Read in August 2022

August was the month of the second semester at Orilium University.
Whenever I participate in a readathon like this, my monthly number of books read often increases immensly, because as an overachiever I usually want to do more than what is strictly necessary.
However, this month I’ve been trying to restrain myself a bit and enjoy the stories I read more slowly. Not that I haven’t read much in August, quite the contrary in fact. Even if I try to be slow, I can still read quite a few books in a month.

Eventually in August I read a total of 13 books, good for 4385 pages. The average August book is about 337 pages/book.

It was also a month of highs and lows as far as my ratings go. The stars given ranged from 1 to 5, with all possible options in between. This puts the average August book at 3.1 stars.

In terms of target audience, I varied between 1 middlegrade, 1 Young Adults and 11 adult books.

As always, I also varied in reading format, with 2 ebooks, 6 audiobooks, 1 borrowed book, and 4 physically owned books.

For the genres I switched between 7 genres, namely thriller (1), graphic novel (1), sci-fi (1), romance (1), historical (1), mystery (2) and fantasy (6).

For the language I stuck to English again and I didn’t read a single book in my native tongue of Flemish/Dutch.

Below is the list of the books I read in August and my star rating.
Click the link to jump to the blurb and my review! As always, be aware that both blurb and review may contain spoilers, especially when it comes to sequels in a series!

  1. Tanabe, Karin – The Gilded Years 🎧 ★★
  2. McGuire, Seanan – Down among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) ★★★★
  3. Smythe, Rachel – Lore Olympus: Volume Two (Lore Olympus #2) ★★★★
  4. Elliott, Lexie – The Missing Years 🎧 ★★★★
  5. Baum, Frank L. – The Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) 🎧 ★★★★
  6. Sanderson, Brandon – The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, Era 2 – Wax & Wayne #3) ★★★★
  7. Kingfisher, T. – Nettle & Bone ★★★★
  8. Miranda, Megan – The Last to Vanish 🎧 ★
  9. Marillier, Juliet – Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grimm #2) ★★★★★
  10. Crouch, Blake – Upgrade 🎧 ★★
  11. Hawkins, Rachel – The Wife Upstairs 🎧 ★★
  12. Black, Holly – Book of Night (Book of Night #1) ★★
  13. Coldbreath, Alice – An Inconvenient Vow (Brides of Karadok #5) ★★★

🎧 Tanabe, Karin – The Gilded Years ★★

Genre: Historical

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s oSince childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal—and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.

The subject matter of this book seemed very interesting to me, but the final execution was too superficial and all in all disappointing.

Although the author had clearly done her research, the story she spun around the first black woman to graduate from a prestigious university by pretending to be white was too frivolous and unbelievable.
There is so much pointless chatter in this book, with extremely wooden dialogue and too much filling. It also seemed to me that the author’s writing style would lent itself more for a non-fiction, which in this case she might have written better on the subject.

How the secret finally comes to light is so unbelievable. It was completely out of line with how the main character’s character had been portrayed until then.

McGuire, Seanan – Down among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) ★★★★

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

This was such a fun, whimsical, creepy and dark story! I enjoyed this more than the first book in the series.

In this instalment we learn more about the past of the sisters Jack and Jill from the first book, but nevertheless this story can be read on its own.
Jack & Jill’s parents are obsessed with outward appearances and as a result push the girls into specific and restrictive roles. Because of this, both girls struggle so hard with their identities that when they find themselves in a dark world full of monsters, they finally feel like themselves.

This book reads as a dark fairy tale with a deeper message.
I look forward to reading more in this series.

Smythe, Rachel – Lore Olympus: Volume Two (Lore Olympus #2) ★★★★

Genre: Graphic Novel – Fantasy

Witness what the gods do after dark in the second volume of a stylish and contemporary reimagining of one of the best-known stories in Greek mythology from creator Rachel Smythe.

