Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Beach Read [review]

Beach Read by Emily Henry
Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Goodreads avg: 
4.11 (as of 2020-08-06)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

Spoiler-free Review

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Ohh my god, I absolutely adored this book. I had high hopes and was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations, but it most certainly did. Both January and Gus were such lovely, fully realized characters and I had such a great time reading about them. Their banter was absolutely perfect and I can’t tell you how many times I giggled reading their back-and-forths. But this book isn’t all sunshine and roses! In fact, there’s a lot of darker content, from grief to recounting past abuse, so tread lightly. This was a book that made me laugh and cry and stay up as late as I could to read. Emily Henry is now going to be an auto-buy author for me (I really liked her debut and need to read more of her work!) and I’m excited to see what she comes out with next.


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A Lab of One’s Own [review]

A Lab of One’s Own by Rita Colwell, PhD and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
To be published by Simon & Schuster on August 4, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg: 
3.75 (as of 2020-08-04)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

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i really struggled with the writing in this. i don’t think it was particularly bad, but really felt like it was rushing through things. while the timeline was somewhat linear, following Colwell’s career, it also branched off haphazardly to describe other scientists and events. this might mesh better with someone more strongly interested in the history of the field and who is more familiar with the names mentioned. it also honestly felt more like a summary of Colwell’s resume than anything else, like she was trying to go down a list rather than provide an actual narrative. while easy enough to read, i just didn’t really find it engrossing at all.


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The Wicked Sister [review]

The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne
To be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on August 4, 2020
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg: 
4.03 (as of 2020-07-22)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website


But you can be evil even if you don’t choose it.

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

I was absolutely blown away by The Marsh King’s Daughter earlier this year and was highly anticipating Dionne’s newest release. Unfortunately, this one really fell short on expectations. If you want a mindless thriller with disturbing elements, please look no further. If you’re looking for anything more than that, perhaps think twice.

I was unconvinced from this from the start; the premise that this woman spent 15 years institutionalizing herself because she thought she did something that could have been disproven by a single line in a police report is quite frankly absurd to me. There continued to be inconsistencies and hyperbole that would pull me out of the story completely. For one, Rachel grew up learning the woods like the back of her hand. She was a vegetarian, essentially a pacifist, and deified nature. So how am I to believe that she repeatedly chucks her cigarettes to the ground and leaves them there? I know this is such a minor point to nitpick, but it just goes so vehemently against her character that I honestly couldn’t believe it! I saw the twist coming from a mile away, and one of the characters became so cartoonishly evil that it felt like Dionne wasn’t even taking things seriously anymore.

Never mind the fact that I’m starting to tire of the psychopath child trope and this truly added nothing to the genre of thrillers that rely on it. It really seemed like most of the thrills relied on pure shock value. This does work to its benefit in some ways: it’s difficult to put the novel down and it’s a fastpaced read. Something dreadful is truly lurking around every corner here.

There was also a strange fabulist element integrated into this — Rachel can apparently converse with animals. I thought at first that this was meant to skew the reader’s judgment of her: is she actually insane? But it really seems to serve little purpose other than furthering the plot in certain areas and getting Rachel to where she needs to be. It really felt like something that should have either been left out or utilized more thoroughly by Dionne.

So, this didn’t work for me at all I’m afraid. If you’re looking for something fast and simple and are able to suspend your disbelief, this could totally be the book for you. But if the above elements would be an issue, perhaps skip this one this time around.


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Luster [review]

Luster by Raven Leilani
To be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on August 4, 2020
my rating: ★★★★.5 (4.5 stars)
Goodreads avg: 
4.18 (as of 2020-07-17)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Edie is stumbling her way through her twentiessharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriagewith rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.

Spoiler-free Review

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I think of all the gods I have made out of feeble men.

This is an absolutely stunning debut from Leilani. From the first page, I was hooked by the writing style; the flat tone elevated my reading experience, emphasizing just how much Edie has given up on life and boosting my emotional connection to her. While at first the novel appears to focus on her relationship with Eric, a mediocre white man in an open marriage, it shifts (thank god) and focuses more strongly on Edie’s relationship with Eric’s wife, Rebecca, and his Black daughter, Akila. Their friendship is tenuous and charged and impossible to look away from.

Not everyone is going to get along with this; I’d shelve it into the same category as Supper Club and The Pisces. Luster is about a messy woman who is just barely keeping it together. She makes terrible decisions, and knows that she makes terrible decisions. It’s heartening to see this kind of novel featuring an ownvoices Black woman: as Edie herself comments in the novel, society has lower expectations of Black women and they have to be twice as good to be recognized as such. To allow a Black woman to be messy and difficult is all the more important in this context.

