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October '23 Reading Recap: Star-Studded Book Reviews with Optional Spoilers


Title image: "October '23 Star-Studded Book Reviews with Spoilers Optional"

As I focus on my personal reading journey, I've relished every opportunity to share my reads

with fellow book lovers. Last month, I took a step further by sharing not just the gems but also the not-so-shiny reads on my social media, empowering friends to curate their reading lists with precision. Now, in the spirit of sharing, this month I'm introducing star ratings while offering you a quick glimpse here. Given that the first week of October was dedicated to celebrating Banned Books Week, I've delved headfirst into this controversial genre throughout the entire month. For your convenience, spoilers will be tucked away in expandable sections beneath each book title, granting you the freedom to dive deep into the details of my book reviews with optional spoilers. And if you're tempted to explore these literary treasures further, simply click on the book titles to access digital or physical copies.

Novel Designs Co. IndieGoGo Campiagn image featuring the owner and her son. Raising money to help distribute banned books in Central KY
Flatlay of the novel You Shouldn't Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose with a 2 star rating

You’ve opened up your house and your heart to a total stranger … What could possibly go wrong?

Grace Evans, an overworked New Yorker looking for a total escape from her busy life, books an Airbnb on a ranch in the middle of Wyoming. When she arrives at the idyllic getaway, she’s pleased to find that the owner is a handsome man by the name of Calvin Wells—and he’s eager to introduce her to his easygoing way of life. But there are things Grace discovers that she’s not too pleased about: A lack of cell phone service. A missing woman. And a feeling that something isn’t right with the ranch.

Despite her uneasiness, the two bond and start to fall for one another. However, as her departure date nears, things change for the worse. What began as a playful romance soon turns into a complicated web of lies. Grace grows wary of Calvin as his infatuation for her seems to have morphed to obsession. Calvin fears that Grace is hiding something from him—including her reason for staying at his ranch to begin with. Vacation flings typically end in heartbreak, but for Grace and Calvin, it’ll be far more destructive.


I kicked off October by diving into this novel, courtesy of my local online book club. To be honest, this isn't a book I'd have naturally gravitated towards on my own, primarily due to the promise of a love story. I've always been somewhat skeptical of the 'shove a love story in the middle' trope when the plot could easily stand on its own. Sadly, my initial reservations held true as I delved into the story. The characters, while interesting, seemed unfinished; there were hints about their complexities that were never fully explored, leaving them feeling less like real people and more like sketches. Nevertheless, amidst these reservations, the narrative held a few unexpected surprises and twists. One was admittedly on my radar, but the other caught me completely off guard. It's these unforeseen twists that added an extra star to my rating, for there's a certain thrill in being blindsided by a well-crafted curveball.

Spoilers:

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Flat lay of the book The Truth About Alice with a 2 star rating

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody. Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.


This book got the boot for questionable teen content—ya know, the kind that involves alcohol and poor decisions. But let's be real, it's not exactly breaking news. I was a small-town high schooler, and these characters hit close to home. No pigeonholing here—I was a cheerleader who shared lunch with a mishmash of jocks, tech geeks, rebels, skaters, music buffs, party animals, and brainiacs, but the characters in this book were easily some of my classmates. The gang's all here—the Queen Bee, the Sports Star, the Weird Kid, the Outcast. Alice handles her business like a champ, but you catch glimpses of the mental toll the school gossip takes on her. This book stirred up some strong feelings; I got mad at times, but had to cut the kids some slack—they're just navigating the wild world of high school. Yeah, they made questionable choices, but let's blame it on the underdeveloped brains and personal agendas. Still, there were some points that should've been buzzworthy if the town's gossip mill worked as advertised that were never even whispered along with the rumors about Alice. And honestly, a bit more action from some of the characters wouldn't have hurt either.

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Flat lay of the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson with a 3 star rating

"Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.


I did enjoy this book. It was an interesting and eye opening perspective to get the point of view from inside the mind of Melinda as she processed her trauma while remaining silent on the outside. There's no secret unveiled, no twists, and therefore no spoilers on this one. It's a very straight forward writing about a very traumatic event. It could likely be very triggering for someone struggling with a similar traumatic event, but could also be very informative for people who have not experienced something like this. It gives a great example of how trauma can affect people internally without their permission or control, as Melinda knows what is happening within her isn't normal but can't understand why she can't change it or stop it. This was turned into a movie many years ago, and I actually watched the movie as a teen but didn't connect the movie to the book until I was almost halfway through reading. You can watch the movie, starring Kristin Stewart, on Hulu, Prime, Paramount Plus, Spectrum, and Showtime, and DirecTV.


Flat lay image of Dear Martin novel with a 5 star rating

After a traffic stop turns violent at the hands of the police, a young Black teen grapples with racism—and what it means for his future. Critically acclaimed author Nic Stone boldly tackles America’s troubled history with race relations in her gripping debut novel.

Justyce is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs without cause.

When faced with injustice, Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce and a friend spark the fury of an off-duty cop. Words fly, shots are fired, and the boys get caught in the crosshairs. But in the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.


This novel is AMAZING. It's a quick read with a raw and heart-wrenching look at a significant social issue that continues today - racism, inherent bias, and media fodder. It's an unfortunate coming of age tale, in which the main character Justyce must adjust to the realization that the world is not looking out for him regardless of all his good qualities simply due to his appearance. And on the flipside, it also shows how the systemic and social racism creates a bias in return through the responses of Justyce's mother to an interracial relationship. It easily and clearly depicts the cycle of harm caused by these things, all from the perspective of a teen trying to reconcile the loss of his childhood innocence with his newfound knowledge. No spoilers here, either. Just read it!


Flat lay of Dear Justyce novel with a 4 star rating

The stunning sequel to the critically acclaimed, #1 New York Times bestseller Dear Martin. An incarcerated teen writes letters to his best friend about his experiences in the American juvenile justice system.

An unflinching look into the tragically flawed practices and silenced voices in the American juvenile justice system.

Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University . . . and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center.

Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce--the protagonist of Dear Martin--Quan's story takes form. Troubles at home and misunderstandings at school give rise to police encounters and tough decisions. But then there's a dead cop and a weapon with Quan's prints on it. What leads a bright kid down a road to a murder charge? Not even Quan is sure.


This is a great follow up to Dear Martin. My favorite part may even be the author's note and not even the content of the book. In the author's note Nic Stone explains that she didn't intend to write another book like Dear Martin until 2 African American boys asked her when she would write a book with characters like them - boys growing up in rough areas with little to no support systems to help pull them out of the trouble may encounter in their search for belonging and survival. That's exactly what Quan is, and we get to see his side of things leading up to his involvement in Dear Martin.

Spoilers

Flat lay of Sarah J Maas novels A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury, and a Court of Wings and Ruin with star ratings

During October I also began the ACOTAR Series. I finished A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury, and A Court of Wings and Ruin. However, I am going to hold off on giving my full review of these books until I have finished the entire series. I attempted to review one book at a time, but it was far too difficult to separate out the storylines due to Sarah J. Maas's keen ability to intertwine the books with each other so seamlessly that it feels like just one extra long book. I'm not typically a fantasy fan or one to read books with sex scenes, but these have been addictive! For now, I'll just leave you with the star ratings I've given so far and the general book descriptions:


When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.

At least, he's not a beast all the time.

As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. An ancient, wicked shadow is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it, or doom Tamlin-and his world-forever.

From bestselling author Sarah J. Maas comes a seductive, breathtaking book that blends romance, adventure, and faerie lore into an unforgettable read.


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