September Reading Wrap-Up


Reading slumps are the worst.

August was a weak month for me (“weak” being relative, of course), and I had high hopes for September. I thought “My Cousin Rachel” would put me in a sufficiently fall mood (Another Daphne du Maurier book, “Rebecca,” is one of my favorite classic novels), but it took me ages to get through, as much as I enjoyed it. Then, I thought I had beaten my reading block when I tore through the start of “Something for Forgetting” — but the book let me down about seven chapters in, and I had to force myself to get through it. My slump got no better after that, as the next two ARCs I read — “Something in the Heir” and “The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream” — just didn’t click with me whatsoever and left me even more down on the idea of reading than I had been previously.

So I decided I had just the thing to get me back enjoying reading: a book about necromancers in space. Yes, “Gideon the Ninth” was exactly what I needed. It’s riotously fun and dark. It bounces across genres. I was turning pages like a madwoman. I was back, baby! My next book was No. 100 — my goal for the year — so I picked “The Trees” to make my 100th book a good one. I tore through it. “Mother in the Dark” was my next pick. I inhaled it. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” was the final book of the month, and I read it in a single Friday night college football game.

Breaking reading slumps is the best.

September Books:

  1. The Trees (5)
  2. Gideon the Ninth (5)
  3. Mother in the Dark (5)
  4. My Cousin Rachel (4)
  5. We Have Always Lived in a Castle
  6. Spells for Forgetting (2.5)
  7. Something in the Heir (2.5)
  8. The Frederick Sisters are Living the Dream (2.5)

“My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier — 4/5

I love that Daphne du Maurier gave us this book with a central female character whose motivations have been debated for generations but then gave us a central male character where everyone can agree that, yeah, just he’s an idiot. There’s a lovely timelessness to this novel, and the way the sinister layers are revealed piece by piece creates a haunting, Gothic atmosphere that has the reader feeling consistently unbalanced. All the motives are mired in questions and suspicions. Intrigue abounds. The reader is never sure what’s what — or what’s the truth. The book is a little overlong at times, but Du Maurier’s atmospheric tale draws you in and messes with your reality. 

“Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young — 2.5/5

There’s just about nothing worse than the disappointment that comes with realizing a book you thought was going to be worthy of five stars, well, isn’t. Three chapters into this book, I was telling family and friends that they were going to need to read this book when it came out — only to have to send a “hmm, about that book…” text several chapters later.

Let’s start with the good:

-the setting

-the atmosphere

Basically, Adrienne Young has created a world I’d love to inhabit, especially with fall on the horizon as I was reading this. The setting is eerie and lush with a nice whisper of magic, and I felt a chill in my bones, almost as if I, too, was on this small island in the Pacific Northwest where everyone knows each other — for better or worse. 

Now, for the bad:

-the main characters

-the dumb drama

-the lack of a payoff

-the ending

The problem with the book is just kind of everything else. This isn’t a YA novel, but it reads like one. The characters aren’t teenagers, but the key to the story happened when they were, and the main characters, Emory and August, act like dumb kids 90 percent of the time in the present timeline. I knew how all the drama was going to play out because I’ve watched every single “Veronica Mars” episode (which part of this book’s storyline seems almost ripped from). The motivations here at the core of the story never seemed to really track or felt like they had the emotional ties to make the plot wholly believable. And other motivations felt entirely juvenile. There are secrets upon secrets in this small town, which seemed overly melodramatic. When I think about my favorite mysteries, they give you little reveals along the way (oh, so that’s why that glove was there!) but save the big reveal for the final chapters. This book saves absolutely everything until the bitter end, so all the secrets get revealed in a massive info dump that exhausted me. And the book’s ending didn’t leave me feeling satisfied; there was no real sense of resolution. 

I’m not bummed I read this book, because the setting and atmosphere truly are spectacular. I want to do witchy things and drink tea and see omens everywhere I look. And I finished this in one sitting, because it’s entirely readable and has a plot you want to see all the way through. But the characters weren’t anything special, and the events in the book were trite. It did, however, teach me an important lesson: Wait until you’ve read the whole darn book before talking it up to everyone you know. 

Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House-Ballantine/Delacorte Press for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

“Something in the Heir” by Suzanne Enoch — 2.5/5

This book has: logical gaps in the plot, adults who think “adopting” orphans just for eight weeks to fool your family is rather gross, a repeated slur for the Romani people, and almost no romance whatsoever in a book marketed as one. But it’s a cute concept with a fun, farcical plot, so maybe you’re the type of reader who can put its issues on the back burner and enjoy this book. 

