Nerdy Special List December 2016
This month, I asked our illustrious contributors for a December favorite or one from any month this year, as long as it hasn’t appeared on the NSL.
Since you might be looking for gift ideas, how about considering some of these titles? I’ve added suggestions about the perfect recipient(s) for each book.
I’d like to thank Jen, Rory, Erin, Lauren, and Patti for having such excellent taste in books and sharing their recommendations all year long. Though they probably wish to distance themselves from me in public, they make me feel smarter by association.
From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J.M. Lee, trans. by Chi-Young Kim (Pegasus Books, December 20)
[Ed.: For the intellectual with exotic tastes, but safe for those who vomit easily.]
Last year J.M. Lee blew me away with his English debut, The Investigation. This year he doubled down with The Boy Who Escaped Paradise. Both novels employ the richest of language in complex plot lines about dynamic and multidimensional characters.
Ahn Gil-mo is a young, North Korean math savant with Asperger’s syndrome. He is sent to a prison camp because of his father’s transgressions. While he’s in the camp, he makes a promise to always take care of his best friend, Yeong-ae. It’s this promise that takes him on an Odyssey-like trek across the globe.
Even if you fear numbers and feel nauseous at the mere mention of the word math, be not afraid. This book will win your heart, as it did mine.
It’s an epic adventure, a crime novel, a cultural expose. The Boy Who Escaped Paradise is a sure bet for a satisfying read.
An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (Viking, September 13)
[Ed.: For the folks who like ’80s TV and riding motorcycles without helmets because they think they’re badass.]
An Obvious Fact makes for a dozen novels in the Walt Longmire series. And even though Walt is the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in America, Craig Johnson still manages to keep the stories fresh and highly entertaining.
With a little Sherlock Holmes, a little Dukes of Hazzard, and a whole lot of motorcycles, Fact centers on a hit-and-run that leaves a man comatose in Hulett, Wyoming, during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Walt, his trusted friend Henry Standing Bear, and Absaroka’s wily undersheriff Vic Moretti are on the case even though it’s out of their jurisdiction. There’s plenty of action, laughs and surprises.
Series fans who haven’t grabbed this one yet are in for a wonderful treat, including an introduction to the Lola. If you’re new to the series, I encourage you to start back at the beginning with A Cold Dish.
Any of the books can be read on their own and enjoyed, but Johnson has built a community with his characters and their relationships have evolved, especially over the last six books. To truly appreciate that quality, you want to grow along with the Absaroka gang. It’s a fabulous journey.
From Rory at Fourth Street Review:
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (Flatiron Books, October 4)
[Ed.: For your friends in prison who are always trying to bust out.]
Sarah Domet’s debut novel takes its name from the four protagonists, all named Guinevere and all abandoned at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent.
Vere, Win, Ginny, and Gwen are desperate to escape their circumstances and hatch a plan to do so during a parade in a float. When that fails, the girls are sentenced to work in the convent’s sick ward, where they hatch yet another plan, this one involving comatose soldiers.
Each Guinevere has her own voice, though we hear most from Vere. Woven into the girls’ tales are the stories of the lives of various female saints. The nuns generally remain in the background, but are well drawn and not stereotypically Catholic, which I greatly appreciated. The nuns, though strict, genuinely care for the girls.
Rather than a novel about faith, Domet’s debut is instead a wonderful coming-of-age tale. It’s a subtle, complex novel depicting the inner lives of teenage girls, and their search for home and family—a winning combination with lovely writing. Don’t miss it!
From Erin at In Real Life:
Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad, October 6)
[Ed.: For the insomniac who likes to be so scared by books that s/he might need to wear a diaper. But not Erin. She can handle scary stuff like a boss.]
When it comes to stories that make me—often literally—perch on the edge of my seat, I know I can count on Elizabeth Haynes. Her latest is no exception, and it is one of the best books I read in 2016.
Sarah Carpenter lives in a remote part of Yorkshire, and she hasn’t had an especially easy time of things. She finds herself alone after her husband dies and her grown kids move out, so she’s pleased when an old friend, Aiden Beck, shows up needing a place to stay for a while.
Sarah is well able to look after herself and is no shrinking violet, but her kids, friends, and friends of her kids are all concerned about Aiden’s presence, for markedly different reasons. And they might be right to be…but you’ll have to read the book to find out more about that.
Elizabeth Haynes has an extraordinary ability to pull readers right into her tales. I started reading her books when our very own PCN reviewed Into the Darkest Corner back in 2012. (Funny side note: The first time I met Elizabeth at a book event in England, I asked her to sign a book for PCN. When I told her that PCN had to stand in the hall to finish reading it, Elizabeth exclaimed, “I loved that review! It was one of my favorites!”)
Never Alone is spooky and creepy and captivating. Page-turner? Check. Fascinating? Absolutely.
From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:
Kill the Next One by Federico Axat, translated by David Frye (Mulholland Books, December 13)
[Ed.: For the uncle you like to make crazy by gaslighting him.]
Argentinian author Federico Axat’s US debut is a spectacular mind-meld of a psychological thriller, and it’s no surprise that Kill the Next One has been translated into more than twenty languages.
Ted McKay wants to commit suicide after discovering he has a brain tumor, but he’s interrupted, gun to his head, by an insistent knock at his door. The complete stranger on his doorstep makes Ted an offer he can’t refuse: kill two men, one who deserves to die and one who wants to die. In return, someone will kill Ted so he can die a heroic victim rather than by his own hand.
As Ted tries to follow through with the secret suicide club plan, his reality becomes as mixed up as a kaleidoscope. It’s unclear what is real (is a deranged possum really following him around?), who is telling the truth, how Ted was chosen and why.
As his sanity becomes more questionable, memories start pushing to the forefront of his mind, bringing frightening clarity. Axat brilliantly creates an environment permeated by doubt and one can’t help but begin to question reality on a larger scale. How do we know what’s real and who to trust?
The story is chilling, but Axat infuses it with humanity while maintaining the nightmarish atmosphere. Kill the Next One is thrilling perfection.
From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
[Ed.: For the pyromaniac pastry lover, or your third cousin once removed.]
Pastry chef Olivia Rawlings accidentally sets a fire in the club where she works in Boston, and escapes from it all by moving near her best friend in Guthrie, Vermont. Olivia gets a job at an inn called the Sugar Maple Inn, concocting wonderful desserts as she adjusts to small-town life.
Her transition starts a bit roughly, but as she meets people and tries different activities, it becomes apparent that Guthrie is quite possibly where she’s meant to be.
I am in love with books where people start over and find the perfect new place for themselves or a new career. I loved being with Olivia and most of the people in Guthrie. Since I read it, I have thought about it often. This is one of my favorite books of 2016!
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (Touchstone, November 15)
[For the bathrobe-wearing, diminutive aunt who always fights you for the last drumstick and kills at drunk karaoke.]
Anna Kendrick is hilarious in movies, on talk shows, and Twitter, so it’s no surprise she’s also winning in book form. My full review is at Shelf Awareness, and part of what I said was “her breezy tone and accounts of social awkwardness make her seem like a friend you’d love to hang with…if she weren’t too lazy to clean her house and invite you over.”
Despite having been nominated for a Tony and an Oscar and working with celebs like George Clooney, Kendrick lives in sweatpants, fails at adulting, and owns her nerdiness—how could I not be charmed? I think you will be, too.
Are you giving or asking for books this season? What’s on your list?