Title: Deathless Divide
Author: Justina Ireland
Performers: Bahni Turpin & Jordan Cobb
Length: 14 hr, 34 min
Series: Dread Nation, Book 2
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 4, 2020 by HarperAudio
Review: Dare I say it, I might like the sequel even better than the first book. Considering how impressed I was by Dread Nation, that is high praise. I really loved the dark direction Jane’s story goes in, and we get to know Katherine on a deeper level. In the first book, I felt giving it an LGBT+ label was a bit of a stretch, but after reading this book I have amended my opinion. The romantic relationships, however, are not the focus of this story, at least not in the way you would expect. It is a story of revenge, justice, friendship and women who kick butt – both dead and alive. I personally loved it and was a little sad to learn that this is a duology, not a trilogy. It did have a satisfying ending though, so I can’t complain too much. It was a very creative combination of science fiction, history, and horror.
I highly recommend that readers listen to it in audiobook format.
Rating: 5 Stars
Title: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Page Count: 309
Series: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 7, 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Review: I first want to start off by saying that the history this book is based on is absolutely fascinating. I had heard of the blue people of Kentucky, but I had never really looked into them too extensively. I had not heard of the Pack Horse Library Project, so that was particularly fascinating to learn about. The author combined the two histories in a unique way that I could appreciate. The story held my interest for the most part, but I would not describe it as unputdownable. Although there is a great deal of conflict spread throughout the story, it oddly doesn’t feel like it. Some of the resolutions felt too tidy, and some traumas are moved past altogether too quickly. I also did not understand the romantic angle. It was clear from the moment a handsome bachelor was introduced that he would become Cussy’s love interest, but there was no relationship building leading up to the professions of love. They actually interact hardly at all throughout the whole story and his easy acceptance of her unusual skin color from their very first encounter did not make a lot of sense in the context of the story. Blue people were reviled and exiled by the community that he grew up in, so you would think that there would be a little social conditioning he would need to shed in order to develop a romantic relationship with her. A lot of readers loved this book, but there was just something missing for me that prevents me from rating it over 3 stars. It is very possible I just did not really connect with the author’s style of storytelling. There is an overall lack of character development, which is something I place a lot of value on as a reader.
Rating: 3 Stars
Title: A Sitting in St. James
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Performer: Machelle Williams
Length: 13 hr, 21 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 25, 2021 by HarperAudio
Review: I admit, when I started this book I was unenthused about it. I would never have picked it up based on it’s description or cover, but it was on a reading list for a committee I am on, so I checked it out anyway. Let me tell you, this book impressed me more than any historical fiction novel I have read in years. It achieved a perfect balance of light tone with dark subject matter that left you feeling the whole gambit of emotion…horror, anxiety, hope, anticipation, shock, and mirth. One minute I would be experiencing stomach churning disgust and the next I would be laughing out loud. This author truly has a gift for writing complex characters. Sometimes you want to root for them, and sometimes you despise them. Be prepared for depictions of abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual) and brutal violence. These are not themes to be glossed over during this era of slavery. Cruelty is so intrinsic to the culture that the character’s appear to operate by an entirely different moral compass. Relationships are twisted and shaped by atrocities committed, both large and small.
A truly illuminating read and one that will make you think deeply about the dark corners of our past. Also, do yourself a favor and listen to it in audiobook format. The reader was phenomenal.
Rating: 5 Stars
Title: She Who Became the Sun
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Page Count: 416
Series: The Radiant Emperor
Publishing Date/Publisher: July 20, 2021/Tor Books
This was a highly anticipated book for a lot of readers and reviewers, and it did not disappoint. It is advertised as Mulan meets Song of Achilles, and even knowing that did nothing to prepare me for exactly what this book contains.
Full of morally grey characters whose fates and desires are interwoven, this book had me hooked form the start. I was thinking about it any time I had to put it down and found myself reading slowly so I could savor it.
