Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Holiday Reading Recommendations 2021

I read a handful of 2021 holiday releases so you don't have to, and now will share my thoughts. While I realize Hanukkah is not "Jewish Christmas," there is one Hanukkah-themed romance of note that will be included below. There is something for everyone - romance, cozy mystery, cookbooks, and writings from the past!

After the new release list, I'll include a few more recommendations!


Amor, Actually: A Holiday Romance Anthology
by Adriana Herrera, Alexis Daria, Diana Muñoz Stewart, Mia Sosa, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol, Zoey Castile

This doesn't come out until December 7th, so I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but there are some authors I like on this list! 

Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season
by Sarah Kieffer

I am so excited for this cookbook! This is my first year having kids in my home and I have a long list of treats I want to make for and with them. The full-color illustrated step-by-step instructions really make this cookbook stellar, and I like the creativity in the recipes. I look at a lot of holiday cookbooks and could still find ideas to try in this one. The Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Challenge group in Instagram has been baking through this cookbook in Instagram for November and December so you can find a lot to look at there.

Christmas Past: An Anthology of Seasonal Stories from Nineteenth-Century America edited by Thomas Ruys Smith

This is for the scholars or those interested in historical readings from the era that Christmas really became popularized in English-speaking places, the Victorian era.

Mistletoe Christmas
by Eloisa James, Christi Caldwell, Janna MacGregror, and Erica Ridley

These four interlocking stories all take place during the same holiday revelry, in 1815, at the Duke of Greystone's palatial home. I got a little confused because I Googled him in case he was a character in one of these four romance writers' worlds but it's Tarzan? Bizarre.

One woman has been told she's unattractive her whole life and has accepted it (but maybe her father just wanted to control her?); one woman got tired of waiting for a fiance and ended an engagement, only to reconnect during the revelry; one woman rediscovers her husband of one year; one woman is 23 and destined to be an old maid forever.

Maybe it's the time period and I'm not used to it; maybe these characters have more fleshed out stories in other books, but for me, it's not enough for a man to want to kiss me for me to believe anything! These women jump to love/belief so quickly it's amazing it's not four stories of betrayal and cons. (I suppose we especially want to believe under the mistletoe...) 

Murder Most Festive: A Cozy Christmas Mystery
by Ada Moncrieff 

If you combined my two favorite British shows - Downton Abbey and Grantchester (until James Norton left) - you would have this rompy novel about a murder at a grand house. It is set later than those shows but still had those feelings, so I'd recommend it. And it looks like there may be previous books by this author with similar tone. 

The Santa Suit
by Mary Kay Andrews

This is a traditional romance with the storyline trope of a woman, freshly single, moving to a small (NC) town to restart her life. And as with most small town romances, there are quirky townspeople, blue-collar love interests, and a bit of holiday magic.

That's my shortlist. I read a few more romance and/or contemporary/women's fiction novels but can't really recommend them so I'll leave it here.

A few recommendations from previous years:

American Christmas and Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera - full disclosure I haven't read either of these but I've read other novellas by this author and love her characters!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Can't think of a better classic.

Dash and Lily series
The books and the tv series are super feel-good, YA but family-friendly, about two friends in a light romance involving bookishness and a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Home Made Christmas by Yvette van Boven
I made so many great dishes from this cookbook in 2018 and 2019!

If the Fates Allow by various
I found this collection of short stories, all very sweet and happy and featuring LGBTQ+ characters, in Hoopla. My favorites included a woman volunteering at an animal shelter and one featuring a matchmaker librarian!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: Beautiful World, Where Are You

Beautiful World, Where Are You Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started this book, I was so confused, I had to go back once I had a better handle on the characters. Chapters alternate between narration of events and emails about the same events, but it always takes a while to figure out which female character is writing, because, I'll say it, they sound so much the same. Probably not so much different from the author's own voice.

I liked the idea of friends staying connected with long, philosophical emails, like back in early email days or when everyone had a Livejournal. But in this case their forms of communication almost serve to isolate them from one another, to excuse their introversion, and this does lead to some pretty significant misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

There are two male characters as well, and while they are present on practically every page, they aren't the point of the novel, even if the women are always adjusting in relation to them.

I'm one of the people who loved Normal People and didn't care about all the people who hated it. Still I waited a good bit of time before reading this one so I could enjoy it in my own corner. But then I didn't really enjoy it that much. There are a lot of pieces here but not really a structured plot. Events happen but they aren't the central events of their lives, although we do get a hint of those. I also feel like Eileen reads like a variation of Marianne from Normal People. Marianne is actually more social!

Still, it's not often I find a book about friendship between people in their 30s and 40s and at least that's part of it. There is also an epilogue of sorts that places the characters during the pandemic. As with most epilogues, was that needed?

I will not speculate on how I think this will do in the Tournament or Books (it's on the long list.)

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Reading Envy 234: Punctuation Marks with Nadine

Jenny and Nadine reconvene to talk about reasons not to set reading goals, look back on the year, and discuss which books we've read and enjoyed lately.

