Think Daisy Jones but better: A review of The Last Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

A copy of The Last Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton, a red hardcover book with a guitar on the front, set on top of my Victrola record player.

Thanks for bearing with me, folx… I am beyond behind on reviews here. I’ve been overbooked (get it ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m all for a good pun!) with ARCs and just great backlog reads that I wanted to take time to do what I love most — read. Now that I’ve cleared up my schedule, I’m hoping to be more consistent with my blogging and catch up on writing reviews to highlight some really incredible books and authors.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love a debut! I think reading and reviewing them is an honor. And when it comes to debuts I’ve read in 2021, The Last Revival of Opal & Nev is definitely top of the list. Dawnie Walton is such a talent, and you better bet I’ll be reading whatever she decides to publish from here on out. Like, she could publish her grocery list, and I’d be all about it!

Quick synopsis: This story follows the infamous rock duo Opal and Nev, nobodies who rose to fame in NYC in the 70s. In 2016, journalist S. Sunny Shelton is curating a collection of interviews from and about them as they prepare for a reunion tour, but a new allegation threatens everything Opal, Nev, and now Sunny have worked for.

Now I’m as big of a Daisy Jones and the Six fan as about anyone else, so I was at first a bit hesitant — this book, while quite different, followed the same oral story format, which I thought may feel too similar to Daisy Jones. But I was definitely wrong — in my opinion, this book shines so much brighter than Daisy Jones. I loved that coupled with the interviews are editor’s notes from the point of view of Sunny. These notes help develop Sunny as equally a main character, next to the titular Opal and Nev, and allowed the present day to become a story of its own, parallelling and moving on from that of Opal and Nev back in the 70s.

Opal, however, was my favorite character. She was bold, imperfect, bright, and brave. I loved how she knows exactly who she is and never tries to be anything she isn’t. Most importantly, she unabashedly stands up for what she believes in.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but what made this book so incredible and truly a step above Daisy Jones is how it shows the effects that white supremacy — and taking a stand against it — has on women of color, and especially Black women. It’s a powerful testament, both sobering yet full of hope. Especially in the context of 2016, when Sunny is performing these interviews and publishing this book. This book took turns I couldn’t have anticipated, and it both sucked me into this fictional story and reminded me of the lengths we still need to go for racial equality in our real-life society.

Lost in translation: A review of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A copy of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, a purple hardback book with a bottle and flowers on the cover, with live flowers surrounding it that are pink, green, and white

Have you ever just wanted to love a book SO much, and no matter how much you try, it just doesn’t seem to work out? That’s how I felt about The Lost Apothecary, unfortunately. Billed by Book of the Month as a historical fantasy and touted by just about everyone else as the next big hit, I felt in my heart it was going to be one of my favorite reads of March, if not 2021! While there was still much to like about it, it fell ended up falling a bit flat for me.

Quick synopsis: In 18th century London, a mysterious apothecary named Nella sells her goods to a specific clientele — woman looking to escape oppressive lives at the men in their lives. When 12-year-old Eliza comes into her shop, an unspeakable accident will put everything Nella has worked for at risk. In modern-day London, Caroline goes on vacation alone to escape heartbreaking news about her marriage and discovers a token from the past that will force all three women’s lives to intersect.

There was much to like about this book — I enjoyed the three main characters, but especially Nella and Eliza. I thought Penner’s character development with them was excellent as was the plotline, so much so that I sort of dreaded when I’d start a chapter based in modern-day London! Not that I didn’t like Caroline, but I do have a fascination with that time period and found Nella’s mission (and Eliza’s role in it) to help women admirable. It felt timely, important, and transcendent of time, which is clear in how that same oppression from men catches up with Caroline in modern time as she deals with marriage issues.

Overall, however, I didn’t enjoy the writing style. I felt that it was a little too much telling versus showing, so I didn’t feel myself transported into this story the way I had hoped. There were also a couple of plot points that felt rushed (but I won’t mention because of spoilers). Additionally — and this was probably my biggest issue — I felt a sort of disconnect between how the past storyline and the present storyline were supported to relate. I think for me, I hoped for a much stronger connection to tie them all together. Individually, each story was good, but together, it felt too disparate and forced.

But most importantly, I really thought there’d be more fantasy involved since it was billed as a historical fantasy genre. Book of the Month has typically done a great job labeling their picks in my opinion, and based off past options that are in this genre, I was expecting more fantasy, such as Addie LaRue, The Library of Legends, Things in Jars, or Gods of Jade and Shadow. I didn’t think The Lost Apothecary had nearly as much fantasy — perhaps just a touch of magical realism, but even for me, it felt a bit of a stretch.

That said, there are so many awesome reviewers out there that have rained praises upon this book! So while this book didn’t live up to its hype for me, I still think that many will love it and connect greatly with its story. For those who like historical fiction, female-powered books, or stories with parallel storylines, this would probably be an awesome fit. But if you, like me, were thinking this was going to have a lot of fantasy elements, this may fall flat based off the genre description alone.

