I didn’t think I’d read much this month. I thought my concentration might be shot in the run-up to Election Day. But somehow, in between writing letters to voters, phone and text banking, and doomscrolling Twitter, I managed to read 14 books!
I read several *spooky* books this month to get in the Halloween spirit, but my favorite books I read ended up being non-fiction. What can I say – I just love a good memoir!
The End of October by Lawrence Wright
I love Lawrence Wright so when I heard he had tried his hand at fiction, I knew I had to read it. The End of October is an eerily prescient fictional story about a global coronavirus pandemic and the one CDC scientist who may be able to save the world. The crazy thing? Wright wrote this book well before we were all on lockdown and talking about COVID-19 24/7.
The book was well done and did an especially good job of conveying a sense of place in all the cities it took place. That said, I have some qualms with the way the author used the Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, to kick off the pandemic plot. Wright could have told the same story in a way that was less damaging to a population that is already frequently targeted with mistrust.
Although I had to take a lot of CBD to deal with the anxiety I had while reading this book, I still recommend it if you are up to the stress of it. This is not, and probably never will be, an easy book to read.
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams is about photojournalist Janey Everett’s search for information about the disappearance of aviation pioneer Sam Mallory. Janey’s quest takes her to Hawaii where she meets airline owner Irene Lindquist who clearly knows more about Mallory than she is letting on.
This book held my attention from start to finish. I didn’t seen any of the twists coming AT ALL which is rare for me. It had female empowerment vibes, Hawaiian vacation vibes, and MAJOR Amelia Earhart vibes. Occasionally I found it difficult to keep up with the jumps between different perspectives and timelines. And I found Janey a little hard to connect with at times. But overall this book was pitch-perfect.
I’d recommend Her Last Flight to any fan of historical fiction. I can’t wait to read more by Beatriz Williams!
Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Magic Lessons is the final book in the Practical Magic series but the author wrote them in reverse order so this is a prequel to Rules of Magic which was the prequel to the original book, Practical Magic.
The book is about Maria Owens, the original matriarch of the Owens family, and the one responsible for the curse that’s at the center of the other two books. It follows her journey from England to the Caribbean and then to Salem, Massachusetts.
It felt very timely that, just as Amy Coney Barrett was being sworn in to the Supreme Court under cover of darkness, I was reading about how women have been put to death since the beginning of time for being too powerful. The allegory hit reallllly close to home.
A lot happens in this book but I’d still describe it as character driven literary fiction. So, it was a little slower than I normally like my books. But if you’re in the mood for a witchy read about badass women or if you just love Alice Hoffman then I’m sure you’ll love this book.
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
Love Your Life is the story of Ava, a zany and optimistic hopeless romantic and Matt, an uptight executive at his family’s company. The two have a meet cute at a writing retreat. The catch? All retreat participants are anonymous so Ava and Matt fall in love without knowing anything about each other. Things get real when they return to London, begin to learn about each other’s real lives, and realize they have nothing in common. Shenanigans ensue.
The beginning felt extremely rushed and left me feeling a little off kilter, but I soon realized that was kind of the point. I began to enjoy the story a little more around the halfway point, and the final 25% really redeemed the book for me. It began to feel much more realistic and I really liked the ending in particular (however, one particular random side plot at the end felt totally out of left field and a little annoying).
The good news is that this is exactly what you’d expect from a Sophie Kinsella novel but, to be honest, the formula feels a little stale at this point. I found that the characters I enjoyed the most were Ava and Matt’s friends, and I was a little less invested in the central love story. This book is still worth a read for Sophie Kinsella superfans but it’s not one that I’ll be shouting from the rooftops about and it’s not one of my favorites of her books.
Note: Thank you to NetGalley and The Dial Press who sent me an Advanced Review Copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
Final Girls by Riley Sager
Final Girls is a fast paced thriller about Quincy, the sole survivor of a bloody massacre that occurred during a weekend getaway in college. The events of that weekend make her one of three other well known sole survivors, aka Final Girls. Ten years later she’s still trying to move past the attack when she finds out that one of the other two Final Girls has been murdered. And then the other one appears on her doorstop.
Just like Lock Every Door, the only other Riley Sager book that I’ve read, the plot of this book is absolutely INSANE. I read it in one sitting. The writing is not going to win any awards, but no one creates a captivating and truly looney tunes plot the way Sager does.
Some people find his books to be really scary, but they’re too disconnected from reality to freak me out. I’d recommend this book to almost anyone except maybe those with a particularly active imagination who have trouble sleeping after reading about grizzly murders.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
I read With the Fire on High in honor of Latinx Heritage Month. It’s the story of Emoni, a high school senior, single mom, and aspiring chef who lives with her grandmother.
