Five Favorite: Narrative Nonfiction Podcasts

I basically only listen to podcasts, and long-form nonfiction are some of my favorites. (Yet I don’t listen to audiobooks? 🤔) Below are four of my absolute favorites, and one* I can’t wait to start!

The Dream: Host Jane Marie dives into the world of pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and all the other businesses that require their members to recruit their nearest and dearest in hopes of a commission. Join her as she traces the path of get-rich schemes, from her roots in rural Michigan all the way to the White House.

Monster*: This true crime podcast tells the story of one of the city’s darkest secrets, the Atlanta Child Murders, nearly 40 years later. Host Payne Lindsey aims to find truth and provide closure, reexamining the disappearance and murder of over 25 African American children and young adults. Season two focuses on the Zodiac killer.

Serial: Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story — a true story — over the course of a season. Season one focuses on the murder of Hae Min Lee, season two on political prisoner Bowe Bergdahl, and season three on the justice system of Cleveland, OH.

Slow Burn: Even recent history is rich with surprising subplots, strange details, and forgotten characters. On Slow Burn, Leon Neyfakh excavates recent political history and finds surprising parallels to the present. Season one focuses on Watergate and season two on Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Standoff: In 1992, hundreds of armed federal agents surrounded a family of white separatists in a ramshackle mountaintop cabin. Eleven days later, three people were dead—and the story of Ruby Ridge was just beginning. Journalist Ruth Graham explores a tragedy that’s become a foundational myth for the modern right, and finds some frightening lessons about power and paranoia. 

Do you have your own favorite narrative nonfiction podcasts? Let me know! To see previous topics, click here.

Review: Not That Bad by Roxane Gay

Title: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture
Author: Roxane Gay
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, this anthology of first-person essays tackles rape, assault, and harassment head-on to address what it means to live in a world where individuals have to measure the violence and aggression they face. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, this collection is heartbreaking and searingly candid, reflecting the world we live in while offering a call to arms to insist that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.


The essays in Not That Bad were difficult to read—mainly because I could do nothing but listen and stew and sigh in recognition—and I often found myself waiting days before picking back up. (Reading the book while also watching season one of 13 Reasons Why made that week… rough.) Twenty-nine writers are featured, and their stories feel both overwhelming and not enough. The pain and anger and sadness and shame and guilt and frustration contained is suffocating and endless… and then mere routine, just another example of why this book is needed in the first place. Almost everyone who contributed to the collection believes that whatever happened could have been worse, that their experience wasn’t that bad comparatively.

Because catcalling is not that bad when it could have been harassment.

Because harassment is not that bad when it could have been assault.

Because assault is not that bad when it could have been rape.

Because rape is not that bad when it could have been death.

But the onus of stopping this swift glide from words to action shouldn’t rest on those who experience the trauma that Not That Bad contains. If we—as both readers and potentially witnesses to such behavior—don’t allow victims to acknowledge that what happened to them was the worst that could, will we have to have this same conversation over and over again?

Maybe it’s good that I was forced to only listen, because it made me feel strongly that something can be that bad. There is no guide against which to measure; all grief is justified, all anger appropriate. I think it’s the very (very) least I can offer.

Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: Sign-Up Post

I am so very excited to officially sign up for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge, hosted by CW at The Quiet Pond (who also made all of the lovely graphics), Lily at Sprinkles of Dreams, Shealea at Shut up Shealea, and Vicky at Vicky Who Reads!

This year, I’m aiming for the Philippine tarsier level (1-10 books) because I am a molasses-slow reader.

I’ll be updating a challenge page throughout the year with my progress as well as tagging any appropriate reviews.

Happy reading, y’all!

Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Title: On the Come Up
Author: Angie Thomas
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to. On the Come Up is the story of fighting for your dreams even as the odds are stacked against you, of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be, and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.


I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to On the Come Up, I can’t speak to how it compares to The Hate U Give (because I haven’t yet read that), and I don’t really know what I expected from an Angie Thomas book aside from being brilliant and heart-wrenching. But I work at a library and, when our copy came in two weeks before publication, I felt like it would be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to read it given the opportunity. But y’all, On the Come Up was a nuanced, heartfelt portrait of a young woman desperate to achieve her dream, and all the ways in which she tries and fails and is tested in her attempt. And I am so, so glad I read it.

The plot cycles around main character Bri and her desire to “make it” as a rapper like her deceased father—but on her own terms and in her own way. She felt real to me, which I know is literally the most cliched thing you can say about a character, but it’s true. Maybe I’m not a Bri or count one in my circle of friends, but she’s out there, ducking and weaving against every obstacle thrown in her path. At points, Bri is asked to understand the world the way an adult does, her attention straying to how she can pay her family’s bills or persuade school administrators to change policies. And my heart ached for her being thrust into adulthood before she was ready, how I wanted her to be given the chance to just be a teenager and only care about inconsequential bullshit.

