The Books I Read in June 2015

Somehow, June was a great month for reading despite spending a lot of time finishing up my copywriting work and also working on two different books. I blasted my way through a total of nine books. So, great result on the quantity. However, I have to say the quality wasn't so hot. Or rather, I definitely experienced two extremes this month, as I found my favourite book of the year, but I also read two books which really disappointed, one of which I will unhesitatingly call my least favourite book of the year.

Read on for my reviews and recommendations...

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Aside from this book being structured the wrong way round (Part One should really precede Part Two which is a collection of birth stories which referred to techniques discussed in Part Two) this is one of the better books I've read about natural childbirth. Admittedly, that's what you'd expect from the woman who is considered the world's leading voice of modern midwifery, but nonetheless this book (originally published a decade or so ago) demonstrates she is right to be given such an honour. While the book is not written specifically for expectant mothers, but for midwives and those interested in the topic, I can imagine that the majority of those who pick it up are indeed, like me, pregnant women. However, I don't see this as a bad thing as it comforted, empowered and encouraged me to understand better and embrace wholeheartedly some of the many things I had no clue and/or a lot of fear about in relation to giving birth.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

A page-turner that I picked up after reading a few very favourable reviews on Goodreads. Yes, it's post-apocolalyptic and yes, it had a dark, sad side, but it also had a lot of heart and soul. While I can't profess to say that it is different to other books in the genre because I've read very few others, I can't deny that I was curious, I cared and I was invested in many of the characters. I found it very hard to put down as pieces of the puzzle slotted into place. It also taught me a new way I don't want to die; stuck on a disease ridden plane on the tarmac of an airport where they refuse to open the doors. I don't think (and hope) that wasn't a spoiler.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

This was it! This was my favourite this month and I think a real contender for my favourite book this year. Steinbeck's memoir of his three-month road trip around the USA is frequently quoted - and rightly so as it contains some wonderful prose - in travel blogs and other travel books, but there's so much more to this book. It's an insight to a country at a very interesting time in its history (and boy, if it wasn't weird to read Steinbeck's open-minded and honest thoughts about racial tensions in the Southern States he visited at the time of the horrific Charleston shooting) though of course his language is littered with terms that we now thankfully never use or feel comfortable reading/hearing. Tender observations poured off the page, heartfelt honesty about life, travel and the nature of people kept me hooked waiting for his next encounter or episode, and of course, there was the deepest friendship you're likely to ever read about between a man and his dog; this book was rich in so many ways and I wish it had been twice as long.

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

After feeling like I got an education reading Passing last month I promptly downloaded Quicksand (you can actually get both for just 99p on Kindle, FYI), however, I felt the story lacked the same originality and intrigue. I felt it wandered around a bit too much and took an age to get going. The middle held together better with a clearer structure and it was interesting comparing her experience of life in Copenhagen compared with Harlem, New York, but again the end veered a bit off course and it certainly ended abruptly. Still, the issues Larsen tackles and the insight she offers as a mixed race woman growing up in the first half of the 20th century meant she had plenty to share and a reader has plenty to think about. This is still a significant and important book.

First-time Parent by Lucy Atkins

After spending the last eight months dipping in and out of books on pregnancy and childbirth, I suddenly realised a few months ago that I hadn't read anything about what happens next, you know, about that parenting part. Oops. I wanted a quick, easy-to-read, focused-on-the-essentials guide to what I really need to know once Baby Bird is here and it's my responsibility to keep him alive. This, was thankfully that book, complete with shopping list and plenty of "things I can ignore" type of advice which is strangely what I needed to read/hear most.

The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon

Even though I read mostly on my Kindle these days, I still love books. I am a stroker of books. I let my fingers roll up and down their spines and occasionally I lift the pages to my nose and I sniff the book's centre. I can't stand the thought of any harm coming to any book, no matter its content. That was until I picked up this book. I honestly had to fight the urge to burn this book while I was reading it, and if it wasn't a copy my friend sent me, I possibly would have. Not that she loved it. Like me she found it utterly unbelievable and with that in mind, utterly stupid. I'm personally offended it got published. Not because it was badly written (I would give Gordon's writing style a big fat 'meh') but because at some point a group of educated people sat around a table and considered the merits of a book that tells the story of a woman in her twenties with a borderline drinking problem and a long list of self-esteem issues. I'm all for Bridget Jones-esque stories of "girl-about-town-making-mistakes-and-overdoing-the-self-deprecation" but normally with these tales there's a redeeming side of the story. There's a moment when she "wins" by staking her claim on some self-pride and/or doing her very best to learn from her mistakes and make positive changes in her life. Spoiler alert: this book does not feature such a moment. Worst of all, she gets "rescued" by a perfectly decent guy who seemingly pops up out of nowhere. Grrrrr.

Things We Set On Fire by Deborah Reed

I downloaded this book because it was on offer on Amazon and I'm really glad I did. The writing alone made me feel this way - it was observant, poignant and enviably astute - but the story is also to thank, though I should say that I thought the first half of the plot was much stronger than the second. I don't want to give too much of the story away but I will say I felt it was like a literary equivalent of Netflix's Bloodline, albeit it with a mostly female cast - no bad thing! I'm very tempted to check out other books by the same author and I'd urge you to do the same.

Poems on the Underground edited by Gerard Benson

I have always loved the Poems on the Underground project and for a long time I had the intention of buying one of their collections. This is the original publication - there have been several subsequent volulmes since - and I found it in a charity shop during my last visit to the UK. I dipped in and out of it over the month of June in the hope  that it would keep me inspired while I finished work on my first novella, The Wait. It did and then some. I think I folded over more pages for poems I want to read again than I left alone. With works from the widest imaginable range of poets I would recommend this book as one of the best ways to introduce yourself to poetry if you're completely clueless. It worked for me!

Estranged by Jessica Berger Gross

I'll be honest, I read this as it promised a quick read and I was starting to sweat a bit about my falling behind in my reading challenge.. (I'm over that now. I'll just do the best I can!) I sort of wish I hadn't bothered. I know it's silly to moan about about a memoir being all "me-me-me" but this one was indeed like that and yet had no redeeming features. I have no doubt the author suffered greatly at the hands (and words) of her abusive father and passive mother who didn't protect her from him, but there just wasn't enough insight or even feeling there about what had happened. The emotions only seemed to scratch the surface and I didn't find the story, the writing or even what happened to the author "haunting and powerful" as was promised in the book's blurb. I don't want to sound harsh on the author for this is her story as she is allowed to tell it any which way she wishes to. I am therefore inclined to think, again, that a bad and/or rushed decision was made about publishing this slightly sterile essay as a Kindle Single rather than working on it for longer and giving it the depth that would give the author's story and this topic the impact it deserves.

Read more book reviews and recommendations from January, February, March, April and May. And follow my reading progress on Goodreads. We could even be book-loving friends over there!

And as always, please let me know what you've been reading recently that you think others should check out!

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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