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.
With the first big snowfall of the year, I decided to tempt fate and take my photo for this post at the beginning of the month. At the time, I was finishing a book almost every day. I was 100% confident I could easily finish that stack.
Yet, sometimes in life, reading has to take a backseat to more important matters. Like family or your health or school. For me, I learned HTML and spend the entire middle of the month redoing coding on my website.
But I couldn’t retake the photo. My 5-year-old was so proud to be my photographer.
Which left one alternative: read as many books as I could over Thanksgiving weekend.
So here are the reviews of all but one of the books I was holding. (Sorry Hidden Valley Road!). Though I imagine you wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t mentioned it.
November Reading List
Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Margot Lee has always struggled to understand her mother Mina, a Korean War orphan and undocumented immigrant. After Mina’s suspicious death, Margot begins to dig into the life of her single mother. Contrasting Mina’s first year in Los Angeles with Margot’s present-day discoveries, The Last Story of Mina Lee tells the split narrative of an immigrant family.
Picked by both Book of the Month and Reese’s Book Club, I was excited about this mother-and-daughter immigrant story, but ended up just being bored. While Mina’s backstory had plenty of dramatic events, the story in the book was particularly bland. I’d have appreciated the themes about immigration much more if Kim hadn’t beamed me over the head with them over and over throughout the story. I definitely think this one was overhyped.
Fleeing an abusive marriage, Lakshmi rebuilds a life for herself as the most coveted henna artist in all of Jaipur in the 1950s. A confidante to the wealthy women of the town, Lakshmi is known as a vault of secrets. When she is unexpectedly made her sister’s guardian, Lakshmi’s carefully constructed world is thrown off-balance.
Reese Witherspoon’s May book club pick didn’t live up to the hype for me. Joshi plays up the exotic setting of India but doesn’t make any attempt to give you historical context or prod you to think deeper on women’s rights. The cliché storyline – a woman realizing that true freedom lies in not being tied to the vagaries of the wealthy – was utterly predictable. Overall, it’s a feel-good fluffy read that missed its opportunity to truly make an impact.
A retired widow visited by a childhood friend. A man introducing his newborn daughter to his estranged father. A taxi driver in Hawaii receiving an alarming phone call. The End of the Day connects seemingly unrelated storylines to show how secrets can cause lasting estrangement. Although he’s a good writer, Bill Clegg’s novel just didn’t connect with me. I struggled with the slow pacing, shifting perspectives, unlikeable characters, and the lack of any true resolution.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Charlie N. Holmberg
In Victorian England, magic and spell making is prevalent but strictly controlled by the elite classes. For years, Elsie Camden has been like the Robin Hood of magic, breaking spells to help the poor. Until one mission she is caught by an expert magic user who won’t turn her in if she agrees to help him.
Holmberg’s historical fantasy was a delight to read, with intriguing world-building, a cute love story, and plenty of adventure. Elsie makes a great heroine, savvy, adventurous, thoughtful, and slightly naive. It’s not top-notch literature, but it was cute and entertaining for those who want a lighter magical read. I don’t think it’s being marketed as young adult fiction, but it would be a good one for younger teens.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from 47North through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
A. R. Torre
When Neena Ryder moves into the neighborhood, she sets her sights on the husband – and the life – of the girl next door who seems to have it all. Neena is an ambitious social climber intent on seducing her boss and next-door neighbor. Cat is not amused and underneath her elegant exterior has claws of her own.
Every Last Secret struggled to capture my attention through the first half of the novel and I almost gave it up multiple times. Pushing through, I was finally rewarded when the action picked up in the last third of the book, though not enough to make up for the dull buildup. Plus, I guessed the ending right away which is never a good sign for a suspense novel. Torre hints at complex moral issues in the epilogue and I wished those had been further explored.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas and Mercer. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Austin Channing Brown
Austin Channing Brown’s memoir talks about her life as a Black Christian woman who grew up in the middle-class suburbs of the Midwest. She doesn’t have anything super dramatic in her life. Yet, just talking about her everyday life experiences really helped me see how much hurt, anger, pride, and joy can be found in being Black in America. Brown points out how often we often fall short of our goal to promote diversity and details what we can do to learn to love Blackness. If you love reading memoirs to see life from someone else’s perspective, I highly recommend this one.
