June Wrap-Up

You know, I kind of like doing this monthly wrap-up thing. I tried it in the past but it never really worked, and I was so committed to write a full review for every book I read. Now, as I think about what works best for me, monthly wrap-ups are starting to make more and more sense.

I really enjoyed wrapping up my reads for last month during the Asian Readathon, so I figured "Why not continue with that this month?" You might want to grab and drink and snack before we get into the seven books I read in June.

Title: Final Girls
Author: Riley Sager
Pages: 342
Genre: Mystery
Date Finished: June 4

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

*TRIGGER WARNINGS* Violence, substance abuse, anorexia, alcoholism, emotional abuse, suicide, rape, and sexual harassment.

Opinions: I've heard so much buzz about this book ever since it came out. Many people were excited about it because 2017 had been a fantastic year for mysteries. I got my hands on a copy when Barnes & Noble had a sale. This was on a cart of books they slashed the price on (no pun intended) a bunch of different books.

After reading a ton of dramatic books for Asian Readathon, I wanted something that was back in my comfort zone. I wanted a good murder mystery that worked that part of my brain again. It was pretty easy to get into this despite having forgotten the entire premise. I read the first couple of chapters before going to bed and finished it the next day.

The premise of the mystery was the most interesting thing to me. The term "final girl" apparently comes from horror movies, where a group of people die and leave one girl alive. She is the final girl - the only survivor of a horrific event. Quincy is a final girl. So is Lisa, and so is Samantha. They each survived their own horrible nightmares and made it out alive, but their lives can never be the same after that. This book follows Quincy, the youngest of the final girls.

For something that dealt with such horrible events, the book fell kinda flat for me. I found it hard to sympathize with Quincy, though I don't think I'm entirely meant to sympathize with her. The characters, while interesting, were also kind of generic for a mystery. However, this being Sager's debut novel, I do understand that it took him awhile to find his own way of working with character archetypes.

I liked that Quincy spent a lot of her time baking. She made so many delicious things, I spent half the book hungry and wanting the recipes from her blog to be real. It was fun to see that she had a hobby/coping mechanism that was productive in her life. She made a living off it and it also offered her some kind of routine to her days. And it was also nice to have a main character that could cook. For some reason, I find that a lot of mysteries feature main characters who can barely use a microwave and should definitely never be trusted with an oven.

Something that bothered me about the book were the sex scenes. They felt very much like a man writing what he thought a woman might feel. Quincy's boyfriend is focused on her pleasure in the bedroom, something that very few fictional male characters are. Yet, she reacts to this with frustration that he won't "take what he wants." And she never voices it to him, never once tells him that she would like him to be rougher - she just resents that he would rather focus on her pleasure than his. Instead, she thinks back to when she would sleep with random guys who didn't care about her pleasure and just "jackhammered" (an actual quote from the book). It felt like the book was falling into the whole "man writing what a woman wants in the bedroom but it's really just his idea of what a woman probably wants." I mention this mostly because talk of sex comes up a lot throughout the book, as well as different characters' sexual experiences.

Though I did like the overall plot and premise of the book, I did figure out the twist a little (okay, a lot) sooner than I wanted to. The downfalls of reading so many mysteries is that I've learned what a lot of the twists are and how to look out for the signs. I was disappointed that I figured it out, but I'm glad that the details still surprised me. I will say that for people who aren't as familiar with the mystery genre, this is still a book with a great twist and I can see why a lot of people like it.

If you're looking to venture into a slightly darker mystery, I would say this is a good book to start with. I know that I'll be reading Sager's other novels to see how his writing has changed and improved over the past few years, and I think he's definitely one of the mystery authors that we'll be talking about for several more years to come.

Title: Rebel
Author: Marie Lu
Pages: 376
Genre: Sci-fi dystopia
Date Finished: June 11

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Opinions: Let me begin this by saying that you HAVE to read the first three books before you read this. Nothing will make sense if you don't. I will try my best not to spoil this for anyone, but it's going to be hard.

This really brought me back to my high school years. I posted about this on my Bookstagram, touching on why this book is such a big deal to me and why it brought me back so much. The series came out during the time of dystopian novels being popular, and it has stuck with me despite having only read it once. I stayed up late reading these books and forced my two best guy friends to read them too. I learned what it was like to fall in love with a fictional guy because of a single line of dialogue. I was inspired by Lu's writing and have followed her career ever since. Of the 11 books she has on the market, I've read nine of them, making her my second most-read author.

