Readers' Favorite

September 25, 2017

Donna's September Reading Round-Up

by Donna Huber

Between the 3 day weekend for Labor Day and 4 day weekend for Hurricane Irma, I got a ton of reading done this month - 11 books finished! I was without power for about 12 hours due to the hurricane (my area had its first ever tropical storm warning - we are over 200 miles from the coast!) and without the internet for 3 days. Other than that I just had some small debris, though there were a lot of trees down in my town. I used the impromptu long weekend for a mini read-a-thon.

I started doing the meme It's Monday! What are you read? monthly because often I was still reading the same set of books each week, but I might have to consider going back to a weekly format if I keep reading so many books each month. Here's a look at what I read this month, what I'm currently reading, and what I plan to read next.

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In print...

Last Call
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
I was reading this book for a lecture at the Special Collections Library. I didn't finish it in time and then I couldn't make it to the lecture either. There were some interesting bits, but often my eyes felt like they were crossing at the litany of names. 

A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.

Buy Last Call at Amazon

The Trees
The Trees by Ali Shaw
I read this for my post-apocalyptic book club. It was much more of a fantasy read than most post-apocalyptic books I've read. There seemed to be a number of places that the author was making a point only to not fully embrace the point. There isn't much in the way of plot - mostly it is the characters walking around.

There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…

There is no warning. No chance to prepare.

They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves.

Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too.

Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes.

Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

Buy The Trees at Amazon

Royal Blood
Royal Blood (Her Royal Spyness #4) by Rhys Bowen
It seems I'm destined to read this series out of order as I read book 11 and then book 1 and now book 4. Since reading book 11, I've been picking one up at the library each month and I'm just going with whichever one that is available at the time. I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other 2, but I'll keep reading as I overall like the characters.

Penniless and thirty-fourth in line to the throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch finds herself in a truly draining state of affairs. To escape her hateful sister-in-law, Georgie accepts an invitation from the Queen to represent the royals at a wedding in Transylvania. But at the macabre-looking castle, Georgie finds the bride with blood running down her chin, and a wedding guest is poisoned. Now it’s up to Georgie to save the nuptial festivities before the couple’s vows become “to love and to cherish, till ‘undeath’ do them part…”

Buy Royal Blood at Amazon

Basic Witches
Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell with Your Coven by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman
My full review will appear on Friday, but it was a fun little "girl power" kind of read. It would make a great gift for the 20 something women in your life. 

Capitalizing on the rising trend of hipster witchcraft, BASIC WITCHES is a lighthearted and empowering book of spells and lifestyle tips for feisty millennial women.

In Basic Witches, readers will discover how to tap into their inner sorceress and channel the dark arts for everything from cluttered apartments to dating disasters. Want to enhance your attractiveness? Pick the right power color of eyeshadow and project otherworldly glamour. Need to exorcise a toxic friendship? Say the right symbolic curse and banish it from your life. Need to boost your self-confidence? Whip up a tasty herbal “potion” to strengthen your inner resolve. Plus historical and pop culture sidebars that situate the new witchcraft trend within a broader context. With humor, heart, and a hip modern sensibility, journalists Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman dispense witchy wisdom for the curious, the cynical, and anyone who could use a magical boost to get through the day. This ain’t your grandma’s grimoire!

Buy Basic Witches at Amazon

Beautiful Hero
Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau
A powerful memoir that I couldn't put down. This was not something I learned about in my history classes and it was eye-opening. I won this in a Gooodread giveaway.

With only half a canteen of water and one baby bottle, a family of eight fought for their lives in the killing fields and land mines of Cambodia.

Heroes emerge in the most unlikely places, under the most dangerous conditions. They are often the most ordinary of people facing extraordinary times. Surrounded by unimaginable adverse forces, one strong woman would ultimately lead her entire family to survive. Beautiful Hero is an autobiographical narrative told from a daughter’s perspective. The story centers around Meiyeng, the eponymous Beautiful Hero, and her innate ability to sustain everyone in her family.

Meiyeng’s acumen in solving problems under extreme circumstances is thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. She shepherded her entire family through starvation, diseases, slavery and massacres in war-torn Cambodia to forge a new life in America.

Over two million people—a third of the country’s population—fell victim to a devastating genocide in Cambodia. The rise of the Khmer Rouge posed not merely a single challenge to survival, but rather a series of nightmarish obstacles that required constant circumvention, outmaneuvering, and exceptional fortitude from those few who would survive the regime intact. The story suspensefully unravels the layers of atrocity and evil unleashed upon the people, providing a clear view of this horrific and violent time of the Cambodian revolution.

Buy Beautiful Hero at Amazon

In ebook....

The Spirit Mage
The Spirit Mage (The Blackwood Saga Book 2) by Layton Green
The second book in Green's fantasy series came out earlier this month and I received an advance copy. You can read my full review here.

Desperate to help his brothers, high-powered attorney Val Blackwood manages to find a way to return to the world of Urfe. After landing in the dangerous underbelly of New Victoria, he concludes that the only way to find Will and Caleb is to enroll in the Abbey--the school for wizards--and somehow gain access to a portal called the Pool of Souls. Yet to succeed, he not only has to pass the entrance exam and survive the rigors of the school, considered the most demanding in all the Realm, but also avoid a lethal assassin targeting students.

