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Well another year is coming to and end, and like last year I’m not going to be all that sad to see this one go. It’s been a struggle for many and my family also had its share of challenges this year. On a happier note, life moved just a little bit closer to normal for many of us thanks to the vaccine, and personally, I did get to retire earlier than planned. That has been a very good thing, gifting me more time to spend with friends and family and more time to enjoy my favorite pass time, books. Here’s hoping everyone has a very happy, very healthy 2022!
In December, most of the books I read will publish in 2022 and I’ll be sharing those next year. Today, I have my last four 2021 books for you!
The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale (debut)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Length: 304 pages
My Thoughts: Debut novelists have been on fire in 2021! I’d just put together 𝘔𝘺 𝘍𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘋𝘦𝘣𝘶𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝟸𝟶𝟸𝟷, and then read yet 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 fabulous debut, 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐁𝐀𝐋𝐋𝐄𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐀𝐒 by Rachel Kapelke-Dale. Like lots of books that work for me, this is a mashup of several things I tend to appreciate in a good story: a little suspense, long-standing female friendships, a dual timeline, and as a bonus, this one is set in Paris! The story features three ballerinas, Delphine, Lindsay and Margaux, who were classically trained at the Paris Opera Ballet school, and then went on to become members of the corps. Delphine’s mother was a star of the ballet, so she had a lot to live up to, and never truly felt she could. Fourteen years earlier, she’d fled to Russia where she began to take on choreography.
At the heart of the story is Delphine’s return to POB and what it does to the delicate balance that the three women’s friendship has become. As she reenters their world past traumas are stirred and new ones develop. Through it all, I most enjoyed being enmeshed in the world of ballet (wow, so complicated, so painful, so hard), and watching the trio try to build back their friendship, despite much working against them. This was a really lovely, well-paced story that I fear might be too often overlooked with its publication coming amongst the hubbub of the holiday season. Don’t miss it! Grade: B+
Note: My thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Length: 336 pages
My Thoughts: I recently listened to BRIGHT BURNING THINGS by Lisa Harding, and wow! Everyone who listens to audiobooks knows that the narrator can make a book shine. Most of us also get a little nervous when the author is the narrator, as they too often sound stiff and lack the right emotions. Not so with Lisa Harding. Her narration was frenzied, passionate, and pretty much amazing.
Hers is an intense story of Sonya, a young woman who once was an actress, but whose life has been in a downward spiral for a long time. She has a 4-year old son who she adores, but the care she gives him is abysmal because she has a competing love…alcohol. Sonya can down three bottles of wine a night, she blacks out, she forgets to buy food, she scares little Tommy. She’s pushed everyone else out of her world. Everyday she vows she’ll stop, but by the evening the lure is too great. Throughout Bright Burning Things, the reader follows Sonya’s manic journey as she strives to get a handle on her life and become the mother she needs to be for Tommy.
I’m not sure if I’d have enjoyed this book as much in print because I can’t imagine my reading could have brought the energy and mania to Harding’s words in the brilliant way she did narrating. It’s what brought the book to life for me. I cringed, I smiled, I cheered, all for Sonya as she opened her world to the listener. Grade: B+
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Length: 336 pages
My Thoughts: I recently finished listening to 𝐇𝐎𝗪 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝗪𝐎𝐑𝐃 𝐈𝐒 𝐏𝐀𝐒𝐒𝐄𝐃 by Clint Smith. It’s subtitle, 𝘈 𝘙𝘦𝘤𝘬𝘰𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘚𝘭𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘈𝘤𝘳𝘰𝘴𝘴 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢, gives you a better idea of what this book is about, but even that isn’t enough. In it, Smith takes you to seven different locations and shows you how deeply that place is tied to slavery, and how profoundly slavery itself has shaped this country’s history. He visits places like the Monticello and Whitney Plantations, Angola Prison, NYC, and Gorée Island in Senegal. He talks to tour guides, professors, and everyday people in getting to the heart of what these places mean to people of color, and should mean to all of us.
Smith narrates the audiobook himself and he did a wonderful job, sharing so much I didn’t know or didn’t fully understand. I found the epilogue particularly resonating.
“𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘭𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘜𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘚𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘴. 𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘱𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘵𝘰 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨; 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘭 𝘵𝘰 𝘪𝘵. 𝘐𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘪𝘳𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘵𝘺; 𝘪𝘵 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘵. 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘰𝘪𝘭, 𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘱𝘰𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘴, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘵 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵, 𝘵𝘰𝘰, 𝘣𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴…𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘦𝘯𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘰 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘢 𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘤𝘩𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘪𝘵. 𝘐𝘵 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦 𝘢 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘦 𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘢𝘷𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘰 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘭𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘩𝘰𝘸 𝘪𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘸𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘰𝘥𝘢𝘺.”
If you’re short on time, 𝘏𝘰𝘸 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘐𝘴 𝘗𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘥 is a perfect book to read here and there, a chapter at a time. It’s what I did and that made Smith’s journey even more powerful, giving myself time to absorb the lessons from each place. Grade: B+
Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: October 12, 2021
Length: 304 pages
My Thoughts: I ended up listening to 𝐂𝐀𝐏𝐎𝐓𝐄’𝐒 𝗪𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐍 by Laurence Leamer and the entire time I was reminded of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘍𝘪𝘧𝘵𝘩 𝘈𝘷𝘦𝘯𝘶𝘦 by Melanie Benjamin. Hers was a fictional account of Truman Capote and his relationship with the rich, powerful women he called his “swans,” while Leamer’s book is the true stories of the lives of these women and that of Capote, himself. Of course, the nonfiction is much darker, more detailed, and in that sadder.
The women that surrounded Capote for much of his life, Babe Paley, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C.Z. Guest, Lee Raziwill, and others, lived incredible lives. Theirs was a different era with a whole different set of rules and expectations for beautiful, powerful women. The hunt for wealthy husbands, affairs, divorces, travel, palatial homes and scandal were all commonplace for the swans. Capote, a writer of note, but also one who struggled to produce, was a beloved friend to his swans, but he also was not above betrayal. Having loved 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘍𝘪𝘧𝘵𝘩 𝘈𝘷𝘦𝘯𝘶𝘦, I also enjoyed much of 𝘊𝘢𝘱𝘰𝘵𝘦’𝘴 𝘞𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘯, though I will admit the similarities of the women’s lives at times began to blur together. If you were a fan of Benjamin’s book, I’d recommend diving into the real swans! Grade: C+
Note: My thanks to Putnam Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
What great books have I missed this year?
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