Sunday, June 30, 2024

June Books

Can you believe that reading wasn't my jam growing up?! Clif Notes were my best friends in high school - I'd "read enough" to get by, but other than that I did not enjoy the act of reading so never did it... like ever. Maybe I wasn't reading things that held my interest or maybe it was because it was "required" so I didn't find it enjoyable, but whatever the reason, I'm glad I challenged myself to add the goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (which turned into 88 books in 201777 books in 201867 books in 201966 books in 202067 books in 202141 books in 2022 and 98 books in 2023). The majority of my "reading" has been listening to audiobooks since I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books once I started working full time (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have two-ish hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb dot com and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening. Just like in years past, writing a monthly recap of the books I get through is a great way for me to both record what I'm reading and to stay accountable. So, here are the books I finished in the month of June:

  • The People We Keep by Allison Larkin - Another book that I don't remember how it ended up in my "for later" section on my Libby book, but ain't no thang. It was available and I needed something to listen to, so I checked it out. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but this by far exceeded my expectations. The book is set in the 90s (count me in already), there is a character named Carlee (this is the first piece of media that I've found to have my name in it, even if it is spelled 'wrong' ;)), the story feels real and relatable (there is no extra gooey parts or an anticipated 'happily ever after'), one of the character plays euchre (you better believe I've bought in - hook, line and sinker!), need I say more?! But, in all honesty, this book felt like I could've met April in any of the busking folks I've spoken with or house bands I've listened to. It isn't an easy read, per say, since there is a lot of heartbreak throughout, but it was a quick listen that left me wanting to befriend the characters and to have more of the story to devour. Some of the plotlines couldn't been a little better or different (her high school boyfriend becoming a famous soap opera star?!), but overall I say 'two thumbs up'. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - This was recommended on my Libby app due to some of the books I had recently checked out and since I was waiting for most of the other books on my "for later" list to become available, I figured I'd give it a try in the interim. Seeing as I had no idea what the book was about, it sort of took a little for me to get into it. This is a novel that discusses topics such as race, socioeconomic status, culture, etc in a "language" that many of us understand. A black babysitter was stopped by a white security guard while she was babysitting (a white child) and accused of kidnapping. The exchange, where the security guard refused to let both the babysitter and the kiddo leave, was recorded on a cell phone and the book expands on the experiences that came after. Although this was a fictional telling, I could have just as easily have been reading a current news article. This one can be uncomfortable to read/ listen to (whether it's due to the languages used, the blatant or covert racism that is often seen in our culture or even the reflection of your privilege) - but hopefully that uncomfortability leads to conversations and change. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride - Real talk, I added this to my hold list on the Libby app when I first downloaded it like a month and a half ago. I had seen this "loved" by a few friends so their endorsement gave me all that I needed to give it a try. I'll be honest, the first half or so of the book I kept thinking to myself "wow, either I am not in the right frame of mind, am completely different from my friends or this book is over-hyped." Thankfully I stuck with it, because in the end I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing how everyone's stories and lives in the small town of Chicken Hill overlapped and came together. I would say that because of the time and location this was set in (the 1930's in an area of Pennsylvania where many Jews, immigrants and Blacks lived) there was a lot of language that made me cringe while listening to it (I really dislike hearing the "n" word, no matter who uses it or in what context, but I do realize they were trying to be consistent with the culture at the time). There were also quite a few characters to try and keep straight. (Maybe I wasn't paying perfect attention so missed things, but sometimes I just had to sort of guess how the character fit into the storyline.) Seeing as I wasn't loving it the first 3/4s or so, I have to dock it a couple points even though in the end there may have been a tear or two in my eyes. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee - After a few novels it was time for non-fiction. I'm not sure if you're aware, but my college degree is in economics. This book made my econ heart smile (not to mention, my family has had [and continues to have] many members in unions, which this book also addresses, so this was right up my alley). Heather's hypothesis (which the evidence supported) was that racism not only costs those who are in the marginalized group, but it costs EVERYONE. One of the main reasons for this is that many folks think that things like better working conditions, higher wages, etc are a zero sum, wherein if you get something there is less for me, so I would rather neither of us got anything. I know, I know, when you spell it out it sounds unfathomable that people would act that way if something could better themselves at the same time, but if you look at what actually happens, it's the fact. Doesn't a rising tide raise ALL ships?! And please don't hear my little review and think this book is all doom and gloom. This is not pessimistic at all. In fact, we should be stoked that the answer is for more community, more integration, more diversity. Let's ALL win! This is not about pointing fingers, it's about being realistic about what has happened in the past (and what continues to happen today) and see ways we can all come together. PS And I know I started about the recap about my econ heart, but I think anyone could read this and take many nuggets away. And although everything is well researched, I wouldn't say it felt too data heavy. I honestly think this should be required reading (for society!). There was a quote at the end that I LOVED - "the sum of us is better than some of us". I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin - I had heard that this was an AMAZING book, so as soon as I downloaded the Libby app I added it to my "holds". It finally became available so I grabbed it right away. Although I have seen so many friends giving this rave reviews, I actually didn't know what it was about... In case you were curious, it was about the gaming world, friendships/ relationships, etc. I am not super familiar with the gaming world, so there were definitely some vernacular that I was unfamiliar with, but overall you didn't really have to know anything about coding or video games to understand the story. I'll definitely say I was sucked into the story of Sam and Sadie right away. There were points where I didn't like either of the main characters, but overall I was cheering for them to win (and maybe even for them to get together, but actually appreciate that it wasn't a romance and focused more on their friendship). