26 August 2019

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Books I Loved, Books I Didn't

Book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsIt was the best of two weeks and it was the worst of two weeks. I had to DNF two books in a row, but I listened to what is probably going to be my favorite audiobook (and book) of the year. Ditching books always puts a damper on my reading mojo, plus I’ve been really busy with work.

On a better note, we managed to get to the county fair (and eat all the junk food! Yay!). Plus the weather finally shifted. It’s downright chilly in the evening, and I’ve worn jeans twice during the day. I’m not at all sad, because I love fall and soup and sweater weather. Bring it on!

review of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. HarrowThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Sept. 10). If you like fantasy, adventure, historical and imaginary settings, and a strong female protagonist and if you like stories of female friendship, young and lasting love, coming of age, and betrayals, you must put this book on your list. And if you’re an audiobook fan, then make sure you listen to January LaVoy’s mind-blowing performance (Hachette Audio; 12 hr, 20 min). If this audiobook doesn’t win a million awards, I’ll be very upset. You need all the Januaries in your life. Trust me. At this moment, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is my favorite audiobook of the year and is on my all-time top ten list.

At the turn of the last century, young January Scaller lives in a big mansion in Vermont, where she is more or less treated as a daughter by her guardian Mr. Locke. January’s mother died when the girl was quite young, and her father is rarely home, because he’s an explorer and seeker of the exotic in the employ of Locke. Despite her beautiful surroundings, January’s life isn’t easy, being biracial and raised in isolation. She is strong willed and learns early that the way to Locke’s heart is through obedience. One day, while looking through some of Locke’s priceless collections, she finds a book filled with stories of love, adventure, and magical doors that open into other worlds. The book implies that all is not well, however, because someone is destroying the doors, trapping people in the wrong worlds and isolating the realms. Once a door is lost, it seems that it’s lost forever. What happens when January finds herself believing the stories?

I don’t want to say much more because the less you know, the better. This book has so many levels and such great characters. I was sorry when it ended, but (excuse the pun), I think Harrow might have left the door open for more January adventures. One can only hope. (audio and digital review copies provided by the publisher)

review of A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika TomarA Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar (Riverhead; July 9). I wasn't at all sure what to expect when I started this audiobook (for a freelance assignment). The audiobook starts out with a note telling the listener (1) that the chapters are purposely out of order and (2) that you really do need to download the accompanying PDF. Set in contemporary times in a tiny town in the Nevada desert, the story is told through the eyes of Cale Lambert, abandoned shortly after birth by her mother to be raised by her widowed grandfather. Cale is a studious girl, and her grandfather does his best for her. After high school graduation, Cale gets a waitressing job at the roadside diner, where she befriends Penny, who is a couple years older. Penny is one of those girls who attracts men’s attention and who is a little too worldly for her own good. Cale is still surprisingly naive and quickly comes under Penny’s spell. After an ill-fated night, Penny disappears, and Cale cannot let it go. She is determined to find her friend—dead or alive—no matter what it takes.

As I said, the book’s chapters are all out of order, and though you’d think this would be confusing (especially in audio), the device works and works well. You get hints of the past and future as the story winds through time, from lazy, hot nights watching the stars to dodgy deals and dangerous encounters. The girls ache for something, but what that something is, is hard to say: connection? a get of town free card? a desire to be left alone? A Prayer for Travelers is haunting in its truths, and Tomar has a promising future.

The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel (Gallery Books; Aug. 13). I often say I’m done with World War II books, but I thought this dual-time-period story set in Champagne on a vineyard would be good. In the past, Inès, an orphan from Lille, meets and marries the slightly older Michel, a major champagne maker. Inès feels totally out of her element at the vineyard and in the chateau, but fortunately her best friend from childhood, Edith, lives in nearby Reims. In the present day, Edith’s granddaughter, Liv, lives in New York, is newly divorced, and is at loose ends. When she joins Edith in Paris and then on a trip to Champagne, the stories of past and present collide.

