RIF’s Favorites of June 2017

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

Favorites of June

June is a good literary month, what with Bloomsday, a commemoration of James Joyce and his famous novel Ulysses, which happens on June 16 every year. It’s also Pride Month, and the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was acknowledged on June 12. The UK election has also passed us by, with somewhat confusing and mixed results. So with joy, with sadness, with political confusion, and with a look towards continuing to move forward, we present to you our favorites of June 2017. Reading, after all, not only promotes empathy and understanding—it is also one of the greatest escapes that we can use when we need to step back from the reality of the world. So, step back with our recommendations, and enjoy.

Camino Island by John GrishamIntrigue is afoot on this fictional Florida island, and it’s mystery as only John Grisham can deliver it. This latest from Grisham is especially fun for us bookish folk since the main source of intrigue lies in the stolen manuscripts of none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald. They’ve been stolen from a Princeton University library, and though they’re insured for some $25 million, the library understandably wants the priceless pages back. Enter Bruce Cable, owner of a small bookstore in a Florida paradise, and trader of rare manuscripts. Sometimes, perhaps, those rare books may not be entirely legally procured…but does that mean Bruce knows what’s up with the stolen goods? And how about this mysterious woman who’s entered his life, an out-of-work novelist named Mercer Mann? With sexy twists and turns, Camino Island does the thing right. (Doubleday)

White Fur by Jardine LibaireElise is a half-Puerto Rican, half-white high school dropout who finds her New Haven roommate by sleeping in his car one night. Next door lives Jamey, an upper-crust Yale student with his future all planned and mapped out by his parents. When they meet after three months of neighborly obliviousness, everything changes. The chemistry is instant, the sex follows almost that fast, and the relationship that follows is not quite a romance, but not quite not a romance either. Obsessed with one another, this star-crossed couple spends more and more (and yet more) time in each other’s beds, ultimately living together and cutting off the world they knew before as they explore 1980s New York City’s every waking hour (which is all of them). A novel of passion and youth and the dark, sometimes beautiful, often destructive choices we make for the hope of love. (Hogarth)

Hunger by Roxane GayIn her much-anticipated memoir, cultural influencer and phenomenon Roxane Gay (who’d certainly be uncomfortable with such grand titles) shares deeply intimate truths and a complex narrative. Coining a phrase that is certain to gain significance long beyond her, she honestly discusses how she came to find herself within a body deemed unruly by the society around her, as if she and her body should be tamed by us in order to be acceptable. From harsh and entirely fair criticism of the weight-loss industrial complex and its use of reality television to further its products to aching confessions of desires unfulfilled and fears unmanaged, Hunger paints a portrait of not only an overweight single woman. Instead, it’s the portrait of a woman in context, and of the context in which so many women find themselves. (Harper)

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Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile MeloyMaile Meloy’s name may be familiar from her New Yorker fiction or her children’s books, but this novel is a whole new beast. In Do Not Become Alarmed, cousins Nora and Liv have taken their husbands and kids on a cruise for an idyllic vacation away from all the concerns of home. But when an excursion ashore goes wrong, and the children disappear—along with the teenagers of the Argentinian mother accompanying Nora and Liv—the parents’ worst nightmares seem to be coming true. Narrated thereafter from the points of view of both the six children and the six adults, the stores of energy and resourcefulness seem to run stronger in the offspring than their parents. A keep-you-up-reading kind of emotional thriller, you won’t want to miss this one. (Riverhead)

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia FierroIn the summer of 1992, Avalon Island suffers an invasion, but not of troops or foreign enemies or even British music—instead, it is of gypsy moths. More than an invasion, the gypsy moth caterpillars are a kind of plague, their squishy bodies getting into all manner of clothing, hair, and footwear, their slime spreading across all surfaces. But are they more disgusting than some of the deep, dark secrets that the well-to-do families of Avalon Island are hiding? Whether it’s dementia or years-long abuse, alarmingly high rates of cancer, or the not-so-subtle racist undercurrents running through the island’s ruling class, it’s clear that something is afoot (or is it awing?). As three generations of a family rally around their different but interlinked tragedies, Fierro’s sophomore novel keeps readers enthralled. (St. Martin’s)

The Windfall by Diksha BasuDiksha Basu’s debut novel is a lighthearted look at a very serious subject (and has those serious undertones too, if you care to look for them): class and wealth acquisition. In present-day India, a middle-aged couple becomes very, very wealthy very, very quickly when Mr. Jha sells his website. He and Mrs. Jha then move from their East Delhi apartment complex to a ritzy new-money neighborhood elsewhere in Delhi, where they have a bad case of keeping-up-with-the-Chopras, the neighbors next door. Mr. Jha spends ridiculous amounts of money on inconvenient furniture. Mrs. Jha clings too tightly to the comfort of a less lavish shower than the kind she can now take in a house with a constant supply of running hot water. And meanwhile, their son is going through his own confusions in New York, where he is involved with two women, one instilled with the same traditions and values he was raised with, and the other, an American blond with a very different background. A comedy of manners and wealth, Basu’s book is both funny and thought-provoking. (Crown)

