October Reads

Goodbye for Now, by Laurie Frankel. Last month I read another book by this author and knew five or ten pages in that I would be tracking down more. The premise of this one is that Sam, a computer programmer who works for an online dating site, creates an algorithm so effective that the company loses money because when people find the love of their lives on the first try, they don’t need to keep coming back. Because of this, he gets fired but not before he uses the algorithm to find his own soul mate, Meredith. Early in the dating relationship, Meredith’s grandmother dies, and Sam accidentally/on purpose creates an algorithm that simulates e-mail and video chats to allow Meredith to have one last conversation with her grandmother. They go on to create a business based on helping people through their grief, and of course there are all kinds of unforeseen quirks and consequences. I am so taken with Frankel’s writing, the way she creates characters and especially her ability to complexify (yep) an idea in such fascinating ways. Although I did cry (but not for the reason I expected I might) and although this book is predicated on death as part of life, this was a light (but not fluffy, maybe in the sense of uplifting?) read. Loved it. 

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Jason has been telling me for a while that I would like this fantasy novel, and he was right (he always does a very good job of vetting things and knowing which ones I will like and which ones I should pass on, whether movies, television shows, or books). This is a great story with likable characters. It definitely has elements of fantasy novel–medieval setting, kingdoms at war, political intrigue and betrayals, magic, and of course the eponymous curse, but I think my liking it so much has more to do with the characters and plot than with the genre-specific elements, if that makes sense.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candace Millard (narrated by Paul Michael). I listened to this one as an audiobook. I was completely caught up in the story of James Garfield’s presidency and assassination. I was frustrated to the point of tears at how he suffered for months after he was shot because of the prevailing (non)wisdom of medicine at the time–antiseptic techniques were just becoming known and not widely accepted in the United States at the time. This one is well written and engaging.

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I feel like I heard about this one from several sources, but I finally picked it up because it came so highly recommended by my kids’ elementary school librarian. It is the story of Ada, a ten-year-old girl with a club foot, who leaves London with her younger brother Jamie when the children were evacuated from London in World War II. Ada and Jamie are taken in by Susan Smith, a single woman who never wanted children and who is grieving a loss of her own. Although the overall story arc may be somewhat predictable, I was so struck by the descriptions of how painful it was for Ada, who had never known anything but abuse, to be treated with kindness. This story and these characters will stick with me for a long time. (A sequel did just come out this past month as well. I’m not sure whether I want to read it or not. I’m satisfied with the ending of this book and, as with many sequels, am kind of nervous about messing with that.)

Glass Houses, by Louise Penny. This was one of my favorites in the Inspector Gamache series. Can I leave it at that?

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. This short story collection was our book club pick for the month. I loved it. These stories are so well written and such a good example of the genre. One of the many ways that Lahiri is masterful is that she knows just where to stop the story–these stories each left me wanting just a little more but also glad that they weren’t too neatly wrapped up. The collection as a whole is melancholy and quiet. I loved it. Oh wait, I already said that.

In the Woods, by Tana French. This is the first in the Dublin Murder Squad series; I had previously read the second but skipped this one because I had heard (or read?) that this one was too creepy. I don’t know, I think I actually liked this one better than the second (though it’s hard to say because I liked them both very much but loved neither). I enjoyed the relationship between the two protagonists and was less interested in the murder they were investigating. (I will also say that I was unsatisfied with the ending to the point that I wonder if I missed something.) These are definitely more gritty than, say, Louise Penny’s novels, which is not a bad thing. I personally need to take gritty in very small doses, but I will read more Tana French in the future.

A Letter of Mary, by Laurie R. King (narrated by Jenny Sterlin). I really liked the first two books in this series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, but unless someone can convince me that this one was an exception, I’m probably done with the series. I don’t know if it is because I listened to this as an audiobook, but the pacing of this one was so different. I literally fell asleep once and missed a half hour or so and didn’t even care. I was regularly bored, didn’t quite buy the central mystery (and definitely didn’t buy the twist), rolled my eyes at a literary illusion I maybe should have loved, and got really angry at this female author for allowing her (married but undercover) protagonist to actually apologize for spurning the unwanted advances of her employer. So disappointing.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I read a book by this author earlier in the year, and while that one did turn me around in the end, I wasn’t necessarily looking to read another (chick lit really isn’t my genre, and this did nothing to change my mind). I will say that Reid can really write, which is why I did finish the book even when I could tell a third of the way in or so that this book wasn’t for me. As it turns out the “glamorous and scandalous” life of a classic film star, even a fictional one, begins to bore me pretty quickly. And I have a very low tolerance for unlikeable characters, especially when they are protagonists. I don’t recommend this one.