Best of 2016 List

This was a great year for me and books! What with blogging, joining the Litsy community (@annahenke), and just loving the reading life, I’m perfectly content. I read over 120 books in 2016. It’s customary in the blogosphere to do some sort of “Best of” list, and I’m excited to share mine with you. Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2016 by category!

FANTASY

courtofmist

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

I devoured this book! I have loved everything Sarah J. Maas has written so far. The character development in A Court of Mist and Fury is astoundingly good. I really like how Maas handles Feyre’s grief and portrays her PTSD after the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses.  I couldn’t put it down! This is a series that MUST be read in order.

NOTE: This is not a YA book, in my opinion – at least, not in terms of the romance. Full-on steamy. This should have been marketed as adult fantasy.

HISTORICAL FICTION

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

What a remarkable story! This fictionalization of the life of trailblazing horse trainer and pilot Beryl Markham blew me away. Set primarily during her formative years and early adulthood in Kenya, this novel about a strong historical woman who wasn’t afraid to smash boundaries is beautifully written. Beryl was flawed but fierce and endured much for “being a woman and daring to think I could be free” (Circling the Sun). I’ve put Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night, on my TBR, and I’m very interested to hear the full story from the woman herself. Beryl was a private person by all accounts, however, so I hear it doesn’t have much in the way of personal relationships, which was a strength of McLain’s fictionalization. But I still need to read it!

MYSTERY

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A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice in one year! I had to prep for the sequel coming out in January 2017. Why I loved it: It’s a Victorian historical mystery featuring an intrepid lady/amateur detective who is also a lepidopterist (specialist on butterflies and moths).  Sold! There is an enigmatic, handsome taxidermist who becomes her reluctant investigative partner. Yes! There is a romance, but it’s very subtle and develops slowly. Just my cup of tea! They take refuge in an abandoned private museum of sorts. Hooray! There is a mystery about the main character’s heritage. Love it! I could go on, but I won’t.

GRAPHIC NOVEL

earlyearth

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Brilliant! The artwork is amazing and perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. The fictional folktales within are everything one would wish for: clever, funny, poignant, and sweet. I think it’s a must-read for graphic novel fans and a great entry point for newcomers to the format.

AUDIOBOOK

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Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, Narrated by Susie Riddell

This book was so strange and I loved it. It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired story with a quirky twist: What if Jane had been a serial killer? The tagline for the marketing was, “Reader, I murdered him.” For those unfamiliar with the real Jane Eyre, the most famous line is, “Reader, I married him.” So clever!  I was hooked by the fascinating premise; however, the book was something of a surprise. Jane was  quite likeable. This is in itself is a remarkable achievement for a writer. I consider myself pretty sensitive to violence, and I don’t enjoy unlikeable characters at all, so I was very impressed that Faye pulled that off. Jane kills multiple people (only bad people, mind), but I was still rooting for her in the end. The audiobook is exceptional. I would not have changed a thing.

As a side note, the premise of this book is so bizarre that it makes a great conversation piece. I had about a twenty-minute conversation with my coworkers about it at the company picnic and they all thought I’d gone mad. 🙂

INSPIRATIONAL NONFICTION

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Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I loved what Nyquist had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. I learned so much. Read my review here.

INSPIRATIONAL FICTION

woodsedge

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1

I was so impressed with the diversity, vigor, and historicity of Benton’s writing in this first chapter of a new family saga. The story is wonderful. Read my review here.

ROMANCE

desperate

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

I loved this book and look forward to everything Kearsley writes. It contains her signature Scottish history connection, a mystery in a book, and features a beautiful, intelligent heroine who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s real, and the romance is so heartwarming and completely believable. Apparently, Susanna’s daughter has Asperger’s, and that shows in the sensitivity and normalcy with which she portrays the social interactions of the main character. I thought it was fantastic! This is a solid, clean romance recommendation.

SCIENCE FICTION

gemina

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This one took me a little while to get into, but I was more than amazed by the end of it! Its best qualities are the unorthodox storytelling, the various illustrations, and the gripping action/suspense. I literally gasped at the twists and turns in the last fifty pages. Definitely worth the read! A top-notch YA pick.

That’s all for 2016. 🙂 Happy New Year!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend: A Booklover’s Delight!

readers-of-broken
Read the summary on Goodreads!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Read by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King

This book about books is well-written, sweet, and tons of fun. When Swedish visitor Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa, she finds her pen pal and fellow booklover, Amy, has died. However, the town is bound and determined that she stay and enjoy the two months she had planned to spend anyway. She decides to open up a small bookshop in the town square and the project enlivens the inhabitants – and the town itself – in wonderful ways. With plenty of quirky characters, humor, small-town antics, and romance, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is perfect for those looking for a cozy, comforting book about books.

