Thursday, June 24, 2021

Mini Audiobook Reviews: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden & The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

 Winter Counts


Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Narrated by Darrell Dennis
Publication Date: August 25th, 2020 
Audio: 8 hours, 17 minutes | Hardcover: 336 pages
About Winter Counts:

"Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.
They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost."

Last year I finally took a stab at getting more into audiobooks, something that I've always wanted to do but often find myself unable to focus on listening because I'd far too distracted with my own thoughts. I've finally been able to have some luck with books, and my latest read was Winter Counts, which was by far my favorite audiobook experience thus far. 

The narrator, Darrell Dennis, was perfect for the part and his voice could not have been a better match for the protagonist. He has a very calm, easy mannered method of speaking and I found that his voice wasn't too deep (really deep male voices often cause me to tune them out more often for some reason??) and was riveting in its own unique way. I am really interested in looking up more books that Dennis has narrated (and in fact he's narrated two books I've already read!) because I found his voice so compelling and easy to follow.

I believe this was the author's debut book, but I am certainly going to be keeping my eye out for more work from him. We follow the sole perspective of Virgil Wounded Horse as he continues his day to day life on the Rosebud reservation trying to take care of his nephew and make the reservation a better place to the extent that he can as the local enforcer. I really liked Virgil's casual and matter-of-fact manner of telling his story, and I especially liked watching his character develop over the course of the story in a variety of different ways. His passion and love for his nephew, Nathan, was also a great driving point for his motivations in this book and I liked watching how they interacted and handled different obstacles thrown their way (and trust me, there were a lot!). I also really appreciated how much the author focused on highlighting the Lakota culture and common issues faced by those living both on and off the reservation in ways that felt natural to the story. This is both an entertaining story as well as an educational one, and I highly recommend it to people looking to learn about new experiences.

As a quick last note, I didn't realize this was marketed as a thriller until after I finished it and read some reviews that were disappointed that it wasn't more... thriller-y. It definitely didn't read as a thriller to me for most of the story. There are certainly moments that are a bit high intensity and there is somewhat of a mystery aspect to the general story, but the writing itself feels much more like a regular literary/general fiction novel. I really loved this story as it was, but if you are hoping for a thriller, just keep that in mind. 

Overall, it was five stars from me for Winter Counts!

Buy the book: Amazon | IndieBound | Audible


  The Mountains Sing

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Narrated by Quyen Ngo
Dreamscape Media, LLC
Publication Date: August 25th, 2020 
Audio: 10 hours, 44 minutes | Hardcover: 342 pages
About The Mountains Sing:

"With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War. Tran Dieu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Noi, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that will tear not just her beloved country but her family apart.
Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. This is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s first novel in English."

This was such an incredibly beautiful, heartbreaking, tragic, and ultimately hopeful story. 

The narrator, Quyen Ngo, was absolutely perfect for this story and created incredibly unique and authentic voices for each character. Her acting was truly exceptional and I felt the emotion behind all of her words and storytelling. Her narrative felt almost lyrical in quality at many times, which I think was a mixture of the author's beautiful and poetic prose mixed with Ngo's eloquent manner of telling this story.
We follow two perspectives, that of Trần Diệu Lan and Hương, grandmother and granddaughter, respectively. I loved getting to experience this story through both perspectives because we got a glimpse into two very different life stories that had very similar themes and elements at their core. Both narratives were filled with their own forms of tragedy, though they manifested in different ways. The grandmother's perspectives take us back, starting in the 1920s in Vietnam, and the granddaughter's allows us to be in the 'present' narrative that stretches through the 1970s, spanning the French and Japanese occupations of Vietnam through the Vietnam war. I learned so much about Vietnam's history and I am so inspired to learn even more about it and the experiences people went through and continue to go through as a result. This is a difficult book to read and there were more than a few parts that left me feel absolutely devastated for the characters, but also know how accurate this was of reality for many people.

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's writing was stunning and kept me absolutely riveted the entire time. The author has such an eloquent and beautiful way of telling this raw, intense story in a way that allowed me to fully connect with the characters and develop a deep respect for them. I read this before Winter Counts, and before that one (which I also really loved),  this was the most riveting audiobook I'd listened to yet. I definitely plan to look for more books from Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai in the future and more audiobooks featuring Quyen Ngo as the narrator.

Overall, once again... it's five stars from me!

Buy the book: Amazon | IndieBound | Audible


  1. Wow, two 5 star reviews in one day! I've been so curious about Winter Counts, I would love to try it.

  2. I need to get to Winter Counts soon!! Awesome review!