I only read 10 books this month — lol at “only” — because I found myself overwhelmed with all the options at my fingertips. I just didn’t know what book I wanted to read. And so, for about the first two weeks of the month, I essentially read nothing. But one night I realized I’d been mindlessly scrolling TikTok for three hours (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and decided I’d rather exercise my frontal lobe. So I requested a few library books, because those always give me a set deadline to read them by, and I dove into my ARCs (again: deadlines!!).
My August reads took me all over the world, from across the globe — India (“Kaikeyi”), Mexico (“Hurricane Season”), France (“Lucy Checks In”), Scotland (“Shuggie Bain”), and England (“Magpie Murders” and “Honey & Spice”) — to places closer to home — NYC (“Luster” and “Book Lovers”), Boston-ish (“Mistakes Were Made”), and small, Southern towns (“Book Lovers” and “Mistakes Were Made”) — and to a wonderfully imagined Pre-Colombian world — “Fevered Star.”
All in all, it was a super strong month in terms of the quality of books. There weren’t any I disliked, but there were a lot I liked a ton, and there were a couple I flat-out loved. And I know several books I read are ones that will linger with me for a while.
So without further ado, here are my full thoughts on this month’s books, which were originally all posted on my Goodreads account.
- Kaikeyi (5)
- Book Lovers (5)
- Shuggie Bain (4.5)
- Fevered Star (4.5)
- Magpie Murders (4.5)
- Hurricane Season (4)
- Honey & Spice (4)
- Luster (4)
- Mistakes Were Made (3.5)
- Lucy Checks In (3.5)
“Hurricane Season” by Fernanda Melchor — 4/5
This book is what Ottessa Moshfegh thinks she did with “Lapvona.” Whereas my issue with that book was that Moshfegh was gruesome just for the sake of being gruesome, “Hurricane Season“ is gruesome to make a point. Fernanda Melchor is brilliant at conveying the grotesque, the perverted, the deviant in a way that rings true because of the atmosphere she’s created and because she delves into the depravity of humankind in a way that feels honest. There’s a larger point here about Mexican society, with its culture of machismo, corruption, homophobia, and violence. Melchor writes (and Sophie Hughes brilliantly translates) in a frenetic way that is somehow both angry and tragic. It’s fiery but emotional. And, as a result, I think this book is a triumph — it’s chock-full of horrendous details, but Melchor makes it personal and localized to up the emotional ante. And the way this book is written — all but one of the chapters are a single paragraph full of long, winding sentences with tons and tons of violence — creates a harried pace where her wonderful prose can shine starkly.
My notes for this book look something like the following:
F*** this is insane.
Ostensibly, “Hurricane Season” is about the death of a witch who is found bloated and decomposing in the small town’s canal. But it’s really an unpacking of horrible people — and the circumstances that led to them being so horrible — in a poverty-ridden, backward town. Melchor writes about despicable people in a really interesting and honest way. She’s a master at slowly unwinding a story and characterization; the novel is told from many different POVs, so one character will tell you something, but then you read from another character’s POV and learn something else entirely. So the way you feel about characters is constantly shifting as you try to parse what is true and whom you should trust. The changing narratives keep you entirely off-balance. You may think you hate a character, but the next POV will show you that you don’t and that you really hate a different character, and then you’re reading that character’s POV, and so on and so on. And then Melchor abandons each character’s POV in the height of their anguish to leave what comes next vague and up to your imagination. You sink deeper and deeper into the violence of the novel as events are told by accuser, accomplice, witness, bystander, perpetrator… until you yourself are part of the story.
The setting is claustrophobic and hopeless, and I felt myself itching to be done with the book so that I could escape it. The women are largely prostitutes. The men work in the oil fields. Drugs and alcohol abound. Everyone is superstitious and maybe going mad. Thus, all the happenings in the novel ring true — as unfortunate as they are. And the setting is a perfect way to explore the stomach-roiling events that take place. (I wanted to puke on more than one occasion.) Seriously, check the trigger warnings before cracking the spine. But nothing Melchor writes about is gratuitous. It’s horrible, for sure, but so is society. And the emotional depths this book reaches make this a wholly worthwhile read.
In creating such a dark and intoxicating book, Melchor herself might actually be the witch at the heart of the novel.
“Mistakes Were Made” by Meryl Wilsner — 3.5/5
This book gets off to a hot start — literally — and never really slows down from there. It’s sexy, it’s flirty, it’s fun, and I love how Meryl Wilsner took a common trope — age-gap romance — and turned it on its head in a thoroughly enjoyable way.
