As I explained in last week’s post, things have been tough lately. As a result, I’ve been doing even more reading than usual, because as Kate Morton wrote in The Forgotten Garden, “She’d understood the power of stories. Their magical ability to refill the wounded part of people.” Luckily, there were a lot of new and anticipated books published in the last month or so, and I spent much of the past few weeks catching up on my TBR list. If you’re considering your next read, here are my thoughts on five new books in several different genres:
Literary Fiction: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (published October 9)
I have long been a fan of Kate Morton’s multiple perspective multi-generational mysteries. Her novels are wonderful examples of how a narrative can move back and forth through different time periods as a story unfolds through the eyes of a variety of well-developed characters. The Clockmaker’s Daughter, in my opinion, is the best one yet. I absolutely love that one of the primary narrators is a ghost, observing and commenting on events while adding her own revelations. Her continued presence in the house that anchors the story, and the mysteries surrounding her life and death, are absolutely fascinating. I have rarely been so invested in a set of characters. The interwoven storylines were all compelling and I raced through the book in less than a day. Highly, highly recommended.
Non Fiction: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (published September 10)
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan. In Talking to Strangers, he examines how people interact with one another, our ability to tell truth from lies, and the various factors that influence our communication. As usual, Gladwell combines science, research, and a variety of historical events to craft a compelling, in-depth narrative. I always enjoy his engaging writing, blending information and commentary while drawing new conclusions and connections. The audiobook is exceptionally well produced, featuring the voices of interview subjects, recordings of actual incidents, and reenactments. This was certainly the most thought provoking book I’ve read in recent months.
Fantasy: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (published October 8)
I have read and enjoyed all of Leigh Bardugo’s young adult books, especially because each one was better than the last. So the adult fiction debut of an author I believe is constantly improving was a very exciting prospect. The book more than lived up to my expectations. The premise, that there are secret magical societies operating at an Ivy League university, is fascinating and extremely well-developed. The underlying mythology of the book is built slowly and organically and the protagonist was impossible not to root for as she struggles to find her place in several unfamiliar and difficult situations. From the very first line, “By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it,” the reader is in for a multilayered mystery and fascinating reveals. Ninth House is a wonderful book, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
The Institute by Stephen King (published September 10)
I had a little trouble categorizing this one. Stephen King is, of course, best known for horror, but while there are some elements of horror in this book, I wouldn’t quite put it in that genre. Thriller might fit. Or maybe fantasy, because psychic abilities are central to the plot. Amazon lists it as “Psychic Suspense”, “Horror Suspense”, and “Psychic Thriller”, and I suppose that covers it. Anyway, The Institute is one of King’s best in recent years, certainty superior to the two that preceded it. It is a solid, interesting, well paced, and well plotted novel. Early press compared it to Firestarter (for the evil agency aspect) and It (for the examination of childhood). The first comparison I think is accurate, and done very well. The second, however, is an overstatement. I very much liked The Institute, although I wish there had been a little more of it. Going into it expecting the sort of powerful depiction of childhood and childhood friendships that made It such a compelling read, I was disappointing not to find it. However, that’s not entirely a criticism of the book itself. The book is great. I just wish there’d been more.
Legal…Thriller?: The Guardians by John Grisham (published October 15)
This is a tough one. Grisham based the protagonist of this book on a real person and created a great character. He based the central case on a real case and created a really interesting core plot. I enjoyed reading about a group of people determined to see justice done for the wrongly convicted. There was a lot I really liked about this book! About halfway through, though, I noticed that while I wasn’t bored, the book was easier to put down than I expected. What I finally realized was that it was mostly lacking in serious tension. The narrative unfolded with the majority of the conflict independent of the actions of the protagonist. Evidence was found or it wasn’t. Witnesses changed their story or they didn’t, or they did later. Some people got in the way, until they didn’t. The writing was good, the narrative was interesting (except for a tangent near the end I found thoroughly bizarre, but I could deal with it), but even though the stakes were high, I never felt like there was enough agency or influence from the narrator. So, I liked the book, and was interested, but not exactly gripped by it. It felt more like well-written nonfiction than fiction, and I’m still sort of trying to come to my final opinion. What I can say is that it was worth the time and money, but it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from fiction.
Any of these on your TBR? What have you been reading lately?