What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

Welcome to Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month.  

This past month I’ve seen the worst reading slump I’ve had in ages: for several weeks, my poor brain just could not get into any of the novels I picked up! There have been times when I would try to push through, but instead I pivoted to nonfiction—a mix you’ll see reflected in today’s round-up.   

I’m still listening to audiobooks as well—and most of those are nonfiction as well, which is exceptionally unusual for me. (If you’re on the hunt for audiobook recommendations, our entire audiobook archives are right here, plus we highlighted great-on-audio selections in our festive holiday fiction post.) 

This is just a sampling of the books I’ve read since our last round of Quick Lit. If you’re interested in hearing more about my recent reads, I highly recommend tuning into my podcast What Should I Read Next. In a show about books, I can’t help but discuss my current reading. 

I can’t wait to hear about your recent reads in comments. 

What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

West with the Night

West with the Night

I so enjoyed revisiting this incredible classic this month, which we featured as one of our 25 must-read classics for women. Beryl Markham was an amazing woman, and one of the first people to successfully cross the Atlantic by plane. Yet she's not nearly as well known as others who share her arial accomplishments. In her autobiography, she preserves the moments that meant the most to her—from her childhood, spent in Africa with her British colonial family, to her adult years, when she became the first professional pilot in Africa and successfully crossed the Atlantic, alone. Absolutely riveting, on the first read or the sixth. More info →
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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

I've had this on my shelf for years but only recently dug into it, as lately I've been sitting down with hefty cookbooks and reading them like novels. This is especially easy to do here, because the first half of the book consists entirely of enjoyable stories and explanations about the cooking process, as Samin examines how each of the key elements—salt, fat, acid, and heat—affect a dish. I especially enjoyed the way she drew from her experience at Chez Panisse, sharing stories of kitchen disasters that happened because one of these elements had gone horribly awry. Once you understand the essentials, Samin leads you into the recipes held in the book's second half. This book made me want to get cooking, and the gorgeous illustrations and flavor wheels make it particularly fun. More info →
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The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

This is a book I picked up at my local indie on publication day—I just couldn't wait! It shot to the top of my wishlist when Grettel mentioned it on WSIRN Episode 251 ("I love books and books love me back"). My fascination with urban planning is well documented. I love learning the stories behind sidewalk placement, street signs, or park-building. This well-researched guide to city design reads like an extra-nerdy encyclopedia and includes illustrations, stories, and explanations of the things we usually overlook, like crosswalk signals, building exits, and left turns. More info →
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Susanna Clarke's hotly anticipated second novel is a fantasy novel that plays with fantasy tropes, a mystery but not just a mystery, an altogether weird and extremely compelling book set in a strange house with labyrinthine passageways and just fifteen inhabitants, only two of which are alive. It's decidedly weird and took me a solid 20% to get oriented, but once I did I couldn't stop reading. Our narrator is Piranesi—though he suspects that's not really his name—and while I don't recommend googling the plot before you begin reading, I do recommend those reading with a literary lens google the Italian artist who shares his moniker. Confession: despite having Clarke's debut, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, on my bookshelf for 5+ years I STILL haven't read it. Now would be an excellent time to talk me into it. More info →
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Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South

Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South

Rick Bragg has become pure comfort listening for me: I especially love to listen to his stories while I'm cooking. This new collection compiles magazine essays from his decades writing for Garden and Gun and Southern Living. Some are piercingly poignant, like his tales of Harper Lee, Pat Conroy, a talented photographer, and his Aunt Jo (everyone needs an Aunt Jo). Others are laugh-out-loud funny, like his one about Tupperware, or what precisely is wrong with country music these days. While his books would make beautiful editions to any coffee table, I think I will always listen to Rick Bragg. More info →
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What have YOU been reading lately? Tell us about your recent reads—or share the link to a blog or instagram post about them—in comments. 

P.S. 20 giftable books for every reader, and 112 reader recommendations for festive holiday fiction. Plus don’t miss the 2020 Modern Mrs Darcy Gift Guide for Book Lovers, or 15 gift ideas for kids who love to read.

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  1. Linda Stoll says:

    * my favorite reads this year
    * oodles of link love for readers & writers
    * our first 2021 online Book Club selection {hint – the writer’s initials are A.B.!}
    * my most favorite book of all time
    Merry Christmas to all my bookish companions! I love gathering with you here each month. Big thanks to Anne, for making my reading life more bountiful and enjoyable and for hosting these monthly gatherings!

