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We are halfway through March and it is SO cold – and it also feels like we have been in exactly the same place for a year. Sigh. But there are new books. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Transatlantic Book Club, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
I enjoy Hayes-McCoy’s gentle novels about the fictional community of Finfarran on the west coast of Ireland. This one follows Cassie, a visitor from Canada, helping out her grieving grandmother Pat and starting a Skype book club with a town in upstate New York. Fun to see familiar characters again, and learn a bit about Pat’s past.

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul, Eric Maisel
I picked this one up (used) at the Booksmith and have been dipping in over many weeks. I miss travel (don’t we all?) but Maisel’s book is full of wise, practical nudges to prioritize your writing and write where you are.

Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl
After a high-risk pregnancy and delivering twins, Sarah Ruhl lost the ability to move one side of her face–for a decade. This memoir chronicles her struggle with Bell’s palsy and how it affected her sense of self, as well as her search for healing and her reflections on the personal and cultural implications of not being able to smile. Sharply observed; very dark in the middle, but ultimately thought-provoking and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

The Summer Seekers, Sarah Morgan
After fending off an intruder, former travel show host Kathleen decides she’s had enough of sitting at home. Much to her type-A daughter’s chagrin, Kathleen (age 80) hires a young woman to drive her on a road trip across the U.S. All three women learn a lot about themselves during the summer. Delightful and refreshing; my kind of cozy Brit lit. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 18).

Diana and the Island of No Return, Aisha Saeed
Princess Diana is excited about the annual festival on Themyscira, and getting to hang with her best friend. But the girls find themselves tangled up with a forbidden visitor (a boy) and a kidnapping attempt. I read this fun middle-grade adventure in one sitting; I love me some Wonder Woman.

A Peculiar Combination, Ashley Weaver
Electra “Ellie” O’Donnell is proud (if a bit conflicted) to be part of her family’s safecracking operation. But when she and her uncle are caught, and she’s offered some work with British intelligence in exchange for their freedom, she adjusts to a different kind of job. A whip-smart mystery from the author of the Amory Ames series; I loved Ellie and look forward to her next adventure. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 11).

The Parted Earth, Anjali Enjeti
1947: Deepa is happy with her life in New Delhi, but riots and hate fill the streets as Partition approaches. Her Muslim boyfriend, Amir, flees to Lahore with his family, and soon Deepa is forced to leave, too. Decades later, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan tries to piece together her family’s story. Heartbreaking and thought-provoking; I learned a lot about Partition. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Julie Wassmer
I stumbled on this series while searching for something else – but I love a good British mystery, and this one is so fun. Pearl owns an oyster restaurant in Whitstable and is also trying to start an investigative agency. When two men are murdered during the annual Oyster Festival, she starts sleuthing, alongside a police inspector. I liked the characters and would read more of this series.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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A double stack of books near an open window: sunshine, potted mums, views across the water. Standing helps keep my spine and my brain flexible—a must in these monotonous days. 

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Hey, y’all. It’s March (it has been March for a year) and I need a writing challenge. So this month I’m writing a 31-word blog post each day, about 31 things that are getting me through. Today’s is longer because of this introduction, but I’m hoping to spark some creativity with this format and shake myself out of my latest funk.

Here’s the first one: Trader Joe’s daffodils.

A shot of yellow on my kitchen counter—I can’t resist grabbing a bunch at $1.79 each. They remind me that not all luxuries are expensive, and brighter days are coming. 

More tomorrow.

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We’re halfway through February and it’s snowing (again). I’ve been hunkering down with all the good books – here’s what I have been reading:

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Laura Taylor Namey
Lila Reyes has big plans to take over her abuela’s bakery in Miami. But when three big griefs hit her at once, her family ships her off to Winchester, England, for the summer. Determined to be miserable, Lila nevertheless finds herself giving a Cuban twist to British pastries and making new friends – including a dreamy boy. I loved this sweet YA novel with its mashup of Miami and England.

New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time, Craig Taylor
I’ve been reading e-galleys since March (one of the many changes wrought by the pandemic). But y’all, I got a print galley of this collection of interviews with the unsung heroes who make up New York: elevator repairmen, bodega managers, homeless people, nannies, ICU nurses, aspiring actors and singers, cops and firefighters. Joyous, cacophonous, loud, varied and wonderful. (Can you tell I miss NYC?) To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 23).

