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MAY/JUNE NEW READS — posted 6/2024

Oh boy, oh boy. There have been so many wonderful new releases (and older titles) I was able to read and review in early spring. These are all very strong recommendations . . . please let me know what you think!

The Paris Novel   -   Ruth Reichl

Chef, food critic and editor Ruth Reichl has branched out with a food, art, and fashion-based novel that takes place in Paris in the 1980s. Stella St. Vincent's recently deceased - and estranged - mother leaves her an inheritance of a one-way ticket and a note to go to Paris. Begrudgingly following those instructions, Stella eventually finds herself at Shakespeare & Company, where she becomes entrenched with a community that turns her life upside-down, in the best and most delicious way possible. A tribute to good food, fine art, venturing outside your comfort zone, and finding home is right in front of your eyes, Reichl's story, centered around her knowledge for and love of French cooking and wine, is full of the most delightful characters who I'd be thrilled to spend time with in the kitchen and around a dinner table. 

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade   -   Janet Skeslien Charles

An historical fiction account about actual librarians and their efforts to bring books to readers, by the author of "The Paris Library," told through two voices. Real-life Jessie "Kit" Carson, who revolutionized the French library system after WWI ended, was a part of CARD (American Committee for Civilian Relief) in war-torn Northern France during WWI. Fictionalized writing student, Wendy Peterson, happened upon files about CARD while working at the NY Public Library in the 1980s and became determined to uncover Carson's story. As difficult as it was to read about the devastation of war on the small community in France where Carson worked with CARD, I found myself captivated in this eye-opening book and reminder of the good that comes from dedicated hard work. I am grateful to Janet Skeslien Charles for educating me about the remarkable women of CARD.

on staff picks and shelf talker given to bryan

Crow Talk   -   Eileen Garvin

If you are a bird lover, you will appreciate this novel about a young woman who studies crows . . . their movement, their community, and especially the way they talk to each other. The novel takes place on an island off the coast of Seattle in the remote foothills of Mount Adams. Three main characters' lives are at extremely difficult impasses until an injured baby crow, found in the forest, turns their lives around. A story very much immersed in loss and grief turns itself around as fate, foregiveness and the power of nature at its worst and its best leads each of them to a heartening outcome. After being hooked by "Crow Talk," get yourself a copy of Eileen Garvin's debut novel ""The Music of Bees," which is equally as captivating a novel, about the healing power of bees and beekeeping.

The Glass Maker   -   Tracy Chevalier

This brilliant new book by historical fiction writer-extraordinaire, Tracy Chevalier ,immerses the reader in the flourishing Venice and Murano glassmaking industry, starting in the 13th century and through its demise over the centuries. The eldest daughter of a Murano glassblowing family, Orsola Rossa, teaches herself the art, against the wishes of her family and community, because women of that time kept the house operating, not the business. Chevalier takes liberty with time, "skipping like a stone through the centuries," as we follow the Rossa family from 1486 through the plague that ravished Italy, to the destruction of the industry when Napoleon and then the Austrians overtook Venice and Murano, and beyond. Those skipping stones show Orsola aging at a snail's pace as she lives to tell her story through those early days to modern, post-Covid life. I relished being taken into this world, past and present, rooting for Orsola along the way.

I've Tired Being Nice   -   Ann Leary

It's hard having to be nice all the time. In these essays, Ann Leary opens her door to a life spent trying to be that person, with as strong a sense of humor as is her acceptance of "I'm doing the best I can." I appreciate how she admits she's only human, recounting hilariously all the inevitably resulting flaws, despite living in a world that is more glamorous than most of the world, being married to actor and comedian Denis Leary. Clearly her being a people-pleaser has kept her one step back from the limelight of the super-stardom world in which she lives . . . and for that I completely relate to her, being an admitted people pleaser as well (in my non-limelight world.) A gifted writer, Ann Leary is also really good at punch lines. Enjoy this book as I did!

Bear   -   Julia Phillips

If you're in search of a sad, heartwrenching, yet beautifully written novel, look no further than Julia Phillips' "Bear." Set on San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest, the story features a grizzly bear and two sisters and their dying mother. The bear is at the center of a schism that splits the sister's trust in each other and their disparate understanding of how the world works. 

Mastering the Art of French Murder   -   Colleen Cambridge

A thorough delight that takes place in postwar Paris, with a plot that builds and builds until I found myself on the edge of my seat, eager for the murder mystery to be solved! Each character was equally delightful to spend time with . . . and hearing Julia Child's high-pitched gregarious voice in my head was much much fun. I can't wait to read Colleen Cambridge's follow-up "A Murder Most French" and find out what Julia Child and Tabitha Knight are up to next in the City of Light.

My Life in France   -    Julia Child

The delightful voice of Julia Child shines throughout her just-as-delightful memoir, co-written with her great-nephew, author Alex Prud'homme. Julia Child's love for French food and cooking came about in 1948 when she and her husband, Paul, moved to France for his work with the USIS. Looking for a way to occupy herself in a country where she knew not one word of the language, she discovered her taste for French food at the restaurants where she and Paul dined. One thing led to another, as her passion for French cooking led her to taking classes at Cordon Bleu . . . and the rest is history. Told in Childs' familiar voice, with her charming sense of humor, "My Life In France" is a fun, mouth-watering read about the woman we've come to associate with French cooking.

Backyard Bird Chronicles   -   Amy Tan

As a bird lover and watcher myself, Amy Tan's chronicle of time through bird-watching in her backyard is right up my alley. In 2016, finding herself fed up with and overcome by the state of the world, she turned her focus to her backyard, where her outlook and eyes found beauty and solace in the world of birds. From September 2017 through December 2022, she documented her sitings with words and drawings, detailing the discoveries she found outside her window, the beauty and wonderment of these little lives as well the struggles they endure to stay alive in a predatory world. This is a perfect companion to any bird guide you may have on hand and a delight to browse in any season.

The Phoenix Ballroom - Ruth Hogan

Every now and then it's refreshing to immerse yourself in a book that is so feel-good you want to wrap your arms around it, be friends with the characters, be a part of the hopefulness and the love that emits from the pages. "The Phoenix Ballroom" is that book. 


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