*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.*
July was a funny old month for my reading. I was expecting to get through a lot of books but in the first few weeks, my head just wasn’t in it. I mean…it probably had a lot to do with the fact that we were hustling and trying to get ready for our summer holiday and there was a lot of planning involved in that.
Luckily, actually being on holiday meant I could get some serious reading in and catch myself back up. And I LOVED so much of what I read this month and have walked away with one, if not two, of my favourite books this year so far. Which is saying something!
Gather the Daughters – Jennie Melamed
Let’s start with my most disappointing read of the month. I wanted so very badly to love everything about Gather the Daughters. From the sound of the blurb it seemed like an edgy book that would be right up my street but instead, this dystopian adult fiction widely missed the mark.
It takes place on an island, where we meet a community who follow the rules laid down by ten ‘ancestors’. These ‘ancestors’ determined that the best way for this community to live was for wives to submit to their husbands and daughters to submit to their fathers (trigger warning: this book contains rape and incest). It is widely believed that this community is a safe place and that to leave (which you can’t actually do) would see you having to scrape out an existence in the wastelands. Something you want to avoid at all costs.
Each summer on the island, the children and young adults who have not yet come of age, and therefore married, are allowed to run wild. Literally wild. Adults lock their doors and remain inside whilst the children get up to basically anything.
It is during one of these summers that unrest begins to surface; from one girl in particular who is refusing to come of age and starts to incite unrest among others. Then a wife who was very vocal dies and suspicions abound.
Let me say that the authors writing was good. It was poetic and lyrical and had the plot been better, I’m pretty sure I would have walked away crying Jennie Melamed as a new favourite of mine. But the plot was just so weak and so amateur that honestly, this book was lucky to get two stars from me.
From this type of post-apocalptic book, even from a book which covers hard topics like incest and rape and cults and brainwashing (because this is a cult, obviously) I would expect a story which pushed boundaries, raised tough questions, made me think. But this, essentially, could have been a non-fiction narration of a cult. Nothing happened. We followed a particular series of events and then the book just ended. Nothing was brought to conclusion, I was left with several unanswered questions and there just seeemd no point to it. Frankly, if I wanted to read a non-fiction about a cult, I’d pick up a non-fiction about a cult.
Not one I’d necessarily recommend unless you are curious to see. Or you have a particular interest in books about cults.
City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments #5) – Cassandra Clare
This next book is the 5th book in a Young Adult paranormal romance series, so for obvious reasons, I’m not able to go into too much detail about the plot. This series is set around our protagonist Clary, who in the first book, discovers that her world isn’t quite as she thought. She is actually a ‘Shadowhunter’, a group of human-angel hybrids, whose job is to keep Downworlders such as vampires, werewolves and the like along with demons, in check. These Downworlders and Demons are all around us, we just don’t see them.
This wasn’t my favourite book in the series although to be honest, the romance is growing a little thin for me. This makes sense I think, as an adult reading about young adult romance and the angst and drama which goes along, I’m just bored with it but I have heard very good things about Cassandra Clare’s later books so I am trundling along with these so I can move on. Just one more book to go!
Final Girls – Riley Sager
This was the first book I read and finished whilst we were on holiday and goodness me did I read it fast…it was so creepy. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that our main character, Quincy, deals with a trauma which takes place in a remote lodge, and we were basically staying in a cottage in the middle of nowhere!
So this mystery thriller is about Quincy being a ‘final girl’; a name given to three women by the media. Each of these women experienced a horrific event whereby everyone they were with was murdered and they survived. Quincy’s trauma took place whilst she was in college/university and had gone away with her friends for the weekend. Somehow they all died and she survived, but she can’t remember anything about the awful night in question.
She has worked hard to put this behind her, when one day, the original ‘Final Girl’ Lisa, is found to have committed suicide. Quincy feels like this doesn’t quite ring true and her suspicions are further confirmed when Sam, the other Final Girl, suddenly appears in her life. Events begin to unfold from there and I will tell you that this book is a real page turner. It is all go-go-go from the moment you open the book and I think Sager hits all the right notes.
I don’t usually do creepy books, and this was on the edge for me, but I would highly recommend it.
The Cactus – Sarah Haywood
This was a contemporary fiction book I pre-ordered after seeing some initial hype about it. It was marketed as ideal for fans of The Rosie Project and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, so naturally I was curious. And it does follow a similar vein to those two books; we have our protagonist Susan Green who is very happy having her life just so. She has a job, a nice house, a convenient relationship with a man and she is totally in control.
We begin the book learning that Susan’s mother has suddenly passed away. Susan must return home, where she has to deal with the death of her mother and also her brother, with whom she has a strained relationship. We also quickly then learn that despite her life being just so, Susan has unexpectedly found herself pregnant. The book follows the nine months of Susan’s pregnancy, how she adapts to the changes in her life, how she must learn to navigate her new situation and so on.
On the whole, I could appreciate what Haywood was trying to achieve but ultimately this book fell a little flat for me. Susan, as a main character is very difficult to like and connect with, and I felt like we never really got to fully explore, and therefore understand, why Susan made the choices she did. Whereas in Eleanor Oliphant it becomes patently clear as the story progresses why Eleanor behaves the way she does, it was just not the case here and the whole book felt a little too convenient and surface level for me.
There were some laugh out loud moments; it was a fairly easy read especially being poolside and I think if you enjoyed the two other books mentioned, you may find this up your street. If connecting and liking your main character is a major sticking point however, you may prefer to pass on this one. Ultimately this was just an okay read for me.
Circe – Madeline Miller
And now we come to my 5 star read. My favourite book of the month, and definitely one of my favourite books of the year. This is a Greek mythological re-telling which was a new genre for me; other than Percy Jackson I have never picked up a mythological re-telling before and I was not familiar with the story of Circe.
Circe is the daughter of the sun-god Helios but unfortunately she is not like his other children and eventually finds herself banished to a remote island. We follow Circe’s journey, her experiences, her ‘coming of age’ (if you can refer to an eternal being as needing to come of age!) and we meet other familiar names from Greek history, such as Odysseus.
I loved absolutely everything about this book. Miller has a ways of writing which just immediately draws you in. I could honeslty have been reading about anything and I feel like she would still have found a way to make it compelling. I also really enjoyed and appreciated the plot and especially the character of Circe. Truly, I felt this book was incredible and I have been recommending it to just about everyone. In fact, it doesn’t appear in the photo above because I have already loaned my copy out!
If you have been in two minds about picking it up then I would highly recommend that you just read it. So far everyone who has picked it up on my recommendation has also loved it. Speaks for itself!
So now we are onto my August reads. I’ve had a mixed month so far but I’m looking forward to sharing what I have read with you soon. Happy reading friends.