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Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

albertine books ceiling

(Not a picture of books, I know, but this is the gorgeous ceiling at Albertine Books, a French-English bookshop located inside the French embassy in NYC. We visited recently and I couldn’t stop looking up.)

On to the books! Here’s my latest reading roundup:

Plaid and Plagiarism, Molly MacRae
After a bitter divorce, Janet Marsh is thrilled to be starting a new chapter: running a Scottish bookshop and tearoom with her daughter and her best friend. But trouble is brewing: Janet and her compatriots must deal with vandalism, resentment and a nosy newspaper columnist who ends up dead. An amusing cozy mystery with a few great one-liners and a charming setting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 6).

A Word for Love, Emily Robbins
American student Bea has traveled to the Middle East to view a certain sacred text in Arabic – a great love story. But she learns much more about love, grief and heartache from her host family, their Indonesian maid Nisrine and a young policeman who catches both their eyes. Luminous, subtle and sad; the writing is gorgeous. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 17, 2017).

Beneath Wandering Stars, Ashlee Cowles
When Gabriela Santiago’s soldier brother Lucas is injured in Afghanistan, she pledges to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in his honor. The catch? She’s walking with Lucas’ best friend Seth, whom she can’t stand. A powerful story of grief and wrestling with big questions, with a rich setting and a little romance. My favorite line: “Maybe sacred things are never entirely safe.”

The Glow of Death, Jane K. Cleland
Antiques appraiser Josie Prescott is thrilled to be selling a genuine Tiffany lamp owned by a local wealthy couple. But when the wife is found dead and Josie identifies the body, she’s shocked: it’s an entirely different woman. Determined to find out who conned her, Josie helps (and sometimes hinders) the local police chief in his investigation. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 29).

The Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan
Penniless and depressed after losing her library job, Nina buys a van on impulse and sets about starting a mobile bookshop in a remote corner of Scotland. A sweet, entertaining story of a woman finding her way in life, career and love.

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

What are you reading? (And happy Halloween, if you’re celebrating!)

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brattle bookshop doors boston

Fall is the time to dig into new books (though, really, that’s every season around here). The doors above are from the outdoor sale lot of the fabulous Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and the books below are what I’ve been reading lately:

A Very Special Year, Thomas Montasser
I heard Liberty talk about this novel on All the Books and picked it up at Three Lives & Co. Valerie takes over her aunt Charlotte’s bookshop after Charlotte disappears. Despite her career plans, Valerie (of course) finds herself utterly seduced by the shop’s books and readers. A truly delightful slim novel, in the vein of The Haunted Bookshop or The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
I’d heard about this sweeping time-travel romance series from a dozen friends, plus my mom. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband in the Scottish Highlands after WWII when she steps through a circle of standing stones and finds herself in 1743. It’s a wild (often violent) ride as Claire adapts to an entirely different world and becomes tightly linked to the clan MacKenzie and a young outlaw called Jamie Fraser. Powerful storytelling, fascinating history and dry wit, though with waaaay more sex and violence than my usual fare.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell
Wilhelmina “Will” Silver relishes her life running wild on the farm her father manages in Zimbabwe. But after his death, she’s sent to England and finds herself completely unequipped for the foreign, catty world of boarding school. I found the book’s African scenes much more fully realized than the English ones, but I loved Will’s fierce, bold spirit and Rundell’s writing. Found at Book Culture.

The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, Richard Hugo
I’d never heard of Hugo’s poetry, but I found this essay collection at Book Culture and loved much of his wry, thoughtful advice on writing poetry and being a poet (two different things). Witty, aphoristic and encouraging, if a little uneven. A good read to start off the fall.

First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, Kate Andersen Brower
The role of First Lady is visible, public and largely undefined – so each woman who takes on that mantle truly makes it her own. Brower draws a sharp, thoroughly researched, fascinating portrait of First Ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama. Really well done (and, obviously, so timely).

