Tuesday, November 05, 2019

What I Read | October

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

October was a very productive reading month, mainly because I wasn't able to do much else but spend a lot of time in bed, devouring books. (The only plus to having a chronic illness is all the reading time I get when I'm down.) It was also quite a mixed bag between great books and terrible ones. Overall, I read twenty-one in all, and that includes four five-star reads and four titles that I had to abandon. That second one is an all-time record for me. I'm finally starting to embrace the idea that I don't have to finish a book that I don't enjoy.

Continue reading below to check out my thoughts on everything from my October bookshelf. I'd also love to know what you've been reading lately or what you plan to read in the coming month. Happy reading!

Must Read

Still Alice by Lisa Genova  | ★★★★★
I don't know that I've ever been more in love and disturbed with one book at the same time. This is the story of Alice Howland, an absolutely brilliant neuroscience professor and researcher from Harvard University who develops early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She is in her early 50s when she starts having trouble remembering where she's put things, getting lost in her own town, and forgetting which class she is lecturing. I've read many accounts of this horrific disease from the perspective of people who act as caregivers, but never a realistic first-hand account of what's it's like to literally lose a magnificent mind. In this book, we sit in the passenger's seat as she learns of her diagnosis, struggles with denial, and continues to try to function while her family, friends, and colleagues deal with their own frustration and grief over her condition. Even though this is a work of fiction, I found myself panicking and feeling so hopeless and heartbroken by Alice's fate. This book shook me to the core and it's one that will stay with me for a long time to come.


Permanent Record by Edward Snowden  | ★★★★★
I finished this book a few weeks ago and have not been able to get it out of my head since. This is Snowden's memoir, of sorts, that chronicles the events leading up to and following his disclosure of the United States government's mass surveillance of the people of America and abroad. Snowden grew up with parents in intelligence and technology fields and, early only, learned a trade that would later help him build the system that the intelligence agencies used to spy on its citizens. While reading this book, I realized a few things. One is how intelligent this guy is. I never thought he wasn't smart, but damn, his mind is truly brilliant. The second is how selfless he was to basically toss his life away for the good of the people. This was both enlightening and heartbreaking.

Other mentions for the month of October:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman  | ★★★★★
I loved this book so much when I read it at the beginning of the year and I knew I wanted to give it a more thorough read. My original review still stands.

A Songbird Dreams of Singing by Kate Hosford (illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter)  | ★★★★★
I am so in love with this little book of poetry and will be purchasing a hard copy of it as soon as it is released. This is all about sleeping animals and incorporates cute little facts about the sleep habits of birds, mammals, and fish, and does so in rhyme that is simple and elegant at the same time. The illustrations are stunning and really make this book something special. Not only is this entertaining, but it's also educational, and it would make the perfect nighttime read for young and old alike. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The Little Book of Energy Healing Techniques by Karen Frazier  | ★★★★
This is a great little resource for anyone who is interested in learning more about the etheric body and all the techniques used to work healing into it. Frazier covers everything from meditation to reiki, crystals and light therapy, and provides detailed illustrations of the chakras and meridians in the body and what they do or are responsible for. I learned so much about a "science" that western medicine is only just now beginning to embrace and feel better equipped to choose tools and treatments that would be helpful to me. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline  | ★★★★
An old favorite that was on my reading list for the year, I am always very happy to re-read this book. As a kid who grew up in the 80s playing video games and indulging in all things pop culture, this book is pure nostalgia. The character development is phenomenal and the narration of the story weaves you through this magical modern world of virtual reality while paying tribute to the simplicity of a time long ago. There is only one tiny issue I have with the book. It feels as if it's written for someone who appreciates the 80s but wasn't actually alive during the decade. A lot of the pop culture references were over-explained so that the relevance to the story is understood by the reader. This might be necessary for someone who didn't get to experience these things firsthand, but when it happens on every other page, it can wear a little thin. Overall, this is a fantastic book if you're looking to get sucked into an alternate universe and lose yourself in a great story.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed  | ★★★★
The memoir of Cheryl Strayed takes us on a 1,100-mile journey from her broken life to redemption as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. I originally read this book a few years ago and remember not enjoying it, probably because the season of life I was in looked similar to hers at the beginning of the story. I needed to read it again as research for a story I'm writing and was pleased that this time around, I got so much more out of it. Not only was it purely entertaining to read about a woman who had never done much backpacking, donning gear that was nearly twice her body weight and hitting the trail completely alone, but it was inspirational as well. While in the silence of nature, Cheryl is forced to work through all of her life's problems and emotional hangups. I had so many aha moments while reading this. This is a spectacular book, and true to the theme of the story, I'm so glad I gave it a second chance.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han  | ★★★
This was a really cute story that gives you all the good feels, but there was one little detail that bothered me through the entire thing. I couldn't help but wonder why the girls' father was so absent from their lives. I get that he was a doctor and had a lot of shifts at the hospital, but leaving a 16-year-old girl to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family all by herself? I was annoyed by this and, from experience, know how much pressure it puts on a kid. Even though a girl this age might seem capable of handling all the responsibility Lara Jean had, it doesn't mean that it's okay to dump it on her. Step up, dad. This one little aspect of the book soured the story a bit for me. It was probably irrelevant to most who read it, but it's what stood out to me through the length of it and left me feeling uneasy about the overall story.

