The Au Pair by Emma Rous | Advance Reader’s Copy Review

Au Pair Review

Title: The Au Pair
Author: Emma Rous
My rating: 4.5 / 5
Is it worth reading? If you love mystery and suspense, slow-revelations-style character development, and contrasting spooky/cozy atmosphere, this is a great book for you.
When does it come out? January 8, 2019
Random gushing: I love the cover of this book. It’s one of those covers that doesn’t disappoint you and fits in perfectly with the content of the book. Can’t wait to see this one on the shelves!

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

Summary:

After her father’s accidental death, Seraphine Mayes seeks solace in old family albums. That’s when she discovers a photograph she’s never seen before—of her mother serenely holding one, not two, babies on the day she and her twin brother were born. Hours after the photo was taken, her mother would throw herself from the cliffs behind their idyllic countryside estate, and the events surrounding the birth of the Mayes twins would become the stuff of local legend … tales of sprites and switched babies, changelings and a curse upon all twins born at Summerbourne. But who is Seraphine, really?

Review:

I was first intrigued by the cover of this book, and let me tell you—and like the girl on the cover, it will keep you looking back over your shoulder the whole time, hoping you don’t find a knife waiting for you.

Each chapter shifts between two perspectives—Seraphine in the present day, and Laura (the au pair) in the past. I love how this story slowly unfolds as the circumstances become more dire in each narrator’s story. I also appreciated how the author kept me guessing the whole time—just who are these children and where did they come from? Rous’ sense of place and atmosphere is wonderful. It made me want to sip tea in Summerbourne and run down to a rocky beach. But while sometimes the story felt cheery and homey, at other times it was eerie and mysterious (this always seemed to happen when I was reading it at night!).

I also liked Seraphine’s internal dialogue of self-doubt. Is she just being crazy and paranoid? Is she just grasping at straws to stay connected to her dead father? Or has she been ignoring her own intuition her entire life?

The story has a mostly satisfying ending (even some romance!), although we never know the extent of the accused character’s true evil or the extent of Ruth’s mental illness.

My only critique was that the first chapter felt a bit bumpy to me. I just didn’t initially buy into Seraphine’s sudden suspicions based on one photograph. But as the story unfolds, we see how little dominoes falling over the course of her life have lead her to this place of suspicion.

This one ticked all the boxes for me: Great mystery, interesting characters, intricate plot development, great sense of place, and quick read. Pick up a copy this January!

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

14 Agatha Christie books, ranked

I. Love. Agatha.

I am not a slasher, psychological thriller, criminal minds mystery lover. I unashamedly love cozy mysteries, and Agatha Christie is one of my favorite mystery authors.

One of my lifelong goals is to read every single Agatha Christie book ever written, but I have a feeling this will be a lifelong pursuit (she wrote 70+ books!). Last year, I knocked several more Christies off my list, and I’ve finally read enough to begin a ranking list of my favorites.

I know some readers feel Christie mysteries are either a hit or miss, and while I’ve definitely read some misses, for the most part I find Christie’s books to be consistently enjoyable. Hopefully this list will help you select your next cozy read from the Queen of Mystery:

1. And Then There Were None

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Ten men and women are mysteriously summoned to an island where they are forced to reconcile with their sins—as an unknown killer begins to pick them off one by one.

Utter. Brilliance. This is probably Agatha Christie’s most well-known work, and for good reason. It’s twisty, chilling, and just plain clever.  This was also the first Agatha Christie book I ever read. As The Lord of the Rings is a must-read for any fantasy lover, And Then There Were None is required reading for mystery lovers.

Bonus: The 2015 mini-series is incredibly well done. Gave me chills and I even knew what was coming!

 

2. Death on the Nile – Hercule Poirot

51zsVKc2zeL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_A beautiful young woman’s mysterious death shatters a peaceful cruise on the Nile, but Hercule Poirot is determined to find the killer who’s still onboard.

This is one of my favorite Hercule Poirot mysteries. The setting is exotic, the mystery is smart, and the reveal is extremely satisfying! I didn’t see the ending coming, and for me, that’s the mark of a great mystery. What I love most is that this book is that it’s transporting—meaning that I felt like I was floating down the Nile with Hercule Poirot. The atmosphere is fantastic!

Bonus: Rumor has it that Death on the Nile will be the sequel to the recent Murder on the Orient Express movie!

