As we wave goodbye to summer and hello to cozy clothes and comfort food, it’s time for another monthly reading wrap-up. During my birthday month, I flew through 13 books, read a mixed bag of genres and yes, I did it. I finally started reading Harry Potter. It even made it up there as one of my 5-star ratings of the month. Two other noteworthy books I read in August are ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig and ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt, both which have been on my mind since having savoured every one of their words.
With my final year of University looming, I’ll be making the most of reading for pleasure before I’m back to the daily grind of researching, revising and ploughing through heavier texts.
As always, you can find my longer reviews over on my Goodreads. Without further ado, here’s my August reading wrap-up!
This book is a fusion of ‘Oryx and Crake’s‘ frightening apocalypse and ‘The Year of the Flood’s’ survival tale. Comprising Zeb’s backstory and an insight into how the characters cope with existing in their radically changed world, Atwood joins the dots and answers any questions we have left about the survivors and life post-Waterless Flood. A lot of the book is repetitive while echoing some of what we have already learned from the book’s predecessors. However, throughout Zeb’s story, I marvelled in learning more about the crazy hyper-tech elements in the pre-apocalyptic world. Not much happened, but there was something about the ending that was profoundly touching and inspiring.
This was a creepy coming of age story set in a remote village on the Welsh borders during the heatwave of 1976. Reading this during the mini heatwave the UK endured earlier in the month; the novel’s atmosphere was palpable. In the village, the locals despise the outsiders, something which Nif and her family soon find out when moving into the isolated cottage; there to recalibrate after the drowning of Nif’s younger sister a few months back. During a few short weeks, Nif meets the local boy, Mally, with whom she uncovers the secrets of the village. Meanwhile, her parents become fascinated by his alluring mother.
I can see why people would love this one. The ambiguity in McKnight’s prose is pertinent when setting up the creepy mood and her intricate detail is often disturbing. There’s no doubt that McKnight has succeeded in creating a dark, claustrophobic tale which many readers will enjoy.
This book should be required reading for anyone who suffers, has suffered, knows someone who suffers and everyone in between. The stigma surrounding mental health is still prominent. No one chooses to be depressed. No one chooses to live with crippling anxiety. You can’t simply put on a brave face and be cured. That is why this book is so poignant: Haig seamlessly articulates how debilitating it is to live with a mental illness. Every word is worth reading. It’s so comforting to know that others have battled bigger demons than I yet have triumphed and accomplished so much since.
The short chapters, lists and the simple format make this book easy to dip in and out of whenever in need of a pick-me-up. Reasons to Stay Alice has now claimed a space well within reach on my bedside table. What a powerful book.
After an unnamed apocalyptic event, the earth has been rendered uninhabitable, and people must live in an underground Silo, which extends many stories beneath the surface of the planet. While I did like the concept, I found the book lost its initial impact after the first couple of chapters.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with the characters. Although there aren’t too many of them, they were so bland I forgot who was who. Then, the biggest problem for me was the pacing. Other reviewers mention that it eventually picks up, but after nearly 200 pages, the story did little to keep me hooked and I still had so many questions.
Flight Behaviour is set in the fictional town of Feathertown, Tennesse. Dellarobia, a young mother and wife, is set to leave her husband to pursue her latest romantic endeavour when she heads up her family’s mountain to meet a younger man. She is eagerly on her way until she sees a peculiar flaming forest, alive with millions of Monarch butterflies. Although she can’t comprehend what she’s seen, she takes the event as a sign and heads back home.
As the butterflies attract attention, some see beauty, some see the hand of God, others, including a scientific team specialising in Monarchs, see an alarming disruption of nature. Then, with a relentless downfall of rain flooding the remote Feathertown, it becomes increasingly clear that global warming is the underlying cause.
With global warming comes changes to the environments. With changes to the environment comes significant changes in peoples’ lives. However, few people seem to care; reactions differing depending on their economic, educational and social status. As we witness in society now more than ever, the great political and economic powers refuse to recognise scientific evidence. Kingsolver offers a nuanced exploration of what global warming looks like striking the perfect balance between science and storytelling.
With the TV series already having me firm within its grip, I was intrigued to see how the book would compare. I’m at once fascinated but repulsed by Atwood’s haunting tale. The Handmaids have no free will. They’re instrumentalised as mere baby-making machines. Imagine if we conformed to the misogynistic, totalitarian views of the past with such intensity – women would have no power whatsoever. They’re simply oppressed to a state of sub-human existence where they’re only to be used and controlled. It’s the fact that this scenario could exist that makes this book so dark and disturbing. Elisabeth Moss’s eerie narration is nothing short of perfection, too.
This is the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read. A five-star rating seems insufficient. From the first page, we know classics student Bunny is going to be murdered by his classmates. But, why did they do it? How did they do it? What happens next?