Thomas expertly wove drug addiction, poverty, police violence, and race into the plot without it veering into a Saturday Morning Special territory, and you acutely feel for not just Bri but also her extended family. Her mother, who is raising two kids as a single parent and dealing with staying sober and being forced to choose between food or rent. Her brother, who graduated with honors from college but can only find a job that pays minimum wage. Her aunt, who inexpertly balances Bri’s adoration while also being a drug-dealing gang member. Her friends, who have to confront racial profiling and homophobia along with their extra-curricular activities.

I know that On the Come Up will be looked at as a spiritual sequel to The Hate U Give, but that’s a shame. It’s an engaging and well-written novel that just happens to also be about a black girl—but it’s so much more than that, too. Bri has wants and goals and makes mistakes and fails, but her story is also about hope and family and first love and pursuing one’s dreams. YA literature needs more diverse voices in its canon, and On the Come Up is just one of many books to showcase why; not everyone will relate to Bri, but that doesn’t mean we as readers shouldn’t try. I mean, Bri says it herself: “One day I want people to look at me and say, ‘Despite the fact this girl lost her father to gun violence, had a drug addict for a mom, and is technically a ghetto statistic, she’s Brianna Goddamn Jackson, and she’s done some amazing shit.'” ✊

Top Ten: Romantic Couples

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was my favorite (romantic) couples in books.😍

Diana & Matthew from A Discovery of Witches // Elle & Darien from Geekerella // Emerson & Michael from Hourglass // Cathy & Hank from I Went to Vassar for This? // Rey & Ben from The Last Jedi

Molly & Kyle from Lip Lock // Tess & Gus from Miss You // Nik & Carlos from The Proposal // Bex & Nick from The Royal We // Lydia & John from The Witch of Willow Hall

Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Title: On a Sunbeam
Author: Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★
Summary: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken structures, painstakingly putting the past together. Two girls meet in boarding school and fall deeply in love, only to learn the pain of loss. With two interwoven timelines and stunning art, On a Sunbeam showcases an inventive world, breathtaking romance, and an epic quest for love.


On a Sunbeam was a fantastic coming-of-age lesbian romance sandwiched between stunning artwork, but I got so lost trying to figure out how things were happening that I couldn’t fully appreciate the story. The main character, Mia, has a soft and sweet relationship with Grace, a new student at her boarding school, but then, five years later, she’s part of an all-female crew planet-hopping through space to restore crumbling architecture. Cool! But like… where does this book take place? A teacher mentions interplanetary colonization (“there was a large movement of young people to the rural fields area around Jupiter in the early ’50s”) but is it our Jupiter? Which “50s”? Is this the future or an alternate timeline? Does Earth exist? Are they living on it right now?

One of the best parts of the book is how natural and easy the f/f pairings are. Practically everyone we meet is female, and any disparaging comments made about Mia and Grace’s relationship happen because of regular ‘ole teenage bullying instead of their gender. Feminine pronouns are explicitly used save for one character, Elliot, who is non-binary using they/them pronouns. So the gender binary exists… but not men? Like, do men just not exist in this story or do they not exist in this world? Characters use terms like girlfriend, mother, sister, and aunt but do they know that they’re using gendered pronouns? If yes, why enforce the dichotomy by having Elliot break it?

I know that most readers absolutely adored this story, but being thrown into a fantasy world with little to no explanation just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t help but question everything–which I knew was taking away from my own enjoyment, but my mind wouldn’t quit. Like, why are the spaceships shaped like fish? How do the buildings float and keep their inhabitants alive? What the heck does Mia learn in her boarding school? Cellphones exist but I guess not email or the internet? Mia literally “want[s] to infiltrate one of the most deadly and secluded areas of space… to talk to” Grace but she can’t, I don’t know, look her up somewhere???

What I thought about doing once I’d finished.

Walden’s illustrations were seriously gorgeous, with even the coloring contributing to the narrative, but I didn’t even have the patience to stare at the background details because I remained confused for literally the entire novel. My focus drifted among characters who looked the same and gave important backstory through quick dialogue. By the end, though, I was quickly flipping pages, hoping that maybe the next one would give me some clarity. (Spoiler: it never did.)

Top Ten: New Releases I’m on the Fence About

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was new releases I’m on the fence about. Since I couldn’t quite think of ten, I included two new TV shows as well! 

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson // Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi // Ghosted by Rosie Walsh // Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite // 99 Perfect Mine by Sally Thorne // The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston // There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Killing Eve // You