The second half of November, once I finished some major work events, was great for reading. I finished 7 books in all, though among that I’m including one I edited (I’ll have read it about 4 times by the time I finish work on it this week). This was a diverse reading month, including more non-fiction than I’ve read in awhile (3 titles), 2 novellas, and some sci-fi/fantasy. Not typical at all but a nice mix.
Let’s do some recaps!
The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman – 3* – (Nov. 10):
Either the author didn’t want us to feel for the main characters of this book or she failed to make me sympathetic to the position they were in, but I was left kind of hating everyone in this book by the time it was over with very few exceptions. I believe the characters were meant to be good people in difficult circumstances and tried to approach their story with that in mind. Basic plot: Tom and Isabel live on a remote island where he is a lighthouse keeper. After several failed attempts to start a family, a boat washes up on shore with two occupants – a dead man and an infant girl. The book is about the struggles they face as a couple and then with society as they go to great lengths to pass this child off as their own, even when they discover the child still has family back on the mainland. The book had potential but because I didn’t connect with the characters, I found myself actively hoping justice would be done in the end.
Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly – 4* – (Nov. 13):
Nellie Bly was a journalist back in the late 1800s and this is her story of the 10 days she spent on Blackwell Island, an insane asylum near NYC. The first half of the book is about the ruse she put on to have herself committed, seeing that she was not insane or in any way afflicted. Her time in the institution was interesting to read. Because she wasn’t considered violent or a threat, she was subjected to some of the more horrible treatments standard for that day. Still, nobody would listen as she kept demonstrating that she (and others) aced the exams of the doctors, proving they shouldn’t be there. Her experience and the attention she drew to it made a real difference in how patients at Blackwell were treated.
The Last Superhero – Astrid ‘Artistikem’ Cruz – 5* – (Nov 14):
Ask anyone in my #jhbc book club and they’ll tell you “Stacia doesn’t read sci-fi.” It’s true – fantasy, sci-fi, romance are not usually my thing. But this book? It’s not only those things. It’s beautiful characters, struggling with their day-to-day lives and some difficult situations. Then boy meets girl, boy saves girl from a mugging, and girl has to then save him from himself. The fact that he happens to be a semi-retired superhero is important for the specifics but the overall themes are relationships, human struggle, and get stuff done action. The Kindle version is now available for pre-order (out later this month) but if you’re interested in an advance copy, let me know. That’s more than enough on this book for now – there will be more to come within the next week or so.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt – 3.5* – (Nov. 17):
The rave reviews for this book puzzle me almost as much as the book itself. If only I had any idea what it wanted to be when it grows up, it would be easier to rate it. As a tome of Savannah lore, it has far too much coverage of a murder case. As a crime thriller, it has far too much unrelated lore. The murder doesn’t even happen until pg 150 or so (out of 386). Some of the earlier chapters do add relevancy and depth to the criminal thriller aspect but even once the trial(s) of Williams begins, the author wanders all over the place. The book is really “This Author’s Time in Savannah: What he heard and saw.” All of that griping aside, I finished it because we were going to visit Savannah the next week and it was worthwhile to know more about the city. After reading, I watched the movie with my husband. He enjoyed it while I found the movie a horrible adaptation. Though seeing Kevin Spacey practice his accent for House of Cards so many years ago was entertaining…
The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides – 3.5* – (Nov. 27):
After their youngest daughter, Cecilia, commits suicide, the Lisbon parents become even more strict with the remaining four daughters. The best part of this book is the POV – it’s not presented as seen by the girls and there’s no omniscient narrator. Instead, the narrator is a boy who grew up with the girls presenting his experience in trying to know them and save them. Because of this, there aren’t a lot of definite answers. While the perspective is what makes this book great, it’s also what keeps me from rating it higher. The distance from the girls left me with a bit of disconnect from the final events, though it was very beautifully written. I watched the movie version right after reading and it was a very faithful adaptation overall. The cinematography and soundtrack were lovely – I’d give the movie 4*.
It Chooses You – Miranda July – 3.75* – (Nov. 29):
Mike bought this book on a recent trip and I decided to give it a quick read. The author interviews people selling items in the PennySaver while procrastinating the completion of her current screenplay. Each visit is its own chapter with accompanying photos of the items for sale, the seller, and their home. July is very thoughtful in her interviews, focusing on what makes them special and positive despite some awkward encounters. However, I can’t separate the interviews entirely from her screenplay. She speaks of it frequently, how the PennySaver interviews are helping her creative process as she figures out what’s lacking in her movie characters. The problem for me? I saw the movie a few years ago and hated it. HATED it. The characters weren’t great people and there’s a whole weird time element that came from nowhere. So the book gets 3.75*. And the movie, The Future, gets 0.5* only because I wouldn’t want someone to think I forgot to rate it by giving it a zero. Read the book; skip the movie.
Parnassus on Wheels – Christopher Morley – 4* – (Nov. 30):
After finishing It Chooses You, I had a day and a half left in the month and a shiny new novella in my hands. Perfect! This straightforward little story is about a woman who’s tired of being taken for granted by her brother so when an opportunity for adventure presents itself, she takes it. And this is how Helen finds herself roaming the countryside in a wagon converted into a second hand bookstore. The characters in the book are nicely developed and even when she paints her brother in a dark light, Helen’s quick to remind herself (and the reader) that he’s not ALL bad, she’s just ready to quick baking bread for him while he has all the fun. It’s a fun adventure with a bit of humor. The Professor and his Parnassus (the original proprietor and the wagon) reminded me a bit of Professor Marvel in Wizard of Oz. This novella is one of those love letters to reading and books that make me feel warm and fuzzy when done. I finished this book and immediately picked up the sequel, The Haunted Bookshop.
I’m well on my way to 50 books but officially completed my adjusted goal of 45. I still haven’t read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (for #jhbc) but that’s next up as soon as I finish The Haunted Bookshop. I usually read something for Christmas as well. I bought a bunch of books during the month so I’m anxious to make progress again on my TBR before Christmas comes.
Happy reading and let me know if you have any favorite Christmas reads to recommend!