What I Read in September

I finished a whopping 17 books in September, putting me at a total of 111 books for the year so far. I can attribute my surge partly to the fact that a week or so into the month, I realized that I had A LOT of reading challenge categories left to check off yet!

Nothing Good Can Come From This – Kristi Coulter

This is a collection of extremely personal, gorgeously written essays about Coulter’s decision to quit drinking in her early forties, why she hadn’t done it sooner, and what her life was like afterward. Her tone is candid and raw, to the point of what might seem like oversharing in a different context. It works here because what she is saying is relevant and will cause readers to do some serious introspection about their relationships with alcohol.Coulter’s observations on society’s acceptance of the role of alcohol as a social lubricant and coping mechanisms in our society, particularly for women, are spot on. Fans of memoir and personal essay will enjoy this collection for the writing skill and Coulter’s brilliant voice. However those who don’t tend to read non-fiction will appreciate this as well if they are looking to explore alcohol’s role in our daily lives.


Not Her Daughter – Rea Frey

The general premise is strong: Sarah is a successful business woman recovering from a major breakup, who has been permanently scarred by her mother leaving when she was a child. When she witness Emma, an adorable five year old, being repeatedly mistreated by her mother, Sarah takes drastic action. Sarah’s decision effects the lives of everyone around her, from her employees to her ex. And of course, those of of Emma and her family. The novel is presented from various characters’ points of view and different places in time. That was confusing at first, but once I got the hang of it, I found the novel compelling. The writing fluctuates between simple and poetic – there were times I rolled my eyes at the cheesiness and others where I highlighted powerful lines. I couldn’t quite get myself to root for Sarah but I wanted to at times. It’s a fascinating exploration of mother-daughter relationships and family dynamics.

Take This Man – Brando Skyhorse

Hands down one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve encountered that resonates with me deeply in regard to my own childhood and family history. Skyhorse chronicles his childhood with humor and raw honest reflection. Growing up with five stepfathers and a mother who was delusional and selfish, Brando is constantly questioning who he is and bounces between love and resenting his mom, who seems determined to not allow him to have a genuine father.

From Goodreads: When he was three years old, Brando Kelly Ulloa was abandoned by his Mexican father. His mother, Maria, dreaming of a more exciting life, saw no reason for her son to live his life as a Mexican just because he started out as one. The life of “Brando Skyhorse,” the American Indian son of an incarcerated political activist, was about to begin. Through a series of letters to Paul Skyhorse Johnson, a stranger in prison for armed robbery, Maria reinvents herself and her young son as American Indians in the colorful Mexican-American neighborhood of Echo Park, California. There Brando and his mother live with his acerbic grandmother and a rotating cast of surrogate fathers. It will be over thirty years before Brando begins to untangle the truth of his own past, when a surprise discovery online leads him to his biological father at last.

Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House – Omarosa Manigault Newman

This would have worked so much better if it was presented as Omarosa’s memoir. The fact that Trump was her mentor for over a decade is crucial in understanding why she was loyal to him. She also provides a frighteningly accurate view of what it’s like to have a narcissist in your life, especially to work for one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely interesting, and there are a few details in here that I hadn’t heard before. Omarosa’s long working history with Trump prior to working with him in the political world make her observations different from all of the others I’ve read.


Evening Primrose – Kopano Matlwa

I’m super grateful to my book club for bringing this book into my life. I doubt I would have chosen it, or even encountered it otherwise. For such a short work of fiction, Matlwa accomplishes a great deal in exploring living conditions and xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa. Though it took me a while to realize it’s written as a journal, once I got into the groove, it works extremely well in conveying the narrator’s pain – both physical and emotional. I couldn’t stop reading. There were times I forgot it was fiction, the tone is genuine and the images described are so vivid. The writing is raw, descriptions of violence and gore are at times appropriately nauseating. Because we are reading a journal, at times I felt I was invading the narrator’s privacy by reading, yet it made me feel connected and root for her on a deep level.


