Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
The first month of summer break is over, and I have to admit I’ve been doing much more reading than blogging.
Looking over my June reading list, I’m a bit shocked I have twenty books on my list. While that is a lot of books, I know my numbers should be even higher. My reading was on fire at the beginning of the month and then started to slip.
Was I doing some impressive things instead?
Not really. I’d love to say I renovated my house or did nonstop fun activities with my kids. While I’ve done some of that, I’ve actually just spent an inordinate number of hours binge-watching the first few seasons of Downton Abbey the last few weeks.
From new releases to old favorites, find out what I’ve been reading this month.
June Reading List
After a car accident caused by her drunk driving, Sunday Brennan returns to her large Irish family in New York. Five years earlier, she had abandoned them and her high school sweetheart with no explanation. Determined to rebuild her relationships, Sunday is startled when a man threatens the family’s business and forces the family to confront painful mistakes.
We Are the Brennans is my new favorite book of 2021. Tracey Lange hit it out of the park with this family drama reminiscent of Ask Again, Yes. After reading it, I couldn’t stop pondering the character’s motivations and decisions, and debating how my feelings would have changed if the author had tweaked different characters. Delving into the ways guilt and shame can affect our interactions, We Are the Brennans is a brilliant book club book that I know I will be recommended for years to come.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Celadon Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In 1929, three brides are married to three brothers in a single ceremony in rural Punjab. As Mehar tries to discover which of the three brothers is her husband, a misunderstanding causes lasting consequences. Years later, Mehar’s great-grandson returns to India hoping to recover from his drug addiction.
As the two main characters struggle to find freedom in two different time periods, Sahota’s novel (based somewhat on his family’s history) uses sparse descriptions and limited glances, letting the reader fill in the gaps. Often the fragmentation as the perspective changed confused me, and I wish transitions had been smoother. However, this literary style is gorgeous in its own way but is not the lushly detailed writing I typically expect from historical fiction.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Random House. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Zakiya Dalila Harris
Tired of being the only Black woman at Wagner Books, Nella Rogers is thrilled when Harlem-born Hazel moves into the cubicle next to her. When Hazel becomes the office darling, Nella starts receiving threatening notes. Could Hazel be trying to force out Nella, or is there much more going on in their workplace?
More office drama than thrilling read, The Other Black Girl suffers from poor pacing, taking forever for anything to happen and then rushing the ending. Inserted into the plot are other POV chapters which supposedly build up to the Twilight Zone twist, but in reality, just drag down the text even more. I enjoyed the social commentary, as well as the interplay between Nella and Hazel, and thought the big reveal was a fascinating concept, though so unsatisfactorily explained that the climax lost its potency.
In the years leading up to the second world war, a group of military strategists, nicknamed “The Bomber Mafia,” wondered if precision bombing of strategic targets could make war less lethal. Gladwell ponders how technology and the best intentions collide in the heat of war while examining the firebombing of Tokyo. Weaving together stories of a Dutch genius, pyromaniacal chemists, and two competing generals, Gladwell makes you consider the incalculable costs of war.
The Bomber Mafia was created as an audiobook, which was obvious when reading the e-book. The book heavily quotes outside sources, which would be much more enjoyable in an audio version. As always, Gladwell is a stunningly good writer, making you rethink everything you thought you knew and pointing out things you never even considered. My biggest complaint was that The Bomber Mafia was too short. I wanted him to go deeper into each topic and I think he could have easily doubled the length of the book without losing your interest.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Little, Brown and Company through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
On her way home from a school reunion, a surprise blizzard traps Noelle on the highway. She ends up spending eight splendid hours talking with Sam, the handsome American in the car next to her. As Noelle keeps running into Sam, she begins to realize that she wants more in life than what she has settled for.
