November Book Reviews

I love those months when I look at my “books completed” list and discover I’ve read a lot more than I realized over the course of four weeks. That’s what happened in November. It was a very busy month, trying to adjust to my new daily writing schedule for TreeHugger and being sick for over a week; but in fact I now have more free time for reading in the evenings, since I’ve been making a conscious effort not to do social things on weeknights.

1. “Everybody has Everything” by Katrina Onstad

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This book was chosen by my book club, though unfortunately I couldn’t attend the discussion about it. Onstad is a writer from Toronto, and her book was set in the neighbourhood where I used to live, so that was a nice personal touch. It was the story of a young couple that suddenly found themselves raising a toddler belonging to their best friends, who were in a serious car accident. It was a fast read that I polished off in two days. While it didn’t strike me as stellar writing, it was a story that felt very real and convincing, and I enjoyed it.

2. “The Sweet Edge” by Alison Pick

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I did a short writing workshop with Pick at the beginning of October, so it was fun to read one of her books. The two main characters, a guy and girl, reminded me a lot of the main characters from Onstad’s book, and this was also set downtown Toronto. The book spans a single summer, while the guy goes on a solo canoe trip in the Arctic and the girl stays to work in Toronto. Their relationship is on the rocks for a number of reasons, primarily that she’s a total nitwit and he’s a complete jerk (at least, that’s the impression they made on me). Sorry to say it, but I did not enjoy this book, even though its author seemed lovely in person!

3. “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett

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This is a historical fiction novel set in the early Middle Ages. As someone who loves medieval history, I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and descriptions of life that Follett had clearly researched in detail. The plot line was mediocre, I thought, and went on too long – an impressive 1000 pages, which felt a bit excessive. Still, it was a good ‘escape’ read from the depressing, crumbling relationships that featured in the last two novels I read.

4. “The Red House” by Mark Haddon

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This book is the story of an extended family that goes on vacation at a rented house in England. They spend one week together and, as you can imagine, plenty of drama ensues. It is written in a very modern, disjointed style that I found frustrating. The text jumped from one character’s perspective to another without specifying who was speaking, and it was left up to me to figure out who it was. There was, however, one paragraph about sibling relationships that took my breath away. I read it multiple times.

5. “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin

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This is the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, told from her perspective. It was riveting, eerie, and disturbing. She pines for her lost son, who has been brutally murdered, and does not believe any of the rumours about his being the son of God. After all, he’s just her little boy who was taken away. Her reminiscences of his childhood, of their idyllic life when he was small, filled me with sadness, especially when I think of how time is flying by so quickly with my own little boys. It was also a sharp reminder that history and religion are often one-sided views on events, and it’s important to remember that things must have looked very different for others involved.

 6. “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan

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I just finished writing a review of this book for TreeHugger, so check it out here, if you’re interested.

7. “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Díaz

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Short stories about love of all kinds – jealous, passionate love; family love; sibling love; love of a child; a “cheater’s guide to love” – this book has it all. The stories are all written from the vantage point of immigrants to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. I loved the random Spanish phrases and Dominican cultural snippets tossed into the stories, as they reminded me of my bygone South American days.

You might also like:
October Book List
Books I’ve Read in September
Summer Reading

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12 thoughts on “November Book Reviews

  1. Nice list this month. I loved the Junot Diaz. I pretty much love anything by Colm Toibin.You should read Mothers and Sons by him which is fantastic. More stort stories. They’ve made the Testament of Mary into a stage play. I agree with you about the Katrina Onstad it was okay, but nothing I would go out of my way to suggest to anyone.

    1. I think the reason why you like my list is because I finally got a hold of titles you recommended!! I have a long list called “from Kelly” that I take the library occasionally.

  2. i just finished a book called Unexplded by Alison Macleod set during World War II that you might like. I thought it was quite good.

  3. I love your monthly book review post because you always introduce me to new titles. 🙂
    Your description of the Katrina Onstad book reminds me of a movie I watched a few years ago: No Reservations. It wasn’t a great movie but it was okay.
    I have a copy of Cooked sitting on a pile of books in my room at the moment. I’m planning on reading it during the Christmas break.
    I wish I had more time for reading! I have so many books on my to-read list, one of which is Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff. I always enjoy listening to his contributions to This American Life. I also want to read books by Nora Ephron and Alice Munro. Do you have any specific recommendations for either of those authors?

    1. Oooh, I have David Rakoff on my list to read and have heard really good things about that book. I’ll have to get it for sure now! I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read any Munro yet, especially considering that she lives close by and just won the Nobel Prize! I have a copy of “Dear Life” sitting on my shelf that I’ll read this month. It’s supposed to be fabulous. I don’t know any of Ephron’s work.

    2. Grace, I have just read Heartburn by Nora Ephron. It’s short and I loved it – she’s such a sparky writer and SO frank about relationships that I was chortling the whole way through. My mum read it after me though and was positively underwhelmed – but she is a lot less cynical than I am.

  4. Aaaghhhh…I had the Colm Toibin book in my hand while I was in Scotland but didn’t buy it. Filled with regret now, especially as my Kindle is playing up! Mark Haddon? I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, but gave up on his second book, A Spot of Bother. Don’t think I’ll be picking up his latest either. 😉

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