In a recent article in the New York Times, Julie Lasky quoted author Reid Byers on home libraries: "Entering our library should feel like easing into a hot tub, strolling into a magic store, emerging into the orchestra pit or entertain a chamber of curiosities, the club, the circus, our cabin on an outbound yacht, the house of an old friend. It is setting forth and it is coming back to center."
After reading the article, I counted up the books in my house -- well over 500. And I realized I have a "home library." Not that I've read them all, but I plan to!
Which leads me to the 58 books I read in 2021. I had set a goal of 60 and I didn't make it, as well as a page goal of 20,000 -- and I didn't make that, either. But I enjoyed most all of the books I read. Here they are, with my favorites and links to previous posts! (Books previously mentioned here are linked. I thought a few others were, but I can't find the post!)
The Top Nine (in no particular order)
Follies: Everything Was Possible by Ted Chapin -- You don't have to be a lover of Broadway or Stephen Sondheim to find this book fascinating, but if you'd like to follow a remarkable musical behind the scenes, from audition to rehearsals, out of town tryouts to Broadway; get the dish on a cast of Broadway and film veterans who were in the cast and dip into the minds of Sondheim, producer Hal Prince, choreographer Michael Bennett and more, this is for you. Author Chapin was a student doing an independent study as a production assistant when he kept his detailed diary and it's a treat for anyone who loves theatre.
The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell -- Have you ever heard of Maxine Elliott? I hadn't, but in the 30s she was the hostess with the mostest on the Riviera (move over, Pearl Mesta!). From an impoverished background to a stage career to the real-life role of ex-pat aristocrat, Elliott created her own glamorous world -- one that attracted Winston Churchill, two Princes of Wales and Aly Kahn, who bought her estate after her death and continued her legacy. Fascinating and dishy!
Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis -- If you've only seen the musical "Mame" or the film "Auntie Mame," you haven't really learned all there is to know about Mame Dennis, the flapper who found herself a guardian of a ten-year-old boy after the death of her brother. Patrick Dennis tells the story and it's delightful and illuminating.
Finding Chika by Mitch Albom -- Columnist Mitch Albom is well known in Michigan for his work in the Detroit Free Press and to a wider audience as the author of "Tuesdays with Morrie," among many other books. Finding Chika may be his most personal story yet, as he recounts the all too brief life of Chika, a Haitian orphan with a severe heart condition that he and his wife brought to the U.S. after the Haiti earthquake in the quest for medical help. Chika is an unforgettable character and she touched not only the Alboms' lives but those of all she encountered. She'll touch yours, too.
The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan -- This was a fun fiction read about a woman who finds a manuscript in the drawer of the B&B she stays in and goes on a quest to find the author. Lives are changed, relationships built and hearts are healed in this delightful novel.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles -- I probably need to say little about this one; I may have been last on the block to read it but oh, it was fabulous. Beautifully written, it is the story of a Russian aristocrat who is "imprisoned" after the fall of the Tsar in a luxury hotel he must never leave. As decades go by, he encounters a variety of remarkable characters -- the hotel staff, guests and even a young girl named Nina whose life makes a profound impact on his. The first 30 pages or so were a slow start for me. And then I couldn't put it down.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris -- The subject of the film of the same name, Chocolat tells of Viviane and her daughter, who come to a small French town and open up a chocolate shop, right before Lent. This act raises the hackles of the town priest who does all he can to shut her down and changes the lives of some of the villagers at the same time. Even if you've seen the movie (now on Netflix), don't pass up this eloquently written, magical book.
Not in a Tuscan Villa by John and Nancy Petralia -- Most books about moving to a foreign country seem to settle on buying and restoring a villa. The Petralias decided they wanted to spent a year in Italy, but living as the Italians in the cities do. They find an apartment (two), they dine out, go to museums, opera, become friendly with the locals and in the process learn what it is really like for a relatively ordinary couple to uproot their lives and discover something new.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmun -- Oh, if I ever have to live in a retirement community, please let it be like Cooper's Chase, where Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim meet every Thursday to solve "cold cases" from former member Penny's police files. But when murder comes to the community itself, they are convinced they can find the culprit. Eventually working with two reluctant police detectives, they take on their challenge and will delight you every step of the way in their quest. (I haven't reviewed this yet but will in the next book wrap.)
I love mysteries, as is obvious by the quantity of titles here (37, well over half). I'm fond of series, most of which I think are best read in order and you will see three of my favorite writers in this category: Elly Griffiths, Susan Hill and Donna Leon, all of whom write rather complex and not-cozy mysteries.