Persephone was ready to start a new life when she left the mortal realm for Olympus. However, she quickly discovered the dark side of her glamorous new home—from the relatively minor gossip threatening her reputation to a realm-shattering violation of her safety by the conceited Apollo—and she’s struggling to find her footing in the fast-moving realm of the gods. Hades is also off-balance, fighting against his burgeoning feelings for the young goddess of spring while maintaining his lonely rule of the Underworld. As the pair are drawn ever closer, they must untangle the twisted webs of their past and present to build toward a new future.

I was thrilled to be able to return to the world of Lore Olympus and am already looking forward to diving into volume three!

In this second volume, the story picks up right where the first one ended, but also introduces some new colourful characters.

I love the drawing style and how colour is used in this comic. Not only beautiful, but also functional and meaningful.

This story is one big soap opera, which of course fits very well with a retelling of Greek myths.
Despite the colourful rendering of the drawings, the author does not shy away from the dark and problematic side of these stories and she does so in a way that also makes it relevant in our modern culture.

I came for the mutual yearning between Hades and Persephone, but I remain equally as much for all the side stories and characters. However, the choices Hades made towards the end of this part make me unhappy and I really need the next part to see how this is going to pan out!

🎧 Elliott, Lexie – The Missing Years ★★★★

Genre: Mystery

An eerie, old Scottish manor in the middle of nowhere that’s now hers.

Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.

At first I didn’t like the narrator’s almost whispery voice, but I got used to this quite quickly and I even started to love it, especially when a Scottish accent was used or for little Callum’s voice.

I found this story quite spooky, with the house being a full-fledged character. The stuffy atmosphere seeped out of the story and I almost felt like I was reading this while sitting in that haunted house myself.

The pace is slow, a calm momentum is built up, creating a constant threatening and fearful feeling. This is perfectly balanced with the no-nonsense attitude of the main character, who doesn’t shy away from following her own intuition.

I loved the ending. How the author can provide a plausible explanation for every strange event, but the question of whether something supernatural was going on still lingers.

Great mystery and an author I will be keeping an eye on!

🎧 Baum, Frank L. – The Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) ★★★★

Genre: Middlegrade Fantasy

Follow the yellow brick road!
Dorothy thinks she is lost forever when a terrifying tornado crashes through Kansas and whisks her and her dog, Toto, far away to the magical land of Oz. To get home Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and find the wonderfully mysterious Wizard of Oz. Together with her companions the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion whom she meets on the way, Dorothy embarks on a strange and enchanting adventure.

This was a really nice and sweet story!
It’s been a long time since I saw the Wizard of Oz movie, so my knowledge of the story was already very much faded. Still, I’m pretty sure this original book tells a slightly different story than the one from the movie and I was so pleasantly surprised to discover new creatures and side stories.
I just found the ending a bit abrupt, but that didn’t take away from the fact that this was just an enjoyable story to read.

Sanderson, Brandon – The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, Era 2 – Wax & Wayne #3) ★★★★

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

The Bands of Mourning are the mythical metal minds owned by the Lord Ruler, said to grant anyone who wears them the powers that the Lord Ruler had at his command. Hardly anyone thinks they really exist. A kandra researcher has returned to Elendel with images that seem to depict the Bands, as well as writings in a language that no one can read. Waxillium Ladrian is recruited to travel south to the city of New Seran to investigate. Along the way he discovers hints that point to the true goals of his uncle Edwarn and the shadowy organization known as The Set.

Again a fantastic adventure in the style of a western with Indiana Jones thrown in the mix.

The way the Mistborn world is expanded again is both awe inspiring and intriguing.
Can’t wait to find out more and I simultaneously want to restart the series from the beginning, because I’m sure that I can discover new clues upon a second read.

I also really loved the character developments in this one, especially Steris. She first was a bit of an unknown, but I quickly started rooting for her and I really love her developing relationship with Wax.
Wayne is also favourite. He’s extremely rude and single minded, has a very warped sense of logic that I find both endearing and flabbergasting. He’s a character you both hate and love, both frustrates and charms. I hope he never changes.

