Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey Published by Tor Books on July 19, 2022 my rating: 4.5 stars Goodreads avg: 3.53 (as of 2022-09-14) Spoiler-free review Goodreads
This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever loved a monster.
I can’t seem to stop reading divisive books! This was my fourth Gailey read and I have to say that I am so impressed by their range. From historical fiction to thriller to horror, it seems like they can do it all. Just Like Home is about a woman named Vera who returns to her childhood home at the behest of her estranged dying mother. Vera’s father was a serial killer and her memories in this house are slowly revealed to us over the course of the book. There is also a horror element that readers seem to either love or hate — I loved it. There were just a handful of things I wish Gailey had done differently, but I found this so atmospheric. I had to tear myself away from the book at night because even though I was getting so spooked, I didn’t want to put it down. I found both the characters and the story itself incredibly compelling and really can’t wait to see what Gailey comes out with next.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters Published by One World on January 12, 2021 my rating: 5 stars Goodreads avg: 4.00 (as of 2022-08-31) Spoiler-free review Goodreads
[…] her life as a woman arrived with pain; pain that had to be endured, withstood, pain that was the same as being alive, and so was without end.
This was really incredible. Torrey Peters is an incredible writer and I was constantly awed by how clever this was. ‘A whipsmart debut’ indeed. Reese is a trans woman living in New York who is figuring out herself and how to get what she wants in life. Ames is her ex-girlfriend, now detransitioned but not quite a cis man, trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Ames has gotten his current partner, his boss, pregnant and is frantically trying to decide what to do.
Before I knew this was authored by a trans women, the inclusion of detransition concerns me. I mean, we’re surrounded with right-wing rhetoric about how allowing trans children to be themselves will lead to all these horrible things, and how soo many people detransition. But Peters is trans and I felt that she handled this topic gracefully, emphasizing how so many trans folks are forced to detransition because it is so difficult to live in such a transphobic world.
While I am not a trans woman, as a member of the queer community I did find a lot of comfort and familiarity in this book. I’m also polyamorous and seeing the development of this triad warmed my heart — even if they have far to go when it comes to communication. But this book deals with a lot of dark topics, things that I don’t think could have been left out of a story like this. There is an interesting commentary about various forms of colonization and oppression; Ames’ partner Katrina is a cis woman but is biracial. Reese is used to viewing all cis women as privileged, but has to confront the fact that not all cis women are cis white women.
I also appreciated that Peters didn’t pause the story to introduce concepts of Gender 101; she used in-group language without explanation in a way that I found immersive and important. I appreciate when authors do this for any kind of culture — sprinkling in definitions often feels forced or pulls a reader out of the story. We all have access to Google and are able to look up anything we don’t understand from prior knowledge or context alone.
There were so many fascinating explorations of misogyny and transmisogyny and I’m excited to come back to this someday to pick up on more than can be processed via a first read. I feel like each page could spawn dozens of essays. Peters brought a remarkable book into this world and I’m looking forward to picking up her next one.
The Pisces was my top book of 2018, so I had high expectations for Broder’s sophomore novel. While I didn’t love this quite as much, I still devoured it. While The Pisces felt like a deep exploration of depression to me, Milk Fed is an exploration of disordered eating. Rachel, the narrator, is a Jewish woman who was raised by an overly critical mother and who uses food restriction as a religion, spending all her time thinking about eating.
I found the portrayal of binge eating in this incredibly spot-on, and thought Rachel’s changing relationship with her body — and Miriam’s — was interesting. I think there are going to be some varying views on the fat representation here and I’m not positive where I fall. Miriam never felt like a fully-formed character to me, but I think that was part of the point: Rachel coveted her in an unhealthy way, obsessing over Miriam’s body the way she obsessed over her own.
Much like The Pisces, I’m not sure who I would recommend this to. It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you’re able to let go and trust Broder I think you’re in for a good ride.
And I thought: now there is no turning back. No more regrets for what I haven’t done. Now only regrets for what I have done. I love him, I hate myself; I love myself, I hate him. This is the end of a long story.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the blurb: Elle awakens at her family’s summer home the morning after sleeping with her childhood best friend and over the next 24 hours has to decide whether she wants to leave her husband. What I didn’t expect was for this to span decades, generations. While the story itself does take place over only a single day, much of it is filled in with flashbacks that slowly fill in the context until we understand more fully what Elle’s decision truly entails.
I caution readers to take care before picking this up, and to look up the content warnings. Both Elle’s history and her mother’s contain child sexual abuse and rape as well as parental abuse and neglect. I found the reading experience intense and graphic, but not needlessly so. Heller skillfully shows the aftermath of trauma and how tightly it manages to grip you.
The writing in this is truly beautiful, I marveled at the author’s way with words and was shocked to discover this was her debut novel. I cared so deeply for Elle and Jonas and was genuinely invested in their lives both together and apart. I know reading about cheating can be a dealbreaker for some people and while I don’t think cheating is a good thing, love can be complex and I think this was handled realistically and gracefully. Elle is torn between the life she thinks she should have with the husband she truly loves and the life she truly should have had with the man she has been connected to for decades. This isn’t a simple or easy choice and Heller didn’t paint it as such. I also found it interesting that many readers found the conclusion open-ended, I was positive I knew what she had chosen so other reviews surprised me!
My one issue is with a reveal that freed Elle in a way I felt she should have been freed from the start. I can’t go any deeper without spoilers but I will say that while I had no issue with the reveal itself, I didn’t particularly love Elle’s reaction to it.
All in all, I found this to be a beautiful yet devastating novel that will stick with me for years to come. I really look forward to what Heller puts out next and am glad this was selected for the Women’s Prize Longlist, which is what prompted me to read it.
