Have I ever done seven reviews before? I don’t think so! But I wanted to get these all out to you sooner than later, so here we are! I really enjoyed most of these, and as the title suggests, they are mostly June releases- save one. So… let’s go!
The Silence That Binds Us by Joanna Ho
January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky
Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach
The City Inside by Samit Basu
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
The Gravity of Missing Things by Marisa Urgo
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
Maybelline Chen isn't the Chinese Taiwanese American daughter her mother expects her to be. May prefers hoodies over dresses and wants to become a writer. When asked, her mom can't come up with one specific reason for why she's proud of her only daughter. May's beloved brother, Danny, on the other hand, has just been admitted to Princeton. But Danny secretly struggles with depression, and when he dies by suicide, May's world is shattered.
In the aftermath, racist accusations are hurled against May's parents for putting too much "pressure" on him. May's father tells her to keep her head down. Instead, May challenges these ugly stereotypes through her writing. Yet the consequences of speaking out run much deeper than anyone could foresee. Who gets to tell our stories, and who gets silenced? It's up to May to take back the narrative.
The Silence That Binds Us was somehow, impossibly, as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Which is no small feat, have you seen the cover? Easily one of my favorites of all time. But let’s move onto the inside, shall we?
I obviously knew this one would be emotional, since we know that main character May is dealing with her beloved brother Danny’s death. And it was, but that definitely wasn’t all it was, so I will explain the other things that really made this story such a win for me!
- Huge focus on family, of course. May’s family is, as you can imagine, totally shattered by the death of Danny. But a big plot point of the book is the whole family trying to rebuild their relationships with each other as they all try to cope with the loss of Danny. They all handle it in very different ways, but it is very clear to see that these people all love each other, and it’s incredibly heartwarming even though there is such a layer of sadness.
- Grief and rebuilding were very well handled. Speaking of the loss of Danny, I thought the author did a tremendous job portraying the various grieving processes of all characters. Sure, we’re more focused on May, but the author doesn’t shy away from the other characters’ grief, either. Not only do each of the members of May’s family carry it in their own ways, but their friends also have to process this loss. I especially loved the perspective of Danny’s best friend, Marc, who is the brother of May’s own best friend Tiya. The author also portrays seeking help in a positive light, which is really important.
- Loved that May had the support of her friends, too. Speaking of friends, I was so, so glad that May had such great support, especially in Marc and Tiya. She also found some other support along the way, from some people she had not necessarily expected. The friendships were lovely, and represented in a very realistic way. They had their ups and downs, and several disagreements along the way, but you could tell these were forever friends, and I loved that.
- Another big focus was tackling racism. There were really two situations covered in depth in this story. The first, as the synopsis alludes to, is the anti-Asian racism that has been bleeding into society since… well, since American society started. The absolute heinousness of a local businessman standing up and blaming the Asian families for the depression and suicide of their own children is straight up appalling. The worst part is, I wanted to be shocked but I couldn’t even, because here we are. May was raised in what she thought of as a fairly liberal-leaning, open minded area, but the truth is, there are always people waiting in the wings for the chance to spew their hate and vitriol. In this case, it was Basic Rich Shitty White Guy™ Mr. McIntyre, father of a student at her school, and her mom’s boss. May cannot remain quiet while he breaks her parents down even more, while he attacks her whole community, while he slanders Danny. So, she speaks out, and seeks to make her truth known.Meanwhile, Marc and Tiya, who are Black, have been rallying against another police shooting of a Black child. May, lost in her own grief, kind of overlooks the importance of this. And Marc and Tiya want her to realize that she shouldn’t just care about this issue because she’s friends with them specifically, but because this should be everyone’s fight. During May’s attempt to bring awareness to the plight of the Asian community, and the racism toward them, she needs to open her eyes to the huge injustices other groups are facing all around her. I think the author handled it very well, if a bit preachy at times, but the message is certainly an important one.
- Obviously, the emotions. But not just the sad ones, not even close! While of course this story pulled at the hearstrings, and I certainly cried more than once or forty times, there were a lot of other emotions at play, too. The story as a whole had a very hopeful, healing tone, and I absolutely laughed and cheered just as much as I cried. May is rebuilding and growing, mending and creating relationships, but still keeping Danny alive in heart. The whole story was beautiful, from start to finish.
Bottom Line: A lovely exploration of grief and loss, but also family, friendship, rebuilding, and standing up for all the right things.
“One of the best speculative writers of the last decade.”—John Scalzi
January Fifteenth—the day all Americans receive their annual Universal Basic Income payment.
