Books

June Bookshelf: The Best Books I Read in June (and some “meh’s”)

June was a super-eventful month personally with us arriving in Florida and getting settled into our new house in Miami. While we’re nowhere NEAR ready with the house as it still looks like a bomb hit it, we’ve at least managed to get rid of most of the moving boxes and are starting to get deliveries of some of the new items we’ve ordered. It’s exciting waiting for the UPS truck every day — it’s the biggest online shopping order I’ve ever done! In amongst the chaos, I’ve been reading more than ever, as weirdly I can’t find ANYTHING I want to watch on TV.

June was also of course a huge month politically here in the US, firstly with the protests over George Floyd’s death, and the wider racial reckoning and awakening that has happened since. There have been so many amazing reading lists on the subject of race shared online, and some of this month’s reads were pulled from those lists. I want to read more widely about racial issues moving forward, as well as to diversify the authors I choose to read. I’ve also started to follow more Black “bookstagrammers” (yes that’s a thing!), and I’ll recommend some faves here once I’ve had the chance to get familiar with their content.

Here’s a round-up of my June hits, and of course, I’m listing out my “Monthly Meh’s” at the bottom of this post. These encompass books that range from disappointing to fine-but-can’t-recommend-with-hand-on-heart. Books that live in the 1 to 3.5 star kind of zone.

OK, enough waffle, here’s the goods!

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
If you loved The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Educated by Tara Westover, you’ll enjoy Hollywood Park by Airborne Toxic Event (nope – I hadn’t heard of them either) frontman, Mikel Jollett. This memoir tells the story of Jollett’s childhood and early adulthood, starting with his mother rescuing/abducting him from the school where he and his brother lived as part of the cult that his family had joined. Jollett writes movingly about the impact of having been separated from both his parents at birth and being raised by cult members, his mother’s delicate mental health, his brother’s addiction issues and his beautiful relationship with his father. I found my attention drifted slightly as Jollett moves into his adulthood and develops a passionate obsession with song-writing, but overall this is a beautiful story of resilience and the redemptive power of love.

White Fragility by Robin J. DiAngelo
It’s hard to know how to even write about a book like White Fragility, as I found this such a powerful and deeply uncomfortable book to read. There’s a bit of a backlash at the moment against it, as of course a white woman is profiting (and hugely — it’s at the top of the bestseller lists) from writing about racism, but I would still recommend that every white person I know reads this. I actually have some people in my life who might be receiving this as a “gift”! Reading about racism shouldn’t be framed as self-improvement for white people, but I know it was important for me to take a good hard look at the way I have ingested and sub-consciously held onto racist beliefs. We can all do better, and this is a great place to start. I don’t think I’ve ever underlined so many passages in a single book.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
While the US’s race issues are highly visible, the UK’s problems with race are just as insidious and discussed far less. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is a great take on race in Britain and includes a detailed recounting of the police and justice system’s response to the Stephen Lawrence murder. Even though Stephen Lawrence’s murder investigation was such an ongoing news story throughout most of my childhood and teens, I hadn’t absorbed just how insanely dysfunctional it was in retrospect. For anyone in the UK kidding themselves that the UK is “really a melting pot” and doesn’t have the same issues with racism as in America, please read this.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me is written in the form of a letter from the author to his teenage son about race, and specifically being a Black man in America. It’s well-written, poetic, profound and searingly truthful about Coates’ experiences of growing up in Baltimore, “inhabiting a Black body” and raising a Black son. The writing is so good you’ll both cry and GASP when reading it and it’s sure to stay with you for a long time, especially as a parent. Even though some parts of this book are really heavy, there is immense joy and pride coursing through it, and so you’ll walk away from reading it feeling incredibly enriched and as though you’ve experienced something really special. Toni Morrison calls it “required reading”. I’d say if you’re going to read just one book from this month’s list, make it this one.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
This novel has just been picked up for a 7 figure sum by HBO after a bidding war, and I can imagine it will translate really well for the small screen. The Vanishing Half is about two “white-passing” twins who live in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana. The teenage twins make plans to run off together to New Orleans, but then one of the sisters leaves again to live a life as a white woman, totally abandoning her previous identity. The story follows the lives of the two sisters, and their daughters as they discover the truth about their mothers. I really loved this book and could have kept reading about the lives of the two main characters for much longer – I didn’t want it to end!

The Return by Rachel Harrison
After reading something that’s more on the literary or serious side of things, I always “rebound” with a palate-cleansing thriller, rom-com or horror novel, and this is DEFINITELY on the sillier side of life but thoroughly enjoyable! A group of girlfriends suffer the sudden disappearance of one of their group, who vanishes while hiking in a National Park one day. A year later, after they have mourned her and held a funeral, she reappears, but she is NOT the same. Her face looks like melting candle wax, her breath is repugnant, and she has developed a fondness for red meat, having previously been a vegetarian. They take a girls’ trip to a boutique hotel in the Catskills, and creepy happenings occur.

Devolution by Max Brooks
I would NEVER have picked up Devolution based on the cover (um sasquatch no thanks) so I’m glad I listened to the buzz about this book and gave it a try as it was seriously good horror fun. The vibe is very Stephen King, telling the story of a fictional techno-hippy community called Greenloop in the Pacific Northwest, who become totally cut off from the modern world following a volcanic eruption. As former city-dwellers, the residents of Greenloop lack even the most basic of survival skills, aside from a mysterious Bosnian woman, Mostar. When animals start disappearing, strange howls are heard and the scent of rotten eggs hangs in the air, the heroine, her boyfriend and the rest of the community must decide whether to run, hide, or FIGHT. It’s a slow, sinister burn, but I found it gripping and highly enjoyable.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Pizza Girl is the story of a pregnant teenage pizza delivery girl who develops an unhealthy obsession with a middle-aged suburban mom. It’s the debut novel from Jean Kyoung Frazier, and has the MOST awesome cover design. It’s also written very charmingly and honestly. This genre of the awkward teen screwup is very male-dominated, from The World According to Garp to Catcher in the Rye, so I enjoyed a more female take on it. You’ll cringe and you’ll wonder whether you relate more to to Pizza Girl or the hot mess mum. This definitely feels a little bit YA, but not in a bad way.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie is such a refreshing and funny read — it’s hard to fit it into any particular genre. The main character is a young Black woman living in Brixton, London, with a totally disastrous love life and a tight group of friends (her “corgis”). After suffering a painful breakup, Queenie goes down a self-destructive path, before ultimately discovering her own self-worth. There are powerful themes of race, fetishization and sexual violence, but what makes Queenie such a great read is how three-dimensional and deeply human the heroine is — you’ll be rooting for her throughout.

Meh’s

Beach Read by Emily Henry – Had to force myself to finish this.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark – Started off really promisingly and a great concept but then fell apart in the middle.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown – 3.5 stars, but unmemorable so remains in the “meh” pile.
The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell – a VERY rare miss from one of my favourite thriller writers
Last Tang Standing by Lisa Ho – I wanted to love this so much, but in the end, a poor man’s Kevin Kwan

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