Favorite listening experiences of 2021 - books

From the publisher: "Stanley Tucci grew up in an Italian American family that spent every night around the kitchen table. He shared the magic of those meals with us in The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table, and now he takes us beyond the savory recipes and into the compelling stories behind them.​ Taste is a reflection on the intersection of food and life, filled with anecdotes about his growing up in Westchester, New York; preparing for and shooting the foodie films Big Night and Julie & Julia; falling in love over dinner; and teaming up with his wife to create meals for a multitude of children. Each morsel of this gastronomic journey through good times and bad, five-star meals and burned dishes, is as heartfelt and delicious as the last. Written with Stanley’s signature wry humor, Taste is for fans of Bill Buford, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ruth Reichl—and anyone who knows the power of a home-cooked meal."
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The Princess Bride meets The Other Boleyn Girl in this quirky spin on the true story of Lady Jane Grey. Sixteen-year-old King Edward has arranged a marriage for Jane in order to secure his line to the throne. He doesn’t have much interest in ruling, and she doesn’t have much interest in marriage. Duty is the least of their problems because, well...Jane’s betrothed turns into a horse every night. Note: this sassy book is especially great on audio.
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The Poet X author Acevedo dedicates her new novel in verse to the memory of the lives lost on American Airlines flight 587, the passenger flight that crashed en route to Santo Domingo from JFK on November 12, 2001. Taking this historical event as her leaping off point, Acevedo tells the story of two teenage girls—one in New York, one in Santo Domingo—who are shocked to discover they are sisters in the aftermath of the crash, when the truth of their father’s double life was unceremoniously revealed. The girls tentatively bond as they explore the love—and pain—they share. A lyrical, heartfelt exploration of what it means to discover secrets, to find family, and to discover your own hidden resources in the face of great loss, and surprising joy.
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From the publisher: "The bestselling classic about a mixed-race child in the Civil War-era South that 'chronicles the triumph of a free spirit over many kinds of bondage' (The New York Times Book Review). Jubilee tells the true story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress. Vyry bears witness to the antebellum South in both its opulence and its brutality, its wartime ruin, and the promises of Reconstruction. Weaving her own family’s oral history with thirty years of research, Margaret Walker brings the everyday experiences of slaves to light in a novel that churns with the hunger, the hymns, the struggles, and the very breath of American history."
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I love a mystery that starts at the end. We know that Oliver Marks has just been released from jail after serving a ten year sentence, and he's finally ready to tell the truth. Ten years ago, Oliver was part of a close-knit group of Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, where rivalries and romance affect the troupe off stage with just as much drama as their performances. Their final year reads more like one of Shakespeare's tragedies. When violence erupts, the group tries to find out what happened while covering the truth to protect each other. A campus mystery full of Shakespeare references, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt.
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From the publisher: "For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times."
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From the publisher: "The world can see that international A-list actress Whitman ("Win") Tagore and jet-setting playboy Leo Milanowski are made for each other. Their kisses start Twitter trends and their fights break the internet. From red carpet appearances to Met Gala mishaps, their on-again, off-again romance has titillated the public and the press for almost a decade. But it's all a lie. As a woman of color, Win knows the Hollywood deck is stacked against her, so she's perfected the art of controlling her public persona. Whenever she nears scandal, she calls in Leo, with his endearingly reckless attitude, for a staged date. Each public display of affection shifts the headlines back in Win's favor, and Leo uses the good press to draw attention away from his dysfunctional family. Pretending to be in a passionate romance is one thing, but Win knows that a real relationship would lead to nothing but trouble. So instead they settle for friendship, with a side of sky-rocketing chemistry. Except this time, on the French Riviera, something is off. A shocking secret in Leo's past sets Win's personal and professional lives on a catastrophic collision course. Behind the scenes of their yacht-trips and PDA, the world's favorite couple is at each other's throats. Now they must finally confront the many truths and lies of their relationship, and Win is forced to consider what is more important: a rising career, or a risky shot at real love?"
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From the publisher: When the roar of a low-flying plane awakens him in the middle of the night, Sheriff Winston Barnes knows something strange is happening at the nearby airfield on the coast of North Carolina. But nothing can prepare him for what he finds: a large airplane has crash-landed and is now sitting sideways on the runway, and there are no signs of a pilot or cargo. When the body of a local man is discovered—shot dead and lying on the grass near the crash site—Winston begins a murder investigation that will change the course of his life and the fate of the community that he has sworn to protect. Everyone is a suspect, including the dead man. As the suspense builds and this compelling mystery unfolds, Wiley Cash delves deep into the hearts of these richly drawn, achingly sympathetic characters to reveal the nobility of an ordinary man struggling amidst terrifying, extraordinary circumstances."
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In his first full-length nonfiction work, poet and journalist Smith explores the legacy of slavery in the United States, and to do so he takes his readers on a tour of sorts, visiting nine physical monuments crucial to that history, like Jefferson's Monticello, the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, Angola Prison, New York City, and finally Senegal's Gorée Island. Each visit is packed with stories from both past and present, as Smith examines the site's history and explores what that means for us today. It's always dangerous to go into a book with sky-high expectations, as I did thanks to numerous rave reviews from trusted readers, but I needn't have feared: this is a stunner. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author.
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When we hosted Tayari Jones for our WSIRN 300th episode celebration, she raved about this 2020 Pulitzer winner, saying she wanted to give it a standing ovation. That comment nudged me to pick it up again, on audio this time. (Why have I not been listening to Erdrich narrate her own work all along? She's wonderful in that format.) The story is based on the life of her own grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and who traveled from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to fight against Native dispossession of their tribal lands. The story is beautifully, lovingly drawn: I was enraptured, and rooting so hard for these characters.