The book is peppered with real events and real people and accurately relates the struggles and dangers of the German occupation. The main driving point of the novel is the relationships among Inés, Edith, and the wine master’s wife (Céline) and Liv’s discovery of the secrets and sacrifices of the past. I enjoyed the story for the most part, but many of the secrets were not all that difficult to figure out, Inés's behavior drove me nuts, and there were parts of the ending that were a little out there. If you’ve read The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah (William Morrow, June 2018), then some of the plot lines (hiding wine in the caves, for example) will seem familiar. Still, this kept my attention to the end. (digital and audiobook copies provided by the publisher)

thoughts on When You Read This by Mary Adkins When You Read This by Mary Adkins (Harper; Feb. 2019). This novel was billed as being perfect for fans of Maria Semple and Rainbow Rowell and is told through blog posts, emails, texts, and other media. It is a story of friendship and family, loss and redemption, and seemed liked something I would like, especially because it involves publishing a memoir. Sadly, I got about 40 pages in and realized I wasn’t connecting with the characters or the plot line. (print review copy provided by the publisher)

thoughts on The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn GreenwoodThe Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood (Putnam; Aug 20). This novel is about Zee, who is just trying to heal and find a future after her boyfriend left and she was in a motorcycle accident. While at physical therapy, she meets a young man who claims to be her knight in shining armor—not for romance but for protection. He even talks in Middle English. This is supposed to be a quirky modern-day fairy tale and has received a zillion starred reviews. The audiobook is read by a winning cast, and their performances (the little I heard) were great. However, I barely made it 90 min before I had to bail. The audiobook itself was not to blame; I just didn’t care about any of the characters. (digital and audiobook copies provided by the publisher)


rhapsodyinbooks 8/26/19, 6:51 AM  

Wow, you have talked me into The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. Just added it to my list of books to get at the next opportunity!

(Diane) bookchickdi 8/26/19, 7:30 AM  

I picked up the Ten Thousand Doors of January at the Book Expoe. I'm going to have to dig it it out.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 8/26/19, 7:49 AM  

I always trust your thoughts on books, so I immediately added Ten Thousand Doors to my wish list.

A Prayer for Travelers sounds intriguing. We are headed out west Friday. I may look for this book to read while we travel.

Have a lovely week!

shelleyrae @ book'd out 8/26/19, 7:56 AM  

An interesting selection of books, Ten Thousand Doors does sound good, I’m not sure the structure of Prayers for Travellers would work for me though.

Have a great reading week

Laurel-Rain Snow 8/26/19, 8:14 AM  

I also love Fall! Can't wait. Ten Thousand Doors of January looks intriguing.

Enjoy your week, and here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

bermudaonion 8/26/19, 8:29 AM  

We've had a few cool days as well and even went to a bonfire Saturday night.

I'm not sure January is for me because of the fantasy element but I think I'd love A Prayer for Travelers. I'm disappointed to see you didn't love The Reckless Oath We Made since I'd been looking forward to it.

Yvonne 8/26/19, 9:22 AM  

It's starting to get chilly here too. I'm sorry about the DNF books. The Winemaker's Wife looks good. I'll have to add that one to my list. I hope you have a great week!

Susie | Novel Visits 8/26/19, 9:30 AM  

You definitely have me intrigued with the January book. Fantasy is not my thing, but I may need to give it a try anyway. So glad A prayer for Travelers worked on audio. I loved that one in print, but wasn't quite sure how the out of order chapters would do on audio. Have a great week!

pussreboots 8/26/19, 10:27 AM  

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is on my wishlist. My weekly update.

Tina 8/26/19, 10:41 AM  

ooo....I want the Thousand Doors of January, that sounds so good. Recently I have been reading books that don't appeal, some I had wanted for a while. Such as The Night Olivia Fell - that disappointed me and I know I'm in the minority there.

Glad to hear you found Maduro brown ale! I wasn't sure with you being in Pennsylvania. I remember the archaic alcohol laws.

Vicki 8/26/19, 11:55 AM  

It's been cooler here too, but not enough for jeans.

Sorry you had those DNF's, that's always dissapointing. But, it sounds like The Ten Thousand Doors of January more than made up for it.

Kathy Martin 8/26/19, 12:42 PM  

I DNFd a book this week too. I think I'm getting burned out on YA. Unfortunately, I have a few more on my review stack. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Greg 8/26/19, 8:55 PM  

I am so glad to hear The Thousand Doors was good! And wow all time top ten? That's impressive. I saw a short story by this author somewhere a few months ago, maybe Tor.com- wish I could remember- and it definitely got me intrigued for this book! Now I'll definitely get it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 8/27/19, 5:35 PM  

The Ten Thousand Doors of January sounds fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

Daryl 9/1/19, 1:15 PM  

i seem to have pre-ordered Doors .. i think i read a review? anyway i am glad you liked it cause 99% of the you are spot on when it comes to books i love

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