12 Best Books of May & June 2021!

I didn’t read a lot of novels in May, mostly comics and manga, but in June I was able to consume a decent chunk of books and most of them were pretty good. It feels good to be slowly getting my taste for books back again. For a short while, I was afraid that a new rut would stretch out and envelope me for too long of a time. The only thing that’s really been different in June versus other months is my level of exhaustion. Aside from reading here and there, I haven’t had any energy to do anything else. While this blows overall, with respect to my bibliophilic passions, it turned out to be a good gig.

This month I’m doing my Best of Books wrap-up a little differently. The first section includes all the books that I would recommend or highly recommend with ease. The second portion has books that I felt rather indifferent about as a whole, but feel may be a better fit for other readers’ tastes, so I didn’t want to chuck them out completely. With the Indifferent section, I merely listed the title, genre, and review/GoodReads links to keep it simple.

For the Recommended shtuff, as per usual, I’ll have a brief snippet (where appropriate), small praises as to why it should be read, content warnings (CW), and GoodReads/AniList (manga) links via the titles. If I’ve written any reviews, they’ll be linked up as well.

RECOMMENDED:

Golden Kamuy Volume 21 by Satoru Noda: A seinen, Japanese-style Western series that follows a guy named Sugimoto who hunts down a famous hoard of gold with the assistance of an Ainu girl, Asirpa, so that he can he keep his promise to his late friend by taking care of the late friend’s wife. In the process, he gets swept up in one hell of a conspiracy where he’ll meet a bunch of crazy old soldiers looking for purpose.

There’s not much I can say here about Golden Kamuy without giving away major story spoilers. I will say this however, which is something I say every time I talk about the manga, and that is the simple fact that this is one of the best written and researched titles I have ever read. Check out my first impressions for more info and reasons why y’all should pick this up if you haven’t yet. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

CW: Graphic sequences of violence, torture, bloodshed, body mutilation, deaths, nudity, and sexual content/innuendo. Death of animals. Attempted assault. Graphic and strong language. Alcohol consumption. Preparation and consumption of food. Homoeroticism. Imprisonment. Depiction of wartime violence.

Naruto Volumes 47 & 48 by Masashi Kishimoto: These shōnen, martial arts volumes follows Naruto as he wraps up his fight with Pain and learns of the Akatsuki member’s horrid past. This whole arc is one of my absolute favourites across the entire manga series thus far. It was incredibly written and illustrated, it’s emotionally evocative, and it leads to amazing character development for Naruto, especially in the wake of his mentor’s demise. I can’t gush about it enough. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. CW: Graphic adventurous violence via martial arts and ninjutsu. Mild cursing. Death. Bullying. Grief.

Joker: Killer Smile by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino: A psychological horror, mystery graphic novel that revolves around The Joker as, yet another psychotherapist makes their attempt at diagnosing and eventually “curing” Gotham’s ultimate villain of his malevolent tendencies. Regardless of the failures of the past, Dr Ben Arnell is determined to be the one who unravels the madness of an utterly unknowable mind. And there’s no way that The Joker can break through Arnell’s carefully constructed psychological walls of protection, right?

One of the biggest aspects that makes this graphic novel so powerfully riveting is the intimate look into the potentiality of The Joker’s sanity. Through the lens of Dr Arnell’s spiralling experiences, the audience gets a deliciously disparaging taste of The Joker’s actions, his level of calm-headed and meticulous yet versatile rendering of a perfect scheme. Plus, that mind-blowing experimental artwork is exceptional and so brilliant. My full review goes into more detail as to why this is a must-read for all fans of the Batman comics, especially if you’re obsessed with Gotham’s greatest prankster, like me. HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (DC Comics)

CW: Heavy use of disturbing psychological imagery. Representation of mental health institutionalisation. Graphic violence. Graphic blood. Death. Brief scene of body mutilation. Brief scene involving drowning. Brief scene with animal death.

Harleen by Stjepan Šejić: A psychological thriller graphic novel. After months of interviewing criminals at Arkham Asylum, Dr Harleen Quinzel starts to have very strange dreams about one of them in particular. What begins as overwhelming nightmares, slowly mutates and evolves into dangerous fantasies. Despite many warnings from Batman himself, she’s just so damn fascinated by the one individual who seems to be a perfect fit for her theory; the one dude who says everything she wants to and needs to hear; the only guy that is starting to know her better than she knows herself… or does he?

