I needed a bit of a kick in the pants to write up my reviews for the books I read in July.
This was a very bizarre reading month for me, friends. While I don’t experience reading slumps in the way that most bookworms might, I definitely experienced what I’m now labeling as a “Stephanie slump.” I read plenty of books throughout July (even in the midst of buying a house), but once I had crossed off all the titles on my monthly TBR, I realized that none of them had really piqued my interest. Sure, I gave a few of them higher ratings, but it seemed like no matter what I read, I just didn’t feel fully satisfied. In fact, I didn’t even begin to write reviews until I’d read over thirteen books, which is totally unlike me. Usually, I’m chomping at the bit to write reviews the moment I finish a book!
I’m by no means a mood-reader. I plan all of my reads in advance. So, it was just a crazy coincidence when one of the books I had added to my extended TBR (the backup list I work my way through when I finish my original list of planned monthly titles) became the one to completely reset how I felt about reading! Amelia Unabridged reignited that spark that I so desperately needed to enjoy books again! After that, it was like everything went back to normal. The rest of the month was golden and glorious and it made me so excited to jump into my list for August (which I’m sure will be primarily audiobooks since we bought a house and will be moving)!
How to Create a Planned Monthly Reading List // 6 Magical Escape Reads // Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
The 12 Books I Read in July
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The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
By Stuart Turton
“Gosford Park” meets “Groundhog Day” by way of Agatha Christie – the most inventive story you’ll read this year.
Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…
As much as I really wanted to love this book, I can’t say that I was totally wowed. There were so many things happening at one time that I found it really challenging to follow the plot. While it was really interesting and unique to have the main character wake up in someone else’s body on a regular basis, it made it tough to know whose story we were currently engaging with. The fantastical element was definitely creative, but overall, I found myself still dreadfully confused by the end of the book. I think it would take a couple of reads to really understand what actually happened and how the murder was solved. It was an enjoyable audiobook to listen to, but I certainly wouldn’t be jumping at the bit to read it again unless I was desperate to unravel the mystery a little better.
The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3)
By S.A. Chakraborty
The final chapter in the bestselling, critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy, in which a con-woman and an idealistic djinn prince join forces to save a magical kingdom from a devastating civil war.
Daevabad has fallen.
After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.
But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.
Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.
As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved… and take a stand for those they once hurt.
After finishing this book, I just wanted to take a deep breath and let it out. It was so much to digest in one book. In fact, if I had it my way, it would’ve been broken up into at least two (or even three) separate books. I knew that these books were written with a ton of world-building (and it’s probably my favorite thing about them), but it’s already a little tiring when the first 3/4 of 550-600 page book just handles the secondary events taking place to bring everything to the epic conclusion. When you hand me an 800+ page book and it has the same writing style, it’s a stretch to finish it with gusto. As much as I truly adore the story in this series, I found myself flicking through the pages to see how many I had left each chapter as I read because I wanted it to pick up the pace a bit.
HOWEVER, if I were to ignore the pacing entirely, I would give this a full 5 stars – honestly, the whole series deserves that! It’s beautifully written, meaningful, really connects you to the characters, and I rarely felt like a moment was unnecessarily added.
Since this was the finale novel in the trilogy, I can officially say that I want more. Not because I felt like it was lacking (clearly, that was not the case), but I’m desperate to learn what ends up happening to Dara and I’d love to read even just a novella about what his life looks like after the events that take place in this book.
I hope this fantasy trilogy gains more recognition over time because it certainly deserves all the hype!
Girl, Serpent, Thorn
By Melissa Bashardoust
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.
“She had thought nothing would be more incredible than the simple sensation of touch, but she’d been wrong: more incredible still was the idea that she could be dangerous, all her thorns on display, and that someone would dare to touch her anyway.”
This book was absolutely beautiful in every way. I absolutely loved how descriptive it was, without droning on or slowing down the pace. It helped me connect with all of the characters, individually.
I didn’t find myself relating with anyone in particular, which is unusual when I read. Typically, I can find myself in one or two of the characters, but in this case, I didn’t. However, it didn’t take away from my reading journey. Instead of looking for myself throughout, I was focused entirely on the cast and what would happen next.
