Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Vita Nostra [review]

Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko & Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey
Published by Harper Voyager on November 13, 2018 (originally 2007)
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
4.12 (as of 2020-05-24)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound 


Love is not when you are aroused by someone, it’s when you are afraid for that person.

I’m clearly in the minority here since all my friends loved this, but I found this book to be utterly incomprehensible. I had no idea what was going on 95% of the time and had so much difficulty following things. The book really leaves its reader to do a lot of the heavy lifting, so be prepared to make some leaps on your own to figure out what’s happening. There were aspects of it that were really compelling, which is why it gets 2 stars instead of 1, but I got very little out of reading this and felt like it was so much longer than 400 pages.


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Ninth House [review]

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.09 (as of 2020-05-02)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.


By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.

One hell of a first sentence, and an easy way to reel in your reader. Set at Yale in a universe where magic is real but fairly well-hidden, I thought the atmosphere of this book was so well-done. I could easily see the streets of New Haven in my mind and loved hearing about the different buildings the societies had. I also adored the characters. Alex is gritty and a bit of a stereotype, but still fun to read. Darlington reminded me a lot of Gansey from TRC, who I loved, so I liked reading about him as well. Dawes was GREAT and I loved how much time she and Alex got to spend together. I firmly feel that Alex is queer and the chemistry between her and Dawes was [eyes emoji]. Alex/Dawes/Darlington OT3, honestly.

There were always excuses for why girls died.

I only had a couple complaints, really. The plot felt convoluted at times and I struggled to follow some things. Some of what’s going on is really complicated and I was confused about how some conclusions were drawn or what had really happened. I also took issue with the first sexual assault scene. While the others felt like they had purpose to them, the first involved the rape of a minor and didn’t seem to add anything to the book. It was clearly supposed to be the foundation for Alex’s drug addiction and PTSD, but it just wasn’t clear to me why another device couldn’t have been used. That being said, from what I recall it was relatively brief and didn’t take too much away from the story for me.

We are the shepherds. But who would protect them from the wolves?

Overall though, I found this extremely compelling and did not want to put it down. I almost let myself stay up way too late reading it because I kept wondering what would happen next and wanted to spend more time with the characters. I’m bummed I’m going to have to wait for the sequel, but am so glad this is not the last I’ll be seeing of Alex and her crew!


My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House

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Gideon the Ninth [review]

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Published by Tor.com on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.26 (as of 2020-02-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead. 


“Don’t go down there solo. Don’t die in a bone. I am your creature, gloom mistress. I serve you with fidelity as big as a mountain, penumbral lady.”
Harrow’s eyes flickered open. “Stop.”
I am your sworn sword, night boss.”
“Fine,” said Harrow heavily.

No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t love this, but there seems to be a pretty firm divide among my Goodreads friends. Some of them love it and some of them seem quite disappointed by it. I hate that I fell into the latter camp on this one. Part of it is probably that this just wasn’t the best time to read it; I just started grad school and have been massively distracted and stressed. But I’m not sure I would have loved this even if I had read it at the best of times.

Gideon is certainly a divisive character and you’ll probably either love her or hate her. She’s obnoxious, annoying, and honestly kind of endearing. It took me a while to warm up to her snark, which had me rolling my eyes at the start of the book but later had me smirking. She’s unapologetically gay as hell and wholly herself and I adore that. Harrow also took a while to grow on me, but I came to love her as well. Their scenes together had me dying after a bit.

The real trouble here for me was the enormous cast of characters. I could not for the life of me tell the necromancers and their cavaliers apart. It didn’t help that everyone was narratively referred to by like four or five different names. There’s a little guide in the front of the book, but that wasn’t much help to me and I would’ve had to take extensive notes had I wanted to really understand. Because of this I was lost so much of the time! I had no idea what the significance of so many events were in part because I had no idea who the hell was participating in each event. I would love certain scenes and feel sure my rating was creeping upward and then would be hit again with something that lost me and made me realize I was not having a great time reading it.

The world-building had me struggling as well. What are the other Houses up to? Where is the Emperor? Who is this big, giant war against? We are clearly seeing the tiniest bit of a giant universe that I know nothing about. I assume that’s in part because Gideon doesn’t know much — that’s why I didn’t have much of a problem with the lack of explanation around magic, which she just kind of knows exists but doesn’t know anything about — but clearly she knows enough to want to go fight in this war against… who?