Audio Review:
This book is read very well, and I really enjoyed the overall experience. There were a few times when the narrator’s Southern accent wavered, but not often enough that it really took away from the story. I liked that Amy’s letters are read by a different voice actor, which adds variation and a refreshing break from the narrative.

In short, I recommend it!

Reading next: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

gemina

Read the summary on Goodreads!

Reading Snapshots: November Fiction

Here’s a look at the fiction I’ve finished lately!

Queen of Swords.jpg

Book Five in the Wilderness Series

Format: Audiobook

Recommended to fans of Outlander, the Wilderness series is a sweeping historical romance and multigenerational family saga that begins in 1792 and carries on for decades after. The fourth book, Queen of Swords, opens in 1814 and is centered on the rescue of one of the family’s Scottish relatives who has been kidnapped by pirates. The plot also concerns the ongoing War of 1812. I found this part fascinating, as I know so little about that particular war. Why is it such a neglected part of American history? With white, black, and Native American characters, this book also provides an interesting glimpse into race relations during this time period—from day to day life to how each facet of society participated in the war. I liked Queen of Swords, although it took me a few chapters to remember who everyone was and where the last book left off. Like all the Wilderness novels, this book contains a well-balanced mix of action, adventure, and romance. The entire series is excellent narrated by Kate Reading. Unfortunately, Queen of Swords is the weakest book in the series so far—still not a bad book, but hopefully that’s not a trend.

If you’re intrigued, then start at the beginning of the saga with Into the Wilderness!

kindred

Format: Ebook

 A modern classic, Kindred is the story of Dana, a black woman living in the 1970s, who is suddenly and inexplicably pulled into the past whenever one of her ancestors (a white man) is in mortal peril. I love time-travel books, but this one is a tough read. It’s enthralling and devastatingly bleak. Octavia Butler’s writing is plain yet precise; however, I would have liked a bit more detail and depth in some places. Some very ugly truths are played out in this story and it’s an important book, especially given the racial tension and discord in still evident in America today.

Read a full summary on Goodreads!

What I’m Reading Now:

Like a River.jpgLike a River Glorious by Rae Carson. I am loving it as much as I loved the first book in the trilogy, Walk on Earth a Stranger, which was a National Book Award finalist.

Happy reading!

Anna

#NonfictionNovember – On Moving and Change

This month has been crazy busy as I’ve moved to a new place! I’ve been very occupied with setting up and settling in. Naturally, my bookshelves were one of the first things I unpacked! Shocking: I added a shelf, so I have empty space. This must be remedied ASAP.

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I have to be honest: I’m TERRIBLE with change. I don’t like it and I don’t know how to deal with it. So there’s a definite theme in my nonfiction choices this month.

girlmeetschange

Full Disclosure: I work for a different division of this publisher. This is my personal review.

A great book at the perfect time! I needed this and would recommend to anyone who, like me, struggles with transitions. There were parts that felt a bit slow to me, but that’s likely because she was talking about being a mom and that doesn’t apply to my life. Other chapters, specifically “Settling in the Home Where Your Heart Thrives,” were phenomenal and applicable for any reader.

“We need to be okay with not getting over it and give ourselves permission to feel the upheaval.”—Kristen Strong, from Girl Meets Change

presentoverperfect

I learned so much from this book! It’s about being present just as you are—with God, with those around you, and with yourself. Niequist has some interesting things to say about prayer that really spoke to my heart. She talks about a model of prayer where you basically get confession and repentance out of the way first before broaching other topics with God so that you can speak freely and focus on connecting with Him. This is such a refreshing approach. I also really liked what she had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. Highly recommended! Now I’m trying to get my hands on everything else Shauna Niequist has written.

tidyingup

While I think the “thank your possessions” and “spark joy” concepts extremely materialistic and slightly ridiculous, there are a lot of practical tips in this book that are very useful. The section on how to fold properly was particularly interesting. My sock drawer has never looked better! This content of this book should be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some nuggets to be found within. I will say that I got rid of more stuff than I probably would have if I had not listened to this book while packing.

That’s all for now! Glad to say I’m finally feeling a little more settled. Until next post!

