- Gabby Womack
June Reading Wrap-Up
Updated: Jul 9, 2022
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Dreamers Series by Adriana Herrera
American Fairytale (#2)
Representation: Cuban-American, Dominican-American, Gay
Content Warnings: explicit, domestic/intimate partner violence (mentioned)
Camilo is a social worker dedicated to helping survivors find comfort but he's never really slowed down to find his own. He's passionate about social justice but sometimes it seems that he's too quick to judge others. Milo decides to throw caution to the wind when he meets a mysterious hottie at fundraiser. His daydreams about their hot and heavy hookup turn to panic when Milo learns that the man of his fantasy is his agency's new wealthy donor, Thomas Hughes.
Tom is pleasantly surprised because he had been kicking himself for not getting Milo's number the other night. Although the attraction is searing and Milo starts falling for Tom, he can't help but feel that it would be hypocritical to rant about economic injustice while dating a rich man. But what does he really know about Mr. Hughes?
Review: Despite some of the serious content in this book, I found myself cackling mischievously throughout. Of course, I couldn't help it because this one brought the heat almost immediately! (You'll see what I mean...)
All of the characters are amazing and feel so real. It's another banger by Adriana Herrera because she always manages to inject the intricacies and intersectional identities present in real life but still make the story feel like an escape.
American Love Story (#3)
Rating: 4.5 ⭐️
Representation: Haitian-American, Immigration, Gay
Content Warnings: Explicit, Police Brutality, Racism, Homophobia
"Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.
All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.
For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together." - Author's Website
Review: I enjoyed this story with Patrice and Easton almost as much as American Fairytale. They definitely had chemistry and I like that they were forced to reevaluate their approaches to their work and love. It was harder to connect with Patrice for me because he wasn't as playful as Camilo. This was a bit heavier than the last one for me because of Patrice's confrontation but I appreciate the way Herrera handled it and the discussion on police brutality, anti-Blackness, and immigration.
American Sweethearts (#4)
Representation: Afro-Latinx, Bisexual
Content Warnings: Explicit, Burnout, Sexual Abuse (mentioned)
"Juan Pablo Campos doesn’t do regrets. He’s living the dream as a physical therapist for his beloved New York Yankees. He has the best friends and family in the world and simply no time to dwell on what could’ve been.
Except when it comes to Priscilla, the childhood friend he’s loved for what seems like forever.
New York City police detective Priscilla Gutierrez has never been afraid to go after what she wants. Second-guessing herself isn’t a thing she does. But lately, the once-clear vision she had for herself—her career, her relationships, her life—is no longer what she wants.
What she especially doesn’t want is to be stuck on a private jet to the Dominican Republic with JuanPa, the one person who knows her better than anyone else.
By the end of a single week in paradise, the love/hate thing JuanPa and Pris have been doing for sixteen years has risen to epic proportions. No one can argue their connection is still there. And they can both finally admit—if only to themselves—they’ve always been a perfect match. The future they dreamed of together is still within reach…if they can just accept each other as they are."- Author's Website
Review: JuanPa and Pris are explosive! I'd put their chemistry at the same level as Camilo and Tom's. This second-chance romance was super enjoyable despite being shorter than the other books in the series. I love that JuanPa took the initiative to become a better partner regardless of whether Pris would take him back or not. He's open about going to therapy and working on himself which I find super sexy! Pris's passion for sex education and pleasure advocacy made me so happy! I love the way she approached this work and that Herrera included it in the book. Now, I just have to read American Christmas: Dreamers Novella to finish the series.
Mead Mishaps Series by Kimberly Lemming
Genre: Fantasy Romance
That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon
That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf
Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra
Representation: Dominican-American, AfroLatinx
Middle-Grade Graphic Novel
Marlene is Latina and struggles with the pressure her family places on looking “presentable.” By this, they mean embracing Eurocentric beauty standards: straight hair, light skin, etc. As she realizes how straightening her hair makes her feel, Marlene also comes to terms with the ways in which these beliefs have passed from generation to generation.
I’m so grateful to see books like this, Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith, and Inheritance by Elizabeth Acevedo this year. As an AfroLatina, I feel seen by these books. In a way, it feels like they are helping me heal from the anti-blackness I’ve faced my whole life, especially when it comes to my hair.
Ortega did a wonderful job of bringing this to life through Marlene’s story. Marlene just wants to be herself. She’s hurt and confused by the messages her peers and family send her with their jokes and comments about her looks and her hair. After so many saying, “it’s just a joke,” and “respect your elders,” it’s no surprise that Marlene begins to crumble under the pressure.
This book is perfect for everyone, especially Black and Latinx families coming to terms with Eurocentric beauty standards. I will be buying copies for my family members when it is released in October.
Frizzy will be available on October 18, 2022.
