October 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

October 2018 Books to Read


My October reading has been stellar! I’ve got a couple successful books to share with you today and stay tuned for my review of one more, A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, on Thursday, October 18.

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Read These

A Well-Behaved WomanA Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Historical Fiction (Release Date: October 16, 2018)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: To save her family from financial ruin, Alva Smith finagles a marriage to the extremely wealthy, but socially shunned William K. Vanderbilt, but it doesn’t turn out to be everything she’d hoped.

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored Fowler’s 2013 novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (my review)…so, A Well-Behaved Woman had big shoes to fill. While I liked A Well-Behaved Woman, it was a lukewarm like and it didn’t come close to filling Z‘s shoes. Alva is interesting, but not nearly as dynamic a character as Zelda. I liked that Alva was a modern woman in some ways (i.e. her desire to have a hobby beyond social obligations, her belief that husbands shouldn’t be allowed to treat their wives badly, etc) and had a sassy side. I liked the fact that it made me think about class, the working rich vs. the inherited money rich, and women’s roles in society and the household. But, I got tired of all the rules of society and machinations people went through to rise to the top. I just didn’t care all that much and couldn’t understand why they did. Overall, it’s a decent read, but it just didn’t knock my socks off like I expected. 

These men must believe themselves completely beyond reproach! And, well, why wouldn’t they? Wives permit all of it. Because of course if we’re to believe what we read in the Lady’s Book, the True Woman is completely fulfilled by her domestic duties – her home, her children, her charity functions. The True Woman understands that men have needs of a different kind. 

But I don’t believe a word of it. We accept their behavior because of what would happen if we didn’t.

Witch ElmThe Witch Elm by Tana French
Fiction – Mystery (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Viking)

Plot Summary: After lucky golden boy Toby gets beaten in his apartment during a burglary, he goes to Ivy House (his ancestral home) to recover and care for his dying uncle Hugo…but, a skull is found in the trunk of a massive elm tree in the garden.

My Thoughts: The Witch Elm is only my second Tana French (I read The Secret Place years ago) and expectations played a big role in my reading experience this time around. I consider Tana French a “mystery” author, but The Witch Elm doesn’t start out with a “mystery” feel. It’s more of a family drama / mystery hybrid, which I knew was absolutely up my alley once I aligned my expectations. It’s a mystery with a level of complexity and character development generally uncharacteristic of the genre…and that’s a good thing! It’s a slow build but, especially by the quarter mark, I was engrossed in the story. I wanted to find out what happened, but I also wanted to enmesh myself with this flawed family. It’s a story filled with shades of gray…the characters aren’t entirely likable or dislikable, the revelations about the mystery aren’t entirely blame-worthy or understandable, and there is no obvious honorable path to take. I loved these elements and think they’d make for great book club discussion if your club is cool with 500 page books. But, on that note, I do think editors could’ve cut out about a hundred pages or so (specifically, there was a great ending point to this story, but then a couple extra plot points were tacked on…almost like putting a tacky topper on a delicious wedding cake).

I think my luck was built into me, the keystone that cohered my bones, the golden thread that stitched together the secret tapestries of my DNA; I think it was the gem glittering at the fount of me, coloring everything I did and every word I said. And if somehow that has been excised from me, and if in fact I am still here without it, then what am I?

Skip This One

November RoadNovember Road by Lou Berney
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: Frank Guidry, a lieutenant of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello is on the run because he knows too much about JFK’s assassination, and Charlotte, a mother of two girls on the run from her husband and previous life, meet up for a road trip West.

My Thoughts: November Road was my September Book of the Month choice and it appealed to me because I’m pretty much in for anything JFK assassination conspiracy theory-related. However, for a book that was supposed to have a thriller-style plot, it was kind of boring. Once Guidry’s connection to the assassination became clear, I got really intrigued, but the story veered from there to a run-of-the-mill chase across the country. Guidry really could’ve been on the run from pretty much anything and the story would’ve played out the same…the JFK assassination ceased to really drive the story. The pace did pick up at the end, but I didn’t buy some of Guidry’s feelings or decisions. The writing style was gruff…I could hear a bunch of old men more or less grunting at each other through a haze of smoke, using two or three words instead of full sentences. This style fit the story’s plot, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it. Overall, I just didn’t see the point of the book and didn’t particularly care about these characters. If you’re looking for fast-paced fiction about JFK assassination conspiracy theories, try The Bone Tree by Greg Isles (my review) instead.

It was a big, big world. How hard could it be to disappear off the face of it? Oh, so hard if Carlos Marcello was the man searching for you.

