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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

spring picture books harvard book store cambridge ma
March has come in like a lion, for sure. Here’s what I’ve been reading as the snowbanks (start to) melt.

Fairest, Marissa Meyer
This telling of evil Queen Levana’s story (from The Lunar Chronicles) is kind of depressing. And it won’t make sense if you haven’t read the series. But if you have (and are eagerly awaiting the next book, Winter), it’s worth reading.

Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
It’s tough to translate a TV series to fiction, but Thomas and Graham are doing a great job. This second Veronica Mars novel follows a sordid rape case and a(nother) sheriff election in Neptune. Both gritty and witty.

Stella Rose, Tammy Flanders Hetrick
When her best friend Stella dies of cancer, Abby St. Claire becomes guardian to Stella’s teenage daughter, Olivia. Through a turbulent year, Abby and Olivia mourn Stella while figuring out how to live without her. Heartbreaking, funny and wise, though I found the climax melodramatic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 21).

Mrs. Tim Flies Home, D.E. Stevenson
Mrs. Tim spends the summer in a quiet village – which isn’t quite so quiet. An acerbic landlady, a gossipy neighbor and the romantic troubles of her young friends make for an entertaining few months. I love Mrs. Tim, and I’ll miss her (this is the last book in the series).

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos
I love this lyrical, wise, hopeful story – it’s got old movies, a homey coffee shop, characters I want to be friends with, and so many beautiful sentences. My third time to read it and I was captivated all over again.

Secrets of a Charmed Life, Susan Meissner
Our fearless leader Jennifer recommended this book at Great New Books. It’s a heartbreaking story of two sisters whose lives are forever altered by World War II, and a powerful meditation on choices and responsibility.

Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light, John Baxter
An entertaining premise: five nighttime Paris walks, each based on one of the five senses. But Baxter digresses so often that the structure gets totally lost. Uneven; sometimes charming, sometimes vulgar. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

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

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february vacation books

Between plane delays, crazy long commutes and cold, dark evenings, I’ve been reading a lot lately. (But then, when am I not?) Here’s what I’ve read (and loved) recently.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
Veronica Mars is back in her hometown of Neptune, CA, and when a couple of coeds go missing over Spring Break, she’s on the case. Fast-paced, snarky and featuring all the characters I love.

All Fall Down, Ally Carter
Grace Blakely is convinced her mother was murdered, but no one believes her. When she returns to Embassy Row to live with her grandfather, the U.S. ambassador, she starts digging for answers and is shocked at what she finds. An engaging setup for Carter’s newest YA series, though I found Grace kind of bratty.

Queen of Hearts, Rhys Bowen
I love Bowen’s Royal Spyness mystery series following the adventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch. This eighth entry sees Georgie sailing to America with her actress mother, where they get mixed up with wacky Hollywood types – and a murder. So much fun.

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia
I loved this story of Delphine and her sisters, who go to stay with their activist-poet mother in Oakland in the summer of 1968. They learn a lot about the Black Panthers, their family and each other. Gorgeously written. Recommended by Kari.

The Mapmaker’s Children, Sarah McCoy
I’d never given a thought to abolitionist John Brown’s family – but I loved this novel featuring his artist daughter, Sarah Brown, and her connection to Eden, a modern-day woman struggling with infertility. I liked Sarah’s story better than Eden’s, but both were compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster and his friends are in all kinds of trouble (again), romantic and otherwise. Fortunately, Jeeves is always around to save the day. Highly amusing.

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job, D.E. Stevenson
With Tim still in Egypt after WWII has ended, Mrs. Tim takes a job at a Scottish hotel. She deals with difficult guests, her trenchant (but kindhearted) employer and various small problems. Gentle and entertaining.

P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia
This sequel to One Crazy Summer finds Delphine and her sisters back in Brooklyn and adjusting to all kinds of changes. But Delphine writes to her mother, Cecile, and receives wise (if sometimes cranky) letters back.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, Simon Garfield
I love Garfield’s witty nonfiction about various topics, from letters to maps. This exploration of printing and fonts dragged a little, but was still informative and fun.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper
83-year-old Etta leaves her home in Saskatchewan, headed for Halifax and the water. Her husband Otto and their lifelong friend, Russell, are left behind, each with their memories. A poignant story of love, war, memory and walking. Reminiscent of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I also loved).

