What I Read in June: 10 Books and 3 Graphic Novels

I usually find the month following the Book Expo to be the time when I read more books than I normally would read. June was no exception.

I decided to do something a little different. You can thank a 10 year old girl for this. I usually pick up some books for my friend’s twin daughters every summer before they go away to their dad’s house. One daughter devours books. The other one is a comic book reader.

While her mother prefers that she read books, her daughter responded that she was not ready to give up picture books yet. This made me think…if comics and graphic novels are what it takes to get her to read, far be it for me to judge her. I should be encouraging her to read by any means she enjoys.

Which means that I am now reviewing comics and graphic novels. To my surprise, my male readers actually cheered when they heard this.

So far, I’ve picked up some great graphic novels and comics and I can’t wait to share this with you.

Adult Fiction

[usr 4] Next Year in Havana was a Read It Forward Facebook Book Club Pick.

This was a really good book. I enjoyed the story, but after page 280, the political stuff got to be too much. It’s a great book to understand the history of Cuba, what led up to the revolution, and the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. It also shares what life has been like since Fidel Castro came to power. 

We follow the story of Marisol (present day) and her grandmother Elisa (late 1950s). Elisa has passed away and Marisol has returned to Cuba to spread her grandmother’s ashes. As a reporter, she is looking to write a piece on tourism, while trying to find the right spot to release Elisa’s ashes. What she was not in store for was a box of letters her grandmother wanted her to have. 

The letters tell a much bigger story, as well as Elisa’s biggest secret. Marisol realizes she must find the answers in order to determine where the best place would be to lay her grandmother to rest. While she searches for answers, the regime follows her around. She could be seen as a spy if she doesn’t watch her step, because the questions she is asking will lead to trouble.

GOOD NEWS: As of this post’s publication date, you can get the eBook from Barnes & Noble for $1.99.

[usr 5] Daisies and Devotion. If you love Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, you will enjoy the latest novel from Josi S. Kilpack. “Daisies and Devotion” is the second book in the Mayfield Family Series.

It may be a little slow getting into, but once that dance happens, you will have a hard time putting the book down. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I really enjoy Josi S. Kilpack’s books. They are G-rated. Believe me when I say that sometimes the best love stories are the ones without all the sex and heavy petting. When it comes to real love, you have to talk about matters of the heart, not the lust. Josi’s focus is telling the stories that go on from the heart.

We read about the fear that goes on inside of their minds and the self-doubt. There are the lies we tell ourselves that we are not good enough, pretty enough, or desirable. There are even the stories we tell ourselves that someone doesn’t like us, we are not their type. Or that we may have misunderstood what was happening, so we break our own hearts and move forward in life…and when they try to tell us we were right, we refuse to believe them.

Kilpack does an excellent job of delving into the issues of love and learning how to love. She examines it, dissects it, learns from it and issues out the truths, no matter how difficult it is to accept. Seriously, where were these books 20 years ago? I could have used them then!

For the full review, click HERE.

[Content Warning: Book contains situations involving death, miscarriage.]

[usr 5] Pachinko. Wow. Absolutely incredible.

This book begins in Korea, before there was a north or a south, and then ends in Japan. We begin in 1910 and end in 1989, following the lineage of one family as they move from poverty to riches. 

There are two quotes that sum up Pachinko: 

“A woman’s lot is to suffer.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

As we follow Sunja’s life, a miracle that she was to be born, we see how the evil of the world tries to take advantage of such an innocent creature and shape her to make decisions that would lead her from Korea to Japan. She suffers greatly over and over again, but isn’t that life? Her children are her saving grace, but even the sins of her past can destroy her happiness.

This book is beautifully written, detailed and well done. Each character is developed so well that we watch them grow from infancy to old age. 

It is shocking to me the prejudices that Koreans had to endure. It is rather sad that they are looked down upon by the Japanese, even if they were born there, as well as their fathers. They are still not granted citizenship and can be deported at any time. It was really heartbreaking to read this and how evil Japanese people are to the Koreans. It really makes you look at what happens in America and see that it happens everywhere. There is always one race that thinks they are better than another.

