September Reading Wrap-Up 2019

September was a surprising month for me, I read a lot of books that are outside of my normal reading habits (think family dramas and YA), but overall I enjoyed what I read. I also am back into a reading groove and took on ten books this month, up from seven the previous two months. The standout reads for me this month were The Sixth Man and The Only Plane in the Sky. I certainly fell short in reading down some of my unread shelf, but I think that will be the case for the remainder of the year. You can’t do it all.

September by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 31

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 6


All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

You’ve heard this story before: the not so beloved patriarch suffers a heart attack, and his family is then thrown into turmoil as they contemplate what his life and death meant. There are family secrets, resentment, and of course opportunities for redemption.

While the story itself feels little cliched, the writing is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but was moved by the way Attenberg crafted her sentences. Everything in this book is solid and made for an enjoyable reading experience, even if I couldn’t quite find an emotional attachment to the characters.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 127 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

(Photo: amazon.com)

Billy Jensen’a book is at once about his own personal journey into solving crime and about some of the stories of the crimes he’s helped to solve. There is also a large section of this book that covers Michelle McNamara and how it came to be that Jensen helped to finish her book I’ll be Gone in the Dark. Aside from The Golden State Killer, this book is a look into some lesser known stories of murder and that is a welcome treat.

I mostly wished this book was edited better and cut down. It was repetitive and lacked direction. I enjoyed hearing about crimes I didn’t know, and found Jensen to be a likable guide through this world of true crime. I especially appreciated how he took time to focus on the victims and their families. There are a lot of questions about the morality of crowd sourcing crime solving that I wished was debated more in depth, weather that be DNA services or social media posts about potential criminals. This book had a strong base but lacked the depth that was required to really give it lasting impact.

Two Stars | Source Books | August 13, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Chase Darkness with Me on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

(Photo: amazon.com)

A chronicle of the school closings on Chicago’s South Side that disproportionately effect Black and Brown communities. Eve Ewing was educated in these schools and uses her unique perspective and her skills as a journalist to provide a personal and well argued case against these racist school closings.

Ewing is able to convey a lot of history without making the book feel to dry (or long), and gives context to school closings dating back to The Great Migration. She illustrates how these closings are a direct attack on Black History. What was missing for me was the context of how school systems (charter vs. public) really operate. The book is deeply rooted in Chicago, and there is a gap between that and what the book is saying about school closings as a whole.

Three Stars | University of Chicago Press | October 5, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month’s selection for #ShakeTheStacks left a lot to be desired. I struggled with this play as there is very little action and I didn’t care about the characters. The eroding friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal only works if you buy into them in Henry IV Part 1 which, I didn’t. Therefore this second part of the trilogy was mostly me trudging through in the hopes that Henry V will be better.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 200 | 127 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

(Photo: amazon.com)

A YA novel in verse about a young man contemplating avenging his brother’s murder. This book could have been preachy or seemed condescending but Reynolds finds a way to create an emotional story for younger readers that is grounded and truthful, which works for readers of all ages.

In addition to Reynolds finding ways to speak to his audience without talking down to them, Long Way Down confronts issues with an easiness that doesn’t feel like Reynolds is trying hard to be cool or relevant. This book is ultimately about masculinity and the ways in which Black boys and men are expected to behave when it comes to violence, grief, and family. Reynolds expertly weaves the content of this book with the form and structure he has chosen to tell this story.

Four Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

(Photo: amazon.com)

An examination of motherhood through memoir. Sophia Shalmiyev looks at her own life growing up in Russia with her father, and uses the absence of her mother as a driving force throughout her life and her narrative.

This book is fragmeted and poetic, and Shalmiyev uses women from art and culture to paint a larger narrtive. We follow along with Shalmiyev’s life and the greater commentary of what it means to be a motherless daughter, and a eventually a to become a mother herself.

I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but I could feel that its was cathartic and crafted beautifully even if my own connection to it felt distant.

Three Stars | Simon & Schuster Audio | February 12, 2019 | 5 Hours 38 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Four young siblings visit a fortune teller who shares with each of them the date of their deaths, from then on we watch the Gold siblings live. We follow them across the country through time and see how their looming fates effect their relationships and choices.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Chloe Benjamin clearly did to tell this story, from 1980’s San Francisco to the inner workings of the magic scene to aging research on monkeys. This book has range. I also enjoyed waiting to see if and how all the pieces played out, and while that novelty wore off about 3/4 through the book, I stayed more connected and entertained than I thought I would going in. The writing was strong and overall the book is good, if not slightly overworked. You’re left to think about the decisions we make and how much we are in control, and thats something worth contemplating.

