I’ve gotten through my busy work season and come out the other side! I’ve voted! I’ve spent a couple of days wallowing in election stress and have finally convinced myself that worrying about it isn’t helping anything! So now I am ready to make my return to blogging. I’ve got a lot to catch up on, so a wrap-up and some blog hopping seemed like a good way to re-immerse myself.
First off, even though I never found the time to post about it (which means I also never shared the list of new releases for October that I had my eye on, unfortnuately), I did set a five-book October TBR:
The books were: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson, House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, My Name is Monster by Katie Hale, and The Deep by Alma Katsu. I thought I’d reach for some horror in October: a 2020 release I’ve been excited about (the Katsu), a title from our alternate women’s prize list (the Hale), and several titles from my 20 in ’20 list, to help me work back toward some of my bookish goals this year. But my reading’s been pretty erratic the last few months and I had library books that I needed to return, so I ended up reading only one of these titles alongside some library Booker reads and just whatever I happened to be in the mood for. But even though I didn’t complete this TBR, I think it’s safe to say I’ve broken through the reading slump that’s been plaguing me since summer, which was the only victory I really needed, reading-wise. Here’s what I finished reading in October:
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – 5 stars. This is a YA contemporary novel written in verse. It’s very prose-like verse, so don’t panic if you’re not typically into poetry. It’s a quick read that digs into the cultural experience of a Latina teen living with her family in the US, struggling against parental expectations while also discovering her talents as a writer and falling in love. It’s cute and heavy, and I loved the entire experience. Review to come.
- The New Wilderness by Diane Cook – 3 stars. A Booker shortlist title that’s technically a dystopian but really more of a (wo)man vs. nature tale. It’s much more focused on landscapes and motherhood issues than on the futuristic society that hovers at the edges, which didn’t exactly fit my taste. Nevertheless, I found it to be a fairly quick and frictionless read that’ll surely excite the right reader. I just didn’t fit that bill.
- This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga – 3 stars. Another Booker shortlist title, this one is the third book in a trilogy; I didn’t end up having time/energy to reread the first book this past month as intended. While this one does make sense on its own, I think a lot of the tension here is built up from the earlier books so I would recommend reading them all in order if possible. There are some great post-colonial themes continued here, and a nuanced look at chasing career success in Zimbabwe, but I found the story a bit too slow and meandering and not nearly as strong as I remember the first book in this trilogy being for me, though admittedly it’s been a few years. Review coming soon.
- The Body Lies by Jo Baker – 5 stars. A title from our alternate women’s prize list that featured on one of my previous 5-book TBRs. I’d call this a literary thriller, though the ‘thrill’ is a pretty slow build and it’s not until the very end of the book that the suspense really becomes palpable. There’s a bit too much explanatory exposition in the final pages for my taste, but I loved the feminist commentary running throughout the book and thought the characters were delivered so well on the page. At another time this would likely have been a 4-star read, but it was a standout for me this month.
- Just Listen by Sarah Dessen – 3 stars. I had to postpone my Spotlight post for September, which will focus on YA, so I thought I’d use some of the extra time to pick up more YA reads in preparation. A couple years back I reread a childhood favorite Dessen novel and it held up, so I’ve been meaning to gradually reread more of her backlist; this one was next up. It was a quick read as expected, and it is a rape story with themes of accepting victim/survivor behaviors and encouraging speaking out if possible, as I remembered. But the characters aren’t as strong as some of Dessen’s other work and this was just way too long for what it needed to do, so it’s gone down a star from my first read as a teen.
- Dreamland by Sarah Dessen – 3 stars. I intended to follow up Just Listen with some newer YA from my 20 in ’20 list, but that one threw me into a nostalgic mood to reread, so I picked up another favorite Dessen circa my middle school days. Although I really like the messages in this one about understanding but not accepting abusive relationships, this was one of Dessen’s first publications and it seemed to me as an adult reader now that she just hadn’t hit her stride yet, as far as crafting goes. Every character and scene just seemed utterly transparent as to what it was supposed to be making the reader think or feel, so I found it much less effective as a narrative this time around than I had at thirteen, though I still respect the concept. This one’s down two stars from my original rating.