The storyline in this one was amazing. I loved the additions to the world and the exploration of Wax’s past. Part of this was kind of predictable and some events weren’t my favourites, although I understand why they were included.

As often is the case with a Sanderson book, that ending got me reeling. I can’t believe he’s going there! So curious on how this is going to continue.

Kingfisher, T. – Nettle & Bone ★★★★

Genre: Adult Fantasy

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires.

This story starts as a horror novel and sets a tone that it ultimately doesn’t live up to. It does continue to evoke strong atmospheric images, which lifts the book to a higher level, but I felt a bit mislead and wish I liked this more than I eventually did.

“So you built yourself a dog and found yourself a wolf. If a fox shows up looking for you, we’ll have a proper fairy tale and I’ll start to worry.”
“Why?” asked Marra. “If I’m in a fairy tale, I might actually have a chance’.”
“Fairy tales,” said the dust-wife heavily, éare very hard on bystanders. Particularly old women. I’d rather not dance myself to death in iron shous, if it’s all the same to you.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed this book, but in the end it didn’t captivate me as much as I had hoped.
I especially liked how traditional fairytale elements were used and how we’re introduced to a lot of interesting concepts and new interpretations, but most of it remained on the surface level, leaving a lot of open questions. The characters also remained a bit too vague for me to get emotionally invested.
All in all, I enjoyed the story while reading, but in the end felt that it missed heart and passion and ultimately left me a bit let down.

I’ve had a lot of trouble deciding on my star rating and constantly fluctuated between a 4 (because I really loved the ideas) and a 3 (but the execution left me a but deflated). In the end, I settled on a 3.

🎧 Miranda, Megan – The Last to Vanish

Genre: Mystery

Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett fell into a job she loves, managing The Passage Inn, a cozy, upscale resort nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Cutter’s Pass. Cutter’s Pass is best known for its outdoor offerings—rafting and hiking, with access to the Appalachian trail by way of a gorgeous waterfall—and its mysterious history. As the book begins, the string of unsolved disappearances that has haunted the town is once again thrust into the spotlight when journalist Landon West, who was staying at the inn to investigate the story of the vanishing trail, then disappears himself.

Abby has sometimes felt like an outsider within the community, but she’s come to view Cutter’s Pass as her home. When Landon’s brother Trey shows up looking for answers, Abby can’t help but feel the town closing ranks. And she’s still on the outside. When she finds incriminating evidence that may bring them closer to the truth, Abby soon discovers how little she knows about her coworkers, neighbors, and even those closest to her.

Slow and boring.

From the beginning I found the storytelling style tedious and I had trouble getting into the story. However, the premise seemed to promise a compelling and intriguing story, so I persevered, expecting the pace to pick up at some point.
Unfortunately this was not the case. The book remained slow and dull, with most of the plot being told in a very monotonous way in a true infodump style, with no action at all.
I also found the resolution a disappointment and it therefore could not save the story for me.

Marillier, Juliet – Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grimm #2) ★★★★★

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

“The tower wore a soft shroud of mist; though it was past dawn, no cries broke the silence. Perhaps he slept, curled tight on himself, dreaming of a time when he was whole and hale and handsome.”

There is something about Juliet Marillier’s writing that makes me think of golden autumn days, of the smell of a forest after rain, when the canopy is still dripping and brave sunrays are hazily shining through the holes. It’s like a cozy reading chair in front of a crackling fire. I love how bewitching and immersive it is.

“Every ancient tale has truth at its heart. But after years and years of retelling, the shape of those old stories changes. What may once have been simple and easily recognized becomes strange, wondrous and magical.”

This particular story was absolutely magical. Once again Marillier shows herself a master of using traditional folklore and fairytale elements to weave an entirely unique tale.
I loved every second of this story and was simultaneously racing towards the end while wanting to stay and bask in its unknowns. It was bittersweet and enchanting.