  2. Lynn says:

    I love to see your list of what you have been reading every month. I just bought Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and I love it. I have heard so much about that cookbook and now I see why everyone loves it. I have not listened to one of Rick Bragg’s books on audio, but they would make great audiobooks while working in the kitchen. I need to try his books on audio because I love his books. I just finished his book The Best Cook In the World and loved it. After reading a lot of nonfiction in November I have been reading a lot of cozy comfort types of books. https://fromourbookshelf.com/what-i-have-been-reading-lynn-2/

  3. Cassie says:

    I’ve also abandoned a ton of books the past month. As I navigate an unprecedented number of challenges, it has affected my reading life a lot. I had a dozen fall read picks come in from the wait list, but none of them were right for me right now. Instead, alex& eliza, Alyssa cole, and some Macomber Christmas novels have kept me reaching for a book instead of (solely) zoning out in front of the tv.

  4. Beth Gross says:

    When I went on vacation three weeks ago, I grabbed an unread book from my bookshelf to take with me.
    The Twelfth Imam by Joel C Rosenberg surprised me by drawing me in. I finished it in 2 days. Fortunately I was able to check out the ebook of the sequel, The Tehran Initiative, while still on vacation. Now I’m reading the third in the series, The Damascus Countdown, which I don’t find as compelling or maybe it’s my tendency to get bored with series . . .

    Meanwhile on my blog, I posted a list of Favorite Family Read Alouds and Where to Start.

    • Hilary says:

      I really liked reading about your nerdy details 🙂 I also enjoy the tracking and scrutinizing of all the details but i am going to do it in a few weeks.

  5. Maria says:

    You truly are a reading kindred spirit to all of us. I haven’t been able to get into any books lately either. I’m going to blame it on Covid.

    I read Homegoing and enjoyed it, currently working my way thru The Thirteenth Tale – usually not my cup of tea but loving its oddity. I think we all just need a change from our usual habits. I’m going to pick up the cookbook you mentioned.

    As for the S. Clarke book – my best friend was going thru a Harry Potter withdrawal and Strange and Norell came up as an adult Harry Potter … I bought it for her and she devoured it – loved it. She told me the story as she went along and I loved it – but since then I have attempted to read this book 3 times. I couldnt get into it.

    Ms. Clarke wants to make sure only the committed get to the end of her books.

  6. Lis M says:

    Ugh such a touch time for reading – thanks for adding Piransei to my list as well as reminding me of Salt Acid Fat!

    Ive been escaping into romance (including Kate Clayborn’s upcoming LOVE AT FIRST & a Hanukkah recommendation from Leigh Kramer last year – BEN’S BAKERY & THE HANUKKAH MIRACLE)
    My husband is deep into fantasy – VE Schwab’s DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC series
    and my kids are immersed in graphic novels, Hanukkah, and Christmas books
    Here’s what we’ve been reading…

    • Laura says:

      I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell when I read it earlier this year, alternating between audio and print. It was a great one to dive into to escape to a totally different world- she’s brilliant for placing you both in England and Fairie.

  7. Gayle Lawrence says:

    It was a snowy day in Oklahoma yesterday and I read a lot. I finished listening to “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by VE Schwab. Addie’s life is a warning to be careful what you wish for because the dark forces just might grant it. The narration by Julia Whelan is excellent, as always.
    I also finished Stephen King’s new book of short stories, “Let It Bleed.” I hadn’t read anything by him in a long time and thoroughly enjoyed it – so much so that I downloaded “The Stand” today. It’s over 1300 pages so it will be a project. I can add it to the list of apocalyptic novels I’ve read since March. 😳 He is such a great writer and I have never read “The Stand.”

  8. Tracey M says:

    My favourite this month, and one of the best this year, was Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous. It is especially delightful on audio, where Lyle Lovett is one of the narrators, playing himself. This is an uplifting and worthwhile read!

    I also liked Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane. Otherwise I’ve been reading lots or romance because I’m finding it harder to get in to a lot of other things. The ones I enjoyed most are In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren, Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory, and Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid.

    • Susie says:

      “Rules for Visiting”—a precious little sleeper! My sister alerted me to it by saying I reminded her of the protagonist in the story. It can be deep, and terribly thought provoking, but has witty little lines, sure to delight. And Trees!! I printed out the “Rules” for Visiting, and have it up on my wall! The kind of book you reread.

