Letter from the Editor:
Greetings and salutations! Hopefully June has treated you well, both in reading and life. This month I have received some good news, which I look forward to sharing with you soon!
This month I managed to read seven books, and I am attempting to read at least a couple more before July. By my standards, seven is a lot though! I really enjoyed the variety of fiction and non-fiction I selected to read this month, and I recommend many of them!
This issue of Bookish Brains features mini-reviews of Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, Feelings by Manjit Thapp, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, and The Miracle of Water by Masaru Emoto. Additionally, I comment on some of the books I’m currently reading and some I plan to read going into the next month. Make sure you read until the end to catch what new releases are being published next month!
What was your favorite read from June? Let me know in the comments!
Disability Visibility by Alice Wong
Although this Bookish Brains issue comes out on the last Friday of June, there are still five days left in this month! I am hoping to finish not only Disability Visibility but a couple other books as well. Disability Visibility is a collection of essays from various Disabled folk and which share the vast array of voices within the community. Curated by Wong, who is herself Disabled and created the Disability Visibility project movement, these essays range in subject, grouped in four sections of Being, Becoming, Doing, and Connecting. Wong clarifies that this is not meant to be a book that explains disability to nondisabled readers, but rather a collection of writing that centers Disabled voices in an unapologetic way. Currently, I am on page 34.
In the first essay, Harriet McBryde Johnson describes an ongoing discussion she once had with Peter Singer, who argued on behalf of assisted suicide for Disabled folks and infanticide in the instance of Disabled newborns. Johnson writes, “I argue that choice is illusory in a context of pervasive inequality. Choices are structured by oppression. We shouldn’t offer assistance with suicide until we have the assistance we need to get out of bed in the morning and live a good life. Common causes of suicidality–dependence, institutional confinement, being a burden–are entirely curable” (page 20-21). I thought this was a really important message.
[Post-edit: Read my report on Disability Visibility here.]
Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi
- Published 2021
- 272 pages
All aboard The Lucky Day locomotive! In this mysterious, dreamlike narrative, Otto, Xavier, and their distinguished mongoose Árpád venture on a non-honeymoon at Xavier’s aunt’s insistence. However, The Lucky Day’s strange qualities raise questions among the lovely couple–why is there no light switch? Was that woman across the cab waving in salutations or distress? Can they trust what they see?
I hadn’t planned to read this book in June, but on a whim I checked it out from my local library after finding myself captivated and intrigued by the first page.
Clever, whimsical prose, and a myriad of characters (including queer representation), Peaces is quite an enchanting trip. The writing is conversational yet poetic, and the dialogue is engaging and enjoyable. Curious about the events which led these characters to The Lucky Day, I read with heightened interest–my wonderment only partially satisfied by the ending. Although I was mystified by the writing, the setting, and the circumstances, the conclusion was not quite as conclusive as I hoped it would be. However, I believe it would lend itself well to a reread, allowing the reader to notice small details previously overlooked.
If you enjoy magical realism, unreliable narrators, and riddles, I think you would enjoy this one! On the other hand, if you prefer a more grounded storyline and clear narrative, then Peaces may frustrate you more than charm you.
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
- Historical fiction
- Published 2003
- 144 pages
“The sign had appeared overnight.” Evacuation Order No. 19. A woman reads the notice, then goes home and begins packing.
In 1942 California, Japanese families are ordered to pack their bags, leave behind their houses and pets, and board a train. They are the “enemy.” Despite being American citizens and contributing members of society, these Japanese descendants are scorned and discriminated against based on their outward appearance. When the Emperor Was Divine tells the story of a woman and her two children as they endure these terrible orders, and their stolen father, who was taken away and sent to a prison despite no meaningful proof of crime.
Written in an almost detached narrative voice, When the Emperor Was Divine prompts the reader to project their own emotions onto these circumstances. Although the historical events which take place in this novel are cruel, prejudiced, and unfair, the characters have little to no choice but to face them, and the narrator leaves space for the reader to empathize on their own. “On the street we tried to avoid our own reflections wherever we could. We turned away from shiny surfaces and storefront windows. We ignored the passing glances of strangers. What kind of ‘ese’ are you, Japanese or Chinese?” (page 120). With each section, the narrator focuses on a different member of the family, as the timeline of the book passes through the before, the internment, and the after–how their neighborhood, once friendly and familiar, has now turned their backs on them.
Heartbreaking and raw, this book is brief yet powerful.
Feelings by Manjit Thapp
- Graphic non-fiction
- Published 2021
- 144 pages
Do your feelings change with the weather, burrowing and blossoming with the cycles of the seasons?
Illustrator Manjit Thapp has crafted an elegant and empathetic work of art and camaraderie in Feelings, a graphic non-fiction piece which explores the ways her moods and energy fluctuates with nature’s transformation. It begins in summer, when spirits are highest and most bountiful, and as the year progresses, the narrative slides into winter, when the soul seeks refuge from the cold and overcast skies.
