Performer: Cara Gee, Nicole Lewis, Kaipo Schwab, & Shaun Taylor-Corbett
Length: 12 hr 47 min
Series: Between Earth and Sky, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 13, 2020
Review: I was intrigued by the synopsis of this book, and it really lived up to my expectations. Set in a lush world inspired by the early civilizations of the Americas, this is a story rich in mythology, culture, and magic. All of the characters were mostly interesting, but I was quite taken by Xiala and Serapio, especially once their stories intersected. In my opinion the story was really about them. The rest of the POVs felt more like periphery characters, particularly Okoa. He had relatively little page time, and I think his perspective could have been removed without damaging the story. Naranpa, the Sun Priestess, had more depth and her importance to the plot was more clearly defined, but I still did not connect with her the same way that I did with Xiala and Serapio. She became infinitely more interesting once more of her backstory was revealed, but by then the book was almost finished.
Although the journeys leading to the story’s climax were fascinating, the climax itself was rather…anticlimactic. As a reader, it became apparent to me a little too early on how things would go down when Serapio made his prophesied return to his mother’s homeland on the day of convergence. The actual ending was rather abrupt and wasn’t really the cliffhanger I was expecting. When I read the synopsis for the next book in the series, I was confused, because it contains the revelations I would have expected to read at the end of the first book. That aside, I think the stage has been set for some great character arcs and I look forward to jumping back in where the story left off.
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 4, 2022 by Listening Library
Review: The imaginative world that was introduced in this series was a real joy to immerse myself in. So rich in color (literally) and built upon a fascinating magic system. We see many of the stereotypical things associated with wizardry & witchcraft, but they are modified with their own creative spin. For example, the flying brooms….loved what Swift did there. There were certain aspects of the story that seemed a little far fetched, (i.e. why would her future father-in-law be ok with Aadra putting herself in dangerous situations on the reg??), but I was willing to overlook those little details because I enjoyed the rest of the story so much. The “enemies” to lovers and mistaken identity tropes are executed well and the spark between the two characters is fun to watch ignite (can’t help the puns).
The two readers were excellent for the eAudiobook. Priya in particular I could listen to all day. I was eager to start the second book in the duology.
Rating: 4 Stars
Title: Bound by Firelight
Author: Dana Swift
Performers: Priya Ayyar & Assaf Cohen
Length: 11 hr, 14 min
Series: Wickery, Book 2
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 18, 2022 by Listening Library
Review: This sequel did not quite carry the momentum of the first book, but I still enjoyed it. Aadra and Jatin get almost no page time together, and a new character is introduced in Jatin’s POV that I don’t feel was particularly well-written. In fact, I don’t even really understand why the addition of this character was necessary. She added almost nothing of value to the story and the relationships between her and the other characters were confusing.
Aadra’s storyline had potential that I don’t think was fully realized. Her friendship with her cell mate was interesting, and I loved the incorporation of sign language. I don’t think I have ever seen signing described in a fantasy novel like this before, or ever really.
This book wasn’t as tightly written or fast paced as the first in the duology, but it wrapped up nicely and I was satisfied with the ending.
Publishing Date/Publisher: November 9, 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Review: I am tagging this book as an ARC, because at the time I received it from NetGalley, it had not yet been published. I started it some months ago, and then put it down in favor of other titles. Needless to say, the storyline and characters did not immediately draw me in. I did eventually pick it back up and finish it, and although I started enjoying it more toward the end, it didn’t knock my socks off. The premise behind this retelling of The Little Mermaid is undeniably beautiful. I loved how elements of the original story are interwoven with mythology and history. The story itself, however, was not particularly interesting to me. For readers who enjoy quests fraught with peril and mythical creatures, this story may have a lot of appeal. Alas, I am not that reader. I don’t generally enjoy odysseys because they tend to be more plot driven than character driven. Aside from the main character, Simidele, there is not a lot of character or relationship development. I’m glad that I finished it, but it is unlikely I will read the next book in this series. This book could easily be a standalone, though it looks like the author is working on at least one more title (possibly more).
On a side note, the cover for this book is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it is the reason I requested an ARC of this title. However, why are her scales not rose gold??? Her scales are described multiple times throughout the novel, and it annoys me when these types of details are neglected. Rant over.
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.
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 16, 2021 by Henry, Holt and Co.
Review: A beautifully written portrayal of a bi-racial young woman navigating through the complexities of identity, family, and the social issues plaguing both of her communities. There are a lot of difficult topics broached in this novel, and Boulley deftly tackles each one as she uncovers the mystery at the heart of the story. I have to admit that I especially enjoyed the time period this book takes place in. Daunis is roughly the same age as I am and grew up in the same era. I experienced some level of nostalgia with the pop culture references and other time period identifiers. I was also delighted by the mention of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, my very own alma mater.