Perennials by Mandy BermanRachel and Fiona meet at the camp they both attend as children, and they’ve been best friends ever since. But like many childhood friendships, distance and time tend to put a strain on the connection, and now that Rachel and Fiona are each home from college for the summer and working at the camp as counselors, things are clearly different for them. But though Rachel and Fiona’s friendship is at the heart of this novel, we get the stories of other counselors and campers as well, their stories leading Rachel’s and Fiona’s forward. From Fiona’s little sister to the single nonwhite camper to the divorced and lonely camp director to the British riding counselors who’ve come to Camp Marigold all the way from the U.K., the characters are complex and interesting and the anticipation for this novel was clearly well-founded. A smashing debut that will make you feel as if you’re sitting around a campfire. (Random House)

The Little French Bistro by Nina GeorgeTranslated from German, The Little Paris Bookshop author Nina George’s newest will entice and bewitch you as much as her last book did. In this novel, the long-married and beaten down Marianne decides it’s time to not be that woman anymore. In fact, she decides to stop being a person altogether, and on a tour of Paris, tries to jump in the Seine and end it all. But she’s pulled back and saved by an unlikely and homeless Prince Charming, and the magic of life doesn’t end there. As Marianne flees the hospital she’s been admitted to and heads to the French Riviera, where she plans to walk into the sea (à la Kate Chopin’s famous heroine), she is constantly pulled back. Within hours of her arrival in a small French bistro, she’s surrounded by people who fascinate her, and so, decides to start over and have a fresh beginning in Brittany. (Crown)

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen DionneHelena has a dark secret, one that she’s been certain for over a decade that she’d be able to keep for the rest of her life. But when she hears that the notorious rapist, kidnapper, and murderer nicknamed The Marsh King has escaped from prison (killing two guards on his way out), she knows that she’s wrong. The Marsh King, aka Jacob Holbrook, is Helena’s father, and she was born to his kidnap victim. Helena didn’t know she was a victim until she and her mother were rescued, but she helped put her father behind bars. Now, as her husband takes their children elsewhere in order to keep them safe, Helena stays put and decides to help out, believing she’s the only one who’ll be able to find her father. After all, she remembers everything he taught her about how and where to survive in the wilderness…  (Putnam)

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen PetersenThis is an incredibly of-the-moment book, a social examination of women who refuse to comply with what cultural norms demand of them, by known BuzzFeed culture writer, Anne Helen Petersen. Looking at people like Madonna, Caitlyn Jenner, Serena Williams, and more, Petersen examines the ways in which they’ve defied cultural norms: their age, their race, their temperament, and more. Women’s bodies are policed in so many ways that there is much material to cover here. A nice companion book to Roxane Gay’s Hunger, above, which also examines the unruliness of the body, Peterson’s collection is incisive and intelligent. (Plume)

The Changeling by Victor LaValleApollo Kagwa grew up without a father, and he fully intends to be there for his own son, Brian. Married to Emma, Apollo’s life seems pretty good—his wife may have had their baby on a subway, and Apollo’s job as a bookseller who occasionally finds extremely rare editions of books is unpredictable, but still, all in all, life is good. Until, that is, something goes horribly, horribly wrong, and life stops being good. When Emma ties him up and forces him to listen to her killing their child, and when she then disappears along with all traces of Brian, Apollo doesn’t let himself go mad with grief. Instead, he begins a winding journey through parts of New York City that may or may not exist. Blending fantasy, horror, and the fantastic horrors of parental love, The Changeling will have you biting your nails and turning the pages. (Spiegel & Grau)

A House Among the Trees by Julia GlassIn Julia Glass’s stirring new novel, Mort Lear (who, yes, bears some resemblance to Maurice Sendak) was a famous children’s book writer. Was, because he recently passed away, leaving his beloved assistant Tommy as his sole heir and the executor of his literary estate. But Tommy, who’s known Mort Lear, or Morty to her, since she was 12 years old, is baffled by some of the requirements in her benefactor’s will. When the actor set to play Morty in a film arrives at the house in order to learn more about the character he is to embody, he and Tommy unexpectedly form an alliance as they try to get to the bottom of the complicated man Morty was. Turns out, he’s nothing like either one of them expected or understood. (Pantheon)

