Hi, friends! Thanks for joining me today; I’m so glad you’re here 💙. Today I’m sharing my August 2021 Wrap-Up. I know what you’re thinking: It’s almost November! And to that, I say: why you gotta call me out like that? I missed posting a few monthly wrap-ups, and I figured it would be better to sprinkle a few posts over the rest of the year than to pretend those posts never happened… right? Anyway, let’s get into it!
What I Read in August 2021
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The first book I read in August 2021 was Matt Haig’s 2020 Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction winner: The Midnight Library. If you haven’t heard everyone and their mom talk about this book, here’s a little rundown of the plot. The Midnight Library follows main character Nora Seed. After attempting to take her own life, she finds herself in a magical library that exists between life and death. Every book in this library represents an alternate life she could have been living had she only made a different choice at some point in her life. It can also transport her to that life. In one life, she’s an Olympic swimmer; in another, she fronts an internationally-famous rock band that she started with her brother.
As weird as it is to say, the beginning was my favorite part of the story. It’s the most hopeless and sad part of the story since it leads to Nora choosing to end her life. However, I found it to also be the most engaging and well-written segment of the novel. It’s hard to get these Groundhog Day-type stories right since it takes a precarious balance of pacing and driving home the themes, and I can’t say Matt Haig truly nailed it. The ending was by far the most unrealistic and rushed part of the story, and that’s what left me with a negative impression upon finishing. You can read more of my thoughts in my Goodreads Review.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful, Groundhog Day-style story with an uplifting (albeit slightly unrealistic) lesson, The Midnight Library might be for you.
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing The Midnight Library on Bookshop.org.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is Mohsin Hamid’s 2017 Booker Prize-nominated novel. It follows Nadia and Saeed as they travel across the world via various magical doorways, seeking refuge from their home country, torn apart by civil war. One part climate dystopia, one part magical realism, and one whole moving, human story, Exit West is an observant and beautifully written tale about the immigrant experience. Using magical doorways as the vehicle for travel in this novel allows Hamid to tell a story about life as an immigrant without focusing on the harrowing experience of migration.
Exit West also explores how intimate relationships can be born out of trauma and fear without romanticizing that trauma. Magical realism isn’t for everyone, and some readers might not connect to the narrative structure of this novel. Still, I personally found this to be a beautiful and quietly heartbreaking story. It humanizes a group of people who are never quite looked upon with enough empathy and highlights how universal and human their struggles, wants, and needs really are.
If you don’t mind magical realism and want a character-driven story with two protagonists you can genuinely love and become invested in, Exit West might be for you.
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing Exit West on Bookshop.org.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The next book I read in August 2021 was Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2020 Goodreads Choice Award for Horror winner: Mexican Gothic. This is set in 1950s Mexico and features protagonist Noemí. Noemí is an excitable and indulgent young woman on a mission to understand what’s going on with her cousin, Catalina, after receiving a series of disturbing, cryptic letters. Catalina has just married into a reclusive, wealthy family, and Noemí soon realizes that Catalina may not be as far gone from reality as her letters suggested. Noemí becomes determined to find out the truth, but she must do so without arousing the suspicions of her extended family.
I truly loved the writing in Mexican Gothic: Silvia Moreno-Garcia perfectly captures the essence of a classic gothic novel. However, she also makes it fresh and new by infusing the familiar (and often colonial) genre tropes with the unique aspects of Mexican culture and history. That said, I never really felt connected to Noemí as a character. She had very few vulnerabilities and didn’t ever seem to learn from them when they were exploited by other characters. I also felt the ending was a bit rushed and tonally at odds with the anti-colonial message of the rest of the book. But that writing tho! I loved it enough to convince me to read another novel by this author before the end of the year (stay tuned for September’s wrap-up for that).
If you’re looking for a gothic novel filled with suspense and all the classic genre tropes while offering a fresh and diverse cultural perspective, Mexican Gothic might be for you!
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing Mexican Gothic on Bookshop.org.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Death on the Nile is Agatha Christie’s 1929 novel and the seventeenth entry in the Hercule Poirot series. This installment follows the titular detective as he attempts to take a vacation but is (as ever) thwarted by the devious plans of yet another ne’er do well. This was the third and final Agatha Christie novel on my list for this year, but it is by far the best one. The jacket copy presents a straightforward murder mystery: a character turns up dead, and our favorite Belgian detective hunts for their killer. But the plot has so many more layers and fascinating characters than the blurb lets on.
