5 must-read books for November

"The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt" mashes up historical fiction and crafting.

Story highlights

  • Find time for yourself this holiday season to settle in with one of these five recommended reads
  • Caroline Preston's novel is a "whimsical mash-up of historical fiction and scrapbooking"
  • David Guterson reimagines Oedipus Rex in contemporary America in "Ed King"

Find time for yourself this holiday season to settle in with one of these five recommended reads.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

By Caroline Preston

In her whimsical mash-up of historical fiction and scrapbooking, Caroline Preston uses vintage images and artifacts, paper ephemera and flapper-era souvenirs, to enhance a narrative it appears she pecked out on a manual Corona typewriter. Apparently no junk shop or eBay seller was spared in Preston's search for ways to bring her fictional heroine to life in "The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt." The novel, designed as a memory album, takes Frankie from girlhood in small-town New Hampshire -- cue family photos, magazine biscuit recipes, freckle-cream ads, and an untoward relationship with an older man -- on to graduation from Vassar in 1924. From there, the aspiring writer goes forth into Greenwich Village bohemia and expat adventures in Paris, including an illicit love affair, progressive political associations, flowering feminism, and encounters with famous folk like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. But as befits any sprightly ladies' fiction of the era, the greatest surprises await our heroine where she least expects them and teach her a fundamental lesson of early-20th-century life. You can love with the heart of an old-fashioned girl and still succeed at that most modern pursuit: an actual, thriving, honest-to-God career.

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Mrs. Nixon

By Ann Beattie

    304 pages; Scribner

    Available at: Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

    This book of fictionalized reporting and novelized nonfiction about the former First Lady is quirky, in a good way

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    Ed King

    By David Guterson

    320 pages; Knopf

    Available at: Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

    In his daring novel Ed King, David Guterson reimagines Oedipus Rex in contemporary America. Unlike Oedipus in the original Greek drama, Ed is not royalty per se but the contemporary equivalent: a billionaire tech titan, "the King of Search." Born of a fling between a married man and Diane, a much-younger British au pair, baby Ed is left on a stranger's doorstep and soon adopted into a loving family. Ed grows up handsome, intellectually gifted, and powered by a relentless self-confidence. The narrative runs briskly through decades and multiple points of view as Guterson carves a wry edge into Sophocles's tragedy about an abandoned baby who grows up to kill his father and marry his mother. For 27 years, Diane's and Ed's lives run on parallel tracks: she continually reinventing herself—working as a high-end call girl, dog walker, and, eventually, life coach -- and he graduating Stanford and beginning his conquest of the digital world. When they meet by chance, the attraction is immediate and the implications horrifyingly obvious, though not to the lustily oblivious couple. Guterson acknowledges that readers will be "shuddering at the prospect" of these two having sex, but it's worth pushing past the ick factor. Somehow, Guterson keeps the novel winningly good-natured and almost farcical, all the better to teach timeless lessons about hubris, ambition, and the consequences of long-ago sins.

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    The Sisters

    By Nancy Jensen

    In this novel, set in Kentucky, two siblings are separated by a single act; with repercussions that last for generations.

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    Holy Ghost Girl

    By Donna Johnson

    Donna Johnson was 3 years old when her mother, Carolyn, signed on as an organist for (and later lover of) David Terrell, a charismatic traveling preacher and healer who "could scat on scripture like a jazz singer hopped up on speed." In Holy Ghost Girl, Johnson explores her years of roaming "the sawdust trail" of Terrell's revival tents -- canvas "ad hoc cathedral(s)" pitched on the edge of Southern towns -- until his ministry grew to include a syndicated radio show, annual missionary trips to India, and a magazine with a 100,000-plus circulation. But as the preacher's fortunes rose, so, too, did his paranoia and greed; at one point, having fathered three children with Carolyn and at least one with another woman, he fell afoul of the IRS and was sentenced to a stint in jail. Yet for all the disaster that seems inevitable from the opening pages of this plainspoken memoir, Johnson still maintains some affection for the part-time charlatan who was often caring and loving to her, as well as an unwitting civil rights activist. (He faced down the Ku Klux Klan, insisting his congregation stay integrated.) It is not until long after Johnson has lost touch with Terrell that she can begin to understand he was both prophet and liar. And therein lies the paradox at the center of Johnson's story, in which faith and love live alongside anger and betrayal.

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