Well. That’s a wrap!
June was a weird month, with a lot of ups and downs both irl and my reading. I’ve already done my mid-year freak out post, but overall June was just…weird. I managed to read 15 books despite it being a little wild on the personal aspect of life, but many of the books I read were disappointing to say the least.
While I have a number of books listed in the four-star range, many of them were very, very hard to rate. I felt more conflicted on how I liked them than I usually do, and for much of the books I read I just didn’t feel as sucked into the narrative as I like to be. I felt disconnected and distanced and I feel that much of it was because some of these books just felt unpolished (11 of them were ARCs, so that might have something do to with it?).
See any that you want to read or that you enjoyed/didn’t enjoy?
This is a must-read, and should be mandatory reading for all high school students and general readers of American (US) history. A brief history of the United States, as seen through the lens of the American Indians who were thoroughly slaughtered, removed and erased from their own lands. It unravels the layers of propaganda, misinformation and erasing American Indians faced, and debunks many common myths about the lands and peoples of the United States before European colonization. I can’t say that I loved it (because it’s 100% about the systematic genocide of the many indigenous cultures and peoples of North America), but it was very informative reading. However, it is definitely a brief overview of events and different peoples, and as the author states, if you want to learn more, read what indigenous historians have been writing about individual communities. The history of American Indians is vast, complicated and so much richer than we were taught in school.
Anlei’s village is under attack from strange ghost monsters—and all seems well when the viceroy swoops in and saves them with his fleet of mechanical dragons. Until he demands the village’s famed (and worthless) River Pearl as tribute—and one of the villagers to take as his bride. No one is more surprised than Anlei when he chooses her, and she’s dragged to the province’s capital to be wed. All bets are off, however, when a mysterious thief steals the River Pearl. Anlei decides to save her village and capture the thief and the Pearl—except the thief has a good reason to steal it. Aside from the Chinese-based world, this is a pretty standard YA fare. Despite the generic nature of heroine, LI and plot, I did enjoy this book, and I feel like I would have enjoyed it even more before YA fantasy all had the same level of sameness. 3.5 stars, rounded to four because dragons.
Chloe has known since forever that her destiny is ballet, but her mom won’t let her audition for an exclusive NYC ballet conservatory started up by Chloe’s favorite professional dancer. When her mom goes on a cruise, Chloe realizes she’s got a chance to drive from New Jersey to DC to audition. What she doesn’t expect is Eli, her enemy next door, blackmailing her into taking him along. When the two run into problem after problem, Chloe begins to wonder if she’s ever going to make this audition. This was an utterly adorable story where the journey was more fun than the romance. It’s also a story about family, forgiveness and reconnecting with friends. And, of course, a coming of age story about a girl who realizes just how far she’s willing to go to realize her dream.
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
Akeha was never meant to exist. Born the spare twin to the Protector, the authoritarian ruler of the Protectorate, they were the extra, the unexpected, the unplanned and the unnecessary. Akeha’s twin, however, was the special child—a seer. And so when they came of age and Mokoya found love with an upstart young priest, Akeha left…and drifted. And found purpose fighting against the authoritarianism of their parent. I truly enjoyed this book, and only wished it was longer (although it’s in a series!!). It’s very much a story about fate and finding your own way, particularly when you believe that you are inextricably tied to your twin—who happens to be the better twin, at least in their mother’s eyes. I loved the world building, the magic system and the portrayal of gender.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
A funny and often searing look into American culture, with topics ranging from racism to fatphobia to sexual assault to teaching to feminism to success to reproductive rights to pop culture. While this was written in 2014, much is still very relevant in today’s cultural and political world, particularly with the smokescreen of women’s reproductive rights, and how a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is not an inalienable right. While I laughed a lot, I was also increasingly angry over the various injustices face by women, the queer community and people of color (particularly those who fall under all these labels), and enjoyed her thoughts on discussions of privilege—and how to avoid falling into the trap of who is more oppressed. I listened to the audiobook, because that is how I prefer to consume nonfiction, and also because Bahni Turpin is my absolute favorite narrator.
At sixteen, Saira Sehgal is the youngest doctor in America. Dubbed “Girl Genius” by the media, she’s been selected to be one of three interns at a prestigious new program in the pediatrics oncology ward. But despite her intellect and her accomplishments, Saira has a lot to learn—and realize that she might be a doctor, but she’s still a teen. At times, I loved this book. At others, I just wanted to smack Saira and shout, “WTF PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!” But while I really disliked the instalove and the patient-doctor romance (I wanted more of Saira being a doctor/Girl Genius than her falling in love and disrespecting her LI’s boundaries), I did love the way childhood cancer was addressed, the diversity among the cast, and that Saira was very much a teen, for all of her maturity and accelerated life.
When Casiopea Tun defies her wealthy grandfather and opens the secret chest in his bedroom, she accidentally awakens Hun-Kamé, god of death and the Supreme Lord of Xibalba. But Hun-Kamé was locked in the chest after being betrayed by his twin, and now he needs Casiopea’s help to recover his stolen body parts and regain his throne. Longing for a life of adventure and a way out of her tiny Yucatan home, Casiopea agrees—and sets on off an adventure she never imagined. I posted a review of this last week, but in the short form: loved the Mayan mythology, the characters, the plot and the Mexican setting, but did not enjoy the narrative style.
