Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What I've Been Reading: November 2014

I know we're not quite at the end of the month yet, and this post would normally be up this Thursday. But since I thought many of us (myself included) might be a little preoccupied with family, turkey and gratitude (not necessarily in that order), I'd share what I've been reading a little early this month.

Sometimes, like this month, my reading list makes me laugh. If it looks a little schizophrenic to you, please believe that I've noticed it, too. I really do read a lot of different genres, and some of the titles that run back to back (or in the case of a book and audiobook, concurrently) are very often very different. Sometimes, that's on purpose. It can be really easy to get lost if plots, settings, or characters are similar. So it tends to be easier to, say, read a thriller and listen to a funny memoir on audio in the same day than it would be to read and listen to two different thrillers in the same day. That just happens to be what works for me--your mileage may vary. This is all just the long way of saying, yes, I realize the books I've read this past month are really all over the map, and may look a little odd if you look too hard at the sequence.

The Girl Next Door, by Ruth Rendell. Is it still a mystery if you know who's dead and whodunnit within the first twenty pages of a novel? Rendell manages to make it happen, but I spent a good hundred pages or so trying to puzzle out where the story was going after those first twenty pages. In the summer of 1944, a group of neighborhood children find an earthen tunnel and turn it into their hideout, where they play games and tell stories, until one of the parents forbids them to return. Six decades later, the land is being developed and a tin box is found containing two human hands. The incident draws the surviving members of that group of children back together again, with results that none among them could have expected. Absolutely worth the read, but be patient with it--Rendell really doesn't give away more than she means to, precisely when she means to do it.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch. I'm late to the party on this Dutch novel, which was published here in the US in 2012. It's a slim novel and a fast read, as two couples get together over dinner and must ultimately discuss an incident that will change their lives, and those of their children, forever. It's much too easy to give away spoilers, so I'll say that I found it compelling and thought provoking. This is a great read for folks who like plot twists like those in Defending Jacob or Gone Girl.

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. From one dinner to a feast for your funny bone. Gaffigan is best known for his comedy bits devoted to food (Hot Pockets, bacon, etc.). I listened to this one in the car, and never has a traffic jam been so amusing as I sat and was entertained by Gaffigan extolling the possibility of choking on bacon (like being murdered by your lover) and decrying the current American obsession with superfoods like kale (the early morning of food). Very highly recommended.

The Eleventh Victim, by Nancy Grace. Sometimes I encounter a novel which is told by multiple characters, and the result is magic. Sometimes, like The Eleventh Victim, the result is an uneven narrative in which two story lines are extremely compelling and two other seem to have little or no connection to the rest of the novel. After Hailey Dean's fiance is murdered just weeks before their wedding, Hailey fights back the best way she knows how--in court, prosecuting violent criminals and putting away one bad guy after another. This eventually wears her out, and she finally leaves the courtroom for good after being attacked by a man as he's sentenced for eleven heinous murders. She heads to NYC and goes back to her roots, becoming a therapist and trying to move forward in her life. Until that last criminal is released, and begins to stalk her in earnest. The core of the novel is excellent, but with too many distracting sub-plots, it was not without flaws.

Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrand. I actually haven't read Hilderbrand before, but this little novel somehow found its way onto my request list and it was sweet and light and lovely. There are no surprises in this tale of a disastrous Christmas in one family as each family member comes together to love and support one another in the midst of individual crises. Kelley has just found out that his second wife has been cheating on him, and even after she walks out, he must deal with the reality that the Nantucket inn that he owns and operates is killing him financially. One son must take the ultimate plunge after years of deliberately casual relationships. Another is in Afghanistan. A third is in danger of losing everything after some bad investment decisions. And daughter Ava is so involved in her aloof boyfriend that she can't see love right in front of her. It is the least likely person who manages to save the day. Perfect for cozy holiday reading.

The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison. I love a good twisted thriller, and Harrison's The Silent Wife absolutely fits the bill. Jodi and Todd are in a terribly unstable place in their relationship. After decades together, unmarried but living as man-and-wife, everything is at stake, including their affluent lifestyle. Todd is a serial cheater, and Jodi has perfected denial as an art form. He has supported her, she has meticulously maintained his home and organized his life. When he decides to leave her, she has nothing left to lose and is determined to get the ultimate revenge. The narrative is tight and clean, alternating between Him and Her, as they careen toward the story's climax. I'll refer back to what I said about Koch's The Dinner, above: this would be excellent for readers who also liked Defending Jacob or Gone Girl.

Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. In light of the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon) coming out on December 5, I really wanted to get this off of my bucket list and read. May I just say, wow. In the wake of personal tragedies, at 26 Strayed solo-hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. Over the course of this awe-inspiring journey, Strayed manages to find the one thing she'd lost since losing her mother and her marriage: herself. Told with suspense as well as humor, this story of the terrors and triumphs that occurred along the trail is absolutely riveting. Very highly recommended.

Us, by David Nicholls. I put this on my Picks list for November, and I'm glad to have gotten to this one sooner rather than later. Douglas Petersen is a mild-mannered scientist, a little odd but extremely witty, funny enough to win over beautiful Connie on their second date, and eventually the two marry. Now, twenty-five years and one child (17-year-old Albie) later, Connie announces that she's done with their marriage, that she'll leave after their family tour of Europe over the summer. When Albie leaves for college, Connie's out, too. What follows is Douglas's earnest, witty, and often optimistic narrative of what may be their last summer together as a family, as he tries not only to save his marriage, but also to develop a relationship with the son whose life has always seemed to mystify Douglas. Deeply insightful, wryly amusing, and beautifully rendered. I adored it.

That's 8 titles for November, bringing my 2014 total to 74! I'm just one book away from my 2014 goal of 75 titles for the year. Obviously, I've got this goal in the bag, so now I'm just going to see how far past my original milestone.

Happy Thanksgiving, readers, and Happy Reading!

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