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Get your reading lists ready with new book reviews for September 2020. This month’s reviews include both print and audiobooks of recent releases Want, Exciting Times, Majesty, Saving Ruby King, Clap When You Land, Fighting Words, and The Second Home, as well as the fantastic forthcoming historical fiction novel Running from Moloka’i.
Summer-into-fall reading always feels transitional, and this year is no different. After a long stretch of light reads and audiobooks, my reading is now veering just a little heavier.
I wasn’t sure I’d welcome this change, given all that 2020 has been, but it’s working out well. I’ve read more print books than I have since March, and even my usual light audiobooks have had more depth.
I still have a few light books on tap, but sometimes good books that challenge your brain are a different kind of break from the chaos of the world.
I hope you’re finding books that are just what you need right now–whether that’s humor, history, or horror, go with what works.
Author: Jill P. Anderson
Publish Date: November 1, 2020
It’s rare for me to read independently published books, or books pitched to me directly by authors. It’s not that I don’t want to, but my reading calendar is very full and I’ve historically had better luck with traditionally published books. Running from Moloka’i is a notable exception that is worth any historical fiction lover’s time.
In 1884 Hawai’i, leprosy is ravaging the native population. Those diagnosed are doomed to a life on Moloka’i, separated from family and the rest of society. Fifteen-year-old Mele’s father is a doctor who supports this policy, while her mother secretly helps hide the afflicted. The issue is defining in Mele’s coming-of-age, as she decides who she is and what side she is on.
Anderson has meticulously researched the culture and history of both leprosy and the white colonization of Hawaii. Her writing is exceptional; the characters and islands came alive. Kirkus has given this a starred review, and I too give it 5 stars–I can’t wait for more from Anderson.
Author: Lynn Steger Strong
Source: Publisher (Henry Holt and Company) via Netgalley
Publish Date: July 7, 2020
Elizabeth is a wife, mother, and teacher in New York City, struggling under the weight of all those roles. Over-educated and under-employed–yet working constantly as a high school teacher by day and adjunct faculty member at Columbia (unnamed, but it’s clear) by night–she and her husband have declared bankruptcy.
Drowning under the weight of her responsibilities and the frustration of her “teach-to-the-test” day job, she begins leaving work and wandering, mulling over her path to this point, her neglected friendships, and her deep love of her children.
At times, this somewhat stream-of-consciousness book feels a little claustrophobic, but that’s also part of the point, and it will feel familiar to any woman who has felt overwhelmed while trying to balance it all.
Author: Naoise Dolan
Publish Date: June 2, 2020
Ava is a Dublin-born 20-something who has moved to Hong Kong to teach English. When she strikes up a friendship with Julian, a wealthy young English banker, it eventually becomes more and she moves in with him–but he holds her at arms-length with his indifference. When he leaves for an extended business trip, she falls for Edith, a Hong Kong-born lawyer.
This novel has been compared to Sally Rooney’s work for its modern take on romance. I enjoyed the explorations of language–I lived in Dublin in my early 20s and had similar conversations with Irish, English, and American friends–but it also like a particular niche that could be lost on a broad audience. Ava’s obsessing about the relationships with Julian and Edith was a little tiresome and may resonate more with younger readers.
Author: Katharine McGee
Publish Date: September 1, 2020
I enjoyed the first installment of this series, American Royals, on audio, so I thought I’d continue with the second book. The premise of the series–that America became a monarchy at the outset, with Washington as king, and the family still rules in the 21st century–remains intriguing. It’s a light take on the premise, with focus on the young royals and their love lives and drama.
Light YA reads tend to be best for me on audio, and I wish I’d listened to this instead. I still enjoyed this, but if your print reading leans heavier and your audiobook listening leans lighter–like mine–go for the audio on this one.
Author: Catherine Adel West
Publish Date: June 16, 2020
Ruby King’s mother was murdered in the south side of Chicago, and Ruby is now left with her violent father. Layla, Ruby’s best friend, is determined to save her, but Layla’s and Ruby’s fathers have a past with secrets that bind their families together across generations.
This is a fantastic debut novel that explores race, generational trauma, and the importance of communities. I would usually prefer a heavier novel like this in print, but the multiple narrators (including the church itself) were excellent and brought these characters to life.
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Camino (Cami) and Yahaira (Yaya) are sisters, but they don’t know it until their father dies in a plane crash. As the teens grieve, they also must come to terms with the reality of life without their father. Cami, in the Dominican Republic, dodges a predatory pimp who wants her in his service, while Yaya, in New York City, tries to reconcile the father she loved with this new information about him. When Yaya takes off for DR, the two girls have to decide: will they hold on to resentment, or will they be family?
I don’t read much poetry, so I’m often hesitant about novels in verse. I had to try this one after seeing all the raves, and I’m adding my voice to them: it’s excellent. Try the audio if you’re also not sure; the language is lyrical but not overtly poetic.
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publish Date: August 11, 2020
Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, are two of my favorite middle grade novels, so I jumped when I saw she had a new one. Ten-year-old Della and her older sister Suki have just been moved into a foster home with kind but no-nonsense Francine. After their mother went to prison, they were living with her mother’s boyfriend and he did something awful to Della. Suki protected Della, but Della soon realizes that Suki hadn’t had anyone to protect her.
As the story of what happened slowly unfolds, Della and Suki try to move forward while coming to terms with what happens in the past. This is a difficult book and I was unsure whether I’d be happy with how it was told for a middle grade audience. But Bradley is masterful; it’s not graphic, though it’s clear what happened, and Della’s strength and sassiness are irresistible and even add a bit of levity. Bradley’s book lends that strength and voice to kids traumatized in similar ways; it’s real and important.
Author: Christina Clancy
Publish Date: June 2, 2020
Teens Ann and Poppy are excited to welcome their adoptive brother, Michael, to the family’s summer home on Cape Cod. After his mother’s death, Michael was thrilled to join the Gordon family, despite his non-brotherly feelings for Ann. But a disastrous summer pulls Michael from the family forever, until their parents’ sudden death fifteen years later.
The three are reunited at the summer home to determine its fate. Bitterness and secrets from the past remain, and the three are left to untangle what happened then and how they will move forward–as a family or not.
I loved this book on audio; it’s not exactly light, but its Cape Cod setting reminded me of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket–and I loved that the Gordons weren’t East coasters, but from Wisconsin (my home state). Excellent summer-into-fall reading.
What are the best books you’ve been reading lately?