• Kara Cushway

What I Read in November

In the month since my last post, I’ve read some great books. (For those of you not already in the know about why I took a month off, I'll share more about that in next week's post!)

I’m not saying that the books I’ve read this year have been bad … they’ve been okay. I’ve had a couple good ones here and there, but the majority have been mediocre. November has been exciting for me since I had more than one unexpectedly excellent reading experience, AND got to finally read Juliet Marillier’s newest book. Without further ado, here are five of the best books I read in November.

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller

All the Ever Afters is the book that I’m most excited to tell you about from the past month. If you’re into fairy tale retellings, or if you love the newest trend of telling the villain's story, you will love this book. It tells the tale of Cinderella’s stepmother, a woman who has been sadly misrepresented (if you take this book’s view of things, which I now do), from her cruel childhood to her lonely adulthood. I won’t say any more about it, so I don’t give anything away, but you really don’t need to know much more about this one anyway; just the premise is exciting.

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

If you’ve read any of my posts about books, you know how much I love Juliet Marillier. The only book of hers that I’ve tried to read but couldn’t really get into was her Shadowfell series; I don’t think I even finished the first book before I stopped reading. Why do I bring up the only series of hers that I’ve never read? Probably because this book was just okay. I did finish the book, and I enjoyed it, so it’s not on-par with the Shadowfell series in its average-ness, BUT it also didn’t have the impressive scope and character depth that, say, her Sevenwaters series (Son of the Shadows in particular) or her Blackthorn & Grim series had. I found similarities in this book to both Juliet’s Sevenwaters series and Bridei Chronicles, though she probably drew and will draw most from the Bridei Chronicles throughout her Warrior Bards series.

So. Long story short, will I be finishing the series, when the rest of the books come out? Most likely, yes. Do I hope the subsequent books in this series are stronger in terms of characters and storylines? Absolutely. I know Juliet Marillier is capable of excellence, and Harp of Kings just wasn’t quite there yet. That being said, this is still a great read, especially for anyone who likes historical fantasy and/or has enjoyed anything from Marillier before (yes, even Shadowfell).

Synopsis: On Swan Island, an isolated location that trains its students in the arts of combat and espionage, Liobhan and her brother Dau are musicians training alongside many other recruits for the chance to be chosen as a member of the elite band of warriors that make up Swan Island’s permanent team. When the siblings are chosen for a secret mission, while still in training, it can only be good news for their prospects to remain on the Island. But their task is to retrieve the Harp of Kings, a legendary instrument that is played to either accept or reject the candidate chosen for kingship. The Harp’s disappearance is not only disturbing; its absence from the ceremony could throw an entire kingdom into chaos. Liobhan and Dau must go undercover as traveling minstrels to discover what came of the Harp, and to get it back in time for a king to be crowned, or they risk not only the failure of a mission – they also risk losing their places on Swan Island forever.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (read by Dan Stevens)

I bought this book from Audible about a year ago, when I had a few credits to use up in my account and didn’t have a book in mind that I especially wanted; I picked the version narrated by Dan Stevens because I knew him from Sense & Sensibility and Downton Abbey, and frankly what’s not to like about the man? But I had no idea that I would enjoy his reading of this mystery as much as I did. This was my very first time reading Agatha Christie because I’m not super into mysteries as a rule, but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it so much.

Here’s a brief summary, without giving too much of this classic away: Ten people are invited to an island, but when they get there, guests begin dying one by one. Who is the murderer? And can they be stopped before every last guest is dead?

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (read by Dan Stevens)

Another Christie classic. After listening to Dan Stevens read And Then There Were None, I had to try another Christie novel read by him. Can I just say that I was surprised by Dan Stevens’ skill as a voice actor? I’ve only seen him in what seems like the same role, just in different movies or TV shows. He always seems to play a melancholy Englishman, and if I may hazard a guess, that’s probably how he is in real life, too.

But these two books (and especially Murder on the Orient Express) really opened my eyes to his talent as a reader and as a storyteller. I highly recommend his reading of Murder on the Orient Express if you’re on the lookout for a great, entertaining audiobook. He uses a different voice for almost every character in the story, with accents of all sorts and a clear, neutral narration voice when he’s not reading dialogue. The latter, to me, is especially important in an audiobook narration, since a narrator whose accent is too affected, or who has a voice that's distracting in any way can make it so you spend the entire book trying to decipher the words they’re saying, instead of hearing the story they’re telling – not the goal of a great audiobook. It’s tough to find a great audiobook narrator, but Dan Stevens is one.

Quick summary: Onboard the historic Orient Express, a mystery presents itself when a man is repeatedly stabbed to death in his cabin, which was locked from the inside. How did the murderer enter the man’s locked room? And, more importantly, who is the killer?

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

I have to say right off the bat that I’m left with mixed feelings about this book, which is usually how I feel when I finish a book where the ending isn’t what I expected. I started this one off LOVING the premise – what’s not to love about an extremely gifted little girl living in the final days of the Ottoman Empire? The reason it’s on my list of great books from November is because this WAS a great book; just because the ending wasn’t what I personally would’ve chosen doesn’t mean that it isn’t a book of exceptional quality, with colorful, engaging writing, and intriguing characters. I was seriously impressed by this author’s whimsical irony and the clarity with which he wrote. Oddly, I think a book without good writing can still be good; but a book with good writing is always great, even if you don’t agree with the ending. Other books that come to mind that share this trait (the good writing trait, that is) are Station Eleven and The Dovekeepers (read about those here and here!).

As for the summary: you already know this book is about a gifted little girl living in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Her name is Eleanora Cohen, and a cloud of purple-and-white hoopoes have followed her since the day she was born, a day when her city was under attack by the Tsar’s Royal Cavalry, and the day her mother died. Eleanora grows up curious, but under the watchful eye of her distrustful stepmother she must limit her reading to one book a month (c’est tragique!). It’s a furtive, boring life until she stows herself away in a trunk full of carpets to follow her father across the water to Stamboul. The magic of the city encourages Eleanora’s curious spirit, but when tragedy strikes, leaving her marooned in the city, she must draw on her own strength and a courage she didn't know she had to determine her own fate.

What were some of the best books you read this past month? I'd love to hear about them! Feel free to comment about them or any thoughts on the books I mentioned above, using the comments section below! Thanks for reading!


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