June was a pretty great month for reading! I read some incredible books, finished two in just two days, dabbled in some contemporary romance, and finally tackled the beast that was Earthsea: The First Four Books. I probably could’ve read even more if I put my mind to it, but I also got deep into a few games in my Nintendo Switch library. It’s all in the balance. And, my twice-weekly London commutes are definitely helping with my overall reading progress! It’s also now officially non-rainy in England, which means my evening reading sessions offer occur down at the lake. Dreamy.
Without further ado, here are mini reviews of all the books I read in June 2022…
This Place Is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian
Thank you to Penguin and Fetch Publicity for my ARC of this book!
This Place Is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian tells a powerful story about family, identity and the secrets we keep. Half-Chinese sisters Annalie and Margaret couldn’t be more different: one is meek and mild, and the other ambitious and outspoken. When their family is the victim of a racial attack, the sisters react in polarising ways – and then a secret threatens to tear them apart even further. I absolutely loved This Place Is Still Beautiful, and found it to be intensely readable and relatable. At its heart, this is a beautiful and moving coming-of-age story that tackles race, identity and human emotion nicely. It comes at a time where anti-Asian racism is rife and I found Tian explored racial attacks and hate crime in a powerfully nuanced way.
Looking more slightly inwards, I can see myself in both Annalie and Margaret, balancing the tightrope between wanting to be unseen yet also desperate for change and to be heard and listened to. There’s a family scene just after the racial attack that hit me right in the gut; a realistic and raw dialogue between the two sisters and their mother. There’s also just enough romance in this book to add a little depth – a romance for each sister that explores relationships for those in the East Asian diaspora in different ways. Although some may find the topics covered to be too broad and thus not delved deep into enough, I appreciated that the story opens the readers eyes to these experiences rather than fully hand-holding them and perhaps veering from the main plotline. I’m often asked for book recommendations about the East Asian diaspora experience, and THIS is one you must pick up this summer.
Shoko’s Smile by Choi Eunyoung
I’m not sure what originally drew me to this book at my local library, but I’m so glad that I decided to read it as Shoko’s Smile by Choi Eunyoung is a beautiful collection of seven short stories that will live with me for a while.
Each story captures a different side of human life, focusing on the beauty that occurs when relationships and friendships blossom. They each feel completely unique and novel-like, which is no mean feat for a short story collection. I adored that each story felt intimately personal, too, beautifully showcasing the relationships formed when women are seen in a way that they haven’t before, or they strike an understanding with another.
Lit Asian Lit Club Read: We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu
This month, we read Simu Liu’s memoir, We Were Dreamers, for the Lit Asian Lit Club. I actually managed to go to his London book tour too, which really cemented the whole experience for me. In We Were Dreamers, Simu shares an honest and extremely raw retelling of his life so far, including what it was like to be raised by his grandparents and then taken away from China to Canada to finally live with his parents.
While at times I felt that Liu was perhaps a touch too granular in this memoir, I really appreciated how he shared his upbringing and the pivotal moments in his life through funny, witty and memorable anecdotes. It’s upsetting to read his mother-son relationship and how it really played into the stereotypical Tiger Mum trope, but I appreciated his honesty because these stories help us in the diaspora to come to terms with our own experiences. Of course, as a fellow East Asian in the West, I found that there were lots of relatable parts too. Overall, it paints a great depiction of what it feels like to come from an immigrant family. Plus, lots of fun name-dropping!
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Every so often I make outlandish statements like ‘oh I’m not a big fan of a romance’ or ‘contemporary doesn’t really do it for me at the moment’, and then I randomly decide to pick something up via bookstagram recommendations.
Book Lovers is one such book. After seeing SO many people rave about the book, I randomly picked it up on offer and happily delved in – a fun summer read. And that’s exactly what this felt like: fun. I rated it 3/5 stars on Goodreads, which feels harsh but for me simply indicates that I enjoyed it but didn’t hugely adore it. Books about books always catch my eye, and this one about a literary agent (Nora) and editor (Charlie) was of no exception. It carries all of the usual bookish tropes, a standoffish city slicker or two, small town jaunt, a series of happenstances… But for me, even though I was really enjoying it up until the halfway mark, the writing fell off a cliff after that for me. Suddenly the fresh and intelligible approach to haters-to-lovers went awry and became incredibly predictable and cheesy, I hate to say it.
Even so, this will make a great summer read for your garden/beach/poolside adventures.
Earthsea: The First Four Books by Ursula Le Guin
I’m so excited to have finally started the Earthsea cycle. For some reason I kept putting off picking this collection of the first four books up from my TBR stack, and now I really don’t know why. I LOVE this world. These four short(ish) stories are full of magic, gorgeous folklore and fantastic wit. Le Guin writes in a frank yet fantastical way, the words lifting from the page and searing themselves into your mind – we all love a good map in a fantasy novel but they’re hardly even required here. Ged is an average goatherd, living on the island of Gont, when by chance he comes into his magical powers in an abundance of nature. Thus begins his journey across to the School of Wizards on Roke, to hone his skills. This is the gist of the first book, which feels bright and exquisitely whimsical.
The next three books plunge us into into tombs and labyrinths, and take us to far-flung shores and the darkest depths of Earthsea, each presenting a new challenge for powerfully wizened Ged. It’s joyful and wonderful to unpick each area of the Earthsea world, and I loved how Le Guin really takes her time to carve out the world – perfectly indulgent. There’s some gorgeous passages in these books, all of which I happily noted down.
Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn
This book has completely blown me away and overwhelmed me in equal measure. Our protagonist Yunjae was born with a brain condition that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. Although he finds it difficult to formulate any friendships, he’s loved in abundance by his mother and Grandma. But when a shocking act of random violence shatters his world, he must navigate his emotion-less world alone.
Yunjae is the sweetest character ever. He’s perfectly written; quiet and kind and unwitting, naive to this cruel world around us. The author and translator beautifully portray and investigate what it means to be human in this incredible book. Divided into four clear parts, Almond is implicitly readable and wonderfully paced. I adore all of the everyday settings too, especially the used bookstore that I think really cemented my love for the book and story. It’s moving, funny, thought-provoking and emotive all at once.
The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell
I’ve been meaning to read The Panic Years ever since a breakup I went through at the start of 2021. By chance, my friend Emmie gave me her copy – thank you! Yay for secondhand books! – and I got stuck in immediately.
The Panic Years explores, at length, the flux period that women experience in their late twenties/early thirties when pondering and panicking about our futures, fertility and beyond. I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it, but I’ve never had a definitive thought towards motherhood for me: I love children and could certainly picture myself with children, yet it hasn’t always felt like a ‘must’ for me. I say this as a bit of a disclaimer because of course that will affect my experience and reading of this non-fiction. Frizzell candidly shares her own thoughts and story on the topic and investigates how we as a society have come to instate such pressure around a wholly personal decision.
I really enjoyed the injection of personal anecdotes throughout The Panic Years, although it did start to lose me a bit at the midway point. (It’s quite a long book, isn’t it?!) I still feel fairly mixed about this one: it was inherently readable, and yet I sometimes felt as though I was being told off! Also as a side note, I often find that these non-fiction reads by white female millennial authors rarely speak to me as both a reader and human. Maybe
- This One Sky Day by Leone Ross
- Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
- Komi Can’t Communicate: Volume 2 by Tomohito Oda
I’m only adding three titles to my July hopefuls list, as two of these are fairly chunky books and I’d like to experiment with taking the pressure off having a ‘reading list’ for a little.
What’s your favourite read from June 2022?