winfrey
At almost 30, Teddy Phillips is working in a vintage toy store and wondering what on earth to do with her life. A breakup propels her to make some decisions, including starting an email correspondence with Everett St. James, a local children’s TV host. I loved this warm hug of a book – I want to be friends with Teddy and her sweet, quirky roommates. Sweet and funny.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters, Juliette Fay
I enjoyed Gert Turner’s character so much in City of Flickering Light that I went back to read this novel, which tells the story of how Gert and her family got into vaudeville. Charming and compelling, though the characters sometimes felt transplanted from the 21st century.

The Amelia Six, Kristin L. Gray
Millie Ashford is a Rubik’s cube whiz, but she doesn’t have many friends and she misses her pilot mom. When Millie and five other girls are invited to spend the night at Amelia Earhart’s childhood home in Kansas, Millie makes new friends – with whom she quickly has to solve a mystery. A fun middle-grade tribute to Earhart and women in STEM.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer
This book had been on my list for a while. Kimmerer is a botanist and enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi nation, and she weaves science with Indigenous stories and practices of caring for the earth. Gorgeous and thought-provoking.

A Sorrowful Sanctuary, Iona Whishaw
Lane Winslow is fishing with friends at the beach when they find an injured stranger in a rowboat. Then a local young man goes missing, and someone starts stealing antiques from various houses. Meanwhile, Lane and Inspector Darling are struggling to define their relationship. A satisfying entry in this wonderful series.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

cafe lalo table berries teacup

It’s no secret I love a good romantic comedy, and there are a handful from the ’90s and early 2000s that are particularly close to my heart. Nora Ephron’s films did more than anything else to shape my early visions of New York City. (I once spent an entire solo weekend on the Upper West Side pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.)

During the pandemic, I’ve revisited a few of my favorites, and here’s the thing: I find myself less interested in the love stories these days than in the other elements of these women’s lives.

Part of it is simple familiarity: I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail dozens of times. I can pinpoint the exact moments when sparks fly between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Runaway Bride. I know just how Miles, that sweet film composer played by Jack Black, charms Iris (Kate Winslet) without even meaning to in The Holiday. And my entire family can quote the “leaning” scene (along with the hilarious family dinner dialogue) from While You Were Sleeping.

I don’t have to wonder whether or how these characters are going to fall in love. (Though I have to admit my 2021 self cringes a little bit at the sheer arrogance of a few male romantic leads.) But I am interested, now more than ever, in these women as real people: not only in their romantic adventures, but the struggles they face in the rest of their lives.

I want to know what Kathleen Kelly ended up doing after she had to close The Shop Around the Corner. I want to see photos from Lucy and Jack’s honeymoon in Florence, but then I want to know about their life together: future family holidays, the next step in Lucy’s career. I wonder if Maggie Carpenter was content running the family hardware store for the rest of her life, or if the edgy lamps she sold in NYC – and her love affair with a New York writer – catapulted her into a different career. And I hope – so much – that Iris, buoyed by Miles’ love and Arthur’s friendship and the gumption of a thousand Old Hollywood heroines, never let any man dim her brilliance ever again.

It’s a new month, and I need a new blog series, so for the next few Mondays, I’ll be diving into some of the films I adore, and musing on the other parts of these heroines’ stories: work and career, family and identity. I hope you’ll join me. It’s going to be fun.

Read Full Post »

brazen-book

Somehow, it’s June – and my heart is heavy from the last week or so of murders, police violence and protests. I’m doing a lot of reading and listening to black folks online, and I urge you to do the same. These horrors cannot continue, and we are all responsible for our part in making sure they don’t.

Meanwhile: I have been reading a combination of long-unread paper books, old favorites, physical books borrowed from friends, and digital books on my sister’s old Kindle. I do not love ebooks, but the Kindle is a lot better than scrolling through pdf files on my laptop. In all formats and at all times, here’s what I’ve been reading:

Everything is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here, Rob Bell
Bell is a former megachurch evangelical pastor, who these days is (still) a writer, speaker, podcaster and thinker. His new book traces his journey from small-town Michigan through his young adulthood and those pastoring days to the point where he wanted something more, outside the confines of church work. It’s got quantum physics and family history and lots of Big Questions. The style is unusual and it wanders, but the ideas are big and interesting, and Bell’s style is warm and conversational. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 15).

