Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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We recently (re)visited The Bookstore in Lenox, MA. A bookish wonderland.

We are heading straight for Thanksgiving and, as always, I’m thankful for good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks
Right before finishing her latest book, the novelist Serendipity Smith disappears. Her daughter, Tuesday McGillycuddy, must travel to the land of Story to find her mother (with her faithful dog, Baxterr) – but the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned. Sweet, whimsical and so fun. Found at Book Culture in NYC.

The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Why do we travel? What do we gain from exploring new places? How can we become more thoughtful travelers? Alain de Botton explores these and other questions in this series of travel essays, with “guides” such as Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin. He’s an observant, lyrical and occasionally cranky narrator. Thought-provoking and highly enjoyable. Recommended by Laura.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
It’s springtime in the Texas Hill Country, and Calpurnia Tate has all she can do to keep her brother, Travis, and his ever-expanding collection of stray animals out of trouble. Meanwhile, Callie keeps learning about astronomy and biology from her grandfather and starts assisting the local vet. A fun historical novel with a wonderful, spunky heroine. (I also loved Callie’s first adventure, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.)

A Place We Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy
For 13 days in October 1962, the U.S. held its breath as tensions in Cuba ratcheted up and up. McCarthy explores the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of a tightly knit family in a small Florida town. Tense and well-crafted. I loved protagonist Wes Avery: such a deeply compassionate man.

Between Gods, Alison Pick
Raised in a Christian household, Alison Pick was shocked to discover that her father’s Czech relatives were Jewish – some even died in the Holocaust. In her thirties, preparing for marriage, she undertakes the difficult journey of conversion to Judaism. Pick seems more interested in religious participation than a personal connection with (either) God, but this is still a luminous, moving, achingly honest memoir. Found at The Bookstore in Lenox.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart
After their mother’s death, Constance Kopp and her two sisters are living peacefully on their farm in rural New Jersey. But when a powerful, ruthless silk factory owner hits their buggy with his car and refuses to pay up, things get ugly. A witty, whip-smart, action-packed novel of a woman who became one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Two elderly rancher brothers take in a pregnant teenage girl, at the suggestion of a compassionate teacher. Another teacher must raise his two young sons alone after his wife leaves. A luminous, quietly powerful story of ordinary people acting with great generosity and kindness, told in Haruf’s spare, beautiful prose.

Sheer Folly, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s 18th adventure finds her at a(nother) country estate, doing research for an article and investigating a(nother) crime. These books are my Cadbury milk chocolate: smooth, sweet and delightfully English.

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

What are you reading?

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Gunpowder Plot, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher travels to a country estate to write about its Guy Fawkes celebration, but the festivities are interrupted by murder. Of course, her husband Alec is called in to investigate. I liked the family dynamics in this one.

Rising Strong, Brené Brown
Brown, a social worker and vulnerability researcher, writes about recovering from falls and failure: delving into our emotions and stories, and being honest with ourselves about them. Some great lines, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Still thought-provoking, though.

Murder at Beechwood, Alyssa Maxwell
Newport society reporter and Vanderbilt cousin Emma Cross finds a baby boy on her doorstep. As she tries to find the baby’s mother, she also ends up investigating several murders. I really like Emma and the Newport setting; curious to see where Maxwell takes the series after this.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland
I saw Copeland dance in On the Town during my recent NYC trip and was blown away. I enjoyed her memoir of discovering ballet at age 13 and building a whole new life for herself. A little gushy at times, but an inspiring story.

The Idle Traveller, Dan Kieran
Kieran is a proponent of “slow travel”: taking your time to arrive at a destination, embracing disaster and being willing to wander. This book dragged a bit in the middle, but was still a charming account of his philosophy. Found at the Strand.

Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen, Kate Williams
A well-known yet enigmatic figure, Queen Elizabeth II was something of an accidental ruler. Williams explores the Queen’s childhood, her experiences in World War II and the turbulent family politics that set the stage for her reign. Quite readable, and fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Miss Buncle’s Book, D.E. Stevenson
Desperate for some extra money, Barbara Buncle writes a novel under a pen name – all about her fellow villagers and their escapades. The book is a runaway bestseller, but Barbara is terrified of what will happen if she’s found out. Another joyous, charming English novel from D.E. Stevenson. Found at Book Culture.

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

What are you reading?

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2015 favorite books

I read a lot, as y’all know – I’m almost at 100 books for the year. And we are (somehow) halfway through the year already, so here are the books I have loved the most over the last six months:

Frothiest, Sauciest, Most Fun Chick Lit: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Oxford, true love, tightly knit sibling bonds and a gaggle of quirky, loyal friends – what more could I ask for?

Most Insightful Memoir on Work & Life: Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin. A thoughtful, sensitive exploration of writing, carpentry and building a good life.

Best New Installment in a Beloved Series: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Classic Maisie Dobbs in a fresh new setting, with new challenges. I will follow Maisie to the ends of the earth.

