Title: The Bird and the Blade
Author: Megan Bannen
Performer: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 10 hr, 17 min, 3 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Harper Audio
Review: This book surprised me. I checked it out on my OverDrive app on a whim because it was available. I gave the brief synopsis attached to it only a cursory glance, so I knew very little diving into it. Very quickly into the reading, I knew that the story sounded vaguely familiar. As I listened a bit longer, I realized that it was an adaptation of a story I had heard before. Although I had some inkling of how it would end, I was intrigued to hear the story from the point of view of a slave girl.
What immediately drew me into the story was how cleverly the author organized it. Each part of the tale peeled back a new layer, and details that had at first seemed minor carried greater significance as more back story was revealed. By the end my heart was pounding and although I knew the outcome, I was still eager to see exactly how it played out.
My favorite part about the novel was how carefully the relationships were developed. The story is told from the point of view of Jinghua, a slave girl with a mysterious past. Jinghua is plain in appearance, but others value her for her intellect and spirit. She is beautiful on the inside, if not on the outside, and her actions throughout the story reflect that.
If I were to read this book again, I would probably read it in a different format. The performer had a tendency to exaggerate the waviness of her voice during dramatic scenes. I found this distracting, so I think I would have enjoyed the story even more if I had been reading it in a physical format.
I was so impressed with this book. It is a story of loss and love and sacrifice. It contained all the elements of a great story, and it was beautifully written. It is hard for me to believe that this was a debut novel. I look forward to whatever else the author has in store.
Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: 1 Mar. 2018,Faber & Faber
Format: Print, hardcover
Review: This is a masterfully written book, and you can tell that a lot of hard work went into it, both by Michelle McNamara and by her two researchers who picked up the task after her untimely death.
Even though I grew up in the relative area of the crimes, I had never heard of the Golden State Killer prior to this year. Once the news came out about the arrest, I became interested in how someone that prolific could evade the police for so long. Thankfully, I was not alone in that; McNamara was obsessed with the case and trying to find out who the killer was. Amateur detective and novice writer, she wove an amazing tale not only of the crimes but of her own search for answers.
The book is compiled of articles she’s written previously and chapters she had mostly written before her death. Her researchers dutifully took up the task of finishing off the book, making footnotes where needed and marking where her work left off. It is a brilliant way to preserve her memory and I highly recommend reading it.
Title: Picture Us in the Light
Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert
Page Count: 361
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 10, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Review: If I could sum up this story in one word it would be heart-wrenching. Gut tightening, tear duct prickling, chest aching, I will never be the same, heart-wrenching.
The most astonishing thing about this author’s writing style is how she can touch upon extremely sensitive, hot button issues without seeming like she has any sort of political agenda. The emotions and pain she conveys through her characters is so real and so raw, you truly feel like you are glimpsing into their souls.
The ending of this story is going to haunt me, and it is almost hard to recommend this book because it demands a lot of emotional investment. In some ways, it is like watching a train wreck. You can’t stop it, you just have to watch it unfold. Just when you think the story cannot get any sadder, the author surprises you with another tragic twist. So with this one I say, read at your own risk…and with a box of tissues.
As a final note, this is coincidently the third book I have read recently that takes place near my hometown. The issues the author sheds light on are all too real and all too common. I hope this story finds itself in the hands of the right people, because it might just save a life.
Title: The Fact of a Body
Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: 3 May 2018, Pan
Format: Print, paperback
Review: This is a hard book to read but also so worthwhile. It’s not hard because of the author or anything like that; it’s hard because it’s based on the murder of a little boy and the author’s own past abuse. Marzano-Lesnevich weaves the two traumatic pasts masterfully, never focusing too much on one at a time. She details the reasons behind why she thinks Ricky Langley, pedophile and murderer, did what he did, while also coming to terms with what was done to her and the mess that leaves behind. She discusses her family and their reactions to what happened in their own home, their legal professions that led her into the same field, and the horrible loss they went through at a young age.
