HOW IS IT JULY!? I do not know. But what I do know is that I read a LOT (A LOT A LOT) this month. It felt like nearly every evening was spent out on the little couch on my patio reading… usually with a glass of wine. It’s such a nice way to end the day. You might remember that last month I pledged to read at least 50% books by BIPOC with an emphasis on Black authors. This month I read 9 books and 5 of those were by Black authors. I also donated all of my book-related affiliate income ($488.59) for June to Campaign Zero.
EVERYTHING I READ IN JUNE 2020
This was an excellent month of reading. From lighter reads like One to Watch (honestly that one was just so much fun to read) to three books I can’t stop thinking about by Black authors (Patsy, The Vanishing Act, Nickel Boys!) it was just a great month of reading.
TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE READING! I’m always looking for great recommendations… I love reading your comments!
IF YOU’RE NEW HERE AND ARE LOOKING FOR A BOOK, DON’T FORGET THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS CHECK OUT MY BOOK CLUB PAGE.
We just redid it and it looks so good! Every month I update it with everything I read – it includes every book I’ve read in the past five years. The best part is that you can filter + search by genre (memoir, light read, historical fiction, thriller, books by Black authors, etc!) Now you can also filter by GRADE to find exactly what you’re looking for or just peruse my top picks. If you’re feeling like you need even more book recs, check out last month’s list and everything I read in 2019!
This month’s anti-racist read
So You Want To Talk About Race, by Ijeomo Oluo
This book was my anti-racist read from the month (you can see my personal reading list here) and was excellent. I learned a lot reading it. It was definitely hard to read at times. But I am so glad I did, and I think it’s a really important, necessary read for all White people. I actually bought it a little while back. When the Alison Roman and Emily Giffin stuff was happening (google if you don’t know what I am talking about), I realized how poorly equipped I was about talking about race. I cannot recommend this book as a resource enough.
Ijeoma gives so many examples from her personal life (I really liked this part, it made it a little bit less academic and more personal. In particular, I was really impacted by the parts where she talked about conversations she had to have with her well intentioned white mother.) This is a book that I will probably read over and over again (even having finished it I now feel like I need to go back and re-read it again) for years to come. It covers a LOT: from when something is about race, cultural oppression, microagressions, the model minority myth, and so much more. The parts to me that were particularly poignant were the parts on privilege. And of course the very last chapters about what to do next. Hard to read, uncomfortable, but also so incredibly important. Please read this book if you have not, already!
Overall Score: A
If you loved Big Little Lies….
A Good Marriage, by Kimberly McCreight
This was one of my Book of the Month picks last month and my mom and I read it together. If you’ve read Kimberly McCreight’s other books (I loved Reconstructing Amelia – featured here back in 2013) this is similar. A dark, well-written, mystery, also set in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Lizzie is a lawyer with secrets of her own (an alcoholic husband and an embarrassing debt she has to pay because of her actions). Because of the debts she’s moved from the public sector to the elite firm, Young & Crane, where she works long, long hours. One day an old classmate Zach (who has always been a little bit weird) reaches out to her. His beautiful wife has been brutally murdered in their Park Slope Townhouse. Zach has blossomed from awkward nerd to rich startup owner. He swears he had nothing to do with the murder. Lizzie reluctantly agrees to represent him and as she works to prove his innocence, she makes other alarming discoveries: about Zach, his wife, their group of friends… even her own marriage. I couldn’t put this down and really enjoyed it!
Overall Score: B+
Three Powerful Books by Black Authors
Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
This is a book that is going to make you feel all the things. It begins in 1998 in Jamaica where Patsy is living in Pennyfield, Jamaica… single mother to a 5 year old daughter, Tru. Her dream is to move to America. Years ago, her best friend (who became more than a friend) Cicely fled to America and now writes to her with stories of a better life (and the possibility of reigniting their love). Patsy makes the heartbreaking (I thought) decision to leave Jamaica forever to follow her dreams – leaving Tru with her father, Roy.
