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.
Title: Then She Was Gone
Author: Lisa Jewell
Performer: Helen Duff
Length: 10 hr, 13 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Dreamscape Media
Review: Stylistically, this book was very similar to a Liane Moriarty book (one of my all-time favorite writers). In fact, even the reader of this book had a very similar voice to the woman who performs most (if not all) of Liane Moriarty’s audiobooks. The major difference between these two authors, however, is I think Jewell reveals too much too early in her story. A huge part of what makes Liane Moriarty’s books so fantastic is her perfect timing in making big reveals. She also usually hangs onto a big plot twist to blow your mind at the end. Jewell does not quite have the same finesse with her plot twists, and for the most part I was able to predict each plot twist well before it was actually revealed. I think perhaps this could have been avoided if Jewell had arranged her content differently. I was also not a big fan of the ending. It bothers me when endings are tied up in a way that feels inauthentic, and unfortunately this book had one of those endings.
Despite the ways this book fell short for me as a reader, I still enjoyed it and would consider reading other books by this author.