emdashbookparty's reviews
810 reviews

Manhunt, by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Go to review page

adventurous dark tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

I absolutely love the premise of this book, which is similar to what books like The Power by Naomi Alderman are doing but tied here to testosterone production instead of gender. Gretchen Falker-Martin is definitely filling a gap in the post-apocalyptic speculative genre, one that previously excluded trans folks and their stories. Manhunt is intense and violent; the stakes are high. It also has a lot of vulnerability and tenderness in it, which I loved. Despite a couple of particular quirks in the author's writing style that pulled me out of the story a bit, I thought this was a wild ride and a refreshing take.

Overall, perhaps a tiny bit too heavy on the action and gore for my personal taste (me, the person who falls asleep during the intense fight sequences of action films because *yawn* I'm just not that impressed with bit explosions and cool flips, I'm here for the emotions and the interpersonal drama). But a worthwhile read, and a fun one to discuss with a book club.
Notes on an Execution, by Danya Kukafka

Go to review page

challenging dark emotional sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

No one is all bad. No one is all good. We live as equals in the murky gray between.

I read this novel for Nerdette podcast’s book club—I’m not sure if I would have heard about it or picked it up otherwise. And I’m so glad I did. The story drew me in immediately and kept me turning pages to see what would happen.

And the writing! is! gorgeous! It’s tough subject matter, but the prose is just perfectly, heartbreakingly poignant. For example, this passage about grief:

Grief was a hole. A portal to nothing. Grief was a walk so long Hazel forgot her own legs. It was a shock of blinding sun. A burst of remembering: sandals on pavement, a sleepy back seat, nails painted on the bathroom floor. Grief was a loneliness that felt like a planet.

Also, I guess I should mention what the book is about: a person who has done some horrible things and ended up sentenced to death, and the various other people whose lives he has affected, both negatively and positively. There are multiple points of view, and a timeline that is moving in two directions at once, one chronological starting from the prisoner’s childhood and one counting down until his execution.

This novel pulled my brain apart and filled me with every emotion. I would think I felt one way about this main character and his crimes, but then I would find myself softening, and then  questioning myself for changing my mind.

If you like wrestling with the good/bad dichotomy and exploring all facets of messy, complicated people, definitely give this book a try.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Go to review page

informative slow-paced

3.5

This little book packs a lot of large-scale ideas into a small space. I found a few places where a thought seemed to skip forward without explanation, and I had to re-read a few times to understand the logical progression that was happening, but for the most part, the writing style was conversational enough to follow without problems. Did I retain what I read, and could I participate intelligently in a discussion about astrophysics? No. But did I understand it in the moment and appreciate the feeling of learning something new? For sure. 
We Cast a Shadow, by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Go to review page

challenging reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

Life did eventually improve. But hope wasn't enough. You had to work at it.

This is a book about a black father trying to protect his biracial son from a racist world by helping him get a medical procedure that will turn him white. It cycles between mundane, shocking, sad, poignant, funny, and infuriating. It provoked reactions in me, then made me second-guess myself for having those reactions. I found myself empathizing with the father, but also being angry with him; cheering for the son, but also mourning the effects of (totally reasonable) choices he makes.

The tone is reminiscent of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, and the writing is fantastic. Because of the subject matter, I wouldn't say I enjoyed the reading experience, but I appreciated it, and it made me think.
Lit, by Mary Karr

Go to review page

challenging dark hopeful reflective medium-paced

4.0

There's a space at the bottom of an exhale, a little hitch between taking in and letting out that's a perfect zero you can go into. There's a rest point between the heart muscle's close and open—an instant of keenest living when you're momentarily dead. You can rest there.

It took me a while to get into the swing of Mary Karr's writing style—she sometimes changes scenes or jumps ahead in time from one paragraph to the next, and if I wasn't paying super close attention when reading, I would get confused and have to go back a few sentences to reorient myself in the story. But once I adjusted, I really liked her voice. She's straightforward, unpretentious, and not too flowery in her word choices, but she can also knock the reader down with unexpected moments of profound feeling.

Lit is her memoir about being an alcoholic during the early years of her son's life, and then eventually getting sober. When I picked this one up I didn't realize that it was the third she had written (after The Liars' Club, about her early childhood, and Cherry, about her adolescence and early adulthood), so there were a few allusions to events described in her earlier works here that I missed. I would love to go back and read those first two books at some point.

Still, Lit stands well on its own and is a powerful and well-written account of how subtle and sneaky addiction can be as it gradually takes over someone's life. And it isn't all doom—Karr does an excellent job of balancing the darkness with a lot of self-aware humor and hope.
The Family Chao, by Lan Samantha Chang

Go to review page

challenging mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

After emotions are felt, expressed, where do they go? Is there a place where spent passion collects? Surely it can't simply vaporize, disappear like smoke. There must be a secret hiding place. For every old love affair, a locked room.

