(All links on book titles will take you directly to the Goodreads page for that title. I love keeping track of what I’ve read on Goodreads, but if you want a full synopsis (without spoilers) you can also find that there. If you chose to purchase selected book, Goodreads will have an Amazon link available, but I would also encourage you to search instead for the book from your favorite local, indie, thrifted bookseller option if that is something you want to do!)
Honestly, I’m sitting here wondering HOW June is over?
I have spent so much time indoors, just watching television* and reading books and cooking and cleaning, and suddenly the summer feels practically over. Which I realize is dramatic, and no one is allowed to complain when their obligations have been few and far between the last few months, but still. It’s a mood.
*As in, I considered making a list of the television shows and movies I have watched in their entirety over this period, but my husband asked that I kindly not do that. It would be far too depressing.
For now, let’s talk about June reads.
I’m proud of the reading I was able to get done in June! I finished 10 books, 4 of which were audiobooks (pretty sure that’s a 2020 record for audiobooks). Maybe this is a sign that summer means I have more reading coming my way? I’d love to look at the reading stats per month once I finish 2020 and see if there are trends during specific seasons. Remind me of that in 6 months, okay?
- Nonfiction: 3
- Fiction: 7
- Audiobook: 4
By Star Review:
- ✪✪✪✪✪ : 2
- ✪✪✪✪: 6
- ✪✪✪: 1
- ✪✪: 1
Favorite Read: The Poet X
Most Likely to Recommend: With the Fire on High
Most Quotable: The Poet X
Most Important/Powerful/Heavy/Thought-Provoking: Just Mercy
Most Fun: Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Late to the Party: Just Mercy
Favorite Instagram Post:
- The Passenger, Lisa Lutz
- The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray
- Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
- Into White, Randi Pink
- Chase Darkness with Me, Billy Jensen
- With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo
- Some Are Always Hungry, Jihyun Yun
- The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
- I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, Kimberly Jones
- Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
“I worried that maybe what I missed most I’d never have again…”The Passenger, Lisa Lutz
When I started reading this at the end of May, I thought,
Well, I haven’t read a thriller in a while. Maybe it’s time I come back to them!” So I read this. And then thought, maybe I don’t love thrillers quite as much anymore?
It’s not that this was bad. It wasn’t! It was just fine.
This is the story of a young woman who found herself in a rather unfortunate, highly suspicious predicament and responded by running away and creating a new identity. When problems surface with that identify years later (read: her husband ends up dead at the bottom of their stairs), she is on the run once again. The question asked is this: can you ever run away from who you truly are?
It’s not a bad book, and if you love thrillers I think you’ll really enjoy it! I just need a thriller that packs a bit more punch. I ended this book really excited to read other books instead of in the book coma that results from a genuinely enjoyed read. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t for you! I still thought it was okay, so I gave it three stars.
“I think I just became everything I am. Was. But at least I was someone out there.”The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray
This is the story of a broken family. When Althea and her husband, Proctor, are incarcerated, her sisters (Viola and Lillian) unite to care for Althea’s teenage twin daughters: Baby Vi and Kim. It’s a complicated family drama if ever there was one; Althea’s father was a preacher who (as a whole) generally failed to parent well after the early death of her mother. Consequentially, Althea basically parents her siblings (Viola, Joe, and Lillian) until she is married herself. Althea struggles to parent her own daughters well, though her love for them cannot be questioned. As the plot plays itself out, we are given glimpses into the many complicated family relationships at work in the novel.
This is a very good book. Let me tell you why I liked it so much.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a primarily female-charactered book. I really appreciated that it investigated several different lifestyles of the women cast here, and also that it observed their relationships in a way that made it clear the relationships between women are complicated and varied. While the main characters are most all female, there are also interesting and memorable peripheral characters such as Nai Nai, Lillian’s mother-in-law, and Mercedes, Althea’s imprisoned friend. Eva, Viola’s partner, is a lasting character, as well. They fight and they struggle and they challenge one another, but they also uplift one another.
I gave this book 4/5 stars. I really liked it! You should know that the plot isn’t high-intensity, and it does move with a certain slowness. I maintain, though, that there is no part of this book that isn’t wholly necessary and quietly engaging.
Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson
“There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
Please don’t read this book if you aren’t prepared to be both challenged and emotionally devastated.
Oh, also, I listened on audio and thought this was fantastic.
