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 is always an atypical time of year for my reading life. There are two weeks during the year when I read more than at any other time in my life: our summer week at the beach and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

I often use this winter reading time to vet tons of potential Summer Reading Guide titles, but this year I wanted my winter break reading to not feel like work. I decided to read books I had no need to read—and for me that looked like my favored urban planning books and lots of backlist. You’ll see both reflected in today’s round-up. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed some good books lately as well. Please tell us all about your recent reads in comments.

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

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity

My husband Will surprised me with a new urban planning book for Christmas, and I enjoyed reading this over our holiday break. The author, a Minnesotan who's been an urban planner for several decades, argues that our cities are on the verge of a long, slow decline, and that any solution needs to begin with a bottom-up approach. Marohn pushes for change beginning at the most local level—not by implementing billion-dollar regional plans, but instead carrying out whatever the "next smallest thing" is that can improve our community. I really enjoyed this, although I've gotta admit it was disheartening (as well as unsurprising, and validating) to see my city as a negative example for the recently completed Ohio River Bridges Project. More info →
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Gold: A Novel

Gold: A Novel

When my husband, Will, was on the podcast, he named this as his favorite book possibly ever—and so I made it a winter break priority. I LOVED it and read it in two days. The story centers around two velodrome cyclists who are best friends and arch-rivals, training under the same coach for their last remaining shot at the London Olympics, while respectively navigating personal crises and the life-threatening sickness of a child (note that content warning, please). I was riveted as Cleave set out the complicated history between the two women and kept raising the stakes in the present. The story is told from multiple points of view to great effect; the coach's point of view made the book for me. More info →
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The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak Book 1)

The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak Book 1)

This debut mystery was highly recommended by MMD team member Chelsey of the He Read She Read podcast and I'm so grateful she put it on my radar. These Canadian procedurals center the investigative team of detective Esa Khattak and his assistant Rachel Getty, who are often called upon to investigate crimes in the Muslim community of Toronto, navigating cultural and political divides to do so. I beg you, do NOT read the spoiler-laden reviews of this book, or even the jacket copy! I'll just say that the pair is called in to investigate the seemingly accidental death of a wealthy local man, and it slowly becomes apparent that this crime's roots go deeper than the detectives could have dreamed. The series is now five books strong; I've read two so far and am looking forward to catching up. (If I say this is another good series to read when you've run out of Louise Penny novels, will you add it to your TBR immediately?) More info →
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Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

This book was enthusiastically recommended by WSIRN alum Rissie Lundberg based on my love of urban planning. Author Robin Nagle embedded with NYC's Department of Sanitation to see what it really took to dispose of 11,000 tons of garbage a day. While a little overly detailed in places, I found this fascinating and surprising; I'll confess to constantly reading stats and insights aloud to any family members in the vicinity. I was surprised at how much this book overlapped with another old favorite nonfiction work, A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski, because they both address the structure and practical concerns of New York City. More info →
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Headliners (London Celebrities Book 5)

Headliners (London Celebrities Book 5)

Lucy Parker is one of my favorite authors for fast and fun romance; she's the author that inspired summer's 10 Romance Novels That Are Perfect for Summer Reading post. in her newest novel, out January 20, two rival tv presenters who hate each other's guts suddenly become colleagues who must not only work side by side, but act like they like it. This novel isn't super-explicit but is considerably more open door than the early books in this series. (It's not essential that this series be read in order, but if you want, go back and read the first, Act Like It, it just might be my favorite.) 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. My bookstore tour of NYC, and 15 titles that will help you branch out from your usual genres.


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      • Shannan says:

        I haven’t read it yet but I am reading it this year. I started it but commitments got in the way and I had to return it to the library due to the large number of holds. SMH. I enjoyed what I had read so I am looking forward to it.

    • Inspired By Hermione says:

      Walkable City was phenomenal. I learned SO MUCH. And it really made me see my city differently- and notice things I have never noticed, like street width and how crosswalks can, but don’t always, prioritize pedestrian safety.

  1. Maria Ontiveros says:

    Gold and Unquiet Dead sound great.
    Just finished reading The Lola Quartet (Recommended by you!) – so fascinating! And just started listening to Circe (outside my comfort zone but it’s drawn me in). Both for 2020 reading challenge. Listened to Dutch House for my book group – should be a great discussion! I also read more in January than any other month.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I am in the middle of a re-read of Little Women to prepare for the movie-I’m going this weekend for my birthday (weather permitting). I also just finished Magpie Murders on audio-it was LONG but good! Anyone else listened to this one?

