Summer of ’22 book roundup (June/July/August)

a shameless meta-moment to include my own blog in the pic, but who’s here to stop me?

June Reads:

Amplified by living in a seasonal tourist town, summer in the service industry drains me of energy, brain power, and free time, all culminating in a downward fall in my time spent reading. In order to make my limited attention span and free time as enjoyable as possible, I turned to some new ‘old’ familiars these last two months. I started with a book I remember seeing everywhere when it came out but had yet to pick up, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. I’m always impressed by a story that maintains itself in the midst of several characters while delving well into the interior lives of each. Benjamin offers different narrative points of view while also carrying out her characters storylines over several generations of their lives. I enjoyed the concept and the characters, however, the magical fantasy aspect of the book oddly felt assumed but was never actually realized. That gap in expectation versus reality left a space of disappointment in a way that kept me at a distance. Craving that depth of commentary I can always find in a piece of autofiction, I turned back to Rachel Cusk, an author I’ve recently discovered and am fully enamored by. For the latter part of June, I picked up her most recent work titled, Second Place from the library and found myself sinking into her writing as though reading transcriptions of my own thoughts.

July Reads:

I kicked off July with the final book in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone Trilogy called Ruin & Rising. As with the two previous books, I was absorbed into the YA fantasy that captures that strange balance of simple and complex with regards to things like character development and plot resolution. A welcome distraction from work that required just the right amount of brain power to keep me engaged. Finishing out July, I eagerly dove into the second book in Cusk’s Outline trilogy written in 2016, Transit. This work follows the same fictional author named Faye from the first book as she navigates life after divorce with her two kids and attends a writing conference. As I mentioned in a previous discussion of Cusk, she fits the DWM (depressed woman moving) profile coined by book reviewer CJ reads to an absolute T, capturing the genre of stream of consciousness style narration filtered through a female protagonist simply moving through the world, usually plotlessly. Cusks DWM offers profound meditations throughout on the most seemingly innocuous things, both validating and enabling my hyperactive self-awareness, for better or worse.

August reads:

One of my favorite hats, courtesy of Sunny’s Book Truck – CJ Reads little yellow traveling book shop!

A travel-filled August lent itself to just a single finished book, Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Reading it in the quiet majesty of the Palo Colorado Canyon in Big Sur or the unoccupied beaches along the coast made for some of my best book photos, an unexpected bonus. The story itself was an interesting blend of true crime and mysticism almost, with several narrative voices offering their insights into a series of grisly murders. Sadly, as is often the case with multi-voiced narratives, I didn’t fully jive with this one, but it certainly kept me engaged enough with the story to finish it out, so I can’t complain.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists was published in January 2018 by Putnam books and is 346 pages.

The Immortalists opens with four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon Gold. As curious kids often do, they find themselves tumbling into an unexpected fate. A local psychic named Bruna claims to be able to predict the day you will die, so naturally the Gold children ring her doorbell and get themselves invited insid. Each of the kids goes into her reading room, separately, to learn their fate. Throughout the novel, Benjamin follows each of the siblings as they navigate life, each affected by this profound moment from their childhood differently. As mentioned earlier, my biggest complaint with this book is the heavy implication of some kind of supernatural or magical element to Bruna or her death day predictions. What the plot really boils down to is a broken family unable to communicate with each other in order to heal. Overall, I enjoyed the story and Chloe Benjamins’s writing, just one of those books that fell a bit short for me.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Second Place was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in May 2021 and is 192 pages.

In true autofiction style, this story was inspired by the memoirs of wealthy art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan and her account of hosting author D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda at her home in Taos, NM in 1922. Cusk’s unnamed female protagonist is referred to as simply ‘M’, addressing her stream of consciousness style monologue to an unknown person known as “Jeffers” – a person whom she frequently refers to as being “a moralist”. As frustrating as M is as a protagonist, Cusk manages to use her as a vessel for seemingly endless run on sentences that as a reader, I for some reason enjoy listening to in my head. It’s as though she’s transmuting the words her reader takes in on the page into their minds in a way that feels like listening to a lengthy voicemail or a friend venting over coffee.

