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Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – October 2023

Book reviews from October 2023, including The Rachel Incident, The Half Moon, The Guest House by the Sea, Home Ice, My Oxford Year, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Galatea.

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October was kind of a mediocre month of reading for me. I struggled especially with audiobooks–I started and stopped SO many that just were not working.

It was frustrating, because we had a gorgeous fall around here, and I spent a lot of time walking and appreciating the colors–but the audiobooks in my ears were just not hitting.

For a while, I took a break and listened to podcasts (something I rarely do). Then, I turned to the library and found a couple of sure-fire wins that got me back on track.

This season of life has been over-the-top busy, with new commitments as the kids get older. It’s fun, but also occupies a lot of brain space, and I’m feeling the need for more of these “sure-thing” books.

More on this soon, but for now, here’s what I read in October:


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October 2023 Book Reviews: What to read and what to skip

Print and E-Books

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue

The Rachel Incident

Author: Caroline O’Donoghue
Publish Date: June 27, 2023
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Rachel and James are friends and roommates, young and carefree in Cork. This is the story of the year they became entangled with a professor and his wife and things got complicated. Rachel is looking back on this year, reflecting on the messy business of navigating early-20s poverty, finding their identities, and pursuing art and relationships.

I’m always up for an Irish setting, and the wonderful Cork voices are particularly strong in this novel, even in print. This had some shades of Sally Rooney, but with a lighter, funnier tone. The characters are frustrating and often annoying, but they also ring true in their messiness (and it’s tempered by Rachel’s older and wiser voice from the future). I didn’t love this as much as many readers, but there’s a fresh tone here that I appreciated.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane

The Half Moon

Author: Mary Beth Keane
Publish Date: May 2, 2023
Genres: Literary Fiction

Keane’s previous novel, Ask Again, Yes is an excellent, complex novel about two families from several years ago. She’s narrowing the lens this time and focusing on a couple, Malcolm and Jess who are navigating their marriage while trying to keep a bar afloat (Malcolm’s dream) and start a family (Jess’s dream). When both those dreams start to crumble, their marriage does as well. Set over one week in a blizzard, this novel weaves emotional literary fiction with the mystery of a missing bar patron.

Keane is a masterful writer and the dark emotions of her characters always ring true. At the same time, I find her work a bit bleak, and that bleakness doesn’t let up. A bit of levity would go a long way in making these characters more rounded–and helping me to care about them, and the outcome, a little more.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

The Guest House by the Sea by Faith Hogan

The Guest House by the Sea

Author: Faith Hogan
Publish Date: June 8, 2023
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Faith Hogan wrote The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, a feel-good book about women’s friendships and I loved the fictional, coastal Irish town of Ballycove where her novels are set. This one is about a guest house in Ballycove and the aging owner, Esme, who is losing her sight–but is a keen observer of her guests. She gives them not just a place to stay, but a place to find their next steps in life.

While the guest house and setting are indeed dreamy, this story unfortunately just didn’t connect like Hogan’s previous novel did. The owner seemed to have some sight (though it was fading) at the start, then had an ankle injury, then was suddenly almost fully blind–this small point was disorienting. This is an easy, cozy read, but some of the backstories and relationships just didn’t quite gel for me.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble

Audiobooks

Home Ice by Aven Ellis

Home Ice

Author: Aven Ellis
Narrator: Andrea Emmes
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Publish Date: 2023
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Kylie Reed has no intention of ever meeting a man in a bar. Her life is orderly, and she has a plan. So when she falls into the lap–literally–of Harrison Flynn, a handsome superstar hockey player, she’s dismayed at her own attraction to him. They’re opposites in every way, and between her plans and his fame, it seems like an impossibility.

I turned this on for a light listen, and that’s exactly what it was. I didn’t feel overly invested in either character or their relationship, but it was entertaining enough for some walks and workouts. I believe this is part of a series, and I don’t plan to read the rest (or for that matter, more books in the “hockey romance” sub-genre).

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

My Oxford Year

Author & Narrator: Julia Whelan
Source: Hoopla
Publish Date: 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

I struggled with audiobooks this month–there were multiple that I started and never finished–so I was really feeling the need for a sure-fire win. I knew that anything narrated by Julia Whelan would be excellent, so I decided to try her debut novel. Ella is an American who has achieved her dream of a Rhodes Scholarship. She’s determined to make the most of her year, while also remotely pursuing her dream career on a presidential campaign back in the U.S.

Her focus is derailed by a run-in with pompous Jamie Davenport–who later turns out to be one of her instructors. But the more they run into one another, the deeper they connect, and soon her Oxford year has turned into something entirely unexpected.

Julia Whelan tells a great story that feels like more than a romance novel, and her narration is always on point. The perfect choice for getting out of an audio slump.

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

Happy-Go-Lucky

Author: David Sedaris
Source: Library
Publish Date: 2022
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir

David Sedaris’ latest book feels like a return to a more familiar humor, especially after Calypso, which was a darker and more poignant reflection on his family (and dealt with the suicide of his sister, Tiffany). As Sedaris ages, his family faces more such losses, and in Happy-Go-Lucky, it’s his father who passes away.

Longtime readers will know of Sedaris’ complicated relationship with his father, and he’s always dealt with it through humor. His father’s death is no exception. The essay collection doesn’t solely focus on his father–he covers the pandemic, absurd outings with family, and more. I laughed aloud more than once, but I also detected a new hint of meanness here that I never saw in his work before. Like everyone, Sedaris has been through a lot in recent years, which could account for those moments. For me, they didn’t overtake his superior storytelling and narration; Sedaris’s audiobooks were the first that I truly enjoyed, and I’m always glad for the chance to listen again.

Galatea by Madeline Miller

Galatea

Author: Madeline Miller
Narrator: Ruth Wilson
Publish Date: 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy

One of my reading quirks that often surprises people is that I do not like mythology. I’m not sure what it is, but all those stories about gods and goddesses go in one ear and out the other–I can’t seem to process all of the magic and mysticism (it’s probably why I also avoid high fantasy, but I can manage fantasy that’s more grounded in realistic settings).

Anyway, all this to say that countless readers have recommended Madeline Miller to me, but I’ve avoided her books. I figured this 46-minute short story was a good way to give her a try. Galatea is a retelling of the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea, from Galatea’s perspective. She is a statue brought to life by her husband, who expects her to be obedient. When she resists, he has her locked away–but she has a daughter to save. This short little tale of misogyny, female rage, and motherhood packs an emotional punch.

I’m not sure if this convinced me to pick up Miller’s other books, but I did enjoy it more than I expected. The story felt modern (though the time and exact setting were vague), and telling it from Galatea’s perspective brought the characters closer than any other myth has done for me before. A worthwhile little listen.

What have you been reading in October? Should I read more Madeline Miller?


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2023 Books to read and skip - October reviews

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One Comment

  1. I just finished the audiobook this week of “the marriage portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell, and I absolutely loved it! I was completely enthralled in the story and couldn’t wait to see what happened next with the main character. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I highly recommend it, and would love to read the book now as well. The narration voices were extremely well done.

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