This book follows them over the next thirteen or so years. Patsy arrives in America and it quickly hits her hard that things are not going to be the way she had thought they would be. Cicely is married, with a family and an overbearing husband. And as an undocumented immigrant, she has to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny – just to afford a tiny room in Crown Heights. Meanwhile, Tru grows up and becomes a teenager, struggling with her own sexuality and also unable to understand why her mother abandoned her.
The story follows both of their stories. It’s ultimately hopeful, but broke my heart so many times, too. I felt angry with Patsy for abandoning her daughter, but also empathy for her as she struggled to find her “American dream.” I was heartbroken for Tru. These characters are complicated and real and I really think that every person should read this book.
Overall Score: A
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
This book!!!! I am still haunted by it, even a few weeks and many other books later. This was also on my personal anti-racist reading list. So many of you recommended it and I am really glad I read it. This book has been on nearly every notable “best books” list and it won the Pulitzer Prize this year, so I knew it would be good. It’s set in the sixties in Jim Crow-era florida at a hellish reform school, and it’s (horrifyingly) based on a true story.
Elwood Curtis is the boy who sets out to do everything right. He’s heading into his senior year of college, working part time to help support his grandmother, and is about to start taking classes at the local college. He believes he’s “as good as anyone” (MLK’s words) and is determined to do great things with his life. One day, he makes the smallest, most innocent mistake and he’s sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy. The Nickel Academy claims to turn wayward youths into upstanding men but the reality is that it’s a sadistic, terrible, corrupt place of abuse. He befriends cynical Turner, and the boys form a close bond. The ending crushed me. The whole book crushed me. But please, please read this book, I promise you it will be one of the best books you read this year!
Overall Score: A+
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
Oh wow – this book was amazing. Amazing. It would be a really good pick for a book club as there is so much to discuss: family, relationships, race, sexuality… I could go on. I read it in a little over 24 hours. This is the story of two identical twin sisters, growing up in the small Black community of Mallard, Louisiana.
Desiree is the troublemaker and restless, whereas her sister Stella is more bookish and a bit of a goody two-shoes. When the sisters are sixteen, they decide to flee Mallard for New Orleans, running away forever. Once in New Orleans, the girls find ways to piece together a living: Desiree working at a laundromat and Stella pretending to be white and getting a job as a typist. But after a couple years, Stella abandons Desiree, leaving only a note behind, saying that she has to “go her own way.” From their, the sisters lives take very different paths. Stella passes for white and goes on to marry her boss and become a wealthy housewife (with her husband having no idea of her background).
Meanwhile, Desiree marries the darkest man she can find, who eventually abuses her, causing her to leave and go back to Mallard. The story follows the two women and their daughters (Jude and Kennedy, whose lives intersect at one point!) through the fifties in the Jim Crow South to the nineties in Los Angeles. I could not put it down. I cannot recommend this book enough!
Overall Score: A+
The best romcom I’ve read in a while…
One to Watch, by Kate Stayman-London
Oh I LOVED this book. I read it after having read a bunch of more heavy books, thinking it would be good to read something cute and fun and while it was cute and fun (and Jasmine Guillory had blurbed it so I knew it would be good), it was so much more than that. It was real and raw and very clever… and I saw so much of myself and my friends in the characters and how they engaged with each other.
Bea Schumacher is a plus-size fashion blogger (love a book about a blogger!) who has always been unlucky in love, especially when it comes to her best friend / crush, Ray. One interaction between them leaves her devastated and feeling completely unlovable and awful. Meanwhile, she’s always loved Main Squeeze (which is basically The Bachelor). One night on her blog she publishes a (slightly tipsy) takedown of the show, calling it out on their lack of diversity. The next thing she knows, the show is under new management and they want her to be the star! She begrudgingly agrees… never expecting to find love.
I won’t tell you what happens but I will say how enthralled I was with the book. It was as satisfying as watching a whole season of The Bachelor with an inside twist on the behind the scenes. And Bea was just such a wonderfully relatable character. I adored this book and truly miss her now that the book is over!
