Guess who’s late with her update again? *oops* The beginning of July is just so busy, y’all. Plus I keep getting really distracted by the new school supplies that are out at Target…
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
One of my favorite things in life is getting people talking about the things they’re passionate about. Their eyes light up and they’ve got a big grin on their face, so much so that, even if you don’t know the first thing about the topic, you find yourself completely enraptured. This book was just like that. Acclaimed paleobotonist Hope Jahren loves plants, and by the end of her memoir, you’ll love them, too.
This book follows Hope from her childhood in Minnesota, to grad school at UCLA, to her experiences as a professor at Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Hawai’i. Her best friend is a bit of an odd duck named Bill, and both of them are passionate (and sometimes gently reckless) about their love for trees. Hope also has bipolar disorder, which is discussed in a manner that is somehow both frank and oblique.
And while you’re learning about Hope’s life, you’re also getting mini lectures on the memories of trees, the life cycle of plants, and a million other things regarding paleobotony that you never knew to care about until now. It’s the rare book I’ve found that splits its chapters between two focuses and never made me love one more than the other. It was a supremely satisfying book, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for an insightful and uniquely educational read.
Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Greater Power, by Jason Latour
Though I’ve been meaning to look into this series for a while now, this wound up being 100% an impulse purchase at 2nd and Charles. And a very odd one, too, because apparently they decided that the first in this bind-up series would be Vol. 0, which means I was missing some key exposition when I launched into Vol. 1. So that’s fun.
Anyway, the first thing that grabbed me (beyond being very lost by the story) was the artwork. This is stunning work by Robbie Rodriquez. It was worth the impulse purchase for the cover alone.
If you’re not familiar with the Spider-Gwen titles, it’s essentially an alternate Earth (Earth-65) where Gwen Stacy is the one who winds up with the spider powers instead of Peter Parker. As much as I love me some classic Spidey, it was so much fun to read about Gwen as the superhero, especially given that her dad is a police officer who isn’t so keen on the Spider-Woman. It gave it an extra layer that was really interesting.
I don’t want to give too much away plot-wise, especially since my information doesn’t have the most solid expositional background, but I had fun reading it, and I’m looking forward to grabbing Vols. 0, 2 and beyond.
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
This novel is #4 in The Austen Project, which has contemporary authors adapt the works of Jane Austen for present day. The first three entries into the series didn’t get such hot reviews, but this one is doing much better for itself, and for good reason. It’s downright fun.
Sittenfeld has taken all the characters and plot beats from the original and brought them into modern Cincinatti. The Bennett girls are all considerably older (Jane is near 40, while the youngest two are in their early 20s). Elizabeth is a writer, Jane is a yoga teacher, Darcy is a brain surgeon, and Bingley is another doctor who recently appeared on a The Bachelor copycat called Eligible, etc. Bingley moving to Cincinatti to work for the hospital is, just as his move is in the original, the impetus for much of the plot.
I really want to hold back as much as possible when reviewing this book because most of the ways Sittenfeld updated the plot and characters are so insanely clever. She didn’t try and force some of the points that came off as mere coincidence in Austen’s work but would have been an awkward fit here, and she actually gave a lot of focus to the actual themes of pride and prejudice instead of just the romance, which is what you see much more often in modern P&P renditions. And with the Bennett sisters being older, there’s room for a lot of sharp, feminist commentary.
“Are you single right now?”
It was a strange question; just a few days before, she’d have said no. “I am, ” she said, “but it’s recent. Anyway, everyone knows it’s completely different for a woman. [A man] could stand on a street corner, announce [his] want [of] a wife, and be engaged fifteen minutes later. I have to convince people to overlook my rapidly approaching expiration date.”
It’s not a perfect book, but it reads quickly and addictively. If you’re an Austen purist, I wouldn’t recommend it, but otherwise it’s one of the most enjoyable books you’ll read this summer.
CONTENT WARNING: Adult language/situations; politically charged topics. If it weren’t written so engagingly, some of it might have been enough for me to DNF.
Operation: S.I.N.—Agent Carter, by Kathryn Immonen
This was another impulse buy from the same trip where I bought Spider-Gwen. I was still sad about the Agent Carter tv show being cancelled, so I felt I had an obligation to pick up this title.
Unfortunately, this wound up being the first comic bind-up that I didn’t fully enjoy. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I just didn’t really dig it. Maybe I’m just too attached to Hayley Atwell’s screen version of Agent Carter and couldn’t open my heart to anything new. Maybe I didn’t have enough backstory. I don’t know. But it was just a middling read for me.
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
Okay, first I want you to stare at that cover for a good long while. How absolutely gorgeous is it? My version is a paperback ARC, but I’m absolutely going to have to grab the hardback at some point because it is just too pretty not to own in its full glory.
This novel begins with the stories of two half-sisters in eighteenth-century Ghana. They have never met and do not know the other exists. One is married off to a British officer who works running the slave trade out of Cape Coast Castle. The other is captured and sold to the slave traders, living in the squalid dungeons of the castle until she is shipped to America. The story stretches from there through the generations, with each subsequent pair of chapters focusing on a descendent from each sister’s line.
I can say with confidence that this is most likely going to be the most beautiful piece of storytelling I read all year. Gyasi brings into sharp focus so many strikingly different characters, each of whom I would have happily read an entire novel about.She takes the story from Ghana to Alabama to Harlem, every setting crackling with life as the characters navigated the new and different challenges associated with each. She balances the trickiest of themes throughout, introducing nuance into formerly black and white history lessons and not shying away from hard realities. It was stunning to read.
Go pick this one up if you can. It is 100% worthy of your attention.
The Rose & The Dagger (The Wrath & the Dawn, #2), by Renee Ahdieh
This is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn, which I read with much enthusiasm at the beginning of this year. Having quite enjoyed TW&TD, I was looking forward to wrapping up the duology.
It was…disappointing? Much of what I loved from the first book (the romantic tension, the unsteady trust, the banter) was gone, replaced with more of what had irked me in the first book (that darn love triangle). Without giving much away for fear of spoilers, I felt that a lot of the characterization was flattened and there were some random plot lines that were either 1. unnecessary or 2. awkwardly handled and/or wrapped up. I mean, that ending? What even was that?
The writing was still really lovely, and I do love getting to read more YA set outside the U.S. and the modern day. And some of the new character introduced were really intriguing. But unfortunately this sequel fell flat for me.
Favorite book this month: Homegoing, hands down.
Most likely to re-read: Homegoing and Lab Girl
Most likely to recommend: Homegoing (without reservation) and Eligible (for certain folks). Quite probably Spider-Gwen as well.
So that’s my June in books. Maybe July’s wrap-up won’t take me nearly halfway into August to post (fingers crossed).
Keep reading and support your local libraries, y’all. And remember: Homeless and women and children’s shelters are always looking for new reads, so keep them in mind when you’re donating books.