Tuesday, October 01, 2019

What I Read | September

A look back at what I read last month. #ASGbookshelf #whatIread

If there was one thing that I got out of September's reading, it was the reaffirmation of my policy on not finishing books if I'm not into them. Even if everyone else enjoyed them. Even if you got them for free from a publisher. Some books are just not meant for us, or are not meant for us in this particular time. That was the case with a few reads this month.

By the 15th, I was so bummed about my reading luck, I intentionally chose two of my all-time favorites to lift my spirits. I'm curious, what is your policy on abandoning books? Do you tough them out? Have a specified amount of pages you have to read before you ditch them? Deal with book guilt?

Must Read

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen  | ★★★★★
In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world--no matter how out of place they feel.

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? And why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew--a reclusive, real-life gentle giant--she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson’s cakes--which is a good thing, because Julia can’t seem to stop baking them. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Flour, eggs, milk, and sugar . . . Baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart. But is it enough to call back to her those she’s hurt in the past? 

Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in. - Goodreads description

I loved this book so much the first time I read it, I needed to pick it up again to relive the magic. I connected with both of the women whose stories we follow. I love themes of family and forgiveness and the idea of denying long-held traditions in honor of love. Sarah Addison Allen's writing is enchanting and so atmospheric. You drop right into the story and feel like you are living in Mullaby, North Carolina. You feel the humidity and smell the smoked meat and tangy barbecue sauce in the air. You hear the frogs croaking and the crickets chirping. And because of the subtle way Allen weaves in the element of magic, you can't help but smile. This is one of my all-time favorites.


To Hell With The Hustle
by Jefferson Bethke | ★★★★
This is your wake-up call to resist the Hustle culture and embrace the slowness of Jesus. Our culture makes constant demands of us: Do more. Accomplish more. Buy more. Post more. Be more.

In following these demands, we have indeed become more: More anxious. More tired. More hurt. More depressed. More frantic. What we are doing isn't working!

In a society where hustle is the expectation, busyness is the norm and information is king, we have forgotten the fundamentals that make us human, anchor our lives, and provide meaning. - Goodreads description

Jeff Bethke has a way of putting deep and brilliant thoughts in terms that everyone can easily understand, and he challenges traditional evangelical ideas better than anyone I know. His newest faith-based book is no exception. In it, he encourages us to take a step back from all the demands imposed on us by modern culture and remember our ultimate purpose in life. This book is so inspirational and timely. My copy is full of notes and highlights and it is one I will return to again and again. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review as part of the official book launch team.

Other mentions for the month of September:

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein  | ★★★★★
I've read and recommended this book on the blog nearly a dozen times and I'll do it again. This was a re-read in preparation for the release of the film adaptation. My favorite book of all time, this story is about Enzo, an intelligent dog who believes that when good dogs die, they come back reincarnated as a man. This story is clever, sharp, silly, thoughtful, and it will make any animal lover bubble up with all the feelings. *Note: I have not seen the movie yet, but from what I hear, there were some big plot changes made that completely alter the story. If this is true, I will be disappointed. Those key events that I'm told are not in the film are so important to the overall narrative arc and the whole point of this tale. I would encourage anyone who is interested in seeing the movie to read the book first because it is so, so good.