  9. Paula Reid says:

    Read “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” and it became, along with “The Vanishing Half” the best books I have read this year, Nonfiction, I started with Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” and have pledged to read all of the autobiographies of the presidents and their wives. Have already read “Becoming” and am now reading “Decision Points” by George W. Bush.

    • Hilary says:

      I liked your middle grade review. I *love* middle grade fiction. I have the excuse that I read it to my kids but not-so-secretly, I enjoy it too.

      • Amy Yarger says:

        When I’m in a slump, middle grade fiction is a balm, even if I can’t claim middle-grade kids as an excuse to read it. I highly recommend “Winterhouse” by Ben Guterson – it has that awesome mysterious winter feeling and a very plucky heroine.

  10. Diana says:

    Just finished Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky. Captivated – 5 stars
    I was worried reading it would just add to the overall sadness and worry of today’s world, but it was the opposite: It underlined the human spirit and our ability to overcome.

  11. VeeInNY says:

    🔹️”Anna Karenina” is my perennial New Years resolution (for decades!) Given the trajectory of 2020 and my COVID vulnerabilities I decided I’d best not keep putting it off. 😉 I’m 30% in and enjoying it very much.
    🔹️ On a lighter note, I finished Alexander McCall Smith’s “The Talented Mr. Varg,”
    🔹️The memoir “Beauty in the Breaking” by Michelle Harper did not live up to the rave reviews and long wait list (IMHO.)
    🔹️My classic this month was “Phantastes” by George MacDonald, a stretch across genres but worth the trouble. 🔹️Susan Woodward’s narration of “The Grand Sophy” by Georgette Heyer, made the 11 hour listen even more delightful.
    🔹️ Top read of the month was “Peace Like A River” by Leif Enger, published in 2001. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this thoughtfulccompelling story of love tragedy fcommunity faith and forgiveness. I added it to my “Lifetime Favorites.”

    • Susie says:

      I’ve just finished Peace Like a River for the second time, and it is definitely on my list of All Time Favorites. Although it has deep themes and tragedy, I just smile all the way thru, out of delight at the writing and the narrator, young Reuben Land and his sister, Swede!

  12. Janna Steele says:

    I have found it difficult to get into novels, as well, lately. One exception is Ghosted by Rosie Walsh.
    I read 100 pages before bed one night, and the next morning expected to read a chapter or two before I went about my day. 2+ hours later, I finished the book. It’s easy to get into and stay!
    I am re-reading A Gentleman in Moscow. I feel the Count’s carefully constructed days can be a blueprint for this stay-at-home time… and re-reads can be comforting, as we know.

    • Michelle t says:

      A Gentleman In Moscow is my very favorite book of all time. I read it last year, borrowed it from the library, twice. I am so thrilled to be finally getting my own copy for Christmas this year.

  13. Kate Dillingham says:

    Thank you for the recommendation of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – I will pick that up soon. I just finished Leesa Cross-Smith’s This Close to Okay and it was amazing. It was my BOTM pick for November, I received it on Friday and started it right away. It was a compelling read right from page one, with likeable characters dealing with very hard issues. But the author cocoons the story with images of coffee, good food, cozy blankets, yummy-smelling candles and wine. This was a very satisfying read for me!

  14. Holly says:

    Anne, thank you so much for highlighting ‘The 99% Invisible City’! My daughter is a bit of an urban planning geek as well, so I just added it to her Christmas gift pile — She’ll be thrilled!

  15. Alison P. says:

    West With the Night was so good — love Beryl Markham! Fun to watch Out of Africa after you read it.

    My books this month were Ordinary Grace (5 stars!), Evvie Drake starts over (SO fun!), In the Woods (my first Tana French, and I really enjoyed it. I think I’ll read the rest of French’s Dublin Murder Squad books!), Henna Artist (took me a little while to get connected, but loved it), and The Jane Austen Society (not at the top of my favorite list, but I’ve been to the museum in Chawton and love all Jane Austen, so it was a fun world to inhabit for a little while).

  16. Jaclyn says:

    West With The Night is a fabulous read that I rarely see recommended. Loved that book. Also, reading cookbooks like novels is one of my favorite pastimes. 😊

  17. Lindsay says:

    Over the weekend, I read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. It’s was so cute and perfect for this time of year! Last night, I started His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie. I’m also slowly making my way through The Body Keeps the Score.

