Review of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

by Gabrielle Zevin
read by Jennifer Kim and Julian Cihi

Random House Audio, 2022. 13 hours and 52 minutes.
Review written May 3, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I’m behind everybody else on reading novels for adults, but not being on an award committee right now, I’m trying to catch up on some of the titles that are popular at Fairfax County Public Library. (I can see how long the Holds lists are.)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the story of Sadie and Sam, both video game designers who treat their work as art. The book covers decades of their lives, as their friendship – and their art – evolves and changes over time.

They first met when they were kids. Sadie’s sister was in the hospital with cancer, and Sam was in the hospital having his foot put back together after a devastating car accident. They used to play video games together for hours. Sam’s parents were excited because Sadie was the first person Sam had talked to after the accident, and he’d been in the hospital for weeks.

But the book doesn’t start there. It begins when Sam and Sadie spot each other at a subway station in Boston, where Sadie is attending M.I.T. and Sam is at Harvard. Sam hadn’t spoken to Sadie in years – and we find out their history as back story.

Eventually, Sam and Sadie make a video game together and go into business together. And this book is far more interesting than that summary sounds.

There were times when I didn’t like the characters and thought about quitting reading the book, but was just a little too invested. Then later, I was mad at the author because I thought she’d completely cheated to resolve a love triangle.

But it turned out that wasn’t what was happening, and the event I thought was a cheat led to some innovative storytelling as the book went on and the characters were dealing with some tough things.

In a lot of ways, this author was like the characters: Trying to tell a story in innovative and creative ways, going beyond entertainment into art. I think she succeeds.

gabriellezevin.com

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Review of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

by James McBride
read by Dominic Hoffman

Books on Tape, 2023. 12 hours, 22 minutes.
Review written April 13, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is a sweeping historical novel about the 1930s Chicken Hill neighborhood of Pottstown, outside Philadelphia, where immigrant Jews from all over Europe and African Americans from the South were trying to live a good life — despite the annual parade where prominent white members of the town council marched in their KKK regalia.

The main focus of the book is Chona Ludlow, who lives above the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store with her husband Moshe, who runs a theater, and found business got better when he brought in Black performers. Chona grew up in Pottstown, with a limp from polio, and Moshe fell for her when he began working in her father’s store.

There are lots more characters, and each one is introduced with a rambling tale of their back story and how they relate to the other characters we’ve met. I didn’t approach this literary novel the right way — taking an unplanned break from it for three days when I went with a group of friends to see the total solar eclipse. It was already hard to keep the various characters straight, and that about did me in.

But as I was thinking about quitting in the middle, I read the audiobook description and was reminded that the book began with a dead body found forty years later in an old well. And it sounded like things were heating up about the deaf Black boy that Chona was helping keep hidden from the authorities, who wanted to put him in an institution.

So I was glad I finished. The various plot lines and various characters all came together at the end of the book, forming a kind of heist novel — trying to rescue the deaf Black boy.

Read or listen to this when you’re in the mood for a literary novel, and don’t pause for three days in the middle — and I’m sure you’ll find it’s well-crafted. I did listen to the beginning all over again when I was done to more fully appreciate how the author brought things full circle and explained everything they’d found with the body in the well.

jamesmcbride.com

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Review of Dial A for Aunties, by Jesse Q. Sutanto

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Dial A for Aunties

by Jesse Q. Sutanto
read by Risa Mei

Penguin Audio, 2021. 10 hours, 22 minutes.
Review written April 16, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.

I checked out this audiobook because of how much I enjoyed the author’s book Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers. This one, too, had a lot of madcap fun.

Dial A for Aunties answers the question, at least for one Chinese Indonesian American twenty-something young woman, “Who would you call if you have to dispose of a dead body?”

Since graduating from college and breaking up with the love of her life so that she wouldn’t hold him back, photographer Meddelin Chan has been working in her family’s wedding business. Her mother and her mother’s three sisters provide flowers, make-up, cake, and entertainment, especially at big Chinese or Indonesian weddings.

