Despite not being on vacation in August, I still had a pretty good reading month. I finished 12 books! I also DNFed two books. Interestingly, DNFing always seems to happen in streaks for me, as I DNFed a bunch of books in a row back in March, too. But I still read some good books that made up for it. Anyways, on with the books!
Eleanor Roosevelt Vol. 1, 1884-1933 by Blanch Wiesen Cook
So Eleanor Roosevelt Vo. 1 was a Christmas gift from my husband along with a weekend trip to Hyde Park, Franklin Roosevelt’s home in the Hudson River Valley. It was a bit of a slower read for me compared to other biographies, so I had to push myself to get through it at times, but Eleanor Roosevelt is such a fascinating person that I really enjoyed it. I’m personally not sure she warrants three biography installments; I think I would have been content just reading a single volume about her. Especially since having so much space allows Cook to go more in-depth than I care about into other figures in ER’s life. But overall I liked the book, and I do plan to pick up the final two volumes about ER.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Graceling is a reread for me, and you can actually view a full review of it here. I really enjoyed revisiting the Graceling realm and highly recommend it to those interested in fantasy with a strong female lead.
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
So I actually have never read a Beverly Jenkins book! For those who don’t know, she’s a big name in the historical romance realm, so it’s actually kind of surprising I hadn’t read any of her books yet. I figured I’d start with Forbidden since it sounded interesting and I’d heard good things. Set in the Old West, Forbidden follows the story of Rhine, who was born a slave but is now passing for white, and Eddy, who is striking out for California in an attempt to realize her dream of owning a restaurant. But Eddy is black, and Rhine would have to give up everything he’s built in order to be with her.
I actually thought Forbidden was just ok. The story was interesting from the historical angle as I really enjoyed learning more about Rhine passing as white and the race relations of the town they lived in. But as far as the romance goes, I just didn’t feel like there was much of a spark between Rhine and Eddy. I wasn’t racing through the book anticipating their next interaction. And I could have done without the storyline at the end involving the ex-fiance. So this a decent romance novel, but not one of my favorites. Maybe I’ll go back and try some of Jenkins’ original classics (I’m thinking maybe Indigo) next time I read one of her books.
The Martian by Andy Weir
I assume everyone knows the premise of The Martian by now, but for those who don’t, it follows the story of Mark Watney, who is part of a space mission on Mars that is forced to evacuate when a violent dust storm hits their base of operations and jeopardizes their ability to leave the planet. But as the team is evacuating, Watney is struck by a piece of flying debris and presumed dead. Only he doesn’t die. In an epic survival story, Watney has to figure out a way to survive on Mars with limited resources and make his way back to Earth.
I really enjoyed this book, though I have to admit I was concerned when Watney was all by himself for the first 50 pages or so because I was afraid it was going to be another Castaway, which I wasn’t a big fan of. But then the perspective changed and brought in more characters and suddenly it got really good! Obviously some of it was slightly predictable, as I knew he’d run into some sort of obstacle after going so long without one, but that didn’t make me any less interested in seeing how they’d take shape and how Watney would deal with it. The Martian was just such a gripping read, and I raced right through it. That said, I’m not obsessed with this book like a lot of people seem to be. But it was a really enjoyable read and it was cool seeing so much science in it.
Jackaby by William Ritter
This was totally a cover read, plus I was in the mood for something inspired by Sherlock. In this retelling, Jackaby can see the paranormal, and Abigail Rook, newly arrived in America, finds herself working as his assistant as they seek to track down a serial killer that Jackaby is convinced isn’t actually human.
Unfortunately, as much as I love the cover, I won’t be buying a copy of this to add to my bookshelf. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t anything special, either. The paranormal elements didn’t do much for me, plus I completely agree with PaperFury’s Goodreads review that Sherlock is supposed to be unique in his deduction skills, but in this book he’s only unique in his ability to see the paranormal. So it was missing a lot of the Sherlock magic. But if it sounds like an interesting book to you, I think you’d enjoy it. Plus, that cover!
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My husband has been harassing me to read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore since he doesn’t have a ton of time to read, but he read and really enjoyed this one. Plus it counts towards my Read Harder challenge, so I figured it was time to pick it up. The book follows the story of Clay, who is let go from his marketing job during the economic downturn and winds up getting hired at a mysterious bookstore that doesn’t seem to make any money by actually selling books and instead lends old tomes to odd people who come in at all hours of the day.