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada has lived her life in a one-room flat, hampered by a clubfoot and berated by her mother. But when the children of London are evacuated in 1940, Ada sneaks out to join them and discovers a whole new life. Moving, multilayered and so good. I read it in one night. Recommended by Shelley.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, Heather Lende
As the obituary writer in her small Alaskan town, Heather Lende helps people reflect on their loved ones’ lives. This slim memoir shares anecdotes from Lende’s work and family life, sprinkled with plainspoken wisdom and threaded with a simple truth: find the good. Wise and witty. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen
The Waverley women always get a little restless before the first frost – but this year has them asking big questions about love, career and identity. A sweet story with a little bite, laced with Allen’s gentle magical realism.

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

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hibernation books

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
This conclusion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy finds her main characters on the run, searching for a secret weapon to use against the Darkling and his forces. Several plot twists I didn’t see coming; lots of heartbreak; some sweet romantic moments. Really enjoyable, like the others in the series.

Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart, Jennifer Barclay
Barclay has loved Greece since her backpacking student days, but after a bad breakup, she spends a month on the tiny island of Tilos. The friendly people, delicious food and gorgeous views sustain her through more romantic ups and downs. I got tired of the dating play-by-play, but the descriptions of Tilos made me want to hop a plane immediately.

The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, Susan Elia MacNeal
In November 1941, SOE agent Maggie Hope is hiding out in western Scotland, training new recruits and healing from a disastrous mission to Berlin. When her dear friend falls ill under suspicious circumstances, Maggie takes up the case. Meanwhile, U.S. and British relations with Japan grow increasingly strained. Fast-paced and fascinating – a solid entry in the series.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, Samuel Fromartz
Fromartz, a longtime home baker, delves into the science and technique of bread baking, traveling to France, Germany and all over the U.S. to learn about baguettes, rye, sourdough and many varieties of flour. I liked the baking anecdotes better than the discussions of fermentation, but Fromartz blends them together engagingly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Bernie Su & Kate Rorick
Based on the popular YouTube series, this retelling of Pride & Prejudice is ultra-modern (set in California; Bing Lee is a Harvard-educated zillionaire) and seriously fun. Lizzie’s voice is sharp, clever and hilariously snarky. I’m now watching (and loving) the web series.

Lizzy & Jane, Katherine Reay
Elizabeth Hughes has achieved modest fame as a New York chef, rarely visiting her family in Seattle. When a cooking slump coincides with her sister’s chemo treatment, Lizzy reluctantly heads home. An interesting take on Austen (Lizzy and Jane are quite different from the Bennet sisters); a lovely novel of food, family and new beginnings. (I also loved Reay’s debut, Dear Mr. Knightley.) Anne generously sent me her advance copy. To review for Shelf Awareness (pub date Oct. 28).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax heads to a fictional African country with a few characters from her previous adventure, and finds a rash of deaths caused by a mysterious killer. Not the best in the series, but I love Mrs. P.

Bunny Buddhism: Hopping Along the Path to Enlightenment, Krista Lester
This was an impulse buy at the Booksmith. It’s a compilation of tweets by Lester on bunniness, Buddhism and living (and hopping) on purpose. Utterly charming and so much fun, especially if you love bunnies (I do).

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

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the bookstore lenox ma

For Once in My Life, Marianne Kavanagh
Tess and George are soul mates – but they’ve never met. As their friends try to set them up and life pulls them in different directions, they both wonder if they’ll ever find true love. Fun concept, so-so execution. An accurate but depressing portrait of feeling aimless in your 20s.

The Great Greene Heist, Varian Johnson
This book became an emblem of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. But it’s also a fun, fast-paced heist story featuring an entertaining cast of middle schoolers. Reminded me of Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, or Ocean’s 11 for teens.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure is a blind Parisian girl living with her father, the keeper of the keys at the Natural History Museum. Werner Pfennig is a private in Hitler’s Wehrmacht, obsessed with (and good at fixing) radios. Told in alternating short chapters of stunning prose, this novel traces Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories until they intersect in August 1944, in the walled French city of Saint-Malo. Gorgeous, heartbreaking, full of tension and small moments of hope.

Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
I loved Kwok’s Girl in Translation and loved her second novel even more. Charlie Wong struggles to care for her younger sister while keeping her new job at a dance studio a secret from their strict father. A beautiful novel about family, tough choices, being caught between cultures, and becoming someone you never thought you could be. Gorgeous and highly recommended.

Saving Lucas Biggs, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
I love de los Santos’ adult fiction. This middle-grade time-travel novel (co-written by de los Santos and her husband) follows the fortunes of a small Arizona mining town. Margaret O’Malley travels back to 1938, attempting to change the life of the judge who has sentenced her father to death. A sweet, thoughtful and moving story.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
I’m not a runner, but I’ve been curious about this book for years. The parts about writing (and running in Cambridge) were far more interesting to me than the running chronology.

Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, Dorothy Gilman
After finding a teenage girl hiding in her storage closet, Mrs. Pollifax calls in her CIA connection to go undercover – to a traveling carnival. A slightly wacky plotline even for this series, but as always, Mrs. P saves the day.

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

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bookpeople austin tx interior

(The first floor of BookPeople in Austin, where I spent several blissful hours last month.)

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
My friend Jacque has been urging me to pick up the Mrs. Pollifax series for years. I loved this first installment, in which Mrs. Pollifax, bored with her quiet widowhood, volunteers for the CIA! So much fun and packed with fascinating Cold War-era detail.

The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life, Alex Bellos
Parabolas, circles, negative numbers and pi aren’t just for math class – they show up again and again in the real world. Bellos delights in exploring the quirks of mathematics. Technical at times, but mostly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 10).

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942, Joyce Dennys
I picked this one up on Jaclyn’s rec and loved it. Henrietta (the author’s alter ego) writes letters to a childhood friend about life in her Devon village during WWII. I giggled over her descriptions of the villagers’ antics, reading the best bits aloud to my husband. Such fun.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
I’d never read this classic gothic tale, but tackled it for book club. Reminded me strongly of Jane Eyre – grand house, dark brooding leading man haunted by his first wife, etc. Suspenseful, but deeply sad, and I wanted more spirit from the narrator.

The Stories We Tell, Patti Callahan Henry
Eve Morrison has the perfect life: a successful husband, a daughter, a thriving letterpress business. But when her husband and sister are injured in a car accident, she must decide whose story she believes, and whether the glossy image of her life matches the reality. A moving story of love, family and gaining the courage to move on. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 24).

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax’s second adventure finds her flying to Istanbul to make contact with a Communist agent. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and she ends up on a wild ride across Turkey with a band of gypsies and a mismatched group of outlaws. Slightly outlandish, but so much fun.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield
An exploration of Resistance (to creativity) and pithy advice, which can be summed up as: Do the Work. (The first 100 pages were great; the last 60 pages, musings on the Muse, totally lost me.)

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink, ed. Kevin Young
A savory, sweet, surprising collection of poems about eating, cooking, foraging and memories of food. (Includes an astonishing number of poems about blackberries – not that I’m complaining – and a whole section on barbecue.)

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945, Joyce Dennys
This sequel to Henrietta’s War (see above) is a little grimmer than its predecessor: tempers are fraying as the war drags on. But Henrietta still reports on village life with wit and humor. She reminds me of Miss Read (though she’s a doctor’s wife instead of a schoolteacher).

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

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argo bookshop interior montreal quebec canada

The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurain
This fun novel was a serendipitous find at Brookline Booksmith. It begins with Daniel Mercier, a Paris accountant who finds himself sitting next to President Francois Mitterrand at a restaurant. Mitterrand leaves his hat behind and Daniel takes it home with him – and the most extraordinary things begin to happen. The hat eventually finds its way to several other new owners, who find their lives changed after its arrival. Whimsical, mischievous, clever, and a loving portrait of 1980s France.

Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
I loved my recent reread of Gaudy Night so much that I picked up its sequel, which follows Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey on their honeymoon in a (supposedly) quiet English village. Of course, a corpse turns up soon after they arrive, and our intrepid detectives must solve the mystery. I’d read this years ago, but had forgotten Lord Peter’s delight in quoting writers and philosophers at every turn, and the calm efficiency of his man, Bunter. And as a married woman with a career, I appreciated this sensitive portrait of a fledgling marriage between two strong-minded people. Slower going than Gaudy Night, but rich and rewarding.

I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, Elinor Lipman
I loved Lipman’s novel The View from Penthouse B and enjoyed this collection of her essays on family, writing, friendship and other topics. Lipman is warm, witty, often sarcastic but deeply loving – especially when it comes to her family. Amusing and sometimes insightful, in the vein of Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Michelle Cooper
After her uncle’s death and a Nazi invasion, Princess Sophia and her family have fled to England from their native island of Montmaray. Now living with their aunt – who is determined to marry off Sophie and her cousin Veronica, and mold tomboy Henry into a young lady – Sophie records her hopes, fears and impressions of the London Season. A fun glimpse of the social whirl (including appearances by the Kennedy clan) and a sensitive exploration of a young woman trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. My favorite of the series.

