I can’t believe we’re already halfway done with the year. For those who are American, Happy belated 4th of July! I know I’m still recovering from mosquito bites from watching fireworks outdoors. Last month I really got into reading, finishing a total of 19 books. And for the most part I enjoyed them all, even for some of their imperfections. So let’s get into the books that I read in June of 2021.
- Silver Stars by Michael Grant (published 2017)
- This book had an interesting concept, and I loved the idea of showing WWII front lines from the perspective of women soldiers (I haven’t read the first book). Unfortunately, this book failed for me in two vital ways. First, all the female characters feel very modern. It was as if Grant was placing modern ideals and understanding of the world into a WWII setting, and it didn’t fit at all. Second, it also didn’t help that 90% of the male characters are there to catcall or put women down. Don’t get me wrong, things like sexism and racism were issues back then, and if examined in a realistic way it would have made for a provoking and interesting commentary of the 1940s (an example of a book which does this well is To Kill a Mockingbird). Especially when it came to the racism against Asians in general due to the Japanese attacking the US. However, this book made everyone fit into such stereotyped roles that every provoking message was dulled down to its most unrealistic depiction. Interesting premise, poor execution.
- Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by multiple authors (published 2018)
- I enjoy learning about Tudor England, because it was a complex political and religious era with many players all vying for their different goals. However, you would not know this from this book. This book breaks down the lives of Henry VIII’s six queens into ridiculous caricatures. Each queen is presented as a victim of Henry, to feel sorry for but not to truly understand their own part to play in the political climate of the era. Henry himself (outside of the section about Jane Seymour), seems like a mustache twirling villain in an old movie. While this book certainly takes it’s time in documenting exactly what it was like to be Henry’s wife, I felt like I understood none of the women behind the title “queen” by the end. The book focuses on their lives after meeting Henry, and because their youngest years were largely ignored, the book turned them into mere pawns of Henry, as opposed to complex, motivated women. The only woman I felt like I understood more by the end of the book was Anne of Cleves, and even her depiction was rocky. I liked the idea of portraying the lives of Henry’s queens in first person so the reader really got to know them, but the execution was poor.
- Windhaven: A Graphic Novel by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle (published 2018)
- I have not read the original novel this book is based on, so my understanding of the world and plot is based entirely on this graphic novel. Saying that, I had pretty mixed feelings about this book. Because this is based on a 400 page book, the graphic novel feels condensed and under-developed. The world isn’t really fleshed out. Most of the plot focuses around the life of Maris, though the conflict and stakes never feel that high. I kept looking for an overarching plot or conflict, but there was none outside of political and class conflict. This felt more like the backdrop, not clear and present stakes to progress the plot. Basically, everything felt too underdeveloped, but there was enough there that makes me really want to read the original book.
- The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #1) by Leonard Goldberg (published 2017)
- I am a massive fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so I was really excited to read a book which purported to tell the story of the daughter of the famous detective. Unfortunately, this book failed in many ways for me. The book is told from the perspective of John Watson’s son (also named John). Holmes has been dead several years at this point, but his illegitimate daughter is a young widow with an intelligent son. The two Watsons end up recruiting Holmes’s daughter Joanna to prove that a man’s apparent suicide was anything but a suicide. I loved the premise, but both the mystery and an understanding of Holmes’s original stories faltered in this novel. From the weird romance between Watson’s son and Joanna which felt straight out of a poorly constructed fanfiction to the constant scenes of Joanna demonstrating her ability to read details with little progression of the plot, I just found the book boring and the mystery solved within the first half of the book. It had little deep understanding of human nature and no contrast between Watson’s kindness and Holmes’s logical mind so common in the original stories.
- Plague Land (Plague Land #1) by Alex Scarrow (published 2016)
- While this book certainly isn’t a perfect apocalypse novel, I did enjoy it. How the plague itself is developed throughout the book is absolutely fascinating! Many apocalypse novels seem to focus on some vague apocalypse wiping out humanity (like zombies) without developing a complex and changing virus like this one. It was my favorite part of this book. I enjoyed Leon as a protagonist. He’s insecure, but brave. Saying that, all the characters are pretty underdeveloped. Grace is mostly either a generic child character or being a bossy mother wannabe to Leone. I never felt like I understood her outside of that. All the characters I felt similarly about. On a base level I could differentiate them, but not enough to truly understand them. I also hated how the second half of the book focused on in-fighting among survivors. Social conflict during an apocalypse is one trope I have never liked in apocalypse novels. Despite this, I still enjoyed this book, digesting it (ha, ha, pun intended) very quickly.
- Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee (published May, 2021)
- This book focuses on classism and racism against Chinese poor immigrants during the early 20th century, all set on the infamous Titanic. Valora Luck plays a woman looking for her place in the world, building her dreams around a twin brother who wants something different to do with his life. Valora herself is a fascinating character, intelligent but uncertain. I won’t say I found the other characters all that developed, but they were at least memorable enough that I remembered who was who. The ending was brilliantly done, and rather unexpected (I was certain that some characters would die that didn’t and visa versa). Saying that, the middle of the book felt a bit slow and jumbled with too little conflict and too little character depth. Saying that, it was an enjoyable read which shows a unique take of the disaster of the Titanic.
- Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynne Olson (published 2017)
- This is a very dense nonfiction history book which documents the role which people from lesser known Allied countries played in ending WWII, focusing mostly on Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. Many fled to Britain after Germany invaded each of these counties and would later aid in various ways the British government in the war effort. It is an interesting book, but I also felt at times it lacked focus, getting off a topic easily. Also, because of the massive topic it tries to cover, I found it often alternated from being too detailed on one aspect of the war and then skimming over another. Still an interesting history and an informative read, though.
- The Tunnel (Danny Katz #2) by Carl-Johan Vallgren (published 2015)
- I loved the fast-pacing of this novel, and the dark grim setting. The mystery was really fascinating, and I was never sure where it would twist to next. Also, I liked both Danny’s and Jorma’s character perspective, even if I thought the other narrators were unnecessary. Saying that, there’s a lot of bad language and weird sexual information I just didn’t care to read about. Also, the title I felt like gives a bit too much away of the ending. It was a fun thriller, but not good enough that I can see myself reading more in this series.
- People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (published May 2021)
- my review.
- Child of the Owl (Golden Mountain Chronicles #7) by Laurence Yep (published 1977)
- This is a really enjoyable coming-of-age story. I really enjoyed understanding Casey’s American upbringing as she goes to stay with her grandmother and find meaning in her Chinese heritage. Saying that, partially because this book is written for a younger audience, I never felt the book examined the differences of Chinese and American cultures in deep ways. The biggest differences seemed to be that Chinese people are superstitious and American people aren’t (which isn’t exactly true) and Chinese culture is much older and steeped in tradition, which simplifies both societies extremely. Saying that, Paw Paw is honestly my favorite character and such a great grandmother, teaching Casey meaningful lessons. Every quirky character Casey meets along the way was also enjoyable. A sweet book, but would have been better with more deeper examination of both cultures.
- The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (published May 2021)
- my review.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (published 2007)
- I really enjoyed the intricacies and sadness within the modern Native American reservation. Alexie creates this perfect world, bringing awareness to the alcohol and poverty issues all too common in Indian reservations. I appreciated how it was based on the author’s real life, though with fiction it’s hard to know what he based on his life and what he made up. However, Junior is annoying at time, sexualizing situations too much and often acting before thinking. I understand he’s a child, but there was never really life lessons where he either learned and grew from his mistakes. I liked seeing him want more than his life at the reservation by going to a white school, but then also have to deal with his fellow tribe looking at him as a traitor. A really enjoyable book overall, and one which brings important awareness to issues in the Spokane Indian Reservation, and probably all reservations around the country.
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (published 2018)
- So, this book. I’m not going to go into the author’s shifty history or the fact that the movie rights of this book were sold before the book even came out. Instead, I’m going to judge the book on its own merit. As thrillers go, it’s not bad. The twists and turns of the mystery are well done, especially the twist with Anna’s family, and the tension increases well throughout the book. However, Anna is an entirely unlikeable protagonist, and I wanted to shake her numerous times. So easily she could have solved so much of a drama by not being an idiot. It didn’t help that everyone seemed unrealistically against her. I also never found her to be that much of an unreliable narrator. A good unreliable narrator keeps the reader guessing about what is true, but it never crossed my mind that Anna was seeing things or not what she appeared. So that was a bit frustrating. Not a bad thriller, but not a particularly great one either, considering how popular it is.
