Posts Tagged ‘sisters’

three lives bookstore interior

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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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?

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We’ve (nearly) made it through February, and I’ve read some great books lately. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom
Broom is the youngest of 12 children born to Ivory Mae, who bought the titular house in New Orleans East in 1961. Broom’s memoir relates her family’s history with the house and neighborhood (wrecked by Hurricane Katrina) and her own wanderings, searching for a place to call home. Started slowly, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.

Hid from Our Eyes, Julia Spencer-Fleming
In Millers Kill, N.Y., an unidentified young woman is found dead: barefoot, wearing a party dress, not a mark on her. The case is uncannily like two others from 1952 and 1972, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne (then a young Vietnam vet) was a person of interest in the latter. As Russ tries to solve all three cases, his wife Clare Fergusson is juggling priesthood, new motherhood, a new intern and other troubles. I love this series and this ninth entry (we’d been waiting a while) was excellent: well plotted with compelling characters and plenty of depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 7).

The Sweeney Sisters, Lian Dolan 
Liza, Maggie and Tricia Sweeney shared a (mostly) idyllic childhood in a WASPy Connecticut town. But after their father, literary light William Sweeney, dies, they discover their former neighbor, Serena, is really their half sister. A smart, witty novel of all four grown women grappling with these revelations; juicy and funny and full of heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, Wes Moore
Police violence against black men is (unfortunately) nothing new in this country. But after Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, Baltimore exploded in protests and anger. Moore, himself a black Baltimore native, chronicles the week of the riots through the stories of seven people: protesters, lawyers, civic figures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Tessa Arlen
This book is my catnip: a British mystery set in wartime with a smart, witty heroine who feels a bit out of place. Poppy is a newly trained air raid warden who’s back from London patrolling her little village, when two local girls are murdered. With the help of her corgi, Bess, and a handsome American pilot, she tries to solve the case. So fun.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
I love this last book in the series: big, emotional, complex, satisfying, with so many great moments for so many characters. It’s a commitment but it’s one I’m always glad to make.

The Authenticity Project, Clare Pooley
How honest are we, really, with the people in our lives? That’s the question posed in a green notebook that London cafe owner Monica picks up. What’s written inside will have a ripple effect on her life and several others. I loved the characters in this sweet, fresh novel about secrets and friendship and admitting that life is messy.

Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself, Klancy Miller
I discovered Klancy via her risotto recipe on Cup of Jo, and have been loving her fresh, accessible cookbook full of yummy recipes and pithy advice on cooking for one. Favorites include her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, lemony pancakes, curried sweet potato-carrot soup, lentil soup, and that risotto.

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, Catriona Menzies-Pike
I read this book two winters ago, right after I became a runner. I’ve been savoring it again, slowly, this winter as I run through the grief from my divorce and the joys and challenges of my new life. Menzies-Pike surprised herself by becoming a runner (like me), and she writes well and honestly about the gifts, frustrations and soul-deep change that running can offer. Also some fascinating feminist history here. Highly recommended.

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

What are you reading?

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almost sisters book christmas tree

We’re two weeks into a new year, which has included (so far) a foot of snow, a record-breaking cold snap and – thank goodness – a batch of fantastic books.

Here’s my first reading roundup for 2018:

The Almost Sisters, Joshilyn Jackson
Leia Birch Briggs, a successful graphic artist, finds out she’s pregnant with a biracial baby after a one-night stand. Then she’s summoned to Alabama to check on her grandmother, Birchie, who’s been hiding her health problems and other damaging secrets. I loved this novel – it’s funny, wise, warmhearted and thought-provoking. Leia is a great narrator and her relationship with her stepsister, Rachel, felt so real – as did her experience as a well-meaning but often clueless white woman. Recommended by Leigh and Anne.

One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together, Amy Bass
Soccer, like other sports, has historically taken a backseat to hockey in Lewiston, Maine. But an influx of Somali immigrants to this white, working-class town began to change that. And Lewiston High School’s coach, Mike McGraw, saw his chance to build a championship team. Insightful, vividly told, deeply researched nonfiction about a group of boys who became the emblem of a changing town. I’m not even much of a soccer fan, but I loved it. Reminded me of The Newcomers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 27).

Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
After loving The Dark is Rising, I went back and read this first book in the series, in which three children find a mysterious treasure map while on holiday in Cornwall. With the help of their great-uncle (whom I recognized from TDIR), they embark on a quest while dodging some sinister folks. Fun and enjoyable, though not nearly as compelling as TDIR.

In the Bleak Midwinter, Julia Spencer-Fleming
During a bitterly cold Advent season in upstate New York, someone leaves a newborn baby on the Episcopal church steps. The Reverend Clare Fergusson, new to town, investigates the baby’s parentage plus a few murders alongside longtime police chief Russ Van Alstyne. I’d heard about this mystery series from Lauren Winner and loved this first book: Russ, Clare and the other characters felt satisfyingly real.

Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith
I’d heard of Smith but really started paying attention to her when she was named poet laureate last summer. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, is on my to-read stack. This new collection of her poems was the first I’d read. It includes several “erasure poems” based on text from correspondence of former slave owners, the Declaration of Independence and other documents. But my favorites were the others, like “Ash” and “4 1/2” and “Unrest in Baton Rouge.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman
Carpool mom Frances Bloom is used to taking care of everyone, including her neighbors’ kids. But when she catches her neighbor, Anne, in flagrante delicto with a younger man, the neighborhood is thrown for a loop and so is Frances. This was sharper and sadder than Waxman’s debut, The Garden of Small Beginnings (which I loved). Some great lines and realistic characters, but I thought it ended too abruptly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 3).

The Library at the Edge of the World, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I read Hayes-McCoy’s memoir, The House on an Irish Hillside, a few years ago and loved it. This novel was fluffier than that, but still enjoyable: librarian Hanna Casey, who has returned to her rural Irish hometown after a divorce, suddenly finds herself an unlikely community organizer. Lovely descriptions of western Ireland and several appealing characters.

The Woman in the Water, Charles Finch
I love Finch’s mystery series featuring Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox. This prequel explores Lenox’s start as a detective, as the recent Oxford graduate investigates the deaths of two unknown women. A satisfying mystery plot, and I also enjoyed the appearances by Lenox’s invaluable valet, Graham, and other familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 20).

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, Laura Thompson
Known today as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie led a long and interesting life. Thompson explores Christie’s childhood, her two marriages, her prodigious creative output and her 11-day disappearance in 1926. I found this biography engaging, though it dragged at times, and the section on Agatha’s disappearance was decidedly odd. I’m a Christie fan (but 485 pages is a serious commitment!). To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

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

What are you reading this winter?

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snapdragons salad book essence of malice table

I know, I know – we’re a week into August. But I have a good excuse: I’m poking my head up out of a sea of boxes (we moved!) and I’ve been shelving all the books in addition to reading a few.

Here’s what I have been managing to read lately:

The Essence of Malice, Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her husband, Milo, are enjoying a holiday on Lake Como – but then Milo’s former nanny summons them to Paris to investigate her employer’s death. A witty, well-plotted mystery involving a powerful parfumier and his family. I love Amory’s narrative voice and enjoyed this, her fourth adventure. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

Summer of Lost and Found, Rebecca Behrens
When Nell Dare’s botanist mom drags her to Roanoke (from NYC) for a summer research trip, Nell expects to be bored. But she quickly becomes fascinated by the lost colony and starts digging for clues to its history. A sweet middle-grade novel with an engaging protagonist and some lovely insights. Found at the Bookstore of Gloucester.

The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts, Charity Tillemann-Dick
Opera singers know drama: they have to, to pour themselves into demanding, heart-stirring roles. But Charity didn’t expect her own personal drama to include two double lung transplants. A compelling memoir of illness, recovery and the incredible love and support of Charity’s family, doctors and fiancé. I wanted more music, but enjoyed this one. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 3).

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, Daniel Tammet
Tammet’s brain processes language a bit differently than mine: he’s a high-functioning autistic who’s also brilliant, bilingual and slightly synesthetic. He dives into multiple facets of language: telephone grammar, Esperanto, lipograms, disappearing dialects and more. Witty, thoughtful and erudite; probably best suited for language nerds, but highly accessible. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 12). I also enjoyed Tammet’s book Thinking in Numbers.

