In My Library Tote: October Book Reviews and Recommendations

Cool fall temperatures had me craving cozy reading time, so I managed to get a lot of reading done in October. I was all over the map genre-wise too, which made for an interesting month. Here are the eight books I read last month.

{what I read in October}

{Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover} I picked this up after SO MANY people recommended it. Since several of those recommendations were specific to the audio version, that's how I read it. It didn't take me long at all to get completely engrossed in the story. I talked about it with Aaron, and he kept asking, "and this is a true story?" It has that "you won't believe this!" quality, but at the same time it's full of heart. It was jaw-dropping and sensational, but it didn't feel as though Westover shared her memoir just to get a reaction from people. Her amazing story opened my eyes to a world completely different from my own, and at the same time gave me fresh perspective on my own life and education. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie} Sarah Mackenzie's podcast, Read-Aloud Revival, is one of the first podcasts I listened to regularly, and it's one I still look forward to each week. This book has been on my shelf since April, but thanks to looming library due dates it always takes me longer to get to books I actually own. I'm so glad I finally did read it and that I own it--the book lists she includes alone are well worth it! However, despite their value this book is much more than a compilation of children's book recommendations. She talks about the value of reading aloud at home, and addresses many of the challenges that go with trying to make time and space for read-alouds. She makes practical suggestions based on the ages of your children, and even provides ideas for how to talk to your kids about the books they're reading. I love that I can put her ideas to practice right now, with kids ages 5 and 2, but there will still be valuable information to refer to as Jona and Violet get older and start reading on their own. If you are a parent and would like to get more out of your read-aloud time, please read this book! My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{The Ensemble by Aja Gabel} If we're judging books by covers, this one is a definite winner. Isn't it gorgeous? Thankfully what's inside didn't disappoint either. (Those book cover people must actually be onto something!) It's the story of a string quartet, starting from the time of the group's formation in college. Narrated from the perspective of a different quartet member each chapter, we get a glimpse into their lives and relationships, both inside and outside the group. At first, I struggled to get into this one; I couldn't relate to the characters--they were young and impetuous, irritating in various ways. However, through the course of the book they grew up, and I grew attached. I loved seeing their group dynamic and how it affected their lives beyond the quartet, and how their connection to one another changed over the years. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore} This was another jaw-dropping audiobook for the month. It's the true story of the women who worked in watch dial-painting factories in the early twentieth century, where radium was used as an ingredient in the paint. At first the women selected for these jobs were revered and envied, and the glowing residue that remained on their skin and clothes even after they left the factories made their work seem even more glamorous. However, when once by one the women started getting sick from mysterious diseases, affecting their teeth, jaws, and bones, people started to wonder about the cause. I was so surprised that I had never heard about these women, or that radium was once touted as a health-enriching substance. Women were even instructed to point the brushes--for tiny detail work--with their lips to get a more precise tip. Unbelievable! This book was pretty long, but I do think it was worth the read (or listen). I found it fascinating. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey} I originally heard about this book because it was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, but I initially passed it over. However, reading Anne's review made me want to pick it up, which I did when I saw it on a Kindle daily deal. It is a mystery that is set in the 1920s in Bombay, India, and at the heart of it is Perveen Mistry, the city's only female lawyer. She is investigating the impact of a will of a recently deceased man on his three widows, who live in full purdah (separation from men and the outside world). As a woman she is able to speak to the widows and get a unique perspective on the case, but her investigation becomes more than just a routine case about a will. I'm not a huge mystery reader, but I loved that Massey also included a parallel story of Perveen's history leading up to her career in law. I enjoyed this one and look forward to more stories featuring Perveen if there are any! My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator by Joakim Palmkvist, translated by Agnes Broome} This was my selection for Amazon First Reads for last month, and although I don't generally read true crime, it sounded the most compelling out of the bunch. It did take me some time to get into, and I wonder if this is typical for true crime, as detail is important for the full account of the crime and those involved. However, I think Palmkvist did an excellent job of including adequate detail yet still telling an engrossing story. By the end I was turning those (digital) pages pretty quickly. Also, because this true crime story took place in Sweden, I found it fascinating to get a glimpse of how they investigate crimes, handle wills, and other relevant processes. I have read very little true crime so don't have anything to compare this to, but I thought it worth reading. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier} My friend Becky and I read Rebecca for our book club last month, although we haven't yet had a chance to discuss it together. I do think it will be a fun one for discussion though! Many consider this to be a classic, and it is very beloved. I think that for those reasons I went in with fairly high expectations, which is often a dangerous thing with books. While I can say that I see how this book shaped thrillers and suspense novels going forward, I didn't love this book. I've said it a million times, but I have such a hard time getting past characters I can't root for. The (intentionally unnamed) protagonist was so spineless for most of the book, which I found extremely irritating. When she finally did assert herself, I still found her irksome because I just couldn't get behind her perspective. I did enjoy the plot twists and the creepiness, but overall I just didn't love this one because of the characters. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

{The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy} I rarely listen to fiction on audio, but I was in the mood for something fast-paced after The Radium Girls, so I chose this thriller. (I am terrible at classifying books like this... is it a thriller? A suspense novel? A psychological thriller? No clue.) I thought it was a fun listen; it definitely kept my attention. It's the story of a group of women who meet on a parenting forum; they call themselves the "May Mothers" because their babies were all due in May. After several meet-ups with their babies in tow, they decide to have a night out together. One woman, a single mom, is reluctant to leave her baby with a babysitter, but ends up going with the group. Her worst nightmare comes true and her baby disappears from his crib while she is out. We hear the different perspectives of the women and what happens after that night. It did keep me guessing and I didn't expect the way it turned out, but it was definitely a "like" not a "love" for me. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

Have you read anything good lately? 

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