What I Read: Fall 2019

Better late than never, right?

I read all of these last year, but never got around to sharing them on this platform. I've started a hashtag on my Instagram account (#ToodlebelleBookReviews) where I share my initial thoughts! It's easier to share those in the moment and I can write more in those posts than I was in Instagram stories. If you aren't following me on Instagram yet, what are you waiting for?

Educated by Tara Westover 5 stars
This was one of the best books I read last year. I could not believe it wasn't fiction because this poor girl's upbringing was so traumatic. I had to take breaks while reading because it was so hard at times. And yet, I finished reading and was SO inspired by her story.

Tara Westover's story sounds straight from a movie plot: parents who don't believe in doctors or education who are preparing in the middle of the wilderness for the end times. By teaching herself from her siblings' old textbooks in the basement, she made it all the way to Brigham Young University, Harvard, and Cambridge. While it was inspiring, it was definitely sad and heartbreaking that children are often forced to live with the consequences of their parents' decisions.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin 5 stars
This was the first #ReadwithJenna book from Jenna Bush Hager's Today Show book club back in March 2019, but it took me a while to get to it. It was another of my absolute favorites from the year.

Despite the title, it focuses more on the family dynamics of a Connecticut family as they face loss, grief, and other tragedies. As an only child, I am always interested in how siblings interact in books and whether it seems realistic based on how I've seen other families interact. Even though I don't have siblings, I feel like this book was such an accurate depiction of the serious muck that all families deal with at some point or another.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 4.5 stars
I joined a local book club back in July of 2019, but because of conflicting schedules, I was only able to make it to my first meeting in October where we discussed this book. Unfortunately, despite its Oprah's Book Club status, it was not a crowd favorite. Some described it as boring and others as downright depressing. I was with that second camp, but I at least appreciated how well it was written and how important the topic was, particularly for our book club who's demographics are polar opposites from the characters' in the book.

Without spoilers, I'll just say that it follows newlyweds after a particularly devastating plot twist. I cried/sobbed for most of the second half of the book at the injustice and sadness that filled the pages. My 4.5-star rating is probably the highest of my book club, though, only because I really appreciated the powerful writing style. The plot was slow and character development left a little to be desired in my opinion.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood 5 stars
I hadn't read The Handmaid's Tale since 2017, but I'm a big fan of the show on Hulu and could not wait to read this book. I've seen mixed reviews on it, but I think if you're a fan of the book/show, you'll like this book!

Based 15 years after the events in the first book (or the events in the TV show), it follows three relevant characters. The characters sometimes flash back to the beginning of Gilead and I thought it was especially cool from the perspective of the Aunts. I liked learning more about the training process to become an Aunt, too.

I understand some of the critiques that I've read about this story taking away some of the mystery from the first book, but I felt like it was a natural way to follow up the first book. It does tell, at least partially, how Gilead would eventually fall (Not a spoiler if you've read the epilogue of the first book!).

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal 4 stars
This was our book club pick after we were all depressed from An American Marriage. We chose it because it seemed light and we all needed a laugh. This book was on the Reese Witherspoon Book Club list a few months (years?) ago so we thought it would be a good choice.

I don't know if anyone was prepared for the depth of this story. We are a group of white twenty-somethings, but hearing a story in a voice so different than our own led to an awesome discussion about love, marriage, relationships in general, and so much more. That night, we also tried out a menu of Indian food and loved the samosas, chicken tika masala, and chai tea cocktails!

The Dutch House by Ann Patchet 5 stars
This was another #ReadwithJenna book club option that I was SO excited to read. Ann Patchett is easily one of my favorite contemporary authors; her writing style is the best and the way she manages to weave a story together through different characters is second to none! 

I was a bit worried this one would be overhyped since it was picked up before its release for this book club, but I was so relieved after I started reading. The style is a little bit different than her others (it's told exclusively from the point of view of the son/brother) and it's devastatingly sad at the beginning (in true fairytale form), but it was absolutely beautiful. I felt myself wishing for a sibling the way I used to as a kid; as an only child, I can't confirm that the brother-sister dynamic was truly accurate, but I have a feeling that it was.

Girl Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis 1 star
Like I mentioned in my second summer reading post, I am not exactly a huge self-help book kind of girl. I pushed myself through her first book (audiobook style) and you can see my review here. Unfortunately, I just couldn't push myself through this second book. I tried listening to the audiobook again, but I just dreaded listening to it.

Of course, there are some nuggets of wisdom in there, but overall, I felt like this was a lot of information that I already knew and there was nothing to really hold on to. I liked her first book better because it gave me an idea of who she was through her short and personal stories. This one felt like a lot of fluff. I know Rachel Hollis would probably shame me for it, but I just gave up on listening to this book because life is too short to read books that you don't enjoy.

I know this opinion is a lot different than many girls I know in real life; these two books were part of a local book club put together by Jessica from Hello Gorjess. I know the girls who recommended them absolutely loved them, so don't let my review get you down if you usually love this type of book! It's just not my cup of tea.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson 4.5 stars
Nothing to See Here was another #ReadwithJenna book club pick that I really enjoyed. I actually listened to this one as an audiobook while on a drive up to the LSU/Ole Miss football game with my parents. The five-hour drive flew by as I followed Lillian in her quest to care for these twins who randomly burst into flames.

I'm not usually one to reach for magical realism, but this one was surprisingly enjoyable. It was actually believable that these kids were extremely flammable; Jenna Bush Hager said this book opened her eyes to what it means to be a parent and after reading this book, I'd believe her. The narrator of the audiobook also did a great job with her distinct voices for each character.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead 5 stars
Wow, this book was really sad. I was rooting for the protagonist the whole time, but there were times when I was almost ready to give up hope, which I think was the author's goal. The criminal justice system is so messed up and young black men often get the short end of the stick. This story, based on a true story, follows a young black man who is falsely accused and imprisoned in a hell of a boy's reform school in Florida.

This book was one of the toughest to read. Back in November, I wrote the following:

"The Nickel Boys was a quick read, but not necessarily easy to stomach its contents. It made me really sad to think of the injustices that aren't that far removed from our generation along with the injustice facing people of color today, but I think it's so important to read books written by authors who don't look like you. It's the second book I've read this year about black men who are wrongfully accused/imprisoned and both affected me and tweaked my original thoughts on our country's prison system. I'm still not sure how I can help just yet, but I have a feeling compassion and kindness toward our neighbors (of all colors and all walks of life) are good first steps."

Make sure you follow along on Goodreads if you want to keep up with my current "To-Read" list! 

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