What I Read In June 🌺

Hello and happy July, everyone ✨

June has been all about figuring out how to fill my summer. Should I practice chemistry for my college class in the fall? Should I pick up a new instrument? Should I be writing? I don’t think any of us truly know what the “best” way to spend our time is, but for now, the days are long (in the Northern Hemisphere), the sunset makes the perfect light for reading by, and I’m this close to tying my mom in Scrabble wins.


June In Books

52. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

My dad’s complaints, though blunt, probably say it best: too many characters. The Chronicles of Prydain, of which The Black Cauldron is book two, is a middle-grade fantasy series he loved as a kid back in the 70s. (The Black Cauldron was published in 1965.) But here, Lloyd Alexander falls prey to something that seems to hinder lots of quest-fantasy types: he tries to introduce the entire fellowship by, like, page ten. This holds back everything from the reveal of a twist villain to a rivalry meant to bring out the worst in Taran, the book’s impulsive young protagonist. For someone who likes the quintessential beats of a Tolkien-like fantasy, it’s still a fairly charming read, but The Black Cauldron’s 178 pages are still woefully few for what Alexander’s trying to achieve.


53. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Fierce rivalry with my mom notwithstanding, Queen of the Tiles is to blame for my recent obsession with Scrabble. Pitched as a murder-mystery set at a Scrabble tournament, it had me hooked from the get-go, but Alkaf’s engrossing depiction of gameplay––both in the actual matches and in the way it animates the character’s thought process in her daily life––truly shines. And, even though the mystery’s answers at curtain weren’t entirely satisfying, there’s a lot to love in the way Alkaf writes complicated relationships that keep unfurling through grief. New, hard-to-accept layers of the main character Najwa’s best friend, Trina, keep emerging, and, despite some of the supporting players being confined to archetype, their ties to Trina, good and bad, keep changing, too.


54. The Art of the Drama by Millet & Bentley

So this long out-of-print work of theatre criticism doesn’t even have a cover on Goodreads, much to my rage. But, aesthetically tarnished reading challenge row aside, this was fairly interesting and supremely verbose. Part 1 (which covers the different forms comedy and tragedy have taken over the course of theatrical history) is much better-structured and more insightful than whatever the hell was happening in Parts 2 and 3. The authors, both English professors at the time of the book’s publication in 1935 (!!!), draw on a range of intriguing play selections that I felt compelled to actually jot down at a number of points, but I’m afraid of the fun of this can’t overcome the frustration of the reading experience. If these professors ever managed to start making points without their ‘yet’s, ‘but first we must’s, and ‘one could never’s, I’m sure their students were grateful.


55. The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

After a bit of a lull in The Black Cauldron, Prydain hits its stride again in book three, an adventure that pits Taran and a (much more manageably-sized) band of heroes against an enchantress, as they race to rescue a sharp-witted princess before her talents can be put to use for evil. This time around, Lloyd Alexander makes a point of emphasizing Taran’s insecurities about status, a layer of complexity that adds to an otherwise familiar tale of princes and swords. The group dynamic is inviting, the humor stays present even though the tone shifts a little darker, and the villain––though we certainly don’t see enough of her!––is one of my favorite characters in the series. Some weaknesses still persist, but consider them sufficiently clouded by secondhand nostalgia from my dad’s middle school days 😂


56. Henry VI, Part 1 by Lloyd Alexander

After trudging through Henry V, I’m finally at the trilogy of history plays that covers The Wars of the Roses––a massive, years-long contest for the English crown between the houses of York and Lancaster. Because this is an era with so many powerhouse players, Shakespeare’s expert ensemble work reflects that: Henry VI, Part I is not only about the floundering king, but the factions swirling around his court, the desperate wars overseas, and the new hope for England’s opponent at the time, the French court determined to retake their territory. I’m of the opinion that this volume might be the best at juggling them out of all three in the Henry VI trilogy, but it’s missing some of the things that make Shakespeare at his most popular so enjoyable: if you’re looking for true agency, for example, for the play’s titular king, you’re more likely to find it elsewhere.


