Contrary to my expectations, I actually managed to read more in July than I did in June, even though all of my really extreme exams (that means the math ones) were in July. The reason for this was that my last exam was on the 27th, but, as we all know, July has 31 days, and on two of those remaining days, I had a six hour train ride, and on one I was home with nothing to do at all. And that, of course, means that I was finally able to read again!
So here are the books I read in July 😉
The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan (3/5) Stars
I’d been meaning to start this series for a while now since this is one of the big fantasy classics out there and I’m an absolute sucker for anything fantasy. In fact, I did actually start reading this a while ago (maybe in May?) but due to all my exam stress, I was forced to put it down. The book has over 800 pages and extremely small print, and just reading snippets here and there really didn’t let me immerse myself in the story. So reluctantly, I decided to put it off until after exams. Actually, it the amount I had left actually turned out to be perfect for occupying myself during the 12 hours on the train.
After having read this, I can definitely see why this is a fantasy classic – a lot of later fantasy books certainly took inspiration: we have the classic [hero goes on a quest, has a (kind of) wise mentor, has to battle armies and defeat the dark after an epic journey] tale. In many ways, all the travelling and the friendships between the characters reminded me a lot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just a little less dark, with more female characters, and a bit of Yin-Yang inspiration for the magic system.
The book follows several characters, but the main protagonist is a boy/young man named Rand who lives with his father on a farm close to a small village. One night, Rand’s farm and village is attacked by Trollocs, evil creatures that serve an even more evil master called the Dark One. With the help of the Aes Sedai (a special kind of magician who can wield the One Power) Moraine, her companion Lan, and the gleeman Thom, Rand, his two friends Mat and Perrin, and his almost-girlfriend Egwene escape their village. For some reason, the Trollocs are after one of the boys, and it is surely no coincidence that the boys are all having the same dreams of the Dark One. The group is constantly on the run, trying to escape the clutches of Trollocs and Fades, and trying to find answers as to why they are wanted. On their way, they are eventually reunited with Nynaeve, the village Wisdom and one of my favorite characters in the story, and each of them realizes that they may have a big part to play in the fate of their world.
On the whole, I have to say that I quite enjoyed this book, especially the first half – the magic system is interesting, as is the entire concept of the Wheel of Time: ages come again and again and time repeats itself, but in a slightly different way so that people can never predict what will truly happen. I enjoyed the richness of the world, the detailed descriptions of all the places the characters pass through, the hints at Rand’s mysterious past, the relationships between the characters.
However, after the first half of the book, I also thought the story was getting a bit repetitive. We had lots of different variations of the characters settling down at some inn, having some evil dreams, Trollocs arriving, and the characters fleeing again. After a while, I just thought it was a bit much without anything else really going on. Since the book in general is very slowly paced, this made the story drag a little.
In addition, I think The Eye of the World is a bit weak in terms of character development. While each of the characters does have their own distinct personality, these personalities are also kind of stereotypical: Rand is the lost Chosen One who wants to protect his friends and has a mysterious past. Mat is the bumbling friend who makes stupid decisions that get the troupe into trouble. Perrin is the more quiet friend with a close connection to nature. Nynaeve is the girl who feels responsible for taking care of her village and has to come to terms with the power she has. Moraine is the powerful sorceress who knows more than she’s letting on. Lan is the Aragorn of this story (if you’ve read this, you’ll know more precisely what I mean). And so forth. Of course, using these stereotypes is not a bad thing per se. However, I don’t think any of the characters really had much depth beyond those stereotypes, and that did bother me.
Still, I do think this series showed a lot of promise to become something epic. This first book was very much an establishing one – setting up the world and introducing the characters. I’m sure I’ll continue on with this at some point – but since there are 14 (I think) books in this series altogether, it might take some time for me to give my final verdict on it…
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (3.5/5 Stars)
I’m sure almost everyone has heard of this book anyway, but in case you haven’t, it is the sequel / companion to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited. It takes place about a year after the events of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and follows Simon’s best friend Leah as she realizes that a big chapter in her life is coming to a close: graduation is on the doorstep and soon her friend group will be breaking apart to move to different colleges. At the same time, Leah finds herself struggling with openly showing who she is: a single-parent child who loves to draw, is bisexual but only out to her mother, and has more than just friendly feelings towards one of her friends.
