Greetings friends — and how are we almost at the end of Pandemic, Year 2? I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I’m incredibly thankful for is the extra time I’ve had to read and to escape to other worlds through each and every book I read.
Because I was off of work for medical leave this month I had some extra time to read, and below are my favorites from the 16 books I read in November.
The Four Winds (Kristen Hannah): I was super-excited to start Hannah’s newest book, especially since she has ventured into historical fiction as of late. While the book was in her usual readable style, the setting and historical elements made it much more enjoyable than many of her other books. The story centers around several strong women, but at the heart of it is Elsanore, a young single woman in 1920s Texas. Due to some undisclosed medical diagnosis, Elsa has been written off by her family and, at twenty-five, is considered an old maid. Through a chance encounter she manages to find a husband and settle down with his family on their farm but then the Dust Bowl happens. The remainder of the book follows Elsa on her quest to find something better for her family. I appreciated the grittiness of the Depression-era experience but also the warmth of the characters.
The Jane Austen Society (Natalie Jenner): I’m a sucker for anything in the Jane Austen universe, and this charming book is set in the town of Chawton, the final home of Jane Austen. Primarily set in 1945–6, this novel follows some of the townspeople who come together to form a society to protect Jane’s cottage and to collect Austen artifacts from the town. I found the collection of characters, from the young widow to the town’s doctor and a Hollywood starlet, to be well-written and interesting. Even though you can sense how they might relate to one another, there aren’t many simple characters in this plot, and every so often Jenner injects a new detail that moves the story in a different direction. For not being set in Jane’s literary universe I thought this was a lovely book!
Code to Zero (Ken Follett): I’m such a sucker for Ken Follett, and doubly-so if it’s about WWII or the Cold War, both of which feature in this book. Code to Zero follows a man who wakes up in a public restroom, filthy and disoriented, unable to recall his own name. As the day progresses, he slowly gets clues about his identity but still can’t figure out why he is in Washington DC or what caused him to forget everything. Little by little we start to piece together what actually happens. This book was a bit slow to get going, but then it really flew! I keep coming back to Follett because his thrillers are just a bit more literary with enough fast-moving action that they hit the spot for me.
The Mercies (Kiran Millwood Hargrave): This book was a vey pleasant surprise, especially after a slow few first chapters— but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded! Set in the most northern part of Norway in the early 1600s, the book opens with a freak wave that kills all of the working-age men in a small village. What follows is the story of how the women of the village attempt to recover, and how that recovery is thwarted by an anti-witch commissioner that moves to the village with his new wife. The real star of this writing are the two main characters, Maren and Ursa, and how their relationship changes over time. The other star of the book are Hargrave’s rich descriptions of village life and the barren landscape (just Google “Finnmark” to get a sense of how beautiful and remote this area is). This is a unique historical fiction offering and I found myself sad that it ended.
After the Funeral and Taken at the Flood (Agatha Christie): As always, Agatha Christie is a joy to read! In After the Funeral, extended family members come together at the head of the family’s funeral when one of the deceased sister remarks, “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Eyebrows are raised but it is brushed off as just crazy Aunt Cora until Aunt Cora is herself murdered the next day. This book has all of the Hercule Poirot charms, but I found the plot and the resolution to be especially rewarding.
Moving on to Taken at the Flood, Rosaleen Cloade is lucky (OR IS SHE?) — though her husband and some servants died in a bomb dropped on London during the Blitz, she survives. His untimely death means a score of his relatives in Hamley Vale, a small town outside of London, cannot rely on the inheritance they were all promised and instead know that all of his money goes to his widow.
Or does it? This is Agatha Christie, after all. One day a man shows up in the village claiming that Rosaleen’s first husband is still alive, meaning that if she were still married, the Cloade family would inherit the money. As always, murder ensues.
So this was not a great nonfiction month, which is okay! I am reading a 700+ page book about mindfulness (yes, it is testing my patience), so most of my nonfiction time went to that book. But I still have *two* short non-fiction books to recommend to y’all…
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village (Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper): If you love English murder mysteries, this charming book is for you. Johnson and Cooper share a tongue-in-cheek guide of how not to get murdered if you decide to visit the English countryside (which, they must recommend, that you never do). The book humorously details the people (the vicar! the heir! the out-of-work actress!) that you must avoid, as well as places one should never go (the folly! the antique store! the pond!) if you wish to survive your trip. As a big murder mystery fan this book just made me laugh!
A Walk in the Wood: Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh (Joseph Parent): I am brand-new to mindfulness and meditation, and as a lifelong Winnie the Pooh super-fan, I was excited to read this book. I appreciated how Parent uses a short “real-life” Pooh example and then shares the underlying practices that one can adopt. Even though this was little more than 100 pages, I just read a few short chapters a day. Now the real work begins — finding small practices that I can incorporate into my daily life. If this space is new to you, this book makes it accessible and feel enjoyable, not intimidating.
Thanks for reading my penultimate 2021 reading post! I’ll be back soon with my favorite 2021 books as well as my December picks. Until then, fellow readers!