It’s Not Yet Dark, Simon Fitzmaurice
Fitzmaurice, an Irish filmmaker and writer, was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. This luminous memoir tells his journey in brief, vivid snippets. Slim and lovely. My favorite line: “Those I count as friends are the brave.” To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 1).

Chicago, Brian Doyle
A young aspiring writer moves to Chicago after graduating college, and falls completely in love with the city he lives in for five seasons. I love Doyle’s big-hearted, rambling voice (I imagined this unnamed protagonist as his twentysomething self), and I loved every page of this novel. Found at the Strand, on a solo late-night browsing trip this winter.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I adore de los Santos’ fiction and this one hooked me from the first page: “a sky the color of moonstones and raspberry jam.” This was a reread, and I found I remembered the outlines but had forgotten many of the details. I loved the story of Taisy, her half sister Willow, their complicated family, and love in all its forms just as much the second time around.

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

What are you reading?

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bank square books mystic ct window

I’m not quite sure how it’s June already – though the last half of May is always a bit of a blur (because Commencement). In any case, here are the books that have been getting me through:

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, Anne Lamott
Mercy, Lamott says, might be the key to navigating this broken world: extending it to others and especially to ourselves. I love Lamott’s wry, honest writing: this slim book of essays on mercy is a little uneven, but full of wisdom and so timely.

Gem & Dixie, Sara Zarr
Sisters Gem and Dixie True have always been a team: Gem takes care of Dixie when both their parents fail to step up. But as the girls reach high school and their absent dad reappears, Gem has to rethink her old strategies for survival. A heartbreaking portrait of addiction, neglect and the fierce, complicated bonds of sisterhood. I love Zarr’s YA novels, and this one was worthwhile, though not my favorite.

Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk
Since she washed up on a tiny island as an infant, Crow has lived happily with Osh, the man who took her in. But now Crow is twelve and she has questions Osh can’t answer: about where she came from and why she was sent away. A gorgeous, wise, lovely middle-grade novel about family and belonging. It broke my heart and then healed it. Found at the Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, R.I.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy
Cultural critic and children’s lit lover Handy revisits the classics of American kidlit: Goodnight Moon, Little House on the Prairie, The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are. He delves into the cultural forces that shape children’s lit and captures the essence of so many beloved childhood classics, plus he’s witty and articulate. I especially loved the chapters on Ramona Quimby and the Chronicles of Narnia. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

Goodnight from London, Jennifer Robson
Ruby Sutton, American journalist, is seconded to a London magazine as the Blitz heats up in 1940. She quickly finds a home in London: friends, colleagues and even the possibility of love. I love Robson’s historical novels and this one was excellent, though the ending felt a bit abrupt. Ruby and her fellow survivors are wonderfully human and brave.

The Essential Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC this winter. I love Emily D., and this collection includes lots of old favorites and many poems I’d never read before. (Plus it’s pocket-size and beautiful.)

Sourdough, Robin Sloan
Lois Clary spends her days writing code for robots and her nights passed out on the couch – until she inherits a sourdough starter from two mysterious brothers who own a local restaurant. Before long, Lois has become a baker – but the power of the sourdough, and the strange politics of the Bay Area foodie community, take her on a ride she didn’t expect. Quirky and geeky and so much fun (like Sloan’s wonderful debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 5).

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

What are you reading?

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Sisters in Boston

I turned thirty-one on Monday, and it was a lovely day full of good wishes from friends, family, colleagues, and some fun surprises from my husband. But just before that, I got an extra-special pre-birthday present: my sister came to visit.

betsy katie boston

She had planned to come with my brother-in-law, but he was felled by a wicked sinus infection at the last minute, so she came alone. And we had three glorious days together.

This was Betsy’s first time in Boston, so we began at the beginning: Boston Common, King’s Chapel, the Old Granary Burying Ground (where Paul Revere, Sam Adams and other notables are buried).

old granary burying ground boston

We strolled the Public Garden (visiting the duckling statues, of course) and wandered down Newbury Street, doing a bit of shopping. (Bets is a champion shopper, and she gives the best fashion advice.)