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I was in serious need of some cheer, so I turned back to this first book about the Melendys. Siblings Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver live in pre-WWII Manhattan with their father and their beloved housekeeper, Cuffy. They decide to pool their allowances for Saturday adventures, and they have all sorts of fun. I adore this series – the characters are all so creative and funny and kind.

The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys (see above) move to a big house (topped by a teeny cupola, hence the “mistake”) in upstate New York, and continue having adventures. Enright’s writing is both lyrical and funny, and I adore the siblings and the fun they get up to together.

The War Widow, Tara Moss
World War II is officially over, but even in Australia its effects are still being felt. Journalist Billie Walker, who lost her photographer husband in the war, takes up the mantle of her late father’s investigative agency. This first book in a new series follows Billie and her assistant, Sam, as they look for a missing teenage boy and try to unravel a case that points to war crimes, theft and kidnapping. Lots of setup, but once it got going this was a solid mystery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I rediscovered Jane a few years ago, and I reach for her story almost every spring/summer. She (grudgingly) goes to PEI to visit her estranged father, and ends up falling totally in love with both him and the Island. I love PEI almost as much as Jane does, and her story is so full of hope and charm and spunk. Wonderful.

Words in Deep Blue, Cath Crowley
Henry and Rachel used to be best friends. But then Rachel moved away and her brother drowned, and she’s been reeling ever since. When she moves back to town, Henry’s family bookshop is struggling, and the two of them gradually find their way back to one another. I liked the setting (Howling Books) and the secondary characters much better than Rachel and Henry, but this is still a sweet, sad story. Recommended by Anne.

The Wedding Party, Jasmine Guillory
I like Guillory’s fun, snappy romance novels featuring loosely connected characters. This one centers on Maddie and Theo, who are the two BFFs of Alexa (from The Wedding Date). They think they hate each other, but (spoiler alert) this is not the case, as they embark on a secret affair that might be something more. I had to seriously suspend my disbelief (did they really think no one would catch on?) and skip over a few steamy scenes (not my thing), but this was fun holiday weekend reading.

Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise, Richard Beck
Richard is a friend of mine, and a psychology professor at my alma mater. He writes an excellent blog, and he also spends a lot of time these days with prisoners and low-income folks. Stranger God is his memoir-cum-psychological exploration of why most of us (privileged) Christians don’t do that, and why we should. Thoughtful, straightforward and very well-researched (in other words, vintage Richard).

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Friendships are vital to most of our lives, but there’s hardly any sound research or advice on how to make them work long-term. Sow and Friedman, who have been close for more than a decade, unfold the story of their Big Friendship (known to some through their Call Your Girlfriend podcast) alongside expert voices on friendship. They share their hard-won wisdom and their challenges, in a wise, fresh, thought-provoking format. I want to buy this for all my girlfriends when it comes out. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

Then There Were Five, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys (see above) are loving their lives at the Four-Story Mistake. This third book introduces them (and readers) to Mark Herron, an orphan who (spoiler alert) ends up becoming part of their family. Full of warmth, charm and summer adventures. (The cover art on these new editions is kind of terrible, but the stories are so good.)

The Land, Mildred D. Taylor
I loved Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as a child, and picked up this prequel, which tells the story of her biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan. It’s set in post-Civil War Mississippi, and it is powerful and compelling. I raced through it in two nights.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, Pénélope Bagieu
My comics-loving guy gave me this book for Christmas. It’s a collection of graphic mini-biographies of badass women, from a Chinese empress and a gynecologist in ancient Greece to contemporary figures like Leymah Gbowee and Temple Grandin. The art is both whimsical and arresting and the stories are fantastic.

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

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

star crossed book jeans bare feet chair

For thousands of years, human beings have watched the stars–to observe their beauty, to navigate across uncharted oceans, and (sometimes) to seek guidance for important decisions. But do the stars truly affect our lives? Does a person’s zodiac sign determine his or her personality and fate, or are human beings the masters of our own destinies?

