Happy Friday, everyone!
It’s me, back from the dead!!
Fine, maybe I’m being a little bit dramatic here… But it genuinely feels like I’ve been gone forever because so much happened during July!
With a ton of exams and my teaching evaluation looming – this is a single lesson that counts for a huge proportion of your grade, is judged by a jury of four teachers (including the school principal), and that you have to write a detailed thesis on beforehand – the beginning of July was objectively no less stressful than the previous months. Weirdly enough, though, I didn’t see it that way. It was like someone flipped a switch in my head! I’m more content than I’ve felt in years, and it’s so wonderful that I’m kind of terrified that feeling is just going to magically disappear…
The second half of July, however, was – apart from the scalding heat – objectively awesome! For one thing, a bunch of my students were on class trips, meaning that I didn’t have to prepare lessons for them and finally had weekends off again! Which meant I could read stuff! For another, I got to accompany students on some of those class trips, meaning that I got to visit a whole bunch of interesting places for free 😎 Like, two weeks ago, I took the eleventh grade to the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, and I genuinely don’t understand why no one else volunteered for this. It wasn’t like it was a ton of work or anything – the students took the train there by themselves, I checked that everyone was there, let them explore, checked that everyone was still there, and then sent the kids home so I could spend the rest of the day shopping for badly needed t-shirts without holes in them – and besides, we got a super interesting tour of the museum and grounds that I, being the impeccable chaperone that I am, didn’t even have to pay for!
And then July 29th was the last day of school, which means I officially survived my first semester of teaching without messing up too badly! And now I have six weeks of summer break to look forward to! 🤗
ALSO, GUYS – I AM MOVING TO THE ALPS!!! 🤗🤩⛰️🤩🤗 Never having lived in the mountains before, I am SOOOOOO excited!!! I got the call that the Ministry of Education is sending me to a school way down south last Thursday, and since then, I have been frantically planning my next move. Which has been grueling to say the least. Not only was I simultaneously moving back in with my parents for summer break, but I very quickly realized that when you move to a town that is a) in the Alps, b) next to a gigantic lake, c) not very far away from a bunch of very famous castles, and d) generally one of the most touristy places within all of Germany, living there is expensive as shit. There is no way I’m going to be able to afford an apartment within the town itself or in any place that is easily accessible by public transportation – I am not paying 1,200€ a month for one bedroom!! – which means I am going to need a car. Which is terrible!! 😭 I love riding my bike everywhere and getting a bit of exercise in, I hate driving, and, even worse, cars aren’t exactly cheap and horrible for the environment! But, alas, alas, it looks like I have no other choice, unless I want to ride my bike up literal mountains in the dead of winter…
But yeah, the whole having to buy a car and move five hours across the country thing has kind of upended my summer plans, as has the fact that my classmates have decided to host a ball in honor of the ten-year anniversary of our tenth-grade dance smack-dab in the middle of my summer break. Which makes it impossible for me to go anywhere for more than a week at a time. Meaning that I’ve had to postpone going to Sweden yet again 😥
However, I guess the Sweden tragedy is not the worst thing ever because instead, I am going to Greece! In four days! My mom’s long-time pen pal has invited us to stay with his family for a week, and to say I’m excited is a serious understatement. I’ve been frantically trying to speed-run through Greek Duolingo the past few days in an effort to seem less rude – thankfully, I can at least already read the writing (#mathematicianskills) – and am over the moon about how many antique ruins and beaches I will be living right next to. I’m going to do so much exploring!
Enough with the July gushing, though. Let’s get into books!
Readingwise, my July could hardly have been better. It’s truly amazing how many books you can fit in when you don’t have to prepare things for school or write blog posts, and then I also stumbled across so many stories I liked! Even though I still didn’t have any five-star reads, July was a breath of fresh air after the absolute disaster of a reading month that was June. So let me tell you a little more about what I picked up this past month…
The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan (3.5/5 Stars)
Since I’m still waiting on my library to give me access to Ruta Sepetys’s newest release – at this rate, I doubt it’s ever going to happen 😕 – I decided to bridge the gap with a different historical fiction novel. And since The Baker’s Secret had been recommended to me by multiple trustworthy sources, it seemed like the perfect choice!
