A Review of My September 2021 Reads

Hey there, friends!

It’s October, the air is crisp, and I’m a very happy girl for those two reasons alone.

To add to that, I’m in high spirits because I got through another six books last month! There was one book, The Villa in Italy, that I stopped reading about 3/4 of the way through because it just couldn’t hold my attention. That one is not included in this post, but the others that I completed are reviewed below.

Affiliate links included throughout.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I chose to read this book because it is written by Zadie Smith. I became a fan of Smith while studying Literature in college, when I was assigned one of her books to read. I fell in love with her style, as well as what she had to say, back then and reading another of her works felt like picking up right where I’d left off.

This story mainly follows the Belsey family—Howard and Kiki, married 30 years with their own relationship complications, plus their three kids Zora, Levi, and Jerome. We also see plenty of the Kipps family, whose patriarch, Monty is a long-time rival of Howard Belsey’s. Living on the campus of a prestigious New England University with both men being professors there, we see the families’ lives intertwine, different secrets and scandals unfold among the two, and the strain it puts on each of the Belseys.

This was the first book I read in September, but the characters still stick out to me more than almost any others that I met last month. They are so real and so individual, even though they were all crafted by the same mind. This story did feel a little slow at times; I found myself waiting for something to happen and getting a bit frustrated by the very gradual unfold of details. However, everything came together in the end and I enjoyed the overall experience of this book.

Here are two quotes I loved from the book:

“A family doesn’t work anymore when everyone in it is more miserable than they would be if they were alone.”
“The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.”

Obsessed: A Memoir of My Life with OCD by Allison Britz
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

We all, more or less, know what OCD is. I’ve lightheartedly suggested in the past that I have a mild form of it myself, due to my own struggles with anxiety and getting, sometimes overwhelmingly, fixated on the details of things. But the true, full-fledged OCD that is detailed in this book is far beyond what I used to think people suffering from this illness have to deal with.

We meet Allison when she’s in high school and first starting to really be affected by her disorder. She’d previously experienced symptoms of anxiety and obsessiveness, but it really starts to get serious when she randomly has a vivid nightmare about getting brain cancer and dying. She wakes up from the nightmare convinced that certain things and actions in her life will cause her to severely suffer and, ultimately, die of cancer. Things progress in an extremely rapid and steep way until Allison becomes unrecognizable compared to the student, teammate, friend, and daughter that she used to be.

This story reads almost like a novel, and I think it was really well-done. There were parts of the story that seemed very repetitive or drawn out to me, but I think it’s incredibly brave and impactful that Allison shared her personal experience in hopes of helping others.

One thing I really liked about this story was that things didn’t just clear up and turn to sunshine and rainbows after Allison got her diagnosis. Without giving much away, I’ll say that Allison goes on to explain her journey—figuring out what was wrong, accepting it herself, gathering the courage to tell her parents and therapist what was wrong—only started with identifying OCD and that there was a lot of struggle and work still to come after that. It was a very authentic way to end the book and to remind readers that, while there isn’t a quick fix for mental health issues, the first step is always getting the help you need.

The End of Her (image from Audible.com)

The End of Her by Shari Lapena
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I found this one in the free section of Audible (for anyone who has a subscription, there are so many gems in the Mystery/Thriller section of the Plus catalog) and am really glad I chose to download it. It had me pretty interested from the get-go and I only got pulled in more from there.

Stephanie is a new mom to twins, struggling with sleep deprivation, caring for multiple babies at once, and…being stalked by her husband’s psycho ex? It all starts when Stephanie’s husband, Patrick, sees an old mistress show up at his job and starts digging up the past. Patrick never went into the details of this, but his first wife had died accidentally years ago. However, now this ex-lover of his, who apparently Patrick cheated on his first wife with, has come back claiming that Patrick is a murderer and that the “accident” from years ago was more than intentional. What is wife Stephanie to believe, and, is it sleep deprivation making her crazy or does she have reason to fear her beloved might actually be dangerous?

I love a good psychological thriller, and this one had me turning my head from one side to the other, trying to keep up with the lies that unfolded and the different sides of this twisted story. I enjoyed not knowing what would happen and the little twist that came about at the end. I always enjoy a book that keeps you a little disoriented throughout, then catches you off guard when everything finally snaps together to conclude.

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

A former coworker of mine raved nonstop about Tudor and, specifically, this book. I pulled a “Reader’s Choice” scrap out of my Book Jar a couple of days after finding this hardcover on sale, so I guess it was meant to be!

The story goes back and forth between a past narrative (when our main character, Eddie, was a pre-teen) and the present (exactly 30 years later). It is centered on a group of friends very reminiscent of The Losers Club from IT and some traumatizing experiences they have growing up. Throughout the earlier years, there is always one eerie character present and you have to wonder if he’s behind all that’s going on. When things jump back to the present years, though, it’s hard to know what really is happening and who’s behind it.

I got some serious Stephen King vibes in this book (I’d bet money that Tudor is a big fan of his). Sometimes being too closely reminded of King turns me off because I feel that the author is copying him a bit, but that wasn’t the case with this one and the story is undoubtedly its own unique work. It kept me guessing, disturbed me on more than one occasion, and I was fully satisfied by the ending. What more can you ask of a thriller?

The Stand-In (image from Audible.com)

The Stand-In by Lily Chu
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

This was a lighter read but an overall good story. The narrator had me laughing on several occasions and it was a nice change of pace from the dark novels I read most often.

Gracie is struggling at her job, to take care of her aging mother, and generally in life. Pretty soon after we meet her, a strange coincidence creates a high-risk, high-reward opportunity for her. Does Gracie agree to do a complicated favor for Asian superstars Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, therefore earning a huge payout and solving many of her existing problems? Or does she turn them down, therefore turning her back on adventure and resigning to carry on as she was?

This is a pretty classic storyline and I wasn’t particularly surprised by anything that happened. However, it did keep me interested and I was rooting for our main character. While certain parts of this were predictable, it’s the type of predictable where you don’t mind seeing things wrap up in the way you expected because it’s a just and pleasant way to close out the story.

Tell Me Lies (image from Audible.com)

Tell Me Lies by JP Pomare
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

My first 5-star rating in a little while! I was nearly salivating when I read the description of this book and the actual story itself did not disappoint. This is another one I found on Audible but am currently scouring the internet to find myself a hard copy (that isn’t unreasonably priced).

Margot is a successful psychologist with only one smear on her past record—early in her career she got a bit too close to a client and things didn’t end well. But that’s all behind her and she now lives happily with her own thriving practice, a loving husband, and two kids. Things start to go a little off when Margot’s current patients blur the line between professional and personal. She soon suspects that one client is following her and some of her other patients. A fire is set in her home at night. Another troubled girl she’s been seeing suddenly disappears…

There is so much that happens in this story, and it happens so fast that you almost don’t have time to figure out who could really be behind it all. That is, until you find out for sure. This one kept me guessing for a while, and even after I thought I figured it out the author still had a trick or two up his sleeve. I relished every part of this book and cannot wait to get my hands on another by Pomare.

What was your favorite read in September? Drop a comment below and I’ll add your books to my TBR list for a future review!

A full list of the books I’ve read this year can be found here (affiliate).

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