July was another busy month. I moved back into my apartment in Cambridge and started a new internship. I was also doing Camp NaNoWriMo again. I wrote twenty thousand words on my middle grade space adventure novel. The first draft is still not finished, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. I’m hoping to have a complete first draft by the time I finish law school next May, but I’m trying this whole don’t-set-goals-for-yourself-that-are-so-ridiculously-challenging-they’re-unobtainable thing, so I’m not holding myself to that deadline. It’s going to be a busy enough year as it is.
I also read eleven books in July. I continued some series, started some new series, and read a few stand-alone books. I read one book in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. I also read a couple contemporary YA books, which is not a genre I read a lot of, because I either love it or hate it.
So let’s get to it: my spoiler-free thoughts on the eleven books I read in July.
First, I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I actually read this my first year of college—it was a Christmas gift from a friend. I remember really enjoying it, and it actually inspired the novel I was writing all through college. This is a story about kids growing up in what seems to be an idyllic boarding school situation, but there’s really something much darker going on under the surface. What I love about this book is the creeping, insidious way the truth sneaks up on you, the reader, and the way the characters just accept it as a part of their life. But that’s also what I hated about this book. I’ve become so used to the YA dystopian revolution plot structure, and between that and the novel that this book helped create (the novel is way way different than this), the characters just accepting their fate didn’t feel right to me. But this book was subtler than that. Really, it’s a story about growing up more than a story about the creepy world, though the creepy world is important. It wasn’t a particularly fast-paced book either. At times it was quite slow, in fact. Still, I enjoyed it, though it isn’t an all-time favorite, and if the premise seems interesting to you, I’d recommend giving it a shot.
Next, I finally got the second Dark Is Rising book out of the library. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper tells a very different story than the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. We aren’t following the Drew children in this book, but a boy named Will Stanton, who unlocks some pretty awesome magical powers on his eleventh birthday and is thrown into a battle with the forces of darkness. I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to the next book, when, if the summary is to be believed, Will and the Drews will meet up and have adventures together.
Next, I read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Apparently this is the first book in a trilogy. I don’t know if the rest have come out yet, but I also don’t know if I’ll be continuing with the series in any case. So many people absolutely love this book, but I honestly found it to be a bit of a slog. The writing was beautiful and the world was vivid and the characters were sharp, but it just dragged and dragged and dragged.
Next, I read Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins, the last book in the Underland Chronicles series. This was a really great finale. All the things that I’ve been wanting to happen happened, and they happened appropriately. And the ending left me with just the right amount of sadness and hope, and enough room to imagine what comes next. Though I’m still not wild about the fourth book, on the whole this was a great series and I definitely recommend.
After that, I read 90 Days To Your Novel: A Day by Day Planner for Writing and Outlining Your Book by Sarah Domet. I picked this up at a Writers Digest sale a while ago with a bunch of other writing Ebooks, so if suddenly I’m just reading writing books, that’s where that came from. This book lays out a comprehensive step by step plan to write a first draft of a novel in ninety days. I was really intrigued by the plan, and maybe one day, when I’m not in law school, I’ll actually give it a try and let you know how it goes.
Next, I finally finished The Dark Artifices #1: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. I have been looking forward to this book since I read City of Heavenly Fire way back when it first came out (yes I know this book came out two years ago and I’m just getting to it now). There was so much great stuff going on here: great friendships, some forbidden love, murder mystery, revenge plot, plenty of secrets, super strong family ties. It was great. But honestly, it was too long for what it accomplishes. I’m reminded of what Tamora Pierce says on one of her frequently asked questions pages when asked why she doesn’t include characters from previous books in her current books. Her answer was that if she did, her books would be a lot bigger, and I think that’s part of the problem here. But it’s not the whole problem here. There are just a lot of characters and a lot of things going on, and while it’s all good, it dragged in places. Also, like all the plot pretty much resolved itself by the end of the book, so I have no idea where this is going next. But I’m looking forward to finding out.
After that, I read the first of our two book club books for the summer, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This was quite a book. Vance tells the story of his own childhood, growing up as a hillbilly in Kentucky and Ohio, and discusses the problems as he sees them with that culture. This book was definitely worth a read, though I might take it with a grain of salt. I felt there was something pretentious and accusatory about the author’s voice, especially when talking about the hillbilly culture in general. You can tell that even though he grew up a hillbilly, he’s ivy-league educated now, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I think he raised a lot of points that we should be talking about as a society, and I can’t wait to discuss this with book club as soon as we all get back to school.
After that, I read Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. This was a fabulous book, and I highly recommend it. It’s about a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, navigating high school, family, and religious pressures, and also dealing with the fact that someone highly regarded at her mosque tried to rape her. Despite the dark subject, it’s just a great book about family and friendship and support, and I was definitely sobbing a little bit when I finished.
Contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. It’s usually a little too much romance and not enough plot for my taste. But after I read Saints and Misfits, I picked up Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. John Green isn’t really my thing, either, actually. I’ve read two other books by him—Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars—and I wasn’t terribly fond of either of them. But this book was different. Okay, the missing person mystery plot was kind of weird, but that wasn’t what I cared about, and I don’t think that’s what you’re supposed to care about in this book. The great thing about this book was the depiction of Aza’s OCD and anxiety and her struggles of navigating high school with that. There were so many feelings. Okay I cried a little on this one too. Good book, I recommend.
Next up was the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. I’m rereading the Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order, which is the only appropriate way to read them (as opposed to the order in which they were published). I remember enjoying this book a lot as a kid, but on reread it was a bit of a mess. It just felt like a romp through three or four worlds, with a crazy scientist thrown in. It sheds a lot of light on the later books in the series, but definitely not my favorite.
Finally, I returned to the Series of Unfortunate Events books and read the ninth installment, The Carnivorous Carnival, by Lemony Snicket. All I really have to say is while it’s nice the kids are getting more agency, these books are getting weird.
And that’s it for July folks. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and if you agree or disagree with my assessment of them. Also feel free to comment with books you might think I’d enjoy (I’m always looking to add to my giant to-be-read list). Happy reading!