This was a pretty good month of reading. I am easing back into reading (some) more sad and serious books (The Girl With The Louding Voice was excellent and is one of those books you read and never forget) but for the most part I kept things pretty light. I will also add that I was disappointed by The Roommate! While it was steamy and fun, I didn’t think it lived up to all the hype. More on that below.
EVERYTHING I READ IN SEPTEMBER 2020
In September, I read eight books and am pretty proud of that. Work was pretty intense. I also really savored Kitchen Confidential… it took me well over a week to read and I don’t regret that AT ALL… it was beautifully written, I could live in Anthony Bourdain’s world forever. Also just for the record, if I were to rewrite my anti-racist book list, I’d absolutely add When No One is Watching to the list (I’ve been telling people it’s a social justice book disguised as a thriller!). Such a good one.
TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE READING! I’m always looking for great recommendations… I love reading your comments!
IF YOU’RE NEW HERE AND ARE LOOKING FOR A BOOK, DON’T FORGET THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS CHECK OUT MY BOOK CLUB PAGE.
Every month I update it with everything I read – it includes every book I’ve read in the past six years. The best part is that now you can filter + search by genre (memoir, light read, historical fiction, thriller, books by Black authors, etc!) Now you can also filter by GRADE to find exactly what you’re looking for or just peruse my top picks. If you’re feeling like you need even more book recs, check out last month’s list and everything I read in 2019!
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
This book was excellent. As you probably know by now I am on a pretty much never-ending hunt for more thrillers written by Black women (Tiffany D. Jackson is a favorite!) and I could not put this one down. And in my opinion, it’s a social justice book (tackling racism and gentrification) packaged in an unputdownable thriller.
Sydney Green was born and raised in Brooklyn, returning to her mother’s brownstown after her divorce. But the neighborhood is changing – the Black families she grew up with are disappearing and new White families are moving in to flip and build condos. She decides to channel her frustration (and love of the neighborhood and its incredible history) into a community walking tour.
Through a series of events Theo (the good looking White man across the street becomes her rather unlikely assistant, but as they dive deeper into the neighborhood’s history they begin uncovering secrets… including connections between the real estate company that’s selling all their houses, a big corporation, the city jail, the police and so on and so forth – and maybe all of those families aren’t leaving as willingly as they would have liked to believe. It’s fast paced and twisty and what’s maybe the scariest part is that given the current climate, doesn’t feel very far-fetched. I loved it!
- Overall Score: A-
Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson
This was one of my most anticipated books for Fall. Tiffany D. Jackson is one of my favorites. Her books are usually about teenagers – so – YA… but they are always incredibly dark, and also usually have some sort of twist that will leave you thinking for days. First of all there are about 9,000 trigger warnings: rape, abuse, kidnapping, and opioid addiction. At the beginning of the book, we see Enchanted Jones waking up in a gruesome crime scene. Korey Fields, a major musician, has been murdered and she is the top suspect.
The book weaves back and forth between past and we learn of the abuse Enchanted experiences at the hands of Korey, who had promised to help grow her music career and later, told her that he’s in love with her. This is very dark. It reminds me a little bit of The Comeback except way darker (dealing with Hollywood and fame and a rags to riches sort of scenario where a young ingenue trusts an older man and ends up being abused). At the heart of it, this book is about the abuse of power and in the author’s words (she does a thoughtful author’s note at the end), “the pattern of excusing grown men for their behavior while faulting young girls for their missteps.” Anyway, as with all of Jackson’s books, I really loved this one!
- Overall Score: A
Heart Bones by Colleen Hoover
One thing I really love about Colleen Hoover and her books is that she always surprises you. Is it a thriller? A romance? A suspense novel? You don’t really know. This one, I’d almost describe as YA – good YA, though. A YA romance with a twist. It was not my favorite of hers but to be quite honest, I’d take a “decent” Colleen Hoover book over most books – it still gets an B+! I love everything she writes. Beyah grows up poor and hungry in Kentucky with an addict mother. Her mother steals every penny her father sends for drugs, yet Beyah still manages to thrive, getting a volleyball scholarship to a great school.
