You Want to Learn More About Juneteenth

Need a break or are scrambling for a Father’s Day gift

Hi book lovers,

I flew to my parents’ house in upstate New York last week — my first time on a plane since December 2019 — and since my flight was delayed, I had multiple uninterrupted hours of reading time. The books were great, even if the delay wasn’t. 

Did you get started on your Summer Reading Bingo card last week? I did — I’ll share my progress in a few weeks. If you need some help filling out your categories from this issue, I’ve started tagging what squares a book can be used for. And if you’re struggling with a particular square, let me know, and I’ll try to help. 

Thanks to everyone who shared their favorite debuts in last week’s comments section. Ann suggested Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, a coming-of-age story set in 1987 New York during the AIDS crisis. 

This week, I’m looking for your favorite sci-fi or fantasy books. It’s a genre I’m hoping to explore more and can use all the help I can get.

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And now, what to read if…

You Want to Learn More About Juneteenth

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

This Saturday, June 19th, marks the 156th anniversary of enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, being told they were free. While President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was only enforced in areas with Union troops. After Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas and announced slavery was over, celebrations erupted. Each year, the anniversary was celebrated in Texas; it has since spread across the country, and is now gaining official recognition from companies and governments.

Historian Anne Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth dives into the history of the holiday and the state of Texas, as well as her childhood in the Lone Star State. Blending memoir with deep historical research, she rewrites the history of Texas. She transitions from the narrative focused on cowboys and oilmen that she was taught as one of the few Black students in her elementary school, towards an account that acknowledges the roles enslaved people played. 

I was impressed by just how much ground Gordon-Reed was able to fit into this slim essay collection, clocking in at 144 pages. Her story — and the anecdotes she shares about her family — help to illustrate just what “history” means beyond the lives of famous men. (Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the On Juneteenth audiobook from Libro.FM in exchange for an honest review.) 

Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Short story/essay collection, Nonfiction, Book shorter than 250 pages

You’re Looking for a Laugh

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is Killing It is, without a doubt, the funniest book I have ever read about a hitman. I laughed out loud at multiple passages, drawing looks from my neighbors while reading in the park.

The story’s heroine, Finlay, is a newly-divorced single mom of two, struggling to finish a book she owes her publisher. After Finlay describes the plot of her new romantic suspense novel to her agent over lunch in Panera, a neighboring diner mistakes her for a contract killer and hires Finlay to kill her husband. From there, Finlay ends up in a conspiracy involving the Russian mob, her ex-husband and a hunky bartender.

Finlay is a character I rooted for — I wanted her to succeed, even if that meant she got away with murder. And I’m not the only one. The executive producer of “Pretty Little Liars” is developing it into a TV show. The second book in the series is due out in February, and I’m already looking forward to it. 

Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Mystery/thriller

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You Need a Last-Minute Gift for Your Dad

The Golden Thread: The Cold War and the Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskjöld by Ravi Somaiya

My dad is notoriously difficult to shop for. Every year, when I ask what he wants for his birthday or Father’s Day or Christmas, he says, “Just a few kind words.” If you are similarly stumped as to what to get your dad for Father’s Day, consider Ravi Somaiya’s The Golden Thread, an investigation into a mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, as he was preparing to mediate a war in the Congo. 

It includes many things often beloved by dads, including:

- A cold war setting.

- Behind-the-scenes intelligence agency feuds.

- Fascinating tales of spy craft.

- Well-written, thoroughly reported long-form journalism.

Somaiya, who was kind enough to participate in my summer reading special edition, was formerly a reporter for The New York Times and has written for Rolling Stone, New York Magazine and more. His reporting and research abilities shine through this book. He managed to distill thousands of pages of documents and countless interviews into a nonfiction book that reads like a spy thriller.

Bingo Boxes this Book Checks: Nonfiction, Debut

(Note: Dad, if you are reading this, this is not what I got you for Father’s Day.) 

I’ll be back in your inboxes on Thursday with a Q&A featuring Matt Dorff and Suzanne Dunn, who write as L.R. Dorn. I spoke with them about The Anatomy of Desiretheir reinterpretation of An American Tragedy written as a true crime podcast.

This week’s guest recommendation is from Ellen Birkett Morris, author of the short story collection Lost Girls:

“For summer reading, I’m looking for something bold and adventurous, something that takes me someplace different even if I am just sitting on my porch reading. I don’t read much science fiction, but I was glad I picked up David Ebenbach’s How to Mars. The novel is a smart, funny, poignant tale of six scientists whose trip to Mars is complicated by an unexpected pregnancy. This book breaks the bounds of science fiction to explore what it means to be human.”

If you have a recommendation to share, send it my way! And remember to please offer your favorite sci-fi fantasy recommendations below.

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