Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What I've Been Reading: November 2016

I've been reading a bit of everything this month, from the very light and fluffy to the deep and introspective, from psychological thrillers to historical fiction and just about everything in between.

The Island House, by Nancy Thayer. I had never read a book by Nancy Thayer before, but the summer crowds seem to love her, so I gave her a shot. Maybe it was the audiobook presentation, or maybe it was that I was listening to it in November, but I have a confession to make: I couldn't wait for it to be over. From reviews I've read (note to self: read a few of those reviews before selecting a title at random from a new-to-me author), this is not a fan favorite, either. The Vickery family and their children's friends gather in the family's Nantucket house every summer for more than a decade. This particular summer all of the children and the "summer children" are all over 21 and the winds of change are blowing for each of them. Some find love, some find peace, others find purpose and a need to move on. This could have used some heavy editing to pare down on repetition and some superfluous characters and subplots that went nowhere. I think I'll read a few more reviews before I try another of her books, but I'd have to recommend skipping this one.

Mischling, by Affinity Konar. A set of identical twin girls arrives in Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather in 1944 and are immediately whisked away to become part of the experimental population known as Mengele's Zoo. Here, they rely on their identical natures and they split responsibilities. Pearl is responsible for the sad, the good, and the past, while Stasha keeps the funny, the future, and the bad. That winter, Pearl disappears, and Stasha keeps hope that she will find Pearl alive--it becomes her sole mission after liberation. Bittersweet, touching, and deeply affecting, I'd recommend this for fans of books like All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Lilac Girls.

A Good Yarn, by Debbie Macomber. Second in Macomber's popular Blossom Street series, following The Shop on Blossom Street, A Good Yarn picks up with Lydia Hoffman in her yarn shop a year after the first book began. Lydia loves her shop, her boyfriend, and her life--as is the case in life, when everything seems to be perfect, something is bound to unravel. Her boyfriend's ex-wife (and mother of his son) pushes to be more of a fixture in the life he has been making with Lydia, and Lydia has to walk away to save herself. But she finds solace in teaching her newest group of knitting students, and their stories unfold to mesh with Lydia's over the course of the novel. Similar to the first book, but in a comforting way.

The Next, by Stephanie Gangi. Joanna lives and loves with everything she's got. But when her health takes a turn and the love of her life abandons her in her final decline only to take up immediately with another woman, she is determined to get even. Death? Death is not going to stop her. If anything, it's the perfect medium for her vengeful masterpiece--making Ned pay so that she can move on. A novel of life, death, revenge and peace that is so sharp and thought-provoking, it really gives a reader pause. Unlike anything else I've read, but I would definitely recommend it to readers who liked Caroline Kepnes's You.

The Muse, by Jessie Burton. I adored Burton's debut novel, The Miniaturist (you can read my full review here), so I was eager to see what her follow-up would be like. What I found was a book that had all of the poignant detail and elegant style of the first novel, with a story that was unique and captivating. Alternating between the story of Caribbean immigrant Odelle Bastien in 1967 East London and that of English heiress Olive Schloss in 1930's Spain, Burton weaves an intricate web of connection between the two women in a tale of deception, art, and ambition that I found completely spellbinding. I highly recommend both of Burton's novels.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood. I've been in love with Margaret Atwood's work since reading Alias Grace back in the 1990's. Here, in the wake of a national economic bust, young marrieds Stan and Charmaine find themselves unemployed and homeless, living in a third-hand Honda and subsisting on whatever odd jobs they can find. Desperate, they cannot believe their luck when they are offered a place in the Consilience gated community, where they will be offered jobs and a comfortable home...six months out of the year. On the alternating months, however, they'll be inmates in a prison complex. But how bad could that be, if they're guaranteed a home and a living wage the rest of the time? The truth is even more grim than what you're thinking. Atwood has a deft hand with dialog and keeps the shifting narration between Stan and Charmaine clear and perfectly paced. She is a master of her craft.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder, by Joanne Fluke. And who doesn't like some light and fluffy murder, complete with recipes? Second in Fluke's long-running Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series (following Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder), this installment finds Hannah on call when a friend discovers her husband murdered in her garage. Danielle has motive, but maintains her innocence, which leaves cookie baker and amateur sleuth Hannah on the case to clear Danielle's name. As sweet and easy as you can make a mystery, this was just what I wanted to read after the holiday.

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