 

3. The Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple

516wvvl6WLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve talked about Murder at the Vicarage here and here, so I think it’s safe to say that I LOVED THIS BOOK. Before I gave Miss Marple a try, I was convinced there could be nothing interesting about a little old lady solving crimes (judgmental, I know!). But I’ll fully admit it: I was wrong!

This mystery was not what I was expecting—Miss Marple is not the main player in the story (like in many Poirot books), but her expertise in “human nature” is ultimately what saves the day.

 

 

 

4. Murder on the Orient Express – Hercule Poirot

u341fevwh7ngw7nlvxickikw2pmyaglw8rbmsyhbriag5ouet9tcq9f2xjffxkzsjelhh1dotzfe59az8eyzmcztb0of4sfmxkiawsw1oyzkgsradzgmvyczu.pngPoirot must draw from all his resources to find the killer of a most-loathed man from among thirteen passengers on the Orient Express.

This book had one of the most surprising endings of any mystery book I’ve ever read. I definitely recommend reading the book if you’ve only seen the movie. While I loved Kenneth Branagh’s recent film adaptation, the book’s resolution is much more satisfying. This is one of Christie’s most famous novels, and for good reason.

 

 

 

5. The Mystery of the Blue Train – Hercule Poirot

The-Mystery-of-the-Blue-TrainThe Mystery of the Blue Train spans across Europe as Poirot investigates the death of a beautiful young woman on a train to the Mediterranean … and the jewel that lead to her demise.

This one starts out a bit unconventionally—cursed jewels, gangs, gypsies—but soon settles into a familiar Poirot storyline.  I never suspected the killer, and like Death on the Nile, you’re pulled into a world of intrigue, passion, and European decadence. It’s one of my favorite Christie audiobooks too!

 

 

 

6. The Moving Finger – Miss Marple

5141B9s+zWL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The village of Lymstock seems perfectly peaceful, until a series of vicious anonymous letters sends everyone into an uproar … leading one villager to commit suicide.

Sadly, this book doesn’t feature much of Miss Marple—she sort of swoops in at the end and solves the mystery—but the narrator is (mostly) likable and the plot is deliciously twisty. The only thing I didn’t really like was the relationship between Jerry (the narrator) and Megan Hunter. Throughout the story she’s portrayed as a 20-year-old who acts more like a 10-year-old in dress and behavior, which makes Jerry’s attraction to her seem kind of creepy. But overall, I loved how the characters evolved throughout the story, and how the murderer (as usual) was the person I least expected! Megan’s heroism helps save the day, and I found this Christie a thoroughly satisfying read.

 

7. A Murder is Announced – Miss Marple

51nmzJynQYL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The whole village is aflutter when a murder announcement is placed in the local paper—and local residents can’t resist coming to watch!

At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish this one. The first few chapters introducing all the characters were just boring. Then, the “murder attempt” was so ridiculous I was almost embarrassed for the characters! “How can this book be on so many top lists?!” I wondered. But once you get past the “setting the stage” portion of the book, it gets really good.

This one also features plenty of Miss Marple, and I never saw the ending coming! Highly recommend.

 

8. The Regatta Mystery (and Other Stories)

x500I usually avoid short stories like the plague. I don’t know why … something about the shortness of short stories always seems to leave me wanting more. I actually only picked this book up because I wanted to read something short to hit my 2017 reading goals.

So, imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed this collection! Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Parker Pyne all make appearances. Far from being disappointing, these quick, punchy stories get right to the mystery and resolution quickly. I enjoyed listening in short spurts as I did chores around the house. It was great to not feel pressured to listen for long periods of time while still having the satisfaction of listening to a complete story.

 

9. The A.B.C. Murders – Hercule Poirot

71EqbWRE9MLThe A.B.C. Murders is arguably a fan favorite—and it is extremely clever, twisty, and has a wonderfully creepy serial killer who seems to be murdering his way through the alphabet.

Most of the build up was a little slow for me. The payoff at the end was excellent, but unfortunately this one gets low marks from me because I can’t stand Poirot’s friend Captain Arthur Hastings. I know he’s a foil to Poirot’s genius, but still. *Begin rant* Besides the fact that he’s one of the most idiotic characters ever written, his internal monologue is painful. Painful. You’d think he would stop questioning Poirot’s abilities … how many investigations has he helped Poirot with at this point?! But no, he always thinks he knows better than Poirot and always ends up being amazed that Poirot figured out the crime without any help from him. Shocker! *Rant Over*

You’ll have to decide for yourself what you think about Hastings, but The A.B.C. Murders is definitely still worth the read.