I found the plot to be somewhat predictable, overall, but it was another thing that didn’t bother me. I knew it was a fairytale and inspired by Sleeping Beauty, so it wouldn’t be without its stereotypical moments. What I did love was the representation! It’s not every day that you find a LGBTQIA+ fairytale and this one was just gorgeous.
Since I listened to the audiobook, I have no clue how to spell any of the character names, yet again, but I just want to say that they were all brilliant. There was no lack of character development or world-building. It was the perfect mixture of both!
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
By Crystal Maldonado
Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard.
Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.
Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.
A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves.
If you’re looking for a cute YA book with a pretty stereotypical plot-line, this is it. It’s honestly the kind of book to get you out of a reading slump because it’s not much more than fluff (which isn’t always a bad thing).
I think the thing that really rubbed me the wrong way was how the mother was written. If you’re going to give us a toxic character, you either need to redeem them or dispose of them, and this book did neither. Instead, the problem just kind of dissolves, and you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth. Considering the fact that the whole book, Charlie is accepting of her own weight and who she is – her mom being fatphobic and just flat-out cruel was something that needed to be resolved better. It was a major discussion throughout the book and then it seemed as though Charlie’s best friend wound up being the antagonist in the long run, which didn’t settle well with me at all!
I realize that this is a YA book and that it might not be the most practical occurrence to have a 16-year-old just decide to dip because her mom is emotionally abusive, but it would’ve been a really good conversation to have. In fact, it would’ve added so much necessary depth to the story had that been a discussion at any point!
A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers #2)
By Brigid Kemmerer
In the sequel to New York Times bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer returns to the world of Emberfall in a lush fantasy where friends become foes and love blooms in the darkest of places.
Find the heir, win the crown.
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.
Win the crown, save the kingdom.
Grey may be the heir, but he doesn’t want anyone to know his secret. On the run since he destroyed Lilith, he has no desire to challenge Rhen—until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?
The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.
Ummm… what the heck? Why do some people find it necessary to villainize a character you love in order for you to love a new character? It’s just… not necessary at all! I already loved Grey. I would have continued to love Grey without making Rhen into a true bad guy. I had no problem with Rhen. And now I’m supposed to think of him as toxic, abusive, and vile? And simultaneously, you’re going to make me dislike Harper because she chooses to side with Rhen??? That just doesn’t seem fair at all. There had to have been better ways of making Grey run off with Lia Mara without breaking down everything that the first novel built.
Now, if I were to just disregard all of that – pretend that the first book didn’t exist and read this story on its own – I think I would’ve enjoyed it much, much more. Grey was my favorite character, so I was looking forward to his tale, especially after finding out what we did at the end of the first book. I was already excited to learn what would happen next. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lia Mara as a character (I found her to be pretty dull and kind of dumb in comparison to how smart Harper was), I did enjoy their chaotic relationship.
My biggest hope is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly redeems the hot mess that this book was.
Dear Emmie Blue
By Lia Louis
In this charming and poignant novel, teenager Emmie Blue releases a balloon with her email address and a big secret into the sky, only to fall head-over-heels for the boy who finds it; now, fourteen years later, the one thing Emmie has been counting on is gone for good, and everything she planned is up in the air.
At sixteen, Emmie Blue stood in the fields of her school and released a red balloon into the sky. Attached was her name, her email address…and a secret she desperately wanted to be free of. Weeks later, on a beach in France, Lucas Moreau discovered the balloon and immediately emailed the attached addressed, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens.
Now, fourteen years later, Emmie is hiding the fact that she’s desperately in love with Lucas. She has pinned all her hopes on him and waits patiently for him to finally admit that she’s the one for him. So dedicated to her love for Lucas, Emmie has all but neglected her life outside of this relationship–she’s given up the search for her absentee father, no longer tries to build bridges with her distant mother, and lives as a lodger to an old lady she barely knows after being laid off from her job. And when Lucas tells Emmie he has a big question to ask her, she’s convinced this is the moment he’ll reveal his feelings for her. But nothing in life ever quite goes as planned, does it?