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Daniel R. Day  | ★★★★
Before learning about Dapper Dan on this past season of Project Runway, I had no idea who he was, but I knew of his fashion. This is a memoir that explores his life from early childhood into the present. It is one of the best autobiographical books I've ever read. Not only does he tell his own story of struggle, but he shares the story of Harlem and the people there. He is such an interesting man and after reading about his life, it's no wonder how he became the icon that he is today. Fantastic book. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli  | ★★★
I liked this book. I haven't read a whole lot in the LGBTQ+ genre, so it was nice to add to my list. This is about two gay teens, Arthur and Ben, who are spending the summer of their junior year in New York City. By fate, they meet one day in a post office and connect after a quick conversation, but are separated before they could exchange names or contact info. The hunt begins as they both search for each other with the hope of finding out what could come of the spark they each felt. This was a really sweet story and you root for these two guys the whole way through. Because this story is geared toward young adults, the writing feels a bit immature at times, but the characters make up for this.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig  | ★★★
I had such high hopes for this book. After the first chapter, I was sure this was going to be an awesome read, all 800 pages of it. Because of its length, I didn't read any of the reviews before diving in. So many people complain about the extremely long books solely because of the length and I didn't want to allow for any preconceived notions. We first meet Shanna, who wakes up one morning to find her sister walking away from their home like a zombie. She is unresponsive, so Shana follows her, thinking she's had a nervous breakdown and is a danger to herself. As the early part of the story builds, we learn there are other walkers. They cannot be stopped and they are all walking in one direction, toward something unknown. Many of the walkers are being trailed by concerned family members, or shepherds, keeping watch over the flock. I loved Shana from the start. Her character was perfectly drawn and I had such a connection with her and her love for her sister. Some of the other primary characters were just as complex and interesting. As the story went on, the cast grew and grew and the plot got weirder. Wendig goes on a deep-dive with some of the stories of tertiary characters and this is where a lot of the length of this book comes from. It is completely irrelevant and just adds bulk to the book. To me, it felt like he had this master list of personalities he wanted to write and decided he should put them all in one book. This was not a good idea. Overall, I wanted this story to go in a different direction. I wasn't satisfied with the reason these people were walking and really wanted a different outcome. There were also some holes in the plot that were not filled with answers. If you're into epic science fiction novels, you might enjoy this book, but it was middle of the road for me and a disappointment for the high hopes I had at the beginning. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Warcross by Marie Lu  | ★★★
I had mixed feelings about this book. This story was about a time when the entire world was wrapped up in a single video game. Our protagonist, Emika, is a teenage hacker who freelances as a bounty hunter to capture players who bet on the game illegally. After an unfortunate turn of events that could land her in deep trouble, she is contacted by the billionaire who created the game. Without giving away spoilers, I'll say that makes a request of her that could either make or break her. This story was enjoyable. I was entertained as I read it, but there were too many similarities to the book Ready Player One. The game itself sounded a little boring for being something the entire civilization was hooked on. My biggest issue was the writing. Even though it is labeled as a YA book, it very extremely immature and some of it read like a romance novel when I wish it would have stayed in the sci-fi lane.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben  | ★★★
This was a really interesting book all about trees and how their interaction with each other, or lack thereof, affects the health of a forest. I was fascinated to read about how trees can communicate with each other in various ways, including the use of chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals. There was so much information in this book, I felt that I needed to take notes so I could take it all in. This would be a great resource for someone who was writing a paper on trees or forestry or someone who is an arborist. The one thing about this book that rubbed me the wrong way was when Wohlleben talked about how trees and other plant life can feel pain when they are cut down or have an invasive infection of some sort. I don't know what to think about that and need to wrap my head around it. Otherwise, this was a very stimulating read and allowed me to better understand how trees work.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen  | ★★★
I will admit that this one was a bit out of my wheelhouse. I haven't done a whole lot of reading from Vietnamese (-American) writers, especially in this setting of the Vietnam War. Viet Thanh Nguyen's writing is stunningly beautiful. It's poetic and witty and intelligent, and, at times, dense. To me, it came off as being a bit haughty, and I don't mean this in a negative way. This is purely perception that is stemming from my intimidation of the book. It's won numerous literary prizes, including a Pulitzer, for goodness' sake. You cannot breeze through this book. It demands time and your full attention. So, I think this is going to get a re-read in the future. I wanted to rate it higher, but I want to make sure I've absorbed it completely so I know I haven't missed anything.

American War by Omar El Akkad  | ★★☆☆
In theory, this should have been a great book. It's the story of America's second Civil War that takes place around 2075. It could have been a great dystopian novel. However, I had to keep checking to make sure we were still 60 years in the future because it felt like I was reading a retelling of the Civil War that happened in the 1800s. North versus South, slavery is a theme that runs throughout. A family is torn apart between the two sides. A plague is traveling throughout the country. The story felt old, not modern at all. Something was missing in order to make this story work. The writing was piecy and the whole thing didn't come together.

