Book Review: Luster

My Thoughts

Luster — lus·​ter | \ ˈlə-stər:

  • 1. :a gentle sheen or soft glow, especially that of a partly reflective surface.
  • 2. a: a glow of light from within LUMINOSITY the luster of the stars; b: an inner beauty RADIANCE
  • 3 a superficial attractiveness or appearance of excellence

I have a hard time putting into words what I think about this book. I didn’t really like the characters and I found the story sad. There is quite a bit of social commentary though. Now please understand that a book does not need likeable characters to be a good book. There are some books where the only reason why I read them is because of the bad@$$ antagonist. Sometimes you need a character you love to hate to drive the novel. But Luster is not that type of novel. All the characters are suffering and throughout the book we see them archiving their loneliness and sorrow in different ways. It doesn’t matter what skin they are in – young, old, black, white, rich or poor — there is pain and desolation here. And you wait a long time for Edie to find her inner beauty and shine. In the end she discovers more about who she is, but she has not come full circle yet.

As I was reading there were sentences that stopped me in my tracks. All I could say is “Wow! That’s deep!” There was poetry in the language and a depth of understanding the human condition. Then there were other times where I felt that the text was too cerebral. I felt that the writing got in the way of emoting the feelings.

From this debut it is obvious that Raven Leilani is very talented and creative. I am interested in seeing what she does next.

Raven Leilani

Raven‘s debut novel, Luster, is forthcoming from FSG August 2020. Her work has been published in GrantaMcSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernYale Review, ConjunctionsThe Cut, and New England Review, among other publications. She completed her MFA at NYU. Represented by Ellen Levine @ Trident. You can reach her at @RavenLeilani

Reading Rush 2020: Days 5 & 6

Friday July 24th, Day 5

What did I read today?

Today I finished my sixth book for the challenge – Paris Never Leaves You – an historical fiction about a woman who survives the German occupation of Paris and flees to the United States with her young daughter.

I listened to portions of Alice Feeney’s His & Hers while doing laundry at 4 in the morning. No worries though. I had my headphones on. The whole house was snug as bugs.

I participated in two Twitter sprints hosted by Caz from LittleBookOwl and Nidhi over at nidhireddyreads. During that time I read about half of The Death of Vivek Oji.

I finished both His & Hers and The Death of Vivek Oji on Day 6.

Although I have not received my copy of Hieroglyphics yet I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Sisters in Hate by Seyward Darby at my door. Thanks goes out to Jess at Little, Brown and Company. Come back and check out my blog in a week or so for my review.

Question of the Day

How do you organize your books?

I organize my books mostly by genre with a special shelf for African literature. Within each genre the books are arranged alphabetically by last name of author. I have multiple cases and some are dedicated to specific topics. My “nightstand” shelf has science related books. Book series are bundled together above the mantel. Physical ARCs are on desk or dresser.

Where have you done the most productive reading?

Before COVID19 I would have said at Panera Bread, on the bus or while driving. These days I get the most reading done either listening to audiobooks while doing chores and inputing data or in bed curled up with my Kindle in my favorite blanket. (Yes, in all this heat. — I just turn the AC up higher!)

Reading Rush 2020: Day 4

What did I read today?

Although I started the day off really well by finishing off The Night Watchman, I was just really exhausted and suffering from migraines. So I only read 235 pages total.

The Night Watchman is my first Louise Erdrich. I read it for Camp TOB where it is going up against Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. Although I gave both these books a 4 star rating if I had to cast my vote today The Night Watchman would edge out the competition. I feel that it had more depth and showed more emotion. I also felt more connected to Patrice than I did to either Emira or Alix.

So far Paris Never Leaves You is not grasping my attention but His & Hers is most definitely picking up. I am hoping by tomorrow to finish at least one of these for my sixth book.

Book Review: After the Rain

“On the Road” is a short story from Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu collection. Chioma is a visiting her family in Nigeria. Shortly after arriving the town is hit with torrential rains in which should have been their dry season. As soon as the rain stops you have this young man come to her door. His head is bashed in. Chioma can see the blood matter. For all intents and purposes this young man should not be alive. He should not be able to walk or talk. But there he is, the monster at her door. And she lets him in.

Over the next few days Chioma senses she is being followed. There is a strange odor wafting through her house and she seems to possess a strange magnetism for the town’s lizards. She has no idea what she has awoken or what fate awaits her. But the elders of the town seem to know something. As Chioma gets thinner and weaker the women of the village prepare for what’s to come.

Okorafor does a great job with the build up. She certainly had me anxious and it definitely did not help that I was reading this story at 3 am on a rainy day when the house and neighborhood were fast asleep. Like Binti, I found that I fell right into the story and the pages of this fantasy came to life. As with the majority of Okorafor’s work After the Rain is centered on African mythology.

Agbogo-Mmuo, 1972 by Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994)

For the most part the graphic novel is true to “On the Road” with a few departures for clarity’s sake. I loved the artwork by David Brame and found that his illustrations really do make the story leap off the page.

David Brame; After the Rain

I am hoping that this is a superhero origin story and that there will be a spin off or sequel to After the Rain. My only complaint with the galley was that the font was very fine and pixelated. Had I not had a copy of Kabu Kabu to read, I would have been very upset as there was no way that I would have been able get the story with the little bit that I could read. As I’m sure this will be rectified by the final printing I am not deducting any stars from my rating.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reading Rush 2020: Day 3

With 571 pages read Day 3 was my most productive day so far!

I decided to switch out His & Hers for the “Read a book entirely outside your house.” The weather has been very uncooperative switching between heat wave and thunderstorm.

Instead, I read the short story “On the Road” and completed Nnedi Okorafor’s graphic novel “After the Rain”.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read 49 pages of Paris Never Leaves you during Twitter Sprint.