- This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen – 4 stars. Clearly, I was in a mood. Here, finally, a Dessen reread that held true to my first impressions. I still take issue with some of the ‘romantic’ scenes (for example, the MC has a no-eating-in-the-car rule that the love interest expresses disagreement with by spreading french fry grease onto the interior of her car, which is ultimately condoned by the narrative, whereas I believe a polite and repeated request about the treatment of one’s own property while doing the other person a favor should be respected), but ultimately I think the main messages here about taking chances and remaining open to personalities and approaches that are very different from one’s own are still worthwhile, and the banter between these disparate characters is entertaining. Down one star from my original rating.
- My Name is Monster by Katie Hale – 3 stars. The alternate women’s prize title from my October TBR. I actually started reading this before the Sarah Dessen distraction, but it’s a dystopian survival story focused on motherhood that was very reminiscent of The New Wilderness for me and I struggled with reading the two of them so close together. Ultimately I really liked Hale’s prose and focus on language, and it was surreal reading about such a deadly sickness during an actual global pandemic, but I picked it up at the wrong time and the plot suffered for me because of that. Review to come.
- Redhead at the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler – 3 stars. This title from the Booker longlist did not make the shortlist cut, but I already had it from the library and by this point couldn’t keep it any longer. Coming in under 200 pages it seemed like as good a place as any to sample Tyler’s work, which I’d been meaning to do. In the end, I have no idea how this ended up on the Booker list at all, it’s so straightforward and I was bored through most of the read. Everything about it I found frustratingly unremarkable. Review coming soon.
- The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff – 5 stars. I started this book on September 11 and read it in bits and pieces up through the end of October. It ended up being a bit too emotional for me to sit through while I was stressed with my work schedule this fall, which is why it took me a while even though I loved the read. It’s so detailed, and yet so broad, and all so thoughtfully put together without any gratuitous dwelling on individual pain or loss. I found it incredibly compelling, sometimes harrowing, always poignant. Review to come.
(Not pictured: The New Wilderness and This Mournable Body, library checkouts I’d already returned.)
It was yet another weird reading month, but at least I was mostly enjoying myself and finally felt like I was making a dent in some of my goals again. I still have a couple of Booker reads to finish and I’ve got library holds coming my way to close out the alternate women’s prize endeavor- I’ll do a wrap-up and ranking later this month, perhaps. I’ve also got plenty of thoughts and fodder for my YA Spotlight post, before I switch gears to catching up with October’s horror theme and November’s non-fiction. I am also tentatively planning to continue my Sarah Dessen rereads (I’ve already finished another one in November) to eventually do a full ranking of her books and put my thoughts in one place instead of subjecting you all to individual reviews. Even though I only read one book from my October TBR, two of my other reads were from previous TBRs, so I still feel hopeful of finishing all of my TBR books before the end of the year. One of the titles outstanding from my October list is nonfiction, so that would be perfect to get to this month. In order to keep myself going though, I know I’m going to lean toward mood reading over pushing through all of my arbitrary reading goals.
Average rating – 3.7
Best of month – The Only Plane in the Sky
Owned books read for the first time – 4 out of 10. The rest were an even split between owned rereads and library checkouts.
Year total – 83 books read. I fell behind in September but am right on track again now for my Goodreads goal of 100 books in 2020.
I don’t have any non-review posts from September to link, since I was barely here, and only one of the books I read this month is actually linked to a review in the list above- I’ve got plenty to catch up on.
Looking ahead: I’m going to continue prioritizing my Booker reviews because it’s nice to feel like I’m on top of at least one thing; I’ve got two reviews started and I’m currently reading my last shortlist title, so these will be coming up soonest, with some sort of wrap-up around the time of the winner announcement on the 19th. I’ll also post my November TBR fairly soon, I think, then work on catching up with the rest of my reviews and Spotlight posts afterward. I missed out on Nonfiction November posts last year and am out of the loop right now but might try to fit something in for that if I can work it out. I also need to catch up on about two months of blog hopping, which I’ll be starting imminently. So, you can expect to be seeing me around here a whole lot more, and I’m excited about it!
The Literary Elephant