What I read in August

In August I did something I rarely do these days: I read a book I didn’t like. Between Goodreads, friends’ recommendations, and just having a very good sense of what I enjoy, I rarely start a book I’m not pretty certain I’m going to like. Which is good, because I hate to DNF (short for “Did Not Finish”) a book. I did finish this one, but I wish I hadn’t taken the time. Still, it was a great month for reading, with some quiet days and extra free time and a couple of long commutes and travel times meaning I read eight (!) books in August. And the others ranged from good to an absolutely incredible new favourite. Here they are:

MilkmanMilkman by Anna Burns

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I love stylistically interesting books. I love books set in Ireland (Northern, in this instance). I love offbeat coming of age stories.

I did not love this book. In fact, I almost DNF-d this book. And I probably should have. I hate not finishing a book, even though I know I could be spending my time instead reading a book I enjoy, but I pride myself in really knowing what I’m going to like, so when I pick up a book that I should love and don’t, I feel compelled to keep reading it because I’m waiting for the switch to flick on and for me to say “Oh yes, this is why I picked it up.” Unfortunately, that never happened for me with this book. I almost feel like I should apologise. Sorry, book. Sorry, me.

ElevationElevation by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I’m happy to devour every word that Stephen King writes, it’s rare that I wish for a King story to be longer. His novels are always long and sometimes offer infamously unsatisfying endings, while his short stories and novellas tend to be tightly-written and the perfect length. However, I think Elevation would have benefited from a good few more pages. The characters are pretty flat; even the protagonist doesn’t have many defining traits aside from the supernatural element of his weight loss that takes numbers off the scales but doesn’t seem to affect the size of his waistline, and the side characters—the closed-off lesbian couple with hearts of gold and a love of vegetarian food, the bigoted townspeople who just need someone to open their minds—have no more substance than the items that become mysteriously weightless in the main character’s mysterious force field. The premise is interesting, and there’s some great imagery, so it’s not entirely without presence, but it could have been elevated into something stronger.

Again, but BetterAgain, but Better by Christine Riccio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because Monica noted that the protagonist’s study abroad semester takes place in the same year and location that she (and I) studied abroad and that their experiences were similar in a lot of ways. I, too, related to Shane and her study abroad experience, to the point that eight years after my own semester in London I found her uncomfortable and hard to like. Shane is like the most cringey parts of my younger self—naive about things like boys and drinking but trying to pretend not to be, involved with fandom to the point that she tries to push her interests on other people, wanting to “put herself out there” but always afraid that she’s actually just imposing, trying to make a good impression at her internship but not being quite self-assured to do so.

I look back on my own time in London as one of the best experiences of my life but also one that, if I could do over, I would do a lot differently, so that definitely coloured my impression of this character and this book. However, I think it’s a credit to the author that she was able to capture the experience so accurately (I’m not familiar with the author as a booktuber but reading reviews from people who are it seems like this story mirrors her own study abroad time in a lot of ways as well?). And once I decided to be a bit more gentle toward Shane (and my own past self), I really enjoyed this one as a fun and positive read.

The ChainThe Chain by Adrian McKinty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely flew through this one. The premise makes it an immediate page-turner: a chain of kidnappings, in which bereft parents can only ensure safety for their own children by continuing the chain and snatching another family’s child, then instructing them to do the same. As a reader, you’re dragged as quickly and intensely into the story as protagonist Rachel is into her unwilling participation in order to get her daughter Kylie back. The first half of the book is spell-binding, edge-of-your-seat, unputdownable, however you want to describe it, as Rachel does things no normal, law-abiding person would ever want to do but might not think twice about if it was their own loved one in mortal danger. As the story expands to reveal the chain’s early links and the first signs of, shall we say, rust, begin to appear along its lengths, so too does the plot get a little less sturdy. However, the intensity of the first have buoys it enough to keep it a compelling, unnerving read throughout.

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)The Likeness by Tana French

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked In the Woods very much, but The Likeness was on another level. I loved Cassie in the first novel, so I was pleased to see her become the protagonist of this one. Immediately, upon her arrival to Whitethorn House, I got The Secret History vibes from the four students into whose lives she had to envelop herself. Intelligent, isolated, elegant, lonely, held together by an invisible and infinitely powerful thread, I found myself as quickly swept up in their stories as Cassie is. The mystery itself plays out in a twisty, suspenseful manner that’s owed more to the height of the emotions involved than the amount of action in the story. A new favourite for sure.

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I liked about this one is that it felt like Almost Famous if Almost Famous corrected one of the biggest issues I have with one of my favourite movies—that Penny Lane was always a muse for other people’s magic, but the film never really allowed her to make any of her own. In another biography of a fictional rock band and their turbulent, high-flying, Rolling Stone-covering, wild-touring life, Daisy Jones isn’t going to let anyone stop her from making her own magic. Written in the format of an oral history of a fictional 70s band, and the format’s ideal for the story, offering bits of humour or poignancy when one character’s statement contradicts another’s or adds a piece of emotion or information of which the other speaker wasn’t aware. While, inevitably, some characters are less interesting and mainly provide support for the tales of the leading roles, that’s the nature of reality and their words serve to provide depth to the perspectives of the main characters. I will note that the last page left a weird taste in my mouth and I think you could skip it without missing anything, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-DelusionTrick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am genuinely begging you to read this book. I don’t care what sort of writing you’re interested in, I don’t care what you think of millennials or reality TV or weddings or exercise or religion or drugs or the internet or whatever—I don’t even care if you like this book, I still think you should read it. Yes, you. It’s so smart and honest and funny and poignant and artful and basically just [insert positive adjective here]. It’s so good it’s basically left me at a loss for words good enough to describe it. “The voice of a generation” is such a cliche label but really, who better to affix it on it than someone who can speak as incisively about the endemic and horrifying pervasiveness of sexual assault of college campuses as she can about “wife guys” (unfortunately not in this collection, but in her day job at The New Yorker). And she doesn’t do so from a lofty high horse where she looks down on us plebs who enjoy enjoying stupid shit online—she’s one of us (one of us! one of us!), and that makes the observations that much more on point.

The Water CureThe Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With shades of myth and fairytale, this novel weaves the interlocking and diverging stories of three sisters isolated from the world on an island, their unnamed mother and King, their father, hoping to shield them from the patriarchal world around them with their own form of dominion. The writing is haunting, as free-flowing as the seemingly endless sea that surrounds them and as harsh as the salt water that helps to form their protection and their prison. It’s more of a gothic romance than a feminist dystopia, and although the imagery is rich and beautifully atmospheric, I never felt a real pull toward the character or their situations.

View all my reviews on Goodreads


1 thought on “What I read in August”

  1. Very detailed post! I am thoroughly impressed that you so rarely dislike a book; my reads have been much more sporadic lately. And I need to add Tana French to my TBR now. Off to Goodreads; thanks for posting!

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