Like the other two Christie mysteries I read this year (both featured in my July Wrap-Up), I figured out the gist of this mystery pretty early on. But, just as it was with And Then There Were None and Cards on the Table, I still enjoyed the ride. In fact, this was probably the most fun I had reading any mystery so far this year. It’s hard to go in-depth about what makes Death on the Nile work so well without spoiling things. Suffice it to say now that I have some faces attached to the character names, I am even more excited to finally see this novel’s adaptation!
If you want to read a light and fun murder mystery without sacrificing those juicy twists and turns, then Death on the Nile is definitely for you!
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing Death on the Nile on Bookshop.org.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
The next book I read in August 2021 was Bridget Collins’s 2019 Historical Fantasy about a world where people visit bookbinders to relieve themselves of their burdens. In this world, patrons tell the bookbinders what’s troubling them. Once their memories are recorded in the book, they are forgotten. These memories no longer have the ability to haunt the person. Our main character is Emmett Farmer, an adolescent boy with a strong proclivity toward the bookbinders’ magic. While apprenticing to take over the practice, Emmett learns a lot more about himself, his powers, and his past than he ever expected.
While I loved the writing style and the premise of The Binding, I couldn’t help but feel let down by the execution of the plot and the pacing. This book, like many others, uses nonchronological storytelling to absolutely zero effect. Segments of this story were told out of place, and while I still liked the plot points and what they added to the story, I just felt like a cheap gimmick to present them out of order. In my opinion, it would have been just as emotionally impactful if told chronologically. This ended up hurting the pacing quite a bit. Ultimately, I was left feeling that this would have been an excellent 200ish page novella, rather than the bloated and meandering novel we ended up with.
If you’re looking for a historical fantasy book with a unique premise and beautiful writing, and you don’t mind a bit of a slower read, then The Binding might be for you!
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing The Binding on Bookshop.org.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Exhalation is Ted Chiang’s second published collection of short stories, released in 2019. These stories include “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” “The Great Silence,” “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” the titular “Exhalation,” and others. Many of the stories presented in Exhalation contain some incredibly original ideas. Others tell unique stories meditating on common science-fiction questions. All of the stories are beautiful and human, even if the characters themselves aren’t.
I have read Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life,” which is the basis for one of my favorite films, Arrival. However, I have not read the collection that includes that story: Stories of Your Life and Others, which instantly became a top-priority read for me in 2022 after finishing this book. It’s tough to talk about what I loved so much about the stories in Exhalation without going into detail on things I think you’re better off experiencing yourself. So I’ll just leave you with this:
If you’re looking for some incredibly original, highly inspiring science-fiction short stories that will make you think, feel, and cry, then Exhalation is definitely for you.
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing Exhalation on Bookshop.org.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The final book I read in August 2021 was Gillian Flynn’s bestselling thriller, Gone Girl. I’m pretty sure this book needs no introduction, but on the off chance it does, here goes. Gone Girl tells the story of Nick Dunne after he discovers his wife Amy has disappeared without a trace. The story is told in alternative chapters/perspectives. For every chapter with Nick’s perspective following Amy’s disappearance, we get one diary entry from Amy. These diary entries range in dates from all the way back to when they first met, through more recent years and months in their marriage. The diary entries also reveal a story that sometimes diverges significantly from the picture Nick is painting of their relationship to friends, family, and reporters in real-time.
Ultimately, there wasn’t a single thing I hated about Gone Girl, but I also didn’t truly love any part of this story. The writing was highly unsubtle, the characters are all basically built from the same template, and the pacing is very uneven. The first half of the book is undoubtedly the most tedious and uninteresting part of the story. The middle gets quite fascinating (iykyk). The end just kind of sneaks up on you, and then… it’s over. It is very apparent which scenes existed in this novel’s outline and which moments Flynn had to include to make sure her disparate plot threads actually connected. As much as it pains me to say it, the movie was actually better than the book. You can read more of my thoughts in my Goodreads review.
If you’re looking for a thriller novel full of anti-hero-type unlikeable characters and don’t mind a bit of on-the-nose writing, Gone Girl might be for you. Or you might just watch the movie and get the same, if not better, experience.
Support a local bookstore (and this blog!) by purchasing Gone Girl on Bookshop.org.
Wrapping Up the August 2021 Wrap-Up
So, there you have it. This is everything I read in August 2021. My favorite book I read in August was definitely Exhalation, and my most disappointing read was probably The Binding. Emphasis on disappointing because I was really looking forward to that one.
I didn’t include a “What I’m Currently Reading” or a TBR section like I usually do in my wrap-ups because, well, it’s not August anymore. But, fear not! I’ll be back soon with my (still late) September Wrap-Up, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon. 💙