October Book Reviews: Whew! I’m late to my own book review party! If you’ve been waiting to hear about my latest reads, I apologize for such ridiculous tardiness.
The books I read in October 2018 found me hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, digging mussels on the Carolina shore, swallowing fire with a circus sideshow, and praying for truth on Alabama’s Death Row. In Scotland, I slipped into the supernatural world, one typically obscured from mere mortals.
My five October reads included three memoir, one best-selling fiction, and one middle-grade fantasy.
Not included: 1/2 of a gigantic thriller.
I hate to admit this but I spent an inordinate amount of time reading The Stand (Complete and Uncut Version) by Stephen King, and I haven’t finished (so it isn’t included here other than as a pitiful confession). Yep, I read over 600 out of 1,153 pages before putting it aside. Even though The Stand is ranked #1 Suspense and Thriller on Amazon and I LOVE Stephen King, I simply had too many other books calling to me… Does this ever happen to you?
Maybe I’ll finish it in November?
Anyway, keep reading to find out about the books I finished and highly endorse.
City of Ghosts
by: Victoria Schwab
I chose this book because it was recommended via my Hoopla app (audio books via my public library), and because I always like to read at least one story with a ghostly vibe during October. City of Ghosts is the first book I’ve read by this best-selling middle school / YA author. What a fun, creative read! It was only mildly creepy (fine by me), had an interesting plot, and a best friend love interest.
The low-down: Cassidy has a near death drowning experience. Jacob saves her just in the nick of time. The rub: Jacob is a ghost. This rescue tangles Cassidy and Jacob together in a sweet and humorous way. Another convenient twist: Cassidy’s parents happen to be a ghost-hunting team who’ve just snagged a ghost hunter TV show. While her parents are filming in Scotland (evidently the most haunted place on Earth), Cassidy and Jacob fight their own battle behind the Veil where the in-between ghosts “live”.
I rarely read paranormal and found City of Ghosts to be a fitting change of pace during the season of spirits and goblins. A quick read, the story is both enjoyable and well-written. It felt more YA than middle reader to me. Bottom line, I can get into a good story no matter the intended audience.
This book made me: think about new possible explanations for mysterious bumps in the night…
Favorite Lines: Stories have power. So long as you believe them.
Where the Crawdads Sing
by: Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing has a bit of everything wrapped inside pages that flow like poetry, including a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a murder mystery. As I think back on it, I realize just how much really happened in this tale which spans the protagonist’s entire life.
In the early 1950s, Kya is abandoned by her family at a young age. She relies on grit and gumption to survive in the marsh. Very much a wild child, Kya eludes authorities, ignores kids who bully her, and avoids townsfolk who look down on her. Over the years, she forms friendships with two young men and an older couple who own the bait stand across the cove. But overall, Kya is isolated and sustained only by nature.
Interspersed throughout the primary story, the reader flashes forward to 1969 when a man’s body is found in the marsh. The author keeps the reader guessing until the end, even after the timelines intersect.
This is Delia Owens’ first novel. She created a sense of place so vivid the smells and sounds practically jumped from the pages. Beyond the story’s mystery and romance, for me, Where the Crawdads Sing is a love song to the natural world. And I adored that aspect of the book most.
This book made me: want to build a reading shack in the woods.
Favorite Line: I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much.
The Sun Does Shine
by: Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton was accused and found guilty of crimes he didn’t commit. Even though he had an ironclad alibi, and there was ZERO evidence against him, he spent 30 years on Alabama death row only steps from the electric chair. Because he was poor, he had inadequate, pathetic representation. Add blatant racism and a good ole boy system we’d all prefer to pretend didn’t/doesn’t exist to Hinton’s situation, and he never had a chance.
The Sun Does Shine is incredibly hard to read, yet somehow Hinton fills it with inspiration and hope. He chose love and forgiveness over hate. And even though he spent his days and nights locked inside a cell no bigger than a tiny bathroom, he changed the lives of other inmates by starting a prison book club, by talking to prisoners through the bars, letting others know they were not alone even as they counted down to their death dates.
If you have $20 to spend on a book, buy this one.
Read this one.
Remember this one.
This book made me: completely revisit my opinion on the death penalty.
Favorite Line: We are all more than the worst thing we have done.
The Trail Provides: A Boy’s Memoir
of Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
by: David Smart
There’s a saying used by hikers when extraordinary, serendipitous things happen on the trail—the trail provides. David Smart discovered his own first-hand lessons from the trail. Disillusioned by life after college, David resigned from his corporate marketing job and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with a somewhat reckless college buddy. He did it almost on a whim, hopeful the trail would be his pathway to deeper meaning in life.
Smart wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t a hiker or athlete. He had youth, determination, and curiosity on his side, and not much else.
I bet his parents were less than pleased.
I met David a few years ago when he was fresh off the trail. Instantly, I knew an old soul lived behind his brilliant blue eyes. He was contemplative and reflective, and as we chatted about writing and publishing, I knew he had a compelling story to tell. Several years later, his quiet spirit comes through in the words of his debut memoir.
For whatever reason, I’m drawn to true stories of adventure, especially those with a heavy dose of personal struggle and hardship. Lost at sea? Climbing Everest? Living alone in the Alaskan wilderness? Count me in. No, I won’t go with you, not literally, but I’ll be there to cheer you on after you write about it.
Did I mention Smart hiked a portion of the trail barefoot?
I imagine there’s no way not to be changed after undertaking such an endeavor. Yes, the trail does provides. It seems to fill in the gaps in unexpected ways. I couldn’t put this book down and read it cover-to-cover in one day.
This book made me: want to do a serious hike rather than simply take my dogs around the block.
Favorite Line: If someone had told me California was expanding or Oregon was a myth, I just might have believed it.
The Electric Woman:
a Memoir in Death-Defying Acts
by: Tessa Fontaine
I don’t know why, but I find the topic of circus sideshows perversely intriguing. Maybe it all goes back to the small carnivals of my childhood. (Perhaps this is a topic for another Sunday Letter?)
This book wasn’t what I expected. It was better. Deeper. Poignant. The Electric Woman is the true story of a daughter who joins World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow, as a way to escape and deal with fear. The story is told in alternating sections between her five-month carnival tour and the ongoing traumatic struggle of a family dealing with stroke.
Tessa is a regular, girl-next-door sort of person who learns to charm snakes, eat fire, and deal with grief. The story completely charmed me.
This book made me: want to find a small town carnival and take it all in from candied apples to the sword-swallowing man.
Favorite Line: The trick is there is no trick.
So, I’m curious about the book(s) you are reading right now. And whether you’ve read any of my October reads? If so, your opinions?
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.