Gamergate revisited: Pub day review of We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A. E. Osworth

A copy of We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A. E. Osworth. It is purple, pink, and blue with bright yellow print. Books are pointing to it from the top righthand corner.

Happy pub day to We Are Watching Eliza Bright, A. E. Osworth’s debut novel — and this was one a WILD ride! A huge thank you to Novel Suspects and Grand Central Publishing for this gifted ARC in exchange for an honest review. I devoured this techno-thriller in just about two days and loved so much about it.

Quick synopsis: From the back cover — “Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks–and some people want to make sure she’s the last. To her friends, Eliza Bright is a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the misogyny that pervades her workplace and industry. To the men who see her very presence as a threat, Eliza Bright is a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect the game they love.”

Now, a quick disclaimer: I am not a gamer by any means, unless you want to count Animal Crossing and Pokemon on my Nintendo Switch. So for readers in my boat, I did find that there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to getting used to the different gaming terminology in the world of massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs). But once I got used to it, I tore through this “cat-and-mouse” thriller. So definitely don’t let that discourage you at all!

CW for the book: sexual assault, harassment, rape, misogyny, stalking

In their debut novel, Osworth has crafted what I consider to be a sharp, gritty, and suspenseful thriller that flows nearly seamlessly between Eliza’s real-life nightmare that she finds herself in after reporting the workplace harassment she faces to a tech journalist, and the virtual world full of the men who view her as a threat to be taken down. Those men take up 4chan, Reddit, and the dark places of the internet that I can only imagine. What I found most intriguing about this book however was the unreliability of the narration — told from the collective POV of the online community of men constantly watching Eliza and waiting to strike. As a woman, it was honestly terrifying to hear the prejudice and often deep hatred toward Eliza (and women in general). But as a reader, it was a hell of an experience, allowing me to really zoom in on Eliza’s life, almost as if I were her stalkers. Creepy to say the least, but such a unique read.

Additionally, I loved how the book moved in and out between the real world and the Fancy Dog MMORPG itself, which is based around the fictional Windy City full of superheroes and villains. Sections surrounding the game almost felt as if I was reading fantasy, but the fact that they only mirror what is happening in real life makes it much more unsettling, especially for those who consider their game worth fighting for to the farthest extent.

This book had several twists and turns that were entertaining on the surface, but also made way for excellent commentary on the misogyny that pervades the gaming industry. It seemed very similar to (and I think may have been inspired by) the real-life events of Gamergate several years back. We Are Watching Eliza Bright made for a shocking story that seemed so far from anything that could actually happen, until you think about Gamergate and realize it could. It was unsettling to read as a woman, but also really cool to watch Eliza and her friends rise to face what seems like an impossible challenge.

I’d recommend this read for those who like thrillers, suspense, social commentary, LGBTQ+ and diverse representation, feminist-powered reads, urban settings, or gaming.

What do you get when you mix one accidental murder with four Asian aunties? A review of Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

My phone sits on a wicker basket with the cover of Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Next to it is my Nikon DSLR camera and lens cap.

First off, thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. I really am not a romance reader by any means, but when I first heard of Dial A for Aunties, I just knew I had to pick it up! I was not only so excited for a chance to read a debut by Chinese-Indonesian author Jesse Q. Sutanto, but I was also so excited by its hilarious, outrageous description.

Quick synopsis: This story follows the misadventures of Meddy, a photographer who works with her mom and three aunts in their wedding service company. When she accidentally kills her date on a blind date gone wrong, the four aunties must figure out to help Meddy cover her tracks, all while working the biggest wedding of their careers at an upscale Californian hotel for a wildly rich family (think of the book/movie Crazy Rich Asians –that rich). Meanwhile, a run-in with Meddy’s old flame may put their chances at covering this crime at risk.

Part romance, and part contemporary fiction, this book had me quite literally laughing out loud! Meddy and her aunties had me cracking up, while also totally rooting for them despite an accidental murder. And while the story was often lighthearted and funny, it did touch on some more serious topics, such as Meddy’s mom and aunties’ immigration experience. The thing I probably connected with the most was Meddy’s identity struggles she faced growing up with her Chinese-Indonesian family who immigrated to the U.S., while she was raised there. While my family experience was definitely different than hers, I could empathize with her feelings of feeling on the outside at times when it comes to racial identity.

Additionally, I loved Meddy’s journey of self-discovery. She was such a relatable leading lady, and I definitely recognized a bit of myself in her as she tries to discover herself and do what makes her happiest, not just what makes her mom/aunties happy. But I so admired how she cares so deeply for her family, and they obviously feel the same about her — enough to cover up an accidental murder!

