June Book Reviews


Fire Keepers Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Yep. The hype is warranted with Firekeeper’s Daughter. It grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the last page. Boulley has written exceptional YA, mixed with thriller and family drama, that sheds light on so many important issues, while being much needed representation for indigenous people in published literature.

One thought I kept coming back to after reading it, was how the history that has been whitewashed in our schooling I inevitably learn through novels or film. I finished this book just before the 215 murdered children’s bodies were found at the residential school in Canada. There are parts of Firekeeper’s Daughter that address these schools, and my thoughts also went to Anne with an E on Netflix, which my daughter and I devoured this year. The show took liberties with LM Montgomery’s source material and included a storyline about an indigenous girl taken from her family. It was excruciating for us to watch, yet so important to understand. I am glad that if kids aren’t being exposed to atrocities we need to learn from in school (yet), they will learn about them through books and other art forms.

I am so glad Higher Ground productions optioned this for Netflix, giving even more of an audience for this wonderful story. I definitely plan on putting in my kids hands, too.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The story of Newland Archer (who is just as pretentious as his name sounds), and his struggle with the status quo/keeping up appearances while falling for an independent woman he can’t have, and courting another who is his destined match, was slow going for about the first quarter of the book. There is a lot of superfluous detail that bogged me down. Though, much of this detail would be illustrative for readers during the era in which it was published in 1920. Down to the type of furniture, art, opera seats, or cross streets of homes gave so many clues about the characters. But to someone in 2021? Not so much. I’m reading a book now that references Instagram stories, and I wonder, just as with this novel, how will it be received decades from now?

By the halfway point I began to see Wharton’s subversiveness in regards to Archer, and what a rather ridiculous character he is, while the women seem to be cunning and calling the shots - all while the men remain oblivious. Her narrative choices made me think more about perspective and who’s telling the story. I so wish that she wrote another version from one of the women’s point of view.

Overall, I am glad I read it and the ending was quite memorable. I am so grateful to StephanieReads for providing such interesting material to chew on while reading - from articles about Wharton’s life (which is definitely imbued in her work) to pictures of homes during that period. (The summer homes of rich Gilded Age New Yorker’s are something else!) Everyone should subscribe to her newsletter to reference whenever you might decide to pick up a classic from her list of buddy reads!

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

“It’s easier to watch myself be sad than actually feel sad.” 

Oof. If you are into books that wreck you just a little bit, but leave you hopeful, Yolk is IT.

It took me a few dozen pages to get my footing in the narrative. Things felt abrupt and unexplained at first, being thrust into Jayne’s gritty reality as a cash poor art student in New York. But I quickly became invested in her life, and the reconnection with her sister June. Choi’s writing is phenomenal, from the searing quote above, to oddly perfect lines that made me chortle: “The bottoms of the produce drawers looked like the contents of a sharks stomach during an autopsy.”

I’m so glad I had recently finished Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner’s memoir perfectly compliments this novel of two girls growing up as Korean Americans and all of the family dynamics at play.

I would also classify this as ‘new adult’ rather than the YA it’s shelved under at my library. I know the YA classification can steer some readers away, and I would absolutely not want that to happen with Yolk - I highly recommend this multifaceted and poignant novel.

Think Again by Adam Grant

As the title implies, Think Again is a thought-provoking book about changing minds, and most importantly, changing our own mind. Though a lot of what I took away from Grant’s work seems like common sense, it’s hard to put into practice because of all the self-imposed road blocks he describes. But his words give incentives to continually work on rethinking, adapting, and changing.

One nugget that stood out to me was that we don’t use the same computers or technology today that we did 20 years ago, so why should our opinions stay the same for that long, too? Our goals and perspective should adapt as we change and grow.

I think that this book would be most valuable to someone who manages others and wants to excel in business, but the data conveyed can be useful to all readers. As a stay at home mom, the information about keeping our children’s minds open to possibilities and change was eye opening and impactful - yes! We should definitely stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up! It’s limiting! I am learning that the data does not support straight A students become more successful adults, and that it shouldn’t be a focus - successful individuals are empirically those that question the status quo, adjust well to change and think outside the box.
“Ultimately, education is more than the information we accumulate in our heads. It’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning.”

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jiminez

What a perfect escapist romantic read! I’ve had Abby Jimenez on my TBR for awhile now, and even though The Happy Ever After Playlist is the second book in a series, it sounded like the most fun and well-reviewed, so I just dove in! And I’m so glad I did. Seeing as how happy ever afters are guaranteed in romance novels, I don’t think the spoiled me for reading The Friend Zone: which I immediately put on hold at the library.

This one starts off a little far-fetched, with the meet cute involving a lost dog jumping into the love interest’s car. But, the sweet and flirtatious banter that ensures between the two characters was adorable and I genuinely liked them both. So when things started to get intense with the inevitable ‘boy loses girl’ roadblocks, I was super stressed out! These people went through some THINGS.

I also found it admirable how Jimenez addresses grief in a thoughtful way, based on the similar experiences of her good friend. Excellent binge-able summer fare that I highly recommend!

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Stunning. It has been ages since I read a book of poetry. And such a slim volume that can be read in an hour sometimes feels like cheating when it comes to counting a books read. But the thoughts and feelings that Baer evokes are as moving as any novel.

Her hypnotic words evoke such visceral emotions about love and the realities of life as a wife and mother. That an oft used phrase like “When will you be home?” can be crafted into something so lyrical. Reading ‘What Kind of Man’ literally made me tear up with love and gratitude for my husband, and ‘Like a Wife’ made me fist pump and laugh aloud. Just so good.
My experience reading this reminded me of Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. While not poetry (it’s a collection of ‘mini-memoirs) it’s slim, similar themes, packs a punch, and is written by a poet. I highly recommend both!

She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh

I remember a while back explaining to my kids who Dolly Parton is - beyond a famous country music singer. I read an article to them about her charitable giving and philanthropic efforts in literacy and putting books in the hands of children all over the world. She is responsible for donating over 130 MILLION books for children. I teared up talking about her, and I teared up a few times listening to She Come by it Natural.

I wouldn’t say that this was a very in-depth biography of Parton, but a really well done journalistic look at how she has affected and represented women from her small town Tennessee roots, to women worldwide. Learning more about her business choices, how she faced a lot of intimidation, and followed her gut to great success was fascinating stuff.

It’s inspiring and infuriating and equal measure how far we have come and how far we have to go in treating everyone with the dignity and respect we deserve. Dolly deserves it in spades, and it is very cool to see this happening for her in her lifetime.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Clarie Lombardo

"And it was weird, she thought, feeling adult and aware, how a thing so terrible as losing someone could yield goodness in the ones who were left.“

The synopsis of this book was uniquely appealing to me: multigenerational family drama, spanning decades, set in Chicagoland! I am glad I finally read it, as I enjoyed becoming completely immersed in the Sorensen clan.

Peppered with poignant and familiar scenes of life, Lombardo’s writing is sharp with characters that leap off the page. To that end, I’m not sure I would recommend this novel to folks who have a hard time with really flawed/unlikable characters. I usually don’t have a problem with it, especially when the writer can illustrate why they are flawed. But it took a long time to come to the realizations about why some of the characters were kind of awful in this book. This story requires some patience and probably could have been edited down from it’s 600+ pages.

If you like a slow burn, character driven, and intricate family saga, I highly recommend this novel. Also recommend if you loved Ask Again, Yes or A Place for Us - they’re very similar in scope and tone.