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.
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.