1. Watership Down, by Richard Adams: This book about rabbits on the run is often seen as an allegory for freedom vs. oppression or the individual vs. society, but in the author’s introduction, Adams states that he never intended any of that. This was a story he made up to keep his daughters entertained in the car during a long drive.
Given that context, I find it super weird that every female character in the book is a helpless, simpering moron who can’t even move left or right without a male to tell her where to put her feet. In fact, the entire second half of the book is about the rabbits’ search for females, not for love or companionship, but solely for mating purposes so that the warren doesn’t die out.
I tried to give Adams credit. Maybe that’s just how rabbits roll. But no—the very first critique I read pointed out that in nature, female rabbits are smart, shrewd and often in charge, since their strong maternal instincts provide a natural alarm system for predators. So apparently, he’s just a misogynistic jerkface.
2. Getting Over It, by Anna Maxted: Helen Bradshaw is twenty-six when her father dies of a heart attack. Suddenly all of the things that she took for granted—that her low-level career will eventually advance, that her casual dating will result in meeting the man of her dreams, that her parents will always be there to support her—are thrown up in the air. Helen is stuck in that weird place where she wants to be an adult, but not that adult. I initially read this when I was sixteen and had a completely different take on some of Helen’s life choices than I did this time around. Funny how that works.
3. Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell: Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly is left in a tough spot when her meth-cooking father puts their house up as part of his bond and then apparently skips town. With a disengaged mother and two little brothers to care for, she can’t afford to be put out into the harsh Ozark winter. To find her father, Ree is forced to ask questions that upset the strict, insular code of their reclusive community.
This was a tough one. Woodrell is not interested in sparing the reader any of the cringe-inducing details. That said, it took a region that I know absolutely nothing about and made it come alive on the page, and held my interest all of the way through. Can’t ask for much more than that.
4. The Monogram Murders, by Sophie Hannah: I got a little duped here. It’s a Hercule Poirot mystery and the jacket says Agatha Christie on the front in huge letters, so I kind of figured it was by Agatha Christie, but no. I nevertheless enjoyed it, as I almost always do with mysteries.
Three hotel guests are found murdered on the same night, each in his or her own room, each poisoned, each with a monogrammed cufflink in their mouths. A woman convinced that she will become the fourth victim states that once she is dead, justice will finally be done, and that no one must search for her killer. When she disappears, the detective must unravel the closely-held secrets of a small village before the body count increases.
5. Through the Evil Days, by Julia Spencer Fleming: I’ll read pretty much anything that takes place in Upstate New York (although you should know that Syracuse, where I am from, is Central New York. Likewise, Poughkeepsie is not Upstate. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.). This is the eighth novel set in the fictional Adirondack town of Millers Kill, a place that would be incredibly idyllic if there wasn’t enough crime there to fill eight books. It was also my second novel of the month about meth cookers, so that was fun.
And the best thing I read this month…
6. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho: The story is deceptively simple—a Spanish shepherd sets out to discover his personal legend. The how and the why aren’t that important. It’s more about the universal truths the shepherd realizes over the course of his quest.
Coelho wrote this book over two weeks in 1987, and since then it has sold more than 65 million copies. It may sound trite, but if you’re striving for a seemingly unobtainable goal (like, say, publishing a book), this story might help you keep your chin up. And for me, that’s worthy of the best of the month tag.