1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of the America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by focusing on the stories of three different people who migrated to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It’s fascinating stuff. It covers both life in the Jim Crow South and life in the north in the last half of the twentieth century.
I recommend this highly because the stories are so involving. I live in the industrial North (metro Detroit), and I learned a lot not just about migration and race relations, but also about how cities developed in the twentieth century. For a much more complicated take on race relations than you can find in The Help, check out this book.
2. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
This is the story of two sisters in 1999: one a dot-com executive, and the other a philosophy grad student at Berkeley. It’s been compared to Sense and Sensibility, which I can see (two different sisters and their love lives), but I think this stands on its own as well. It definitely felt like a big 19th century novel with a large cast of characters and a rollicking plot. It follows one sister working in the world of Internet startups and the other sister working in a used bookshop and living in an environmentalist group house in Berkeley while in grad school.
I listened to the audio version for the first half, and then I read the last half because I was anxious to find out what happened to the characters. That’s saying a lot because not all of the characters were likeable, but they were all complex people. I’m a fan of the getting-your-life-together-in-your-twenties books.
3. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
This is a very heartbreaking memoir about McCracken and her husband coping with the stillbirth of their first child. It speaks so well about grief, hope, friendship, and love. Sometimes I like to read books or watch movies for a good cry, and this fits the bill. I like this book as a portrait of grief more than I liked The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
4. Mystery Writers Whose Stuff I Love: Laura Lippman, Deborah Crombie, and Louise Penny
Laura Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan, P.I. series of novels as well as stand-alone novels. Feisty, independent heroines are a thing for me in crime fiction, and Tess fits the bill. The stand-alone books I’ve read are very involving and sad: they feel a bit like sociology. My favorite Lippman book I read this year was The Last Place, part of the Tess Monaghan series.
Deborah Crombie writes the Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series: they are detectives in London, but the series takes place in other towns as well. Her books are very atmospheric. Some are a bit more like a cozy since some take place in small towns/ villages, but they are not novice detectives. Each character has emotional drama too, but it doesn’t feel melodramatic for the sake of being melodramatic. My favorite Crombie book I read this year was Water Like a Stone, which takes place in the world of canal boats.
And, finally, my cozy recommendation in this roundup is for Louise Penny, who writes the Inspector Gamache series of mysteries that take place in the village of Three Pines, near Montreal. All of her characters are deep, involving characters, which is refreshing after reading more hard-boiled detective fiction. I’ve only read two books in the series so far, but they have both been wonderful. Start with Still Life.