There are content warnings for this book. The following elements are present that may present triggers for those sensitive to these subject matters: abuse, death/dying, strong language, miscarriage, abortion, sexual situations, self-harm, violence and suicide. 

Overall, this book is a must read.

[usr 5] Salvage the Bones. Jesmyn Ward is an incredible writer, probably one of the best living American writers today. “Salvage the Bones” is just another example of her extraordinary talent.

This book really helps you understand the conditions of living in the Bayou of New Orleans. Here, we enter into one household just days before Hurricane Katrina hits. One thing I cannot stop thinking about is the phone call everyone receives from the State right before any major hurricane. Evacuate or you risk your own life. No one is coming to save you.

But how do people living in extreme poverty evacuate? Where do they go? How do they get to a safe place? For the State to give out that warning, it’s a bit classist if you truly think about it. That warning is for people who can afford to leave. For everyone else, they have to wait out the storm.

For those who remember, when the levees broke, it flooded much of the impoverished areas. It literally wiped out many neighborhoods. 

One of the things Ward discusses that I remember hearing about when Tarboro, North Carolina (another black impoverished town) was flooded in 1999, were the dead bodies from the cemetery floating by. Her depiction and detail is the same as it was there. The similarities between the flooding of both areas are haunting. There was no warning for either place.

I can’t stress how well written this book is. Jesmyn reminds me so much of a Mark Twain or a Charles Dickens with the way she describes the life of humans along with their use of language. She is an incredible writer. You walk away from her books feeling so much more complete because you now understand something far greater than you ever did before.

[usr 4] The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. For those looking for a quick read, this little novella is only 84 pages. It is the prequel to The Steampunk Chronicles.

What I loved about this book is that Finley Jayne is a bit of a kickass, no nonsense woman. She is a great daughter and friend. She protects the innocent and is smart enough to trust her instincts when things seem awry. She investigates questionable people even before she’s asked to do it. She is the one saving the day, even before she knows it. 

Some superheroes are heroes because it is the right thing to do. Finley Jayne is a hero because it is who she is. She is not trying to be a hero. She just is. 

Great story. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

GOOD NEWS: This title is only $0.99 at Barnes & Noble.

[usr 5] The Starless Sea. I wish I could give this book a gazillion stars. It is literally a masterpiece. It has been eight years since Erin Morgenstern released her debut The Night Circus. I was talking to someone from Doubleday Books when a couple of women walked up asking for a copy. I had apparently picked up the last one. The look on their faces as they looked at my book. I could feel something crazy in the air, so I turned to the publicist and said, “I think I am going to hide this away before a mob scene breaks out.” She responded, “I think that would be wise.”

In other words, this book was THE MOST COVETED BOOK at the Book Expo.

This book is not set to be released until November 5, 2019, so make sure you pre-order it now. Before you do that though, I recommend that you read my review first. This book is only for certain types of individuals. It was not created for everyone. I only tell you to read the review first, because I don’t want anyone leaving bad reviews for something they did not understand completely. You can read the entire review (no spoilers) HERE.

[usr 2] Moonlight Travellers. I have been trying to remember where I picked this book up from. I guess it was when I was wandering around W.W. Norton, looking at their shelves. I probably thought…oh, this will be a light and easy read. Well, I was correct about that.

I did not rate this highly, because I had a problem with Will Self’s narrative. I don’t think the narrative matched the artwork appropriately. It read like this was a letter to someone…a specific someone. It was too personal and not something that should have been shared with everyone else. Those words belonged to one person…the intended.

While those words were beautiful, I felt like I had read something that did not belong to me. The artwork is interesting and entertaining as you go through each one, you’ll notice that the artwork alone is telling its own story.

[usr 2] Raw Thoughts. Well, I actually gave this poetry book a higher rating on Goodreads. 3 stars. But I am going to change that.

I created the posting for this, because the system had not been updated. I went to double check my rating and saw it was 3 stars, but strangely enough, it says 4 stars at the top. I think…who in the world rated it higher than 3 stars?

The author did. He gave it 5 stars. Ummm…note to all authors out there…don’t do that. I understand you want your book to sell, but don’t do that. I am not even going to link this book for people to buy it.