This novel is full of characters, both within and outside of the Chao family, that aren't easy to like. We're in many of their heads through the lead-up to, and unraveling after, a seemingly easily-solved murder, and what we find there isn't super flattering. There is jealousy, resentment, emotional suffocation, greed, inadequacy, fear, and even maybe some hate. It's both slightly repulsive and incredibly juicy. And since the family owns a restaurant, there's a lot of drool-inducing writing about delicious food.

I don't want to give away any of the plot, since following it as it unfolds is part of the joy of the reading experience, but I'll just say that if you enjoy digging into family dynamics or if you're interested in immigrant stories and/or literary mystery, you'll probably really like The Family Chao.

Expand filter menu Content Warnings
Nine Rabbits, by Virginia Zaharieva

Go to review page

challenging reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

3.5

Writing has a point if you say something, if you tell some story, an extraordinary one, if possible. But in the usual course of things, life is not extraordinary. It simply flows by like a river, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes reaching some bottleneck that it passes through with a roar, rushing through some rapids. What is the important part? The river is important. What about the banks? They are important, too. And the rocks, the bed? They are as well. So that's how I'll write. About all of that.

Nine Rabbits takes the form of two parts: Manda as a young girl being raised by her grandmother, who is unpredictable and sometimes abusive, and Manda as a grown woman working as a writer and artist, traveling and observing and musing about what her life is for. I was captured by the opening chapters, a little lost in the first bit of part 2, and then drawn back in by the end.

Early on we get an entire chapter about potatoes—potatoes!—complete, as are other sections of the book, with recipes. I definitely made note of a few I wanted to try.

The way Zaharieva writes Manda is very personal, almost like memoir. I had to check a few times to make sure that yes, this book is fiction. Manda feels real and relatable, even if she occasionally meanders into philosophical places that might lose some readers. Her words about creativity, purpose, and womanhood all really spoke to me.

She no longer cares who ate what when, where he is, what he's doing, if they're OK, did she give him all the right coping strategies, did she give enough, whether she made a mistake, and so on. She's flying away into the unbearable lightness of being.


Expand filter menu Content Warnings
I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf, by Grant Snider

Go to review page

funny lighthearted reflective relaxing slow-paced

4.0

This is a collection of sweet and clever comics that almost all readers, writers, and book lovers will find relatable. I love Grant Snider's simple art style, and the color palette throughout is really pleasing. I felt especially seen by "I Have a Problem," "Other People's Bookshelves," and "We Are the Introverts," and I enjoyed perusing the full-page single-panel scenes in all their punny glory—"The Story Coaster," "The Writer's Block," "The Book Fair," and "The Writers' Retreat."
Shit Cassandra Saw, by Gwen E. Kirby

Go to review page

challenging funny reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.5

A woman walks down the street and a man tells her to smile. When she smiles, she reveals a mouthful of fangs. She bites off the man's hand, cracks the bones and spits them out, and accidentally swallows his wedding ring, which gives her indigestion.

I loved these stories. Many are contemporary, but some are based on historical figures and/or events (I didn’t always know the source material for these, but they were great nonetheless, and such knowledge didn’t feel absolutely necessary).

There’s a lot here about being a woman, getting messy, breaking free. Kirby doesn’t shy away from really shitting on the patriarchy and honestly, we love to see it. Shit Cassandra Saw would make an excellent pairing with Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder.

Favorites from the collection: "A Few Normal Things That Happen a Lot," "Friday Night" (which I believe was a single four-page sentence?), "Casper," "Marcy Breaks Up with Herself," and "How to Retile Your Bathroom in 6 Easy Steps!"

I love to be alone and I am never more alone than after a man leaves. All the space he occupied—the chair, the cup, the looks my way that ask what I am thinking, the glance of the hand against my body, yet another question I have to answer—suddenly, he is out the door, and that chair is mine to sit in.
Reprieve, by James Han Mattson

Go to review page

challenging dark reflective tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

This novel starts out switching between multiple points of view and I liked the feeling of not knowing exactly how they would come together at first. Watching those connections become clear was a pleasure.

Also! Race! Wow. There have been a lot of books released recently about the Black experience in white supremacist America, and they are illuminating and important to be sure, but Reprieve is not that. James Han Mattson writes about race in a much more complicated way. It was interesting and new to see the issue of racism from the perspective of a young queer Thai man in America, who is a minority and therefore definitely subjected to a significant amount of prejudice, but who is then also accused by Black folks and others in the text of being racist himself.

And the horror! What is real in Quigley house, and what is just an act? These lines are very blurry and things get extremely scary at times. Overall this is just a really well done novel—a true page-turner with a lot of smart things to say about society. Fans of Get Out will likely enjoy this terrifying, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking story.