1. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo - I didn't realize this classic children's tale of a horse that serves in WWI was a book (although I'd heard of and not seen the movie or play) until I randomly bought a couple books by Morpurgo because they had cats on the cover and a friend informed me that War Horse was one of his better books. The tale of Joey is told from the time he arrives at a farm after being purchased by a farmer who always gets drunk on market day, through his breaking and training by the farmer's son Albert, and then through his years after being sold to the British army for service in WWI, including hauling artillery and carts full of the injured, staying on a French farm, then working for the Germans until he is wounded and ends up in familiar hands. A lovely story told from the viewpoint of the horse and definitely my favorite by Morpurgo, so far.
2. Spy x Family #8 by Tatsuya Endo - Oh, no! The next Spy x Family book won't be out till March of 2023. I am so bummed. I might just have to start back at the beginning to fill the time between. In Spy x Family #8, Yor (the mother in the fake family and an assassin) is charged with going on a cruise where she'll be protecting a woman whose entire family — except for her baby — has been killed. But, fake daughter Anya and husband Loid have won a cruise on the same ship so she has to keep a low profile. As it turns out, the enemy is everywhere and meeting up secretly with a boat that will take the endangered woman and her baby to safety is going to be nearly impossible. I've given every single one of the books in this series 5 stars . . . till this one. The last 25% or so is almost entirely fight scenes between Yor and the enemy and I find those a bit hard to follow. And, it's a bit more serious than most, although it has moments of levity. I still loved it, just not 5 stars' worth.
3. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb - Nonfiction in which the author, a psychologist and talk therapist, intertwines stories of her own therapy patients with the tale of how a crisis sent her into therapy herself. All of the stories are at least partially fictionalized out of necessity (because therapy is private) and maybe a bit too perfectly wrapped up but effective. My favorite patient was John, who called everyone "idiots" and was quite a jerk but softened as his truth emerged.
4. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute - The story of a 70-year-old Englishman who has gone on a fishing trip to France. WWII has begun but he's unconcerned till the Germans invade France and he decides it's time to leave. He is asked to take two children with him on the journey to England and it begins well enough but then things go wrong, transportation is held up or halted, the Germans move in faster than expected, and he keeps picking up more stray children on the journey. A tense, heartwarming, vivid tale of the hardships of war and the kindness of a character who goes out of his way to ensure the safety of strangers' children. A new favorite, both in the WWII category and books by Nevil Shute, published in 1942, when the war was ongoing.
5. Spy School: Revolution by Stuart Gibbs - There's a new enemy for the CIA to fight, hundreds of years old and bearing a grudge. Now that SPYDER is out of the picture, the Croatoan is free to create mayhem and do damage. It appears that Erica Hale is involved. But, when Ben is asked to help capture her, he's hesitant. He knows Erica well. Surely, she wouldn't join an evil spy organization. In his search for Erica and the Croatoan, Ben uses his natural skills and his understanding of his friend. But, when he asks another friend for help, things become tangled up. Who is a friend and who is an enemy? A wild adventure around the Washington DC area and over to Mt. Vernon. Interesting side note: some readers of this lengthy series (I believe this is #8) found the Croatoan hard to buy into. I had no such trouble. The absurdity is part of the point, although I appreciated the author's note clarifying whether certain details were true or false, since American History was involved.
6. There There by Tommy Orange - A diverse cast of Urban Natives comes together for a Pow-Wow that has been scoped out as a decent place to rob, due to the prize money offered in gift cards. It doesn't take long to figure out that something tragic is going to occur, but first you get to know the cast of characters (which is quite large) and their backgrounds. Notably, almost everyone is either facing the challenge of poverty, discrimination, and/or alcoholism somewhere in their family. At one point, the author talks about how easy it is to become an alcoholic Native American. Alcohol, he says, is cheap and it helps you forget. This was a rough read for me but an impressively written story. I've mentioned the fact that I don't drink, on this blog. What I probably haven't said is that a Native American family friend is the reason I've avoided alcohol, as I had a front-row seat to his self-destruction. He died at only 49 after many previous accidents that came close to killing him, all drink-related. When he wasn't drinking, he was a charming, well-educated, successful guy. Otherwise, my only problem with the book was that the chapters could have used dates for clarity, as the story went from the 70s to present day and could be a bit confusing, time-wise. Read for Native American Heritage Month and highly recommended.
