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library book stack tulips

I posted this photo on Instagram recently after all six of my two-week (!) library holds came in at once. (I may have a slight problem.)

Here’s a roundup of some of those books, and others:

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
After having a brain aneurysm at age 28, Fechtor found solace and recovery in the kitchen: eating the meals she loved, cooking them when she was well enough, and later writing about them. A gorgeously written, insightful memoir of how food connects us to ourselves and those we love. I loved it, and now I want to make every recipe. (Bonus: Fechtor used to live in Cambridge, and she evokes Harvard Square perfectly.) I also got to meet Fechtor and hear her read at Brookline Booksmith – a delight. (Recommended by Leigh.)

The Key to Extraordinary, Natalie Lloyd
Emma Pearl Casey comes from a long line of extraordinary women. But as she grieves her mother’s death and watches her Granny Blue struggle to keep the family cafe afloat, she wonders how to fulfill her own destiny. A sweet, whimsical, brave middle-grade novel about family, courage and stepping into your true self. (I also loved Lloyd’s debut, A Snicker of Magic.)

When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park
This was the April pick for the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club. Through the eyes of two young narrators (Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul), Park vividly describes life in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II. (The title refers to Koreans being forced to adopt Japanese names.) Fascinating and heartbreaking, and the first book I’ve read about this particular facet of WWII.

The Travelers, Chris Pavone
Will Rhodes is a travel writer for an international magazine – until he gets recruited by a woman who claims she’s CIA. Then Will starts to suspect that nothing in his life is what it seems – including his work and his marriage. Pavone writes such smart thrillers with sharp social commentary. Some great twists in this one, though it also struck me as deeply cynical.

Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Aaron remembers everything he hears and reads, but sometimes spouts facts at the wrong moment. Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, and has decided it’s not worth having friends. But when they end up at the same wilderness camp in West Texas, they both learn a few things about truth and friendship. A beautifully written middle-grade novel with very real characters (though the plot dragged a bit). Reminded me of my time at Camp Blue Haven, a decade ago.

Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye
I’d come across Nye’s poems (like “Gate A-4“) occasionally, and wanted to read more. (Plus I always make an effort to read poetry in April.) She writes in lovely, simple language about loss and love and everyday things. Some favorites: “Song,” “Daily,” “What People Do,” “Burning the Old Year.”

The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown
1999: Madeleine feels trapped in her loveless marriage. 1924: Madeleine’s grandmother, Margie, feels trapped by the rigid mores of her social class. Margie escapes to Paris and gradually comes out of her shell; Madeleine discovers Margie’s story through her journals and letters. A lovely dual-narrative story about learning to shake off other people’s expectations and change the stories we tell ourselves. (I adored Brown’s debut, The Weird Sisters.)

Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George
Anne mentioned this middle-grade novel on her blog recently. Princess Celie and her siblings live in Castle Glower, which (sort of like Hogwarts) adds new rooms and staircases at whim, usually on Tuesdays. When their parents go missing and are presumed dead, the siblings (and the Castle) must work to prevent their kingdom from being seized. Really fun. First in a series.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim
After loving The Enchanted April, I picked up von Arnim’s autobiographical novel of life at her German country estate, and rhapsodies about its garden. The descriptions of flowers and trees are gorgeous, but von Arnim’s marriage (to “the Man of Wrath”) made me so sad, as Jaclyn noted.

Shadow Spinner, Susan Fletcher
I’m getting a jump on the May pick for the RTFEBC. This is a spin on the tale of Scheherazade, narrated by a crippled servant girl who helps the young queen find new stories to tell the Sultan. Beautifully written, with engaging characters, though I saw some of the twists coming a mile away.

A Bed of Scorpions, Judith Flanders
Book editor Samantha Clair is drawn into another mystery when her old friend’s business partner dies unexpectedly. A witty mystery set in London’s art world. I like Sam and her supporting cast (her mother, neighbor, Scotland Yard detective boyfriend), though the plot got confusing at times.

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

What are you reading?

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daffodils graceland book mug

My brain has been awfully full this month of non-book things (switching jobs and offices will do that to you). But I’ve still squeezed in a few good books. Here’s what I have been reading:

June, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Cassie Danvers loses her beloved grandmother June, she also inherits June’s crumbling mansion in a small Ohio town. The house has a few secrets it wants to tell – and an unexpected inheritance forces Cassie to ask some potentially explosive questions about her family. This absorbing novel shifts back and forth between 1955 and 2015. Full of rich detail, engaging characters and a twisty, satisfying plot. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 31).

Killer Takeout, Lucy Burdette
Key West is ready to party during its annual Fantasy Fest – a week of increasingly raucous, boozy events. But food critic Hayley Snow (naturally) stumbles across a murder during the festivities. When Hayley’s co-worker Danielle is named the chief suspect, Hayley deploys her amateur sleuthing skills to prove Danielle’s innocence. I like Hayley and her supporting cast, and this was a fun installment in the series. (The author sent me an early copy; it comes out April 5.)