 

10. Ordeal by Innocence

ORDEAL BY INNOCENCEAPBAn interesting premise—a man awakes from amnesia only to realize he could have provided an alibi for a man convicted in a murder trial. His guilt leads him to confess to the family, and he is surprised to discover they are displeased. Jacko, the black sheep of the family, was the one person they all hoped was guilty.

This one gets lower marks for a few reasons. First, I essentially figured out the mystery before the reveal, one of the main characters was just plain annoying (and yet for some reason everyone seemed to be in love with her), and lastly, it purports some ideas about mothering and adoption that I’m still not sure about. One of the main sources of conflict in the story is that the matriarch of the family (the one murdered), cannot see people as they really are, and thus is overbearing in the extreme. This causes resentment, anger, and frustration for all the adopted Argyle children. I am not adopted, so I cannot speak to what it’s like to be part of an adopted family, but it seems like at times the book is implying that adopted children can never truly love or trust a family they’ve been adopted into.

 

11. Endless Night

16366Every Night & every Morn 
Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
– from Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

This is probably one of the creepier Agatha Christie novels I’ve ever read, and perhaps that’s why I wasn’t a huge fan. The mixture of psychological suspense, obsession with architecture, disturbing passion, and that crazy twist at the end … it’s definitely not what you expect from a typical Christie. And that’s ok. It just wasn’t exactly my cup of Earl Grey tea. For much of the book, I didn’t know where the story was going, and I certainly disliked Michael Rodgers as the narrator. Add to that the creepy poem (quoted above) that is sung by one of the main characters at different points throughout the book, and you have a recipe for an eerie thriller.

Endless Night is considered one of Christie’s best, and in fact, is one of her own favorite works. It’s worth the read, but don’t expect it to be Agatha Christie business as usual!

 

12. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Hercule Poirot

The-Mysterious-Affair-at-StylesWho killed the wealthy heiress? Was it her new husband? Her stepsons? Her housekeeper or her nurse? And how did they get into her locked chambers?

This is another Captain Hastings + Poirot mystery. As stated above, I don’t like Poirot books that feature Hastings. He’s like a more ditsy version of Dr. Watson. Which makes me wonder if Christie was trying to play off the Sherlock Holmes/Watson dynamic in these books? I suppose the Watson of the original Sherlock Holmes books was dazzled by Sherlock in a way that could be annoying, but that’s another discussion.

Back to this book. Besides my dislike for Hastings, I just didn’t think this was a very interesting mystery. Keeping track of the characters was more difficult than usual, and I suspected the resolution before it happened. Basically, a disappointing Poirot book all around. I recommend skipping this one.

 

13. Hallowe’en Party – Hercule Poirot

16307An annoying teenager is drowned in a tub of apples during a Halloween party … not long after she was heard bragging that she witnessed a murder. Was she crying wolf again? Or was she finally telling the truth?

I read this book for Halloween because I love reading holiday-themed books. But goodness … this was disappointing. I had to keep forcing myself to finish and I was very close to having the whole thing figured out two-thirds of the way in. The whole plot felt odd and disjointed. I left with the feeling that this book was just an excuse to have a book that centered around Halloween—which is really a shame. I don’t recommend this one!

 

 

14. The Seven Dials Mystery – Superintendent Battle

9780062074164-us-300A group of young adults decide to play a prank on their friend who is known for oversleeping—they place eight alarm clocks in his room, only to discover he is dead the next morning. Soon, the survivors are involved with a secret society and international spy ring before discovering the truth of their friend’s murder.

The worst Christie I’ve read to date. The characters were incredibly one-dimensional, pompous, and ridiculous. I barely recognized Christie’s voice—the story is too light and the characters too petty. It was also annoying how every single character said, “Oh!” before they began a line of dialogue. Superintendent Battle barely played a role in the story at all (even less than Miss Marple), which seems like a waste.

The twist at the end redeemed it a little, but this book was the closest I’ve come to DNF-ing a Christie book. I just couldn’t take the plot (or a character named “Bundle”) seriously. I love this review on Goodreads about the book and recommend you read it if you’re still unsure.

The last three things I’ve read (plus why I disappeared again)

Three books you should read ASAP. Also, why I disappeared again.

It’s been a while. Again. I swore once things settled down with the move out to Colorado, I’d regularly write again.

Whelp.

