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My summer in books: What I read this past season

Hey book lovers (which, if you’re reading this blog I’m going to assume you are)! We have two months of 2023 left, and for those of you who set a reading goal in January that means we’re slowly running out of time… I don’t know about you (and do let me know in the comments) but if I want to reach my goal of 50 books, I need to step up my game. A lot.

Reading goals: Yay or nay?

I’m currently 31 books in, which definitely isn’t bad. I’ve had worse reading years. I’m still motivated to reach my goal, just because I want to succeed at least once. However, I’ve also decided that I won’t set a new one in 2024. Although I think it can be a good motivator it has also, at times, taken the pleasure of reading away a bit.

The year usually starts out strong and then, because I basically read non-stop in January and February, I inevitably enter a massive reading slump where I barely touch a book for months. After a while I will pick it back up but by then the ‘8 books behind schedule!’ message on Goodreads makes me so nervous that I pick my next reads based on how quickly I think I can finish them. Reading is still supposed to be a fun hobby and I don’t want it to feel like a chore, or another thing on the very long list of things that I’m already overthinking, so I’ve decided it’s best to not focus on the numbers anymore. Let me know why you (don’t) have a reading goal!

My summer reads

What I DO want to do moving forward is give you a seasonal overview of the books I read and how much I rate them. I read exactly ten books this summer, so I thought I would list them here.

Here we go!

Yellowface – R.F. Kuang ****

A strong start! I have posted about this on my Instagram (or should I say Bookstagram?) already, but I really enjoyed this one. My original plan was actually to read her other novel Babel first after a friend recommended it to me, but then I saw this in the bookshop and I just knew I had to read it.

June Hayward is a writer who is not as successful as she would like to be, and especially not as successful as her friend Athena Liu. When Athena dies (the way this happens has 100% unlocked a new fear for me), June ends up taking her friend’s manuscript, finishes it and then has it published as her own. The book poses many questions around ownership and who we think should be allowed to write about what. At times I found myself agreeing with June, only to be horrified at her statements a couple of pages later. I’m very excited to read the author’s other novels!

The Feast – Margaret Kennedy ****

This one was recommended to me by my friend Hanne who works in a bookshop in Antwerp. I actually bought it a while ago but I wanted to wait until I went on a trip to Cornwall, which is where the book is set. The fact that I read it while I was over there is maybe a bit grim, because this is absolutely not a romantic vacation read.

It’s about a seaside resort hotel on a cliff that ends up collapsing. You then find out everything that preceded this disaster, also getting to know the entertaining characters along the way. Fighting couples, neglected children, frustrated staff and pining young lovers all offer their perspective on the shenanigans that are taking place at the hotel. I thought it was a nice, entertaining read and perfect for a trip to Cornwall. We weren’t staying on a cliff though, that helped.

Beartown  – Fredrik Backman (#1 Beartown series) ****

Beartown is the third Fredrik Backman book I’ve read, after A Man Called Ove and Anxious People. This is the first book of a series set in Beartown, a small town that constantly seems to be snowed under and that hasn’t seen any tourists in a while. Everything is riding on the junior hockey team: If they win the tournament, people will take Beartown seriously again. Everything is going according to plan, until one horrible event changes everything.

This story definitely pulled me in and I felt like all of the characters were very well fleshed-out. However, there’s one thing that I have noticed in every Backman book I’ve read and I think it’s something you will either be a fan of, or you will hate. He writes very figuratively in a unique way that’s hard to describe. Rather than calling something by its actual name, he will give a description of it. Instead of saying someone is having a cup of coffee, he will say something like they’re drinking the black steaming liquid that makes people feel awake in the morning. This happens about every other sentence which, even though I quite like this way of writing most of the time, sometimes was a bit much even for me.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid ****

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo if I hadn’t seen it all over BookTube and Bookstagram. If you know me, you know actual people or models on book covers make my skin crawl. Don’t get me wrong, I know this doesn’t always mean the book is bad. My favourite book series of all time has models on its covers and although I despise it, I love the books more than anything. It’s just that I would usually not be drawn to book covers that look like this one. The cover looks like a very cheap beach read, in my opinion. But this is a perfect case of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, because I’m happy I did read it! It became clear almost immediately that there was a lot more below the surface.

Hollywood legend Evelyn Hugo is at the end of her decade-long career. Infamous for the fact that she has been married seven times, Evelyn finally wants to tell her story and picks journalist Monique Grant to write it down. Nobody really understands why she absolutely wants to work with an inexperienced writer like Monique, especially not Monique. I really liked the journey through glamorous old Hollywood that Evelyn took me on, as well as hearing about her experience as a woman in the film industry. I also loved the queer representation. This is the only book by Taylor Jenkins Reid I’ve read so far, but of course there are so many and they all seem to be quite big hypes. Anyone have any ideas on which one I should read next?

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold – Stephen Fry *****

The first five-star review of this post! I probably don’t need to tell you what this is about, as the title hopefully speaks for itself. This was actually my second time reading Mythos, but since I went on holiday to Athens this summer I just had to brush up on my knowledge of Greek myth. I absolutely love everything about this book. As someone who never studied Greek mythology in school, hearing all of these stories in the juicy, almost soap-opera-way Stephen tells them is incredible. Even after reading it two times I still can’t remember all of the characters and all of the stories, but that’s hardly Stephen’s fault. Those Greeks were just doing the absolute most.

