I’m a little embarrassed to share this list with you, because… 12 BOOKS. I read 12 BOOKS last month and I don’t think I’ve ever that many books in one month in my entire life!
It all makes sense, though, once you know that last month, I discovered audiobooks. My library has nearly every book I could possibly want to read available on audio and last month I listened to them everywhere — at the gym, doing laundry, in the car, and any other time I could steal a moment or two. This easily doubled my typical reads for the month, which is pretty awesome, if you ask me.
I read several books in October that will definitely go on my list of favorites for the year — Dark Matter, The Hate U Give, and News of the World were major standouts — as well as some thrillers that made for very fun listening. Check them out and share your own reads in the comments, if you’d like. I always love hearing your recommendations!
Grace meets the man of her dreams — but after they marry, she makes the horrifying discovery that she’s merely the pawn in a very dangerous and twisted game.
I checked out the audio version of this psychological thriller from the library and devoured it in two days. Whether I was in the car, at the gym, getting ready, cooking, or doing laundry, I could not stop listening and wondering what would happen next! Behind Closed Doors is deliciously entertaining and full of twists and turns, and while it at times seriously tests the bounds of believability, you won’t care too much because you’re so enraptured by the journey.
Highly recommended for anyone looking for a quick nail-biting read, either in book or audio form.
This is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel
I was encouraged to read this book without knowing anything about it ahead of time, and I’m glad I did — Going into This is How It Always Iswith an open mind and getting to know the characters before you know where the storyline is going really enhances the reading experience, I think. That said, I won’t give a synopsis of the book in this review.
What I will tell you is that while the book is about a controversial topic, Laurie Frankel is such a wonderful writer that I think she could write a story about anything and it would be worth reading. Although this is not a subject I’d typically seek out when looking for something to read, I really enjoyed going along for the journey with the characters in the book and getting an in-depth perspective on something I knew very little about — I grew to love the novel’s family as if I knew them in real life and I was sad when the book ended. And I will definitely be thinking about this novel for a long time to come.
This is How It Always Is is an excellent book club choice — There will definitely be a lot to talk about when you’ve finished the book!
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
There are a number of reasons why I shouldn’t have liked The Crossover. It’s written for middle schoolers. It’s about basketball. The narrator is an eighth grade boy. It’s written in verse.
It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
I’m so glad I gave The Crossover a chance! 12-year-old Josh Bell’s voice came through so clearly from page one, and the verse was never a distraction — Instead, it added to the story’s pacing and excitement. I vividly felt 12-year-old Josh Bell’s excitement, frustration, sorrow, anger, and remorse throughout the novel — I felt what it was like to be in eighth grade, with all its adolescent confusion and changes. I felt the love the Bell family had for one another. I cried when the book was over, in part because it had ended, and I closed the book in awe of Kwame Alexander’s masterful and unique writing style.
Read this book — You can easily get through it in one or two sittings and I promise you, you won’t regret it!
Note to self: Stop listening to audiobook thrillers! Once again, I found myself listening to the audio version of this book at every opportunity — I just HAD to know what happened next.
This story of a boy who goes missing while on a walk in the woods with his mother is every parent’s worst nightmare. We learn about what happened through alternate narration of the mother and the lead detective on the case, and both are compelling, emotionally complex characters that will capture your interest.
What She Knew has plenty of unexpected twists and turns and suspects galore — It will keep you guessing right up to the end of the book. And while it covers decidedly disturbing subject matter, it never gets too graphic or goes so far that you wonder what’s wrong with the author for taking your mind there — something I appreciated.
I never, ever read science fiction novels, but I’d heard so many good things about Dark Matter that I had to make an exception — I’m so glad I did!
I won’t spoil this review with a synopsis, because the book’s many surprises are part of what makes it so good, but consider Dark Matterequal parts fast-paced, twisty thriller, mind-blowing sci-fi quantam physics exploration, and, surprisingly, romance — the lifelong, eternal flame, soulmate-y kind, and what we end up being willing to do in order to keep it. It’s spellbinding, jaw-dropping, and definitely a story I won’t soon forget, for a lot of different reasons.
I think I’m especially excited about Dark Matter because I can recommend it to anyone — my husband, my father, my friends. If you know me, it’s safe to say this is going to be one of your presents this Christmas!
Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight
I listened to the audiobook of Reconstructing Amelia and thought the actress’s voice was perfect for this novel, particularly in her characterizations of Kate and her daughter Amelia, the two main voices in the book.
