There are some months where I’m really busy and read very little (like September) and then there was this month, where I was incredibly busy and still managed to read eleven books. It’s probably some sort of procrastination technique, but it’s productive in its own way so I’m going to take it.
The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah
Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
Talk about a book that wants to rip your heart out. I’ve read a million books about WWII and another half million set in France, and yet this one was different. It really made me think about the choices we make and our responsibility to protect other people. You never know how the tiniest thing can have a huge impact. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Young Jane Young | Gabrielle Zevin
Aviva Grossman is an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A.
A good read about reinventing yourself, double standards in politics, and public perception. I loved that it was told in different ways from the perspective of all the women involved. It was also funnier than I expected. I read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and then couldn’t attend the online discussion because I was on vacation.
The Sun and Other Stars | Brigid Pasulka
After losing his brother and mother within a year, twenty-two-year-old Etto finds himself adrift in his hometown, where every man’s life revolves around soccer, except for his. Frustrated and lonely, Etto is faced with the seemingly impossible prospect of cobbling together the remaining pieces of his life, including his mostly nonexistent relationship with his father, the town butcher.
Things begin to change for Etto when Yuri Fil, a scandal-ridden Ukrainian soccer star and his tough-love sister, Zhuki, arrive in town, and sweep him into their universe of soccer, celebrity, laughter, and fierce loyalty. Under their influence, Etto begins to reconstruct his relationship with his father and learns a few life lessons: that perhaps the game of soccer isn’t just a waste of time—and that San Benedetto, his father, love, and life itself might have more to offer him than he ever believed possible.
This one broke my heart and then slowly stitched it back together. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and I didn’t expect to learn so much from this novel set in an Italian village about a 22 year old grieving the loss of his twin brother and his mom – about grief, about the Italian obsession with soccer, about figuring out how to move on but never forget. The writing was beautiful, but not in that flowery way that’s often hit or miss for me. I loved it.
The Perfect Stranger | Megan Miranda
Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.
I shut off my phone, sat on my couch, and read this book entirely in one sitting. I found it captivating, and enjoyed it much more than the Megan Miranda book I read last month.
Little & Lion | Brandy Colbert
When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.
But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.
What I liked about this book: a good YA story, genuinely diverse characters, how it tackled sexuality (especially the main character learning that she’s bisexual) and growing up and figuring yourself out.
What I didn’t: felt like it was trying WAY too hard to be “a book set in LA” (I don’t need the name of every street written out when characters are taking a right turn) and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending. It felt a bit like this book was pitched one way, and then didn’t follow through like I expected it to.
Amanda Wakes Up | Alison Camerota
When Amanda Gallo, fresh from the backwater of local TV, lands the job of her dreams at FAIR News—the coveted morning anchor slot—she’s finally made it: a six-figure salary, wardrobe allowance, plenty of on-air face time, and a chance to realize her dreams, not to mention buy herself lunch.
As the news heats up in a hotly contested election season and a wild-card candidate, former Hollywood actor Victor Fluke, appears on the scene, Amanda’s pressure-cooker job gets hotter as her personal life unravels. Walking a knife’s edge between ambition and survival, and about to break the biggest story of her career, Amanda must decide what she’s willing to give up to get ahead—and what she needs to hold on to save herself.
I loved that this was written by a journalist! That absolutely added to the book; it felt so real that way. The parallels to the 2016 election were uncomfortably spooky. I heard about this one online and read it on a whim; it was pretty good.
Since We Fell | Dennis Lehane
Rachel Childs is a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself.
Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths.
My first Dennis Lehane book, which seems odd for me since they’re often set in New England. I read this one in a day and a half – I really cared for the characters and was exciting to see how it turned out. Parts of it disappointed me, but I’d still recommend it.
The Crown | Kiera Cass
When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.
Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.
I’m finally done with these books! I liked this one okay. It was a decent conclusion to a series that was a good escape for me over recent months. The first three in this series are definitely the best.
In The Garden of Beasts | Erik Larson
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
My brother bought this for me (at my request) for Christmas a few years ago and I never got around to reading it. I loved the author’s book Devil in the White City, which remains one of my all-time favorite books. This one is sadly not as good. I read this book partially on Audiobook, which I think helped with a lot of the drier historical testimony. I know a lot about the lead up to World War 2 and the war itself, but I’d never looked at it from this specific perspective. I found it interesting, but the book is about 2x as long as it needs to be.
The Song of Achilles | Madeline Miller
Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
This retelling of the Iliad took a while to get into. I knew that many of my friends had enjoyed its I decided to push through; without them I think I would have abandoned it. The second half was a lot stronger for me than the first, and I wound up being really glad I read it.
Lincoln in the Bardo | George Saunders
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.
Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before.
I honestly don’t understand what people liked about this book. I think it’s because it’s too avant garde for me, and I probably should’ve known I wouldn’t like it. It’s told by over 100 different voices telling stories, talking over each other, and giving you information from a graveyard. It’s a little like a play, except…not? I don’t know. I didn’t totally understand it, and I’d love to know why people liked it so much. It didn’t work for me, and if I hadn’t been on a six hour plane ride, I likely never would’ve finished it.
Total number of books in October: eleven
Number of fiction books in October: eleven
Number of nonfiction books in October: zero
Total number of books this year: sixty