Anna

P.S. I’m currently listening to SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. It’s fascinating and very accessible. Any fellow history nerds would enjoy!

spqr

Series Starters: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

This YA fantasy series is out of this world! A delightful combination of clever fairytale retellings, The Lunar Chronicles features strong female characters, action, adventure, and romance—all with a campy ‘gangs-all-here’ vibe. Did I mention the elusive Asian hero? And the banter is so much fun! Marissa Meyer delivers in every book of this completed series, making each more fun than the one before.

One aspect of this series I want to highlight is the friendships. The heroines—all of whom are talented in their own ways—have deep, meaningful relationships with each other, not just the love interest in their life. And that’s too rare in YA.

Sure, there are love interests and the romance is well done. No pesky love triangles here! More importantly, if I was old enough to have a teenager as a daughter, I would be comfortable giving all of these books to her. The juicy bits never go too far and that’s really good to see.

So here’s the breakdown (no spoilers!):

The series premise is that the Levana, the evil queen of Luna (aka the moon) has a strong “Lunar gift,” which allows her to manipulate people, and she is plotting to take over earth. That’s obviously a problem, especially since few are immune to her power.

cinder

 Cinder, The Lunar Chronicles #1

 The twist in this futuristic retelling is that Cinder (aka Cinderella) is a cyborg. She is also the best mechanic in New Bejing, which is how she meets the hot Asian prince who needs her help. She has a wicked stepmother and her best friend is an android named Iko. Iko has a “faulty” personality chip—as in, she has way too much of it. She’s so loveable! Hijinx ensue. There is a ball, a state visit from the evil Lunar queen, and a shocking revelation at the end.

 scarlet

Scarlet, The Lunar Chronicles #2

Scarlet is a tough, no-nonsense, ginger farm girl who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She wears her favorite hoodie sweatshirt every day (red riding hood). The action starts when her grandmother gets kidnapped. Scarlet’s determined to get her back. She hires a street fighter named Wolf to help her with work on the farm while she investigates. He is fierce, somewhat feral, fascinated by vegetables, and (predictably) good looking. He also has a secret. When Cinder shows up, the original team grows by two as they unite in a common goal.

cress

Cress, The Lunar Chronicles #3

Now we’re getting farther into the series and I don’t want to spoil the plot. The things I like most about Cress (aka Rapunzel): the romance she daydreams about doesn’t match up to reality. She is infatuated with a guy she’s read about online but when she meets him in person, she discovers that he’s not the perfect hero she believed him to be. Will she still feel the same when she gets to know him for real? Cress also finds strength within herself and acts heroically by using skills that do NOT include brute force or perfect hand-eye coordination, which is so overdone. Instead, she’s smart and phenomenal with computers, and she uses her powers for good.

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Fairest, The Lunar Chronicles #3.5

In this eye-opening novella, we get the Levana’s origin story from her point of view. How did she become the evil queen? I was skeptical about this addition to the series because Levana is just so unlikeable, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found it fascinating. Meyer manages to provoke a modicum of sympathy for Levana while maintaining her core identity as a villain. Not an easy feat.

winter

Winter, The Lunar Chronicles #4

This all-out, gang’s-back-together, action-packed series conclusion is incredibly satisfying. We get the additional point of view of Winter, the step-daughter to the evil queen. The princess has been driven mad by refusing to use her Lunar gift, which is heartbreaking and noble and never annoying or hard to read. She just sees things that aren’t there. But she’s got a good heart—she’s beautiful and white as snow, which she’s never seen since she lives on the moon. Her guard Jacin’s devotion to her is unwavering and the Lunar people adore her, much to the evil queen’s dismay.

stars-above

Stars Above, The Lunar Chronicles

I typically don’t care for short stories, but this anthology is fantastic! Meyer gives us a fun, deeper glimpse into the backgrounds of some her most beloved characters, and delivers what every fan wants: a wedding. But whose?

This is absolutely and series worth starting—and finishing!

What’s your favorite YA series? What’s do you like most about it? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading!

Anna

Reading Snapshots: September 2016

Wow, September flew by! It’s been three weeks since my last post, but the truth is . . . I’ve been busy reading!

