Hi, friends! I can’t believe we’re officially halfway through 2023!!! Life keeps coming at me, and I’m sure it is for you too. Hope you’re taking care of yourself, whatever that looks like. Here’s everything I read in June:
LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN by Lisa See – 4.5 stars
Inspired by real-life Lady Tan Yunxian from the 15th-century China, Lisa See shares with us another captivating story about strong women. Born into an elite family, the expectations set for Yunxian is to become a proper lady, marry a man from a respectable family that is chosen for her, and birth a son (or multiple) to continue the family line of her husband’s. After the passing of her mother, she goes to live with her grandparents, both of whom are doctors, and she trains in Chinese medicine and befriends Meiling, the daughter of a midwife. These events forever change the course of Yunxian’s life.
As I did with other books by Lisa See, I found myself transported to the time period and completely invested in the characters’ lives, feeling their joy and heartbreak. Lisa See has yet to disappoint me with her writing. If you’ve enjoyed her other books, put Lady Tan’s Circle of Women on your list (though I’m sure it already is)!
Thanks to Scribner Books for the gifted advanced reader copy!
HONEY & SPICE by Bolu Babalola – 4 stars
I expected a cute college romance from Honey & Spice and I got that and so much more! Kiki Banjo hosts a college radio show called Brown Sugar where she gives relationship (sometimes situationship) advice to women of the African-Carribean Society at Whitewell University. Suddenly, all of her audience starts calling about a new transfer student named Malakai Korede who she just had run into. There is definitely an enemies-to-lovers thing going on with a fake dating trope added as Kiki and Malaki decide to pretend-date to benefit each of their goals. There were a couple of points in the book where I was like “oh where will the story go from here?!” considering how much of the book was left but no need to fret because more twists and drama came along! Babalola adds another layer to the book with complicated family dynamics and friendship betrayals. A superb debut!
LOVE, PAMELA by Pamela Anderson – 4 stars
Pamela Anderson delivers exactly what I want out of a celebrity memoir. She is open and vulnerable. She doesn’t force a neat narrative but tells her story in her own words and takes full advantage of the opportunity to show all facets of herself. The memoir is on the shorter side (5 hours on audiobook whereas most memoirs are usually ~8 hours), likely due to the fact that Pamela Anderson initially wrote this memoir as a few-pages-long poem (which seems very much like her vibe haha), but it felt sufficient to learn her story as she covers a lot in the book, including some very heavy stuff (TW: sexual abuse and domestic abuse).
HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell – 4 stars
Hamnet is a fictional story inspired by Shakespeare and his family, particularly his son Hamlet who inspired the play of the same name. O’Farrell starts Hamnet with intensity and anxiety. Hamnet, one of three children, is looking for help as his twin sister Judith has fallen ill. Hamlet shifts timelines between the present, filled with anxiety around the Black Death, and the past, when Agnes (based on Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathway) and the unnamed “tutor” begin their courtship and marriage soon after. The contrast between the impending doom and the blossoming happiness is both reassuring and tragic. It also helps with pacing of the story. However, I still found it to be quite slow at least halfway through the book. While I wasn’t blown away like I expected due to so many glowing reviews, it’s an interesting concept that is executed well.
THE GUEST by Emma Cline – 4 stars
Twenty-two-year old Alex has recently been a guest of Simon, who is older and rich. After a faux pas at a dinner party, Alex is dismissed by Simon with a train ticket back to the city. Alex, not wanting to face what is waiting for her in the city (Dom whom she stole from and has been avoiding, and absolutely nothing else), convinces herself that Simon just needs some time and that they will make up at Simon’s Labor Day party. So she somehow manages to stay on Long Island for the next several days until party by pretending to belong and inserting herself where she can.
The pacing of The Guest over a matter of days and the way you get into Alex’s head during that brief time period reminded me of The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, and the intensity and the anxiety that is a constant presence were similar to Three Women and Animal by Lisa Taddeo. I was not captivated in an all-consuming way exactly but both the story and the way Cline tells the story were interesting. Often, I am left impressed by the writing but underwhelmed by the plot (this is how I feel about Carley Fortune with both of her books and Ashley Audrain with The Push…) and I would say Cline balances both.
P.S. This was the latest Greenlight Books subscription pick!
THROWBACK by Maureen Goo – 5 stars
One of the best Young Adult novels I’ve ever read (or listened to in this case)! Samantha has never gotten along with her mom Priscilla…that is until she travels back in time to when Priscilla is a high school senior running for Homecoming Queen. While helping Priscilla’s campaign to win the Homecoming Queen, Sam gets to know her mom–her conflict with her mom, or Sam’s beloved Halmeoni, her grief regarding her dad’s sudden death, and the racism she had to deal with.
Throwback address generational/cultural gap in such a refreshing way, and I absolutely loved it. Though it might be cheesy overall, I didn’t find it predictable so I kept looking forward to the next chapter to unfold. It does not sound juvenile, which helped with pacing for me. My only critique would be that grandma and Mrs. Cho speak perfect English with flawless grammar and vocabulary haha. If you’re a YA person, I high recommend Throwback!
WHITE CAT, BLACK DOG by Kelly Link – 4 stars
I enjoyed this collection of short stories by Kelly Link! It is more on the strange/alternative/unsettling end of the spectrum, which you may not expect since Link found inspiration for these stories in fairy tales (but then perhaps that makes sense considering the original versions typically are more gruesome and uncomfortable). There was one story I couldn’t quite get into but I found all of the stories unique and thought-provoking. Another solid pick from Greenlight Books subscription!
PAPER NAMES by Susie Luo – 4 stars
Paper Names was an immigrant story that is not quite what I expected. There are perspectives–Tony, the immigrant dad who starts over in the new country as a doorman, his daughter Tammy who feels the pressure to make her parents’ sacrifice worth it, and Oliver, a white lawyer from a wealthy family. As with most multiple POV narratives, it took me a little bit to get into (I usually need to hear from every perspective at least once or twice) but I was immersed in a way that reminded me of Fiona and Jane. I felt like I got to know all three characters and that their narratives carried equal weight to the story. Austin Ku narratives the audiobook with a calmness(?) that translates Luo’s writing well and I definitely recommend the audiobook!
SWIPE UP FOR MORE!: INSIDE THE UNFILTERED LIVES OF INFLUENCERS by Stephanie McNeal – 3.5 stars
In Swipe Up For More, McNeal writes all about influencers—from the OG blogging era to the rise of Instagram influencers to the (huge!) mommy blogging niche, and more. She interviews three particular influencers about their journey as influencers, and listening to their insights and thought processes was one of my favorite parts of the book. Since it’s only three influencers and two of them are conventionally pretty white women who share about fashion and family, it’s definitely not a holistic representation but I’m sure McNeal didn’t have the easiest time finding volunteers for this task. While the topic of Swipe up For More was more intriguing, The Kingdom Prep was more of an actively enjoyable reading experience for me (perhaps I would’ve liked Swipe Up For More better in print vs audio?!)
P.S. I’m currently listening to Elliot Page’s Page Boy!