While reading the lead up to her own story, I knew what was about to happen to her and a surge of emotions came out. I almost couldn’t deal with it. Marzano-Lesnevich’s writing is so unique and engaging that I felt her anger and horror so acutely. I think it is important that I felt these things for her because this sort of thing happens so often and it’s horrific and disgusting and we need to do better to protect our children. Her telling her story and about the PTSD that came afterwards is incredibly brave, and we need to acknowledge this and try to stop it from happening again.
The same goes for Ricky Langley’s story. From the circumstances of his birth to his subsequent imprisonment, it is important to understand what led to his crimes.
This book is a very compelling, interesting tale of two separate people with commonalities woven into their lives. Marzano-Lesnevich’s debut work is intense, yet worth the read.
Title: One Small Thing
Author: Erin Watt
Page Count: 299
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 26, 2018 by Harlequin Teen
Review: For me, books written by Erin Watt fall under the category of guilty pleasures. I was hooked after Paper Princess and will probably read just about anything written by them, for better or for worse.
I certainly enjoyed this read, but I would not go shouting from the rooftops about it. It was better than some of their other more recent publications, and I was invested until the end, but at times it just seemed repetitive. Even so, the authors touched upon some very relevant themes.
The main character, Beth, is struggling with the loss of someone important in her life, and I think it is really admirable how the authors handle her coming to terms with that loss. The underlying message I received from the story is that everyone grieves differently and at their own pace. You should never assume you understand how someone is coping by the way their grief is outwardly manifested. This book also touches upon the damaging effects of mob mentality. People make their own assumptions about a situation and are quick to jump on the hate bandwagon driven by a few toxic people. Sadly, I think this happens all too commonly, and people are quick to mete out punishment to satisfy their own sense of self-righteousness. This prevents people from moving forward and traps them in a cycle of bitterness and pain.
Ultimately, this is a story about forgiveness, and I wish we could see more of that in real life.
Title: Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
Author: James L. Swanson
Page Count: 442
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 2007, Piatkus Books
Review: This book was thoroughly researched and extraordinarily put together. Swanson was able to detail the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the minute, putting the reader in the heart of the terror. Even though I knew what happened, and that Lincoln obviously died, my heart still pounded in my chest reading the lead up to that pivotal moment in American history.
Before I read this book, I thought I knew a good amount about the assassination. As soon as I started reading I knew I was wrong. I had a bit of knowledge about the other attempts during that night after watching a short documentary on it, but the level of detail, as mentioned before, was so astounding that I realized how much I didn’t know. Thankfully, Swanson filled in the gaps and now when I talk about it with friends (grad students have weird conversations, just… accept this), I get oddly passionate about it. Which is sad, but I’m with like-minded people who don’t judge me (too much).
Bottom line: it’s an easy read, one that flows like a novel, makes the facts easy to digest, and captures the reader from the first page. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Title: Alex, Approximately
Author: Jenn Bennett
Performer: Amy Melissa Bentley
Length: 10 hr, 4 min, 45 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2017 by Tantor Audio
Review: When I first read reviews about this book I was ecstatic. A YA novel retelling of one of my all time favorite rom coms?!! YES PLEASE. Perhaps I am at fault for building it up too much in my head, but I was rather disappointed by this adaptation. For some reason, I just really did not care for the character of Bailey, and it is hard to articulate why. Perhaps the best way I can describe it is, if I met her in real life, I do not think we would be friends. She just has one of those personalities that I find completely bland, and even as a reader, I had no desire to get to know her. The character of Porter was a bit more likable, but still a little flat. He constantly made comments to Bailey about having baggage, but when his “baggage” was revealed, it was highly anticlimactic and hardly what I would consider to be baggage at all.
Another thing to note is that I listened to this book in eAudiobook format, and I was not a fan of the performer. I personally found the voices she created for the characters to be annoying, and at times she sounded robotic, especially at the beginning of the book.
The one thing I did appreciate about this book is how the author responsibly handled the love scenes. It’s all about that consent, baby!
In summary, I didn’t love it, I didn’t like it, I didn’t hate it. If you are pining for an archenemies turned lovers plot, just save yourself some time and watch You’ve Got Mail.