Books Read: December 2021

Phew, the year is over, and my gut tells me I read more in 2021 than I’ve ever read. I could count up the books, but the number doesn’t really matter to me and I’m feeling lazy this last week of the year. I’ve sprinkled in more nonfiction for sure, read more romance as well. The books that stay with me are books either about a dystopian future that people are still finding their way through with some goodness in it, or books about families, particularly found families that lift people up during the trials of day-to-day life. Here’s to a lot of reading in 2022, finding the right books at the right time to help me through whatever the year brings my way.

The Splendid and the Vile

The subtitle of this book is “A Story of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” and that’s an apt way to put it. I’d never read any of Erik Larson’s work before, but he’s one of those people with the gift of writing history as a novel, I tore through this one. Larson uses two primary sources more than any other throughout telling the story of Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister, the diaries of one of his private secretaries, John Colville, and those of his daughter Mary. Those two first hand accounts, along with other sources, bring the story to life in an amazing way. I really enjoyed this one and will probably read another of his books soon.

When We Cease to Understand the World

I’m fairly certain I found this book via one of Obama’s book lists, but maybe not? I really didn’t know much about it, then I saw it on the New York Times best 10 books of 2021, so figured it would be pretty good. It’s an interesting fiction book that uses real historical characters to talk about the inventions and work that changed our world. Each chapter is a different work and some, according to the acknowledgements, are more fictionalized than others. I found it an interesting look at what the various theories did to their creators as well as the world and I’m still thinking about it, which is always the sign of a good book.

…[T]he sudden realization that it was mathematics—not nuclear weapons, computers, biological warfare or our climate Armageddon—which was changing our world to the point where, in a couple of decades at most, we would simply not be able to grasp what being human really meant. Not that we ever did, he said, but things are getting worse. We can pull atoms apart, peer back at the first light and predict the end of the universe with just a handful of equations, squiggly lines and arcane symbols that normal people cannot fathom, even though they hold sway over their lives. (pp 186-187)

Act Your Age, Eve Brown

A romance to chase the doom and gloom of never being able to understand the world, why not? I didn’t love this one, but did finish it because I was intrigued. I find the trope of the rich girl with a lot of insecurities to be a bit old at times, but the fact that this romance highlighted autism was very unexpected. It’s light and fun and was a good diversion from the world.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Poirot is Poirot until the end, pushing Hastings to figure out the case, make the connections, and see what’s really happening. As the two old friend reunite in the house where they first met so many years before, Poirot is sick, but insists there will a murder in the coming days and Hastings must help him figure it out. And as the title points out, it’s his final case to solve. A fitting ending for a wonderful character.

Binti: Home

The second in the triology, Binti has settled into school but is now traveling home to do the pilgrimage all the women of her people do when they come of age. She’s nervous and scared and traveling with her friend who is hated by the majority people in her area of Earth. But even more than that, Binti learns more about where she truly comes from and what that means. This is such a great series and the second book adds on even more depth.

Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

A light hearted romance about two people who become friends and are determined not to date each other and instead set each other up with people they meet. The series of double dates don’t go well and, as expected, the two start to have feelings for each other. What I liked most about this book is how Hazel feels so truly comfortable to be herself with Josh, while others find her difficult or embarressing. Reminds me of how I feel with my partner, to be honest. My only nit with this book is that it takes place in Portland, OR and the authors get some details very wrong.

In the Garden of Beasts

It’s 1933 and a new ambassador to Germany is appointed by FDR, William Dodd. He moves to Berlin with his entire family, which includes his two grown children Martha and Bill Jr. And hekeeps a diary, as does his daughter, of the events they witness over that year and what they see happening as Hitler solidifies power. Erik Larson has written a fantastic book that is also quite frightening when you read it as a bit of a view into what can happen, given the times we’re currently living in. It’s a time where Hitler and his close advisors are starting to test the limits, what can they get away with and what will push other countries to rebuke them. Unfortunately, as Dodd sees and understands, there are no consequences for Hitler’s actions and so he continues to act in despicable ways. There’s a lesson here for our current times, when you allow people to get away with it, when there is no punishment for authoritarian tendencies, they will only push further.

Binti: The Night Masquerade

The final book in the Binti triology was the best of the series, where Binti continues to come into who she is while at the same time balancing the forces of the world in which she lives. The book picks up right where the last one left off and we find Binti struggling to figure out how to maintain the peace she helped broker in the first book. But also Binti starts to figure out that who she truly is and she’s amazing.

Deep down a tiny, tiny voice in me had wondered if something were wrong with me, if my spirit was that of a man’s, not a woman’s, because the Night Masquerade never showed itself to girls or women. Even back then I had changed things, and I didn’t even know it. When I should have reveled in this gift, instead, I’d seen myself as broken. But couldn’t you be broken and still bring change? (p 149)

The Rose Code

Another Kate Quinn novel, this time centered on Bletchley Park and the codebreakers that worked there throughout World War II. Of course, throughout the book real life people come and go, Alan Turing, Winston Churchill, Prince Philip, but the book focuses on three women, all of whom are trying to attain some goal via their work. Mab who desperately wants to rise out of the poverty she was born into. Osla who’s looking to be taken seriously and as more than a “silly deb.” And Beth who everyone thought was slow but who’s brain works differently and ends up being brilliant at the work they do at Blethchley. I flew through this one, it’s well paced and the story itself is intriguing, I wasn’t quite sure where it would end up, a sign of a good story.

Meditations from the Mat

This is a book I read over the course of the entire year, reading each day’s small meditation before I did my asana yoga. Rolf Gates goes through the philosophy of yoga throughout the year, taking you through the eight limbs, pranayama, and meditation in a way that was easy to digest and I found so helpful. I especially enjoyed his pranayama section as I’ve been getting more and more into breathwork this year.