When her mother dies, Beyah packs up and heads to live with her father in Texas, keeping secrets from him. Upon arriving, she has a whole new family: a stepsister, stepmother, the father she barely knows. For the first time in her life she has a comfortable life – but the walls are still up and she isn’t trusting. When she meets Samson, who comes from a family of wealth, they soon realize they have more in common than meets the eye and find themselves falling in love. But they’re both holding back secrets. There’s a twist I didn’t see coming and I didn’t love the end but it was still satisfying and fun to read.
- Overall Score B+
Ties that Tether, by Jane Igharo
This was so good! A romance, but it had been on every “most anticipated books of fall” list and I had seen that Ashley Spivey loved it too. Nigerian-born Azere promised her dying father when she was twelve that she’d marry a Nigerian man to preserve her culture and family traditions. Her mother is devoted to setting her up. At just 25 years old (lolz), the pressure is ON… her mother wants her to settle down and start giving her grandchildren. After a particularly bad date with a (sexist asshole) Nigerian man, Azere heads downstairs to the hotel bar to have a drink, and then winds up having a one night stand with sexy (Spanish, white) Rafael.
She leaves early in the morning, knowing that despite their bond, nothing can ever really come of it. After one bombshell twist and then another, the two wind up reconnecting and realizing they have a really solid, beautiful connection. Still, Rafael is hiding something and Azere’s mother threatens to disown her. Always the good girl and people pleaser, Azere must decide for herself whether she can be with Rafael without losing herself and her culture. It’s the classic tale of choosing love vs. family: does she fight for Rafael or do what she’s always done: comply and please her mother?
- Overall Score: A-
Before She Was Helen, by Caroline Cooney
Caroline Cooney – now that’s a blast from the past! I feel like we ALL read her books when we were younger… she’s written over ninety. And you know that I love an old people romance (anything Nancy Meyers)… this one was interesting as it’s an old people murder mystery, set in a retirement community in South Carolina. Clemmie is checking in on her surly elderly neighbor and discovers a beautiful object. She sends it to her grand-niece and nephew which sets off a chain of events that threaten to unravel fifty years of secrets and Clemmie’s multiple identities.
We learn of Clemmie’s dark and tragic past: terrible abuse, and her mysterious ties to the murder of a her brother’s high school basketball coach. And everything in between that led her to sleepy Sun City. So it’s pretty much two thrillers rolled into one, past and present. I personally found Clemmie’s past to be more gripping than her present. The “old people” part of the novel dragged on, whereas I was mesmerized by her past. I couldn’t put it down but did feel like parts of it were a bit of a slog.
- Overall Score: B
The Roommate, by Rosie Danan
OK so this book was alllllll over my Instagram. Hitha and Ashley LOVED it. And I liked it but I did not love it. First of all, it’s very very steamy. There are some graphic sex scenes so if that is not your thing don’t read this! Clara Wheaton is an uptight Connecticut socialite who moves to LA to pursue her childhood crush. But just as she’s about to move into his spare room, he moves to go on tour with his band. In moves handsome, charming, dreamy Josh… who happens to be a porn star (or rather, adult performer). The two strike up an unlikely friendship (maybe more) and a very interesting business idea. Emotions, family, and exes get in the way.
I liked how feminist the book was, I liked that it shed an interesting light on the adult entertainment industry, I liked the steamier scenes… but I found Clara’s character fell a little bit flat and that the whole situation was just really implausible. That being said, it was a good distraction and extremely fun to read. My expectations may have been too high as a lot of people were comparing it to The Idea of You and nothing will ever be The Idea of You. Honestly though, while I’m only giving it a B+, we need more distracting and fun books right now… things are tough. Read this for a fun, fresh read that will take your mind off of the fact that the world is shit right now.