BOOKS READ IN SEPTEMBER: 13

New Releases: 4              Backlist TBR Books: 6                 Surprise Finds: 3

Format   

Galleys: 2          Audio: 4              Ebook: 3            Print: 4              Graphic Novel: 1

Other Details:   

Fiction: 11         Nonfiction: 2      Sequels/Series: 3 for #sequelseptember

FAVORITES THIS MONTH:

empire
Read the Goodreads Description

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass #5

I absolutely love this series. SJM delivers everything fans love in this fifth installment: romance, action, phenomenal world building, fantastic characters, and so much drama! As usual for this series, this book gutted me emotionally. And that cliffhanger—how can we wait! NOTE: This series gets more explicit with each book. This is categorized as YA, but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens.

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes #2

This is one of the best fantasy series being written today! This latest from Sabaa Tahir is riveting, beautifully crafted and packed with emotion. It’s impossible to talk about this book without spoiling book one, so pick up An Ember in the Ashes STAT if you’re into YA fantasy. I’m so happy that we are getting two more books in this series!

 

nightingale
Read the Goodreads Description

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I can’t believe it took me this long to read this book. This story of two French sisters during WWII is moving, filled with fascinating historical detail and unputdownable! The audiobook is excellently read and so deserving of the Audie Award it won. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, do it! Confession: I had some bias toward this author based on the covers of her contemporary women’s fiction books. I was so wrong!

 CHRISTIAN FICTION SPOTLIGHT

woodsedge
Read the Goodreads Description

The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1

This is a great historical fiction read. Set in the years leading up to the American Revolution, this tale follows the lives of two twins who are separated at birth. Benton presents the fascinating juxtaposition of one twin, raised by his birth mother—a white woman married to an Oneida Indian—and one twin raised by the redcoat officer, who took the newborn from his crib and raised the child in place of their own newborn who died. With gentle romance, well-researched history, and Christian elements, this is a solid read. I’ll be continuing the series. Highly recommended!

 

GALLEY RECAP

change-of-heart
Read the Goodreads Description

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev

I was completely blown away by this book! I have heard such great things about this author that I requested it on Netgalley without even reading the premise. I went into to it totally blind. Man, was I in for a surprise! This story is dark, difficult, and brutally emotional. It’s so much more than a romance—there’s also a mystery and a crime investigation. It’s about two broken people, finding the courage to help each other heal and love again

 

IronCast.jpg
Read the Goodreads Description

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

While I didn’t love this book, I think many teens will enjoy it. I recommend it to fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It has a similar style and fell. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read so much phenomenal YA fantasy this month, but this didn’t quite deliver on the intriguing premise.

Well, that’s all for now. Participating in the #hellooctober readathon and must get back to my book!

You Must Read This! The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

bonesofparadiseRiveting, brutal, and deeply powerful, The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee is the story of two families—one Lakota, one white—and the tragedy that links them. This book is a masterpiece with a plot that’s as winding as Agee’s lyrical sentences. The story begins with two murders. The first victim is Star, a Lakota woman that Nebraska rancher J. B. Bennett finds by chance. When he stumbles upon the crime scene, he is gunned down. The rest of the novel centers on the families of these two individuals. A literary mystery, this tale of vengeance, guilt, love, and betrayal is set ten years after the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the characters are as scarred as the land in which they dwell.

 

“I am only a girl, a wound in the earth that will not close, I unbury myself over and over until there is justice.”— Star, a murdered Lakota woman, speaking to her sister in a vision

Along with Agee’s gorgeous sentences, the complexity of the characters and their relationships to one another is one of the book’s greatest strengths. I disliked almost every character at various points, which is something I normally find off-putting. However, the personalities were so vivid that it didn’t matter. Agee strategically reveals only small portions of each character’s backstory at a time, which kept me very engaged and compelled to find out the rest of the story.

The timeline of The Bones of Paradise is very fluid, and at one point we are transported back to the historical tragedy at Wounded Knee. Agee’s writing in this section is stunning as we view the massacre through the eyes of a first-hand witness. The events are horrifying in the extreme, and she does not shy away from the violence. Still, her lyrical prose softens it slightly. I was completely transfixed by the narrative.

Overall, I thought the Native American representation in this book was well done, as was her depiction of racism. Agee’s portrayal of white attitudes is honest and multi-faceted. We have a racist white man’s POV and other racist minor characters, but we also have the POV of Dulcinea (the wife of J. B. Bennet), a white woman who is unaffected by racism. The one qualm I have with The Bones of Paradise is that I would have liked to have more from Rose, the sister of the murdered Lakota women. She is such a fascinating character!

If you’re a literary fiction reader or a fan of historical fiction, this beautifully crafted novel is a must-read.