Kate, a single mom and Manhattan attorney, is called to her daughter, Amelia’s, private school after Amelia is suspended for cheating– When Kate arrives, she learns that Amelia has jumped to her death from the school’s rooftop. At first, Kate tries to accept her daughter’s suicide, though she doesn’t understand why she did it — but then Kate gets an anonymous text that changes everything: Amelia didn’t jump.
Haunted by the text, Kate begins ‘reconstructing’ her daughter’s life, going back through Amelia’s texts, e-mails, and Facebook entries, trying to solve the mystery of her death. In the process, she discovers she didn’t know her daughter half as well as she thought she did.
On one level, Reconstructing Amelia is a classic thriller, exposing bit by bit the surprisingly twisted path Amelia’s life takes in the months leading up to her death and keeping the reader guessing as to what really happened on that rooftop. But it’s more than that — It’s a stark reminder to parents that our teens often aren’t as innocent as we’d like to believe. It’s a cautionary tale reminding us to not let work get in the way of our relationship with our kids. It’s a tribute to the power of a mother’s love. It’s a very realistic example of a parent-teen relationship that was far from perfect, but still was strong and true and good.
I didn’t love this book — It often veered into melodrama and some of the plot twists were just plain silly. But if you’re a fan of thrillers and Gossip Girl-style drama, and especially if you’re a mom to a tween or teenage girl, Reconstructing Amelia is probably worth your while.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
We listened to the audiobook version of this novel on the way to the beach and I really loved it. Narrated by Joan Aiken’s daughter, I felt like an elderly British nanny was telling me the tale as we drank tea by the fireplace on a cold winter’s day in the moors. Not a bad way to get through an eight hour drive!
Drawing heavily from Gorey, Dickens, and Poe, Aiken introduces us to Bonnie and Sylvia, cousins who are left in the care of a distant relative, Mrs. Slighcarp, while Bonnie’s parents head overseas on a months-long journey. Woefully, Mrs. Slighcarp has very dark intentions for the two girls and it’s up to them to escape her evil clutches and save themselves, the Willougby estate, and all its servants.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is rich in atmospheric detail — The Victorian mansion in which the girls live has secret passages, a priest hole, and a dungeon, which Mrs. Slighcarp uses along with a wardrobe to punish ‘unruly’ children. The characters are numerous and only add to the novel’s interest — In addition to the wicked Mrs. Slighcarp, there are servants and orphans aplenty, clueless parents, a kind but ailing aunt in London, a heroic goose boy, and a wicked teacher who beats and starves her poor students. As a big fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett, I would have LOVED this detailed adventure when I was 10 or 11 years old — Even as an adult, I enjoyed immersing myself in the world of Willoughby Chase.
The book’s most redeeming quality, though, is the friendship between Bonnie and Sylvia that intensifies as they help one other survive their ordeal. Even in the book’s darkest moments, we know they’ll make it, as long as they have each other.
I recommend The Wolves of Willoughby Chase for girls ages 8-12, fans of The Secret Garden, and anyone who can appreciate and enjoy a sinister and richly-drawn Victorian tale for children.
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward
Salvage the Bones has all the right ingredients to be an Important Book: lyrical writing, echoes of Greek mythology in a modern-day setting, and stark depictions of poverty in small-town Mississippi. And this recipe for greatness seems to have done the trick — The book won the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction.
The story follows 15-year-old Esch and her family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. She and her three brothers have essentially raised themselves and tried to stay out of their father’s way in the seven years since their mother died, and it’s starting to seem likely that they’ll each remain entrenched in the poverty that has plagued their childhood – None of the kids can catch a break, and we know that when Hurricane Katrina hits their coastal town, things are only going to get worse.
Although I can understand why Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award, I didn’t enjoy reading the book, largely for the same reason I didn’t enjoy The Winter of Our Discontent several weeks ago: Nothing much happens. Pages and pages and pages are spent detailing the gritty realities of Esch’s existence and how she feels about it, and while it definitely gave me a good idea of what it would be like to be part of Esch’s world, I felt frustrated when it would take 20 pages for her to get in a car and ride to the grocery. Or go to the bathroom. Or eat Ramen Noodles. I mean, c’mon!
Hurricane Katrina finally arrived 30 pages out from the book’s end and as expected, all hell broke loose — but the build-up to get there was excruciating. If I weren’t reading this novel for my Book Club, I don’t think I would have made it that far.