57. The Vorrh by B. Catling

Seeing as this book was recommended by a friend with way more eccentric taste than mine, I probably should’ve been forewarned: this book is genuinely unnerving. It’s a work of fantastical alternate history set in and around an impenetrable primordial forest, following a cast of strange characters with, in my opinion, very little solid connection to be found between them. Catling, a sculptor, is way more concerned with the in-the-moment experience of his writing than with its overarching structure, which yields some ultra-vivid imagery but renders the story overall pretty self-defeating. I’m also uneasy about a white author writing about “Africa” in a vague way meant to evoke something like Heart of Darkness. This choice of setting strikes me as especially loaded with the white gaze, and the few Black characters Catling puts in prominent roles all read as pretty powerless.


58. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

If you think Shakespeare’s plays have been talked to death, you may want to take a gander at Emma Smith’s This Is Shakespeare, a volume of essays that take a bunch of brand new angles on 20 of the Bard’s plays, old favorites and overlooked gems alike. There’s no overarching theme, really (sometimes Smith pulls from history, sometimes she doesn’t; sometimes the plays’ source material matters and sometimes it doesn’t), but I think that’s to the book’s credit. Each essay builds its approach from scratch and you can never guess what angle Smith will take: she cracks open Romeo and Juliet as a shattered romantic comedy, re-evaluates Antony and Cleopatra in a strikingly modern lens of celebrity and scandal, and makes the case for a much more subversive Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s best enjoyed, though, if this isn’t your first Shakespeare rodeo: Smith does her best, but there just isn’t room for background amidst all the festivities.


59. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Coming in fourth in The Chronicles of Prydain, right after The Castle of Llyr, this book might be––no, scratch that, is––the best in the series. It’s the one where Taran breaks from the battle-against-evil mold to find himself, as well as answers about his parentage, in the Prydain countryside. Lloyd Alexander not only makes the right move in denying him easy answers from start to finish; he also gives him a way to grasp at meaning that has nothing to do with his heroic role in the rest of the series. And, with something that follows medieval fantasy’s mythic prerogative the way The Chronicles of Prydain does, that’s an opportunity all too easy to miss. When it comes to villains, as well, Taran Wanderer challenges and contrasts its namesake in all the right ways, and its somewhat open resolution bodes well for the finale ahead.


60. Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

After the events of Henry VI, Part I, England has a new queen, the York and Lancastrian factions have new reasons to hate one another, and King Henry has a spate of new political problems right under his nose––only some of which he’s, like, actually aware of. This play, like its prequel, is full of scheming, deliciously conniving characters like Margaret of Anjou and Richard, Duke of York, and its fair share of absolutely banger rhyming couplets. But it’s also held back by its structure. While Part I expertly wrangles three simultaneous struggles, Part II sort of parades through its royal crises, one after another, with about an act for each. It doesn’t kill the suspense, but it does make me miss how well Part I pulled it off.


61. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Everyone seems to be head-over-heels in love with this book. But no one’s part of ‘everyone,’ every time. In this case, I can certainly agree that the atmosphere, the prose style, and the concepts that Erin Morgenstern weaves into her titular magical circus are all dutifully lovely, but her choice of distantly and omnisciently following so many characters over such a long time can make them feel more like thought experiments than like people. Especially the two romantic leads, for whom the thought experiment is “What if magicians on opposite sides of a duel fell in all-encompassing forbidden love?” You’re obviously supposed to buy into it and have it sweep you off your feet, but I had to rely on the book’s other charms. They’re there, to be sure, but they’re not quite magical for the reader unless that central conceit sticks.


June in Blogs 💜

Krysta @ Pages Unbound made some excellent points in a YA Book Wishlist!

Jordyn @ Birdie’s Book Nook has been doing a delightful Author Spotlight series!

Aria @ Snow White Hates Apples wrote a really thoughtful review of Queen of the Tiles

Naemi @ A Book Owl’s Corner paired a gorgeous travelogue of her trip to Poland with some book recommendations!

Uncommonly Bound reviewed a fascinating micro-history in What The Ermine Saw!


Thank you all so much for reading! How was your June in books? I’d love to hear anything and everything, in the comments below 💕

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2022 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly series hosted on That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we’re looking ahead to spring: awaiting us is an unlivable amount of pollen, and even more books…


1. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The first printing of this book––a retelling of the Korean legend The Tale of Shim Cheong––vanished before I could get my hands on a copy from my local indie. Following a girl who goes in search of the mysterious Sea God in order to save her village from his wrath, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea earned rave reviews from my favorite blogs, and promises a magical, fairy-tale feel of the kind I’m always hungry for. As soon as my (second-run) copy arrives, I’m diving right in.


