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September Wrap Up + Mini Reviews

September was a surprisingly busy month for me. My job became all-consuming for a little while in order for me to get a promotion I’d been after which drastically changed my daily life; I went on a week-long family vacation to Tennessee; and my witchy aesthetic girl gang started spending more time together. It was a complete whirlwind of a month, to say the least. I’ve had hardly any time to dedicate to my hobbies with how crazy things have been.

Unfortunately, that meant reading often got put on the backburner. I did read the Splintered Series by A.G. Howard, and honestly managing to read seven books this month in spite of everything else I had going on is still impressive for me. I actually read both of my Book of the Month picks in the month I got them! I only read one of my three books for my monthly book club, but four of the seven books I read were ones I own that I can check off the towering list that is my tbr pile, so overall, it was a good reading month!

I decided to do mini reviews with all the books I read this month, because while some were terrible, some blew me away, and some were tucked cozily right in between, I didn’t feel I had enough to say about each of them to warrant their own separate reviews.

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Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Summary: Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun. The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Rating: 4/5 stars

These Shallow Graves is a wonderful story that hits all the checkboxes, leaping through genres. There’s a bit of historical fiction here, enough of a romance to make you swoon but not enough to take away from the real story, and a mystery that Jo is determined to solve. It feels strange to say for a book that discusses such dreary topics, but this was such a fun read. Jo is constantly jumping from one situation to the next, and even when she gets in danger, you can’t help but feel a bit of excitement for her.

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Review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Summary: Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, a first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

Lina discovers Josephine and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit – if Lina can find one. While following the girl’s faint trail, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I’m just going to come right out and say it: a white woman who quit her job in law should not be writing a book about slavery. There were a lot of other problems with this book, but this was the most upsetting to me. It’s so important to share (and it’s obviously okay!) to fictionalize slavery. However, Black characters in these stories should not be known simply for being enslaved. They were more than that. They defined themselves by other aspects of their lives. Were they enslaved? Yes. Was it the only trait they had? Absolutely not. These were real people, and it’s crucial in a story to ensure that Black slaves are remembered as more than just slaves.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. Josephine is the most interesting part of this story, but she gets the least amount of screen time, despite the book allegedly being about her. When the story ends, the reader has learned almost nothing about who Josephine was as a person, other than an artist. We know some of her backstory, we know how her life ends, but what does her laughter sound like? How does she grieve? How does she spend her alone time? We see that she’s loyal to her mistress, but we have no idea what her relationships are like with others. We’re given a glance here and there, but there’s nothing solidifying her as a real character. Josephine exists purely to be a slave, purely to be a convenience to a white woman in present day, purely to move the story along. She’s given the book’s title and cover art, but she’s completely lost to us because the author refused to make her the most important story arc.

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ARC Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Summary: Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has decided the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.

Genre: horror, gothic, historical fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars

The Death of Jane Lawrence boasts inspiration from stories like Crimson Peak and Rebecca, but the biggest difference between these stories is that Jane Lawrence packs all the punches and isn’t afraid to go beyond what you would expect from a gothic horror novel. Don’t get me wrong, Crimson Peak and Rebecca are equally deserving of their praise, but Jane Lawrence pushes the envelope, diving deeper into a truly haunting world that will leave you questioning what, exactly, you just read.

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Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Summary: Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

When I was in grade school I read a book about a girl surviving the Dust Bowl era, and I hated that book so much that I swore off any interest in that specific period again (and yes, that includes never reading The Grapes of Wrath, much to my husband’s dismay). In May, I picked up The Four Winds as my birthday bonus pick for Book of the Month. I’d heard so many good things about it, was vaguely familiar with Hannah’s work, and figured 20+ years was enough to get over any negative feelings I had about that part of history.

So why the average rating? Here’s the thing. Kristin Hannah is a beautiful writer. She knows how to create intricate characters and tug at your heartstrings and maybe even make you cry a little bit. But the Dust Bowl is still an extremely dull, depressing topic. I loved all of the characters, I felt their grief and heartache alongside them. I was rooting for Elsa and her family throughout the novel, but I had this constant niggling thought that just maybe this book could have been about half the length and still gotten the point across.

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