While I fell short of my personal reading challenge this year, I can say my top ten books of this year I thoroughly enjoyed. The Ferrante quartet I simply fell in love with, the historical fiction choices captured the details of the time period with eloquence, the thrillers kept me engaged and the nonfiction moved me beyond words. I took my time with each book and found moments of pause and new meaning in a world that can be overwhelming, and admiration and gratitude for sharing their story, albeit fiction or truth. Happy holidays and my best for a peaceful and bright 2021.
This year, Christmas feels a little strange and isolated. But it also feel a little cozy. The first snowfall was absolutely beautiful and really got me into the Christmas spirit. As I try to avoid malls and busy stores, I have of course turned to online shopping like many of us. But somehow that just seems impersonal this year. After weeks of quarantining, ordering carry out, groceries from Instacart, and pretty much everything else in the world from Amazon, I’m ready to get back to basics for this year’s holiday. My daughter and I tried our hand at making candles (we definitely need to read up on this a little bit, as I watch one of ours smoke itself out), we have plans for many more cookie varieties than ever, and are drawn towards handmade gifts from Etsy and local stores.
In keeping with this, I am buying books as gifts for the first time in years! My teen/young adult kids don’t read as vociferously as they used to, and most of my family reads on a Kindle. But this year, it just feels right to go back to basics, hold a real book in my hands while I sip coffee by my Christmas tree and lights. My kids have watched pretty much everything Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have to offer, so I think I’m going to try and entice them to take an electronic break, relax on the couch with me to read a good book by the tree.
Here are a few titles coming out in December. Some of them haven’t been published yet, but what is more fun then preordering a book and knowing you will be one of the first to read it? Remember that our local retailers need you this year more than ever. So head to bookshop.org to get some of these new titles that promise to be keepers! They also offer gift cards if you just can’t choose ;-).
There’s no such thing as a perfect family. And it’s usually not wise to point that out.
Thriller, romance and fantasy, all rolled into one.
A debut thriller that asks one simple question, shouldn’t a dead husband stay dead?
On the lighter side
Quinn and Minnie share their day of birth, but their lives couldn’t be more different.
A dare and a crash course in flirting turn a frumpy college professor’s life upside down.
An anxiety-ridden introvert finds herself in the spotlight and decides to fake it til she makes it.
Different times and places
Stunning debut explores Afghanistan on the eve of a violent revolution.
A story of survival, loss and love, and the sisters who changed fashion forever.
A poor girl with dreams grows up in the shadow of Biltmore House, the palatial Vanderbilt mansion.
Here we go, headed into the making-est time of the year! And even though the 2020 Holiday Season may not offer the exact same opportunities for celebration as previous years, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick and choose some favorite parts! Maybe you just want to experiment with new foods or you want to get back into crafting, this feels like a good time to change things up.
The early 1950’s in Wooster, Ohio is the setting for this debut novel. Vivian Dalton is a switchboard operator who has a penchant for eavesdropping on telephone conversations. The operators are not supposed to listen in on conversations, but they all do. When a rumor about Vivian’s husband is discussed over the phone lines, it’s not fun anymore. Vivian needs to find out who is spreading the rumor and if there is any truth to it. Vivian does not confront her husband initially but attempts to discover the truth on her own. Has she been living a lie?
My grandmother and great aunt were both switchboard operators in McHenry County, North Dakota during the early 1920’s. I wonder if they passed their workdays eavesdropping too. I never thought to ask.
Regular readers will remember that I have already shared all of my 5-star YA reads of 2020. It’s now time to start sharing some of my 4-star recommendations.
American Panda by Gloria Chao. Seventeen year old Mei is a pre-med at MIT. Her whole life is already mapped out-become a doctor, marry a parents-approved, successful, Taiwanese guy with an Ivy League degree, and have babies. It’s the least she can do for her parents who have sacrificed everything for her and who have already been betrayed by her older brother. There are a couple of problems with this plan. She is a germaphobe. She loves to dance. Darren is not Taiwanese. This is a funny and heartfelt coming of age story about a young woman stuck between two cultures. It’s also about first love and family secrets and following your passions, all things teens of any ethnicity can relate to. A solid 4-star read.
All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban. What happens when the scholarship dinner you’ve been invited to turns out to be a trap? This debut thriller reads like an Agatha Christie novel. The class valedictorian, the popular girl, the music geek, the stoner, the loner, and the star athlete all think they are being honored with a scholarship. Instead, they are locked in a room with a bomb, a syringe of poison, and a note that tells them to pick a person to die or they all die. The clock is ticking. This is an edge of your seat read that literally takes place over the course of an hour. Will they panic? Escape? Kill someone? This is a wild ride from a new voice in YA thrillers.
