Because the middle of October is a great time to write about the books I read in September, right? 🙂
I absolutely love reading, and although I wish that non-fiction inspirational biographies or educational books made my heart beat faster, I’m hooked on novels. Recently, I’ve been a sucker for a gripping storyline and fast moving plot. I read five novels last month, some great, some not as enjoyable, and one that gave me the biggest shock I’ve received from a book in years! I’m listing these in the order that I read them. (If you want to purchase any of the books, you can click on the link under the book image.)
The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
“The Goldfinch” had been on my radar for a couple of years, since it received many rave reviews and won a Pulitzer Prize. Donna Tartt’s story follows the main character, Theo, through a shaky adolescence that was unhinged when he lost his mother in a tragic museum bombing. Although Theo walked out of the building (relatively) unscathed physically, his life course was altered dramatically in that moment. Without the stability of his loving mother, Theo ends up shifting from one home to another, and the bright future that seemed guaranteed grows more and more dim and out of reach. What Theo carries with him to each residence is not only the pain of loss, but the titular painting that he took from the wreckage of the museum on that fateful day. It both sustains him and haunts him, and eventually causes him to enter a dangerous path that he never intended to go down.
At first, “The Goldfinch” was incredible. The writing is beautiful and descriptive, and I was immediately drawn into Theo’s life. The rich character descriptions and intense moments are so inviting that you feel as if you are among the characters, bearing witness to their intimate encounters. Around a third of the way in, however, the tone changed drastically and I found myself becoming bored. I believe Tartt intended for this segment of the book to be depressing and dry, but it was quite long and I found myself speeding through it, hoping that Theo’s circumstances would change. If I had personally felt more connected to Theo, I would probably have moved more slowly through this portion of the book to absorb everything he experienced. It made me think of Kate Atkinson’s novel, “A God in Ruins,” which is her companion piece to “Life After Life.” The main character of “A God in Ruins,” Teddy, was a beloved character in “Life After Life” and so I was very fond of him and felt invested in finding out all of the details of his life, despite the sometimes achingly slow moving plot. In “The Goldfinch,” however, I felt like I didn’t care enough about Theo to pause and wade my way through this depressing section. I had to skim through it! Things picked up again, but the end of the book contained a rather unexpected and slightly outrageous turn of events, in my opinion. I would definitely recommend this book, however, because even if you do not enjoy the entire story line or don’t even finish, it is worth it to experience the gorgeous writing in the beginning.
“Jane Steele,” by Lyndsay Faye, was a fun read for anyone who enjoyed “Jane Eyre” (I love it!) Rather than being a re-write, it makes a lot of fun references to the classic novel. The plot follows Jane Steele, who is inspired to record her own story after reading and immensely enjoying “Jane Eyre.” Set in the same time period, there are unmistakable similarities between the two Jane’s: they are orphans, sent away to a miserable school by a cruel aunt, have been told they’re inherently wicked, and end up governesses in grand homes with cantankerous masters…who they fall in love with. Our new Jane has a little more adventure along the way before she ends up in Mr. Thornfield’s house (a nod to “Thornfield Hall” from the classic novel), as our heroine is a murderess. The darker side of nineteenth century England is on full display here, and Jane unfortunately crosses paths with many unsavory characters whom she feels she has no choice but to eliminate in order to protect herself or those she cares about. Believe it or not, however, her role as a serial killer is not the main focus of the story. The plot really picks up when she begins her role as a governess and is plunged into a household brimming with mystery and unique characters. Even with the mad woman upstairs, “Jane Eyre” is tame compared to “Jane Steele,” which has its own satisfying twists and turns.
I really enjoyed this book! It was convincingly written in the language of a nineteenth century novel, and its protagonist is likable, even with her criminal record. I did find myself slightly annoyed with her at times, because she was meant to be tough as nails, but then acted incredibly insecure and meek at times. Then she might turn around and do something stupidly rash and risky that required extreme bravery. I suppose, however, that everyone’s character can be a little inconsistent at times, depending on their circumstances. I would recommend this book overall, but especially to people who enjoy “Jane Eyre.”
