December Wrap-Up // 2021

I LOVE that I finished the year with some incredible books! It really helped the sour taste I’ve had in mouth lately in regards to reading and it energizes me for the New Year! I read some really great books this month and had four books fighting for the top honor of my favorite book of the month (Honor, The Family, and The Sweetness of Water, and God Spare the Girls, and Didn’t We Almost Have It All?).

I hope you year closed out as well as mine did!

Cheers to the New Year!

December By the Numbers:

  • Total Books Read: 14
  • Audiobooks: 1
  • Five Star Reads: 4
  • Goodreads Shelf: 135/125 (108%)
  • Unread Shelf: 9/12 (75%)
  • Nonfiction Challenge: 9/12
  • Books by BIPOC Authors: 4 (29%)
  • By Women Authors: 9 (64%)
  • Diverse Books: 5 (36%)
  • Nonfiction Reads:  4 (29%)
  • Debuts: 5 (36%)
  • Published in 2021: 9 (64%)

Favorite Book of the Month:

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

With all the intense focus on American race relations the past couple of years, it can be hard to look outside our bubble and see the ways other countries also handle these same issues. Be it division because of race, gender, or religion, there is discontent throughout the world. In Honor, Umrigar explores the consequences of the cultural clash between Muslims and Hindus that has plagued India for generations. Through Smita’s journalistic lens, Umrigar examined Indian culture, the concepts of honor and sacrifice, and, ultimately, love in all its forms: relational, familial, cultural, and unconditional. This book is a love letter to India – to all the ways she is beautiful and resilient, and also all the ways she is cruel and unkind. Truly though, this is message to all of humankind, reminding us that we can be soft and hard, kind and cruel, happy and sad, all at the same time. (Publishes January 4, 2022.)

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Family by Naomi Krupitsky – This is a book about dichotomies – the good and bad times, the happy and sad moments, the highs and lows of life. No matter who we are, life is full of these contrasts, and what made this story so beautiful was the friendship between Sophia and Antonia at the heart of it all. Regardless of everything else happening around them, they were there for each other. Sometimes Sophia had to carry Antonia, and other times Antonia had to be the one to carry Sophia. I loved the Italian mob – the Family – that was also at the heart of the story and I loved the historical setting of New York City through the 1930s and the 1940s. This was a strong contender for my favorite book of the month!
  • The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris – This is a modern classic that belongs on the same shelves as Homegoing, The Prophets, and The Underground Railroad. The writing is sucked me right in and I cannot believe this is Harris’ debut. Beyond the foundations of the book, there is a total sense of place – Old Ox is still and muggy and oppressive, but also comforting, familiar, and home. Harris explores the time after the Civil War, when soldiers returned back home and Black people were freed. But what does that look like? How were the Black people treated? (Spoiler alert: not well.) This is a slow burn, but one I found myself not wanting to end. I purposely read it slow and with intent because it felt like it was the only way to do the story justice.
  • God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney – This was one of the books of 2021 I didn’t want to miss. My library hold came in and I devoured this debut in less than a day. It had all the things I love in a book – coming-of-age, religious deliberations, secrets, and lies. I would have preferred a less ambiguous ending – it kind of felt like the author gave up towards the end. I guess a lot felt unresolved and I would have liked that resolution. Overall, a strong first showing by McKinney!

Fictional Reads:

