Book World: 10 noteworthy books for December

“How to Turn Into a Bird” by María José Ferrada; “Tom Clancy Red Winter” by Marc Cameron; “Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion” by Bushra Rehman

December can be a busy month, and finding downtime can be as simple as a good book with a cozy blanket and a mug of something warm. You might start with one of these delightful December releases.

‘The Vibrant Years,’ by Sonali Dev (Mindy’s Book Studio, Dec. 1)

A surprise million-dollar inheritance allows Bindu Desai to purchase a luxurious retirement condo, but it also threatens to expose a secret she would prefer to keep hidden from the two people she most cares about – her tech-savvy granddaughter, Cullie, and her daughter-in-law, Aly. All three women are at different life stages, but each supports the others through tangled paths woven by careers, love and family history. These Indian American women and their struggles will appeal to readers from every age and culture.

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‘Tom Clancy Red Winter,’ by Marc Cameron (Putnam, Dec. 6)

CIA analyst and former Marine Jack Ryan is tapped to investigate a potential defector in East Berlin. Working with agents in Moscow and West Berlin, Ryan races to uncover the truth while KGB and Stasi assassins close in. Cameron brings the essence of Tom Clancy’s heroes to life and creates a fast-paced thriller with all the technical details and authenticity that fans crave.

‘The Light Pirate,’ by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Grand Central, Dec. 6)

“Where the Crawdads Sing” meets “Station Eleven” in this near-future eco-fiction novel spanning the life of a Florida woman born during – and named after – Hurricane Wanda. As ocean levels rise and infrastructure falters, Wanda’s neighbors migrate north; when her father refuses to leave the ghosts of his past behind, she must learn self-sufficiency from a survivalist neighbor, eventually charting a course for a new way of living. Brooks-Dalton’s rumination on what might happen if sea levels remain unchecked paints a dramatic picture of a nation returning to the wilderness it once was.

‘My Darkest Prayer,’ by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron, Dec. 6)

Fans of “Blacktop Wasteland” might not realize that the award-winning noir thriller wasn’t Cosby’s first full-length novel. A new edition of his debut is being republished, including a new author’s note. After modest success with short stories, Cosby remembers being “terrified” of writing a novel, when an encouraging friend who knew that Cosby worked in a funeral home described the job as a “ready-made story factory.” The result is this colorful tale of small-town corruption connected to the death of a local minister. The author admits that some of his early writing may have been “rough hewn,” perhaps referring to the regular objectification of female characters, but his powerful storytelling skills shine through.

‘The Circus Train,’ by Amita Parikh (Putnam, Dec. 6)

Parikh’s well-researched novel centers on Lena, the daughter of a Greek illusionist in a circus traveling through Europe at the start of World War II. A childhood polio affliction caused her to spend much of her youth in a wheelchair, where she was marginalized despite her intellectual curiosity. After Alexandre, an orphan with a mysterious past, becomes her father’s apprentice, a friendship turns into something more just as the Nazis are zeroing in on the traveling show.

‘How to Turn Into a Bird,’ by María José Ferrada, translated by Elizabeth Bryer (Tin House, Dec. 6)

When his Uncle Ramón climbs onto a Coca-Cola billboard and doesn’t come back down, 11-year-old Miguel’s neighbors in Santiago, Chile, say that people aren’t meant to live as birds. But Miguel is fascinated by the idea of living alone in the sky. When he visits his uncle’s perch, the world looks different, but back on the ground, reality brings tension and even terror when a local boy disappears. As Miguel learns more about his family history, his uncle’s actions begin to make sense. Ferrada illustrates the value of compassion toward others in this tender coming-of-age tale.

‘Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion,’ by Bushra Rehman (Flatiron, Dec. 6)

Razia, raised in a strict household to be the perfect Allah-fearing daughter, finds small ways to rebel, but in the end, she always defaults to following her family’s rules. Escaping her neighborhood in Queens to attend a prestigious Manhattan high school widens the gap between her upbringing and the person she is becoming. As Razia explores an attraction to another girl, a family friend discovers her secret, forcing the teen to choose between her family’s acceptance and living her own truth.

‘Scatterlings,’ by Rešoketšwe Manenzhe (HarperVia, Dec. 13)

South Africa’s Immorality Act of 1927 decreed that interracial sexual relations were illegal, and the children produced by these unions suddenly became evidence of relationships banned by the government. Although Abram, a White man, and his wife, Alisa, a Black woman, are estranged, a visit from a government worker to verify their marriage certificate feels like a threat to their two daughters. As a result, Alisa makes a terrible choice that rends the family forever. With a raconteur’s rhythm, Manenzhe, a South African villager and storyteller, brings to life a painful piece of history, enriched with myths and lore.

‘Yours Truly: An Obituary Writer’s Guide to Telling Your Story,’ by James R. Hagerty (Citadel, Dec. 27)

The best obituaries read like compelling short stories, and the details matter – reading about someone who ran a moonshine business is more compelling than reading about someone’s background in sales. Instead of leaving your own history to be hurriedly written by a grieving family member, Hagerty, a lead obituary writer for the Wall Street Journal, suggests chronicling it yourself. By asking probing questions (“What were you trying to do with your life? Why?”) Hagerty helps readers preserve their legacies by writing mini-memoirs for those closest to them. Examining the past might even lead readers to make beneficial changes for the future.

‘One Last Secret,’ by Adele Parks (MIRA, Dec. 27)

Sharp as well as striking, Dora has a successful career as a discriminating escort but decides to move on to a new life with a man she loves, one who can keep her safe from the perils of her profession. Taking one last job with a well-paying regular client seems prudent enough, especially because all she must do is convince his friends that she is his girlfriend while vacationing at a French chateau. Upon arrival, it quickly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem, and keeping her secret might put Dora’s life in jeopardy.

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