I’m incredibly conscious now of the fact that I start every monthly wrap-up post with a generic line about how the year is flying by so fast, and that I can’t believe it’s X month already, even though it’s always true. So, I refuse to do that from here on out. But then… how do I start these posts? I’m in sort of a sticky situation.
July was a month of ups and downs in my personal life.
It started with a bang – quite literally. For the first time since I moved to the US, I was actually in New York City for July 4th, so my parents and I headed over to Manhattan to the East River to watch the legendary Macy’s fireworks show. Getting there a few hours early just to score a good spot was worth it – the show was absolutely beautiful, and I loved a nice outing with my family. My parents are always so busy with their business, and I’m almost always away for school, we rarely get to spend time together. The occasion was nice, if only for that.
I’m such a lazy person, you have no idea. I can spend days inside the house, watching TV, reading books, listening to music for days without a care in the world, so it’s surprising how many times I actually got off my ass and headed into the city this month. I live quite far away when I’m not dorm-ing for university. I need to take a train for forty-five minutes, then a thirty-minute ferry just to get into the city… then, the Manhattan travel is another story completely. But one day, I set aside everything and headed to the city to hang out with a friend. We saw The Big Sick, I broke my book-buying ban for just a little while and bought four books from the Strand, and then I saw Spiderman: Homecoming at the iMax in Lincoln Square. I honestly thought Spiderman: Homecoming wasn’t worth the hype, but I still enjoyed the film; The Big Sick was wonderful though.
I finally joined the gym, much to the glee of my parents, lol. I’ve been meaning to lose weight for a really long time now, but I hate exercising – especially if it’s the gym. I like to swim, but there aren’t any good pools around me, so the gym is always my last resort. I almost never want to go willingly. But hopefully I’ll start making a change to my lifestyle. It’s needed.
In memory of Chester Bennington
Perhaps the one thing that hit me hardest this summer was the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington’s death. When I was nine years old, I had just lost my younger brother to cancer, and my parents and I moved across the world from London to Pakistan to start over, for all intents and purposes. I had suddenly become an only-child, my parents’ relationship was fraying at the edges with more fights than I could handle, and I found myself in a surrounding that was completely foreign to me. At that time, I relied almost entirely on music to get me through the day. And when Linkin Park’s music came into my life, suddenly I felt that there was someone in the world I could relate to.
Ever since, I’ve turned to the band’s music – in its always-evolving creativity – to get me through some of my hardest times. The band wasn’t something that was there for me during my childhood or teenage years – they were there for me now. They were the first celebrities I decided to properly fangirl over, to the point of watching backstage videos of them goofing around, having fun. I sat through hours and hours of concert footage, in complete awe. I’ve cried with them, I’ve laughed with them, I’ve hurt with them… and then, to suddenly get the news that the person who literally saved your life has passed away by taking his own? That broke me for a while.
I spent days mourning Chester. I cried for him, and I’ve never cried over a celebrity death before- it just hit me so deeply in a place that hadn’t hurt for a long time. I spent days beating myself up: 1) I didn’t even know him, so how in the world could this hit me so hard, and 2) if he really did save my life, I strangely felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything to ease the pain he was in. But then I realized a few things – Chester’s music touched me because he was open about what he was going through, and by sharing himself, his heart and soul, he helped a lot of people. This became apparent as millions of people around the world mourned him, and wrote thinkpieces about how much Chester meant to them in their teenage years. And I realized that I wasn’t alone in mourning someone I didn’t know; he wasn’t just a singer, just some celebrity. He was my support system in my darkest of times, and I had come to consider him a friend. For me, losing him was like losing a friend, and it hurt. A lot.
I’ll miss Chester a lot, because for a while there after his death, I felt lost. Back in that nine year-old body. A kid who doesn’t know what to do anymore. How are you supposed to live in a world where the person who saved your life ends up taking his own? But with the support of my friends, the community and Linkin Park and Chester themselves, I’ve learned that it’s okay to hurt. It’s strange, but ever since he passed, I’ve shared more about my insecurities with my friends than I ever had before, and I’m slowly starting to learn that it’s alright to be vulnerable with people. We’re all human beings who hurt and suffer, and it’s so important to tell people what you’re going through. Ultimately, I’ll always be thankful to him, and the band for making me who I am, for staying with me when there wasn’t a light to hold on to. I’ll be… always thankful. And I’ll always remember Chester, both for what he’s done for me, and for the kind, funny, wonderful, brave person he was.