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • 14 Miles by DW Gibson - Let's be honest, living in San Diego County means not only are we front and center when it comes to "Trump's Wall", but we impacted on a daily basis by the border (seeing border patrol every day, having to drive through multiple checkpoints, etc). This book is full of investigational research about the building of the wall. It wasn't only about the wall, but about the people who are impacted by it (whether in the US, Mexico, Haiti, etc). I found it incredibly interesting, especially seeing as we live in the immediate area of where the majority of the research centers around. Even still, I think no matter where you live it is a gripping information for all to try to digest. I won't be adding this to my personal library, but it's definitely one that I will continue to think about and talk to others about on a regular basis. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • None of this is True by Lisa Jewell - This is another book that friends have mentioned was awesome, so I got on the waitlist for it on my Libby app and was pretty pumped when it was my turn to check it out. I know I sound like a broken record, but I had no idea what it was about when I downloaded it, but that seems to be my M.O., huh? I found this immediately intriguing. Maybe it's the fact that "true crime", "podcasts", "off-the-wall stories" are 'hot' right now or maybe it was just the suspenseful writing, but I really enjoyed it. This was a story about two women who were "birthday twins" - having been born on the same day, the same year and even at the same hospital (or, now that I think about it, I don't even know if that is true ;)). One of the women, Josie, decides she wanted to make some major life changes and asks the other woman, Alex, who is a podcaster, if she wants to make a series about someone in the process of changing (rather than what her current series is about - women who already had made changes and were now living their bests lives, becoming successful). There are a ton of twists and turns, which kept me at the edge of my seat, and I'll be honest when I say that even at the end I'm not 100% what was truth, what was fiction and what was fiction that someone believed was truth. Anywho, all in all, I really liked this one (and it wasn't even scary ;)). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Program by Suzanne Young - I was looking on my Libby app for a YA book and this popped up as a recommended series. I am always down for a good multi-book story, so I figured I'd give it a try. I'll be honest, had I known what the series was about I may have skipped it all together (this subject can be triggering for some and I truly do believe there should have been some sort of trigger warning). This might sound a little graphic, but it gave off Hunger Game vibes, except instead of the tributes killing each other this was about the kids killing themselves. There was a suicide epidemic, so the government decides to start a new "program" since the current mental health services aren't helping. The idea of this program is they are able to wipe out the memories of the "infected youth" so that they won't be depressed and wouldn't want to kill themselves. At first I was a little put off because suicide is not something to make light of, but throughout the book I came to see the author isn't poking fun but more trying to take a taboo subject something we can talk about. I will probably give the next book a listen and see how long I stick with the series. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Treatment by Suzanne Young - Well, my Libby app didn't have any of the additional books in the series available, so back to my Hoopla app I went (and thankfully it seemed to have a lot of them). This is the second book of the series and picks up right where the previous one left off. This story is focused on the "rebels" who are trying to outrun The Program (hopefully this isn't too much of a spoiler alert, but some folks do make it out and this explains the outfall afterwards). Also, the scientists/ doctors who worked on wiping the minds of the depressed kids (I think they were focused on 13-17 year olds, but I don't remember if they explicitly mention this or not) worked on a "treatment". Memories can be regained if the participant takes an orange pill which will bring their since erased memories flooding back. The government doesn't really want to admit that the program may not work completely, so they aren't publicizing an "antidote" but through a series of events Sloan becomes in possession of said pill. As you can probably guess, the handlers from the program are trying to track her down so that they can get the treatment back. In my opinion, this book was a bit more action packed than the first in the series, so I'll be interested to see where the next one will go. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Recovery by Suzanne Young - Figured we might as well keep this train a-rollin'. This book was actually 2.5 in the series (I didn't realize that until I already downloaded it). This one is a brief story about Realm trying to make good on some of his MAJOR mistakes. James and Realm go on a week long road trip so that Realm can see some of his old "friends" from The Program to first apologize and second to give them a folder of who they were before they went into the program. It's interesting to see how everyone reacts - some are thankful for getting their memories back and some would prefer to have not known that Realm was their handler and helped get them erased. It makes you wonder which you would prefer, seeing as the reason most of them had their memories erased were because they were depressed and contemplating suicide. I prefer Sloan and James as the main characters, so this was a bit too short (not worth using one of my precious six monthly downloads on my Hoopla app) and didn't do much to change my opinion of Realm. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Remedy by Suzanne Young - Fourth of the books I've listened to, but since The Recovery was technically book 2.5, this is the third complete book of the series. This book followed different characters than the first three. I didn't realize until towards the end that this was technically a prequel to the first ones (hopefully that isn't a spoiler, I just wasn't sure if it was obvious to others or if it was actually supposed to be revealed at the end). Instead of "the program" being around, there was a system where loved ones of those who had passed could request a "closer" (for a nominal fee, of course) who would stand in for the deceased and then the family/ friends could get closure so they could move on. The premise was people could move through the grief faster. The population definitely seemed to be split on their opinions of the system - some believing the closers were taking advantage of the vulnerable/ grieving and some believing in the idea and feeling the closers were helping and offering a much needed service. It's definitely an interesting idea. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Epidemic by Suzanne Young - At this point I figured I might as well finish the series out ;) This is officially book number four of the series, but the fifth I've listened to (since book two and a half was just a little one off). I would say, this was actually my favorite one thus far. Chronologically, it would go book three, then four, then one, then two, then two and a half. This book picks up where the previous left off - the end of the grief department and the events that set off the suicide epidemic (which was the beginning of the program). This one was definitely a bit more graphic (since it did technically focus on a suicide cluster), but I felt as though it was addressed cautiously and did a great job of filling in the pieces between the two storylines. Seeing as these characters are all good liars (a trait of being a closer was having to be able to "become" someone else and pull it off realistically) it was hard to figure out who was "good" and who had gone to the "dark" side, but overall it kept me on my toes and wanting to know what would happen next. I would give it a 9 out of 10.  