I’m honestly stunned that this is a debut and will be keeping a sharp eye out for Leilani’s future works. I’ll go as far as to say that she may have cemented herself as an auto-buy author for me and I am not complaining. Definitely recommend this if it sounds like it would be your kind of thing, and am hopeful that we’ll see this longlisted for the Women’s Prize.

I am a white woman and my review is written through that lens. If you are an ownvoices reviewer who would like your review linked here, please let me know!


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The Butterfly Lampshade [review]

The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender
To be published by Doubleday Books on July 28, 2020
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg: 
3.15 (as of 2020-07-04)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

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“What would I do?” “You would cry,” she says. “And what would you do?” She looks at me with surprise. “Honey,” she says. “I would stop.”

At its core, this feels like a book about processing trauma through fantasy. In theory it sounds like something I would enjoy, but I just found the execution lacking. While highly readable (I managed to get through this in a single day), I just didn’t feel particularly connected to the characters or the story. I wasn’t reading because I wanted to see what would happen next, but because I wanted to finish the book and get on to another. Those who like slow-moving plots and magical realism are more likely to get along with this, but I found it just didn’t hit the spot for me.

content warnings: intrusive thoughts; psychosis


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I Hold a Wolf by the Ears [review]

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg
To be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on July 28, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg: 
4.49 (as of 2020-07-13)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears presents a collection of women on the verge, trying to grasp what’s left of life: grieving, divorced, and hyperaware, searching, vulnerable, and unhinged, they exist in a world that deviates from our own only when you look too close. With remarkable control and transcendent talent, van den Berg dissolves, in the words of the narrator of “Slumberland,” “that border between magic and annihilation,” and further establishes herself as a defining fiction writer of our time.

Spoiler-free Review

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Auribus teneo lupum and all that.

It may be the first work I’ve read by Laura van den Berg, but this collection absolutely gutted me. Almost every story was devastating to some extent, often in ways I wasn’t expecting. The stories all feel properly connected and seem like they are occurring in the same universe, happening to similar people. van den Berg allows the women she writes to be flawed human beings and doesn’t pull any punches. They do and think bad things, but they’re always sympathetic — and fascinating to read about. There’s a lot of commentary on grief, trauma, and gender, and I urge readers to tread lightly and to look up content warnings if necessary. I’ve included an incomplete list below. On the whole, I was incredibly impressed by this collection and will be looking to read more of van den Berg’s work.

-Last Night, 3.5 stars
-Slumberland, 5 stars
-Hill of Hell, 4 stars
-Cult of Mary, 2 stars
-Lizards, 4 stars
-The Pitch, 4 stars
-Volcano House, 3.5 stars
-Friends, 4 stars
-Karolina, 4 stars
-Your Second Wife, 4 stars
-I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, 3.5 stars

average: 3.77 stars, rounded up to 4

content warnings: sexual assault; loss of a loved one; domestic abuse; mass shootings; miscarriages; kidnapping; attempted suicide.


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Burn Our Bodies Down [review]

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
To be published by Delacorte Press on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★ (4)
Goodreads avg: 
4.13 (as of 2020-06-22)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

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It’s about time love left a mark on me.

Okay, I really liked this. While I enjoyed Power’s debut, Wilder Girls, I feel like she really hit her stride here. I found myself drawn into Burn Our Bodies Down almost immediately. Margot came to life for me right away and I was so invested in her story and where it would go. The mystery was soo twisted and I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. And I was absolutely wrong at every turn. My only problem was really some inconsistencies I’m sure will be ironed out in the final copy.

I never got good at recognizing attraction in other girls–it took me long enough to recognize it in myself, and even longer to say “lesbian,” without blushing.

I also love the queer rep in this; the main character is a lesbian and while there is no romance she has that little “do I want to be friends with her or do I want to kiss her” struggle that I think most wlw experience when they meet another woman they’re drawn to. I’m glad a romance wasn’t shoehorned in here; I feel like it would have been out of place in the story considering what’s going on.

Overall, this book is soooo good and I’ll definitely be recommending it in the future!

content warnings: Fire. Emotional abuse by a parent, including gaslighting. Familial and generational abuse. Body horror, some gore, blood (lighter, relative to Wilder Girls). Death. On page character death. Child/infant death (takes place off page but implied violence – pages 301 and 308 in the print ARC). Off-page gun violence. Emesis (mention of vomiting). (I removed one cw that I felt was a spoiler, but you can click the link for a more comprehensive list from the author that she will be updating as she receives feedback!)