I am going to explain why I originally gave this book 3 stars…I wanted to be fair. I did not like it, because the first 3/4 of the book is depressing and suicidal. The photos are mediocre. The best of the bunch is definitely the cover photo. There were two poems that I did like at the end.

I know that John Casey’s aim was to help people who are in complete sorrow/depression relate to the poems. The ending was supposed to be a light out of that pit, but I don’t think there was enough light to do that. The 3 stars was for the effort in trying to do something good, but failing to do so.

I mean, he made me depressed reading this book.

Graphic Novels

[usr 5] Victor LaValle’s Destroyer. Absolutely loved this. What a great way to introduce the youth to Frankenstein.

It’s the old Frankenstein meets new Frankenstein. The new Frankenstein is created by an angry black mother. Akai was shot down by the police on his way home from his little league game. Someone called in a report that an 18-20 year old black male was walking around with a rifle. He was 12 years old, wearing a baseball uniform, carrying a baseball bat. 

Out of her anger at being seen as monsters because of their skin color, Dr. Baker decides to bring her son back to life using nanobots along with Victor Frankenstein’s notes. All the while, Frankenstein himself, the original creature, is hunting her down and destroying all humans in his path.

LaValle decided to bring Frankenstein and a major societal issue in America together to create “Destroyer.”

[usr 5] Teen Titans: Raven.
I really enjoyed reading Raven’s back story. Unlike the TV show/movie, this graphic novel is not funny. It’s rather serious and sad as we begin to see who Raven really is and where she came from.

After being involved in a car accident that kills her adoptive mother, Raven is sent to New Orleans to live with her adoptive mother’s sister and niece. The only issue is that Raven has amnesia. She has no idea who she is or what her past is. 

With the help of her aunt and cousin, their voodoo protects her as she starts to remember who she is.

What I love about this the most is that a woman wrote this. We need more women’s voices in comics.

[usr 4] The Magicians: Alice’s Story. I am a big fan of the television series on SyFy. This graphic novel is sort of the condensed version of Alice’s story. The characters do not look like the TV characters. While the show has diverse people playing the roles, the comic does not. It is whitewashed. 

Beyond that aspect, I decided to give this title 4 stars because it helped me understand Alice a little better and what ended up happening to her. It is sad to a point, but in a way, freeing to understand what happened to her, as well as the relationship she had with Quentin. 

I always believed that Quentin thought he loved Alice. Never thought for once that he actually did. I still think that, even after reading this graphic novel. Perhaps talking about love between Magicians is not realistic, because of the cold harshness of the subject matter of magic. It’s kind of something they want, but never really do attain. 

This graphic novel is for mature audiences only.

[Content Warning. These elements are present: death, strong language, sexual situations, nudity and violence.]

Children & YA

[usr 4] A Place to Land. This was an interesting tale of why King decided to do the “I Have a Dream” speech that day on the Mall. Apparently, it wasn’t the speech he prepared for that day.

The advance copy I received did not have the speech in it. I am unsure if the finished copy will have the speech in it.

Either way, I definitely learned something from this children’s book.

The artwork is well done. It’s a short read, but a very interesting take on that day. It gives this little piece of history a more in depth look behind that day.

[usr 4] Doc and the Detective in Graveyard Treasure. What a great mystery for kids. I think what I liked most about this is that you learn a little bit about the Choctaw Nation and the Trail of Tears. While you are getting a little bit of a history lesson about this Native American group, you’re also learning about caring for those with Alzheimer’s and learning to respect seniors, all the while, drawn into a mystery.

When seniors start complaining that their things are going missing, people assume they are just forgetful or they don’t know what they’re talking about. They are not taken seriously, until one day, Timmy and his neighbor, Dr. Moore, see a flower pot for sale that looks exactly like the one his daughter gave to him that went missing. When they see who is selling it, they realize a much bigger situation is going on. 

With the help of the local police, Timmy with his family and his friends, help uncover a ring of thieves that are taking advantage of the elderly. But the lessons here go far beyond just the adventure.

A great read for children 8-12 years of age.

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of A Place to Land, Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, Teen Titans: Raven, Daisies and Devotion, The Magicians: Alice’s Story, Pachinko, Doc and the Detective, The Starless Sea, Moonlight Travellers, and Raw Thoughts from publishers in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.]