book reviews

Recent Reads: September 2021

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It’s already mid-September? Geez Louise. I feel like this past month zipped by.

Now that I “have a life” again (aka I’m not stuck in my apartment seeing zero people besides my roommate), I haven’t had as much time to read. Nor have I quite had the energy to research books regularly like I normally do.

I’m thankful for that, in some ways. It means I am getting fresh air, running more, spending more time with people, and working in person again.

But I do miss having a pile of good books at the ready that I’m in the mood to read.

Because I’ve had other things to fill my time with, I didn’t read a whole lot (for me) this month, and the only adult fiction I actually finished was a comfort reread.

Rereading old favorites sometimes helps, though, when I haven’t been able to find good new-to-me titles, so I’m hoping this does the trick and I’ll be able to get back to my normal reading routine soon!

Nonfiction

Sizing People Up by Robin Dreeke

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This was a library book that my friend found just by browsing the shelves. Turns out it was good!

Robin Dreeke worked for the FBI for a couple of decades, eventually as the director of the behavioral analysis segment.

In this book, he explains the system he developed for deciding if people – any people – are trustworthy. He clarifies that “trustworthy” kinda just means “predictable.” Because if you can accurately predict what they will do, you’ll know whether or not they will do what they say they’ll do.

It was interesting to read, especially the parts of the chapters where he describes his real-life experiences with FBI assets and other people. Hearing his system for reading people within a short amount of time also was intriguing. He discusses what nonverbal signs to look for, the ways people talk that indicates they’re viewing things with a long-term lens, and even emotional stability indicators.

I didn’t agree, exactly, with the worldview and beliefs that filtered through his words, but it was still informative and gave me some good things to think about as I meet a bunch of new people in this transition.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

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I wrote about this book last week, so be sure to read that post for more of my thoughts on the book. However, here’s the short and sweet version.

Dr. Walker, PhD, has been a sleep scientist for quite some time at UC Berkeley. He has investigated all sorts of things about sleep – why we dream, what benefits the different stages of sleep give us, how sleep deprivation affects things like learning and driving, etc.

While the book is long, I found it compelling. He presents data in a way a non-scientist can understand and is engaging in his presentation. I did find some dissent from some of his scientist peers about the way in which he presents data (allegedly skewing the findings to fit his point), so bear that in mind when you read it.

However, even withstanding that piece of info, I think the overall thesis of the book is one more people need to take seriously: sleep is essential to health, and we, in general, need more of it.

Fiction

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

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This was my reread this month. I’ve been visiting Goodwill lately just to look at their book selection. I found this one on the shelf and bought it for their garage sale-price of $1.91.

If you’ve never read Karon’s Mitford series, allow me to introduce you:

Father Tim is a 60 year-old Episcopalian priest who has always been devoted to his church constituents and thoroughly single. He struggles, like many of us, to prioritize regular rest and caring for himself amidst many demands.

He has a posse of good friends but in his sixtieth year of life, a host of new people enter his life: his new next-door neighbor Cynthia, an all but orphaned 11-year old who enters his care, and a mutt of a dog who adopts him.

The book, in its winsome, gently humorous, and Southern-filled way, follows Father Tim through the ups and downs of leading his parish and navigating these new relationships.

Now that I’ve lived in the South for a couple of months-ish, I now have a greater understanding of some of the things that are described about the small town of Mitford. That’s one thing I love about books that are worth rereading – you notice different things you never did during the previous read(s). And besides that, it’s just an all-around feel-good book.

Kids Books

The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst by Jaclyn Moriarty

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This was a fun discovery! I think this was one that I found by going to the last page of the fantasy section on the Libby app. Sometimes I find interesting ones by going to the end of the list instead of scrolling through the same titles on the first few pages over and over.

Anyway, this book is actually part of a series, but I had no problem understanding everything that happened within it. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that I recommend!

In this book, three sisters are at their boarding school, but evil is stirring in strange ways and the Shadow Mages are going places they never used to go. The main character Esther is seemingly the only one of her sisters without any talents. However, her sisters are gone during a crucial period of time, so it becomes up to Esther to protect the school all by herself using her brains.

The good guys win, every single little detail is tied up at the end (almost too neatly), and even though it’s in a fantasy world, the relationships are quite relatable, both for littles and adults. My only beef was that the terrible mother-daughter relationship was resolved in a way that didn’t quite seem to match the depth of the pain the mom caused. It felt like it glossed over the trauma and made it all okay.

Other than that tiny dissatisfaction, though, this kids/YA book was a bright spot in my reading month.

Beauty by Bill Wallace

Another random find from a free book stack in the teacher work room, this was a good read.

Luke is a kid whose dad left him and disappointed him time and time again. Eventually, he and his mom have to move to his grandpa’s ranch.

There, he gets to know Beauty, an old but kind horse who is a great companion for him through his transition.

I read the author’s blurb at the back, where he said he wrote it keeping his upper elementary students in mind. And my thought was, “I can tell!” Even though it deals with tough issues, it’s in a way that is appropriate for young readers. It’s a sweet read that I could safely recommend to kiddos – or adults who want an easy read.

DNF (Did Not Finish)

The Note Through the Wire by Doug Gold

The book blurb mentioned Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and I mistook it as being written by that author. So I started listening right away.

I was disappointed. I was ready to love this – one, because it’s a true love story about Bruce, a POW, and Josefine, a resistance fighter during WWII. Sounds exactly like my cup of reading tea. Two, because I liked The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Why did I DNF? Mostly the language. It wasn’t just an occasional cuss word. There was f***, b******d, s*** and more allll throughout the chapters about Bruce. At the first drop of the f-bomb, I decided I’d give it a bit of a longer chance, because sometimes the use of expletives somehow fits in the book. And while I know there are people who speak like that in the world, I don’t willingly listen to/read books that are filled with coarse language.

Also, I just had a hard time connecting to the story. I couldn’t focus on it. That might just be me, for sure. But it also felt like it went between sounding biographical and sounding like a novel, so I could never figure out how I was supposed to be listening to it.


So there you have it. My recent reads.

What have you been reading lately?

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