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Braised Pork [review]

Braised Pork: A Novel by An Yu
Published by Grove Press on April 14, 2020
my rating: ★★★ (3)
Goodreads avg: 
3.56 (as of 2020-05-13)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

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She had never felt such yearning for another person’s body — it was beyond the flesh and the consciousness, it was not merely lust, neither was it love. Perhaps the best way to describe it, she thought, was like being a lone traveller in a desert, exhausted and desolate, when the most beautiful and fruitful peach tree blossomed in front of her.

I found this quick and readable but unfortunately feel like I didn’t quite “get” it. There were a lot of ideas that felt a bit half-formed; either they weren’t fully realized or I was unable to connect the dots. I did enjoy the commentary on ownership and gender roles: the main character has to come to terms with the fact that she was completely reliant upon her late husband and feels that she doesn’t actually “own” anything he left her. I also didn’t end up feeling very attached to the characters, so it was difficult to become very invested in the storyline.

content warnings: death of a loved one, attempted suicide


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Kept Animals [review]

Kept Animals by Kate Milliken
Published by Scribner on April 21, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5)
Goodreads avg: 
4.07 (as of 2020-05-10)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website


The thing about trauma is that even after it is over, it is still happening. It is a memory in motion, forever present.

This absolutely devastated me. Kate Milliken has been without a doubt added to my must-read list of authors. Kept Animals is a novel about so many things: grief, toxic relationships, trauma, sexuality. I feel like it’s impossible to pin my thoughts on this down. I found it compelling from the start, but the deeper into the story I got, the more impossible it was to stop reading. I felt such an incredible depth of emotion reading this, and even cried at the end. It was quiet, but there was an underlying tension throughout reminiscent of a thriller — we are, after all, trying to find out what happened on one fateful day in 1993. All I can really say is: I highly recommend this if you’re interested in a dark, depressing, queer literary novel.

content warnings: drunk driving; child death; both casual and violent homophobia; sexual assault; racism and xenophobia; parental neglect; substance abuse.


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Mini-Review Compilation #22

Gone at Midnight

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

I kept trying to push myself to pick this up, but just couldn’t press any further. The writing leaves a lot to be desired; I didn’t feel engaged with the content at any point. It really felt like the author was just regurgitating info they found online, and jumping from topic to topic without much of an idea of where they’re going.

There were several points at which I had to wonder how much independent research they had really done. One of these involved a quote from Elisa’s tumblr, where some thought she could have been commenting on graffiti from the roof. But I recognized it right away — it’s literally a quote from the Game of Thrones books. Could she have just been reading asoiaf? Yes! There’s no way for me to know whether the author knew this but either they intentionally left it out to make it look like Elisa had written it herself or they didn’t do the bare minimum of research it would take to realize this was a popular quote from a popular book series.

Regardless, I just didn’t feel like putting time in energy into reading a book I wasn’t at all enjoying.

Rating: DNF @ 15%

Face Off

pros:
-quick read
-mostly fun

cons:
-biphobic mc; assumed another wlw must be a lesbian and later said that she thought her ex (who she had dated for YEARS) who left her for a man was just a straight woman looking to experiment with “a dyke”
-the premise itself didn’t make that much sense to me (two people obviously into each other decide to fake date instead of just… dating)
-using an abusive stalker ex for drama
-mc has a homophobic teammate for ?? no reason, just more drama i guess even tho nothing comes of it
-editing issues (inconsistent timelines, mixed up names, etc)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The Outsider

This was a really great read, especially after I struggled so much with Mr. Mercedes. We run into just a couple of the same issues — namely, King’s obsession with Holly taking Lexapro (yes, Holly makes an appearance!). It was kind of funny to see Holly saying she absolutely could NOT drink because of her Lexapro when just about everyone I know who is on it drinks to no ill effect. Regardless, I thought this was a pretty clever way of doing the shapeshifter trope. As I began it, I thought “wait, how is he going to do this in a creative way?” but he really pulled it off. This was quite the spooky read and I had to put it down a few times while reading it alone at night. My only real complaint is that things kind of fell apart in the finale and I felt dissatisfied at the ending. Regardless, I highly recommend this but do be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the Bill Hodges trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the trilogy before this, do NOT read this first if you do plan to read the trilogy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


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