I’ve been a long-time member of a wonderful havurah, a friendship group of great men and women who have become like family to me. One of my favorite traditions we enjoy together is our Hanukkah gift exchange. Recently we realized that unless we opted for a white elephant exchange, we were simply trading Starbucks gift cards. Not much fun at all! So we took a new approach and decided to use the opportunity to share our favorite books from the year. What a great idea it turned out to be! I was excited to contribute the first two books in what I consider to be one of the best new mystery series out there: Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Series. (I hope whoever received them enjoys the series as much as I do!) And I’m looking forward to diving into the novel I received, which is something I may never have picked up myself.
In that same spirit of literary giving, here’s my holiday gift to you: a little vacation reading list of my favorite books of the year. I hope there’s a little something for everyone.
- Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind
If you aren’t one of the lucky ones who has already discovered Louise Penny, I highly recommend starting at the beginning of this captivating series with Still Life. It’s the best way to begin to explore Penny’s Three Pines, a land that I can’t help but equate to Peter Pan’s Neverland (you can’t find it on any chart, only in your heart)! From her start as a broadcast journalist, Penny began writing novels with the avid encouragement of her husband. To date, she’s written 13 books in the series, delivering a little more than one each year since 2008. Even if you’re not a mystery lover, I expect you’ll love this Canadian town and its world of characters where Francophiles and Anglophiles collide and murders occur at a wild frequency. It’s one of my all-time favorites!
- Prisoners of Geography
Looking for a fantastic non-fiction read? Whether you love geography, history, politics, or all three, this is a must-read. Using 10 maps, author Tim Marshall shows us how geography serves as the foundation upon which nations are won—and lost. His narratives gave me a whole new perspective on the world from a vantage point that is surprisingly logical. (Who knew that the strength of the US may have more to do with our location on the world map—oceans on the east and west, waterways throughout, and weaker nations to the north and south—than almost any other factor? Fascinating!) Its relevance to what’s happening in our world today is astonishing.
I confess that I had avoided this one for quite a while. After all, it brings together two of my least favorite genres: fantasy and historical fiction. But when so many people whom I like and respect continued to tell me that Outlander is their absolute top pick of all time, I finally had to give in. Boy, am I glad I did! Not only have I learned the meaning of the word ‘Jacobite,’ but I’ve also come to see that fantasy and historical fiction could be a passion of mine after all. If you’re like me, take the time to dive into the novel before you’re tempted to take the shortcut and watch the TV series; the writing paints a perfect picture of these intriguing characters and their fantastical adventures.
- The Browns of California: A Family Dynasty that Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation
Even if you’re not as happy as I am to have ‘Governor Moonbeam’ in California’s highest seat, I recommend checking out this vivid history of the Golden State’s political dynasty. Author Miriam Pawel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and reporter who spent 25 years at Newsday and the Los Angeles Times, and her skill is crystal clear in this compelling chronicle of four generations of the Browns. It’s a particularly powerful read at a time when Jerry Brown is about to step out of public life after decades of service during which he has played a vital role transforming policies on education, the environment, and so much more. Brown may not be perfect (who is), but this is an eminently readable look at the “real” Browns of California.
- How to Think About Money
Of course, it wouldn’t it be right for me to sign off without including at least one book on money, and Jonathan Clements’ very readable and light read truly deserves to be included on anyone’s list of great reads. His approach has been called “financial feng shui,” and I agree completely. Clements shares “how to think about money” in five simple steps that each highlight that the ultimate goal of money is to give you the choice to do exactly what you want to do. As Clements writes in his introduction, “Growing wealthy is embarrassingly simple: We save as much as we reasonably can, take on debt cautiously, limit our exposure to major financial risks, and try not to be too clever with our investing.” What a great way to kick off the season of New Year's resolutions! (And if you want the CliffsNotes version, check out my blog posts covering the first three steps: Money really can buy happiness, How long do you plan to live (and are you planning for it?), and Ready to be a successful investor? It’s time to rewire your brain.)
Happy reading, and happy holidays! If you want to share your own favorites, let’s connect on Goodreads. I hope to see you there!