The night before one of their biggest events ever, Meddelin goes on a blind date that her mother set up for her by posing as Meddy on an online dating site — and completely missing the sexual innuendoes of what the guy was going to expect. When the date goes south, Meddy pulls out her taser — but causes an accident.

She comes to in a deserted area of Los Angeles with a dead cellphone and nobody coming by. The guy appears to be dead. What’s a girl to do? She ends up putting the body in her trunk. (Not necessarily thinking clearly, but hey, extenuating circumstances.) She calls her mother, who calls in the Aunties. They all rally together to figure out what to do.

But the next day they’ll be leaving early for the wedding at a resort on an island off the coast. They don’t want the body to stink, so it needs to go in Big Aunt’s cooler, because she’s the one who has enough room.

But in the morning, the very helpful assistant brings all the coolers to the island. So now there’s a body in one of their coolers at the island wedding, and they need to get rid of it with no one noticing and hundreds of people coming and going.

Oh and then? Turns out the love of Meddy’s life (Remember him?) is the new owner of the resort. This is his first big wedding and it needs to go well.

Madcap hilarity ensues. This author was definitely not going for realism. However, since every coincidence serves to make things worse, the reader buys it, because what can go wrong will go wrong, right? It’s pretty much over-the-top silliness, but it adds up to a whole lot of fun. The bickering Aunties are wonderful in what they will do for Meddy — even if their ideas don’t always work out in the best ways.

jesseqsutantoauthor.com

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Review of A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, by Sophie Irwin

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting

by Sophie Irwin
read by Eleanor Tomlinson

Penguin Audio, 2022. 9 hours, 40 minutes.
Review written April 4, 2024, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

As A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting opens, Kitty Talbot is getting jilted by the man she’s been engaged to for two years. She should have never put it off after her mother died, because now her father is dead, too, and his debts will come due in a few months, and Kitty has four younger sisters to care for. How can a young woman in Regency England pay off exorbitant debts and pay for expenses of four younger sisters? Becoming a governess or a lady’s maid would never pay enough. No, Kitty must find a man in possession of a large fortune to marry. Her former fiance was the only local prospect, so to London she must go.

Now, in Jane Austen’s novels, the fortune-hunting girls were more the villains, with a sympathetic exception of pity for Charlotte Lucas. So it took me about an hour into this audiobook to have sympathy for Kitty. But when she makes a spirited defense of her plans, saying that men could go off to war to find their fortune, is husband hunting any worse? — then she started to win me over. It didn’t take much longer of seeing her resourcefulness and determination to be fully on her side. Though I was pretty sure things wouldn’t turn out quite as she expected at the start.

Kitty goes to London with one of her younger sisters, and tries to get introductions to the men who will have enough money to meet those debts. Although Kitty’s father was a gentleman, her mother was, well, a courtesan. They find a chaperone and a place to stay with one of her mother’s former coworkers, who is posing as a widow and person of quality. Now Kitty must meet young gentlemen of sufficient income and not only win them over, but also win their mothers over.

And her plans go so well at first! Not only does she win the affections of a wealthy second son, she even endears herself to his mother. But when his older brother, Lord Radcliffe, comes to investigate, this brother does a little research and quickly warns her off, if she doesn’t want the entire London social scene to know about her background.

Well, that might have been the end for any other girl. Here’s where Kitty thoroughly won me over, because she doesn’t roll over and go away. She negotiates. Sure, she’ll leave his brother alone, but at the price of some help with her fortune-hunting.

It wasn’t hard to guess where this story was going, but how it got there was absolutely delightful.

The characters in this book are what make it so wonderful. Sure, Kitty’s mercenary, but we soon see it’s all for the sake of her sisters. And her cleverness and determination shine through. It’s a fun new perspective on Jane Austen’s world, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Review of Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus

Lessons in Chemistry

by Bonnie Garmus
read by Miranda Raison

Random House Audio, 2022. 11 hours, 56 minutes.
Review written April 1, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I’m way behind the trend in finally reading this wildly popular book. The library has so many ecopies, we had to put a cap on it, so occasionally they’ll buy some special two-week-only copies to put a dent in the holds list, and I got in on one of those. I expected a rom-com, but that’s not what I got. This book begins with Madeleine Zott, a precocious 5-year-old girl, saying good-by to her mother, who is going to work to host a cooking show.