“Seeing her this way’s like magic, not spells and curses but a good kind of magic. Like spring flowers and sunshine and children laughing.”

I already loved Grimm and Blackthorn as characters in book one, but this book solidified them as some of my favourites. My heart truly goes out to them and I loved learning more about Grimm’s past in this instalment.

“Thing is, the story’s like a different world. While you’re in it, anything can happen”

Now I both want to dive right into the last book of this series, while wanting to savor it for another time, to still have it in my future to look forward to.
Absolutely breathtaking!

🎧 Crouch, Blake – Upgrade ★★

Genre: Sci-Fi

You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

This is in part a doom story, combined with the film Limitless and a Mission Impossible-esque high stake action adventure.

The author had clearly done his research and wanted to share his insights, sometimes with a too heavy hand, since we got too many long and boring passages of info dumping. Even the action scene’s failed to really grip me.

I did find the theme quite interesting and the ultimate message was beautiful and thought provoking, but it wasn’t really all that original.

“We don’t have an intelligence problem. We have a compassion problem. That, more than any other single factor, is what’s driving us toward extinction.”

The fact that this was a high-stakes, global-risk type of story, failed to get me emotionally connected. It’s weird to say, but the fact that all of humanity was at risk, touched me less than the too few scenes of personal loss and consequence.
And yes, I do see the irony in this, since this was precisely the message the author wanted to convey.

All in all, this was a book with an interesting premise and a noteworthy message, although not entirely original, with an unfortunately boring execution.
This is in part a doom story, combined with the film Limitless and a Mission Impossible-esque high stake action adventure.

🎧 Hawkins, Rachel – The Wife Upstairs ★★

Genre: Thriller

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates—a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie­ Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie—not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past—or his—catches up to her?

The fact that this was inspired by Jane Eyre combined with the title of the book, kind of spoil the entire mystery?! I don’t get it.

I would maybe have enjoyed this if the author didn’t try to hype this book up by using Jane Eyre in a gratuitously and horrible way.
The characters were just name dropping and lacked any real connection to the original; and the quotes used were just an unsavory pastiche (“Reader, I f**ked him.” I mean, really? Was that necessary?).

Just no.

Black, Holly – Book of Night (Book of Night #1) ★★

Genre: Fantasy

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

I liked it more than expected, but it has so many flaws. Seriously lacking in world-building and pacing.
My more detailled opinion can be read here.

Coldbreath, Alice – An Inconvenient Vow (Brides of Karadok #5) ★★★

Genre: Romantiek

Never did Sabina Burrell imagine that foiling a plot against her sister would lead to her having to wed the arrogant Sir Jeffree de Crecy! She has never met such a loathsome man, and that included her late, unlamented husband!
Sir Jeffree, raised in the expectation of succeeding to his uncle’s title, is appalled to become ensnared in a scheme to discredit his uncle’s new bride. The whole thing is beneath his dignity, as is the shameless young widow who denounces him in front of everyone and makes him look a fool!

Jeffree will do anything to salvage his honor, even if it means wedding a woman he despises. Revenge will be sweet indeed, ensuring Sabina pays for what she did. What he does not anticipate, is that his own long-prized vow of chastity will be so very sorely tried…

I don’t remember the obscure route that led me to this book, but it seemed to me exactly what I was craving at the moment.

The writing was really compelling, after I got used to it. It was very long for what the story eventually told, but I did enjoy it overall.
I did hope it would be more slowburn, seeing that the book was so long, but the confession of love came rather fast and without any real build up. It was kind of hard to believe it was real.

I couldn’t really understand the heroines behaviour half of the time either. She was often so contrary without good reason and then felt sorry for herself when she got exactly what she wanted.

The resolution of the story was kind of weird and we never really got an explanation for the motives that set the story up.

But I did enjoy it overall, especially the banter and snarky combacks.
And I did read it super quick. I read a big chunk of it on the train and was surprised when I already arrived at my destination, which is a testament to how immersive it was.
Will be reading more from this author.