2. A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee

Traci Chee, author of the Reader trilogy (which I adore!) is out with a new Japanese-influenced fantasy that I’ve been anticipating since it was announced. When the book’s main character, Miuko, is cursed by a demon, she must leave her sleepy village and embark on a quest that puts her in the path of tricksters, gods, and spirits, with Chee’s trademark meticulousness shining through in footnotes throughout. (I was thrilled to hear about said footnotes in her newsletter, which I’m subscribed to because of course I am.)


3. The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna

Releasing in May, this title is the sequel to 2021’s The Gilded Ones, an epic work of West-African-inspired fantasy that nails everything from worldbuilding to combat, and had me chomping at the bit for more the moment I finished it. I can’t wait to see what Forna does with the revelations from the end of book one, but more than that, I can’t wait to see more of her excellent staging and dynamic set pieces! Forna is a screenwriter by trade, and every part of The Gilded Ones shows it.


4. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Nonfiction and I make only a few rendezvous over the course of a year, but I’m quite looking forward to picking up Braiding Sweetgrass this spring in an effort to explore more titles on science. Written by Potawatomi botanist and professor Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, the book combines philosophy, science, and an Indigenous perspective on both to dive deep into society’s relationship with the natural world. It’s incredibly beloved and has been recommended to me a number of times, so my hopes are rather high.


5. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Murder mystery and competitive Scrabble…it’s a match that’s just meant to be. Queen of the Tiles stars teen Scrabble-r (?) Najwa Bakri, who must put together the pieces of her friend’s seemingly-straightforward death after her once-inactive Instagram mysteriously starts posting again. Pacy, clever, and purportedly filled with wordplay, this book and its premise locked me in immediately. I haven’t even met Najwa yet, but I already know that if she beat me at Scrabble, I’d thank her.


6. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

A friend of mine has been on me about reading The Raven Boys for going on a year now…and lo and behold, she was right. I had a marvelous time! The Dream Thieves, its 2013 sequel, promises another 400 pages with characters I latched onto like a leech, more strange adventures in the town of Henrietta, and a touch of dream magic, all incentives for me to continue this quartet with all requisite swiftness. The Raven Boys didn’t immediately strike me as a book in need of a sequel…but I’m eager to be proven wrong.


7. The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

Reader, it’s been sitting on my fantasy shelf for months––a collection of stories from the world of the Grishaverse, ranging in tone from wry to tragic, and gorgeously illustrated…or so I’m told, because I, an avowed fan of Bardugo’s, totally fumbled this release. The Language of Thorns, another collection of Grishaverse lore, is my favorite of the books, and I’m hopeful that this volume will join or unseat it at the top of my personal ranking. (On second thought, though, a rabid Shadow and Bone fan who can tell you not only what her Grisha order would be, but her patron Sankt as well? I’m not certain that’s something I should allow released into the wild. It’ll put me one step closer to owning a goddamn kefta.)


8. Control by Lydia Kang

This 2013 dystopian thriller follows Zelia, a budding scientist who has to rescue her sister from kidnappers convinced her DNA holds a powerful secret. YA sci-fi (especially its Hunger Games-era backlist!) is something I often find myself returning to. I love the way ethics find their way into vivid medical and technological thrills, set against worlds that train their eyes on contemporary teenage life and its restrictions. With vibes echoing Lissa Price’s Starters and Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful in the very best way, something about Control tells me I’m in for a treat.


9. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Earthsea Cycle is next up on my yearlong survey of classic fantasy, and I’ve heard wonderful things. It’s a coming-of-age story set in a world I’ve heard was quite unique at the time (being published alongside European medieval fantasy after European medieval fantasy), and featuring dragons and magic school, both of which I’m always down for. Anyway, Le Guin is a legendary writer, and I’m delighted to finally be getting my first taste of her work.


10. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ate my life a few months back, and I was thrilled to discover some work of showrunner Noelle Stevenson’s floating around in the world of comics. Nimona is a sprightly, irreverent fantasy adventure, drawn in Stevenson’s charming art style and based off of his earlier webcomic. It was published in 2015 to a fair bit of acclaim and even had an adaptation in the works before BlueSky shuttered a few years back (😢), so fingers crossed I’ll find a new favorite in this one…or at least a few quips to quote every now and then.


Thank you so much for reading! What does your Spring 2022 in reading look like? As always, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below 💕