Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
Is there a record for most five-star reads finished in a single month? Because I think I might have hit it.
I feel like I’m usually pretty stingy with my five-star reads. But my October reading seemed to knock it out of the park. Admittedly, two of them were favorites that I re-read this last month.
Considering that I also had several four-star reads, October was exactly the reading month I needed. Especially since my post-surgery recovery consisted of a whole lot of reading time.
Funnily enough, I’m also usually very stingy about my two-star reads. But lately, I have found myself so irritated by some of my books that I have dipped down to those two stars as well.
Scroll on down to see what I loved – and hated – this month. As always, feel free to let me know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments!
October 2023 Reading List
Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they began dating in college. Except they broke up five months ago and still haven’t told their four best friends. At their group’s annual Maine vacation, they find themselves faking a relationship because they don’t want to ruin everyone’s last time at the house they will now be selling. They’d been together for a decade, how hard can it be to fake another week?
I’m not usually a romance fan, but I loved Happy Place. The chemistry between Harriet and Wyn sparks from the beginning and their relationship had the perfect blend of miscommunication, mental health challenges, and the strain on a relationship as people naturally change. While the friend group wasn’t given much development, Harriet and Wyn were shown in a nuanced relationship with flashbacks to their happy memories and hinting at their individual struggles.
When she marries a charming entrepreneur and moves to the North Carolina suburbs, Yara thinks she has finally escaped her ultra-conservative Palestinian upbringing. Yet even her dream job with her dream family doesn’t seem to fulfill Yara. Yet, as Yara’s world begins to implode, she realizes that the upbringing that she thought she left behind has lasting consequences for her and for her daughters.
Yet again, Etaf Rum stuns with a beautifully written novel about the struggles of a Palestinian-American woman, but Yara’s problems are relatable to many modern-day women: the pain of living in a patriarchal society, wanting more but having to do everything at home in her marriage. Yara’s upbringing adds another layer to her story; being the daughter of immigrants, Yara feels like she should never be ungrateful because she has it so much better than her parents. A complex and heartrending story, Evil Eye is a powerful book, and a great recommendation for a book club.
In a besieged and starving colonial settlement, a girl flees the fort after the death of her young charge. With hardly anything in her bag, she tries to survive in the vast wilderness. Using her wits, she journeys into the unknown while reexamining her own beliefs about nature, the natives, and God’s plan.
To be frank, The Vaster Wilds is a plotless story about a girl slowly dying in the wilderness. Full of descriptions of nature, the tale mostly focuses on the unnamed narrator’s cogitations on the nature of religion and appreciation for the wild, with some flashbacks to the history of violence she’s witnessed sprinkled in. For such a short book, it was surprisingly hard to get through, plodding along in a fashion that some think is beautiful, but I find deathly boring.
Fleeing her abusive husband Wen, Jasmine Yang arrives in New York from China with no money but a fierce determination to do anything to find her daughter that her husband pretended had died and then secretly gave up for adoption because of China’s one-child policy. Meanwhile, publishing executive Rebecca Whitney has a perfect job, marriage, and the most adorable adopted Chinese daughter, Fifi. When a scandal at work threatens to ruin her marriage, Rebecca and Jasmine find themselves on a shocking collision course.
I was intrigued by Kwok’s look at motherhood and transracial adoption but felt like she missed the mark by styling her novel as a thriller rather than a straight drama. Especially since her biggest twist seemed extremely obvious. Although Jasmine’s complexity shone, the rest of the characters felt overly one-dimensional, stilting the narrative and leaving me wanting more depth.
Before the eighth and final book of the Green Rider series, Kristen Britain tells the backstory of fan-favorite character Laren Mapstone. Green Rider trainee Tavin Bankstone is not thrilled to travel with Lieutenant-Rider Laren Mapstone. Although acclaimed for her heroism in battles against the Darrow Raiders, Laren is emotionally closed off and cold. When Laren is injured in an attack, they seek refuge in a waystation, but as Laren’s emotional walls come down, Tavin must quickly learn to control his empathic abilities before it destroys them both.
Although I love the Green Rider series, Spirit of the Wood felt like an unnecessary side story only the most diehard Green Rider fans will enjoy. Since it was described as Laren Mapstone’s backstory, I found Spirit of the Wood extremely disappointing. Instead, the novella was more about Tavin Bankside than Laren, only giving the barest details of Laren’s past. With tempered expectations, you might enjoy this one but feel free to skip it and wait for the final installment of the Green Rider saga.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from DAW through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
Shelby Van Pelt
After her husband died, Tova Sullivan began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Thirty years ago, Tova’s son Erik disappeared on a boat in the Puget Sound, and cleaning the aquarium helps her cope. When she befriends Marcellus, the aquarium’s giant octopus, Marcellus discovers what happened to Erik and must find a way to show Tova the truth before it’s too late.
Remarkably Bright Creatures is a cute story of finding connection and growing past our limited viewpoints of ourselves. Normally I hate animal narrators, but Marcellus’s chapters shine. His unique narration and dry humor elevate the entire book. Sweet and heartwarming, Remarkably Bright Creatures would be a great book club book.
