Sorry I didn’t have a new blog post up on Sunday. It’s midterm season and I’m behind on literally everything in my life but I hop to have a post up this weekend talking about star ratings and just rating books in general. In the meantime, I hope you’re not too sad to see another wrap-up from me!
It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a contemporary romance that made me cry on more than one occasion, a historical fiction surrounding 60s and 70s rock, and a memoir that explores abuse in lesbian relationships via an interesting writing style. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Release Date: February 23, 2021
Genre: Adult contemporary
A refreshingly timely and relatable debut novel about a young woman whose life plans fall apart when she meets her wife.
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.
“I wanted to be the best, even it if meant working myself into the ground. Even if it meant breaking my back to prove I deserved a seat at a table I had no desire to sit at.”
Books don’t often make me actually cry but as I was listening to the audio on my walks at the park, I felt myself tearing up more than once. I just finished what’s most likely my last degree during a pandemic so I definitely relate to that “what’s next?” struggle. I also enjoyed seeing Grace have to really think about what being the best and success even mean for her. I definitely have an idea of what being successful means but sometimes that’s not healthy or attainable without sacrificing health and relationships and that’s something that should be talked about more. Speaking of relationships, I really loved the relationships in this book. The friendships really stood out and it was great to see all the support Grace had from her friends. The romance with the woman Grace married was also so interesting to watch develop over time. It wasn’t easy and I appreciated seeing the dynamic between people who are married but don’t know each other. Lastly, I want to talk about the relationship between Grace and her father. It’s strained and she feels scared to really talk to him and TALK ABOUT RELATABLE. Their dynamic had me in tears and doing a lot of thinking about my own life.
This book also has phenomenal queer rep with so many characters and a positive, realistic portrayal of therapy and those were really the icing on the cake that is already such a great story. I highly recommend it.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Release Date: March 30, 2021
Genre: Adult historical fiction
A poignant fictional oral history of the beloved rock ‘n’ roll duo who shot to fame in the 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
“Oh, honey,” she says. “How we gon’ get anywhere, with you dreaming so small?”
*I was provided an ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.*
One of my first thoughts while reading this book was that a documentary-style movie or series about this would be phenomenal. I love watching documentaries about music regardless of the genre and this book certainly scratched that itch. I really enjoyed that this story shows parallels between Opal and the journalist, Sunny. They are both fighting to tell stories that are important to them in their fields. I also think that Walton does a great job at drawing from real music history. There is a scene where a riot breaks out at a music showcase and I was reminded of the heartbreaking events of the Altamont festival in 1969 where a Black man was killed at a Rolling Stones show where the Hell’s Angels acted as security. As soon as I made that connection, the author actually references it in a footnote and that was nice to see. There is a twist at the end of part one that really had me infuriated and gripped to find out what would happen next. Walton does a great job at capturing what I imagine the rock music industry was like during the 60s and 70s. I HATED the head of the record label, Howie; he was so money hungry that it didn’t matter who got hurt in the process. There is also a plotline that is happening in more modern times that I think is very interesting. There is a festival during that time and the way the beginning is described really made me miss concerts more than I already have been in the past year. She also nods to the groups of concertgoers who end up at places like the Waffle House after shows and that made me smile considering that’s exactly where I ended up after my last concert (Blink-182).
This book is a refreshing look at rock music that acknowledges its true roots and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of the scene regarding racism and I will definitely be on the lookout for more books, fictional or otherwise, that truly dive into the history of rock music and really give credit where credit is due.
OH! I almost forgot to add this playlist I made based on the songs directly mentioned in Opal & Nev. While I was creating it, I found this playlist that’s made by the author so definitely check that out as well.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Genre: Adult Memoir
For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.
“This is what I keep returning to: how people decide who is or is not an unreliable narrator. And after that decision has been made, what do we do with people who attempt to construct their own vision of justice?”
Apart from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir, Fun Home, this is the best and most unique memoir I’ve ever read. While the subject matter is difficult to read about, I found myself wanting to know how the story would be told in the next chapter. Very close to the beginning of the book, Machado discusses archives and who decides what gets remembered and how it is remembered. This discussion is then tied to abuse in queer relationships. Since grad school, I’ve been really interested in archives and who/how they are created so this was such an interesting way to think about this type of story. The narrative itself is broken into short chapters and reminds me of books I’ve read about pop culture studies where it’s broken down topic by topic. For example, there’s a chapter called ‘Dream House as World Building” and talks about the fact that abusers often isolate their victims and compares that to letting an isolated setting be a huge part of the story. There is also a chapter that operates like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and it’s absolutely heartbreaking because there’s no way to get a happy ending. As far as the subject matter itself, definitely check out trigger warnings and make sure you’re in an okay place because there were some times I had to stop and focus on my breathing. Machado does a great job at capturing and conveying the slow progression of abuse while adding the nuance of this happening in a relationship between two women with some of the best writing I’ve ever read.
What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!