Zodiac by Romina Russell  | ★★★
I love a good sci-fi book, especially when one of the central themes has something to do with outer space or the planets, sun, moon, and stars. This is a story in which all the characters live in one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac, and their personalities and roles in the universe directly correlate with the traits of that particular zodiac sign. I thought this book was extremely interesting and entertaining. I got wrapped up in the excitement of the story. My only criticism is that there were a lot of characters that we meet as our protagonist is traveling from one constellation to the next, and I didn't feel there were any reasons to connect with any of them. Aside from the three or four people I got to know, nobody else had any defining characteristics, and that made it difficult to keep track of who was who.

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin  | ★★★
Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who has leveraged the unique way her brain processes ideas to improve the quality of facilities used to vet and slaughter livestock. While I was interested in learning more about her and how she has overcome the hurdles of being an autistic person functioning in a world that didn't entirely recognize her condition, some parts of the book were stressful for me to read. Being in the industry she's in, there was a heavy focus on the actual processes of getting these animals from point A to point B, including slaughter. Temple is extremely compassionate toward these animals, and I can appreciate that and all the work she's done to improve their living conditions. At the end of the day though, if you're a veg or animal lover like I am, you'll want to read this one with care.

Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker  | ★★★
Shawn Smucker is a wonderful storyteller. He had me hooked after the very first sentence when he introduces a scene in which our lead character, Cohen, steps over his father's dead body and walks out into the world as if nothing happened. We spend what feels like the rest of the book inside Cohen's mind, replaying old events, only we don't really know what is true and what isn't. It's this unreliable narration that made it hard for me to connect with the character, or any of the characters for that matter. This was an entertaining story and makes me want to read more from this author because I so enjoyed his writing style. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center  | ★★★
I initially loved this story and the protagonist, Cassie Hanwell. A recent Boston transplant, she is the only female firefighter in a house full of rowdy men. She is strong, smart, capable, and shows up her colleagues at every opportunity, but still endures a lot of slack for her gender. When she develops a connection with the cute young rookie firefighter, she goes above and beyond to hide her feelings to avoid looking like a "girl"  in the firehouse. While this was a really sweet and fun story, it reaffirmed the idea that a strong, intelligent woman isn't allowed to also be romantic, that emotions somehow strip away some of that strength that she has. Aside from that, I was a little annoyed at how the book ended. There was one particular scene where Cassie is having a heated conversation with one of the veteran firefighters and the dialogue between them was very childish and felt out of place in the whole of the book. This was a turning point where the rest of the story felt rushed and it was wrapped up too neatly for my liking. Otherwise, it was a perfectly enjoyable novel. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett  | ★★★
This was a really interesting book and I only realized once I'd started it that I probably should have read the Discworld series beforehand. That said, as a stand-alone, I found the myths and folk stores to be fascinating and it will definitely give me some context when I start with the series itself.