A straight-edged cheerleader and a film director with a chip on her shoulder are forced to work together—and discover the chemistry between them that is all their own. I’m honestly torn in how to rate this. At times, I absolutely loved it. Yet it took me what felt like an eternity to get through and seemed to just drag on and on and on with no resolution, leaving me increasing frustrated and constantly checking the time-estimate on my kindle and looking for excuses not to read. While I appreciate the book for its wonderful representation (lesbian desi Muslim MC and a lesbian Jewish-Mexican MC) and its discussion of women in society, I felt generally underwhelmed.
Natalie Tan had no desire of going home to San Francisco’s Chinatown, but with her agoraphobic mother’s unexpected death, Natalie returns—and learns that she had inherited her grandmother’s long-abandoned restaurant. Before reopening the restaurant, however, she has to heal her community with three recipes from her grandmother’s book…and a bit of magic. I think my lack of love for this book were my expectations and my feelings about the narrative style (I did not like the writing style and am not a fan of magical realism where there isn’t a normal person going holy hell did you see that too?!). The blurb and that gorgeous cover cued contemporary romance, but aside from instalove, there is little romance. This is a book about finding your community and reconnecting with your culture and your past, with a hefty dose of magical realism thrown in as well.
When sorceress Shaharazad Haas’ ex-girlfriend shows up with a letter and demands that Haas figure out who is blackmailing her from marrying her fishmonger fiancée, Haas drags her new roommate, John Wyndham all over the three cities of Khelathra-Ven to discover the culprit. Haas and Wyndham have a list—and they are going to use deduction, logic and a whole lot of luck to figure it out. This was a really hard book to rate. On the one hand—a gender-swapped (well, for the sorceress) and queer as hell retelling of Sherlock Holmes, set in a complex fantasy world? On the other—I felt like it was lost in the mountains of exposition and Wyndham (bless his ooey, gooey soul he’s so precious) choosing to tell us what happened versus showing us what happened. I kept reading, hoping it would get better and that the action sequences would be…actiony…but it did not.
Insulated in her homeschool group, Hazel has no idea how privileged she is as the daughter of vegan, middle-class hippies in Portland, Oregon. Many of her preconceptions and ignorance are challenged, however, when she accepts a job at No Ivy League, a youth program designed to get city kids working in nature pulling ivy. I enjoyed this and loved the illustrations (and that Oregon’s racist history was addressed), but felt like it would have been better if it was a little longer and explored the major theme of white privilege a bit more instead of dancing across the surface. Plus there were some Black stereotypes that were…um, not the best? And Hazel’s over-the-line flirtation with her much older boss.
Rachel “Raven” Roth loses her memory and her mother in a car accident, and gets sent to live with her aunt and cousin in New Orleans. But something isn’t right. Raven is hearing voices, and there’s something weird going on with her family. Lemme be the first to say that aside from watching the cartoon a lot in the early 00s, I am not a Teen Titans fan. I haven’t kept up with the show and I haven’t read any of the comics. So me picking this up was a weird spark of…je ne sais quoi. It was okay (I loved the illustrations but was underwhelmed by the plot), but I was definitely not the target audience.
A woman suffering from infertility with a deployed boyfriend falls for a cute fire fighter who wants a large family. Plot twist: they are the maid of honor and best man at their best friends’ weddings. I wanted to like this one so much more than I did, but found myself repelled by the emotional cheating, the deployment cheating, the utter lack of Marine Corps knowledge (gunny sergeant, anyone?), the side character tragedy and the cringeworthy infertility rep (more on that in my Goodreads review if you’re interested—I didn’t post it here because *spoilers*). I have a pretty solid DNF policy, and after my initial enjoyment of the first 18% waned, I decided to plow through and finish because I didn’t see any other reviews addressing the cheating Jody aspect of the plot. This is a pretty popular book, but ultimately it was not for me.
A beautiful blue-eyed slave girl with blue eyes gets tangled into a scheme to overthrow the pharaoh and becomes a beautiful blue-eyed double agent in the blue-eyed process. No, those repetitions were not a typo. Literally every page mentions either Mara’s beauty, her eyes or a combination thereof (sometimes with a smattering of her intelligence thrown in, although we see very little evidence of intelligence behind her blue eyes) as our beautiful main character bounces between wily seductress and silly girl so much I got whiplash. To be honest, I skimmed the last 1/3 or so of the book, but it didn’t get better. This was my first read in June and set the tone for the rest of the month. I would have put it down but it was for a reading challenge. This is a book that has not aged well since its 1950-something publication.
Straight-laced Paige is determined to get into the Air Force Academy, but when she’s assigned delinquent Logan to whip into shape at the military academy they both attend, she finds herself falling hard for the soft bad boy. I need to give up reading military books written by civilians, particularly if they feature romance. Because damn. I am existentially exhausted by the trope of the stick-up-her-ass military woman being taught to lighten up by a rowdy male mentee…and the entire “falling for her mentee” plot. It. Is. Fraternization. Granted, this is a military high school, but the rules seemed to still apply (and the implications that a het boy and a het girl working in close quarters will always fall in wuv). While I liked Paige, I absolutely hated Logan, who not only continued to objectify Paige based on her…assets but also (spoiler) confessed to a hit and run his girlfriend committed because she wasn’t strong enough. The misogyny is strong in this one, masked by a veil of rah-rah-girl power. My recommendation? Skip it.
And that’s a wrap!
Fingers crossed that July has better books (for me) in store.
I have two buddies reads lined up this month: With the Fire on High and Spin the Dawn, and a couple backlist titles I’ve been meaning to get to. Plus, two super queer audiobooks (Unbecoming and Coming Out Under Fire) that I meant to listen to this month but…kinda didn’t because I was procrastinating on Bad Feminist.