Greetings from the reading chair!

Book Blog: August 2021 Favorites

Even though it felt like summer was just starting, summer is almost finished here in Seattle as we roll into September. Summer is nice and everything, but I’m an indoorsy girl and I love the warm fall days with crisp nights — a perfect time to cuddle up with a cat and a book!

I read 15 books in August, bringing the annual total to 120 — with four months yet to go. If you were to ask me if this would be such a year for books I don’t know that I would tell you yes, but I also expected that the world would be back to more of a pre-pandemic state, but it’s not yet. I’ll also admit that I’ve forgotten how to people just a bit, but we did take a trip to Chicago and I saw friends, so there was that.

So without any further ado, here were my favorites from this month.

Fiction

Death in the Clouds (Agatha Christie): As I continue on my Agatha Christie journey, this was my read of the month from her oeuvre. On a flight from France back to Britain, a woman is discovered dead in her seat, but no one knows what happened. However, a blowpipe is found in M. Poirot’s seat and a dart is found on the floor by her feet. In this closed cabin there are a set number of suspects, but at first look they seem to be ordinary and rather innocent people. But Poirot and his colleagues start to uncover some nefarious motives after all…

Troubled Blood (Robert Galbraith): As is hopefully obvious from the previous choice I love a good mystery, and ever since I read the first book in the Comoran Strike series by Galbraith I was hoooooooked. Strike is deeply flawed and wonderful — and it doesn’t hurt that Tom Burke plays him in the Cinemax adaptation (C.B. Strike and available on HBO, in case you needed to know).

As this is the fifth book in the series I shall not spoil it all, but to say that this, the longest book yet at more than 800 pages, was extremely satisfying and yet not at all because a very key plot has not yet resolved.

There best be a sixth book.

Interested? Start with The Cuckoo’s Calling and just keep going.

The Greenhouse (Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir): With a trip to Iceland upcoming I had to sneak in another Ólafsdóttir book ahead of time — and sadly this might be the last book of hers readily available in America. Her books are charming and timeless, and this one was no exception.

This book is the story of Lobby, a young man who loves gardening and recently lost his mother in a car crash. He’s learned about a secluded and prestigious rose garden on the continent (we’re never quite sure where — I had assumed Italy until the passages about dialects), so he leaves his remaining family (father, twin brother, child) behind in Iceland to work in the garden and figure out what to do next in his life. Ólafsdóttir is the master of small moments, but unlike some authors in this sub-genre she doesn’t overwork the prose, which is something of a marvel. I’ll read anything and everything she writes!

Handle With Care (Jodi Picoult): Picoult is one of my favorite pop fiction authors because she tackles interesting and serious topics but her books are almost drinkable. Even though this was more than 400 pages I blew threw it on a plane ride earlier this month and it felt great.

This book tells the story of Willow, a young girl who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a disease that causes malformed bones that easily break, and her family’s struggle with her disease. Even though in many ways Willow is happy, she years to play, run and be able to swim and ice skate like everyone else. After a distressing family incident, her parents start to wonder if they can do *something* to make sure that she (and they) are better treated. Even though Picoult tends to throw in some punny jokes (lots of “breaking” and “snapping” in this one), her writing is good enough to carry the book — but her treatment of complex family dynamics and life issues are what makes me coming back to her books.

Non-Fiction

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat (Aubrey Gordon): It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but this book opened my eyes to not only the experience of fat people (to be clear, fat is the author’s preferred terminology) but highlighted all of my anti-fat biases and the ways that they are everywhere in our society. I had done some previous reading about this topic, but the clear, well-cited approach that Gordon takes is the best that I’ve seen. You should read this book if you are straight-size, if you think you aren’t biased towards fat people, or if you know that you are.

This book is helping me form goals to further my learning as well as be a better advocate and ally for others. If you’re interested in learning more, might I also recommend her fantastic podcast, Maintenance Phase?

In a Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson): This is my second read of this, my favorite Bill Bryson book, and it makes me adore both him and Australia a little bit more. Bryson can bring humor and joy to any situation, even, evidently, miles and miles of empty road in the Outback, endless roundabouts in Canberra, or looking at some of the earth’s oldest animals at Shark Bay. As a country that is half American and half British (per Bryson, who spent half of his life in each), I can’t imagine that you’ll not love the country after this witty travelogue. I’d add all of the witty quips he makes to this blog entry, but I would NEVER have enough space to convey his brilliance — so best to just read the book.

Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Different Dialogues on Race (Derald Wing Sue): This book is another excellent book to help White people become anti-racist. Having read several such books in the past few years there are a few ways that this stood out to me:

- Many books on this topic are about how Black and White people relate; Sue expands this beyond this binary, mainly to Asian-Americans.
- Sue explores relationships between non-white groups instead of restricting the dialogue to White and non-White relationships.
- He also gives very practical tips for how to (and not to) facilitate racial dialogues, very helpful for facilitators, managers, teachers, etc.

I look forward to reading more of Sue’s books; next to read will be his book about microaggressions.

Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls (Jax Miller): Would it be a Sarah Book Blog without true crime? Most certainly not!

Set in rural Oklahoma at the end of the last century, Miller writes about a double-murder and the disappearance of two teenage girls. I was drawn into this book from the beginning because I was the same age as the two girls (also 16 in 1999) and I grew up in a rural area. For years these murders were unsolved, even though there were many suspects and unfollowed leads. It seems were it not for the parents of one of the girls the current charges wouldn’t have existed at all. The book does a nice job of explaining a few different theories and sets the scene of the crime well, but I could have done without the author inserting herself into the story as much as she did (it felt like a poorly-done approximation of what Michelle McNamara did in her book).

As September and the glorious fall begins in the Northern Hemisphere, may you have many wonderful books to read and cats to read them with.

XO, Sarah

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.