I had an extremely productive reading month in August to round out my reading-heavy summer. I managed to pick up 2 of the books on my Top 10 2021 TBR list (hopefully this way I won’t be scrambling at the end of the year to finish it), read several contemporary romances (those always feel like very summery reads to me) and kept up fairly well with ARCs and review copies sent to me. Let’s get into some stats and reviews!
Total books read: 11
ARCs/review copies: 3
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (5 stars) – I absolutely understand the hype surrounding this book; it’s one of those that I kick myself for not having picked up sooner. It’s a character-driven, nuanced historical fiction book following twins whose paths in life vastly diverge after fleeing their small town when one of them disappears to pass as white; we then move ahead to follow the next generation of their family. It talks a lot about racism and gender roles, and the way its chapters skipped across time kept me hooked. Definitely recommend to all types of readers; I’m not normally a historical fiction fan, but it really doesn’t matter when a book is this good.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (4.5 stars) – Another book that I highly, highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It’s a short character study of a novel that proceeds nonlinearly in the life of a young woman whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s incredibly well-written and authentic, also heavily dealing with themes of identity and not feeling like you belong.
How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (4 stars) – Despite the fact that I rated this one 4 stars, I can’t deny that it was a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s set in Canada, with hints of myth, focusing on twins raised in isolation by their father and who split apart to opposite ends of the country as adults. I’m generally a huge fan of short fabulist novels, which this definitely is, and I did feel that the writing was lyrical and poetic, but I didn’t really feel that any of its themes were explored fully enough for it to feel like a complete work.
Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton (4 stars) – I took a chance on this one after seeing it recommended on Tiktok for ACOTAR fans, and the comparison is very apt–there’s fae, a tricky bargain, court intrigue, action, and romance. Protagonist Fortuna is a Nightmare, a being with the power to identify and manipulate fear, and her determination to save her brother against all odds drives the book. 100% going to continue with this series; already started the next book!
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – I’ve been on a Lucy Parker reading spree ever since The Austen Project helped get me through a rough time last winter, and she’s actually my most-read author of 2021 so far. So I was highly anticipating her newest release, Battle Royal, because not only is it a new Lucy Parker book, but it’s inspired by the Great British Baking Show (which I love!) and is enemies to lovers (my favorite romance trope!). Luckily, this one definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s a cute, well-written romance with great chemistry, well-drawn side characters, and a hero and heroine you can’t help but root for. At times I did think that there were a few too many things going on in the plot, but I overall thoroughly enjoyed the read.
I was sent a free copy of Battle Royal from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (4 stars) – I think that Emily Henry is a great writer who excels at creating lovable characters you can’t help but root for. Although her newest contemporary romance is friends-to-lovers, which isn’t my favorite trope, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and how it was told simultaneously in flashbacks and present day, focused around the vacations that her protagonists formed a tradition of taking together each year. I liked this one slightly less (but only slightly!) compared to her previous book Beach Read, which was one of my favorite romances of 2020, and would highly recommend it to romance readers.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – An optimistic, hopepunk novella set in a far future where humans and robots live completely separately, robots having gained consciousness and choosing to live in nature away from humankind, and humans learning from their mistakes and coming to live in harmony with the environment. A tea monk and a robot become unexpected friends when the robot ventures to learn more about humanity, and the two quickly begin to learn from one another. While definitely not as strong as some of Chambers’s other work, I very much enjoyed the read.
All the Feels by Olivia Dade (4 stars) – The follow-up to Dade’s Spoiler Alert, All the Feels focuses on two of the prominent side characters of book 1: Alex, a charismatic actor in the Game of Thrones-esque show that the series centers around, and Lauren, a therapist who unexpectedly finds herself assigned to Alex as his minder after he’s involved in a scandal and the showrunner wants to keep him out of further trouble. Despite very different personalities–Alex is chatty, silly, and impulsive, whereas Lauren is pragmatic and measured–the two build a strong friendship and eventual romance while helping each other work through various emotional issues.
What I liked: I love the grumpy/sunshine dynamic in romance, as well as forced proximity, so the tropes in this one were definitely right up my alley. Like Spoiler Alert, both protagonists are in their 30s and established in their respective career paths, which I also appreciate as a 30-something myself, and I do continue to like the emphasis on emotional growth present in Dade’s romances. I found Alex in particular a fun and dynamic character, while Lauren was a great balance to his energy. This series also has a fantastic level of nerdiness to it that’s definitely not lacking in this installment.
What didn’t work for me: I had one significant issue with this book, and that’s how Lauren’s physical appearance was continually and negatively focused on. I’m all for romance heroes and heroines who don’t look like the stereotypical supermodel–I think that’s great, and I prefer it that way. But I really disliked how the author described her (over and over and over again) as looking like a bird. (Like, think of how Dee in It’s Always Sunny is referred to as a bird, but dial that up to 1000.) It seemed very unnecessary and a strange thing for the text to fixate on, and because it was so incessant, it was something that continually bothered me throughout the book (particularly as Lauren states it’s a descriptor that does bother her). I don’t think this is a big enough issue to avoid the book altogether, but it’s worth mentioning.
I received an eARC of All the Feels from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park (3.5 stars) – My first read from Suzanne Park, So We Meet Again felt more like a contemporary fiction read than a contemporary romance (which isn’t a bad thing, I just went in expecting more of a romance-focused book). We’re following Jessie, a career-focused 28-year-old who’s unexpectedly laid off from her prestigious Wall Street job and has to move back in with her parents in her hometown in Tennessee. She has a bit of a quarter-life crisis that manifests in her starting her own business and reviving her old YouTube channel, both of which are focused on Korean cooking hacks and specifically geared towards enhancing meal kits and/or making fast, tasty meals for career-focused millennials. While back in her hometown, she also runs into her childhood nemesis Daniel and has to deal with the new chemistry that seems to be developing between them while her new career takes off.
I enjoyed this book; as a fellow driven millennial, I found Jessie to be a very relatable main character and I actually enjoyed the more business-focused trajectory of the book despite the fact that I assumed it would be more of a romance. I normally like the trope of childhood enemies-to-lovers romances, but I found Jessie and Daniel’s chemistry to be a bit lacking, possibly because it wasn’t really given enough time to develop during the book. I did also find that Jessie’s business trajectory seems to progress much more quickly than felt realistic, although as I’m not an entrepreneur, I could be wrong about that! I’d recommend this to fiction readers wanting to dip their toes into romance, or to romance readers looking for a more plot-focused read.
I was sent a free copy of So We Meet Again by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (3 stars) – I’ve been really struggling to find mystery/thriller/suspense reads that work for me lately, and although I’d hoped this would be the exception, it unfortunately wasn’t. I found the premise and the publishing world setting really drew me in, but the plot meandered and the reveal at the end was not as strong for me as it could have been.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This book was just OK for me. To be fair, it did help me out with some pretty bad insomnia I’ve been having, because being unable to fall asleep at 3am with no audiobook is a terrible feeling, and once I started listening to this one I was able to focus on the story and not my inability to sleep for a bit. There are a few too many coincidences and unbelievable plot points in this one, and I didn’t love that the main character and her twin sister both defined themselves in terms of being either lucky or unlucky, but it was overall an entertaining listen.