When it comes to audiobooks, I seem to always gravitate towards self-improvement/memoir/parenting books from minor celebrities whom I’ve never heard of. Kristina Kuzmič’s life is more interesting than most – a childhood in Croatia during the war, years spent as a broke single mom, a rise to fame as the winner of Oprah’s talent search, and finally, a career making humourous parenting videos – all told with high energy and sparkling wit. Kuzmič’s sincere advice to moms resonated with me, and I found this a quick and delightful audiobook.
Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary librarian in Galveston, Texas. When her former crush is chosen as the new principal, Samantha is nervous and excited. Until she finds out he is now a stiff humorless man determined to change everything in the name of safety.
After a grueling week of 12 hours a day spent programming, I decided to skip my huge to-read stack and reread one of my summer reads instead. Yes, the characters were rather one-dimensional and predictable. I am completely overrating it, but I just adored this darling love story. As long as you aren’t expecting award-winning literature, it’s the perfect cozy read to curl up with this winter.
From the Backlist
As a therapist, Lori Gottlieb spent all day helping others with their problems. Yet, when her longtime boyfriend unexpectedly broke up with her, she found herself on the receiving end of therapy. Gottlieb’s memoir is top-notch with exceptional pacing, slyly weaving in explanations of therapy within the fascinating story of Gottlieb’s therapy sessions. I became quite attached to finding out what happens to her patients – a narcissistic tv producer, a dying newlywed, and a depressed senior citizen. A great book that highlights the importance of discussing mental health.
Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin
This fall, I got swept up with everyone else watching Get Organized with the Home Edit on Netflix. In the show, organizing queens Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin tackle the homes of celebrities and normal people alike, turning their spaces into a beautiful rainbow-colored Instagram-worthy dream. Shearer and Teplin’s method involves three steps: pull everything out and edit down, organize into categories, and then place everything into clear labeled bins. However, if you are looking for handy tips on how to do this yourself, don’t turn to the book. It’s basically a coffee table book – pretty pictures but no practical advice.
For their annual New Year’s Eve getaway, a group of longtime thirty-something frenemies spends the holiday at a remote Scottish hunting lodge. Infighting quickly replaces nostalgia and by New Year’s Day, as an epic blizzard swirls around them, one of them ends up dead.
The Hunting Party feels like a much less-polished rough draft of The Guest List, Foley’s summer bestseller that was the most popular thriller of 2020. Both books are whodunits set in remote areas, with a small suspect list and the victim’s identity withheld until the ending. While The Guest List had nuanced characters with solid motives, The Hunting Party was all-around clunkier in character development, plot, and pacing.
When her estranged mother falls ill, firefighter Cassie Hanwell moves from Texas to Massachusetts to take care of her. There, she finds much resistance to the idea of a female firefighter. That is, except for a handsome rookie who rather enjoys Cassie’s company.
Cassie and the rookie were a cute couple and the story centers around forgiveness and overcoming the pain of the past. however, out of Katherine Center’s books I’ve read (How to Walk Away, What You Wish For), this was my least favorite. I still devoured it in a night because it’s like those Hallmark Christmas movies – fun to binge but objectively not that great.
Ten years after her best friend disappeared, Nicolette Farrell returns home to help sell her father’s house as he struggles with dementia. When another girl disappears, Nic finds herself caught up in a web of lies with her father, her brother, and her ex-boyfriend. In an interesting decision, Megan Miranda decided to tell the story in reverse, slowly reversing day by day like peeling the layers off an onion. Although I’m impressed that she pulled it off, her literary trick wasn’t enough to elevate this middle-of-the-road thriller out of the pack.
With little care for innocence or guilt, criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is excited by the potential of a big score on an easy case when a rich playboy is accused of murder. Until things become much less cut and dry and Mickey must use all his wits in the face of pure evil like he’s never seen.
Connelly writes a realistic and compelling mystery that will keep you intrigued throughout all the twists and turns. With well-developed characters, I can see why his books are such huge bestsellers, even though his gritty legal thriller story wasn’t really my style.
Since I mistakenly put Indie Author instead of Indie Book on my 2020 Reading Challenge, I decided to re-read this self-published young adult book. After a car accident, Tessa is left blind, though her doctors think it’s only temporary. Into her life strolls Weston, a double amputee determined to lift Tessa out of her depression and help her see the joy in life. The catch: he won’t let anyone tell Tessa that he has lost his legs. The story is really about Weston – not only how he lost his legs but also about his eternal optimism and inner fears. It’s a brilliantly sweet and endearing story that I read in one sitting, bawling my eyes out at times.
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.
What books did you read in November?