November and December are difficult months to get a lot of reading done; there's so much going on in the store, and by the time I get home, reading -- though a beloved hobby -- doesn't look nearly as good as crawling under the covers and turning out the lights. Nevertheless, I tackled four books last month.
Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles. We receive a number of advanced reader copies (ARCs) each month, and often the middle reader selections -- those written specifically with 10 to 14 year olds in mind -- can get lost in the shuffle. So last month, I snagged Read Between the Lines, by award-winning YA writer Jo Knowles, out of the ARC box. This is my first experience with a Knowles book (though Living with Jackie Chan and See You at Harry's have both received critical acclaim), and I'll admit: It wasn't my favorite, at least not for the 10 to 14-year-old crowd. The nature of the subject matter and the language both lend themselves to an older audience; in fact, young adults might really enjoy this one, and I did love the innovative way Knowles weaved the stories of ten different characters together. Each chapter featured a unique story and narration, and by the end of the novel, the stories came together to give, in my opinion, a fairly accurate portrayal of a day in the life of an average high school student. Again, not one I'd recommend for the typical middle reader crowd, but YA readers might want to keep their eyes open for this one; it will hit shelves this March.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. So many books have been written with "wife" in the title, it's hard to tell them all apart (and many titles, I think, get overlooked because they just all start to sound the same). The American Wife, though, made quite a splash when it was released a few years ago: It's a fictional retelling of the life of Laura Bush, and it was my traveling book club's pick for the month. I have enjoyed Curtis Sittenfeld's writing before, but The American Wife was new to me, and its length not only felt daunting, it was often mind-numbing. The novel covers nearly 50 years of fictionalized history, and while I was often fascinated by Laura and the Bush family (in the novel, Alice and the Blackwell family), the book dragged in parts. By the time I was finished, though, I was dying to know more about the Bush family and presidency; this one will encourage you, I think, to dig a little deeper into part of our nation's history and into the lives of one of America's most notable political families. Length aside, you might want to pick this one up, particularly if Jeb Bush makes a go of it in 2016. (The Bushes -- at least fictionalized -- are way more interesting than I ever imagined.)
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. I have raved to friends and customers about Liane Moriarty, and after wading through American Wife, I knew I would need a page-turner. The Husband's Secret fit the bill; it was the only Moriarty novel I hadn't read yet, and I wasn't disappointed. Moriarty is satirical and funny and smart, but her books always go a little deeper, too. The Husband's Secret is reminiscent -- intentionally -- of the Greek myth about Pandora's box; what happens when we discover something we never should have known? Can we put the lid back on Pandora's box, or is the damage already done? Like her other novels, The Husband's Secret is thought-provoking and wise, providing perfect fodder for a book club.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. We ordered this one for the shop after it was featured on NPR, and I'll be honest: I didn't think it would sell. The subject matter is dark -- Sidney took a copy out of the box and immediately asked if the title referenced "dead people smoke" (it does). Smoke Gets in Your Eyes has surprised us all by flying off the shelves; we've had to reorder multiple times, enough that I finally decided to read it for myself. It's not my typical genre of literature, and some of the details were a little too dark and gory for me, but Caitlin Doughty does an excellent job of reminding readers that death is just a normal part of life, one we should discuss without qualms. Although many of the chapters are about Doughty's personal experiences, she also sews in historical facts and mythical stories about death; those touches make the book really well-rounded and eye-opening. If you've got the stomach and the stamina, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a fascinating read.