  • The Adjustment by Suzanne Young - The first two (plus the book 2.5) were about the program. They had the same characters and book two was an extension/ follow-up of book one. Books three and four were another set, more like the prequel (set prior to books one and two), with book three being the very first and book four being an extension/ follow-up of book three. Those two books had different characters than he first two since it happened at a prior time. Now book five (this one) was a more of an extension/ follow-up of book one and two (so, if you've hung on thus far, the chronological order of the books would go more like 3, 4, 1, 2, 2.5, 5, 6) and have different main characters as well. The storyline of this portion was about a possible "fix" of the program, where the doctors would be able to adjust the memory of returners from the program. The thought is they are able to reimplant memories, which they would get from someone close to them as a donor. I know, I know, all a little more scifi than I'd normally do, but I was already hooked on the series ;) Obviously these are all a little far fetched, but for some reason this one seemed 'way out there'. Although I may not have liked this one as much as some of the others, I did appreciate the twist at the end. (It sort of made me want to listen to the book again once I found out about the 'surprise' to see if it would've changed things for me.) I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe - Ok, so I had this one saved in my "for later" section of my Libby app and since I had run out of downloads on my Hoopla app (which is why I couldn't listen to the final book in The Program series), so I grabbed this for our drive to Mammoth. With all the scifi I had been doing, I figured a little nonfiction true crime would change things up a bit. I ended up really enjoying this one (as much as someone can enjoy a story about murder, I guess). There was a mother of ten who was kidnapped in the 1970s and this is a retelling of the crime, as well as what lead up to it, what happened after and how things that were happening in Ireland at the time played into the murder. The book was read by the author (so, beware, listening at a faster than normal speaking speed can be a little difficult with the author's Irish accent). The hubby and I watch the series Wrexham on Hulu, which is about a soccer team in Wales. Coincidentally, the most recent episode we watched focused a bit on one of their Irish athletes, so some of the things the player had talked about (the IRA, Bloody Sunday, etc) were explained and gone into more detail in this book. There were points in the book where I'd wonder why this or that piece of information was being explained, but it all came together nicely and I really liked how everything was intertwined. I've never been interested in the mob, so this was as close to some of that lifestyle I've ever gotten. Interesting for sure. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Complication by Suzanne Young - Remember how I mentioned I had run out of my Hoopla downloads for the month (and the series wasn't on my Libby app)? Well, the hubby hasn't been using his account (the accounts are linked to our Oceanside library cards, so you can't just create an account to get more books), so I was able to sweet talk him into letting me log in on my phone and use his downloads, that way I could finish the series while it was still fresh in my mind. At last, we've come to the final book of the series (the final book both numerically and chronologically). I'll be honest, I was a little sad that it'd be coming to an end, but the author did a great job of not only weaving the different plots together but also the different characters. Some of the main characters from the different sections came together in the end to try and fight the system. I think this was my favorite of all seven, which was surprising because I normally find the follow-up books to not be as good as the original. I could see this all being made into a streaming series or multiple movies. I was obviously cheering for "the rebels", but no spoilers from me as to who "wins" in the end. I would give it a 9 out of 10. 

  • Blessed are the Bank Robbers by Chas Smith - Shhhh, don't tell, but while I was in the hubby's Hoopla app I used another of his downloads for this book. This book is actually about one of our good friends good friend. I had forgotten about it until I saw it in the hubby's 'for later' list, but since I still had his log in I figured I'd use it ;) This is about a San Diegan who came from an evangelical family and turned into a bank robber. And not just a guy who robbed a bank or two, but who robbers over FORTY and was a wanted criminal for many years. I'll be honest and say that I wish there was more about 'cousin Danny' or the crimes he commited, instead of as much detail about the family and their church relations, but I also realize that most criminals don't want to necessarily want their cousin to write a tell-all of their criminal behavior. I found this interesting because I know most of the areas they were talking about and we have a bit of a connection to the subject, but others may not find this as intriguing. The author seemed to be glorifying the robberies and glossing over the damage that was caused (whether to the family, the bank tellers, etc). I had heard about this author before and know he can definitely be off putting or polarizing, so I could see some folks not loving this one. I would give it a 6 out of 10.

  • Pretty Things by Janelle Brown - I don't remember if I had seen this on a friend's recently read lists or not, but I was waiting for it to become available on my Libby app, so once it was my turn I grabbed it. I ended up really enjoying this one. It was told from two different characters perspectives (which I didn't realize for a while since the second 'narrator' didn't come in until much later in the book), which I always like. This is the story of two families who believed negative things about the other and eventually found out that what they believed may not have been completely true. There were a few twists along the way I wasn't completely expecting (I tend to have most novels figured out thanks to my years of watching Law & Order, but this one actually kept me on my toes). I could totally see this being turned into a movie. I appreciate that different aspects of mental health were discussed (even if it was to show how much of a taboo the topic still is). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Ander & Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa - I had seen this book on quite a few LGBTQIA+ must read lists. I have had my eyes peeled for it (even setting an alert on my Libby app to notify me when it became available) and I saw it on the hubby's Hoopla app. I may have done a little happy dance (sometimes it's the little things, hehe). Anywho, I really, really liked this one. I can see why it has been on so many lists. Not only are there diverse characters (non-binary, trans, etc), but it isn't made into a big deal (as it shouldn't be). I also appreciated that many important topics were discussed - from mental health to immigration. Although it is a YA book, I would probably say it's for the older end since there is some sexy time included (but, again, not focused on, not made into a big deal, not discussed in depth). Yup, this one had me feeling #AllTheFeels and can't wait to see what else this author does. I'll totally be recommending this one to folks. I would give it a 10 out of 10. 

  • How to be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer - I saw this book in the non-fiction portion of my Libby app and thought it sounded interesting. I hadn't heard of these two authors before, but apparently they have a podcast called 'By The Book' where they follow the self-help (to the T) for two weeks from different self-help books to see what insights they may glean. Instead of focusing on one specific self-help "truth", this book gives their overarching feelings (what they think might work, what they wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole, etc). I found it extremely interesting. I don't know that I'd add it to my personal library, but it's definitely one I would read multiple times. (The authors were also the ones who read the audiobook [and took turns writing and reading every other chapter] and I've gotta say, they sound like a bunch of fun!) I would give it a 9.5 out of 10.

