I somehow managed to read 14 books in September and DNF one, so there’s a lot to get through! I’m going to start out with a recap of my reading for Banned Books Week, and then I’ll go through the rest of the books I read in September chronologically.
Just a quick check in from my TBR: I read all of the books I wanted to get to this month! Technically I did not read Going Dark by Monica McCarthy, but the only reason that was on my list was because it was my book club’s October pick. They actually wound up switching it to The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley, which I did read, so I still count my TBR as a success. As you might have seen in my October TBR, though, having so many books listed out in advance was a lot for me, so my TBR is a lot smaller for October.
Also, a check in for my physical TBR shelf, which I recently said I’m planning to whittle down: I read a lot this month, but unfortunately I bought a lot, too. I started the month with 56 books and read 10 from my shelves, but I also accumulated nine more, putting me at 55 books on my physical TBR shelfs at the beginning of October. Fortunately, there aren’t as many new releases coming out this month and I don’t have plans to go to many books signings or festivals where I’ll accumulate even more, so I’m really hoping to make some good progress on my shelves this month.
Banned Books Week
As you might have seen in my Banned Books Week TBR, I had a specific reading plan in place during Banned Books Week, but it didn’t happen that way at all. And I was really surprised by my reaction to some of these books!
After reading The Crown’s Game right before Banned Books Week (more on that later), I needed a pick-me-up, which I didn’t think I’d get with The Color Purple, so I wound up going for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After that, I couldn’t decide which book to go for, but I wound up settling on The Handmaid’s Tale as part of my push to read my own books and clear out my TBR shelf. So I read The Color Purple last rather than first, but I did get to all of the books I’d planned on!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
I actually did a full recap about my experience rereading The Chamber of Secrets, which you can check out here! While it’s not my favorite Harry Potter book, I still love being back at Hogwarts and am very excited to read book three!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is a book I’ve been wanting to read for years, ever since I heard about it in college. But I read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood for a class and didn’t care for it, which made me reluctant to pick up The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, the hype around the Hulu series is what eventually convinced me to buy the book, but it took Banned Books Week for me to get around to reading it.
For those who are unfamiliar, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian story set in what was once New England. Under the new regime, women have no rights and limited options. The book follows the story of Offred as she recounts how the Republic of Gilead came to power and how she navigates her new life as a handmaid, or a woman who is treated as a vessel for bearing the children of the commanders of Gilead.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. I didn’t enjoy it and had a hard time following it since it switches so quickly from different time periods and uses practically no quotation marks, so sometimes I didn’t realize another character was speaking through Offred’s recountings. I really had to push myself to read it and I probably would have DNFed it if it weren’t such an important book. That said, I do think it’s a really interesting premise and I’m both fascinated and horrified by the fact that everything Atwood included in the story is rooted in the real world and has actually happened. It offers a lot of fodder for analysis and discussion about women’s rights and government and privacy. So I’m really eager to discuss this book further, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it or that I particularly recommend others read it. It’s definitely a book that would have gone right over my head if I wasn’t aware of the hype around it before picking it up.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple was the last book I read for Banned Books Week. I didn’t expect to finish it; I only started it on Friday night and I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it, especially when I realized it was written in dialect. I just assumed it would be another important book that I ought to read but that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. Imagine my surprise when I raced right through it!
The book follows the story of Celie over the course of 20 years, starting as a teenager when she is raped by her father and bears two children by him and continuing when she is married off to a man she calls Mr. _____. Her life doesn’t improve much with Mr. _____, as she is forced to care for his children with his first wife, loses her sister who fled to them to escape their father but is then forced to forge her own way due to Mr. _____’s sexual advances, and must live with Mr. _____’s mistress. Sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it?
This book is so amazing, and I think a large part of that is because of Celie’s ability to survive and grow despite the way she’s been treated. She just accepts her lot in life but does what she can to make the best of it, and through the relationships she develops in the book, she really evolves as a character. I must admit, some of the sexual relationships in this book confuse me. The characters in this story seem to switch sexual partners with each other fairly frequently, but everyone in the book seems fine with the situation, so I guess I am too. And while I struggled with the dialect at first, I eventually caught the rhythm of it and thought it made Celie’s voice even more distinct and real. My favorite part of the book was the relationships between the characters and how so many of the story lines came together in the end. I found this book to be both an important read and an enjoyable one, and I definitely recommend reading it.