Despite its length, I craved more. Tartt’s writing so crisp and elegant that even Richard’s most minute observations lead to beautifully lyrical, bordering on abstract, descriptions. Them, the characters. They’re diabolical, flawed to every degree, and should be unlikeable. Their pretentiousness almost leaps out from the pages, but their obsession with ancient Greek culture and their sinister logic is endearing.
I envy anyone who is yet to read this for the first time, just please let me live vicariously through you when you do.
Ingeniously, the novel is written in reverse chronology, each subsequent chapter’s events taking place further in Laura’s past. We visit her at different stages of her life, from her late diagnosis of endometriosis to dealing with judgement from her friends while working in New York. Laura’s pain, her thoughts, are all placed under a microscope revealing to us her deepest emotions which rage beneath her seemingly compliant surface.
The unconventional construction of the novel charts the changes in her health and her life while she grows up, leaves Norway and moves abroad and is in and out of appointments. Laura’s inner strength is incredible. Despite the heart-wrenching end of the novel – fifteen-year-old Laura envisioning her successful future – she ultimately doesn’t allow her illness to prevent her from achieving her dreams and finding her place in her world.
This is a set text for one of my university modules was a strange apocalyptic novel which follows Adam Jeffson: the first man to reach the North Pole and the last man left alive on earth. Upon discovering that a purple cloud of poisonous gas has obliterated the world, he travels around the silent globe in search of human life. As the years pass by, he slowly succumbs to madness, questioning God’s plan and sets about burning and thus destroying his planet.
Being a ‘last man on earth’ novel, there was a lack of dialogue but an abundance of lengthy, dense prose. I will admit to skimming parts, mostly his tediously intricate descriptions; ship after ship, city after city. Yet, Shiel’s writing has a mystical quality – I’ve never read prose quite like it. Amid the dense paragraphs are some of the most stunning descriptions I have ever read. From the outset, I never particularly liked Adam, but there’s no doubt that his musings on mankind are interesting, albeit often repulsive. I never rooted for him, yet, Shiels somehow sustained a story with a single, unsympathetic character at its core.
I couldn’t be more content to spend my entire Saturday delving deeper into the mystery of the 64 giant 10 feet tall robotic statues named ‘Carls’ randomly appearing around the world. The writing style isn’t for everyone; simplistic and conversational. However, for me, this helped keep the plot moving at its fast pace.
You need to suspend your disbelief to enjoy this bizarre tale. Enter this story with an open mind and allow the weirdness to simultaneously baffle but amaze you. April May is also not your typical, loveable heroine. Rather, she’s flawed, makes countless, sometimes questionable, mistakes but she takes you on a journey comprised of constant twists, turns and a mystery that keeps unfolding. What stood out for me, however, was the topical commentary on social media culture, fame and fortune. We live in a land of filtered lives in a digital world where polarising opinions provokes hate, pressure and anxiety.
Devin Jones is a struggling college student who lands a summer job at Joyland in 1973, a boardwalk amusement park esteemed for selling fun. Unfortunately, the cover art is misleading in that it suggests this book is a frightening pulp fiction story. Rather, this is a sad, sweet tale told by Dev as an older man comprising memorable characters and a whimsical setting. A wistful, melancholy tone of faded youth emanates from his narration. He takes a trip down memory lane reflecting on his summer spent brooding over his broken heart and learning the carnie trade. Dev also becomes fascinated by the park’s notorious ghost story which gives the book a spooky edge. Although this wasn’t what I expected, Joyland was a breezy, fun coming-of-age story with vintage charm.
All I can say is I’m sorry that it’s taken me my entire life to finally enter this wonderful world of wizardry. I was one chapter in, and Stephen’s Fry narration had already left me baffled as to why it took me so long. The depth that Rowling has gone to create such a palpable, exciting world is incredible and Fry does an amazing job bringing her story to life. Yes, it is rather child-like, but they’re a bunch of eleven-year-olds after all. Oh, how I regret not reading this sooner – I would have loved experiencing such a magical, exciting world as a child. Nonetheless, this book left me in a state of juvenile euphoria. Onto the next one!
The Nickel Boys, a story about the horrors of a reformatory school for boys during the Jim Crows years, was my first-time reading Colson Whitehead. I wanted to love this book but, unfortunately, I found it difficult to commit to the words.
This below-average rating isn’t for the writing. No, Whitehead’s prose is wonderful. Yet, I was left wanting more. Lots of what was being told seemed irrelevant, exposition upon exposition of new characters and ideas. The story felt lifeless and at times, superficial. Elwood also lacked the complexity I crave in a protagonist making it difficult to connect with him.
The fact that the story is inspired by true events angers me and I applaud Whitehead’s endeavour to tell this tragic piece of black history. However, something was missing. Something that I wish would have tortured me, transported me and touched me.
Have you read any of these books? What are you planning on reading in September?
Thanks for reading!
*Kindly sent for free via publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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