I must also recommend the British Classic Library Series -- British mysteries from the golden age of the 30s and 40s from writers less known than their contemporaries, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, among others. The covers alone are treasures.
I also discovered a couple new series writers this year -- Rennie Airth (not cozy) whose mysteries set in England between the wars are fascinating and Jeanne Dams (definitely cozy) who always seems to get herself into a peck of trouble.
Books read by Elly Griffiths
- The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths
- The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
- The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
- The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths
- The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths
- The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
- The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths
Books by Susan Hill
- The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill
- A Question of Identity by Susan Hill
- The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill
- The Comforts of Home by Susan Hill
Books by Donna Leon
- Quietly in their Sleep by Donna Leon
- A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon
- Fatal Remedies by Donna Leon
- Friends in High Places by Donna Leon
- A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon
Books by Frances and Richard Lockridge
- Death Has a Small Voice by Richard and Frances Lockridge
- Hanged for a Sheep by Frances and Richard Lockridge
- Dead as a Dinosaur by Frances and Richard Lockridge
Books by Rennie Airth
- River of Darkness by Rennie Airth
- The Blood Dimmed Tide by Rennie Airth
- The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth
Books by Jeanne Dams
- The Body in the Transept by Jeanne Dams
- Trouble in the Town Hall by Jeanne Dams
- Holy Terror in the Hebrides by Jenane Dams
- Malice in Miniature by Jeanne Dams
- Victim at Victoria Station by Jeanne Dams
British Library Crime Classics
- Inspector French's Greatest Cast by Freeman Wills Crofts
- Death Opposite the Church by Francis Vivian
- Death to Anton by Alan Melville (not yet reviewed; will include in next book wrap.)
Solo books -- (The Upson, Fossum, Pryor and Osmun books are part of a series.)
- Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson
- In the Darkness by Karin Fossum
- The French Widow by Mark Pryor
- Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers
- Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
- The Beckett Factor by Michael David Anthony
- The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmun (review to come.)
When I read fiction, chances are it is a book or author who has been passed along to me by a friend with similar interest. So, I have Rick and friends Suzanne, Joan, Lin, Maryanne and blogger Ricki Jill to thank for the titles in this list! Oddly enough, three of my top ten were in this category. Two were short and small, including the beloved children's favorite, "Stuart Little." "The Christmas Tree" is a charming small book about about the Rockefeller Center gardener who goes on a quest to find the perfect tree for the center and finds it in a convent, where the nun who loves it dearly is reluctant to let it go. A Christmas MUST!
Other books not mentioned above of special note in this list are the final book in Hilary Mantel's "Cromwell" series, The Mirror and the Light and Love, Death and Rare Books, where I learned a whole lot about antiquarian books!
- Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
- The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
- The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
- Love, Death and Rare Books by Robert Hellenga
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- Chocolat by Joanne Harris
- A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
- Stuart Little by E.B. White
- The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon
I like non-fiction and don't read enough but when I do, it's usually travel. Mike Biles' High Days and Holy Days has been referred to more than once and James Herriott's Yorkshire has been a fun companion as I've been enjoying "All Creatures Great and Small" on PBS. (New season starts January 9!) France: A Love Story is a wonderful collection of essays.
- A Bit About Britain's High Days and Holy Days by Mike Biles
- France: A Love Story edited by Camille Casomano
- Follies: Everything was Possible by Ted Chapin
- James Herriott's Yorkshire by James Herriott and Derry Brabbs
Well, if you count memoir/biography as non-fiction, maybe I read more than I thought! Of those books not included in my top ten but still very noteworthy were Pancakes in Paris, Craig Carlson's wonderful story of how he opened an American diner in Paris -- and all the problems and joys that come with operating a business as an ex-pat in the City of Light. You Must Remember This is a must for film fans. The star of "Hart to Hart" recalls the golden days of Hollywood -- the time of his arrival and the decades before when Hollywood grandeur was at its peak. It's really more of a history than a biography but could go either way. I thought I knew a lot about Charles and Diana, but I learned a lot more in "Diana vs. Charles" -- definitely fun.
- Finding Chika by Mitch Albom
- Diana vs. Charles by James Whitaker
- You Must Remember This by Robert J. Wagner
- Not in a Tuscan Villa by John and Nancy Petralia
- The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell
- Pancakes in Paris by Craig Carlson (I'll review this in the next book wrap.)
I mentioned this when reviewing my November books. It's not for everyone, but anyone into painting will find valuable lessons here.
So, that sums up 2021. And 2022 has started -- which means I have, too! We'll see what pops up in the new year!