September Wrap Up
Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye
I was really excited to read this after hearing Joce at squibblesreads rave about it so much (she talks about it being her favorite book of 2016 here). Basically, Jane Steele is Jane Eyre meets Dexter. I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of either Jane Eyre or Dexter, but it sounds like such a fascinating premise. Like Jane Eyre, the book follows the story of Jane Steele as she is placed at a boarding school and trains to become a governess before ultimately finding a position in what was once her childhood home. Only Jane has a secret: she murders men who seek to harm her or other women.
I’m disappointed because I didn’t love Jane Steele as much as Joce, but it was a really good read. I loved how Faye brought the Sikh Wars into the story and added diversity to a story that I wouldn’t have expected to be so diverse, plus I don’t know anything about the Sikh Wars and really want to learn more after reading Jane Steele. That said, I found Jane to be a rather remote character that I struggled to connect with, and I think that’s what took away most from this story for me. Also, without giving away spoilers, I wanted to see more of a reckoning for Jane’s actions at the end. Overall, I did enjoy it, and if it sounds like an interesting book to you, you should definitely pick it up!
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
So this is a book I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, especially since it seems to have gotten caught up in our current political cycle, but my mother-in-law lent it to me and asked me to read it, so I did. And I wound up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir about the author’s experience growing up as a self-identifying Hillbilly in rural Ohio before eventually joining the military, getting a college degree, and going to Yale Law School.
I’ll admit, I struggled with the first half. I didn’t know who Vance was and I wasn’t sure why I should care about how awful his childhood was (it was heartbreaking and difficult for me to read about). But as the story progressed, Vance stopped just recounting his family history and early years and started analyzing his culture and upbringing more and injecting academic thought as context. Learning more about someone whose life is so different from my own very privileged upbringing and learning more about a different culture from my own is ultimately what really appealed to me about this book, and by the end I thought it was a really interesting read. Of course, I don’t consider Vance’s voice to be representative of all so-called hillbillys and he’s not a professional activist trained to deal with the myriad issues facing hillbilly culture, but I do think he cares deeply about his home and is committed to doing anything he can to improve it. I definitely recommend this to people who are interested in learning about lives that are different from their own and about rural Appalachia specifically.
One Night with a Prince by Sabrina Jeffries
An excellent conclusion to the Royal Brotherhood series! This last book, One Night with a Prince, follows the story of Christabel, who is forced to pose as the mistress of game club-owner Gavin in order to recover letters of a sensitive nature that could destroy her father’s reputation as a respected war hero. But of course, as the two implement their deception in order to recover the letters, they start to fall in love.
The premise for this book of a pretend mistress isn’t my favorite, but I really liked Gavin and Christabel individually and together and enjoyed watching them fall in love and share their secrets with each other. I also really liked seeing Christabel demand everything from Gavin rather than let him hold part of himself remote from their relationship. So while the premise didn’t do it for me, it was still a good read and a good addition to the trilogy.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would! Labyrinth Lost tells the story of Alex, a bruja or witch who hates her magic and desperately wants it to go away and stop ruining her life. So at her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to make it go away, only for her entire family to disappear. Desperate to save them, Alex sets off on a quest through the in-between land of Los Lagos in order to save them.
I was lucky enough to get a free copy of it at BookCon, but since then I’ve been burned on more than a few disappointing YA fantasies, so I didn’t go into this with very high expectations. But I’m happy to say I was very pleasantly surprised! Cordova created a really unique and interesting magic system and world that I really enjoyed discovering and learning more about, and I liked seeing Alex accept her heritage and come into her own. My major complaint is that I felt like part of the love triangle wasn’t very well developed because I didn’t know the character enough to care or understand why Alex cared. But I thought it was a good story and will probably pick up the next book, which will be about Alex’s older sister, when it comes out next year.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
This book is amazing! I actually hadn’t seen the movie, so I didn’t really know much about Seabiscuit going into it. I also assumed he won the Triple Crown, since that’s pretty much the only thing I know about horse racing. Turns out he didn’t, but he still proved himself to be one of the best, if not the best racehorse in history.
I’ve been wanting to read Seabiscuit for a while because I’ve heard that fans of Devil in the White City and Boys in the Boat will also like Seabiscuit, so I bought it when I saw it on Book Outlet. But I wasn’t that excited to pick it up because I didn’t really care about horse racing. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter much if you like horse racing or not, because Seabiscuit is such a gripping story that you’ll find yourself swept up in it whether you want to or not.
