What I Read in June

I’m a big Emma Straub fan and I really enjoyed This Time Tomorrow, which is basically 13 Going on 30 in reverse: on the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice Stern finds herself time traveling back to her teen self. She’s still her same 40 year old self, but back in time to her teen years. The book really focused on Alice’s relationship with her father – the time traveling allows her to revisit him as her spry single dad, rather than the elderly and ailing father she visits daily in the hospital in present day. I loved that this book took place in New York and really incorporated it strongly into the story. It was a great backdrop and woven well throughout. I also thought Alice was an interesting character – a 40 year old single woman who isn’t really super interested in getting married or having kids. The father daughter story really was the central relationship, which isn’t something you get very often. The book was also very nostalgic for the 90s, which was fun…I think Emma Straub might be a tiny bit older than me so some of the references didn’t resonate with me as much, but it’s still a fun time period to read about (yikes, that’s a little weird to call the 90s a “time period!”). Emma Straub is an auto-buy for me and this one did not disappoint.

Finishing up Catherine Ryan Howard’s backlist – 56 Days was another fun one that I raced through. This is a Covid novel, which was something I was completely uninterested in. But, it’s fine as a plot point. It was a convenient device around which to frame her story, which centers on 2 people who meet and have a bit of a whirlwind romance, then move in together to quarantine…and next thing you know someone’s dead. It was a really good mystery and I didn’t see where it was going…the pages turn themselves, as with all CRH books. This one was somewhat reminiscent of her previous novel Distress Signals, in that there was a storyline about something from a character’s childhood. With that plot point I felt like I could tell it was the same author, and that consistency is kind of interesting to see when you race through someone’s backlist. The Covid stuff…if you’re not into reliving the early days of the pandemic (lots of mention of masks and hand sanitizer and lockdowns), perhaps you’ll be bothered. But know that it’s not really central to the storyline, per say, but more like the frame upon which it’s hung. I’m so excited for a new CRH coming out next month!

I considered myself a huge Blake Crouch fan after loving both Dark Matter and Recursion, so it pains me to say that this was a major letdown for me (and I was so excited for it!). The concept sounded super interesting (a man is injected with a virus that “upgrades” his DNA), but for me, it turned out to be an action movie with little character development and no emotional center. I feel like the possibilities for world-building here were vast – you could go in so many directions showing the fallout and implications of gene editing on the world and on humans (Gattaca comes to mind)…but it just wasn’t there. It was all a bit surface level, a bit one-note, and felt very much like something that had been done before. The characters fell flat. The thing I loved about Recursion was the way yes, it had this amazing sci-fi element to it, but at its heart, (to me), it was a love story. There were emotional stakes and there was a relationship to root for. Here, the family of the main character felt somewhat tacked on for obligatory character development. They could have just as easily not been there (and weren’t, for the bulk of the book), and not much about the plot would have changed. Same for his family of origin…the character development and the development of that whole backstory just wasn’t strong. This was a thumbs down from me.

I absolutely loved this book. Alison Espach’s writing is unique and she managed to imbue this story, a very sad one, with so much dry humor. I read her book The Adults many years ago and while I didn’t remember much of the plot, the minute I started this one, I recognized the writing style. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance is about two young sisters, a tragedy, and the unlikely relationship that forms in its wake (trying not to to give anything away here in case you want to go in blind, but know if you google it you’ll get a lot more). It’s told in the second person, as if the reader is the older sister Kathy, and that felt like a really smart choice. It lends an intimacy and poignancy to the story that draws you right in. This isn’t a light read, but it felt like a slice of life and there were so many legitimately funny moments – almost sad funny, like might as well laugh because if you don’t you’re going to cry. It’s a coming of age story, a family drama, an examination of grief, a love story, and a story about sisters. I won’t forget this one anytime soon and it’s sure to be in my end of year top ten.

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