Searching for your next book? Check out everything I read in September 2023 ... from family dramas to thrillers to literary fiction, romance, and more, there is something for everyone here!
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My husband and I took a trip to Acapulco in September. We stayed at the gorgeous Las Brisas resort, which has been on my bucket list for years! Before the trip, I had visions of lounging by the pool and finishing a book a day ... let's just say that didn't quite happen, but I did get a lot of reading done!
September ended up being great reading month, and I'm so excited to share some amazing books with you! I ended up reading eleven books this month, including one audiobook.
My favorite books this month were The Mountains Sing and Trespasses! Both of these books are set in troubled times, and I've found my thoughts returning to their stories weeks after I read them ... always a sign of a great book!
Did you read anything noteworthy this month? Make sure to let me know in the comments!
Books I Read in September 2023
I've included links for all of these books on Bookshop.org and Amazon so you can easily find them, as well as my ratings for each book (one star is lowest / five stars is highest).
The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand
Friends gather for an unforgettable getaway in The Five-Star Weekend! Hollis Shaw, the creator of the popular blog Hungry with Hollis, has a seemingly picture-perfect life. But when her husband dies in a car accident (following a heated argument with Hollis), the cracks in her beautiful life (including her strained marriage and difficult relationship with her daughter) begin to show. Struggling to get her life back on track, Hollis decides to host a “Five-Star Weekend”, a trip for her best friends from each phase of her life: her teenage years, her twenties, her thirties, and midlife. But the weekend on Nantucket doesn't end up being the Hallmark movie experience she envisioned!
Although I've only read a few Elin Hilderbrand books, I've yet to find one that I haven't enjoyed, and The Five-Star Weekend was no exception. This was such a fun read (perfect for a vacation), and I love the idea of planning a girls trip like this. Each characters in the book has their own issues, and the drama between the women really helped to propel the story. I also related to Hollis being a blogger, and how she had a tendency to turn everything in her life into a piece of content, something I'm often guilty of. The setting on Natucket was also lovely, of course, and the food sounded dreamy!
One Friday in Napa by Jennifer Hamm
I received an advance copy of One Friday in Napa from Sparkpoint Studio / She Writes Press in exchange for an honest review.
Painful family secrets are uncovered in One Friday in Napa! Since she was a child, Vene and her mother Olivia have been at odds. But when she gets news that her mother is dying of cancer, she returns home to see if their relationship can be mended ... only to find that Olivia is as harsh and cold as ever. One day, Vene stumbles upon her mother's old cookbook, and its pages are filled with notes that reveal a passion she never knew Olivia possessed. Vene is consumed with curiosity and embarks on a journey to learn about the Olivia she never got to meet, before it's too late.
One Friday in Napa is a bittersweet tale, as you might have guessed from the description. My favorite part of the book was the beautiful setting and all the details about food and wine. The book's split perspective, with the present narrated by Vene, and the past by Olivia, was also engaging (although I would have loved more of Olivia). I did think the plot was pretty predictable though, and I guessed most of the twists early on. Despite the subject matter, it never feels too heavy and would make a good vacation read (especially if you enjoy book's about fraught mother-daughter relationships).
A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne MacLean
I received an advance copy of A Storm of Infinite Beauty from Sparkpoint Studio / Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
The secrets of a Hollywood legend are revealed in A Storm of Infinite Beauty! Gwen Hollingsworth is the curator of a museum dedicated to Scarlet Fontaine, a famous actress and singer who died tragically (and childless) at just thirty-six years old. She's also the sole heir to Scarlett's fortune. So Gwen is shocked when Peter Miller (a biographer and photojournalist) shows up at the museum with a shocking claim ... Scarlett had a secret baby while living in Alaska. Gwen, who is going through a messy marital separation, finds her life turned upside down again. To discover the truth, Gwen and Peter travel to Alaska together, where they soon find themselves on a deeper and more meaningful journey than either expected.
