I teased the possibility of a cover reveal for my second newsletter, but I was inspired to talk about other things before that was ready (though I got something in my email this morning that made me VERY EXCITED). This year and this season has me thinking about new traditions and new beginnings.
We’re not religious here at Chez Buck, but we do like our Christmas traditions. I’m Scandinavian (or, as my friend Lisa Lin likes to say, “Scandi AF”) so the mantel gets a couple of Julenisse—Norwegian Christmas elves—and this year, Mr. B trimmed back the neighbor’s holly tree, so we have copious swags of that in various places as well).
I also make candy and bake a ton at Christmastime, making English toffee and many batches of Julekake (Norwegian Christmas bread with cardamom, candied peel, dried fruit, and walnuts). I took an entire day off last week and was, in essence, a baking and candy-making machine so we could get everything shipped to family.
It was a good day - well, aside from that one batch of Julekake that I had to scrap because I had failed to put in a key ingredient. And my recipe makes three loaves at a time, so that was a lot of dough to toss. Ah, well. It could have been worse. I could have been operating from my grandmother’s original recipe, which made five loaves at a time. My mother likes to say, “You didn’t knead that dough: you hugged it.”
And today, the winter solstice, is the first day of Mr. B’s and my winter break. We both work in higher education, so we get pretty much Christmas Eve through New Year’s off every year. This year we’re rounding it out to two full weeks. We’re fortunate in many ways, but this year we feel especially so on this day, the shortest of the year.
Reading is always important, but it was especially crucial to me this year. Looking back, I thought I’d share some of my favorites of 2020. (Affiliate links to Amazon below.)
I’m not usually a big fan of anthologies, and I never love every story in one. Except for He’s Come Undone. First of all, it has some of my absolute favorite writers. And second? Every story is a gem. Every one. My friend Charlotte on her blog Close Reading Romance delves into some of the reasons why each of these writers and each of these stories is so special. Sadly, the anthology is already out of print, but Emma Barry has made her story, Appassionata, about an anxiety-ridden concert pianist and the starchy, precise piano technician who falls for her, available as a free download. Highly recommended.
This was also the year I finally got into Susanna Kearsley. I’d heard great things about her writing over the years, but I was under the mistaken impression that she always writes time travel books, which…I am not a fan of. No! Most of her work has historical and modern elements that interweave for various reasons (she’s a former museum worker, so her modern characters are often museum workers, archaeologists, and the like). This year’s Bellewether, about a Long Island family forced to house a captured French-Canadian officer during the French and Indian war and the museum director in the present day unraveling their story was stunning. I read it with my eyes when I could get it from the library, and am in the process of re-reading it on audio, which is…chef’s kiss. Three amazing narrators reading this stunning book.
Speaking of audiobooks, every time Loretta Chase comes out with a new one, I manage to try to preorder it on Audible at least three times, only to get the message, “You ordered this already, dummy.” (They’re a bit more polite about it, but if you can imagine electrons getting exasperated, that’s the vibe. I may be projecting.) This year she gave us a Taming of the Shrew trope in Ten Things I Hate About the Duke and it’s delightful. Chase is always funny, but she’s outdone herself here. And since her narrator is my absolute girl-crush Kate Reading, I leapt out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning to do my usual pre-dawn walk with earbuds in on the day it dropped onto my phone.
Speaking of funny, my friend Therese Beharrie’s One Day to Fall has some of my favorite things: a new-to-me place to explore (her own home of Cape Town, South Africa), an utterly prickly heroine that is also utterly lovable (seriously, Therese is so good at this), and humor. All on a 24-hour timeline. A bonbon of a book.
Also hilarious was The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan. Courtney is one of the rare people who can pull off silly for me. Silly can all too rapidly can devolve into slapstick, which I find boring and irritating. But she never goes too far and balances the humor with weightier themes and emotions and always grounds her stories in interesting spins on actual historical events (in this case, the development of Worcestershire sauce and how colonialism ruins everything, including food).
Jayce Ellis’ Andre also came out this year (full disclosure, Jayce is a dear friend of mine and I have been a beta reader of hers from time to time—also, we started to collaborate on a project before her life blew up with deadlines for a multi-book contract that included Andre and we have plans to get back to that this year…). I adore Jayce’s work. Her prose is golden, her nuanced portrayal of Black communities can be compared with Beverly Jenkins’ (yes, I said it), and the emotional conflicts are so real and relatable. Just…wonderful.
Last (oh, but not least) is Alyssa Cole’s While No One is Watching. Who can pull off a Get Out-style thriller about gentrification? Alyssa. Only Alyssa. I’ve known since I read An Extraordinary Union practically peeking between my fingers that she could create some seriously taut suspense and this book brings that 110%. If Jordan Peele doesn’t option this book, I will break something. Maybe several somethings. She’s also written a piece for Oprah Magazine about genre writing and politics and it’s predictably brilliant.
My next newsletter will be about looking forward instead of back…speaking of which, did you know I have a book for preorder? Of course you do. You read my newsletter, you devil.
Acting Up drops on January 22, 2021 and you can add it to your “To Read” list on Goodreads, or preorder it on Amazon for the discounted $0.99 price that will go up to $2.99 on release day. (I mean, if you really want to spend more money on my debut, I won’t cry about it, but…you don’t have to). Other platforms and print links will be coming soon.
Happy Solstice -