The Black Panther Party by David F. Walker & Marcus Kwame Anderson
Genre: Nonfiction Graphic Novel - History
Taproot by Keezy Young
Genre: Supernatural Romance - Graphic Novel
Content Warning: deaths
"Blue is having a hard time moving on. He's in love with his best friend. He's also dead. Luckily, Hamal can see ghosts, leaving Blue free to haunt him to his heart's content. But something eerie is happening in town, leaving the local afterlife unsettled, and when Blue realizes Hamal's strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means...leaving him."-Author's website
Review: This graphic novel is so sweet! Hamal's talent with plants is beautiful and fascinating. I love that the author created something mysterious that could still highlight queer joy.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure
Representation: South Asian/ Indian-American, Hindu
Content Warnings: Feelings of abandonment
"Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.
The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?" - Author's Website
Review: I'm so glad I stumbled upon this book! I loved learning all the Hindu stories and knowing that there are so many more to learn about. This story is relatable and fun but also put me in my feels a few times when Aru and her "sister" share more about their experiences with loneliness. They shatter expectations just by being themselves and that is inspiring.
The Singing Hills Cycle Series by Nghi Vo
Genre: Fantasy - Novellas
Empress of Salt and Fortune
"A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.
Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for. At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece." - Author's Website
Review: While the story was transporting and beautiful, I often felt lost. I think it was just that I didn't understand Vo's style of story-telling until the tale was already coming to a close. So while I recognize that this story was likely very good, I didn't feel quite get it.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Representation: Chinese? Nonbinary (character), Queer
"The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.
Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, a mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune."- Author's Website
Review: This story was much more captivating to me! I love that Chih is taking the time to tell and relearn a story they once thought they knew. I'd listen to it again because it was that lovely.
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Adventure
Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zara by Julian Randall
The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna
Rating: 4 ⭐️
Representation: Black, Nonbinary, Transgender, Queer
Content Warnings: Graphic Violence, Death
"It's been six months since Deka freed the goddesses in the ancient kingdom of Otera, and discovered who she really is... But war is waging across the kingdom, and the real battle has only just begun. For there is a dark force growing in Otera – a merciless power that Deka and her army must stop." - Author's Website
Review: When I read The Gilded Ones, I knew to be suspicious of most of the people Deka encountered. The Merciless Ones took that feeling to a whole other level. Expect to spend a lot of the book trying to figure out who is telling the truth, who is hiding something, and continuing to figure out why Deka is so different from everyone. I was glad to learn more of the background story of the Gilded Ones. While the first book mentioned a few side characters who were likely lesbians, this book brought more queer characters to the fore. I enjoyed the way this story messed with me but felt like the pacing was a bit weird sometimes. Also, I thought it was going to be the last book...I was wrong. There's definitely gotta be a third one.
American Royalty by Tracey Livesay
Content Warnings: Racism, Harassment
When I first heard about this book, I was excited to read it because I love Prince Harry and the Duchess Meghan Markle together. However, I made the mistake of not reading the full synopsis before diving in. This is the story of a Black female rapper and skin care entrepreneur name Danielle "Duchess" Nelson and her whirlwind romance with the introverted prince who works as a philosophy professor. In the U.S., Duchess has been dealing with her management constantly making decisions for her without her consent and a pop star who won't stop trying to ride the rapper's coattails through social media and the press. She just wants to control her own life and move more into the skin care realm with a company interested in striking a deal. Thankfully, she gets the perfect opportunity to escape the madness for a while AND drum up good press through a surprising opportunity. In the U.K., the Queen is at her wits end with her children and the negative attention they've brought on the royal family. Seeking to convince the public of the royal family's importance and celebrate her beloved late husband, she tasks Prince Jameson with organizing a week long celebration complete with a tribute concert. There are just a few problems...Jameson hates public attention, he doesn't listen to popular music, and he can't back out. On a whim, Jameson asks a student for musicians to recommend, which leads to his decision to invite Duchess to perform without looking into her or her music. This book was very steamy and full of sexy scenes. I also loved the Great British Baking Show references. However, there wasn't much else I loved about this story. Aside from Prince Jameson being described as extremely attractive and the sexual tension between him and Duchess, I didn't see any real reason the two could fall in love. They barely opened up to one another and when they did, it was only with partial explanations. Most of the time, they were having sex, thinking about it, or trying to act normal in public. So Their love connection didn't feel believable. I also had a hard time with this book because I felt like there were way too many instances of things not quite making sense... One example: If Jameson grew up as a royal with their need to appear proper at all times, why is he so ignorant of how obvious he and Duchess are in front of his staff and others? They both seemed to lack common sense throughout the book. If you like instalove and smut and don't care as much about these things, I think you'll enjoy this book!
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Rating: 5 ⭐️
I read this book last year but decided I needed a refresher before starting This Wicked Fate. It's still wonderful! Check out my review from last year here.