Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Books I Read in June

Okay, this is going to be a long one, because I just counted and holy cow, I read 18 books in June! I think that ties my previous record from last July, but I'm still impressed! I mean, I was hoping that my summer schedule would open up some good reading time, but I wasn't quite expecting to make this much headway. This brings my total number of books read this year to 53. My goal for the whole year is 100, so I am now officially ahead of schedule, which feels a bit like a miracle considering how behind I got after losing my commute to quarantine. Anyway, this means there are a lot of books to talk about, and I had a really broad mix of fluff and serious stuff, so let's jump in.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

After reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek last December, I was not excited to jump into *another* book about the packhorse librarian women of Great Depression Kentucky (sometimes themes come in floods). But this one was also getting high recommends from some trusted sources, and I was interested in giving Moyes another shot, so I read it... and honestly this might be my favorite Moyes book (I doubt that's a universal opinion). So yes, I liked it. I don't know if I liked it better than Book Woman, they are similar but different and I generally recommend them both, especially if you enjoy historical fiction with strong female characters.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

This was another historical fiction with a strong female lead, but this time about the plight of Chinese-Americans in a still very racist turn of the 19th-Century Atlanta Georgia (I had no idea that Chinese were not legally allowed to live anywhere, crazy!). First, I want to say this is YA, and feels like it. Second, I found the ending (and maybe the story in general) to be far too optimistic and sweet to be realistic. But there were several things I loved, foremost of which were the Miss Sweetey articles (the main character free-lances as an anonymous advice columnist), which I thought were delightful. If you enjoy sweet YA that attempts to address serious themes, this is a general recommend.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

A tough female fire-fighter just trying to make it in a very patriarchal profession, plus deal with the trauma of her past, falls in love with the cute new rookie, which is absolutely the last thing she needs to deal with. Despite the fact that I have almost nothing in common with this main character, I rather enjoyed this fluffy-with-just-a-touch-of-serious romance. Also, learned a bit about fire departments.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I absolutely adored Mandel's book Station Eleven, and I've been meaning to read more of her since then... but this one was a complete disappointment. I mean, her writing is still beautiful at the sentence level, but the plot structure here was essentially nonexistent, with no real characters to connect with or root for. The ghost thing was too unexplained for my tastes. Some of the bits about the Ponzi scheme were kind of interesting, the moral dilemmas there, but mostly, this book was utterly forgettable. Don't bother.

Tightrope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is by the same authors as Half the Sky, a book I found to be a very important read for me about global feminist issues. The topic they tackle here is poverty in America, and it is just as important, if no less pleasant to read about. I highly recommend this to everyone, we need to be educated on these issues, because I feel like poverty in America is often far too invisible (I certainly don't see it). Honestly, the picture they portray here is of an America that is slipping in places backwards into second and even third-world territory, and we need to do something about it. I have several complaints about the book. I don't necessarily agree with every solution they put forward, and I was also disappointed that they didn't address race and poverty as intersectional issues (in that, they didn't acknowledge that poverty affects BIPOC Americans differently than white Americans), so this isn't perfect, but this is important.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Fun new fantasy series recommended by my husband. Reminded me a bit of Brandon Sanderson. If you like epic fantasy, I recommend (though I've only read one book, waiting on the second one, and apparently there are four or five books in the series, so we'll see...).

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

A nice little You've Got Mail-vibes YA story about the new girl at an elite private school who starts receiving anonymous emails from a fellow student giving her pointers about how to survive. It was decently clean from what I can remember, and cute, but nothing super special.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

In a random coincidence completely unsought by myself, the very next book that happened to come off my holds list was another You've Got Mail YA riff about secret anonymous pen pals at an elite private school. This one also involves a snarky Twitter war and some epically bad parenting, and I quite enjoyed it, probably more than the first? All I know is that "Secret Pen Pals at Elite Private Schools YA RomCom" is now a list I have two titles for.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

I talk about this one more on the list at the end of this post, but this is a short YA novel that packs a punch and manages to cover a lot of the big issues/arguments around race in America today. Language warning, but it's a general recommend.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Look, there are problems with all of Gladwell's books, and this is no different. There are flaws in his reasoning and arguments. That said, he discusses some really pertinent ideas in this book that have to do with current events and issues. His mapping of the history of police department practices was fascinating in consideration of recent calls to defund the police, and I'm still thinking hard about his chapter on alcohol and rape (especially after reading Know My Name). In essence, lots of good interesting stuff to think about here, and I highly recommend (also, need to throw a plug in for the audio book, which is produced much more like a podcast, with actual sound bytes from interviews and news stories and music, it's fantastic!)