  18. Gwen Diane says:

    I’ve been frustrated with my reading this month as well. Was hoping for some good holiday reads, but that hasn’t come through. So I grabbed something TOTALLY different – a 454 page book by Rosamunde Pilcher called Winter Solstice…. and WOW has it pulled me in. Loving it so far, and it’s going to take a few days to get through it. Happy Holidays To Me!

  19. Dara Van says:

    I read Piranesi a couple of weeks ago and had a book hangover for DAYS. It has quite possibly and inexplicably become my favorite book of all time.

  20. Georgia says:

    I’ve been eating up Christmas stories and loving the Winter Street series by Elin Hildebrand (especially since I’m not in New England this holiday season like usual). Also loved The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss. I finished it in a day and adored it. So funny, sweet, and British.

    Also read When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. It was very summery. Very good and thought-provoking thriller. I held my breath the whole time.

  21. April Gatlin says:

    I’ve never been into cozy mysteries before, but I decided to try one that was free with my Audible subscription. I am hooked! I listened to Jacqueline Frost’s The Twelve Slays of Christmas, followed by the next book in the series “‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas”. Since there were not any others in the series (yet?), I started Julie Ann Lindsey’s Apple Cider Slaying. I think I’ll listen to one on MMD’s recommended holiday list next–Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas–which is also free on my Audible subscription. Glad to have discovered another book genre that I enjoy! The two books before the cozy mysteries were J.K. Rowling’s “The Ickabog” (excellent narration!) and T.J. Klune’s “The House in the Cerulean Sea”.

  22. I read West with The Night and loved it. What an accomplishment she achieved.

    For fun I have been reading The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. Oh my, it is funny, snarky, and reminds you to live life.

  23. Chris V. says:

    My favorite November (and possibly the whole year?) read was Stuart Turton’s The Devil in the Dark Water. It plays with the Holmes/ Watson trope, is incredibly atmospheric and features strong, brilliant women. I was sad to finish it. Thanks for the heads up on the new Rick Bragg!

  24. Annie says:

    I recently read my #1 book of 2020, The Evening and the Morning, by Ken Follett. It’s the prequel to Pillars of the Earth and I was completely hooked. It’s another epic story, this time in the dark ages, and the characters and culture are fascinating. Has anyone else read it yet?

  25. Maybe I need to give West With the Night another shot…I read it a few years ago based on so many rave reviews on it, and I had a really hard time getting into it! (Maybe my view of it was slightly tainted because I didn’t care for Circling the Sun, the fictional portrayal of her life). She undoubtedly was a fascinating woman, though! I really probably should give her book another chance.

    My reading life hasn’t been fabulous lately because we just moved three weeks ago across the state, and I’m definitely still in the “settling in” process. However, I did finish a couple books!


  26. Michelle Wilson says:

    Of course, rationally, I knew others were probably struggling with reading as we march toward month ten of the pandemic but while I am sorry that we are all struggling, it makes me feel less alone. I too have turned to NF but I had to go REAL non-fiction, I am reading this with a highlighter and Google on stand-by. Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds, Ebola and the Ravages of History by Dr. Paul Farmer. Fascinating stuff and while we in the ‘western’ world feel so removed from Ebola. Some of the same factors that allowed that epidemic are the same that have allowed Covid 19 to turn into a pandemic. Hard stuff but it is holding my attention.

    I am so sad that is yet one more thing that Covid has taken from us…the comfort to be found in a marvelous work of fiction. She is a wicked shrew but hopefully she is on her way out…

  27. Fonda Goode says:

    I’ve been wrapped up in Christmas stories. I read In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren (devoured it in one sitting), Christmas at the Island Hotel (I wish I had known it was part of series), Moonlight Over Manhattan, and the 9th installment of the Chief Inspector Gamache series which also happens to be set at Christmas (How the Light Gets In – Louise Penny). I also finished the first in the Winter Street series by Elin Hilderbrand and began the second (Winter Stroll) on audio. I am about 2/3 of the way through The Twelve Dates of Christmas and loving every minute of it.

  28. Heather says:

    To get into the holiday spirit I just listened to Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor. Fantastic! In the format of letters written over the course of WWI. Highly recommend!

  29. Sarah says:

    Be sure to also listen to the Home Cooling podcast for more of Samin Nosrat because she is a TRUE DELIGHT! I smile the entire time I listen and I don’t even cook.

  30. Susan says:

    Recently I’ve read The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which was fantastic. I listened to The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan, which was totally delightful. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley was a middle grade book that took by breath away, it was so good.

