Summer Reading Roundup 2020

Also known as the fastest book reviews ever, because I am waaay behind on book reviews. Here’s what I read between May and September: a little YA, a little adult fiction, and several thrillers and memoirs.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

This was so unique. It was nice to see a teen mom in a YA novel whose story arc doesn’t revolve around her “mistake.” It had a balanced perspective on life, plus some great food descriptions. I didn’t even hate the romance because there was enough else going on that it didn’t take over the plot. And it wrapped up nicely – not too perfect but satisfying. Great read!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I hadn’t read a novel in verse since Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse when I was a kid. I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like the style going in but it flowed really well. Very quick read; very well written. I really enjoyed the inclusion of religion and the conflict that took place around; you don’t see that too often in fiction, especially YA. The parent conflict did seem to wrap up a little too nicely maybe and felt a bit unrealistic, but that did not detract from the character arc. Great book. Would love to see a companion novel about Twin!

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

One of my friends kept recommending this to me after she got into the Enneagram. I’m a huge sucker for personality typing so I found this fun to read, plus I will finally know what my friends mean when they tell me so-and-so is a 4 or a 7. It’s useful as tool to help understand other perspectives and my own. Definitely something interesting and something I’ll be continuing to casually look into. This was written by Christian authors and is kind of geared toward Christian readers, but it’s not overtly Christian. Non-Christians can still get a lot out of it if the Enneagram is something you’re interested in.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I really enjoyed this. Sibling relationships in novels are my absolute favorite, probably over every other thing I love in a book. This is the second book that I bought for the buy black books challenge that Amistad Books put out (I’m Still Here was the other one). This was an interesting exploration of colorism within Black America along with the “regular” racism Black people live with too, and that was a conversation I don’t often see as a white person. The ending was really heart-wrenching too, and it was one of those books where the setting becomes its own character. Great writing – this is a good pick.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

This was okay. One-day romances don’t really work for me because I just don’t find them relatable or realistic, but within the context of knowing you’re both living your last day on earth, it was easier to swallow. The romance and banter was pretty sweet and the side characters were nicely rounded. I could see where it would have been easy to neglect them with a book that spans only 24 hours, but Silvera managed to avoid that. This definitely wasn’t one of my favorite books ever just because it’s not my preferred genre, but it was good, and it was at least interesting to think about what I would do if I knew I had one day to live. (I wouldn’t spend it reading.)

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

I’m glad I read this memoir by one of the original founds of the Black Lives Matter movement. Cullors has a really fascinating story and tells it well. One thing I learned while reading this is that community activism and organizing jobs are more structured and career-based than I realized. I had always understood activism as more of a side hustle, but I am learning that’s not really the case a lot of times. In addition to her activism and organizing training, Cullors talks about her brothers and her personal experiences with racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. Definitely a solid read.

The Witch Elm by Tana French

I posted a fuller review of this on Goodreads, but the gist is that I liked this and am not sure why it’s taken this long for me to read a Tana French book. It surprised me how much I liked this, because I pegged the killer from the beginning and also disliked the main character. Just one of those two flaws is usually enough to make me not like a thriller, but I just really enjoyed reading this. The characters were interesting and the setting was nice and creepy. I also really enjoyed how the main character ended up – it felt like justice for how dumb he was throughout the whole novel. French isn’t my favorite thriller author I don’t think, but I’m definitely going to give her another try.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

If you watched Oprah in 2006, you might be familiar with Clemantine Wamariya, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who reunited with her family on the show. This has been on my radar for years and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. It’s so, so well written. Honestly, I came out of this with a giant respect for Wamariya’s sister Claire, who was 15 when the genocide began and who got herself, Clemantine, and her own children out of the country safely. The book jumps between the 90s, when the sisters were trying to survive in refugee camps, and the 2000s, when they had made it to the US and were trying to grow up and make a life for themselves. It’s a good one.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Y’all know I’m a CRH fan and this is my favorite book by her so far. I did a really mini review of this on Instagram, but the recap is it was just that the premise is so dang creative. Thrillers can get kind of formulaic, but I don’t think I’ve seen this book-within-a-book format before. I also liked that we knew who the killer was from the beginning. The suspense was still there, but it made for a different reading experience than normal. I’m glad I bought the hard copy of this too, because there are a lot of details in the layout and type that made this is a really fun read. Also, this book was partly inspired by the final book I’m reviewing today (below).

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

This book was disappointing but not because the writing was bad. On the contrary, McNamara’s writing is fantastic. Her style is part investigative true crime thriller and part memoir, so it’s obvious why I enjoyed it. However, McNamara died while she was writing this (of natural causes), and some of her associates finished the book based on her notes and research. The overall investigation is still really, really good, but it’s obvious that it’s missing so much. McNamara had started out telling a bit of her life story in the beginning chapters along with the investigation, and that’s what really made the writing come to life. Obviously that wasn’t able to be wrapped up, so while we get the Golden State Killer story, we don’t really get McNamara’s full story, and that was just such a shame.

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