But you’re all here for my reading wrap-up, so enough of this, and let’s get into the books!
I read a lot this month. And by a lot, I mean a LOT.
Back in 2014, there was a time when I was reading an average of one book every two days. Somewhere along the way, I lost my mojo – I blame Netflix and school, but after years, this month was an incredible one. I was reading constantly – in the form of audiobooks, backlist books, ARCs, whatever. I’m on a book-buying ban; I can only buy a new book after I have read five books that I already own, and in an effort to buy a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, I’ve been reading my owned books quicker. Does that make sense? So in total, I read a whopping sixteen books! A bunch of them were great reads – some of them were bad eggs, so here’s the breakdown by the order in which I read them:
EARTH BOY (SON OF DJINN #2) BY SAMI SHAH // 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Earth Boy was an incredible finale to an incredible duology full of djinn, chudails, infused with South Asian and Islamic lore, full to the brim with genuine scares, beautifully constructed writing, dark humor, and complicated social issues. I am so deeply in love with the world Sami Shah has crafted, with the characters in these two books, and the fierce adventures they go on. It’s genuinely dark and delicious with creatures and myths from some of my worst nightmares, but not only that, Sami Shah also ensures that he discusses relevant things like intolerance, poverty and terrorism while he’s telling a fast-paced, action-packed story. I cannot recommend this duology enough. It’s so underrated, so please check it out!
Triggers apply for: Torture, rape, child abuse, terrifying scenes, strong violence.
LITTLE & LION BY BRANDY COLBERT // 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2
Little & Lion was definitely my favorite book of the month. It’s a wholesome contemporary by definition of the concept with a strong focus on one girl’s relationship with her stepbrother, her family, her friends, her two crushes, and herself. It’s a book with a diverse cast of characters, tackling issues of racism, microaggressions, biphobia, mental health stigma, and figuring out who you are at an age where very little makes sense. It’s a book I will recommend for a long, long time. It releases on the 8th of this month, so please jump on it. Here’s my review.
Triggers apply for: Micro-aggressions for racism, biphobia, lesbophobic slurs, mental health stigma, anxiety, bipolar disorder.
THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE & VIRTUE BY MACKENZI LEE // 🌟🌟🌟
This was a book I was highly anticipating, and considering the hype monster around it, I was super excited to get to it. It’s a tome of a book with almost 600 pages with a diverse cast of characters on a road trip in eighteenth century Europe. There’s adventure, humor, romance, sex, scandal and some magic thrown in the mix, resulting in an extremely fast-paced, action-packed book that’s just incredibly fun to read. But despite enjoying it, I couldn’t bring myself to like the main character. He was too frat-boyish to me, and I understand he’s meant to be unlikable in order for the redemption to happen, but he says way too many things and does way too many things for me to be able to forgive him over the course of a hundred or so pages. Moreover, I felt the paranormal aspect fell flat, and the plot could’ve been more cohesive.
Triggers apply for: racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism.
THE 57 BUS BY DASHKA SLATER // 🌟🌟
Like most autobiographies/biographies, I’m uncomfortable reviewing this… It zooms in on a hate crime committed against an agender teen named Sasha, who’s skirt was lit on fire by a young black teen one fateful bus ride. Sasha’s story is a real one – they went through the very real physical and emotional trauma of the crime, while Richard – the person who uncharacteristically committed the horrendous crime – underwent the punishment. Dashka Slater, through real interviews, police files, news clippings, etcetera, pieces together a deeply intimate look at the failings of the justice system, how institutionalized and systematic racism is ruining black youth’s lives, putting them at a severe disadvantage. However, Slater – a white woman – uses the N-word several times in the book… and… that word is not for a non-black person to use. To me, while the criminal justice system’s exposé was important, I also felt the book was unbalanced and the emphasis was placed on the person who committed the crime over the person who was the victim. This made me uncomfortable.
Triggers apply for: use of racist and nonbinary-phobic and transphobic slurs, misgendering, hate crime against an agender teen, institutionalized racism.
THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN BY HOLLY BLACK // 🌟🌟🌟🌟
This was the first Holly Black book I’ve ever read, and it definitely will not be the last. It was perfectly balanced with the right amount of romance, the right amount of action, and the perfect creep-factor. I’m not big on vampire novels, because most of them have already been done already… what’s new to be offered in the genre? But Holly Black makes them sexy and interesting again; I loved the characters, and I enjoyed the main character’s feisty yet compassionate, kind, vulnerable self too. I’m so excited to read other books by Black.
GOODBYE DAYS BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Goodbye Days was a book that took me by surprise; I became more invested in the characters than I thought I would, and I found myself mourning people that were dead before the book even began. I loved the concept of saying one final goodbye to people who’ve been taken way too soon, and I think Zentner deals with topics of grief, loss and guilt extremely well. I did, however, take issue with some of the unchallenged suicide/self-harm jokes in the book. You can read my full review here.
Triggers apply for: Racist micro-aggressions against a Filipina character, suicide/self-harm jokes, homophobic jokes (mostly challenged), grief, death.
CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GARBER // 🌟
The hype monster for Caraval was one of the biggest hype monsters I’ve ever seen in my four years of blogging. And because of this reason, this book was a massive let down. I hated the main characters, the sisterhood bond was nothing short of a joke, serious issues were used as plot devices without exploring potential psychological ramifications, and the writing was inconsistent and seemed try-hard. You can find my full review here.
Triggers apply for: Suicide, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, self-harm.
THE LOVE INTEREST BY CALE DIETRICH // 🌟 1/2
This was probably one of the most disappointing books I’ve read this year – mainly because I’ve had my eye on it ever since it was announced! It sounded amazing: a satirical take on dystopians with a love triangle where the two dudes fall in love with each other? Bro, that sounds so cool. But the characters were extremely flat, to the point where the satire became laughable on its own. The writing wasn’t special, and it read more like a contemporary than a sci-fi dystopian. I DNF’d at 55%.
THAT THING WE CALL A HEART BY SHEBA KARIM // 🌟🌟🌟
As a Pakistani Muslim, I barely get any representation in YA lit, so imagine my glee when I found out that this was a book that offered me just that. And while Sheba Karim does a great deal of things right in this book, much of it fell flat. It deals with open, frank discussions about religion, Islamophobia in the West, expectations from hijabis, assigning statuses and labeling people as “representatives” of a certain identity. I adored the main character’s best friend to the point where I wanted the book to be about her, rather than Shabnam, the protagonist. I hated Shabnam, and that was the point but her development and redemption doesn’t come soon enough to save the novel. The romance was cringe-worthy and cheesy too.
THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE BY STEPHANIE PERKINS // 🌟🌟🌟🌟
There’s Someone Inside Your House was a delight to read. I read it in a couple of sittings, flying through it with ferocious speed. It was so incredibly fun, reminiscent of slasher flicks set in small towns. Stephanie Perkins is a talented writer, of course, and it shows because she strikes the perfect balance between her trademark cutesy contemporary (because the romance in this is adorable), while also doing justice to the thrill and horror of the serial killer storyline. The cast was diverse as well, and I enjoyed the atmospheric quality of the entire book. It would honestly make a great TV show.
Triggers apply for: some transphobic language was in my ARC, but I know Perkins has since addressed and amended it for the final copy; racist microagressions against the main character who is biracial black/Native Hawaiian; graphic depictions of murder & gore.
THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO BY F. C. YEE // 🌟🌟🌟🌟
This was a book everywhere on Twitter, and rightfully so. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is an incredible urban-fantasy inspired by Chinese lore with a feisty, relatable main character who’s trying to handle her schoolwork, her future plans for college, a separated family, and a bodyshaming yet loving mother… and now you’re throwing demons in the mix?! It was adventurous, fast-paced, action-packed, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, while never losing its charm of being subtly relatable with characters that you grow to adore. My only real complaint was that I would’ve preferred more balance between the action and the slower moments, even if that meant the book had to be fifty or so pages longer.