To be honest, I feel almost unqualified to even write a recommendation of this book because it’s so much more than I can put into words. Bryan Stevenson’s career with the EJI (Equal Justice Initiative) was never easy, and it was frequently heartbreaking. Stevenson served as legal representation for death-row inmates, largely in the Southern United States. I think many readers would see that description and think, “He’s trying to help people who committed heinous crimes? Why is that necessary?” But of course, like most things, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The main story followed in Just Mercy is that of Walter McMillian, a Black man wrongly convicted of murder in Monroeville, Alabama. After his conviction, McMillian was sentenced to death; Stevenson serves as his lawyer and helps overturn the conviction.
While this is the core narrative, Stevenson also includes shocking and disturbing information related to minors and life sentences, prison sentences of the mentally ill, the undeniable truth that the death penalty is biased when it comes to race, and the desperate need for reform of the American prison system.
There aren’t any real “happy endings” with this book. Yes, McMillian is set free, and that is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t, however, mean that his life was easy post-prison. Many of Stevenson’s clients were still sentenced to death despite his representation and constant pursuit of relief and justice. If you want to read this book, and you should, please be aware of these things. It’s hard to read, but there’s also hope in knowing that people like Bryan Stevenson exist to fight for justice in an entirely corrupt system.
One of two five-star reads this month, for me.
Into White, Randi Pink
LaToya Williams prays asking God to make her white, and he does.
That’s a bit more to the story than that (like the fact that Toya’s family doesn’t see her any differently while the rest of the world does) but that’s the general idea. What LaToya learns is that life is difficult all around, and denying herself and her heritage in favor of an identity that she thinks would make life easier doesn’t actually make her happy.
I really struggled rating this book because I understand what it set out to do. It was a great premise and a very interesting idea! I just felt that it fell kind of flat, and I didn’t really enjoy the audiobook version. The narration wasn’t my favorite. Maybe if I had read it traditionally, that would have made the experience better for me.
Still, I just left the book thinking that it overly simplified everything. This could have been a really interesting study on race in American high schools, but it didn’t go deeper than surface level with any of the issues it faced.
I gave it two stars; I don’t really think I would recommend it. But please, look for yourself!
“The biggest problem with true crime has always been its imbalance of villains to heroes. True crime is full of supervillains: Manson, Bundy, Gacy. But the superheroes are rarely acknowledged.”Chase Darkness with Me, Billy Jensen
Do I have any other true crime lovers in the reading audience right now?
I might be moderately obsessed. I listen to My Favorite Murder basically every day and spend hours upon hours watching documentaries on Netflix and HBO and Hulu and the ID app. I read articles and true crime books, and I just can’t stop getting more information. It’s a bizarre passion. Also, my mom loves true crime. I was raised on shows like City Confidential and 20/20 and Cold Case Files and Dangerous Women. So clearly, I come by it naturally.
This is a REALLY good book about true crime. It was offered as an Audible Original several months ago, before I started compulsively listening to My Favorite Murder; it is purely coincidental that the foreword is written by Karen Kilgariff (one of MFM hosts). The author of this book, Billy Jensen, also hosts a podcast with Exactly Right Media, The Murder Squad.
This is the story of how Billy Jensen got hooked on unsolved crimes. As a journalist, Jensen was writing about crime and became particularly interested in the murders that went without blame, that never found a culprit. So, he began doing the work to help solve these crimes using the internet and social media. In conjecture with this, he forms a strong friendship with Michelle McNamara, author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. He discusses their friendship and work together in the book, as well as his part in completing the book when McNamara unexpectedly died in April of 2016.
I listened to this on audio, and I really enjoyed it. I don’t know that this would be interesting to you if you don’t like true crime, but if you do I strongly recommend it! As well as McNamara’s book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
I wish I had found Elizabeth Acevedo earlier. This month I was fortunate to read two of her works, and I can say with confidence that I’ll be doing everything I can to read her entire backlist in the future. Gosh, she’s good.
Quick summary: Emoni a teen mother attending high school in Philadelphia. She dreams of becoming a chef, and loves to cook creatively in the kitchen of the apartment she shares with her grandmother and daughter. An exciting new culinary course opens up at Emoni’s school, and she jumps at the chance to take the class. As with most worthwhile things, Emoni finds the course to be quite challenging and begins to consider the future she wants to achieve, not only for herself but for her young daughter.
