RIF’s Favorite Reads of June 2018

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

Best June books

Pride Month is upon us, even though you won’t see that designation anywhere official this year. It doesn’t matter—those who care, know, and parades are happening (or have already happened) all over the country. This month boasts a bunch of wonderful new books, including some amazing reads by LGBTQIA+ authors. In the midst of stressful news—history-making meetings, immigrant families being separated, and so much more—we want to make reading an experience you can enjoy with ease. Choosing what to read in the midst of all the amazing books coming out can be daunting. So enjoy our curation, remember there are tons more awesome books out there, and keep on reading! Happy Pride, and let’s keep marching, making calls, writing letters, and fighting for what’s right together.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place for Us

We’ve been waiting to see what Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint would bring, and we’re excited to see she hasn’t disappointed. In the first book from the imprint, Fatima Farheen Mirza weaves together the dynamics of a loving family both torn apart and brought together by tradition. Parents Layla and Rafiq, immigrants from India, raised their three children, Hadia, Huda, and Amar, with love, care, and faith. Hadia, the eldest, is marrying a man she loves, despite her parents wishing she had gone a more traditional route, and her younger sister Huda is determined to make a love match as well. And Amar—well, he hasn’t seen his family for three years, but at his sister’s request, he’s come to attend her wedding, which an old flame of his is also attending. As we discover the dramas of both past and present, what remains clear is that this family is complex, and we love them all the more for it. (SJP for Hogarth)

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Florida by Lauren Groff

Florida

In Lauren Groff’s newest book, 11 stories feature the heat, humidity, and blistering racism in Florida, though the Sunshine State is, in the end, only the backdrop for emotionally raw and linguistically beautiful tales. Mothers of children are exhausted, drunk, or fed up, becoming women who yell despite themselves; married, starving sisters are dropped off on an island, all alone, and need to be rescued; a grad student slips into homelessness with a slow and terrifying inevitability. These characters and more populate the pages of Groff’s newest tour de force, in which she manages to evoke her home state’s multifaceted moods, as well as its wonders. There isn’t a dud in the bunch, and taken as a whole, the book is satisfyingly—and disturbingly—delicious. (Riverhead)

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

When Katie Met Cassidy

Perfect for Pride Month—or, really, anytime—Camille Perri’s second novel is a fun, funny, and un-put-down-able romantic comedy. Katie’s a lawyer from Kentucky who’s recently moved to New York, and with her traditional values transplanted with her, she’s not quite sure to what to make of the alluring Cassidy, a masculine-of-center woman she encounters at a work meeting one day. Cassidy, a New York native, has her cadre of queer friends and knows she probably shouldn’t go for this straightish woman, Katie. But Katie’s recently been dumped by her fiancé, and she’s ready for something new…or is she? In true rom-com fashion, you’ll have to wait too long before the lovebirds finally kiss, but my goodness, will you be satisfied once they do. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

Calypso by David Sedaris

Calypso

David Sedaris has long been the writer to turn to when you want to laugh instead of cry at the absurdity of life. His newest book doesn’t disappoint, and it’s full of the same acerbic humor we’ve come to know and love. From the skin tumor he has removed and wishes to keep—he made it, after all; shouldn’t he get to keep it?—to the old man on the plane whose bowels betray him, Sedaris is clearly worried about aging. His long-suffering partner, Hugh, accompanies him to Sedaris’s new vacation home, where the Sedaris siblings join for a good time full of dark jokes and denial. Sedaris meditates on the more serious stuff in life, too: the death of his sister by suicide, his mother’s unacknowledged alcoholism, and the current political climate. As always, he’s sharp, intelligent, and engaging. (Little, Brown)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers

In 1980s Chicago, the death toll mounts as the still-mysterious and untreatable disease afflicting what appears to be mostly gay men continues to spread. In this atmosphere, Yale Tishman is trying to do his job well—he’s a developmental director for an art gallery and about to scoop up an incredible collection—but his friends keep dying around him. His friend Nico is among them, and Yale can’t even attend the funeral because Nico’s family made it clear they don’t want any gay people there. So Yale and his friends throw their own memorial ceremony, which Nico’s sister, Fiona, attends; she’s rejected her family for the chosen family her brother found for himself. Thirty years later in Paris, Fiona’s searching for her daughter, who’s joined a cult. As we follow her tale, we discover the ways her brother, his friends, and the terrible, seemingly unending deaths in the ’80s affected her and her family forever. A riveting novel about a tragedy whose survivors continue to live with the haunting memories. (Viking)