This is very much a story about growing up and accepting yourself the way you are, and it was exactly what I needed to recover from exams. It was cute, we got to see some of our favorite characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda again, and it was an extremely quick read. I also really enjoyed seeing Leah’s relationship with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend and in some cases, Leah’s prickliness and keeping to herself just spoke to me SO MUCH.
However, just like with The Upside of Unrequited, I think that this book depended very heavily on a lot of pop-culture references, so much so that I thought it was a bit over the top and took away from the general story – that might be personal preference, though.
Still, I did think that in some aspects, the characters here did not feel exactly the same as they did in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. While Leah’s personality was very much the same and I can actually believe that she is bisexual, although we didn’t know it, I did think that her history with Abby seemed very different here than it was portrayed in Simon. I also thought Leah did not really reach out to Nick and think about how her decisions would affect him enough in this book, considering that she used to have a crush on him and that he is one of her best friends. In addition, where did her long history with her band come from? If Simon didn’t know about her being in the band earlier, shouldn’t that have been more recent? I felt similarly about Abby – while her overall personality was the same, some decisions of hers just felt a little off compared with Simon.
Nonetheless, this was a cute contemporary read, so if you’re looking for some exam-recovery, I’d say this one works.
Unearthed (Unearthed #1) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (4/5 Stars)
Unearthed is a promising start to an action-packed YA sci-fi series: humanity has destroyed its planet more and more, so when Earth intercepts an alien message leading to a planet with advanced technology that might be able to save them, everyone is excited about it. The excitement is not only about saving Earth, though. The technology found on Gaia is worth a lot of money, and scavengers are the first to take advantage. One of these scavengers is Mia, who desperately needs money to save her younger sister. Once on Gaia, she runs across Jules, who has a secret of his own. It was his father who first discovered the Undying’s message that led them to Gaia, and it was his father who was sent to prison for trying to stop humanity from making a colossal mistake. Jules knows that the message did not just send the promise of advanced technology – it also included a warning of impending doom, and Jules is determined to find out more before it is too late. With the hope of reaching their goals more easily, Jules and Mia band together to find secrets and treasure in an old Undying temple – and they have to be fast, because they are not the only ones looking.
This book is certainly very action-packed, and I also really enjoyed Jules and Mia as main characters. I loved how obsessed Jules would get about linguistics and archeology and Mia’s love for math instantly made me love her more. While I did think that this book was a bit predictable at times and that the relationship in it came narrowly close to being insta-love, I enjoyed it a lot overall and will definitely be picking up the sequel!
Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead (3.5/5 Stars)
This is another series I am very late starting – it’s been recommended to me again and again, but because of the horribly cheesy covers (especially the old ones) and the fact that it was about vampires and I thought it might be like Twilight, I was very skeptical. However, during exam time, I suddenly started craving anything that was either a light and fluffy contemporary or a good guilty pleasure paranormal story. So I decided I might as well go ahead and give this a try.
And yes, I now have to admit – these books are nothing like Twilight, and they definitely have a lot more substance than the covers might make you guess. I’m not saying that they’re literary masterpieces either: the writing is pretty much average, there’s plenty of high school drama, and the main character Rose is not far removed from the popular mean girl. BUT: these books are addictive and highly enjoyable, and there is more depth to the story than I would have expected.
Rose, the main character, is a Dhampir (half-human, half-vampire) who is tasked with protecting her best friend Lissa, who is a Moroi (mortal vampire) princess from the Strigoi (immortal vampires) and other threats. Prior to the events of the first book, Rose and Lissa have fled from their school, St. Vladimir’s Academy, since Rose suspected Lissa was in danger. The other Moroi, though, are not ready to let one of their princesses be dragged off by a guardian with unfinished training and Rose and Lissa are caught and sent back to school. St. Vladimir’s still has secrets, however. While Rose struggles to catch up with all the training she has missed, Lissa is still a target – threats come her way, and Rose, who shares a special mental link with her friend, becomes more and more worried. She digs deeper, delving into school history and trying not to be distracted by her tutor Dimitri. At the same time, Lissa struggles with her magical abilities – at her age, most Moroi have displayed a particular aptitude for one of the elements, but despite being royalty, Lissa hasn’t. And there are people willing to take advantage of that.
This book has action, mystery, and suspense, as well as a swoon-worthy forbidden romance that I am apparently still a sucker for. Although it is a bit cliché at times and the writing could be better, I really enjoyed myself while reading this and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good paranormal story.
So yeah – that was everything I read in July! Feel free to tell me if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them!