Three Stars | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | February 5, 2019 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Immortalists on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Chloe Benjamin on The Short Stacks HERE.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.

Five Stars | Avid Reader Press | September 10, 2019 | 512 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Garrett M. Graff on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

(Photo: amazon.com)

I wasn’t expecting much from this athlete memoir, and thats coming from a huge Warriors fan, but this book was way more than I expected, in all the best ways. In all honesty, if you’re not a big sports fan, this book might not be for you, but if you like basketball at all (and maybe even just sports in general) I would suggest you pick up this book. I would be remiss not to mention that the reader of this audiobook is extraordinary. Perhaps one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Andre Iguodala has been part of basketball for long enough to have learned a lot. He finds ways to weave his own perspective on basketball with his experiences. He talks about paying college athletes in relationship to his time at the University of Arizona. He touches on racist owner mentalities, double consciousness, and the biases of referees and coaches. The book couples the social justice issues with his insights into playing basketball, being successful, and his myriad of teammates (many of whom are household names).While I would have loved to know more about his personal life (his wife and son), I wasn’t bothered that those parts of himself were kept private.

Five Stars | Penguin Audio | June 25, 2019 | 7 Hours 8 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The idea of this book is stellar, follow three women around and find out about their sexual lives and desires. Focus on the women, recreate their world on the page, explain what makes them tick, and use them to explain something greater about women and sex. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that promise, instead it focused on women who were in relationships with men that were manipulative in the best case and resulted in sexual assault and rape in the worst.

Something that was missing from Three Women was Taddeo taking a stand and saying something about the women and the work she had done. There was no reflection in this book and no greater points were made. Instead we were presented with information without any attempt to make sense of it. A sex positive book about women’s desires and what that says about 2019 would’ve been a fantastic read, but this book was not that at all. It also should be stated that all three of the women used in this book were White, able bodied, and cisgender. There was no diversity which doesn’t help Taddeo’s attempt to extrapolate some larger point about “women”.

Two Stars | Avid Reader Press | July 9, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

E6521C99-1A52-4616-B658-92150D28E59B.JPGThis book is a true gift. I am very grateful that Wamariya chose to share her story with the world. I think we, as readers and consumers, can often feel entitled to read great stories. I think we feel we deserve to be educated and entertained. The Girl Who Smiled beads is an ever present reminder, that every book, every story, is the work of someone else. It is their labor of love and struggle, and that they are making a choice to share that with us. We should be humbled to be in the presence of someone else’s journey, and we should be grateful. This book made me grateful.

If you are not familiar with this book, here is more information for you.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were thunder. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive. 
 
In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

Clemantine and her sister Claire go on extraordinary journey, except its not extraordinary. It is all too common. It is the story of civil war. It is the story of death and violence. It is the story of becoming a refugee. It is one telling of this story, that too many know too well. Wamariya makes the point of reminding us that it is us, that are inadequate, we can not take in all the unique stories of suffering. So instead, we find ways to make certain ones the special ones. The ones we are willing to see.

The story as told by Wamariya to Weil is fantastic. The poetry in the language is beautiful and it brings so much depth and emotion. Wamariya is willing to get vulnerable. She is willing to be flawed for us. The structure of the book is not linear, we jump from event to event, year to year, we are sorting through Wamariya’s life with her. Looking for clues as to who she is and how she grew into her self. She is angry and bitter, she is distrustful, she is also a caretaker and a witness to so many. She will not let us see her, or her sister, as only victims.

While there are parts of the book I would have loved to hear more about (her relationship to Black Americans, the conflicts in Africa she experiences, her day to day acclimation in Chicago), this book is full. It is rich with thoughtful analysis of ones own journey, which is so hard to do. To be truly examines one self is no easy task.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is in line with other books about children who grow up in war torn African countries and find their way to America. Two that I am particularly fond of, What is the What by Dave Eggers, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. While the other two books are more concerned with historical context and the telling of a cohesive story, I found this book to be more thoughtful, more introspective, and more concerned with the greater narrative of suffering that we inflict upon one another.

While there are parts of this book that are disturbing and emotional, I would suggest you read it. I would suggest you bear witness to Wamariya and her journey.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here