The book is about her mother, Elizabeth Zott, and it’s good they warned us she’s going to become a single mother — because right away they go back in time ten years to tell how she got there, and it involves such a beautiful romance that without the foreshadowing, I would have thrown my phone across the room when she became single.

I said in my review of Check and Mate that I’m a sucker for romance where two brilliant people are attracted to each other and come together in part because they appreciate each other’s minds. The romantic part of this book was all about that.

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist. Her soulmate Calvin Evans is also a chemist, but in 1950s California, he gets much more recognition for his work than Elizabeth ever does. They both come from difficult childhoods, but Elizabeth also had to deal with the aftermath of sexual assault – and not being quiet about it got her kicked out of a PhD program. She goes on to struggle to get credit – and funding – for her work as a research chemist. And is finally driven to quit. So when she gets an opportunity to host a cooking show, she takes it, because she has to support her daughter.

But in the TV studio, she’s got new biases to fight. She’s in afternoon television making a cooking show for a female audience — but Elizabeth Zott approaches it as lessons in chemistry. She tells the listeners about the chemical bonds being formed and all the chemistry of food and life itself — and ends up becoming wildly popular. Because women like having their intelligence respected. Who knew?

The story is delightful (except I could have done without the sad part) and wonderfully empowering and inspiring. Calvin’s back story that comes out is maybe a little overly convoluted, but it’s all in good fun. Oh, and their dog, Six-Thirty, has much to contribute as well. But the book is a winner because of the dynamic character of Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant woman who stands up for herself and never backs down, even when the odds seem to be impossible. She is constantly underestimated, and that’s always a mistake.

I highly recommend reading this book and meeting the unforgettable Elizabeth Zott.

bonniegarmus.com

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Review of The Weaver and the Witch Queen, by Genevieve Gornachec

The Weaver and the Witch Queen

by Genevieve Gornachec
read by Nina Yndis

Books on Tape, 2023. 16 hours, 26 minutes.
Review written March 9, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

The Weaver and the Witch Queen is a story set in 10th century Norway. The word “Viking” isn’t used, but most of the men make their livelihood going on raids. This story focuses on Gunnhild, an actual historical figure who became one of the most powerful women in Norway. An Author’s Note at the end tells about what the author knew from historical documents (often conflicting) and what she imagined.

The book begins when Gunnhild is a child, the youngest in her family and subject to constant abuse from her mother. But she has two dear friends who are sisters, Oddny and Signy. They swear an oath to always be there for one another. But when a seeress comes through and declares that their fates are tied together in a bad way, Gunnhild sneaks away to be an apprentice of the seeress — with the goal of becoming a powerful woman like she is.

However, twelve years later, Gunnhild is traveling in the “way witches do” in the form of a swallow, and she witnesses a raiding party attacking and destroying the home and family of Oddny and Signy. Oddny escapes, with the help of the swallow that is Gunnhild, but Signy is carried off to be enslaved.

The rest of the book is mostly about Oddny and Gunnhild in their determination to rescue Signy. The first big obstacle is that it’s winter. So they both spend time in the camp of the king’s son and heir Aeric in order to leave as soon as the weather allows them to travel again. Gunnhild hopes to travel to the underworld and learn where Signy has been taken. Oddny hopes to get silver from a man captured from those who raided her family and be able to afford to go after her.

But much happens that winter. Gunnhild is presented with another option for gaining power. Aeric is set to inherit the throne of Norway, but he has gotten that position through violence, murdering his brother at the request of his father because his brother was influenced by witchcraft. But his remaining brother is seeking to destroy Aeric through witchcraft — and the witches in his employ are seeking to destroy Gunnhild and were behind the destruction of Oddny’s home.

