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 😉 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.

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.

The kids are not alright: A review of The Push by Ashley Audrain

First off, I have to preface that while this book was unsettling throughout, the end was absolutely explosive. I was left with this total WTF moment — and trust me, it takes a LOT to do that nowadays — but in the best way. It’s hard to believe that this is Audrain’s debut novel because she writes with such force and emotion that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable while reading, which I think was exactly the point.

Quick synopsis: New mother Blythe wants to be the mother she never had — but when her first child Violet is born, Blythe is convinced that something isn’t right about her and fails to connect with her as most mothers do. No one, including her husband, seems to believe her worries about Violet. Several years later when her second child Sam is born, Blythe has that special connection she always dreamed about. But when unspeakable tragedy occurs, she is forced to face her worst fears about motherhood, Violet, and herself.

This psychological family drama/domestic suspense forced me to question every preconceived notion about motherhood. Blythe, the narrator, is far from reliable, which was further reinforced by the book’s second-person narrative, as we clearly are only shown her point of view. I was constantly questioning what was real and what was fake, especially around the book’s focal tragedy. For the rest of the book, I was wrestling with how much blame can Blythe’s husband, their daughter, or her family history have on the ensuing tragedies that the book is centered on? Or is it Blythe herself who is to blame?

This book did an amazing job showing that motherhood is far from perfect and battling the societal idea that motherhood is the highest ideal of womanhood. It also addressed the unbelievability of women — what will it take for Blythe, a woman and mother, to have her wildest fears and motherly instincts taken seriously? And the less others believe her, the more she even questions herself, a gaslighting tactic that I’d argue many women have experienced at some time or another. Additionally, it made me question the idea of what makes someone a good mother. And is being a “good mother” learned or inherited?

This book is far from cheery and certainly shows the ugliest sides of motherhood, from conception to birth to raising them into personhood. It was deeply unsettling but in a way that made me admire Audrain’s abilities as a writer — I still can’t believe this is her debut novel.

This book, however, does need to come with basically every trigger warning possible. It’s likely a difficult read for anyone with a heart, but it does hit on many issues that could be traumatic to readers. But for anyone looking for a deeply unsettling, though-provoking, and well-written read that will really challenge your typical view on motherhood, I recommend this fast-paced psychological thriller.

CW: childbirth, parent-child abuse, violence, death of a child, severe and postpartum depression… and I’m sure there’s still some I’m missing 

The Push is published by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.