  3. Becky says:

    I read This Tender Land by William Kent Kreuger and loved it. In my opinion, it was better than Where the Crawdads Sing.
    Now I am reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. It’s okay . . . I only have 50 pages left; I know what I will be doing after work tonight. Unfortunately, it’s another book where I got caught up in all of the hype.

    • LyndaMarie says:

      I just finished Tender Land too, and while I really enjoyed Crawdads, I felt like Tender was just so touching and such a beautifully written book.

  4. Mimi says:

    I just coincidentally read two historical fiction books about the Irish Troubles, The World of Tomorrow by Matthews and What the Wind Knows by Harmon. Both were fantastic. The World of Tomorrow includes the intriguing setting of the 1939 New York City World’s Fair. My book club also read a short biography, Eliza Hamilton by Mazzeo. We all enjoyed it, especially since our reading coincided with the Nashville tour of Hamilton. And I finally read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, Wow! What a beautiful and practical perspective. I will definitely be re-reading that one.

  5. Violeta says:

    It was a great reading month for me! Here’s what I read:
    * Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (5 stars)
    * American Primitive, by Mary Oliver (4 stars; for the MMD reading challenge “book from the decade you were born”)
    * Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid (4.5 stars)
    * Station Eleven (5 stars. I never would have picked this up if it weren’t for Anne’s recommendation and it is now one of my all-time favorite books)

  6. Inspired By Hermione says:

    I started, and then DNF’ed, Things Fall Apart. I’m now reading The Mother-In-Law after I bought it over Christmas because of a recommendation on here, Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities and the Pleasures of Solitude because I love alone time and I’m leaving on a solo trip to Iceland today (!!!) and then I’m also slowly making my way through War and Remembrance on audio. 56 hours….I’ve been listening to it since NYE and am about 25 hours in.

  7. I added that NYC trash book to my list after I saw you mention it! Every time we’re in NYC we comment on all the trash we see waiting to get picked up and how can they handle all that?? I look forward to reading it and then annoying my family with facts on our next trip!

    I finished a lot of books in the past 30ish days to hit my reading goal for 2019 and, so far, 2020 is off to a good start! My Quick Lit is here!

  8. Les in OR says:

    I recently read The River by Peter Heller, which was outstanding. I’m anxious to re-read The Dog Stars, as well as his other books. He is such great storyteller and his lyrical prose keeps me reaching for my book darts. My most recent read was The Only Plane In the Sky by Garrett Graff. I’m not sure what I was expecting with this nonfiction account of 9/11, but it was outstanding. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to read the oral histories of those who survived (or lost a loved-one) the attacks, but it also recounts the acts of kindness by strangers.

    My Top Picks for 2019 can be found here.

  9. Carol Quan says:

    I am working on a few Reading Challenges this year (including the MMD Reading Challenge). One challenge is the MT TBR so trying to read books I already own. I have read Small Great Things, A Woman Is No Man and Wild so far this year. Listened to The Martian. Right now I am listening to Have You Seen Luis Velez and am reading The Queen of Hearts. Loved all of them except The Martian, which I found boring. Perhaps if I read it I would have liked it more. I plan to watch the movie. Anyway, very gappy with my reading so far this year!

  10. Thanks for the warning on the Cleave novel. I cannot handle anything about seriously ill children! I just finished The Nobodies by Liza Palmer. I enjoyed it but not as much as I hoped I would given that I had some connection to the content (the author is trying to restart her career in her late thirties). I just started The Dutch House for my book club and am liking it so far. Commonwealth was one of my favorite books of the last few years and I’m hoping Dutch House will be just as good.

  11. Lesa says:

    I met Chuck Marohn in Shreveport, LA last week at a speaking engagement and purchased my own copy of Strong Towns. I also put you, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and WSIRN on his radar when I told him you had received a copy of Strong Towns from your husband for Christmas and had it in your TBR line up. He was most intrigued and furiously scribbled your name and podcast on a slip of paper. Hope you two meet up one day – he would make a great guest on WSIRN!

  12. Tessa says:

    What a great and varied list. I am definitely interested in checking out Headliners by Lucy Parker-I am always a sucker for fun romances!

    I’ve gotten some good quality reading time in over the holidays and have recently finished All the Light We Cannot See and The Gown by Jennifer Robson. I just started The Library of the Unwritten by AJ Hackwith and it’s already turning out to be a very unique read!