SAINTS AND MISFITS BY S. K. ALI // 🌟🌟🌟
I set myself up for disappointment for this book, mainly because perhaps I was expecting a little too much. For one, there is so much this book does right. It’s true that Western media often only promotes Muslim books that fit their own version of what Islam should be like. Saints & Misfits is unapologetically Muslim, with a lovable, wonderful main character who takes pride in her culture, religion and is fully immersed in it, while never being defined by it either. I loved her relationship with her family and friends, and I loved seeing her develop over the course of the novel. But there was virtually very little plot, which will eventually be the downfall of the book for readers who enjoy a more cohesive storyline.
Triggers apply for: sexual assault.
FINAL GIRLS BY RILEY SAGER // 🌟🌟
After the magic of There’s Someone Inside Your House, I was in a bit of a thriller/slasher kick, so I decided to pick up Final Girls – which was a book I was absolutely certain I was going to enjoy. But I was left severely disappointed. It was exciting and unputdownable, that’s for certain, but the characters were flat, and it was more mystery than thriller or horror. The mental illness representation was awful, and there were so many insensitive remarks thrown towards someone who committed suicide- it made me stomach turn. The ending was cheesy and cartoon villain-y. It was just… a disappointment.
Triggers apply for: Poor mental illness representation, suicide, violent murder.
THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟 1/2
After loving Goodbye Days by the same author earlier in the month, I decided to give his debut novel a go too, but it definitely wasn’t as good as his second. The Serpent King explores the South, religion, guilt and feeling stuck as well as I expected Zentner too, but most of the characters didn’t connect with me. Plus, I felt that Dill’s mental health was glossed over – more emphasis needed to be placed on therapy and recovery. I also didn’t feel a connection between the two people involved in the main romance at all. I’ll avoid saying more for risk of spoilers. There’s also a lot of racism and use of slurs in the book – these aren’t unchallenged, and they’re clearly not Zentner’s views but rather an authentic portrayal of the backwardness of many in the South, but I felt this could’ve been done without the use of slurs.
Triggers apply for: pedophilia, depression, religious intolerance, racism, homophobic slurs, grief, death.
WHEN I CAST YOUR SHADOW BY SARAH PORTER // 🌟
Listen… I wish I could tell you what this book was, but I genuinely have no clue. It was so… weird and disturbing. For starters, the characters were all one-dimensional, flat and pretentious even when they showed the slightest bit of personality. The book was messed up on so many levels with some incest going on, some statutory rape that is never properly addressed, a dude possessing his own brother and then sleeping with his girlfriend, like… what the fuck was this book, and how was half this stuff greenlit?! It’s safe to say that I despised it, and I honestly cannot believe I made it through the whole thing.
Triggers apply for: vague incest stuff, sexual assault, statutory rape, drug use, death by overdose, suicidal ideations, self-harm.
NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO // 🌟🌟🌟 1/2
Never Let Me Go had been on my TBR for approximately 4459679456 years, and I finally got around to reading it – and I must say that I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. I couldn’t put it down; it was definitely a page-turner, and I enjoyed the personal way it was written. It felt like Kathy was sitting in front of me, telling me the story as it happened, rather than me reading it from the eyes of someone who lived it. I enjoyed the duplicity and multi-faceted personalities of the characters, and was invested in all their conflicts; however, for a large portion in the middle of the book during their time in the Cottage, I lost interest, and much of that interest never came back. Plus, the ending was super info-dumpey.
Triggers apply for: disturbing thematic content, grief, loss.
Apart from reading, I watch Netflix and listen to music.
I’ve been re-watching The Office over the summer, and I’m almost done with Season 6 now; if you haven’t looked into watching it, I highly suggest you do. The first season is a little dull, but it gets incredibly funny during the second season. I’ve been meaning to watch a new TV show before the summer officially ends, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.
Also, Game of Thrones is back! I loved the first three episodes, even though parts of them felt very fan-fictiony. I’m just so stoked that these storylines are continuing, and I’m getting to see some of my favorite characters be bad-ass. Just crossing my fingers and hoping for George R. R. Martin to hurry up with the sixth book.
As for music, I’ve decided that instead of individually linking videos like I do every month, I would construct a playlist of what I’ve been listening to for the month. So here’s my Spotify list of great songs you should maybe (definitely) check out, including some pop, some rock, some electronic. All over the place, like it goes.
So that’s it for my July wrap-up. Let me know if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above, and if you did, what’d you think of them? I hope July was a wonderful month for y’all, and I hope August is even better. As always – thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!