I thought the romance element to this book was so sweet (fans of steamy romances, beware — this one is definitely sweet, not steamy). It was a big part of the book, but not overwhelmingly so, as I think the themes of family and self acceptance were much more prominent. But the romance was a wonderful addition to this zany, wildly surprising adventure. It read like a rom-com and touched on coming into your own while recognizing the importance of family. And of course, it was so wonderful to see a lead who looks like me!

This book’s pub day is April 27th. I totally recommend giving this wonderful debut a read!

My monthly wrap-up — March 2021

A stack of books that I read in March sit next to a fish tank with my betta fish Reggie.

I’m a day late on my March wrap-up post AND it just snowed for the first time in a month — so that’s the April Fools Day joke, right?? But living in the Midwest, you just have to accept that Fake Spring is a real thing and you’ll inevitably get that last snow sometime in late March or even April. Hopefully it’s the last one of the season, however!

On a reading note, this month was a great month for me. Typically, I read around eight books, but this month I got through a whopping 11 books! There were many awesome reads, some of which I’ve already reviewed, some of which are to come. I’ve probably spent just a little too much time reading and not enough keeping up with reviews on here and Instagram. But I promise — they’re coming soon!!

Here are the books, in order, that I got the chance to read this month, plus a short summary. Also, check out my new Betta fish, Reggie! Sadly, Barry passed away (may he RIP) after nearly two years. But we’re excited to welcome Reggie to the family!

Watch Her by Edwin Hill. This suspense/mystery features Hester Thursby, Harvard librarian and master finder/researcher. I loved the whodunnit aspect, the alternating POVs, but mostly, I loved Hester. Check out my full review here. You better be sure I’ll be going back to read books 1 and 2 at some point! Also, thank you to Books Forward and Kensington Books for this free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. This book follows two parallel storylines, that of modern day Caroline, who is on vacation alone after a shocking revelation from her husband, and that of Nella, an apothecary who sells her concoctions to women in need of help against the oppressive men in their lives and whose run-in with young Eliza will forever change their lives. My full review will be coming soon.

The Northern Reach by W. S. Winslow. This is a slow-burn collection of interrelated stories about the residents of a coastal Maine town and how throughout the 20th century, they intersect, intermarry, and intermingle. With a dash of magical realism and truly atmospheric writing, this one is great for fans of historical fiction. Thank you to Flatiron Books for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review, which you can read here.

The Push by Ashley Audrain. Living up to all the hype, this suspense novel unpacks the darkest side of motherhood and was truly a profound read. I was often disturbed and unsettled, but as a reader, I appreciated the way this book made me think hard about motherhood and womanhood. Check out my full review here.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. This was a book club choice that I read with some college friend that was a thought-provoking dissection of how both media and the justice system often let those who commit heinous acts of sexual assault/rape get away and how victims are often to blame. This book is being turned into a Netflix series and I cannot wait.

My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee. So I’m not sure I’ve ever spent this long on a book! Like no joke, I was reading it for about a month. It’s a slow, arduous read, but also beautifully written, telling the story of how Tiller, a young, not-so-ambitious American, is taken under the wing of Pong, an enigmatic and charismatic businessman, and the events of their year abroad. Thank you to NetGalley and Riverhead for this free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Definitely the stand-out novel of the month, this story — part contemporary fiction and part romance — follows Chinese-Indonesian Meddy, whose aunties must come to the rescue after a blind date gone horribly wrong. What follows is a hilarious, heartwarming tale of of five women trying to cover up an accidental murder, work the biggest wedding of their careers, and Meddy’s run-in with an old flame. What could possibly go wrong? Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. This was a buddy read and a total “bookstagram made me do it.” The first book of the series, this story follows Feyre, a young girl cursed to live among faeries as punishment for a crime. A mix of Beauty and the Beast, Hunger Games, Spinning Silver, and a whole bunch of other fun fantasy tropes, this book was a fun, sexy read. I’m excited for the next ones to come!

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. This Book of the Month selection and debut novel is an oral history of the famous (yet fictional) rock n’ roll duo, Opal and Nev, who rise to fame in the 70’s. While it is a thrilling biography of sorts, it is also an indictment of consequences of protesting injustices has on women of color, especially Black women, versus men. Another stand out of the month.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. This book follows 17-year-old Lily Hu, growing up in San Francisco Chinatown in the 1950’s. She is struggling with her budding feelings for a female classmate, but throughout the story, must find the courage to be true to herself while falling in love for the first time. It’s a touching, heartbreaking, yet hopeful read.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. This fun, super steamy romance follows Chloe Brown, who after a near-death experience, makes a list of things to do that will help her “get a life” and step out of her comfort zone. Enter her superintendent, Red, who is the perfect person to help her cross off this list and perhaps fall in love with along the way.

What was your favorite read of the month? Let me know below or send me a message on Instagram!