REAL (Not “True”) LOVE- October 2022 Book Reviews: Real Love, Hillbilly Elegy, The Five Kingdoms, Wanting

Isn’t it convenient how this monthly TBR game ends up picking certain themes all on its own?

In October, it turns out that the theme of the month was “love.” But not romantic love — “REAL love” (in the words of one of our featured titles).

This month, we have books on:

  • Real love (what it is, how to recognize it, how to find/give it in ALL of your relationships)
  • Love in friendship (which motivates one young boy to risk everything to save his friends in a five-book fantasy-adventure series)
  • Love for one’s community (a theme explored in a story about anthropomorphic rodents)
  • Messed up family love (in a memoir)
  • And a kind of “manufactured” love of stuff, status, and other odd things that you don’t have complete control over…

Take a look!

What’s inside this TBR Wrap Up Article:

  1. List of books read this month
  2. Brief reviews of selected books

And that’s just a few of the books I read this month, inspired by our monthly Tic-Tac-TBR game

(To learn more about the Tic-tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band!)

October 2022 Book List & Prompts


(F) = Fiction. (NF) = Nonfiction.

Selected Book Reviews

Personal Ratings & Review

I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5:

  1. Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
  2. Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (NF)

“Social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, it’s about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and powerful…follow a different set of norms and mores.”

Prompt: Penalty book

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

Unhappy families make fascinating stories, even though it’s uncomfortable growing up in one, as readers see in JD Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy.

This is the story of a successful Yale graduate who started in the most unlikely place — the “hillbilly” South. In the book, Vance describes his difficult childhood with a troubled mother, revolving stepfathers, a tough, gun-totin’ grandmother, and the shadow of a hope-crushing culture that held down so many like him that it’s a bit of a miracle he escaped.

Vance’s story is his family’s story, but it also touches on the themes of intergenerational brokenness, the power of a worldview, and the importance of taking responsibility for your own life, even if you were dealt a rotten hand.

It’s a fascinating story that anyone who has ever experienced troubled families can relate to, and hopefully learn from.

The Five Kingdoms (series) by Brandon Mull (F)

“You don’t need to understand everything about a world to live in it.”

Prompt: 5 star prediction

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

I listened to the Five Kingdoms audiobooks over the course of 2–3 days. When I discovered Brandon Mull, I got my mitts on everything he’s ever written, and devoured each of his series (which are always five books long) within a week or so, each. Why?

Mull writes fantasy-adventure for kids, which in itself is fun to read, but also helpful for me as a writer with a similar focus (at least in fiction). And he is one of the best writers I’ve come across in terms of sheer imaginatory/creative ability 😉

So. Did my 5 star prediction for this series come true? Mostly, yes. I would say this series hovers around a 4–5 stars. It’s another solid Mull creation, following a boy named Cole who goes after his friends when they are kidnapped on Halloween (very appropriate for this month’s TBR list, serendipitously).

Cole is thrown into multiple life-or-death adventures, each one on a different-themed world, and gets involved in magical-political intrigues involving a corrupt king and five hidden princesses as he tries to track down his missing friends and figure out a way home.

The writing and plotting are solid, and the ending is bittersweet (but more sweet than bitter), overall a great fantasy-adventure treat/escape if you need a few hours of literary entertainment 🙂

Wanting by Luke Burgis (NF)

“People don’t fight because they want different things; they fight because mimetic desire causes them to want the same things.”

Prompt: Premise I wish I thought of

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

I’m fascinated by why people want what they do, because I think a vast majority of our problems in this world (social, spiritual, emotional, mental) comes from wanting the wrong things, or in the wrong way. Our desires are disordered, and that warps our lives.

So it was quite interesting to read Burgis’ Wanting, a book about mimetic desires. The main thesis of this book is that people don’t desire things completely on their own. Instead, they want what they see their role models wanting, or having.

We’ve been wired to be this way from birth, which is the reason why being aware of this tendency is important for keeping ourselves safe from marketers and propagandists who would manipulate us with this knowledge, and to keep ourselves on track for a fulfilling life by focusing on healthy desires instead of the alternative.

I listened to the audiobook of Wanting first, and plan to re-read the print version slowly to solidify the lessons learned.

Real Love by Greg Baer (NF)

“With Real Love, nothing else matters; without it, nothing else is enough.”

Prompt: Book based on emotion: humility, sorrow

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

I have a niggling suspicion that Real Love is one of the most important books I’ve read this year.

Baer begins the book with a powerful, arresting summary of his own life: how he “had it all” — money, success, marriage, kids — yet never felt quite right. How he fell into addiction and lost everything, and how he painfully made his way back to a healthy, happy life.

This book contains the most important lessons Baer learned from his fall and return. Its main thesis is, as the title indicates, that “real love is the only thing that can fulfill you.” But, of course, the devil is in the details. What is real love? How do you recognize it? How do you find it? How do you give it?

A lot of what Baer said resonated with me, so much so that I could not read this book in one or two sittings, as I usually do with books of this length. I had to pause and highlight so many lines, and put the book away to get some air every now and then, that it took weeks and weeks to go through it.

And yet I would highly recommend this book for all humans, especially those who struggle with loneliness, cynicism, hopelessness, depression, or any kind of deep, confusing unhappiness. This might be the key to your case.

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