There’s a lot to like here. First of all, I loved Wilsner’s writing style. It’s approachable and comfortable and energetic, and none of their dialogue sounds remotely robot-y. In fact, the dialogue in this book is perfect — the banter between the two main characters, Cassie and Erin, is fun and funny and had me swooning and giggling. Cassie and Erin as a whole were also great. They’re strong and secure individuals who Wilsner really understood and developed wonderfully. The characters’ motivations always ring true — even when they’re making questionable choices. They grow into enhanced versions of themselves through their interactions with each other, which I always adore. Wilsner also really explored how and why the two women work together, and the depictions of their intimacy is balanced and heartfelt.
I think I would have liked this book a whole heck of a lot more if Cassie was maybe a year or two older. I don’t mind age-gap romances, but the college student–successful doctor aspect made these characters feel like they were at very different points in their life. I remember being a college senior, and while I felt like I definitely had my head screwed on straight and had everything figured out in life, looking back I can confidently say I most definitely did not. Cassie can come across as immature, which is par for the course when you’re 22-ish but doesn’t necessarily make for a fun read when the other love interest is close to 40. To get at the forbidden relationship, I totally understand why Cassie had to be friends with Erin’s daughter, Parker. But Parker is a freshman. When I was a freshman, the senior girls in my sorority were way too cool for me and had me slightly intimidated. They all had their lives together and were applying for jobs and going wine tasting — and I was still swapping majors daily and taking shots of god-awful birthday cake–flavored vodka. As much as I loved the depictions of female friendship (let’s be honest, Acacia is the MVP), I just couldn’t quite get that idea out of my head.
The pacing in the second half nearly ruined everything for me — I found I could go obsess over the yellow leaves on my plants or scour Depop for the perfect statement blouse without really missing much of anything or feeling the need to pick the book back up. After a strong start, the second part just hit a massive lull. That might be because of all the sex scenes? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sex scene. But these felt like they were just put in the book to make it spicy and didn’t really move the plot or character development along. Luckily, the third act reeled me back in, and I really enjoyed the ending when everyone knows everything (I got a good chuckle out of Parker finding out) and everything is out in the open.
I’ll definitely reread this book, I might just pretend Cassie is in graduate school when I do.
Special thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for proving me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
This book will be released on October 11, 2022.
“Lucy Checks In” by Dee Ernst — 3.5/5
If you, like me, are a daydreamer, don’t read this book. Since I finished it I’ve thought of nothing else but packing up everything I own, finding an adorably old, French hotel to run, and uprooting my entire life. I’ve been thinking about menus, what kind of fabric would be best for window treatments, whether I want a rose garden or lavender fields… This book is sheer escapism.
I got into this book quite easily and found its cute premise and characters made the time spent within the pages worthwhile. Lucy, our devastated and down-on-her-luck heroine, is plucky and dives into the challenge of getting this ancient French property she haphazardly signed a contract to renovate up and running as a lovely destination hotel in Rennes (with only a little complaining). I enjoyed reading about an almost-50-year-old woman who is confident in her abilities and has a more mature outlook on life and all its ups and downs, although sometimes Lucy came across as much younger than that (and the misleading cover image certainly doesn’t help matters). But I enjoyed that our middle-aged main character is adventurous and vibrant and that she embraces her age rather than acts ashamed of it.
I think this book maybe tries to be too many things — ensemble cast with a hint of found family, romance, family drama and relationship drama, a character reclaiming who they are. That means a lot of side plots are never really explored, which makes the book feel chaotic. I think Dee Ernst needed to either commit to expanding on some of these ideas or to cutting them, because it feels like she put them in, forgot she put them in, and then had to rush to wrap them up before the book ended. Side characters are introduced and then forgotten. Lucy’s past was underdeveloped. Perhaps most notably, the sheer amount happening in the book means the romance — which I (maybe mistakenly) thought would be a bigger part of the story — doesn’t feel right, because the chemistry and tension were never really there, and the relationship develops at an odd pace (I’m talking about not until at least 80 percent of the way through.) That’s odd, because the book takes place across such a broad period, so the lack of development really wasn’t necessary and messed with the plot pacing. Way, way, way too much happens in the final 15-ish percent of the book, and I got a bit of whiplash.
Still, this is a light and lovely read about someone finding themselves — in a wonderful and deliciously carb-filled setting. I really should’ve read this with a baguette, a hunt of brie, and a glass of red wine on hand, because that’s all I was craving the entire time I was reading. And now that I’m done, I guess I’ll stop looking for flights and go and unpack my books from their cardboard boxes.
