Note: I would consider these reviews to be spoiler free. However, I do mention (in vague language) what I liked or disliked about each book/series. I also provide my impression of the ending (i.e. whether it satisfied me or not). Again, I don’t give any detailed or specific spoilers, but I wanted to place an advisory just in case.
With plenty of time to read this summer, I picked a particularly long book to start off the season, followed by an entire 6-book series. Despite the chaos of moving preparing for the upcoming season of graduate school, I managed to end most of my nights with reading. It was a good reminder of how refreshing it is to end my day with a good book—provided I don’t stay up too late reading, which happened quite a bit…
Here are my highlighted reads of the past four months:
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I started this book in early May and didn’t finish until mid-June. 1200 pages of classic literature is no joke! I’ll admit, the book felt long at times and at certain parts I lacked some motivation to keep reading it. I don’t give up on books, though, and I had a genuine curiosity to see where the story would go. My stubbornness and interest paid off; the ending is 100% worth the long trek to get there. Dumas incorporates several intricate details and plot threads that all come together in the end. Impressively, these finer details are memorable throughout the masterpiece. Some of the pacing does get sluggish at times, and certain events’ or scenes’ relevance isn’t always clear until way later, but everything in the story is there for a reason. The amount of setup definitely pays off with a remarkable and unpredictable ending. I found myself satisfied by the end and pleased with Dumas’s ultimate theme. The Count of Monte Cristo definitely earned a spot on my list of favorite classic novels, and I’m curious to read Dumas’s Three Musketeers in the future.
The Mission League series by Jill Williamson
Jill Williamson is one of my favorite authors. I read two of her trilogies before this series. In her past stories, I loved her character writing and creative worlds, and The Mission League was no different. The Christian fiction series of 4 books and 2 novellas follows the high school years of Spencer Garmond, who is recruited to be part of an organization of Christian spies. I read through the whole series this summer—mostly all in July, as I found it difficult to put the books down once I’d started.
I enjoyed this series and appreciated several aspects of it. Spencer is well-written and the story is told from his 1st person perspective. He comes off as an incredibly relatable and realistic teenage guy who’s not so sure about Christianity and has a lot left to learn. Though he makes a ton of mistakes, it’s easy to feel sympathetic and close to him. Beyond Spencer, I love many of the relationships and side characters of the series as well. The key friendships for Spencer in each book are meaningful and unique from one another. Plot-wise, I especially enjoyed the novellas, which are quick to the story and perfectly paced. Broken Trust, Book 3, was my personal favorite out of the full-length novels, as it kept the story moving and the tension high at all times, even while exploring multiple plot strands. Plus, it had a moving side-plot that took some unexpected turns.
My personal critiques of the series are probably based out of my own nitpicky story preferences. To start, there was one character (who, for the sake of spoiler-aversion, will go nameless) who plays a significant role in Book 1 and whose friendship with Spencer was one of my favorite parts of the series. However, this character and their friendship with Spencer decreased in importance as the series continued, to the point where the character only appears by name a couple of times in the final book. That made me sad, as I thought this character deserved more, even if it were just a final scene with Spencer. Speaking of the final book, the ending of the series left a few loose-ish ends (in my opinion). I still had unanswered questions by the end of the last book, most of them dealing more with world-building clarity and semi-resolved subplots than the main storyline. This is typical for Jill, I think, as I had the same mix of satisfaction and dissatisfaction at the end of two other of her series. It’s not a bad ending, and the major elements of the story are definitely resolved—I just wanted more than I expected to after the last page.
I’ll add another note—though this is Christian teen fiction, The Mission League explores some darker themes, like demon-possession and spiritual warfare, and incorporates some mature elements, like drugs and healthy/unhealthy romantic relationships, among others. These mature elements are important to developing Spencer’s character and are portrayed with clear moral lines in the series, but I mention them as a fair warning. I wouldn’t want anyone to pick this series up thinking “Oh! Christian fiction! It must be an innocent and fluffy read!” because it’s not. Jill doesn’t skirt around real-world issues for teenagers or the world as a whole; she’s very blunt with the reality of darkness and sin in our world. As she addresses these topics, she pulls out a lot of fantastic themes and lessons, many of them born out of Spencer’s own mistakes.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine (shout out to you, Cole), who called it a hidden classic. It’s a slice of life from days past, and I enjoyed it far more than I initially thought I would. It left a memorable impression on me that’s rare for me to find in books anymore. It was easy to read, and easy to digest and understand—despite the subject matter. It’s full of weighty topics and features gang fights and death, all shown through the perspective of a young teen boy. It was a sad story, but it ended on a hopeful note. It’s a simple book plot-wise, where one scene builds upon the next and no words are spent exploring complex subplots. The characters came across as very real—and I felt for them. The narrator’s youthful tone and explanations made him endearing, and, strangely, even when the narrator didn’t understand what was happening, I did. I don’t know if that’s my age or just how masterfully the book was written. Overall, I’d describe this book as “authentic”—once I finished it, that was the one word I came up with to describe the impression it made on me. I highly, highly recommend The Outsiders.
As I enter graduate school, I’m motivated to keep leisure reading nightly if I can, even if it’s just a chapter or a few pages. It’s important as writers to engage with written stories of all genres. I honestly think reading so much more than I have in a while has helped revitalize my writing practice.
Thanks for reading! You can find my book recommendations for the first part of the year here, and stay tuned in a few months for the final Reading Recap of 2019!