As Val struggles to survive, his brothers undergo an even deadlier trial. Reeling from the loss of Mala, an adventuress lost in the mysterious Place Between Worlds, Will and Caleb and Yasmina are captured by slavers and taken to the mines beneath Fellengard Mountain. Even if they manage to escape, a feat no one has ever accomplished, they must still find their way out of the vast and untamed caverns of the Darklands. A place even the wizards fear.

Trapped in a land of dreams and nightmares, the brothers must somehow stay alive and learn to adapt to their new surroundings--or risk losing their home world forever.

Buy The Spirit Mage at Amazon

The Best Kind of People
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
I didn't want to put this book down. It deals with a difficult topic so I'm not sure how I feel about how it turned out but I liked that it focused on the family and how they dealt with it. I got an ARC from NetGalley. You can read my full review here.

George Woodbury, a celebrated teacher, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults between denial and rage as the community she loved turns on her. Their daughter, Sadie, a popular over-achieving high school senior, becomes a social pariah. Their son, Andrew, assists in his father’s defense, while grappling with his own unhappy memories of his teen years. A local author tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist attempts to get Sadie onside their cause. With George locked up, how do the members of his family pick up the pieces and keep on with their lives? How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt?

With exquisite emotional precision, award-winning author Zoe Whittall explores the irrevocable damage of an accusation—not on the man accused, but on the family who have built their lives around him.

Buy The Best Kind of People at Amazon

The Visitors
The Visitors by Catherine Burns
This story was kind of creepy, in the best possible way. Even though I read some of the early parts peeking through my fingers, I didn't want to put the book down. For how great I thought the book was, I felt the ending was a bit anti-climatic. This book comes out on Tuesday. I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn't the only one with a dark side.

Buy The Visitors at Amazon

In audiobook....

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Claire DeWitt Mysteries #2) by Sara Gran
It had moments of brilliance, but I didn't like the main character and all her drug use. To me, it felt more like crime fiction than a mystery, and I don't care much for crime fiction. I won this copy a few years ago at ArmchairBEA.

When Paul Casablancas, Claire DeWitt’s musician ex-boyfriend, is found dead in his Mission District home, the police are convinced it’s a simple robbery. But Claire knows nothing is ever simple.

With the help of her new assistant, Claude, Claire follows the clues, finding hints to Paul’s fate in her other cases—especially that of a missing girl in the gritty 1980s East Village and a modern-day miniature horse theft in Marin. As visions of the past reveal the secrets of the present, Claire begins to understand the words of the enigmatic French detective Jacques Silette: “The detective won’t know what he is capable of until he encounters a mystery that pierces his own heart.” And love, in all its forms, is the greatest mystery of all—at least to the world’s greatest PI.

Buy Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway at Amazon

Fallen (Will Trent #5) by Karin Slaughter
I really enjoy Karin Slaughter's writing. Even though I haven't read any other books in the Will Trent series, I felt like I knew the characters.

There’s no police training stronger than a cop’s instinct. Faith Mitchell’s mother isn’t answering her phone. Her front door is open. There’s a bloodstain above the knob. Her infant daughter is hidden in a shed behind the house. All that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations taught Faith Mitchell goes out the window when she charges into her mother’s house, gun drawn. She sees a man dead in the laundry room. She sees a hostage situation in the bedroom. What she doesn’t see is her mother. . . .

“You know what we’re here for. Hand it over, and we’ll let her go.”

When the hostage situation turns deadly, Faith is left with too many questions, not enough answers. To find her mother, she’ll need the help of her partner, Will Trent, and they’ll both need the help of trauma doctor Sara Linton. But Faith isn’t just a cop anymore—she’s a witness. She’s also a suspect.

The thin blue line hides police corruption, bribery, even murder. Faith will have to go up against the people she respects the most in order to find her mother and bring the truth to light—or bury it forever.

Karin Slaughter’s most exhilarating novel yet is a thrilling journey through the heart and soul, where the personal and the criminal collide, and conflicted loyalties threaten to destroy reputations and ruin lives. It is the work of a master of the thriller at the top of her game, and a whirlwind of unrelenting suspense.

Buy Fallen at Amazon

Blood Vines
Blood Vines by Erica Spindler
MK French reviewed The Other Girl by Erica Spindler last month and I was intrigued so when I saw this title at the digital library, I had to try it. I think fans of Karin Slaughter would enjoy Erica Spindler. There were a lot of details to keep track of and since I was listening to the audiobook, I gave up on trying to guess who was behind it all. It was an entertaining story.

A sinister, hooded figure…

When Alexandra Clarkson starts having terrifying visions filled with blood and ceremonial images, she tries to find a rational explanation – maybe her mind is playing tricks on her, resurrecting creepy tableaux from her research on religious ceremonies and sects. But when Alex’s mother, Patsy, commits suicide without leaving behind any information, Alex is left wondering: could she be haunted by something from the childhood she doesn’t remember?

