September 1, 2021

Summer Reads: June, July + August 2021

My summer reading has been pretty wonderful this year! I've managed to read a ton of things (63 novels, 1 light novel and 24 manga volumes), and I wanted to take the tie to spotlight some of the standouts here. I'm a little behind on reviews, since I ended up taking an unplanned break from posting on the blog (with the exception of collaborations), but I'll link any existing ones and you can look forward to seeing the rest as the year goes on.

One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston's sophomore novel is about August, who is determined to carve out a life for herself apart from her mother, and her budding relationship with Jane, a girl out of time trapped on the Q train. McQuiston's writing style continues to result in stories that are compulsively readable populated by quirky characters who somehow still feel relatable. It's really McQuiston's portrayal of New York, particularly for folks in their early 20s, that appealed to me most though.

XOXO - Axie Oh's first contemporary release is about Jenny, a talented cellist who wants to pursue higher education in music, who has a spontaneous night out in LA with Jaewoo... who happens to be a member of the biggest KPop band in the world. I loved how Axie portrayed the pair navigating their individual obstacles and their budding romance (in Seoul, and this book made me want to visit even more). And, of course, I was totally enjoying the boy band fan fic vibes the book gave me too! (Check out my full review for the book!)

Felix Ever After - I'd heard so much about Kacen Callender's novel, so I ended up borrowing the audiobook from the library once it became available. And I'm really glad that I did, as reading Felix Love's story - from the deadnaming he experiences and the investigation he embarks on to the personal struggles he goes through as he contends with his identity as Black, queer and transgender - was quite the emotional experience. This novel made me feel so many things, as the story is messy, hard, hopeful and, best of all, real.

The Shadow of the Wind - It took me so long to finally get around to reading Carlos Ruis Zafon's very popular modern classic about Daniel, who falls in love with the Julian Carax novel The Shadow of the Wind and who discovers that someone has systematically been destroying all of Carax's work and that his copy may be one of the last. I had no idea what I was in for when I started reading this one, but the twists and turns that this tale took definitely had me hooked from start to end.

Pride & Prejudice - It had been years since I last reread Austen's well-loved tale about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy when I picked it up at the beginning of summer. But I'm happy to report that it didn't just hold up on a reread; it actually delighted me even more than ever before. Lizzy's cleverness and sharp wit, the reveals about Darcy, the Bennet family and their ups and downs - I was thoroughly charmed all over again.

Northanger Abbey - It was my first time reading this Austen novel, and never in my wildest dreams would have I anticipated loving this "gothic parody" as much as I did. We follow the rather naive Catherine Morland as she navigates society and new relationships with the folks she meets in Bath, as well as a visit to an older estate where her imagination runs wild with thoughts of gothic conspiracies. It was so fun to experience the wit and humor of this tale for the first time, and rather than finding her naive heroine grating, I found her charming instead.

Devil in Disguise - I'm a sucker for historical romances from Lisa Kleypas, particularly when they're connected in any way to the Wallflowers series. And I was absolutely delighted by the romance that blossoms between Merritt (a widow who is currently in charge of her husband's shipping company) and Keir (one of their clients who turns out to be more than meets the eye), despite the fact that there was some big drama and a lot of tropey goodness.

The Ones We're Meant to Find - Joan He's sophomore novel is about a young woman who wakes up on a deserted island knowing only one thing: her sister is somewhere out there and she has to find her. This story is best experienced without knowing more going into it, and I found it so impossible to set down after I started that I read it all in one sitting. The narrative construction was well-done, that's for sure.

The Bright and Breaking Sea - Chloe Neill's story is a fantasy with a historical feel that centers around young captain Kit Brightling (who possesses water-based magic) and her begrudging team-up with Viscount Rian Grant (a decorated soldier) to complete a mission the Queen has set for them. It starts off a touch slow for my liking, but my fascination with the world, enjoyment of the plot (particularly when tropes I like start being incorporated) and eventual investment in the blossoming romance eventually won me over.

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee's well-loved novel has been on my radar for a couple of years now, so I was glad when it got picked for our family book club. This saga follows the same family through a couple of generations, both in Korea and in Japan, and it was so compelling with all the dramatic twists and turns their lives took. I also learned a lot about Korean history, particularly for Koreans who ended up in Japan during an era of war and upheaval.

Kiki's Delivery Service - Eiko Kadono's novel (which is the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film) is about young half-witch Kiki, who sets out on her thirteenth birthday determined to follow the witch's tradition of finding a new town to settle in. I love the film so much, so it won't be too much of a surprise to hear that I enjoyed the novel as well! The whimsy and heart of this tale were incredibly appealing, but it's totally the fact that I found Kiki charming and relatable that truly had me loving this book.

