And just like that, it’s time for my July Reading wrap-up! I swear these months are getting shorter. During a temperamental month of rain, wind, thunder and shine, I read 10 books, most of which I adored. My favourites of the month, each at a hefty 500+ pages, were A Little Life, All the Light We Cannot See, Crime and Punishment and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Reflecting now, none of them are particularly the most cheery, summery reads, but I’m loving getting lost in longer books this summer. My plans for August are to continue ticking off books on my summer reading list and also begin tackling some preparatory reading before my fourth year of uni starts in September.
As always, you can find my longer reviews over on my Goodreads. Without further ado, here’s my July reading wrap-up!
This book shattered my heart.
A Little Life is about Jude and the people who have shaped his life. A life encompassing a profoundly disturbing childhood, atrocious abusive relationships, loss of loved ones, disability, insecurities – the more the novel progressed, the more my heart ached for him. The 720 pages comprise some of the most harrowing and horrifying scenes I’ve read.
Would I read it again? Not a chance. I couldn’t handle re-reading so much tragedy or incessant suffering and pain. Yanagihara is willing to plumb to the depths of Jude’s darkness and show us how hurtful a single life can be. We follow Jude and his peers over decades in all sorts of situations and she is unflinching in her depictions of pain. I would feel a sudden sense of hope witnessing Jude’s achievements and friendships. However, all this love he possesses, all the friends he had, is taken from him.
No matter how difficult this was to read, Yanagihara has created an astonishing piece of literature that I won’t soon forget.
An uplifting story about love, loss and friendship. This quick read is perfect for anyone who suspects they may not have this whole ‘adulting’ business sussed. Keep an eye out for my full review which will be up soon!
This is my third book by Margaret Atwood and I just love the way in which she plays with real-world ideas and fears that make the events of her stories completely plausible, albeit slight terrifying.
The Gardeners are a radical green cult who live organically in their private commune, free from modern temptation, working towards protecting mother earth. Their values are completely opposed to those of the Corporations who, while producing useless genetically manipulated monsters, are increasingly destroying the resources and ecological balances of the planet. Their leader, Adam One, preaches about the Waterless Flood. This is a disaster that will pay back humankind for all the injustices done to the animal kingdom, and those who have read the book’s predecessor, Oryx & Crake, know that it’s coming.
Atwood’s imagination fascinates me. Through the alternating perspectives of two women, we learn more about how far science can go to the point of gene splicing and genetic manipulation. As hippy-dippy the Gardeners may seem, when reflecting upon today’s surge in veganism and vegetarianism, climate change protests and our increasing awareness of environmental issues, Atwood’s radical cult feel very real. It’s completely believable and she presents us with an eerily possible future.
It’s impossible to conjure the words for just how spectacular and moving this book is. The story alternates between the experiences of Marie Laure, a blind Parisian girl and Werner, a talented and skilled German orphan, transitioning between the past and present. When the war strikes, the girl and her locksmith father must flee, while Werner is offered the opportunity to attend the National Political Institute of Education.
We also have a third perspective, that of Sgt Major Reinhold von Rumpel. He’s a gem appraiser who is determined to the point of obsession to find the Sea of Flames, a notorious near-mythic diamond. It’s his corrupt, greedy characterisation that provides the danger that propels the story forward.
The story alone is engaging, but Doerr’s prose enriches the reader with a spectrum of meaning and feeling. I wanted to savour every one of his alluring descriptions. The prose is so tangible that it awakens all the senses which makes for such an immersive, yet heartbreaking, reading experience as he reveals the horrors of the devastating war.
All the Light We Cannot See captures your mind as well as your heart and makes the senses come alive. Doerr’s writing is so evocative that his characters are still able to shine among the darkness of war.
This took me completely by surprise. Having always been intimidated by Russian classics, I expected it to be quite dense and difficult to get into. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Crime and Punishment is a prying exploration of human nature and its complexities after Raskolnikov, our young and conflicted protagonist, commits murder. We witness how the darkest depths of his guilty conscience torment him and questions of morality rise to the surface. Following Rodya, we embark on a psychological journey full of plot twists and surprises.
All the characters were complex, although not always likeable. I found myself rooting for our anti-hero and sympathised with even the drunkards and lunatics, to such an extent that I was on the verge of tears. Once I learned all their Russian names, I fell in love with this twisted psychological tale. Despite the dark themes and gruesome crimes, it’s incredibly accessible. This was the perfect introduction to the Russian classics.
