Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
Wait, how is there only one month left in 2021!
November seems to have flown by. I started the month in San Diego with my sister (which was heavenly) and then spent the whole middle of the month trying to catch up and get ready for the holidays.
Luckily, all my Christmas presents are purchased, so I should have plenty of time to read by the light of my Christmas tree next month.
In November, my focus was on finishing as many of the most-recommended new releases as I could. Combined with getting a jump start on 2022 advance review copies and sneaking in a few backlist reads, I had a very productive reading month.
As always, let me know what you’ve been reading lately. I could always use more book recommendations!
November Reading List
In Red Hook, Brooklyn during the early 1900s, Sofia and Antonia are best friends and neighbors, members of “The Family,” the local Italian mafia. When Antonia’s father is disappeared, a wedge develops between the girls that will affect them as they grow older and begin to question the demands of their “family.”
The Family is at heart a story about female friendship and motherhood. Close-knit as children, Sofia and Antonia drift as teenagers only to find connection again as new mothers. The 1930s Mafia serves as a backdrop to the story, serving to anchor the characters together, but The Family is much more Firefly Lane than The Godfather, which I enjoyed but others might not.
In 1960s Harlem, Ray Carney has a reputation as an upstanding used furniture salesman. Although Carney strives to live up to what he knows he can be, times aren’t like they used to be, and he occasionally supplements his income with a side gig fencing items for the underworld of Harlem. When Carney’s cousin ropes him into being the fence for a heist gone wrong, Carney finds himself caught up with shady cops and local gangsters.
Whitehead is a gorgeous writer with a powerful command of visuals, but I have to admit, I struggled to get into his newest novel. The beginning moved so slowly I was tempted to quit, and just as it picked up (a heist, a murder!), the section ended and the story jumped two years ahead. However, I’m so glad I stuck with it because halfway through, I finally connected with Ray’s struggle to straddle moral and ethical lines as he deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of 1960s Harlem.
After spending a year at a prison work farm for involuntary manslaughter, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson returns to his Nebraska hometown. With his mother gone and his father recently deceased, Emmett plans to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head West. But his plans are derailed when two friends from the work farm suddenly appear with a scheme of their own, forcing an unexpected journey to New York City.
Amor Towles immerses you into the 1950s with his richly descriptive literary novel about the madcap ten-day adventure of Emmett and Billy Watson. I quickly fell in love with the gorgeous multi-layered characters in The Lincoln Highway. On the cusp of adulthood and coping with feelings of abandonment, they each are struggling to understand their place in the world.
A powerful memoir about growing up a Korean American from the indie singer known for her Japanese Breakfast project. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, Michelle Zauner struggled to fit in as the only Asian-American student in high school, burdened by the high expectations of her mother. Moving East, she began working in the restaurant industry and joined a fledgling band. But not until her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis did Zauner feel like she discovered her identity and understand her Koreanness.
Zauner’s bestselling memoir highlights the ups and downs of her relationship with her mother – from childhood admiration to teenage friction and adult friendship. Zauner describes the challenges of being of mixed race, feeling like you don’t fully belong in either culture. Sprinkled throughout with lush descriptions of the Korean food that connected her to her mother and her heritage, Crying in H Mart is a heartbreaking account of the enveloping pain of losing your mother to cancer.
After graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was excited to enter “the real world” with a job in Paris and an amazing new boyfriend. But an itch turned to a diagnosis of leukemia with a low chance of survival. Jaouad spent the next four years in the hospital battling cancer and writing about it for The New York Times. Yet, once she was cured, she felt even more lost than ever. So she embarked on a road trip across the country to find herself in this bestselling nonfiction book.
Jaouad’s memoir is a startling first-hand account showcasing how cancer can eat into more than just our bodies. Jaouad honestly describes how her illness affected her relationships with friends, family, and even her faithful boyfriend. Reading it, you learn how modern medicine does a great job keeping you alive but fails to look at the entire aspect of a person, both the mental and the physical. Jaouad’s journey back to “normal” is a stark reminder that the post-cancer transition can be just as hard as the throes of chemotherapy.
Looking for more than a hookup, Wren thinks she’s found her soulmate when she meets Adam on a dating app. After months together, Wren is shocked when Adam ghosts her and a private investigator shows up with shocking claims. The more Wren digs into Adam’s true identity, the more obsessive she becomes, blurring the lines between predator and prey. Last Girl Ghosted is a dark thriller that starts strong but loses its way as the improbable back story comes into play. Still, it’s an entertaining read for anyone who likes Lisa Jewell or Gillian Flynn.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harlequin Publishing through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
As an end-of-life doula, Nova’s job is to help the terminally ill cope with their impending death. Her most challenging client: Mason Shaylor, an up-and-coming indie singer-songwriter, who comes in asking for help to say goodbye after a deteriorating condition that has already caused him to lose his ability to play the guitar. Months later after Mason dies in a car crash, Mason’s mom comes in accusing Nova of assisting Mason’s suicide. Now Nova questions everything she thought she knew about a patient she had become extremely close to.