As you’d expect, Seabiscuit follows the story of the horse Seabiscuit on his path to become one of the greatest racehorses in history, but it also tells the stories of his owner, trainer, and jockeys, which are each fascinating in their own right. You learn a lot about horse racing, but I think Hillenbrand does a good job of keeping it interesting, and she does an amazing job of recounting the individual races and making them incredibly suspenseful. I was on the edge of my seat for half of this book! I was also impressed by how much personality Seabiscuit had and how well Hillenbrand conveyed that. I thought this was an excellent read and definitely recommend picking it up if you’re interested in a great nonfiction book, an inspiring story, and a unique piece of history.
Legend by Marie Lu
I wound up DNFing one book this month. I’ve been wanting to read Marie Lu’s books for a while, and while I didn’t like The Young Elites, I’ve still heard great things about her Legend trilogy, so when I saw she was going to be at the National Book Festival (check out my recap here), I decided to finally pick it up.
I thought it was a fantasy book, but as it turns out, it’s really more of a dystopian sci fi, which I wasn’t really in the mood for. So I put it down for a while after I got about 20 percent of the way in with the intention of coming back to it, but then I started to get more invested in reading books from my own shelves, so I didn’t feel like going back to the kindle version of this book. It’s not a bad book, it just wasn’t what I was in the mood for and isn’t something that’s already on my shelves, so I put it down. Maybe one day I’ll circle back to it.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
One of my friends has been recommending this to me for a while (hi Kelcee!), so I finally decided to pick it up. I actually listened to it on audio even though I had the physical copy because I just couldn’t commit to sitting down and reading it, but I could commit to listening to it while I ran at the gym. Modern Lovers is the story of two middle-aged couples who live in Brooklyn. It contrasts their relationships with each other as well as the budding relationship between their children. Woven into this is the story of a former member of the band that three of the adults were in at college and a movie company’s attempt to create a biopic of her life.
I did not like this book at all (sorry Kelcee!), though to be fair, it’s not something I would normally pick up. So if it sounds like something you would like, I think you might enjoy it a lot more than I did. I just don’t like reading about people being depressed about their lives and their relationships. I’d much rather pick up a romance novel! That said, my friend was right when she said that it’s a very Brooklyn book. The author does a really good job bringing the borough to life and making it an integral part of the story. And I did eventually become invested in the characters’ lives and was hooked on knowing what happened to them. But it ultimately just wasn’t the book for me.
Also, as I mentioned, I listened to this book on audio, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend that format unless you really like audio. I wasn’t a big fan of the narrator’s impersonations and storytelling style, but what really killed me was her speaking speed. It was soooooo slow! I don’t listen to a ton of audiobooks, but when I do, I don’t like to speed up the narration because I think you lose a lot of detail and art from the original narration speed. But the only way I could make it through this audiobook was by bumping the speed up to 1.4x, since that was actually a normal speaking speed.
Worth Any Price by Lisa Kleypas
I’m a huge Lisa Kleypas fan and even listed her among my auto read authors, but I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read her entire backlist! This has actually been sitting on my bookshelves for a while, so I finally picked this up as part of my push to clear out books that have been hanging out for too long. Worth Any Price is the story of Bow Street Runner Nick Gentry, who has been hired to seek out Charlotte Howard after she ran away from her future husband. Unsurprisingly, the two are immediately attracted to each other when Nick finally tracks Charlotte down, and upon realizing what a horrible man her former bethrothed was, Nick asks her to marry him to protect her, and she accepts.
I seriously struggled with the first half of this book. I was not a fan at all. I didn’t like reading about Nick’s relationship with his mistress and was disappointed that Kleypas didn’t go further into his aversion to touch, which was the reason he’d never slept with a woman before forcing himself to go to a brothel and get it over with. I also thought Nick and Charlotte’s relationship developed way too fast and got very physical very quickly. The second half, though, as Charlotte and Nick fell in love with each other, was much more of what I expect from a Kleypas novel. It was so satisfying when Nick finally opened up and confided his past to Charlotte. So while I didn’t care for the beginning of the book, I did enjoy it overall by the end.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
As I mentioned earlier, I listed Going Dark by Monica McCarthy as my October book club selection, but they wound up switching to to The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie instead. I didn’t know anything about this book going in, but it’s about Ian Mackenzie, who spend a large part of his youth in an insane asylum before being released by his oldest brother upon their father’s death. Years later when he meets Beth, he takes one look at her and determines that they should marry, though the marriage would be based solely on physical attraction and not on love, which Ian declares he’s incapable of feeling.