- Overall Score: B+
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Ahhhhh Anthony Bourdain. This book. I was / am a very big fan of Anthony Bourdain and kind of cannot believe I hadn’t read it yet! It made me sad as I miss him so much (weird to miss a person you never knew. Yes yes I know!). It also made me incredibly nostalgic. I grew up in a restaurant – literally – my house was attached to the restaurant and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, from hanging around as a kid to working every single possible job from potato peeling and dish drying to busing tables, food running, and ultimately waitressing in highschool and college.
The man is a master storyteller. This is a memoir of his kitchen days; starting with his days as a dishwasher in a divey Provincetown restaurant all the way through life in New York. Through terrible lows and wonderful highs, you feel like you are sitting next to your slightly reckless, very brilliant friend recounting his wildest and most honest stories. Many will be shocked by some of the stories (and things like why you should never order the “special” or eat fish on a Monday.
- Overall Score: A+
The Girl With The Louding Voice, by Abi Daré
This book is all at once uplifting and heartwarming, but at the same time truly so sad and heartbreaking at parts. I absolutely loved it and could not put it down; I read it in just a couple days and when I finished it I could not stop thinking about it. Cannot recommend this one enough! Adunni is a fourteen year old girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village. Her mother died when she was just a girl and she yearns to seek out an education and find her “louding voice.” At the age of fourteen, her father sells her into a marriage (as the third wife of a MUCH older man) for some rice, a TV, and some beans.
There, she faces a new set of horrors: the wrath of her husband’s first wife, sex with a man she does not love nor is attracted to, and pressure to bear him a son. When something terrible happens, she runs away and is sold as a servant to a wealthy family in Lagos. Needless to say, she’s terribly treated and beaten there. It feels like things will just not get better and then… she learns of a scholarship at a prestigious school in the city. I’ll say no more as I don’t want to spoil it! As Jenna Bush Hagar said, it will “”break your heart and then put it back together again”. This is a story of courage and surpassing tremendous obstacles; I cannot recommend it enough!
- Overall Score: A
How about you? What did you read this month?
Was waiting for your book reviews! Eight books is incredible! ❤️✨
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Thanks Charmaine 🙂
Goodness, now I’m dying to know why we should never order the “special” at restaurants lol
Hahahaha you have to read the book!
And never order steak well-done … and be careful about ordering the mussels.
Hahahahaha YES. Ugh, well-done… that was drilled into my head as a child by my father!
All of these books look amazing! I would love to read more about your background growing up in a kitchen. Sounds fascinating. 🙂 Happy Tuesday!
Thanks Rachel! xo
Would love to know what your anti-racism read was for September! I didn’t see it listed.
It was the Girl With The Louding Voice – stuck with fiction this month after Ibram’s book last month. You can see my list here: https://thestripe.com/list-of-anti-racist-books/
Is the Colleen Hoover an A- (in the bio) or B+ (rating)? Confused by the bio!
B+! Sorry, my bad!
I have a recommendation for you! I haven’t read it yet, but my friend who writes her own YA book blog, bookbriefs.net, is so excited about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. I haven’t seen her this excited about a book, maybe ever, and she gets pretty excited about books. 🙂 So, I have a feeling it’s a good one.
Oh thank you so much for the rec, appreciate it!
YAY I’ve been waiting for this one 🙂
So glad! Happy reading.
Here through Bad on Paper and have been listening to back eps. Love your recs! If you haven’t read Looker by Laura Sims I think you might dig it. It’s a Brooklyn-set psychological thriller and it’s super short and fast-paced. I’ve been wanting to discuss it but no one’s read it! (Emily Mortimer is adapting it into a TV series, too.)
Thanks so much for the rec, that sounds RIGHT UP MY ALLEY!
