Annie's Nightstand: September 2014.

So much of reading is seasonal, isn't it? I read six books last month, all of which I think transition us perfectly into this season of blankets and candles, cardigans and hot tea. 

The Secret Place by Tana French. I discovered Tana French years ago, back when her first book In the Woods came out, and I've been reading her books faithfully ever since. People who've heard of French love her, but for whatever reason, not everyone is familiar with her work. Consider this your introduction: She's a genius. I recommend her to any customer looking for a good suspense; Gillian Flynn -- of Gone Girlfame -- is great, but I often find her work a little too dark for my taste. French strikes just the right chord, and her new book is no different. The Secret Place takes place at an all-girls' boarding school, and -- in case you're a Netflix-watcher -- the plot reminded me a bit of the latest season of The Killing (that's a good thing). Each of French's books build on a minor character from a previous novel, but never fear: Her novels are entirely stand alone, so you can pick up anywhere, and The Secret Place would be a fine place to start. It's Tana French at her best.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott. Customers are always recommending new reads, and although I don't always get to read your suggestions -- my nightstand has reached never before seen levels of absurdity -- I try. Dare Me was a customer pick and the perfect companion novel to The Secret Place: disturbing and suspenseful. Author Megan Abbott (who I stumbled across in last month's The Fever) delves into the dramas and dealings of a high school girls' cheerleading squad; it's an oddly accurate -- albeit terrifying -- portrayal of the meanness and cliquishness of high school. Read it, and be filled with immense relief and gratitude your high school years are behind you. 

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg. The moment this middle reader book came out of the box, I knew I'd have to read it. (I'm a sucker for pretty covers.) It's a newly-released chapter book -- perfect for middle schoolers and early teens -- reminiscent of The Meaning of Maggie (one of my favorite books of 2014, I think). The story is narrated by 12-year-old Candice Phee, a girl who's quirky and different -- and not, as the reader might first think, autistic. Instead, she's simply growing up in a grief-filled home, trying to mend a decade-long family feud while navigating the tricky world of middle school. I thought the book was well-written and fascinating and fun; unlike so many other books out right now for that middle reader group, this one was realistic and family-oriented instead of fantasy or angst-driven -- a refreshing and welcome change. 

Habits of the House by Fay Weldon. Hooray for another customer recommendation! This trilogy by Fay Weldon is described as a Downton Abbey for intellectuals -- the perfect synopsis given that Weldon was a writer for the BBC series Upstairs Downstairs. I typically shy away from historical fiction -- it's just not my favorite genre -- but I thoroughly enjoyed this book, set in England at the turn of the century. It would be such a fun series to embark on this fall; I've only read the first, Habits of the House, but I've already got the second on hold, and the third releases this December. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton will want to add this one to their reading lists. 

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. If you're a millennial, you've heard of Lena Dunham, the writer, director, and producer of the HBO show Girls. She's been called -- both ironically and un-ironically -- the voice of my generation, and despite the fact that her show Girls really isn't my cup of tea, I can't deny Dunham can write. She's got a knack for storytelling, and her newly-released memoir is vulnerable and bizarre and really well done. It's, to some extent, a feminist manifesto without being grandiose or self-congratulating, and although Dunham and I are different in almost every way -- many of her stories were completely foreign to my Southern sensibilities -- I found the book to inexplicably relatable. I finished it in just a couple of days, and while I won't be recommending it to, say, my mother, I understand why 20-somethings are enamored with Dunham. She's someone it seems you could be friends with, even if you have almost nothing in common. Recommended for fans of Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, though here there's some R-rated content thrown in.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey. My husband and I are smack dab in the middle of a faith change -- or, perhaps more accurately, a faith search. We were both raised in Christian homes, surrounded by loving families, earned degrees at a Christian university. When we moved to Thomasville, we began the search for a new church home, perhaps one with different roots than the restorationist church we both were born and brought up in. Enter faith writer Preston Yancey's new memoir Tables in the Wilderness, which I bizarrely read in the same weekend as Not That Kind of Girl. Yancey's book describes his own faith journey from his Southern Baptist roots to the Anglican church he now calls home, and perhaps it was the aching of my own faith-based growing pains, but I found  his story to be so comforting. (Yancey's also a Christian college and Great Books graduate, making his stories even more similar to mine.) Yancey's writing style is a bit different from what I'm normally drawn to -- the language sometimes reads like poetry rather than prose -- but I was so taken by the familiarity of his story that I truly loved this book. I'm putting this one on my husband's "required reading" list (and yours, if you're so inclined).

See you in the 'Shop, 

Annie

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