All the Greys on Greene Street, Laura Tucker
Twelve-year-old Olympia, known as Ollie, loves hanging out at her dad’s art restoration studio and sketching everything in her neighborhood. But when her dad disappears with a valuable piece of art, and her mom goes to bed and won’t get up, Ollie and her two best friends have to figure out what to do next. A vivid, sensitive, compelling middle-grade adventure set in 1980s SoHo.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy
I found Savoy’s work in Kathryn Aalto’s Writing Wild, and Roxani also recommended her. This is a thoughtful, layered exploration of how family and national histories are bound up with the land itself, and how race and silence and erasure all play roles. Savoy is mixed-race, with roots in several parts of the country, and she weaves her own story in with several deep dives into the physical landscape. So good.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May
Everyone seems to be reading this book right now, amid our endless pandemic winter. May writes honestly and thoughtfully about her own personal winters–chronic illness, her son’s anxiety, job angst–as well as physical winter and the way different cultures deal with it. I found some nuggets of wisdom to be more illuminating than the whole. Quiet and very worthwhile.

In a Book Club Far Away, Tif Marcelo
I enjoy Marcelo’s warmhearted fiction about strong women. This book features Adelaide, Sophie and Regina, three former military spouses (Regina is also a veteran) who met at a past posting in upstate New York. Ten years later, Adelaide sends her friends (now estranged from each other) an SOS. Sharing a house for two weeks, the three women must confront each other and their past secrets. Very relatable; by turns funny and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Beth Morrey
Millicent Carmichael, age 79, spends her days mostly alone, mourning her losses: estranged daughter, absent husband, son and grandson in Australia. But then an acquaintance asks her to look after a dog, and gradually, everything changes. Missy’s loneliness was hard to read about sometimes–it struck so close to home–but I loved the characters, especially Missy’s friend Angela, and watching Missy gradually open herself up to connection.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages, Cate Doty
Former society reporter Doty takes us inside the world of writing wedding announcements for The New York Times. Along the way, she muses on her own early obsession with weddings (influenced by her Southern roots), her doomed early-twenties love story, and the onetime coworker who became (spoiler) her lifelong love. Witty, warmhearted and at times juicy (though she doesn’t name names). So fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Last Bookshop in London, Madeline Martin
Grace Bennett has never been a great reader. But when she moves to London with her best friend in pursuit of a new life, she lands a position at a dusty bookshop. As Grace seeks to improve the store’s sales, the Blitz comes to London, and she and her new circle of acquaintances must dig deep to find the courage to get through. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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Somehow, we’ve reached the end of August. I’ve been writing lots of haiku, running, riding bikes with my guy, and trying to figure out what the fall will look like. And reading, of course. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo of my current library stack.)

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Fiona Davis
I adore the stone lions outside the New York Public Library – Patience and Fortitude. Davis’ fifth novel links two women who have strong ties to the library (and each other), 80 years apart. I found both women compelling (and frustratingly naive, at times), and the mystery of several book thefts was clever and well done.

Riviera Gold, Laurie R. King
Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell find themselves in Monaco, not quite by accident, after the departure of their longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Mary falls in with a group of expats and starts unraveling a mystery involving smuggling, White Russians, a bronze sculptor and (possibly) Mrs. Hudson herself. I love this series and this was a great new installment.

The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War, Delphine Minoui
For four years, the Syrian town of Daraya endured constant siege from Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Minoui, a French journalist living in Istanbul, heard about a secret library in Daraya and tracked down the founders: young men who believed in the power of reading and the potential for peace. This book traces their story and the multiple challenges the citizens of Daraya faced. Heartbreaking, and important. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Mornings with Rosemary, Libby Page
I read this book when it was published (as The Lido) in 2018, thanks to a colleague’s review at Shelf Awareness. It’s the story of a community pool in Brixton, London, and two women who spearhead a campaign to save it from developers: Kate, a lonely young journalist, and Rosemary, age 86, who has been swimming at the lido all her life. I snagged a remainder copy at the Booksmith recently and loved rediscovering the characters – and the writing is so good.