The Bell Family, Noel Streatfeild
I discovered Streatfeild via You’ve Got Mail, so I was delighted to find this novel at Book Culture on the Upper West Side (shades of The Shop Around the Corner!). The Bell family lives in a crowded vicarage in the East End of London, and their adventures are funny, sweet and altogether delightful.

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

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the bookstore lenox ma

Lots of reading happening this month – I’m blazing through quick YA novels and mysteries while working more slowly through a few longer, more contemplative novels. Here’s the most recent roundup for you:

The Apprentices, Maile Meloy
This sequel to The Apothecary (which I loved) finds Janie Scott and her small band of unusual friends scattered across the world. When Janie gets wrongfully expelled from her boarding school, then kidnapped, her friends Benjamin and Pip team up to save her and prevent nuclear activity on a remote Pacific island. I enjoyed seeing these characters again, but the plot often felt disjointed and crowded (too many subplots). Not as good as its predecessor, but I’d read a third novel just to see what happens to Janie and Benjamin.

A Royal Pain, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch (aka Her Royal Spyness) is asked to entertain a visiting Bavarian princess, while moonlighting as a maid and trying to build an independent life in London. When three dead bodies turn up within a week, Georgie starts sleuthing, trying to figure out how the deaths are related and who’s responsible. Fun and frothy, like its predecessor (second in a series).

Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry
Orphaned as a child, Jonah Crow (known as Jayber) lived first with relatives, then in an orphanage, where he began studying and trying to “make something of himself.” But he found his way back to his home county, where he became the barber of Port William, Kentucky, and also became inextricably tied up with the life of that small community. This quiet, wise, gently meandering, melancholy book was a pleasure to read, and a loving portrait of a vanishing time and place. I’m glad I finally picked it up.

Sunshine on Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith
Our friends on (and near) 44 Scotland Street are dealing with the usual problems (crying babies, overbearing parents, baffling relationships) and several new ones (Danish filmmakers, Scottish doppelgangers). I missed Angus and Domenica, who were honeymooning in Jamaica for most of the book, and Pat, who appeared very seldom. But I always enjoy spending time with these characters, particularly Bertie (so wise for a six-year-old) and Cyril (the world’s only gold-toothed dog).

Royal Flush, Rhys Bowen
After a disastrous attempt to hire herself out as a dinner companion, Lady Georgiana Rannoch flees home to Scotland, where she must deal with a large, unruly house party (those gauche Americans!) and do a spot of sleuthing for the British government. A series of unfortunate accidents, including a near-death experience for Georgie, makes her wonder if someone isn’t trying to kill her or her brother – or if the real target is closer to the throne. The dashing Darcy O’Mara reappears, as do several other recurring characters. Great fun – these books are highly enjoyable brain candy.

The Sisters Weiss, Naomi Ragen
Rose and Pearl Weiss grow up loved and sheltered by their ultra-Orthodox parents in Brooklyn in the 1960s. But when Rose discovers a love for photography, she is shamed and sent away. Though she agrees to an arranged marriage, she flees before she reaches the altar, breaking off all contact with her family. Forty years later, when Rose’s niece (Pearl’s daughter) learns the truth about her aunt, she embarks on a reckless, rebellious journey of her own. A fascinating portrait of an ancient, insular community, and a sensitive look at a painful dilemma: the choice between freedom and family, loneliness and an often stifling community. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 15).

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where the sidewalk ends chatham ma

What I read on vacation, and what I’ve been reading since we came back:

Bertie Plays the Blues, Alexander McCall Smith
The seventh 44 Scotland Street novel finds Matthew and Elspeth welcoming triplet boys; Domenica and Angus preparing for marriage; and Bertie, age six, pondering how to get himself adopted. I loved revisiting these characters again – as ever, this series is quirky, amusing, gently meandering and so much fun.

Smart Girls Get What They Want, Sarah Strohmeyer
Gigi, Bea and Neerja are straight-A students and best friends who fly mostly under the radar at their Boston-area high school. They’ve never been bothered by their lack of social cachet, but as their sophomore year begins, each girl vows to take on a challenge that scares her: Gigi runs for student school board rep, Bea rejoins the ski team and Neerja auditions for a play. This was a smart, funny read with wonderfully real characters – and as a smart girl myself, I was cheering them on the whole way. (I also loved the scenes set in Harvard Square – my workplace neighborhood.) Smart girls unite!