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

Tell the Machine Goodnight

In Katie Williams’s first book for adults, the year is 2035, and a machine has been developed to make us happy. It’s not the machine itself that makes people happy, though—rather, the machine uses people’s cells to figure out what will bring them happiness, and comes up with a plan they can follow. Pearl is one of the technicians of these machines, prescribing contentment plans to a wide variety of customers. The company she works for—and the machine itself—has a 99.7% success rate to boot. Pearl herself is happy, too, despite the fact that her husband, Elliot, has left her for a younger woman (yet still flirts with Pearl), and despite her own son’s denial of joy. Rhett is a teenager, and he’s stopped eating, among other things he’s denying himself, and wants no part in Pearl’s contentment plans. What is she to do? A critique of our pursuit of happiness through quick fixes and the pervasiveness of self-help language, this novel still manages to be a joyful and sweet read. (Riverhead)

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Bearskin

In his debut, McLaughlin paints a vivid portrait of the wilds of the Virginia Appalachian mountains and the people who dwell there. Our protagonist, Rice Moore, is followed by trouble everywhere, what with his past as a drug mule for a Mexican cartel and his training as a killer. But he’s trying to put all that behind him when he takes a job as a caretaker of a private nature reserve. The manual labor is difficult but isolated, which is exactly how he likes it. But trouble with a neighbor and the local police finds Rice anyway. Meanwhile, he discovers bears are dying on his watch, with their paws and gallbladders removed for black market sale overseas. With bad memories and worse people hounding him, Rice becomes obsessed with keeping his charges safe, and he’s intent on discovering and taking down the poachers. A thriller that showcases a flawed and brooding antihero, you’ll cling to this book till the very last page. (Ecco)

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

The Book of Essie

Essie is pregnant, and the first thing she has to do is have a sit-down with her mom about it—along with the producers. Essie’s one of the wholesome stars of the reality show Six for Hicks, in which her family’s pious fire-and-brimstone religiosity, led by her preacher father, is on full display for the joys of channel-flipping America. Instead of the risky options of abortion or having the baby elsewhere—both of which could lead to leaks and Essie’s ruined reputation—everyone decides a marriage is the perfect solution, and it won’t be bad for ratings either. Essie chooses her mate, a boy from her high school who needs a way out as much as she does, and also chooses the journalist to whom she’ll give an exclusive once the wedding is over. There are secrets in Essie’s family she’s eager to reveal—and having grown up in the limelight, she knows exactly how she’s going to do it. Full of sympathetic characters and a riveting plot, you won’t want to put this one down. (Knopf)

Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Still Lives

In a culture obsessed with the murders of women—just think of how so many of us love Law & Order: SVU—Maria Hummel’s protagonist Maggie can’t bear to look, but she can’t look away either. She works at a financially failing yet famous art gallery in L.A., and recently, her boyfriend left her for the famous artist Kim Lord, whose new show is about to open at the gallery. Lord’s art consists of vivid paintings of famous murdered women like the Black Dahlia, and when she doesn’t show up to her gallery opening, everyone’s suspicious. Maggie’s ex and Lord’s current boyfriend is immediately assumed to have something to do with it, but there are plenty of people with the motive to make Lord disappear. As Maggie tries to figure out what happened to her rival, she needs to contend with art-world drama, her own suspicions and ego, and a private investigator who seems to know her a little too well. (Counterpoint)

There There by Tommy Orange

There There

Tommy Orange’s marvelous debut novel takes readers into a space they may not know, or one they may be familiar with only from misunderstood history and troubling stereotypes. Through twelve pairs of eyes, Orange explores the contemporary identity, challenges, and personhood of Native Americans, or Urban Indians, as he calls the collection of myriad characters all gathering in Oakland, CA. All are moving toward one event, a powwow meant to bring them together, but their experiences are unique: there’s the grandmother whose sobriety is tenuous and hard-won; the documentary filmmaker; the boy who’s about to perform traditional Indian dances that he’s learned from YouTube, rather than from tribal elders; the man writing to his dead brother’s email; and many more. While each of these characters is touched and traumatized by history, they’re also people all their own living with individual choices, mistakes, and joys. (Knopf)