Cusk is well known as an incredibly intellectual writer, channeling this cerebral approach through M. as she muses on the artist and her interest in him, having been profoundly affected by his work years prior when she came upon it in by chance. Speaking on the concept of “half creations”, M says, “One can feel, in other words a strange proximity to the process of creation when one sees the principles of art – or of a particular artist – mirrored in the texture of living. This might explain some of the compulsion I felt towards L: when I looked at the marsh, for instance, which seemed to obey so many of his rules of light and perception that it often resembled a painted work by him, I was in a sense looking at works by L that he had not created, and was therefore – I suppose – creating them myself. I’m unsure of the moral status of these half-creations, which I can only hazard is akin to the moral status of influence, and therefore a powerful force for both good and evil in human affairs.” (p. 54-55) Such a many layered concept to meditate on, the idea that all these very intangible things – art, morals, good & evil – can tangle themselves around each other in M’s mind as she simply looks at an empty marsh.

After I’ve read all of Cusk’s books to date, I plan on writing an entire post on her work alone, so I’ll leave you with this incredible line that stopped me in my tracks: “The sun had risen higher and was driving back the shadows of the trees across the grass where we stood, and the water was like-wise advancing, and so we were held between them, in one of those processes of almost imperceptible change that occur in the landscape here, whereby you feel you are participating in an act of becoming.” (p. 59).

Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Ruin & Rising was published in July 2014 by Square Fish, a Macmillan imprint. The hardcover is 422 pages.

The 3rd book in the Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone Trilogy was all that I needed it to be. At this point, it’s been just over 2 months since I’ve read it and my notes are nowhere to be found, so specifics be damned! A brief review on my bookstagram says, “The final book felt a bit like reading the Battle of Hogwarts – there’s bravery and vulnerability, some people die, some nearly die, and everyone is changed forever”. The character arch of Alina was fascinating to follow – from a fledgling fighter to the depths of hopeless despair, to the leader of an army bound by loss and motivated against all odds. It’s difficult to review a storyline with potential spoilers, so I’ll wrap up this up by praising the thoughtful way in which each character was wrapped up – nothing felt too forced or overwrought.

Sidenote: a previous post from my review of the first book revealed my confusion at a few characters from the Netflix adaptation and where they came from. I’ve since realized they’re overlapping different stories within the Grishaverse from Shadow & Bone as well as her duology Six of Crows which includes the title work as well as Crooked Kingdom, just to clear anything up in case I wasn’t the only one in the dark. This duology takes place two years after the end of Shadow & Bone and follows Kaz Brekker and his band of misfits as they navigate the Fold. Following this series, set a year after Crooked Kingdom, is another duology of which I have no insight or summary of with the two books titled, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves, respectively. At the moment I don’t have a burning desire to continue exploring the Grishaverse, but that being said, I’ll be sure to keep these in my back pocket for my next reading slump. YA fantasy just knows how to reel you in!

Transit by Rachel Cusk

Transit was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in January of 2017. The hardcover is 260 pages.

With the second installment of her Outline trilogy, Cusk’s Transit joins our writerly protagonist, Faye, as she navigates a divorce and subsequent move to London with her two sons. The jacket copy reveals a few of the many complex and nuanced themes explored throughout, stating, “Transit…offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.” It goes on to conclude that through her protagonist, Cusk, “…captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life, and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.”

As is the case with her other works, Cusk’s intelligence and keen ability to make an observation only to deconstruct it to its core meaning and patterns makes reading her a masterclass in how to become hyperaware 101. Narrated mostly through conversations with no quotation marks, Cusk utilizes her characters as mouth pieces for much larger conversations. For example, in talking with a friend she’s met for coffee, Faye says, “Sleeping with a man she would very often have this feeling, that she was merely the animus for a pre-existing framework, that she was invisible and that everything he did and said to her he was in fact doing and saying to someone else, someone who wasn’t there, someone who may or may not have even existed. This feeling that she was the invisible witness to another person’s solitude – a kind of ghost – nearly drove her mad for a while” (p.172). Whether or not you as a reader have ever felt this way or not, the specificity of her observation brings it forth as a potential thought to be had, leading to the deeper exploration of what it means for a woman to feel this way in her intimate interactions with men.

