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.
Title: Cilka’s Journey
Author: Heather Morris
Page Count: 352
Series: The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Book 2
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 1, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press
Review: I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Heather Morris would be publishing a book about Cilka. Like many other readers, I was intrigued by her character and utterly heartbroken by her unjust sentencing after the horror of the concentration camps. It did not feel right leaving her story untold, and I am glad that the author felt the same way.
This book reads so smoothly that I flew through it over the course of a couple days. Morris has an incredible way of writing that evokes such strong emotion while still being incredibly straightforward. I actually found that I enjoyed this book even more than The Tattooist of Auschwitz because it covers a topic in history that I know almost nothing about. I have read many books about the Holocaust, but I have never read one about the work camps in Russia. I was appalled that these camps operated for decades in terrible and dangerous conditions completely unchecked. It is staggering how many people were sentenced to these camps and how many of them died.
Cilka was an incredibly brave and resilient woman to have survived both camps. I would have very much liked to meet her, and it makes me happy to know that the legacy of her extraordinary life will live on through this book.
Title: Across a Broken Shore
Author: Amy Trueblood
Page Count: 360
Publishing Date/Publisher: November 5th 2019 by Flux
Review: The setting for this book was lovely, but I found the plot to be painfully slow and I did not find any characters to be particularly compelling. This falls into the rare category of books that I did not finish (I stopped at 42% completion).
Title: Lonesome Dove
Author: Larry McMurtry
Page Count: 858
Series: Lonesome Dove, Book 1 (Book 3 chronologically)
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 15, 2010 by Simon Schuster (originally published 1985)
Review: This book was a slow burn for me. I didn’t love it at first, but somewhere in the middle I started to. I would caution readers, however, that this is essentially the Western equivalent of Game of Thrones. If you cannot stomach violence, abuse, and sudden death, this is not the book for you. It felt like every time I would grow a deep attachment to a character, they would die in some horrific way. What I really enjoyed about this book though is how well the author interconnected all the characters at some point in the novel. His writing had a very satirical tone, and he really brings to light the fickleness and folly of human nature. Everyone is driven by something, and in such a gritty world, many are driven by basic human need – food, water, sex, and companionship. Some characters have more complex motivators, but in the end, you are left with a sense that their efforts were all for naught. It is frustrating and fascinating at the same time.
I found the ending of this book to be a bit perplexing. I was satisfied by the ending in one sense, but I tend to like books that have a definitive end. This book seemed to cut off in the middle of a conversation between two characters. It was an interesting choice, and I wonder why the author chose to end it in this way. Nevertheless, it is easy for me to see why this book is revered as a classic and considered a cornerstone of the genre.
Title: Blood and Sand
Author: C.V. Wyk
Performer: Brittany Pressley
Length: 8 hr, 58 min, 58 sec
Series: Blood and Sand, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Young Listeners
Review: I really enjoyed the first half of this book because I thought the author did a great job introducing the time period, setting, and characters. The second half of the book is where she started to lose me. I would say that this book is more strongly categorized as historical fiction rather than fantasy. I typically enjoy both genres immensely, but I hesitate to even call this fantasy. It’s more like unrealistic historical fiction. The only thing that could qualify this series as fantasy was how preposterous the fight scenes were in the second half of the book. One scene in particular, the most pivotal in terms of driving the direction of the story, was a monumental disappointment because quite frankly it made no sense. The fallout of this particular scene was equally disappointing. A lot gets thrown at you at the end, and the puzzle pieces just fit together too perfectly to be realistic.
All criticisms aside, I think that Wyk is a talented writer and I enjoyed enough things about this book to continue with the series when the next book is published.
Finally, I thought the reader for this eAudiobook had a nice voice, but in my opinion wasn’t well suited for this particular book. I’ve heard her narrate other books and liked those performances far more than I did this one. Perhaps this is because I did not care for the character voices and accents she chose for some of the main characters, particularly Attia.