Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Review Round Up: October


With November nearly done I best get my October book reports turned in. I’m two weeks late in doing so. Do I get half credit? Do good intentions count? Am I sounding like my students?

Uniquely entertaining and informative is how I am defining Robin Sloan’s style and approach to writing. If you read his first novel, Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, you will not be disappointed. He has once again taken his readers into parts of San Francisco most living outside the city are completely unaware exists. Blending technology with food this time, Sloan explores the world of sourdough, robotics, and farmer markets. Along with a side of cultural history. He makes it work. I smiled and outright laughed most of the time. Alas, some of the techno-terms became babbling at certain points and my reading interest waned, so no five, but a firm 4.75 is in order.

There are so many positive aspects to this book: the seemingly impossible chance of a little dog finding a new friend in such an unexpected place as the Gobi desert, the dedication of Dion towards Gobi, Gobi’s absolute adoration of Dion, the support of friends, family, and strangers to reuniting Dion and Gobi. Plus, Gobi is absolutely packed with personality. A person doesn’t have to love dogs to enjoy this story.

This is a retold version of Dion’s longer autobiographical story, adapted for younger readers. The interjection of Gobi’s perspective now and then into the story is especially appealing for young readers. This is a great book for emphasizing how faith and love can often make the impossible happen.

The review copy was provided by the publisher and I am under no obligation.

An engaging story that provides a cast of memorable characters along with settings and situations rich with imagery and hints of realism. I say hints because there are times when characters aren’t realistic. Could a woman become so jaded she would not invite her beloved brother’s daughter into her house upon first meeting her? Would a young woman truly remain so unscathed, retain so much innocence after knocking around by herself during the vulnerable years between 16-20?

While the story is engaging, it’s also fragmentary in its leaps in time sequencing. All of a sudden it’s three weeks later or they are suddenly back home from a monumental road trip. Transitions are not gentle–they are jarring. Yet, I liked my first visit with the author and will look up her other books as I favor character-driven plots that provide a balance of faith with everyday living.

Rarely do I suggest watching the film before reading the book. The Queen of Katwe is an exception. To fully grasp the level of poverty Phiona contends with, it must visually be explored. And being a Disney film it will be a modified version. It’s still shocking.

Tim Carothers expands upon the magazine article about Phiona and provides a fairly full account of how a girl from the slums of an Ugandan slum could learn chess well enough to compete, and win, on a national level and compete internationally.

At times the book seems to stray from its focus on Phiona, but in retrospect the backstories provide a complete portrait of who Phiona is and how the people surrounding her have contributed to her success.

It will be interesting to follow up on Phiona as she continues her dream of becoming a Grand Master. As an update, she is now attending a university in Washington State.

Katherine Reay has found her niche in writing intersections of Austen and contemporary times and the proof of this is her latest novel, The Austen Escape.

There are layers of plot lines roaming through this story: besties becoming stale, a start up creative factory in transition, complicated family histories needing mending, PTSD manifested, a misunderstood hero trying to woo the heroine. And an Austen escape vacation to satisfy most Janeites.

There are a couple of considerations. One is the focus of the Austen escape. It seemed a contrived way for Isabel to get lost in Austen, and all the Austen name-dropping got a bit confusing, even for this reader who is familiar with the stories.

Speaking of confusing—the label of Christian fiction needs to be addressed. While most of the characters espouse admirable moral standards, there are only a few off hand mentions of guiding spiritual beliefs, which is difficult to process when the crew spends their Friday nights are at the local watering hole ending their weekend with a beer or cocktail and consider possible date picks from the bar.

No swearing, light kissing, so a bit of drinking and innuendo is okay for a Christian romance? There is a mixed message. However, I appreciate Reay’s books for their intriguing, well-written plots and look forward to the next one.

I received this book from the publisher, via BookLook Bloggers. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

October was packed with enjoyable reads which helped me navigate the stress load of grading assignments in time for the first quarter report card. Nothing like escaping into the pages of a good read. Almost beats out dark chocolate.

All images from Amazon or Goodreads.

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5 thoughts on “Review Round Up: October

  1. Finding Gobi and The Queen of Katwe are up on my list now.

  2. You’ve discovered Jamie Langston Turner! That’s an unexpected pleasure. She was my creative writing professor and the book you read published during my class. Her books are certainly an acquired taste. I recommend “Winter Birds” for your next attempt.

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