For Hannah, a middle-aged mother, today is the anniversary of the day she took her two children and fled her abusive ex-wife.
For Janelle, a young, broke journalist, today is another mind-numbing day interviewing passersby about the very policy she once opposed.
For Olivia, a wealthy college freshman, today is “Waste Day”, when rich kids across the country compete to see who can most obscenely squander the government’s money.
For Sarah, a pregnant teen, today is the day she’ll journey alongside her sister-wives to pick up the payments that undergird their community—and perhaps embark on a new journey altogether.
In this near-future science fiction novella by Nebula Award-winning author Rachel Swirsky, the fifteenth of January is another day of the status quo, and another chance at making lasting change.
January Fifteenth explores what the world might be like for four different women if there was a universal basic income. This concept fascinates me, because I am a fan of it, frankly, and I was really interested to read the book’s take on it! It did not disappoint, except I think it may have actually been better as a full novel? Like, there was so much to explore that I could have easily read another hundred pages. But alas.
I won’t go into each woman’s specific story, because frankly that would take away from the experience of the book. Let’s just suffice it to say that they are from very different backgrounds and in very different situations, which helps to illustrate how the UBI may look depending on one’s situation. I found each of the women’s stories to be very compelling and realistic, and I enjoyed their journeys. I also love how the author wove the concept of UBI into each story, too, and made it neither a hero nor a villain, having positives and negatives just as it would in real life practice.
Overall, I found the story to be quite a fascinating look into what a potential UBI would look like, and I loved getting the chance to see it through different characters’ eyes. While I do wish the look had been a bit deeper, for a novella, it absolutely was impressively fleshed out.
Bottom Line: Loved the concept and the characters’ stories, would definitely read tons more about this premise and any/all of the characters!
A police officer is murdered, brought back to life with a mysterious new power, and tasked with protecting her city from an insidious evil threatening to destroy it.
The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, after a devastating war and a sweeping biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night.
Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to “lifestyle choices” after being caught at a gay club. She’s barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up.
Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
The world created in Dawnhounds was definitely interesting and unique, and I liked the characters, yet I find myself with a bit of The Mixed Feelings™ about this one. So I shall tell you what worked for me, and what didn’t quite hit as I had hoped. Let’s begin!
What I Liked:
- As mentioned, the world was certainly unique! I mean, the houses were alive for goodness sake! I liked that the book addressed a lot of the failings in the story world that are also present in our world. For example, Yat being seen as “damaged” because of her sexuality, the corruption of the police, church, and government. I was definitely interested in the world, but I don’t think I necessarily got all the answers I’d hoped for.
- I did like the characters, though I did feel a little distanced from them (more on that later). Yat was a really good character, at least during the parts I was able to figure out. I certainly rooted for her, and I appreciated that she knew how corrupt and unfair the police system was.
What I Had Trouble With:
- Confusion. Look, maybe it’s me (though based on other reviews, I suspect not), but I was lost for huge chunks of this book. The book started off pretty exciting, but then took a big turn, and I think that is kind of where my confusion began. I rolled with it though, and sort of understood the beginning. But when the main character is resurrected (which we know is coming based on the synopsis), I didn’t fully understand the workings behind it. I think since I was so lost on the plot, I became a little disconnected to the characters too. Not purposely, but when you can’t really figure out why something is happening, obviously it’s harder to feel connected to what the character is doing.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed the world and the characters and the messages, and this likely would have been a huge win had I been able to figure out what the heck was happening.
“They'd known the end times were coming but hadn’t known they’d be multiple choice.”
Joey is a Reality Controller in near-future Delhi. Her job is to supervise the multimedia multi-reality livestreams of Indi, one of South Asia’s fastest rising online celebrities—who also happens to be her college ex. Joey’s job gives her considerable culture power, but she’s too caught up in day-to-day crisis handling to see this, or to figure out what she wants from her life.
Rudra is a recluse estranged from his wealthy and powerful family, now living in an impoverished immigrant neighborhood. When his father’s death pulls him back into his family’s orbit, an impulsive job offer from Joey becomes his only escape from the life he never wanted.
But as Joey and Rudra become enmeshed in multiple conspiracies, their lives start to spin out of control—complicated by dysfunctional relationships, corporate loyalty, and the never-ending pressures of surveillance capitalism. When a bigger picture begins to unfold, they must each decide how to do the right thing in a world where simply maintaining the status quo feels like an accomplishment. Ultimately, resistance will not—cannot—take the same shape for these two very different people.
