Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

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

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website


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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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Disappearing Earth [review]

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Published by Knopf on May 14, 2019
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.90 (as of 2020-08-02)
Spoiler-free review

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

Goodreads Bookshop | Author Website


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.


My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Disappearing Earth
  3. Girl, Woman, Other
  4. My Dark Vanessa
  5. Supper Club
  6. The Man Who Saw Everything
  7. My Name is Monster
  8. Ninth House
  9. Bunny
  10. The Mercies
  11. Frankissstein

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Survivor Song [review]

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on July 7, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2020-07-24)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website

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.


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The Ballad of Black Tom [review]

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by Tor.com on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★.5 (2.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2020-07-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.

I buddy read this with Hadeer, who enjoyed it and wrote a much more thorough review than I did. Go check hers out!

This is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s stories, which I have not read. Lovecraft himself is infamously racist, so LaValle’s retelling is a commentary on racism. What I found myself most struck by was how some of the explicitly racist bits could have been pulled straight out of today’s world even though the story takes place some 100 years ago. I found myself absolutely horrified by one scene, only to immediately see how it is paralleled by stories in the news today. But while I appreciated LaValle’s commentary, I couldn’t connect to the character’s or the story itself and had a difficult time feeling invested in the novella. I’ll still be recommending it to others, and am glad to see most people have enjoyed it more than I did.


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Blanca & Roja [review]

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Feiwel & Friends on October 9, 2018
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.80 (as of 2020-07-05)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


My first read for Transathon! Anna-Marie McLemore is nonbinary and one of the main characters is a trans boy whose pronouns are both she/her and he/him.

While I enjoyed this, I wish I had liked it more! I thought that it was trying to do a little too much at once and subsequently ended up a bit scattered. The characters and their relationships really made the read worth it, but I was mainly confused about the magical realism element and felt like the ‘rules’ were kind of arbitrary. I also never felt a real sense of danger and thus wasn’t too invested in the swan aspect of the storyline. I definitely felt a lot could have been cut out of this to make it more enthralling. As a sidenote, I really liked the menstruation rep! Roja has heavy, painful periods and I appreciated their inclusion, although it also felt a bit heavy-handed at times.


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The Ten Thousand Doors of January [review]

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Published by Redhook on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.11 (as of 2020-07-03)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


She became something else entirely, something so radiant and wild and fierce that a single world could not contain her, and she was obliged to find others.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the story here. For me, this was a page-turner but I know others have found it slow and I agree that the pacing lagged in some areas. The characters were fun to read but largely felt one-dimensional; I felt like I should have cared more about the side characters than I did and while I liked the story of January’s parents, I wasn’t really drawn to them as people. But the concept made up for it and the twists really got me. I read this as a YA fantasy and I believe the MC is in her late teens for the bulk of the book, but the author has said it was written for an adult audience, just for the record!

content warnings: loss/grief; animal abuse; forced institutionalization; racism


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How to Be an Antiracist [review]

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Published by One World on August 13, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.55 (as of 2020-06-27)
Spoiler-free review

Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.

In this book, Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with an engaging personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. How to Be an Antiracist is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


The problem of race has always been at its core the problem of power, not the problem of immorality or ignorance.

This book is part memoir, part instruction manual for how to be antiracist, as the title states. The personalized pieces of Kendi’s life help to provide context for the concepts he shares and demonstrates how racism functions in the lived world.

As a White person, there was a lot for me to learn here. While I was familiar with some of the concepts and histories, others were new to me. The experiences Kendi had as well as his internal struggle as a Black man were obviously things I could not relate to and were often things I was not aware of. It was helpful to have this all shown to me so I could better understand what Black people in the US have been dealing with for years.

My only complaint was that it could get pretty repetitive at times. I understand repetition can be helpful in learning new ideas, but it felt more like filler in some parts. I think shortening it a bit, or expanding more on his personal experiences, could have made it a more engaging read and more accessible for some folks. I did also disagree with his assertion that Black people can be racist against White people, but also acknowledge it’s not really my place to speak. I still definitely recommend this and am quite excited to pick up Stamped from the Beginning sometime soon.

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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Lovecraft Country [review]

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Published by Harper on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.05 (as of 2020-06-21)
Spoiler-free review

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


That’s the horror, the most awful thing: to have a child the world wants to destroy and know that you’re helpless to help him. Nothing worse than that. Nothing worse.

I found myself so drawn into this so quickly, but unfortunately that didn’t last. I thought this would be one continuous story, but it’s sort of more of a collection of interrelated stories that become more fully tied together as the book progresses. The start of the first was a pageturner and so, so eerie but shifted to more of a middling pace and became less outright spooky. I went through bursts of really wanting to read it and others where I was just kind of waiting for the next thing to happen. The characters, though, really made the book. I found them all to be distinct and realistic and didn’t have to worry about mixing any of them up which I usually do with a slightly larger cast.

I had gone in a little nervous about reading a full cast of Black characters written by a white man, but I think Matt Ruff handled this pretty well (I’m not really able to fully speak on this, though). I was pleased to see that at the end of the edition I was reading, he had a recommendation list containing some historical books on the Jim Crow era as well as sci-fi books written by Black authors. It was nice to see him using his platform to lift up others and to point his readers in an ownvoices direction.

Overall, I found this very readable and will likely be recommending it to others!

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!

content warnings: Jim Crow era racism


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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

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website


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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Girl, Woman, Other [review]

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Published by Black Cat/Grove Atlantic on November 5, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.43 (as of 2020-04-28)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.

Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form that borrows technique from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that shows a side of Britain we rarely see, one that reminds us of all that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.


this was a really lovely exploration of black individuals in the UK. 11 of the characters followed are women and one is a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns. it was really refreshing to read about such a variety of people; many of these characters are queer, and some are even non-monogamous. the term polyamory is also explicitly used! it was really lovely to see these kinds of relationships normalized.

Amma experienced commitment to one person as imprisonment, she hadn’t left home for a life of freedom and adventure to end up chained to another person’s desires

this is essentially a series of overlapping short stories, each focused on an individual character. these characters are all interconnected, in ways that become increasingly clear as the book moves forward. there was one real WOW moment at the end that got me right in the gut. i was impressed at how well Evaristo layered these stories and built such a rich, real story.

she wishes her mother was alive to enjoy her new life she me now, Mama, see me now

my only complaint is really that the breadth of characters makes it difficult to follow. by the time a character was mentioned again, i would sometimes forget them or important information about them. i also found the first half of the book a little difficult to connect with. it was highly readable, but not extraordinary compelling. luckily, that changed in the second half, which i read in one day, unable to put the book down.

sadly, there wasn’t a sapphic bone in her body

i think this is a really important book and i’m glad it’s gotten so much recognition! i’ll definitely be recommending it to others. additionally, feel free to link me any ownvoices reviews to share, as i may be queer and polyamorous, but i am also white and american and can only review through that lens.


My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

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

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