Dear Mr. You – Mary-Louise Parker

A memoir in essays, each of which is presented as a letter to a man in the author life. Some are specific men, such as her father and pastor. Others are vague, like ex-boyfriends and cab drivers. For the most part these are heartfelt letters of beautiful prose. At times, the writing veers off topic so far that I couldn’t remember who the letter was directed at, but it tends to come back around. And regardless, all the stories are worth reading. If I didn’t know the author was a famous actress, I wouldn’t guess from her essays. That made them relatable and her view points endearing.


Rising Strong – Brene Brown

Like all of Brene Brown’s books, this one had a profound effect on my life. Her work always seems to find me at the “right time.” I will admit her work can be dry and dense at times, and I can say it is ALWAYS worth it to power through! The focus of this book is taking a serious look into the stories we tell ourselves: I’m not good enough, smart enough, skinny enough, etc. Only when we break these stories down, and consider how we’ve gotten to a low point we face, can we move past them. This takes bravery, courage, and vulnerability, which are scary and often painful. With her trademark factual fierceness, Brown teaches the importance of recognizing our worst moment so we can rise from and learn from them.


Hope Never Dies – Andrew Shaffer

This was everything I’d dreamed it would be, and then some. Narrated in first person by Joe Biden, this novel gives him (and his BFF Barak) a slightly different personality than what we’ve seen publicly. And it works so dang well. Shortly after returning to civilian life, Joe is home sulking because he hasn’t heard from Barak in months. Then the man himself shows up with sad news for Joe; his favorite Amtrak conductor has died, and on his desk was a map to Joe’s home address. And so the mystery begins and the two set out to find answers, along with a reluctant secret service officer assigned to the former president. This isn’t a mind-blowing thriller or beautiful prose. It’s a decent mystery, and the story is fun. Most importantly, it made my heart happy.


Level Up – Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham

For the Read Harder Challenge Category: A comic written or illustrated by a person of color I don’t read many graphic novels, but this one was a nice treat! Dennis has always struggled to meet his parents’ high expectations. Even as a child, his path is laid out for him to stay focused on his studies, go to college and med school to ultimately become a gastroenterologist. After his father’s death, he suffers from academic burnout and returns to his first love: video games. When he is at his worst, Dennis is visited by four angels who appeared on a greeting card he once received from his dad. They take control of Dennis’ life, leading him back to gastroenterology. Along the way, Dennis learns from the angels, and discovers that when it came to his parents’ expectations, their motives were not what he’d assumed.


Fruit of the Drunken Tree – Ingrid Rojas Contreras

This novel feels like a work of classic literary fiction, not a new release that’s the author’s debut! Here is a sweeping story of two young girls from the same country, yet drastically different backgrounds, both struggling to make sense of, and survive, the threat of violence which is constantly login g over their community. Based on actual events in the author’s childhood in Colombia, this novel is beautifully written, featuring stunningly vivid imagery of South American landscape and culture . At times the story dragged a bit, yet the gorgeous prose kept me tuned in. Starting with a broad scope and then zooming in, the story shows how history effects a country, community, families and individuals, forever.


A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult

NetGalley advanced reader copy: Expected publication date October 2nd, 2018. Generally I either love or hate Picoult’s novels, this one fell squarely in the middle, which is unusual. Initially it felt the story was comprised solely for shock value, and I disliked the reverse timeline. However as the story progressed, I liked it more and more. With the author’s note at the end, it felt complete. (Or as close as one can get regarding a subject as divisive as abortion.) A teenage girl asks her beloved aunt to take her to the local reproductive clinic to obtain birth control. While they’re seated in the waiting room, a gunman enters the clinic and opens fire. What follows is a compelling narrative following each of the hostages, along with the gunman, his family, and the hostage negotiator and his family, tracking back through the past to see what brought each one to where they were on this day.
Taking place over the course of less than 12 hours, A Spark of Light is an incredibly intense, well rounded exploration of a deeply emotional and complicated issue. There were a few times I felt the author was redundant and unnecessarily graphic, which I’ve encountered previously in her writing. Fans of Picoult will enjoy this reading experience, as well as readers looking for a fast paced novel.