Set on the occupied coast of France during World War II, the book follows Emmanuelle, a young baker who tries to help her village survive the Nazis’ rule by developing a network of trade for desperately needed supplies. As the war goes on, the risks Emma takes grow increasingly dangerous – but also give hope to a town where there is very little hope left.
In hindsight, I think that mixture of hope and hopelessness was actually one of my favorite things about The Baker’s Secret. I loved the dark, monotonous atmosphere, the complexity of the characters, and the portrayal of village life under Nazi occupation. Apart from the fact that Stephen P. Kiernan named Emma’s mentor Ezra Kuchen – “Kuchen” is the German word for cake and sounds absolutely ridiculous as a French baker’s last name – everything seemed really well researched and historically accurate.
Nonetheless, I didn’t feel like this story was all that different from other World War II historical fiction that I’ve read. We got a lot of descriptions of everyday life, but nothing that really made this book stand out. Instead, the dry detached style and lack of character development made parts of the book drag – or even come across as unrealistic. Like, if you give a character a perfectly good chance to flee from something terrible that is about to happen to them and they don’t take it, you had better go into detail about the trauma and emotions behind that decision!
On the whole, though, I’m glad I decided to pick this up. With its lyrical writing and the moral questions it poses, The Baker’s Secret definitely makes you think!
Book Lovers by Emily Henry (4/5 Stars)
After an enormously stressful week of school which included me surviving my teaching evaluation, having to grade a mountain of seventh-grade math exams, and dealing with panicked last-minute pre-exam messages from my eleventh-grade English students, my brain decided it was in the mood to read trashy romance. And since Emily Henry is one of my favorite romance authors out there, it was obviously her newest release that I turned to for help!
In a parody of the “workaholic city person moves to small town where they fall in love with a hot local and realize country life is everything they’ve ever dreamed of” plot, Book Lovers follows Nora Stephens, a literary agent whose love life seems to be a disaster straight out a terrible romcom – she’s the mean city girl everyone keeps leaving behind when they discover the benefits of small town life, the unmarried sibling whose family keeps nagging her about her lack of serious relationships. Contrary to what people say, though, Nora isn’t always as cutthroat as she appears: She cares deeply for her clients and younger sister, so when Libby ropes Nora into a sisterly vacation in the small town one of Nora’s clients’ books is set at, Nora can’t refuse. But Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, turns out to be far removed from the charming getaway Libby promised – particularly when Nora runs into her nemesis Charlie Lastra, an editor from back in the city…
As someone who watches an embarrassing amount of terrible Hallmark movies – It’s my siblings’ fault, okay! At this point, it has become an established pre-Christmas tradition to watch them together and comment on all of the characters’ unrealistically stupid decisions! – I thoroughly enjoyed the way Book Lovers twisted the traditional romcom storyline. Although it still included a ton of predictable romance tropes, it also brought something new to the table and didn’t shy away from having a bit of depth. While it isn’t exactly a new favorite, it was exactly what I wanted for relaxation purposes, and I’d definitely recommend it!
Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier (3.5/5 Stars)
I suppose there’s only so long I can survive without reading fantasy 😂 Which is why, after some brief forays into historical fiction and romance, I decided to return to my favorite genre!
A YA fantasy standalone, Year of the Reaper takes place after a marriage alliance has ended a bitter war between two kingdoms. Nonetheless, Oliveras and Brisa still bear scars of the conflict. The countries lay in ruins, deeply mistrustful of one another, and have lost thousands to a terrible plague that continues to wreak havoc throughout their lands. It is in this atmosphere of death and suspicion that Cas, a young Oliveran lord, returns home after years of imprisonment in a Brisan labor camp, only to stumble across a plot to assassinate the new Oliveran queen and her child.
Overall, I loved how political this book was! Particularly in the beginning, it kept surprising me with its twists and turns, and I really enjoyed the grim, plague-ridden setting. Cas, with all of his conflicting emotions toward the queen he was trying to protect, gave us a complex perspective to read from, and I also liked Lena a lot, the royal historian Cas teams up with to try and figure out who is behind the assassination attempts. And Cas’ relationship with his brother Ventillas was wonderful to read about, too!