The characters were so well written that I felt like I knew them all and I was rooting for them throughout the whole book. It was super readable while still addressing deep issues. The chapters were a little too short for my liking and most of them ended on a note of resolution which didn’t feel very realistic. And the ending seemed a little rushed. Overall, these are the same things I like and dislike about a lot of Young Adult books.
There’s something in this book for every reader, especially those who love to cook and bake like I do. You should definitely give it a try if you haven’t already read it!
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene
I also continued on my journey through the Nancy Drew Mystery Series. This month’s read was The Sign of the Twisted Candles. It was a very middle-of-the-road Nancy story. The plot was very circular and repetitive and Nancy’s detective skills were pretty subpar in this one, but we did get an extra dose of her housekeeper Hannah Gruen which was nice.
I read Julie Andrews’s first memoir Home a few years ago. It covers her life from birth up until she begins filming Mary Poppins. Then last year she published the follow up, Home Work, which I just got around to reading. (I also re-read Home before reading Home Work). Home Work covers her life from Mary Poppins through the late ’80s.
Both books are compelling and exquisitely done. Reading them gave me the BIGGEST book hangover. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Julie! She’s a tremendous writer and she’s led such a fascinating life. I’d recommend either of her memoirs to any reader. And I’m really hoping she’ll write a third and final book!
Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr
Reading Home and Home Work also inspired me to re-read Forever Liesl by Andrews’s The Sound of Music co-star Charmian Carr. If you’re looking to get tons of behind-the-scenes info and gossip about The Sound of Music, this is the book for you. Her book is not half as good as Julie’s books are, but, if you’re a diehard fan of The Sound of Music, you’ll still enjoy reading about the making of the film.
Melania and Me by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff
Melania and Me is written by her former longtime friend and staff member Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. It’s an account of their friendship and it is JUICY. I don’t usually go for this kind of book (I like my reading to be an escape from Trump world) but I just had to read all of Stephanie’s tea.
This book is pretty poorly written and everyone in it comes across looking bad. If you’ve ever felt any sympathy towards Melania, you won’t after reading this book. You also won’t feel any sympathy towards the author.
If you’ve always wondered what the real deal is with Melania, just read one of the excerpts that’s been published. That’ll give you the gist of things without wasting your time reading the whole book. (Oh, and, for the record, I read this from the library so as not to give the author a dime.)
Group by Christie Tate
Group is a memoir of a young lawyer and her journey of personal growth through group therapy.
The beginning made me feel uncomfortable – the author’s pain and struggles at the start of her group therapy journey were palpable and made me feel very sad. But as she progressed, my discomfort turned to hope. The issues the author has dealt with are things that so many of us face. Reading about how she overcame them made me feel like there was hope for me, too. And it definitely made me want to sign up for some group therapy!
Here’s the big footnote to this rave review, though. I didn’t realize until after reading Group that the author was the woman who wrote in The Washington Post a few years ago about her daughter’s request that she stop writing about her and her refusal to do so. Suddenly I had some real concerns about how much she had really learned in group therapy and the ethics of her years of oversharing about her family.
At the end of the day I’m going to try really hard to divorce my thoughts about the book from my thoughts about the author. Regardless, this is a book I’ll be recommending to a lot of people.
Note: Thank you to NetGalley and Avid Reader Press who sent me an Advanced Review Copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
Thank You for Voting by Erin Geiger Smith
Thank You for Voting provides a history of voting. The author explains complex topics from gerrymandering to the Electoral College. She also shares ways to increase civic participation in your own community. And parents, there’s a young readers’ edition, too! This was my final #BookTheVote buddy read and I also had a great chat with the author on Instagram Live.
She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh
She Come By It Natural is an exploration of Dolly Parton’s music and unique status as a hero to working class women, written by someone who grew up in circumstances similar to Dolly.
Although I loved the concept, I felt as if the author only shared enough details about Dolly’s and her life to scratch the surface. And the balance between the two narratives (Dolly’s vs the author’s) felt off to me – there wasn’t enough of the author’s story to fulfill that aspect of the book.
Also, the premise of this book is inherently fairly political and yet the author doesn’t really explore the dichotomy between the fact that Dolly is in many ways a progressive hero but in other ways she falls short of that legacy. She refuses to talk about politics publicly and runs a civil war reenactment dinner show (among other things). If the author were to really go deep into those contradictions, that would be a book I’d enthusiastically read!
Ultimately I still really enjoyed learning more about Dolly. I was also touched by some of the author’s stories about her grandmother. I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves Dolly Parton or her music, and to southern women in general!
Note: Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner who sent me an Advanced Review Copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
With just three days left to go until Election Day and Lord knows how long until we have final election results, I’m assuming I won’t be getting much reading done at the beginning of November. But, I’ve got a big stack of books at the ready should I feel like reading next month.