Special thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for proving me with an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
“Honey & Spice” by Bolu Babalola — 4/5
I need this book to be adapted into a movie or TV show immediately. It’s not enough for me to imagine this book to life — I need it to be tangible. This book is fun, it’s sexy, it’s delicious. I want to shove this book in the hands of every author who has had to tell me chemistry exists between two leads, because this, THIS, is how you write chemistry. Kiki and Malakai were electric.
Bolu Babalola has a riotously fun voice that makes everything within these pages feel natural. I feel like I recognized some of these conversations because I swear I’ve said some of these lines myself. The exposition is slipped in cleverly and is never in your face. Nothing in this book ever felt like this was an author wracking their brain to remember what college (and all its uncertainties and ups and downs) was like — but somehow getting it all wrong. I felt like I was back at Cal and remembered a good number of the feelings these characters were experiencing. The supporting characters are the basis of a wonderful support system. The relationships all feel real, not like pale renderings of friendship and love in all its (sometimes messy) glory. The social commentary is sharp. The pop culture allusions actually add something to the text. Basically, everything was dynamic and delightful. The third act felt a little out of character and annoyed me a tad, but everything wraps up pretty quickly and provides a nice little dash of angst. This is just a fun and feel-good book.
And, yes, I do have fan casts for all the characters. Get on it, Netflix.
“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart — 4.5/5
This is an immensely sad book. Like, it’s so, so, SO sad. I felt like a weight was pressing down on me the entire time I was reading it because of the heavy subject matter and the book’s generally melancholic tone. It’s not the best book to read when it’s due back at the library soon, because I constantly wanted to put it down and walk away from it for a little bit just to give myself a break, but I couldn’t. And yet the sheer capacity for love in this book — especially Shuggie Bain’s for his ruinous, alcoholic mother — is really why this book packs such a punch.
Agnes Bain is haunted by the drink — and because of that, so is everyone else. But like everyone else in this book, she’s complex, so while she’s maddening, she breaks your heart with her vulnerability and her moments of sheer love. She, like everyone else, is stuck in a bad situation in a cycle she can’t escape. The economic situation is Glasgow is dismal. Her husband is a philanderer who abuses her. She had much grander expectations for her life than what’s turned out to be her reality. She’s dazzling. And she’s destructive. And that makes for a compelling character. Because while this book is named after Shuggie, it’s really Agnes’ tale.
All the cruelty in the book is brilliantly tempered by Douglas Stuart — well, as much as possible, I suppose. Stuart is never too descriptive with the cruel aspects. There are a lot of fade-to-black type moments, and Stuart chooses to focus more on the aftermath and the impact on the characters than on the brutality of the actions themselves. And that human element is almost what makes this story even sadder. I told myself a number of times to just stop — especially at one point in the story when things start looking up — because then I could pretend this book has a happy ending. And yet I couldn’t put this book down because I knew it wouldn’t be true. Because Stuart brilliantly encompasses the truth of humanity and its complexity in his debut novel.
Every character in this book needs a hug — and now that I’m finished with it, I think I do, too.
“Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz — 4.5/5
I’ve never really been an audiobook person, but my dad and I had to drive down to LA — and he doesn’t appreciate my excellent taste in music — so we needed something to occupy us for the 11ish hours we’d be in the car. So I found us this book, thinking a mystery would keep us involved and invested (and wouldn’t put me to sleep like audiobooks so often do). It was perfect.
We chatted over breakfast about who we thought was responsible for what. We puzzled it out in the stands of a baseball game. We told my sister not to call us in the car because it would interrupt our listening. (Just kidding, Clare. Of course we wanted to talk to you!) We were thoroughly invested, and we joked about extending our driving time just so we could finish the book.
This is an immensely clever book. It’s full of twists and turns and red herrings and well-hidden clues. At the end of everything, I never felt tricked — I felt outsmarted. And that’s exactly what I want from a mystery like this. Yes, the novel drags a little in places and could have been tightened up. And, yes, the Atticus Pünd part of the novel was superior to the Susan Ryeland one. But everything was tied together masterfully in a way that balanced suspense with philosophical musings — all with spectacular and clear writing.
Anything that can make me consider driving all the way to Canada from LA is a win in my book.
“Kaikeyi” by Vaishnavi Patel — 5/5
It took me three months to read this book. But not because it was complicated or boring. Because I didn’t want it to end.
This book is a masterpiece. I will forever and always be a slut for mythological retellings, so I was beyond excited to pick this one up. The story is told in a way that makes 478 pages breeze by (and that lets you pick up right where you left off if you (stupidly) put it down for months on end). This is a story of a woman owning her story and her place in a world designed to suppress her, and it’s told by Vaishnavi Patel in a deft and rich way.