Howl's Moving Castle - I've heard so much about Diana Wynn Jones' novel (which is also inspiration for a Studio Ghibli film), which is about the adventures of Sophie, a young woman cursed by the Witch of the Wastes (who is determined to break said curse) who winds up making her way to the moving castle owned by the wizard Howl. This was such a delight! I loved seeing which details Miyazaki took to incorporate into the film, but it was also really cool to see that there was even more to this magical tale too.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built - This was my first experience with a Becky Chambers novel, a slice of life novel about a monk and a robot who journey together as they try to make sense of themselves, their history and their world. This book meanders, as there's no real action-based plot, but I soaked up every minute I spent in this world and with our characters. It was such a cozy read and I definitely anticipate enjoying whatever follows!

Light from Uncommon Stars - Ryka Aoki is another author whose work I experienced for the first time, and this genre-blending story features a transgender violinist searching for a place to belong, a woman dubbed the Queen of Hell who has successfully delivered six souls and must acquire a seventh and an alien family fleeing a galactic war running a donut shop in California. While it sounds like there are so many discordant elements, everything comes together pretty cohesively to be one compelling tale. I got sucked right into this one and really enjoyed coming along for the ride!

The Bridge Kingdom & The Traitor Queen - I don't know why it took me so long to pick up another Danielle L. Jensen series, but I regret that because she's such a good writer! While there are certainly recognizable tropes in this tale, I just find the way she wove everything together really good (especially with the elements that felt unique to me). She certainly reeled me in from the start and kept me hooked all the way to the end!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Vol. 1-23 - I read the entirety of this manga series in a weekend, and if that doesn't indicate how much I enjoyed it, I don't know what else will. The series follows the story of Tanjiro, a young man who is determined to become a Demon Slayer to avenge his family and to find a way to turn his now a demon sister Nezuko back into a human. While the premise is deceptively simple, it truly expands as Tanjiro is further drawn into the world of demons and slayers and I was absolutely hooked! It was exciting, funny, charming and all around a very entertaining experience, and I just needed to know how it would all come to an end. I can't wait to watch the anime (and movie) now too!

The Assassin's Blade, Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight - Danica and I are rereading the Throne of Glass series, which started out as an attempt to get Macky to prioritize reading them (and he ended up reading the entirety of the series in two weeks) and has now evolved into just revisiting this story that we love so much. I've been enjoying getting reacquainted with the details of this series (and seeing all the foreshadowing and nods to future books) and can't wait to continue. (See my full reviews for Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight and The Assassin's Blade!)

It felt remiss to talk about my summer reading without mentioning the fact that I read not one, not two, but three series by Jennifer L. Armentrout! Before this year, I'd only completed one of her series (the Lux series, which I totally want to reread at some point) and read a handful of her other books. But I'd always wanted to tackle more of her books because they're just so dang enjoyable, and I finally did (thanks to two of the series being buddy reads with my friend Danica)!

Blood and Ash series - In June, we read the first three books in the ongoing Blood and Ash series. In truth, these books are a little too long, could have benefited from further editing and incorporate a lot of fan service bits. But I enjoy the overall story (including the reveals about the world and its history, which I find fascinating), and I'm invested in the characters (including their personal wellbeing and the romance). It's just a lot of fun, honestly, and I'm happy to allow myself to be entertained by the ups and downs of Poppy's story!

Covenant series - In July, we read the entire Covenant series, which is her modern-day spin on Greek mythology. And I absolutely adored this series (which was a surprise considering the first time I read the first book, I had thought it was just okay)! I'm a sucker for stories that incorporate Greek mythology in unique ways, as JLA has done here. Is the series quite tropey? Sure. Did I figure out some of the twists early on? Yes. Neither of those things particularly bothered me though! And like the Blood and Ash books, this series is also so, so, so fun with all of its ups, downs and in betweens. It was definitely an emotional roller coaster of a reading experience, as I cared so deeply about Alex, Aiden and all of the folks around them (and I was constantly yelling about these books to friends).

Titan series - In August, on a whim, I wound up reading the Titan series, a spin-off that features characters from Covenant. While I didn't wind up loving this one as much as the Covenant series, I still thought it was a very good time overall. I wasn't entirely sure how JLA would manage to tell a different story in the same world, but dang if she didn't manage to surprise me a few times! There were certainly bits that felt like a repeat, and the actual beginning of the series and the end of the series weren't my favorite (the former being pretty standard and the latter being a touch underwhelming). But I still got very invested in seeing the character journeys through to the end and the emotional ups and downs were just as fun to go through!

I'm so happy with how my summer reading has gone, and I'm glad to finally have been able to share the books I've loved with all of you! Have you read any of these? What are your favorite reads from the past few months?


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