29 November 2021

What I Read in November

November turned out to be an okay reading month for me. Most of the nine books I read were winners or at least fun or entertaining.

Note that the following thoughts are also available on Goodreads. Thanks to the publishers and to Libro.fm for the print, digital, and/or audiobook review copies.

Book cover of As the Wicked Watch by Tamron HallAs the Wicked Watch by Tamron Hall (William Morrow; Oct.): This mystery is set in Chicago, where a bright teenager is reported missing. Police dismiss the case, saying the Black girl likely just ran away, and there's nothing they can do. Meanwhile, up-and-coming Black TV journalist Jordan Manning takes an interest in the case and begins to investigate. She has training in crime scene analysis and other investigative techniques, which helps her finally figure out what happened to the teen and who was responsible. The novel examines many complex themes such as the difference in press coverage between missing Black and White teens; issues faced by professional women who try to advance their careers; and how race, socioeconomic class, politics, and more affect criminal justice. Jordan is portrayed with all her flaws and insecurities.

Not a bad debut from Hall, though there is quite a lot going on not related to the case. On the other hand, if this is the start of a series, then perhaps the information was needed to set the stage for future adventures.

Book cover of Cokie by Steven RobertsCokie: A Life Well Lived by Steven V. Roberts (Harper; Nov.): A very well done tribute / biography written by Steven Roberts, the husband of NPR star, journalist, and historian Cokie Roberts. The book is set up not in chronological order but by topic, and thus we see many sides of Cokie--as a mentor, a friend, a mother, a reporter, a wife. We learn about her spiritual and ethical/moral beliefs and about her great sense of humor and kindness. Rather than a series of facts and figures, Steven talks about Cokie through stories. The book is (as I wrote for my AudioFile magazine review) the perfect balance between well-written biography and loving tribute.

Cokie led an honorable life, demonstrating that personal success is enhanced not only by working hard and standing up for oneself but also by maintaining a sense of humor and always helping others.

Cover of A Side of Murder by Amy PershingA Side of Murder by Amy Pershing (Berkley; Feb.): This fun cozy mystery is first in a series with a lot of potential. I listened to this because book 2 in the series just came out and I wanted to start from the beginning. Samantha Barnes left her hometown on Cape Cod to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. She was on her way to a promising career in New York, when some personal issues sent her back the Cape to regroup. Her parents owned the local newspaper, but they recently sold their business to one of Sam's old friends and retired to Florida. So instead of moving back into her childhood home, she decided to clean out her late-aunt's house and prepare it for sale. Looking for work, she takes a job as the newspaper's new restaurant critic. On her first night on the job, she almost literally stumbles across a dead body in the alley behind the restaurant she wanted to review. From there, the book has all the fun cozy mystery action one expects--plus a lot of good foodie scenes.

My only complaints are (1) that Pershing does quite a lot of telling instead of showing and (2) that she apparently thinks anyone over about age 55 has no clue how to use a smartphone, take a photo, send email, or send a text. I found the ageisms to be kind of annoying. Still, this promises to be a fun series for escape reading. Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook was read by Patti Murin who did a fine job with characterizations; her expressive reading kept me engaged.

Cover of The Month of Borrowed Dreams by Felicity Hayes-McCoyThe Month of Borrowed Dreams by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (Harper Perennial; Nov.): I stopped listening to this audiobook at about the 25 percent mark. My issues with the novel were twofold. I started the book not realizing that it was fourth in a series. The plot assumed you knew what happened in the other books, so I felt somewhat lost and had trouble getting in to the story. In addition, narrator Marcella Riordan didn't draw me in. I had trouble telling the characters apart (even men from women), and her delivery style wasn't engaging enough to make me hang in there to see if things improved.

Cover of O, Beautiful by Jung YunO Beautiful by Jung Yun (St. Martin's Press; Nov.): The novel is set in contemporary North Dakota, where a budding journalist takes an assignment from a major magazine to write about how the Bakken oil boom has affected local people and communities. Elinor grew up close to the Bakken, so her college mentor and the magazine's editor think she'll be able to provide an insider's look. The truth, though, is that Elinor is half Korean and has never felt like a insider, and not just because she's biracial. She left home as soon as possible and had a successful modeling career before studying journalism. Now, she's tired of being objectified and of dealing with #MeToo moments.

