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.
Title: The Court of Miracles
Author: Kester Grant
Page Count: 464
Series: A Court of Miracles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 2, 2020
Review: I have never been a huge fan of Les Misérables. True to it’s name, it is both lengthy and wildly depressing. I am also not a big fan of musicals so that form of adaptation never interested me. Nevertheless, the synopsis for this book piqued my interest. Eponine? As a cat burglar? Ok! If I had to pick one character I would like to see a retelling for, it would be Eponine, so I requested this ARC with very few expectations. Perhaps this is sometimes the best way to approach books, because when they actually blow you away, it is a very pleasant surprise.
This book was FANTASTIC. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed it. The plot, the character development, everything about it felt fresh, despite the fact it is an adaptation/retelling of a classic and well-known novel. Eponine was a character you could not help but root for, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series. The one bummer about reading ARCs that you love is that you have to wait a very long time for the next one. Even so, I like the way the author ended this book. Some story lines were wrapped up, while others were simultaneously opened. This left me finishing the book feeling both satisfied and chomping at the bit for more. A pleasant combination.
Title: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Author: Patrick Radden Keefe
Page Count: 445
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019/Doubleday
Review: This was beautifully written and researched. Not being from Ireland, I’ve never had a full understanding of the Troubles and what happened during that time between the Catholics and the Protestants (or Republicans and Loyalists). It dives deep into the history of the IRA and their crimes and motives. It gives a human side to it, detailing the lives of the people involved and their trials, convictions, time in prison, all of that. It talks about how Gerry Adams went from the head of the IRA to the head of a political party and his time as a political prisoner.
It was a very fascinating book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this part of Irish history.
Title: A Secret Life: The Lies and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland
Author: Charles Lachman
Performer: Joe Barrett
Length: 12h 24m
Publishing Date/Publisher: Feb 8, 2013/Skyhorse Publishing
Review: This can really be summed up as follows:
Grover Cleveland- bad
I knew going into my presidential reading list that Grover Cleveland was a horrible man and I refused to read (or listen to) a book that applauds his time as president and governor, so I picked a book that deals specifically with the most horrendous moments of his life. Before he ran for public office, he sexually assaulted a woman, who then became pregnant. He kidnapped the boy (multiple times), gave him to his friends to raise, publicly humiliated the woman, and tried to get her committed to an asylum. This book dives into all the horrid details and describes the history behind why Maria Halpin would not have felt comfortable coming forward with her story.
If you, like me, are trying to read a book about every president, I recommend reading this one, as it doesn’t heap praise upon a man who is undeserving of it.
Title: City of Flickering Light
Author: Juliette Fay
Page Count: 400
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 16, 2019 by Gallery Books
Review: Interestingly, this book addresses very similar themes to another book I read recently, City of Girls. This book is, however, much better in my personal opinion. Though these characters are also flawed, I found them to be much more likeable than any of the characters in City of Girls. It is hard for me on a personal level to understand the allure of the film industry, but it was fascinating to get a historical view of the glitz, glamour, and seediness of early Hollywood. I also think this is a very timely novel, as it addresses the topic of sexual abuse and manipulation within the industry. Despite it’s heavier content, this book is ultimately a book about unconditional friendship and the transforming power of love. I especially enjoyed the character of steadfast Irene, and her relationship with naïve but charming Millie. Overall it was an uplifting read.
Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Page Count: 470
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 4, 2019 by Riverhead
Review: This was a firm 3 star read for me. In other words, I liked it, but I did not love it. This book is billed as a “love story,” however, I would hardly consider it a romance. In fact, I wouldn’t even tag it as romance. In a lot of ways this story reminded me of the TV series How I Met Your Mother. Vivian, our protagonist, is writing the story to Angela, the daughter of her deceased love. Angela has reached out to Vivian to ask about the nature of her relationship with her father and Vivian answers in a very prolonged and roundabout way. She includes many details that are of no relevance to how she met Angela’s father. For the most part, I found Vivian to be a rather unlikeable character, at least for about 60% of the book. Life circumstances make her grow as a character, but I never truly became endeared to her. The last 25% of the book was by far the most enjoyable part of the story, but after all the build up to meeting Vivian’s father, I was a bit disappointed with how little page time he actually got. So as I said, this wasn’t really a love story, but a story about Vivian. This is not to say that the book made no impression on me whatsoever. Gilbert is undeniably a gifted writer and there were enough things I liked about the book to keep reading it. For one thing, I was extremely envious of Vivian’s skill with a sewing machine, and I almost want to take a sewing class as a result. I was fascinated by the way she talked about fabric and clothing and design. This book also had a lot of really good one liners sprinkled throughout and some very memorable characters, such as Aunt Peg. It was enough to keep me moving through the book at a steady pace, and certainly enough to inspire me to finish it. This book certainly has it’s share of scandal, but it’s not particularly graphic, and it really tackles the double standard that men and women are held to when it comes to sexuality.
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: 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.