What I Read in October and November

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October was a shameful reading month, so I’ve decided to lump it in with November (which was a great reading month, with lots of book club love, cups of tea, and long evenings by the fire). There were a few unexpected surprises and one major disappointment. What are your thoughts on these books?

Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai – 4/5
What I love about the Diverse Books Club is that it leads me to pick up books that, in the ordinary course of things, I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Since joining, I’ve been rediscovering my love of children’s literature, finding myself drawn to the DBC’s middle grade picks. Our October theme was the immigrant and refugee experience. I selected Inside Out and Back Again as I was attracted to the idea of exploring this topic through the eyes of a child. I didn’t realise until opening the book that it was a novel in verse, something I’ve never actually read before. It meant it was a super quick read – just a couple of hours – and every word was imbued with purpose. The book follows Hà and her family but is drawn from Lai’s own experiences of childhood in Vietnam and, later, on fleeing the war, adjusting to the United States. Overall, an insightful read with startlingly beautiful imagery, and very much relevant to today’s refugee crises.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern – 2.5/5
I was so sure I would love this book. The synopsis was intriguing (but, as it turned out, completely misleading), the cover beautiful, and the reviews glowing. Ultimately, though, I was left with a sense of all style and no substance. The imagery was enchanting and I loved the circus itself and some of the background cast, but the main characters did nothing for me, and I couldn’t get on board with either their romance or the game at the heart of it all. I know I am in the minority here, but I just did not get the hype.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep, Beatrice Colin – 3/5
This was an impulse grab in the library. I picked it up because the title and cover art gave off All the Light We Cannot See vibes, which I suspect may have been deliberate. I don’t read a lot of romance, but the backdrop of Paris during the construction of the Eiffel Tower was too intriguing to pass up and I love seeing how real historical figures like Emile and Gustave Eiffel are treated in fiction. Well-written, subtly sensual historical fiction which I liked but didn’t love. The latter third saves it for a solid three stars.

Days Without End, Sebastian Barry – 3.5/5
I read this with WLR’s Big Breakfast Blaa Book Club in October (although I didn’t finish until November – oops). This turned out to be quite divisive on the night, with most people appreciating the writing skill and attention to detail but not feeling grabbed by the story. That pretty much sums up my experience too. Sparse but beautiful prose, some truly wonderful moments, but not a book that I was dying to pick up and read every night. A slow burner that I think fans of Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy will love.

El Deafo, Cece Bell – 5/5
This was my Diverse Books Club pick for November. The theme was differing abilities and I chose to read El Deafo. Again, this was middle grade, and a graphic novel this time. It was great to step out of my novel box once more and read something so different, and I was moved and fascinated by El Deafo. I’m sorry to say I’ve never thought much about the experiences of deaf children in mainstream schools, so I learned a lot from this one. This is a great book to teach children about treating others with kindness, especially other kids who may be a little different. I loved the scene where Cece’s class made and exchanged ‘warm fuzzies’ with their friends and I was definitely left with warm fuzzy feelings and a smile on my face after finishing.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor – 4/5
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this one recommended, admired its pretty cover on Bookstagram, and read the synopsis and thought: ‘That is so my thing’. And it was! It didn’t obsess me like the Grishaverse did, but I LOVED Taylor’s writing and how Prague burst into life from the pages. I wasn’t that crazy about Karou – impossibly perfect characters always frustrate me, so like The Night Circus, I found myself much more attached to the supporting cast, especially Zuzana and Issa, and a little put off by the romantic subplot. Unlike The Night Circus, however, the plot kept me plenty interested. The mystery of Karou’s identity and her search for answers were gripping and I felt her devastation at the conclusion. I could totally go for a spin-off about Zuzana!

The Break, Marian Keyes – 4/5
I’ll be honest: I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to chick lit. Even though I’ve followed Marian Keyes (National Treasure) on Twitter for ages and enjoyed her witty offerings, I had this idea of her books being garden variety women’s literature that your grandmother might enjoy. Well, I was wrong. My grandmother probably would not have enjoyed this and, frankly, I don’t think I’d have been able to cope with her reading some of the saucier scenes. This was one of the books we read with the Big Breakfast Blaa Book Club in November and it was the most pleasant surprise of them all. Topical, clever, and laugh-out-loud-in-the-breakroom-at-work funny. More Marian Keyes for me, please.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman – 5/5
This was the second book I read for the BBBBC in November and was another unexpectedly lovely read. I had it touted to me as a quirky, socially inept girl who goes on a journey of self-discovery, but it turned out to be simultaneously much darker and much more uplifting than I anticipated. Eleanor’s character development was profound and I found myself desperately wishing for a happy ending to her story. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook. Cathleen McCarron does an amazing job bringing Eleanor, Raymond and sinister Mummy to life. You can drop me your email for a link to download free if you don’t yet have an Audible account!

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