Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Break Audiobook Recap

Since I spent spring break visiting my grandparents in Florida, there was a lot more sitting on the porch than sitting on the beach. And that meant audiobooks (& cross stitching!) since I didn't have to worry about sand getting into my phone. Results were pretty mixed, so here's a quick round-up:

"2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas" by Marie-Helene Berlimo, narrated by Angela Goethals, audio narration published by Random House Audio on August 5, 2014.

This book. I had such high hopes! It's a slim little volume, and in retrospect I think I would've appreciated it more in print. It takes place in present day, but for some reason (probably because it's centered around an aspiring jazz singer), I thought it was set earlier. I was confused by references to modern day, and it took me a bit to get over that. I like Madeleine, the nine-year-old jazz singer at the center of the story, and her teacher Sarina Greene, but many of the other characters fell a bit flat. The voices used for the club owner and his friends were a bit grating. It's clever how it all comes together, and I like the timeline structure of the novel a lot. Yet, I expected more from this due to the high praise it received.

"Ruby" written and narrated by Cynthia Bond, audio narration published by Random House Audio on April 29, 2014.
"Ruby" was easily my biggest disappointment of the break, but it was mostly my fault. I trust Oprah's book recommendations implicitly, and have never been led astray. As a result, I didn't read any descriptions of this before requesting it from the library. Unfortunately for me, there's a heavy dose of magical realism and mysticism throughout this novel that spoiled the otherwise heartbreaking love story. The novel explores resiliency in the face of the tangled web of horrors that people inflict on each other and perpetuate toward others. The love story between the main characters was beautiful, and I only wish that my personal dislike of magical realism didn't get in the way of what otherwise would have been a powerful read.

"Liar Temptress Solider Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War" by Karen Abbott, narrated by Karen White, audio narration published by Harper Audio on September 2, 2014.
My audio loan expired halfway through listening to this nonfiction book earlier in the semester. I was so bummed to have to get to the back of the line to finish it! It's a fascinating book, telling the story of four women who were worked as spies and soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War. I only knew the cursory details of the War that I learned in middle and high school, so I appreciated the depth and detail provided in this book. It really reads like a novel, complete with dialogue Abbott found in the women's diaries or other written accounts by those who encountered them. For a thick book, it was a fast, easy listening. I was spellbound by these strong women's true stories, and highly recommend this to non-fiction and American history fans.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Reads & Links - 3/27/2015

Back from my trip to Florida, I've been finishing up some books I started on the trip. I'm slogging through "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro in print, and I'm disappointed that 100 pages in, I'm still not hooked. In stark contrast, "The Good Girl" by Mary Kubica in audio is fantastic, and I've been listening every spare minute. I'm also working on "Find Me" by Laura van den Berg in ebook.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson

This book was all over bookstagram last year, and after my ebook hold finally came through, I tore through it. This novel deserves the awards and acclaim it received.

Jude and Noah are artistically-inclined twins, the product of a whimsical free-spirited mother and an athletic, by-the-book father. Guided by their mother, they plan to apply to an arts high school. Flash forward, and their lives look remarkably different - their mother has died, only Jude is at the arts school, and Noah is acting shockingly normal. Jude and Noah each have their own secrets, tragedies, and wrongs committed. The novel alternates between Noah's POV before their mother's death, and Jude's three years later, as the twins navigate the gradual unveiling and untangling of their secrets, come to terms with their losses, and find each other again amid the chaos of being teenagers.

Nelson gives Noah and Jude such unique voices. Her use of language, with Noah viewing the world through an artist's eye and Jude through her grandmother's folksy charms and suggestions, originally caught me off-guard but grew to be one of the features I most enjoyed. I only wish there was artwork to compliment Noah's vivid description. This book is begging for an illustrated version. From a plotting perspective, the way Nelson balances the two timelines to manage the secret reveals and creates dramatic irony adds to the suspenseful, heartbreaking tale. Jude and Noah's stories are so inextricably interwoven, and her careful crafting of the dual plot lines is awe-inspiring.

