“The room was a shabby one to contain the intellectual brilliance of England.”First line in A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan
It’s the end of July, folks! I hope you’re all doing well. Outside of reading, my July was made up of watching a ton of sports. Euro 2020 ended in a way that is going to make me bitter for the rest of my life, but then the Tour de France took over and made me happy again. And now it’s the Olympics! There’s just something about watching a sport where you don’t know a single thing about it but of course commenting on it as if you do. It’s very addictive. And it’s not like I don’t know any of the sports. I live in Denmark and we care a lot about handball if you didn’t know. Like, a lot. It almost has the same status as football here, so we’re really hoping for a gold medal there.
But let’s talk about my reading stats for the month:
I’m very surprised I managed to read that much this month considering how much time I spent watching all the TV I mentioned. There were some shorter books in there, but the page-count is still pretty high for me. And hey, I read a book from a male author for the first time since April. Clearly didn’t want to exert myself so still just one.
Out of the seven books, one was a novella, Deeds of Men by Marie Brennan, which I didn’t rate and I’m also not reviewing it here. It’s a novella from the Onyx Court series so there isn’t much I can say about it. That still leaves six mini-reviews that I hope you enjoy!
The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3)
Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Published: June 11th, 2020
Read the synopsis of the first book in the series, The City of Brass, on Goodreads.
Probably the weakest book in the trilogy, and that’s always unfortunate when it’s the last book. It felt very slow, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I didn’t feel that it had any reason to be so meandering. A lot could have been cut and it wouldn’t have made a difference. There were also aspects about the ending that I found underwhelming or outright annoying. I can’t say much more, but I do have a spoiler-filled review for it in case you’ve already read it and want to know what my frustrations were about.
Author: John Boyne
Published: May 1st, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Buzzwords: The Great War, gay MC, war trauma, loneliness
Synopsis: September 1919:20 year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to Marian Bancroft. Tristan fought alongside Marian’s brother Will during the Great War but in 1917, Will laid down his guns on the battlefield, declared himself a conscientious objector and was shot as a traitor, an act which has brought shame and dishonour on the Bancroft family.
But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep in his soul. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage.
As they stroll through the streets of a city still coming to terms with the end of the war, he recalls his friendship with Will, from the training ground at Aldershot to the trenches of Northern France, and speaks of how the intensity of their friendship brought him from brief moments of happiness and self-discovery to long periods of despair and pain.
The Absolutist is a novel that examines the events of the Great War from the perspective of two young privates, both struggling with the complexity of their emotions and the confusion of their friendship.
I was prepared for this book to tear at my heartstrings and it certainly delivered on that front. Not only does it delve into the horrors of the trenches, but it also explores the complicated life of a gay man in the 1910s. It’s a story about friendship and loneliness and what being a coward actually means.
It’s my second book by John Boyne and I have to say that I’m a big fan of how he writes his characters. In this book they aren’t likeable… but he makes you love them anyway somehow. They have so many big character flaws, but you’re rooting for them to overcome them which I think makes for a very strong connection between character and reader. I’m actually especially impressed with his women yet again, and yes, behold a man who writes women well! It’s like their strength comes from their flaws, so you really don’t get these perfect women who can do nothing wrong.
Finally I also have to say that I really liked the ending to this. I had predicted some of it but there were still surprises that left me with my mouth hanging open. Also, my 4-star rating doesn’t really mean that there was anything wrong with the book. I actually had nothing to complain about, but it just didn’t feel like a 5-star book to me for some reason.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Published: January 24th, 2012
Synopsis: At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They’re the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they’re often labeled quiet, it’s to introverts like Gandhi, Einstein and Rosa Parks that we owe many of the great contributions to society. Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Every introvert should read this. Simple as that. As Cain says in the introduction, this book gives introverts a sense of entitlement to be themselves, which I most definitely needed. It details how society is structured in a way that really doesn’t benefit introverts and shows how much value is lost because of that. You should note that the book discusses everything from an American perspective, but does some interesting comparisons to Asian cultures; The Ultimate Extroverts vs. The Ultimate Introverts. I’m now convinced I should have been born Japanese, and I’m eternally grateful I’m not American because I would literally have died.
