For My Ears: Twice a Daughter – A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging by Julie McGue

The good people of Books Forward recently sent me an audiobook of Julie McGue’s memoir chronicling her search for her biological parents.

Here’s the overview:

Michigan City, IN – Julie Ryan McGue is adopted. And she is also a twin. But because their adoption was closed, she and her sister lack both a health history and the names of their birth parents — which becomes pertinent for Julie when, at 48 years old, she finds herself facing several serious health issues. McGue’s poignant and hopeful debut memoir, “Twice a Daughter,” (May 11, 2021, She Writes Press) chronicles the complex search for her uncharted family history.

To launch the probe into her closed adoption, McGue first needs the support of her sister. The twins talk things over and make a pact: McGue will approach their adoptive parents for the adoption paperwork and investigate search options, and the sisters will split the costs involved in locating their birth relatives. But their adoptive parents aren’t happy that their daughters want to locate their birth parents — and that is only the first of many obstacles Julie will come up against as she digs into her background.

The quest for her birth relatives spans five years and involves a search agency, a private investigator, a confidential intermediary, a judge, an adoption agency, a social worker and a genealogist. 

By journey’s end, what began as a simple desire for a family medical history has evolved into a complicated quest — one that unearths secrets, lies and family members that are literally right next door.

McGue earnestly writes about discovering who you are and where you come from, all while trying to make sense of it all. In sharing her unconventional journey through life, which involves new family, exploration and acceptance, this heavy-hearted history considers personal identity and all the complicated and captivating moments that encapsulate one’s life.

Me again!! This was an interesting one, with even a touch of “truth is stranger than fiction” to it. However, what I found so interesting in this book was the author’s drive to find her biological parents. She was an adult who was raised in a family where she was loved. She had a wonderful husband and family and an active life. But her sense of identity was tightly wound up in the fact that she was adopted at birth and even though she started the search for health reasons, she was not willing to stop even after she received medical histories, etc. It was important for her to find her actual birth parents and any possible half siblings; and she wasn’t going to stop before she did.

Also interesting to me was that, while her twin was invested in the process, this seemed to be truly Julie’s journey. It made me ponder the concept of identity and how we come to define who we are and those things that shape us. In one poignant moment she discovers through DNA testing that she is not Irish (at all) and yet for her whole life she has identified as Irish as her adoptive family was a large Irish family and she had physical features that appeared “Irish”. It does make one wonder how we come to develop who we are and what has the power to add or take away from that knowledge.

An interesting read! Thank you for sending me the audiobook, which was engaging during my drives!

Here’s some background on Julie:

JULIE RYAN McGUE is an author, a domestic adoptee and an identical twin. She writes extensively about finding out who you are, where you belong and making sense of it.

Julie’s debut memoir “Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging” (She Writes Press) comes out in May 2021. It’s the story of her five-year search for birth relatives. Her weekly blogs That Girl, This Life and her monthly column at The Beacher focus on identity, family and life’s quirky moments. 

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Julie received a BA from Indiana University in psychology. She earned a MM in Marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business, Northwestern University. She has served multiple terms on the Board of the Midwest Adoption Center and is an active member of the American Adoption Congress.

Married for over 35 years, Julie and her husband split their time between Northwest Indiana and Sarasota, Florida. She’s the mother of four adult children and has three grandsons. If she’s not at her computer, she’s on the tennis court or out exploring with her Nikon. Julie is currently working on a collection of personal essays. For more information, visit her website, juliemcgueauthor.com

For My Ears: The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, Read by Cassandra Campbell

If you know me, you know I love the author Melanie Benjamin. I especially loved her Aviator’s Wife and Swans of Fifth Avenue, though I’ve read all her books. This story tells the true story (with fictional characters) of the horrific and sudden blizzard of 1888, one which took the lives of many schoolchildren as it hit suddenly when schools were releasing in the afternoon.

Here’s the overview:

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes a story of courage on the prairie, inspired by the devastating storm that struck the Great Plains in 1888, threatening the lives of hundreds of immigrant homesteaders, especially schoolchildren.

“Melanie Benjamin never fails to create compelling, unforgettable characters and place them against the backdrop of startling history.” (Lisa Wingate, author of The Book of Lost Friends)

The morning of January 12, 1888, was unusually mild, following a punishing cold spell. It was warm enough for the homesteaders of the Dakota Territory to venture out again and for their children to return to school without their heavy coats – leaving them unprepared when disaster struck. At the hour when most prairie schools were letting out for the day, a terrifying, fast-moving blizzard blew in without warning. Schoolteachers as young as 16 were suddenly faced with life-and-death decisions: Keep the children inside, to risk freezing to death when fuel ran out, or send them home, praying they wouldn’t get lost in the storm? 