Naked, writhing bodies…

Detective Daniel Reed was the last person to speak to Patsy. What he reveals to Alex is shocking. Twenty-five years earlier, Patsy was married to Harlan Sommer, one of Sonoma County’s most prominent vintners, when their infant son disappeared without a trace. The loss destroyed the Sommers’ marriage, causing Patsy to leave and take Alex with her.

A dead child…

Called on to investigate the identity of a baby’s remains unearthed in a Sonoma vineyard, Reed had picked up a trail that led him to Patsy in San Francisco. Now Reed and Alex both wonder if the cold bones could be her baby brother Dylan, and Alex decides to accompany Reed back to Sonoma for the investigation. No sooner does she arrive, however, than she is drawn deep into the search for a twisted killer.

Buy Blood Vine at Amazon

Currently Reading

In print...

The Water Knife
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
This is for my post-apocalyptic book club that meets the first week of October. I scored a great deal on it this weekend while browsing the bargain books shelf at my local B&N -$5.98 for a hardcover, plus this weekend, members got an additional 20% off. It's starting a little slow, but I think it has good promise.

In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her luxurious developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet while the poor get dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, it seems California is making a play to monopolize the life-giving flow of the river, and Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a drought-hardened journalist, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee who survives by her wits in a city that despises everything she represents. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria, time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Buy The Water Knife at Amazon

In ebook...

Fatal Masquerade
Fatal Masquerade (Lady Alkmene Callender Mysteries #4) by Vivian Conroy
While I have moved on to some darker fiction, I still can't pass on a cozy mystery. I saw this one at Netgalley when looking at what is coming out in October and just had to request it. I've not read this author before, but I love the cover and since I'm enjoying the Royal Spyness series I thought this might be a good one too.

Masked danger…
Lady Alkmene Callender has always loved grand parties, but when she receives an invitation to a masked ball thrown by Franklin Hargrove – oil magnate, aviation enthusiast and father of her best friend, Denise – she’s never seen such luxury. The estate is lit up with Chinese lanterns in the gardens, boats operated by footmen float across the pond and the guest list features the distinguished, rich and powerful!

But below the glamour, evil is lurking. When a dead body is discovered, it forces Lady Alkmene to throw off her mask and attempt to find the true killer before Denise’s family are accused. If only her partner, Jake Dubois, weren’t hiding something from her…

This case might just be more dangerous than either of them could have imagined.

Buy Fatal Masquerade at Amazon

In audio...

The Secret Adversary
The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence #1) by Agatha Christie
I've read some of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series, but this is the first book for me in the Tommy and Tuppence series. It is offered free at Audible for Prime members.

Tommy and Tuppence, two young people short of money and restless for excitement, embark on a daring business scheme – Young Adventurers Ltd.

Their advertisement says they are ‘willing to do anything, go anywhere’. But their first assignment, for the sinister Mr Whittington, plunges them into more danger than they ever imagined.

Buy The Secret Adversary at Amazon

Up Next

Christmas at the Falling Down Guesthouse
Christmas at the Falling-Down Guesthouse by Lilly Bartlett
It's a little early for Christmas books, but I agreed to be on the tour at the end of October for this book. I've enjoyed the other books by Lilly Bartlett, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Put your feet up and tuck into the mince pies, because you won’t have to lift a finger to enjoy this Christmas!

Too bad the same can’t be said for single mother and extremely undomestic goddess, Lottie.

When her beloved Aunt Kate ends up in hospital just before Christmas, Lottie and her seven-year-old daughter rush to rural Wales to take over her B&B. A picky hotel reviewer and his mad family are coming to stay, and without the rating only he can give them, Aunt Kate will lose her livelihood.

But Lottie can barely run her own life, let alone a hotel. How will she manage to turn the falling-down guesthouse into the luxurious wonderland the reviewer expects? And could the mysterious taxi driver, Danny, who agrees to help her, turn out to be the real gift this season?

As the snow sparkles on the trees and hot chocolate steams in your hand, snuggle into the delicious magic of Christmas at the Falling-Down Guesthouse.

So that is my reading round-up for September. Will I be able to finish a 12th book this week? I'm pretty sure 11 books is some kind of record for me, but there are still a few days left in September.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. I've only read the first Royal Spyness book and enjoyed it. I think it is a little early for Christmas books but that one does look interesting. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  2. Last Call sounds like it could have been fascinating, but it's so hard to tell with nonfiction! Some are really compelling and others put you to sleep after a few pages.

    I hope you enjoy all of your books this week!

  3. Last Call sounds good...and I enjoyed The Best Kind of People. I am also curious about the Karin Slaughter book.

    Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. Some great-sounding reads on your list :)

  5. Can you hear me saying, Wow! Eleven books during the hurricane. Wow! I didn't finish anything during Harvey...I just kept pacing the floor. Good job.

  6. You did great reading. I'm only sorry you had to lose power and go through a hurricane. Your books look good. The Rhys Bowen series looks great.

  7. I haven't heard of any of these books, however, some of them sound like something I would be interested in, so I will definitely have to add them to my to-read list. Enjoy your week!

  8. Seems like a pretty good week! Those books sounds pretty great! Thanks for stopping by! Happy reading!