I always look forward to these posts! Thank you so much for sharing. I loved Anthony Bourdain but I have never read any of his books. I loved all of his shows though and I miss him so much. Which yes is weird since I don’t know him at all haha. Anyway!! I’ll add a few of these books to my list. Have a great day!
You must read the book, then!!!! Think you will love because I was same as you 🙂
I really love your “Everything I Read” posts. It inspires me. I just finished “Melania and Me” by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and it was deliciously gossipy but a little overly complicated about the details of planning the Presidential Inauguration (I had to skim through some of that part). I liked reading about working one’s way up the political ladder by way of Vogue, the East Wing palace intrigue and the in-fighting among Trump’s women (Melania and Ivanka are very competitive with one another). In the end, it’s about a female friendship going south and what a total unorganized shit show this administration has been. B-
That was sent to me! Dying to read it!!!! Will probably skim those parts, haha!
Have to tell you–I just finished The Book of Longings and wow! Just wow. Such an awesome and inspiring read! Thank you as always for the excellent recommendations! I also recently read The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living–if you like Virgin River or Gilmore Girls, you will adore this heartwarming story with a fantastic cast of characters!
AH GOOD – that was one that really stuck with me too!!!!
Ohh! One more I j am about halfway through: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Love a good novel about the supernatural, and the beautiful way she leaves her mark on the world despite being “invisible”.
Just added the Girl with the Louding Voice to the top of my list! I recently finished We Were the Lucky Ones and it was incredible. It’s about a Jewish family living in Poland during WW2. It is heartbreaking, stressful, and incredible to read what these people went through to just simply try and survive. Highly recommend!
You will love it, one of the best books I’ve read in ages and also an easy read/page turner!
That sounds incredible, thank you so much for the recommendation!
I devoured the book We Ride Upon Sticks, by Quan Barry this weekend. She writes a fictional story about a HS girls field hockey team in 1989 in Danvers, MA, home of the Salem Witch trials in early colonial US history. The girls make a witchy pact to win the state championships. It is told through the lens of 2020 and the commentary on the late 80s made me double over laughing many times over. One character is The Claw, a girl’s giant, magnificent bangs. It is smart, witty, funny, and well told. If know and appreciate the pop culture references from 1989, you’ll really enjoy this book.
Oh that sounds amazing!!!!! Thank you so much for the rec – sounds incredible.
I’ll have to check these out – especially the “When No One is Watching” book! That seems right up my alley!
I am ordering kitchen confidential, so intrigued. have you read david chang’s memoire? I just listened to a podcast about him (he has one too) and it sounds like a fun memoire to read too.
I have not but it sounds amazing!
I was getting low on my to-read pile of books so this post comes at the perfect time! Adding The Roommate and When No One is Watching to my list!
I’m currently reading Dominicana and Gods of Jade and Shadow, both excellent so far!
My book club is currently reading The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup. It’s definitely a dark story & will keep you on the edge of your seat, but we picked it for the month of October for this reason! It is also in the works for a new Netflix show. Love these posts!
Oh that sounds fantastic, thank you for the rec!
I’ve been curious about When No One is Watching. I need a new read so will definitely be picking it up this week.
Currently reading and loving Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth, The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.
Recent favourites: The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda and The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica (coming to Netflix!)
I am listening to Just Mercy right now!!!! Have read the others, and loved them all!!! Sounds like we have similar taste 🙂
Kitchen Confidential is so good. He was an amazing person.
He was – miss him so much.
I watched your charming self on Open House NYC this past weekend. I was struck by the contrast between your upbeat personal style and your interest in the darker side of life, as represented by the skulls in your apartment.
A propos of that, I thought you might like my writing, which is often dark, but infused with human warmth. I write psychological mysteries, very well-received, but with limited distribution so far. My most recent novel, Carrie’s Secret, is the story of two sisters, one of whom is in a mental hospital, tormented by her inability to help her older sister. Would you be willing to take a look if I send you a copy?
Incidentally, you can see more about me and my books at my website (paulbackalenick.com).