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.
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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.
“Fucking hell,” Thursday said. “It’s almost like you can’t summon otherworldly beings into existence, let them loose on your enemies, and set up a culture of worship around them without people getting all crazy.”
i really liked this! it’s not necessarily a new favorite, but it’s an exciting horror novel that takes place in an anarchist commune and is filled with queer characters. i felt like things happened a little too quickly toward the end, and some scenes just didn’t feel organic, but otherwise i don’t really have any complaints! i’ll definitely be recommending it to others, as it’s a quick read to satisfy one’s horror cravings.
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.
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.
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 twenties—sharing 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 marriage—with 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.
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!
One hand came up to press on her sternum. Her heart hurt. If Marina could peel off her left breast, crack back her ribs, and grip that muscular organ to settle it, she would.
Let me start off by noting that this novel is primarily literary fiction; while a mystery sits at its core, there is little-to-nothing in the way of thrills and readers are going to be disappointed expecting them. The setup itself is atypical: essentially a collection of interconnected short stories, each following a different character (all women, if I recall correctly?). Think There There by Tommy Orange or Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Like these comparisons, Disappearing Earth also has a great deal of commentary to make on race, specifically racism impacting the indigenous peoples of Russia.
I was honestly shocked to discover that this was a debut. Phillips skillfully traces the web of connections surrounding the mystery of the two missing girls and was able to make me care so deeply about the majority of the characters in the single chapter she devotes to them. There were so many moments in this that felt like a punch to the gut, so many stories that made my heart ache. And all of this in less than 300 pages.
I’m so glad I read this and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Phillips’ future works.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.
Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.
Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink.
There are elephants at the Southwick Zoo maybe thirty miles west, and Natalie hopes those fuckers are on lockdown.
My introduction to Paul Tremblay was A Head Full of Ghosts, which I absolutely adored. I’ve since read two more of his horror novels, and his newest short story collection; my experiences with the 3 varied slightly but I’m still a fan of Tremblay’s. I was particularly looking forward to this novel because I have a rabies phobia and could not imagine many things more terrifying than a super rabies epidemic. To read this during a worldwide pandemic was even more compelling.
Tremblay really hit it out of the park with this one. I picked my copy up as soon as I got home from the bookstore and literally didn’t put it down until I hit the last page. The entire story takes place in the span of just a few hours and there is such an urgency to it that I couldn’t imagine going to bed without finishing it.
This is really a twist on the traditional zombie story; those who are bitten by a carrier of the super rabies experience symptoms within an hour, compared to the traditional weeks one has with rabies as we know it. This means the virus in this story is spread remarkably quickly, leading those infected to become extremely violent and uncontainable. While the story itself is certainly action-packed, I found the ‘zombie’ story itself secondary to the characters. This is far more a story about the friendship between two women, and the lengths one will go to in order to save a loved one than it is a story about zombies.
And god, some of the pieces of this were prophetic as hell. At one point we meet a group of right wingers who insist that the virus is biowarfare unleashed by foreign countries — or by our own government, as a means of pushing vaccines. I’m sure some people will see these as caricatures but I honestly felt like I was seeing some of my relatives portrayed on the page. Even more: the panic and anger and fear of healthcare workers given insufficient training and even more insufficient PPE had me grimacing in sympathy, knowing that this was the case in my own country just a couple months ago.
Like I said above, the characters are really what made this for me. Rams, one of the POV characters, is a British biracial self-identified asexual woman (who I also read as aromantic). Natalie is a pregnant spitfire of a woman. I loved their relationship and felt like Tremblay did an incredible job of portraying what felt like a very real friendship. I was also delighted and surprised by the appearance of two characters from Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. While the two are not at all plot-dependent, I think one would struggle to connect with these characters and would find a specific interlude to be much less emotionally impactful if one had not read Disappearance. The discussions in this book also spoil some of the events in Disappearance, so I would highly recommend reading that first if it’s on your TBR!
Anyway, yeah, I just loved this book. I’m so impressed with Tremblay and am really looking forward to seeing whatever he puts out next!
content warnings: violence against animals and humans; animal [and human] death; gore; racism and xenophobia (challenged on page); death of a loved one.
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.
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!)
Roberta spends her life trying not to take up space. At almost thirty, she is adrift and alienated from life. Stuck in a mindless job and reluctant to pursue her passion for food, she suppresses her appetite and recedes to the corners of rooms. But when she meets Stevie, a spirited and effervescent artist, their intense friendship sparks a change in Roberta, a shift in her desire for more.
Together, they invent the Supper Club, a transgressive and joyous collective of women who gather to celebrate, rather than admonish, their hungers. They gather after dark and feast until they are sick; they break into private buildings and leave carnage in their wake; they embrace their changing bodies; they stop apologizing. For these women, each extraordinary yet unfulfilled, the club is a way to explore, discover, and push the boundaries of the space they take up in the world.
Yet as the club expands, growing both in size and rebellion, Roberta is forced to reconcile herself to the desire and vulnerabilities of the body–and the past she has worked so hard to repress. Devastatingly perceptive and savagely funny, Supper Club is an essential coming-of-age story for our times.
Watching programs on cannibalism, reading horror stories about lovers devoured, reports of people searching the Internet for someone to eat them, I’d think: I get it. My whole life was the push/pull of appetite: wanting to consume but also to be consumed.
This is one of those books that strikes me as being similar to The Pisces in that it will probably be very divisive. The characters are messy and not necessarily enjoyable to read. But I’ve grown to love reading about messy women and Supper Club was no exception. I found Lara Williams’ writing style enthralling. She writes quite simply, but I felt a great depth of emotion while reading this. She was able to describe the most inane of interactions in a way that made me incredibly anxious. This novel also contains far more character examination than plot; Roberta is really trying to figure out who she is and how to make herself happy.
There is a lot to be said in this book about trauma as well as various forms of abuse or toxicity. The majority of Roberta’s relationships contain one or both of these, but it’s difficult for her to see that just as it’s difficult for many survivors of abuse. I did struggle with trying to figure out whether or not Roberta is queer, as one of her toxic ‘relationships’ is with a queer woman, but by the end I was pretty convinced she was straight and that this was just a seriously codependent friendship. There’s also a trans woman in this book who is misgendered when the narrator recounts her childhood and her discovery of the lgbtq community, as a heads up to any trans folks who may read this.
Overall, I found this was very much a worthwhile experience for me. I really enjoyed Supper Club and appreciate how Williams was able to write such a chaotic and messy book while still holding my attention fully. I do think a lot of people will dislike the ending, but I found it to be a satisfying finish to the book. Pick this up if you liked The Pisces. Don’t pick this up if you hated The Pisces, dislike reading about women who are constantly making poor life choices, and/or can’t stand detailed descriptions of food, drink, and emesis.
content warnings: on-page sexual assault; fatphobia; detailed descriptions of food; on-page self-harm; misgendering; emesis