Verdict: Affirmed, for fans of YA and family stories. This book surprised me in all the best ways - I had underestimated it, and it turned out to be much more than I had hoped.

"I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson, published September 16, 2014 by Dial Books.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spring Break Reads - 3/13/2015

My spring break started yesterday when my last class ended. I'm headed to Florida for a quiet week visiting my grandparents. Eating an early bird dinner at 4pm just means extra reading time when I get home.  There won't be any posts until I'm back, but before I leave I thought I'd share the books I've packed to read over spring break. How many will I actually get through? And how many additional books will I pick up in the many excellent used book stores in the area? I'll let you know when I'm back March 24!

"Get in Trouble" by Kelly Link - I picked this up at the charming Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers in Brooklyn with a friend last weekend, and can't wait to dive into it.

"Mort(e)" by Robert Repino - This quirky novel was recommended on Books on the Nightstand, so even though it's due back to the library two days before I get back from Florida, I decided it's worth the 50 cents to finish it - apologies to anyone else in NYC with a hold on this!

"The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters - I fully expect to finish this audio book before my plane takes off on Monday. Even though it's long, I've been listening every free moment I have.

 "Ruby" by Cynthia Bond - Oprah has only steered me wrong once with her book selections, so I'm happy this audiobook hold came through before spring break started.

 "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Isiguro - I loved "Never Let Me Go," so I'm excited to see what Isiguro does in the fantasy genre. The LeGuin/Isiguro spat has only made me more interested.

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt - I love "The Goldfinch," so I've been saving this one for a week when I knew I'd have uninterrupted reading time.

"2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas" by Marie-Helene Berlino - This one's been on my TBR for a while, so I was pleased it was available for download when I was browsing Overdrive for another audiobook to bring with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"The Spindlers" by Lauren Oliver

The bookstagram community, or at least those I follow within that community, are big fans of Lauren Oliver. Her YA novels "Panic" and "If I Stay" pop up in my feed pretty regularly, and I've heard good things. So when I was browsing Overdrive for a short audiobook to listen to while I wait for some holds to come in, I recognized Lauren Oliver's name and decided to give this a try.

"The Spindlers" tells the story of Liza, who wakes up one morning to discover that her little brother Patrick isn't himself. Someone is pretending to be Patrick, and her parents don't believe her. So, Liza embarks on a journey into the underground to rescue her brother from the spindlers - evil, spider-like creatures who feast on children's souls. Along the way she meets Mirabella, a rat who wants to be as human-like as possible and helps Liza navigate the underground and explains the other creatures and beings with whom she comes into contact.

On a basic level, this is a solid adventure story - Liza is a charming heroine with an admirable resolve to rescue her brother at all costs, and Mirabella is a wonderful sidekick, providing guidance in a strange world and comic relief balanced with just the right amount of heart. I was particularly impressed that she did not descend into a slapstick, goofy character as a rat wearing a newspaper skirt easily could. Instead, Oliver allows the sympathetic, sincere elements of her personality to shine through.

That gets at the deeper level that sets this story apart. Driving the adventure story are Liza's relationships - with her brother, whom she feels a responsibility to protect; with Mirabella, whom she comes to consider a friend; with her baby-sitter, who originally told her about the spindlers and is now away at college; and with her parents, who are distracted with grown-up, real-world concerns. Viewed through Liza's young eyes, her ambivalence or lack of understanding to her parents' concerns and her distress over her baby-sitter's absence ring true and firmly root the book in the real world. Oliver hints at the hope and love children can inspire in the older folks surrounding them, and parents and caretakers will recognize and respond to these tiny elements sprinkled throughout.

Verdict: Affirmed, a charming tale to share with the children in your life, that you'll enjoy along the way. Plus, Simon Vance's audio narration is superbly done, as always.

"The Spindlers" by Lauren Oliver, published on October 2, 2012 by HarperCollins; audio narration by Simon Vance, published on October 2, 2012 by HarperCollins.

