Previously: Part 1.
I did a lot better in the second half of June, and I think we all know why that is. Hey, remember that time when I was like, oh man I’m gonna read every Shakespeare ever, and I’m going to do three a week for thirteen weeks, and I’m going to post every Sunday, and it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN.
Just shoot myself in the foot, why don’t I. I posted once. I read about five plays. I nearly keeled over and died in the process. (Not really.) But my reading absolutely plummeted for the first two weeks of June, and my monthly TBR suffered so bad right along with it, and I just couldn’t. After five plays, I tossed my collected Shakespeare back on my shelf and said holy shit never again. (Not really.) But, as you can see below, abandoning a truly impossible challenge meant that I was free to read 10 books in the second half of June. TEN. I’m back, baby.
What: The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien
Review: For a much longer and rambling review of this book, check out my latest post in the An Adventure in Tolkien challenge. It follows my thoughts each week reading this and breaks down all the reasons I loved it. Because oh man, did I love this. This may even make it into my Top 10 of 2019, that’s how enamored I was with this. The Silmarillion is a lengthy, twisting tale of everything that happened pre-Hobbit. It’s got more elves than you ever thought possible, more alliterate or rhyming names, and some epic battles that’ll leave you weeping over your favorite characters. The only reason I didn’t read this all in one week was because I was buddy reading it with Holly, and honestly, I think that made me like it more? I got to sit with my sorrow after each week instead of just plunging into the next chunk of reading, and that’s left me holding many characters close to my heart.
What: Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer
Review: It took me a hot minute to get into this. The accent at the beginning was really difficult to settle into, but once Jacky got on the ship and started reverting back to standard British accent, it was much easier to follow. This is the beginning a twelve-part series detailing the adventures of Jacky Faber, a girl who sneaks onto a ship and pretends to be a boy. It’s full of duels with pirates on the high seas, boy friendships, and a sweet romance. It’s a riot, truly–some of the hijinks that Jacky gets up to left me cackling.
I really did enjoy this. I was gifted the next five in the series, so I’ll definitely be continuing on. It was well-written, engaging, and just the spark I needed to jump back into my own pirate story. Jacky is a hilarious narrator, and I only hope that Boston is not her end with the HMS Dolphin!
What: Court of Shadows by Madeleine Roux
Review: My review for House of Furies is linked. It took about 150 pages before I had my first true scare of this book, but when it came, oh boy. Madeleine Roux isn’t playing around, and I am definitely picking up her Asylum series after I’m finished with this trilogy. Truthfully, the image of Mr. Morningside with his backward feet has stuck with me since I read the first in this series back in February, and every time there’s a scene with him, it’s all I can think about. Court of Shadows started to open up the lore a lot more, discussing beings from the Upworld and really getting into the separation between them and the Unworld. Not to mention it’s reignited my “the devil is misunderstood” attitude.
This begins with Louisa trying to figure out how to work with her newfound powers, though she’s a bit distracted by a giant pavilion being setup on the grounds that will house all manner of Up- and Unworld creatures for a trial of Mr. Morningside. The household is in a tizzy for this trial, but things must still carry on with guests to murder and absent fathers returning and a strange journal that Louisa may have signed her freedom away to translate. And that is only the tip of the Biblical iceberg as not just the Devil remains a permanent fixture, but God shows up in the form of a doting old shepherd. And honestly? This started as a historical fiction horror book and has quickly turned into a–I don’t even know. Still historical fiction horror, but also with a heavy dosing of faery lore and epically Biblical characters and old Egyptian mythology? Yeah, sure. It’s freaking amazing.
What: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
Review: This was really excellent. I tried really hard not to compare it to Myths of the Norseman by Hélène A. Guerber, which is one of my favorite mythology anthologies, and that was both very easy and very difficult to do. The way that this is setup was interesting, but also a little lacking. I liked that the myths were separated into different groups–The Gods, The Creations, and The Earliest Heroes; Stories of Love and Adventure; The Great Heroes Before the Trojan War; The Heroes of the Trojan War; The Great Families of Mythology; and The Less Important Myths. However, this also left a little of a disconnect when certain stories intertwined with others. What I really loved about Guerber’s anthology is that everything is presented into a seamless story where all of the pieces are given linearly. In Hamilton’s, a side character that shows up in a major god’s story doesn’t get his or her story told until the very last section, and by then, I’ve forgotten all about them. On the other hand, this was gorgeous. The book plates alone are phenomenal, but the 75th anniversary edition has these really nice stock for pages, gold accents in the margins, and little Greek-inspired images here and there. Overall, it’s a physically beautiful book.
The inside is excellent aside from the disjointed way it’s told. I loved Hamilton’s disregard for pretty much all Greek poets, but particularly Ovid. Having read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I found this pretty hilarious. The way she weaved together different Greek poets and added her own flare to tie them in neatly was masterfully done. At the end of the day, I’m really glad this is the anthology I went with to officially study up on Greek myths.