The Apothecary, Maile Meloy
It’s 1952 and Janie Scott has just moved to London with her parents, whose jobs as TV writers place them under scrutiny by the House Un-American Activities Committee. As Janie adjusts to her stiff new school, she meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, who must prevent an old and valuable book from falling into enemy hands. A fast-paced, fun story with a bit of magic, a lot of action and a bit of romance. Wonderful. I can’t wait to read the sequel (just out).

More Things in Heaven and Earth, Jeff High
Fresh out of medical school, Luke Bradford reluctantly takes up a post as the town doctor in tiny Watervalley, Tennessee. He longs for a research job in a large city, but gradually finds himself warming to his new staff and patients (including his sharp-tongued housekeeper, Connie). The novel follows his first six months in Watervalley – including a baffling flu epidemic – and sets the stage for a new series. Reminiscent of the Irish Country Doctor series (though I didn’t find it quite as captivating). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 1).

Also Known As, Robin Benway
Maggie Silver, daughter of spies, is a top-notch safecracker who’s lived in multiple countries. But when her family gets an assignment in New York, she has to go to high school – and befriend a cute boy whose father may be plotting against her parents. Maggie is cocky, snarky and a little melodramatic, but she’s determined and good-hearted (I loved her friendship with ex-mean-girl Roux). Fun and fast-paced, in the vein of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series.

Aimless Love, Billy Collins
Collins is my favorite living poet. This collection of new and selected poems is shot through with his signature whimsy and depth. I loved revisiting poems from four previous collections, followed by a bounty of new poems. He takes the everyday and makes it luminous, turning it like a prism so its different facets are visible, making me look at the ordinary in an entirely different way. It’s a rare gift. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 22).

Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen
First in a series of mysteries starring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, (known as “Georgie,”) 34th in line to the British throne, in the 1930s. Penniless, single and bored, Georgie escapes to London to make something of herself, going undercover to start a cleaning service. But then a Frenchman (who’s been trying to steal her family estate) ends up dead in her bathtub, and she must use her wits to solve the mystery and clear her family’s name. Witty, light and fun. I’ll be picking up the sequel.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. And I’m participating in the Twitterature link-up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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Apr 2013 010

A Dangerous Fiction, Barbara Rogan
Literary agent Jo Donovan, widow of a famous author, is living her dream life in New York City. But when an overeager client begins stalking Jo and a dozen of her clients fall prey to a hacking scam, her carefully constructed life begins to crumble. When a friend and client is murdered, Jo finally goes to the police – and encounters an old love, Tommy Cullen. Fast-paced, witty and sharp, full of deftly drawn characters, this fun literary mystery provides a fascinating glimpse into the NYC publishing world. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

Letters from Skye, Jessica Brockmole
When Elspeth Dunn, a young Scottish poet, receives a fan letter from a college student in Illinois, she never expects it to change her life. But though her correspondence with David Graham provides a bright spot in the shadow of World War I, it has disastrous consequences for her family. Years later, as the German bombs fall on Edinburgh, Elspeth disappears, leaving her daughter with a yellowed letter and few clues to her mother’s, and her own, history. Beautifully told in warm, witty letters, in the tradition of Guernsey and other epistolary novels. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 9).

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, Alexander McCall Smith
Changes are afoot in Scotland Street: marriage (and an adventurous honeymoon) for Matthew, cub scouts for six-year-old Bertie, an unexpected basket of puppies (courtesy of his dog, Cyril) for Angus Lordie. But the humorous everyday interactions, and the gentle absurdities arising therefrom, remain. So much fun.

A Beautiful Blue Death, Charles Finch
When a young housemaid turns up dead, Charles Lenox, Victorian London gentleman and amateur detective, is called upon to help solve the mystery. I enjoyed watching Lenox spar with Scotland Yard, track suspects and clues through London, and despair of ever getting properly made boots. A fun introduction to Lenox and his circle of friends (including his brother Edmund and neighbor, Lady Jane). Not particularly suspenseful, but an interesting mystery.