Emmie Blue is about to learn everything she thinks she knows about life (and love) is just that: what she thinks she knows. Is there such thing as meant to be? Or is it true when they say that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans? A story filled with heart and humor, Dear Emmie Blue is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Okay, you know how sometimes you read a book and it’s cute and you don’t hate it but don’t love it and then you finish it and forget absolutely everything that happened in it because it was so mediocre? That’s what happened here. I genuinely… do not remember anything other than a balloon, miscommunication, and the fact that the guy Emmie thought she was in love with was actually a giant jerk and his brother is actually the good guy. All the in-between stuff just escapes my memory now. Oops. I guess that says more about the book than any review might.
Well Met (Well Met #1)
By Jen DeLuca
Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?
The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?
This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.
I feel like it’s important to state that while I really dislike enemies-to-lovers, I still really liked this book. That being said, if you dislike enemies-to-lovers as well, know that in this book, it’s a classic case of miscommunication that leads to the main characters not seeing eye-to-eye in the first place. So it’s less like enemies and more like… confused combatants?
Having a renaissance faire as the primary backdrop for this romcom was so clever and adorable. First, it made me want to attend a ren faire like… yesterday… and second, it was just so creative! I’ve never read another book with that so it made this one stand out! I also loved the fact that it gave the characters more dimension because they had to fight between who they were in reality and who they were at ren faire. I’m not sure everyone will relate to this, but as someone who did theatre every summer for 6 years straight, I definitely know what it’s like to be unsure who you are outside of your character at a certain point!
There was a really beautiful emotional element to this book that was a bit unexpected to me. Watching as Simon battled with the loss of his brother along with the responsibility he took on at ren faire after his brother passed… it was all really well-written. I was appreciative of the depth it brought to the book overall.
I’m really looking forward to reading the next few novels in this collection and getting to know the secondary characters even better!
The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)
By Maggie Stiefvater
Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.
One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.
And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.
Ronan is one of the raven boys – a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface – changing everything in its wake.
I’m really glad that I did a buddy-read for this book because it helped me sort out my thoughts a bit better. This series is written in such a unique way. I can’t say that I dislike it, necessarily, but I also don’t love it? I find myself getting really confused about what’s actually happening because everything is overexplained and the writing is so flowery. However, I keep coming back for more because it’s almost addictive. I’m dying to know what happens next.
At this point, I don’t have an intense affection for Ronan like it seems everyone else does. I actually don’t find him very likable at all? But then, I think at this point the only character I really love is Blue and she was barely in this book (which makes me look forward to Blue Lily, Lily Blue even more). Because of this, I had a hard time really connecting with him or even feeling bad for him throughout all of the truly depressing events that took place in this book. Naturally, the only time I was actually worried was when it came to Matthew because literally #protecthimatallcosts.
The dreams were so disturbing at times that I couldn’t read before bed. I found myself getting truly spooked! I especially disliked the mask sequence and want to warn anyone who is easily scared that chapters 17 and 18 are pretty graphic and freaky.
There is so much left to dive into. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I think that these books just have to be read as a full series in order to understand what’s happening. While some series give you conclusions from book-to-book, this one leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout the whole ride.
I’m curious what on earth is happening to Adam, still wondering if Blue is gonna kill someone with her kiss, if Gansey is actually gonna be dead in a year, what the heck is going on with Maura, and where even is Glendower in all of this?!?!
The Lost Apothecary
By Sarah Penner
A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…
Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.
Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate–and not everyone will survive.
With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.
This book is so incredibly beautiful and creative and honestly, I’m still thinking about it a week after finishing. It really is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I appreciate the dual timelines and multiple points of view. It helped me grasp the full story, as well as come up with a few theories of my own as I read.
There was something really interesting about trying to unravel the mystery of Nella and Eliza – through the eyes of Caroline – while simultaneously reading their story as it happened. This is where the audiobook really made it an extra special experience since all three points of view were narrated by different actors. It made the story feel more rounded.