- American Girls by Allison Umminger (published 2016)
- I went into this book with very low expectations. I’m not a huge fan of learning about California, and coming-of-age stories usually are a fail for me. Saying this, I really enjoyed this book. Even if none of the characters are particularly good people (Anna is selfish and immature, and her sister is an absolutely horrible human being), you can still understand them and learn to appreciate them. The blend between understanding why the Manson cult girls became involved in murder and Anna understanding how twisted the wealthy of L.A. are made the book really interesting. In fact, for some reason I couldn’t help but compare it to Alice in Wonderland. Just switch Alice with Anna and Wonderland with the madness of L.A. and it’s pretty fitting. One complaint I had was how many random references this book contained. I understood most of them, but I just found it bogged down the narrative a bit too much at times. Also, if you are easily triggered by offensive content (I am not on most subjects), just go into this book with a warning. However, it was a really enjoyable read and one I was not expecting to like so much.
- The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s a Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford (published 2008)
- I have watched and enjoyed the movie adaptation of this book, but this nonfiction is very different (the movie is more a fictionalized version of the book). The book goes through different topics, from Dickens’s background and family, to his early history dealing with publishers, to the history of how Christmas was practiced before and following the publication of The Christmas Carol. I truly enjoy this book! I grew up loving Dickens’s works, so to understand the man behind them and the world in which he lived was truly fascinating. My only regret is that I wish I had read this book around Christmas, because it would be even more fitting then.
- The Shining (The Shining #1) by Stephen King (published 1977)
- I really enjoyed this book, even if it is really slow at times. There is this perfect balance between foreshadowing and plot progression. The dark atmosphere of both the hotel and Jack’s past make the book feel unpredictable and yet predictable. It’s a hard book to get into because of the slow pacing, but once I did I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the characters, especially Danny. For being five, he really steals the book with his bravery and mysterious powers. The ending was pretty sad and tragic, but a really strong horror novel. I mean, it is a classic.
- Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan (published 2018)
- Since childhood I have been fond of C.S. Lewis, from his youthful fantasy Narnia books to his more complex theological texts like The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters. So when I went into this book both loving his work and knowing a bit about his life, I was a bit cynical in how his life and Joy’s life would be handled. And yet this book did not disappoint. At its core, it is one woman’s search to find happiness, from a difficult marriage with an abusive husband to surviving cancer once before finally succumbing to the disease just a handful of years after marrying C.S. Lewis. While this book itself is fictional, it is clearly based heavily on the letters and writings of both Joy and Lewis. I adored this book. Despite the ending, the book keeps a surprisingly positive message, despite showing weaknesses of both the main characters. Neither Joy or Lewis are made into an idealized couple, but feel very real. My only criticism is that the ending did feel a little bit rushed. I don’t mean it should have focused only on pain and death, but a bit more would have been nice.
- Skellig (Skellig #1) by David Almond (published 1998)
- This is such a magical coming-of-age story about a boy with a very sick baby sister and a mysterious man he discovers living in his parents’ abandoned garage. Some of the meanings are vague, but the story has a magical feel. Between his friendship with his homeschooled neighbor Mina, the stress he is dealing with due to his newborn sister’s heart issues, and his interest in birds and the idea of humans having wings. It’s a beautiful, moving story.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (#1 Oz) by L. Frank Baum (published 1900)
- This book is such a classic! I “read” it as a child constantly on audiobook, but there is something so enduring about reading the book while seeing the original art. The creativity of the world of Oz takes everyone, children and adults alike, on a heartwarming adventure through dangers and fanciful elements alike. Saying that, this book also has wonderful themes too, that you don’t need have a physical heart, brain, and courage to be kind, smart, and brave. That when you want something you should never give up on your dreams, because happiness comes in unexpected places. It’s a great classic, and one I can see myself reading many more times.
So there are the books I’ve read last month. Have you read any of these books? Do any of them look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, thank you so much for reading, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,