I had a meh reading month. What about you?
Approach my August mini book reviews with caution. Here’s what you shouldn’t read (and four books you should)!
Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K #1) by Jenny Lee–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–three stars: I never read book blurbs fully before diving into a book, and sometimes it backfires worse than taking a sip of Coke when you’re expecting unsweet tea but occasionally I’m rewarded with an unforeseen, delicious book flavor. Anna K is room temperature water. Parts were witty and then others were listy. It’s Crazy Rich Asians plus Gossip Girl, but it lacks the glamorous good fun the characters in those series have so it’s hard to get past the entitlement here. I liked Dustin (because he isn’t entitled), but he’s choppy.
The Stranger by Albert Camus–published 1942–classics–three stars: I’m not exactly sure what I just read here. Mind you, the writing is startlingly clear, but . . . I’m confused as to why the protagonist killed another person. And just who is “the stranger”? The protagonist? The guy who the protagonist kills? Imma just back away from this one slowly like Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes.
Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta’s Academy #1) by Sandhya Menon–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–two stars: For the love of books, y’all! When am I going to learn my lesson? Once again, I walked into a book without reading the blurb and ended up with another retelling–this time a Beauty and the Beast varietal. This is the most unimaginative, repetitive retelling I’ve ever read. There’s a bunch of bratty rich kids sent to a boarding school in the middle of Colorado. Woohoo, another story featuring children of the one percent! Jaya and her sister, Indian princesses, enroll there after a scandal at home. Jaya finds out that her family’s nemeses–the Emersons–have a son that attends St. Rosetta’s too, and she plots to use her feminine wiles to seduce him into destroying his family’s good name as revenge for destroying her family’s good name. She’s beauty. He’s beast. There’s nothing original here, and it gets too teach-y. However, Menon can rock a metaphor; that’s the only reason I finished reading this. Read A Curse So Dark and Lonely instead.
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner–published 2020–LQBT romance–one star: I don’t often distribute one-star ratings, but there’s nothing that makes this read stand out. Jo, a Hollywood producer, invites her assistant Emma to accompany her to an awards show, not as a date, but as a buffer between Jo and the paparazzi. Rumors swirl anyway, and the two deny that they have feelings for one another. Zero character development? Check. Generic, boring writing? Check check.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig–published 2019–YAL fantasy/retellings–two stars: Another freaking retelling???? I’m smarter than my August book choices, promise. A reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Again, no character development. Book lovers, throw a four or five star read my way soon like a life preserver. I’m drowning in a salty sea of terrible writing and its sorrows.
The City We Became (Great Cities #1) by N.K. Jemisin–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: Thank. God. Leave it to Jemisin to rescue me. I loved this more than Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Each borough of NYC manifests as a person, and those people must find each other in order to save the city from alternate universes. While the writing glows, the judgments and themes further illuminate Jemisin’s voice. Take a look: Innocence is nothing but a ceremony, after all. So strange that you people venerate it the way you do. What other world celebrates not knowing anything about how life really works? And But these people are always gonna tell themselves that a little fascism is okay as long as they can still get unlimited drinks with brunch! Don’t get me wrong, the novel is slow at first because it focuses on establishing the different characters and what they are doing when outside forces attack the city. It gets explain-y too at times when I didn’t think that certain plot points needed further clarification; I mean, it is a fantasy. Reading funk–officially over!