The Lost Letter by Jillian CantorIn Austria, on the eve of World War II, Jews need ways to escape, or else they’re going to get taken away. Kristoff has found a job as an apprentice to Frederick Faber, a Jewish stamp engraver, but it’s more than a job. The Fabers provide Kristoff with the family he never truly had. As he grows closer to his boss’s daughter, Elena, he becomes more and more involved in her secret work as a document forger. Many years later, in present-day Los Angeles, Katie is going through her father’s stamp collection soon after he’s been put in a nursing home, and she hires an appraiser who finds something interesting in the collection. Hoping to be able to tell her father one more story before his Alzheimer’s takes away his moments of lucidity, she goes on an unexpected adventure. As much as it is a love story, The Lost Letter is also an incredibly historical yarn, woven with care. (Riverhead)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati RoyThe first novel in two decades from this celebrated and beloved author, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is difficult to describe in brief. It is peopled with a wide variety of characters with shifting identities—and this, perhaps, is intentional on Roy’s part: the changeable nature of identities, the lack of absoluteness, and the rejection of essentialism. Beginning and ending in a cemetery—death is, after all, perhaps one of the few things that are true for all of us—the novel explores the lives of intersex Anjum, of accidental revolutionary Tilo, of their lovers and landlords and the people who hurt them and celebrate them. A delectable, gorgeous read. (Knopf)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidEveryone knows who Evelyn Hugo is. The aging Hollywood starlet is known the world over, but not for any recent work. She’s been notoriously reclusive for a few decades now, but it’s time for her to tell the world the truth about her fascinating, scandalous life. Imagine the surprise of the young and unknown journalist Monique Grant when she learns that she’s been chosen to tell Hugo’s story. As Monique begins to write the celebrity tell-all of this grandiose woman, she learns many of the lies and secrets Hugo (nee Herrera) told and kept in order to make it to the top of show biz, including disguising a huge part of her identity. Calculating and intelligent, Hugo did what she had to do to survive. But what will her survival as an icon look like after her death, and how does Monique accurately write the story once she knows the full truth? An incredible ride of experience, secrets, and the tolls paid for fame. (Atria)

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur JaswalMuch as the title suggests, in this lively, sexy, and rebellious novel, a group of Punjabi widows discuss their sexuality in an accidental creative writing class. This all starts when Nikki, who is not willing to adhere to any of the expectations her traditional Sikh Punjabi family have of her, decides to apply for a job as a writing instructor. Working as a bartender and being strapped for cash makes for rash job applications sometimes. But Nikki gets the gig and begins a short-story writing class, though the women who come were expecting basic literacy skills. As Nikki discovers the secrets of these women’s bodies, hidden under dupattas as they are, she comes to see her community differently. But when the erotic stories the women have been writing get shared with the community, they’re all faced with the possibility of a terrible scandal. (William Morrow)

Here and Gone by Haylen BeckFleeing an abusive marriage with children in tow isn’t easy, and certainly when you’re not quite sure where to go. Audra and her two kids are driving to San Diego at the invitation of a friend, but as they’re going through Arizona, Audra gets pulled over and arrested. But when she and the arresting officer arrive at the station, her children aren’t there. When she demands to see them, the cop tells her there were never any children in her backseat when he picked her up. Gaslighting is one of the scariest forms of psychological torture out there, but Audra is convinced that she’s neither crazy nor homicidal and that her kids were taken from her. Soon after, not too far from where Audra was headed, a man hears about her story, which has made the news, and is struck by just how eerily similar Audra’s experience is to his own… The man, an FBI agent, and Audra will need to work together to figure out what the hell is going on. (Crown)

How to Survive a Summer by Nick WhiteWill Dillard is a young gay man who spent a terrible summer at a pray-away-the-gay camp, also known as a conversion camp, also known, in this case, as Camp Levi. Now a graduate student, he’s never told anyone about his time as a camper at Camp Levi, nor about the camper who disappeared during that summer. But when he gets an email from one of his former counselors, things get really real: this and other former counselors have made a slasher film based on the awful summer Will spent at Camp Levi. Deciding it’s probably time he found closure—it seems his former counselors have found their own way to do that with this film—Will decides to take a road trip down to the Mississippi camp and reckon with his past there, especially the mystery of that disappeared camper. A strong debut about an important topic that you should definitely check out. (Blue Rider Press)

Popsicles look good enough to eat? We think so too! We grabbed two recipes from the recently released cookbook Glow Pops to use as props next to our Favorite Reads of June. We want to share the recipe for the Cucumber Mint Mojito and Watermelon Lime Popsicles so you can make them yourself!

Click here and here for the recipes and below to grab a copy of Glow Pops so you can make icy treats that not only taste good but are nutrient-filled to make you glow from the inside out. They’re fast, flexible, and packed with superfoods to boost your brain power, clear your skin, rev your metabolism, and much more. Happy summer, readers!

Photography by Ryan Deshon; Prop Styling: Abbe Wright

About Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is a queer writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, an interview podcast featuring fiction writers, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, comes out May 2020.

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