That being said, I do think there were a few inconsistencies in the magic system. Cas has this really interesting ability to see and speak to the dead, but that ability seems to be conveniently absent whenever speaking to the dead would provide too much helpful information. Besides, it is never fully explained what led to this ability in the first place. You can’t expect me to be satisfied with “oh, it’s this plague-related thing”, Makiia Lucier!
Also, the first half of the book was much stronger than the second, in my opinion. A lot of the main reveals already occur within the first two-thirds of Year of the Reaper, which means that the ending doesn’t have many new surprises to offer or a ton of suspense leading up to it. Which had me a bit disappointed in light of all the excellent twists there’d been in the beginning.
Still, this is a solid and refreshing YA fantasy story that is worth checking out!
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (4.5/5 Stars)
Okay, okay. You guys were right. Despite me being bored to tears by Circe, Madeline Miller deserved a second chance. I absolutely loved The Song of Achilles! 😍
A partial retelling of Homer’s Iliad, the novel portrays the Trojan War and the years leading up to it through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles’s most trusted companion. We follow the two boys as they first meet, get to see their relationship develop as they grow up, and watch them try to defy destiny by surviving a war Achilles is fated to die in.
I suppose you could complain that, like Circe (which is based on Homer’s Odyssey), The Song of Achilles stuck really closely to the source material and didn’t add much of anything new. In this case, though, the change in perspective was enough of a twist to make me adore the story! The way Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship was portrayed through Madeline Miller’s beautifully lyrical writing had me engrossed, and I love that the author took some liberties and didn’t make Patroclus the warrior he is in the Iliad. The way his thoughtful personality was contrasted with Achilles’s hunger for battle made for excellent character development and, even better, for interesting, merciless commentary on warfare. The ending in particular had me deep in thought, and I was also fascinated by how Madeline Miller managed to write a character I grew to deeply despise (Achilles) in such a way that I still understood him and rooted for a happy outcome for him and Patroclus.
That being said, The Song of Achilles still doesn’t feel like a full five-star read to me. Its strengths lie in the portrayal of the main romance and the brutality of war, but, when you really think about it, most of the characters are rather flat archetypes that aren’t developed beyond the myths they stem from. Which kind of made me lose a bit of interest whenever we got scenes that didn’t focus directly on Achilles and Patroclus. Like, that scene when they were sailing to Troy? It got very close to Circe-levels of boringness. And even though the beautiful way in which this story was told made me partially forget that I already knew what was going to happen, I still wish Madeline Miller had added a bit more to the plot and maybe delved a bit deeper than just name dumping a bunch of Greeks, Trojans, and Gods to get the backstory of the war over and done with…
On the whole, though, I thought The Song of Achilles was excellent! If you’re a fan of Greek mythology and slower-paced, reflective books and you haven’t already read this, I’d say give it a try!
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (4/5 Stars)
A friend of mine had been telling me to read Hyperbole and a Half for years. According to her, it had exactly my kind of “childish and depressed sense of humor”, and although I am, of course, incredibly offended to have my excellent comedic tastes reduced to such tasteless adjectives, I have to admit that, maybe, she wasn’t entirely wrong. Because I did very much enjoy how childish and depressing this book was!
Named after the author’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half is a collection of anecdotes from Allie Brosh’s life, which are partially told through text and partially through comics. They’re a mix of embarrassing childhood stories, tales about struggling with adulthood and depression, and just general weirdness.
And they’re great! Allie Brosh’s self-deprecating sense of humor is absolutely hilarious, so that I was cackling like a lunatic pretty much all throughout reading this. Simultaneously, though, the book also had quotes like this one:
Perhaps it was because I lacked the emotional depth necessary to panic, or maybe my predicament didn’t feel dramatic enough to make me suspicious, but I somehow managed to convince myself that everything was still under my control right up until I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn’t feel obligated to keep existing.Hyperbole and a Half, p. 141
Which made me stare at the pages with a lump in my throat, trying very hard not to cry. And, as always when I read relatably sad stuff, resulted in Hyperbole and a Half rising even more considerably in my estimation.