  • We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride & Jo Piazza – This one wasn’t on my TBR initially, but after hearing the authors on a few podcasts, I was not only fascinated by their writing process and wanted to see how that played out, I was also intrigued by the premise of the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the exploration of race and thought the authors handled many of the stereotypes quite well. I loved how they used their own personal biases in real life and explored them through the lens of their characters. Also, because the authors (and the characters) are each Black and white, it felt like the nuances of race relations could be examined more fully. This is a smart and timely look at America today – race, gun violence, and enduring friendship.
  • The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin – This book was everything I needed and more. It was on the list I made of 2021 Books I Missed, so when my library hold came in, I immediately began reading it. Lenni (1 17-year-old with terminal cancer) and Margot (an 83-year-old awaiting heart surgery) form a bond that is heartwarming, meaningful, and sweet. Through their friendship, life wisdom is departed and it left me feeling better for having read it.
  • The Opposite of Fate by Alison McGhee – This one has sat on my shelf for a few years, and I finally picked it up. It presents one of the hardest conundrums – a woman was brutally attacked and is in a coma in the hospital for sixteen months. She is also pregnant, so who gets to decide if the baby should be carried to term or aborted? And who should retain guardianship if the baby is kept? McGhee did a great job of presenting all sides of the dilemna and I got super attached to the story and the characters. This would really make for a lively book club discussion!
  • When I Ran Away by Ilona Bannister – One of the most honest accounts of what post-partum depression looks and feels like, When I Ran Away brought back quite a few of my own experiences after childbirth and those early years of becoming a mother.

Non-Fiction/Memoir Reads:

  • Didn’t We Almost Have It All: The Genius, Shame, and Audacity of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy – I picked this one up thinking it was a biography of Whitney Houston, but that’s not quite how I would categorize it. While there is certainly some background information about Houston, this is more of an examination of the culture surrounding her rise to fame. Kennedy’s in-depth essays about race, culture, and the music industry were thought-provoking and really made me think about the nuances behind stardom. Kennedy talks about a lot about 90s musicians – Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey – as well as Houston’s acting career. I really enjoyed the content of the book and will think about it for some time. (Publishes February 1, 2022.)
  • Voices from the Pandemic: Americans Tell Their Stories of Crisis, Courage and Resilience by Eli Saslow – Saslow spent 2020 interviewing people across the US about their experiences with COVID. Thirty of those interviews make up his book, and while we’re still in the pandemic, the voice he gives to people from all walks of life and from both sides of the political aisle is powerful. For years to come, people will be able to refer back to these stories to get a sense of what these last eighteen months have been like. Some may find it too soon, but I believe it’s necessary reading.
  • Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine – I usually hate essay collections, so I entered into this one kind of expecting to DNF and put in the donation pile. Instead I was quickly sucked in and really enjoyed Pine’s ruminations on topics like infertility, motherhood, divored parents, and several differing levels of trauma. It was open, honest, and vulnerable.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk – Ooof. What a book. I knew it was going to be dense and intense, but it was literally next level. Yes, it is incredibly valuable, but it was so tedious that I started skimming towards the end. I really loved the first half, but I was soon forcing myself to pick it up to finish.
  • Going There by Katie Couric – Katie Couric set the standard for women in broadcast journalism as she rose the ranks to becoming a household name everyone seemed to know and love. When she chose to leave the TODAY show, her influence became less obvious, though her book details it all from the beginning to her current status. I am impressed with her tenacity and trailblazing ways…but also? I’m bored. For someone who has interviewed and rubbed elbows with the most impressive people in the world, I had much higher expectations for her memoir where she promises the audience is going to get “the whole me”. Early reviews had already turned me off of this one, but I decided to give it a fair shot when it arrived in my book mail. It would have been better to let her mythical perception remain my sole interpretation of her because after reading this memoir, she falls kind of flat for me. I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve a place in journalism history, I just wanted more from this book. In my opinion, she came across catty at times and I could have done without her attempts at being funny with those awkward one-liners that came after every story she told. I’m probably breaking some Katie Couric stans’s hearts, but she lacks the relatability factor for me.

An Upcoming 2022 Release:

  • Perpetual West by Mesha Maren – I was a huge fan of Maren’s debut, Sugar Run, and was so excited to read this second novel by her. While there were some familiar things – the writing, the dark and gritty nature of the story, the attachment formed as you read – there was also something missing for me. I appreciated Maren’s commentary on Mexico through the eyes of Americans, I loved the lucha libre fighting part of the book, and I also thought the cross border culture was captivating and interesting. But as the story unfolded, I began to get lost in some of Maren’s tangeants – and I’m bummed because I’m sure there’s something there, it just didn’t make the connection for me in a way that I could relate it the overall reading experience. (Publishes January 25, 2022.)

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