Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
St. John Mandel is the author of Station Eleven, one of my favorites from a few years ago (and a very good miniseries starring Mackenzie Davis). My wife gave me this one as a Christmas present and while it doesn't stand up to S11 (that'd be a tall order) I did race through it in just a few days. A fun story about complex time travel across times and places both familiar (Vancouver Island, NYC), and exotic (Moon Colonies 1 and 2). The twist at the end is a winner.
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
Two brothers hitch up a mule team and a Schuttler wagon to travel the original ruts of the Oregon Trail. I'm a sucker for personal journeys and it's rare for me to find a new one that works; happily this one really does. It's an egaging, honest history and a modern story at the same time. Buck meticulously relates (and clearly loves) details of the past without the constant tirades against modernity that I often have to slog through in the genre. Experiential archaeology at its best!
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Four kids escape an abusive Indian boarding school during the Depression, traveling by canoe from feeder rivers in Nebraska to the Mississippi at Saint Paul. It's a great story that embeds the kids remarkably in their time and place. Some great lessons about accepting and overcoming your own failings, and a cast of imperfect characters that are all just trying their best. It isn't a "happy" book but it left me feeling like there's more good than bad in the world.
The Year of the Puppy by Alexandra Horowitz
We brought home a new puppy a few weeks ago, thus the pick. The author (a canine cognition researcher, what a sweet job), adopted "Quiddity" at the height of the pandemic and wrote this book all about her first year of life. She writes honestly about her own journey (ups and downs) but really shines helping us understand what the puppy herself experienced each month along the way. It's a wonderful, empathetic perspective that made me better appreciate just how amazingly these fantastic, infuriating little creatures learn to fit into their human families.
Math with Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin
People always think that because I'm a Computer Science guy, I must be good at math. I am not. But I'd like to be, so at least once a year I try to get at least halfway through a math book before giving up. This one kept me engaged all the way to the end! Orlin is a math nerd that explains things using analogy and intuition and all that fuzzy stuff that helps somebody like me connect the dots. It's not going to earn you a PhD, but it does explain some cool stuff about how the world works. Give it a try.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Yikes I did not see that twist coming. Creepy psycho thriller but super worth it. That is all.
Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is a great author and a great reader; I listened to this one in the car and highly recommend the audio version. The theme is honestly a bit fuzzy, but no matter. It's basically a bunch of stories about hiking, helping out on a small english farm and taking a long RV trip during the height of covid, and he's just a great story teller. I'm also 100% there for his unabashed progressivism, which basically involves listening, empathy and common sense. I'm not sure he brings a ton of solutions, but he's trying, which is more than can be said for most folks these days.
The Engineer's Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood
Lara found this one for me --- a fictionalized but close-to-reality account of the woman who was the de facto chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. Her husband was the original CE but was disabled both physically and mentally by "cassion disease" (the bends) caused by high pressure differentials travelling to/from the work areas setting footings at the bottom of the river. Emily Roebling is a remarkable character and the story is a great window into late 1800s America.
Hysterical by Elissa Bassist
This book clearly took serious guts to write. It cuts hard --- forcing me over and over to shut down the "wait, not ME" reflex that I'm sure is natural but just isn't useful. Her story rings a lot of bells that I hear from the women around me. It's also quite funny, but yikes. Absolutely worth the read.
The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin
An American librarian in netural Portugal harvests foreign publications to support WW2 intelligence operations. A woman in occupied France writes and distributes newspapers for the resistance. The stories are intertwined well and I'm a sucker for historical fiction set in wartime Lisbon --- another good one is Rossio Square #59.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen
I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts in the late 70s and 80s. Our schools did the whole shelter under your desk thing, but consensus amongst my friends was that we were close enough to a bunch of ICBM development facilities that we’d go quickly in the first strike anyways. Kind of creepily fatalistic for a bunch of ten year olds... read more
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Two stories: one about an orphan and her brother growing up in 1900s Montana (and Seattle, and Vancouver, and England, and...); the other about the modern-day, child-star actress cast to play that same orphan in a biopic. Tons of great settings and details, especially the sections about the ATA during World War 2. The kind of book that makes me keep coming back to historical fiction!
The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
This is basically a reprise of his first "walk around Britain" book Notes from a Small Island, written about a decade later to commemorate his new British citizenship. It's not quite as captivating as the first, but it's still a great ground-level peek at the corners of an amazing country. Bryson is so much better at these than his other genres.