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My Favorite Reads of September 2021

September was a month in which I focused more than anything on stability. I was so glad to be able to take some time to focus on routine and consistency, and part of that included carving out space for reading every day, even if it was only a few minutes.

I read eight books in September, not including The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, which some of you have been reading with me! It’s been a slow reading month for me, heavy on audiobooks. That said, what I did get to read this month was an embarrassment of riches. Here are the three books that caught me the most:

Light from Uncommon Stars

by Ryka Aoki

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka's ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She's found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn't have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan's kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul's worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

I had the good fortune to celebrate the release of Light From Uncommon Stars with author Ryka Aoki, and between this book and that conversation, I feel like I’ve grown in ways I never could have predicted. This book is about so many things — finding safety and acceptance, weathering things that feel unsurvivable, giving equal weight to the beautiful and the terrible. Donuts and violins and curses. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough to anyone who is feeling like life is simply too much. Weird, stunning, transformative.

The Hunting Party

by Lucy Foley

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they've chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands -- the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

The trip begins innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group's tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year's Eve, the cord holding them together snaps, just as a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year's Day, one of them is dead. . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage says. But how close is too close?

I listened to the audiobook of The Hunting Party and simply had a blast. The experience of reading this book is suspenseful, yes, and it has all the exceptional pacing of a well-constructed thriller — but the thing that made me delight in The Hunting Party was the gossip. As the book unfolds, Foley delivers delicious, juicy details about the backstories and current lives of each character, and pulls it off in a way that made me feel like I was eavesdropping on someone else’s drama. Bonus points for the full cast with excellent accent work on the audiobook. Delicious, fun, satisfying.

A Dark and Starless Forest

by Sarah Hollowell

Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it's for their own good. After all, the world isn't safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe--most of the time.

Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they'd never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank's true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings' voices.

As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn't exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.

I’ve featured A Dark And Starless Forest before and I don’t mind doing it again now. Sarah Hollowell’s YA Debut is a story of fury and loyalty and survival and everyone should read it. It’s out now, so cancel your plans and get reading! Livid, magical, gorgeous.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The paid subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences. You can also find a list of my favorite reads of the year so far here.

You can also buy my newest book! Purchase The Echo Wife wherever books are sold.

In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.