Things didn’t settle down, because almost as soon as we were unpacked, we decided to move (AGAIN) for new job opportunities. Moving for the second time in six months, starting a new job, and beginning my first semester of graduate school has meant that not only is my house literally a trainwreck, but I also haven’t had much time for writing!

Hopefully, that will change now.

In the meantime, here are three quick books I have managed to read in my spare time that I think you should pick up ASAP:

1. Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young book cover

I was too young to remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but this book was extremely powerful nonetheless.

Not only does it highlight the double standards for women caught in scandal, but it also touches on the eternal nature of the internet and the practical challenges of picking your life back up after a terrible mistake. In many ways, it read like a cautionary tale about the realities of women’s reputations, but at the same time it was clearly a call for societal change.

I found myself wondering: Should we really crucify someone for the rest of their life because of a mistake they made when they were in their twenties? As a society, it’s also crucial that we recognize that the things we say online – the shame we cast on an individual – has the power to derail a life. We must wield this power cautiously, carefully, and compassionately.

But beyond being thought provoking, this book was hilarious. The audiobook is particularly great—I was cracking up on my morning commute so many times throughout the book. The only thing I didn’t like was the “choose your own adventure” section at the end. I actually checked out the physical book from my library before realizing that the other “options” were actually not options at all—they had strike-throughs (aka, you couldn’t “choose any adventure” other than the choices Aviva actually made), but that was unclear in the audio version. When I finished the audiobook, I was left wondering if there were sections of the book I hadn’t read until I got my hands on the physical book.

Overall though, I highly recommend this book. It was engaging, funny, thought-provoking, and timely.

2. Reading People by Anne Bogel

Reading People book cover

I love Ann Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next and her eBook deals Modern Mrs Darcy. I’ve even toyed with the idea of joining Anne’s online book club, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. That’s why it’s weird that I don’t actually read many of her blog posts (sorry Anne!), but I love following her everywhere else online (is that weird?). Anyway, this is her first book, and it’s about personalities, which I love studying. So obviously I had to give it a try. It’s also exciting to see someone whose blog I admire be successful in writing her first book.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy an overview of different personality typing systems, since I’ve studied things like the enneagram pretty thoroughly already. Good news: Reading People was pleasantly insightful and relevant to both the personality obsessed and the beginner. What I particularly liked was Anne’s emphasis on the purpose behind personality typing: Learning to understand yourself and others better to strengthen relationships and get off the crazy-person spin cycle.

After Reading People, I recommend more in-depth analysis of the personality typing systems to learn more (The Road Back to You is a fantastic enneagram book), but as a general overview, Reading people is certainly helpful.

I also learned some things I didn’t know before—I’ve never heard of HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) before, and I also enjoyed her section on introverts and extroverts. Overall, whether you’re a personality junkie or don’t know what personality typing system might best suit your needs, this is a good overview book.

3. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage book cover

Since yesterday was the premiere of the new Murder on the Orient Express movie starring Kenneth Branagh (I saw it, loved the cinematography, and would recommend it for the most part), I’ll recommend my favorite Agatha Christie book I’ve read this year: The Murder at the Vicarage.

Every year, I try to read a few Agatha Christie books to slowly chip away at my lifelong goal of reading all 70+ of her works. I love her standalone titles, and I love Hercule Poirot. But for some reason, I have avoided Miss Marple stories like the plague. I suppose something about a little old lady solving mysteries hasn’t appealed to me—and I have no idea why.

Anyway, I finally decided to give Miss Marple her due, and boy, was I disappointed. Not in the book, but with myself. WHY HAVE I WAITED SO LONG TO READ MISS MARPLE?! The world may never know.

The Murder at the Vicarage is perhaps one of my all-time favorite Christie novels. It’s funny, twisty, and I never saw the ending coming. I also highly recommend this title on audiobook!

Snooze Alert: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

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Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Is it worth reading? No. I found it to be long, flat, and confusing at times. Characters are underdeveloped, the plot tries to accomplish too much, and dialogue is tiresome. There are  so many great WWII novels out there … this is not one of them.

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

Where to begin.

If Everyone Brave is Forgiven hadn’t been the selection for the book club I’m in, I would have DNFed it pretty early on.

In a nutshell, Everyone Brave is Forgiven was one of the most disappointing books I’ve read in a while. All the elements of a great story were there: Little-known history of WWII, racial tensions, love triangle … but somehow it just falls flat. Chris Cleave is a bestselling author and many people have enjoyed this book.