The base of this book is a fun idea — two people enter into a fake marriage and are brought together by crazy circumstances — and Suzanne Enoch makes the very trope-y concept feel fresh. The writing is cute and quirky, and she captures tons of different perspectives (eight, I think?) cleverly and gives each character a distinct voice. There are enough screwball-ish happenings to make my “Bringing Up Baby”–loving heart happy, and the relationship between the two main characters and the children they “adopt” are occasionally heartwarming. (The kids consistently steal the show within these pages.)

But like I said, there are issues. I think the biggest problem with this book is the treatment of the children. Renting orphans — while telling them they’ll eventually be discarded (but don’t worry, they won’t have to go back to the orphanage) felt icky. And no “oh, think of this as a fun holiday!” or “we’re helping educate them so they can have a better future” can get around that. The kids have no agency and are treated as cute little props to further the adults’ agenda. I mean, they literally decide to go to an orphanage after thinking “if only there was a shop for children,” which… yuck. In this book, the main character, Emmie, has told her family she has two kids, and everyone believes her. (She tells her family the kids are sickly, so no one has ever seen them.) Yet all of Emmie’s friends and neighbors know she doesn’t have kids. I know that some families aren’t close and that she meticulously crafted fake stories and milestones about “her” kids (you’ll never convince me she isn’t a Virgo), but c’mon. In the Regency era, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to do other than gossip about people! 

This book is promoted as a romance — but there’s really no chemistry between Emmie and her husband, Will, and there’s little development in their relationship other than a “I had no idea you felt this way!” I have more chemistry with the bag of Takis sitting next to me as I’m writing this review than those two do. (Those spicy, tempting red snacks have my number, OK?) I never got those butterflies in my stomach or ever felt there was anything particularly adorable about the couple. It’s fine to write a Regency screwball comedy — actually I’d encourage it and would preorder it ASAP — but you have to commit. And this one teetered on the edge but never tipped all the way over. The book came across almost like Enoch didn’t know how to balance the romance with the chaotic happenings. You can have romance in screwballs, but you need there to be tension between the two romantic leads (*cough* Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn *cough*). 

Everything in this book felt like too much of a mishmash to really hold together. The pacing felt off, the romance felt off, the main plot point felt off… you get the picture. Go watch “Philadelphia Story” and imagine them in Empire waistlines and coats with tails, instead. 

Special thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

“The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream” by Jeannie Zusy — 2.5/5

The topics covered in this book? I’ve lived them. The conversations? I’ve had them. Every frustration? I’ve experienced them. And that, I think, hampered my enjoyment of this book. 

I like that Jeannie Zusy used personal experience as a caregiver to her brother Davie to give life to such a complex topic, because she does a phenomenal job of illustrating the highs and the lows (and everything in between) of caring for a family member. It’s often a hard topic to talk about, but Zusy infuses this book with the love and anger I think is true to so many of these situations (mine included). 

My issue was really related to the writing style of the book. Two pages in, I already knew I wasn’t going to vibe with the tone of the book, and I wasn’t wrong. I found it too chatty and conversational — in an almost forced way — and the stream-of-consciousness style really presented me from connecting with our main character, Maggie. Plus, some of the phrasing just didn’t feel natural (a character described memory as “a meany,” which, just… no.) Other reviewers have called this book “funny,” but I don’t think I laughed — or even smiled — once while reading it. The stream-of-consciousness writing also meant the timeline felt chaotic as we were bouncing from event to event in the space of a few pages. I get that doing so was intended to break up the flow storyline, but the past never added the emotional depth it needed to. 

The characters are interesting, especially because of their flaws, but none of them were particularly likable. I don’t think characters need to be likable (especially female characters), but I think there needs to be a reason you’re rooting for them. Maggie is a cheater who maybe drinks too much (and drives drunk) and is super judgmental and harried. None of her positive traits — her kindness, her understanding, her mothering abilities, her skill at her job, etc. — feel evenly balanced with her negative traits. The sister Maggie is taking care of (Ginny) is also never really given much understanding — instead, so much space is dedicated to her slovenliness, her bad grooming, her refusal to stop eating sugar even though it will kill her. And the oldest sister, Betsy, has just peaced out of this whole situation with a mentality of “let someone else take care of her” and “if she keeps doing this and dies, she dies,” and there isn’t a reason for Bets’ cold heart until deep into the book. 

Heaven knows caregiving takes an epic toll on families. And I like the fact that Zusy didn’t try to gloss over the situation and make everyone involved into saints who have never done anything wrong in their entire lives. But there was so much frustration in this book that it outweighed the heartwarming moments. 

Special thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

“Gideon the Ninth” by Tamsyn Muir — 5/5

This book had me so enthralled that I got mad at whoever — and whatever — interrupted me reading it. I scarfed down my food, ignored calls and texts from friends and family, didn’t look up from my book to watch my beloved tennis, and had my body screaming at me to drink water. I read this book while walking on the treadmill and while walking my dog. I took a bath instead of a shower so I could keep reading it. 