Although I loved Lia Louis’s debut, Dear Emmie Blue, Eight Perfect Hours fell flat for me. The sheer number of Noelle and Sam’s coincidences tipped the scales from cute to completely contrived. Moreover, Noelle spends so much time in her head repetitively going over the same doubts that the story loses force. Although still an enjoyable rom-com, Eight Perfect Hours needed much more nuance and character-building to be worth recommending.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Atria Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
After being kidnapped as a toddler and raised in isolation in the German woods by a mysterious Jewish woman with powerful foresight, a young woman is shocked to find out that the world is at war. When she stumbles upon a group of Jews trying to escape the Nazi regime, she teaches them the survival skills that have kept her alive. After she is betrayed, she ends up in a German-occupied town where her past comes back to haunt her.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars is the type of historical fiction that makes you roll your eyes with how unrealistic it is. As a heroine, Yona was completely unbelievable, a girl with no character flaws but who was expertly taught in all matters – languages, medicine, religion, etc. – despite growing up in near isolation in the woods. In all, Harmel’s latest is an over-the-top story that steals its best moments from inspiring real events without adding enough strength into her fictional narrative to bring it all together.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
As her wedding approaches, Addison isn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do. Years ago, she was discovered on the side of the road with amnesia, and she worries that her past could come back to haunt her. Meanwhile, Julian has never given up searching for his wife who mysteriously vanished. As the two storylines converge, Constantine’s psychological thriller takes some twists that, while completely unbelievable, are at least unpredictable. A quick and easy summer read that didn’t particularly stand out but was still enjoyable.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
As COO of the hottest tech company in America, Julia Lerner has it all but hides a lethal secret: she’s also a Russian spy. One afternoon while performing a server check, Alice notices something off about the company’s privacy settings and begins to suspect Julia. Impostor Syndrome truly shines when it describes the nature of high-powered women in Silicon Valley, as cutthroat Julia must walk on a knife-edge of how she is perceived. Yet, as a spy novel, the plot was completely forgettable and too many tangents really killed the pace.
Poppy and Alex have been best friends forever even though she’s a wild child full of wanderlust and he’s an introverted bookworm. Although she lives in New York City and he still lives in their hometown, every year they take a week-long vacation together. Until two years ago, when their trip ended in a falling out. Now Poppy convinces Alex to take one final vacation with her in an attempt to fix their relationship … and maybe even fall in love.
Emily Henry’s latest release has been hailed as the summer’s best beach read, so I decided to pick up a copy. Henry is a good writer, and I enjoyed People We Meet on Vacation despite my general lack of enthusiasm for romances. The “will they/won’t they” aspect carries the novel forward and I loved seeing Poppy and Alex’s relationship. However, the stunning lack of communication between the characters really started to grate on me by the end of the book.
A new memoir from the owner and chef of an acclaimed restaurant in Maine tells of the challenges of finding your voice and rebuilding a life. Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French fell in love with food while working at her father’s diner. After dropping out of college when she became pregnant, French eventually established her own successful restaurant. When a crumbling marriage and addiction cause her to lose it all, French manages to slowly rebuild her personal and culinary life and find solace in the food she loves. A stunning memoir, French’s down-to-earth writing will cut straight to anyone’s heart while foodies her will love her luscious culinary descriptions.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Celadon Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Just like we refresh our wardrobe from time to time, we need to routinely reexamine our beliefs and ways of thinking. Often our beliefs become habits, and Grant argues that being too attached to one identity and thought process can kill our creativity. Instead, we need to start spending as much time rethinking as we do thinking. Grant is an excellent writer and he does a superb job keeping you engaged as he discusses thought-provoking concepts. However, I felt his stories tended toward the why without much how, limiting its usability in real life.
When on assignment for NPR, Michaeleen Doucleef noticed that the children in a Mayan village on the Yucatan peninsula are kind, considerate, and helpful without any of the tantrums and nagging she is used to seeing. In contrast, Doucleef’s three-year-old was, quite frankly, a nightmare at times, and Doucleef struggled to effectively parent her. Thus, Doucleef set out to observe how other cultures parent their children and learn what methods that Western parenting has lost.
I started listening to the audiobook version, and I found Hunt, Gather, Parent to be intriguing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far before my checkout period from the library expired. I plan to check the audiobook out again, though there is quite a long waitlist. I just wanted to mention it as a potential add to your reading list if you enjoy parenting books.