The Yoga Plate by Tamal & Victoria Dodge  | ★★★
I was excited to get a chance to sit down with a copy of this cookbook because I'm always looking for new vegan recipes. While the book did share a lot of recipes, many of them were pretty basic and could be found in any vegan cookbook.  The instructions were simple and easy to follow and incorporated fairly standard ingredients that can be purchased in most decent grocery stores. The photographs in this book were beautiful, showcasing the bright and colorful dishes and beverages that you can make. I read an advance digital copy, so some of the photos and recipe instructions were missing in my edition, but I believe the completed book will be a lovely addition to any kitchen. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell  | ★★☆☆
I was really excited about this book because I love Sex and the City. The books, the show, the films. Well, the first film anyway. I was thrilled to get a copy of this one, but after a few chapters, it was clear that this book wasn't going to live up to the standard previously set by Bushnell. It was bland. There was nothing special that made me want to connect with the characters, and the story lacked the witty sass that Bushnell is known. It certainly was no Carrie Bradshaw. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar  | ★★★
This is a sweet middle-grade biographical story about Ruthie, who is in a serious car accident as a child and is forced to endure a lengthy and painful recovery process as the result. Some of the themes that run through the book are ones of patience, courage, faith, and friendship. To me, the writing felt quite immature for middle grade, but that might just be my impression of it. I think all children could enjoy this, but especially ones who are dealing with an illness or injury and would be able to relate to some of the things Ruthie struggles with.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf  | ★★
I have generally been a fan of Virginia Woolf in the past but struggled with this book. It seemed to go on and on about absolutely nothing and I kept feeling like I was missing the point. On top of that, I listened to the audiobook version and the particular narrator who reads this book has a very distinct accent that, for some bizarre reason, I cannot get past. She has narrated quite a few of the British classics and I've noticed that most of them were ones that I didn't enjoy. I don't know why, but her voice makes it difficult for me to absorb and enjoy anything she narrates, so perhaps I need to filter her out in future book searches. A side note, but pleasant narration is important to me, I'm learning.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite (abandoned)  | ☆☆☆☆
I'm not at all a fan of epistolary novels and while I appreciate where this book was trying to go, the format of reading a bunch of emails was too distracting to get anything out of it. I had to set it aside after reading about 25%. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood (abandoned)  | ☆☆☆☆
(Trigger warning for mamas, mamas-to-be, and people who are sensitive to the abuse and neglect of children.) This is the story of little Lucy, born with Down's Syndrome in the late 60s, who, at the insistence of the doctors, was immediately taken from her family and placed in a home for special needs children. For the next two years, we follow Ginny, Lucy's grieving mother, who is forced to act as if her daughter had died instead of what actually happened. It's only when Ginny's friend shows her newspaper articles about the case of neglect that is being brought against this facility that Ginny decides to act on her daughter's behalf. I thought this book was atrocious, and at only about 25% in, I had to put it away. Not only did Ginny's initial acceptance of her daughter's fate bother me, but the gruesome details about the neglect that Lucy had endured was too great for me to read. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (abandoned)  | ☆☆☆☆
This was a strange book. I don't even know how to appropriately describe it. It starts out with a man identifying himself as someone who was born with four teeth and a body covered in fuzz. He goes on to talk about the teeth of others and then shares about his pursuit to become a famous auctioneer. When he spent an entire section of the book talking in detail about his erection, I completely lost interest and returned the book to my library. This has lots of great reviews, so I guess the point of it went right over my head. I just didn't find it amusing, interesting, or entertaining in any way.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (abandoned)  | ☆☆☆☆
The first few chapters of this book were choppy and bounced around, as far as the writing structure was concerned. Looking back at the author's profile on Goodreads, I now remember having the same thoughts about another of his books. I've loved other novels in this genre with similar worlds and plots, so I think I'm not meshing with this particular author.

What did you enjoy reading last month?

The post What I Read | October 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. Wow, that's a lot!! I don't read as much as I'd like to, but I'd love to get into it some more. I've been hearing about To All the Boys I've Loved Before, so I'm glad I found your review. I'll have to look into these some more :)

  2. Awesome list! I read "A Man Called Ove" & "Wild" a while back and loved them both! Saw the movie versions as well but of course they weren't as good as the books! Thanks for sharing this list...needed a new book to read!