This was a fascinating true-story which illustrates the healing power of nature as a middle-aged couple, facing bankruptcy and a terminal illness diagnosis, decide to walk the South West Coast Path.
With food shortages and surviving on mere packet noodles and fudge bars, wild camping and not showering for days on end, their perseverance was incredible. Ray’s unbreakable love for her husband shines through her writing. My heart aches to think about what the future may hold for this couple as Moth’s disease gradually diminishes.
I will say that I found the tragedy slightly overbearing at times and I wish Ray would have given us more detail of South West Coastal Path itself. However, overall, The Salt Path is a heart-warming, bravely honest book.
The Drowned World imagines a terrifying future in which solar radiation and global warming have melted the polar ice caps and Triassic-era jungles have overrun a submerged and tropical London. A team of scientists endure the suffering heat in upper floors of buildings which protrude the water and silt.
Although rich with tangible descriptions of lavish lagoons and high-rising jungles, the characters lack complexity and the images and observations of this apocalyptic world soon became repetitive. Nonetheless, I found the examination of the effects of environmental collapse on the human mind interesting. The characters aren’t resisting the apocalyptic collapse, but intent on joining it.
Celeste Ng excels at crafting a sharp emotional family-drama in which every minute detail threads together to create a tour de force of breath-taking storytelling.
Everything I Never Told You centres around a Chinese American family in the 1970s before and after the death of Marilyn and James Lee’s favourite child, Lydia. From the outset, we know that Lydia has died in a nearby lake but, like her parents, we don’t know why their seemingly perfect daughter was taken from them. Then, through the non-linear perspective shifts, Lydia’s death becomes a vehicle in which Ng explores characters’ hopes, needs and desires unravelling layers of love and jealousy.
Celeste Ng has such a talent for crafting intricate character studies. For someone who relishes character-driven stories, I didn’t care about the lack of ground-breaking plot twists. Although of course I was intrigued, even the mystery of Lydia’s death took a back seat as the Lee family were put under the microscope. Her engaging characters’ perspectives reveals complexities from racial relations and gender roles to parental expectations. No, it’s not a fast-paced twisty mystery. But, if like me, you revel in saporous character descriptions, you will love it.
Overall, the superior writing sets Everything I Never Told You miles apart from stories with similar plots. It’s safe to say Celeste Ng is a favourite author of mine and I’m itching to read whatever she releases next.
This is such an important, poignant book. This Is Going to Hurt is a collection of diary entries from a former doctor, Adam Kay. His anecdotes are laugh-out-loud funny one minute then they’re tugging on the heartstrings the next.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart; blood, births and certain items stuck in places they shouldn’t be. Kay doesn’t sugar-coat anything. Rather, he fesses up to the inevitable traumas, some of which, unfortunately, could have been avoided had the staff not been so overworked.
I now respect those who work for the NHS on a whole new level. These doctors work to the very edge of their ability to cope, yet many people, politicians included, consider them as robots who are expected to complete every demand with Herculean strength and determination. This is the very reasoning behind Kay’s writing of the book; a rebuttal of the politicians’ portrayal of doctors as merely being in it for the money. There’s a problem with the system and it’s about time something was done about it.
I recommend listening to the audiobook as Kay’s narration are sarcasm made his anecdotes 10x more amusing. Listening, I could also grasp how much his job truly meant to him.
This. Book. I can’t find the words to adequately express how incredible this book was. I knew it would become an all-time favourite from the first line, but I never anticipated just how extraordinary this story would be.
Following the life of Cyril, a gay man growing up in 20th century Catholic Ireland, Boyne has created a masterpiece. This book comprises witty dialogue, memorable, thought-provoking quotes and charming characters, all of which evokes such raw, intense emotion. An epic saga spanning 70 years, Boyne addresses themes of sexuality religion and the enraging prejudices and hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church. We also bare witness to how, with each seven-year leap, attitudes transform over time.
I’ve always been reluctant to use the words ‘unputdownable’, not thinking it was possible to become so encapsulated by a story. However, from the outset I was invested into Cyril’s journey. Some may complain of its length, but I found the pace to be fantastic. The themes Boyne tackles aren’t particularly the cheeriest, but the absurd humour was a perfect balance to this. The saddest part for me was having to accept that it was over. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a story which encourages the heart to grow and love. This was my first John Boyne novel, but it will certainly not be my last.
Have you read any of these books? What are you planning on reading in August?
Thanks for reading!