The Secrets of Flight, Maggie Leffler
Elderly widow (and former WWII fly girl) Mary Browning has kept her past hidden for years. But when she meets Elyse, a budding novelist, through her writers’ group, Mary hires the teenager to type her memoir, deciding it’s time to tell some of her stories at last. A captivating story of flight, family, conflicting loyalties and the sometimes painfully high price of following one’s dreams. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
American witch Diana Bishop has avoided using magic since her parents were murdered, years ago. But while she’s doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a mysterious (spellbound) manuscript and the appearance of a handsome vampire upend her carefully constructed life. I do not like vampires, but Leigh finally convinced me to pick up this book. Some great characters and an interesting storyline – though I found Diana irritatingly passive. (I loved the Oxford bits, obviously.) I will still probably read the sequel.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
This is the perfect book for early spring: the story of Jane Stuart – practical, capable, kind – discovering that her father is alive and spending a glorious summer with him on Prince Edward Island. I adore Jane and the Island, and I love watching both of them blossom in this book.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and also enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. So I was curious about this, her memoir of learning to write (and then immersing herself totally in) Italian. Lahiri is an American, the child of Bengali parents, who has struggled to feel at home in a language and culture her whole life. As she studies Italian – even moving to Rome – she experiences a different kind of alienation and also joy. This is a very interior book – I suppose because it documents an interior journey. Odd, often somber, but compelling.

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

What are you reading?

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greenlight bookstore window brooklyn

It is officially spring, but there’s snow in the forecast – so, naturally, I have stocked up on books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (descendants of that Holmes and Watson) end up at the same posh Connecticut boarding school. When a student they both despise is murdered, they join forces to clear their names and solve the case. I love a good Sherlock riff (see also: Mary Russell), and this one crackles with great dialogue and entertaining details. Bought at Greenlight on our recent NYC trip.

The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
I enjoyed this gentle tale of two brothers preparing for a kite-fighting competition in 15th-century Korea. For the Reading Together Family Exploration Book Club (which Moira is hosting this month).

What Works: Gender Equality By Design, Iris Bohnet
Bohnet teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, where I’ve been temping. Her book uses (lots of) research to explore ways to improve equality and neutralize biases through organizational design. The research gets dry at times, but there are some fascinating case studies. (Watch the video for a quick précis.)

Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys
The Wilhelm Gustloff sank in the Baltic Sea on Jan. 30, 1945, killing more than 9,000 soldiers and refugees. Sepetys brings this little-known tragedy to life through four young narrators: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian artist; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a Nazi soldier. Vividly told and tensely compelling; I read it with my heart in my throat.

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman
Desperate for some warmth and light during a frigid Minnesota winter, Addie loads her two preschoolers into their van and takes off for Florida. Along the way, she explores what it means to reach the end of your easy certainties and light-filled metaphors relating to God. Powerful, honest and beautifully written.

Celia’s House, D.E. Stevenson
This is the story of Dunnian, a family estate in Scotland where the Dunnes have always lived. A sweet, multi-generational family saga (which begins with one Celia Dunne and ends with another). I love Stevenson’s gentle novels.

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

What are you reading?

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get your jingle on sign christmas

December means vacation reading – hooray! Here’s what I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks:

Along the Infinite Sea, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ smart, elegant novels about the Schuyler family, especially Tiny Little Thing. This book follows Pepper, the “wild child” sister, who’s hiding out from the (rich, powerful) father of her unborn baby. She meets Annabelle, a German baroness with a fascinating past, and the book weaves together the two women’s stories. I loved both Annabelle and Pepper – smart, strong, confident yet utterly human. (Hallie recommended this one at Great New Books.)

One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty
In lovely, lucid prose, Welty details her childhood in Mississippi, her family history, and the roots of her deep love of stories and writing. The three sections are called “Listening,” “Learning to See” and “Finding a Voice” – all such vital parts of becoming a writer. Wonderful. Found at the newly relocated (and gorgeous) Raven Used Books.

Ink and Bone: The Great Library, Rachel Caine
In Jess Brightwell’s world, the Great Library controls all knowledge, and private ownership of books is forbidden. The son of a smuggling family, Jess knows a thing or two about contraband knowledge. But when he goes to Alexandria to train as a Scholar, he and his comrades discover the Library’s sinister side. A fast-paced, intriguing beginning to a new fantasy series.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher goes off to visit her stepdaughter at boarding school, and her husband Alec is assigned a triple murder case. You wouldn’t think the two could possibly be connected – but, of course, they are. A really fun entry in this entertaining series.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Susan Elia MacNeal
It’s December 1941 and Maggie Hope is headed back to the U.S., as part of Winston Churchill’s entourage. When one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s aides turns up dead, Maggie is asked to investigate. Meanwhile, other matters personal and professional provide plenty of intrigue. This book tried to juggle too many balls at times, but I like Maggie and I loved seeing her back stateside.