Kaikeyi is one the best characters I’ve come across lately — she’s petulant and bold and prideful, but she’s empathetic and resilient and smart. She’s layered and complicated and is constantly wrestling with herself and with a world that tells her she is lesser. Patel has given her a bold and spirited voice, and it’s a joy to see Kaikeyi grow in her abilities and as a woman. Of course, Kaikeyi isn’t the only magnificent thing about this novel — all the relationships between the characters are special, the pacing never let me down, and a multitude of stories are woven together in a way that makes a vast novel (and its even vaster source material, the Ramayana) seem intimate.
Maybe I’ll go start this book again so that I can live in this world with these characters forever and so this story will never really end for me.
“Luster” by Raven Leilani — 4/5
“Luster” feels just like I imagine a fever dream does — the book is strange and disquieting, and I felt my temperature rising with every page. At times, it made me so uncomfortable I felt itchy. I’m uncomfortable even now, writing this review, thinking about what I just read.
It’s brilliantly written — Raven Leilani’s style is acerbic and funny, and every word feels necessary. The book sizzles as a result, and Leilani’s lush writing propels you through these pages. And she’s given Edie, the young, Black woman at the center of the novel, an important voice. Edie is messy and damaged — and she’s desperately grasping for answers. And her outlook on the world, and the situation she’s found herself in (temporarily living at her boyfriend’s house with his wife and kid there) allows for a fascinating exploration of self-sabotage and past trauma and ethics because of how aware she is. Edie may be messy and chaotic, but the book is almost clinical in description, which makes for a fascinating dichotomy. As does the fact that Edie is tender and is searching for her capacity to love and be loved, whatever that may mean to her.
I’m not sure I’m ready for another fever dream, but I do know I’ll definitely be thinking of this book tonight when I go to sleep.
“Fevered Star” by Rebecca Roanhorse — 4.5/5
I read the first book in this series two days before this one, the sequel, came out, and then I just let it sit on my bookshelf. I think I loved the first one so much that I was nervous this one wouldn’t live up. And it does — although in a very different manner.
Whereas “Black Sun” felt like a race to get to the end (in a good way!), “Fevered Star” slows down a bit to focus more on the political intrigue and the machinations of different individuals than on any high-octane action and pace. When you start this book, you’re not really sure where or how it’s going to end. In “Fevered Star,” it’s about the alliances are formed and broken. Characters are thrust together in new pairs/groups. The only thing that really remains consistent is that you don’t know who to trust or who to root for. The third book is going to be an epic conclusion to this series, and “Fevered Star” has gotten me exponentially more excited for the final book’s release.
Roanhorse’s storytelling is compelling — as I’ve come to expect — and the world feels even more lush and rounded out in this sequel. The characters feel true to their first-book selves. I was furiously turning pages (as the bags under my eyes today will attest to). I had to wrack my brain a little to remember first-book plot points, but I found myself back into a rhythm with the characters pretty quickly. All in all, I think this book takes the series to a whole different playing field.
I know this series is supposed to be a trilogy, but I’d kill for at least five more books.
“Book Lovers” by Emily Henry — 5/5
I promised my sister I’d finish this book before August ended, so I stayed up way too late to achieve that (and, yes, it still counts if I finished at 3 am on September — a month only really starts when you wake up in it). So, now that I’m exhausted and not feeling like writing a review, here are my texts to my sister as I was reading it.
Tldr: I loved everything about this book
Okie, here we go. I shall finish this book posthaste. Unless Jungkook goes live and I have to drop everything to watch.
Nora self-soothes by shopping, too? Great, is this gonna be another Emily Henry book where I relate way too much to the main female character?
Isn’t it a rule that younger sisters have to be taller than their older sisters? I feel like EH got this wrong. Or I just got bad genes
Aw, her sister is her favorite person You’re (usually) mine 🙃
So she’s super particular about men and loves Katharine Hepburn movies? Oh, no. It me
What exactly do we think a book that’s “A Man Called Ove” meets “A Little Life” would be like, and why do I never want to find out?
Kay, the premise of Hallmark-movie-villain-goes-to-small-town-to-find-romance-of-her-own is v good
I love how sharp and quip-y EH’s dialogue always is
Wanna go pick a random small town and go be romcom leads? We can decide later who’s Kate Hudson and who’s Meg Ryan
Ooh, taste in Katharine Hepburn movies. Might have to go watch “Bringing Up Baby” rn
Make that “Philadelphia Story,” instead
He calls her by her last name!? 🥰
They’re bantering. Gah, I love banter
Especially good banter
And this is good banter
Do you think Peloton paid for all the product placement?