We ended up at the Prudential Center, where we grabbed some ice cream before heading out on a Duck Tour (my first).

boston skyline river

duck tour boat boston

It was so fun – lots of Boston history with a healthy dose of quirky trivia, imparted by Jason the Argonaut, our laurel-wearing driver/guide.

duck tour jason the argonaut

On Saturday, I gave her the tour of Harvard Square – the Yard and its beautiful buildings, Memorial Church and Widener Library, the campus of HGSE (where I work). Of course we had to stop at Finale for delicious desserts (so rich we couldn’t even finish them).

betsy katie finale

We ate at Fox & Hound that night – delicious American food and bruschetta that will change your life. As we were paying, the waiter said to Betsy, “You’re from Texas, right?” She said, “How did you know?” His reply was succinct: “Steak. Blonde.”

She headed home on Sunday afternoon (after church and brunch at the Regal Beagle), and I miss her already.

betsy katie sunday

Betsy and I are 17 months apart, and were always close during our growing-up years (though we’re very different in temperament and interests). It is such a gift to rediscover some of that closeness as adults. And though I love visiting her in my hometown, it was so much fun to show her around my city.

But I also loved sitting in the living room each morning, sipping coffee and chatting about our lives. We told stories and laughed over high school memories and just enjoyed being together. And, as per tradition, we watched a little Friends (in this case, the Season 7 gag reel – which makes me laugh so hard I cry, every single time).

Come back soon, Bets. Boston (and I) will be waiting for you.


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book stack

(I went a little crazy at the bookstore recently.)

These Girls, Sarah Pekkanen
I loved this novel following the intertwined stories of three young, female roommates in NYC. Each one is struggling with big questions: career, love, life direction. All the characters were so relatable.

Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor explores the spiritual dimensions of darkness, arguing that we need it as much as we need light – that it may even save our lives and our spiritual health. Beautifully written and thought-provoking, like her other works.

The Accident, Chris Pavone
An anonymous author submits an explosive manuscript to a New York literary agency, and agent Isabel Reed must decide what to do with it while trying to stay alive. Fast-paced and entertaining, especially for publishing nerds, but I liked The Expats (Pavone’s debut) better.

The Opposite of Me, Sarah Pekkanen
Lindsey has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful twin sister Alex, carving out an identity as the smart, capable sister. But when Lindsey gets fired from her NYC job and moves home to Maryland, she makes new discoveries about her sister and herself. A compelling exploration of the complex, rich, frustrating relationships between sisters.

Netherwood, Jane Sanderson
A big, complex, Downton-esque saga set in a Yorkshire mining town, and the story of several strong women: Anna, a widowed Russian immigrant; Eve, hardworking wife of a miner; and Lady Henrietta, headstrong daughter of the earl. I loved it. Looking forward to the sequel.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, Nina Sankovitch
As her son heads off to college, Sankovitch begins writing him letters and reflects on the history, relationships and words of wisdom contained in letters. Full of amusing anecdotes but disjointed – I liked Simon Garfield’s To the Letter much better.

The Unexpected Waltz, Kim Wright
Wealthy widow Kelly takes up ballroom dancing, making new friends and discovering a new self-confidence. Lovely premise, but the writing and plot didn’t deliver. Pass.

I read most of these books on a recent trip to Texas – a work conference and then a weekend with family meant plenty of plane reading time. (Made me think of Anne’s post about good airplane reads.)

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

What are you reading?

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I’m not much of a TV person. Due to my preference for books and the lack of reception on our little TV, I’m usually several years behind the current series/miniseries trends (though some shows, like Friends, hold up year after year).

However, thanks to a bunch of my Twitter friends who love English accents, great houses, upstairs/downstairs narratives, elegant clothes and World War I-era stories as much as I do, I heard about Downton Abbey as it began airing in the States. I was at Abi’s house when the third episode aired, so I watched that one with her, and I’ve since streamed the whole series live from the Masterpiece website. Twice. I am hooked.

I’m intrigued by the drama “upstairs”  – to wit, the fate of Downton Abbey and its three daughters, which hangs in the balance as a new heir comes on the scene. The story of Mary, Edith and Sibyl ensnaring (or snubbing) men, plotting against each other, donning daring new outfits (harem pants!) and forming opinions about women’s rights is fascinating, to be sure. (Though they break my heart with their jealousy and cruel tricks on one another.) And Maggie Smith is superb as the Dowager Countess, delivering such lines as “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” with impeccable disdain.

