My very favorite books from October!
These are the books I most loved reading during the past month.
I included an immersive memoir (check out my endless Greedy Reading Lists of memoirs for more in this genre that I've loved); an older book I heard about while talking with my friend James on his Maybe I'm Amazed podcast last summer; All the Light We Cannot See author Anthony Doerr's newest wonder; the irresistible second book in Naomi Novik's Scholomance trilogy; Yaa Gyasi's story about family, clashing cultures, and science and faith; and a light fiction read about pen pals (and a modern-day Fred Rogers-esque television personality) that hit the spot.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land was a complex, heartbreaking, hope-filled, surprising, fascinating read. This was my favorite read of the month!
Young Anna lives in fifteenth-century Constantinople with her sickly sister, frustrated with endlessly stitching priests' robes--and secretly learning to read stories from the past.
In twentieth-century Idaho, elderly Zeno has lived a life filled with yearning, war, and unexpected late-in-life academic satisfaction. He is directing a precious group of children in a farcical, heartbreaking play based on the stories Anna read five centuries earlier.
And far in the future, Konstance is in a vault on the spaceship Argos, destined for a distant planet. She largely lives in a vivid virtual world and scribbles down scraps of information about the same ancient stories that touched the lives of Anna and Zeno.
Even when all hope should be lost, each character continues to press on.
"But what's so beautiful about a fool...is that a fool never knows when to give up."
It took me a little bit of page time to sort out the various settings and characters at the start, but Cloud Cuckoo Land was consistently beautiful, always interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Scribner. For my full review, check out Cloud Cuckoo Land.
02 So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
So Long, See You Tomorrow is gorgeous, heartbreaking, and timeless. I loved it.
In Maxwell's slim but chock-full book, our narrator is trying to piece together the events surrounding the shooting of a man named Lloyd Wilson in his 1920s rural Illinois hometown of Franklin fifty years earlier, when the narrator was a young boy.
In doing so, he traces old memories and tracks down details from his childhood, reliving moments, piecing together information, and developing suppositions about the long-ago events. He does this while also diving into the imagined, robust details of life on two neighboring farms and within two inescapably connected families.
The story and its voice felt reminiscent to me of a mix of Capote's In Cold Blood and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Maxwell's writing is lovely and poignant, and So Long, See You Tomorrow is gorgeously, painfully wrought. Maxwell explores loss, tragedy, the rich inner lives of children, the ripple effects of betrayal and fury, and the irresistible, never-ending contemplation of the past.
Click here for my full review of So Long, See You Tomorrow.
03 Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. The audiobook includes over thirty songs, and I highly recommend it.
I listened to Broken Horses: A Memoir by Brandi Carlile, and I can't imagine feeling the full emotions involved and the immersive experience of this book without hearing Carlile's voice tell it--and without all of the music Carlile offers here. She weaves songs into her stories and personal history, and the placement of the music feels seamless and illustrative.
She shares the pressures of the music business, the difficult matter of taking care of her voice and her body while trying to create and push and perform, and her magical encounters with idols who have become friends--including Elton John, Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, and Tanya Tucker.
Carlile intersperses songs with stories about their impact on her or the influences that led her to write and create them. The music is all included again at the very end of the book, by which point the listener understands its import. Her songs felt incredibly powerful as a closure to her story.
04 The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
This second book in Naomi Novik's Scholomance series builds on book one's dark humor, dangerous forces, and the irresistible attraction between El and Orion. I tried to slow down and savor The Last Graduate.
Last spring I posted a rave review of A Deadly Education: Lesson One of the Scholomance by Naomi Novik, and The Last Graduate is the second wonderful book in the Scholomance trilogy.
Novik's Scholomance series is set at a magical school with two routes out for its students: a grueling, punishing path to graduation and beyond or, just as likely, death. Danger and darkness lurk around every corner.
In book two, El continues to be a fantastically grumpy, powerful, whip-smart, socially awkward, straightforward character I was obsessed with, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.
In this second book of the trilogy, El is determined to somehow help her classmates escape their deadly school despite the selfish, privilege-driven approach that has dictated life-and-death outcomes for generations.
Novik builds upon her irresistible Scholomance world in The Last Graduate, and I'm so very glad there will be a third book in this series.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group.
05 Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
I delighted in the way Teddy and Everett shared pieces of their true, oddball, vulnerable, silly, thoughtful selves. Very Sincerely Yours was a satisfying, often funny, romantic book that hit all the right notes for me.
Teddy Phillips isn't sure how she got to this point in her life. She's coasting in her not-dream job at a vintage toy store, all of her opinions and desires seem to have have been subsumed by her boyfriend Richard's plans and preferences, and she's not close with her best friends or even with her sister anymore.
Winfrey's Very Sincerely Yours is light fiction that delivers delightful, charming banter, the promise of a new romance for Teddy, and wonderfully loyal friendships.
I've been gravitating toward lighter stories like Very Sincerely Yours lately, and I need to create another light-fiction roundup. For other light fiction books I've enjoyed, check out the Greedy Reading List Six Lighter Fiction Stories for Great Escapism.
06 Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Main protagonist Gifty's journey was full of challenges. Her struggles were not too easy or too cleanly resolved, and her voice had me hooked throughout Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom.
I listened to Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi's novel about a Ghanaian family living in Alabama.
Gifty is working toward her PhD in neuroscience and is focused on studying addiction--an interest and passion inspired by haunting events in her family's past.
During the course of the book, Gifty examines the shape of her childhood and young adulthood.
Gifty is an appealing main protagonist, and the journey Gyasi took us on was fascinating. I couldn't wait to get back to listening to this.
Gyasi is also the author of the fascinating, beautiful book Homegoing, which traces generations of a family from rural Ghana to coastal cities to the American South to the Great Migration to New York City.
If you're interested in immigrant stories, you might also want to check out some of the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Great Stories about the Immigrant Experience.