October Reads: a Little Bit of Everything

The Night Watchman
by Louise Erdrich

“Patrice had come to think that humans treated the concept of God, or Gizhe Manidoo, or the Holy Ghost, in a childish way. She was pretty sure that the rules and trappings of ritual had nothing to do with God, that they were ways for people to imagine they were doing things right in order to escape from punishment, or harm, like children. She had felt the movement of something vaster, impersonal yet personal in her life. She thought that maybe people in contact with that nameless greatness had a way of catching at the edges, a way of being pulled along or even entering this thing beyond experience.” ~ Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman.

Based on the extraordinary life of Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Erdrich’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with elegant prose, subtle humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.

I often read synopses like this, and the word “hyperbole” comes to mind. “Master craftsman?” “Majestic?” Come on… let’s be real. But you know what? Those adjectives fit Louise Erdrich’s writing in The Night Watchman.

I read this book twice in rapid succession. The first time I was in bed with Covid, and when our book club met to discuss it, I had no clue what the others were talking about. My brain had clearly been muddled. So, I tried again a month later and the second time took.

There are so many great things to say about this novel. Being a lifelong resident of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I loved the references to Minnesota. My mother grew up on a farm in the teeny, tiny town in North Dakota, and I was familiar with most of the places mentioned in that state, too. Erdrich’s beauty of composition had me savoring each sentence. Here’s one of my favorites: “Her hair was long and the smooth braids had accidentally, comically, swept upward over her head, so that it seemed she was falling.” Can’t you just picture that?

In some books about the ugly side of history, the author carries on about social injustice, yet Erdrich doesn’t whine; she just tells the story of her people in stunning prose. Her descriptions of places, events, and characters are marvelous. Most definitely 5 stars.

The Stolen Baby
by Diney Costeloe

A new Second World War novel from bestselling author Diney Costeloe, based on a gripping and moving true story. Amid the chaos of World War II in England, an infant seemingly abandoned during a bombing raid finds a home with grieving mother Maggie. But could this child be the same son Maggie lost months before?

I devoured this book! It’s a real page-turner with great pacing, well-drawn characters, and terrific writing. What more could you ask? Oh yeah, it’s also based on a true story! The Stolen Baby isn’t as frightening as the title would have you believe, nor is it as depressing as many WWII novels. If you like audiobooks, this one’s a winner. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy in exchange for honest feedback.5 stars.

Cloud Cuckoo Land
by Anthony Doerr

Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 for his highly acclaimed WWII novel, All the Light We Cannot See. It was a wonderful book; I was curious to read his new release and see how it compared. Cloud Cuckoo Land is decidedly different. One doesn’t read Doerr’s books purely for their entertainment value, but also for the beauty of his writing. It took me a long time to read this book, because I kept rereading his exquisite sentences. He tends to compose especially long ones, and I admittedly got lost in some of them.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a complex novel with five separate plotlines. I loved the stories of Zeno, Seymore, Omeir, and Anna, but I didn’t care for Aethon’s narratives at the beginning of most chapters, although I understand how crucial they are to the overall plot. I’m also not a fan of futuristic books, so Konstance’s story didn’t turn me on. Doerr melds them all together in the end, which is quite a feat. Cloud Cuckoo Land is intelligent, peculiar, and unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is a triumph. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy for honest feedback.

A Devotional Journey through Proverbs: 31 Reflections and Insights from Our Daily Bread
by Our Daily Bread Ministries

A Devotional Journey through Proverbs’ full-color design on every spread, will invite you to learn the wisdom of Solomon and experience a life blessed by God’s favor. As you walk through beautifully illustrated pages with the full Bible text, a devotional reading, additional insights and word studies, and reflection questions, you will find practical guidance for everyday living.

I loved the layout and structure of this book. It was just beautiful and a pleasure to read. First is the pertinent scripture, chapter by chapter, and then a real-life anecdote, followed by a teaching on the historical perspective, which I found especially interesting. I would have liked more meat, but it was a good study and approachable for most readers. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. 4 stars.

Lethal Agent
by Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn (series creator)

“And the American people…” His voice faded for a moment. “They faint if someone uses insensitive language in their presence and half of them couldn’t run up a set of stairs if you put a gun to their heads. What’ll happen if the real shit hits the fan? What are they going to do if they’re faced with something that can’t be fixed by a Facebook petition?” ~ Kyle Mills, Lethal Agent

A toxic presidential election is underway in an America already badly weakened by internal divisions. While politicians focus entirely on maintaining their own power and privilege, ISIS kidnaps a brilliant French microbiologist and forces him to begin manufacturing anthrax. Slickly produced videos chronicling his progress and threatening an imminent attack are posted to the Internet, intensifying the hysteria gripping the US.

ISIS recruits a Mexican drug cartel to smuggle the bioweapon across the border, but it’s really just a diversion. The terrorist organization needs to keep Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy distracted long enough to weaponize a deadly virus. If they succeed, they’ll trigger a pandemic that could rewrite the world order.

Rapp embarks on a mission to infiltrate the Mexican cartels and track down the ISIS leader who he failed to kill during their last confrontation. But with Washington’s political elite increasingly lined up against him, he knows he’ll be on his own.

I love escaping into a good spy thriller, and #18 in the Mitch Rapp series transported me to the Middle East, Mexico, and Washington DC to watch the world’s most deadly good guy lick terrorists, drug cartels, and corrupt politicians. Lethal Agent (very clever double entendre) has pulse-pounding action, and a delightfully intertwined plot and I cheered on a brutal killer as he thwarted evildoers. If you enjoy audio books, narrator George Guidall is one of the best in the business. Perfect for fans of Daniel Silva, Brad Thor, and John Le Carre. 4 stars.

The Last Mrs. Parrish
by Liv Constantine

“This was the kind of home that was safely hidden from the eyes of those who could not afford to live this way. That’s what wealth does for you, she thought. It gives you the means and the power to remain concealed from the world if you choose – or if you need to.” ~ Liv Constantine, The Last Mrs. Parrish

Amber Patterson is tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who melts into the background. She deserves more. She deserves a life of wealth, luxury, and leisure. Daphne Parrish is the golden girl of the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. With her beauty, her picture-perfect mansion and her millionaire husband, Jackson, she has everything Amber has ever wanted.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive—if she didn’t have a plan. Gradually, Amber insinuates herself into the Parrish family’s life. Before long, she has become Daphne’s closest confidante, and is catching the eye of Jackson. But a skeleton from her past could undermine everything Amber has worked for, and if discovered, her well-laid plan may end in disaster…

The Last Mrs. Parrish isn’t my typical fare, but that’s what I love about being in a book club… it broadens my horizons. There are certain books that just make you uncomfortable, but you can’t help continuing. This is one of those books. The main character, Amber, is delightfully deplorable, so much so, that some of her actions made me squirm. Jackson is equally deplorable, and then there is poor Daphne. Liv Constantine’s novel is twisty, unputdownable psychological suspense and pure entertainment. I whipped through it. Perfect for fans of B. A. Paris, Shari Lapena and Liane Moriarty. 3.5 rounded up to 4.

The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende, Magda Bogin (Translator)

In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

I read The House of the Spirits in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Isabel Allende is considered one of the great Latin writers of this generation, perhaps of all time. This novel, which was first released in 1982, was her first book and enjoyed unexpected instant success. Set in Chile, the plot is intricately woven, and the characterization is stellar. There were some real problems for me, though. I’m not big on magical realism, which plays a big role in this novel, and some of the writing was atrocious: incorrect word usage, overly long chapters, crazy long run-on sentences, and way too many adverbs. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a stream of consciousness rather than a novel. The average rating on Goodreads is 4.25 stars, but I can’t go higher than 3.5.

America
by Mike Bond

“To live as most people seemed to—blindly accepting life without trying to understand and live it in the wisest and most responsible fashion—was insane, the squandering of a unique and priceless gift.” ~ Mike Bond, America

The Sixties shook America to its foundation—the assassination of an idealistic young president, a tragic and unpopular war, a battle for civil rights, a cosmic clash of riots and burning cities, and an explosion of sex, drugs and rock’n roll.

For four young people, the Sixties is a decade of promise and freedom. For orphaned Troy, it’s the joy of living with his new family and exploring the world of flight. For Tara, the power of song as she evolves into a rock’n roll star. For Mick, a football hero and rebel, a time to question everything, including the fast-growing war in Vietnam. And for Daisy, a chance to fight for equality and join the Peace Corps.

I was born in 1961 and remember the atmosphere of the Sixties more than the actual events. As a young child, my parents insulated me from the turmoil of the era. Reading Mike Bond’s novel brought me back to my childhood homes, my school, my friends, the food, and clothes. He is a gifted storyteller; his play-by-play of the boys’ sporting events made me feel like I was sitting in the bleachers. I especially enjoyed the first half of the book when Troy and Mick were young, before they spent so much time having sex. I know the decade was all about sexual freedom, but it got old. He has some sequences of beautiful writing followed by grammatical errors – almost like the book was written by two different people. He got carried away with the Nixon-Kennedy debate and quoting JFK’s speeches, prompting me to skip pages.

Although I’m only giving this book 3.5 stars, I liked it enough to read the next in his proposed seven-volume historical novel series. Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for a review copy of the book.

The Dogs of Winter
by Ann Lambert

The Dogs of Winter begins after a howling snowstorm envelops Montreal, and the body of a young woman is discovered in its wake. The only clue to her identity is the photograph in her pocket, and on it, the phone number of Detective Inspector Romeo Leduc. Meanwhile, Marie and Romeo are busy navigating their deepening relationship, and a student at Marie’s college is the victim of a terrible assault. While Romeo begins to think that the dead woman may be linked to violence against several homeless people in the city, the search for justice in both cases is thwarted by societal apathy and ignorance, even as the killer is stalking the frigid streets of Montreal, preying on and terrorizing its most vulnerable citizens.

I enjoyed learning more about Montreal and the plight of the Inuit people. Like many major metropolitan areas, Montreal has a significant homeless population. I can’t imagine living on the streets, especially during a brutal Canadian winter. I wanted to love this book, but sadly, I never felt invested in it. The subplots didn’t work; they were like separate novels that never came together at the end. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of the audiobook. 3 stars.

Wait ’til you see what I’ve planned for November!