Sound complicated? The plot moves along at a gentle pace and it all makes sense, but there’s plenty of drama underneath it all to keep you interested. The method of witchcraft seemed completely plausible, though the author invented it. And Gunnhild’s insecurities about her apprenticeship being interrupted and all the other emotional undercurrents seemed authentic. The narrator Nina Yndis does a wonderful job with the Norwegian names. I also appreciated that there was what we would call a transgender Viking, and his existence and motivations were all handled well. The word “transgender” was never used, but we learn that his father gave him a girl’s name at birth.

In all, this book gives a richly detailed, obviously well-researched world and a wonderful story of a woman claiming power in that world.

genevievegornichec.com

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Review of How Can I Help You? by Laura Sims

How Can I Help You?

by Laura Sims
read by Carlotta Brentan and Maggi-Meg Reed

Books on Tape, 2023. 7 hours, 38 minutes.
Review written January 26, 2024, from a library eaudiobook

I was completely delighted with the premise of this book — a psychopath gets a job as a circulation aide in a small-town public library. Margo used to be a nurse, but after a few too many unexpected deaths, she fled her most recent hospital and got a job at the nice, peaceful library.

And it’s all going well until their new reference librarian, Patricia, shows up. Patricia didn’t want to be a librarian — she wanted to be a writer. But her book wasn’t finding an agent and she packed it up and vowed to give up writing.

Those two lives begin to get entangled when a patron dies in the ladies’ restroom. Was she dead before Margo got there? Nobody questions that. But Patricia walked in on Margo doing something odd. And later she learns that Margo was once a nurse — and finds a story that gets her writing again. She swears she’s just making up her story….

Now, did I get some satisfaction about some annoying library patrons getting a comeuppance? I plead the fifth. The author did portray some common behaviors in library patrons that might well drive a psychopath to murder.

Some details about working in a library didn’t quite ring true for me, the most notable being that I don’t think the only reference librarian in a library, no matter how small, could get away with intense writing time with notebook and pen. It’s up there with folks who believe librarians get to read all day. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write a novel!) There also was no staff entrance and no desks in a staff room (Where did they keep their purses?) except the library branch manager who for some odd reason never worked on the public desk — not even before they hired the reference librarian. And there were more little things — but as for annoying patrons, they nailed it! And that is probably what was most important in this story.

Now, the plot did kind of go over the edge. But hey, she was a psychopathic killer, so the author wasn’t going for ordinary. And I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

This book isn’t so much a mystery as a thriller, set in a small-town library. I hope you won’t worry about me when I say listening to it was a lot of fun.

laurasims.net

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Review of The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi, by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi

by Shannon Chakraborty
read by Lameece Issaq and Amin El Gamal

HarperAudio, 2023. 17 hours.
Review written 2/4/24 from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

Oh, I enjoyed this book so much! First, I have to say that it was refreshing to read a book written for adults where the protagonist is fully an adult. Amina Al-Sirafi is a retired pirate captain, but now she lives in a remote location with her mother and her 10-year-old daughter.

But then a rich old lady tracks Amina down and blackmails her into finding the lady’s granddaughter who was kidnapped by a Frank (the Muslim world’s name for Christians in medieval times). Amina suspects it wasn’t exactly a kidnapping, but when she learns the teenage girl is the daughter of her former crewman who died in bad circumstances, Amina feels she should take the job for his sake.

This means rounding up her ship and her crew. And that alone requires swashbuckling adventure, as the man she left her ship with has gotten into a bit of trouble. When Amina realizes magical forces are involved, she tries to back out of the deal, but her daughter’s very life is at stake from the blackmailing schemer.

The rest of the book includes dramatic adventures on the Indian Ocean, with both natural and supernatural dangers. You can see from the cover this includes a sea monster. There are dark magical forces at work, and it turns out that Amina needs to save not only the girl but the world as well. On her team, she has a wonderfully varied crew, each with prodigious skills, and her latest husband even shows up with his own set of magical talents.