It took me a loooong time to get into this book. I just didn’t care for Clay and didn’t think he was interesting or relatable, and I wasn’t that intrigued by Mr. Penumbra’s store. Plus I wasn’t a fan of the love interest and I really didn’t think very much was happening. And I didn’t understand why the narrator bought so wholly into this cult and Mr. Penumbra’s side of things without learning more. But then Mr. Penumbra goes to New York, and the book really took off from there. I liked seeing how a bunch of seemingly random things tied together in the end and their quest seemed pretty fun. It had a really satisfying ending and I did enjoy it by the time I finished, but the first half was pretty rough for me. So my husband highly recommends it, but I’m more on the fence.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
This is, of course, a reread for me. I haven’t picked this series up since I took a Harry Potter class my sophomore year of college, so I’m well overdue for a reread! I actually wrote a full post about my experience rereading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which you can check out here.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
I have mixed feelings about whether to read books that get super hyped, but this sounded so cute that I decided to read it immediately when my library loan came in. When Dimple Met Rishi is a contemporary YA romance about two teenagers about to go off to college whose parents want to arrange their marriage. Rishi is totally on board with having an arranged marriage, but Dimple doesn’t even know her parents are trying to set them up, so they get off to a rocky start when they first meet at a summer programming camp they’re attending before heading off to college.
Obviously this premise provides a lot of opportunity for some hilarious moments, and When Dimple Met Rishi doesn’t disappoint. I really liked both characters and learning more about their heritage and how they each approach it differently, plus I thought they were adorable together. I really don’t have anything to contribute to everything that’s already been said about this book. The whole thing is just really, really cute and I enjoyed it a lot.
Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Illegal Contact is a romance novel about Gavin, a professional football player who has been suspended for a season and sentenced to house arrest after getting involved in an altercation, and Noah, Gavin’s personal assistant. Someone at my book club recommended this to me, and when I saw the author was interviewed in a Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast, I decided to pick it up.
This book was amazing, by far one of the best romance novels I’ve read in a while. I loved watching Noah stand up to Gavin and the two of them falling in love even though they knew it was a bad idea. I also really liked that they discussed their romantic relationship in terms of their employer-employee relationship and how that gave Gavin power over Noah, whether he wanted it or not, as well as the role that Gavin’s isolation played in their relationship. And it felt really realistic that Gavin couldn’t come out as bisexual and added a lot to the tension of the story. I did have a minor quibble with the lead-up to the happily ever after, but overall I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly anticipating the sequel.
In light of emerging information about Hassell’s inappropriate behavior, I no longer stand by this review of Illegal Contact. Please see this post for more details.
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
I’ve been waiting for a new Tessa Dare book for so long! The Duchess Deal is a marriage-of-convenience story about Ash and Emma. Ash is a duke who was injured in the Napoleonic Wars and is now scarred on half of his body. The scarring scared away his former fiancee, but Ash needs someone to marry him quickly so he can produce an heir and ensure his estate doesn’t pass to his useless cousin. So when Emma shows up at his home demanding payment for the wedding dress she sewed for his former fiancee, he decides she’ll do and persuades her to marry him in exchange for a comfortable life.
Tessa Dare is one of my favorite romance novelists, which is why I was disappointed that I didn’t love this book. I don’t really have any specifics I can point to, I was just never invested in Ash and Emma’s relationship. Maybe because there wasn’t enough of that will-they-won’t-they tension, since Emma was always fully committed to the relationship and Ash’s reservations seemed to fade away fast enough? I don’t know. I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I weren’t expecting so much from it, but it wasn’t my favorite Tessa Dare novel.
The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines
Omg, this book. It was suuuuch a struggle to get through. The premise of The Technology of Orgasm is really interesting: the history of hysteria, the vibrator, and female satisfaction. I’ve actually encountered hysteria a fair amount in my readings, but I can’t say I fully understand what it is, so I was interested in learning more about that. And I thought this would be one of those books where you learn the little-known history of a fairly pedestrian object and that it would be pretty interesting.
