I read a LOT of things in June; not quite as many as April, my most productive reading month of the year so far, but still quite a few. Due to an injury, I had to stay off my feet for a lot of the month, and I definitely read quite a lot during that time. I focused my reading on picking up books from Black authors, and genre-wise, my reading was mainly comprised of romance, nonfiction, and literary fiction. Let’s get into it!
# of books read: 13
Kindred by Octavia Butler (5 stars) – Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors, but until this month I hadn’t read her most well-known book, Kindred. I’m extremely glad I finally picked it up; every time I read one of her books I’m in awe all over again. Her writing is challenging and thought-provoking; it stays with you and forces you to engage with difficult topics rather than just finishing a book and being done with it. Kindred is a time-travel story set in the 1970s and following 26-year-old writer Dana, a Black woman living with her white boyfriend. She’s unexpectedly drawn back to the early 1800s to save a young white boy named Rufus from drowning and comes to understand that he’s her distant ancestor, and that she’s saving him to save her own family line. Dana is repeatedly drawn back every time Rufus’s life is in danger, and has to deal with his slave-owning family and the danger to her own life and freedom as a Black woman in early 1800s Maryland. Butler introduces a number of ethical questions throughout the book, and the answers are never easy; Dana is being forced to deal with the reality of slavery as a modern woman, and she constantly re-analyzes how her mind processes the inexplicable. It’s a powerful, insidiously devastating book, and I’d highly recommend picking it up along with Butler’s other works.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (5 stars) – This was my second read from Colson Whitehead, and my second five-star rating as well. I completely understand why this won the Pulitzer Prize; it’s devastating, impactful, crucial, and also deeply character-driven. Although fiction, it’s based on true events at a real reform school in Florida, which makes it all the more haunting and all the more relevant. Whitehead’s prose is continuously compelling, and he makes you feel so deeply for his characters. Highly recommend.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4.5 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I don’t typically gravitate towards a book when I hear it described as literary fiction focused on a marriage. (That’s why I still haven’t picked up Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies despite the plethora of excellent reviews.) But! An American Marriage by Tayari Jones has completely changed my mind about judging books with this premise, because it was fantastic. Celestial and Roy have been married for a little more than a year when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and their fledgling marriage, already flawed, is further tested as they try to figure out how to stay connected rather than become further divided during his incarceration. Jones’s prose is continually engaging, and the dialogue and issues Celestial and Roy face feel completely authentic throughout. She also explores different themes of racism, gender roles, and the concept of marriage in really interesting ways. Because we hear from both Celestial and Roy in alternating perspectives, and also through their letters to each other, we’re able to see how they present themselves to one another as well as what they’re feeling internally, giving us a deeper understanding of them as characters. I’d highly recommend picking this one up if you haven’t already.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (4 stars) – I haven’t watched the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, so it took me quite awhile to actually pick this one up (I don’t know why I was under the impression that you’d have to be a fan of Noah’s show to be able to enjoy it, but that’s definitely not true). It was my brother who highly recommended it to me and who finally got me to pick it up, and I have to give him a lot of credit, because this book is fantastic. It’s about Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa as the son of a Black woman and a white man, which was illegal at the time of his birth, and chronicles growing up under apartheid with his strong, determined mother. Noah’s writing is extremely compelling, and he’ll have you both laughing and crying during this one, along with educating you about the reality of living in South Africa. I listened to the audiobook, and Noah tells his story so well; I honestly really hope that he writes more in the future, because he’s very talented and I’d probably pick up anything he writes. Now I guess I’ll have to start watching his show, too!
Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (4 stars) – An essential book for teens through adults that provides a succinct, accessible look at the history of racism and antiracism. The audiobook, narrated by Jason Reynolds, is excellent. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for an introduction to and context for racism in the U.S., as well as an examination of antiracist leaders and thinkers.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I loved this contemporary romance that featured fake dating, a social media-crafted relationship, a driven, career-focused heroine, and great mental health and work/life balance discussion. Check out my full review here; I received an eARC from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley.
Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole (4 stars) – My first foray into Alyssa Cole’s historical romances; I’ve read 5 of her contemporaries so far. Set during the Civil Rights era, we’re following a Black college student inspired to make a difference and join the movement and the childhood best friend who resurfaces in her life, a Jewish boxer. As a Jewish chick myself, I really loved seeing a Jewish main character in a historical that isn’t set during World War II, and I thought that the discussions about racism and anti-Semitism were really interesting and well-done. This book also had a really good mix of romance and history, with one never detracting from the other, and a lot of fascinating information about the Civil Rights movement.