Also: there’s a love story. But it’s not the main focus of the narrative, and I think that’s important.
They way Acevedo writes about food is BOMB. I loved that; the relationships between the teenage characters is maybe the only part of the book that I didn’t love. I don’t always love reading teenage dialogue (I know, I’m awful) so that was the most challenging part of the read for me. All in all, though, Emoni is a memorable and beautiful character. I read this as an ebook, but it’s one that I enjoyed enough it could be added to my personal library with no residual guilt.
I need to quickly say that this will NOT be for everyone. But I think that those who like this style of writing will really appreciate it.
This poetry collection is a hard read. It describes poverty and hunger and tragedy. It’s difficult for me to describe exactly what this book is about because of the sheer emotional depth of the work, so I’m going to quote from the author’s website: “Some Are Always Hungry traces the lineage of the speaker’s place in history and diaspora through mythmaking and cooking, which is to say, conjuring.”
I’ve said it before (and I’m certain I’ll say it again), but I really love a book that talks about food or has good food descriptions. That connecting element was the thing that most worked for me in this collection; each poem is related in some way to food or the varying degrees of food’s absence in the lives of the poem’s speaker.
Also, I really appreciate writing that feels raw and edgy; this is definitely, definitely that. You can tell just from reading that the author has invested great care and passion in her work, and I really respect that vulnerability of spirit. ESPECIALLY IN POETRY. This was a solid 4-star read. Thank you, NetGalley, for letting me read this!
“And I think about all the things we could be
if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.”The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
Allow me to introduce you all to one of my favorite reads of the year.
Just kidding, you’ve all probably read it. Because, like I said, I wish I had read Acevedo years ago!
This is a novel in verse, and it is amazing and beautiful and so great. I listened to it as an audiobook in one single afternoon. That’s how fantastic it was. I do think that the prose style made this even more interesting. Still, it should be noted that the main character has an interesting enough premise that I probably still would have been engaged.
This is the second Acevedo book I read this month, and I actually liked it better than With the Fire on High (but not because that one isn’t good– they’re both SO GOOD).
It’s a coming-of-age story, a discussion on faith and sexuality and art. It’s a girl discovering who she is and what matters to her. It’s beautiful. I don’t want to tell you anything else about it; you need to read it yourself!
“When you push people to their breaking point, and they ain’t got no power, they’ll find a way to take it. What’s so wrong with that?”I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
This book was part of my pursuit to intentionally read more works by Black authors in June; as many of my other June reads also did, I’m thankful that this challenge pushed me outside of my reading comfort zone.
This is a YA book (something I don’t read frequently), and holy smokes it moves quickly. The entire novel takes place in less than 24 hours, but the story is so fast-paced and plot-driven that I had trouble putting it down. It’s anxiety inducing (I think purposely), and I just wanted to keep reading. I wanted to hear the ending.
Sometimes a book written by dual narrators doesn’t work for me; this wasn’t one of those times. Each of the main characters felt real and convincing and true.
I would strongly recommend this story for almost everyone! I think it’s a great read if you need a palate cleanser. It’s good if you like action. It’s good if you like YA. It’s good, period.
“Bravery wasn’t an identity, so much as a choice.”Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
Let me tell ya, this is a STEAMY book. I mean, it’s definitely NSFAM (Not Suitable for Alison’s Mom, adopted from The Popcast‘s NSF Jamie’s Mom. If you know, you know), and almost too much for me. However, it’s really cute, as well. And fun.
The main premise is the Chloe Brown suffers from chronic pain. She creates a “Get a Life” list, which includes things she wants to achieve in her attempt to put life back together in this debilitating illness/pain. When she asks her building’s super, Redford Morgan, to help her complete some of the items on her list (ride a motorcycle, go camping, etc.), love ensues. I feel like that isn’t a spoiler; there’s literally a picture of them smooching on the cover.
Romance isn’t a genre I traditionally read, but I thought this was really fun. I could see contemporary romance being an area of literature that I pursue in the future.
GOODREADS 2020 CHALLENGE UPDATE AND CLOSING REMARKS
According to my Goodreads update, I’m SIX books ahead of schedule!
I’ll try not to get too cocky about it, but June was a pretty good reading month. July so far, not quite as great! I have a lot of books in progress right now, so once I finish all those I might try to slow down on the whole multi-reading thing for a while. How’s your 2020 Reading Challenge going? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time, happy reading!