  13. Anita Hohl says:

    The Robin Nagle book will be first on my list – my husband spent some time working in a city sanitation department, I’m sure he will find it a good read, too.

  14. Angela in NC says:

    So far this month, I have read Louise Miller’s The City Girl’s Guide to Country Living (4 stars), The Stationery Shop (4 stars) and listened to the audiobook of Treasure Island (3 stars). I am currently reading Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. Next up will be Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Mirza’s A Place for Us, and the audiobook of Emma before the new movie version of it comes out.

  15. Mary Ann Frontz says:

    I love your blog, your podcast, and your book lists, Anne. I am now reading Winter Solstice by Rosamonde Pilcher and I just finished Little Fires Everywhere and Olive Kitteridge. All great reads!

  16. Suzy Lowry says:

    So far this January I’ve read The House on Turpentine Lane by, Elinor Lipman. You’ve Been Volunteered by Laurie Gelman. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo, and Long Bright River by Liz Moore. All great reads, I especially loved Liz Moore’s book, every book I’ve read of hers is fantastic.

  17. Mary says:

    I just finished Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik for my 1-year-old (this month) book club. Being in a book club reading about a book club that spanned 30 years, it’s fun to imagine how our club will look as we develop friendships through the years. I hope we last a long time!

  18. Mary says:

    In addition to Angry Housewives Eating BonBons, I’ve been listening to A Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett with my daughter on our drives to gymnastics and on my way home listening to A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I just started reading The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

  19. sarah says:

    Two of the books I have especially enjoyed this month were The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. I learned about this on Anne’s podcast. It’s historic fantasy, and I loved it. A good, fast-paced read, even for a 500 page read. I also read The Thousand Doors of January. I know many must have read this for the bookclub. I loved it ~ the premise, the writing, the characters.

  20. I just read East of Eden for the first time and it was so good. I toggled back and forth between the book and the audio. For anyone who hasn’t read it I can’t recommend it more highly. I also read and loved Henry Himself by Stewart O’Nan. A lovely book in the vein of Our Souls at Night. I will read more of his backlist. It was wonderful to find him! My year end best books list is on my blog.

  21. Susan says:

    Good month so far, with several recommendations from Anne and her readers! Finished Little Fires Everywhere right off, REALLY liked it!! Then a re read of Olive Kitteridge and it was even better the second time around! Of Mice and Men was next, based on urging from the reader community, and boy, that was brutal. The Giver of Stars was a lovely surprise, I stayed up till 3 am to finish it. The Last Romantics was anything but romantic, this was my disappointment. Lastly, I’m working on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it’s totally not what I expected, but I like it! Oh, and I’m listening to Andrea Barrett’s The Air We Breathe—this is fascinating because it’s about the sanatoriums and cure cottages for TB in the Saranac Lake, NY area and I used to live near there!

  22. Betsy says:

    I have just picked up This Tender Land by William K Krueger. He is an author I have heard you mention often on your podcast. I can see why you love him! His writing has an achingly lyrical quality, and he has a knack for capturing his characters emotions so well. Thank you for the recommendation!

  23. Strong Towns sounds good. I’ve been reading: A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey (very good), Travel Light, Move Fast (good), The Greater Journey by David McCullough (my backlist pick–excellent as always). All are reviewed on my blog which is linked.

  24. Clarissa says:

    “Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City” sounds right up my alley. It is going on my to-read lists. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Terri T says:

    “If I say this is another good series to read when you’ve run out of Louise Penny novels, will you add it to your TBR immediately?)” — I was adding it before you said that because you described it in a way that I knew I would live. But, yes, always.

  26. Elena W says:

    December was a great book blogging month for me. Here are my favorite 2019 books:
    My December reads: https://elle-alice.blogspot.com/2019/12/december-book-reviews.html
    And favorite wintry reads: https://elle-alice.blogspot.com/2019/12/favorite-wintry-and-christmas-books.html
    With a tiny baby taking up a lot of my time and energy, I have not had as much time for physical books, so audiobooks are my saving grace right now!

  27. Marion says:

    I’m currently reading Binti Home (the second book in the Binti series) by Nnedi Okorafor. An interesting Sci-Fi novella about a young girl returning to her homeland after being away on a spaceship (covered in Binti Book 1) for awhile. I’m getting ready to read and review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Tempest by Beverly Jenkins, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson for Black History Month in February. The reading year is starting out pretty good.

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