I dunno y’all, I can easily see how people love this but it was decidedly not for me.


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And I Do Not Forgive You [review]

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
To be published by Liveright on February 11, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.7 (as of 2020-01-27)
Spoiler-free Review
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.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website


I unfortunately only made it through 50% of this before DNFing. I think the title and cover art made me think this would be more about revenge than it was. The stories here felt largely unrelated to that and were also so frustrating to read. Either a story would feel unfinished altogether, cutting off where it felt like it was just starting, or I would feel completely uninvested until the last paragraph, having it end just as I was getting excited. I hadn’t realized going in that I had tried to read another of Amber Sparks’ collections and DNFed that as well for similar reasons, so I think her work just isn’t for me. Below are my ratings and minor comments for the stories I did end up reading:

Mildly Unhappy, with Moments of Joy, ⅘. thought i would cry at the end.
You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women, 2.5/5.
A Place for Hiding Precious Things, ⅗.
Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park, 2.5/5. felt unfinished, didn’t get invested until the very last page and then wanted more.
A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife, ⅕.
We Destroy the Moon, ⅖.
In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father, ⅖.
Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls, ⅖.


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Vampires in the Lemon Grove [review; reread]

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage on January 14, 2014 (originally 2013)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.68 (as of 2020-02-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Within these pages, a community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms and plot revolution; a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to a missing classmate that they used to torment; a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West has grave consequences; and in the marvelous title story, two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood and come to terms with their immortal relationship.


I’m honestly devastated that I didn’t enjoy this more, considering I had originally given it five stars. This is one of those rare (for me) instances where re-reading is not necessarily a good idea. Interestingly, the stories I don’t remember liking much were my favorites on this readthrough, and vice-versa. It’s interesting to see how my reading tastes have changed over time, and this is very indicative of that. I wish I had read the rest of Russell’s bibliography around the first time I read this, as I think her writing isn’t really for me anymore and it would have been nice to experience it when it was.

By this time we’d found a dirt cellar in which to live in Western Australia, where the sun burned through the clouds like dining lace. That sun ate lakes, rising out of dead volcanoes at dawn, triple the size of a harvest moon and skull-white, a grass-scorcher. Go ahead, try to walk into that sun when you’ve been told your bones are tinder.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove 4/5
Reeling for the Empire 5/5
The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 3/5
Proving Up 2.5/5
The Barn at the End of Our Term 2/5
Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating 2/5
The New Veterans 3/5
The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis 4/5

He couldn’t remember the last time he had acted without reservation on a single desire.

The average rating for these is 3.19, which I rounded down to 3. While there were a couple strong stories in here, the ones that didn’t work for me really stood out. I will mention that Reeling for the Empire is an incredible read. I think before I had even read this collection the first time, I had heard an audio version of the story — meaning this is my third time “reading” it and I still loved it. It becomes more meaningful to me each time.

I was glad he was afraid–I hadn’t known that you could feel so grateful to a friend, for living in fear with you. Fear was otherwise a very lonely place.

There is nothing wrong per se with the stories I didn’t like, and it’s certainly all personal preference. I found the stories I rated on the lower end either needlessly goofy or uncompelling. Proving Up in particular has a lot of promise but unfortunately fell flat for me. I’d definitely recommend this collection to people who like “weird” short fiction, though. There are a lot of fantastic elements that I would say could be categorized as magical realism. If you’ve enjoyed more of Russell’s work, you’ll probably like this and if not, then I doubt you will.


