September Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite September reads!
Here are my six favorite reads of the past month: two new novels from favorite authors who each include interconnected characters in their stories; one nonfiction book I've been meaning to read for years; a book that plays with time (one of my favorite setups); a light fiction story about youth, regret, and new beginnings; and a lovely debut novel about friendship and mortality.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
In Taylor Jenkins Reid's newest novel, Carrie Soto is unapologetically driven and determined. I loved the tennis focus, the fast pacing, and the father-daughter relationship that drives the story.
Tough, talented Carrie Soto retired from tennis at the top of her game as the best player in the world and the greatest of all time.
Her cutthroat desire to win didn't make her the most popular player in the world. But Carrie and her father, her longtime coach, sacrificed everything to get her to the top, setting records that have cemented her place in tennis history.
Now retired, Carrie is a spectator at the US Open when she sees her record challenged by a young upstart.
No one returns to tennis at age 37. But with her fierce determination, her (rusty) skills, and her desire to be the best, Carrie is the perfect person to defy the odds. Carrie Soto is back.
I was curious about how Reid would craft the ending of this one, and I was satisfied with the character growth, the trajectory she sets up, and also with how in the end, nothing felt too easy.
I flew through this story--it was solidly a "right book at the right time" for me, and I also loved that the book's release coincided with the start of the US Open. I loved this one.
For my full review, check out Carrie Soto Is Back.
02 This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Straub offers a story that plays with time, explores sentimental moments, offers do-overs, and sweeps the reader into a love-filled, hopeful heartbreaker of a tale.
On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s job, apartment, and love life are solidly okay. The only dark spot in her life is her father’s grave illness.
When she wakes up the next morning...it’s her 16th birthday again. And it isn't just that being in her teen body again shocks her, or that seeing her high school crush is jarring. It's incredible to see her healthy, vital, young dad.
I am a huuuuuuge fan of books that play with time, and Straub offers up all the best parts of a time-travel book in This Time Tomorrow.
This Time Tomorrow indulged my own personal desire for sentimentality, while also emphasizing the value of cutting to the heart of a situation without wasting time. The story offers up lots of loving moments as well as perfectly imperfect decisions and mistakes. The story is heartbreaking and lovely in its ultimate insistence that one must let go of the past.
If you like books that play with time, you might also enjoy the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Second-Chance, Do-Over, Reliving-Life Stories. Click here for my full review of This Time Tomorrow.
03 The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
Cronin's debut novel explores mortality, vulnerability, surprising moments of joy and reflection, an irresistible young protagonist, and a wonderful array of friends who are like family.
Seventeen-year-old Lenni Pettersson lives in the terminal ward at the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. Her life expectancy isn't long, but Lenni still has a lot she wants to do and be.
In the hospital's arts and crafts class, she meets 83-year-old Margot, a spirited, rebellious new friend. Collectively they've been around 100 years, but this just doesn't feel like enough, and they each want to leave their mark on the world.
With the help of Father Arthur, the hospital chaplain, and a kind palliative care nurse, the friends make a plan to create one hundred paintings, one to represent each of their years of life. This goal adds structure to the novel, but the story is far richer than the characters' mission to create art.
If you're interested in books that explore mortality, you might want to check out Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality.
Another novel I loved that involves a precocious, wise, reflective, tough young protagonist is This Is All He Asks of You.
Click here for my full review of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.
04 Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
Heartbreaking and disturbing, this is a fascinating exploration of the motivations behind and the execution of white men's relentless mission of destruction; details of Comanche life; and their position as the most powerful Indian tribe in American history.
In Empire of the Summer Moon, S.C. Gwynne explores the forty-year battle between white settlers and Native Americans in the American West, particularly focusing on Quanah, the chief of the Comanches, the most powerful tribe in American history.
Gwynne traces the evolution of the Comanches--including their captivatingly described, unprecedented skill at breeding, breaking, riding, amassing, and trading horses as well as their revolutionary fighting style of hanging on the sides of their horses and shooting arrows under the horses' heads while galloping at full speed.
Gwynne also offers the compelling story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white captive who assimilated into the Comanche tribe, married and bore children, and repeatedly refused to be "rescued" by white men determined to return her to a pioneer life.
Digging into the motivations and machinations that shaped the genocide that is detailed in Empire of the Summer Moon is disturbing and heartbreaking, but appropriately so.
Click here for my full review of Empire of the Summer Moon.
05 Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
In Lucy by the Sea, familiar Strout characters Lucy Barton and her ex-husband William flee New York City for rural Maine during the Covid-19 pandemic. The novel offers introspection, vulnerability, and new beginnings.
But despite her insecurities and what sometimes feels like fragility, Lucy is often able to see the difficult truth in situations and face them with stolid resolve. She alludes to her difficult childhood circumstances (which are more fully explored in My Name Is Lucy Barton), and we see that her lifelong ability to cope with despair and grim events serve her well in her current circumstances.
The nearby ocean is a haunting presence but also a steady, everchanging comfort to Lucy. To her surprise, she begins to notice and respond to the wonders of the light, the weather, the air, and the changing scenery of her daily walks in beautiful and immersive passages in the book.
Strout takes us into the heart of a stressful, unusual pandemic situation in which Lucy and William, longtime friends and ex-spouses, live in intimate solitude together, wondering about and worrying about their daughters, each other, themselves, and the world.
In order to feel the full weight of this book, I think it's important to first read Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton. Lucy's creation of an imaginary, supportive mother and her loving responses to and comfort for Lucy in this book absolutely broke my heart. Oh William! is another Strout book linked to this story, but I didn't respond to that one as much as Lucy Barton or Lucy by the Sea.
For my full review, check out Lucy by the Sea.
06 Every Summer After by Carley Fortune
Carley Fortune offers a satisfying story of coming home, young love, mistakes and redemption, romance, lake life, and some past and present steamy scenes.
In Carley Fortune's debut Every Summer After, it's been ten years since Persephone Fraser made the biggest mistake of her life in the wondrous place where she spent her youthful summers, Barry's Bay.
Now Percy is making her way in the city, trying (and failing) to avoid thinking about how she's disconnected from the place and the people who helped shape her into who she is.
But when she returns to the lake for Sam Florek's mother's funeral, she's swept back into the connection she and Sam once had, and her determination to keep her heart closed might be shaken--along with everything else around which she's built her young adult life.
I love stories about returning home, reconnecting with old flames, and chances for redemption, and Every Summer After has all of these elements, plus lots of reminiscing, cute banter, poignant moments, and a few steamy scenes. I read this satisfying, romantic read in a day.
For my full review, check out Every Summer After.