I was really drawn to Caroline. I kept wondering what would happen next in her story, even though Nella and Eliza were sort of the primary subjects. It was so interesting to see how she originally went on her holiday alone to escape her cheating husband and then wound up unraveling this incredible mystery of the lost apothecary. It made me want to make my way to London to discover some of the secret rooms behind rooms!
I look forward to reading this book again in the future and continuing to learn from it. It featured three incredibly fierce women, a heavy dose of mystery, a tiny bit of magical realism, and such beautiful writing!
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1)
By Marissa Meyer
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl….
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
With high-stakes action and a smart, resourceful heroine, Cinder is a Cinderella retelling that is at once classic and strikingly original.
The first time I read Cinder was when it was first released, nearly ten years ago now and when I was fresh out of high school. It was really interesting to read it again with a fresh perspective to see how it held up after all of these years.
To this day, I think The Lunar Chronicles are the best fairytale retellings ever. They’re so unique and fun – and honestly, they’re timeless. They stick closely to the original stories in a lot of ways – and then, of course, Meyer always puts her incredibly creative twist on them! She’s one of my favorite authors for a reason.
It was hard for me to separate whether I was just doing a great job remembering the book or whether the plot twists I found shocking in the past were actually totally predictable. I definitely remembered a lot more than I expected, but I also wondered if maybe I would’ve picked apart the narrative if this was my first time reading. However, it really didn’t matter if it felt “predictable” this time around or not because it was such an enjoyable read and just like last time, I was immediately ready to jump into the next book in the series to find out what happens!
These are not complicated books at all and they’re super easy to digest quickly. I’m looking forward to continuing my reread. It’ll be so great to see how I feel about Scarlet after so long (because that was my favorite book the first time around)!
The Summer Cottage (Somerset Lake #1)
By Annie Rains
This summer, they’ll learn that home is where the heart is.
Somerset Lake is the perfect place for Trisha Langly and her son to start over. As the new manager for the Somerset Cottages, Trisha is instantly charmed by the property’s elderly residents and her firecracker of a new boss, Vi Fletcher. But Trisha is less enchanted by Vi’s protective grandson Jake. No matter how tempting she finds the handsome lawyer, Trisha knows that if Jake discovers the truth about her past, she’ll lose the new life she’s worked so hard to build.
Jake Fletcher left Somerset Lake after a tragic loss, but he’s returning for the summer to care for his beloved grandmother, hoping Vi will sell the run-down cottages and finally slow down. There’s just one problem: Trisha, Vi’s new employee. She’s smart, beautiful, and kind, but Jake’s job is to protect his grandmother’s interests, and his gut is telling him Trisha’s hiding something that could jeopardize Vi’s future. However, as they spend summer days renovating the property and bonding over their love for the town, Jake realizes that Trisha is a risk worth taking–if only she can trust him with her secrets… and her heart.
The Summer Cottage was as sweet as sugar.
If you enjoy:
– small-town romances
– secret/concealed pasts
– adorable kids and dogs
– precious elderly characters that encourage the protagonists
– the “save the business from the evil family member” trope
You’ll absolutely love this book.
It was just what I needed in the midst of a chaotic summer. I felt as though I’d packed up and escaped to Somerset Lake. Cottages named after flowers and a hilarious neighbor who still believes he’s part of a nudist colony? I was giggling and grinning from the very beginning.
When I read the synopsis, I really thought it was going to be an enemies-to-lovers romance, but instead, I found it to be a sweet, slow burn (with a pretty hefty side of frustrating “just get together already”). Trisha doesn’t want to reveal her past and Jake is still healing from the death of his high school girlfriend. It made for a few annoying miscommunication moments, but it was overall cute and a little bit cheesy.
I really loved the small-town vibes. The secondary characters didn’t feel out of place, but instead, they were necessary to the plot – helping Trisha settle in after some traumatic events that transpired in her last hometown, Sweetwater Springs (where a great deal of Annie Rains books take place).
It took a little while for anything to really happen aside from some inner monologues and flirting, but I definitely enjoyed the way the story progressed. There wasn’t anything too deep or moving, but I didn’t need it. When I set down the book at the end, I thought, “I’d like to visit Somerset Lake again.” So, needless to say, I’ll definitely be reading more of the books in this spin-off series.
