Porter Fox spent three years exploring the northern border of the lower forty-eight states with Canada. Raised in Maine, he begins in the waters off the coast of Maine and travels the 4,000 mile border by canoe, freighter, car, and on foot. Along the way to the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, he describes the scenery and history of the border region, and talks with many of the border residents, border patrol agents, and visits the Standing Rock pipeline protestors in North Dakota. Some border residents have been used to commuting across the border for work, school, or shopping and are finding the border harder to cross in recent years. Some of the most interesting chapters were a freighter voyage across four of the Great Lakes and canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. I found this book to be a good mix of history, scenery, and armchair travel.
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Clara Darden is a new art instructor at the Grand Central School of Art in late 1920s New York City, hoping to illustrate covers for Vogue magazine. Clara doesn’t get the same respect as male artists, and the Depression makes it increasingly harder for artists to make a living. In 1974 Virginia Clay, recently divorced mother of college-age daughter Ruby, gets a job at the information booth at the rundown terminal. Virginia discovers the abandoned art school, and a painting similar to one featured in an art auction catalog. While the painting may be valuable, the real masterpiece here is the Grand Central Terminal, which is about to lose its landmark status. Art, architecture, and the lives of the two women connect in a very satisfying way. Readalikes include Georgia by Dawn Tripp and The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro. This appealing historical novel is sure to be popular with book groups.
Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious by Seth Kugel
I enjoyed reading stories about Seth Kugel’s travel adventures, and learned some useful advice for future travel. He wrote the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times for several years, and speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and some French. His suggestions are to spend more time in fewer places, to skip top attractions if they don’t really appeal to you, get suggestions from locals and fellow travelers, save some time on your trip for spontaneity, and try to be in the moment, not staring at your phone. Be skeptical of reviews and don’t spend more money than you need to for an enjoyable vacation. Many interesting anecdotes make for a quick read; suggested for armchair travelers and global explorers.
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Tina lives on a farm in East Anglia where she cooks, does bookkeeping, and enjoys her young grandchildren. She writes a letter to the author of a book about prehistoric Tollund Man. The author has died, but her letter is answered by Anders, a widowed Danish museum curator. Tina had always planned to visit the Tollund Man exhibit with her friend Bella. Life got in the way, and Bella has recently died. The pair continue to exchange letters, then emails, and the reader learns about their lives and recent losses. Bittersweet and utterly charming, I didn’t want this book to end. Readalikes include Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole and Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.
City of Ink by Elsa Hart
I read this book while preparing for a book discussion of Jade Dragon Mountain, the first of three historical mysteries featuring exiled librarian Li Du and storyteller Hamza. The second book is The White Mirror. All three stories are set in early 18th century China, with very different settings. With City of Ink, Li Du is working as a secretary in Beijing for Chief Inspector Sun. The city is abuzz with preparations for the imperial examinations, which Li Du passed many years ago. Thousands of students who have passed two earlier levels of exams are trying to study, pick out the best ink and brushes, and preparing for several very intense days of exams which only a few hundred will pass. Li Du and Inspector Sun investigate a double murder at a tile factory, but a quick and tidy solution is preferred by the magistrate rather than an in-depth inquiry. In this gated city, Li Du and Hamza get caught outside their neighborhood after curfew, and have to find lodging for the night. Returning to Water Moon Temple, Li Du discovers that his room has been searched. Tension eases when Li Du travels outside the city to teach calligraphy to the grandchildren of his late mentor Shu, whose name he is still trying to clear. Lady Chen of Jade Dragon Mountain is now living in Beijing, and may have useful information for Hamza and Li Du. If you enjoy intricately plotted mysteries (or historical fiction) with vividly detailed settings, I think you’ll really enjoy this outstanding mystery series.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
As a third generation fan of Anne Shirley, beginning with my Canadian grandmother, it was a real pleasure to read her Aunt Marilla’s story about growing up on Prince Edward Island in the 1830s and 1840s. Fans of Green Gables will enjoy spending more time in Avonlea, getting to know Matthew, Marilla’s brother, as a young farmer, and learning some Canadian history, including the role of the Underground Railroad in eastern Canada. Marilla meets her aunt Izzy, a dressmaker, makes friends with John Blythe and Rachel, and visits an orphanage. Knowing that Marilla never married made it a little sad to read about her one romance, and you never learn why Anne has to wait for her puffed sleeves, but overall a very enjoyable gentle read.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Finally, a book set in dual time periods where each story is well worth reading. Both are centered around a house in need of repairs in Vineland, New Jersey. Thatcher Greenwood is a science teacher with a young, materialistic wife and an eccentric neighbor who corresponds with Darwin. Willa and her gorgeous but impractical husband are struggling financially, while simultaneously caring for an elderly parent who swears in Greek and a new grandson. Willa looks for grant money to repair their historic house and learns about the town’s remarkable history. Somewhat preachy ecologically and bittersweet in tone, this is a pageturner in both time periods.