October is here, and I’m so ready for fall outfits and another reading wrap-up!!!
I slowed way down (for me) this month, and I only read 15 books. Unfortunately, it was also kind of a mediocre book month. There were a few titles that stood out to me, but many of the books I read were pretty “blah”. I’m listing them below in the order in which I finished them:
1. As You Wish, Chelsea Sedoti
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?
In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.
Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.
This is one of the most disappointing books I read this month. Sedoti had an awesome premise going in, but I don’t think she figured out how to execute her ending. The character development and plot progression was really disjointed, and a lot of growth was “told” rather than “shown.” Eldon, the main character, is a self-identified “jerk” who we’re supposed to see as matured by the ending, but I felt like any change he claimed to have experienced through the story was super inauthentic. The big plot twist was predictable, and its resolution was weak. Many of the other characters felt unrealistic, especially Merrill, and I never really believed that Eldon felt any remorse, grief, or even connection to his little sister, a relationship that ended up being pretty significant to the plot. Overall, I felt super “meh” on this whole novel, and I’m not sure it’s one I would recommend to others.
2. Virgil Wander, Leif Enger
The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.
Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals–from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.
With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller.
I’ll have a full review of this up, probably next week, as it is one of the ARCs I have received from BookishFirst.
What first drew me to Virgil Wander is its apparent similarities to Fredrik Backman’s work. This small-town pictorial is elegant and wonderful. I love the little tiny pictures we get of the people around town through Virgil’s eyes. There were certain elements of this story that took me by surprise–and I go into them in my review–but the overall aesthetic was excellent. I highly recommend this one to fans of literary fiction at its most eloquent.
3. …And Nick, Emily Gore
Nick isn’t sure what he wants—and that’s okay! Youngest siblings and late bloomers will be delighted by this charming and reassuring picture book.
There are four mice brothers: Rick, Mick, Vick…and Nick!
Nick is the youngest, and while his brothers each know exactly what they want, Nick is never quite sure. Which color shirt is the nicest? What does Nick want to eat? Which flower will be best to pick from the meadow? Nick doesn’t know! But…
He might just be waiting for the right moment to bloom.
It wouldn’t be a reading month if I didn’t have at least one children’s book!
I liked this story well enough. It’s a fairly didactic presentation of what it means to be a “late bloomer.” I thought the art was beautiful and the text simple, but I also felt that the message was lost a little in the final product. I rarely rate a children’s book so seriously, but I’m unconvinced this book could actually help tell the story of a “late bloomer” in a beneficial way.
4. This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, David Foster Wallace
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace’s electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.
Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.
The opening lines of this speech caught my attention, and then I blinked and I’d read the whole thing. Wallace’s ideas are powerful and yet accessible. I think he tackles an excellent subject in this message, considering the occasion. I enjoyed reading his words and experiencing the speech, and I can see why this book makes such an excellent graduation gift.
5. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. A historical novel, the story is a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story, with the title taken from a poem written by Ernest Dowson.
I did it!!! I actually read this whole book!
Full disclosure, though: For most of the book, I listened to it on audio.
This book is powerful in its creation and significance. Even while listening, I found myself wanting to dissect the text and investigate its themes, its meaning, its hidden magic. The romance pulled me in and kept me waiting. And, like many have said, it takes guts to make your main character unlikable. Let’s face it–Scarlett is deplorable and despicable. But that adds a wonderful potency to the book. I do think that it’s far longer than it needs to be, but that’s a small bone to pick for such a monumental work.
6. Radio Silence, Alice Oseman
You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.
I just wanted to say—we don’t.
Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.
Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.
When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.
But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?
This book was a shining light in the middle of a very average reading month. I couldn’t put this one down The story is so great, and the characters so important. I want young people to encounter them and see themselves in them and just know that it’s okay to feel the way you do about growing up. I loved that the central relationship in this book is a friendship. There’s also excellent LGBTQIA+ rep in many respects. And the treatment of mental illness is superb. My one and only complaint about this book is its portrayal of and solution to abuse, because it is perhaps the most “unrealistic” part of the story. At the same time, Oseman has tackled and extremely difficult subject and handles it with grace and sensitivity. I cannot stop talking about how wonderful this book is, and I hope many people read it.