If you’re the type of person who loves intensive dissections of a character’s every thought, word, and action, then you will likely love this book. Even I can admit that it’s well-crafted and thoughtfully, elegantly written. If, on the other hand, you need a little more action with your deep thoughts, you might want to skip it .
Pretty Baby, by Mary Kubica
This was my first experience with a Mary Kubica novel and it definitely won’t be my last. Pretty Baby was an engaging thriller with flawed characters I sort of loved to hate.
Heidi and her husband seemed to have it all — good jobs, a daughter in private school, a nice home in an urban Chicago neighborhood, and all the traditional comforts of an upper middle class existence. Then one day, a homeless teenager with a baby comes into their lives and uncomfortable — and potentially life-threatening– truths are exposed.
This novel has plenty of unexpected twists and turns and it will keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time you read it. It will also provoke some deep thoughts about marriage, motherhood and raising tweens. Pretty Baby isn’t great literature, but if you’re looking for a solid psychological thriller, this is a good one to try.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give epitomizes why I love reading. It brought me into a world I have no personal access to, and made me, in some small way at least, GET IT, on a very personal level.
16-year-old Starr has essentially been leading a double life. She lives in an urban neighborhood where drive-by shootings and drug deals are common, yet attends a suburban private school where she has mostly white friends. Her father is a former gang member. Her boyfriend is a rich white boy. Understandably, she has some issues coming to terms with her identity as a young black woman.
Everything changes, though, when she becomes the only witness to seeing her childhood best friend get shot and killed by a white police officer. Suddenly, Starr has to decide who she is, what she believes, and whether she’s willing to speak up about what happened — even if it puts her and her family in danger.
By revealing the inner turmoil of a thoughtful, intelligent and entirely likable teenage girl who is able to relate on some level to both black and white viewpoints, Angie Thomas navigates potentially volatile issues with sensitivity and grace, allowing the reader to consider race relations in America from other perspectives without feeling defensive.
The Hate U Give succeeds on two levels — It’s a compelling, page-turning story with believable, vibrant characters that practically leap off the page. It’s also a catalyst for thoughtful dialogue on the sensitive topics of racism, police brutality, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It’s a perfect book for book clubs and for teens — I’m definitely making sure my daughter reads it in a couple of years and I look forward to discussing it with her.
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
I was really not in the mood to read News of the World this week, but my number came up on the library wait list and I had to either read it or return to the end of the hold line. Since it was only 216 pages, I decided to give it a whirl — and I’m SO glad I did!
News of the World is about Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a crusty old war veteran who travels from town to town in Texas in 1870, reading stories from the world’s newspapers to townsfolk anxious to hear what’s going on beyond their dusty Texas villages. On one stop, Captain Kidd ends up reluctantly agreeing to return a 10-year-old girl named Johanna to her relatives 400 miles away. The girl has been living with Kiowa Indians since she was captured by them at the age of six and no longer speaks English. We join the unlikely pair on the dangerous journey back to her hometown.
Paulette Jiles’ lyrical writing made post-Civil War Texas come to life and caused me to absolutely fall in love with Captain Kidd. His hard-earned wisdom and outlook on life, coupled with the grandfatherly relationship he develops over time with Johanna, really make this book memorable.
Read News of the World for a riveting western adventure story, a well-researched historical account of the tumultuous state of our nation just after the Civil War, and a heartwarming, uplifting tale of an unlikely friendship between a 72-year-old man and a 10-year-old girl.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart
Not realizing that The Mysterious Benedict Society was 486 pages long, I listened to it as an audiobook — In retrospect, I would have much rather read this book because 13 hours is a lot of time to invest in listening to a children’s story!
That said, The Mysterious Benedict Society is an altogether enjoyable tale of four unwanted but highly gifted children who band together at the behest of the mysterious Mr. Benedict to save the world from the evil clutches of Mr. Curtain, headmaster of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened.
This book is very much in the vein of The Westing Game with echoes of Harry Potter and Roald Dahl and I enjoyed the puzzles and clues throughout the book that led the children from one point to another. I also loved the book’s moral themes: Friendship and cooperation with peers are vital to one’s success. Everyone is valuable in some way, even if it’s not readily apparent. You can’t -and shouldn’t- go through this life alone. Kindness always pays off. These themes elevated the book and made it much better than it would have been if careful attention had not been paid to the inner workings of the book’s main characters.
That said, I agree with other readers that this book would have been even better had it been about 200 pages shorter. It definitely rambled and got a bit repetitive at times. I would have liked The Mysterious Benedict Society as a kid but not loved it, and I feel the same way now.