Mini Reviews of Recent Reads: June 2019

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May and June have been mixed months of reading for me. I’ve been busy and distracted by other things, so I haven’t read as many books, and some of the ones I did read were not the best choices for my state of mind–or for summer reading.

My June reading list has much better summer reading selections, I think.

Nonetheless, there are some here that may fit your tastes, if you’re in the mood for very specific types of books.

You’ll find a smart YA audiobook, a heavy character-driven literary novel, an “up-lit” book, and a couple of experimental explorations of characters and pasts.

 

June 2019 Book Reviews

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Shirin is a normal teenage girl who is new at her school. She has a love of breakdancing and wants only to blend in. But in the year following 9/11, it’s impossible. She is Muslim and she wears a hijab, both of which make her targets–sometimes just of speculation but other times of violence. She is proud of who she is and the choices she makes, but also tired of being a target. She is suspicious of anyone who tries to get close to her, including Ocean James. He is intriguing, but she can’t imagine why he would want to be her friend–or more.

I don’t read a lot of YA, but when I’m interested in a YA novel I do like to try to find it in audio–most have worked well for me, this one included. While this did contain somewhat typical YA romance storylines, Shirin’s struggles as a Muslim teen post-9/11 were interesting and sympathetic.

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Ask Again, Yes: A Novel

Ask Again, Yes: A Novel

Author: Mary Beth Keane
Source: Publisher (Scribner) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 28, 2019

Ask Again, Yes has been getting a lot of buzz and rave reviews–for good reason. It’s an excellent book, that follows two neighbor families over decades. While the adults are not close, children Kate and Peter are. They forge a friendship in childhood, but a violent event rips the families apart and has repercussions long afterward. Kate and Peter, however, never forget one another and reunite as adults. Time, distance, and adulthood sometimes brings new perspectives on past events–and sometimes they don’t and those events are dealt with in other ways.

While this was an excellently rendered book, I found it quite a difficult read. The challenges the characters face are tough, and unrelenting. When you’re ready for a heavy, character-driven novel, this is a good choice–but save it for later if you’re seeking light summer reads.

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How Not to Die Alone

How Not to Die Alone

Author: Richard Roper
Source: Publisher (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 28, 2019

How Not to Die Alone follows Andrew, who goes into the homes of people who have recently died alone, searching for evidence of their next-of-kin (or ability to pay for a funeral). He has cultivated a lie to his coworkers that he has a wife, a family, and a home. In reality, he is actually alone, nursing old hurts and losses. When a new coworker joins him on his outings, he sees the potential for friendship and a less lonely life.

How Not to Die Alone is a pleasant-enough, easy read, though it’s not treading any new ground–other than Andrew’s job, which actually was intriguing. The story follows much the same path as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Andrew is more likable than Eleanor from the beginning, though many characters here make questionable choices. If you’re looking for a read-alike to Eleanor, you can’t get much closer than this.

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The Nine-Chambered Heart

The Nine-Chambered Heart

Author: Janice Pariat
Source: Publisher (The Borough Press) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: May 21, 2019

I thought the premise of this book–a portrait of a woman as told from the perspective of nine different people–sounded intriguing enough to give it a try, though as a plot-light book I considered it somewhat of a risk. Unfortunately, this one fell flat. Rather than nine diverse perspectives told by people from different areas of the woman’s life, almost all were her former lovers, and many turned her into their version of the “manic pixie dream girl” that they wanted. None of the characters had names (kind of a pet peeve of mine) and this just didn’t come together for me.

 

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel

Author: Ocean Vuong
Source: Publisher (Penguin Press) via Edelweiss
Publish Date: June 4, 2019

This novel, framed as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, is a debut for poet Ocean Vuong. The prose and the story–especially the first three-quarters–are stunning. The writing is spare–but poetic–and devastatingly insightful, with parts that caused me to pause and read them again to savor their brilliance.

The son, named Little Dog, reflects on life with his mother. She is work-worn and sometimes abusive, exhausted by her lack of a homeland, her inability to read or speak English fluently, and her mentally ill mother who was traumatized by the war. Little Dog grapples with his identity as a son, an Asian American, and a gay man experiencing his first romance with a troubled farm worker.

This fell apart for me a bit toward the end, as Vuong veered more deeply into poetic metaphor and jumped around in the story–it was harder to follow. It left me with mixed feelings about the whole thing, but the first half-plus is worth the read for the prose alone.

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June 2019 book reviews, including On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, The Nine-Chambered Heart, How Not to Die Alone, Ask Again Yes, and A Very Large Expanse of Sea

 

New 2019 Books: June Reviews

 

 

 

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