Libro.FM offered seven audiobooks for February and I chose five out of the seven to download, listen to and review. I chose the five listed below because I had seen high praise from the book community for them all, and the high praise was most definitely well deserved! Four of these titles were easily five star reads for me, and the fifth was a four star read so still one of the best books of the year.
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I was sent a copy of this novel by the publishers to review, however this has no bearing on my rating or review.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African Americans 1619 – 2019 Edited by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
Curated by Ibram X. Kendi and fellow historian Keisha N. Blain, Four Hundred Souls begins with the arrival of twenty enslaved Ndongo people on the shores of the British colony in mainland America in 1619, the year before the arrival of the Mayflower. In eighty chronological chapters, the book charts the tragic and triumphant four-hundred-year history of Black American experience in a choral work of exceptional power and beauty.
Contributors include some of the best-known scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists of contemporary America who together bring to vivid life countless new facets to the drama of slavery and resistance, segregation and survival, migration and self-discovery, cultural oppression and world-changing artistic, literary and musical creativity. In these pages are dozens of extraordinary lives and personalities, rescued from the archives and restored to their rightful place in America’s narrative, as well as the ghosts of millions more. Four Hundred Souls is an essential work of story-telling and reclamation that redefines America and changes our notion of how history is written.
Four Hundred Souls is a journey through time like no other, a collection of voices uniting to tell the history of four difficult and heart-breaking centuries that have created and affected the African American population. This book is divided into sections, each author has written an essay on a five year period dating from 1619 to 2019. Every author has chosen a person or event from within those five years to focus on, I found this an incredibly impactful way of describing life for Black Americans during this time. Four Hundred Souls is a unique yet brilliant piece of accessible non-fiction, it’s a book you can easily read over a period of time by reading it a section at a time, whether this is a forty or five year section. The audiobook was narrated by a whole cast which helped to differentiate between the sections and keep the interest of the listener, each section was also clearly titled and read aloud. I would highly recommend this book and audiobook and I hope to attain a physical copy at some point to reread.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
The Paris Library is exactly the kind of historical novel I thoroughly enjoy reading. A story with a sprinkling of romance, a little bit of mystery, a dual timeline and partly set in a library was always going to win me over! I loved Odile from the moment I met her as she daydreamed about the Dewey Decimal System and her new job at the library, she was a strong main character who knew what she wanted in life and I enjoyed following her adventurous through Paris and later her life in Montana. Due to the dual time line there was a strong element of intrigue throughout the novel as to how Odile had started a life in Montana, what had brought her there? I loved her relationship with Lily, they both had such an unexpected affection for each other which was written beautifully. The narrators of this audiobook told the story so elegantly, I could hardly bare to pause the story and I listened to majority of the novel in a day or two! An absolute treat of a novel that I would definitely recommend.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Set among the cities and suburbs of Florida, each story in Milk Blood Heat delves into the ordinary worlds of young girls, women, and men who find themselves confronted by extraordinary moments of violent personal reckoning. These intimate portraits of people and relationships scour and soothe and blast a light on the nature of family, faith, forgiveness, consumption, and what we may, or may not, owe one another.
A thirteen-year-old meditates on her sadness and the difference between herself and her white best friend when an unexpected tragedy occurs; a woman recovering from a miscarriage finds herself unable to let go of her daughter—whose body parts she sees throughout her daily life; a teenager resists her family’s church and is accused of courting the devil; servers at a supper club cater to the insatiable cravings of their wealthy clientele; and two estranged siblings take a road-trip with their father’s ashes and are forced to face the troubling reality of how he continues to shape them. Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive, Milk Blood Heat forms an ouroboros of stories that bewitch with their truth.
Milk Blood Heat is a collection of impactful short stories written by Dantiel W. Moniz that depict the rawness of reality. Some of the themes explored within these stories are race, grief, identity, motherhood and friendship, each story is thought provoking and written in a lyrical and emotional manner. The main characters of these stories are usually women or young girls who are struggling with their identity. There is no tidy ending to these stories, each one leaves you reeling as you attempt to unravel the ambiguity of Dantiel W. Moniz’s storytelling. If you’re looking for a shocking but realistic read that puts a much needed spotlight in particular on Black women’s trauma and pain, I would highly recommend Milk Blood Heat.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.
Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
Firekeeper’s Daughter is by far my favourite novel of 2021, it is simply phenomenal! The story of Daunis and her attempts to unravel the crimes being committed within her community is beautifully and heartbreakingly written. I pre-ordered a copy of this novel simply from the desire to read more books by Indigenous authors and because of how beautiful the cover is. And this stunning cover does not disappoint in physical form! When I discovered Libro.FM was offering Firekeeper’s Daughter as one of their February picks I was delighted, through the audiobook I was able to fully immerse myself in Daunis’s story and hear the correct pronunciation of her language. Angeline Boulley has crafted one of the best debuts I have ever read, the story is perfectly paced to keep the reader engaged while taking the time to educate readers on Ojibwe traditions and culture. Firekeeper’s Daughter is a detailed, powerful and thrilling novel that I will reread countless times.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp
As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.
Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.
Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home.
Stories about food are my absolute weakness! I knew I was going to adore Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet as soon as I read the synopsis and discovered the main character, Pen’s, passion for food. However falling in love with both Pen and Xander was a definite added bonus to this reading experience. The story is split between Pen and Xander’s POV’s, with their own individual narrators for the audiobook which helped to clearly define both POV’s. The author surprised me with the direction of this story quite often, it’s a story of finding where you belong and standing up for what you believe in whilst also experimenting with first love and feelings of loss and betrayal. At it’s core Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is the beautiful story of family, both blood related and found family, the agony and the joys.
A huge thank you to Libro.FM for gifting these audiobooks to me, Firekeeper’s Daughter was my favourite but I’ve definitely discovered even more cherished reads through Libro this month too.
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