However, I did kind of wish that the different anecdotes had been more interconnected. Allie Brosh’s blogging style definitely carries over to this book, because the different installments very much read like separate blog posts. There’s an overarching theme, but every installment is self-contained, which results in a lot of repetition of the same types of jokes and ideas rather than in-depth exploration of how different parts of Allie’s life are connected. And I guess I would have liked a little more of that…
Overall, though? I recommend this to everyone with a childish and depressed sense of humor 😜
The Bedlam Stacks (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street #2) by Natasha Pulley (2.5/5 Stars)
Here’s to me notoriously reading series out of order 🙃 In my defense, though, I don’t feel as though I missed out on anything by initially skipping The Bedlam Stacks and going straight from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street to The Lost Future of Pepperharrow. Seriously, this middle book was so boring!!
Only vaguely intertwined with the rest of the series through brief character cameos, The Bedlam Stacks is a historical fantasy novel following British ex-smuggler Merrick Tremayne, who is roped into a dangerous expedition deep within Peru by the East India Company (and an old friend who feels like Merrick has spent far too much time moping over his lost leg). On his way to steal quinine – an ingredient needed to treat malaria – Merrick stumbles across a strange priest, a mysterious colony, ties to his family history, and statues that might not be statues at all. Unsure of whom to trust and what to believe, Merrick has to rely on his instincts to help him separate truth from legend…
What I liked about this book can be summed up pretty quickly:
- the atmospheric writing style
- getting to see a young Keita Mori
- Merrick’s complicated relationship with his brother, Charles
- all the allusions to Incan folklore
The rest, unfortunately, had me seriously tempted to DNF this. In my opinion, The Bedlam Stacks relied so heavily on atmosphere and weirdness that it forgot to actually have a plot apart from characters staring at glowing pollen floating in the air or being afraid to step over salt. NOTHING HAPPENED! Characters were introduced only to never play a role in the story at all – I’m particularly bitter about Charles (Merrick’s estrangement with him had so much potential! 😠) and Minna (Her exclusion meant that there no female characters with any depth whatsoever in this book! 🙄) – or started caring or not caring for one another very out of blue. The big reveal at the end was so predictable that I did not see why it had to be dragged out for over 400 pages.
What might have put me off the most, though, is how much this book felt like reading a Western. I know it isn’t set in the Wild West, but, I swear, all the elements are there! A lawless, semi-deserted place out in the wild, away from any kind of governing entity. People shooting at each other non-stop. Europeans quarrelling with Native Americans. Smuggling. The only thing missing was the characters drinking themselves into oblivion at a saloon and getting into barfights, but since they managed to act weird and kill each other even without alcohol, I don’t feel like it made much of a difference. I just can’t help it, guys – I simply detest anything Western-related! I can’t tell you why, but somehow, I have an irrational hatred of the entire genre. There has never been a Western-inspired book or movie that I liked – I challenge you recommend one to me that I’ll end up approving of – and The Bedlam Stacks reminded me of a ton of horrendously boring past reading and viewing experiences.
So nope, I wasn’t a huge fan 😅 I still really recommend reading the rest of the series, though!
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale – Volume I: My Father Bleeds History (4.5/5 Stars) and Volume II: And Here My Troubles Began (4.5/5 Stars) by Art Spiegelman
Although I’m not a huge graphic novel reader – I’m always unsure of how much time I should spend studying the pictures in detail and also prefer to imagine stuff in my head because the imagery is so much more vivid that way – Maus had been on my radar for quite some time. I’d heard a lot of good things, and plus, the fact that it is one of the most widely banned books in the United States had me extremely intrigued. (In my experience, concerned American parents coming for a book usually means that the book in question is particularly interesting 😁)
Anyway, I’m so glad I decided to pick this up – because Maus, in which Art Spiegelman tells the story of how his father Vladek Spiegelman survived the Holocaust, is one of the most unflinchingly honest and harrowing memoirs I’ve ever read. Alternating between panels that show the author’s present-day relationship with his father and flashbacks to Vladek’s life in Poland before and after the Nazi invasion (Volume I follows Vladek’s story before he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 and Volume II focuses on Vladek’s time at the concentration camp), it explores history and humanity in all its complexities. It shows how political circumstances can make people do the unimaginable, and how sometimes, in order to survive, you have to act in ways that will haunt you forever.