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Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

I haven’t read this in I don’t know how many years, but it holds up! I’ve been in a mini-slump recently but was able to slam through this old favorite. There were parts where I actually found myself laughing out loud. Ella’s humor is so great. Really my only complaint is that Ella is canonically unable to save herself but can save… a dude she’s in love with. Not my favorite trope, and not my favorite message to send (that a man is more important than you, even though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come across that way).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

Me during the first 95% of this book: Yeah this is good I guess
Me during the last 5%: [sobbing, but make it queer]

Anyway, this was pretty much your typical YA thriller. The writing was a little hit-or-miss at times but it was a mostly entertaining read. It went a little hard on the internalized homophobia and I kind of hated the deceased best friend because of how she treated the main character. Their relationship was way more toxic than it was cute. She was redeemed somewhat toward the end, but that didn’t really undo all the time she spent treating people poorly? Feel free to pick this up if you’re interested, but I’d keep expectations low.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

Not perfect, but definitely a pretty great short story! It was just lengthy enough to get me invested, and the twist did take me by surprise. This is probably my favorite piece by Gillian Flynn so far. My only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit silly and abrupt, but I have no regrets reading this.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Mini-Review Compilation #18

Dead Astronauts

I don’t know if this book and I were ever going to get along. I’m a huge Jeff VanderMeer fan, but didn’t initially realize this was set in the Borne universe. Borne wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t end up loving it. From what I read, the connections seem pretty loose — same universe, different characters. There is just so MUCH going on here that at 27% in I had no idea what I was reading. The prose was gorgeous, but I struggled to follow the plot. This book is going to make you work, and I cautiously recommend it to those who are up for the challenge.

Rating: DNF

In the House in the Dark of the Woods

I honestly have no idea what this book was trying to accomplish. It starts off as a lighthearted fairytale of sorts and turns into…? It alternated between dry and confusing, sometimes both. There was one point where I thought I genuinely liked it and thought it had a great ending — until I realized I had only hit the 75% mark and had to muddle through to the true ending. This had the potential to say so much about abuse and trauma, which I thought was its purpose for a while, but it ended up being a bit of a meandering mess that I genuinely regret spending my time on.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I can definitely appreciate the points this book hit, but it just didn’t vibe with me very well! It’s a relatively quick read and I certainly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in it, though. As a YA book, it touches on a lot of important issues from abortion to drug addiction to teen pregnancy. One of my issues was that I felt like it was trying to touch on too many things and thus lacked a bit in focus. I’d also look up trigger warnings for this beforehand, as there are a lot of potentially upsetting topics at hand. My final criticism is that it read more like a MG book than a YA book as far as voice goes. I kept surprising myself when Gabi would say something about graduating from high school or applying to college because I honestly kept thinking she was 13.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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Trail of Lightning [review]

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Published by Saga Press on June 26, 2018
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-11-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.


I’m familiar with Rebecca Roanhorse because she was a panelist at the sci-fi/fantasy convention I went to last year. While there, I heard a lot of praise for Trail of Lightning and added it to my TBR (along with 100 more books). After seeing some great reviews and seeing that the Dragons and Tea Book Club had chosen it for their November read, I checked it out from the library and absolutely blew through it.

The world-building here is just fantastic. This is a near(?) future version of the US, where the oceans have risen and the world is in minor chaos. Maggie Hoskie lives in what was formerly a Navajo reservation and is now one of the only places safe from the Big Water. In this new world, the gods and monsters of old have arisen again, and Maggie has made a career out of hunting them. Along with gods and monsters, we have a great deal of magic floating around. It’s all based on Navajo legend, which is really cool. Some of the characters have “clan magic” and I loved seeing all the varieties that existed.

I had conflicted feelings about Maggie as a character, honestly. I found her quite irritating at times, but a lot of her flaws came from her struggles with PTSD and were kind of realistic in that way — and it’s great seeing her work through her trauma in order to get to a place where she can start healing. She was a fun character to follow, but I also just wanted to shake her and help her make better decisions. The romance was also quite obvious from the start, but I thought it was really well-done regardless and enjoyed seeing her and Kai interact.

The plot itself was somewhat intriguing but felt secondary to the characters. I got a little lost in it towards the end and felt some of the twists required a bit too much suspension of disbelief, but I was still absolutely glued to the pages. This is one of those books where the flaws are far outweighed by the things I loved.

I was confused when I went to shelve this as “adult” and saw that it had been shelved mostly as “young adult.” I couldn’t recall an age being mentioned, but definitely got adult vibes, although I was waffling on whether this could be considered “new adult.” I happened to come across an interview with Roanhorse where she admits she intentionally left Maggie’s age vague but that she’s “more like 20” and is definitely not a teen. So I guess just a heads up that the author would not classify her book as YA and respectfully asks that others not do so.

