In July, I was excited to hit a record 10 books. Now, I’m even more excited to hit a better record – 11 books! Once again, Libby came through for me. I was able to devour books left and right (or so it felt), with so many options at the tips of my fingers, and my wallet was saved.
So what did I read in August?
The Return of the King – The Lord of the Rings #3
by J.R.R. Tolkein
Genre: fiction, fantasy, epic, middle earth
Begin your journey into Middle-earth.
The inspiration for the upcoming original series on Prime Video, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
The Return of the King is the third part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic adventure The Lord of the Rings.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
The Dark Lord has risen, and as he unleashes hordes of Orcs to conquer all Middle-earth, Frodo and Sam struggle deep into his realm in Mordor.
To defeat Sauron, the One Ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. But the way is impossibly hard, and Frodo is weakening. The Ring corrupts all who bear it and Frodo’s time is running out.
Will Sam and Frodo succeed, or will the Dark Lord rule Middle-earth once more?
Quick Review: Huzzah, I finally finished the LoTR trilogy! This is so crazy to me, just because I watched the series 20 years ago, I believe, when they first came out. It’s about damn time, hah. Unfortunately, I think that, while the third movie was my second favorite, the book did not induce the same feeling. I thought the amount of buildup that occurred in the second book, and the beginning of this book led to a rather anticlimactic ending. I wish there was more action between Men and Orcs, that there was more tension between Frodo and Sauron, and that we got to see more of Legolas and Gimli! The ending also took a very quirky turn regarding Sauroman, and I was not here for it.
And yet, this book is getting a 4 stars from me because it still delivered in many other aspects. Did I get emotional when the bromance between Sam and Frodo deepen? Did my heart flutter for Eowyn’s newfound love? And did I appreciate the righteousness that Gandalf stood for? Hell yes.
Siege and Storm – Shadow and Bones Trilogy, #2
by Leigh Bardugo
Genre: fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
Quick Review: I find many of the comments regarding the protagonist still rings true when compared to the first book (her perogative is to be annoying and rude at all times). Overall, this book did not excite me as much as the first. I think I wasn’t a fan of Alina and Mal once again getting captured by the Darkling, like it was a ‘been there, done that’. (Don’t worry, not a spoiler – this happened veery early in the book. Like, first chapter stuff). What redeemed it for me was the addition of the character Nikolai. He is, hands down, hilarious and adds so much to the pages.
The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Genre: adult, historical fiction, contemporary, race
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
Quick Review: This book was SO well told. While the underlying issue is race, Bennett is able to pick and choose timeframes in each characters’ lives that have just the right pivotal moments to uncover. Each character felt so believable – their vulnerability, their actions’ consequences, the lives that unfolded because of actions from generations past. Beautifully well told.
Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Genre: fiction, science fiction, interstellar,
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.
Quick Review: If you’re familiar with The Martian, Andy Weir’s first book, Project Hail Mary has a very similar feel. It’s a pretty thick book full of scientific facts and equation, which can sometimes feel so over my head as a non-scientific minded person. However, the main character is actually quite good at presenting the science in a way that is approachable for the average reader. He gives comparisons in a fun way, or makes a joke to go with them. Overall, quite a fun read.
It’s In His Kiss – Bridgerton #7
by Julia Quinn
Genre: fiction, romance, historical fiction
IF IT’S IN HIS HEART… IT’S IN HIS KISS
MEET OUR HERO…
Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth’s sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past… and the key to his future. The problem is—it’s written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word.
MEET OUR HEROINE…
All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She’s fiendishly smart, devilishly outspoken, and according to Gareth, probably best in small doses. But there’s something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won’t quite let go…
MEET POOR MR. MOZART…
Or don’t. But rest assured, he’s spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual—and annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth’s every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other… and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss.
Quick Review: Having read a few of these Bridgerton books by now, I can safely say that Hyacinth’s story sticks out for a couple of reasons – 1. The chemistry between her and her love interest makes sense, and 2. Hyacinth’s personality was one I could get behind. As usual, the banter is hilarious, and I feel like that makes up the bulk of this series’ charm.
by Emily Henry
Genre: fiction, romance, adult, contemporary
Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.
Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.
If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
Quick Review: Imagine a Hallmark movie. Now, imagine a more “realistic” version. That’s how I would define this book. Our leading lady is someone that I can relate to – someone who’s a workaholic, who loves New York City, who had to grow up too fast. Compared to Hallmark movies, her flaws are more pragmatic. Then, there’s her love interest – the one with the cold exterior but deep down, is thoughtful softie. How can you not get sucked in?