The Myth of Perpetual Summer – Susan Crandall

The first half was slow, and the second half makes up for it. This novel is a slow burn with alternating time lines, making the reader wait and wait for the details she’s dying to know! Crandall’s writing is vivid and almost magical. She captures the feelings of southern summers perfectly, along with the rigid constraints of southern culture. Tallulah tries to escape her life as a teen, hitchhiking to California in the 1960’s for a new life. And while she manages to stay away for 9 years, she realizes she can’t ever truly escape, and perhaps she didn’t want to. This is an compelling, emotional story about one woman’s coming of age within a dysfunctional family. At the core is an old question about fate versus personal choice, and how our genetics pre-determine our paths at times. It’s also an interesting look at how mental health was viewed in the 1960’s and ’70’s, and how little was understood. It’s also a novel about recognizing how important we are to the people who love us, even when we view ourselves as a screw-up.


The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury

For the PopSugar Challenge category: A book about or set on Halloween This is my first of Bradbury’s works, and perhaps his style simply isn’t for me. The concept here is pretty cool, but the writing feels disjointed and the story was tough to follow. Eight young boys get dressed in their costumes on Halloween night and set out trick-or-treating. Their pal Pipkin is missing from the group so they go to his house to fetch him but he appears ill and then seems to run away from them. They chase Pipkin across time and space and ancient cultures. It’s a downright weird story!


A Bollywood Affair – Sonali Dev

For the Read Harder Challenge category: A romance novel by or about a person of color I can’t can’t say I generally enjoy romance novels. I figured I’d have to grit my teeth to get through this, and I’m beyond happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and absolutely loved these characters and their world. The premise is intriguing: Samir is a famous Bollywood director. He travels to the U.S. on a mission for his brother, who needs to annul his illegal childhood marriage. Samir finds Mili, who still believes the marriage has been legitimate for 20 years even though she had never met her husband. Unable to come clean with his secret intentions, Samir and Mili develop a friendship and begin to fall in love. The story is lovely, giving peeks into a culture I am not familiar with. The writing is simple and concise, while still being fun and sweet. Sure the romance is predictable but there was some pleasure in that as a reader. The sex scenes were the only part I found far too unrealistic.


Less – Andrew Sean Greer

This is one of those novels I liked much more now that I’m finished than I did while I was reading. At times slow and confusing, much like the protagonist, this is a story which inspires self-reflection in the reader, and needs to be fully chewed and digested before it can be appreciated. Arthur Less is a failed novelist approaching fifty, who accepts all the invitations he’s received and makes plans to travel around the world for a few months, to distract himself during the wedding of a former lover. I believe we all have a little bit of Arthur Less in us, and that made me love him even when he was annoying as hell. The writing in general is exceptional. It’s funny yet poignant, and nearly poetic at times. Our narrator is witty and observant. It’s a literary work worthy of the Pulitzer and should appeal to readers of different genres and walks of life, for different reasons.


Harold and the Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson

For the PopSugar Challenge category: A book with your favorite color in the title  This was my first time re-reading since elementary school. It’s just as cute and joyful as I remember. Now I see it as a great take on the power of imagination, and independence.


The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz

For the PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place I saw a fellow passenger reading this on an airplane a few years back, and it’s been on my TBR list ever since. As someone who struggles with decision making when there’s a lot of options, this book was a great comfort. I am not alone in my struggles and there are strategies I can employ to make things easier on myself! The studies and facts quoted throughout the book are interesting and useful. The only thing that was a downer is that this book was published in 2004, before the internet and social media advanced to provide so many more choices and challenges. While I can apply many aspects of this book to my online life, I’d appreciate learning more that is specifically in regard to the internet and smart phones.

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