  31. Brittany says:

    Thanks for the suggestions! I added several of your recommendations to my “to read” list. I recently shared my favorite books in our children’s gift guides on my blog.


    They are broken up into four groups for ages 0-14! There are books, as well as ideas to create a cozy reading area. Our goal was to focus on what matters most, which is to spend time together…reading!

  32. Laura Ingalls says:

    I am immersed in holiday reads. I read A Christmas Carol every year and was recommended that I read Mr. Dickens and His Carol- a fictional account of Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carols. It was perfect way to get me into the holiday spirit.

    • Laura says:

      Mr. Dickens and His Carol is on sale for kindle today for $2.99. My library doesn’t have it, so I’ve been thinking on buying it today. Thanks for the extra push I needed.

  33. Susie says:

    I’ve done the same thing this last month—starting books, tossing books, starting books, tossing….just when I was zeroing in on 120 books! But, finally, thru a mistake from Interlibrary Loan, I was given “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” and I couldn’t put it down!! What a great book! I know it was on your Reading Guide for 2019, but I’m not much into non-fiction, so I ignored it….Bad move! HIGHLY recommend.

  34. diana says:

    Hey, first I want to share that I have had the privilege of meeting Samin (she shops at the nursery where I work in Richmond, CA) and she is genuinely just as lovely and warm as her book and Netflix show make her seem, an absolute doll.
    I just finished the novel Caucasia by Danzy Senna in audio and found the story of a young girl coming of age while swimming in a river of racial politics so well drawn, 5 stars.
    Now I’m trying to finish The Body by Bill Bryson before the library takes it back and savoring How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell by trying to consider it a chapter at a time, the thesis builds but I’ve been enjoying taking my time with her book.
    I always have a field guide/botany book going on my bedside table, right now Hiking Death Valley by Michael Digonnet to help in planning a wildflower viewing trip for late February.

  35. Janice says:

    When I get in a slump, I usually turn to cozy mysteries. This month I’ve been floundering too. I read two of Judy Lynn’s mysteries. Easy reads and I started the Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman. It’s slow-going but a good read so far.

  36. Lauren says:

    I’m so relieved to hear that I’m not the only one in a reading slump right now! The only things that have helped pull me out of it are ARCs (gotta get them in before deadlines!) and my old friend, the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. I’ve got a stack of holiday romances ready for me to enjoy, so I just need to go ahead and get started, which is always the hardest part.

    Here’s my December Quick Lit post. Such a grab bag! https://laurenkiehna.com/2020/12/15/quick-lit-mystery-romance-and-politics/

  37. Jen C. says:

    The bosses at the bookstore are giving me 99% Invisible for Christmas. Whoop whoop! Super excited for that as I love the podcast!
    Recently finished Leave the World Behind which left me very unsettled and gave me bad dreams but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
    Currently debating what to read next – Hench or The Children’s Blizzard…

  38. Mareike says:

    In case you didn’t know yet, 99 percent invisible also has a podcast. So interesting! By the way, love your blog and your podcast! I live in Germany and it is always interesting to learn about books most of which will never make it to a German bookstore or library.

  39. Libby Miner says:

    Pick up Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun, the first from her Kopp sister series, which I call light historical fiction with strong female characters. They are good easy on the eyes kind of a read, entertaining, and great writing.

  40. Austin says:

    I read “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” earlier this year and LOVED it so much. Favorite book of the year. If you don’t like 19th century-style writing though, you might find it difficult to get into (there are serious Charles Dickens vibes, and also Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis are clearly influences). It’s also like 900 pages, so strap in. And please read the footnotes — they are incredible.

    After finishing it, I was delighted to find she was publishing another book this fall, and I also loved Piranesi. It’s like a beautiful little seashell. I also loved the direct references to Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” childhood favorites of mine, in the book.

  41. Emma says:

    What’s the opposite of a reading slump? After being unemployed since March, I returned to full-time work recently and, ironically, have been absolutely flying through novels, averaging three a week. I’ve stockpiled library books for my summer reading, but they’re only going to last until the end of January at this rate! Recent favourites were ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie, ‘Little Eyes’ by Samanta Schweblin and ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple.

    For those looking for a female-friendly crime mystery series, try the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths (currently numbering ten) or her two Harbinder Kaur books, ‘The Stranger Diaries’ and ‘The Postscript Murders’. Cozy page-turners with lots of literary references!

  42. Kristie Fields says:

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my all time favorite books, read multiple times. I tried to get into Piranesi but I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps I gave up too soon?

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