I did not post a wrap up in May, but I read some incredible books in May that I want to share. So today will be a combined May and June wrap up!
Also, Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadians!
# of Books Read: 14
# of Pages Read: 4,494
Favourite Book(s) of the Month: Clap When You Land, The Vanishing Half, The Subtweet, Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Set on a remote island off the Irish coast, this is one guest list no one would want to be on, just as no one would have wanted an invitation to the New Year’s Eve party in Foley’s previous novel, The Hunting Party . Lives unravel amid the revelry on an eerie and remote island as family and friends assemble for a glam wedding in an updated Murder on the Orient Express. Each of the principal characters has a reason to want one of their number dead, there are old secrets, and one of them is murdered.
The Guest List has become one of my favourite mysteries. I have discovered that I am more of a lover of mysteries than I am of thrillers. I am drawn to atmospheric stories, which The Guest List certainly was. It felt like a modern Agatha Christie story without the detective. What is it about an island that makes for the perfect setting for a mystery? The combination of the dark, cold water and the isolation just works! There were a lot of twists in The Guest List that I did not see coming. There are a lot of characters, so I highly recommend the audiobook, as I felt it was easier to keep track of them all that way.
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.
I am a sucker for anything related to Jane Austen. I loved that all of the characters in this novel came together because of their love of Jane Austen, despite the fact that they are each very different. It did take me awhile to get into this book and there were some pacing issues, but I am so glad that I stuck with it. It is one of those feel-good novels. Lovers of The Guernsey’s Literary Potato Peel Pie Society need to run and get their hands on a copy of this.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.
In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.
Clap When You Land is one of the best books I have read so far this year, which does not surprise me at all. Whenever I read one of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels, it ends up on my “best books of the year” list. I am thrilled that Acevedo wrote another book in verse, and it really added an additional emotional layer to this story. I say it time and time again, but I am drawn to books that tackle grief, and Clap When You Land did so in such an honest way. I also adored the dual narrative, and formed a connection with both characters. I cannot wait for Acevedo’s next book!
The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo
Painstakingly researched over three years, based on nearly one hundred hours of exclusive interviews with Richard Ramirez on California’s Death Row, The Night Stalker is the definitive account of America’s most feared serial murderer.
From Ramirez’s earliest brushes with the law to his deadliest stalking expeditions to the unprecedented police and civilian manhunt that resulted in one of the most sensational trials in California history, The Night Stalker is an eerie and spellbinding descent into the very heart of human evil.
It is more than epic nonfiction at its most brutally real – it is true crime masterpiece.
Every once in awhile, I feel myself compelled to read true crime. I picked up The Night Stalker on a whim, and I knew nothing about Richard Ramirez beforehand. His crimes are deeply disturbing, and this book left me feeling incredible unsettled. I think that Philip Carlo did a great deal of research for this book and presented all of the information in a way that was interesting. I will say that it was rather long and there were sections that I skimmed because it was almost too much information.
This Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time.
In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”
Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.
The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.
In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “postracial” society, is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about.
I adore Jesmyn Ward, and I thought that she put together such an incredible collection of voices that were all new to me. I took something away from each and every essay, which is uncommon for me in an essay collection or an anthology. The Fire This Time tackles so many different aspects of what it is like to be Black in America by focusing on the past, the present, and the future. I read an ebook, but I plan to buy a physical copy that I can highlight and revisit.
The Groom Will Keep His Name: And Other Vows I’ve Made About Race, Resistance, and Romance by Matt Ortile
When Matt Ortile moved from Manila to Las Vegas, the locals couldn’t pronounce his name. Harassed as a kid for his brown skin, accent, and femininity, he believed he could belong in America by marrying a white man and shedding his Filipino identity. This was the first myth he told himself. The Groom Will Keep His Name explores the various tales Ortile spun about what it means to be a Vassar Girl, an American Boy, and a Filipino immigrant in New York looking to build a home.
As we meet and mate, we tell stories about ourselves, revealing not just who we are, but who we want to be. Ortile recounts the relationships and whateverships that pushed him to confront his notions of sex, power, and the model minority myth. Whether swiping on Grindr, analyzing DMs, or cruising steam rooms, Ortile brings us on his journey toward radical self-love with intelligence, wit, and his heart on his sleeve.
Matt Ortile is a voice that is worth listening to. I have followed him on social media, and I always appreciate his perspective. I have realized how much I love memoirs told through a series of essays. I think that this format allows the author to cover a wide range of topics and experiences. That is definitely the case in The Groom Will Keep His Name. Ortile touches talks about his sexuality, his culture, his identity, and more. I hope that Ortile continues to write in the future.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
From The New York Times -bestselling author of The Mothers , a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
It seems as though everyone read The Vanishing Half in June, and that makes me so happy! This books deserves all of the hype that it has been receiving. I finished The Vanishing Half earlier in the month, and I have been thinking about it ever since. Race and identity is at the forefront of this novel, and so is sisterhood and motherhood. I became invested in every single character, and I wish that I could have had more time with them. That is the sign of an excellent story for me! Also, HBO just purchased the screens rights!!