From the Backlist
Chloe Gong’s debut young adult novel is a clever retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1920s Shanghai, a blood feud between two rival gangs causes chaos in the city. Eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai has returned home to embrace her place as heir to the Scarlet Gang. When a contagion starts sweeping the streets, Juliette must work with her first love, Roma Montagov from the rival gang, to solve the mystery.
Chloe Gong’s historical fantasy was rich with detail, bringing 1920s Shanghai to life. I loved the vibrancy of the characters, as they struggle between love and loyalty. My biggest qualm was that the story was so bloody. A contagion causes people to randomly claw out their own throats, which was a bit gory for my taste. Yet, the overall story was delightful entertaining new young adult series.
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
After Shay Miller witnesses a suicide in the New York City subway, she ends up connecting with the woman’s glamorous friends. But Shay doesn’t realize is that they might be just as interested in her as she is in them. As Shay friendship with the Moore sisters helps her find the confidence she lacked, they are slowly using her for their own purposes. You Are Not Alone is a forgettable little psychological thriller with a far-fetched premise and flat writing that provides an entertaining, though not compelling, read.
In honor of my trip to Alaska last month, I decided to reread Kristin Hannah’s bestseller set in the untamed wilds of Alaska, which I found just as captivating my second time through. A recently returned Vietnam War POW, Ernt Allbright decides to move his family to the Alaskan frontier. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers and just what Ernt needs. But when the harsh Alaskan winter approaches and Ernt’s mental state begins to deteriorate, his wife and daughter must fight to survive.
When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a body buried in her backyard, it sends her on a journey of self-discovery based on a 100-year-old murder. In 1921, Will Tillman lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a town segregated by Jim Crow laws and pervaded by racial violence. A misunderstanding prompts a single violent outburst, propelling Will into the midst of the Tulsa Race Riots. I found Dreamland Burning to be a solid young adult novel that will resonate with modern teens, helping them understand how history connects with the present day.
Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos
Known as “The Father of Stealth,” Ben Rich was the second director of Lockheed’s Skunk Works and crucial in the development of the F-117, the first stealth airplane. Rich’s memoir gives you a fascinating look at one of the aerospace industry’s elite companies and an inside peek into the development of such renowned airplanes as the U-2 and SR-71. With segments from pilots, military members, and other individuals involved in the programs, Skunk Works is a captivating read for any aviation enthusiast.
In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found brutally murdered in the cornfield behind her house just months after her daughter’s tragic death. In the present day living in Sara’s former farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie comes home one night to find her mother has vanished. Now Ruthie finds she might be the only one capable of keeping history from repeating itself. McMahon’s modern-day ghost story is a chilling reminder that the dead never truly leave us. A fun atmospheric read for any fan of spooky books.
When it comes to developing habits, BJ Fogg urges you to go small. Think flossing one tooth or doing two pushups. While these don’t seem like much, Fogg explains how motivation and ability are key to successful habits and teaches tried and true methods to form desirable habits and break undesirable books. I found the book succinct, inspirational, and extremely helpful. I even started flossing my teeth regularly.
During a whirlwind vacation, recent high school grad Tate Jones falls hard for her very first love, only to have his betrayal shatter her world. Now a dozen years later, actress Tate is nervous for her first serious film role, only to unexpectedly find he is the screenwriter. Given that it’s a romance, I wasn’t expecting much, but I hoped for at least some character development like in some of Christina Lauren’s other books. Cheesy from start to finish, Twice in a Blue Moon is for romance fans who don’t really want to think too much.
Orphaned Hugo lives in a Paris train station, keeping the clocks and stealing food to survive. When the toymaker catches him stealing, Hugo becomes intertwined with the grumpy man and his lively goddaughter and finds his deepest secret is in danger. I downloaded the audiobook for my family to listen to in the car during a quick day trip, and we were hooked. We had a great time together discussing the book, and my kids thought it was the best part of our trip.
When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children find themselves alone in the vast jungle. When they find a map that leads to a ruined city, the children find more than they were ever expecting. Although the adventure story was fun, the pacing was so slow that it didn’t make a very good read-aloud. Often, my children struggled to pay attention, and I think this book would be better suited for older children.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back in July to see which ones I read.
What books did you read in June?