Based on actual oral histories of survivors, this gripping novel follows the stories of Raina and Gerda Olsen, two sisters, both schoolteachers – one becomes a hero of the storm and the other finds herself ostracized in the aftermath. It’s also the story of Anette Pedersen, a servant girl whose miraculous survival serves as a turning point in her life and touches the heart of Gavin Woodson, a newspaperman seeking redemption. It was Woodson and others like him who wrote the embellished news stories that lured Northern European immigrants across the sea to settle a pitiless land. Boosters needed them to settle territories into states, and they didn’t care what lies they told these families to get them there – or whose land it originally was.

At its heart, this is a story of courage, of children forced to grow up too soon, tied to the land because of their parents’ choices. It is a story of love taking root in the hard prairie ground and of families being torn asunder by a ferocious storm that is little remembered today – because so many of its victims were immigrants to this country.

I could not stop listening to this book. It was so engaging and suspenseful, and I loved the characters of Raina and little Anette. It definitely had its heart-breaking moments. I was so struck by how the school teachers were forced to make life and death decisions that day, and many of the teachers were just children themselves. The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, is new to me and I LOVED her narration (this required a Norwegian accent at times). I just googled her and she’s narrated over 900 audiobooks! I probably do know her, actually. Regardless, she is awesome!! And Melanie Benjamin is awesome every day of the week as well!

I got this one with an Audible credit as I was too late to the party for Net Galley. So glad I did!

For my ears: The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas; Read by Phoebe Strole

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Description via Amazon/Audible:

Sharp, brilliantly plotted, and totally engrossing.” (Karen M. McManus, New York Times best-selling author of One of Us Is Lying)

“A crafty, dark, and disturbing story.” (Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times best-selling author of Girl In Pieces)

“A little bit Riverdale and a little bit Veronica Mars.” (Riley Sager, best-selling author of Final Girls, a Goodreads Best Young Adult Book of the Year Nominee)

From the author of The Darkest Corners and Little Monsters comes an all-new edge-of-your-seat thriller set in upstate New York about an eerie sequence of seemingly unrelated events that leaves five cheerleaders dead.

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook. First there was the car accident – two girls dead after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know his reasons.

Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they’d lost. That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . .

Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow, Monica is at the center of it all. There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

More praise for Kara Thomas:

“Gripping from start to finish…with twists that left me shocked.” (Victoria Aveyard, number-one New York Times best-selling author of Red Queen)

“You’ll be up all night tearing through the pages.” (BUSTLE)

“This deliciously deceptive thriller…is a must-have.” (SLJ)

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I love these YA thriller novels- they are my guilty pleasure! This was a well-crafted story that kept me guessing (and listening!). The ultimate compliment for an audiobook is when I can drive the 75 minutes to work and then want to stay in the car to keep listening!

I’ve read other Kara Thomas novels and she’s a talented writer, with a penchant for capturing the harsh realities of teenage life. Her characters are believable. They may be likable (or not).

This story was told in present day and in flashback, which can be tricky while listening, but it was clear to me and never confusing. The voices were distinct.

I got mine with an audible credit via Amazon!

Audiobook Pick: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris; Narrated by Richard Armitage

 

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I had heard a bit about this book, so I chose it with my Audible credit this month. What a story! First of all, it held my attention during my lengthy commute (no easy feat) and it was wonderfully narrated by Richard Armitage. The story was truly remarkable and at one point I thought that this could not possibly be true. Some of the things that happened seemed fantastic to the point of being too incredible to believe (SPOILER! for example, their finding each other after the war, or how Lale seemed to be able to get the things he needed to get by and to help others). Yet, this is a true story. While it is a story of the horrors of Auschwitz, it’s an amazing story of bravery and resistance and resiliency that makes you feel connected to these characters and wanting more of them. The last chapter and epilogue of the book could have been a whole other novel in itself. (Just a note, from a cursory glance online, most people seem to enjoy the audiobook more than the novel itself).

Here’s the overview:

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov – an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for “tattooist”), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism – but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful recreation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

Quick Audiobook Review: “World without End” by Ken Follett

I loved the book and miniseries “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, so I was thrilled to find the audiobook for its sequel, “World without End”, at the library (read by John Lee).

While this story takes place in Kingsbridge, the town that is the setting for “Pillars of the Earth”, it stands alone as a novel, being set 200 years later and with new characters (though references are sometimes made to the previous characters).

The story starts with four children, playing in the woods. They witness a murder and a secret, and this event sets the stage for the events of their lives, which are chronicled. Follett draws us a picture of Medieval England that is vivid and accurate. His characters are unique and the main characters are all quite different. I listened to this story in the car while driving and still could easily follow the plot (which was definitely not for the kids at times!). John Lee’s narration was a great touch to the story; he excels at providing unique character voices.

All in all, a great story!