One of Us is Nextby Karen McManus. Speaking of thrillers…If you aren’t reading Karen McManus, go do it now. This is the sequel to her hit One of Us is Lying. It’s been a year since the incidents at Bayview High and there is a new game circulating- Truth or Dare and this version is dark and dangerous. This is another strong addition to the YA thriller genre. I am definitely a fan of the author and look forward to more great reads by her.
Deadly Little Secrets by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Here’s another thriller and a sequel. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lynn Barnes and will read anything she writes. This one picks up whereLittle White Lies leaves off. If you like southern charm and wicked family secrets and secret societies, you really need to read the Debutantes series. What I love about all of Barnes’ books is that there is plenty of humor to cut through the tension of her rather dark tales.
The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black. This one is actually the final book in the Folk of the Air trilogy. You’ll want to start with The Cruel Prince, followed by The Wicked King. I always think I do not enjoy stories about the fae, and yet, any time I decide to read one, I like it, so I guess I am wrong about myself! Holly Black knows her stuff. She is the queen of the fairy tale and she returns to her fairy roots with this brutal and twisty trilogy. It’s full of magic and betrayal and the ending is fantastic. Highly recommend.
The official Rocky River Public Library summer reading season has come to an end, but, of course, summer reading continues! Many of you participated this year, though our format required some flexibility on your part – and we really appreciate it! Winners will be announced soon – stay tuned!
In the meantime, what have you been reading? Do you feel like it’s hard to focus on reading in the pandemic or just the opposite? I started this pandemic out poorly – I just couldn’t concentrate – but then slowly, a few books caught my attention and hit the sweet spot of what I needed to read.
Back to Optic Nerve. First off, this book is not a plot driven story; it’s a series of reflective vignettes that center around a piece of art, a painting, a drawing, etc. The author is an art critic, and so is the narrator, so I’m sure there are biographical influences – each chapter she talks about a piece of art that moves her – and the artist’s life – and weaves it through something happening in her life. Some of the artists are well-known, but the works of art are not, because they’re generally in museums in Buenos Aires. I loved her writing, her reflections; someone describes it as ‘deeply felt’ – yes – it’s just one of those books.
I also just finished reading Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – I read it in one day, it’s that engaging. The story of two middle-aged Irish gangsters, waiting in a Spanish port for the next boat from Tangier – doesn’t sound too thrilling, I know. But their conversations in their Cork accent, their flashbacks, their relationship – comic, but deeply sad as well.
What’s next? – well, I just started listening to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – it’s about the death of Shakespeare’s 11 year old son during the plague – sounds timely. And I’m hoping to read some galleys of books coming out this Fall – I’ve got Jess Walter’s The Cold Millions on my iPad. I loved his book TheBeautiful Ruins, and I’m hearing great things about this one as well.
Quarantine or no, summer is here. The sound of lawnmowers, and the smell of barbecue fills the air. Some people associate reading a good book with the winter months- cozied up in front of the fire. But my best memories of reading are being outside, in the shady grass or on a blanket by the pool. After our months of being quarantined indoors, it’s finally time to spread our wings (safely and distantly) to the outdoors. No need to feel guilty about not cleaning the house and reading a book instead–you are spending time outside! How many times did your mom tell you to do just that?! Here’s a list of June titles to enjoy while you appreciate the space and freedom of a summer day.
I’ve had a tough time this past week finding joy in my recent book and TV choices. I only have myself to blame for watching Hunters–an Amazon series that actually landed on my radar because it is controversial. Al Pacino stars as a Holocaust survivor with many secrets–among them is that he heads up a group of New Yorkers in the 1970s, who run around murdering Nazis, Tarantino-style. Though slick, violent and action-packed, the usual recipe for a winning hit, I found that this show, which is in hot water after being accused of revising history and exploitation, was just not for me. Have you seen it? Agree? Disagree?
I read The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons, a first novel that is touted as a “love affair between the living and the dead,” and I wanted to love it. The premise: Thomas is a recently dead man who is sent back to live for an extra three months because of an angel’s clerical error. He begins a relationship with Rachel, a living woman who feels unable to make fulfilling connections with others. It was quirky, sexy and original and I rushed to the end, but I ultimately found the star-crossed lovers’ relationship to be codependent and toxic. I’ll try Bonnaffons again, but no, for me, this one wasn’t true love.
Maybe these bold and unusual choices would have dazzled me in different circumstances, but right now I’m craving light. This morning I looked for new visitors at our bird feeder, noticing a smaller woodpecker I’ve never seen before, the mallard duck couple who visit here early in the mornings, and the many new flowers springing up around the yard. I am restored.
Take care of yourself, wash hands, read and repeat.