Perhaps it’s just my personal tastes, but this particular book just didn’t work for me.

This is the only Chris Cleave book I’ve read, so I might just not like the way he writes. I’ve thought about reading Little Bee several times, but I don’t think I can do it if it’s similar in style to this one.

Characters & Setting

WWII is one of the most tragic, formative, and fascinating times in history. That’s why I was surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven was so snooze-worthy. It lacked any of the drama that usually surrounds this era of history.

The characters were one-dimensional and the most emotional parts of the story left me nodding off to sleep.

The transitions and descriptions throughout the book were often very strange. At times I didn’t know what was real and what was a dream, what the characters were thinking or doing, or who characters even were (For example, one book club member didn’t know how Hilda was related to Mary until partway through the book). Once or twice I asked myself, Do I have to be British to understand this??

We never get inside character’s heads, understand their motivations, or see how they deal with grief, heartache, or joy.

Another strange thing: Almost all of the dialogue in this book was just witty banter. Characters rarely talked directly about the true, terrible things that were happening. Everything was a sarcastic joke. Maybe Cleave was trying to make the point that the war was too horrible for words, and could only be spoken about in jokes … but it came across as trite and shallow.

And if the dust cover description hadn’t mentioned that Alistair and Mary fell in love when they first met, I wouldn’t have picked up on that fact at all.

This is one of my ultimate book pet peeves: I can’t stand it when a dust jacket description is a bait and switch. The description for this book made it sound like the book was going to go one direction, but it went a completely different one. I don’t know why, but that always leaves me feeling deceived and shortchanged.

Story & Plot

I so wish Everyone Brave is Forgiven had focused exclusively on the relationship between Mary and black students during the war. Not only would it have been timely, it would have been valuable to read a black perspective during WWII. The dust jacket made it seem like that was where the book was going, but it was just a sidebar storyline.

In fact, there wasn’t any clear, dominant storyline throughout the entire book … it’s like it tried to cover too much ground without really making any clear point. We have Mary and Tom’s story, the school story, the war in general, Alastair’s experiences, Alastair and Hilda’s story, Mary and Hilda’s friendship, and then Mary and Alastair’s romance. None were particularly successful.

I walked away from this book not sure what, exactly, I was supposed to learn or get out of reading it.

But perhaps one of the most unbelievable aspects of the book is Mary’s behavior.

She galavants around London doing whatever her heart desires … like spending the night and sleeping with her boyfriend (did people really do this so willy-nilly before birth control?) or frequenting “seedy” clubs. If her family is really as affluent and concerned with image as the book makes them sound, I have a hard time believing that during the 1940s she could have slept at her boyfriend’s house or hung around the club without strong consequences to her parents’ political image.

Even the TV show Call the Midwife (which is set in the 1950s) clearly shows that sex outside of marriage was, in general, publicly frowned upon.

Final Thoughts

The most positive thing I can say about Everyone Brave is Forgiven is that it reads really quickly. Small mercies.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If the scope of the story had been pared down, and the characters and setting had been more developed, this could have been something special. But it just fell flat for me.

There was no drama. There was no anticipation. There was no conflict, climax, or resolution. And then the ending: No resolution. No hope. It ended on such a discordant note.

I think the most painful part or reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven was this: At the most dramatic, important, and tragic moments, I felt nothing. I felt numb. I just didn’t care.

As a reader, that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

DNF: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

DNF-

Title: The Nest
Author: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
My rating: DNF
Genre: Fiction, General
Is it worth reading? I wouldn’t recommend it. I thought this would be like reading a celebrity gossip magazine — a easy, breezy, guilty pleasure. This was definitely not that. The Nest was more like a romance novel featuring unlikeable characters and catty behavior.

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

I hate marking a book DNF, especially on books I’ve made significant headway in or purchased (although I got the Kindle version for cheap through a Goodreads Deal email).

I especially hate disliking a book with cover artwork as beautiful as The Nest.

But I just can’t finish. I’m about 55% of the way through, and I just can’t read one. more. line. I can’t pretend to be interested in the sex, selfishness, shallowness, and frankly, boring storylines anymore.

Life is too short to finish books you don’t like. So I gave myself a gold star and moved on.

060

The Nest started off promising enough, with interesting details and quirks about each character, but it quickly spiraled into mostly focusing on their sex lives. (What happened to the nest? I thought that was what this book was about?)

