book reviews

July 2021: Recent Reads

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It’s mid-July and I noticed that Walmart has its school supply section ready to go. Oh boy.

I saw a quote on Facebook this week that said, “Seeing back-to-school sales in July is like stepping on legos.” I agree!

New teacher orientation starts in just over a week for me, and I am moving the rest of my stuff to Georgia this weekend. It’s been a month full of traveling for me!

Given the fact that it’s summer break – and that I’ve been moving countries and states and things – this past month has been full of my two comfort zone/relaxation genres: historical fiction and fantasy. With the exception of one memoir-in-verse, that’s all I read.

Typically, I turn to historical fiction when I want a riveting story that still causes me to think about the world.

I choose fantasy when I want to escape to another world for awhile where everything (usually) has a happy ending.

Here’s what I read in the last month. I hope you find a few titles you’d like to read too!

Nonfiction

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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This is a beautifully written memoir in verse. I’ve been reading more books in verse in the last year or so, and when I first tried them, I thought I wouldn’t like them. But the ones I’ve tried, including this one, have been good. As the title suggests, it’s written in a dream-like way about the author’s childhood memories and how she overcame challenges to fulfill her dream of being a writer.

I picked it up because it’s part of the new fifth grade curriculum my (former) school adopted this past year. The topics in the book can be fairly heavy for kiddos, but she is writing from a child’s perspective, so I think this would be fine to read with, or at the least discuss with, older kids. I’d highly recommend it for adults too 🙂

Fiction

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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I was surprised that this was a standalone book! There’s definitely room for it to become a series, but based on the foreword I read, this was Sanderson’s first major publication before he started to write hefty, epic fantasy series.

I enjoyed the premise of the book: good prince gets struck by a random illness and is thrown, like a leper, out of society. But they call it a sudden death rather than exposing the truth about the “illness.” He is engaged to be married a few days later to a foreign princess who is too “strong” for any other man to marry her.

Throughout the story there is: brainwashing in religion, evil men who are good at manipulating to acquire more power, and the rejected prince and the princess both work in parallel ways to save the country from falling to the evil guy ruler who has taken over the rest of the continent. It’s epic fantasy in high form, and had, as the person who wrote the introduction said, the best combination of deadly peril in the big picture with the individual crises of faith and insecurities that make the main characters so relatable to us as readers. Lots layers, enjoyable, and great for thinking. I recommend it!

One trigger warning: there is a brief scene with human sacrifice that really grossed me out. I was a bit surprised to see it in there. Just skim over that if it’ll bother you too.

The Storyteller’s Daughter by Victoria McCombs

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After writing a book list of fairy tale retellings last month, I found another gem! This was a redone version of Rumpelstiltskin, which is not one that I’ve seen redone very much. But this author made it even better than the original story!

Like Robin McKinley’s works, McCombs added depth and heart to the story to give a reasonable explanation (given how far-fetched the premise is) for why a king would expect someone could spin gold – and be desperate enough to lock someone up to do it, too.

It’s refreshingly chaste, delightfully paced, and there’s a sweet happily-ever-after to boot. If you’re looking for a light, uplifting, and satisfying story, this is for you!

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George
(The Princesses of Westfalin Trilogy #2)

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This is another retelling, supposedly based on Cinderella. The first book in the trilogy was about the 12 dancing princesses, and there are references to it throughout. However, I didn’t read the first book; just this one.

The idea is that, after the twelve dancing princesses were rescued, the surrounding kingdoms were wary of it, but they needed to make sure to marry off their royal offspring to make alliances so that peace would be kept. So they did a royal exchange program, hoping it would end in marriage.

I was disappointed in it. The magic was weird and dark-ish, and the ending seemed too sudden and contrived. There wasn’t much depth to it, other than good vs. evil, so I didn’t enjoy it very much. I don’t recommend.

Kids/YA

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson
(I read books 2-4 this month)

I read the first Wingfeather book awhile ago, based on a friend’s strong recommendation. I didn’t love it. But when I wanted a wholesome fantasy story, and book 2 was available right then, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m glad I did! The saga’s world became much more developed and “the plot thickened” in the second half of book 2, so I grabbed books 3 and 4 right away.

The book blurbs say that there are multiple layers to mull over and discuss, and I do agree. There are enough tough topics and ideas about identity, faith, right vs. wrong, and consequences for your choices that this would be a fantastic series to read aloud with kids/preteens, even teens. Yet the plot is fast-paced enough, too, that younger kids will enjoy the story and seeing the Wingfeathers keep fighting to beat Gnag the Nameless, even if they don’t get all the deeper meanings.

Book 4 felt a little too long to me, though I did appreciate the author taking the time to wrap up the characters’ various storylines at the end. Fair warning, though: the ending was surprisingly vague.

It’s been a few days since I finished the last book and I’m still thinking about the ending…I’m guessing that was Mr. Peterson’s goal. 🙂


What have you been reading lately?

I definitely would like some more wholesome, uplifting recommendations if you’ve got any! Share in the comments 🙂

2 thoughts on “July 2021: Recent Reads

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