Once again, I’ve met my goal of reading four books for the month of June! I am on a roll. (Okay, so I’m not even halfway through my Goodreads challenge – only 19 out of 50 – but I have six months to go! And if I stick to at least four books per month, I’ll definitely meet my target.)
On that note, please don’t let July be the month that breaks my streak.
1. Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire by Jose Manuel Prieto
Let me start off by saying this was not a light read. I read it in one sitting, but it wasn’t one of those idle moments where I’m just enjoying myself, whiling away the time with a good book. I went into a coffee shop, ordered an Americano, parked myself on a couch in the corner, and spent the rest of the day in that exact spot.
I picked up Nocturnal Butterflies on a whim at one of those ‘everything-must-go’ sales at Fully Booked (at only 50Php, if you can imagine, which is a little over $1) and thought the summary on the back looked interesting. It sounded like one of those quick novels you can read, full of romance and intrigue. The story introduces the reader to J, a smuggler living in Russia, making a living off of the detritus floating around Europe in the wake of communism’s collapse. In Istanbul, he takes on a commission to capture an endangered Russian butterfly and uses the opportunity to smuggle home his Russian lover, V, who has no papers. However, in Odessa, V disappears. J continues on to a small village on the Black Sea in search of the butterfly, but now also seeks to win back V’s heart.
This novel is a reverse-epistolary, as it revolves around J wanting to write the perfect love letter so V would return. It’s also equal parts international intrigue, as we’re shown how J makes his living smuggling odds and ends into and out of Russia, and how he got started as a smuggler in the first place.
Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire was a lovely, enchanting, and powerfully descriptive book. The two main characters, J and V, are singularly unlikeable, but Prieto gives them such a deep sense of introspection, an immense awareness of their faults and shortcomings, that you can’t help but begin to sympathize with them anyway. As much as I thought of J as an insipid person, I couldn’t help but relate to his desire to win back the love of his life, and be impressed with the lengths he was going to to do so.
However, I can’t give it a fully glowing review because I felt it drew too much from paragraphs taken from other books. In his quest for the perfect letter, J reads books about letters, as well as other famous letters, in order to craft his own letter to V. I feel like Pietro put too much of these other sources in the books, so much so that I thought J’s thoughts were lost amidst those of Saul of Tarsus, Oscar Wilde, and the other famous literary figures whose epistles J turned to in order to write his love letter to V.
2. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
I wrote a review of this book here, if you’d like a more in-depth review. Not quite a worthy successor to the foundation of fucked-up psychological thrillers that Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have laid, but Ruth Ware is an excellent writer with image-evoking wordplay, and I’m really looking forward to reading more of her work.
3. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith / J.K. Rowling
I finally read J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series! Hooray for me!
For months people were urging me to get on the bandwagon already and read them, but I hesitated for a few reasons. First, as much as I love a good suspenseful thriller, crime fiction – with detectives and suchlike – really isn’t my thing. And second, I really didn’t want to let go of J.K. Rowling as the author of Harry Potter, the woman who ushered in a childhood spent reading and loving books.
When I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy (I actually bought a copy of The Silkworm first, but a friend advised me to read The Cuckoo’s Calling first because there was a lot of character development that I’d miss if I didn’t read them in chronological order), I realized that I’d made a big mistake not reading the Cormoran Strike novels asap. J.K. Rowling is just as amazing a storyteller as she is with the Harry Potter books, if not more so, since these novels are clearly geared toward an adult audience rather than a general, wider range of readers. I still don’t like crime fiction that much, but J.K. Rowling’s writing is such that I didn’t feel like The Cuckoo’s Calling fit a stereotypical crime fiction book, a la James Patterson and his ilk. I really can’t explain it, but I felt like I was reading a book form of the pilot episode of a new crime TV show, one I’d end up liking very much.
I’m planning on writing a review for the Cormoran Strike series as a whole, so I won’t say much more about the plot other than to say it was J.K. Rowling capturing my heart once again.
(Also, it’s got a badass, highly competent strong female secretary without whom Cormoran Strike would be in much direr straits. Even if you don’t think the series will be your cup of tea, check it out anyway for the magical amazingness that is Robin Ellacott.)
4. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
In line with my half-year resolution to read more diverse books, I started on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Sáenz. It’s the story of Aristotle and Dante, who go through the experience of being of Mexican descent in 1980s America, growing up from teenagers to adults, and discovering they’re gay, exploring their sexuality, and falling in love.
In other news…
I started a bookstagram account! Follow me over at @thebookshark! Or you could leave your IG handle in the comments and I’ll follow back. I’m especially looking for other bookstagram accounts to interact with!
What did you read last June? Tell me in the comments! Also, check out what I read for May 2016 in my post May 2016 Reads.