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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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the bookstore lenox ma

Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, Rachel Bertsche
I loved Rachel’s first memoir, MWF Seeking BFF, about her quest to find friends in a new city. This book chronicles her attempts to make over her life á la celebrity role models: Jennifer Aniston’s workouts, Tina Fey’s work ethic, Julia Roberts’ brand of Zen. She also muses on the lure of celebrity culture and shares her struggle to have a baby. Funny, engaging and wise. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, Brigid Pasulka
Once upon a time (in the 1930s), a young man nicknamed “the Pigeon” fell in love with the beautiful Anielica. But war and hardship delayed their marriage and changed their journey in unexpected ways. Decades later, their granddaughter moves from her small village to Krakow after her mother dies, trying to find her way in life and love. Pasulka interweaves the two narratives masterfully. Moving and beautifully written. Recommended by Jaclyn.

You are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves, Hiawatha Bray
After working for millennia to map the world, humankind has solved the problem of location. Our smartphones, GPS devices and other transmitters can track our locations at any time – but at what cost? Bray summarizes the history of location technology and considers the issues surrounding modern tracking devices. Thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

The Sun and Other Stars, Brigid Pasulka
I loved Pasulka’s debut (see above) and loved her second novel even more. Set in a tiny Italian village, it’s a tale of family, love, grief and calcio (soccer). As Etto grieves the deaths of his mother and brother, he befriends a Ukrainian soccer star and his sister, who teach Etto a thing or two about calcio and about living with joy. Sharp, funny and beautiful. (My copy came from the publisher, but I was not compensated for this review.)

When the Cypress Whispers, Yvette Manessis Corporon
Daphne has always loved spending summers on the Greek island of Erikousa with her grandmother. But when she returns as a young widow struggling to raise a child and run a restaurant, she learns a few family secrets and meets an utterly exasperating man. A semi-predictable love story, given depth by the World War II events and enriched by mouthwatering descriptions of Greek food. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 1).

Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell
As an infant, Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck. When the authorities threaten to take her away from Charles, her kind but eccentric guardian, Sophie and Charles flee to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. Sophie meets a gang of “rooftoppers” – children who live on the roofs of Paris – who aid in her search. Whimsical and charming, though the ending felt abrupt.

The Collector of Dying Breaths, M.J. Rose
In the 16th century, a young Italian man becomes Catherine de Medici’s perfumer and co-conspirator in court intrigues. In the present day, Jac L’Etoile, perfumer and mythologist, is grieving her brother’s death and trying to solve several mysteries. The stories intertwine in surprising ways. Lush descriptions, but a bit creepy. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 8).

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

I participated in Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, trying not to buy books this month. Look for a report on Monday.

What are you reading?

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