December Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from December!
It's that time of year: it seems everyone has an opinion about the year's best books and their personal favorites, and they offer their own lists in all kinds of configurations. Because I love a list and I love books, this era of List Mania is my sweet spot!
My own Favorite Books of 2021 comes out on December 31. But let's take a look at some great books I read this month, shall we?
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci
The author shares his love of food, cooking, and sharing meals in this irresistible memoir that's also filled with joys and losses, humor, and an enthusiasm for life.
In this memoir, the charming, food-obsessed cookbook author and actor shares the stories behind his Italian-American culinary origins; his experiences starring in the food-focused movies Big Night and Julie and Julia; and varied food adventures from five-star meals to burned, inedible disasters.
In Taste, Tucci shares his enthusiasm for Italian food, cooking processes, and gustatory exploration, and he revels in what feels like an almost sacred communal sharing of food. I loved listening to audiobook version as his soothing voice extolled the virtues of dishes that were familiar to me and many that were not-.
But Taste is also a memoir. The author shares stories of his wife and children, his first wife and her untimely death, and his own health crisis of cancer, which affected his digestion, ability to chew, and his taste--at the time, he was unsure how long-term the effects would be. Food is interwoven through all of these shared stories, and it always feels natural, never a forced construct for the sake of the book.
02 The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathanial Ian Miller
"I’d long since learned that if you plan to survive in the Arctic, you must choose one of two paths: emulate the bear...by holding fast to yourself as the last reliable chunk of ice.... Or choose the fox instead: ...learn fast. Dig a hole and cling tightly to those who can stand you."
It's 1916, and Sven Ormson has left the bustle of his life in Stockholm for solitude and quiet in the Arctic. In his self-banishment in remote Svalbard, his only company is the haunting, beautiful Northern Lights.
Letters from family and friends get him through multiple winters--until an unexpected visitor changes everything, opens up Sven's world, and shows him a life and a future he could never have imagined or hoped for.
The pacing of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is measured, as befits a story that is largely about daily life in the unforgiving, brutal cold and wild. There's a minor, secondhand, yet powerful focus on the brutality and destruction of war, but also significant attention to unspoken bonds, deep and unorthodox friendships, makeshift families, legendary dogs, and strong emotional ties to nature and the rhythms of the seasons.
Click here for my full review of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven.
03 Pretty Funny for a Girl by Rebecca Elliott
Elliott's book for young readers offers a boy-crazy, truly funny main protagonist in Haylah Swinton. I delighted in watching her come into her own, missteps and victories included.
In her novel from my favorite publishing company for young people, Peachtree Publishing, Rebecca Elliott offers an irresistible heroine in Haylah Swinton.
Haylah is an excellent friend, she's patient with her incredibly frustrating four-year-old brother, and she's learned to make light of everything from cracks about her full figure to her mother's cringey new boyfriend. Haylah also has a big secret: she's going to be a stand-up comedian when she grows up.
When cool Leo at school reveals that he's into comedy too, Haylah jumps at the chance to write material for his sets--and, against her friends' advice, she sets her sights on him romantically as well. The situation seems destined to lead to personal and career frustration for Haylah--and maybe even heartbreak.
Elliott offers a fantastic, boy-crazy, British story about missteps, facing change, accepting the past, sticking up for one's self, finding inner strength, and settling into an identity. It's also truly funny, and I can't wait to read the next book.
I received an advance digital copy of this book courtesy of Peachtree Publishing and NetGalley. Click here for my full review of Pretty Funny for a Girl.
04 The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
As the young men in The Lincoln Highway face challenge after challenge, they grow, learn, and fight for resolutions to difficult situations.
“...those who are given something of value without having to earn it are bound to squander it.”
It's June 1954, and eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson has just served fifteen months on a juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. The family farm in Nebraska has been foreclosed upon, his mother is gone, and his father has recently died. Emmett's planning to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billy and head west to start a new life.
But when the warden drops him off at home, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm hitched a ride in the trunk, and they're set on having the group of boys light out for New York City instead.
Towles crafts a solid historical fiction adventure for his young-men protagonists, balancing weighty consequences and satisfying resolutions.
For my full review of The Lincoln Highway, click here.
05 Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
I'm all in for the Cormoran Strike series. The slow build and complex details build to satisfying resolutions and keep me hooked despite grisly crimes and details.
In the fifth installment of the mystery series by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling's pen name), grumpy Cormoran Strike is visiting his ill aunt when he's approached on the streets of Cornwall. A woman recognizes him and impulsively spills the story of her mother Margot Bamborough's mysterious disappearance--back in 1974.
Strike, Robin, and their quirky, imperfect, sometimes insufferable investigator employees have enough surveillance work to keep them busy, but Strike can't shake the story of Margot, her potential link to a famous serial killer, and all the ways the original investigation seems to have gone wrong.
Troubled Blood explores issues of identity, the strength of a person's nature as compared to experiences that may shape their behavior, and the power of assumptions.
As always in the world of Cormoran Strike, the details of the crime are often grisly and disturbing. I didn't anticipate the details of the denouement, and I enjoyed Robin's and Strike's smart discoveries as well as the hints at what's to come.
For my full review, check out Troubled Blood.
06 The Distance from Four Points by Margo Orlando Littell
Littell explores deep human connections, grief, womanhood, what strength means, the power of origins, and the concept of home in this slim novel.
Robin Besher's husband has died, and she's desperately trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
But she's soon faced with issues beyond missing him: he had secretly sunk all of their savings into ramshackle rental houses in her Appalachian hometown, which she'd fled decades earlier. She has no clue as to what his intentions were, or why he would go against what he must have known she would have wanted.
Angry, confused, and filled with dread, Robin drags her daughter Haley back to Four Points in hopes of renovating the houses quickly, selling them, and cutting ties to the town forever.
But Robin unexpectedly and inadvertently connects to the unlikeliest of people in the town, some of whom were part of her dark, frequently pain-filled youth. In The Distance from Four Points, Littell explores deep human connections, grief, womanhood, what strength means, the power of origins, and the concept of home.
For my full review, check out The Distance from Four Points.