’Tis the season to stay cozy with the 10 best books of December

Monitor reviewers recommend 10 notable books for December 2019, including a delightful ode to movie rom-coms and a biography of a modernist designer.

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing and Algonquin Books
“This Is Happiness” by Niall Williams, Bloomsbury, 400 pp; and “Our Wild Calling: How Connecting With Animals Can Transform Our Lives―and Save Theirs” by Richard Louv, Algonquin, 320 pp.

1. This Is Happiness by Niall Williams

Electricity is coming to Faha, an apparently forgotten village in Ireland. With it arrives Christy, an outsider who seems to harbor secrets. In a tale infused with Irish charm, Niall Williams casts a gentle light on the villagers’ lives in a way that nudges the reader to slow down and appreciate simple details. 

2. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Meg is a calligrapher navigating the challenges of friendship, a fledgling business, and life in New York City. Her counterpart, Reid, could not be more different. Meg thinks in letters. Reid is a numbers-obsessed business analyst. She skillfully reads hidden signs, both literal and metaphorical. So how did she miss all that Reid was hiding?

3. The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

In this poignant debut, Molly Greeley brilliantly extends the world of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” to Charlotte Collins, the vicar’s wife and now a mother. A neighboring farmer, Mr. Travis, unexpectedly awakens Charlotte’s dormant soul through a delicate friendship. The book’s deep characterizations, stunning landscapes, and lyrical prose create a resonant tale. 

4. The German House by Annette Hess

It’s 1963 in Frankfurt, Germany, and Eva is hired to translate the testimony of Holocaust survivors. Mysterious memories surface, and Eva unravels the dark background of her early childhood. “It is hard to be human,” a character comments. The author’s tender depiction of Eva makes this book humane as well as unsettling.

5. Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“Would Like to Meet” by Rachel Winters, Putnam, 368 pp.

A delightful swirl of quirky British characters inhabits this uplifting (and surprisingly deep) contemporary ode to movie rom-coms. An overworked film-talent assistant helps a narcissistic screenwriter dislodge his writer’s block. This fiction debut refreshes and cheers the soul.

6. Heaven on Earth by J.S. Fauber

In a sweeping, evocative history, J.S. Fauber follows four key figures – Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo – showing how they built on each other’s work to create modern astronomy despite daunting sociopolitical and religious obstacles.

7. Land of Tears by Robert Harms

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group
“Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa” by Robert Harms, Basic Books, 544 pp.

Belgium and France colonized equatorial Africa at the end of the 19th century. What started with promises of free trade and an end to the East African slave market morphed into resource depletion and the enslavement of the Congolese people. The book is a penetrating, engaging, and often troubling assessment of how this occurred.  

8. Our Wild Calling by Richard Louv

Richard Louv returns to the theme of human-nature connection, this time delving into cutting-edge science, philosophy, and environmentalism to explore the complex connections between humans and animals. Ultimately a manifesto for a new way of living in the world, the book reveals a natural tapestry too often ignored. 

9. Alice Adams by Carol Sklenicka

Drawing on extensive original sources, Carol Sklenicka gives us the first full-length popular biography of brilliant novelist and short story writer Alice Adams. For decades, Adams rendered believably three-dimensional female characters in beautiful, cut-glass prose in venues like The New Yorker.

10. Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work by Peter Adam

The accomplishments of architect and designer Eileen Gray are given their full due in a fresh edition of a classic biography. Peter Adam celebrates her stylish but highly functional creations, including art, furniture, and houses. Drawing on conversations and correspondence – and using beautiful illustrations – Adam brings Gray to vivid life.

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