Meant to get this post out way sooner, but then school and school paper and Book Club and internship and pep band and community service work and social life and sleep happened. But better late than never, right?
Here are my favorite reads from the summer of 2021!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
First, we have the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. A friend of mine recommended these books to me about a year ago, and I added them to my mile long TBR list and forgot about them for a while. Flash forward a few months, and Netflix released a trailer for a TV show adaptation. And what can I say, I’m a sucker for a good trailer (seriously, I’m in love with the energy of montage editing!). I was deep in Jane Eyre at the time, but I was sure to put those books on my summer list, and I’m so glad I did!
Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows are two series set in the same universe, with some character overlap. If you check these books out, I recommend starting with Shadow and Bone, since its events take place before those of Six of Crows, and it helps you get into the worldbuilding better. There are no major spoilers for Shadow and Bone in Six of Crows, but there are Easter eggs and allusions that are just way more fun if you’ve read Shadow and Bone first.
Shadow and Bone takes place in Ravka, a fantasy country inspired by tsarist Russia. Ravka has two major problems: 1- seemingly endless wars with their neighbors to the north and the south, and 2- the Shadow Fold, a swath of pure darkness filled with carnivorous monsters that cuts the land into eastern and western halves. When orphaned mapmaker Alina Starkov discovers that she possesses the rare ability to summon and control light, it becomes her task to save Ravka from the Shadow Fold… and those who seek to harness and weaponize its power.
I absolutely loved this trilogy! The world was unique and richly rendered, with vivid descriptions of beautiful settings with little details that really brought it to life. There were so many characters to love, the magic system was fun and well constructed, and the story itself was an adventure indeed. Some scenes made me laugh. Others brought tears to my eyes. They all had that “hard to put down” quality to them, but the last book in particular had me glued to the page well into the night.
Six of Crows takes place shortly after Shadow and Bone ends. It’s set in Ketterdam, a city of the island nation of Kerch, often referenced but never visited in the previous books. Ketterdam is home to some of the world’s most prosperous and cunning criminals, including teenage crime boss prodigy Kaz Brekker and his rag tag crew: Inej, a former acrobat whose skills help her work as Kaz’s spy; Jesper, an energetic sharpshooter who can never walk away from a wager; Nina, a former Ravkan soldier who can quite literally stop a man’s heart with the flick of a wrist; Matthias, a falsely accused convict who can’t decide if he wants to kiss Nina or kill her; and Wylan, the wayward son of a prominent merchant. Together they embark on a near impossible heist, each with their own motives. If they succeed, they’ll attain fortune and infamy. If they fail, it could forever alter the balance of power in Ketterdam and beyond.
These books absolutely blew me away with their ability to juggle six POV characters that all felt authentic, whole, distinct, and well developed, and if you ask me to pick a favorite, I would not be able to, because I love them all so much, each for different reasons. There were beautifully written lines that melted my heart and hilarious lines that made me laugh out loud, and the plot was full of twists and complex moving parts that kept the pages turning and destroyed my brain in the best way possible. Fantasy + heist= super compelling combination. The author got to expand on the world she crafted in Shadow and Bone, and it was so fun to see new facets of it.
There’s another installment in this fictional universe- the King of Scars duology- which I started reading yesterday. I look forward to seeing what these next two books bring, and I’m looking forward to season two of the Netflix adaptation.
Next up on my list was The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I started this book with my book club back in October of 2020, but all of us were busy, so none of us finished in time for the meeting, and I was in the middle of another book, so I put it down for the time being. I bought my own copy at Barnes and Noble over winter break. Great decision on my part. They don’t call Agatha Christie the Queen of Mystery for nothing. She has a knack for making the answer so obvious, yet impossible to guess at the same time, and her “big reveal scenes” are an exhilarating experience. There’s a certain thrill to watching and feeling all the little pieces click into place and having it all become clear. Spring semester, Book Club read Death on the Nile, which I finished and loved. I knew I’d have to pick up Mysterious Affair at Styles again soon. I thought it would make a nice summer read, and it would be refreshing to check out a new genre after reading five fantasy novels back to back.