Reading this book was a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. I have been attached to these characters for so long, reading about them again felt like coming home to family. My heart physically ached when I read the opening chapters, and I teared up too. After five years, I was back with some of my favorite characters in the world and I was getting to see where they are now, older than they were when I last knew them. I'm older now too, so we're going to experience life a little differently. But none of that changed how much I love these characters. They're still true to who they were years ago, despite having grown up and changed as they've aged. I've always felt a kinship with these characters and getting to be with them literally made my heart feel full. I ached with them, cried with them, and ending up sobbing through the end of the book. If you've never done that, you might not know how hard it is to continue reading when the tears blind everything and you're trying not to get the pages wet and gross. And even though the ending was perfect, my heart hurt to know that this is the last book in the series and I won't be getting any new adventures with them. I still don't know how to come to terms with that.

Even after all these years, Day is still able to make me blush and grin uncontrollably. There's a reason he's #2 on my fictional boyfriend list (right after Four, though I think Day could take the throne after I re-read the Legend series). It also began my thing about guys with unconventional names. I love the ease of his character and how real he's always felt to me. Not many guys, fictional or real, can reduce me to a giggling, blushing puddle of fluttery feelings in the way Day can. Something about who he is as a person makes my heart incredibly happy and I was so glad to know that the feeling hasn't changed. He was still the same boy I fell in love with years ago, only now, he's a man. I nearly cried when I read from his perspective again, which might sound dramatic, but it was very real.

Watching Eden grow up was so different and weird to me. I constantly forgot that a decade has passed between Champion and Rebel, making Eden ever so slightly younger than I am now. Somehow, I still saw him as a child that needed to be protected. Realizing that halfway through the made showed me how great of a writer Lu is, because that's exactly what she wanted me to feel. I don't want to go too much into his character because I feel like it spoils a lot of what the original trilogy has to reveal (especially if you haven't read them). All I want to really say about him is that I love him a lot and I'm glad I finally managed to see him as the young man he is.

Something small that I was very impressed with was the pacing. I was surprised that things were moving so quickly, and yet, nothing felt rushed. Everything was happening at the right time and the intense moments were paced perfectly to make you feel nervous while also happening quickly. The pauses were great and I relished the moments we got to spend with the characters in a single scene that broke down so much. When I was halfway through, I felt like I had read an entire trilogy's worth on content, only to be excited that there was more. In the end, I realized that the pacing was because this book had to achieve in 376 pages what the original trilogy had three books to do. Yet, nothing was ever rushed and I didn't feel like I missed anything either. I got to enjoy my time with the characters while watching them go through something intense again. However Lu managed to pace this book so perfectly, I applaud her. She needs to teach me her ways.

The end of the book was perfect, like I said earlier. I couldn't have asked for anything more. This was everything I've ever wanted for these characters and I'm glad that I blubbered happy tears for them at 1:30AM in my room. I'm so glad to have been on this journey with them and to have been one of the readers who read the original trilogy so close to when Champion came out. Though the wait was hard, I was excited when Lu announced that we would be getting this book to wrap up the series. It was entirely worth the wait and I will wait many more years if she ever decides to announce that she's writing more books in this world.

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue
Pages: 321
Genre: Mystery
Date Finished: June 15

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Opinions: Having heard about this book for a long time and I know that a movie about it came out a few years ago. Still haven't seen the movie, but I think I might want to now that I've finished the book. The premise always interested me and I picked this up super cheap a few years ago.

It took me awhile to get into the book because it's told from the perspective of Jack, the five-year old boy. He's never known anything outside Room, where he was born and lives. His understanding of the world and everything around him is based off the things he's slowly learned from his mom. With the little that he knows, it can sometimes be frustrating to read from his perspective because I know and understand the greater implications of what's going on. But he doesn't. He's young and anything that changes in his routine or doesn't go his way can lead to tears and tantrums.

