My Six Favorite Book Club Books of 2022
Book club love!
These are my favorite book club reads from the past year.
We also read Betty, We Are Not Like Them, All Her Little Secrets, Cultish, Beautiful Country, and These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. I haven't read that last one yet, and it could turn this list upside down, because I do love me some Ann Patchett!
01 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.
If you like books set in the unforgiving cold, you might also like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Books with Cold, Wintry Settings to Read by the Fire.
For my full review of this book, see The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven.
02 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.
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.
The boys and the members of their entourage each fight to tie up loose ends in their lives, explore new paths they might take, and learn about themselves.
Click here for my full review of The Lincoln Highway.
03 The Maid by Nita Prose
Nita Prose offers a surprising amount of heart and a unique main protagonist in this lighthearted murder mystery, her debut novel.
In Nita Prose's novel The Maid, main protagonist Molly finds a hotel guest dead in his room, and her access to the room, her eccentric manner, and other's manipulations of her innocent vulnerability may mean that she's the prime suspect.
Prose has built an interesting premise with Molly as an unreliable main protagonist. She's naive, she struggles with social cues and unplanned interactions, her way of speaking is formal, and her habits are rigid and inflexible.
While Molly herself frequently misses the implications of the details she meticulously observes, the reader sees the truth of the various circumstances she witnesses.
I was concerned that Molly's unique set of idiosyncrasies might be too central of a plot point in that it might allow for too-easy deception, and that seeing others take advantage of her innocence would make for nerve-racking, uncomfortable reading.
But Prose offers some surprises, and Molly seems more than capable of extricating herself from suspicion by using the many personal qualities that have led others to underestimate her. The shifts in point of view and the revelations that were made possible by the bit-by-bit unveiling of information were intriguing.
For my full review, see The Maid.
04 Doctors and Friends by Kimmery Martin
Through various doctors' and medical experts' points of view, Martin paints a picture of a worldwide pandemic, crises and impossible situations, and powerful, sustaining friendships.
Kimmery Martin's Doctors and Friends begins with a group of seven women, friends since medical school, reuniting in Spain.
But as they catch up on each other's careers and personal lives, explore, eat, drink, and celebrate, a global pandemic begins to take shape.
I was hooked on the medical details and the behind-the-scenes medical experiences of the experts. The various ways Martin made the pandemic feel personal to the story--as with the account of Patient Zero's experience and his two degrees of separation from the main characters--added to the urgent feeling.
Doctors and Friends was written before the Covid-19 pandemic and published in the fall of 2021. In her author's note, Martin explains her extensive research into pandemics, and clarifies that her experiences with the real-life pandemic shaped only minor edits to her story (for example, she added Zoom as a meeting structure).
For my full review, check out Doctors and Friends.
05 Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams
Williams's historical fiction mystery--based on real-life double agents in the Cambridge Spy Ring--is vividly set in Europe and Russia and was a rare five-star read for me.
In Beatriz Williams's historical fiction, Our Woman in Moscow it's 1948 and Iris Digby, her American diplomat husband Sasha, and their two children have disappeared overnight.
Those who knew and worked with them are shocked. Were the Digbys abducted by Soviet agents...or did they make their way by choice behind the Iron Curtain with a suitcase of American secrets to trade?
The mystery skips back and forth in time, and four years later, Iris's twin sister Ruth finally receives a postcard from her estranged sister. Ruth is soon on her way to Russia to try to extricate Iris from danger--but the truth about Iris's marriage and past is more complicated and fraught than Ruth could have imagined.
I loved this. Every heart-stopping moment; every exquisite detail; the characters' growth, emotional distance, and unforeseen connections to each other; the trick of teasing out what was actually happening; the characterization; the machinations--all of it. onderful lights in the (significant) darkness here.
Click here for my full review of Our Woman in Moscow.
06 Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land was a complex, heartbreaking, hope-filled, surprising, fascinating read.
Young Anna lives in fifteenth-century Constantinople with her sickly sister, frustrated with endlessly stitching priests' robes--and secretly learning to read stories from the past.
In twentieth-century Idaho, Zeno has lived a long life filled with yearning, war, and unexpected late-in-life academic satisfaction. He is directing a precious group of children in a farcical, heartbreaking play based on the stories Anna read five centuries earlier.
And far in the future, Konstance is in a vault on the spaceship Argos, destined for a distant planet. She largely lives in a vivid virtual world but leaves to scribble scraps of information about the same ancient stories that touched the lives of Anna and Zeno.
The stories in Cloud Cuckoo Land (which is the name of the book-within-a-book) connect these characters across space and time.
Doerr's characters persist, each in their own way, in trying to make a positive mark on the world and in preserving what is precious to them--and what they imagine will be important to future generations. Even when all hope should be lost, each character in its own way continues to press on. "But what's so beautiful about a fool...," the text says at one point, "is that a fool never knows when to give up."
Cloud Cuckoo Land was consistently beautiful, always interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Check out my full review of Cloud Cuckoo Land here.