That’s all from me. Shout out to fellow Litsy users! You can find me posting daily about my reading life @annahenke

 

New Release: Between Two Fires by Mark Noce

betweenfiresI found this historical novel—which will especially appeal to fans of Arthurian legends—both accessible and captivating. I couldn’t put it down! A medieval Anglo-Saxon tale set in the late 500s, this is the story of a young Welsh princess born into a cruel world of scheming kings. Branwen is an only child, so the fate of her father’s dynasty rests entirely on her shoulders. Like most noblewomen of the time, she is used as a bargaining chip in a game of kings, like a piece on her father’s chessboard. But Branwen has a strong will and a mind of her own. She will have to overcome many obstacles in order to have the life she desires. . . .

The Publisher’s Summary:

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But the fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen becomes the target of assassination attempts and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan, her world threatens to tear itself apart.

Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

We follow Lady Branwen as she enters into an arranged marriage to a forbidding warlord and soon finds that her situation is not what she was led to believe. Branwen’s transformation over the course of the novel is empowering and one of the book’s strongest assets. We see her grow from being completely intimidated by her own father to confidently voicing her opinions on military matters—and, eventually, defending herself like a lion from would-be assassins.

While the publisher’s cover copy makes the inevitable Game of Thrones comparison, it’s not a good one in my opinion. For one thing, this novel is a middling length of 336 pages; for another, it is not graphic at all and will, therefore, appeal much more widely. I really appreciated the lack of graphic content in this book, as so many novels set during this era are astoundingly brutal.

I found two things surprising about Between Two Fires. The first was the somewhat abrupt switch in focus to what I would consider a typical historical romance plot in the last third of the novel. Although this is indicated in the cover copy, the tone of the last section just didn’t quite gel with the rest of the novel for me. I think it could have been handled more deftly. NOTE: It is possible that this was fixed in the final book, which I do not have access to. The other surprising aspect was the presentation of religion. Throughout the book, Branwen simultaneously feels great loyalty toward the pagan Old Tribes (her maternal heritage) and Christianity. Noce dives into this internal balancing act in the last part of the book. I found this interesting, even if it did get a little heavy-handed.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

My Favorite Quote:

“They call him the Hammer King. He wears an iron mask into battle and wields a war hammer said to have slain a hundred foes. My nightmares of late consist of a shadowy, faceless blacksmith. Each evening he swings a massive hammer down upon the anvil of my heart.”—Lady Branwen, on the eve of her arranged marriage

Comparable Reads: These are more heavy on the history but excellent if you’re into this time period. I’d recommend all three, depending on your commitment and comfort with historical detail.
The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
Hild by Nicola Griffith

Thank you to the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, for the review copy I received through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This last bit contains spoilers, so stop scrolling now if you plan to read the book!

 

 

****SPOILER ALERT!****

I had two qualms with Between Two Fires. The first is that the galley didn’t contain a historical note, which is essential for all works of historical fiction. The second is how neatly everything was tied up in the end. I realize that romance typically necessitates a happily ever after, but the presentation felt very sudden and kind of forced. It was still a good read, but it felt so unrealistic that it knocked me right out of the story. NOTE: It is possible that these elements were fixed in the final book.

 

You MUST Read: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Wow. Poignant, vivid, and gut wrenching, this is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. In fact, it’s so good that Oprah (who has ALL THE POWER) picked it for her book club and worked her magic. As a result: The Underground Railroad dropped into bookstores like a surprise Beyoncé album five weeks ahead of schedule, and it’s clear the literary community agrees with me and Oprah: this is a must-read for all Americans.

The publisher’s summary (shortened):

From prize-winning, bWhit_9780385537032_jkt_all_r2.inddestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent, wrenching, thrilling tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.


Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, and they plot their escape. Matters do not go as planned, but they manage to find a station and head north. . . .

The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Reimagining U.S. history, master craftsman Colson Whitehead transforms the metaphoric Underground Railroad into a real train and “a secret network of tracks and tunnels built beneath Southern soil” (from the full publisher’s summary). This slight departure from reality was brilliantly portrayed, enhancing and in no way detracting from the gravitas of this book and its subject matter. I read this in a single sitting and was so immersed that, for the most part, I forgot about this unhistorical addition entirely. It just seemed a natural part of the route. This tweaking of history was what initially drew me to the book and created increased interest and intensity in some pivotal scenes—not that The Underground Railroad suffered from a lack of either of those things.

“Here was the true Great Spirit, the divine thread connecting all human endeavors—if you can keep it, it is yours. Your property, slave or continent. The American imperative.”