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson
In the summer of 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye, East Sussex, to begin teaching Latin at the local grammar school. She struggles for acceptance and financial independence, but makes a few friends – and then the outbreak of war changes everything. Keenly observed, beautifully written, with wonderful, compelling characters. I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 22).

Gone West, Carola Dunn
An old school friend calls on Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher to investigate a strange situation at the isolated country house where she lives. Soon after Daisy’s arrival, a man turns up dead, and (of course) Alec arrives on the scene to investigate. A fun, twisty plot, though I found the eventual solution a little thin.

The Sword of Summer, Rick Riordan
Since his mom died, Magnus Chase has been living rough on the streets of Boston, avoiding his eccentric uncle. But on his 16th birthday, an utterly bizarre series of events plunges him into the world of Norse mythology and raises all sorts of questions about his identity and destiny. Fun, fast-paced and snarky, with lots of great Boston details – though I didn’t love it quite as much as the Percy Jackson series.

Love Notes for Freddie, Eva Rice
Rice’s third novel traces the stories of three people – a math-whiz schoolgirl, a young electrician who yearns to dance and a frustrated dancer turned maths teacher – and how they intersect in the summer of 1969. Gorgeously written and engaging, but it felt somehow unfinished. Deeply bittersweet.

Goodreads does a super cool Year in Books infographic – here’s mine if you’re interested.

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

What are you reading? (Happy New Year!)

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home fires masthead

It’s no secret I love a good British period drama, especially Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Lark Rise to Candleford. This fall, I’ve been swept up in the latest series showing on Masterpiece PBS: Home Fires.

Home Fires follows a group of women in the fictional village of Great Paxford, most of them involved with the local Women’s Institute, at the outset of World War II. The show’s marketing has centered around the ongoing feud between traditionalist Joyce Cameron and new WI leader Frances Barden, but the plotlines delve deeply into the lives of several more women: quiet bookkeeper Alison Scotlock, schoolteacher Teresa Fenchurch, stoic farm wife Steph Farrow.

Most of the women are committed to “doing their bit” and to the work of the WI: making jam from local produce that would otherwise go to waste, building an air-raid shelter for the village, raising funds for ambulances. The WI gives Frances (in particular) a purpose to fill her days. But all the characters are also grappling with other challenges: family illness, raising teenagers, financial difficulties, deep marital rifts. Several of them have husbands or sons who end up going off to fight. All of them find their lives irrevocably changed by the war, and each of them has to make hard choices over and over again.

Home Fires is a quiet show: it lacks the tense life-or-death scenes of Call the Midwife or the soapy drama of Downton. So far (the first season ranges from 1939-40), there are few massive military battles being fought. But the quietness is what I love about it. It is a show about ordinary people living small but valuable lives, who are called upon to do things they never thought they would have to do.

I am not (obviously) living in a war zone or facing the same challenges as the women of Home Fires. But I am fighting my own battles every day, and I am also mourning with the world after Paris and Beirut, wondering where it will all end. I’ve enjoyed the period detail and witty dialogue of Home Fires, but most of all I have loved watching these women as they face what comes.

Sometimes they fail. (They are human, after all.) Sometimes personal tragedy shakes them to their cores. But most often, they rise to the occasion – usually with quiet humility, sometimes with all flags flying. They adapt and make do; they find new ways to solve thorny problems. They hear bad news, and mourn, and then get back up and move forward. Together.

Courage has been variously defined as grace under pressure, the judgment that something else is more important than fear, or the simple act of seeing something through. The women of Home Fires embody all these definitions, and I’m looking forward to watching them face new challenges in season 2.

Have you watched Home Fires? What did you think?

(Image from pbs.org)

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library stack roses

(My latest library haul – all 14-day books. No pressure.)

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
Julia reviewed this delicious food memoir at Great New Books. It’s a series of brief essays on books Nicoletti has read and loved, with recipes inspired by each book. Wonderful glimpses into her childhood and career as a chef and butcher. I loved this line about Boston, where Nicoletti is from and where I live now: “bruised history and mixed-up streets and good, good people.”