The book is not bad. I do want to say that. It's a hard thing to read, especially because we're not experiencing it through the eyes of Ma. Understanding the world through Jack's eyes makes the book tough. While we as readers are able to understand things easily, he doesn't. That does make it frustrating at times because I wanted Jack to understand why his mother wanted to get out of Room. I wanted him to understand that she hates being confined and that she wants to live a better life. Him not understanding those things and being mad at his mother were understandable, but also frustrating. And I think that's where I struggled most with the book.

I totally understand why the story being told from Jack's perspective makes it so well-written and why it's so highly acclaimed. All I can really say is that I struggled at times. His perspective makes things very different and hearing the story from a child, that's not really something anyone has thought of. For that, I think the book was really well written.

The second half of the book is definitely very different from the first. I'm not really going to say why because that's something you'll discover when you read it for yourself. But I did appreciate that the story went in that direction and that we got to explore something through the eyes of a child in a way that normally, most books would either gloss over or discuss only through the perspective of an older character. By simplifying everything, the story hits harder and it becomes a lot more real.

One of the things I appreciated the most about the story and the characters is that Ma educated Jack as best she could. At five, he can read, count, and write better than most other children. His understanding of the world isn't the same as other children, but as far as his academic progress, he's ahead. The child is smart. Very smart. And we don't get that a lot. We assume that people who are held captive go insane and that children who grow up in captivity like this are stupid. But that's not the case. Ma and Jack are both intelligent and they're not afraid to prove it when people assume that they understand nothing.

While it's not the easiest book to read, I do think it offers a different look at stories of kidnappings. I think it's worth reading because it's different and because it forces the reader to think and understand differently. Yes, there are times when you might struggle with the perspective, but I don't think the story would be what it is if it had been written differently. The book isn't dark either. It's realistic, but never dark or graphic. I appreciated that a lot, and I think other readers will too. So if it sounds interesting to you, I think it's worth trying.

Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Pages: 357/3.5 hours audio
Genre: Poetry
Date Finished: June 19

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*TRIGGER WARNINGS* Homophobia, sexism, sexual harassment/assault, abuse, & slut-shaming.

Opinions: I don't think it's a secret that poetry and I don't really get along. I've always struggled with it in classes, both in reading and writing it. But I found myself really enjoying the slam poetry style of this book.

Slam poetry isn't something I've had a lot of experience with, outside of the few viral YouTube videos I've seen. But I've always enjoyed hearing the rhythm of poetry spoken out loud, of hearing the emotion that's as powerful as the words. So when I remembered that this was a book in verse, I knew that listening to it would be my best bet.

Xiomara Batista's story is powerful. She's a teenaged girl, living her life and discovering herself for the first time. She's struggling with her body, her family, her faith, and so many more things. As a bigger girl with a fiery personality, she isn't the quiet Dominican daughter that her parents expect. Men on the streets grab at Xiomara's body, making her feel like she isn't in ownership of it. Her mother expects her to be the perfect Catholic girl, not questioning the Bible or struggling to figure out her own desires and how they align with her faith. It's not an easy journey, and Xiomara tackles all of that through poetry that she writes in her notebook.

Now, I can't speak to everything about Xiomara's character, but I do think she's realistic and well-written. I believe that her struggles with her faith and her human desires are real and very well-portrayed. As a Christian, I've asked many of the questions she has, and I know it's something people struggle with silently. Unlike Xiomara, I haven't been repeatedly sexually harassed or assaulted in the streets, but I do know what it's like to experience some harassment and how awful it made me feel. This book doesn't shy away from talking about how difficult and frustrating it is, how angry it can make you to know that men only see your body as a piece of meat for their gratification. And for that, I really applaud Acevedo for how well she wrote about these subject. She also tackles slut-shaming and the double standard between women and men for "fooling around" in their youth.

I appreciated how the story tacked sexuality among immigrant cultures, especially when faith is involved. I won't say who, but one of the characters is LGBT+ and I thought the struggle of talking about it was very accurately portrayed. I have several friends in the LGBT+ community who are also people of faith, and in some cases, I've seen how they've struggled with certain things involving religion. I know it can be hard, especially among my friends who are also POC. And I liked that the ending of the book didn't give a solid resolution to that storyline, because realistically, that something that continues to change and evolve as a person's journey and relationship with their faith grows and changes. It's not something you can expect to find resolution in that easily because the reality is, it might not have a concrete ending.

