This Month’s Recommended Reads

Phew! November was quite a month. When I look back, I did a lot more reading than I thought.  Probably to make up for the lack of reading in October.

December is looking like a light reading month as well, thanks to the holidays.  However, I’m looking forward to adopting the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, where you exchange books on Christmas Eve and spend some time reading them by the tree.  If you’re reading this Captain Pete, there are two books on my Christmas list: Atomic Habits by James Clear and Anything Goes, A Biography of the 1920s by Lucy Moore.

Getting back to November’s reading, my reads were the usual eclectic batch. There were three non-fiction titles and two wonderful fiction books.  Overall, I recommend four out of the five.

The Heroine with 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar: Once upon a time, a man named Joseph Campbell wrote a book called the Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he analyzed mythology and determined that the stories all followed a very similar structure.  This structure would become known as the Hero’s Journey and every scriptwriter and novelist in the world has studied it.  Funny thing though. Very few (if any myths) involved female protagonists. Their stories were told in fairy and folk tales – stories that Campbell dismissed as for children and therefore inconsequential.  In The Heroine with 1001 Faces, Professor Tatar unearths those stories to show that, not only were women shoved aside in Campbell’s book, but that female-centered stories have their own unique structure, aka heroine’s journey.  The book is an eye-opening must-read for writers and feminists alike.

After Alice Fell by Kim Taylor Blakemore: Blakemore absolutely nails the tone and atmosphere in this gothic mystery set just after the Civil War. Marion Abbot is convinced her sister Alice didn’t die by accident. However, the more questions she asks, the more tangled her thoughts become. Was Alice murdered or is she losing her mind? Blakemore uses 19th-century misogyny and misunderstanding of mental illness to create a twisty, moody tale of murder and betrayal.

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis.  I always enjoy Davis’s books because of how she brings the history of a building to life.  In this case, it’s the Frick Museum in New York City. In the main story, Lilian Carter, a former model falsely accused of being an accessory to murder disguises herself as a secretary for Alice Frick at the turn of the century. Before she knows it, she’s embroiled in family drama, a matchmaking scheme, and another murder investigation. A second storyline, set in the 1960s, has model Veronica Weber searching for the missing Magnolia Diamond which went missing sixty years earlier. While Davis tends to wrap up her books too neatly for my taste, she managed to hold my attention for over two hundred pages. Readers will really enjoy how the two timelines connect. On shelves January 2022.

Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World by Eve Rodsky.  I grabbed the Advanced Read of this book – which comes out December 28 – because of the title. At the time, I’d lost my creative mojo and I hoped the book might give me some tips on how to rediscover my creative center.  Alas, the book is more about carving out creative time when you have a job and a family.  Rodsky believes that everyone should have both self care time and creative time, and her book is designed to help couples negotiate space for both. If you are working and have children still at home, you’ll probably find her tips useful. However, since I am a full-time writer with an empty nest, it failed to resonate with me.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I first read Big Magic when it came out in 2016 and while I liked it, I didn’t find it as magical as many. I’ve since realized the problem. In 2016 I was in a good place creatively.  Thus a lot of what Gilbert shared didn’t hit home. This time, I read it while struggling, and had a completely different reaction. Gilbert managed to address all my fears and insecurities in a way that made me feel less alone. Sure, some of her theories are little ‘woo woo’ (like the concept of ideas being alive), but overall, she understands how scary yet wonderful it feels to live a creative life. You don’t need to be a writer to find Big Magic useful either.  It’s a great book for anyone who loves imagination and creativity

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