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard

Visible Empire

In 1962, a plane carrying 100 of Atlanta’s most privileged art-lovers crashes in Paris soon after takeoff and leaves no survivors. One man, Raif Bentley, survived, but only because he wasn’t on the flight—he and his wife never flew together. In her work of historical fiction, author Hannah Pittard explores Raif’s return to Atlanta and the destruction of families and homes that followed the disaster. His friends, the pregnant Lily and her husband Robert, suffer a breakdown in their marriage when Lily’s parents and Robert’s mistress are all killed in the crash. But Pittard moves beyond these privileged, mourning people to other Atlanta locals, like the 19-year-old Piedmont Dobbs, an African-American who was refused entry into an integrated school, and Atlanta’s mayor, who’s attempting to move the city forward during the Civil Rights era. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Sweet and Low by Nick White

Sweet And Low

In Nick White’s second book and first short story collection, he blazes forward with strong, beautiful language and a wonderful eye for human and societal flaws. In the contemporary South, specifically Mississippi, White’s stories reveal the complexities of masculinity, the historical weight of bigotry, and the secrets lying inside people’s orderly lives. A man finds himself stuck beneath his lawnmower with no one to help him—his wife is dead, and he kicked his gay son out years ago; another man has rewritten his own history in tall tales and can’t handle reality when faced with it. In another story, a woman needs to come to terms with her dead husband’s sexuality and the affairs he had during their marriage. The stories focus at first on the body and desire, then move on to the consequences of said desire—but always, the characters are interesting, flawed, and wonderful. (Blue Rider Press)

Small Country by Gaël Faye, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Small Country

In the first part of Gaël Faye’s debut novel, we meet Gabriel, 10 years old and living a calm and rich life in Burundi with his Rwandan mother and French father. Their neighborhood, Bujumbura, is full of other expats, and Gabriel’s happy there. But in neighboring Rwanda, there’s civil unrest, and soon the genocide of the minority Tutsis by the majority Hutus begins. When Gabriel’s mother heads to Rwanda to try to save her Tutsi family, at first it seems like things will remain across the border—but the genocide and war spill over into Burundi, and Gabriel’s life changes immeasurably as he watches with horror. A powerful novel about the evil we become when we dehumanize our neighbors. (Hogarth)

Southernmost by Silas House

Southernmost

Another book about tolerance and the South, House’s novel hones in on Asher Sharp, a Pentecostal preacher in a small Tennessee town. When a flood ruins people’s homes and threatens to kill several, a newly arrived gay couple helps Asher save another parishioner. Their selfless act shakes him and his preconceived notions, and he begins to preach what he’s never before practiced himself: tolerance, open-mindedness, love, and acceptance of all. But his wife, also religious but more entrenched in her beliefs, is incensed when he allows the gay couple to stay with them, and livid when she hears what her husband is preaching from the pulpit. Before she can fight and win custody over their young son, Asher decides to flee with the boy and find his own estranged brother, Luke, whom he hasn’t spoken to in a decade. Luke came out as gay back then, and Asher couldn’t handle it; but in his enlightened state, he wants to make amends. A gorgeous novel of love and changing opinions, providing some hope for our intolerant times. (Algonquin)

Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Providence

Jon is a normal kid when he disappears: he’s unpopular and somewhat bullied, loves hamsters, and loves Chloe even more. Chloe is Jon’s best friend, way more popular than he is, and an artist. When he’s gone, kidnapped by a local substitute teacher, she begins to paint Jon’s likeness and becomes quickly famous for the vivid and emotional work. But she misses him fiercely. When Jon reappears four years later, he doesn’t remember a thing about his time away—and worse, he seems to be harming people around him without lifting a finger. Terrified of causing the death of his true love, he disappears from town and begins living under assumed names in Rhode Island, as Chloe moves to New York City to pursue her career as an artist. Soon, a detective in Providence begins to investigate the mysterious heart attack deaths afflicting young people with no connection to each other. As the mystery grows, Jon reveals the lengths to which a person will go to protect the one he loves. (Lenny)