Another aspect of the book I was incredibly fascinated with was its look into nurture vs. nature. It describes some very interesting neurological studies that show clear differences between introverted and extroverted children, and as someone who tends to analyze their own introversion a lot, I found it very insightful. It’s actually also a book that gives a lot of advice to parents about how to handle an introverted child. I was especially interested in a section where Cain explains the problem for extroverted parents with an introverted child and how they should raise their child. It was really something I wished my own extroverted parents had known. And all of this really highlights how this book isn’t just for introverts, it’s also something any extrovert should read if an introvert is a part of their life whether it be a child, partner or colleague.
Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Published: May 18th, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
The problem with being a character-driven reader is that when you don’t like the characters, you start looking to the plot to save the book for you, and when that is half decent only, then the whole book is ruined for you. That is my experience with this book (and the series so far). I don’t hate it, but I was immensely bored throughout the whole thing. We have six (!) POV characters, and I couldn’t make myself care about more than one (yes, that one was Ronan). First of all, six POV characters in a book that is 340 pages long is way too many. That’s just not necessary and I will die on that hill. When five of those characters aren’t interesting in the slightest, it makes for a very flat reading experience. I imagine people who are more interested in art would find them more interesting than I did because there are definitely two characters whose entire personalities are Painting. This book gave so many painting lessons that I couldn’t care less about.
Still 3 stars though because it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, which is so pleasantly surprising and weird sometimes. And Ronan. There were some good Ronan moments in here (although I could always use more), so I’m obviously still reading the last book when that comes out.
A Star Shall Fall (Onyx Court #3)
Author: Marie Brennan
Published: January 1st, 2010
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Check out the synopsis of the first book in the series, Midnight Never Come, on Goodreads.
Well, it might be a bit generous 5 stars because I was pretty set on either a 4 or 4.5 for a long time. Until that ending. WHAT?!? I can’t tell you about it of course but I was literally yelling at the book several times and I think that says it all.
The rest of the book was pretty slow but that seems to be the standard for books in this series, and the characters were ones I really enjoyed reading about so I didn’t mind the pace. The author had also made some choices in regards to this book that were different from what we’ve seen so far and I really think they all payed off. We got some different characters and the focus was more on faerie court politics rather than the human world’s politics. I really enjoyed all of that, and this book might be my new favorite in the series.
The Great Believers
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Published: June 19th, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buzzwords: 1980s Chicago, AIDS epidemic, contemporary Paris, Chicago art scene
Synopsis: In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.
Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.
Not gonna lie, I had high hopes for this, but it turned out to be a fairly unremarkable book for me. I believe it was largely because I’ve both read and watched so many depictions of the AIDS epidemic that were all better and more impactful than this one. I especially found myself seeing so many similarities between this book and the British mini-series “It’s a Sin”, and while I cried several times during the mini-series, The Great Believers barely managed to make me sad. It was sad towards the end which I appreciated, but in a book where people are dying left and right, I really had expected to be more depressed. The writing wasn’t good enough to really make me feel the sadness and so I found myself not caring that much. The writing wasn’t terrible by any means, but again, I’ve seen better and I expected more from a book marketed as literary fiction.
Another gripe I had with the book was that it had a past and a present POV. One took place in the 1980’s Chicago while the other was in 2015 Paris. The 1980s one was infinitely more interesting, which it seems like the author herself recognized because the chapters in Paris were significantly shorter, and I’m just wondering why they were there. Yes, they filled out some of the blanks from the Chicago chapters, but I would have been fine not knowing these things. And then they had this weird plot about a mother and her daughter because something needed to happen in those chapters, right? I’m very peculiar here because I really don’t like reading about mother/daughter-relationships in books, so that was another mark-down for me although that is not the book’s fault.
I still gave this book a fairly high rating because I really didn’t hate it. I was just a bit bored because I knew from experience that such a story could be told in a better way.
That was it for July. I have no idea what August is going to be like because my vacation starts today (three weeks with no work!!), and that could mean that either I read everything or I read nothing. I do know I have a few long train rides to visit friends so that should give me some reading time.
But do let me know if you’ve read any of my July-books or plan to. I’d love to chat about them! So happy reading in August!