I’m not doing a great job of explaining the premise of this book, though I’d like to think I did a better job than the terrible blurb the publisher used. Anyways, it was interesting to pick this up after Worth Any Price since both books feature heroes who immediately want to marry the heroine, but in this book I found it a lot more believable since Ian is a lot more direct and prone to make judgments quickly. I really liked Ian and Beth together and watching their story develop, but the murder subplot took away from the story for me since there was already a lot going on without it. I generally enjoyed this book, but I’m not sure about continuing the series since it sounds like at least two of the four brothers have second chance romances, which is probably my least favorite romance premise, plus I kind of hated the oldest brother by the end of this book and don’t feel the need to read a book about him. I’m interested to see what my book club thought of it.
Hot Head by Damon Suede
This is another book that has been hanging out on my shelves for a while, so when I was in the mood to read more from Santino Hassell, I decided to pick this up instead. Hot Head is about Griffin, a New York City firefighter who realized after his best friend Dante almost died on 9/11 that he’s in love with him. Griffin has been doing his best since then to hide his feelings for Dante in order to preserve their friendship, but things reach a breaking point when Dante asks Grifin to help him make enough money to save his house by starring on a gay porn website together.
I initially bought this book because I met the author at an event for Eloisa James and really enjoyed hearing him speak. While I was really impressed with the author, I really disliked this book. Yeah, the premise is a bit ridiculous, but that’s not what bothered me so much about this book. I think a lot of it was the language — it was pretty crude and I disliked Suede’s use of repetition, plus Griffin and Dante were pretty disgusting in some of their talk about women. I really didn’t like Dante for a lot of the book because I thought he was such a pig, so I didn’t sympathize much with Griffin’s internal struggle about his love for Dante.
Also, I never really understood how two seemingly straight men wound up falling in love with each other. It’s not like either of them was bisexual and they never indicated they were attracted to men, so I was more than a little skeptical of their story and disliked that it wasn’t thoroughly addressed. I also never understood Dante’s motivations and how he fell in love with Griffin since the book was told solely from Griffin’s point of view. You hear a little bit of Dante’s perspective at the end, but not enough to make me understand how he went from sleeping with a million women and being incapable of fidelity to settling down with Griffin. I will say this story had potential and there were parts I enjoyed, but it was not well executed and I didn’t like it overall.
Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Robert Shemin
As I mentioned in my September TBR, my dad lent me to this book nearly two years ago and I still hadn’t gotten around to it, so I finally made myself pick it up so I can give it back to him.
Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor is very dated. Even if you didn’t know it was published in 2000, I think you would have been suspicious when Shemin started talking about sending faxes… So I definitely wouldn’t recommend relying on this as your only source of knowledge if you’re interested in real estate investing. While it badly needs to be updated, I think a lot of the basics are still there and that this book is a valuable resource. I was also really impressed with Shemin’s step-by-step guide to getting involved in real estate investing. A lot of investment books give you a lot of great information and make you ready to start investing, but they don’t provide you with a starting point, so it becomes really overwhelming (at least for me) to figure out how to start investing. But Shemin has a really nice cheatsheet to help you get past that and dive right in. I would definitely consider revisiting this book if/when I become serious about real estate investing.
The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
I’m sorry I’m a broken record at this point, but this is another book that’s been sitting on my shelf for ages that I finally got around to reading. A Russian-inspired fantasy, The Crown’s Game is about a fight to the death between two magicians vying to become the next Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s respected advisor.
I actually have a signed copy of this because I saw the author was in town and I was pretty convinced based on the reviews I’d seen that I was going to love this book, so I went to meet her and get a signed copy. As with Damon Suede, I really enjoyed meeting Evelyn Skye and hearing more about her writing and inspiration for this book…but I did not like it. At all. Mostly I just didn’t care about the characters. Other than Nikolai, they were generally pretty flat and didn’t have much personality or motivation. I also never really understood how the magic system worked or what exactly Vika and Nikolai were studying for all of those years leading up to the Crown’s Game or what the toll of their magic was on them. And why on earth were there two love triangles in this book?! One is already stretching my limit, but two was just way too many. Plus, all of the characters seemed to fall in love with each other without really knowing each other (with one exception — out of four relationships). I know there’s a sequel and it does sound mildly interesting, so maybe one day I’ll pick it up. But that day is very far away right now, unfortunately.
That’s everything for my September Wrap Up! There were definitely a few duds in there this month, but I found a few gems, too. Now I’m excited to just read what I want instead of having all of my books picked out for me in advance! Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? And if not, are there any that you might be interested in picking up? What did you read in September? Let me know in the comments!