When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – I’m a sucker for a book with a great premise, and I’ve rapidly become a huge Tessa Dare fan over the past few months, so this was such a fun read for me. A young noblewoman with social anxiety invents a fake Scottish fiance and proceeds to write him letters for years on end, until she eventually kills him off in order to live out her life with the freedom to pursue the scientific illustrations that are her passion. Except that the fake fiance she was writing to turns out to be a real person, in need of a castle to house himself and his displaced army friends, who shows up asking for the marriage she invented. One of my favorite Tessa Dare books so far (although I’m just not into the Scotland thing–I understand it’s very big in historical romance, but I’m just not about it) and I’d recommend if you’re looking for an escapist read with plenty of humor amidst the romance.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (re-read) (4 stars) – Although reading Rowling’s work right now leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, I’m participating in a book club with a group of friends and doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series as a way for us to stay in touch during the pandemic. I actually ended up skipping book 5 (I remembered it well enough to participate in the discussion without a re-read) but dove back in with book 6, which I remembered much less thoroughly. I really enjoyed this one, particularly the focus on Dumbledore, who’s probably the most interesting character in the series.
Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (3.5 stars) – A contemporary romance novella companion to Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series that follows Likotsi, advisor to King Thabiso (we met them both in A Princess in Theory) and her love interest Fabiola, a jewelry designer she meets through an app while in New York. The two initially plan on a brief fling, as Likotsi has to return home to Thesolo, but both fall harder than expected, and when Fab unceremoniously ends things, they’re both somewhat heartbroken. During a chance meeting months later, the two are forced to confront their dormant feelings for one another and what exactly happened between them previously. It’s a sweet second-chance romance story, with flashbacks to their initial relationship interspersed with present day, and I thought the chemistry between Likotsi and Fabiola was really well done. I really wish it had been longer, though, as I would have liked to have seen things develop further, since I liked the characters so much.
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield (3 stars) – I really enjoyed several of the stories in Julia Armfield’s Salt Slow, but the majority didn’t quite work for me. I wanted to love this collection (I want to love every short story collection since they’re one of my favorite things to read!) and I do think that Salt Slow has a lot of great premises and ideas, but the execution often felt repetitive and the stories themselves felt like they would work better if either condensed or expanded. My favorites were the first few stories in the collection: “The Great Awake,” in which people gradually lose their ability to sleep, and the elusive Sleeps become manifestations that follow them around, and “The Collectibles,” about three lovelorn college roommates and how one of their theses turns sinister.
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (3 stars) – One to Watch is a contemporary romance that very much feels like reading an in-depth take on a season of the Bachelorette, with a bit of the show Unreal mixed in. Bea, a plus-sized fashion blogger, goes viral for her critique of Main Squeeze, a Bachelor-esque franchise, and its lack of every type of diversity and representation in its cast–in particular its lack of women who don’t fit into a narrowly defined beauty standard. After a slew of low-rated seasons, the show’s new producer decides to cast Bea as the new Main Squeeze, but Bea is struggling to believe in the possibility of finding love after pining over her friend Ray for so long without true reciprocation. The men she meets on the show surprise her in several different ways, but she struggles to open herself up to the possibility of falling in love–and being hurt–again.
It’s an undoubtedly fun read, filled with pop culture references, a variety of love interests, Bachelor-esque tidbits, and body positive messages, and I flew through it. I was surprised by the addition of articles, Twitter hot takes, and recaps that interspersed the narrative, and it was a device that I really enjoyed as I felt it lent a more realistic portrayal (because in the world of the Bachelor franchise, there are no end to the slew of thinkpieces and gossip and brackets that consistently appear each season). But I felt that most of the plot twists were predictable, and Bea’s emotional journey faced the same issues too many times throughout the book; even though I understand that being vulnerable and open to love can be a difficult journey, I felt that the narrative could have been more streamlined.
I received an eARC of One to Watch from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh (3 stars) – Leigh’s Union of the Rakes series follows a group of misfit best friends who met in school in a Breakfast Club-esque detention scenario and who are now grown up and living in different stratas of London society; each book utilizes tropes inspired by 80’s movies. It’s a really fun idea for a historical romance series, and one that necessarily leads to a lot of hijinks. Would I Lie to the Duke follows highborn Ash, the Molly Ringwald of the friend group, and love interest Jess, a small business owner whose family soap-making company was recently devastated by a fire. Jess is working as a lady’s maid while attempting to find investors to help get her company back on track when she stumbles into a risky but potentially lucrative scheme: disguise herself as a member of the nobility and infiltrate an exclusive annual investment conference–one that Ash is also attending–and persuade the elite investors that her business is one worth sponsoring.
I really loved the chemistry between Jess and Ash–even though she’s a commoner and he’s a duke, there’s never a sense of entitlement or uncomfortable power dynamics due to Jess’s strong personality and the way they come to interact with one another. Structuring the plot around business and investing was something I hadn’t seen previously in a historical romance, and I thought it was an interesting way to do things. What I didn’t love was the deception inherent in Jess and Ash’s dynamic and how long it took for Jess’s deception to be revealed; I found it frustrating and it kept me from being able to completely root for them as a couple. I do think this is a very fun series, and I plan to pick up the next book when it’s released.
I received an eARC of Would I Lie to the Duke from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read any of these, or are any on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!