This review WILL be filled with spoilers, as I read all 4 books in one whirlwind and want to discuss them in more detail.
From Blood and Ash, 5 stars
A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, 5 stars
The Crown of Gilded Bones, 3.5 stars
The War of Two Queens, 3.5 stars
I picked this series up because I had heard that there was some drama around the 4th book — specifically drama around a triad that developed. I’m polyamorous and always looking for more rep, so I was intrigued. I couldn’t have imagined that I’d tear through all 4 books (none of them less than 600 pages) in less than 2 weeks. I fell deeply in love with the world and the people JLA created and adored this even more than the ACOTAR series.
The first book follows Poppy, the Maiden — a young woman who is Chosen by the gods and who is not to be looked at, touched, or spoken to. She leads a solitary life interacting with almost no one but her guards and her closest friend, her lady in wait. And the duke and duchess who watch over her. And then Hawke steps into the picture. If you like bad boy romances, you’ll love Hawke. I could not put this book down, loving the relationships between the characters (particularly between Poppy and Hawke).
I was truly shocked by the twists in this. Obviously the Ascended were awful and were doing very suspect things, but I could never have guessed that they were vampires (this series calls them vamprys) taking children to feed on. I had guessed that Hawke was an Atlantian after the scene under the willow tree and eventually also guessed that he was ‘The Dark One.’ And that ENDING! I lowkey love the cliffhangers these books end on, and the first was probably the best.
The second book picks up exactly where the first leaves off and I loved this one just as much. Seeing Poppy develop herself and her powers was great and I loved seeing more of her and Casteel (formerly Hawke). I did get annoyed at times when they were SO CLOSE to talking about their feelings and then didn’t, or didn’t understand each other. But they figured it out in the end. Meeting more of the wolven and the Atlantians was so nice, too. I got very [eyes emoji] about Poppy/Kieran/Cas.
The third book is where I began to tire a bit. Things start to go off the rails and it feels like there’s almost too much going on. Poppy is Ascended, but she’s not. She’s a deity? She’s a god? Who knows! I was shocked that the triad didn’t develop during this book tbh. There is a LOT of [eyes emoji] happening between them. I felt like Poppy was getting a little OP and was confused about how much we were going back and forth on her heritage and who she was.
Book four made my dreams come true, but other than that I was underwhelmed again. It was exhausting reading what I felt like was the same interaction over and over again between Isbeth and Poppy, Isbeth and Cas, Cas and Callum, etc. Poppy is truly OP at this point and just cannot control her temper. There were more shocking reveals that had me throwing my hands up, I can only take so many twists and back and forths before they start to bore me. The end was total chaos.
I’m just glad I finally got my triad, which has been steadily building since book 2. Kieran and Poppy’s interactions in this book made my heart all bubbly and happy. I really hope that their relationship develops more, because right now it definitely feels a little lopsided. I know Poppy and Cas are heartmates, but I’d like things to feel a little more equal. I am intrigued to see where things go, because JLA definitely left it a little vague. I really do hope book 5 is full of threesomes that are a little less chaotic than the one in this book.
Anyway, yeah I loved this series and I’m excited to read more from JLA (and more of this series). But for now, I’m looking forward to picking up some books that won’t keep me up until 2am every night.
This book was scary as hell. I felt like I didn’t breathe for the three hours it took me to read it — in one sitting, since I literally could not bring myself to put it down. I found Mattie to be an incredibly compelling main character and loved rooting for her. I will say that at times William felt almost cartoonish in his evil and I wish he were a bit more three dimensional, but that’s really my only complaint. The tension in this was so thick, and I truly didn’t know what would befall any of the characters. I’m really excited to pick up more by Christina Henry and think this is going to end up being one of my top books of the year.
This ended up being an incredibly impactful read for me, although I wouldn’t have known that from the start. I went into this relatively cold, knowing only that it had ‘two parts’ and had a lot to do with online culture. Both of those things are very true, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how absolutely this would destroy me.
The first part reads much like a Twitter feed and contains plenty of internet humor; I was nearly cackling at both how relatable it felt and how Lockwood was able to condense and present these collective internet experiences. If you are not capital-O Online, I worry that you’ll be lost and/or hate this. If you hate books about the internet, definitely do not read this. I personally found it to be a unique take on tackling the intricacies of modern technology and was looking forward to seeing where Lockwood took it.
Enter, Part 2. I had absolutely no idea where Part 2 was going to go and won’t discuss it too thoroughly because I think going in without expectations will give it the biggest impact. Let me just say that I think Part 1 sets the stage perfectly for the tragedy that unfolds in Part 2. It provides the foundation to understand how the narrator copes and to see the lens she views the world through.
I feel like this will be a divisive book so I hesitate to recommend it to anyone who isn’t fully convinced by the concept. I struggled myself a little bit towards the beginning to read this in anything other than small bits. But close to Part 2, I was able to sit down and and carefully inhale the rest. I really, really enjoyed this though and very much look forward to reading more by Lockwood.
This is by far one of the most inventive and well-written YA horror novels I have ever read. I picked it up after seeing Sarah rave about it and am so glad I decided to prioritize it. It’s the story of three strange sisters who are plagued by strange circumstances. Emphasis on the strange. I loved how atmospheric this was and how I felt truly wrapped up in the story; I probably would have read it all in one sitting had I not started it so late. While I wondered for a bit how it would all wrap up, the ending was truly better than anything I could have expected. I highly recommend this if you’re a fan of horror — although I’d steer quite clear if body horror bothers you at all.
content warnings: body horror; sexual assault; kidnapping; child death.
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!
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.