But as Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman was calling my name, I abandoned everything else to finish it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reading Rush 2020: Day 2

Books Completed:

A Good Marriage By Kimberly McCreight

A Good Marriage was our book club pick for the month of July. I listened to the audiobook version with Sarah Zimmerman, Karissa Vacker, and George Newbern as narrators. This book is told from multiple point of views: Amanda, our victim and Lizzie, a former federal prosecutor defending her first client, Amanda’s husband Zach. In between their accounts we are given grand jury depositions and investigative reports. These varying writing styles and perspectives add a layer of dimension to the novel and make its 400 pages go by that much faster. I found that A Good Marriage had plenty of twists and turns to keep me up through the night.


Watch an adaptation BEFORE reading the book that inspired it.

For this challenge I watched the theatre productions of Underground and The Mamalogues before I read this book of plays. Being plays the adaptations that I watched were pretty close to the original — although there is always another dimension added when actors throw themselves into a role. Between the two plays that I did watch I enjoyed Underground more because of the chemistry and dynamic between Marc Pouhe and Jeffery Da’Shade Johnson as Kyle and Mason.

Playwright and Scholar Dr. Lisa B. Thompson

Book Review: Underground, Monroe and The Mamalogues

In Underground, Thompson examines masculinity, power, protest and privilege. Kyle surprises “Dix” (Mason) when he shows up uninvited to his hideaway home in upstate New York. From the outset, I was skeptical about the purpose of his visit as Kyle went about furtively going through Mason’s things and taking pictures. He came off as a hustler and I was trying to figure out what game he was running. Slowly their past is revealed, as are Kyle’s motives, and Mason becomes more assertive. Having risen above poverty, he no longer feels that the Black male struggle is his fight. He fought. He won. He’s done.

Monroe is based in part on a real lynching that took place just outside the city of Monroe, Louisiana in 1919. George Bolden*, an illiterate man, was lynched after being accused of writing a letter to a white woman. The play opens up with a community viewing strange fruit hanging from a tree. We get to see the impact on the young man’s loved ones as they cope with the brutality of his death and the terror it instills. His sister Cherry cleaves to her religion while his best friend Clyde makes plans to escape the violence and Monroe.

Of the three plays The Mamalogues was the most humorous and lively. Here Thompson turns her lens onto Black single mothers with the aim of dispelling stereotypes and shedding light on issues of inter-sectionality. To this end, Thompson’s group of mature successful women hold conversations with the audience about traditional views on marriage, ageism, homosexuality, the school-to-prison pipeline, how to train your child to survive being called the N-word and other basics of “parenting while black and living in the age of anxiety”.

The common thread in all of these plays is the Black middle class. Thompson is particularly interested in the costs, as well as the benefits, of class ascension.

*If you would like to read more of George Bolden’s story, it is featured in the book Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.

My Reading Rush Journal

What was the hardest challenge you’ve ever done for a read-a-thon?

My hardest challenge was to read a book about a podcast. At that time I had not heard of any books with podcasts in them although I did enjoy listening to Serial at work. In the end I read Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski which is comprised of six episodes in the manner of Serial. Each episode tells another character’s side of the story, removing layer by layer the mystery surrounding the death of Tom Jeffries.

I have since read several books with podcasts that I enjoy.

Two sisters – one dead, one missing – and a radio personality obsessed with finding her before it is too late. Sadie was one of the best reads for me in 2018. Since reading this book I started picking up Courtney Summers other titles and I have yet to be disappointed. If you would like to listen to the podcast “The Girls” featured in the novel just click the link.


Rachel Krall is the host of “Guilty or Not Guilty” a true crime podcast that asks the listener to be the judge. Her first season ended up in a conviction reversal for a man accused of rape. Now Rachel’s attention is focused on the high profile rape case of a rising star athlete bound for the Olympics. The small town of Neapolis is divided. Half believe the teenage girl. The other half feel as if she saw is trying to bring their golden son down. Either way no one really seems to want Rachel in town. That is besides the woman who has been surreptitiously leaving her notes about a death that occurred 25 years ago.

The Night Swim was a fast paced read that delved into society’s view on rape, consent and how we judge our victims and perpetrators.

This was my first completed book for Reading Rush 2020.

My TBR – Reading Rush 2020

Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birthstone.

Although I have all of these awesome books on my physical shelf I am debating picking up a title from my NetGalley shelf as my feedback ration is hovering around 89-90%. So I might end up reading this one instead.

Ideally, my copy of Hieroglyphics will arrive so I can knock that out in time for my Blog Tour date July 31st.


Read a book that starts with the word “The”.

This is my most anticipated read of the year. I have been waiting for online classes to be over so I just sit down and marinate in it.


Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen.

This might be easiest as I have already watched the movie and have a copy of the audiobook cued up on my phone. If I listen to it on my daily walks I can count it towards two prompts. This and a book read outside of house.

OR?

I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley so if I am able to find videos of all three plays I can potentially knock out 7 ARCs during this year’s Reading Rush. Tonight I will be watching Underground.


Read the first book you touch.

This was the “first” book I requested on NetGalley on my current “Give Feedback” shelf.


Read a book completely outside of your home.

Either Blackkklansman or if I am to stick with clearing off my galley shelf I will be reading or should I say listening to Alice Feeney’s His & Hers using the new NetGalley Shelf app.


Read a book in a genre you’ve always wanted to read more of.

Besides being a horror fantasy book, Empire of Wild is the American debut of award winning author Cherie Dimaline.


Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live.

This historical fiction takes place in Paris during World War II.


I am super psyched for this year’s challenge and can’t wait to see what you guys are reading. My favorite part of Reading Rush is Twitter sprints. Hopefully I will see you all there.