The story, as well as the art style, which is kept in relatively simple black and white and portrays all Jews as mice, Poles as pigs, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, and so on, really made me think. On the one hand, Vladek Spiegelman’s account of what happened to him and his family was deeply moving in a horrifying sort of way. On the other, I also really loved the more recent timeline and getting to see how Vladek’s experiences shaped his relationships with his son and other family members. Art Spiegelman didn’t shy away from also showing the more difficult sides to his father and how strenuous reliving the past could be for him, and I really appreciated that. It made everything about Maus seem so much more human and made me love it all the more.
Honestly, the only reason I’m not giving these books five stars might be because I’m prejudiced against the graphic novel format 🙈 I just feel like I would have been even more immersed in the story if I’d read it in text form… Besides, some parts, like Vladek’s liberation and subsequent immigration to Sweden and then the US, felt a little bit rushed to me. Overall, though, I highly recommend this duology, and think everyone could profit from reading it!
Solitaire by Alice Oseman (2/5 Stars)
How could a book about Tori Spring, Charlie’s sarcastic older sister and one of the most iconic Alice Oseman characters, possibly be bad? After the Netflix show had rekindled my Heartstopper obsession, I was beyond excited to read Solitaire! Unfortunately, though, the audiobook soon led to my extreme disillusionment… Because, in my most humble opinion, Solitaire is not particularly great. At all.
The story takes place when Tori is in Year 11 and stumbles across a mysterious blog related to pranks that are causing mayhem at her school. Together with Michael Holden, a new student who just can’t seem to let Tori live her life in peace, she reluctantly starts to investigate who might be behind Solitaire. Which isn’t easy when you’ve also got a little brother you’re worried about back home, a best friend who seems more interested in boys than spending time with you, an annoying childhood acquaintance who suddenly wants to be besties again, and a general aversion to the world and people who live in it.
To be fair – Solitaire wasn’t all bad. I related to Tori a lot, loved her cynical narrative voice, and adored the way her relationship with Charlie was written. I also really liked how Alice Oseman developed her friendships with Michael and Becky.
Apart from that, though? This novel didn’t really have much to offer. I initially started it in May, but got so bored by the only content being Pride and Prejudice references and parties where nothing happened that I put the book down and had to start over when I finally got around to it again because I had forgotten almost everything I’d already listened to. It picked up a little bit after the initial chapters, but in my opinion, it still relied more heavily on pop-culture references than it did on actually trying to give its plot any type of depth. For the first time while reading an Alice Oseman book, I was bored. Then I guessed who was behind Solitaire about 40% into the book, and since that was pretty much the only plot the novel had apart from Tori’s pessimism and her developing relationship with Michael, things didn’t exactly get exciting afterwards, either.
Also, I’m very sorry, but the ending was absolutely eye-roll-inducing!! Like, the whole reasoning behind Solitaire was beyond clichéd and reduced an otherwise interesting character to one of the blandest stereotypes ever. Tori’s emotions flip-flopped all over the place without any type of real development taking place. And the way romance was used as a plot device to seem like a method of salvation from unhappiness annoyed the crap out of me! 🙄
So yeah – I guess calling The Times calling this book “The Catcher in the Rye for the digital age” is kind of justified. I strongly dislike both books and found them utterly boring. The only difference being that I much preferred being in Tori Spring’s head to being in Holden Caulfield’s. Which I guess legitimizes my decision to rate Solitaire higher 😇
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (4.5/5 Stars)
After reading the first chapter of The God of Small Things, I was pretty sure I would end up hating the book.
The writing style. It seemed pretentious.
With weird line breaks.
Kind of like poetry. But with many (unnecessary?) descriptions of genitalia and urinating.
A meandering plot that kept drifting off to who knows where. Non-linear passage of time.
After having read the whole novel, though? I now feel so validated in whatever strange decision-making process has me too panicked to ever DNF stuff, because guys: I ended up adoring this book! 🤩🥰🤩 Everything that initially annoyed me about it came together in a beautifully poetic and tragic story about family and societal injustice that I simply could not put down.