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Despite ticking many of my boxes (beautiful writing, slow character-driven novel, historical fiction), this one didn't quite hit for me. I think other people who value slower literary novels may potentially really like this one, it just wasn't for me at this particular point. Also listened to this one, and I must say the production team on this audio book missed a real opportunity to add clips of all the music mentioned in the book (seriously would've been so fantastic if they had done that). Anyway, I want to try another Jiles book, because I have a feeling a different story from her might really work for me.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I've been meaning to read this one for a while, but there's no audio version! (At least, not from any of my library sources.) So I finally got a paper copy, and breezed through it in an evening. It's light and fluffy, but seriously good writing and super enjoyable, my favorite Rowell by far.

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Another book I've been meaning to read for ages but could not get on audio. But you guys! Five stars! Beautiful! Spoke directly to my inner soul! Essays on motherhood/wifehood, solitude, simplicity, living a balanced life... lovely, impactful writing. I want to own this and reread every year. I can't believe it was written in 1955, it still felt so incredibly relevant. Highly recommend!

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Look, if you don't like sci-fi/fantasy, stay away from this one, and even if you do, you still might not like this one. Jemisin is just very, very different, but I'm totally intrigued by her creative world-building, even if I can't decide if I actually like her stories (and language warnings galore). This one takes a lot of effort to describe (cities are alive, they have avatars that are people, another dimension is attacking, New York is being "born"... yes, it's weird), but I will say that it was fascinating to read this after teaching H.P. Lovecraft this past semester, because Jemisin basically writes a response/reversal of the Lovecraftian racist mythos, and it was really interesting. I also learned a whole lot about New York. Oh, and major props to the audio book production team, because they went above and beyond to make a unique experience audio book (with sound mixing, etc.) that really fit the story well (though it might bother some people).

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

So this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and you know how much I enjoy a good fair-tale retelling. I wouldn't say this one is incredible or a must read, but I certainly enjoyed it enough I'll continue on with the series (trilogy, of course). It's YA and fairly clean and full of action, generally recommend.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Yes, WWII books are so overdone and I was totally turned off by how similar this title is to Code Name Verity, but do you know what got me with this one? It's a true story! I mean, it's written like a novel and takes some licence, but it is heavily researched and based on a real woman's life, Nancy Wake, who was the most highly decorated female spy working for the British SEO in France with the resistance. Her life is incredible! I probably never would've been friends with her in real life, but she is one heck of a character, that's for sure! I really want to read her actual biography now, but it's out of print and available nowhere. In general, I completely recommend, just don't look her up on Wikipedia and spoil the ending for yourself (or do, so you are emotionally prepared). The back-and-forth plot structure in this book is annoying, but otherwise a fascinating read.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

While I'm waiting for Book 2 of the Black Prism series to come off the holds list, I decided to jump into one of Weeks earlier trilogies. It's about an assassin's apprentice (I've seen that trope before) and was quite dark and violent, not quite as good as the other series, but good enough I'll continue with this series too. Love fantasy that does politics too.

The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary

What's summer for if not to read a bunch of fluffy Rom Coms? And if you prefer yours with a touch of substance (in this case, emotional abuse and trauma), then this is the perfect book for you. I enjoyed it.

Okay, whew, that was a lot of books for one month. Typing all that up, I can't believe I fit all of that reading in! Clearly, this is shaping up to be a great summer of reading (although all my social justice/racism books are starting to come in, which means my July reading might look quite a bit less fluffy). How's your summer reading coming?