Some readers may feel that the pacing of this “thriller” is too slow, but I personally enjoyed the gradual unfolding. This book is packed with social commentary, so I think it was appropriate for Boulley take her time and dive deeply into the subject matter. I look forward to future works by this debut author.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Workman Publishing
Review: This book very comfortably fits the vibe of a chick lit drama. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of depth to the story, but I did really enjoy the character arc of the main protagonist, Afi. I wouldn’t really categorize it as a “coming-of-age” story, however, Afi grows and changes a lot as a person as she gains exposure to more modern ideas of womanhood. I’m categorizing this as a contemporary romance for reference purposes, but this label doesn’t quite fit either. Yes, indeed there is a romance, but it is sandwiched between two distinct time periods of uncertainty. It’s less about the romance and more about how the mysteriousness of this man, Eli, drives the plot of the story. When Afi marries him, he is not even present at the wedding, and he doesn’t enter the scene until much later in the story. Yet even with his marked absence, Afi is expected by her family and in-laws to play the role of dutiful wife. She eventually finds her voice (the time alone gives her LOTS of time for introspection), and the end result is rather satisfying. I felt a strong sense of liberation on her behalf when all was said and done. Overall, a very interesting glimpse into the traditions and culture shaping modern-day Ghana.
Performers: Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Ann Miles, & Jeena Yi
Length: 8 hr, 10 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 21, 2020 by Random House Audio
Review: This fascinating glimpse into Korean beauty culture immediately had me searching the internet for more information. It seems unbelievable that it would be commonplace for women, and men, to go to such drastic lengths to achieve beauty, but sadly it seems that it is true. I know very little about K-pop aside from it’s growing popularity among American youth, and it is frightening to see the dark side of this industry and how it influences the rest of Korean society.
Looking back on the length of this audiobook, it is stunning that the author was able to offer glimpses of so many different issues in such a short space of time. She tackles prostitution, high suicide rates, unemployment, and poverty – just to name a few. It is amazing that somehow all these topics seemed to circle back to beauty and the commodification of it. The characters seem to have this idea throughout the book that beautiful people get ahead in life, when in reality, beautiful people are just as susceptible, if not more so, to abuse.
In general, I thought the author did a really good job fleshing out the main characters with backstory, however, in retrospect, highlighting the lives of four characters was a bit ambitious. All the characters lives intersect in some way, but the character of Wonna seems largely disconnected from the rest. I can only assume she was included to show how the cultural expectations placed on women affect the average working class wife. All of the other characters are younger, unmarried, and childless. They have little to no interaction with Wonna at all until the very end. I did enjoy her story, but her vignettes didn’t seem to really fit smoothly with the rest of the character narratives. Even so, I liked how the author used these windows into the the past to illuminate current issues.
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 2, 2021 by Make Me a World
Review: I could have never predicted the direction of this story based on the cover or the synopsis. There were many aspects of the story that were beautiful – the title, the emphasis on friendship, and the mother/daughter relationship – but where it started to get a little sloggy for me was when the elements of magical realism were incorporated. There was a turning point about halfway through where the author lost me and never really roped me back. I kept being reminded of A Christmas Carol after this point, and the conclusion was about what I would expect knowing how that story ended.
The style of poetry that this author uses has recently been trendy in the YA sphere. I understand that the spacing, use of symbols, and lowercase letters are all creative choices. I assume they have a purpose, but I don’t know enough about poetry to figure out what that purpose is. Sometimes I found it distracting because I would spend a lot of time trying to glean why these choices were made. Hopefully I will find somebody who can explain it to me, because Google cannot.
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 7, 2019 by MacMillan Audio
Review: I didn’t dislike this book, but for some reason I could not fully connect with it. I finished it a couple of months ago and for some reason I have been dragging my feet in reviewing it. Perhaps it is because I have had a hard time pinpointing just what it is that didn’t jive for me. To be honest my memory has already started to erase the finer details of the story. There was nothing particularly memorable that stands out to me about the storyline, but I do remember feeling a sense of anxiety regarding many of the choices that the characters made. I found the villain to be flat, and his motives unclear. One storyline was dropped completely, which I thought was odd until I read the synopsis for the second book in the series and realized this plot point is the basis of a concurrent storyline. I liked the concept of the Rome influenced setting and the Maarin as a seafaring people who act as the go between for the East and West. I don’t regret taking the time to finish this book, but I probably won’t continue with the series.
Review: This was a very fun, coming-of-age novel. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. She finds humor in the mundane, and she paints a vivid picture of family and culture. I liked most aspects of the book, but the way the central romance unfolded annoyed me tremendously. It was a very believable premise leading up to the declaration of feelings, but the fall out that would of resulted feels a bit underplayed. Perhaps I have strong feelings about this because I personally don’t care for romance arcs where the relationship with the close friend is thrown to the wayside in favor of a romantic one.
Although it predates the Netflix series Never Have I Ever by a few years, I think that people who enjoyed that show would enjoy this book tremendously. It explores a lot of similar themes such as building a cross-cultural Indian/American identity, marriage, love, sexuality, family, and friendship.
I did not like the casting for this audiobook. The performer had a melodic voice, but she sounded way too old to be believably portraying a teen girl. Also, I am always a little leery of the accuracy of accents when a person is not from that culture.