The Two Mrs. Abbotts, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara (Buncle) Abbott, her niece and their fellow villagers are facing the changes brought about by World War II: evacuees from London, soldiers all around, German spies (!) in the woods. This book felt a bit disjointed, and I missed Sam, Barbara’s nephew. Still cozy and charming, like all Stevenson’s novels.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, ed. Martin Edwards
Christmas is ripe for mysteries and ghost stories, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the 16 shorts (all Golden Age and British) collected here. A little uneven, as anthologies tend to be. I particularly liked the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers, but some of the more obscure ones are also fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, Jennifer E. Smith
On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have to decide whether to stay together or break up. The result is a tour through the past two years of their relationship, including the sticky parts. I like Smith’s sweet YA love stories, but this one fell a little flat. (Though it vividly recalled the agony of breaking up with my high school boyfriend right before college.)

Ornaments of Death, Jane K. Cleland
New Hampshire antiques appraiser Josie Prescott is thrilled to have found a distant relative just in time for the holidays. But when he disappears after attending Josie’s Christmas party, she grows worried and puts her amateur sleuthing skills to work. A so-so cozy mystery; I liked Josie and the setting, but I saw a few twists coming. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Odds of Getting Even, Sheila Turnage
Right before the trial of the century in Tupelo Landing, N.C., the defendant – Dale Johnson’s good-for-nothing daddy – breaks out of jail. Miss Moses LoBeau, Dale’s best friend, rounds up the Desperado Detectives to track him down and solve a series of smaller mysteries (break-ins, a fire). I love Mo – sassy and big-hearted – and her wacky supporting cast of small-town characters. So fun.

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both elderly and widowed, strike up a friendship – spending nights together at Addie’s house, just talking. Haruf eloquently explores the terrain of this new relationship, in spare, melancholy language. Beautiful, evocative and bittersweet. Recommended by Lindsey.

Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon
It’s the wedding of the decade in Mitford – Dooley Barlowe and Lace Harper are getting married at Meadowgate Farm. Father Tim Kavanagh and various other family members and friends pitch in to make the big day a success. I liked hearing Lace’s and Dooley’s perspectives in this book, but it felt a little slight to me. Still, I always love a visit to Mitford.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
Emily Webster is feeling let down: she’s just graduated high school, but she can’t go to college like her friends. Feeling “stuck” in Deep Valley, Emily learns to “muster her wits” – designing a program of study for herself, making new friends and learning to build a life of her own. This was a reread – I love this book so much.

A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl
The young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Academy (well, most of them) are eager to marry well, but they’re stuck in a Yorkshire backwater with hardly any men. A few unexpected visitors and some clever scheming help to change things, however. A really fun YA send-up of Regency drawing-room comedies. I also enjoyed Kindl’s previous novel, Keeping the Castle.

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

What are you reading?

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strand books nyc exterior

September was a good reading month. (I took the latter half of it off from buying books, so I could try to make a dent in the TBR stacks.) Here’s the final roundup:

A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan
I picked up this novel after reading Lindsey’s glowing review. It follows Alice Pearse, a thirtysomething mother of three and book lover who takes a job at a flashy “new media” company. Alice juggles her kids’ schedules, her father’s healthcare and her husband’s struggles, while harboring serious doubts about her job. Compulsively readable and often witty; flawed but thought-provoking.

Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead
Tabitha, Bridget and Emily have been best friends for years. But seventh grade brings new challenges for them all, and tests their long-standing “no fighting” rule. I loved the girls’ intertwined story; I especially loved Bridge, who isn’t quite sure how to navigate this new world, and her friend Sherm. Wise, moving and true. (I also loved Stead’s When You Reach Me.)

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Bee Wilson
The way we learn to eat as young children can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives. Wilson explores eating patterns through the lens of weaning, baby food, social experiments, family dinner, eating disorders and more. She occasionally gets bogged down in the research, but gleans some fascinating insights. (I also loved her book Consider the Fork.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, Trudi Kanter
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Viennese hat designer Trudi Kanter (a Jew) and her family had to flee the country. Trudi’s memoir chronicles their roundabout journey to England (with some lovely scenes of prewar Paris and Vienna). A bit disjointed at times, but vividly told. Trudi is a sharp-eyed, resourceful, even cheeky narrator.

A Century of November, W.D. Wetherell
After losing his son, Billy, in World War I, widower Charles Marden travels to France from western Canada to see the place where his son died. A harrowing journey, told in beautiful sentences; a stark, often surreal portrait of the aftermath of trench warfare.

Miss Buncle Married, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara Buncle (now Mrs. Abbott) and her husband move to a new village, and find themselves exasperated and delighted by their new neighbors. I missed the fun of Barbara-as-author, and the beginning was slow, but in the end, this novel was as much fun as the first one.

The Case of the Missing Marquess, Nancy Springer
Who knew Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister? Enola Holmes, left alone when her mother disappears on her 14th birthday, heads to London to try and find her. Along the way, she solves the titular kidnapping case. A fun beginning to a middle-grade series, with cameos by Sherlock and Mycroft. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

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

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