An Irish Country Welcome, Patrick Taylor
I love Taylor’s warm, engaging series about a group of doctors in rural 1960s Ulster. In this visit to Ballybucklebo, Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are expecting their first child, while sectarian violence is rising nearby. A pleasant visit with familiar characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo
I’ve loved Acevedo’s two previous YA novels, and this novel-in-verse is powerful. Two teenage girls – Camino in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira in New York City – discover they share a father only after he dies in a plane crash. They each struggle to come to terms with his death, the secrets it revealed, and their new relationship. Heartbreaking, sometimes wryly funny, and so good.

500 Miles from You, Jenny Colgan
After witnessing a violent death, nurse-practitioner Lissa is sent to rural Scotland on an exchange program, to help her recover. Cormac, who takes her place in London, is completely overwhelmed by his new surroundings. I loved watching the two of them fall for each other via email and text, and I enjoyed going back to Kirrinfief (this is Colgan’s third book set there). Warmhearted and fun.

Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. LeGuin
In 10 no-nonsense chapters, LeGuin lays out some of the basics of writing: sentences, sound, narrative voice, point of view. Packed with exercises and examples, but my favorite part is LeGuin’s wry, wise voice. Found at Trident.

Tunnel Vision, Sara Paretsky 
Just as V.I. Warshawski’s office building is condemned, she meets a homeless woman who may be hiding out there – and then another woman is murdered in V.I.’s office. Vic’s eighth adventure pits her, as usual, against corrupt local bigwigs while she’s fighting tooth and nail for justice. All her usual helpers – snarky journalist Murray, Viennese doctor Lotty, and her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras – show up, too. Grim at times, but so good.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

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tulips table oranges book

It has started snowing over here – not my favorite weather, but it’s good for curling up with books. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
I’ve enjoyed Klinkenborg’s columns in the New York Times, and loved this wise, thoughtful, wry, thought-provoking book on writing. I savored it over a couple of weeks. Bought at the wonderful Three Lives & Co. in NYC.

Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2), Rachel Caine
After being trained as foot soldiers for the Great Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his friends are staging a rebellion – if they survive that long. Caine’s sequel to Ink and Bone is fast-paced, bold and really well done. I can’t wait for book 3.

No Time Like the Past, Jodi Taylor
Madeleine Maxwell and her gang of time-traveling historians are back for a fifth adventure, which takes them to the Great Fire of London and Thermopylae, among other destinations. This series is so much fun – madcap, smart, hilarious and tea-soaked. This book was especially witty.

The Last Days of Café Leila, Donia Bijan
Since Noor left her homeland of Iran for the U.S. at 18, she’s missed her father and their family’s café – a neighborhood institution. After discovering her husband’s infidelity, Noor heads back to Tehran with her teenage daughter, Lily, in tow. The world they discover is both familiar and unknown to Noor, and totally new to Lily. A gorgeous novel of family, food, love and loss. (I also loved Bijan’s memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 18).

Lay Down Your Weary Tune, W.B. Belcher
With his love life and career both foundering, musician-cum-writer Jack Wyeth gets the chance to write the biography of his folk-music idol, Eli Page. But when Jack arrives at Eli’s rural farmhouse, he finds an enigmatic, irascible man reluctant to divulge his secrets. This one started slowly, but it’s a thoughtful, lovely novel about music, identity, family and the secrets we all keep. Found (for $6!) at the Center for Fiction in midtown Manhattan.

Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, Rob Dunn
Scientific food-growing techniques have wrought a series of transformations in our diets: we are increasingly dependent on a small number of crops grown on a massive scale. Dunn recounts the narrowing of our plates and warns of the dangers we face. Thoughtful and well-researched, though occasionally rambling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
In a series of lyrical flashbacks, Woodson evokes the experience of “growing up girl” in 1970s Brooklyn. Her narrator, August, navigates the world alongside her brother, her father and her three best friends. Poignant and beautifully written. (Julia recommended this one at Great New Books.)

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
Natasha is an illegal Jamaican immigrant whose family is about to be deported. Daniel is a dreamy Korean-American teenager who wants to write poetry instead of going to Yale and becoming a doctor. They meet one day in Manhattan, and their lives will never be the same. Funny and heartwarming – the epilogue took the whole book up a notch. I also loved Yoon’s debut, Everything, Everything.

