November Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite November reads!
Here are my six favorite reads of the past month: Renaissance-set historical fiction, two historical fiction mysteries (one with magical elements at its heart), a fictionalized memoir, a story of 1980s-set fiction, and a contemporary novel about Deaf culture.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell
I was hooked on the captivating details of Renaissance life, masterfully paced swirling danger and paranoia, and richly developed major and minor characters in The Marriage Portrait.
In The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O'Farrell turns her attention to Renaissance Italy to tell a historical fiction story of a precocious third daughter of the grand duke of Florence.
Young Lucrezia is lucky enough to exist outside of palazzo scrutiny, free to follow her own imagination and inclinations and to shape her own days.
But when her older sister dies suddenly before her scheduled marriage to the ruler of Ferrara, the men of the families involved and their advisors are quick to thrust the preteen Lucrezia into her sister's place. Her trusted nurse and former milk-mother Sofia does her best to delay plans to wed the slight young girl to an older duke, but ultimately Lucrezia is offered as a substitute.
O'Farrell masterfully balances the reader on a tightrope, wondering how much of the potential danger Lucrezia perceives is imagined and how much is real. Lucrezia's shrinking world made me feel claustrophobic on her behalf and paranoid about everyone's potential intentions.
The Marriage Portrait offers wonderful details--of food, palace life, clothing, and art--as well as a shocking ending. O'Farrell presents a fascinating Author's Note about the real figures and circumstances that inspired this book.
For my full review, check out The Marriage Portrait.
02 A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas
This first book in Sherry Thomas's gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes mystery series offers not only an irresistible heroine, but a fascinating examination of gender in Victorian society--and what happens when women blow up expectations.
A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in her Lady Sherlock series, presents Charlotte Holmes, a clever, forward-thinking, independent woman trapped in the Victorian age, a time in which women have little choice and even less of a voice.
When she pushes against her restrictions in a brilliant yet shocking manner in order to shift her future, she goes so deeply against the standards of the time that she is shunned from society. It seems Charlotte may have created a situation in which she has fewer options than her constrained existence as a lady would have afforded.
Then a series of unusual events lead to Charlotte's assuming the identity of a made-up detective, Sherlock Holmes, and putting to good use her powers of observation and her astute reading of people's motivations and secrets. Along with her scandalous elderly sidekick, the former actress Ms. Watson (who has a keen mind and an ability to play roles as well as facilitate meetings and encounters), Charlotte reimagines what a Victorian woman may be able to achieve.
Click here for my full review of A Study in Scarlet Women.
03 True Biz by Sara Nović
True Biz is a coming-of-age story, a beginner's primer on Deaf culture, and a captivating novel about romance, disappointment, fury, and loyalty. I happily read it in one sitting.
Students at the residential River Valley School for the Deaf are trying to get through finals, maintain teenage crushes on each other, and make the most of living out from under their parents' roofs.
But the hearing headmistress February (a CODA--a child of deaf adults), the rebellious new transfer student who doesn't know ASL, Charlie, and teacher's pet (and Deaf royalty in the area) Austin find that their pasts, current struggles, and priorities link them together in unexpected ways.
True Biz is a coming-of-age story that also explores the importance society places on language; past and present political and social pushes concerning American Sign Language, cochlear implants, and Deaf culture; and above all, the essential role of community.
The ASL-focused illustrations and information could have been dry but were illuminating instead. I learned about Deaf history, culture, and the politics that have disrupted and damaged those in the Deaf community while immersing myself in True Biz.
True Biz was fascinating, and I devoured it in one sitting. Click here for my full review of True Biz.
04 A Restless Truth (The Last Binding, #2) by Freya Marske
The second book in Marske's series is an irresistible queer magical mystery thriller with Edwardian England details, racy encounters, vulnerability and love, and witty banter on a ship bound for England.
A Restless Truth is the second in Freya Marske's queer fantasy mystery Last Binding trilogy that began with A Marvellous Light.
The character of Maud Blyth (Robin's sister, introduced in book one) expects adventure when she agrees to help save the magical world by serving as companion to an elderly magician on an ocean liner.
By doing so, Maud aims to help her beloved older brother resolve a magical mystery that's been decades in the making.
But when her charge drops dead on day one, Maud must identify the murderer, try to get her hands on a magical object essential to untangling the mystery at hand--and try to survive the voyage without being murdered herself.
A Restless Truth is fun and quirky yet has depth, an appealingly complicated mystery, and a satisfying version of a resolution that sets up book three.
Please click here for my full review of A Restless Truth.
05 The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken
McCracken straddles the line between novel and memoir in a work whose heart is a love letter to her extraordinary mother. The author explores her own wonder, joy, loss, and peace as she reflects on her formidable mother after her death.
After her larger-than-life mother's death, the narrator of The Hero of This Book faces the sale of the family home in New England and travels to her mother's favorite city, London.
She considers whether her role as an author offers an opportunity to write about her mother and gain deeper understanding of her, or whether doing so would violate her mother's long-held, fierce desire for privacy.
The Hero of This Book straddles the line between fiction and memoir, as the letter feels deeply like a love letter to McCracken's own mother Natalie, yet clearly says "A Novel" right there on the cover.
The Hero of This Book is one way in which the author refuses to allow her many vivid memories of her formidable, funny, striking mother to slip away--while acknowledging that she couldn't tell the full story of her mother's life because there is too much she doesn't know.
The blurred line between fact and fiction allows the true heart of the book, a daughter's wonder, grief, joy, and yearning for her lost mother, to exist.
For my full review, please check out The Hero of This Book.
06 Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson's wonderfully odd 1990s coming-of-age novel centers around teens Frankie and Zeke, their mysterious artistic creation, and the work's ripple effect, which reaches well beyond what they ever could have imagined.
Sixteen-year-old aspiring writer Frankie is just trying to get through a late 1990s summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, where she's lived all her life. Despite her noisy, raucous household (she has triplet brothers and a busy single mom), she's used to being a loner.
But then a new kid, Zeke, moves into his grandmother's house with his mom, who's in Coalfield nursing a heartbreak. Zeke is an artist, also a loner, and he's fascinating to Frankie.
Frankie and Zeke want to create something--something strange, something people will notice, yet something that is all their own.
They come up with an original enigmatic phrase and add attention-getting artwork, then spread mysterious posters of their creation far and wide--causing speculation, alarm, and repercussions far beyond what they could have predicted.
As he did in a different way in his novel Nothing to See Here, in Now Is Not the Time to Panic, Wilson creates a fascinatingly odd situation, then offers characters' vulnerabilities and imperfections to bring the story to life.
For my full review, check out Now Is Not the Time to Panic.