By Ashley Schumacher
Sparks fly between two teens as they grapple with grief, love, and the future in this unforgettable debut novel sure to entice fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer E. Smith
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.
In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.
When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.
Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.
Will someone please tell me why this book isn’t talked about more often?!?!
I am beyond baffled as to why this isn’t an extremely hyped young adult novel. Once I began reading (well, technically listening), I couldn’t stop.
It’s hard for me to explain why I loved this story so much. It started with the fact that captured being a reader in such a beautiful way. This book really explained what it was like for an imaginative reader to experience life – the good and the bad. It felt like reading about myself and the way I’ve perceived the world ever since I was a little girl. From dreaming up what one would name their sword to counting the whales swimming in the sky – it was a little bit magical, without actually becoming fantasy or magical realism.
This is a book for book-lovers. It’s also a book for writers. It explores grief, joy, imagination, anxiety, love, and all the rollercoasters of life in such a stunning way. Honestly, I keep writing sentences and then erasing them because I don’t think anything can properly describe what I felt as I read this story. But please, please read it. It really is breathtaking.
Side note: I really want to read the Orman Chronicles now. Can that please be a real series?
The Dinner List
By Rebecca Serle
We’ve been waiting for an hour. That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.
At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends within her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.
When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.
Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.
It’s been a very long time since a book has made me feel so deeply.
Sometime last year, I read In Five Years and fell in love with Serle’s writing style. One of the things I noticed was that this book had a similar feeling to it. You begin the story not entirely sure of what the heck is happening but as it progresses and you understand all the pieces falling into place, you become emotionally attached to the characters and you actually feel what they’re feeling.
When I finished The Dinner List, I had to set the book down, gulp in some air, and get a hug from my husband because I was crying so hard. I wasn’t misty or even a little teary. I was near weeping. I can’t even remember the last time a book had that effect on me.
You don’t necessarily think you’ll be emotionally impacted when you hear about a story where the protagonist gets to dine with her “anyone dead or alive” list. I mean, Audrey Hepburn, her estranged and deceased father, her college professor, her best friend, and her ex-boyfriend? What an odd compilation of characters. I appreciated how the story unfolded using a dual timeline. One chapter would take place at dinner and the next was past-tense, reliving what Sabrina experienced in her whirlwind (if not tumultuous) relationship with Tobias.
I found myself completely absorbed in their romance. I also posed the question of “who would I like to dine with?” on a number of occasions while I read. By the end, I was a wreck (in the best way), but also had a lot of thinking to do. It made me want to read this book again and again.
Rise to the Sun
By Leah Johnson
Three days. Two girls. One life-changing music festival.
Olivia is an expert at falling in love . . . and at being dumped. But after the fallout from her last breakup has left her an outcast at school and at home, she’s determined to turn over a new leaf. A crush-free weekend at Farmland Music and Arts Festival with her best friend is just what she needs to get her mind off the senior year that awaits her.
Toni is one week away from starting college, and it’s the last place she wants to be. Unsure about who she wants to become and still reeling in the wake of the loss of her musician-turned-roadie father, she’s heading back to the music festival that changed his life in hopes that following in his footsteps will help her find her own way forward.
When the two arrive at Farmland, the last thing they expect is to realize that they’ll need to join forces in order to get what they’re searching for out of the weekend. As they work together, the festival becomes so much more complicated than they bargained for, and Olivia and Toni will find that they need each other, and music, more than they ever could have imagined.
I think that when Leah Johnson writes a book, she somehow folds pieces of actual sunshine into her writing – that’s how much joy her stories bring me!
Rise to the Sun should be required reading this summer (and every summer to follow). From the moment I began listening to the audiobook, I was hooked – desperate to learn more about Olivia and Toni. They were both incredibly relatable in so many ways. They’d been through their fair share of hardships and it played a huge part in their unlikely friendship-turned-relationship.
