In My Library Tote: June Book Reviews and Recommendations

June was an excellent reading month for me. There wasn't a bad book in the bunch; in fact, there were several really good ones. The majority of this month's books came from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, and--for me at least--she truly does know how to pick 'em. Here are my June books.

{what I read in June}

{An American Marriage by Tayari Jones} Celestial and Roy are only married for a short time when Roy is arrested and convicted of a crime they both know he did not commit. He is sentenced to twelve years in prison. He ends up getting out after five years when his conviction is overturned, but by then the couple's separation and circumstances have already put an immense strain on their marriage. It amazed me how Tayari Jones was able to pack so much into this novel, yet it never felt over the top. I tore through it. The characters are well written, flawed, and complex, and their circumstances, while hard to imagine for many, speak to the heart of the racism that plagues our justice system. My rating: 4.5/5 stars. 

{The Boat People by Sharon Bala} A cargo ship carrying 500 Sri Lankan refugees lands on the shores of Vancouver. Mahindan, who is aboard with his 6 year old son, is grateful to be starting over and ready to give his son a new life. However, instead of the freedom they hoped for, the refugees are detained in a "processing center" where they are heavily interrogated about their connections to a rebel group with terrorist ties in Sri Lanka. It is told from the perspectives of Mahindan, his lawyer Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan Canadian, and Grace, a third-generation Japanese Canadian adjudicator in charge of deciding Mahindan's, and many others', fate. I thought Bala did an excellent job of portraying the complexity of both the refugees' plights and the adjudicators' commitment to following the law and keeping their country safe. It started a bit slow for me but once I was about a quarter of the way through I could hardly put this book down. It was heartbreaking yet beautiful. Note, if you need a tidy ending you may want to skip this one. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan} This is the second memoir I've read by Kelly Corrigan (I read and loved Glitter and Glue last year), and she is so, so good, guys. Each chapter is devoted to a different phrase she is learning how to say, such as "tell me more," "I don't know," "yes," and "no," and she shares stories from her life that illustrate the importance and challenges of learning how to say it. She honestly shares about grief, as she experienced it with the loss of her father and also of a close friend. She has the amazing ability to take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but one that you want to stay on as long as possible. I've only recently started getting into memoirs, and she is an author who keeps me coming back to this genre. I listened to this on audio, which I recommend as Kelly Corrigan reads it--excellently--herself. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin} When Suzy finds out that her best friend drowned and died during her summer vacation, she can't accept the fact that sometimes things "just happen." Instead, she convinces herself that it must have been the result of a rare but deadly jellyfish sting. Once told she talked too much, Suzy deals with her grief by silently embarking on a plan to prove her theory of her friend's death, and as a result assuage the guilt she feels about their relationship before she died. While this a middle grade book, it made me think of Rabbit Cake, whose protagonist had a similar way of using science to try to overcome her grief. And like Rabbit Cake, I highly recommend this one. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata} Keiko has always been strange and has struggled to fit in among her family and peers at school. As a university student she gets a job at a convenience store, and her family is happy that she is taking steps toward a "normal" life. However, when she continues to hold the same job for years, never giving any indication of advancing her career, her family once again worries about her. Convenience Store Woman explores the expectations that society places on a person, and what happens when someone lives outside those norms. Keiko's shrewd, humorous observations of the world around her--a world that she feels outside of--reminded me of similar musings by Eleanor Oliphant. I loved this book because it made me laugh out loud, but also think deeply about the pressure put on women especially to conform, and what happens to a woman when she doesn't play by society's rules. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam} After Rebecca gives birth to her son, she seeks advice and companionship from Priscilla, a woman employed by the hospital to offer new mothers help with breastfeeding. She hires her as her son's nanny and they form a friendship that for Rebecca at least goes beyond the bond of a mother and caretaker. When Priscilla dies giving birth to her own child, Rebecca and her husband decide to adopt her son. Priscilla is black, and while in many ways Rebecca is prepared to raise her child as her own, she fails to understand many of the challenges of a white woman raising a black child. For me this evoked similar feelings around both race and motherhood as Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things. I found it interesting that Rebecca relied so heavily on Priscilla, especially during her son's first few months, and that her husband seemed relatively absent during this time. While the first few months with a newborn always feel like such a blur (hello, sleep deprivation!) I do remember working (and yes, sometimes fighting) as a team with my husband when my son was born to try to figure out how to be parents, and then again when my daughter was born to try to figure out how to parent two children. I found it curious that Priscilla seemed to take on a husband role for Rebecca, and they worked as a team to raise her child. Another element that I found interesting was the author's choice of setting the story in the 1980s, which to me didn't really add anything to the story. One could argue that a white woman raising a black child would receive more criticism and raised eyebrows 30 years ago, but I'm not too sure that we've come all that far since then. Rebecca, as well as her adopted son, would face the same issues today. This would be a great book club pick to discuss these ideas and more. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon} My friend Becky and I chose this for our book club, and we both patiently waited for copies from the library. I'm fascinated by Russian history, although I admit that before reading this, the mention of Anastasia evoked visions of the animated film from my childhood rather than anything gleaned from history class. (Exceptions: the hemophiliac brother and Faberge eggs. Cue the collective sighs from all my former history teachers.) I Was Anastasia tells the story of the Romanov family's demise and death, coupled with the story of Anna Anderson, a woman who claims to be Anastasia Romanov. As the Romanov's story moves chronologically towards their final days, Anna's story is told in reverse order, with each chapter moving back in time toward the truth of her origin. Each chapter in Anna's life is a step backward in time and a step toward solving the mystery: is she or isn't she? I found myself swept up in the story, going back and forth on my thoughts on Anna's true identity. I understand why Lawhon told Anna's story in reverse, and the overall effect is powerful; however, I often had a hard time following and found myself lost on a few occasions. Perhaps that was intentional as well. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser} A group of neighbors and friends get together for a kid-free ladies night one Saturday evening. They're drinking wine and sharing personal stories, never realizing that they will look back on this night again and again and wonder if there was something they missed. Come Monday, one of the women is gone. No one can imagine why Kristin, a friendly, picture-perfect mom of twins, would disappear without a trace. Although I predicted a lot of what was going to happen, this was still a fun, twisty summer thriller that I had a hard time putting down. One random criticism: the frequent occurrence of characters calling themselves "dolts." Is this a word you use? In 2018? I noticed it enough that I found it a little odd. Maybe it's just me. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

Have you read anything good lately? 

Linking with Show Us Your Books (better late than never) and Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

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