From the First World War to the 1970s, a mass exodus ensued of Blacks leaving the South and settling in northern and western cities. Wilkerson’s book highlights three stories from The Great Migration: Ida Mae Gladney who left sharecropping in 1937 for a blue-collar life in Chicago; George Starling, who left orange-picking in Florida in 1945 for Harlem; and Robert Foster, who moved from Louisiana in 1953 to become a personal physician in Los Angeles.
Isabel Wilkerson’s history of the Great Migration is simply outstanding. Impeccably written, The Warmth of Other Suns brilliantly uses the three narratives to pull you into history while Wilkerson gives you a fuller understanding of the broader context. With great insights into the complex and complicated history of race in America in the 19th century, The Warmth of Other Suns shines a light on many of our current race issues today.
In 1923, Hattie Shepherd leaves Georgia in search of a better life in Philadelphia. Instead, she ends up in a disappointing marriage. Hattie goes on to have 11 children, whom she raises with strength, but not much tenderness. Through the narratives of her children, you see the legacy inherited by the children of the Great Migration.
I decided to pair Mathis’s novel with Isabel Wilkerson’s stunning history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns for my 2023 Reading Challenge. Each chapter is a beautifully written short story of one of Hattie’s children. Yet, collectively, the novel felt too fragmented, as most of the children were never mentioned again. The disjointed format prevents you from becoming too fully invested in the story and makes the novel lose much of its potential power.
If you want an uplifting but funny read, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and has gotten used to spending all her time by herself, except for the occasional phone call from her abusive mother. Then Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond find themselves help an elderly gentleman after a fall. As Eleanor embarks on a project to fix herself up for a budding romance with a musician, she becomes friends with Raymond and learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.
I decided that a reread of Honeyman’s debut novel would be a great way to recover from surgery. Except, I started it the night before my surgery and then proceeded to read it in one evening, staying up late to finish it. I loved it just as much, possibly more, the second time around. I laughed, I cried, and I could not put it down – all the marks of a great book.
George R. R. Martin
George R. R. Martin kicks off his epic mastery of political machinations with the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. With winter creeping into the land of summer and the king’s advisors mysteriously dying, Lord Eddard Stark is called to serve as the king’s new Hand, but Stark’s position places his family at risk from the ambitions of the rival houses.
I finally get all the hype. A sweeping epic fantasy full of vicious political maneuverings, A Game of Thrones was simply unputdownable. Martin was a brilliant storyteller, making each of his dozens of characters feel unique and vibrant. Just be warned that the story is full of physical and sexual violence and Martin never finished the books, only writing five of the promised seven. And yes, I immediately borrowed the HBO series and checked out the second book from the library.
In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty walked into their younger brother’s house and killed their sister-in-law Brenda and her 14-month-old daughter in cold blood. For their entire lives, neither expressed guilt for their crime because God had told them to do it. Jon Krakauer takes you into the world of Mormon fundamentalists, radical break-offs of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In between showcasing various fundamentalist groups, Krakauer explains the early teachings of the church that such people take to the extreme to justify polygamy and violence in the name of God.
I could not put down this fascinating look at the extremist offshoots of Mormonism. Being an agnostic, Krakauer’s skepticism of religion is heavily on display. Yet, I found it fascinating to contemplate his views on the rationality of religion. Is a religious fanatic sane? And if not, can he be tried for his crimes? Any belief taken to an extreme can lead to violence. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer focuses on fundamentalism in Mormonism, but the same principle could be written about plenty of different beliefs.
What better way to recover from surgery than by rereading one of my favorite classics. Jane Austen’s witty novel never gets old, serving as a fun reminder of the importance of marrying for love and not lust or security. Follow along as Elizabeth Bennett goes from loathing to loving Mr. Darcy in one of the best classic romance novels. And yes, I followed up my reread with my absolute favorite movie – the Keira Knightley adaptation.
Shame researcher Brene Brown (author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly) turns her focus to what it means to feel like you belong. Unlike fitting in, true belonging comes when we feel like we are fully embraced for who we are. In a world of disconnection, Brown uses anecdotes and research to teach how to embrace ourselves and learn to see past differences to find connection and belonging.
I don’t know what it is about Brené Brown, but I struggle with all of her books. Oddly, I think her content is super important and has great insights into the human condition. Which always makes me think something is wrong with me when I don’t love her books- or even like them. I’m not sure if it’s me, or her writing, or just that I don’t really like philosophy, but I think I’m finally throwing in the towel and admitting I am never going to be a Brené Brown fan.
Prudence Daniels never hesitates to judge the actions of others in her small coastal town. After a night out, Pru finds herself able to inflict instant karma on anyone. Quickly Pru starts dishing out karma, but it never seems to work on her lazy lab partner, Quint Erickson. As Pru finds herself working at the animal rescue shelter with Quint, she learns that there is a fine line between virtue and vanity as well as love and hate.
A silly young adult book with a good message, I was fine with Instant Karma, if slightly annoyed with Prudence’s irritating judgmental behavior. Then, just over halfway through just as things were smoothing out, Pru made a decision regarding one of the marine animals and I just lost it. I know the author was adding conflict and building toward Pru learning valuable lessons, but I couldn’t stand to witness her careless decision, so I didn’t finish the book.
I always seem to have multiple books going at once. Here’s a peek at what I’m currently reading.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back next month to see which ones I read.
Which Books Did You Read in October?
What books did you love this month? Which books can you not wait to read? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Book List to Enjoy: