Finally! A month in which I managed to read a decent number of books. Here’s what I enjoyed this July:
To start, some nonfiction for a change. Michael Pollan’s IN DEFENSE OF FOOD is an illuminating read. The mantra, printed right on the cover, is simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Well of course you should eat food! Duh. How hard can that be? Well, the evolution of the American food industry has pushed a lot of things that are anything but food into our grocery stores. Fed up with not being sure what, exactly, was in the food I was buying (and after Susan Dennard recommended it to me), I eagerly picked up Pollan’s book. He outlines the history of food science/engineering, the constantly changing diet fads in America, and how it has impacted our food and agriculture; then goes on to provide some common sense suggestions to eating thoughtfully and responsibly. (In short, don’t eat anything with long ingredient lists, especially if you can’t pronounce any of those ingredients. Don’t obsess over calories. Ignore products that make health claims. Just eat real, whole foods, and avoid the processed.)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but unfortunately, I have a feeling most people seeking out this info are like me–pretty darn healthy, concerned about what they eat, and eager to make additional lifestyle changes. Meaning those who could perhaps benefit most from the information in In Defense of Food, likely will never come across it. Quite the conundrum.
I got my hands on an ARC of Rainbow Rowell’s FANGIRL this month, and can’t wait to snag a hardcover version for my shelf. At first glance, this is a basic coming of age story. Cath heads off to college where she struggles to find herself, navigates a new landscape, and deals with all sorts of relationship drama (family drama, friend drama, boy drama). But beneath that, Rowell has created something very special.
Reading this book let me relive falling in love for the first time. The butterflies, the warm fuzzies, the constant, palpable tension. (I’m starting to suspect that this is where Rowell really shines–crafting honest, heartfelt relationships, showing us that a touch can be just as sexy as a kiss.) There’s also some strong female friendships in this work that make me want to sing. And let’s not forget that Cath writes fanfic–Simon Snow fanfic, to be exact, which exists in a world much like Harry Potter. My inner nerd was on cloud nine. All the fandom gems are icing on an already very delicious cake. This is a new adult novel that no one should miss come September.
Another thirteeners ARC was mine to enjoy this month: INSOMNIA by J.R. Johansson. This story follows Parker Chipp who is suffering a bizarre form of insomnia: he enters the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with each night, and the sleep deprivation is beginning to catch up with him. Then Mia moves to town and her dreams are so calm Parker remembers what it’s like to feel rested. He becomes obsessed with making eye contact, and when a stalker begins to terrorize Mia, Parker’s the prime suspect. Worse part? His memory blackouts leave him questioning his own innocence.
This book is twisted, dark, and gruesome. For a good while, I wasn’t sure who to trust. Parker’s voice is authentic and urgent, but he’s also an unreliable narrator. He doesn’t trust himself, so how can we as the reader? He is a gray character, with understandable goals, but sometimes questionable means of achieving them. Plot threads are mostly tied up by the end, and a sequel (in the works) is sure to address the few remaining questions. Fans of dark thrillers will be on edge reading this.
I heard so many good things about Rick Yancey’s THE 5th WAVE that I finally caved, ran to the library in the middle of my book three drafting, and checked it out. In this post apocalyptic thriller, the alien invasion has already happened and we meet the characters in the aftermath. Cassie has survived the first few waves that have killed off millions, and is hoping to find some sort of haven at which to survive the fifth. Things are complicated when she is separated from her younger brother and embarks on a mission to rescue him.
Everyone talked up the twists and turns in this book, saying they never knew who to trust and/or were constantly surprised. I will admit that I saw every twist coming, and predicted them well before each reveal. However, this didn’t make me enjoy the book any less. (There’s something immensely satisfying about learning your gut reaction is right.) While the underlying premise of this novel is familiar (highlight for spoiler-ish comps: The Host, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it is still a compelling, unputdownable read. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Through various POVs, we get not only Cassie’s tale, but that of a few other characters, which helps flesh out the ruined world. I still have a few questions regarding the aliens’s end goals, and am anxiously awaiting the next installment in this new series.
Leigh Bardugo rocked the heck out of this sequel. I enjoyed SHADOW AND BONE, but the follow-up, SIEGE AND STORM, is something else. It picks up right where book one left off, with Mal and Alina fleeing across the sea. Unfortunately, they don’t avoid the Darkling long, and are soon dragged back into his clutches. Along the way, we meet a few new characters, one of which is my new favorite. (I’ve never understood all the love for the Darkling. I admire him as a character, but Sturmhond I can actually ship. The sarcastic, witty, smug charm…LOVE.)
Speaking of characters, I found Alina more likeable this time around–stronger, bolder, more driven. She has lofty goals now, and Mal is dragged along for the ride. This creates some very believable tensions between the two of them. Actually, all the relationships in this sequel were nuanced. This book does a lot of setting up for the final showdown. We get a look at the larger world and its politics. The war strategies and planning might be weighty for some, but I gobbled it all up. Same goes for the newly revealed Ravkan folklore and myths. I am so very excited for RUIN AND RISING.
GOLDEN by Jessi Kirby is everything I want in a contemporary: heartfelt, thought-provoking, charming, and real. Parker is a good girl and valedictorian of her graduating class, one to play by the rules and never step out of line. When mailing ten-year-old journals back to past graduates as part of her TA duties, she finds the journal of Julianna Farnetti, a girl who died along with her boyfriend in a tragic accident years earlier. Curiosity getting the best of her, Parker reads the journal.
I related with Parker more than I have with any YA heroine in a long, long time. Perhaps because I was a lot like her in HS–graduating near the top of my class, taking only carefully calculated risks. My parents were not nearly as overbearing as Parker’s mother, but I understood Parker’s desire to never disappoint. I won’t say much about the journal because the mystery surrounding it is one I don’t want to spoil. (Though if you’re an detail-focused reader like me, you’ll likely figure it out before the big reveal.) This is a novel about how small moments can lead to big ones, how chances can be seized as easily as missed. It also features a wonderful friendship–Parker and Kat felt like real girls, real friends, real teens. I adored this story.
Now what about you? Read anything spectacular in July? Tell me about in the comments.
Two quick links that may be of interest: Last week I rounded up some of my favorite antiheroes on PubCrawl, and shared my favorite songs to write to on Thirteeners. (If you need some new writing music, the latter might be especially helpful.)
Lastly, four years ago today, this happened:
photo © Vicki + Erik Photographers
I promised you all a double feature of #namethatbook tonight, but I did so last week, when I apparently had no recollection of my own anniversary. Since I’ll be out to dinner with my wonderful, supportive, incredibly patient husband tonight, I need to reschedule. Next week, on 8/8, we will play. I PROMISE.