A full review for this shall up in the coming week, but I can say with full confidence that this is one of the best comics on Harley Quinn that I have ever read, especially as an “origin” story. It’s so wonderfully paced, provocative, contemplative, gorgeously illustrated and much more. Definitely HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (DC Comics)

CW: Disturbing psychological imagery. Representation of mental health institutionalisation and imprisonment. Graphic violence. Graphic blood. Death. Some body mutilation. Brief scenes of animal death. Mild sexual content. Moderately strong language. Alcohol consumption.

Forge of the Mindslayers by Tim Waggoner: The second novel in the dark fantasy, sword-and-sorcery series, The Blade of the Flame. Diran and his half-Orc chum, Ghaji, receive a tip about a lich terrorising people in the mountains of Perhata. As they work to hunt down this malevolent force, the duo, and their comrades, end up getting ensnared in the local politics.

I’ve a full review for this up, so all I’ll say here is that this is a fantastic sequel with plenty of dark and mystical action, keen character revelations, and wickedly thrilling high fantasy storytelling. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this sequel (and the whole trilogy). (Penguin Random House)

CW: Violence. Swashbuckling Action. Graphic gore and blood. Character suffers a stroke (on-page). Death via blood loss, fighting, and cerebral haemorrhage. Graphic deaths (slaughter) of a family. Drowning in the ocean. Body mutilation via fire and bladed weaponry. Non-consensual drug use. Kidnapping. Mental instability via PTSD triggers. Amnesia. Survivor’s guilt and trauma. Use of poisons. Disturbing descriptions of nautical monsters. Mild sexual innuendo. Attempted burglary. Racism against multiracial beings. Misogyny. Graphic descriptions of infections.

Sea of Death by Tim Waggoner: The third and final volume in the dark fantasy, sword and sorcery series, The Blade of the Flame Trilogy. It follows an assassin-turned-priest named Diran Bastiaan and his half-Orc best friend, Ghaji (pronounced Gha-yee), and their little crew of chums as they try to unite two opposing nations by ending a curse a hundred years in the living.

There’s a lot of darkness here; a lot to illustrate the dualities of human nature, especially when our emotions during a time of grief end up getting the better of us. There are so many shades of grief across all three books, and they all come full circle in many ways with this final instalment. For more detailed info on it, here is my review. Overall, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this final instalment and its previous volumes. (Penguin Random House)

CW: Strong violence. Swashbuckling action. Graphic gore and blood including body mutilation. Demonic imagery and possession. Graphic descriptions of spiders and their nest. Disturbing imagery of insect-imbued monsters. Non-consensual mind-control and possession. Brief nudity. Kidnapping. Use of poisons. Disturbing descriptions of nautical monsters. Mild sexual innuendo. Burglary. Racism against multiracial beings. Misogyny. Graphic descriptions of infections. Death of loved one(s).

The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyō Masuno: An own-voices, nonfiction Japanese novel about 100 small activities that a person can apply in order to make their lives simpler and humbler, inspired by Zen Buddhist practises and teachings.

I picked it up because I was trying to find a way to help de-clutter the space in my mind as well as to find my way back towards some important Buddhist teachings. I’ve been struggling a lot since my surgery in September and it’s important to me to become grounded and compassionate as well as accepting and grateful for the simplicity of life again, which is exactly what this treat offers with its accessible activities. I’ve already noticed a calming presence within my home. RECOMMENDED for folx interested in similar mental and emotional improvements. (Penguin Random House)

Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth: A science-fiction, horror story that begins in New York City’s latest underground subway line, which is an express line that connects the city with communities across the Hudson River. On the inauguration celebration of this state-of-the-art transport system, everyone is stunned when the train’s car arrives completely devoid of human life except for the blood that splatters its walls.