The Last Midwife: A Novel
This book caught my eye on the new fiction shelf at my local library. I love “Call the Midwife,” (both the memoir and TV show), and am interested in the experience of midwives, so the title jumped out at me. I found out after reading “The Last Midwife” that Sandra Dallas has written many successful novels, so her style of writing must appeal to a large population of people. I have to say, though, that I wasn’t a big fan of this book. Set in 1880, “The Last Midwife” follows Gracy, who has been a beloved midwife for around half a century, with most of the years spent in the small Colorado town she currently lives in with her husband Daniel. Everyone is shocked when a wealthy mine owner and his wife accuse her of murdering their newborn son, and immediately the town is divided over whether or not she is guilty. We the reader immediately know that Gracy is innocent, but are left wondering why this man would make such an accusation, and what actually happened. While waiting for the trial, Gracy continues visiting mothers and delivering babies, as this is her purpose and love in life. Dallas slowly reveals Gracy’s own past as well, which has a surprising amount of pain mixed in with the joyful moments. There are a few surprises as the case against Gracy progresses, and one major bombshell.
As I said, however, I did not enjoy this book that much. I skimmed most of it just to get the story and find out what actually happened to the baby, but I found the protagonist, Gracy, to be unrealistically gracious and forgiving with a level of self-control that becomes annoying. I could see why people really enjoyed it because there were some very interesting characters and plot lines, but it just wasn’t for me. What I did love about “The Last Midwife” was the view it gives into what it was like to live in that part of America in the late nineteenth century. It was eye-opening to read about the harsh environment, rigorous travel methods, quaint quilting groups, and how much work (and time) it took to make a decent cup of coffee! I love getting insight into different lifestyles, and on that front, “The Last Midwife” did not disappoint. If you are interested in reading a novel about a more modern day midwife (who is also accused of a crime), I would recommend Chris Bohjalian’s “Midwives,” which I read years ago and enjoyed immensely. Narrated by the midwife’s daughter, who is reflecting on events that took place during her adolescence, “Midwives” is mystery, the world of midwifery, and a coming of age drama all wrapped up into one.
The Forgetting Time: A Novel
Ooh we’re getting into my two favorites of the month. I got both of these book recommendations through the blog Modern Mrs Darcy, and they did not disappoint! First up: “The Forgetting Time,” by Sharon Guskin, is haunting, suspenseful, and had me hooked from the start. Single mom Janie loves her little 5 year old boy Noah more than anything in the world. But the older he gets, the more she realizes that something is wrong, and she has no idea how to help him. He is very attached, terrified of water, has night terrors about drowning that end in screaming episodes, and he keeps asking for his “other mother,” saying he wants to “go home.” I don’t want to say any more, because I think this is a novel in which much of the enjoyment is peeling back each layer of the story for yourself! It explores unusual territory, which some readers may feel is too “out there,” but I think it’s still a really interesting read and would recommend it.
I Let You Go
This was definitely my favorite book of the month, the last few months, and maybe even longer! It is gripping, well written, and I gasped aloud while reading for the first time since I read “Gone Girl” a few years ago! Clare Mackintosh’s novel begins with the unspeakable: a mother lets go of her young son’s hand for a moment, and he gets hit by a car and killed. The driver immediately flees the scene, so it is up to DI Ray Stevens and his trainee Kate to investigate and find the person responsible. While their investigation keeps coming up dry, Jenna, haunted by the accident and mourning the loss of her son, leaves Bristol to start over in a remote town in Wales. Although the mystery of the hit and run driver gives the book it’s initial spark, the intensity of the novel is really fueled by its characters. You are drawn into each of their lives and don’t want to leave. There are some disturbing scenes and heavy subject matter, but the plot moves at lightning speed and you are left thinking about “I Let You Go” long after turning the last page. This is truly a compulsive read, so the last page may come sooner than you think! I read this in one day!
If you’ve read any of these books, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! (No spoilers in the comments, please!) Also, I am always looking for good book recommendations, so please let me know if you’ve read anything good recently!
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