The Real Michael Swann by Bryan Reardon

The Real Michael Swann

Who is the real Michael Swann? His wife, Julia, thinks she knows him: he’s the man she fell in love with and with whom she’s enjoyed a happy marriage. But when a bomb goes off at Penn Station in New York City, everything changes. Hundreds are dead and wounded, and Michael—who was on the phone with Julia, waiting for his train home from Penn—is nowhere to be found. Julia, panicked, tries to get to New York City to find him, a task that becomes ever more urgent as news begins to come out about the terrorist attack. Reports surface that this wasn’t a foreign terrorist hellbent on destroying America—no, it was an American terrorist intent on targeting seven executives of a large chemical company. And the name of the terrorist is released: Michael Swann. Julia knows that’s impossible—she was just talking to him! Her husband isn’t violent…is he? A fantastic commentary on what we think we know about those we love, as well as violence in the U.S. (Dutton)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Convenience Store Woman

Keiko Furukura has spent exactly half her life working at a convenience store (the author, too, still works part-time at such a store, which was an inspiration for this novel). Keiko started when she was 18 and began attending university, and now, at 36, she’s still there. With few friends, no sophisticated career, and no boyfriend, her family has pretty much given up on her. But Keiko likes her work, likes knowing what’s expected of her in the job, and loves watching the people who come in and out—but she knows she’s disappointing her family. When a new man comes to work at the store, Keiko finds he’s somewhat like her: he’s also a nonconformist, following his own path, rather than the one society has laid out for him. But rather than being comfortable in this state, he’s bitter and cynical, and his presence begins to change Keiko’s routine—but will it be for the better? This commentary on contemporary Japanese culture and the roles it expects people to play is poignant and funny; a wonderful English debut from this Japanese author. (Grove)

An Excellent Choice by Emma Brockes

An Excellent Choice

Emma Brockes spent her 20s as a journalist for the Guardian while living in the UK. Having moved to the U.S. and embraced a new life here, this book describes her journey toward semi-single motherhood. Her partner, L, is a woman with whom she cannot co-habitate—they are wildly incompatible as roommates—but they figure out how to live in the same building, on different floors, with the freedom to each raise their kids as they want. Brockes spends most of this memoir, though, not on figuring out how to make a nontraditional family work, but rather in sharing the journey toward pregnancy. Having experience with both UK and U.S. health systems, Brockes extols the virtues of each, as well as poring over sperm-donor profiles and hilariously (verbally) sparring with her OB/GYN. The birth of her twins, which L documents with a selfie-stick and her smartphone, becomes the most excellent choice of the book’s title, and the way there is both illuminating and fun. (Penguin Press)

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

Confessions of the Fox

In this epic tale, genres collide: it’s a metafictional novel and a historical fiction novel, with a touch of magical realism thrown in. There’s good reason for this, as the manuscript at the heart of it all is an 18th-century book, and genres weren’t so well-defined at the time—memoir included fiction, fiction blurred with memoir, and both included plenty of fantastical elements. The plot begins like so: Dr. Voth is a scholar at a university that’s falling apart, and he discovers an 18th-century manuscript at a library sale. It’s the most exciting thing he’s ever laid eyes on, as it’s a book about the real criminal and folk hero Jack Sheppard, but this manuscript bares a truth formerly unknown about Jack—that he was assigned female at birth, and that he, like Dr. Voth, was a trans man. Dr. Voth rushes to authenticate the manuscript, while inside its pages, Jack falls in love with a woman named Bess and learns about himself and the world. As each plot moves toward its conclusion, we see both wonderful and uncomfortable echoes of our own time in the historical manuscript. (One World)

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorothe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra

Mirror Shoulder Signal

Sonja is a 40-something woman living in Copenhagen, where she’s carved out a life and a living for herself. She translates crime novels, gets massages occasionally, and is finally learning to drive. Everything’s fine, but then again, is it? Sonja’s vertigo, which can cause intense dizziness, serves as a perfect metaphor for her displacement. As she recalls the hauntingly huge landscapes of her childhood, she tries to grapple with what it means to keep existing, and whether existing is enough. Is she happy? Does she really want to be more like her sister, who seems to have everything she’s ever wanted? Sonja’s bored with her work and maybe with her life, but she also knows that’s okay—that she’s okay—and is trying to figure out what it even means to be okay. Existential in message but lovely and down-to-earth in content, this book is relatable to so many of us who are pushing through and getting by and wondering what the point of it all is. (Graywolf)


Featured Images: Matt McCarty

About Ilana Masad

Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is an Israeli-American writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Printer’s Row, The Toast, The Butter, The Rumpus, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers. She is (way too) active on Twitter @ilanaslightly.

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