Yun's evocative, sparse style matches the beauty of the land and the bleak outlook for many of the local women and families. So many dilemmas, including weighing self-worth with the chance to make money; weighing the environment and the family farm against the pressures from big business. Well worth your time. Audiobook: Narrator Catherine Ho shines here. She captures the moods, the personalities, the feelings.

Cover of Everything We Didn't Say by Nicole BaartEverything We Didn't Say by Nicole Baart (Atria; Nov.): This mystery is set in two time periods. Juniper and her half-brother, Jonathan, grew up in small-town Iowa. While Jonathan stayed in the area, June left town for bigger dreams, especially because her last months at home were complicated by two events: she found herself pregnant and the couple living on neighboring farm was murdered. June left her baby in the care of her parents, and saw her only on annual visits. The murder case was never solved, but June never stopped trying to ID the killer.

Returning home 13 years later to help her childhood friend deal with cancer and to attempt to reconnect with her daughter, June has some trouble fitting back in. Meanwhile, as a result of her continued investigation into the murder, she and her family come under danger. The plot was slightly convoluted, though the story kept my interest. Audiobook: Narrator Emily Tremaine's performance of the audiobook is expressive and clear, though her delivery is somewhat deliberate.

Cover of A Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice HendersonA Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice Henderson (William Morrow; Nov.): This is the second in the series starring field wildlife biologist Alex Carter. In this outing, Alex travels to the shores of Hudson Bay to study the health of the local polar bear population, especially in light of climate change and the melting ice cap. Besides the thriller aspect of the novel, involving several crimes, which I won't spoil, there is good information about Arctic wildlife and other sorts of field research that takes place in the area. The thriller itself was well done and action packed. I figured out one bit of the mystery part, but not all of it. I really hope Henderson continues this series.

Audiobook: The audiobook was read by Eva Kaminsky, who read the first book as well. She adds drama without going overboard and keeps the characters distinct. Note that the audiobook comes with a PDF of the map that's included in the book as well as the list of resources for learning more about polar bears and Arctic conservation.

Cover of Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry ThomasMiss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas (Berkley; Nov.): This re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes character as an independent woman was only okay for me. I think the main issues I had were (1) I haven't read the first five books in the series so I didn't fully understand the overarching premise or the characters' relationship to each other and (2) I'm not a Sherlock Holmes aficionado. In this outing, Charlotte Holmes and her partner the widow Mrs. Watson are pitted against the evil Mr. Moriarty, who is attempting to control the life and money of his adult single daughter. The story started very slowly, and honestly, I would have given up except I was listening to the audiobook for a freelance review (see AudioFile magazine for my thoughts). I found much of the drama surrounding the ending of the book to be unbelievable. Your mileage may vary.

Cover of The Unseen Body by Jonathan ReismanThe Unseen Body: A Doctor's Journey through the Hidden Wonders of Human Anatomy by Jonathan Reisman (Flatiron; Nov.): I alternated reading and listening to this terrific book. Reisman introduces readers to, as the subtitle says, the hidden mysteries of what goes on in our bodies beneath the skin. He is both a doctor and an avid traveler and outdoorsman, and I loved the way he drew on his other interests to enliven his descriptions of human anatomy and physiology.

Whether you hardly remember your high school biology class or you (like me) have studied or practiced in a medically related field, you will find this book to be fascinating. I did. Audiobook: The audiobook was brilliantly read by Robert Petkoff. He perfectly captured the author's enthusiasm and deep interest. Note that the print book does not include illustrations, so you won't miss any visuals if you decide to listen instead of read.

7 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks 11/29/21, 6:22 AM  

The Henderson book sounds particularly intriguing. Thanks for the updates!

Laurel-Rain Snow 11/29/21, 10:29 AM  

You have several very tempting books. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Kathy Martin 11/29/21, 12:17 PM  

Nice looking variety of books. I agree with you about Miss Moriarty, I Presume? and I have read the rest of the series. I definitely thought this one was weaker than the others. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Yvonne 11/29/21, 1:23 PM  

Your books look good. I've been wanting to read A Side of Murder but haven't had a chance yet. I hope you have a great week!

Nise' 11/29/21, 3:42 PM  

I like the sound of A Blizzard of Polar Bears.

Greg 11/29/21, 8:55 PM  

As The Wicked Watch seems timely...

A Blizzard of Polar Bears sounds fabulous as well.

JoAnn 11/29/21, 10:27 PM  

I loved Shelter and look forward to reading O Beautiful. You had a great reading month!

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