August Wrap Up

# of Books Read: 11

# of Pages Read: 4,112

Favourite Book(s) of the Month: The Death of Vivek Oji, The Fifth Season

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

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Real love…as seen on TV

Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers–and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. The fantasy dates! The kiss-off rejections! The surprising amount of guys named Chad! But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since when is being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television?

Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition–under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. She’s in this to supercharge her career, subvert harmful anti-fat beauty standards, inspire women across America, and get a free hot air balloon ride. That’s it.

But when the cameras start rolling, Bea realizes things are more complicated than she anticipated. She’s in a whirlwind of sumptuous couture, Internet culture wars, sexy suitors, and an opportunity (or two, or five) to find messy, real-life love in the midst of a made-for-TV fairy tale. In this joyful, razor-sharp debut, Bea has to decide whether it might just be worth trusting these men–and herself–for a chance to live happily ever after.

One to Watch is a book that you can read in one sitting and be completely entertained. I thought that is was a lot of fun and a great escapist-type read. It was also an interesting commentary on reality shows like The Bachelor, and I hope that the producers of that show take note. I used to be a fan of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, and it is fun to see a lot of the drama from those shows play out in this novel. So much of it feels far-fetched when you are reading, but these are things that actually happened on the real show (though I know a lot of it is probably scripted). The main character is a popular fashion blogger, so I loved that the book showed some of the behind the scenes of blogging. I am crossing my fingers for a sequel- there is some great spinoff potential here!

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

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What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader. 

Akwaeke Emezi is quickly becoming an autobuy author for me. Freshwater was fantastic, but The Death of Vivek Oji completely blew me away. I must track down a copy of Pet ASAP! There is something special about the way that Emezi writes- it is an experience that I rarely find in other novels. As the title and the synopsis reveals, the story begins with the death of Vivek Oji and is told through flashbacks and chapters set in the present, after his death. I became attached to Vivek and their journey, so it was heartbreaking knowing how their story would end. The mystery of how they died is what propels the story forward, and the whole thing is utterly heartbreaking.

Meet Me at Midnight by Jessica Pennington

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They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic summer yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them. 

Meet Me at Midnight is the perfect cute and summery read. There is something about a book set in a cottage on a lake that brings me so much nostalgia and gives me all the summery feels. The banter between Sidney and Asher is adorable and it was fun to see how their relationship shifted over the course of the summer. Pranks make me uncomfortable, but some of the pranks in this story were harmless and fun to read about. What I loved was the fact that both Sidney and Asher are competitive swimmers- as someone who was a certified lifeguard, I am curious about that world.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Now this is a book that deserves all the hype. The worldbuilding is mind-blowing and everything about this story is so thoughtfully done and compelling. I am so glad that I bought the boxed set because I cannot wait to continue on with the series. There were so many shocking moments and seeing how the story came together in the end was brilliant. I will say that it takes some time to get a grasp of the story and Jemisin’s incredible writing, so if you decide to pick this one up (and you should!), don’t give up too early- it is worth the work!

Cinderella is Dead by Kaylnn Bayron

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It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them

Cinderella is Dead is pitched as a Cinderella retelling, but it is actually more like a sequel, which I thought made the story even more interesting. I absolutely loved the set up of this story and Sophia was the perfect lead for a tale like this one. The first few chapters were so captivating and the world that Bayron has created is unique. I will say that there were some pacing issues and there were aspects of the story that could have been better developed. The romance was sweet, but I wanted more!

Florida by Lauren Groff

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The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. 

I have fallen in love with short stories lately, and I thought that this was an interesting and atmospheric collection from Lauren Groff. This was my first taste of Groff’s writing, even though I have had Fates and Furies on my shelves for years. I am now much more motivated to pick that one up! I cannot begin to tell you how many quotes I have saved from this book. Groff’s writing was so beautiful! There were definitely some stories in the collection that stood out to me more than others. “Above and Below” as well as “Dogs Go Wolf” are the two that instantly come to mind.

Show Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight

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In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of startups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all startups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today.

But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always remained a mystery. Now, for the first time, in a memoir that is candid, humble, gutsy, and wry, he tells his story, beginning with his crossroads moment. At 24, after backpacking around the world, he decided to take the unconventional path, to start his own business—a business that would be dynamic, different.

Knight details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream—along with his early triumphs. Above all, he recalls the formative relationships with his first partners and employees, a ragtag group of misfits and seekers who became a tight-knit band of brothers. Together, harnessing the transcendent power of a shared mission, and a deep belief in the spirit of sport, they built a brand that changed everything.

I knew nothing about Phil Knight before reading his memoir, and I have little attachment to NIKE, so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. It was a gift and has amazing reviews, so I figured “why not?” I was so surprised by just how well written this book was- there is no denying that Knight is a talented writer. Knight hired a lot of fascinating people when NIKE was a startup and reading about them and their contributions to the success of NIKE was the most compelling part of the book for me. I would love to read more nonfiction like this one about the history behind a successful company!

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

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Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.

After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez. 

Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy

After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had. 

Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.

With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.

You Had Me at Hola was one of the cutest romances I have read this year. I thought that the relationship was so authentic, as did their ups and downs. I love books where the characters are famous- I am just drawn to that world. The fact that there were transcripts of the telenovela that Jasmine and Ashton star in together made this story that much more unique. There is also a strong focus on family in You Had Me at Hola, which I appreciated. I cannot wait to read more from Alexis Daria.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

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What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

This is my second Sager novel, and while I will read more from him (I own Lock Every Door), I have found that his books have been pretty average for me. That is a me thing, because I am very picky when it comes to mysteries/thrillers. I am drawn to books about spooky houses, so that was a huge plus for me in Home Before Dark. I also thought that it was interesting that Sager included chapters from a book written by Maggie’s dad. Trying to sort out what was real and what wasn’t was what kept me reading. The ending felt rushed for me, but not enough to ruin the entire experience of reading the book. I do think I preferred it to Final Girls. Also, did you know that the cover for Home Before Dark glows in the dark? I love that!

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself. 

I cannot remember the last time a book made me this uncomfortable, which was certainly Kate Elizabeth Russell’s intention. I am always worried that a story like this one will romanticize the relationship in some way, but that was certainly not the case in My Dark Vanessa. The grooming and manipulation that fifteen-year-old Vanessa experiences from a teacher made me physical ill. There were scenes in the chapters set in the past that made me so deeply uncomfortable that I had to skim over them. The effect that this relationship has on Vanessa in her adult life is devastating, but seeing her work through her feelings about it left me with some hope.

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

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Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.

During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist – is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.

Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.

HarperCollins Canada was kind enough to send me an ARC of The Exiles in exchange for an honest review. This book is everything that I love about historical fiction- it is beautifully written, extensively researched, and incredibly haunting. It is so much more emotional than I expected going into it. I would not be surprised if this book becomes widely popular, as it is so moving and informative. I know very little about Australia’s history and The Exiles has definitely peaked my curiosity. I need to read more books set in Australia!

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August was a strange reading month. I think I had more three star reads this week than I have had the rest of the year, but there were certainly some standouts.

What was the best book you read this month?

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28 thoughts on “August Wrap Up

      1. I think I might like Ordinary Grace a wee bit better…it’s a simpler story. But both are well written and well told. Enjoy!

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  1. Great post – what an August you had! I found your thoughts on My Dark Vanessa really interesting – I’ve been debating reading it for all those reasons you posted, but I am glad to hear it ends on hope!

    Liked by 1 person

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