Overall Score: A+
Read this one if you want a palate cleanser?
On The Island, by Tracy Garvis Graves
First of all, everyone told me to read this book to help fill the deep void in my heart after reading The Idea of You. (Yes, even well over a year later, a tremendous hole in my heart still exists after putting down that book!) In hindsight, I see what they were saying as this does involve a complicated romance with a big age difference. But while The Idea of You was actually really well written with complex-sish characters, this book just… wasn’t. I think the mistake on my part also was in reading it right after Patsy which was so complicated, emotional, and well-written. So anything would feel shallow after reading that book. But I needed something shallow. And I’m not here to talk trash as I still enjoyed it! I started it Saturday morning and was done by Sunday morning coffee.
TJ is a 16 year old boy who had been sick with cancer in remission. His parents hire 30 year old Anna to be his tutor for the summer, which they will be spending at a house in the Maldives. The parents go ahead and TJ + Anna head over later. But their pilot suffers a heart attack and TJ and Anna are stranded on the island. Days turn into months and they figure out how to survive and live together. But as TJ turns into a man… well, you know what happens next!
I will say that there aren’t any sex scenes. It’s still steamy, and of course I kept reading because I wanted to know if they’d ever make it off the island, and if they did, how they’d ever manage to be together. This one wasn’t great, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable. If that makes any sense at all!
Overall Score: B-
A good old fashioned horror movie – in book form.
Home Before Dark, by Riley Sager
Riley Sager never lets me down. I have now read and reviewed all of his books. He’s one of those authors where if he has a new book, I will pre-order it without even any idea of what the book is about. And that was the case with this: I ordered without even reading the description. I just knew it would be a scary treat.
This one was very good, though I am only going to give it a B+ or so. Honestly, I think that after reading Patsy, The Vanishing Half, and Nickel Boys, I am a tougher crowd this month! I don’t want you to think it wasn’t good, because it was! I still loved it and teetered between giving it a B+ and an A-. It held my attention, it scared the shit out of me. (Seriously this one is v v scary. I don’t recommend reading it before bedtime!!!)
Maggie Holt doesn’t believe in ghosts, but her father got rich writing about the terrifying, supernatural experiences in their first home in his book, House of Horrors. When he passes away, she mysteriously inherits the house (she had no idea he still owned it!) and returns to it with the idea of restoring it and selling it for a profit. But things go awry. The members of the town resent her for making their town infamous – and profiting from it. And then there is the issue of the house itself: things keep disappearing. There are strange noises at night. Scary things keep happening. The book alternates between (terrifying) chapters from her father’s book and modern day. And Maggie must confront the truth: was her father lying? Is the house really haunted? Or what if the truth about what really happened is even scarier than the book!?
Overall Score: B+
An Action Packed Man Hunt
Sleeping with Strangers by Eric Jerome Dickey
I will be brutally honest with you, I did not love this book. I’m not sure I’d say I even liked it? I should have DNF’d it but didn’t. C’est la vie. It was recommended to me as I was looking to read more thrillers by Black authors. (I’m still on that mission, and will be reviewing a bunch more in the months to come but would LOVE any recs if you have them.) But this one was more of an action thriller than a psychological thriller? The writing was pretty cheesy and there’s also a lot of violence. And there’s a scene where the main character is raped by his mother and that made me feel physically ill. It’s very dark and I just didn’t really identify with or enjoy any of the characters.
It’s also from 2007 so a lot of the cultural references don’t really hold up. I will tell you that it’s a wild ride, and that there are few really steamy sex scenes. I stuck with it but there was a giant cliffhanger ending and I will not be reading the sequel. So I guess I’ll never find out what happens. Gideon is an assassin for hire. After a really intense job (killing the rapper, Big Bad Wolf), he finds himself on the other side of a job – being hunted. In between there are a few mysterious women, a complicated relationship with his boss, and an old personal score to settle. This book was not for me. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, just not for me!
Overall Score: C-
Photo by Allie Provost.