It’s a clever read that refuses to be pinned down to a genre — it bounces among science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery — and has dashes of romance. It’s fun and funny and spooky and emotional and utterly compelling. The book feels both modern and Lovecraftian. There are spaceships and mad scientists’ laboratories and murder and bones (lots and lots of bones). There are quests and political machinations and swords and haunted houses. Honestly, the whole plot is a rollicking good time. I’ve never read a book quite like this one.

Tasmyn Muir is so clever with how she writes. She has an incredible grasp on her book’s mythology and how things are going to play out in the series (things aren’t just being made up as she goes along) that you as a reader don’t need to have the firmest grasp on everything that’s happening. Although the world and the magic and the abilities of all the different characters occasionally confused me, I never felt lost in the story, because I knew that if I really needed to know the nitty-gritty details, Muir would have revealed them more clearly. Her prose is clear and has a wonderful heft to it, even while she’s bouncing across genres. Her dialogue is believable (and wonderfully snarky), and her action scenes leap off the page. It’s a master class. 

I think the thing that really sold me on this book was the characters. Gideon is an absolute riot — she’s a rambunctious, sword-wielding, foul-mouthed, himbolike muscle nut with a quick tongue and a huge heart. She drives the plot and is responsible for bringing the reader into (and along for) the story. I think I was in love with her by about six pages in. The other member of the Ninth House, Harrow, is dark and sarcastic and violence-prone, and the way she opens up and develops throughout the book is spectacular. Harrow and Gideon’s relationship blossoms into something beautiful that carries so much emotion and is the true core of the book. The rest of the ensemble cast has tons of potential; they weren’t all well-rounded, but I have no doubt they’ll be fleshed out in the rest of the series. (And I can’t wait to read about them.)

I ordered the next two books in the series, and I’m already drafting my “I’m reading, don’t bother me unless you’re lying on the floor bleeding out” text to everyone I know. 

“The Trees” by Percival Everett — 5/5

This may be the first Booker long- or shortlisted book I’ve read this year, but I’m going to go ahead and say you can just declare it the winner now.  

I didn’t expect a book about lynchings could make me laugh, but that’s part of Percival Everett’s power within these pages. He confronts the horror and the gore with humor and quips and uses the dichotomy to make readers face the awful, blood-soaked history of this country, the racial atrocities suffered by Black Americans, and the complicity of others (particularly white people) who have benefitted. Everett’s stylized writing is sharp and evocative, frank and funny, and he combines genres into this masterpiece of a book. There’s the social satire, the detective fiction, the revenge fantasy, the zombie horror, the surrealist fiction, the Southern Gothic. “The Trees” upends the conventional story, where white people swoop in to save the day from racial violence.His writing conveys the starkness of the novel’s happenings (even the humor is dry), but he adds so much color to the book with this characters, who are vibrant and feel entirely real. This is a story of resurrection and a confrontation of history, and Everett bridges the gap between the lynchings of the past and the police killings of the present to remind people that there’s still a genocide in this country — it’s just in a different font. 

“Mother in the Dark” by Kayla Maiuri — 5/5

Let she who has a perfect mother-daughter relationship cast the first stone. 

I couldn’t put this book down. And when I had finished inhaling all 304 pages and put the book down and was able to process what I’d just read, I cried. This is a devastating and beautifully written book with a raw and vulnerable take on motherhood, sisterhood, and female friendships. Kayla Maiuri never shies away from the pain of the past, and she writes about how love can hurt — and how you can hurt the ones you love. Anna, the main character, is haunted by the place she grew up and by the ghosts who still live there. Maiuri deftly combines Anna’s present with her past, and it allows the reader to see Anna’s pitiable and broken self and understand where it comes from as a result of the trauma she grew up surrounded by. Her childhood was full of neglect, mental illness, pills, discontent, and alcoholism, and she had to use coping mechanisms and constantly decide whether she felt safer with her mother or father (and neither was a great option). She tried to take care of her younger sisters but, surrounded by so much dysfunction and pain, too much hurt seeped through the cracks and pried their relationships apart. Anna thinks she’s gotten away from her trauma — only to find she can never really outrun her past. And confronting it might be the best option, but it’s never easy to open old wounds.

This story has been sitting with me since I finished it. Maiuri has written a haunting, gritty, honest tale where the heart of the story is the love — and hate — between a mother and a daughter. 

I think I’m going to go call my mom now.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson — 4/5

Merricat wants to: live on the moon, own a winged horse, and kill anyone or anything that annoys her. I’m obsessed. 

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