One-Woman Book Club: September

September was such a good month for books. I read five beautiful, gripping stories that had me glued to my couch for hours at a time.

If you’ve read any of these books, please let me know your thoughts. I love a good discussion.


After Her by Joyce Maynard

I bought this book at a cool store in Berkeley because the cover grabbed my attention. Much to my delight, I discovered the story takes place in Northern California, which is fun because I rarely find books with stories centered in California and it's always exciting to read about places I’m familiar with.

Maynard’s story takes place in the late 1970s and focuses on the relationship between two sisters, Rachel and Patty, as they navigate early childhood with divorced parents, minimal supervision, and wild imaginations.

The girls live in Marin County, which backs right up to Mt. Tamalpais, a gorgeous peak with miles and miles of hiking trails.

Fun fact: I hiked the east peak of Mt. Tam with a friend (pictured above) just one week before I started reading this book, which made it all the more interesting.

Anyway, one summer a string of young women get murdered out on the trails that Rachel and Patty explore nearly every day. Rachel’s and Patty’s father is an experienced detective and gets assigned to the murder cases, but the girls can’t resist trying to do some sleuthing of their own.  

What follows is part murder mystery and part love story. I loved this book because not only is the murder plot super twisted and intriguing (and based on a series of actual murders that took place in Marin County!), but the family dynamics portrayed are tender and honest.

The story is less about murder and crime than it is about loyalty, growing up, sisterly bonds, and the realizations we come to when we’re young and first learn that life is complex and full of tragedy. Such a good read.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California again. The time: late 60s. Evie Boyd is an introspective fourteen-year-old girl dying to be noticed and loved. The summer before Evie is set to attend boarding school, she meets an intriguing older girl named Suzanne and quickly becomes entangled in Suzanne’s world and circle of friends.

Suzanne’s friends — who live on a ranch outside town, preach oneness, and operate on a free love policy — are part of a violent hippie cult (based on the Charles Manson clan) that immediately lures Evie in with its recklessness and unpredictability.

The book, however, doesn’t focus as much on the cult’s behavior as it does on Evie’s intense introduction to a form of compelling but careless adulthood; drugs, sex, abuse, friendship, obsession, and betrayal are all dissected in Evie’s fascinating inner dialogue.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Emma Cline’s language is some of the most gorgeous, innovative prose I’ve ever read. Some might think it’s overwritten, but I found myself being constantly blown away by her ability to describe the most mundane details with simultaneous precision and poetry. (“My own legs were dotted with pricks of mosquito bites I worried into open wounds, my calves hatched with pale hairs.” “Her bracelets shook with the kiss of cheap metal.”)

Here are a few other parts that really resonated with me:

“So much of desire, at that age, was a willful act. Trying so hard to slur the rough, disappointing edges of boys into the shape of someone we could love.”

“Songs that overheated my own righteous sadness, my imagined alignment with the tragic nature of the world. How I loved to wring myself out that way, stoking my feelings until they were unbearable.”

“Maybe this was a better way, even though it seemed alien. To be part of this amorphous group, believing love could come from any direction. So you wouldn’t be disappointed if not enough came from the direction you’d hoped.”

“That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”

I adored this book. It was gritty and raw and heartbreaking. I can’t recommend it enough.

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

Set in Northern California (again! What a treat!), the book follows sous chef Aimee Tierney as she struggles to rebuild her life after her fiancée dies in a tragic boating accident.

Though Aimee slowly begins accepting her new, very uncertain future one day at a time, she’s repeatedly haunted by the thought that her fiancée may still be alive.

Eventually, she starts to delve into the details of his accident and comes to some pretty shocking revelations — both about the life she once had and the life she now wants for herself.

There’s a beautiful love story unfolding through all the mystery, drama, and devastation, as well as some fantastic character growth. I thought the story was fun, heartbreaking, and totally compelling. I read three quarters of the book in one long straight shot at my kitchen table.

If you want something intriguing and engrossing, but also sweet and surprisingly insightful (not to mention redeeming), this book is a great pick.

Two fun facts/reasons I now feel irrationally connected to the author: 1) Kerry Lonsdale also graduated from Cal Poly SLO! Go mustangs! And 2) Part of the book takes place in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, which made me ridiculously excited since I spent a month living there back in May and could totally picture everything she described.

Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

I couldn’t resist buying another one of Colleen Hoover’s books after I read and loved her latest novel, It Ends With Us.

Maybe Someday is very different, but just as compulsively readable. It tells the story of twenty-two year old Sydney, who’s crushed by recent news that her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend.

Enter: Ridge, a sweet, musically gifted guy who lives across the way from Sydney. The two begin an interesting friendship that evolves (you guessed it!) into something much deeper.

That description may sound totally predictable and yawn-worthy, but the book is anything but. It is, however, a classic melt-your-heart-and-make-you-believe-in-true-love kind of story, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I, on the other hand, love a good romance — one that’s vulnerable and real and makes you feel all the aches and fuzzies inside your heart. Call me cliché, but sometimes you need a straight-up emotional, entirely relationship-focused story to get you through the week and remind you what a beautiful gift love is.

Read this if you want to sprawl on the beach with a good read or snuggle up in a blanket on a rainy night with a love story that’s better than any romance film to debut in recent years.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Oh, this book. What a wonderful discovery. It tells the story of Ove, a grumpy, stubborn old man with hard principles and a firm belief that most things in life are black and white.

Ove keeps to himself and lives a very straightforward, routinized life until one day in November when he gets new neighbors: a friendly, rambunctious young family with two adorable daughters.

Backman tells Ove’s story in easily digestible chapters that bounce back and forth in time to give you the full picture of Ove’s life and experiences. This book isn’t just heartwarming and irresistibly charming, it’s also hysterically funny and relatable. Every one of us either knows or has interacted with a person like Ove before.

The first half moves along at a leisurely pace, but by the end I was hooked and completely heartbroken to have to say goodbye to such a lovable cast of characters. This book is so touching and profound — it reminds you, ever so subtly, that everyone has his or her own unique set of pains and hardships and insecurities, most of which are never visible from the outside.

If you want a book about the beauty of community, the struggle of loss, the value of friendship, and the importance of getting to know people before you cast judgments, there’s probably no better story than this one.  

As always, I love to hear your thoughts and any book recommendations you may have for me. Share away!

P.S. More book reviews. 

How I Learned to Come to Terms With Where I'm From

How I Learned to Come to Terms With Where I'm From

Home: the place of Hurley surf contests and clean, trash-swept streets. Of middle-aged women with breast implants, sandals in January, and gyms so large they have their own hair salons inside. Of community yoga classes in grassy parks, outdoor shopping malls with acoustic guitar concerts, and “Closed” signs slapped to locked glass doors at 9pm. Of hilly running trails, foggy June mornings, and fish tacos so tender they ruin you for life. Home: a place I have loved and despised in equal measure.

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In the Face of Terrorism, Why It's More Important Than Ever to Travel

A lovely painting by Jessica Durrant. Find it here.

I wrote an article yesterday in response to the recent terrorist attacks. Here's a snippet: We have a responsibility now more than ever to know the world intimately and to break down the racial, cultural, and stereotype-based obstacles that stand to divide us.

It's published here if you'd like to read it. The image above is a lovely painting by Jessica Durrant. Find it here.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
— Nelson Mandela