I managed to read a stack of books in June. There is definitely something for everyone in my June book reviews, unless you never read, and then I don’t know what to say. Bless your heart, maybe?
If you love a heavy tome of a story, Cloud Cuckoo Land is for you. Women’s Fiction, Cozy Mystery, Essays, Humor, Time Travel—it’s all here.
Read on, friends…
Cloud Cuckoo Land
by: Anthony Doerr
Publication Date: 2022
How author Anthony Doerr’s brain contains his imagination is a wonder. This creative saga is slow to unspool, and at 600+ pages, many readers will lay it down never to pick it back up. In that case, the magic of Cloud Cuckoo Land will pass just beyond their reach.
Honestly, I didn’t become truly vested until around page 350. And then, I couldn’t put it down. Even before I was truly vested, Doerr’s brilliant writing (the man is a master at description), kept me turning pages. I knew that somehow all the puzzle pieces would come together brilliantly, and I wanted to be there when it happened.
And goodness, when the pieces snap together, the story sings.
The five central characters—Anna, Omeir, Seymour, Zeno, and Konstance—each have separate storylines that take the reader back to 15th century Constantinople, to the not so distant past and present day Idaho, and finally, into the future to life inside an interstellar space ship. Flipping back and forth in time and place is not my favorite story structure. BUT, there is a method to Doerr’s madness, and the payoff is inspired.
Cloud Cuckoo Land is a huge story about time and nature and the interconnectivity of life. Now that I’ve read it, I would like to re-read it, one character at a time. Maybe someday I’ll do that.
Favorite Quote: “Sometimes the things we think are lost are only hidden, waiting to be rediscovered.”
The Messy Lives of Book People
by: Phaedra Patrick
Publication Date: 2022
The Messy Lives of Book People was the PERFECT book to kick off my summer reading. Phaedra Patrick’s charming stories always feature memorable characters who leave me hopeful. She writes feel-good without fluff, and I appreciate that. (Remember Arthur Pepper and Benedict Stone?)
In Messy Lives, Liv Green lands a housekeeping job cleaning for her favorite author, the mysterious and reclusive Essie Starling. Three years into her job, Essie begins opening up and even asking Liv’s opinion on issues concerning her in-process book. When Essie suddenly passes away, Liv is stunned by her final request and bequeath—she asks Liv to finish her book (20th in a popular series), and to keep her death a secret until the book launches in November.
Yikes. What an ask!
Yes, there are a few things in this story that are highly improbable, but heck, in the real world, I’m becoming pretty good at suspending disbelief. So, you bet I can do it when escaping into a good book.
The Messy Lives of Book People is a journey of self-discovery for protagonist, Liv Green. Yes, the grass-is-greener possibility is always an intriguing one. I listened to the Audible version and the narrator gets an A+ from me.
Favorite Quote: If you meet something insurmountable, don’t try and fight it. It will only leave you with bruises. The trick is to outsmart it and do something it wouldn’t expect.
Big Reader: Essays
by: Susan Olding
Publication Date: 2021
Canadian writer Susan Olding has a real talent for literary essay-writing. She links personal stories—a parent’s descent into blindness, her relationship with a teenage step-daughter, and the dissolution of her marriage—around books and literary experiences that have been meaningful to her.
Big Reader is smart, relevant, and deeply personal. It’s no wonder this latest effort by Olding won an honourable mention for the 2022 Fred Kerner Book Award.
Favorite Quote: But this time, my immersion in his [Keats] work was deeper. Reading his poems, I felt I was inside them. I could have repeated them in my sleep.
Dying for Dominoes
by: Jane Elzey
Publication Date: 2020
Cozy mystery is not the genre I often read, but I thoroughly enjoyed Dying for Dominoes and quickly became wrapped up in the shenanigans of the main characters—all women of a certain age (like me)—who live in the touristy Ozark town of Bluff Springs. Oh yes, these are ladies I would invite over to binge-watch Schitts Creek while guzzling wine and eating Thai takeout. When one of their own becomes a suspect in the death of her husband, they all jump in to solve the mystery. Each is willing to go to great lengths to do so.
This whodunit certainly kept me guessing. Elzey pens smooth and witty dialog, and within the humor and intrigue, there’s a deeper message of female friendship. What does friendship mean and what are friends willing to do (or not do) in the name of protecting one of their own?