Another edition of mixed feelings? Don’t mind if I do!
I was really certain that The City Inside would be perfect for me, and I did enjoy certain aspects of it. But there were a few ways it missed the mark for me, so let’s break it on down, shall we?
What I Liked:
- I mean, the concept was cool as hell. There is a whole job devoted to basically producing people’s lives for goodness sake! It is very plausible, too, that social media could kind of take over reality, right? And of course, those with a financial stake in these lives are going to be messy and powerful and probably awful. So it really sounds legit!
- I enjoyed the world and characters. While I didn’t feel super connected to them, I enjoyed the stories of Joey and Rudra. The world itself is of course quite fascinating, and I liked it from that perspective.
- I definitely appreciated the messages. Obviously this is something you’ll have to find out for yourself, but the overarching messages that we make the same mistakes again and again are certainly important.
What I Had Trouble With:
- There wasn’t really much of a plot. I mean, outside of the reality controlling and the corporate stuff and the daily life dramas, not much happened? It was more of a character and concept driven book, I suppose, but it definitely wasn’t a quick read.
- Tons of info dumps and long chapters made it feel pretty long. Speaking of not being quick, another big reason it seemed slow was that there is a lot of world and society information given in pretty big chunks. And while I did appreciate that we were given context, but not necessarily in the method. Add to it chapters that were very lengthy, and at times it started to feel like a slog.
Bottom Line: Very cool world and concept, but the plot just kind of… meanders.
#1 London Times Bestseller
“A gripping historical story.” —The Independent
“This powerful . . . trilogy opener beautifully walks the line between gutting and hopeful.” —BuzzFeed, Best Books of March 2022
Sold by her impoverished mother. Enslaved in an infamous brothel in Pompeii. Determined to fight for her freedom at all costs.. . . Enter into the Wolf Den.
Amara was once the beloved daughter of a doctor in Greece, until her father’s sudden death plunged her mother into destitution. Now Amara is a slave and prostitute in Pompeii’s notorious Wolf Den brothel or lupanar, owned by a cruel and ruthless man. Intelligent and resourceful, she is forced to hide her true self. But her spirit is far from broken. Buoyed by the sisterhood she forges with the brothel’s other women, Amara finds solace in the laughter and hopes they all share. For the streets of the city are alive with opportunity—here, even the lowest-born slave can dream of a new beginning. But everything in Pompeii has a price. How much will Amara’s freedom cost her? The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels about the lives of women in ancient Pompeii.
The Wolf Den took me a minute to read. Not because it was bad, quite the opposite! It was because I had such empathy for the characters that I had to pace myself. It’s a brutal, vile world that main character Amara and her brothelmates find themselves in. In (obviously) pre-ruined Pompeii, in 74 CE, Amara has been sold to a brothel known as The Wolf Den. She grew up in Greece, the daughter of a respected doctor, yet upon his death, her mother found herself destitute, and Amara was sold as a concubine. Eventually, she ended up under brothel owner Felix’s rule, being sold to men over and over.
As you can imagine, this is brutal. Amara is very well developed as a character, and because of this, I felt for her even more. Obviously, I’d not want anyone to face such brutality, that goes without saying, but it’s even harder to read about when you feel connected to the characters. The political landscape of this time period is both intriguing and horrific, in that very little has changed over the millennia. Rich white guys still controlling everything, inflicting their assaults and brutal whims on literally whoever they please.
Amara can think of nothing else but escape. Well, and the well-being of her friends, who she knows are facing the same horrors. I really appreciated the insight into ancient Pompeii, and I loved when the girls were able to find quiet moments of peace and happiness, albeit short lived ones. I will say, I did find the book to drag a little in the middle, but I also think that may have been because I was so desperate for Amara to find a way to escape.
I will absolutely be picking up the sequel to this haunting story to follow the journey of Amara and her friends (and ultimately, Pompeii, since we know it isn’t long for this world).
Bottom Line: Brutal, but sprinkled with lovely bits of hopefulness and sisterhood.
Flight 133 disappeared over the ocean. No wreckage. No distress signal. Just gone.
Suddenly, everyone on the news and social media is talking about whether the pilot intentionally crashed it—everyone but me. Because I know her. The pilot was my mom, and there's no way she would hurt anyone. No one else knows that before she left, she wrote me a note. Trust me, it said.
Now it feels like someone split my world—and me—in two, and the only person who believes me is Landon. I want to trust him, to let him see who I really am, but I can't. I have my secrets, the same way Mom has hers. All I know is falling for him will only make things more complicated.
