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Five picks for June

Cindy Burnett
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WHAT TO READ This month's picks include a posthumously published memoir by Katherine Johnson, historical fiction set during the early years of the Cold War, a page-turner about a pandemic, escapist fiction set in the Caribbean that is perfect for the beach, and a debut novel from the Sleepless in Seattle screenwriter.

Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently released titles.

Attachments by Jeff ArchAttachments, a debut novel by Jeff Arch, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Sleepless in Seattle, tells the story of three former boarding school students and the deathbed request by the school’s dean that brings them back together years later. While suffering a stroke, the dean utters the students’ names, forcing a reunion that brings together the former best friends who have not spoken since a falling out years before. While at the dean’s bedside, the friends slowly reveal buried feelings and long-held secrets that impact more than just their own lives. Told in alternating points of view and flashbacks, Attachments is a beautiful reflection on how the choices we make reverberate for years to come and how hard it is to let go.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird – Sweeney-Baird’s debut speculative fiction novel, written prior to Covid’s arrival, tackles the premise of what the world would be like if 90 percent of the men disappeared from the planet. Set in 2025, The End of Men opens just as the first case of a virus has appeared, and it follows various characters (mostly women) as they deal with this mysterious virus and come to terms with a changed world. The story is told in first-person narratives, including the doctor who treats the first victim of the virus, an intelligence analyst who assists the government as it reshapes its workforce, and one of the doctors rushing to create a vaccine. Through their eyes, Sweeney-Baird chronicles how the world would be impacted by such a large gender imbalance – from the loss of husbands and sons to a changed workforce and what it now would mean to give birth to a son. The End of Men is a truly thought-provoking read that will stay with me for a long time.

My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir by Katherine Johnson –  This memoir of Katherine Johnson’s remarkable life is being published posthumously and is a quick and fascinating read. Her story is now known the world over after the Hidden Figures book and movie celebrated her contributions (along with several other Black women) to NASA’s first manned flights in space, but in My Remarkable Journey she starts at the beginning and tells the incredible tale of her 101 years in her own words. From her early years as a child prodigy in West Virginia to her many years at NASA as a human computer, she threads in her experience as a Black woman and includes the historical backdrop against which her contributions occurred.

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams – When the Digby family disappears from their London home without a trace in the fall of 1948, the world debates whether they were eliminated by Soviet Intelligence or whether the family defected to Moscow, with American diplomat Sasha Digby’s access to the West’s top-secret intel. Four years later, Ruth Macallister receives a letter from twin sister Iris Digby, asking her to come to Moscow to visit. Ruth travels to Moscow to help the Digbys defect to the United States but instead learns that everything may not be as it seems. This historical-fiction tale transported me to the early years of the Cold War, when the threat of communism seemed all too real.

The Siren by Katherine St. John – Part beach read and part indictment of Hollywood and the cost of fame, The Siren is the perfect book to take on vacation this summer. As the book opens, superstar actor Cole Power has assembled an all-star cast and production team for his latest movie, The Siren, and flown everyone down to a beautiful Caribbean island for filming. For the first time since their divorce years before, Cole and his ex-wife, Stella Rivers (who has suffered several breakdowns), star opposite each other on screen, and the media is on high alert, eager to report about the fireworks that are sure to occur. Told from the perspective of the three main women, each with their own secrets, as well as occasional media articles and social-influencer posts, The Siren is a fast-paced mystery with enough twists and turns that I was left guessing until the very end.

Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column. She hosts the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.

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