This was a good science-fiction, creature-feature horror story that plays on multiple phobias to build a tale that can be as equally terrifying as it is entertaining and cheesy. The writing is fantastically cinematic that becomes extremely graphic with its depiction of violence and bloodshed, which I love with respect to this genre. RECOMMENDED. For more info, check out my full review. (HarperCollins)

CW: Graphic violence including extreme body mutilation, gun violence, and physical assault. Graphic scenes of blood, gore, torture, and death (including death of a pregnant person). Mass panic and paranoia. Disturbing descriptions of atmosphere that may be triggering for folx prone to claustrophobia, nyctophobia, hemophobia, and ochlophobia. Kidnapping. Mention of infidelity.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman: A psychological suspense horror novella about two teenagers who have their first date on a stunning lake that is connected to others via small avenues. In an effort to impress the young lady, the dude eagerly complies to her requests of keen nature exploration. Their curiosities lead them to an area that is murky and mysterious where they discover a house at the bottom of a lake.

This was a psychological horror in the sense that it’s slow-burn and insidious with getting underneath the reader’s skin by playing on phobias of darkness, deep and expansive spaces, tight spaces, and the complete and total unknown. I felt it was excellent all around and RECOMMEND it for sure. My full review has further explanations, so please give it a visit. (Penguin Random House)

CW: Detail descriptions of sexual interactions including intercourse. Mild cursing. Graphic descriptions of injuries caused by brown recluse spiders (can be quite disturbing). Caution advisory for folx with claustrophobia, nyctophobia, and thalassophobia.

Lady Killers by Tori Telfer: A nonfiction, historical book that talks about female serial killers throughout history, especially some that many may not have heard of. I picked this up because I was in the mood to read about serial killers and female killers are seldom discussed in media (due to how infrequently they appear). It was excellently written to be accessible and interesting, maybe even a tad bit salacious. It shouldn’t be taken as a serious work of academic reference, but more of a fun, coffee-table-esque reading on the subject. As such, I definitely RECOMMEND it. A full review shall be up within a week or so. (HarperCollins)

CW: Graphic descriptions of death and decaying corpses, blood and gore, including body mutilation, torture, beatings, and imprisonment. Suicide ideation and attempted suicide. Suicide. Hefty references to poisonings and the grotesque nature of death via poisonings. Detailed discussions of executions including via fire, hanging, and electrocution. Mention of domestic abuse including child abuse and child deaths.

Extinction Code by James D. Prescott: A sci-fi adventure story that follows a group of various scientists and researchers who obtain grants to dive into the ocean so they can study the asteroid that dropped tens of millions of years ago, leading to the decimation and extinction of dinosaurs. However, once they’re down and discovering, other interested parties come knocking. When it’s revealed that the asteroid may not be a piece of rock after all, and people all over the world start falling ill to some strange disease, everyone involved realises they’re very existence may be in jeopardy.

A full review is in the works for this book, but it was really fun, more than I ever expected it to be. In some ways it reminded me of Alien with respect to the scientists exploring and poking and prodding at things they probably shouldn’t be poking and prodding. Then it reminded me a bit of Angels and Demons with the interconnecting subplots and varying political agendas. It was also well-written with a great splattering of genetics-based science and history. The characters were compelling and the action pretty damn fast-paced. I would totally RECOMMEND this to fans of sci-fi, adventure mysteries.

CW: Action-adventure violence. Racist depiction of an Indian (South Asian) character. Deaths including death via gun violence and terrible illnesses. Graphic descriptions of death and illness of animals. Scenes of dissection, and decayed and mummified corpses. Mention of infidelity. Alcohol consumption. Preparation and consumption of food. Mild sexism. Mild misogyny.

INDIFFERENT:

Batman: The Dark Prince Charming by Enrico Marini: Comic, Crime Thriller. Full Review. DC Comics.
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: Supernatural Horror.
Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas by Josh Malerman: Supernatural Horror, Anthology. Penguin Random House.
Hex-Rated by Jason Ridler: Pulp Urban Fantasy, Satire. Full Review. Simon & Schuster.
The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth: Sci-Fi Horror, Action-Adventure. Full Review. HarperCollins.

The only reading goals that I have for July is to keep on reading adult SFF (not including comics and manga) as thus far this year it has been a jolly good time for me! I also want to turn to some older titles across all my favourite mediums so I can enjoy influences that have helped to create the storytelling awesomeness of the modern day.

What are some of your favourite books, comics, and/or manga from the last couple months? Is there anything listed here that you’d prefer a full review for (if it’s not shared already)?

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