The writing in this book is, in short, incredible. Perhaps the most affecting aspect of The Underground Railroad for me was the matter-of-fact way Whitehead relates the horrendous violence of Cora’s life as a slave. Whitehead’s depiction renders the terrible injustice of her life as almost normal—and, tragically, it is to Cora and to the white masters who think nothing of whippings and “taking her behind the shed” (where she is obviously but not graphically raped). I cried within the first twenty pages and again and again throughout this novel. Whitehead pulls no punches. And I’m glad. This is an ugly, tragic part of our history that deserves a clear portrayal of the horrors it entailed.

“To see chains on another person and be glad they are not your own—such was the good fortune permitted colored people, defined by how much worse it could be any moment.”

The main character, Cora, gives a name to the countless individuals whose lives and liberty were ripped from their grasp during the years in which America perpetrated this institution. Whitehead portrays everything from the extreme violence slaves endured to the smaller indignities, like being robbed of the one thing Cora had that was hers (a garden plot) and evicted into the cabin of outcasts when her mother abandoned her to run away. Her trials continue beyond the plantation, unfortunately, where she and Caesar find that the freedom they so desperately long for is always just out of reach.

“[Cora] trusted the slave’s choice to guide her—anywhere, anywhere but where you are escaping from.”

Amid all the devastating twists and turns in this novel, the most horrifying thing about this work of fiction is the inescapable truth that lies beneath. And this history plagues our country to this day. While slavery is abolished, we are still a divided nation in a devastating state. Racial violence. Police discrimination. #BlackLivesMatter has become a well-known movement. How tragic that 150 years after slavery was abolished, this statement is even necessary.

Is there hope for racial reconciliation in America? I don’t know. But I hope and pray that there is. That we can look within and realize that the same blood flows within all human beings. That compassion will triumph over perceived differences. That we can truly become, perhaps for the first time, “one nation, under God.”

I leave you with this sobering quote:

“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes—believes with all its heart—that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”

Here we are.

***I received an advance copy of this novel via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***

 

**********This last bit contains a SPOILER!!!! **********

 

 

I loved the ending of this book. It is fitting that we are left without knowing Cora’s fate. We simply leave her at the start of another leg in her long, terrible journey. We can hope that she survives, but we’ll never know. Like so many black men and women before her, she vanishes from the written record. But we need to remember her. To remember them all—now more than ever.

 

Reading Snapshot: July 2016

July was a great month for reading—partly because it was too hot to do anything else! I participated in the #24in48 readathon weekend, so I finished a lot more books than usual. I didn’t get close to 24 hours of reading done in 48 hours, but it was time well spent.

I read 14 books this month: 1 nonfiction (Cure), 1 short story, 4 audiobooks, and 10 print books.

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor (#2, 2.5, and 3)

SymphonyofEchoesWhenChildBornSecondChance

In this delightful, action-packed series, time-traveling Historians go on madcap adventures while doing hands-on research. Of course, there’s also an evil organization trying to sabotage “the timeline” and hijinks ensue. The audiobooks (narrated by Zarra Ram) are fantastic. Highlight: Loads of dry humor. Qualm: I’d love to see more character development in addition to the fun plots. My recommendation: Keep in mind these are light on historical detail and just enjoy the ride. View the series on Goodreads!

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

MargaretIsn’t this the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen? This is a fictional account of the life of Margaret the First, one of the first English women to make a living as an author. I am still in awe of this slim but stunning work of literary imagination. Dutton’s fanciful and lyrical voice perfectly conveys the spirit of Margaret, who “made the world her book.” I have no qualms. If you like historical fiction, this is a must-read. View the publisher’s summary on Goodreads!

 

 

AmyAmy Snow by Tracy Rees, narrated by Melody Grove

This one is right in my sweet spot! I adore historical novels with mystery elements. Set in 1840s England, Amy Snow is the story of a friendship between two women: one privileged, one a penniless orphan. While dying of a long illness, the wealthy girl sets up a treasure hunt for her friend using secret letters and clues only Amy will understand. On her journey—a fascinating undertaking for a woman in this time period—Amy learns more than expected about both her friend and herself. I enjoyed watching Amy come into her own while wrestling with how to honor her friend’s wishes and choose her own path. View the publisher’s summary on Goodreads!

That’s it from me. See you next week for my review of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. It’s a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre—if Jane was a serial killer. The tagline is “Reader, I murdered him.” Need I say more?