It’s time to talk about six of the books I’ve read recently! Not a ton of variation among these ratings, as all ended up somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves…
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks
Every October, Deja and Josiah resume their friendship at the pumpkin patch where they both spend their autumns working. This year is different, though, since it’s their last year working there together. As Deja tries to get Josie to finally talk to the girl he has a crush on, they spend their last day exploring the pumpkin patch and all the memories they’ve shared there together.
I read this book the day before Halloween and it could not have been a more perfect way to celebrate the season! I can see myself returning to this book every fall for a quick, adorable seasonal read. Everything in this graphic novel screams fall, from the art style and color scheme to the setting (I’m dying to visit this pumpkin patch!) to all the delicious looking food. The relationship between Deja and Josie was also fun and had a realistic feel. Overall, this was a sweet, heartwarming read, not the most mind-blowing or life-changing, but nonetheless something that I’m really glad I picked up.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca
When Emily moved to a small town in Maryland to take care of her injured sister, she didn’t expect to be roped into working at the local Renaissance Faire with her niece. There, she’s forced to interact with one of the people running the Faire, an English teacher named Simon who seems to know exactly how to get on her nerves.
I read this adult romance for a book club and ended up enjoying it more than I expected! Emily has a sharp, sarcastic voice throughout the book, making me giggle out loud on multiple occasions. I loved the Ren Faire setting, despite having never been to one myself, and feel like I now know a lot about how it works behind the scenes. Plus, all of the relationships were sweet, all the way from Emily and her sister to the main romantic relationship at the center, which gave me Elizabeth/Darcy vibes.
Still, this book relied a lot on miscommunication, which I know is a staple of the romance genre. But that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to grab the characters by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. I wished at times that the conflicts felt a little less contrived and the resolutions a little less cliche, but I still had a fun time reading this.
Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
“Our human habit is to make endings of things – close them, wrap them up, slap a cap on unruly time – no maybes involved. But what use is a conclusion or an understanding when all I want to do is open up, mess up, unpack, and unreel?”
Content warnings: sexual assault
This memoir follows the youngest and first female winner of the Mongol Derby, the toughest endurance horse race in the world. On a whim, Lara entered herself into the race and started off with little preparation against highly trained endurance riders, with only her own stubbornness and determination carrying her across Mongolian steppes.
I listened to this book on audio, and I’m not sure how that impacted my enjoyment. On the one hand, I don’t think I would have picked it up at all if I were reading it physically. But on the other hand, I never felt myself fully invested in the audiobook. I don’t know if I would have had better luck reading it in a different format, or if it simply was a case of me not connecting with the book.
Still, I enjoyed reading about Lara’s experience in this race, especially since it’s something that I would never do in a million years. That’s what reading is for, right – living vicariously through other people? I think this is an objectively well-written book – the way she described the scenery was always incredibly vivid and compelling – but for whatever reason, it never fully captured my interest.
Lovely War by Julie Berry
“Let them start their dreadful wars, let destruction rain down, and let plague sweep through, but I will still be here, doing my work, holding humankind together with love like this.”
Content warnings: graphic war scenes, racist language and violence, sexual assault
When the goddess Aphrodite is caught by her husband, Hephaestus, with her lover, Ares, she offers to tell a story about two young couples during World War I in an attempt to explain why Love and War always go hand in hand.
This book gave me serious The Book Thief vibes, which is kind of a catch-22. It had to be really good to be worthy of comparison to The Book Thief, but then again, The Book Thief is (in my opinion) one of the greatest books ever written, so it’s pretty much impossible for this book to measure up. So I really enjoyed Lovely War, but it wasn’t as nuanced or stunningly written as I hoped it would be.
Where this book succeeded, in my opinion, was showcasing the horrors of wartime alongside the resilience of humans and their ability to love even in the hardest times. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of that time period, from the effects of war to the prejudice that existed even among the so-called “good guys.” I loved reading the author’s note at the end and seeing where she was inspired by real life events. Plus, the framing device of this whole book is just so fascinating and did not disappoint in the least.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
“Deserve was such a strange word, throwing out both blame and accolades with equal mercilessness. Society’s skewed scale for assigning a value to human beings.”
Content warnings: racism, police brutality, miscarriage, references to rape and sexual abuse
This reimagining of Pride and Prejudice follows Trisha Raje, a brilliant surgeon, and DJ Caine, a professional chef. Trisha is the only one who can perform the surgery that will save DJ’s sister’s life, and DJ is catering an event for Trisha’s brother’s political campaign. The only problem is that as soon as they meet, they can’t stand each other.
Since this is a looser retelling of Pride and Prejudice than most I’ve read, after a while I had to stop trying to figure out how things were connected with the original story and just go with it. After that, I liked it a lot more! Essentially, this is a gender-swapped version of P&P, but it also doesn’t follow other aspects of the story as strictly. I ended up liking most of the author’s changes to make the story her own.
One of my favorite things about retellings is how themes from a long time ago can be transferred into stories set in the present day and still be relevant. Austen’s themes of classism and prejudice come through clearly in this book, along with topics of racism, colorism, and disability. This isn’t my absolute favorite P&P retelling, and the writing style wasn’t totally up my alley, but I still appreciate what Sonali Dev was able to accomplish with this.
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara
“Women are the most important part of horror because, by and large, women are the ones the horror happens to. Women have to endure it, fight it, survive it—in the movies and in real life.”
Content warnings: mentions of sexual assault
The story of Milicent Patrick, the designer of the Creature from the Black Lagoon costume, was erased by her male colleagues, but Mallory O’Meara brings it to light alongside the story of her own research process. This book is part biography, part memoir, and part call-to-action to confront the everyday misogyny that women in Hollywood still face.
I read this book (or rather, listened to the audiobook) because I listen to the author’s podcast, Reading Glasses. I’ve never even seen The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but that didn’t prevent me from being fully invested in the fascinating stories of Milicent’s life and Mallory’s quest to track down said stories. Not only did I gain a new appreciation for costume/makeup design and everything going on behind the cameras, but this book provided history on things like Hearst Castle and Disney’s early days. Plus, a huge emphasis of this book is honoring the forgotten contributions of women in filmmaking and every artistic industry. I definitely recommend this, especially for anyone interested in horror movies and Hollywood!
What books have you read recently? Have you read any of these?