When I finished reading this book, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and read it a second time, allowing the cyclical nature of seasons and feelings to permeate me. The illustrations were breathtaking and beautifully colored, portraying a very honest and timely portrait of being a young artist in this new world.
Feelings is a quick read, and one that will lend compassion to our varying outlooks on life throughout the year.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
To view my reading experience with Malibu Rising, check out this blog post.
Also, listen to my thoughts via my recent vlog:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
- Published 2010
- 304 pages
Prior to reading this book, I knew very little about Patti Smith, and even less about her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe. However, through Just Kids, I was absorbed by their shared history and Patti Smith’s incredible account.
If you haven’t read this book, I recommend reading it while listening to the audiobook, which is narrated by Patti Smith herself. The book contains many relics in the form of old photographs, scanned postcards, and written poems, while Patti’s cool New Jersey voice breathes even more life into the text, lifting her words off the page. Often I would listen to her audiobook, then consult the book for any words I didn’t know or pictures she had referenced.
Partially autobiographical, Just Kids describes Patti’s childhood leading up to her fateful meeting of Robert in New York City in the 1960’s. Although Patti would later become a famous poet, writer, songwriter, and singer, and Robert would become a well-known artist and photographer, at the time, they were just kids, uncertain of the future yet desperate to serve their artistic calling. The two formed a quintessential bond, a mutual respect and understanding that lasted throughout the rest of their lives.
Reading Patti Smith’s writing, I was utterly transported through time and space to the 60’s and 70’s of New York City, as she describes the changing neighborhood, chance meetings with other famous musicians and artists of the time, Robert’s awakening identity in the gay and BDSM communities, and their personal journeys towards artistic breakthrough and recognition. I highly recommend this book for writers, Patti Smith lovers, fans of this time period, and memoir readers. Incredible!
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
- Published 2021
- 320 pages
Without a doubt, this book was the most fun I had reading in June! Was it romance, was it mystery, was it action, was it comedy? It was a little of all the above!
This is another book I originally hadn’t planned on reading this month, but when I saw it at the library, I couldn’t help but check it out.
Meddy, a wedding photographer, feels like she’s obligated to please her mother and aunts’ wishes. After graduating college, she stayed in California to be near them and work together on their family wedding business. However, after Meddy accidentally kills her date, she must turn to her aunts to help her cover up her murder. Fiercely loyal and headstrong, Meddy’s aunts come to the “rescue”!
While reading, I laughed, I gasped, and I was genuinely delighted by the narrative, never quite knowing what was going to happen next. I also thought, “I can totally see this as a movie!,” only to discover in the Acknowledgements section at the end, that Sutanto mentions it will be converted to a film adaptation to appear on Netflix. I can’t wait for others to enjoy the hilarious and clever shenanigans that take place in this story!
Although I enjoyed this book quite much, it is a bit outlandish and you do have to suspend your sense of disbelief. The writing is just strong enough to not bother me, though I would have preferred a bit more description of the setting. Regardless, I loved my time reading this and certainly recommend it!
The Miracle of Water by Masaru Emoto
- Published 2007
- 145 pages
For at least a few years now, my partner has been recommending this book to me, and I am so glad I finally opened this up. In addition to this book, Masaru Emoto has authored several books on water, including The Secret Life of Water, The Hidden Messages in Water, and more, and has given lectures on these topics all across the world.
In this brief book, Emoto explains the power of water and words. Without water, there is no life; water comprises Earth, nature, food, and the bodies of all living creatures. Moreover, everything energetic emits vibrations–whether on a microscopic level and thus undetected by the human eye and ear, or on a macro level beyond our understanding, but water transmits these vibrations as a type of messenger.
Using close-up images of water crystals, Emoto demonstrates how both written and spoken words produce vibrations which affect water (and thus life) in minuscule yet profound ways. When “You’re pretty” is chanted, the resulting water crystals form elegant, symmetrical, beautiful shapes, whereas when “You’re stupid” is repeated, water crystals fail to form at all and appear blob-like. These are only two examples of the variety of water crystals Emoto has experimented and photographed over his years of research. He posits that “love and gratitude” as a phrase produces the most beautiful water crystals because love and gratitude are the most essential qualities to embody– the spirit of giving and receiving.
The words we write and speak every day affect our physical biology as well as our thoughts and emotions. Emoto encourages readers–in a very Buddhist way–to be mindful of the vibrations we produce in this universe as well as the vibrations we choose to surround ourselves with. He uses the language of love and gratitude to facilitate this knowledge to readers, rather than overly complicated scientific rationale.
While this may seem far-fetched to some and possibly scientifically flawed to others, I believe that the message contained in this book is essential. When we direct the bulk of our energy towards the positive, doesn’t life feel better? Regardless of how much faith one has in the validity of his research, I fully believe we can gain a lot from implementing these mindful qualities in our lives.
Also: watch my June reading wrap-up on my YouTube channel!