Red Bird, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s work, though this wasn’t my favorite volume of her poetry – some of it felt preachy, some a bit vague. Some lovely lines, though, and I like the poems about her dog, Percy. And I love the poem “I don’t want to live a small life” (which is why I checked out this book in the first place).

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox, brilliant architect and slightly unhinged wife and mother, disappears from her Seattle home (a crumbling former girls’ school) without a trace. It’s up to her Microsoft tech-genius husband and her smart, savvy teenage daughter, Bee, to piece together the series of events that led Bernadette off the deep end. Told in letters, emails, texts and other documents, this novel is at once wildly funny, sharply satirical and genuinely warmhearted. I loved it. Recommended by Shelley.

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april reads part 2The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton Disclafani
After a family tragedy, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent from her secluded Florida home to a riding camp/boarding school. Away from her parents and twin brother for the first time, she gradually learns to live with the other girls, while reflecting on the scandal that brought her there. Full of dark secrets and beautiful writing; Thea is a complex, compelling narrator. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Love Over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith
The third 44 Scotland St. novel finds anthropologist Domenica studying the habits of pirates in the Strait of Malacca, Pat beginning her university course, and Matthew making a few disastrous fashion decisions. Gentle humor and philosophical questions, as always, abound. Good fun.

Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly, Susan Schorn
All her life, Susan Schorn wrestled with fear and anxiety. When she took up karate at a women-only dojo in Austin, she not only found a way to address her fear: she discovered an entirely new framework for life. Her smart, witty memoir traces her journey as a karate student and teacher, with plenty of pithy, often paradoxical life lessons and hilarious anecdotes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 28).

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, ed. Caroline Kennedy
Kennedy has gathered her favorite poems under a dozen or so headings (“Falling in Love,” “Breaking Up,” “Marriage,” “Work,” “Motherhood,” etc.), with essays introducing each section. Some sections felt a bit trite, but I loved others, such as “Growing Up and Growing Old” and especially the last section, “How to Live.” A wide range of poems from different eras, and an interesting array of perspectives on womanhood.

Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson
After a stint on a homestead claim in Montana (in Hattie Big Sky), orphan and aspiring writer Hattie Brooks heads to San Francisco to pursue her dreams. She starts out as a night janitress at a big newspaper, but quickly progresses to cub reporter – even gaining a few scoops. Hattie is a spunky heroine, but at times she seemed overly and improbably naive. Fun, but not as compelling as the original.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Deborah Yaffe
Although Deborah Yaffe was a longtime Austen fan, she had no idea how huge, diverse and sometimes bizarre the Janeite world could be. But she explores the spectrum of Austenmania in this fascinating blend of memoir and reportage. She interviews Jane fans ranging from pedantic academics to a Texan who orders custom-made Regency gowns every year. She also shares her travails with a Regency ball gown (and corset). Witty, informative and warmhearted. Jane would approve. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).

Garlic, Mint, and Sweet Basil: Essays on Marseilles, the Mediterranean, and Noir Fiction, Jean-Claude Izzo
These are more like mini-essays – snippets of Izzo’s thoughts about Marseilles (his beloved, multiethnic home), the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean region, which bridges Europe and Africa; and one scene featuring the protagonist of his noir novels. Some lovely sentences and images of Marseilles, mostly relating to food (see title), but the substance here felt lacking.

The World According to Bertie, Alexander McCall Smith
Our fourth visit to Scotland Street finds Bertie adjusting to the birth of his baby brother, Ulysses, while Angus Lordie fights to clear the name of his dog, Cyril, who has been impounded for biting people. I love these books for their gentle musings on our everyday interactions with one another and the philosophical questions arising from those. McCall’s love for Edinburgh is evident in every page.

