Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Wrap Up: October 2020


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Reviews Of Books I Read In October


My reading month started off brilliantly! I loved Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. It’s about 3 British Muslim siblings. The brother runs away to become a jihadist like their father, but then he changes his mind and wants to come home. Unfortunately, it’s not simple to escape from a terrorist group and re-enter the UK without serious legal trouble. While he’s running for his life, his two sisters befriend the son of a politician. Do the sisters actually care about the son, or are they just using him to get their brother home? The relationships are spectacularly complicated. The characters seem honest, but are they? Then the end . . . I did not see that coming. I couldn’t put the book down because I needed to know how all the problems would be solved. They’re solved in the most shocking way possible. If you enjoy literary fiction about complicated families, add this book to your list.


My October books continued to impress me. I found another winner with Beasts Of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang. What a bizarre story. I guess I’d call it light fantasy? It’s about a homeless man and his pet pig. The man can influence nature, but he doesn’t know how his powers work. He falls in love with a “normal” zoologist woman, which terrifies him because he thinks he’ll accidentally hurt her with his animal-influencing powers. This novel is much less serious than the stuff I usually read. I had tons of fun with it. It’s definitely the kind of book you read to escape from real life. It’s funny, creative, sweet, and populated with adorable characters who are easy to love. The tone reminds me of middlegrade fantasy, but with adult characters who have grownup problems. This book is a strong contender for my “best books of 2020” list. It will make you smile.

Then I reread the short story “The Masque Of The Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately because of . . . no reason whatsoever. It was first published in 1842. It’s about a prince who invites 1000 wealthy friends to a costume party at his castle during a plague called the Red Death. The prince’s masquerade ball does not end happily (because of the aforementioned plague). I always thought this story was an allegory about people’s futile attempts to avoid death. Death will find you, even if you have money, a castle, a cool costume, and 1000 friends. Now I’m wondering if Poe meant us to interpret the story more literally. It’s a creepy tale. And surprisingly relevant. I recommend it if you like classics.


Since I enjoyed rereading “The Masque Of The Red Death,” I thought I’d continue rereading old favorites. I chose Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. This is the third book in The Hunger Games series. I decided that I like it less than the first book in the series but more than the second. I still think the pods are stupid. I don’t like how the author created a bunch of characters with the obvious intent of killing them. Despite my whining, I really love this series. Each time I reread it, I get more out of it. I love that the war is messy with very few clear good guys or bad guys. Most of the characters do awful things or make questionable decisions. The Hunger Games is a very human sci-fi series. If you’ve somehow missed it, please read it!

Then I reread The Shining by Stephen King. I read this book a few times as a teenager because I liked the haunted hotel and its murderous, ghostly party guests. I remember being especially weirded out by the ghost dude in the dog costume who was constantly sucking up to people who treated him horribly. I still love the hotel and the evil ghosts, but as an adult who’s read a lot of horror, I was less thrilled with the rest of the book. The N-word is used way too often. I know the book was written in the 1970s and the ghosts are from the 1920s, but damn, Stephen King, not every character needs to be a racist. Calm down. Like most King novels, the action takes ten eternities to get going. Once it does start moving, it’s easy to get swept up in it. Life keeps getting worse and worse for the characters. Everything goes wrong. Even though I knew how the story ends, I flew through the second half of the book. So . . . I guess I’m conflicted about this one. Read it if you’re interested in classic horror, but King has written better books.


That was enough rereading. My mountain of new books was getting dangerously close to toppling over and crushing me, so I picked up Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young. Now I’m obsessed with Viking books and want to read all of them. This novel is about a badass teen who thinks her brother was killed in battle. Years later, she’s taken prisoner by a rival community and discovers that her brother is alive and living happily with the enemies of her village. It’s a dramatic premise that kept me turning pages. This is an action-packed adventure novel. I guess I’d call it a historical thriller? It reminds me of Game Of Thrones, but tamed down for a teenage audience. Since there’s so much focus on battles, there isn’t much room for character development. I wanted more. I don’t feel like I ever really got to know any of the characters. Also, the main character is a prisoner who gets into a romantic relationship with the teenage boy who buys her from her captor. He treats her nicely, but I’m creeped out by anything that has vibes of a master/slave romance. Technically, she’s his property. I still really like the book, though. The action kept me on the edge of my metaphorical seat.



Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great experience with The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman. I decided to abandon it after reading the majority of it. It’s about a group of magical teens who are trying to protect their town from a supernatural creature in the woods. It wasn’t holding my attention. There’s too much talking. I feel like the first half of the book is mostly just characters explaining things to each other. By the time they finally started doing stuff, I was no longer invested in the outcome of the stuff. I gave up.