7. Cable on Academe by Carole Cable - A book of comics on life as a university professor, bought eons ago, when we were occasionally returning to Ann Arbor, Michigan and Husband was working on the research for his PhD. I'm emptying a shelfing unit to pass on to my younger son and came across this book. While I read Cable on Academe when it was new to us, I figured I should give it a quick reread before parting with it. Lots of fun pokes at academia, some very outdated but I'm old enough to understand them. Published in 1994.
8. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken - A multi-generational story that begins with the unusual discovery of a live woman in a graveyard. Bertha Truitt has been found unconscious but once awakened she remembers her name and is cagey about her life and how she arrived in Salford, Massachusetts. She chooses to stay in the small town in which she's appeared and opens a candlepin bowling alley. From there, the reader follows her family line and the changes that take place in the bowling alley over the years. A unique story with a sense of humor. I noticed Bowlaway's ratings are meh at Goodreads. In truth, I felt like it dragged a bit. But, I still loved it. I particularly loved Bertha and missed her when she was no longer part of the story.
9. Where You'll Find Me and Other Stories by Ann Beattie - Each of the stories in Where You'll Find Me is a window into the world of a set of characters for just long enough to get an idea what may be next. These are the kind of stories that irritate people who aren't regular short story readers because their endings are abrupt and leave what follows to the reader's imagination. I enjoyed them for their simplicity, the turn of phrase, and the occasional bit of wisdom, but like another volume of short stories I read not long ago (probably in 2021), the sheer quantity of characters who were unfaithful got on my nerves a bit. Still, excellent writing (also outdated; published in 1986 and you can't miss it when music and items contemporary to the time are mentioned). Most of the characters grew up in the 60s and 70s and each story is a peek into their romantic or familial struggles. Favorite sentence:
It's a bright day, and the sun shining through the kitchen curtains, patterned with chickens, gives the chickens an advantage they don't have in real life; backlit, they're luminous.
10. Happening by Annie Ernaux - A memoir of the author's abortion in 1960s France, when abortion was outlawed and the only options were shady back-alley abortions or self-administered injury. Finding herself pregnant during her college years, Ernaux knew immediately that she couldn't go through with a pregnancy. Not only would it ruin her plans but she was the first of her working-class family to go to college and it would devastate her parents and humiliate them. The most interesting part of this book, I thought, was that her personal physician wouldn't even look her in the eyes when she said she needed to end the pregnancy but when she later informed him that she was going to get an abortion, he prescribed penicillin to take before and after and gave her clear instructions. He didn't want to go to jail but he also didn't want her to die. The author also mentioned that having an abortion freed her to have a family when she was ready. A very emotional read, written nearly 40 years after the abortion.
11. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway - Yes, this is my first time reading this classic! And, I confess, I liked it more than some of Hemingway's other writings. The "I'm a man; I can take pain and I will not be defeated and I'll keep doing manly man things like arm wrestling till I die," was all there but it felt a little different than it does in some of his books and stories because of the age of the protagonist. Also, I've never paid attention to any detailed description of the book, so I found it surprising. I was sure X was going to happen but instead Hemingway went to Z with a whole lot of Y in between. No, I haven't gotten into some eggnog. As far as Men Proving Their Manliness stories go, I also liked this better because the man himself was on a losing streak and so dirt poor that if he didn't fight hard to catch a fish he was probably going to starve, sooner or later. It felt like his battle with the marlin was a close to being a necessity, in other words, although I can see why some guy on Goodreads said, "Good grief, worst book ever. Just let the fish go, already."
Wow, what a contrast with October! I read a lot fewer books because I had a couple weeks of recharging after reading 20 books the month before (and Bowlaway took me quite a while to read) but I liked or loved everything I read so I consider November an excellent month. Pied Piper is easily my favorite but I wouldn't tell you not to read anything in this pile. I considered trying to bump up my numbers with an easy read or two because I ended the month smack in the middle of Leviathan Wakes, the first in the Expanse sci-fi series. But, in the end I decided that was silly. 11 books is fine and the number of books read is less important than the quality. So . . . I'm happy. How was your reading month?
You should be able to click on images to enbiggen, btw.
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