"The Vacationers" by Emma Straub

When the forecast said 4-7 inches of snow in the first week of March, I knew I needed to read something to get me mentally as far as possible from this snowy, slushy mess of a city. Luckily, the audiobook of "The Vacationers" was finally available on Overdrive, and it did not disappoint.

Franny and Jim are escaping the oppressive NYC summer with a two-week family vacation to Mallorca. Their children and oldest friends will join them: their 18-year-old daughter Sylvia, about to head off to college; 28-year-old son Bobby and his older girlfriend Carmen; and Franny's best friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. Each guest in the gorgeous, remote beach house brings their own emotional baggage on the trip. Not everyone is thrilled to be there, and those who are wish others weren't.

Negative reviews on Goodreads claim nothing happens, but I disagree. During the two week trip, some relationships grow stronger, some are repaired, some dissolve. The book isn't about events. It's about how our relationships are shaped by the events in our lives - if and how we choose to share life's biggest moments, high and low, and with whom; how we react to the big moments of those we love (or think we love); and what our loved ones' own loved ones should mean to us.

The book is not going to make your heart swell with joy or drown you in tears. But it's a solid piece of vacation escapism, with interesting characters and enough interpersonal drama to make it meaningful. Kristen Sieh's audio narration is on point and keeps things moving along as a suitably brisk pace.

Verdict: Affirmed, if you know you're getting fiction a couple steps above chick lit, but not quite hitting literary masterpiece. If you're a fan of Maggie Shipstead, this is a solid novel to try.

"The Vacationers" by Emma Straub, published on May 29, 2014 by Riverhead Books. Audio narration by Kristen Sieh, published on May 29, 2014 by Penguin Audio.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Reads & Links - 3/6/2015

Today I'm traveling all over the city for various appointments, which means lots of subway reading time. I'm tearing through "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson in ebook and just started "The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters on audio. I also have a handful of books out from the library in print that I'm excited to start!

Some literary links to peruse while you wait for the snow to melt:

  • The Suvudu Cage Match is all women this year! They introduced readers to some of the Women Warriors at Book Riot.
  • Shannon Hale writes a great piece on the problems with marketing books as "girls" books on her blog. [via Book Riot]
  • Book Page has a list of women authors to read this year - added titles to my TBR!
  • Punny author names made me laugh at Buzzfeed.
  • Stephen King had a new short story published in The New Yorker.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"The American Heiress" by Daisy Goodwin

I started listening to this pretty casually on audio, thinking it was just another simple romance novel (which I tend to enjoy!). Not so much. Daisy Goodwin tells a tale bigger in scope than most of these sorts of novels, going beyond the typically meet-lust-marry framework. It kept me guessing throughout.

Cora Cash is the titular American heiress, heading to Europe to find a husband with a title. Spurned by her American crush, she falls for a duke with his own troubled past and family drama. She marries her duke pretty early on, and the bulk of the novel explores Cora's adjusting to life in the British aristocracy as she decides which traditions are worth keeping and which should be left behind. Cora's maid Bertha travels with her to England, and her own tale of navigating a new racial landscape and her love life serves as a counterpoint to Cora's. Kudos to Goodwin for recognizing  the way perceptions of race differed in England and America during this time period (1890's), even if I would have enjoyed a deeper exploration. Plus, the differing expectations of and relationships with servants in the two countries was fascinating.

Where this novel really shines is in its lack of predictability, a unique feature in a romance novel. Both of Cora's love interests have serious flaws and neither is the clear winner from the outside. While I can't say I was rooting for either of them, as they both sucked for different reasons, they definitely kept me guessing until the end.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of period drama & Downton Abbey who are interested in the American abroad's perspective.

"The American Heiress" by Daisy Goodwin, published on June 21, 2011 by St. Martin's Press. Audio narration by Katherine Kellgren, published on June 21, 2011 by Macmillan Audio.