Smart, Witty, Utterly Delightful Sherlockiana: The Great Detective by Zach Dundas. A fantastic exploration of the Holmes phenomenon (past and present).

Best Book on Yoga & Life: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco.

Cheeriest British Fictional Companion: Mrs. Tim, aka Hester Christie. I enjoyed every page of the four books about her.

Most Evocative Travel Memoir: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. So many beautiful sentences.

Best Retelling of a Legend I Thought I Knew: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, which made me fall in love with Robin Hood all over again. (I still have a crush on the handsome fox from the Disney movie.)

Most Delicious Memoir of Food & Marriage: Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard, which I reviewed at Great New Books.

Snarkiest, Most Entertaining YA Novel: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond.

Spunkiest Cozy Mystery Series: the adventures of Daisy Dalrymple.

Loveliest Story of a Quiet Life Well Lived: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan (out in September).

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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As the end-of-year book lists flood blogs and newspapers, I’ve looked back over this year’s (long) reading list and handpicked a few favorites. Not all of these were published in 2014, but I read them all for the first time (except Best Reread) in 2014.

Best Road Trip with a Cranky Narrator: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. I loved every page of Steinbeck’s wry, witty observations as he and Charley (a dignified elderly poodle) crisscrossed the country together in 1960. (It was also my top pick in our Great New Books roundup.)

Most Evocative Wartime Fiction: a tie between After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson (out Jan. 6) and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Very different novels, both stunning in their exploration of the effects of war on ordinary people.

Best Insights on Food and Marriage: Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. Her story of building a pizza restaurant with her husband was fascinating, and her musings on how hard it can be to support your spouse rang so true.

Most Beautifully Written Classic: The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I love Cather’s prose and her skill is on full display in this early novel (though My Ántonia is still my favorite Cather novel).

Wittiest Adaptation of a Classic: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. (I also loved the YouTube video series.)

Best Love Story With Playlists: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. Made me want to hop in a car with a handsome boy and drive for miles with the windows down.

Fanfiction That Actually Works: Jill Paton Walsh’s novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. There are four so far, and three of them are really good.

Yummiest Cozy Mystery Series: the Hayley Snow novels by Lucy Burdette. A food writer gets mixed up in various mysteries on Key West.

Loveliest Meditation on Ireland and Life: The House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.

Favorite Elderly Spy: Definitely Mrs. Pollifax.

Best Reread: Bel Canto, whose elegant prose and engrossing story swept me up all over again. Though I also loved revisiting To Kill a Mockingbird and some Jane Austen.

What were your favorite books this year? I can always use more recommendations – though the TBR stacks are teetering, as ever.

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When I posted recently about my trip to Ireland four years ago, I promised you a post about the Aran Islands, those three tiny specks of land floating off the western coast of Ireland. I find it a bit ironic that I came to Ireland only to travel to the very edge of it – but the edge can sometimes be a charming place. And this edge was a place of rest, and quiet, and utterly beautiful peace.

We’d found a hostel on Inishmor, the largest of the islands, at the top of a hill (tough to ride up on a bike, but exhilarating to coast down). This view from the front steps exemplified our views all weekend – sea and sky, a few charming buildings, and so much green:

Of course, there were also many stone walls, which crisscross the islands like veins. They were built hundreds of years ago, and they stretch all the way up the hill to Dun Aengus, a spectacular ruined fort (worth far more than the 2 euros we paid to see it):

The cliffs at Dun Aengus are high, with no guardrails or barriers – and when we arrived at the top, we snickered at the other tourists crawling on their stomachs to the very edge of the cliffs – how dangerous! And how silly! But (you can probably guess), after walking over to the edge and nearly being knocked flat by the wind, we dropped to our bellies and peered down over the cliffs, and the wind whipped up to literally snatch our breath away:

Not a swim I’m anxious to take, but an absolutely stunning view.

Since we were out on the fringes of civilization, with limited options for entertainment or distraction, the whole weekend felt wrapped in a kind of simple, peaceful quiet. We rented bikes and cycled all over Inishmor, coasting down hills just for the fun of it, and stopping to pick blackberries along the roadside:

That evening, we ate dinner at Joe Watty’s (the only pub around, I think), and were nearly done when a trio of men came in carrying some musical instruments. They settled themselves in a corner and launched into a set of traditional Irish music, complete with haunting penny whistle – and we sat and listened, spellbound. Colton said later that he felt like Bilbo, listening to the Elves’ music in the hall at Rivendell. Then we walked back up the hill in a light, misty rain. Perfection.

This photo, taken by Colton, sums up the weekend for me: the sunny weather with a hint of chill, the vivid green crisscrossed with gray stones, the wide blue sky and expansive sunshine, and the joy.