How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart – Florentyna Leow *****

One of my favourite reads of the year! One of my favourite Booktubers, Jen Campbell, recommended this one and before I had finished her video I had already ordered it.

What a beautiful gem of a book! This is a non-fiction essay collection of a woman who, at some point in her life, moved to Kyoto to live and work with a friend. Years later, she occasionally travels back to Kyoto and grieves that friendship. She’s still wondering what went wrong, but she also needs to come to terms with the fact that she will never get the closure she craves. You know I’m all about giving the same weight to friendships as to romantic relationships and this book did a gorgeous job of it. Also I really feel like booking a trip to Kyoto now!

I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron ***

The main reason I wanted to read Nora Ephron was because one of my favourite authors, Dolly Alderton, is a massive fan. She also wrote the foreword for this collection of stories. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed. I think what says a lot is that I absolutely love personal essays, but even though I read this four weeks ago, I can barely remember anything at all. It’s well-written and it’s a quick read, but it just didn’t do it for me.

Firstly, there was nothing I could even remotely relate to. I don’t always have to, but when I read stories about everyday life, especially when the overarching theme is something that should be at least a little bit relatable to me, like life as a woman in a big city, I want that OHHH YES THAT’S SO TRUE feeling, which I didn’t have whatsoever. The book is often described as the perfect portrayal of living and aging as a woman. Like it looks into every woman’s soul. But I found that every single one of these stories was about Nora living her very wealthy life, judging others, and being extremely negative about aging.

Nora seemed like the kind of woman who would flicker through tabloids and judge other women’s bodies. She genuinely seemed to think that the only way to age was to spend hundreds of dollars and a couple of days per week on ‘maintenance’. She talked about the horrors of gaining weight or seeing your body change, not in a funny or critical way, but like she actually thought this was unacceptable. She was a woman in the film industry so I can’t exactly blame her for that, but I just don’t feel like these stories are giving what they’re being marketed as. I also just expected it to be funnier. It’s so interesting that one of my favourite authors, who I love especially because she does write about being a woman in the most hilarious and relatable way, looks at Nora Ephron’s stories like they are her bible.

A Series of Unfortunate Events #3: The Wide Window – Lemony Snicket *****

I’ve only read three books of this series but I will never shut up about it. I think I’m subconsciously trying to save them because I don’t want it to be over. As a child I loved the A Series of Unfortunate Events movie with Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep, but I’m actually happy I’m reading the books as an adult so I can fully enjoy the puns and the playful writing.

If you don’t know what this series is about: Siblings Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire lose their parents in a horrible fire. Out of nowhere, a horrifying man called Count Olaf shows up and claims that he is to be the children’s guardian. A story which, despite the fact that they have never met this man, the parents’ legal documents seem to corroborate. Count Olaf is clearly after their money and will not let anything stop him. Violet, Klaus and Sunny flee from place to place, from eccentric guardian to more eccentric guardian, trying to escape Count Olaf, but he keeps appearing…

This series is phenomenal. The writing, the atmosphere, the wordplays, the illustrations… I can’t get enough of it!

The Reader on The 6.27 ***

I bought this (originally French) story at least eight years ago but I only recently read it. The story is about Guylain, a man who absolutely hates his job and his colleagues and doesn’t have many pleasures in life. There’s only one thing that brings him joy: Reading to commuters on the train he takes every morning. When he finds diary entries written by a mysterious woman, he’s completely enchanted and makes it his mission to find her.

There were definitely aspects of this book that I liked. Certain characters were quite lovable and some chapters are set in a nursing home, those were definitely my favourite. The romance aspect of the book though, I didn’t vibe with. Not only was it very predictable but I also thought it was quite creepy. Finding someone’s diary entries, going through all of them, immediately deciding that you and that stranger belong together and then reading those entries out loud in front of a full train is, let’s say, not my idea of a love story.

I Have Some Questions for You – Rebecca Makkai ****

The only thriller/crime novel on this list! That will probably be different when I do the autumn roundup because I have some spooky books on my to-read-soon pile.

This book is not exactly scary, but it’s very gripping and I read its 400+ pages in a couple of days. Bodie is a mum, ex-wife, teacher and podcast co-host. Years earlier, when she was in school, one of her ex-students was murdered. The murderer was caught and the case was closed. But is that really what happened?

When Bodie takes a teaching job in her old school, a combination of online sleuths and her own curiosity lead her to starting her own investigation. The more she digs into it, the more she becomes convinced that the wrong person is behind bars. But can she prove it?

I have some questions for you is the second novel by Makkai that I’ve read, after I fell in love with The Great Believers, which can best be described as the book version of TV show It’s a Sin. This novel is a completely different genre, but I very much enjoyed this one too. It’s not quite five stars for me because I would have liked to feel a little bit more connected to the characters, or care a bit more about them, but I do think it’s a perfect read for autumn and winter.

Let’s talk books!

There, that’s all the books I read this summer! It looks like four stars was the theme this past season, which is definitely not bad. I discovered some new gems and enjoyed familiar favourites.

Which books did you enjoy this summer? Were there any that you didn’t like at all? Do you have recommendations for cosy (or scary!) autumn reads? Let me know below!

G,

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