Dying for Dominoes is first in Elzey’s Cardboard Cottage Mystery series. Second in the four-book series—Dice on a Deadly Sea—is queued up in my summer reading stack. Whose husband will die next? You see, a husband always dies. (And there is always a spirited game afoot.)
Favorite Quote: If you want to belong, to you have believe you belong.
by: Hiroko Oyamada, David Boyd (Translator)
Publication Date: 2020
I found this odd gem at the Dickson Street Used Bookstore and read it cover to cover the afternoon I took it home. This novella is translated from Japanese; it’s the story of a young woman who moves with her husband to a new city because of his job transfer. They live next to his parents in their recently vacated rental property. Because the in-laws aren’t charging them rent, the young woman finally has a bit of leisure time. But having quit her prior job because of the move (and she’s not yet found a new one), she is at loose ends.
One day, while running an errand for her mother-in-law, she follows an odd animal into a meadow and falls into a neck-high hole. From that point on, her world becomes a bit topsy-turvy. Is she hallucinating? Is her imagination on overdrive? The isolation brought about by her loss of job and friends and the change in surroundings has seemingly affected her in a strange way.
The book has been described as a loose reflection of Alice in Wonderland but I see it more as The Metamorphosis. The Hole is certainly not for every reader, and at times the writing felt pedantic (perhaps because something is always lost in translation?), but I found it oh so intriguing.
Favorite Quote: Cicadas are quiet when it rains. It got me thinking: What would a cicada do if it emerged from the earth and there was nothing but rain for days on end? Would it just die without ever making a sound?
This Time Tomorrow
by: Emma Straub
(Time Travel Fiction)
Publication Date: 2022
Alice has a very nice life in New York. She has a secure job, a romantic partner who wants to get married, and a bestie from childhood. Really, the only thing wrong is her dad’s health. Leonard is dying. On the night of Alice’s fortieth birthday, she drinks way too much and sleeps it off in her childhood home (where her dad still lives, except he’s in the hospital). When she wakes, it’s her birthday again, and she is turning sweet sixteen.
Yikes. Can you imagine?
Yes, This Time Tomorrow reminded me of the movie 13 Going on 30, but in reverse.
There are things I absolutely loved about this story. 1) Leonard is a wonderful character. We get to know him when Alice travels back to 1996. 2) Leonard and Alice’s father-daughter relationship is endearing. 3) I find the idea of paths taken or not incredibly intriguing. One minor decision made at age sixteen could potentially change everything. 4) I love the thought of being able to relive a single day. Can you imagine waking up in your childhood home and talking to much younger versions of your parents? Going back to high school for a few hours one day? 5) I found Alice’s best friend, Sam, to be an excellent character too.
BUT, a little time travel goes a long way for me. And when Alice begins to travel back and forth and back and forth, always to her sixteenth birthday, I wanted to time travel to the end of the story.
And then… I was satisfied with the ending.
There’s a saying—if everyone wrote down all their problems on slips of paper and combined them in a bucket, then had to choose ‘new’ problems, most people would probably choose their own problems and own lives again. I thought about this concept while reading This Time Tomorrow. What would you change if you could?
Favorite Quote: Any story could be a comedy or a tragedy, depending on where you ended it. That was the magic. How the same story could be told an infinite number of ways.
by: Lolly Winston
(Women’s Humorous Fiction)
Publication Date: 2005
This book has been on my shelf for years. I don’t know where it came from or why I chose this month of all months to give it a read. But I’m so glad I did!
Sophie Stanton is a thirty-six old young woman grieving the death of her husband after only three years of marriage. Man alive, Sophie is spiraling in a big way, eating packages of Oreos in bed, overmedicating, and even showing up to her public relations job in her bathrobe. While this may sound incredibly depressing, the story (divided into parts that follow the seven steps of grief) is written in an approachable style with the perfect balance of laugh-out-loud humor.
When Sophie decides to make a big change and move to Oregon, grief follows right along.
Good Grief is charming and disarming, a relatable glimpse at loss. I loved it.
Favorite Quote: Suddenly what to do with the rest of my life and what shirt to wear became equally daunting decisions.
Okey-dokey, that’s it for my June book reviews.
Happy summer reading, everyone! What are you reading?
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.