Charlie has already ascended to top-tier book bf status
Do we think Charlie’s eyebrows are kinda Eugene Levy-like or Ian Smolderholder-like or what?
Oh, I like them together a lot a lot
I just snorted red wine onto the page. Whoops-a-daisy!
And now she’s using his last name. Why do I love that trope so much? What show ruined me like this?
I just got a Weverse notification and nearly rolled off the bed to grab my phone thinking it was Kookie going live. ‘Twas not
Ooh, I want a perfume that makes me smell like a book
There’s a missing comma 🔪
Imma call it: Adonis is either Charlie’s brother or previous romantic rival
Great, the tear-welling has started. Def not strong enough to handle the big sister aspect at this moment
I’d like to give Nora a very big hug
And maybe tell her I’ll take over her to-do lists and spreadsheets for a day or a week
I went to go get a midnight-ish snack to come back to find my dog has taken my spot on the bed. Cool cool cool
Love the “oh, no, men don’t love tall, thin women” struggle 🙄 Life is so rough!!
Honestly, an in-depth skincare routine is an extremely valid reason to make men stay at your place
Shoot, Nora nearly snorted out her wine. Our similarities grow
My “mindfulness” app reminder just nearly gave me a heart attack because I, again, thought it was gonna be Koo going live
She’s thinking about kissing Charlie? Girl, same
Yes! Town meetings! The Gilmore Girl in me is THRILLED rn
I love how we get all the trope callouts from someone who would have reason to know all the trope callouts. Kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and I’m enjoying it
I’ve decided you’d probs be Meg Ryan. Ooh, maybe Reese Witherspoon? Wait, maybe I want to be Reese
Aha! Charlie and Adonis are cousins! I was close!
I wanna hug Nora again 🥺 Little sisters are the worst!
He’s been paying attention to every little thing she does 😭
Man alive, I’m such a sucker for romance. My heart is soaring rn
Now, I need to hug Charlie, too 🥺
The difference between how Nora and Libby see how they grew up is such a wonderful addition to the storyline
And now I know this book is emotionally wrecking me, because I just paused for a second and found my way to TikTok, where I cried over a SKZ edit
Yeah, the sister stuff is definitely getting to my tear ducts. Probs your fault
Yes! Kiss! Make me forget about all the tears that are just waiting to spill over!
Cool cool, I’m crying. Man alive does Emily Henry write about grief well. Like, it’s never overdone. But it’s still so poignant. Like, she lets you put your own experiences into what she’s writing
Oh, no, it’s time for the sister talk. I’m not sure I’m emotionally equipped to handle this
Gah, I’m def not emotionally equipped to handle this
Don’t tell anyone, but I’m kinda fond of you
This book was definitely written for big sisters. Sorry, but it’s true
I love how EH sticks to characters and realms she knows. Like, Augustus and January were authors. Poppy was a travel writer, and Alex was an English teacher. And now Nora is an agent, and Charlie is an editor. It just makes everything ring so true — but it’s all still varied
I’m about to fly to Italy and stab his sister. What do you mean she’s not coming back??????? She has to come back!!!!! Charlie has to go to NYC to live happily ever after with Nora…
Charlie and Nora have shown a lot more restraint than I would in this situation. If I was Nora, I would def have already torn his clothes off
Where do I find a Charlie Lastra? Do they make guys like him in factories or what, cause… I want one
I’m starting to think Libby wants to stay
And I’m 1000 percent positive Nora isn’t gonna love that
Fudge, I hate when I’m right. Man, this sucks
Did I mention that little sisters are the worst? Gah!!!
Maybe she’s not so bad
My tear ducts are now open. And I’m a mess. Like, EH really just kinda sneaks up on you with the emotion and lets you come to terms with it and work it out by yourself
I’m sorry, they think Katharine Hepburn should’ve ended up with Jimmy Stewart instead of Cary Grant? What? I might need to take a whole star off for that. Sacrilege
I did not think my tear ducts had anything more to give. I was mistaken
We have an EH cinematic universe!? You go, January! (I think I need to reread that book. I feel like I was in a mood when I first read it, and it probs deserves better)
“I can read you like a book” 😭😭😭
I will literally fight Nora Stephens for Charlie Lastra
Just, like, he takes her as she is. He gets her. He’s just there for her and UGH I LOVE HIM
I just also want someone to make pro/con lists and Google Docs with
Oh, my whole heart. This book has every bit of it. Damn
And Kookie never even went live. So I pass the Twitter patrol baton over to you. That’s probs good, though, cause I likely would’ve just sobbed through the whole thing because of how precious he is
Sometimes I think I could write a romcom, and then I read an EH novel and am all “hahahahaha, no, I could not”
Man, this book was good