Deep River by Karl Marlantes (abandoned)  | ☆☆☆☆
I really enjoyed Matterhorn from Marlantes, so I was excited about getting to read his latest book. This is a family saga of sorts that follows three siblings growing up in Finland in the time of a Marxist Russian occupation. After their father is arrested in the midst of political unrest, they decide to pack up and head to America with hopes of starting new lives. This was a book that I was not able to finish. In fact, I made it less than halfway through. While our three protagonists were interesting characters, I didn't connect with any of them individually, only the relationship between the three of them. I found the plot to lacking in direction. The book is over 700 pages (Marlantes writes chunkers) and I just couldn't get into it. Perhaps I'll pick it up and find it easier to enjoy at another time, but for not, I need to set this one aside. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Serena by Ron Rash (abandoned) | ☆☆☆☆
I gave this book a couple of chapters to allow myself to warm up to it. The premise sounded interesting but, in truth, it was actually quite boring. Serena's character was annoyingly harsh and I was put off by it. I was not interested in finishing this one and was happy to return it to the library earlier than my due date.

What did you enjoy reading last month?

The post What I Read | September first appeared on A Simpler Grace. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it with your friends! Don't forget to join the ASG Tribe!


  1. How inspiring! I'm not much of a reader but I'm trying to get better at it. This is so helpful :)

  2. I'm so jealous of the amount of books you've read in September! I'm trying to make more time in my day to get some reading in.

  3. I am always looking for new reads, this list is great! I've heard such incredible things about The Art of Racing in the Rain. I'll add it to the list :) Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I always look forward to your book posts because I find more that I want to add to my reading list. The Girl Who Chased the Moon sounds absolutely amazing. Adding it to my list!

  5. I have been wanting to read To Hell With The Hustle ever since I found out about it! The subject matter has been on my heart/mind recently so I think I would really enjoy it! Do you listen to his podcast?

  6. I'm not in a phase of life where I have much time for reading many books. I do enjoy researching though!

  7. I'm glad you were able to lift your spirits with books that you truly love. It's good to have those available at all time. I typically try to read at least a quarter of the way through a book, but if it's just not keeping my attention, or I really dislike parts of it that are crucial to the storyline, I don't force myself to read the rest. Though, I'll admit that's pretty rare!

  8. I didn't get much time to read this summer, but hope to now that we are heading into winter. I love your suggestions!

  9. I ended up reading 15 books in September, of which Brittainy C. Cherry was a real favorite (as usual) for me. Also, The Speed of Falling Objects... I absolutely LOVED this book. Something about the story and the main character (a half blind teenage girl) and her quest to basically get her dad to love her just broke my heart as a mom but also as a girl who wanted that same thing. Loved it. I had Wild by Angel Payne as a DNF because it was just awful. Life is too short to read crappy books.

  10. I think you will love the book. It is enchanting. :)

  11. Thanks for coming by to check out what I read! :)

  12. Go for it! It is an awesome book! I love his podcast!

  13. I love that. I usually do a quarter of the book before giving up, but I'm so hard on myself for not finishing. :)

  14. So many amazing and incredibly different books on your list! I just added The Girl Who Chased The Moon—I haven’t heard of it before but it sounds up my alley. That is a total bummer to hear the movie deviated from the Art of Racing in the Rain book—it is just perfection ❤️ Would love to read that one again. My policy is this—if a book isn’t giving me joy, I want to move on as quickly as possible to one that will. Life is too short for bad books!

  15. Is What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli a newer one? I read one of her other books and really liked it!

  16. Tobia | craftaliciousmeOctober 4, 2019 at 7:58 AM

    I have put "The Girl who chased the moon" on my TBR – it sounds great. As for books I don't like I am always torn. I want to finish because lots of work go into writing a book and I always wonder if all the magic happens in the last couple chapters. This way I did find some promising authors who just needed a bit more time getting there. However I have been given myself permission to abandon books more often when they just bother and annoy me so much that I get frustrated picking them up.

  17. Oh my goodness, seeing all your reviews makes me want to get back to reading!! I haven't been making time to read lately, and I miss it.


  18. I think you will love that book! It's one of my faves. :)

  19. It was published last year, so probably newer than the one you read. I really enjoyed it and will be reading more from this author. :)

  20. Oh, that's a good way to look at it. It would be really interesting if the entire book's purpose was the final few chapters.

  21. You should! I find that it's a great way to practice self-care. :)

  22. It's never fun to DNF a book, but it happens! I've gotten better at letting things go if they aren't working for me. I've read What If It's Us and I liked it okay, but it wasn't my favorite. I do recommend Adam Silvera's novels on his own - love him!


  23. I'm going to have to check out the books Silvera has done on his own. I'm always looking for new authors to get into. :)