7. Bellman & Black, Diane Setterfield
Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 10, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black” . . .
This book was another fairly big disappointment. I had seen that this book didn’t have excellent reviews on Goodreads, but I assumed it was because too many people were comparing this book to Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale. I went into this one assuming it would be different and trying hard to not compare the two. Despite that, I found the end of the book to be a letdown.
I’m not really sure that the intention behind the “ghost story” was powerful enough. And, ultimately, the conclusion of the story is unsurprising. The motif of the rook was a little distracting, and it took away from the “twist.” I also hated the relationship between Bellman and Dora, particularly in the end. Overall, I felt super underwhelmed and a little sad that I didn’t enjoy this one more.
8. Saga, Vol. 3, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
From the Hugo Award-winning duo of Brian K. Vaughan (The Private Eye, Y: The Last Man) and Fiona Staples (North 40, Red Sonja), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Searching for their literary hero, new parents Marko and Alana travel to a cosmic lighthouse on the planet Quietus, while the couple’s multiple pursuers finally close in on their targets.
I loved this book so much. This specific bind-up holds my favorite Lying Cat scene to date. The plot is carried forward in manageable bites, and I love the development we’re getting around our core group.
9. Lost Boi, Sassafras Lowrey
In Sassafras Lowrey’s gorgeous queer punk reimagining of the classic Peter Pan story, prepare to be swept overboard into a world of orphaned, abandoned, and runaway bois who have sworn allegiance and service to Pan, the fearless leader of the Lost Bois brigade and the newly corrupted Mommy Wendi who, along with the tomboy John Michael, Pan convinces to join him at Neverland.
Told from the point of view of Tootles, Pan’s best boi, the lost bois call the Neverland squat home, creating their own idea of family, and united in their allegiance to Pan, the boi who cannot be broken, and their refusal to join ranks with Hook and the leather pirates. Like a fever-pitched dream, Lost Boi situates a children’s fantasy within a subversive alternative reality, chronicling the lost bois’ search for belonging, purpose, and their struggle against the biggest battle of all: growing up.
Let’s get the good things out of the way first. This is an excellent queering of Barrie’s story, in the ways in which it is, in fact, queer. The rep is own voices and thus feels authentic. There is also a lot of diverse representation, as many characters fit into many “categories” of LGBTQIA+. I love how Lowrey approaches hir retelling, as the book very closely follows the original Peter Pan plot. I know of very few books that attempt that, and Lowrey is indeed successful. As a true Pan fangirl, I felt connected to the childhood story I loved and enjoyed encountering it in a different way.
I was unprepared, however, for how central BDSM would be to the plot. I knew this book contained D/s relationships, but did not think that all the relationships portrayed would be so. That may be my own naivete on the subject, of course. But I felt so uncomfortable reading those scenes, even as they took place off the page, and ultimately this context prevented me from becoming immersed in the book. I also worry about this being perhaps one of the few queer Peter Pan retellings people will recognize, because it portrays one niche of people within the LGBTQIA+ community. Those people deserve a voice and representation, of course–I would never argue that that’s not the case–but I think we could add to this new queer canon more representation within Peter Pan that reflects other people, too.
So, read at your own risk. Again, it’s a closely recreated story of Peter Pan, but the BDSM is a seriously real component.
10. The Guild (Library Edition, Vol. 1), Felicia Day et al.
Felicia Day, author of You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), brings her original webisodic-sensation to comics with the help of The Guild cast (most of ’em!), crew (producer Kim Evey and director Sean Becker), and an amazing group of artists.
Set before the web series begins, these stories follow lonely violinist Cyd Sherman trying to navigate a frustrating personal life as she stumbles on an online MMO called -The Game-. As she gathers friends in-game, she gains confidence to confront all the problems in her real life. With, ahem, varying results.
