Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Performers: Scott Keiji Takeda, Dan Woren, Ryan Potter, Ali Fumiko, Sophie Oda, Andrew Kishino, Christopher Naoki Lee, Grace Rolek, Erika Aishii, Brittany Ishibashi, Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa, & Terry Kitagawa
Length: 10 hr, 26 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review: Dare I say it, but in my mind this is a nearly flawless work of historical fiction. It’s been a long time since a book has made me cry (ok, maybe not that long) and this one did me in. It is SO well written, with the many POVs skillfully woven together to create a comprehensive and heartbreaking depiction of life for Japanese-Americans following the bombing at Pearl Harbor in 1941. I don’t think the treatment of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during the years following this tragic event is talked about nearly enough. It is one of the most shameful periods in American history and the rippling effects have repercussions that follow us into the present. Chee’s ability to so poignantly capture the betrayal, heartache, courage, love, and resilience demonstrated by the youth of that era is masterful, and if this book does not receive a shower of awards and accolades it will be a damn shame. I am so impressed with the way she created fourteen distinct voices that captured so many different elements of the time period and included so many different settings, all while keeping the many characters tied together. A truly phenomenal piece of work in every respect.
I would also like to note that the audiobook version is very well cast. Kudos to all the performers for bringing this story to life!
Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Author: Frank Herbert
Page Count: 694
Series: Dune Chronicles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 25, 2016 by Penguin Group (first published in June 1965)
Review: Well if Lonesome Dove is my Western genre comparison to A Game of Thrones, Dune is my science fiction comparison. It’s a long epic about shifting allegiances, dynamic power plays, violence, and unexpected deaths. Admittedly this book moved up my TBR list because of the upcoming film adaptation starring my boy Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho. I haven’t watched any other film adaptations, so I look forward to seeing how this story plays out on the big screen.
Aside from that, this book confirmed a suspicion about myself that I have theorized about but not really tested…hardcore science fiction and/or space operas are not really my jam. My lukewarm feelings about both The Left Hand of Darkness and this book have confirmed it. Of course this isn’t to say that I will never again delve into this literary realm…it’s just that it seems I prefer my science fiction to have a little more fantasy woven into it.
I was not a huge fan of Herbert’s writing style, but I do have to give him credit for his world building skills. The Appendices at the end of the book were helpful because there are many characters, planets, and legends to keep track of. I recommend glancing through it periodically as you read the book for clarity and context.
Title: Normal People
Author: Sally Rooney
Performer: Aoife McMahon
Length: 7 hr, 34 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Random House Audio
Review: This is a very different romance than the one I last reviewed, but I enjoyed it just as much in different ways. There are so many layers to this story and the relationship it portrays. The magnetism between the two characters in palpable, and it is fascinating how they orbit in and out of each other’s lives. Connell and Marianne are soulmates, but both are so damaged and have so much self-loathing that neither of them can really see it, even as they act on it. To say their relationship is complicated is a vast understatement because there is so much nuance to their every interaction. They show each other parts of themselves that they show no one else, while at the same time shutting each other out from the aspects of themselves that they freely give other people. At the end, I was left with the sense that despite their tumultuous history, they will always find their way back to each other. I found this satisfying in a way, even as it left me feeling slightly bereft.
Title: The Intimacy Experiment
Author: Rosie Danan
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 6, 2021 by Berkley Books
Review: All. The. Feeeeelz. This is the romance I didn’t know I needed after reading The Roommate (which I also thoroughly enjoyed). And darn it, Rosie, if you didn’t make me fall in love with these characters. This romance has a refreshingly wholesome quality given the fact it is about a red hot relationship between a former porn star and a rabbi. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have it’s fair share of smut, but it is really more about all the ways intimacy is more than just sex. This book also tackles a lot of the social issues touched upon in The Roommate, and shows them from another angle.
Well done, Rosie. A truly exhilarating romance all around. I hope to read more from you.
Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Swoon Reads
Review: This was a unique coming-of-age novel with a very diverse cast of characters. My favorite elements of the book were the rich descriptions of Dia de Muertos traditions and the relationship between Julian and Yadriel. The romance that developed between Julian and Yadriel felt very organic, and served as a great mechanism for character development. I also loved the paranormal spin to the story, with Julian being a ghost, and thought that overall it was very creative.
My biggest qualm about the book was the very cliché villain reveal at the end. I had hoped my predictions were wrong and that the author would surprise me, but unfortunately this was not the case. The ending also wrapped up a little too nicely in my opinion, especially given how dark a lot of the content was following the climax of the story.