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

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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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one day hh 2015 graphic

Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children.

We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

—Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

On Tuesday, Laura hosted her annual #OneDayHH challenge– a simple call to document the details of our everyday lives. I participated last year, and enjoyed playing along again this year. I thought I’d share my photos, because I like having a record of it here on the blog.

quilt morning light

My morning began with the snooze button, and the muted grey light coming through the window. I always make the bed. Since the nights have gotten chilly, we are sleeping under this quilt my husband’s grandmother made him, years ago.

yoga mat leggings

I’m still starting a lot of my mornings with the yoga app. Often that means I go straight to the mat, in my pajamas.

dish rack kitchen

After a hot shower, I put the kettle on and tackled a pile of dishes from Monday night. (We had burritos, hence the rice cooker, cheese grater and guacamole bowl.)

anne of the island scone mug

Breakfast was a scone (one of Molly’s) and tea, with a few pages of Anne of the Island. I love Anne and her college adventures so much.

laptop kitchen table

The hubs had a mid-morning break and came home to drop off some groceries. We sat at the kitchen table, talking, for an hour. So rare these days, and so good. Then I spent a while longer at the table, writing and editing and answering emails. (With more tea.)

weird sisters novel flowers

I’m participating in #NaNoReadMo this month, so I took a break to share my glowing recommendation of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters.

soup crackers notepad book

Lunch was leftover butternut squash soup, with cheese and crackers and The Art of Travel.

train platform book

I headed into Cambridge after lunch, waiting for the T in a chilly wind (with Alain de Botton for company).

leaves boots bricks

The leaves are falling in great piles, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo on the way to Darwin’s.

laptop darwins chai

I spent the afternoon here: chai, emails, writing, more emails. A little noveling.

rainy beacon st boston

I put my phone away for the evening, which included an overdue catch-up with a friend. We took a long walk, ate our favorite pizza, talked for hours. Later, I walked through the rain to catch the subway home.

jer apple cider

The hubs got home from rehearsal right after I did, and we drank apple cider at the kitchen table and debriefed on the day. (And then we collapsed into bed.)

I love Goldberg’s words about saying “a holy yes” to the details of our lives. And I love this project – capturing my own details and seeing those of others.

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brookline booksmith twinkle lights

It’s been a slow reading month so far. But I’ve still spent time with a few good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Midnight Queen, Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Merlin College student Graham Marshall agrees to participate in a dangerous prank. But when a classmate ends up dead, he suspects a more sinister plot. An entertaining (if slightly confusing) fantasy set in an alternate Regency-era England and France. Great settings, though I wanted more Oxford. The magical stuff was a little obtuse, but I liked the characters.

Counting Thyme, Melanie Conklin
When Thyme Owens’ brother gets into a new drug trial for cancer patients, her family moves from San Diego to New York City. All Thyme wants is to go home, but she gradually finds a few things (and people) to love in New York. A fresh, winsome middle-grade novel about home, family and building a good life even when things are hard. (Out in April 2016 – I received an ARC from the author.)

Home by Nightfall, Charles Finch
While investigating the disappearance of a German pianist in London, gentleman detective Charles Lenox is called away to stay with his recently widowed brother in Sussex. The brothers are drawn into a mystery in their home village. I like Lenox and his supporting cast, and this mystery was well plotted and satisfying, though I rather wish the two cases had connected. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 10).

The Bloody Tower, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher spends a night at the Tower of London to gather material for an article. But when a guard is murdered, she and her husband end up investigating. I love Daisy, but this story dragged. Too much focus on the layout of the Tower and the politics of its military troops.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
I’ve been loving Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, which is a companion to this series of essays and musings on creativity. But the book was a mixed bag. Some gorgeous lines that rang true and wise; some advice that felt too woo-woo or patronizing. It’s still worth reading if you’re curious.

I’m in the middle of several books and recently put down a couple I wasn’t loving. I’m hoping for a better reading roundup next time, though I did love Counting Thyme. 

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. It’s also pictured above.

I’m linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

What are you reading?

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