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Pumpkinheads | Rowell + Hicks- Literally one of the most charming graphic novels ever—if you need a festive graphic novel, this season, this is IT. This was such a perfect collab between Rowell and Hicks, and the entire thing takes place in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night. Quests, love entanglements, and hilarity ensue with beautiful artwork and dialogue that had me laughing out loud. The characters are amazing (and diverse!) and the whole thing is just so fun and sweet and perfectly seasonal.
Record of a Spaceborn Few | Becky Chambers- As always, I was utterly enchanted by Chambers’ world building abilities. This one felt like a peek into the lives of several characters without an overarching plot, more just overarching themes, but her worlds and characters are just so irresistible and interesting, I still loved it. I definitely liked it more than A Closed and Common Orbit, but not quite as much as The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet, which remains one of my favorite books ever.
Once Upon A River | Diane Setterfield- I have some mixed feelings. I enjoyed the atmosphere and how deeply we got to know the characters in this slow burn mystery, but man was it SLOW 😬 Setterfield is a talented writer, the story comes together quite elegantly, and the book has some interesting themes about how we tell stories, and while I did appreciate WHY it was as slow moving as it was, I just didn’t quite love it. If you’re a more patient human than I am, and really love character driven novels with thick atmosphere, this is going to be right up your alley.
Landline | Rainbow Rowell- I enjoyed this on audio well enough while I was listening to it, but I didn’t love it. It was one of those books that will ultimately be forgettable for me. I really enjoy some of Rowell’s other books, this one just felt kind of lackluster in comparison. Most of her novels feel more vibrant and magical and intense to me in a way that this one just didn’t manage.
Vinegar Girl | Anne Tyler- A retelling of The Taming of the Shrew and it was….okay. That’s about it. I don’t know that I love Tyler’s style, and likely won’t seek her out again.
Save Me the Plums | Ruth Reichl- So. I don’t always quite enjoy Ruth herself, but I sure as hell respect her, and she has had a fascinating life. This is the third book of hers I’ve read, and her writing and voice are consistent, but I found the behind the scenes look at life at Gourmet completely fascinating. Reichl is excellent at pulling back the curtain, and as someone who really enjoys food writing, this was a really fun read for me. It even inspired a late night run to the store for food magazines to pour over and see some of the things she talked about. Highly recommend if the subject is at all interesting to you. Bonus: Reichl herself narrates the audiobook!
Hannah Coulter | Wendell Berry - If you’re looking for a story to sink into, take your time with, and get lost in, this lovely book is it. This is a sweet story of an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, but is fully captivating. It’s rich in detail with a subtle yet provocative prose. I’m so very glad I’ve finally picked this up to read.
The Language of Flowers | Vanessa Diffenbaugh - A seemingly ancient concept of the language of flowers brought to a fictional story of love, loss, and finding your place in the world, was magnificent. While the characters are what bring the story together with the flowers, that was secondary to me. What I loved most about this was the puzzle-like “figuring out” of what the flowers meant as the young couple passed them back and forth. I learned so much and this story has completely changed how I see and think about flowers.
The Library Book | Susan Orlean - I knew this would be done well and I knew I’d love it. Orlean has an interesting way of weaving history, detail, and story together in a way that makes the reader really enjoy non-fiction. It’s not dry in the slightest. I learned so much about how libraries were originally created that I truly couldn’t get enough. I found myself researching more information on locations and people mentioned so I could get a clear picture of what those places were like and what it all meant. So, so good.
The Joy Luck Club | Amy Tan - A modern classic I’ve been meaning to read for years. It’s an important story about an immigrant family, a little mystery, and the struggle of war-torn countries and the people that survived them. The concept of people coming together despite, or because of, loss was beautiful and hopeful and redeeming. The mother-daughter relationship also felt very real, especially for the dual culture clashing that has always been so prevalent. I honestly wanted a little more from the immigration side of the story, but overall, it was a great book.
Herland | Charlotte Perkins Gilman - This is such a clever, interesting, sometimes ironically funny, and raw story. Herland is an all-female society of innocent, smart, strong women where three men stumble in and become apart of their world for a brief time, exploring each other’s cultures and learning each other’s languages. Herland is a utopian place wrapped in a bubble of safe-guarded perfection, while we hear and compare of the ugliness in our own society. I took this story for what it was and chose not to read into it further, because that would've taken away from the enjoyment of reading such a unique story. Its a distinctly feminist piece that would be great to have a hearty conversation in a classroom setting.
Territory of Light | Yuko Tsushima - It’s important to know going into this story that its firmly set in a traditional late 70s Japan. That time and place was very male dominant and the unnamed protagonist of the story is responding to the loss of her marriage in a very honest and raw way. She’s also taking a bold step in independence in a time when divorce was so heavily frowned upon and being a single mother was next to blasphemy. Her struggles of single mothering are a little more dramatic than feels authentic, but I also felt sympathetic toward her and thankfully, saw redemption as she found her footing in her new life.
Pumpkinheads | Rainbow Rowell - With the same spunky and colorful voice of Rowell comes a delicious graphic novel that couldn’t be more perfectly fitting with the current season if we tried. The illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks are absolutely perfect and the story is fun, hopeful, and festive. I’m so thrilled with this book and hope everyone reads it this season!
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet | Jamie Ford - I’ll admit that I had a much different view of this book going into it. My oldest was assigned this book in his Honors ELA class and I’m reading alongside him for conversation and my own curiosity. I discovered that this is such an important local and historical piece to where we live, as it takes place during WW2 in Seattle. It’s a very unique perspective of the war as told from the perspective of a 12-year-old Chinese boy in Seattle, we grapple with the hate that stems from Pearl Harbor and the Japanese-Americans in the country. It also brings a rich storyline that transitions between a young Henry and grown up Henry.
South and West | Joan Didion - If only my travels through America were as insightful as Joan’s. Another book where its important to understand the time and place in which she’s writing. Set in the South in the 70s, we experience her observations of a road trip, interesting interviews, some of her personal history, and really, that’s kind of it. It’s made clear this is really only her compiled notes on her road trip, but I would’ve loved to see this built out into a full-fledged book.
Dandelion Wine | Ray Bradbury - If ever a book were compared to a painting, this would be the one. The epitome of a restless summer in Northern Illinois where everything and nothing happens to brothers, Tom and Doug. With undeniably beautiful prose, we read about the loves, loss, and people of Green Town. I don’t honestly know what I can say to explain how classically beautiful this book is, but it is everything good about Ray Bradbury.