The story, like I said earlier, is powerful. Acevedo doesn't hold back in her writing. The way she wrote the poetry and the fact that she narrates the audiobook made me pause several times to appreciate the way she put words together. Without a doubt, she's a beautiful writer and one who will continue to write really amazing books. I knew going into this that I would love it and that I would likely be picking up more of Acevedo's books in the future, and I think that's just what I'm going to do.

Title: The Vanishing Stair
Author: Maureen Johnson
Pages: 369
Genre: Mystery
Date Finished: June 21

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Opinions: I never wrote a review for the first book, but I need you to know that this is the second book in a mystery trilogy. I'm gonna do my best not to spoil anything from the first book, and hopefully that keeps this review short too. But if you're thinking of picking this up, you HAVE to read Truly Devious first.

Okay, so I love mysteries and that's no secret. For a long time, I've been really wary of YA mysteries because I've read several crappy ones. But this trilogy got so much hype, I finally bought the first book over Black Friday and read Truly Devious a couple of months ago. I LOVED it and bought the sequels as soon as I could because the cliffhanger from the first book was just too much for me. And the mystery. I love this mystery so much because it's the first time in a really long time that I haven't figured out the twist until literally right before the twist happens.

Something about the way Johnson writes the story and gives us the clues, I found it perfect. There was never too much or too little at any point and like I said, I never figured it out until right before the reveal. It's not very often now that I find myself figuring things out at the same pace as the detective. With probably over 200 mysteries in my reading history and thousands of hours of crime shows, I'm pretty good at figuring this stuff out before the characters do. But this book continued to surprise me with each twist and I was thrilled each time to have an amazing twist revealed that ALSO made perfect sense.

The characters have only become more dear to my heart in this book. I did need a couple of minutes to remember some of the side characters, but I've really grown to love the main cast a lot. Stevie is me in a different life. She is the version of me that is even more obsessed with true crime and she's the version of me that gets to live out the reality of solving crimes. Trust me, if I ever got to be part of an investigation, I would be annoying as all heck with excitement that I can finally put all my weird knowledge to good use. I would probably also faint if I ever found out that I got to solve a mystery in real life.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, this trilogy is a nod to all the true crime lovers who have felt weird about their interest in true crime. It's for the people who have spent hours scouring the Internet for information about unsolved cases and definitely have their favorites (I have mine). This is to give all of us true crime lovers a place to feel like we're not so alone, because we understand how Stevie feels when people ask why she has a fascination with crime. It's just interesting, okay? It's fascinating and I love learning about all kinds of really weird and random things that I would never know otherwise.

The way this book dove even deeper into the Ellingham case, this is what I hope to do with one of my mysteries. This is what I want to achieve. I want to build something so carefully, so powerfully, that when it all comes together, my readers have the experience I'm having right now.

Title: The Hand on the Wall
Author: Maureen Johnson
Pages: 369
Genre: Mystery
Date Finished: June 26

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Opinions: The day I started this, I found out that it's no longer a trilogy, but will be a series! The first three books all deal with the Ellingham Academy case, so you do have to read them in order, and I'm sure the fourth book coming out next year will reference things from these books.

Just like the previous book, I can't really talk about this book without spoiling the others. It's hard to describe what's going on here because it requires you knowing what happened in the first two books. All I can really say is that the way the case continue to unfold was amazing.

I did have some guesses about the culprit, but there was never a point in which I thought for sure that it was who it ended up being. And you know, I'm always happy to be surprised by the reveal. Especially with three books all focused on one case, it can be really difficult to come up with a satisfying ending. But Maureen Johnson did just that. The way she delivered the conclusion was perfectly suited to the case and the characters, which made me really happy.

Knowing now that there will be more books in the series, I'm glad this one ended in a way that wrapped up this storyline but also left a lot of room for other stories to come. If I'm correct, the next book takes place during summer and I can't wait to see everyone back together and working on a new case. I'll happily continue reading more books in this series for as long as Johnson is writing them. I hope the future books will touch on some of the secondary characters a little more because I love most of them. I would love to see how they've all continued to grow after the events of this case wrap up and as a new mystery starts. And with how tightly woven and well-crafted this mystery is, I have no doubt that she can come up with many more that are equally well done.

