Books, Real Life

July Wrap-Up: Historical fiction remains my nemesis

Hello!

Last month I reread 8 books, an indication that I was under a lot of stress.

I remember being busy and social.

I saw my family and a few friends I haven’t seen since before the pandemic.

One of my friends moved to L.A., another announced an upcoming move, and yet another returned from her thru-hike early (but won’t move back to Seattle.)

I tried the poutine at my favorite burger joint and now will eat nothing else.

I watched Interview With a Vampire for the first time and it CHANGED ME.

I’ve been struggling to stay on a schedule with school. The Steam Summer Sale and EA’s Sims 4 markdown certainly haven’t helped.

My church is meeting in-person again, though my book club and writing group are still online.

My state lifted the mask requirement on June 30th only for the Delta variant to crop up and for the CDC to change their mask recommendation for vaccinated folks.

Looking at it now, I see this is a decent amount of stress.

Somehow, through it all, I got some reading done.

But first…

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July Stats

In July, I completed 17 books and DNFed 5 books.

Of the books I read,

  • 59% were fiction
  • 27% were nonfiction
  • 14% were graphic novels
  • 59% were physical books
  • 18% were audiobooks
  • 23% were e-books
  • 36% were Young Adult
  • 50% were Adult
  • 9% were Middle Grade
  • 5% were Children’s
  • 64% were new books
  • 36% were rereads

My Princess Diaries reread has once again skewed my genre pie chart.

July genre breakdown pie chart

17 genres total

Though fantasy is back on top, romance and contemporary aren’t far behind.

Also, I didn’t realize I read so many different genres last month.

I read ONE book about yoga, hence the Sports and Self Help sections.

You’ll notice some generous ratings in my rating bar chart.

You’ll also notice a lot of 3-star reads.

It was a challenging month.

Star ratings bar chart
17 reviews
Average rating: 3.76

We can blame Princess Diaries again for this.

Some of the books do NOT hold up as well as others.

Mainly, Lilly is a terrible friend and everyone is transphobic.

Also, Valentine Princess throws canon consistency right out the window. It’s embarrassing.

Mood pie chart, 11 moods total

Top moods: lighthearted, emotional

I love that lighthearted and emotional are generally in my top 3 moods.

The mood diversity can be attributed to a few thrillers, several books by Emily Rapp Black, and Hanif Abdurraqib’s latest.

I guess the lighthearted reads were to make up for all the emotionally heavy ones.

Notable Books

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned A Little Devil in America on the blog before.

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib. Image from Amazon.

My local bookseller recommended it when I asked for book bingo recommendations. I will now read anything he suggests.

Abdurraqib makes you view pop culture moments such as Beyonce’s half-time show at Super Bowl 2016 differently.

He also forces you to pay attention to acts and artists that have been largely forgotten or underappreciated.

I love how Abdurraqib wove his experiences with depression into each essay.

This book is Top 10 material for sure.

Before I rip historical fiction as a genre to shreds, I want to talk about another favorite book from last month.

The Wolf and the Woodsman built a convincing world, incorporated real history, and made a seemingly impossible enemies-to-lovers romance work.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

And I mean WORK.

There’s a scene I still think about because…it’s…very…good.

I liked the complexities of paganism, the contrast in religious traditions, the brutal deconstruction of Catholicism, and the bleak look at antisemitic persecution.

Reading this was visceral. I felt every shoulder wound and amputation.

I was really worried the ending would ruin the book for me but luckily it didn’t. I sobbed. I want a sequel.

Okay, NOW it’s time to slander historical fiction.

My church’s book club picked The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane for July.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Tea Girl was a massive letdown from the high brought on by The Wolf and the Woodsman.

I felt frustrated because others at book club felt that the author’s impeccable research rendered the book impervious to critique.

I don’t think historical fiction should automatically be considered good if all the historical and contextual information is accurate; I consider research a BARE MINIMUM for the genre.

I say this because facts do nothing for me as a reader. With novels, I need to feel emotionally invested in the plot and characters. I’ll overlook factual errors (to a point) if the author makes me feel something.

To me, Tea Girl could have worked as nonfiction. As a novel, it completely failed. The characters acted too much like plot devices for me to care about them.

As I mentioned previously, ALL of the worldbuilding and scene setting was conveyed through expository dialogue.

I was so bored, I couldn’t make myself care about the controversial infanticide scene.