The DNF’s

Bitter OrangeBitter Orange by Claire Fuller (October 9, 2018)
DNF at 24%
Sigh…I loved Fuller’s previous two novels, Our Endless Numbered Days (my review) and Swimming Lessons (my review), but this one was sloooow. The writing was too descriptive and focused too much on architecture. I also couldn’t get a good sense of Frances (the main character)…she felt vague and the whole story felt hazy. There was supposed to be simmering tension similar to Tangerine (my review), but I felt absolutely zero tension.


Virgil WanderVirgil Wander by Leif Enger (October 2, 2018)
DNF at 18%
When I started reading this story about a small, down-on-its-luck Midwestern town and its residents, I’d get into the story, but then completely forget what I’d read when I picked it up the next day. I kept zoning out and couldn’t keep track of all the characters. But, I also tried to read it right after finishing a 5 star book that absolutely blew me away and I don’t think it was the right choice for that moment.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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  1. renee wrote:

    I love what you had to say about Witch Elm because as I mentioned to you, I think the beginning is slow. I’ll push through before it’s due back at the library after reading your thoughts. I’m on the opposite side of the fence from you for November Road, I really loved it. I was ok with the assassination being a backdrop and I thought the characters were flawed but believable. It reminded me of Dennis Lehane’s writing who I love so much so maybe that played a factor as well. It’s fun to have differing views sometimes:)

    Posted 10.12.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I did love the one Dennis Lehane I’ve read! Since We Fell.

      Posted 10.12.18 Reply
  2. It’s good to hear that in the end you mostly liked A Well-Behaved Woman. I’m at about the 10% mark and lukewarm is the perfect word to describe it. I’ll give it another 10%, but if it doesn’t pick up, it may be a DNF for me.

    Bitter Orange did develop a little tension, but not until the end and NOT like in Tangerine!

    Posted 10.12.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Yeah – I could’ve DNF’d Well-Behaved Woman and thought about it, but I did like it more the farther I read.

      Glad I didn’t mess around with Bitter Orange…a good ending is not enough to make up for the whole rest of the book being a slog!

      Posted 10.12.18 Reply
  3. November Road got great buzz at Book Expo – I’m sad to see it didn’t live up to the hype.

    Posted 10.12.18 Reply
  4. Madeline wrote:

    I read a Tana French a couple of years ago (Broken Harbor). I know she’s very popular but that book wasn’t for me.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like Virgil Wanderer, I have it on hold and am looking forward to it. If I’m not in the mood for a book because of something I’ve just read, I try to make some space rather than finding it not what I’m looking for. The same thing happened when you read A Gentleman in Moscow. I found your bad review of that book unsubstantiated. Sometimes we find our reading a race, rather than a stroll.

    Posted 10.12.18 Reply
  5. Catherine wrote:

    Sorry for Virgil Wander didn’t work for you. I think timing played a part, but I get it. I loved his writing and the quirkiness of the characters.

    The closest thing to love I’ve had this month is The Clockmaker’s Daughter. There are multiple timelines, lots of plot, and characters everywhere so I don’t think you’d enjoy it, but it was a perfect escape for me.

    Posted 10.13.18 Reply
  6. Tina wrote:

    Just finished November Road…. loved it!!! Bahaha. Saw your comment about since we fell by Dennis Lehane- hated that one! Are we book opposites after all!? lol

    Posted 10.16.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      NO!!! We both loved Corner of the Oval! Maybe just thriller opposites?

      Posted 10.19.18 Reply
  7. Resh wrote:

    I’ve heard so many good things about Witch Elm that I really want to read it. I love Claire Fuller’s other books and I am only a few pages in Bitter Orange. I hope it ends up to be a better read for me

    Posted 10.17.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I hope it does too – keep me posted!

      And definitely pick up Witch Elm…just don’t expect the pace of a true mystery/thriller right out of the gate.

      Posted 10.19.18 Reply
  8. Amanda wrote:

    Bust! I was looking forward to November Road and even debating buying it. I will make it a library pick up one day instead. I have A Well Behaved Woman I need to start soon though before all my November Nonfiction gets in the way! From the Corner of the Oval is calling my name…

    Posted 10.17.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Well, I know two others who loved it (Tina from TBR, etc and Renee from It’s Book Talk), so maybe still give it a shot?

      Start NN with From the Corner of the Oval..you’ll love it!

      Posted 10.19.18 Reply
      • Tina wrote:

        It’s me! I did enjoy November Road. I think I liked the setting and the main character (despite his flaws). From the Corner of the Oval is a fave, though.

        Posted 10.31.18 Reply
  9. Tina wrote:

    I just started The Witch Elm and wow!! Toby is such a wanker in the beginning. It’s slow but I am already liking it.

    Posted 10.31.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      It grew on me with every page I read!

      Posted 11.4.18 Reply

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