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Posts Tagged ‘sisters’

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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I’m breaking in my maid-of-honor shoes. (Silver and strappy, with a 2 1/2- to 3-inch heel. From Payless, because I’m cheap. But they’re actually really cute and comfy, at least so far.)

In just three days I will stand in a gorgeous ballroom, in front of several hundred people, wearing a seriously pink dress, and watch my little sister vow to love, honor and cherish the man of her dreams.

I’m choking up just thinking about it.

As the sister and matron of honor (I hate the word matron, don’t you?), I have to give a toast, and I’ve spent quite a while this morning writing and reworking it. So, in conjunction with Anne and May’s free party for the release of their newest book, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, here’s my toast, aka a tribute to the sister I can’t imagine, and can’t remember, living without. (I REALLY WANT FEEDBACK here, people. Your comments are much appreciated!)

****************

Welcome, everyone. First, I’d like to say, on behalf of the families and wedding party, thank you to everyone for joining us today. And on behalf of everyone here, thank you, Betsy and Stephen, for inviting us to be part of your special day.

At my wedding ten months ago, Betsy gave a brilliant and beautiful toast, and in it she mentioned that we’ve always had adventures together. And it’s true. She was born when I was just seventeen months old, so I can’t remember when she wasn’t around. And all through our growing-up years, we had adventures by the dozen. We sold pink lemonade for ten cents a glass with our neighbor Allison; we rode bikes around the neighborhood and had acorn fights with Dad; we took dozens of road trips to Ohio and Missouri, singing along to George Strait albums. And she was always more than willing to push and pull me along into the next adventure. She was and is my complete opposite, and yet my best friend.

Well, as she said at my wedding, now Betsy has found someone else to have adventures with. The poet Nikki Giovanni has said, “We love because it’s the only true adventure,” and even less than a year into marriage, I believe that with all my heart. Stephen, you’re a lucky man, and the two of you have the rest of your lives to continue the adventure of loving each other.

So whether it’s golf, hunting, traveling or just enjoying your new life together, here’s to many years of adventures for the two of you.

To Betsy and Stephen!

********

I will likely be a sobbing, quivering mess on the day when I try to toast the tall, blonde, hilarious, bluntly honest, beautiful social butterfly who is my best friend. But the above is what I’d like to say. (Again, feedback appreciated!)

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