Even though this book is YA, it didn’t read “young” and I hope that makes sense. Whether you’re 16 or 36, you’ll absolutely enjoy the story. Rather than finding myself rolling my eyes at some sort of predictable romance, I was wrapped up in how the characters worked through some seriously challenging moments and ultimately found themselves because they found each other. Yep, I realize how cheesy that sounds but I’m sticking with it.
This book makes you feel good without lacking depth, is what I’m really trying to say here. So please, do yourself a favor and read this book right away.
Oh – and if you already read You Should See Me in a Crown, you will love the fun cameo! I think I actually spooked my cat because I squealed so loudly at the reference. Sorry, kitty.
For the Wolf (The Wilderwood #1)
By Hannah Whitten
The first daughter is for the Throne. The second daughter is for the Wolf.
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.
But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood – and her world – whole.
Talk about an absolutely breathtaking book. The writing alone was enough to make me fall in love – and then you add a brilliant plot and swoon-worthy characters and it’s everything I could possibly ask for in a fantasy novel.
I was fascinated by the Beauty and the Beast-esque retelling that morphed into something entirely its own as the story went on. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect next and I loved every second of it. It was unpredictable and gripping!
The magic system was phenomenally creative. I mean, blood magic isn’t uncommon in fantasy – but blood and earth magic combined into something dark and vicious but also beautiful??? Now that is incredible!
I was absolutely shocked and pleasantly surprised to read a BatB retelling that didn’t have a manipulative, possessive, or even abusive “beast” character. Eammon was a consent king and I appreciated every minute of it.
It got to the point where even when I would wind up slightly confused by what was happening, I still absolutely had to know what came next. It had me on the edge of my seat.
Now, I’m desperate to know what kind of wood and shadow will follow Red, Eammon, Neve, and the rest of the cast into the next book.
I'm All Booked Up says
We still need to read Girl, Serpent, Thorn!
Great selection – I’m glad you managed to find the spark again! For The Wolf looks amazing, I’ll definitely be checking at least that one out! Thanks for sharing x
Cristina Rosano says
Running to add Amelia unabridged to my reading list because it’s sound like a great one to read! I loved Girl serpent thorn when I read it last year and loved how descriptive it was too! I have a soft spot for The raven cycle but get your point. The lost apothecary is on my list too, so hoping to get to it soon! x
Jenny in Neverland says
The Dinner List sounds excellent, I’ll be adding that to my TBR. I’ve never read Cinder or any of that series yet I love a fairytale retelling so I’ll have to get on that soon!
Oh wow love how the last few books were all 5 stars for you! Also, super glad that you enjoyed the Daevabad trilogy so much. I agree with you on the pacing and the length but somehow the story was just too good for me to notice that much. Hope you have a great reading month in August!
I love how you gave each book a star rating. This is so helpful because I pretty much only read books that someone will recommend to me!
I haven’t read any of these; definitely need to check them out! In July I read Where the Crawdad’s Sing (and didn’t love it as much as other people seem to!)
Wow so many books I want to add to my tbr list now! Thanks for this awesome roundup
Anna English says
I’m always so impressed by your extensive reading lists! I’m adding Dear Emmie Blue to my list, thank you!
The past month I basically re-read some of my favorites book, so nothing new haha. I’ll be adding Well Met to my to-read list. It sounds super fun!
Adaleta Avdic says
So many books. You are truly a book champ! Out of curiosity, how do you decide what to read next??
Stephanie Whitman says
First, I think about the series I’m going through. I usually read one book per month in a series so if I’m going through two or three series, I’ll include their sequels in the month. Then, I find out if there are any ARCs that need to be read and reviewed and I add those. Then it’s all about if my library/Libby app has the books available that I’m hoping to read/listen to. I try to balance both fantasy and contemporary so my brain doesn’t get overwhelmed with one genre. And of course, I see if there are any new releases I can get my hands on as well! But I plan each month about two weeks before it begins and I add 10 books to my TBR. Once I’ve finished those 10, I just add in whatever “extras” I would like to read. So it’s a good combination of planning and mood-reading haha!
chelsea @ your bookish friend says
for the wolf looks so good. i’m glad you enjoyed it.
I always love your book reviews. They’re so helpful to me when I’m looking for something new to read!