The FitzOsbornes at War, Michelle Cooper
Bombs are dropping on London, food rationing is taking effect, and Sophie and Veronica, princesses of Montmaray, are doing their bit for the war effort. Espionage, diplomacy and politics live side by side with personal drama in this conclusion to the Montmaray trilogy. Several minor plot elements seemed far-fetched to me, but I love Sophie’s voice and enjoyed following the characters through World War II (and, finally, back home to Montmaray).

The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
A phone call from his newly widowed ex-wife, Denise, turns Henry Archer’s quiet, lonely life upside down. Soon, Denise’s charming actress daughter has moved into Henry’s basement apartment; Denise is setting Henry up with her eligible (gay) friends; and Henry finds himself acting as lawyer to both Denise and her daughter. A fun, modern comedy of manners – occasionally veering into stereotype, but highly entertaining.

Margot, Jillian Cantor
It’s 1959, and The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen (after the book took the world by storm). Meanwhile, quiet Margie Franklin, secretary in a Philadelphia law firm, has a secret. She is really Margot Frank, Anne’s sister, who escaped from the death camps and somehow survived. Cantor presents a compelling what-if story, a nuanced exploration of sibling rivalry (and love), and a sensitive portrait of a deeply wounded young woman. Wistful and moving.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
Duhigg examines the neuroscience of “habit loops” – how our brains form patterns related to cravings, routines and rewards. He looks at individuals’ habits, then widens his focus to companies (Starbucks, Target and others) and social movements (the Montgomery bus boycott; Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church). Interesting stuff, with some truly disturbing examples.

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june books 2

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, Matthew Goodman
On Nov. 14, 1889, two young female journalists left New York City, headed in different directions. Nellie Bly (traveling east) and Elizabeth Bisland (traveling west) swung from train to ship to boat in their mad dash to circle the globe in under 80 days. Goodman captures the frenetic pace of their race, the dizzying array of countries they saw, the vagaries of shipboard life and the way the contest fired the public imagination. A fascinating glimpse of the Victorian era and a great real-life adventure tale. (Jaclyn read it at the same time and also loved it.)

I’ll Be Seeing You, Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
In 1943, two soldiers’ wives strike up a pen-pal correspondence spanning the miles from Iowa to Massachusetts. Rita Vincenzo, middle-aged and sensible, and Glory Whitehall, young and impulsive, are unlikely friends – but their letters help them weather the storms raging both abroad and at home. Beautifully written, evocative and sometimes heartbreaking – with occasional flashes of joy. Lovely.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen
Born into slavery in Richmond, Va., Mary Bowser is freed by her owner and sent to Philadelphia to be educated. When war breaks out, she returns to her native city to pose as a slave and spy for the Union – even working as a maid for Jefferson Davis. An absorbing historical read, based on the real life of its brave heroine.

Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
Alex Rider, age 14, is left alone in the world after his uncle Ian’s death – and he quickly discovers Ian’s life wasn’t what it seemed. Ian was a spy for MI6, and his bosses recruit Alex to help with a dangerous mission. Fast-paced, stuffed almost too full of shiny gadgets and death-defying moments, but fun. First in the nine-book Alex Rider series.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, Edward Kelsey Moore
Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean have been friends most of their lives, gathering every Sunday at the titular restaurant for gossip and good food. As they all face personal battles (illness, losing loved ones, a spouse’s infidelity) in middle age, they reflect on the long story of their friendship and how it has shaped their lives. A compelling story that swings from heartbreaking to hilarious, full of warm, wonderful characters (including the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt!). I loved it.

Spy School, Stuart Gibbs
Ben Ripley, age 12, is a math whiz – but he’s shocked when he’s recruited for the CIA’s top-secret spy training school. Once he arrives, though, Ben realizes there’s something fishy going on. He joins forces with Erica, the school’s top student, to try and figure it out. Fast-paced and funny, though not as richly developed as Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Anne convinced me to pick up this classic, set partly in my beloved Oxford. It’s the story of Charles Ryder and his entanglement with the Flyte family: charming Sebastian, beautiful Julia, quirky Cordelia, stodgy Brideshead. It’s also a portrait of a disappearing England, and encompasses several love stories and musings on faith. Gorgeously written, though also deeply sad.

Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, ed. Jeff O’Neal & Rebecca Joines Schinsky
I backed this book on Kickstarter last summer. The book nerds at Book Riot have collected lots of advice about “reading your way into” 25 authors (see subtitle), ranging across many genres. Fun to dip into (the sections are short), utterly practical and (in typical fashion) quite opinionated.

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