But I’m much more drawn to the “downstairs” characters – the strict yet kindhearted butler, determined to serve Downton to the best of his ability; the little scullery maid who gets shoved about by the cook; the cook herself, who hides the fact that she’s going blind; the young housemaids trying to better themselves; the loyal, secretive valet whose sense of honor makes me love him and want to shake him at the same time. I admire the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, who keeps everyone in line with discipline and compassion, and I feel for William, the footman, who gets bullied by the conniving Thomas. Most of all I love the budding romance between Anna, the sweet, kind head housemaid, and the valet, John Bates. I have high hopes for them in the second season, now in production (though we have to wait a year to see what will happen!).

Though I’m more interested in the servants’ story than in their masters’ story, the intertwined nature of the relationships gives the series its appeal. As well, there’s the growing sense that outside events will bring great change to everyone at Downton, from Lord Grantham to little Daisy, the scullery maid. First the sinking of the Titanic and then the outbreak of World War I cut across the class distinctions entrenched in English society. The first season ends in a whirl of uncertainty, but one thing is certain: change is coming for everyone.

It’s also fascinating to watch Downton Abbey in the context of reading the Maisie Dobbs series, which begins in 1929, about ten years after the end of World War I. Maisie is herself caught in the no-man’s-land between the working class of her childhood and the wealthy people who are often her clients. The war has wrought great change on every level, and the people of England are still trying to sort it out. (Perhaps it’s also appealing to read about such upheaval in a time of transition in my own life!)

Have you been watching Downton Abbey? What did you think? Are you, like me, waiting eagerly for the second season? (And are there any other series/miniseries you’d recommend for these winter days?)

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how it went

It was beautiful.

The wedding, I mean. Well, the whole weekend. Betsy in her incredible dress (and hot pink shoes), effervescent and lovely as Cinderella, and incandescently happy. The flowers, bright bubblegum bursts of hot pink and orange, lining the aisles and later adorning the tables at the reception. Susan’s tiny twins (Betsy’s nephews), Parker and Preston, who slept through the whole thing but were adored and cooed over by just about everyone. Gary’s song (Sister Hazel’s “This Kind of Love”) was incredible (he’s been a family friend our whole lives, and luckily he gave us a preview at the rehearsal dinner, so we could all get some of the tears out).

Aunt Judy walked in the house on Friday morning and started crying literally then and there – she hardly stopped all weekend, though the rest of us managed to keep the waterworks down. (We had family in from Texas, Missouri and Arizona – such fun – my aunts and uncles are a crazy, hilarious bunch.) I made it through my toast (a slightly shorter version of what’s written below) without sobbing, though I am told I heaved a huge sigh of relief at the end. My feet were KILLING me by the end of the ceremony, so I slipped back into my trusty Reefs for the reception.

The fajitas were delicious, the atmosphere relaxed, the pink dresses lovely, and the bride-and-father dance so unbearably sweet that I lost it completely. Aunt Cathy teased me later about crying so hard. Actually, we were all okay until Betsy started getting teary – and that, combined with the words of “I Loved Her First,” were enough to send most of the family scurrying for napkins to dry their tears.

Stephen helped her into the truck, stuffed the last scrap of tulle into the front seat as we all blew bubbles and waved, and they drove off for a night in a hotel and a week in Mexico. (Don’t worry – they haven’t caught the swine flu yet – but do pray for their safe travels home on Saturday.)

I haven’t gotten my photos online yet, but you can view the ones Donna took (she’s Gary’s wife, and our dear friend) here. (Scroll down to the bottom of page 1 to see photos from the wedding day – the first ones are from the rehearsal dinner. Gary is the guy in the pink tie, and those three beautiful girls are his daughters, who I used to baby-sit. My goodness, I’m getting old.) My particular favourites are the ones of Stephen stuffing Betsy into the vintage Mustang to drive from the ceremony to the reception.

My little sister is married. I can’t believe it. But I am SO happy for her. I hope they’ll be as happy as my parents, and his parents, and as happy as my own marriage is so far.

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