Honestly, I’m just not that interested in reading about a (gay or straight) character’s sexual experiences and explorations — especially when it doesn’t seem to have a point. The Nest is not a coming-of-age story, and it’s not trying to make a stance or a statement. Several characters felt like they were reduced to their sexual urges … like there was little else notable or interesting about them as people.

And then there’s the plot in general. The first 1/4 of the book actually deals with “the nest,” but halfway through I had no clue where this book was going. The different viewpoints and background stories were interesting, but there wasn’t a central narrative that tied all the random storylines together.

Also, The Nest had practically no sympathetic characters. It was hard to feel compassion, empathy, and understanding to people who are so utterly unpleasant (and made such terrible choices). I couldn’t find much to love or appreciate in any of them.

I had high hopes that The Nest would be a light and entertaining read. Instead, I feel like I need to go take a shower.

 

What did you think of The Nest? Did the ending justify the means?

Why you need to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audiobook note: Bahni Turpin does a fantastic job narrating. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her mastery of different accents and character voices. As you’ll see below, I think listening on audiobook really helped me finish this story.
Is it worth reading? Yes, yes, yes. The Underground Railroad is not a “comfortable” read by any means, but it’s an important one. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to listen to voices speaking out about racial tensions in our country. It may be written about the past, but The Underground Railroad is more timely than ever.

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

It’s taken me some time to chew over what to say in a review of The Underground Railroad. Namely, how do you review a book about horrors that were not committed toward your ancestors? Horrors that your ancestors, in fact, might have committed?

Approaching this book, I wanted to assume a posture of listening and learning, attempting (though brokenly) to grow in my understanding.

In that regard, The Underground Railroad did not disappoint.

As I listened to the audiobook, all I could think was: “This is what reading is all about. This is so important for me to hear.”

The atrocities committed against slaves and blacks in America are easy to forget when we relegate their stories to textbooks and history classes. For me, The Underground Railroad was a powerful reminder of the importance (and power) of narrative in helping us understand not only history, but the experiences of another human being.

And this is what I love about books. I will never understand what it’s like to be a black slave in pre-Civil War America. Or even to be a black person in modern America. But I can begin to listen, learn, and grow through hearing their stories.

Another powerful message from The Underground Railroad is that it’s incredibly easy to celebrate all the good aspects of our country while completely forgetting the horror, evil, and despicable actions of Americans who killed, plundered, and destroyed the lives of Native Americans and blacks.

We cannot forget that much (if not most) of our country was built on the backs of slaves and the oppressed. We cannot sanitize history to ease our consciences. Erasing the horror only makes us blind to the world we’ve created — the world we live in today.

Choosing to intentionally avoid stories like The Underground Railroad is choosing to live asleep.

It’s choosing to willfully ignore — or even worse, willfully deny — the realities of our country’s origins, and the roots of so many racial tensions today. You cannot torture, murder, and dehumanize an entire people group for over two hundred years and then expect all the remnants of that torture to be gone within a few generations.

I know all of these things have been said before, by people much smarter, wiser, and more attuned to the nuances of racial tension than I am. But this is why I think The Underground Railroad is an incredibly important read.

One thing is abundantly clear to me after reading this story: I have not read nearly enough African American literature. Shame on me.

My only minor critique: From a purely personal standpoint, The Underground Railroad was not the most engaging book I’ve ever picked up. If I hadn’t been listening to it on audiobook, I think it would have been easy to put it down and not pick it back up. I think the reason isn’t the content, which was powerful, thought provoking, and highly relevant.

I think the problem for me was more in the style. I wish some of the portions had been in first person, or had delved deeper into the character’s psyche. The characters felt a bit flat at times, and the setting wasn’t fleshed out enough that I could visualize everything Cora and the other characters were experiencing.

The most interesting plot device of the story — the underground railroad as an actual railroad — doesn’t feel fully developed. I was left wanting something a little … more.

Whitehead’s writing felt a bit … clinical, for lack of a better word. The story was powerful. The plot was interesting. But the way it was written just wasn’t my favorite.

So that’s my struggle. On the one hand, you have this incredibly moving story that shines a bright light on the attitudes, atrocities, and belief systems of the slavery-era South.

But on the other hand, you have story that stalled, dragged on, and lost my interest at times.

At the end of the day, not every important story is going to have the readability that suits our absolute particular preferences, and that’s ok.

Should you still read it? Absolutely. But maybe check out the audiobook.