What I read in June

June was a great month for reading. Not only because I read quite a few books, but because I also discovered a new favourite book. Now, when I say “favourite” I don’t mean my number 1 favourite of all-time, because I don’t have one. I believe books are like friends, you don’t necessarily have a #1 best friend above all others (although to be fair, I happen to), but they’re more like a tier. Your favourite books can come to you at certain times in your life, and that doesn’t make them better or worse than the ones that come to you at other times. I wouldn’t consider the Harry Potter series the absolute best thing I’ve ever read, but I would still call them a favourite because they are special to me in a way no other books are. In conclusion, read Normal People by Sally Rooney.

The Great AloneThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were to list out each of the negative events that happen to Leni and her family in The Great Alone, you might think this novel is nothing more than tragedy porn: abuse, PTSD, hunger, poverty, death, injury… and then you remember that the setting is the Alaskan bush and the time period is the years following the Vietnam War, and it all makes sense. It’s not an easy novel to read because there is a harrowing amount of bad treatment and circumstance that befall the Allbrights, but it’s not torment for the sake of it but instead relays the reality of the wilderness. And it’s not simply relentless horror; the bush is full of kind and caring people, found families, and hope and learning to survive. The book starts slowly, painting characters and settings through their emotions and connections, and while it unfortunately feels a bit rushed toward the end, their stories (not only Leni’s but her mother’s, her love interest’s, and local residents like Marge) are so real and resonant that I feel like it’s a novel that will stick with me for a good while.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the worldbuilding in Six of Crows but I didn’t feel like I could completely connect with the characters. Crooked Kingdom continued the worldbuilding I already loved while also crashing emotions into me about the characters. My heart was in my throat waiting to see what would become of each of them and thoroughly enjoying the ride. It’s a really classic story in some ways, and a really original one in others, and they meld together into this really fantastic tale with high stakes and fascinating, multi-faceted characters. My one complaint is that I found the ending a bit rushed, but maybe that was mostly because I wasn’t ready to let go.

On BeautyOn Beauty by Zadie Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I can acknowledge and appreciate is very good, with excellent writing that delves deep into race, class, gender, and societal convention/unconvention, but it just didn’t resonate with me emotionally the way I think it was meant to. I love a sprawling family drama, but the level of interest I had in various storylines was so mismatched that the bad ones (Howard, ugh) tore me away from the ones I found fascinating (Zora in the poetry class), and the number of them gave short shrift to some I thought could be really compelling (the painting and the will) while making others feel like afterthoughts (the rivalry of the professors, which seemed like it would be the main plotline and ended up feeling like an aside).

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a new favourite. I see from the author bio that Sally Rooney and I are the same age (which makes me feel sad about my life that I haven’t produced anything as poignantly beautiful as this novel), and that makes sense to me because even though the characters are varying degrees younger than us/me, I feel like she’s captured every feeling that I’ve had and been able or unable to put into words. I started reading this on the train to work yesterday and immediately knew it’d be one of those I’d be picking up in every free moment until I finished: at lunch, on the way home, before bed, and then until I reached the end a few minutes before my stop on the train again this morning. Each chapter jumps ahead minutes or days or weeks or months to another pivotal moment in the relationship of the two complex and relatable and wonderful protagonists, but the story is such that you can easily fill in the gaps in between because it’s likely you will have some similar experience in your own life or, if not, because they are so real and genuine that you can guess what they would have done because you know what you would have wanted to do. This is one of those books that I almost feel was written especially for me, and I feel privileged to have read it.

The Natural Way of ThingsThe Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a tough read, relentless and visceral. Told from the perspectives of two of a number of women kidnapped and taken into the Australian bush where they are held captive and stripped of their humanity in a violent, misogynistic prison camp, the imagery of the story is as brutal as the plotline. It’s a harsh, angry story about the ways women are villanised for their own victimhood, shamed for the existence of their sexuality (which inevitably causes them to be seen as the perpetrator of any assault or affair against them), and abandoned by society the moment they go for a moment against the image of the ideal woman. It’s difficult to read about their degradation, but as they find ways to adapt and push back against their captivity it becomes surprisingly empowering as well, a look at determination and survival instinct written with a level of persistent, vivid detail that will ensure it stays with you for a long time.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost DNF’d this early on. I actually looked at my friends’ reviews on goodreads to decide whether I should keep going with it. Maybe I’d just picked a dud, I thought? But my friends said 5-stars, 5-stars, 4-stars, 5-stars, and they don’t usually steer me wrong, so I decided I must be missing something and I kept going. By the halfway point, when I had shed happy tears over a haircut, laughed out loud at a snarky comment regarding LOL and fallen a little bit in love with all of the characters and their quirks, I was glad I had soldiered on. By the end, my “little bit” of love had turned into a lot of love for the warmth of this story and these kind, odd characters, Eleanor especially, learning to banish loneliness with friendship and care.

The Power of the Dog (Power of the Dog #1)The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve followed Don Winslow on twitter for ages because he does good tweets about writing and politics, but I hadn’t picked up one of his books until now. After reading The Power of the Dog, I will be impatiently waiting for my holds on the other two to come in at the library because this book is genuinely epic. A sprawling story that encompasses every type of crime from mafia to narcos to police corruption to politics to arms dealing, and more, and weaving them into a brutal, page-turning thriller. Winslow captures the blistering horror of the War on Drugs in all its faces and angles, and turns it into a monumental work from which you can’t look away.

View all my reviews

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