Recently a couple of my friends started reading Fourth Wing, and both told me it felt like a Young Adult novel. Both times I answered that they must not have gotten to the sex part yet. With that book, the sexy parts felt like the main reason it was marketed as a book for adults. So I appreciated that in this book, the adventurer herself is a middle-aged (well, maybe 40s) mom. Yes, there’s some mind-blowing sex, but she respects her faith and only has married sex — and she closes the door on the reader when it happens, leaving the details to our imaginations.

The book is steeped in history I’d known nothing about, told from the perspective of a faithful Muslim with a checkered past. The adventures get bigger and more magical as the story goes on. Great fun.

sachakraborty.com

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Review of The Girl with the Louding Voice, by Abi Daré

The Girl with the Louding Voice

by Abi Daré
read by Adjoa Andoh

Penguin Audio, 2020. 12 hours, 7 minutes.
Review written January 10, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

Oh my goodness, this book was a treat to listen to. In this case, I highly recommend reading the book with the audiobook version, because the story is told by Adunni, a Nigerian girl with a thick accent and some quirky ways of using English. I think it might have been a little hard to follow in print, but Adjoa Andoh read it for me delightfully. She was easy to understand via listening, and I quickly got used to those quirks. For example, a “louding” voice is a voice getting louder and more influential so that other people can hear her.

Adunni has always wanted to be a teacher. She wants to help girls and women find their voices and get a louding voice herself.

But life is not kind to Adunni. As the book opens, at fourteen years old she has had to stop going to school, because her family can’t afford it after the death of her mother. And then her father finds a way to pay the rent — by selling Adunni to be the third wife of a rich old man.

Adunni had heard her father promise her mother that Adunni could stay in school, but he’s breaking that promise. And that’s only the beginning of the troubles Adunni goes through. Something terrible happens in her new household, and she knows she will be blamed, so she has to flee her village. And that doesn’t end her troubles, either.

There were times when the book was almost too sad, but the resilient character of Adunni kept me going, as she kept going. I think it’s fair to tell you as readers not to give up, that it does have a happy ending. (And it would just be unbearable if it didn’t. As it is: Hooray for Adunni!)

Some of the parts I love are when Adunni discovers a dictionary and starts reading the “Collins.” Also, after she finds a book of facts about Nigeria, each chapter opens with one of those facts. It’s that way that Adunni learns about human trafficking and that much of what has been done to her is against the law.

I haven’t been reading many adult books lately because I was on the Morris committee last year, and I’m not sure where I got the recommendation to read this one, but what a delight it is!

abidareauthor.com

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Review of A Christmas Deliverance, by Anne Perry

A Christmas Deliverance

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2022. 204 pages.
Review written December 11, 2023, from a library book.

Years ago, I got in the habit of reading an Anne Perry mystery novella at Christmas time. But now most years, I’m reading for the Cybils Awards at this time. This year, though, I was reading for the Morris Award instead, and we’ve chosen our Finalists (to be announced soon), so I have a little time to read what I want before getting serious about reading for the Mathical Book Prize — and I picked up last year’s Anne Perry Christmas mystery, with this year’s on hold. Unfortunately, Anne Perry passed away in April of 2023, so this year’s may be the last Christmas mystery to be published.

I always realize that I really should get started reading the author’s main mystery series to enjoy these more, but so far haven’t gotten around to it. This book features a side character from her series about William Monk of the Thames River Police. Dr. Crowe works as a doctor down near the river, helping poor people with whatever medical care they need. His assistant is William and Hester Monk’s foster son Scuff, who was once a mudlark.

The mystery here, happening just as Christmas approaches is about a young lady that Dr. Crowe cared for after she was in a carriage accident near his practice. Now she is engaged to a man who is abusive to her in public. Dr. Crowe is convinced the young man’s father is holding something over the young lady’s father, because why else would she agree to marry him?

And so he investigates a fire in a warehouse, where the two men ended up with a considerable insurance settlement — and the night watchman died.

The story was a little repetitive, and was more about watching Dr. Crowe find things out than it was about solving a puzzle. But there’s a touch of romance, heart-warming characters helping the poor (even a little girl and a kitten!), and evildoers facing justice, with a happy ending on Christmas Day. So it does make for nice holiday reading.

randomhousebooks.com

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