Title: Luck of the Titanic
Author: Stacey Lee
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 4, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Review: I really enjoyed Lee’s The Downstairs Girl, so I was surprised by how little I enjoyed this book. The heroine, Val, felt like a regurgitation of Jo in a different setting. Not a whole lot actually happens in this book until the end, and her charade as the Merry Widow seems highly implausible throughout. There are a bunch of jumbled subplots that don’t add much to the story overall, and the relationship building between characters fell flat for me. I appreciate what Lee is trying to do with this novel, but the slow pacing and convoluted storyline made it hard to get through.
Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Page Count: 401
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 13, 2017/Atria Books
This book completely broke me. I was crying at two in the morning while I finished the book, it was just so good and beautiful and well written.
It addresses some very important issues: racial prejudice, domestic abuse, homophobia, and what it was like to be an LGBTQ+ person in a historical setting. And from my own perspective, I think it was handled very well.
I typically don’t like books with multiple first person POVs, I think it gets complicated and messy and rarely works well (multiple third person POVs are great, though), however I think this worked really well in The Seven Husbands because it is as if we are reading Monique’s book in the chapters that we are in Evelyn’s perspective, or even just listening to her through the tapes or sitting down to the interview and hearing her story.
It was compelling, heartbreaking, and profound. So when I say ‘it broke me’, I mean that in the best possible way. I highly recommend it, but be sure to have some tissues handy.
Title: Rebel Daughter
Author: Lori Banov Kaufmann
Performer: Ellen Archer
Length: 10 hr, 32 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 9, 2021 by Listening Library
Review: I checked out this eAudiobook from the library primarily because I love reading about this time period in history. It’s a fictional story, but the author based much of it off of real historical events and people. It is meticulously researched, and I really appreciated the author’s note at the end that explains many of her creative choices.
Now to the story itself. I found the whole plot to be rather dry. I’m not sure if it was the characters or the author’s writing style that didn’t really appeal to me. Perhaps I compare it too much to other books I have read and enjoyed based in this time period, but I just didn’t find any aspect of it to be especially compelling. I do, however, think the right reader would really enjoy it, so I will keep it in my back pocket as a possible book recommendation.
Title: Chain of Gold
Author: Cassandra Clare
Page Count: 672
Series: The Last Hours, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 3, 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Review: The more I read books by Cassandra Clare, the more I draw similarities between her style and the style of Sarah J. Maas. Both write sagas with lengthy tomes that are riddled with relationship angst. Both have predictable plot formulas they follow, and they always manage to pair off nearly every character into a romantic relationship. Clare in particular really has a penchant for relationship triangles and drama, and it seems that she repackages her storylines with different characters and settings. Despite this, I find some comfort in knowing what I am getting into when I pick up one of her books, and I often find myself enjoying them. In some ways it is just mindlessly pleasant reading. The Shadowhunter world is very engrossing, regardless of how many different ways the same story is presented to me. I find that in general I like her historical fiction series more than her contemporary ones. I don’t know how historically accurate her settings are, but the afterword in this book implies that she does put a little research into her craft. I’ll definitely keep reading when the next book is published, if only because the covers in this series are so dang gorgeous.
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: The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh
Author: Candace Fleming
Performer: Kirsten Potter
Length: 9 hr, 41 min, 36 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by Listening Library
Review: This was a difficult book to rate because it was very well written, organized, and researched, but I did not care for the story at all. If I had rated it for the former rather than the latter, this book would have received a much higher rating from me.
This was another committee book assigned for the Mock Printz at work, so I felt compelled to finish it despite the fact I was very bored nearly the entire way through. Charles Lindbergh was a pretentious, controlling, and manipulative human being that I could have gone my whole life without knowing about. I would catalog this in adult fiction, so I am not even sure why it is being considered by my committee. I did my due diligence, however, and finished it before passing judgement. I’m glad to be done with it, and look forward to moving on to the next book on my TBR list.
Kirsten Potter was a great performer, and I do not hold the story of this man against her.