I definitely think this is a series worth picking up if you're a true crime lover and have always liked the idea of solving a mystery of your own one day. Like I said in my review above of the second book, this really is for the people who have always loved true crime and wanted to be a part of that world, wanting to put our skills to use when the time comes for us to solve something. The series has made me really happy so far and I can't wait for the next book to come out in 2021.

Title: Shopaholic to the Stars
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Pages: 528
Genre: Contemporary
Date Finished: June 30

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Opinions: I said it on my Instagram and I'll say it again here, this series is definitely the reason I have issues with spending any amount of money on myself. Or people. It's the reason I have issues with spending money in general.

For me, this series goes back to my early and mid-teen years. I had seen the weird movie adaptation and finally decided to read the books. When I read them, I think this book had just come out. So my impression of this series is very much based on my teenaged thoughts about it. That being said, I can understand why I enjoyed these books back then. Now, maybe less so.

The series is ridiculous. Let's be honest about that. Becky Bloomwood (now Brandon) has always been bad with money and that will never change. It's what the whole series is about and to take that away from her would mean undoing the whole series. She's ridiculous. The lengths she goes to in order to buy something or to hide the stuff she's bought, it's insane. But that's something else that we can't take away from the series. No matter how much time passes, Becky will always spend too much money on stuff she doesn't need and find herself in outlandish situations because of that. And while the teenaged me enjoyed that more, the almost 23-year old me was quite stressed out throughout this whole book.

I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that this is the most ridiculous scenario Becky has ever found herself in. She's in Hollywood because her husband's work brought them there. For some reason, she gets it into her head that the perfect job would be chasing celebrities down as a stylist and that she'll somehow become rich and famous off that. How that makes sense, I'm not quite sure. But it's Becky. There'a a lot of things that make sense to her that don't make sense to anyone else (AKA any rational being/other characters). When she finally accidentally gets her five minutes of fame, she abandons all logical reason to pursue it and make a career out of it. And that's where this book really lost me.

Becky isn't the brightest person on the planet. She's never going to be. But I don't think I truly realized until this book how immature and irresponsible she is. Quite frankly, as a mother and wife, she falls short. Her daughter has picked up on her compulsive shopping habits and she frequently blames her husband for things he should never be blamed for. I have no idea how he manages to put up with her, but he must love her a lot to go through all the strange situations she finds herself in time after time. And Becky's lack of logic (in any and every capacity) is why this book was so hard to read. Her ridiculous dreams and fantasies of being friends with celebrities and making it big lead her to abandon her family and her friends for something she didn't even think about until she lost her job. And her desperation to be famous is entirely the reason bad things happen in this book.

To go back to what I said at the beginning of this, I do think this series has effectively scared me into being good with money. For that, I do have to say some good things about this. I learned that I never want to be like Becky and I've learned to be really good with my money because of that. Sure, I have some trouble spending money when I need to, but this series has haunted me and my bank account.

I will admit that the series and this book have its enjoyable moments. Becky's antics put her at a disadvantage that can be really entertaining to read. And her husband's love for her is very admirable. Her friends are, at the end of the day, really great people. All those things do make for an entertaining book when she's not causing a ton of trouble or manufacturing some kind of ridiculous lie/story. I think the previous books are ones I could probably still enjoy now - this one just really rubbed me the wrong way because Becky got so caught up in stuff that led her to be a really awful person.

So even though I don't recommend these books to anyone, I think there's a level of fun to the earlier books. Particularly, I remember enjoying Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic and Sister, and Shopaholic and Baby a lot. Those three are probably books I could re-read now and not be frustrated with. Solely because of the situation Becky is in and because she's not vying for fame and fortune.

Whew. That was a very long wrap-up, but I hope that gave you a good idea of my thoughts on each of these books. I can't say if all my wrap-ups will be this long (maybe I'll learn how to shorten them in the future), but I did have a lot of fun putting together my thoughts of each book into one blog post.

If you've read any of these books, I'm curious to hear what you thought about them and would love to talk about it.

To hint at what I'm reading in July, you can expect to see a lot of fantasy books on the list. In fact, it might be entirely fantasy as I'm trying to finish a few series. Until that comes out, you can expect other posts about reading, writing, and all things book related.

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