Title: A Violet Fire
Author: Kelsey Quick
Page Count: Unknown
Series: Vampire in Avignon
Publishing Date/Publisher: December 9, 2019 by Kelsey Quick
Review: I typically do not have high expectations for self-published books, but this one surprised me. I found it to be an easy read, and I enjoyed the concept of living vampires. I also enjoyed that humans could not be simply be turned into vampires. They could in theory make offspring with vampires, but they were genetically different enough that a human could not become one.
In some ways this book follows the typical tropes of paranormal romances, but it was different enough that the story kept me engaged. I felt that the weakest aspect of the story was the development of the central romance. It’s not insta-love, but not a lot of dialogue is shown between the two characters to help the reader understand the relationship. The reader is aware that time is passing, but aside from a first interaction and a final interaction, there isn’t much substance in between to make the relationship feel real. In fact, when the final twist is revealed, I was not at all affected because I was not made to be invested in the relationship in the first place.
I will say, however, that I liked the direction the story was moving in, and I would most certainly continue reading the series if it were to become available to me.
Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Page Count: 416
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 8, 2019 by Wednesday Books
Review: This book has been likened to the Handmaid’s Tale, and I would say that is fairly accurate. Liggett took a page from Atwood’s handbook and created a world ruled by men who will do everything in their power to subjugate women. It was bloody, it was brutal, and it was ripe with misogyny. In this society, young women are blamed for their sexuality and are sent to a special camp to “burn off their magic.” Rather than band together, the girls are torn apart by jealousy and girl on girl cruelty.
My biggest issue with this book is the lack of world building. The reader is simply dropped into an insular society of undetermined size that is using a story from the Bible to justify the dehumanization of women. The society is very primitive, and it is unclear to me how this dystopian society came into existence. I generally like some context for dystopian novels, so I had great difficulty buying the setting.
I think this book has the potential to garner some popularity because there are still many readers who love dystopian fiction, but I do not think it does anything new to revolutionize the genre.
Title: What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 23, 2020 by Wednesday Books
Review: This book tackles a very difficult topic: human trafficking. The book felt very well-researched, and it goes into a lot of detail about how young women (and men) are groomed and eventually coerced into sexual slavery. What I liked about this book is that this process is shown through what happens to Lex, rather than the author simply explaining it. It can be difficult to understand why people fall into these traps, but when you see it happening in the story, it becomes abundantly clear how easy it is. Anyone is susceptible to this sort of coercion, and it is very insidious how these pimps lure youth into a life of prostitution.
Lex is a deeply scarred character, both physically and emotionally, and my heart broke for her so many times. The topic of human trafficking in the United States is not widely addressed in YA literature, although I think it should be. It is unfortunately more common than people realize, and could be very well happening in their own backyard, so to speak. Other things happen in this book that demonstrate the lack of education in regards to this topic, and the ignorance of people who choose to look at forced prostitution as a choice. This book is largely about Lex accepting her self-worth, healing, creating personal boundaries, reclaiming her sexuality, and recognizing what makes healthy relationships. At the start of the story, she is broken and recovering from addiction, but by the end, she is learning how to build herself back up and how to stand up to her abusers. It is a painful and beautiful story, and I hope to see more like it in the future.
Title: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
Author: Laura Ruby
Performer: Lisa Flanagan
Length: 9 hr
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Balzar + Bray
Review: I had great expectations for this book, because I really loved Bone Gap. Ruby does a great job with magical realism, and this book is no exception; however, I found this book to be a bit too meandering for my liking. It follows two characters, one alive and one deceased, and oftentimes there really doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the plot. It jumps from one story to another, with the reader occasionally getting a glimpse of the past. The deceased character, Pearl, is fascinated by Frankie’s life although it isn’t really clear to me why. Pearl isn’t sure why she hasn’t ascended, and there isn’t any real resolution to this (in my opinion). Secrets are revealed, but they didn’t blow my mind because there was no anticipation built up around them. I wasn’t bored listening to this audiobook, but I also wasn’t chomping at the bit to get back to it. It was a nice snapshot of the time period, but overall a very average read for me.
On an entirely different note, I loved the title of this book, loved the cover, and I thought the reader did a great job.
Title: Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician
Author: Michelle Williams
Page Count: N/A
Publishing Date/Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review: The dead deserve respect, and this author says as much, and then promptly calls the body of an obese person a ‘monstrosity’ and then writes a whole chapter about all the laughs they got out of a man who died while dressed as a woman. Absolutely unacceptable. It also serves no purpose in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t teach anyone anything and it’s basically just the sticky-note version of what happens in a morgue. I couldn’t finish this book, nor do I want to, and I wouldn’t recommend to to anyone. That half star is me being generous.
Title: The Downstairs Girl
Author: Stacey Lee
Performer: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 10 hr, 27 min, 24 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Tantor Audio
Review: A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine. I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books. Chinese Americans are one such group. Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.” Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group. This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.
This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic. Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect. I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her. Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.
Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book. I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.
Author: Madeline Miller
Page Count: 393
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 10, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Review: Lyrical and enchanting, this book had me enthralled from the very first page. Very little attention is given to the witch Circe in most mythological tales, but Miller creates a backstory that is humanizing and utterly unforgettable. In this rendering, Circe is not a predatory monster, but rather a woman driven by her passions and yearnings. She refuses to be a victim and takes ownership of her own trauma and pain, weaving it into a tapestry of strength and love. She and she alone controls her destiny.
When I finally turned the last page and closed this book, I was filled with such a feeling of completeness. Although the year is not quite at an end, I can say with confidence that this is by far my favorite read of 2019.