I flew through this book! The narration is split between Gwen and Scarlett, and I especially loved Scarlett's story and her relationships. All the vivid details about Alaska were wonderful to read, as well. The book also has a historical fiction aspect which really enhanced the story, and the events covered were tragic, yet very interesting. I will say that of the dialogue felt a little forced, and the romance was missing something, but over all I really enjoyed this compelling story.
Milk Blood Heat: Stories by Dantiel W. Moniz
Check out Milk Blood Heat for a book of exceptional short stories! These poignant stories, which are all set in Florida, feature a diverse cast of characters ... from a young teen who contemplates her sadness and the differences between herself and her white best friend to an estranged brother and sister who take a road tip with their father's ashes and others.
If you enjoy short stories, you have to check out this book! Although the overall tone was melancholy, I thoroughly enjoyed each of these unique tales. The characters were all facing some sort of problem, and the stories dealt the difficult issues like faith, racism, and challenging relationships. The author really captured the character's issues in a way that felt nuanced and left an impact. I'm looking forward to reading more of her writing!
Tom Lake by Ann Patchet
A long ago romance intrigues a family in Tom Lake! When Lara's three daughters return to the family's Northern Michigan orchard in the spring of 2020, they pick cherries and beg their mother to tell them about her past. As she shares the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor she shared a stage and romance with at the Tom Lake theater company, the daughters are forced to reconsider everything they thought they know about their relationship with their mother and their own lives.
Tom Lake was such a lovely novel! I listened to this book on Scribd (get a free 60 day trial), and it was read by Meryl Streep, who couldn't have been more perfect. This book is a bit of a slow burner, and it took me a while to get into it. Lara's story was such a pleasure to listen to though, especially as more and more layers of her history were revealed. I also love the family dynamics, and it was fun to see the daughter's assumptions about their mother challenged.
A Death in Door County by Annelise Ryan
A bookstore owner helps investigate a series of mysterious deaths in A Death in Door County! When Morgan Carter isn't managing her bookshop Odds and Ends, she spends her time on a unique hobby: hunting cryptids, fabled creatures with a rumored existence that's never been proven true. So when a bodies start showing up on the shores of Lake Michigan with injuries that look like bites from a large animal, police Chief Jon Flanders turns to Morgan for help. Although she's a skeptic, Morgan and her loyal dog Newt are soon on the case, but if she isn't careful, she might become the homicidal monster's next victim.
I have to admit that I mainly picked this book up because it's set in Door County, which is very close to where I grew up, and somewhere I've spent a lot of time. And while I wasn't sure about the book's description, it ended up being really cute! This story definitely has cozy mystery vibes with a cast of quirky characters, and it was a fun read. I loved the Door County setting, and the many mentions of places I'm familiar with! I was also excited to see that the second book in this series comes out in December.
Isn't It Bromantic? by Lyssa Kay Adams
Can a marriage of convenience turn into a real romance? Find out in Isn't It Bromantic? After her journalist father mysteriously disappeared in Russia, Elena Konnikova escaped danger by marrying her childhood friend Vlad and moving to Nashville where he is a professional hockey player. Vlad has becoming increasingly unhappy with his marriage of convenience, and he turns to his friends in the Bromance Book Club and his neighbors (a group of widows who call themselves the Loners) for help. But just when things look promising, Elena's mysterious past interferes.
Isn't It Bromantic? is the fourth novel in the Bromance Book Club Series. This is such a fun collections of books, and I can't believe I only have one book left in the series. The characters in this series show up throughout the different books, and you are introduced to Vlad in the first book. I've been looking forward to reading his story, and it didn't disappoint. Check this series out if you're looking for a romance with a twist!
Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris
Two sisters are desperate to escape their secrets in Anywhere You Run! In 1964, three innocent men are brutally murdered for trying to help Black Mississippians register to vote. After suffering her own violent assault, Violet Richards kills her attacker, but with the color of her skin, she knows that Jim Crow justice will be coming for her in Jackson, Mississippi. Before anyone can point a finger at her, Violet escapes town with the help of her white boyfriend and finds herself hiding out in Chillicothe, Georgia. But danger may be closer than she thinks. Meanwhile, her older sister Marigold dreams of attending law school, but she has problems of her own ... she's pregnant and unmarried. And when news of the murder brings to police to Marigold's door, she finds herself on the run, too. Will she have a better life in the North, or has she made a terrible choice?
This was such a good book! It's a cross between a thriller and historical fiction, and the author did such a good job of capturing life in the South for two black women in the 1960s. Although their circumstances were different, neither of the sisters was in a good situation, and their sense of fear and anxiety was palpable. This book was a bit of a slow burner for me. I felt like the tension could have been dialed up a bit, but overall I really enjoyed this book.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
A family perseveres despite harrowing circumstances in The Mountains Sing! The Việt Nam War serves as the backdrop for this multigenerational tale, which follows the Trần family before, during, and after the war. As the Communist government's Land Reform sweeps the North, Trần Diệu Lan (who was born in 1920) is forced to abandon her family farm and flee with her six children. Years later, Diệu Lan's granddaughter Hương comes of age while her parents and uncles follow the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in the Việt Nam War, a conflict that tears apart her country and her family.
After reading Dust Child last month, I couldn't wait to read more of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's writing, and her first book, The Mountains Sing, was next! This is such an beautiful and heartbreaking book. You can tell that the author is poet, because her writing is so lovely and descriptive. This is definitely a difficult story to read, but an important one that's told from the Vietnamese perspective. The story centers on Diệu Lan and Hương, with Diệu Lan recounting her life before the war, as they wait for their family members to return after the war. Despite the painful circumstances, this is ultimately an uplifting tale, and you can feel the family's love for one another and their country.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
A school teacher is caught between a passionate affair and allegiance to her community in Trespasses! Despite facing daily reports of violence while living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Cushla leads a fairly quiet life. She lives with her mother, teaches at a Catholic school, and works at her family's pub. One night at the pub, she meets Michael, a protestant lawyer who's known for defending IRA members, and they soon begin an affair. But when her student's father is savagely beaten, the viscous attack sets off a chain reaction that threatens everyone and everything that Cushla values most.
As someone who came of age in the 90's, I've always been fascinated by the Troubles. Plus, I'm actually headed to Northern Ireland in a few days, so this was a timely read. This book has lots of rave reviews, and the gripping story was even better than I expected it to be. I felt an overlying sense of dread while reading this book ... you just know that something bad is going to happen, but you don't know when or what the consequences will be. The historical details and the idea of living with everyday violence were both captured so well. This is one of those rare books that I keep thinking about even though I read it weeks ago!
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
A single event profoundly effects an entire family in We Were the Mulvaneys! The Mulvaneys are a close-knit, loving family who seem to have it all. But when something terrible happens on Valentine's Day in 1976, the incident is covered up in their town, and the Mulvaneys are never the same again. Years later, the youngest son attempts to understand what brought about his family's tragic downfall.
Somehow, this is only the second book I've read by Joyce Carol Oates (I read Babysitter last year), but I find myself thinking that she has a very dark mind ... or maybe it's just that life in America is dark?! Anyway, it's hard to talk about this book without giving away the plot. So I'll just stay that it's not really the Valentine's Day incident that I found so disturbing in this book (although that's certainly horrific), it's the family's reaction, which is actually quite heartbreaking. The book does have somewhat of an uplifting ending, but after everything else that happened, parts of the ending just didn't ring true for me. Having said all of this, I did really like this book! And I'm definitely planning read more of Oates' work.
And that wraps up my September reading! I hope you found some new and interesting books to check out. Have you finished any of these books, or did you read anything worth recommending? Let me know if the comments!