Last-minute gifts: The 10 best books of December 2020

Just in time for the holidays, it’s the Monitor’s selections for the top books of December 2020 all wrapped up and tied with a bow.

Grove Atlantic and HarperCollins Publishers
“Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation” by Reid Mitenbuler, Atlantic Monthly Press, 432 pp.; and “ Mozart: The Reign of Love” by Jan Swafford, Harper, 832 pp.

1. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Bestselling author Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days in 1926, triggering a massive hunt. Her disappearance was never fully explained, but suspicion fell on her first husband, Archie. Marie Benedict concocts an imaginative historical novel that sounds the depths of Christie’s marriage in search of clues to what may have happened.

2. The Opium Prince by Jasmine Aimaq

Penguin Random House
“The Opium Prince” by Jasmine Aimaq, Soho Crime, 384 pp.

Afghanistan provides the backdrop for this debut novel about cowardice and redemption. Set in the 1970s, the narrative captures the fluid lines between right and wrong, ally and enemy, innocence and experience. It’s a first-rate thriller.

3. Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “A Thousand Clowns,” has created a charming novel for all ages, told through the eyes of animals and their human friends. Perestroika is a curious racehorse who meets a boy in need of friendship in Paris. Heartwarming escapades and uplifting insights abound in this delightful tale.

4. Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Beneath the streets of 1958 postwar London, a covert detective agency operates to investigate Scotland Yard’s unsolved mysteries. T.A. Willberg’s smashing debut follows clever apprentice Marion Lane as she solves a locked-room murder. The book sizzles with suspense, gadgetry, action, and danger.

5. Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi

HarperCollins Publishers
“Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother's Letter to Her Son” by Homeira Qaderi, Harper, 224 pp.

Growing up in Afghanistan, Homeira Qaderi learned that “a good woman was defined as a good mother.” In her new memoir, written to the son who was taken from her arms when she defied patriarchal traditions, she shows both the beauties and terrors of life in her home country. The risks Qaderi takes to fight for women’s rights – and the consequences she faced – are a heartbreaking inspiration. 

6. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The first volume of President Barack Obama’s memoir covers his early life and career and ends in May 2011 when Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. This is an even-handed, thoughtful, and deeply personal book by a gifted writer that provides a behind-the-scenes look into the Oval Office and gives readers some idea of what it is like to hold the world’s most powerful job.

7. Wild Minds by Reid Mitenbuler

Film buffs will delight in this exploration of the golden age of animation. Surveying everything from Betty Boop to Popeye, author Reid Mitenbuler argues that a number of the medium’s early classics were bolder and more daring than today’s animated movies. He paints a delightfully full picture of the artform and its artists.

8. Mozart: The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford

In this masterfully written biography, Jan Swafford not only presents a richly detailed portrait of one of the greatest classical composers of all time, but debunks many of the myths surrounding the momentous and all-too-short life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The author, who is a composer, brings his insight to bear on his subject.

9. Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody

In this lively, compassionate biography of Louise Fitzhugh, author of the children’s instant-classic “Harriet the Spy” series from the 1960s, Leslie Brody sheds light on the remarkable woman behind the books. 

10. Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel by Rachel Holmes

Sylvia Pankhurst is best known as a suffragist, famous for enduring multiple imprisonments and brutal force-feedings during the long battle to secure British women the vote. Rachel Holmes’ superb biography of the radical activist presents her in full, as an artist, writer, pacifist, anti-fascist, and lifelong proponent of human rights.

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