05 November 2021

What I Read in October: Part I

I read 11 books in October, one of which was a DNF. Here are my brief thoughts on the first six; see my post on Monday for the remainder. The books are presented in no particular order.

Note that the following thoughts are also available on Goodreads. Thanks to the publishers and to Libro.fm for the print, digital, and/or audiobook review copies. "AFM" means you can find my thoughts about the audiobook production over on the AudioFile Magazine website.

Book cover of Fault Lines by Emily ItamiFault Lines by Emily Itami (Custom House, Sept.): This is the story of Mizuki who once dreamed of becoming a singer but is now a proper Japanese wife and mother who often feels invisible. When she meets a handsome, charming restaurateur who seems to really pay attention to her, she lets the friendship evolve into an affair. All the while she struggles to balance her love for her family with the need for something more. The novel includes beautiful descriptions of Tokyo--the sights, sounds, smells, and food. In the end, the was book only okay for me.

Audiobook: Lydia Wilson did a fine job with the narration, but her British accent was off-putting--the main character of the book is a Japanese native who became proficient in English after spending a few years living in New York. I would have preferred an audiobook narrator who had an American accent or who had a slight Japanese accent.

Book cover of The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet BeardThe Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard (Gallery; Oct.): Set in the mountains of Tennessee, this book follows the lives of several generations of women from the early 1900s into the 21st century. One common thread through time is the story told in the folk song "Pretty Polly" and the nearby Laurel Springs, where the murder outlined in the song took place. Generally, this is a "men do women wrong"--again and again--kind of book.

Audiobook: The audiobook was read by Jennifer Jill Araya, Andi Arndt, Robin Eller, Angel Pean, Candace Thaxton, Megan Tusing, and Nancy Wu, each of whom performed chapters told by different women through time. The performances were solid, with no weak links.

Book cover of The Guide by Peter HellerThe Guide by Peter Heller (Knopf; Aug): Peter Heller is one of my favorite authors. This book is a followup to The River, his 2019 book. As always, Heller writes beautifully about the outdoors and about fly fishing. He captures the sounds, the moods, and the excitement. He also writes a good thriller. This story is set in Colorado, where Jack (one of the main characters in The River) was lucky enough to get a mid-season job as a guide at an exclusive resort. The fishing is good, and his client is a famous singer, who wants to spend some down time away from prying eyes. She's at home in the outdoors, so Jack enjoys the time he spends with her. The lodge is upscale, but Jack and Alison begin to notice that something's off--and soon their curiosity puts them in danger. Though this isn't Heller's strongest novel, it's well worth your time.

Audiobook: Mark Deakins is the voice for Heller's work. The performance is stellar.

Cover of When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret VerbleWhen Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble (Marinar; Oct): I liked this story of Two Feathers--the stage name of a Cherokee woman who pretty much grew up in the Wild West show arena. It's 1926, and she's one of the star attractions at a Tennessee zoo. Her act involves diving into a pool of water while on horseback. After an accident makes it impossible for her to perform, she begins to observe the goings on of her fellow performers and staff. There's a lot in this book about Two's uncertainty of where she fits in society, based on her skin color and her heritage. Among the other characters are a white World War I veteran who suffers from PTSD, a black man who didn't live up to his family's expectations, and a Native American ghost. The plot is sometimes bogged down with the serious themes and issues, but the book held my interest.

Cover of Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Tor; Sept.): This is one of those books that's difficult to explain. It's a mashup of fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary fiction. I'm not quite sure how or why this book works, but it does. There are three basic plot lines that converge and twist together. Katrina Nguyen is a trans girl who ran away from the parents who don't understand her to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Shizuka Salomi is one of the most famous and respected violin teachers in the world. What the public doesn't know is that decades ago she made a deal with the devil; in order to regain her own soul she must deliver the souls of seven brilliant violinists -- Katrina may be her key to freedom. Meanwhile Lan Tran, a starship captain, fled from intergalactic war to hide out on Earth with her family. They blend in with Earthlings by running a doughnut shop.

As improbable as it seems the stories of these three women work and tell a tale of self-acceptance and finding safety even in the bleakest of times. The major themes are love, friendship, family, and loyalty, and Aoki's descriptions of the power of music and the tastes and meaning of food are powerful. CW: Katrina's transitioning experiences are sometimes rough. AFM

Cover of the book My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (Holt; Oct.): Sharp, moving, thought-provoking collection of stories and the title novella. Johnson explores the legacy of slavery and ongoing racism in a variety of situations.

The title novella is set in the immediate aftermath of a white supremacy takeover of Charlottesville. A group of neighbors from a predominately Black neighborhood flee the violence and destruction, ending up at Jefferson's Monticello. Two of the characters are in fact direct descendants of the president and Sally Hemings. Besides issues of survival (including medical care), the novella explores relationships among the refugees and their sometimes uneasy connections to the estate, the house, and the artifacts stored there.

Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook is narrated by Aja Naomi King, January LaVoy, Landon Woodson, LeVar Burton, Ngozi Anyanwu, and Tomiwa Edun. Excellent performances all around.


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 11/5/21, 11:45 AM  

Light from Uncommon Stars sounds quite promising.

Vicki 11/6/21, 7:50 AM  

All of these books and authors are new to me.

Tina 11/6/21, 9:08 AM  

I have The Guide on hold at the library but haven’t read The River yet. Should I get to that one first for character development?

Les in Oregon 11/6/21, 12:00 PM  

After reading your review on Goodreads, I went ahead and got The Guide from Audible and can't wait to listen. I just hope it stops raining soon so I can get back outside and start walking, which is when I listen to audiobooks. I suppose I could always just curl up in a comfy chair and listen for an hour. :)

Tina 11/8/21, 7:51 AM  

Thanks for your comment & recommendation. I just reserved a copy of The River from the library. Looking forward to it!

Jen at Introverted Reader 11/8/21, 6:20 PM  

Your posts are disastrous for my TBR. I think I just added most of the books you recommended from this one and the follow-up.

I'm currently listening to How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith and I think it would dovetail nicely with My Monticello. Smith also explores the history of slavery in America and Monticello is one of his first stops. I'm not quite finished but I can tell you it's a powerful book.

thecuecard 11/9/21, 7:59 AM  

I have a physical copy of My Monticello from the Library so I'm glad you thought it was sharp. I also will get to Heller's novel The Guide ... I guess bloggers were mixed about it but I probably need to read it nonetheless. The River was quite good. Happy November to you.

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