Unpopular opinion, but I loved The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes by Suzanne Collins. I only have two complaints. First, it’s too long and the pace really drags in places. Second, the main character’s name is Coriolanus, which my brain autocorrected to Coronavirus because it’s 2020, and I’m tired. The novel follows Coronavirus Coriolanus Snow when he’s a teenager at an elite school. If you’ve read The Hunger Games, then you know he grows up to be the vicious dictator president of a dystopian country called Panem. A lot of people were worried this book would make Coronavirus Snow a sympathetic character. It doesn't. I hated him on page 1, and I hated him on page 500-something. He’s just not a good dude. I like the book because the reader gets to see the origin of the games and the culture of the Capitol and District 12. It adds depth and world-building to Panem. For me, the plot was entertaining, and the world-building made the story worth reading. I enjoyed it.


Then I read The Residence: Inside The Private World Of The White House by Kate Andersen Brower. I liked this book, too! It’s nonfiction that combines archival research and interviews with retired White House staff to show readers what goes on behind the scenes at the White House. How does the staff keep that mansion running smoothly? Who are those ushers and maids who scramble out of the way when journalists with cameras enter the room? It’s a fascinating look at recent American history with bits of gossip and a few scandals thrown in. If you love Downton Abbey, this is a must-read. My only complaint is that it glorifies working yourself to death. The author never misses an opportunity to remind readers that the staff is thrilled/grateful/happy/lucky to work thousands of overtime hours while getting verbally abused by their bosses. I rolled my eyes a few times, but mostly it’s a short, captivating book. Please pick it up if you get the chance.


I needed a book to read during my socially distant Halloween at home, so I picked up In The Shadow Of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. It’s a young adult ghost story set during the flu pandemic of 1918. Sounds perfect for 2020 Halloween right? It was! I would have been obsessed with this novel as a teenager. It has a fast-paced plot and includes real historical photos of life during the pandemic. The story is about a teenage girl who starts seeing ghosts after a near-death experience. When her boyfriend is killed under mysterious circumstances, his ghost comes to her for help. Since I’m an adult reader, I found some of the plot twists predictable, but that didn’t stop me from frantically turning pages. I desperately wanted to know what happened next. I love the southern California setting. I love reading about characters who wear masks in public. Even though it’s historical fiction, it feels very current.


Baby Brooklyn and I attempted to read Sarabella’s Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. I say “attempted” because Brooklyn got bored and wandered away. I finished the book on my own. The illustrations are stunning with tons of tiny details. I was less impressed with the story. Sarabella daydreams all day instead of paying attention in school. She can’t focus. Her solution to this problem is to . . . make a fancy hat. I adore fancy hats, and I agree that drawing your thoughts on paper can help you focus, but that conclusion isn’t worth the effort of reading the book. My reaction to finishing the story was, “That’s it?” Fancy hats save the day, I guess.







Best Books Of October

1. The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes by Suzanne Collins

2. Beasts Of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

3. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie







Most-Viewed October Blog Posts

1. Can’t Wait Wednesday: October 2020 Book Releases

2. Discussion: Does Instagram Give Good Book Recommendations?

3. Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Fall Vibes







October Bestsellers

Here are the books that people bought on Amazon or Book Depository last month after seeing them on Read All The Things! (Don’t worry, the link-tracking robots only tell me which books people are buying, not who is buying them. That would be creepy.)

1. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

2. The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

3. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier







October Life Snapshots

(We went for a lot of walks. That's it. That's October. Just walks.)





All The Things!

Number of unread books on my TBR shelf = 52 books.

I’m currently reading = The Radium Girls: The Dark Story Of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore.





What did you do in October?


  1. Well, I moved in October :). Also, I image that reading Poe's story this month with all the super spreader events going on--many political--would provide a new way of interpreting it.

    new blog: www.fromarockyhillside.com

  2. Oh, Edgar Allan Poe. I do love him. And that story really IS timely. My sister really liked the Hunger Games prequel!

    I LOVED In the Shadow of Blackbirds.


  3. Ohhh I love bizarre stories. Beasts Of Extraordinary Circumstance sounds perfect for me!

  4. I just laughed way too hard at Coronavirus Snow :D
    There may have been many walks in October, but the pictures look beautiful!

  5. I actually liked the new Hunger Games book, too - it was neat to see how things tie into the other books.

  6. Brooklyn looked so cute in her costume. I hope she got good candy. Walks are good. Keep you in shape

  7. Well walks are amazing for your health so I'd say it's a win AJ!

  8. My students are reading The Hunger Games right now, so the prequel has been on my radar! Glad you enjoyed it (and still hated him)!

  9. I haven't read any Poe in ages but The Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorites. My son is studying Poe in his English class right now and I'm really hoping he'll study that one.

  10. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances sounds good. 👏👏👏

    I love Brooklyn's Halloween costume. 🎃

  11. Awww, what a little cutie!!!

    I love Poe, it has been ages since I've read that one. The Shining remains one of my fave books of all time.

  12. I love Edgar Allan Poe and lately bought his complete works, so I'll get to it sometime soon :) I'm interested in Radium girls and absolutely love Rebecca (and Daphne du Maurier in general). I watched the Netflix recent adaptation but didn't like it much, though. Thanks for sharing the beautiful picture :)