A final quote from Transit so I might save the rest for my future ode to Cusk:

I said that my current feelings of powerlessness had changed the way I looked at what happens and why, to the extent that I was beginning to see what other people called fate in the unfolding of events, as though living were merely an act of reading to find out what happens next… I had started to desire power, because what I now realised was that other people had had it all along, that what I called fate was merely the reverbveration of their will, a tale scripted not by some universal storyteller but by people who would elude justice for as long as their actions were met with resignation rather than outrage.”

p. 197-198

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters was published in July of 2014 in Great Britain by HarperCollins. The hardcover is 436 pages.

In Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters, a series of murders occurs in which the victims are mutilated and sewn together with animal parts. The plot sounded just macabre enough that my sick curiosity would be satisfied but not so messed up that I felt completely unsettled reading it (although it sounds a lot more fucked up when I read it back just now.) Told from multiple points of view, we eventually come to learn that there is a different kind of Sinister Thing going on besides the mere atrocities of man. Beukes takes the reader behind the caution tape with Detective Gabriella Versado, mother to Layla, working to solve more problems than she can let herself acknowledge. We simultaneously get to know freelance journalist Jonno, by no means content with his life and willing to do whatever it takes to be the one to break the Next Big Thing. Unfortunately, he finds himself sacrificing more than he even knew he had in order to get what he wants. We also enter the mind of struggling artist Clayton as he experiences blackouts, confusion, and a loss of the self he’s been trying to collect. Our final set of eyes is Thomas Keene, also known as TK, who meets Clayton at an AA meeting, quickly recognizing he’s dealing with an evil beyond that of addiction. Told with the tone of a true crime novel, Broken Monsters layers in elements of the supernatural – a series of chalk doors appear at the crime scenes, an entity of some sort possesses Clayton, making him the unreliable narrator that has all the answers – as Detective Versado works to ensure no more innocent people, including her daughter, find themselves the victims of whatever this Thing may be.

This was one of my “I liked it, but I wanted to like it more” reads. The one I know I’m not going to love, but I brought it with me to the beach and it’s keeping me justtttt interested enough to keep picking it up. Looking back through this story about a month after reading it, I realized one of the reasons I didn’t like the book quite as much as I wanted to was the deliberate withholding Beukes utilizes in order to build tension. It’s a book that reveals itself fully when you don’t yet know what you’re looking at and only later after you think you understand do you realize how obvious the clues have been all along. Italicized epigraphs referencing dreams appear before boldfaced dates on the opposite page. The story opens with one that reads, “I dreamed about a boy with springs for feet so he could jump high. So high I couldn’t catch him. But I did catch him. But then he wouldn’t get up again. I tried so hard. I go him new feet. I made him something beautiful. More beautiful than you could imagine. But he wouldn’t get up. And the door wouldn’t open.” The next one reads, “I dreamed I was a dream of a dream.” Followed by the final one, “I dreamed I was a man”. The vagueness of these read like poetry, only after you’ve read the entirety of the book and look back can you decipher what each was saying in such plain words.

The book has short chapters, and plays with style and form in a way that makes the nearly 400+ page count less daunting. Some pages are intentionally blank, some contain just a bold date, some are transcripts of hotline calls after the fact. Shorter chapters and a less formal structure always make me read more, faster, because I’m tricked into thinking I’m flying through the story. This “genre-defying thriller” was just what I needed for an August travel read, not my #1 favorite but one I recommend, nonetheless.

& with that, my summer reads have been rounded up. So crazy to me that once again, I’ve blinked and summer is gone. It’s officially fall and I’m so looking forward to reading more in the cozy season with my candles, my fluffy comforter and my cozy fairy lights. I have a quick little 2-book September review to finish up that I’ll hopefully post before the end of October appears! My new planner and I are working to find some structure and a schedule so I might find a bit of consistency and carve out a little space for more creative writing stuff I’ve been working on. As the kid from high school that’s always proudly promoting their soundclouds used to say, “Watch this space.” lol



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