Since Halloween’s tomorrow, I doubt I’ll finish another book this month, and so, I’m posting this wrap-up a little early. I had a monster reading month this month, finishing 19 books and almost 5000 pages. More importantly, I felt like I found a groove and rhythm in my reading that I haven’t really had since last December. I’m hoping that carries over into November and December.
- Books Read: 19
- Re-Reads: 3
- Goodreads Challenge Progress: 150/200 (15 books behind schedule)
- New Books vs. Backlist:
- New Books: 11
- Backlist: 8
I began this month with romance. I’ve been really busy homeschooling my children and working through my graduate school work, so I’ve been wanting some comfort reading. One of the places I turn to for that is Jenny Colgan. She’s one of my favorite authors, and I got 500 Miles from You twice from the library this summer, thinking I would read it. Instead, I finally had to purchase it on my Kindle to make time for this 450 page book. I was glad I own it, and it was just as good as I was hoping. Sometimes Colgan’s books are pretty serious romances and others are more like women’s fiction. This one was more like women’s fiction, and chaste enough to hand my 13-year-old if she were interested. I do wish one side character (Kim-Ange) could have her own book in the series!
Another series romance that I read was Daring and the Duke. I picked it up from the library, and my teenagers took one look at the cover and said, “That’s a dirty book!” And it was pretty explicitly open-door and there were several scenes. It was a great, feminist historical romance without being too aggressively suffragette. I like suffragette novels, but don’t want all my historical novels to devolve into political issues. Grace was an awesome character, and I really like the way MacLean chose to rehabilitate Ewan. I know this is supposed to be the last book in the series, but would love to see more from this world. I loved the club and everything about this setting. I like that this romance, even with a Duke in it, was not too society and upper class. Come to think of it, this one pairs really nicely with A Rogue of One’s Own, which I read last month. Both were very nicely feminist and smoking hot!
The next book I picked was David French’s new book, Divided We Fall. I have felt strained by the increasing polarization of discourse in even my local community recently, so I needed this book (It’s hard to be the most liberal person in your friends and family group, but more conservative than most progressives.) French calls for pluralism and for tolerance because the center of our country will not hold together if we see those who view the world differently from us as enemies. This was a helpful book, and one I plan to use as supplemental reading for my children for their high school government requirements.
I’ve recommitted this month to reading my shelves and clearing both digital and physical books from my TBR. My first attempt to go back and intentionally pick something off my shelf that has been there for a while and I have not read is Austenland. I bought it about 18 months ago and haven’t managed to get around to it yet. I really like Hale’s Princess Academy books. This is light and fluffy, kind of like cotton candy, and not the kind of book that will stick with you. If you’ve never read Hale, start with her middle grades books.
Winter Counts is what I hope will be the start of a new mystery series. It takes place on a Lakota reservation in South Dakota. The main character, Virgil, is an enforcer for the tribe. Often, the federal government refuses to prosecute crimes on a reservation, and the local tribal council does not have the resources to prosecute the crime, so crime goes unpunished. In these instances, a person might hire an “enforcer” to serve vengeance or justice to the people who would otherwise not be prosecuted. When Virgil is hired to seek vengeance on a local drug dealer, he feels that he should turn the commission down. However, after his nephew overdoses on heroin, he changes his mind and begins investigating drug dealing on the reservation. This book is richly textured, and even though the mystery isn’t that hard to solve, the descriptions of the Lakotas in this book and their life makes this a compelling read. I really hope that Weiden will write a second book in this series.
I have long been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, so when I saw her new novel in verse, Before the Ever After at the library, I knew I had to pick it up. This book tells the story of a young man whose father is a football player. The father, however, is troubled by severe headaches, memory loss, and at times, extreme personality changes. As the book progresses, the reader begins to see the characters looking for an answer to his illness and tracing it back to concussions suffered as a player. The family also has to adjust to a new normal, wondering if the father will ever be himself again. This is lovely, sorrowful, and hopeful at the same time. It also involves football, which is a sure winner for me. Woodson tackles a problem that football has struggled to deal with, a problem of how to make the game safer for those playing.
Ever since I read Rediscipling the White Church this summer, I have been wanting to read some of the books that Swanson cited or used writing his book. My first attempt to follow up on that goal was Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Author Drew G.I. Hart shares his personal story of being black in America, and how the most prejudicial people that he often has encountered are the ones who call themselves followers of Christ. He uncovers the problem and poses a few solutions. Of course, one of the major problems that stands in the way of seeing change in racism in the church is getting white people to even acknowledge that things need to be changed. I found this to be discouraging at times, just because, living in the south, it’s easy to see just how much work needs to be done.
I’m trying to re-read at least one book each month, even it’s just a book that I have read and am now sharing with my children. This month, I read Where the Sidewalk Ends to three of my children. My younger two had never experienced Shel Silverstein, so it was good for them to get to experience his writing. I really targeted my 13-year-old though with this re-read. She has been writing a lot of melodramatic, overdone poetry (13 is a melodramatic, overdone kind of age though), and I wanted her to see that poems can be fun and that they don’t have to cover big emotions. They just need to share a little story and a little emotion. While it hasn’t really affected her writing, she did enjoy me sharing the poems.
I also had some graduate school reading that I completed this month. I finished Reading the Basics of Biblical Hebrew, and finished taking my Beginning Hebrew 2 class. I feel accomplished, but like I still don’t know Hebrew as well as I would like. I still have one more Hebrew class to take before I graduate, but I think I’m going to wait until next Summer or Fall because I need some time to practice and solidify my actual Hebrew and build fluency before I am ready for syntax.