Download or listen via this link:
Reading Envy 234: Punctuation Marks

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Books discussed:

book covers of the five books discussed plus reading envy logo

Mr. Eternity by Aaron Their
Mud Sweeter than Honey: Voices of Communist Albania by Margo Rejner; translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
History in Pieces (short story) by Beth Goder
Em by Kim Thuy
Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan, translated by Lisa C. Hayden

Other mentions:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne
Svetlana Alexievich
The Punctuation Factory by Beth Goder (short story. behind paywalll)
How to Say I Love You w/ Wikipedia by Beth Goder (short story)
Ru by Kim Thuy
The Space between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Unfollow Me: Essays on Complicity by Jill Louise Busby
The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Related episodes: 

Episode 008 - Gone Rogue with guests Steve Richardson, Libby Young, and Mike Winiski
Episode 038 - Monica Byrne Wants to Make People (Want to) Scream with guest Monica Byrne
Episode 129 - Coming Back to Books with Nadine
Episode 152 - Kill 'em and Leave with Nadine
Episode 195 - Muchness with Nadine
Episode 229 - Second Contact with Tom
Episode 232 - Barkskins Readalong

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Nadine at Goodreads

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors. I link to Amazon when a book is not listed with Bookshop.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Review: Damnation Spring

Damnation Spring

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel took me a long time to read..I first started it while I was reading Barkskins and the subject matter was too similar. And then the emphasis on miscarriage was a lot. I finally pushed through and felt like it was worth it, and overall it has a strong ending.

It takes place along the Klamath River, a river that ends at the Pacific Ocean, and the forests that were so heavily logged in the 1960s and 1970s on both sides, so southern Oregon and northern California..the novel looks at the effects of overloading and herbicides before those things were better regulated. The two central characters - Rich and Colleen - have had hard lives, but it's what they know, and they come to it through several generations.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access through NetGalley. I was a bit delayed in reading it, only because there are so many tree books and I didn't want them confused in my head.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Reading Envy 233: Get Into Trouble with Ruth

Jenny starts off the episode by announcing a big project for 2022! Ruth teaches her a new word and we discuss a recent Tournament of Favorites, plus as always, books we've read and liked lately.

Download or listen via this link:
Reading Envy 233: Get Into Trouble

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Or listen via Stitcher
Or listen through Spotify 
Or listen through Google Podcasts

Books discussed: 

book covers from list of books discussed


Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Other mentions:

Tournament of Books' Tournament of Favorites
Booker Prize
National Book Award
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Version Control by Dexter Caldwell
Amelia Peabody series
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Orfeo by Richard Powers
Hillary Mantel
Dissolution (play)
Patricia Cornwell
The Heartbreaker by Susan Howatch
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Related episodes: 

Episode 012 - Some Bookers and Some Madness
Episode 033 - An Undulating Thrum with guests Ruth and Elizabeth
Episode 067 - Rain and Readability with Ruth(iella)
Episode 130 - All the Jennifers with Fern Ronay
Episode 134 - A Pastiche Romp with Ruth(iella)
Episode 169 - Simulacrum with Jon Sealy
Episode 178
- Precarious Pile with Ruth(iella)

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Ruth at Goodreads

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors. I link to Amazon when a book is not listed with Bookshop.

Monday, November 15, 2021

2022 is Russian Reading Envy

Announcing a theme with four quarters and multiple readalongs in 2022, with enough warning to get you into the spirit and maybe collect a few books. Please consider joining the Reading Envy Readers in Goodreads for the deepest dives and shared ideas for titles.

Quarter One - January-March - The Novels

In 2022, we will focus on Russia. The first quarter of the year, January-March, will focus on the novel. We will have two synchronous discussions (that will become episodes) - one will be a group read of The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Then everyone gets to pick their own Russian novel to read and we will have a low-key sharing episode.

I'm also hoping to do an episode with Kevin Birmingham who is putting out The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece.

So if you picked one Russian novel that you haven't read to read, what would it be? (Or will you wait to read the Batuman to decide?)

It might be the time I finish War and Peace but...

Quarter Two - April-June - Non-Fiction

Lauren (@end.notes in Instagram) will be co-hosting this quarter. I haven't decided if we will have a shared read, but perhaps if that is desired I can pick one.

There are so many great books you could read for this quarter; one I'm hoping to finally get to is Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov in the bio/memoir category.

Another book I'm interested in is The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway and the Northeast Passage by Erika Fatland.

One memoir I'd recommend is Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by the very entertaining Teffi.

We will have one synchronous discussion for this quarter!

Quarter Three - July-September - Short Stories

This will have a shared read - A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders.

Then everyone can choose a book of short stories by a single Russian author or some kind of compilation.

Quarter Four - October-December - Genre

This can be any genre, fiction or non-fiction (you could even go back to the non-fiction of quarter 2 if that is more your speed.)

Other ideas could be cookbooks or sci-fi or dystopia or poetry or whatever!!

Lauren will co-host this quarter and we will have recommendations closer to that time. 


Will you be participating? What are you excited to read?

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review: When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't catch this book when it was on the International Booker list, but when it was named a finalist for the translated lit category of the National Book Award, I finally decided to give it a go, especially once I found the audio in Hoopla and it was under 6 hours.

At first, it feels like non-fiction, well researched information about science and math, death and destruction, the usual. It slowly morphs to include details about the characters that might be true, I guess, but would he unlikely to be known without a detailed journal or analysis records. And as it nears the end, the stories start linking and it feels more like a fictional experience.

I always enjoy books that take me on a journey. The characters do not have to be on a journey, but I like the author to have a clear goal in mind even if I don't know what it is... It's one of those undefinable things that I like and is present here. I also am a sucker for books about math and mathematicians and boy did this qualify. I wish it had won the International Booker and I hope it wins the National Book Award for translation.

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