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Hello reader friends! I’m a few days late posting my reviews of the books I read in November, but here they are. Better late than never, right?
The books I read in November took me on quite the adventures. From faraway galaxies to deep inside the manic mind. From the English seashore in the 1800s to Cape Cod of present day. Into the woods and through the pages of library books. I hope you find at least one to add to your to-read stack.
by: Catherine Ryan Hyde
(Fiction/Coming of Age)
First of all, I love a rich coming-of-age tale, and this one checked all the boxes for me. Secondly, the main characters were well-developed, imperfect, and oh-so human.
Central to the story is 14-year-old Lucas Painter. Lucas is mature for his age yet weighted down with a slew of worries—his parents seem to hate each other, his best friend Conner is seriously depressed, and his older brother Roy, is serving in Vietnam. To clear his head, Lucas begins running in the woods behind his house where he crosses paths with the reclusive 55-year-old Zoe Dinsmore. Zoe has her own share of troubles and regrets.
This gentle story about redemption is life-affirming. I listened to the Audible version—the narrator did an A+ job.
My favorite sentence: If you think having and losing is so bad, try never having. Now that’s devastating.
The Reading List
by: Sara Nisha Adams
Aleisha (who never reads) has a summer job at the library which she finds boring. Makesh (also not a reader!) is a grieving widower trying to bond with his bookworm granddaughter. When Makesh asks Aleisha for book recommendations, she has little to offer. In fact, she is rude to him.
Right off, Aleisha feels bad about her behavior. Lo and behold, when she finds a reading list written on a scrap of paper tucked into the back of To Kill a Mockingbird, she decides to read the books on the list. Then, she begins recommending them one at a time to Makesh.
While the premise of this book intrigued me—and I really, really wanted to love it—I had a hard time getting into the story. (Really, I’m not sure I ever did.) Each chapter flips to a different character and different POV. And although I liked the main characters, Aleisha and Makesh, there were lots of other characters who seemed unnecessary to me.
Maybe I chose to read this book at the wrong time for me. Maybe you’ll have better luck.
My Favorite Quote: I guess books say different things to different people.
by: Tracy Chevalier
The Girl with the Pearl Earring still ranks as one of my favorite books, so I was excited to find this one by the same author. It did not disappoint—Chevalier’s writing is stunning.
Set in the 1800s on the beaches of Lyme Regis, England, Remarkable Creatures is loosely based on the true story of Mary Anning, a poor fossil-hunting girl who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton, and Elizabeth Philpot, a genteel spinster whose livelihood is dependent on her brother.
Although the two women hail from different social classes (and they are twenty years apart in age), they connect over their passion of fossils.
Remarkable Creatures is about unlikely friendships, women who made incredible scientific discoveries in paleontology, and the way society treated women during that time. As a geology/nature/history buff, I found it compelling. I listened to the Audible version and thoroughly enjoyed the narrators.
My Favorite Lines: I had always thought of the sea as a boundary keeping me in my place on land. Now, though, it became an opening.
The Paper Palace
by: Miranda Cowley Heller
I absolutely could not put this book down. Yes, I am a sucker for rustic summer places and first loves.
Since Elle was a little girl, her family vacationed in Cape Cod at their compound of rustic cabins called ‘the Paper Palace’. She met Jonas there years ago, and they became best friends. The present-day narrative takes place in one twenty-four hour period. The story begins just after a dinner party when Elle and Jonas have sex for the first time while their spouses and families are still lingering over the meal. By the end of the book (which is the same day), and after a lifetime concisely told in flashback, Elle must make a very difficult decision.
Oh, life is complicated and sometimes ugly. Elle’s angst is real. One thing I will say—The Paper Palace did not romanticize infidelity or any of the other heavy themes present in this book. The well-developed characters had distinct traits and personalities. Heller’s writing style and short chapter sections, added urgency to the story.
Reviews for The Paper Palace are varied; people loved it or hated it. Many readers didn’t like the flipping back in time from Elle’s present day thoughts to her childhood and early adult years, but I found the structure clear to follow. (The author identifies the date for flashbacks and the precise time for current.) And no, the ending is NOT tied up in a pretty little bow, but I like that too. The reader is tasked with thinking about the subtext of the story, looking at the subtle foreshadowing, words spoken and not spoken.
Fabulous in my opinion.
My favorite lines: Flip a coin… If the answer you get disappoints you, do the opposite. We already know the right answer, even when we think we don’t.
by: Richard Powers
Theo is an astrophysicist looking for life in galaxies far, far away. At the same time, he is a single dad trying to raise his unusual 9-year-old son, Robin, after the death of his wife.
My thoughts on Bewilderment are mixed. Even though many of the scientific references flew right over my head, I loved the fierce way Theo protects and supports his son. While school and doctors want to medicate him, Theo does everything in his power to help him without drugs. The way Robin imagines space and life beyond ordinary is lovely.
BUT at times, the story felt preachy. Powers wove politics into Bewilderment. (I get it—everything is political these days.) And while I, too, worry over the decline of our planet’s resources and the control of ‘Big Pharma’, I think the same messages could have been delivered more subtly. I’m glad I read Bewilderment, but The Overstory is my favorite of this author.
My Favorite Line: Life is something we need to stop correcting.
by: Virginia Feito
Mrs. March is an Upper East Side housewife married to author George March. When she begins to suspect SHE is the inspiration behind the revolting protagonist in his latest, wildly popular novel, she rather quickly descends into the dark spiral of paranoia and confusion.
Feito did a marvelous job of creating tone and mood for this story, and her word choices were absolutely spot-on. Mrs. March reminded me of a Poe-like tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book even though the main character is unlikeable and unreliable.
If you like dark, suspenseful tales (think The Tale-Tell Heart and The Metamorphosis) give this one a go. Mrs. March will soon be a movie starring one of my favorite actors, Elizabeth Moss!
My Favorite Line: Well you can never really know anyone.
It’s interesting to me now as I look back over the six books I read in November, while they are completely different, each has something to do with staying or going, finding or losing, hanging onto and saving parts of ourselves and our history as we move through the time we are given.
I hope you find one or two to add to your Santa Claus list!
And by the way, you can still buy The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee and/or Gene, Everywhere in time for Christmas delivery. Order by December 15, and I will wrap and mail anywhere in the US and include a few goodies with your order as well.
Click below to order…
Grace Grits and Gardening
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