Australian novelist Minnie Darke takes a playful approach to these questions–and the havoc that sometimes results from pursuing them–in her big-hearted and witty debut, aptly titled Star-Crossed.

Darke’s novel centers on Justine (Sagittarius, possessed of a near-photographic memory, thoroughgoing star skeptic) and Nick (dreamy Aquarius, struggling actor, true believer). Born nine months apart to mothers who were best friends, the two spent their childhoods together, but lost touch after Nick’s family moved across the country.

Darke sets up this shared history in a few breezy chapters, then leaps ahead to when Justine’s and Nick’s orbits overlap again in their 20s. Justine is an aspiring reporter at a quirky monthly magazine, and Nick has just landed the lead in a local avant-garde production of Romeo and Juliet. As the two reconnect and become friends, and as Justine’s responsibilities at the magazine shift, she starts to wonder if there’s any harm in tweaking the monthly astrology column, just a little. The results – predictably – go a bit beyond what she expected.

I read Star Crossed back in December so I could review it for Shelf Awareness – the above paragraphs are the first part of my extended review. I also got to interview Minnie via email (she lives in Tasmania). She was charming and warm and funny, like her novel (and most of its characters). Here are a few fun excerpts from our conversation:

KNG: What inspired you to write a novel focused on astrology and the stars?

MD: The idea for the novel came to me quite a long time ago, when I was a journalist at a small newspaper. Because the staff were few, and it was handy for everyone to be able to make changes to the paper right up until deadline, I had a login that gave me access to the entire publication.

I was working late one night when I had the idea that I could, if I wanted to, fiddle about with the astrology column. Hmmm, I thought. I could make the entries spookily relevant to my friends’ lives, or perhaps take a hand–invisibly–in their decisions. I’m not saying I definitely ever did any of that, but it was a seductive idea. It was also, I thought, a good basis for a novel.

We humans are reliably interested in questions of fate. Are we living out a preordained pattern? Or are we just drifting, bumbling along? We know that there are forces acting on us all the time, but are some of them as far away as the stars? Could these forces be known, and therefore harnessed in the service of our dreams? These are all interesting questions.

Justine is a Sagittarian skeptic and Nick is a true-believer Aquarius. Many of the other characters, no matter their signs, fall somewhere in between. What about you? What’s your relationship with the stars?

I don’t know if I believe in astrology, but I certainly like it. I like the way people enjoy fulfilling, and also confounding, the stereotypes of their sign. And I like the way people use astrology to understand others and their relationships. Just as humans like to seek out systems of meaning, we’re also pretty interested in classificatory systems.

As classificatory systems go, astrology is pretty good fun, and I learned this from my grandmother. She kept two very well-thumbed and dog-eared books on a shelf near her favourite chair. One was her crossword puzzle dictionary and the other was a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. She was a great one for saying things like, “Oh, your grandfather’s just being a miserly old Capricorn.” Or, “Your dad’s not one for risks; he’s a Cancerian after all.” She was a nurse, and a classic Virgo–always ready to patch up people’s ailments, and to take a close interest in their personal affairs.

The novel is lighthearted, but it asks big questions about decisions, fate and the surprising twists our lives often take. What are your thoughts on the relationship between decisions, free will and destiny?

One of the things I love about being a writer is that it’s not my job to come up with answers or solutions to tricky questions. My job–and I think it’s the best job of all–is to keep asking those tricky questions in new and hopefully entertaining ways.

Perhaps the way the plot of Star-Crossed resolves suggests that there is such a thing as fate, or destiny. Or, perhaps Star-Crossed is simply a depiction of a series of events that take place in a world full of lucky, random chaos. It really will be up to the reader to decide.

I’d like readers to know that Star-Crossed was written in a spirit of joy and mischief, and I hope with all my heart that they will be amused, moved, uplifted and entertained by it.

You can read my full review and interview with Minnie at Shelf Awareness. The book comes out in the States in May, and – in case it wasn’t obvious – it’s really good fun. I recommend it if you’re looking for a charming, witty read with lots of heart – no matter how you feel about the stars.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »