Completing War and Peace and Looking Towards 2019

Done. FINALLY done. Can you tell I got a little resentful of War and Peace by the end of the year? Ha! There's something about year-end reading and the pull of the 'best of lists' (I'll add mine to the pile soon) or just wanting to get to all the holiday books on my shelf. For sure, throughout the year, sitting down with this doorstop did not feel burdensome and I was hopeful about the story's conclusion. However, in the final chapters and weeks of reading, I wasn't getting any emotional investment in the characters or their predicaments. You would think after 1400 or so pages I would have felt like I knew these people inside and out and been invested in their fates. Alas...  
I will say that it was totally accessible reading and not terribly complex - just long. There were certainly parts I enjoyed, mostly anything having to do with the women in the story, and Pierre. Sadly those parts were given short shrift to all of the incessant minutiae of the battle scenes. Which is ironic, because Tolstoy goes on at length about how the planning doesn't matter in war, just luck and circumstance. I'm glad to know the story. I'm glad that I learned a lot about my reading habits. I'm glad I did something new. I'm glad I saw it through. I'm glad I have this lovely Penguin Clothbound Classics edition to commemorate this task.
The thought did cross my mind to tackle another humongous classic, perhaps Les Miserables because I adore that story and definitely would be invested in the characters! But since I know the plot already, I don't think it would be an impactful reading experience. My other reading goals, reading from my unread shelf and books I've been meaning to read, really went by the wayside this year. I'd rather put my effort into that again, as well as reading more work by POC and own voices (fingers crossed for at least one a month and perhaps a dedicated review) rather than classics by old white dudes. 
So that's pretty much it for the yearly goals! Perhaps I'll do even more simplifying here - most of my interaction with publishers happens on Instagram and microblogging over there is way more fun. Although minimizing has already been a natural progression on this space, gradually going from 185 posts in 2012 (!) to 44 this year. I shall be back soon, though, with December books read, yearly favorites, and a review of the new Karen Thompson Walker book - The Dreamers. So, I hope you stay tuned and please do come join me on Instagram if you are so inclined!


Books I Read in November

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
With the new Netflix show of The Haunting of Hill House, I've been seeing so many of her books on social media, so I started reading this one on Halloween. I thought it was engaging at first, but I don't know if I have the patience for some of the classic Gothic novels (see also: Rebecca). The suspension of knowing that something is 'not quite right' as I try to piece it together can be a fun reading experience, but I felt as if the ending left me with more questions that it should have answered. Still, I could see how her work has set the precedent for current thrillers and admired the writing.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
LOVED IT! Full review here!

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Have you ever read a beloved children's book for the first time as an adult? This was the top book recommended to me from my 'have been meaning to read' stack and... I didn't love it. It was a serviceable children's fantasy novel, maybe a little too steampunk for my taste. Or maybe it's because I don't gravitate towards fantasy as much anymore, or that I had to have a young mindset to fully immerse myself in these types of books? I remember when the film version of A Wrinkle in Time came out, many people were reading it for the first time as adults and... didn't love it, and believe me - I GET IT. Wrinkle is a freaking weird book. But it meant so much to me as a kid and I love it to this day. I brought this up on Instagram and felt like Anne of Green Gables is an exception to this rule: anyone, at any age, should enjoy L.M. Montgomery. Maybe it's realistic fiction vs. fantasy? BUT! Harry Potter! Those came out when I was already an adult and oh, how I love them so. I suppose there is not clear cut answer to this conundrum, so I shall stop blathering about it, except to say that I will still totally read kids books as an adult!

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
Hoo boy, I could go ON AND ON about this one, too. I find myself having zero patience for characters that are 'sooooo confused' about their relationships and end up cheating on their significant others as a grown ass adult. I find it cowardly and gross. (See also, The Light We Lost.) I mean I FOR SURE had a lot of fun and made MANY questionable decisions when I was a single twenty-something living in the city. But never decisions that I knew would directly hurt someone else. And I have zero recollection of anyone in any of my friend circles acting this way. What's hard is that Beck is not a character, she's a real live human being who has made her mistakes and learned from them. I for sure give her credit for that, yet listening to her story just made me cringe. However, the fun behind the scenes of the Obama administration made up for it and kept me engaged until the very end. So split down the middle? Two and a half stars? 

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
I loved The One and Only Ivan, so I was excited to steal this library book from my daughter after she was done with it. Alas, I don't think Crenshaw had the same clever, unique and heartfelt voice that Ivan did. I'm glad to have had conversations with my kids about the stigma of homelessness. But the story felt disjointed and the flashbacks didn't flow. The title character seems to have very infrequent appearances in the book and I didn't really like him. My girl thought it was sweet, so there's that! 

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein
Oh man, this was a tough but necessary read. Reading Orenstein's research on how teens view sex nowadays was pretty terrifying in parts (oral sex is barely a handshake! since it's not ACTUAL sex!) and sadly familiar to all generations of women (defaulting to politeness over straightforwardness). I would argue that this book is a must read for the parents of boys as much as, or more than, girls and how we need to talk to them about consent and reciprocity. Definitely glad to have this information to add to my arsenal of the ongoing conversations with my kids.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
This was a perfect cozy winter read and lived up to her work in The Thirteenth Tale. Full review here.

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand
It was hard to say goodbye to the Quinn family of the Winter Street series last year, but I am ALL IN with the Steele family for the new winter series! This one grabbed me from the start with the juicy husband-was-leading-a-double-life storyline. As per her usual, Hilderbrand's characters all feel so very real and vividly drawn. And, like Nantucket, she absolutely brings the Virgin Islands to life. I feel extremely lucky to have taken a day trip many years ago from St. Thomas to St. John to snorkel Trunk Bay, and I'm loving being transported back there. I burned through this in 48 hours and can't wait for more frothy fun next winter.


Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (NetGalley Review)

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books (December 4, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

My TLDR would be that Once Upon a River has lived up to the expectations that Setterfield set with The Thirteenth Tale. The arresting events that set the story in motion, a little girl thought dead that comes to life, completely grabbed me. And the page turning plot, plus magical, atmospheric writing kept me hooked until the satisfying conclusion.
"As is well-known, when the moon hours lengthen, human beings come adrift from the regularity of their mechanical clocks. They nod at noon, dream in waking hours, open their eyes wide to the pitch-black night. It is a time of magic."
Once the story of the girl gets around, at least three parties have a legitimate claim to her: a couple who's daughter was kidnapped years before, a father whose wife drowned herself and possibly their daughter, and a simple-minded girl with a long lost sister. Each of these families is drawn in rich detail, and the threads of how they intersect is masterfully plotted. It becomes increasingly evident that there is more than one mystery contained within the pages. One is left guessing for much of the book as to the girl's true identity, and the family secrets of each character. Setterfield keeps the idea of magic open while quietly laying the groundwork for both an engaging romance and a sinister denouement.
A few times I felt as if the pace lagged a bit in the middle of the book, but overall, I found it a perfect story to snuggle up with and get lost in on a gloomy day. If you are a fan of Kate Morton (intricately plotted and suspenseful), Hannah Kent (richly atmospheric), or Sarah Waters (Gothic and creepy) this novel hits every one of these notes, in addition to nuances of mythology or fairy tales. 
Thank you SO MUCH to the folks at Atria Books and NetGalley for the complimentary digital copy in exchange for my honest review!