I’m responsible for the book club’s August pick (The Black Flamingo) and I HOPE the others can see WHY I prefer Flamingo to Tea Girl‘s dry prose.

While we’re on the genre, I read another historical fiction novel in the final days of June, but didn’t finish it until August. I’ll complain about that mess next month.

Two non-historical recent releases let me down last month and I want to discuss them both.

Meet Cute Diary wasn’t at all what I expected. I don’t mean this as a compliment.

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

The plot made absolutely no sense to me.

I’d assumed that the protagonist Noah wrote fictional stories that his readers took issue with (e.g., “This doesn’t ring true!”) because of Noah’s lack of experience.

Nope. Dude is just making up trans meet cutes and pitching them as real.

He’s appalled when a “troll” accuses him of faking his stories (which he is) and is outraged when said “troll” dedicates an entire blog to debunking him.

He’s convinced his fake love stories are giving trans kids hope and thereby saving lives.

If you want to give trans kids hope…why not write fiction??? Why not write inspiring stories that help trans kids imagine a better future, the way this book purports to do???

I decided to DNF this book when I got to the fake dating ploy, in which love interest Drew declares that fake-dating Noah will prove the blog is real.

HOW?? HOW DOES THIS PROVE THE BLOG IS REAL???

I had other issues with the book, but this was the final straw.

Surely it’s possible for books to have good rep AND plots that make sense AND (God forbid) characters to root for.

The other disappointment of the month was The Darkness Outside Us and I feel like I’m to blame.

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

I don’t know how or why I convinced myself that this was about enemy teens fighting off space pirates together.

This book is…not that.

The first half ended in a game-changing reveal that changed the nature of the book.

The story relied on dramatic irony to build tension and I didn’t think it worked. It felt like the author was trying to fill pages before the final reveal.

I skimmed the last 40 pages because I couldn’t make myself care.

Also, because I didn’t buy the book’s thesis about love, I didn’t feel a thing for these characters.

Anyway, I was super wrong about the plot! This is a romantic sci-fi thriller, I guess?? It takes some WEIRD TURNS.

I’ll end this post with a book I actually liked.

I read Ace of Spades and lost my damn mind.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

I listened to the audiobook version and was screaming for most of the runtime.

I didn’t know how Àbíké-Íyímídé would deliver on her promise of “Gossip Girl meets Get Out,” but she did it.

This book had a twisty plot and some HEAVY emotional stakes.

Multiple moments in Devon’s story made me emotional. He goes through so much.

I liked everything about this. The social commentary works, the twists got me, and the emotions punched me in my soft belly.

Highly, highly recommend.

That was a busy month!

So far August has been hot and work has been stressful!

I don’t like it at all!

Hope you all are keeping cool and staying safe and reading as much as you want.

4 thoughts on “July Wrap-Up: Historical fiction remains my nemesis”

  1. Re: super expository historical fiction: I HATE IT. Yes, research is the bare minimum. The best historical fiction I’ve read, the authors always says they researched the crap out of the time they were writing in, and then proceeded to throw out whatever didn’t work to give the characters a good setting. See Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’, and most things by Philipa Gregory. (have you read Philipa Gregory? I attribute my ability to pass the UK citizenship to her books. Also, every book of hers I’ve read is UK politics / shenanigans told from the perspectives of the women of the time, and that just makes it much better because so much of it is just nonsensical willy waving otherwise.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nonsensical willy waving is the best term for extraneous detail. Idk if authors think they’re clever when they attach history lessons to cardboard cutout characters? Like, “GET IT, YOU’RE LEARNING ACTUALLY.” I KNOW, AND YOU’RE DOING A BAD JOB OF IT. RESEARCH IS SUPPOSED TO ENHANCE, NOT REPLACE, YOUR PROJECT. GAAAH.
      I haven’t read Philippa Gregory and now I feel like this is an oversight. Which of hers would you recommend?

      Like

      1. “Nonsensical willy waving” refers to the cismale side of history in general. 😛

        Philippa Gregory is prolific! I have only read three of her books, all from her Plantagenet/Tudor series. I heartily enjoyed “The Other Boleyn Girl”.

        What I love about her work in general is that she researches it really well AND reads between the lines. Her thing is pointing out how women empowered themselves in the court, which was far more cleverly than men who just competed over whose *cough, cough* sword/army was bigger or who had the most men bribed to their side. Women had to actually plan shit and play the long game. AND THEY DID. THEY PERSISTED. ALWAYS.

        Like

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