The House at the End of Hope Street, Menna van Praag
The titular magical house in Cambridge, England, is visible only to those women who need it and managed by Peggy, a wise, white-haired mother figure with a weakness for cream. Alba, a young, timid student, finds herself there after a serious betrayal. Gradually she (and the house’s other guests) regain the courage to face their fears, helped by the house’s former residents, who dispense advice through their Hogwarts-esque talking portraits. Whimsical and wonderfully bookish.

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn
Though she only has a so-so voice and she’s not religious, Stacy Horn has sung with the choir of Grace Church in New York City for more than 30 years. Her memoir explores the joy we derive from group singing, with asides about the history of singing societies in the U.S. and the lives of several composers. As a singer, I enjoyed this book, though I got a bit tired of the author’s protesting-too-much assertions of agnosticism.

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Mar 2013 019

Together Tea, Marjan Kamali
Darya, an Iranian immigrant to the U.S., loves mathematics so much that she makes spreadsheets and graphs for each of her daughter’s potential suitors. But Mina – 25, single, unhappy in business school and longing to become an artist – wants her mother to stop the matchmaking. When the two women travel back to Iran for the first time in 15 years, they gain a new perspective on their homeland, their adopted country, and each other. Light, funny and also moving – a wonderful mother-daughter story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 21).

The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
An evocative, heartbreaking story of Tom, a WWI vet who becomes a lighthouse keeper, and takes his new bride Isabel to a posting off the western coast of Australia. After they lose their third baby, a boat washes up on shore with a dead man and a live baby girl in it. They bury the man and begin raising the child as their own. But Tom’s conscience plagues him: what about the baby’s mother? After four years, he makes a fateful decision. Beautifully written, but deeply sad.

Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko
It’s 1935 and Moose Flanagan, age 12, has just moved with his family to Alcatraz, where his father works as a prison guard. As if that weren’t enough, Moose has to adjust to a new school, watch out for his severely autistic sister Natalie, and steer clear of Piper, the warden’s bold, troublemaking daughter. I loved Moose’s honest (sometimes snarky) voice, and his deep affection for Natalie (though he gets frustrated with her at times, like any brother). A fascinating sliver of history in a highly unusual setting. I’ll be reading the sequel.

Espresso Tales, Alexander McCall Smith
The sequel to 44 Scotland Street, which I also enjoyed, takes us back to that building in Edinburgh and its quirky tenants. Pat is taking charge of her life; her widowed neighbor Domenica tries matchmaking with mixed results; and six-year-old Bertie and his father, Stuart, band together to stand up to Bertie’s overbearing mother, Irene. Meandering and whimsical; gently philosophical at times, gently absurdist at others. Fun.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
Bruno, age nine, is not happy about his family’s sudden move from Berlin to a house in the middle of nowhere, next to a camp he knows only as “Out-With.” He’s bored at first, but goes exploring and meets the titular boy, Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a long wire fence. Bruno and Shmuel become friends, though Bruno has no idea what life is like on Shmuel’s side of the fence. A moving story, though I found Bruno overly naive at times.

Kissed a Sad Goodbye, Deborah Crombie
The sixth mystery featuring detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James finds them investigating a murder on London’s Isle of Dogs. Duncan is also trying to navigate his new relationship with Kit, the 11-year-old son he only recently met. Lots of personal issues; also some fascinating London history, with flashbacks to World War II, and a peek into the tea industry (the victim’s family owns a tea company).

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
I love Jane Stuart – dreamy and thoughtful, yet spunky and capable. And I love the story of how she goes to spend a summer on Prince Edward Island with the father she’s never met – and it changes her whole world. Beautiful descriptions, colorful supporting characters, and a wonderful portrait of both inner and outer renewal. The perfect book for these weeks between winter and spring.

A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse, Theresa Levitt
Augustin Fresnel, French physicist and engineer, shocked the scientific community with his experiments on light and its wavelike behavior. He then invented a lighthouse lens that produced beams far brighter than the reflector system then in place. Levitt traces the development of his work, its adoption by the French and English (and eventually the Americans), and the prominence of lighthouses in several wars. Overly detailed at times, but interesting. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 3).

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