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi
Recently released this month, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur is the sequel to Alka Joshi’s previous novel, The Henna Artist. This week, I picked up a brand new copy from my local library, and I am very excited to crack into this one! Although this takes place after the events of The Henna Artist, this is still historical fiction and centers on a medley of characters from the former narrative. I am looking forward to reading more about the same characters and enjoying the rich setting once again! I hope that the writing is just as enjoyable if not better. Perhaps I will create a blog post and vlog about my reading experience, as I did with a recent anticipated release, Malibu Rising–though, let’s hope I enjoy The Secret Keeper of Jaipur more than that one.
Summary from Goodreads:
It’s the spring of 1969, and Lakshmi, now married to Dr. Jay Kumar, directs the Healing Garden in Shimla. Malik has finished his private school education. At twenty, he has just met a young woman named Nimmi when he leaves to apprentice at the Facilities Office of the Jaipur Royal Palace. Their latest project: a state-of-the-art cinema.
Malik soon finds that not much has changed as he navigates the Pink City of his childhood. Power and money still move seamlessly among the wealthy class, and favors flow from Jaipur’s Royal Palace, but only if certain secrets remain buried. When the cinema’s balcony tragically collapses on opening night, blame is placed where it is convenient. But Malik suspects something far darker and sets out to uncover the truth. As a former street child, he always knew to keep his own counsel; it’s a lesson that will serve him as he untangles a web of lies.
In New York Times bestselling author Alka Joshi’s intriguing new novel, henna artist Lakshmi arranges for her protégé, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur Palace in this tale rich in character, atmosphere, and lavish storytelling.
Island Queen by Vanessa Riley
Summary from HarperCollins:
Born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, Doll bought her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father and built a legacy of wealth and power as an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter that extended from the marketplaces and sugar plantations of Dominica and Barbados to a glittering luxury hotel in Demerara on the South American continent.
Vanessa Riley’s novel brings Doll to vivid life as she rises above the harsh realities of slavery and colonialism by working the system and leveraging the competing attentions of the men in her life: a restless shipping merchant, Joseph Thomas; a wealthy planter hiding a secret, John Coseveldt Cells; and a roguish naval captain who will later become King William IV of England.
From the bustling port cities of the West Indies to the forbidding drawing rooms of London’s elite, Island Queen is a sweeping epic of an adventurer and a survivor who answered to no one but herself as she rose to power and autonomy against all odds, defying rigid eighteenth-century morality and the oppression of women as well as people of color. It is an unforgettable portrait of a true larger-than-life woman who made her mark on history.
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Release date: July 6, 2021
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
Summary from Barnes and Noble:
From the author of You Should See Me in a Crown, Leah Johnson delivers a stunning novel about being brave enough to be true to yourself, and learning to find joy even when times are unimaginably dark.
Olivia is an expert at falling in love . . . and at being dumped. But after the fallout from her last breakup has left her an outcast at school and at home, she’s determined to turn over a new leaf. A crush-free weekend at Farmland Music and Arts Festival with her best friend is just what she needs to get her mind off the senior year that awaits her.
Toni is one week away from starting college, and it’s the last place she wants to be. Unsure about who she wants to become and still reeling in the wake of the loss of her musician-turned-roadie father, she’s heading back to the music festival that changed his life in hopes that following in his footsteps will help her find her own way forward.
When the two arrive at Farmland, the last thing they expect is to realize that they’ll need to join forces in order to get what they’re searching for out of the weekend. As they work together, the festival becomes so much more complicated than they bargained for. Olivia and Toni will find that they need each other, and music, more than they ever could have imagined.
Packed with irresistible romance and irrepressible heart, bestselling author Leah Johnson delivers a stunning and cinematic story about grief, love, and the remarkable power of music to heal and connect us all.
- Genre: YA contemporary
- Release date: July 6, 2021
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung
Summary from Penguin Random House:
How do you grieve, if your family doesn’t talk about feelings?
This is the question the unnamed protagonist of GhostForest considers after her father dies. One of the many Hong Kong “astronaut” fathers, he stays there to work, while the rest of the family immigrated to Canada before the 1997 Handover, when the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.
As she revisits memories of her father through the years, she struggles with unresolved questions and misunderstandings. Turning to her mother and grandmother for answers, she discovers her own life refracted brightly in theirs.
Buoyant and heartbreaking, Ghost Forest is a slim novel that envelops the reader in joy and sorrow. Fung writes with a poetic and haunting voice, layering detail and abstraction, weaving memory and oral history to paint a moving portrait of a Chinese-Canadian astronaut family.
- Genre: Literary fiction
- Release date: July 13, 2021
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Summary from Bookshop:
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
- Genre: Alternative historical fiction / fantasy
- Release date: July 20, 2021
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Summary from Penguin Random House:
An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler’s demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms.
As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mommies involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.
An outrageously original novel of ideas about art, power, and womanhood wrapped in a satirical fairy tale, Nightbitch will make you want to howl in laughter and recognition. And you should. You should howl as much as you want.
- Genre: Fiction / satire
- Release date: July 20, 2021
Thank you for reading! For previous issues of Bookish Brains, click here.
For book reviews by Slanted Spines, click here.