The Guild is a pioneer among web series, referred to by Rolling Stone as -[one of] the net’s best serial shows.- Heartwarming and hilarious, this is a comic origin story that brings an award-winning world to life in a unique way that will delight geeks of all ages. Especially gamers.
This book was another shining joy in the midst of a dull month. I loved diving into the characters’ lives more closely–especially Cyd. I have such an appreciation for Felicia Day and the characters she portrays. I really enjoyed where she took her character and the background Cyd was given. The other characters were great, too–so quotable, and so in tune with the original show! I highly recommend this to Guild fans everywhere.
11. Giant Days, Vol. 3, John Allison et al.
Best friends Susan, Esther, and Daisy are rounding out their first semester at university. The girls, along with their male hall-mates Ed and McGraw, find that college is more than academics and bad microwavable meals. Add some pub-hopping, hookups, breakups, and political scandal and this might just be the most eventful first semester ever.
I feel like we really got to know Susan in this bind-up. I like the direction the series is taking. I really want to get to know Daisy better, so I’m hoping that happens soon… I’m continuing on with the series, for sure!
12. Heartless, Marissa Meyer
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
I liked this stand-alone almost as much as The Lunar Chronicles. The characters were fun and engaging. I liked how the book ended–it was bittersweet and ugly, but perfect for the beginning of a villain. The overall plot was a little slow, considering the driving story points, but I enjoyed getting to spend time with the characters in the process. I don’t know about other readers, but I found the king super endearing. And I liked the inclusion of Peter Peter in this plot! If you like Meyer, or if you like unconventional retellings, I bet you’ll enjoy this one.
13. Saga, Vol. 4, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. As they visit a strange new world and encounter even more adversaries, baby Hazel finally becomes a toddler, while her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana struggle to stay on their feet.
By now, you know–I love this series. Only complaint was how little this bind up features Lying Cat.
14. Timekeeper, Tara Sim
I was in an accident. I got out. I’m safe now.
An alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, where a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.
A prodigy mechanic who can repair not only clockwork but time itself, determined to rescue his father from a Stopped town.
A series of mysterious bombings that could jeopardize all of England.
A boy who would give anything to relive his past, and one who would give anything to live at all.
A romance that will shake the very foundations of time.
I enjoyed this book about as much as I expected to. This is totally outside my genre, but I was challenging myself to read a steampunk book. Based on that qualification, this book was excellent. I liked the world building, and I think this is one of the better first-books I’ve read. I did feel, however, that the romance was way too rushed (but yay for queer rep!). I also didn’t care for some of the time magic elements that were used. For people who enjoy the steampunk genre and the like, I’d recommend trying this series!
15. Good Luck With That, Kristan Higgins
Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson tragically passes away, she leaves one final wish for her best friends: to conquer the fears they still carry as adults.
For each of them, that means something different. For Marley, it’s coming to terms with the survivor’s guilt she’s carried around since her twin sister’s death, which has left her blind to the real chance for romance in her life. For Georgia, it’s about learning to stop trying to live up to her mother’s and brother’s ridiculous standards, and learning to accept the love her ex-husband has tried to give her.
But as Marley and Georgia grow stronger, the real meaning of Emerson’s dying wish becomes truly clear: more than anything, she wanted her friends to love themselves.
After a long iffy month, I did at least end on a good note!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I kept expecting it to fall into the ruts of many women’s lit-style books like it, but it kept afloat and ended up surprising me. I was in tears on page 2 and for most of the 400+ pages. The characters felt authentic, and their individual stories were so powerful. This is one of the best attempts at true body positivity I have ever read. I think it can be really inspiring, as well as educational. And I hope many people reach out to read it, even if “women’s lit” isn’t your typical thing.
There we have it!
My October is focusing highly on local authors, as I will be attending a book con at the end of the month in Cincinnati. I look forward to sharing with you some of those titles as the month goes on!