Well, another year of reading is coming to an end and I am definitely looking forward to the start of a brand new one filled with wonderful reads.
This year has been a “best of times, worst of times” deal to be sure. However, I think that a good book at hand can make both situations better.
Whether it offers relief from the real world or helps you understand that reality a bit more clearly than before, books are powerful gifts to shared indeed. My top five picks for 2021 are personal preferences to be sure but maybe one or two of them might resonate with you for future reading:
Molly Greeley’s second Jane Austen themed novel focuses on a well known character from Pride & Prejudice, a young woman who is seldom heard from next to her indomitable mother.
Anne de Burgh, the only child of the infamous Lady Catherine, has been considered ill for the majority of her life. That sickly nature turns out to be due to an over abundance of laudanum, prescribed by doctors eager to please Lady Catherine’s wishes for a more pliable offspring.
After Anne chooses her to leave her mother’s house and detox, she finally begins to live a real life, one that gives her some unexpected options on where to find true happiness. Even with her inheritance intact, can Anne be the person that she truly longs to be?
I really enjoyed Greeley’ earlier work about P&P’ Charlotte Lucas Collins, The Clergyman’s Wife, but this one is even better with the depth and emotional journey taken by Anne, whose growing knowledge of herself causes much needed ripples in this classic story pond for those around her. I can’t wait to see what Greeley does next!
HANA KHAN CARRIES ON:
This modern take on the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks romcom You’ve Got Mail is a national follow up for Uzma Jaluddin as her first book, Ayesha at Last, was her take on Pride & Prejudice.
Instead of bookstores, it’s rival restaurants as Hana’s family cafe is being threatened by the arrival of a huge commercial eatery right next door.
While she hopes for a career in radio, with a small podcast of her own, Hana is determined to protect the family business from Aydin Shah, the very handsome and charming owner of the rival restaurant.
Despite her heartfelt attempts to save the cafe, she finds herself digging a little social media dirt against their competition but quickly regrets it, especially when the biggest fan of her podcast is not happy with that tactic. She also is trying hard to not like Aydin, who may not be the instant villain of this situation.
All in all, Hana wants to save the day but can she protect her own dreams as well as her heart? Jalaluddin is such a lovely writer who weaves humor and pathos together in a perfect design that Jane Austen herself would admire.
This tip of the hat to Nora Ephron’s triple tribute to Shop Around the Corner, New York and Pride & Prejudice is a beautiful compliment to all of the above and then some:
FRIGHT OR FIGHT
HOUR OF THE WITCH:
In Chris Bohjalian’s historical fiction, the reality of a woman’s place in Puritan society during the early days of America is keenly felt.
Mary Deerfield does her best to find some joy in her marriage to Thomas, an older man who unleashes the worst of his violent temper towards her in private. When his acts of abuse become harder to hide, she flees to her parents’ house in order to get a divorce.
Unfortunately, despite the wealth and status of her own family, Mary has little influence in the matter. Worse of all, she is in danger of being charged with witchcraft, a claim that endangers her life.
Is she being set up by her husband and his indentured servant girl(who would love to be the next Mrs. Deerfield) or are there some supernatural elements at play here? Either way, Mary must make some hard decisions to preserve her freedom and life.
Bohjalian’s tale is a steady slow burn that mixes court room drama, historical settings and feminism in a hearty stew that simmers to a thoughtful and ultimately satisfying conclusion. A page turning dish suitable for all seasons.
THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORTGROUP:
Grady Hendrix has been on quite the roll with his style of pop culture themed stories featuring strong women at the helm. His latest one, a splattered yet sincere salute to the heroines of horror is definitely a cut above the rest.
Our leading lady here is Lynette, who has grown weary of the title meetings and is willing to stick with her self imposed strictly solo lifestyle, keeping company with a plant named Plant.
That option becomes not viable as the members of her unique group are being hunted down by unknown enemies. Having no choice but to rely on each other as the body count grows higher, Lynette and company have to battle a new set of personal demons as brutally as they can.
With the various slasher movie references mixed with dark humor and heartfelt twists and turns, this book could a rough ride for some. Yet, for those who do take a seat on this fabulous frenzy of a novel, it’s well worth the price of admission:
A TRUE SISTER CLASS ACT
YOU ‘LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED TO LACEY:
Writer and comedian Amber Ruffin teams up with her sister Lacey Lamar to share some insight and humor into the way too many to count racial incidents in their lives.