A dual-timeline literary fiction novel set in late 20th-century Kerala, The God of Small Things follows a relatively wealthy Indian family that was torn apart by an event that happened when Rahel and Estha, the twins through whose eyes the majority of the story is told, were only children. Initially, we don’t know exactly what happened. Only that it led to the twins’ cousin, Sophie, dying mere days after she came to visit from England. To Rahel and Estha being separated. To an estrangement that lasted well into the twins’ adulthood.
I absolutely loved slowly getting to piece together the mystery of what had happened. The political commentary, in my eyes, was brilliant. It’s kind of like the book meanders around the central issue of the story precisely because everyone is too scared and prejudiced to address it. Which means that once you start suspecting and figuring things out, the tragedy hits even harder. Particularly because, by the time you reach the end, you grow to care for this family in spite of their many flaws and evident dysfunctionality.
That being said, I do think that the “past” storyline, which takes place in 1969 in the days leading up to Sophie’s death, is much stronger than the “present day” one, which focuses on the twins’ reunification 20 years later. Which is partially intentional – both timelines, which alternate with every chapter, are there to help the reader make sense of what happened to break this family apart. Still, I did wish Arundhati Roy had put a bit more effort into making the more recent storyline important in its own right.
Overall though, I would definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for a tragic family story deeply entwined with politics and Indian history. As long as you don’t mind a bit of controversy and are willing to give the writing style a chance until things fall into place, The God of Small Things really had the potential to make you think!
Between my hiatus and extreme busyness, I was even worse at blog hopping this month than in all the previous ones combined… Which means I probably missed a ton of awesome content that you guys are welcome to inform me about in the comments! However, I did emerge from the depths of my absence long enough to provide you with at least a few posts that I think you should most definitely check out. So here they are are!
- Line @ First Line Reader created her very own book tag in honor of the Tour de France beginning in her home country this year! 🇩🇰🚴♂️ Even though I have absolutely no clue about professional cycling, I love Line’s creative prompts and am dying to do this myself – be prepared for book recommendations heading your way!
- Nehal @ Quirky Pages shared weird and embarrassing moments she’s been a part of. A month later, I am still in hysterics about some of Nehal’s antics and definitely feel like less of a weirdo now 😁🤣
- Abi @ The Knights Who Say Book returned to the blogosphere with a post full of book recommendations for Pride Month! 🌈 Ever since she got me to watch The Half of It back in 2020, I’ve decided that Abi’s taste in queer media is impeccable, so you bet I will be checking some of these novels out!
- Malka @ Paper Procrastinators wrote a discussion on how her reading tastes have changed over the past few years. Besides the fact that it was extremely relatable and eloquent, her post really got me thinking, which is always a great bonus! 😊
- Riddhi @ Whispering Stories reacted to her followers’ assumptions about her reading life, which nosy old me found incredibly interesting! 🧐 And which has made me extremely curious as to what assumptions you guys might have about me, so please, feel free to spill your thoughts in the comments!
- Sophie @ Me & Ink wondered whether bloggers would keep posting if nobody read their content. You can always draw me out of my shell with weirdly philosophical hypothetical questions, so obviously, I loved this! 🤓
- Abby @ Beyond the Read discussed why she would like to see more platonic relationships in YA and gave us book recommendations to go along with it. Since I agree with pretty much all the points Abby brought up, I will definitely be checking some of her suggestions out! 🤗
- Emily @ Frappes and Fiction wrote started a discussion about identity politics within the book community. As always, she brought up some great points! 🤔
- Sumedha @ The Wordy Habitat gave us a detailed explanation of her SEO strategy. Although I have no desire to focus on that aspect of blogging myself, my nerdy, math-loving brain thought it was absolutely fascinating to learn more about algorithms that lead to a post getting more views! 🤓
- Anoushka @ Dipped in Ink penned a hilarious rant review of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy. Honestly, being able to read Anoushka’s thoughts made being bored to tears by the trilogy all those years ago absolutely worth it! 😈😂
And that was it for today! If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them – do you agree or disagree with me? How was your July? Did you survive the global heatwave that seems to have been going around? Are you happy with the books you read? Do you have any plans for the rest of this summer? I would love to know!