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  3. Oh these look so good ! I'm reading through the Poldark series.

  4. What a good reading month! I have a few of these on my list and now I'm bumping them up higher! My favorites that I read in October were When Less Becomes More and Evvie Drake Starts Over!

  5. Looks like you had a great reading month in October! I've heard of several of these titles but haven't read any of them myself. I split most of my reading time last month between Malcolm Gladwell audiobooks because he fascinates me, and holiday-themed books so that I can build my annual Christmas reading list later this month. I also tried some scary classics in honor of Halloween. My verdict - thumbs up for Dracula, thumbs down for Frankenstein (it was super boring).

  6. What a great collection of books you read. I am interested in a few, thank you.

  7. Wow, over 20 books in just one month?! That's amazing!
    I just resurrected my reading challenge and I needed some inspiration. Thank you!

  8. I'm glad you were able to get a lot of books read last month, though sorry for all the DNFs. It happens though, and no point struggling through a whole book you aren't enjoying. I am definitely curious about Permanent Record. I can't imagine giving up your freedom - essentially - to reveal information you felt needed to be shared.


  9. Christa Del GiornoNovember 6, 2019 at 9:32 AM

    October was a mixed month for me, too! Equal parts great books and also some really bad ones. I just finished A Woman is No Man and loved it.

  10. I am going to have to add some of these to my winter reading list! Thanks for the great suggestions!

  11. Loved "A Man Called Ove" and "Wild." Cheryl Strayed is a favorite author of mine. :) I'm curious about "the little book of Energy Healing." Sounds really interesting. Did you find it factual, or too "whoo whoo?"

  12. Wow, that's a lot of books! A Man Called Ove and Ready Player One have been on my to-read list for a while. I also recently read the To All The Boys trilogy and loved how quick and easy they were.

  13. I'm allowing myself to DNF more books without shame how and it's so refreshing.

  14. When Less Becomes More has been on my list. Can't wait to get that one!

  15. I love Gladwell's books. I need to read a few more of them.

  16. I need to read the other To All The Boys books!

  17. You got through a lot of books last month, even with the DNFs! I just became comfortable abandoning books I wasn't feeling about a year ago, and it's so refreshing! I DNF'ed 4 books last month too- and don't feel bad about it at all. I actually abandoned A Man Called Ove about a year ago because I was in the wrong mindset for it. I'll try that one again though. You should totally link up with Steph for Show Us Your Books (https://www.lifeaccordingtosteph.com/2019/11/show-us-your-books-november-2019.html)!

  18. There are so many of these I love. I struggled to get into 'Wild' and even struggled more with the movie. And I adore Reese. But I also really struggled with Eat, Pray, Love so maybe reading about other women's personal journeys is a dud for me. I'd rather be on the cheering sideline of people I actually know, for their journey in life.
    A few of those descriptions you listed, teeth guy and the one you said may trigger people because of abused children-most likely I would have left them also. I really struggle with books that are noteworthy by others. When I was in the summer before 5th grade I read all the classics from the high school reading list, while camping, on a log offshore of a lake. I was very spoiled by those classics and when I reached high school, Oprah was doing her reading club thing and I was often let down by that. I usually scour the bargain area of B&N for the ones people didn't buy and find a gem in th rough. If they end up bad, I didn't pay an arm and a leg for them. Plus I am one of the suppliers of our little free libraries so my books always go there.
    I really need to check out the Snowden one. But I started school again so... will be a few.

  19. I LOVE the bargain bins at bookstores. You can find some real winners in there if you are patient! :)

  20. It's hard to abandon books, but I have lots of good ones to spend my time on. :)

  21. Tobia | craftaliciousmeNovember 16, 2019 at 5:25 AM

    I am always amazed how much reading you get done. I sometimes wished I was reading fast to get to all the wonderful books in the world. I have put "Still Alice" on my TBR. Sounds interesting and since my grandma suffered this disease it's always something I am interested in.