USA Today bestselling author Farrah Rochon launches a new series about three young women who become friends when the live Tweeting of a disastrous date leads them to discover they’ve all been duped by the same man.
Samiah Brooks never thought she would be “that” girl. But a live tweet of a horrific date just revealed the painful truth: she’s been catfished by a three-timing jerk of a boyfriend. Suddenly Samiah-along with his two other “girlfriends,” London and Taylor-have gone viral online. Now the three new besties are making a pact to spend the next six months investing in themselves. No men, no dating, and no worrying about their relationship status . . .
For once Samiah is putting herself first, and that includes finally developing the app she’s always dreamed of creating. Which is the exact moment she meets the deliciously sexy, honey-eyed Daniel Collins at work. What are the chances? When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as a coincidence. But is Daniel really boyfriend material or is he maybe just a little too good to be true?
I am so excited that I found a new romance series! There is nothing I love more than a contemporary romance series where each books follows a different character. There is so much to love about The Boyfriend Project, but Samiah is the highlight. I love that she is career-driven and would have been happy with or without a relationship. The romance was actually more in the background of this story, which was refreshing for me. The friendships are what truly shined!
Everyone talks about falling in love, but falling in friendship can be just as captivating. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins. But as Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s stagnates, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, one career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the center of an internet firestorm.
Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a stirring examination of making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.
The Subtweet took me by complete surprise- I had no idea that I would love it as much as I did. For such a short book (under 250 pages), it brought up a lot of important issues that I continue to contemplate and discuss with friends and family. Women, especially women of colour, who are in the limelight are often pitted against one another, and that is devastating. Social media plays a large role in this story, and it is a great reminder that once you put something on the internet, you cannot take it back. The Subtweet is also an interesting and realistic look at friendship. I am looking forward to reading more from Vivek Shraya, starting with her memoir!
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
We need more YA memoirs that focus on issues like race and sexuality. These are the books that can be life changing for young readers. George M. Johnson wrote a collection of essays, each one being more powerful than the next. The section where he is writes letters to every member of his family was particularly moving. I highly suggest reading All Boys Aren’t Blue and then listening to some interviews with George M. Johnson.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.
Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.
Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.
How is this my first time reading Tiffany D. Jackson!? Let Me Hear a Rhyme is everything that I love about YA contemporary. This book tackles grief in such a real and heartbreaking way. I was on the edge of tears the entire time I was reading it. The characters are what made this book truly special, and I loved that we were given each of their perspectives. They each had a unique voice. I also thought that the fact that Let Me Hear a Rhyme was set in the 90s added another layer of intrigue. There is so much that I loved about this book, so I will be posting full review on Sunday!
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.
When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?
Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.
Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?
This series! I love it so much! I did not think that this book could live up to the first book in the series, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, but I may have liked Take a Hint, Dani Brown even more. I was invested in both Dani and Zaf as individuals, and as a couple. That is something I often look for in romance- I want to love both characters independent from their relationship. Something that stood out about this book for me was the anxiety representation, which felt very authentic. That is not something I read about often in books, and I appreciated it so much! I also plan to post a full review on this one, so look out for that soon.
Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin
What will become of our self-destructed planet? The answer shatters all expectations in this subversive speculation from the Hugo Award–winning author of the Broken Earth trilogy.
An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind—hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out eons ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved. Steel yourself, soldier. Get in. Get out. And try not to stare.
I am currently reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, but before I picked it up I wanted to get a taste of her writing, so I decided to finally read one of the novellas from the Forward collection. Emergency Skin is only 33 pages, but wow do they have an impact. I love the second person narrative, which is so hard to pull off but really worked in this case. Some reviewers have said the message was heavy-handed, which I understand, but I think that was intentional. It has given me a lot of think about and made me that much more excited to read The Fifth Season and to try the other books in the Forward collection (even though I have heard N.K. Jemisin’s novella is the strongest).
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.
“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.
After loving The Vanishing Half, I knew that I needed to read her debut novel as well. I cannot begin to explain the roller coaster of emotions that I felt while reading this book. I became so invested that I needed to take a step back from it every so often because it was stirring up so many emotions, everything from sadness to anger to frustration and ultimately to understanding. There was a collective voice, known as “the Mothers”, that provided an outside look into the characters, which I thought was interesting.
June was the best reading month I have had in 2020. Every book I read was at least four stars, with five of them being five stars.
What was the best book you read this month?