I actually started reading my Book of the Month books on the month that I received them this month. That’s unheard of for me, but I was looking for some good October feeling reads, and two of my picks this month really could satisfy that book itch. The first one, Magic Lessons, is the third of the Practical Magic series, and it is a prequel that shows the beginnings of the Owens family in America. It’s definitely a slow burn and build sort of book, and it is beautifully written. The lyrical prose is almost fairytale like, and the stories of magic and witches are really fun. This also intersects with the witch trials in Massachusetts in the late 1600s in a way that feels really good for the reader. This one was satisfying. I still haven’t read The Rules of Magic in this series, but I have it on Kindle and plan to read it soon.
I also finished teaching through All American History: Volume 1 with my 13-year-old. It was long and boring and textbooky, and I have vowed not to ever use a “textbook” with her again. She just doesn’t like school enough for me to to bother with a textbook when she could be reading a real, interesting book instead. We live and learn. Like all history textbooks, this one is problematic in some areas, but if you’re looking for a textbook for history, you could do far worse than this volume.
The next book I read this month was Ties That Tether. Since this one is romance, it was right in my wheelhouse. Azere’s family immigrated from Nigeria to Toronto when Azere was 12-years-old. Azere promised her dying father, at the time, that she would only marry another Nigerian. Fast forward a few years and Azere’s mother has set her up on multiple failed dates with Nigerian men. After one such failed date, Azere ends up meeting a guy in a hotel bar. She does something completely out of character and indulges in a one-night-stand. When this white guy is her company’s new hire, she finds herself confronted with many decisions about what to do, whether to turn that one-night stand into a relation or to continue going out with more Nigerian men. She definitely knows what her mother wants her to do. This book was great fun!
I’ve also been reading a little poetry with my fifteen year old. We picked out The Raven and Other Poems because the imagery in Poe’s poems feels perfect for a spooky October (or a chilly January). My son found that he really loves Poe’s work. As a middle-aged adult, I found myself thinking it was a little overwrought. However, when i was gothic teen, I thought Poe was truly the best. We’ve decided to start reading a collection of Poe’s short stories together next, so expect to see these short stories at some point over the next few months.
I also have been reading The Birchbark House to my 10 and 11-year-old children. They’ve just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods for their English literature story, and I thought it was a great counterbalance. This was my second time reading it, and if you’ve never read it before, it is truly a delight. It’s a little idealized, but then again, so is the Little House series, so it’s kind of perfect for that elementary school age. I was happy to revisit Omakayas’s world, and we plan to read the next book in this series together next month.
The next book I read was Assassination Vacation. This is one of those books that has probably been on my TBR for ten years, but I have never gotten around to. Like Austenland earlier this month, it’s been languishing on my Kindle for a while. So, I’ve made a little TBR of downloads onto my Kindle from my cloud, and this was one of them. I learned so much I didn’t know reading this book. I didn’t know as much about Lincoln’s assassination as I thought I did, and I knew nothing at all really about either Garfield of McKinley. I also really enjoyed the way Vowell framed the history part of the book as her trips from historical site to historical site. I love to visit historical sites and read plaques, so this was really appealing for me. My thirteen year old finished her history book earlier this month, and picked it up to read in November (and probably December) for history.
Next, I turned way into the backlist of my TBR on my Kindle and read 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japanese Earthquake. It’s a very short (around 100 page) oral history of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and almost nuclear catastrophe. These little vignettes are interesting to read, and as book, quite uneven. I would have liked to have seen more of the participants to be in the epicenter of the earthquake. Most of those writing were from the greater Tokyo region. This was a quick read and just okay. I’ve started to read it several times over the years, so I was glad to get it marked off my list.
I did the unusual and picked up two anti-racist books in one month to read, but Reading While Black is my new favorite book of the year. McCaulley’s thesis is that Black Americans have something to say about the Bible that neither white progressive Christians nor white conservative Christians are saying. McCaulley backs up his claims by taking several topics under consideration, including slavery, policing, justice, and anger. McCaulley is an insightful in his exegesis, and I picked up many things from his writings. I have a new view of the people and how the Bible speaks to the marginalized that I didn’t have before reading this book.
I’m a sucker for Regency romance, so the next book I picked up was Mr. Malcolm’s List. I saw it at the library and the bright colors on the cover just jumped out at me. The book is fine. The story is fun. I enjoyed reading it, and found myself laughing out loud several times because their misadventures were so amusing. I didn’t really buy the chemistry, and in fact, their romance was super chaste for my reading speed. It reminds me of so many other romances that I read in my late teens and early 20s. I enjoyed it, but it was super forgettable.
The next book I picked up was one that I wasn’t really certain I wanted to read, but I needed a book by a Latin American author for a reading challenge, so I decided on Afterlife. This is a very moving and somewhat interior novel about a woman dealing with grief in the aftermath of her retirement and her husband’s death. The story is tightly plotted, and deals with undocumented migrant workers, sister relationships, mental illness, and grief. It’s a beautiful book and one that I wouldn’t mind reading again. This one is definitely my surprise of the month.
Non-Fiction: My non-fiction press of the month is Reading While Black. This book is a thoughtful exegesis of questions that African Americans bring to the Bible. I found McCaulley’s thoughtful consideration of policing, slavery, justice, and rage to be compelling, and consider this a must-read for both Black and white Christians (or other people who take the Bible seriously.
Fiction: I really had three five star fiction books this month. They were Winter Counts, Magic Lessons, and Afterlife. Of these, since it’s October, I’m saying that my read of the month is Magic Lessons. This is a lovely historical fantasy about witches that has just the right about of spooky for October. The women in this book are powerful witches and herbal healers, but they have a blind spot when it comes to matters of the heart. This book is lovely in its handling of mother-daughter relationships, friendships, love, and the culture of fear and suspicion that existed in seventeenth century Massachusetts colony.