Just as I start to open up, the answer to what really happened to Flight 133 could rip my world apart all over again—for good this time.
Wow, this story was so beautiful and heartbreaking! First, I have seen some reviews mention this, but I must echo, because it was one of my first thoughts. The cover, lovely as it is, has really nothing to do with the story? So I guess what I am saying is, don’t judge this one based on its cover, for whatever it’s worth.
Anyway, we meet Violet, right as her pilot mom (and her mom’s whole plane) goes off the grid. At first, she’s sure it’s just some kind of mix up and everything is going to be fine. But as time passes and the plane and its occupants remain unaccounted for, Violet is basically the only one left who’s thinking positively. The internet is in an uproar leaving untoward comments about her mom, and the media is feeding into the frenzy, speculating on any possible reason Violet’s mom would have to yeet a whole airplane into the ocean.
As the media digs, Violet finds herself with more questions than answers. And that is truly the bread and butter of this book: Violet coming to terms with answers she may not like, and regrouping and moving forward with her life, no matter the outcome. There is certainly a mystery, in that we aren’t sure at all what happened to Violet’s mom. But more than that is the exploration of Violet‘s life, her relationships with her family, and trying to find a new normal in the midst of such great uncertainty. Violet is also finding more layers to her mom than she ever bargained for, which is extra hard since she can’t exactly ask for clarification.
One of the best parts of this story for me was Violet’s dad. He is the epitome of what a great dad looks like. He jumped right in, caring for his daughters the very best he could the minute he found out that their mom was missing. Their marriage was over, save for the paperwork, but he never once spoke ill of their mother, and poured his whole heart into his girls. Dads everywhere, take notes. I also loved how therapy positive this story was. Violet was very resistant at first, thinking she didn’t need it, but the author made sure that the reader saw the importance of seeking help when needed.
So yes, there is definitely a mystery, and a lot of unearthed secrets which make for a very readable book. But the beauty of this story really lies in how Violet and her family cope with said mystery and secrets, and how they grow and move forward together.
Bottom Line: A beautiful, moving story about finding your way forward when it seems entirely too daunting.
Prepare to die. His kingdom is near.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him—the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with.
But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.
Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s terms…until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.
A furious, queer debut novel about embracing the monster within and unleashing its power against your oppressors. Perfect for fans of Gideon the Ninth and Annihilation.
You know what one of the few things better than a cult book is? An apocalypse cult book. Such a favorite concept, when executed well, which Hell Followed With Us absolutely was. The world in this story was, as the title suggests, an absolute hellscape. Benji has spent his life stuck in a super messy cult that has straight up infected him with the virus that has all but ended humanity, as a sort of experiment. And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these fools. So yeah, to say they suck is the understatement of the year. Benji is able to make a run for it when his dad helps him escape, but it comes at the cost of his dad’s life.
While on the run, escaping cultists wiling to do anything to recapture him, Benji runs (literally) into the antithesis of the cult: a delightfully badass group of LGBTQ+ kids from a local center called the ALC. This group is kind of everything, okay? They save Benji both literally and figuratively, as he is finally able to connect with people who accept and understand him. He’s still reeling from the loss of his father, and the knowledge of what the cult has done to him, but the ALC takes him in and provides both safety and support.
The world is bananas, frankly, and I loved it! This is one dark, dismal situation that Benji and company find themselves in, and it becomes abundantly clear that no one will be helping them, even though they are kids themselves. Nope, in this monstrous place, it’s every person for themselves, and even the non-cult folks they stumble upon are fully willing to take advantage of them for their own gain.
Benji has to figure out how he plays into the whole of society, since he has been so thoroughly manipulated and used by the cult. It will take a lot of soul searching, and some help from his new friends to figure out how he’ll move forward. I loved that Benji was able to undergo such intense character growth during such a tumultuous time. Likewise, his new friends, especially Nick, have face many of their own demons and ask themselves the same hard questions Benji does.
There is a lot of action in the story, but also a lot of time for characters to develop their relationships with themselves and each other. The book was compulsively readable, very high stakes, and I never felt assured of anyone’s survival, no matter how important. My one minor qualm was that the ending felt a little quick, and as a result, a little confusing for me at first. I didn’t dislike it, necessarily, but had hoped for a little more. I also would definitely be here for a sequel, as the world and characters are absolutely compelling!
Bottom Line: Dark and intense, but also full of hope and heart, the story of Benji and his friends is one not to be missed!