  • Animals I Want to See by Tom Seeman - This book popped up in the "trending titles" section in the Hoopla app and as soon as I saw the author was writing about Toledo, Ohio you better believe I grabbed it. I grew up across the border (on the Michigan side) from Toledo. Like, legit, we were exit 1 on US-23. This was a memoir from a kid who had the odds stacked against him (one of twelve kids, lived in the projects of Toledo, etc) but succeeded nonetheless. Not only did I enjoy listening about his life, but I loved hearing about very familiar areas (like St. Francis, Catholic Central, Centennial Quarry, Showcase Theater, etc). I'm thrilled Tom was able to defy the odds. I did notice when I was grabbing the link on Amazon for this book that it is technically listed under the Christianity heading. The family went to church and Tom went to an all boys Catholic school, but otherwise God wasn't discussed at lengths (in case that sways your decision on whether or not to read this one). I may be bias because I am familiar with where the author grew up, but even without it I thought it was a good enough memoir to read (who can argue with personal stories?!). I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Project by Courtney Summers - None of the books that I had on my Libby app's "for later" list were available, so I started going through recommended lists and came across this one. I had read this author's previous book and remember enjoying it, so figured this was worth a listen. This one was not what I was expecting, but kept me on my toes. The two main characters were sisters. One was in a car accident with her parents and was the sole survivor. When that sister was in the hospital, the sister who was not in the vehicle prayed for the healing of her sister and when the doctors deemed her recovery a "miracle" the sister knew she needed to follow god. The issue was, when she found "god", she found a cult. She obviously didn't realize it as such and years later, when the sister who was in the accident tried to contact her, she discovered the shadiness of the organization, "The Project". I'll be honest, this was an interesting story, but it lost me in the end. I don't want to give anything away, but the ending sort of felt "phoned in". I'm not sure why I didn't like it, maybe it was not as detailed as I thought it should be or very trite in its storytelling. I would give it a 6 out of 10.

  • A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson - I feel like I have to look for a new book to listen to just about every other day, so I thought I'd look for another series, that way I at least have a few days worth of listens ;) This series popped up in the recommended YA "thriller" section and all three books were available, so I grabbed 'em all at once. The idea behind the book is a student is tackling her senior project and decided she wanted to try to clear the name of a kid who was alleged to have killed someone (or more find out the truth behind what really happened). Sure, it's a little far fetched that a 18 year old student would be able to solve a crime that happened five-ish years prior (that was technically already 'solved'), but it's still fun to read. The audiobook actually had all of the interviews done by different actors, which I always love. I'll be honest, it might not be 100% believable, but I was still wrapped up in every minute of it. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson - I'm not sure if you are familiar with the show "Only Murders in the Building", but the hubby and I really enjoy it. It's about a trio of friends who make a podcast about MURDER IN THEIR BUILDING ;) If you haven't seen it, I'd totally recommend it, but the reason I bring it up is because this series sort of seems like the teeny-bopper version of it. This book is an extension of the first, with all of the same characters, but a different crime that has occured. Again, I didn't think it was completely believable, but it was still entertaining. There were some different storylines in this book - like catfishing and the witness protection program - but if you liked the first one, I'm sure you'd like this one too. Similar to the previous book, this one kept me on my toes and guessing whodunit until the end (or maybe there was just so much going on that I didn't have time to really consider all of the suspects seriously on my own). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson - Time for the finale of the series. I was a little sad that it was coming to an end, but all good murder mysteries end up running their course ;) The last book I mentioned reminded me of "Only Murders in the Building" and this one was more like "How to Get Away with Murder". I really like that the story just continues (even if it is over the top - being stalked by a serial killer who the police believe has already been caught), especially since I listened to them back-to-back-to-back. I'll be honest and say that my heart was racing a little more during this one - so maybe it felt more realistic (ha, probably not) or maybe was a little scarier. There were parts that felt a little slower, but I never lost interest. I've said it before, but I sort of grew up on Law & Order, so this type of book is right up my alley and I love how there are clever clues left throughout the story that eventually end up playing a much larger role than expected. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

With that, June is done-zo. If you have suggestions, let me know! I'm always looking to add to my "must read" list! 

What's the best book you've read lately? 

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