The book follows the events leading up to and following the murder of Ms. Emily Inglethorp (how fun to have a fictional murder victim with the same name as me!). Not only was it Agatha Christie’s first novel, but it also featured the debut appearance of her iconic character Hercule Poirot- a former Belgian detective who stumbles upon new cases wherever he goes. He is, in my opinion, endearingly quirky and particular. He extrapolates the truth from the tiniest details, thing most people would overlook. He’s amiable and good hearted, but he never lets you forget that he’s the smartest person in the room. The narrator, Hastings, an old friend of Poirot’s, think’s that he’s gone crazy and makes all the wrong assumptions about the case. While I could see that Hastings was wrong, I couldn’t begin to guess what was right, and I enjoyed watching Poirot piece it all together.
Then, we have The Photograph by Penelope Lively. My aunt gave it to me a while back. It had once been hers (I actually found a lock of my cousin’s hair and a pressed four-leaf clover between the pages, so that was fun), and she thought I might like it.
This book centers around a man’s discovery that his late wife, Kath, once had an affair with her sister’s husband. His search for more information causes him and all those who knew Kath to take another, closer look at her, the ways in which they viewed her, the ways in which they treated her, the little things they overlooked, the events that led to her death, and all that’s happened since and will happen after.
I thought that this book was very moving and thought provoking, albeit tragic (definitely meant for more of an adult audience, and trigger warning, it discusses a suicide). Its shifting POVs allowed me to get a full sense of the characters, how they saw themselves, each other, and Kath. No angle was left uncovered, which gave the story a sense of depth and realness, and it illustrated the characters’ complexities. The book was written in the third person, but each POV chapter was tinted with its leading characters voice, and the messages behind the story are as beautiful as they are important: even the happiest-looking people can harbor secret pain, no one is above the depth and struggles that come with being human, and we all need to remember to remember each other. Through the hustle and bustle of our lives, all our responsibilities and ambitions, we need to make time for one another, look past the surface, and extend help, care, and understanding where it is needed.
And last but not least, we have World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. I saw it advertised in my Barnes and Noble mailing list subscription, and it looked like a really beautiful book. I mean that in the literal, visual sense, I mean, look at the cover! But I also thought the description was very interesting, insightful, and uplifting, so I put it on my Christmas list and read it over the summer, alongside whatever fiction book I was reading at the time.
The book is a fusion of mini memoirs and odes to nature. Each chapter discusses a different plant or animal species and the ways in which it has impacted the author’s life, either through an actual encounter she had with said species, or through a symbolic connection that she felt to it. She touches on topics of family, love, identity, belonging, life and death, and the beauty and fragility of our world, and does so in bright, captivating words. In the end, this book is a celebration of earth, life, memories, growth, and wonder.
This book really resonated with me. I love nature, being outside, and trying to tune in to all the beauty around me, material or otherwise, and that’s what this book was all about. It also served as a nice balance with everything else I read this summer. I read fiction to rejoice in the magic of imagination, and I read World of Wonders to rejoice in the magic of this world. It was a beautifully written, lovely, calming, grounding-yet-uplifting, and inspiring book. It made me think, it made me nostalgic for moments in my childhood, it deepened my appreciation for life and this world, and it reminded me just how amazing this planet is.
In the last few days of summer, I started reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, and I finished it over the course of September and the first week of October. I might give it its own post here eventually, as I did quite enjoy it, and it actually gave me some ideas on how to format and market The Lockbox. I wouldn’t say that these two books have an overwhelming number of traits in common, but I do see a handful of similarities, and now I’m pumped to work on Lockbox more. I’ve allocated more time for it recently, and after a month off, I’m getting back in the groove with it again. Yay!
Next up on my TBR: the previously mentioned King of Scars duology, and probably something spooky in preparation for Halloween. Wish me luck on my reading endeavors, and I wish luck to you!
And let me know in the comments: Have you read any of these books, and what did you think of them? What are your favorite recent reads? Any recommendations?
Have an amazing day!