I was surprised at how funny this book is, especially the banter between the two lovebirds. I think Henry added nice character twists, and I enjoyed the amount of effort she put in to the protagonist’s backstory.
Ruin and Rising – Shadow and Bones #3
by Leigh Bardugo
Genre: fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
Quick Review: After the lackluster second book (see above for review), I had low expectations for the final book in the Shadow and Bones trilogy. But Bardugo delivered! Again, Alina was a bit snarky, but this time, it actually made sense for her to be so. In this final book, the minor characters had larger roles to play, and filled the pages up more with their unique dialogues. I think that helped take the focus away from the rather annoying Alina. But what really had me give stellar reviews was just how the ending was put together. I did not see it coming! And I couldn’t help sitting there, book closed (so to speak, as it was a Kindle version), feeling heartbroken, but appropriately so.
I hear that the spinoff book ‘Six of Crows’ is even better. I am so looking forward to reading it.
The Viscount Who Loved Me – Bridgerton, #2
by Julia Quinn
Genre: fiction, romance, historical fiction
1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, this author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry.
And in truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better…
—Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814
But this time, the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry—he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield—the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate is the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams…
Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands—and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister—but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…
Quick Review: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I love a good enemies-to-lovers trope. I think this book started off quite strong in this department. The female was a strong, ferocious character who was able to stand up to Anthony Bridgerton. But somewhere down the line, she started shrinking as a person, while he was quite mean. Again, it was a hilarious book as a whole, so because of that, I continue to read Bridgerton books.
The Cuckoo’s Calling – Cormoran Strike #1
by Robert Galbraith
Genre: fiction, mystery, contemporary
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
Quick Review: Being a lover of Harry Potter, it’s been on my list to read J.K. Rowling’s other works (Robert Galbraith his her pen name for this series). I don’t typically read whodunits or other mystery novels, so I am definitely not one who can pick up clues on a scale better than the typical reader of this genre. Because of this, I found the book quite interesting. There is a sleuth of unique suspects (in my opinion), and the characterization of their dialogue can be quite hilarious. Cormoran Strike is also the underdog detective that I can find myself rooting for, especially when paired with his trusty sidekick Robin.
by Fredrik Backman
Genre: fiction, contemporary, humor, mental health
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.
Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.
First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.
As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.
Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day.
Quick Review: First of all, this was quite a funny book. The characters are difficult, but hilarious (at least those at the apartment viewing), and the situation itself is quirky. But if you take the top layer off, you’ll find that the characters have such vulnerability to them, all of which are relatable. I think Backman was able to weave what seems to be just random characters onto a string that ties them all together.
Also, I love that he omits the names of people for as long as possible, and just refers to them in descriptive qualities.
Good to Great
by Jim Collins
Genre: nonfiction, business, self-help
To find the keys to greatness, Collins’s 21-person research team read and coded 6,000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and created 384 megabytes of computer data in a five-year project. The findings will surprise many readers and, quite frankly, upset others.
Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning.
But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?
For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?
Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world’s greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.
The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good?
The findings of the Good to Great study will surprise many readers and shed light on virtually every area of management strategy and practice. The findings include:
Level 5 Leaders: The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness.
The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within the Three Circles): To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence.
A Culture of Discipline: When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results. Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology.
The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Those who launch radical change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap.
Quick Review: Wow, excuse the long synopsis. I realize I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, and I need to balance it with other genres. So, let’s start with this one. Good to Great is a book that was published in 2001, and it highlighted 11 companies that went from good to great (hence the title) within a 15-year period. I thought they found some interesting nuggets, such as how their leaders were more on the quiet side, or how the companies were more focused on doing things in a structured way versus splashy way.
Unfortunately, some of the 11 companies that they studied are no longer in business or have fallen out of grace. This includes: Circuit City, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae, Philip Morris… So, it might be best to take their findings with a grain of salt.
And there you have it. Another month, another set of books done. I’m quite proud of this set, because some of them were quite lengthy! Plus, I was able to finish two trilogies – the Lord of the Rings and Shadow and Bones. If you’re looking for just one book to read from this list, I can’t recommend The Vanishing Half enough.
What was on your favorites list for August reads?