Books I Read Last Month

Outline, by Rachel Cusk. This was my first Rachel Cusk novel, and once I finished it I immediately tromped out to Magers & Quinn in -5 temps and bought Transit, the next in this trilogy. What a fascinating read, narrated by a woman, a writer herself, who’s on a week-long teaching residency in Greece. We learn virtually nothing about the narrator –I felt at arm’s distance from her all the way through the book, as she eats and drinks, goes for boat rides, teaches, and meets with friends—and yet I was drawn in to this book the same way I was drawn to the Ferrante novels, by the narrator’s sharp, level, unsparingly honest observations.

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. My mother gave me this novel for Christmas and I was delighted, because I’d heard trustworthy friends say how much they’d enjoyed it. Enjoy it I did, and I sent it on to my own daughter, so the female line of McGhee-Garmus fans might continue. Funny. Acerbic. Enraging in an exhausted, eye-rolling, my God can we just once and for all dismantle the patriarchy because everyone’s lives would be so much better way. Snappy. Skewering. Elizabeth Zott, the chemist at the heart of the book, is irresistible, at one point following up her use of the word water with “or H2O, as it’s more commonly known.” Completely enjoyable.

This Must Be the Place and The Hand That First Held Mine, both by Maggie O’Farrell.

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet stunned me, and the day I finished it I walked to Magers & Quinn, once again in sub-zero weather, and picked up This Must Be the Place and The Hand That First Held Mine. I can’t get enough of this writer. Her brilliantly wrought characters, especially the women, oh the women. Thank you for your women, Maggie O’Farrell. Thank you for the way you write about the wild pull of motherhood, and the simultaneous and equal wild pull to make art. Thank you for way you skip back and forth in time and place, the way you weave a magic invisible web that somehow includes small me within it.

The Phantom TollBooth, by Norton Juster, ill. Jules Feiffer. I’ve been interspersing contemporary books with long-ago children’s classics I somehow never read before, The Phantom Tollbooth being one of them. This wordy, odd little book would be worth it for Jules Feiffer’s illustrations alone, but once I decided to go along for the ride of the wordplay and allegorical references throughout, I had fun. At one point I dog-eared a page so I could go back and copy out a quote from it, and I actually did go back and copy out that quote, which, trust me, doesn’t always happen.

The Roof Over Our Heads, by Nicole Kronzer. One of the many interesting aspects of this novel, about a theater family and their many actor friends and recruits who create an immersive, Victorian-themed escape-room mystery in their falling-apart Victorian mansion in a desperate attempt to raise enough money to pay for necessary repairs, is that it reads almost like a play in book form. There’s lots of rapid-fire dialogue and action narrated by an introspective, charming teen struggling to help his family and himself. At heart, The Roof Over Our Heads is a novel about the complications, depth and devotion of family love.


  1. Gabrielle McGhee · February 1

    This is great. I’m sending it to Amy Piaschyk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • alisonmcghee · February 1



  2. Laura Hansen · February 1

    What great reviews and my that’s a lot of books in one month. I am in the middle of Hamnet now and enjoying the flow of O’Farrell’s writing. #riverpoethansen

    Liked by 1 person

    • alisonmcghee · February 1

      Hamnet stunned me – that’s the one that got me going on this O’Farrell addiction!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tara Flaherty Guy · February 1

    Thank you dear Alison, for distilling down this list of some of your favorites…despite the growing pile of yet-to-be-cracked-open books on my nightstand….I’ll be adding a few of these!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. williamboden715gmailcom · February 3

    Hi Alison Somehow your emails are going to my social section of Gmail, not my primary inbox. How can I testify this? Bill Boden

    Liked by 1 person

    • alisonmcghee · February 3

      Hi Bill, so sorry about this. Sometimes this happens to me too…one way around it might be to go to your settings, find one of the “social” emails, and note that it should go to your primary inbox. This has worked for me in the past. Let me know what you find out, okay?


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