Honestly, I would have put it down fairly early if the book weren’t so short and I hadn’t picked it up for my Read Harder challenge (read a book about technology). Even then, I would have put it down if I’d had another book about technology that I wanted to read, but I didn’t. So I pushed through. And it was terrible. I should preface this by saying that I should have done my research and realized this is intended as more of an academic text before I picked it up. If you’re doing research on the treatment of hysteria and male thought about female sexuality, I think you’ll find this a good resource. But as a lay reader, it was so dull. A large chunk of it was literally a list of what different doctors thought at different points in time and how they argued with each other, and there wasn’t enough historical context for me to appreciate what they were saying. Instead, I just relied on my modern sensibilities to think all of the doctors were insane. Also, the book seems to argue that the vibrator developed because doctors were sick of treating hysteria by giving hand jobs to their patients, which had me thinking the entire time that this was highly inappropriate and borderline rape. It wasn’t until the end that the author pointed out that female satisfaction wasn’t valued and treating hysteria was seen as tedious, which kind of helps me understand what was happening when hysteria was still considered a thing, but not entirely. It’s too bad, because I still think this is an interesting topic and that the book had a lot of potential, but I did not enjoy reading it at all and would not recommend it.
The Professor by Charlotte Stein
So this is the first one of my DNFs in August. Again, I’ve heard about it at book club before, and I decided to pick it up after I saw an author mention Stein’s books on the Read a Romance site I mentioned in a recent book news. The Professor opens with Esther accidentally handing in an erotic story for one of her college classes, and the professor asking her to stop by his office after class. Only it’s not to chew her out like she initially thought (or to sexually assault her if you assume this will go badly), but to give her one-on-one writing lessons since he felt the story showed more promise and talent than any of the other pieces she’d handed in throughout the semester.
I made it about 30 percent of the way into the book before I started speeding through it. At 40 percent I started outright skimming, and at 50 percent I had to put it down. I just really did not like Esther’s voice at all, and the professor had very little personality (seriously, I don’t even remember his name). Plus all of the sexual tension really seemed to come from the crude language in her writing, and not from actual attraction and chemistry between the two. I also had lots of questions about this premise. Like, what story did she initially write that made the professor see such promise? What class was this even for? And I cannot suspend my disbelief and ignore how unrealistic it is for a professor to tutor a student on writing better sex scenes like he did in this book. I’ve seen this book get a lot of praise, but it just wasn’t for me.
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
This book was my other DNF in August, which I really didn’t anticipate going in since I love Jenny Han. The Summer I Turned Pretty is a contemporary YA romance about Belly’s annual trip to her summer beach house. Only this trip, the two brothers who are always there have finally noticed she’s grown up, making the whole summer different.
This is another book where I should have researched it more before I picked it up. I really enjoyed Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, and I decided to read this after I saw on the Goodreads page for The Boys Next Door, which I featured in my recent post about books I loved in high school, that the two books were pretty similar. They’re not. If I had looked at this closer, I would have realized that all three books in the series involve a love triangle, not just the first one. And I do not like love triangles. Actually, the spoilers for this series make the whole thing sound kind of ridiculous (though considering some of the romances I’ve picked up, I really shouldn’t judge). I might have read it anyway, but I really did not like Belly as a narrator. I can’t put my finger on why, but she really didn’t resonate with me. I pushed myself to read until the 20 percent mark, but when I looked up the spoilers to see if the series was worth pushing through, I decided it wasn’t and put it down. Which is such a shame, because this is another series with fun covers, but I have too many other books I want to read.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
I’ve been wanting to pick up Nevernight for a while, and with the launch of the sequel so close, I decided now was a good time. Nevernight follows the story of Mia Corvere, who saw her father executed and her mother thrown in prison at the age of 10. On her own, Mia decides to do everything in her power to avenge her family. The story opens with her joining a school for assassins at the age of 16 in order to learn what she needs to in order to take down the men responsible for her father’s death.
This book took me a while to get into. You’re really thrown into the world and left to flounder a bit, so I’d say it took 100 to 150 pages for me to get my bearings and understand more of what was going on. But once it took off, it got really good. I thought the world was so fascinating and I liked Mia and Tric and their cast of fellow assassins, plus there are so many types of fascinating magic, including Mia’s, that I want to learn more about, and I have a lot of questions about what happened to Mia’s parents. That said, I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would. Honestly, Mia is just too morally gray for me. And it doesn’t quite seem consistent. Like, one minute the narrator is telling you she’s not a good person and not to expect a heart of gold, but the next she proves she’s a better person that the other assassins at the Red Church. And the story was a lot more crude that what I tend to prefer. But it was still a really solid read and I really enjoyed it. I’m very excited for the sequel and hope it answers some of my questions!
And that’s it for August! Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments what you thought of them and what books you read in the month of August!