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Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
One of Dame Agatha’s most famous, of course – and the first mystery I’d read featuring Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian with the curled moustaches and the sharp brain. Quite an ingenious solution to a seemingly impossible murder story. (And quite amazing how Poirot always knows – or guesses – when people are lying to him.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
A truly extraordinary novel in words and pictures – part graphic novel, part children’s book. Beautifully written, and set in my beloved Paris (though Hugo’s Paris is quite different than mine). My favorite lines: “You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”

Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan
I’d head a lot of buzz about this book – it was a big summer hit, and an online kerfuffle about its cover image resulted in a sweet love story. But I didn’t finish it. I wanted to like the Kelleher women, and I wanted to care whether they all could stop griping and just enjoy each other’s company for once, but I found them all rather irritating – and found their dislike of each other unutterably sad.

Essays of E.B. White, E.B. White
I am a longtime fan of White’s children’s books (who doesn’t love Charlotte, Wilbur, Stuart and Louis?), but hadn’t read many of his essays before. I loved every one of these gems, though – White writes with humor, wisdom and a keen observer’s eye about American life in the middle of the last century. I particularly loved his paean to New York and his musings on farm life in Maine.

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, Judith Jones
I knew Jones only as the editor who championed Julia Child – and came up with the title for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But in this lovely, lyrical memoir, I discovered a woman brave enough to move to Paris and carve out a life for herself – and fearless enough to try any food once. I loved reading about her relationship with her husband, Evan, and her connections to so many culinary giants – Julia, James Beard, Marion Cunningham and many more.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
A childhood favorite (read to me in sixth grade) and bought at the Strand during my weekend in New York with Allison. I read it on the bus ride home for the first time in 16 years, enjoying it even more because I’ve been to the Met now. (And appreciating some nuances of the story I didn’t quite catch as a 12-year-old. This is the magic of rereading.)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart
Fast-paced, compelling and often very funny – this is the second installment in Stewart’s series about the adventures of four unusually bright, quirky children. (A bit like Harry Potter, but lighter, and with logic and puzzles instead of magic.) I enjoyed it, and can’t wait to read the third.

Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave, Simon Goldhill
A wryly funny, deeply thoughtful meditation on literary pilgrimage – Goldhill visits five writers’ houses-turned-museums, wondering what compels us to make the trek to Wordsworth’s cottage and Bronte’s moors (among other locales). He’s a bit of a skeptic, so he skewers the myth of the literary pilgrimage rather than having any great epiphanies himself – but the journey is highly entertaining and thought-provoking. (To review for the Shelf.)

Heist Society, Ally Carter
I love Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (about teenage spies-in-training), and thoroughly enjoyed this story about a 15-year-old art thief, who plans a heist with a bunch of her friends to save her father’s neck (he’s also an art thief). Fast-paced, witty and full of fun characters (including a handsome love interest). I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

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This past weekend, I did something I hadn’t done in a long while – took off for a solo adventure (J had flown to Texas for a conference midweek). I’ve been enjoying a delightful email correspondence with Allison, a regular reader of this blog, so I invited myself to her little apartment in Queens, and we spent three lovely days exploring the city together.

Allison is the daughter of a children’s librarian (just one reason we’ve become such fast friends), so she was quick to direct me to various locations in NYC involving classic kids’ books. Needless to say, I relished every one.

On Friday afternoon, amid torrential rain, we made our way to Alice’s Tea Cup for soup, sandwiches, cups of Earl Grey and delectable scones:

(That’s Allison’s pumpkin scone in the foreground, and my chocolate-cranberry scone in the background.)

The next day, I made a pilgrimage to the New York Public Library’s main branch, to visit a few old friends:

Yes. Those are the ORIGINAL Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals – Pooh, Piglet (center), Eeyore, Tigger and Kanga (and Lottie the Otter, a new addition, behind Kanga). And, of course, they are right in the middle of the Hundred Acre Wood:

The exhibit is right in the middle of the children’s room, which has wonderful, colorful New York wall art:

On Sunday morning, I found myself at the Met, to which Claudia and Jamie run away in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s enormous, imposing and grand outside:

And simply gorgeous inside:

I didn’t see nearly everything Claudia and Jamie did, but I wandered through the galleries, gazing at the exhibits and enjoying the general effect of so many beautiful and curious things so close together, for a couple of hours. I’d bought a copy of the book at the Strand the day before, and I read myself back to sixth grade on the bus ride home.

All weekend, as Allison and I walked around Manhattan, we tried to decide where the Melendys would have lived when they had their Saturday adventures in New York. We decided it must have been a lovely, comfortable old brownstone like this:

With flowers in the window boxes, of course. Cuffy, or maybe Mona, would definitely have made sure of that.

On Sunday afternoon, we walked through Central Park, and paused at the lake, where the Melendys went rowing and Randy fell in:

It was a perfect way to end my children’s lit tour. (We didn’t get to go rowing ourselves, but that’s on the list for next time.)

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