From being followed in stores to work place encounters and best mistaken for Black celebrities that they do not resemble at all, Ruffin and Lamar showcase the sad reality of racism with a strong sense of self and a few laughs to make these situations better to cope with.
As a fan of Ruffin’s work on Late Night with Seth Meyers and her own streaming series on Peacock, The Amber Ruffin Show, this book is a heartfelt reflection of the tough times that she and her sister (who is equally as eloquent as her famous sibling in her storytelling sections) have dealt with on a sadly regular basis.
Over the past few years, it’s been hard for me to engage with nonfiction books due to the dire nature of the news headlines making that whole “truth stranger than fiction “ saying way too real.
However, this was the one nonfiction title that I was determined to read and I hope that others do as well for the excellent insights and savvy humor that Amber and her sister Lacey have graciously given us all:
These books and many others were wonderful to read this year and I plan to enjoy many more in 2022.
So this is my last post of 2021 and I thank you all for stopping by to check my small corner of the pop culture world out. I also thank all of the authors on this list as well as the many others out there who have persisted in giving readers like me well needed respites during these difficult days.
While unity seems pretty much impossible right now on far too many fronts, a good story can be a great start to coming together and hopefully, that distance can grow smaller and smaller as time goes by.
Happy Holidays to everyone and see you in the new year:
While we’re still at a crossroads between getting back to “normal “ and staying safe during the sadly still ongoing health crisis in the world, there are some sources of much needed entertainment relief out there such as the movies.
Whether you can find a theater that feels right for your level of comfort or prefer to stick with streaming services, there are some buzz worthy films around that have the added bonus of being book adaptations to boot.
A major one is House of Gucci, with an all star cast that includes Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Lady Gaga in a true crime story based on Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 nonfiction book.
The lynchpin of the real life and cinematic tale is Patrizia Reggiani(Lady Gaga) who marries into the Gucci family and has plenty of ideas about how to run the acclaimed fashion empire.
Pushed out by family politics , she is bound and determined to gain control of the company, especially since the current heirs to the corporate throne are either incompetent or uninterested in maintaining the high standards of their legacy(including her husband!).
That drive does lead to scandal and murder, which should make for a hell of a movie at the very least. While the reviews have been mixed, most would agree that Gaga’s performance is well worth the price of admission:
Due out at a multiplex near you as well as Netflix, The Power of the Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a surly rancher who feuds with his new sister in law Rose(Kirsten Dunst).
Phil’s vicious behavior doesn’t fully extend to Rose’s son Peter(Kodi Smit-McPhee) who he once mocked but reluctantly befriends over time. A number of secrets and lies become revealed which explains Phil’s aggressive nature and possibly seals his ultimate fate.
I don’t know how close to the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage this film is but director/screenplay writer Jane Campion is receiving some of the highest praise in her career here for it. Seems like a future Oscar contender for sure:
Now for something completely different indeed in Nightmare Alley, which has Bradley Cooper playing a 1940s era hustler named Stanton Carlisle.
Stanton has been learning a few extra tricks of the trade, thanks to carnival performers such as fortune teller Zeena(Toni Collette) and former top mentalist Pete(David Strathairn).
Now, he’s aiming for bigger targets in high society, partnering with the innocent looking Molly(Rooney Mara) and savvy shrink Lilith Ritter(Cate Blanchett).
As his scheme starts to unfold, Stanton grows suspicious of Ritter’s intentions and begins to wonder if her endgame is far more ruthless than his.
Although this story was made into a Tyrone Powell film , director and co-screenwriter Guillermo del Toro insists that the original 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham was the direct inspiration for this current adaptation. That sounds right, given del Toro’s style, and seeing him take on a full on noir piece like this ought to be quite the game changer there:
I hope that by this time next year, the decision to see a movie at home or in theaters is less of a health based concern. At least, our options in this regard are getting better and more convenient for many people who want a taste of movie magic in their lives.
Meanwhile, having a good book to screen adaptation in any format is fun to talk about with friends and fans alike(not to mention a good excuse to get together for much needed rewatching!). While the book is usually better, a good movie version is not to be overlooked at all: