In My Library Tote: December Book Reviews and Recommendations

With my enthusiasm for all things fresh and new in January, it feels a little weird to go back and talk about something I did in December. Yet December was a great reading month for me, so there's no way I'm going to skip my reading recap for last month. I gave myself a word for the holiday season: "slow," and reading became a part of how I slowed down and enjoyed the season.

{What I read in December}

{The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller} Ahh, this book was the equivalent to a cup of hot chocolate and a piece of pie, in book form. I don't usually reach for books on the lighter, fluffier end of the spectrum--for whatever reason I lean towards more dark and serious books--but this was wonderful. Pastry Chef Olivia Rawlings leaves her job at a posh Boston hotel after literally setting the place on fire. She escapes to a small Vermont town and reluctantly takes a job at an inn, whose owner is on a mission to re-establish her blue ribbon status in a pie contest. The cover description sounded a bit cheesy, but it wasn't at all. The characters were well written and complex, and I ended up caring so deeply for just about all of them. What a fantastic book. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates} I'm taking a sharp turn after City Baker's Guide--Between the World and Me is a far more serious, important book that I can't call heartwarming. However, Coates' letter to his teenaged son also sucked me in, and opened my eyes to things I wouldn't have otherwise known about growing up as a white woman. He offers a look into what it's like to be black in America, and he talks specifically about the exploitation of black bodies, both in history and in everyday life today. I love that Coates chose to write this as a letter to his son, because it gave intimacy to a topic that can otherwise feel distant to me as someone whose experience has been very different. I can relate to a parent-child bond, and that thread woven throughout made Coates' words feel even more powerful and important. I agree so many people who have said this should be required reading for all Americans. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{Dumplin' by Julie Murphy} This is one that's been on my TBR for a long time, and I'm so glad I finally got to it in December, especially since both the sequel and the Netflix movie are now out (I hope to get to both soon!). It's the story of Willowdean Dixon, nicknamed Dumplin' by her former beauty queen mom. Willowdean has always felt comfortable in her skin, but when she starts getting attention from a certain boy she works with, insecurity starts to creep in. She tries to fight those feelings, and decides to enter the same pageant her mom won, and now runs, to prove to herself as much as anything that beauty doesn't have to fit a certain mold. Willowdean was such a well-written character, and this story went beyond what I had initially predicted about a beauty pageant and what happens when someone challenges society's standards of beauty. Yes, there was that, but so much more: friendship, mother-daughter relationships, coming of age, and grief and loss. And Dolly Parton! This was so good. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Kathreine Arden} Alexandra recommended this book, and at first I didn't think it would be for me. However, when I saw it as a Kindle deal last month I grabbed it because it sounded like a good one to snuggle up with on a cold day. I'm glad I ventured outside my usual genres; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one and struggled to put it down. It has fantasy and fairytale elements, neither of which I'm typically drawn to, but the story is compelling and well told. And yes, perfect for winter. I hope to read the second book in the series sometime in the next few months. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections by Madeleine L'Engle} I started this book last year because I wanted to read something that would work well to read a little bit every day. I was familiar with Madeleine L'Engle because of A Wrinkle in Time, and also because she was one of my grandmother's favorite writers. I heard good things about her essays, and wanted to pick this book up, which shares an excerpt of her writing for every day of the year. I didn't love the days that shared pieces from her fiction books, but I did love her own reflections. I'd love to read more of her nonfiction work. My rating: 3/5 stars.  

{True Places by Sonja Yoerg} This was my Kindle First Reads pick for December, about a woman who has a chance encounter with a young girl who has spent her entire life living in the woods. She is in need of medical attention, so she takes her to the hospital and ends up taking her into her home to live with her husband and two teenage children. Things don't go smoothly. This one reminded me of a mix between Kristin Hannah's Magic Hour and Liane Moriarty, but unfortunately her writing didn't grip me the way those authors typically do. The premise really drew me in, but I thought it was just okay. My rating: 3/5 stars.

{Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers} I came across this book on my Book Lover's daily calendar last year and since it was available on audio I listened to it. I think that may have been a mistake, because I had a hard time getting into it. I thought of abandoning it a couple of times, but then I'd listen to a beautifully-worded passage and reconsider. I'm learning that I need a more plot-driven story, or a memoir, for audio I think. The story is about a woman who leaves her dental practice after being sued, and travels to Alaska with her two children. I thought it would read more like an adventure, instead it felt very contemplative. I think I would have enjoyed the physical book more, but I'm still not sure it would be for me. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

{Lies by T.M. Logan} Joe Lynch is a teacher, a father, and a devoted husband, but one day his whole life changes when he sees his wife's car in a hotel parking garage. Curious, he follows her in and sees her having an argument with her best friend's husband. That moment is the turning point in his life, and from that day forward Joe learns that nothing in his life is the way it seems. I also listened to this on audio, and it felt long. It was definitely plot-driven, but I feel like it was a slow drive. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

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