What I've Been Reading in November
I know you don't have a lot of time on your hands - today of all days! - so I promise to keep this short, simple, and succinct.
What I've Been Reading in November has been a hodgepodge of classics (for the Monthly Book Club), thrillers, and even a few books that have been sitting on my TBR (to-be-read) pile for way too long. What I got from each of them was a reading holiday that transported me from my reading chair next to the window in my office to the English countryside, Ireland, New England in the autumn, the remote reaches of outer space, and an isolated hill community in rural Kentucky.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Remember when I shared last month that I discovered Moonflower Murders in the clearance section of my favorite used book store, bought it on a whim completely based on the cover, and then commenced becoming completely engrossed by it only to learn it was second in a two-book series? Delightfully, my library owns a copy of Magpie Murders, the first book in the series, and I checked it out immediately upon finishing Moonflower Murders last month. Y'all, it is completely unputdownable! Like the other book in the series, Magpie Murders is a novel-within-a-novel, so you get not only one engrossing thriller, but two - both full of literary references that bibliophiles the world over will love (especially the Agatha Christie fans).
Reading Magpie Murders over the weekend, I wanted to climb into the Atticus Pünd novel and live in an English village in the 1950s. It reminded me of every village-life BBC program I've ever loved (Doc Martin, Endeavor...). Anthony Horowitz has written two mysteries so cleverly interwoven (again!) that the reader is joyously forced into letting the book unwind before them without a clue as to what is actually happening until it is revealed at the end. It is so full of clever that the reader hasn't a chance to correctly guess the outcome, so just sit back and enjoy the ride, my friend. It is a doozy!
Dubliners by James Joyce
I began reading Dubliners as a two-for-one type deal. It was my 22 in '22 Reading Challenge Book for November that also doubled as a possible selection for the Monthly Book Club in 2023. Truthfully, I DNF'd (did not finish) it last month because I just could not connect with the author or any of the short stories that he included in it. I became so frustrated before I chose to DNF it that I reached out to two friends, complaining about the author, the setting, the stories, the characters...just ALL of the things. At one point, I even asked one of them, "Is James Joyce even a good writer?!" to which she responded,
I think with a writer of Joyce’s stature, it’s better to conclude "he isn’t to my taste" than "he’s not a good writer."
It's wonderful to have well read friends that will speak the truth to you, isn't it?
So this month, I picked Dubliners back up and read along to Chris O'Dowd's Audiobook version and I have to admit, the Irish accent & cadence helped a lot.
Now that I have finished it, I'm glad I read Dubliners. I'm glad I stuck it out and found a way to connect with it even though at the time it seemed like little more than a series of men's locker room stories. (Fret not. There were a couple of gems tucked in there, as well - the short story titled Clay was my favorite.)
I think I will spend a little time getting to know the author before I plunge into another of his tales, but I am very pleased that I feel like I will pick up another James Joyce novel in the future...the distant future, mind you, but the future nonetheless.
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
Everyone has heard of Alcott's Little Women, but I'm not sure everyone has ever heard of the New Hampshire Bassets, a farming family in the 1800s that Louisa May Alcott shared inside the pages of her Thanksgiving-themed short story published in 1882. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving was the November selection inside the Monthly Book Club and it generated a lot of homey feelings from the past and memories of precious moments with family & friends gathered 'round a table laden with our favorite holiday foods.
If you're wanting a readable short story that feels like a walk down memory lane, one that is reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie and includes mishaps in the kitchen, full of family and big on heart, An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving is the holiday book you didn't know you needed to read this Thanksgiving weekend.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
My personal belief is that we turn to post-apocalyptic fiction not because we're drawn to disaster, per se, but because we're drawn to what we imagine might come next. We long secretly for a world with less technology in it. (p. 191)
From the author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel comes this time travelish novel that is part mystery, part sci-fi. Taking place during three distinct periods in time, Sea of Tranquility is a story of relationships through both time and space. It takes the reader on a journey to unravel a mystery (no spoilers) & connect the dots right alongside the main characters. Reading Sea of Tranquility reminded me of a mash-up between Doctor Who and Marvel with a little of The Truman Show thrown in for good measure.
There is interplanetary travel. Moon colonization. Dome living. A good amount of artificiality in the "current" world (which, by the way, is the future).
We have a desire to believe that we're living in the climax of the story. It's kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we're uniquely important, that we're living at the end of history, that now...is finally the worst that it's ever been, that finally we have reached the end... (p. 189)
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
I have wanted to read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek for over a year! It has been sitting at the top of my TBR pile for at least that long, having scored an excellent copy for only $2 in the clearance section of my favorite used book store. I've given it the side eye for at least a year and then early this month I saw a local book club was reading it and I decided I'd join them.
I'm so glad I did!
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek reminded me of the novel Christy by Catherine Marshall except that instead of a shared Scottish ancestry among the mountain folk, they share a French genealogy - one that brought with it the possibility of a totally different set of problems and a prejudice that completely took me by surprise.
If you loved The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, the Pack Horse Library Initiative during the Great Depression, or books that talk about other books, you must add The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to your own TBR pile - the top of the pile.
Bonus: There's a sequel to this unputdownable book titled The Book Woman's Daughter.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
One of my favorite contemporary authors is Fredrik Backman. I fell in love with Backman when I fell in love with A Man Called Ove and that love has only grown as I've read several of his other titles, but none has completely taken me hostage as much as Backman did with Ove - until Beartown. Beartown is a novel that is about as real as life gets and like other Backman novels, you need to have tissues and be prepared to surrender to all the feels when you turn the first page.
Small hockey town. Snow nine months of the year. What else is there but hockey?
Until this thing happens. A serious thing.
Beartown is about how that thing even became a thing, about how that thing tore the town apart, about how that thing continues to unravel lives.
That thing (and how tiny Beartown handles it) is what makes this novel a must-read, in my opinion.
I devoured Beartown over the weekend and within an hour of finishing it, I was at the library checking out the second in the series, Us Against You. And y'all, Backman is back this holiday season with the third in the series, The Winners.
⚠️ Trigger Warning: This book involves assault.
What About You?
I hope you'll share what you've been reading in November in the comments below. I'm always looking for excellent book recs.
And if you've read anything I've shared this month, let me know what you think. I'd love to read your perspective, too.