Anyway, I really loved this book and am excited to pick up the sequel! I have minimal experience with urban fantasy, but after this I’m thinking I may have to explore the genre a bit more.


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Undead Girl Gang [review]

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Published by Razorbill on May 8, 2018
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.79 (as of 2019-08-27)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. 


This was a really fun read with plenty to enjoy! The main character, Mila, is a fat latinx girl who practices Wicca with her best friend Riley. While I can’t personally speak to any of the rep, I’ve seen glowing ownvoices reviews about (that I can no longer locate but would be happy to link should I come across any or have any shared with me in the meantime). We find out right off the bat that Riley has died under mysterious circumstances, and Mila funnels her grief into investigating her best friend’s death.

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals.

The story has a great balance of serious topics and humor. There is a large exploration of grief’s impact, from the way it changes one’s own behaviors to the way it changes how others interact with a grieving person. But mixed in, there are plenty of cute moments and funny quips to lighten the mood. Dark humor is definitely a huge part of this book.

“And, for fuck’s sake, stop using normal as code for white,” I snap. “Your life isn’t the ruler that the rest of the world gets measured against.”

It was quite good, but not perfect. There were moments when I had some difficulty telling characters apart. I wish there had been some aspects that had been explored further, like Mila’s status as a bruja. I also felt like the twist hadn’t been properly set up and came a little out of left field.

I feel like I’ve been betraying them every time I’m not miserable. And I know that’s not how grief works. One second of being happy doesn’t erase all the other moments of mourning. I know that I can’t stay sad all day, every day.

As a whole, though, this was quite fun and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested.


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The Silence of the Girls [review]

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Published by Doubleday Books on September 4, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.88 (as of 2019-05-22)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.


I didn’t feel like anything that might have a name.

I had quite high hopes for The Silence of the Girls, which unfortunately just weren’t met. The best way to describe my reading experience is resounding apathy. Feeling apathetic whilst reading about a woman taken into slavery during war seems wrong, but here we are. I’d attribute this to a few things: the fact that I hadn’t read The Iliad before, the standoffish way I felt the story was narrated, and the fact that the POVs were not limited to Briseis, or even only to women.

I mentioned my lukewarm reading experience to Rachel, who noted that she wasn’t sure how much this book would hold for someone who wasn’t very familiar with The Iliad. While I knew bits and pieces of the story, my knowledge was really limited to its portrayal in The Song of Achilles as well as whatever I had picked up through osmosis throughout my life. As such, this was less of a retelling for me and more, well, a telling. On its own, I’m not sure the story stands as well as it would if I had more of a background with its greater context.

So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren’t the spiders; we were the flies.

Briseis herself is quite terse throughout her narration. While she slips into emotional points, I found myself feeling untouched for most of the book. I’m certain others may disagree with me here, and I definitely think that this is quite a subjective opinion on my part. And I understand how this can be demonstrative of what she’s gone through — trauma can make or break us, and it’s clear that the Trojan women must put up walls in order to make it through the war without breaking entirely. I just wish I could’ve seen this in a way that didn’t make me feel distant from her as well.

Lastly, I was really drawn to this story as giving a voice to women traditionally silenced. So much of the focus of history is on the heroism of men and very little is on the women who they have been supported by, or who they trod on. And yet more than once the point of view is handed to Achilles, the very man who is actively oppressing Briseis. Whatever reason this may have been for, I didn’t feel that it enhanced the story for me. Quite the opposite, the first time it happened I felt jerked out of whatever immersion I was experiencing and had to reread a bit to ensure it was really happening. Each time thereafter it felt out of place and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like had the book kept its focus on Briseis, or at least stuck to the perspectives of the women.

Now he can see what he’s been trying to do: to bargain with grief. Behind all this frenetic activity there’s been the hope that if he keeps his promises there’ll be no more pain. But he’s beginning to understand that grief doesn’t strike bargains.

Criticisms aside, I can see why others enjoyed this. I can certainly see why it was included on the Women’s Prize shortlist. I wish that my experience with it had been better, but alas. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I do recommend trying it out if it seems to interest you. Particularly if you have more of a history with Greek mythology than I do! Hopefully my next pick off the Women’s Prize list treats me a bit better.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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