What: The Lioness Awakens by Lauren Eden
Review: This is powerful. Truly, that’s the best way to describe these poems. It’s split into four separate parts, beginning with a very broken, very angry kind of language and moving through different stages of grief, loss, acceptance, fear, anger, empowerment, and self-love. A lioness, in particular, is a great metaphor to use for the journey of this collection’s story. A lioness is quiet, but immensely fierce. She is the backbone of her pride, but also very solitary. She is often disregarded, and while this may leaver her with claws out, it also puts her directly in her own spotlight and forces her to stand independent in herself. And that’s what this collection is. At the beginning, we see a raw, furious, uncertain woman, and by the end, she has learned that love does not come from a man or an outside force first, but from inside. The path to healing lies first with the self, and when that journey has begun, then the outward one unfolds all on its own.
What: Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis
Review: I recommended The Holy Wild by Danielle Dulsky to a friend, and before I’d even really finished singing its praises, she’d purchased it. A while later, she told me that Girl, Stop Apologizing was what The Holy Wild had been for me for her, and so I did the same thing. I bought it immediately, and I was so excited to read it and to experience another transformative journey. I was not disappointed.
However, an interesting thing happened while I was in the middle of reading this. A different friend said she was curious about my review of it because she’d seen such a big divide of love and hate. Another friend said that she’d heard some really negative critiques about the book, that many thought Hollis came from such a place of privilege that she had no basis for this story. And I was shocked. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually out of the loop for a lot of book-related things, but both of those comments were so startling until I really got thinking about them.
For one, I think people who hate this book are not ready for it. I know that if I’d read this a few years ago, I probably would have been put off by it because I was not ready to work on myself, or even to admit that myself needed work. When you’re still blaming everything in your life that goes wrong on outside forces, you’re not going to like a book that tells you to look inside first. It’s the same thing with tarot–most people hate the swords suit because, of the four suits, it’s the one that tells us to pay attention to our insides, to our truth, and nothing else. And perhaps I should have seen this coming since the swords suit is also my favorite, but I adored this book. There were so many powerful moments in it, but there is one that has stuck with me so much that I repeated it four times in one day to four separate people. “Other people’s opinions about you are not your business.”
I’m going to say that again, but in bold.
“Other people’s opinions about you are not your business.”
I also had a pretty emotional reaction to the rest of the chapter where this quote comes from, and while I’m still working through some stuff concerning what that chapter talked about, it has, like The Holy Wild, helped me look at those issues a little more.
Now, the second point, that Hollis comes from a place of privilege and thus has no basis for this story. Um? Did we read the same book? Because the story Hollis tells is that she came from a very poor, abusive, and toxic environment as a child, that she’s had to undergo years of therapy and self-work to overcome what she endured growing up, and that, as an adult, she still has negative relationships with much of her past. That is not a place of privilege. And if your argument is that she has a nanny for her kids, or that she has a huge following on social media and takes time to do makeup and her hair and utilize a stylist, or that she has this gorgeous life now–she has worked her ass off to get to that point. She made it a goal, and oftentimes a priority, to achieve certain things in her life, like a nanny, that she knew would better both her own life, her marriage, and her children, and she kicked butt until she got to a point where she could achieve that goal or priority. So, if you’re coming away from this book thinking that Hollis comes from a place of privilege, the same kind of thing is happening. Not only are you not ready to work on yourself, but you’re not ready to admit that you are important. And that’s okay. That’s not a knock on anyone in that position. It’s just an observation, that if this book rubbed you the wrong way, it probably wasn’t the right moment in your life to be reading it.
This review has gotten insanely long, but I have one last thing to add. I read Secrets for the Mad by Dodie Clark last year, and I desperately wished I’d had it when I was in high school. I think it would have made a world of difference to know that I was not alone in what I was feeling as a teenager. This March, I read Unfiltered by Lily Collins, and again, I wish I’d had it when I was in college, to see that someone my age was wondering the same things, was experiencing the same difficulties. Since then, I’ve been searching for the post-college, early-to-mid-20s book that fits that mold, and I think this is it. Now just give me a few years to find one for your 30s, haha.
What: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Review: FINALLY! At last, we come to the end. My review for Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight, and Night of Cake and Puppets are linked. What do I even say about this book? It took me two years to read everything by Laini Taylor because I didn’t want it to end. Like, truly and honestly, she’s one of the best writers currently, and I am going to waste away waiting for her to gift us with something gorgeous and new. Also, I can’t really explain it, but Karou is, hands down, my favorite female protagonist ever.