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens–published 2007–nonfiction–three stars: He fails to outline any new arguments in his position, and his tone is just so damn disdainful of believers.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson–published 2020–YAL LGBT romance–three stars: Moment of honesty: I can see the appeal to teenage readers here, and that’s why I rounded up. Liz, a band nerd, has gotten into the school of her dreams but didn’t get a much-needed scholarship. At her rich, suburban Indiana high school, prom is a big deal, and king and queen win not just crowns, but big buck scholarships as well. So, she decides to run for prom queen despite the odds against her. At the first meeting, she meets Mack, a new girl also running for court, and Liz is smitten-smacked. So where do I start? This high school is ridiculous. What high school makes prom a scholarship pageant? At one point, Guy Fieri caters an event (maybe prom itself? I can’t remember) . . . I mean, come on! The school has its own social media app, lording over Snapchat and TikTok and the like, just like in Tweet Cute. Also, is this a thing now? Where individual high schools have their own apps that trump mainstream social media? Also, Mack just so happens to be cousins with a member of Liz’s favorite band. And they just so happen to go on their first date to that favorite band’s show and then later on in the novel the lead singer surprises Liz at school. And all that just fits too nicely. And, what new girl runs for prom court? The people who run the school are idiots, and I hate seeing that repeatedly in YAL. And it took me forever to read this book because I just wasn’t that invested in it. The writing is cute-ish though, and Liz and Mack’s relationship will be relatable to high schoolers. And this cover? Swoon!
Brunch and Other Obligations by Suzanne Nugent–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: The title had me at brunch despite the fact I’m not a huge fan of that whole let’s-combine-two-meals-into-one-on-the-weekends-meal vibe. Stop your gasping. If you had the stomach problems I do, you’d feel the same way. Brunch menus are limited and often revolve around gluten, making it damn near impossible for me to find a meal that I can actually eat AND fill me up, and Bloody Marys are the worst (fighting words I know) and mimosas give me heartburn to rival a pregnant woman’s who’s carrying a baby with a headful of hair. Anyway, when their mutual friend Molly dies, three women who grew up together but barely tolerate each other respect their friend’s last wishes and eat brunch together once a month. Because it’s light-hearted and funny, I’ll overlook its predictability. It gets a bottomless-beer cheers from me.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue–published 2020–historical fiction–three stars: In Ireland during the 1918 flu outbreak, Julia works as a nurse in a large hospital in a small unit where pregnant women with the flu are treated. The first day takes up around 50 percent of the book and moves at a glacier’s pace. I might be mistaken, but the novel doesn’t possess a plot. However, it’s so very readable, and the last 30 percent makes up for a draggy first half. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate dialogue. Vomit emoji.
Want by Lynn Steger Strong–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: Despite having rich parents and being Ivy League-educated, Elizabeth and her husband struggle to make ends meet for their family while living in New York City. I loved how deep this novel dived into Elizabeth’s mind and how it explored her complicated friendship with her best friend from home Sasha. It felt like it needed more editing, and then on closer inspection, I liked its rambly stream of consciousness. Strong did a nice job portraying the ins and outs of charter school teaching in a big city (not that I’ve ever worked in one, but it’s how I envision it). I don’t know if I would recommend this to everyone, but if you err more on the side of literary, it’s worth the read.
Pericles by William Shakespeare–drama/classics–three stars: Not his best? Pericles, a king, thinks his wife dies during childbirth, so she receives a pirate’s burial. She washes ashore on a distant land still alive. After his wife’s supposed death, Pericles leaves his newborn daughter with a trusting family in a different foreign land. After the girl grows up, the family tries to have her murdered, but pirates kidnap her instead. When Pericles returns to check on her, he’s told she’s dead. Then at the end, they’re all reunited like the whole thing isn’t completely implausible anyway . . .
The Bird and the Sword (The Bird and the Sword Chronicles #1) by Amy Harmon–fantasy–published 2016–four stars: Because of a curse before her mother’s murder, Lark can’t speak, but with her inner voice, she can bend animals, nature, and inanimate objects to her will. Living in a world where magic is banned, her silence keeps her safe. When the king absconds with her to ensure her father’s fealty against battling unnatural magical creatures that threaten the kingdom, she must find her voice to keep the realm safe. My friend from high school pointed me in Harmon’s direction, and I must say, Harmon’s writing is magic and a welcome reprieve. What prevented this from five-star status? A predictable storyline.
As always, I welcome discussion!