July 2021 Wrap-Up

So uh. July.

Yeah, I don’t know what happened either with this one, although it probably has something to do with me joining a team reading challenge and getting very competitive (we finished fourth but we gave it a good run).

Outside of the novels and longer graphic novels that count towards my Goodreads reading challenge, I read two novellas: Passing Strange by Ellen Klages and The Lunacy Commission by Lavie Tidhar. The first was set in 1940 San Francisco and showcased sapphic relationships during the time along with some magic, and the second was an alternate history in the late 1930s with an Adolf Hitler—now Herr Wolf—who failed to secure a win in 1933 and was living in semi-obscurity in London. I was quite dubious about the Hitler one, mainly because I was worried it would be some sort of fan fiction, but Tidhar never, ever lets the reader sympathize with Wolf, and always keeps the pulse tight on the horrors of Nazi and fascist history and mindset.

If you’re interested in manga and comics and want to read them for free, Webtoon is fantastic! I devoured The Remarried Empress, Like Wind on a Dry Branch, Unholy Blood and Beneath the Camphor Tree, and there are a couple others I want to get to as well because they look really good (Seed, Gourmet Hound, Jackson’s Diary, Lore Olympus, and Always Human). I also read Paper Girls, Vol 1, and I can definitively say that Brian Vaughan’s storytelling is not for me.

Overall, I read 31 books: 19 books, eight audiobooks, and five graphic novels, for a total of 10,227 pages, which is basically two months of reading somehow crammed into one.

Because there are so many, I will try to be brief (narrator: she was not brief).

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First up: ladies who do shady shit for semi-valid reasons. Just kidding. Survival is always valid.

And despite being incredibly different books, Bad Witch Burning, She Who Became the Sun and Dial A for Aunties is all about women doing whatever it takes to survive and thrive. It may be bringing people back from the dead for cash, rising through the ranks first at a monastery and later a rebel army, or trying to hide the body of the blind date you accidentally murdered with the help of your aunts and mom, but these books are fantastic and I cannot recommend them enough.

Four Lost Cities was about urbanization and how human society has changed and morphed and transformed over the years (plus there is a huge right hook at Jared Diamond’s pseudoscience [mild spoiler: collapse theory was debunked long before he wrote Collapse]). It wobbles a touch in some of the case studies, but the overall message of hope and optimism for our future more than makes up for it.

Displacement is about generational trauma, in addition to a girl time traveling to her grandmother’s incarceration in the Japanese American internment camps. It’s so, so good, and so heartbreaking, and a reminder that those of us with privilege (calling myself out because I need to do more) to ensure these atrocities do not continue (spoiler: they have, and there are still children separated from their families in camps).

Power and Magic, Vol 2 is a collection of short comics by queer people of color, all about witches and magic. There is such a delightful variety of stories showcased here, and the artwork is by and large, utterly gorgeous. Buffalo Gal is a book that I read at least 50 times when I was a kid, and I read it again because I needed something that matched a specific prompt for the book challenge and because I knew it would be quick. Despite these caveats and some odd depictions of Indigenous Americans, this book was still enjoyable.

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Whew, I read a lot of four-star reads. Which is good, but also a beast to cover in a monthly wrap-up.

Under the Whispering Door was just like a mix of The House in the Cerulean Sea and “Whenever You’re Ready” from The Good Place. It has some flaws, however, and does not transcend some racial stereotypes it stumbles into. If the Shoe Fits was the delightful fake-Bachelor rom-com slash Cinderella retelling I never knew I wanted, and bonus: the stepmom is good! Malibu Rising was solid and enjoyable, although I remember enjoying it but honestly not much else? Hana Khan Carries On is Uzma Jalaluddin’s sophomore novel, and it is so good! Fans of The Ex Talk will surely enjoy this one.

Like Other Girls had female friendships that started off with a Not Like Other Girls trope and then turned into something deeper, and it was a great critique of toxic masculinity and small town sports. Bloom was a soft graphic novel about two boys in a coastal town: Ari wants to leave for the city city with his band, and hector wants to bake. They spend a summer together at Ari’s family’s bakery, and it’s so delightful and sensitive and moody. The Road Trip was a second chance romance, and I must admit that this trope is growing on me.

First off, let’s admire these fabulous covers. Just *chef’s kiss*

The Siren is a movie star thriller that was like the season 1 finale of Veronica Mars meets The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Intrigued? Read it.

I had my doubts entering into Outlawed due to its incredibly low rating, but it was really good! Sadder than I wanted, but still good. A Lot Like Adios was another second chance romance, and while I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as You Had Me at Hola, it was still delightful and highly recommended. Arsenic and Adobo was a cozy mystery with yummy food and a heroine who has really awful luck and a fantastic sense of humor.

Now kind of the oddballs that don’t fit cover-wise. Squad was Mean Girls meets Teen Wolf meets Heathers, and I loved it. So fucking good.

And Stacey Abrams proves she can literally do everything with While Justice Sleeps, which uh, hits a lot harder after the debacle with the past administration and the previous two justices being shoehorned onto the bench. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a long-time lurker on my physical TBR, and I probably would not have picked it up if not for my book challenge. It was better than I expected! The hype on this one is, indeed, real.

War of the Flea was for book research, and it was very informative if a little repetitive and based on a rose-tinted lens analysis of anecdotal evidence. The overall takeaways, however, were incredibly pertinent and made me very nervous and filled with conspiracy theories due to the parallels with today’s insurgency within the US.

Also books read for the book challenge, thanks to their abilities to fit two prompts my team desperately needed to fill and for being very quick reads. I love Tamora Pierce, and the Protector of the Small quartet is by far my favorite series (yup, it beats Alanna!). Keladry was a major role model and inspiration for me as a teenager, then NROTC midshipman and later junior Marine, but today I find myself siding with Sir Miles and his gentle rebukes of the stoic warrior mindset (which textually it seems that Pierce agrees with based on context clues). However, these first two are great—Pierce’s worldbuilding is just fantastic (although I can definitely see where criticisms of Japanese culture arose—she course corrects a little in book two, but there are still some stereotypical depictions).

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And now the three stars, which were all good but just did not quite meet that four-star threshold for me personally.

While I heartily enjoyed the sexiness of Heartbreak for Hire, The Royals Next Door and The Princess Trap, it was the HEAs overall that did it for me. I just couldn’t buy a single one of them—or the couple’s reasons for being with each other. Where they all had sexual chemistry, there was little relationship chemistry or staying power, if that makes sense. And yes, it breaks my heart to rate a Talia Hibbert book anything less than 5 stars, but there was just something missing in this one.

Interior Chinatown was good and I could see where Yu was talking the story, but it fell flat for me at the end, and I think a lot of that was due to my listening to the audiobook and missing the textual and formatting contextualization (much of the book reads like a screenplay).

In Cold Blood is The true crime novel and uh, I’m not a huge fan of true crime and quite frankly was dubious about a lot of the overly detailed descriptions Capote threw in there. Plus Scott Brick as a narrator is the worst: how can a person sound both bore and overly melodramatic while speaking?? Trickster was a collection of 24 stories of trickster characters told and illustrated by Indigenous American authors. It was good, but the poor formatting didn’t work for me—I felt like it needed a central consistency to help tie everything together (like the black and white color scheme of Power and Magic), plus some of the fonts/writing chosen were very hard to read. Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit was an enjoyable middle grade novel that had spunk and initiative and sped by very quickly. It was solid but not show-stopping.

Yes, there are so many that I’m missing the last three books

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