The list is long, guys, truly, and it goes everywhere between blue hair and hamsa tattoos to demanding space for her own agency and being so, so human. There is nothing I don’t love about Karou, and there was this sad little gremlin sitting in my heart just quietly singing karouuuuuuuu during the entirety of this book because I just could not imagine leaving her behind. It was bittersweet, almost, to be back in this world knowing that it was my last time here. However, in true Laini Taylor fashion, it wasn’t a very firm the end, and while I don’t think she’ll write in this world again, I like how she’s done that with both this and with Strange. While many of the plot lines have been tied up, or we can reasonably see where they’d go, there’s still this well there’s always tomorrow kind of feeling to her endings where it’s so, so easy to just sit there and imagine all the wonderful and amazing and wild things these characters could still get up to. The story ends, yes, but it still lives a little. So yes, I’m absolutely heartbroken that this is the end for Karou, but I’m also okay knowing that she’s still out there scheming away.
Truthfully, this was such a perfect ending for the trilogy, but there is something I have to address. I have seen SO many people say that they think these might be connected to Strange, and um? Might? Guys. This trilogy is 100%, without a doubt, in the same universe as Strange the Dreamer. Like, don’t come near me with your might, I don’t even think I’d believe Laini if she said they weren’t. They are, and the hints are everywhere, and I am Here For It. (Oh good grief, I just started imagining Karou and Lazlo meeting and becoming best friends and I am DECEASED.)
What: The Battles of Tolkien by David Day
Review: This was, admittedly, not as great as the Atlas that I read in the beginning of the month, but it was still very interesting. There was a lot less information in this one and a lot more artwork, which isn’t bad, just not what I was really looking for. This one also stepped away from the Middle Earth universe a lot and discussed more Tolkien’s background when it came to war and the different previously published works (like Beowulf and Christian mythology) that inspired the way his battles worked. That was pretty cool to see as I’d never pieced together that Bilbo’s first encounter with Smaug is almost identical to Beowulf’s with his dragon. It was also a lot less inclusive in that if I hadn’t read The Silmarillion first, I’d probably have been confused. There are no actual explanations of the battles. Instead, Day provides which chapters to read in the Middle Earth books and advises to just read Tolkien’s descriptions of them. Overall, the artwork was nice, but the rest of it was subpar.
What: The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Review: My boy box from Gertie Queer Book Club arrived! In it was this powerful book of poetry, a collection of short stories, and a mask that you could scratch with a coin until it became a rainbow! And this truly was powerful. Jericho Brown explores not only his life as a black man, but as a gay man, as a man loved and unloved by women, and just as a man growing up. It was poignant, and it hurt, and it was so, so good.
What: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
Review: My reviews for An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night are linked. Much like the first two, I enjoyed this! It does not fall under the “I am dead this is so good” category, but I am definitely going to preorder the fourth one. Reaper picks up a little after the events in Torch. Laia & Darin are traversing across the Empire, trying to find clues on how to destroy the Nightwalker; Elias is beginning his training as Soul Catcher, but is finding it difficult to separate himself from his human emotions; and Helene, Blood Shrike to the Emperor, must choose between loyalties–to the Empire’s people or to her own rage.
One of the things that I really love about Tahir’s writing is that she never rushes through anything. There are a lot of books out there that linger in the in between moments and the build-up and just drag on, and then the actual big moment is, like, one chapter. Tahir, instead, spends a solid quarter of the book devoted to the massive battle that’s been building up for about half of the book. She gives the scenes space to breathe, and she doesn’t just whip through the passing minutes like they’re no big deal. We get to sit with the characters in moments of indecision and see the horrors of war and their reactions to it. It’s very honest and oftentimes raw, and it makes for a damn good story. I continue to love Laia more and more with each book, but this one definitely put me firmly in Helene’s corner. I mean, damn.
It was too much! I don’t know why I thought I could read FIVE epic fantasies one after another while also being completely torn to pieces over The Silmarillion, and though I made a valiant effort, I only read 2 out of 5 for June’s TBR. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson by now that high fantasy is more doable with other things in between, but alas. I’m going easy on myself for July, both because I want to finish my June TBR and because I have a small California trip right at the beginning of the month. That said, here are my hopefuls for next month:
- Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
- 27 Hours by Tristina Wright
- The Last Man on the Moon by Eugene Cernan
- Pretties by Scott Westerfield
- The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
I’m aiming to finish all my 2018 books by end of summer, which is actually looking super plausible since I’ve got less than 20 left. I’m also going to seriously try to finish everything I purchased in the first half of 2019 by the end of the year. I haven’t been bookshopping since April, and I likely won’t get to until August or later, so this also feels like a plausible goal since there are only about 40 of those.
And I know it’s barely summer and I shouldn’t wish time away, and I’m not, but boy oh boy I cannot wait for October. I have got a hellish TBR set and I’ve been saving up spooky books to keep me company for the whole month, and every time I think about it, I just quietly cackle to myself.
How was the second half of your June? Did you read any amazing queer books for Pride? Let me know in the comments below!