The Next Thing You Know is a top-level tearjerker, expertly drawing you into the characters and perfectly timing revelations to emotionally wrench you. Reminiscent of Me Before You, Strawser’s novel makes you think about how to cope when life as we know it ends. A must-read for anyone who enjoys women’s fiction, The Next Thing You Know is sure to make waves in 2022. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy because I guarantee you will need them.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In 1978, Vi and Eric live with their grandmother, Dr. Helen Hildreth, who runs a psychiatric treatment facility next door to their home. One day, their grandmother brings home a girl from the facility to be their new sister. As Vi and Eric teach her all about monsters, Vi begins to question their grandmother’s methods. Meanwhile, in the present day, a podcaster investigates a child abduction and monster sighting in a small town, thinking it’s connected to her long-lost sister.
In true McMahon fashion, The Children on the Hill blends horror with deep family relationships that makes for a particularly spooky read. However, I struggled with the monster angle of her latest book. I know McMahon was connecting with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I much preferred her previous novels that were about ghosts. I will admit the twist was well done, but I didn’t like that McMahon tied up all the loose ends instead of leaving you with an eerie open ending. Nitpicky, I know. Still, I think McMahon’s fans will be satisfied with The Children on the Hill.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery/Scout Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Good people can be bad at relationships. Matthew Fray knows this first hand, after his article “She Divorced Me Because I left the Dishes by the Sink” went viral following his divorce. Now a relationship coach and blogger, Fray explains how good intentions can cause us to hurt our partners and shows how to break the cycle of dysfunction in your marriage.
This is How Your Marriage Ends spends most of the book repeating the same lesson over and over in as many ways as possible – by not having empathy, you unintentionally hurt your spouse and then invalidate their experience, breaking their trust and straining the relationship. Fray’s book serves well his target audience, good men who are bad husbands, beating them over the head with his central message. However, the constant repetition drove me crazy and Fray’s sense of humor wasn’t my style.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Collins through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
Corrie Ten Boom
What would you do if you noticed your neighbors suddenly disappearing? A quiet old maid living with her older sister and elderly father, Corrie ten Boom knew that she had to act. During World War II, her family joined the Dutch Underground and built a secret room to hide Jews within, for which they were to pay the ultimate price.
I could have listened to the audiobook narration of The Hiding Place all day, as entranced as I was by the gentle life of a clockmaker’s daughter even before the war comes into play. However, Corrie ten Boom’s account truly becomes heartrending when she describes how her faith sustained her during her year in prison.
One thing that fascinates me about Holocaust memoirs is how much our mindset shapes our experiences, with each account adding value in its own way. The Hiding Place takes a very Christian angle by focusing on finding God in our trials, which is similar to Viktor Frankl’s account of finding purpose in Man’s Search for Meaning. Both stand in stark contrast to the unapologetically candid account in Elie Wiesel’s Night.
Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel about the struggles of the people in a small town in Maine. All the stories connect to Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, who is at times perceptive and patient and at times irrational and cantankerous. Many reviews love Strout’s brutal honesty and multi-faceted examination of Olive. However, I struggled with the structure of the novel since the story constantly jumps in time and between characters. Maybe it would have been better as a physical book than an audiobook, or maybe I’m just too young, but I ended up DNF’ing this one about a quarter of the way through.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Bestselling poet Laurie Halse Anderson writes her memoir in free verse in this powerful tale of surviving sexual assault. Twenty years after writing the fictional story Speak, Anderson is stunned at how little has changed. Sharing deeply personal stories, Shout is perfect for the #MeToo era. I’m not a fan of poetry, but listening to the audiobook made the poems come alive – adding pauses and inflections.
To be near his mother in a dementia care facility, newlyweds Sam Statler and Annie Potter move to his sleepy New York hometown. Working in a downstairs office, Sam doesn’t realize his therapy sessions with his mostly female clientele can be heard from a vent in the office upstairs, a temptation too big to resist. After Sam disappears one night in a storm, Annie wonders how well she really knew her husband.
A very quick read, Goodnight Beautiful completely surprised me with its first twist, one so well executed you will never see it coming. However, the story goes downhill from there, falling into the trap of being more of a retread of another story (no spoilers on which one) rather than a clever retelling.
Amid the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra, Australia, is rocked by a murder-suicide in a local family. For the first time since he was run out of town as a teen, Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns home for the funeral. The parents of his best friend are convinced their son could not have murdered his family and Falk agrees to help the local sheriff investigate in this compulsive mystery that will draw you in from the very first page.
B. A. Paris
Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple. He’s a high-powered attorney who defends abused women and she’s the perfect housewife. Yet looks can be deceiving, Grace is a prisoner in her own house, forced to act as Jack sees fit. As the day nears for Grace’s sister with Down Syndrome to move in with them, Grace must find a way to negate Jack’s leverage and escape.
Although I spent the whole novel wanting to yell at Grace to just act, Paris does an excellent job making this implausible scenario feel plausible. Compulsively readable, Behind Closed Doors is the perfect psychological thriller if you want fast-paced action you can’t put it down.
Xiomara Batista feels trapped and confused as she grows into adulthood. Instead of letting her fists fly, Xiomara begins to record her thoughts in a little leather notebook. When she is invited to join her school’s poetry club, she realizes the power of expressing her own emotions even if against her family’s approval. Acevedo brilliantly narrates the turmoil of a young woman straining to push past her parent’s expectations and the world’s assumptions to find who she really is. Not being a fan of poetry, Acevedo’s audiobook narration made this novel told in verse even more powerful.
I always seem to have multiple books going at once. Here’s a peek at what I’m currently reading.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back in December to see which ones I read.
Which Books Did You Read in November?
What books did you love this month? Which books did you hate? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Book Lists to Enjoy: