Dead Wake – The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

22551730I read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and really enjoyed it so when I saw this was available in audio from my local library, I thought I’d give it a try.

Stats: Audio book is 13′ 4″ long narrated by Scott Brick. Print is 430 pages. Both published in 2015.

Blurb: On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship–the fastest then in service–could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small–hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

What I liked: As Larson’s White City book, you can tell he has done his research. This “story” doesn’t have the real-life oddities that the White City story has but if you like history (and you have to like history to read this book), it gives you details and insights that you might not get in a history book. It has many first person accounts, but since I was listening to this, I don’t know if they were direct quotes. They sounded like it. Larson weaves a lot of different aspects of the ship’s journey and sinking with cold facts, but in a way that is generally entertaining. He also must have had access to the log of the submarine that sunk the ship because there is much information about what occured on that vessel as well. All the different things that had to be in place for this very large and famous ship to sink makes one wonder. Not to mention that the British really should have been escorting the ship when it got close to Ireland. Seems like that was quite on purpose – to pull the US into the war. Hard to really believe otherwise, though Larson doesn’t come right out and say this. Scott Brick’s narration helps move the story along.

What I didn’t like: It is a bit long. I’m glad I was listening to it vs reading it. As I mentioned, you have to be a history buff to want to read this book.

Rating: 4/5

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A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveMy husband liked this so I though I’d give it a try.

Stats: Published in 2014, print 337 pages, audio 9’9″, narrator George Newbern

BTW: Ove is pronounced “Uva”

Blurb: A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

What I liked: Pretty much everything about the book. I think we all know someone like Ove and his very real struggles with people and the world he lives in, so I imagine that is why so many people have enjoyed this book. What I find entertaining is that I live in the US and Ove is written about a man who lives in Norway, but the character is recognized in both places. I also thought it was interesting that even though Norway’s social system is touted, it may not always be as wonderful as it appears. Just makes the point that most governments try and get away with things that they probably shouldn’t. Now this is fiction, so it may be bogus. I really enjoyed the narration by George Newbern. All the characters were very distinct.

What I didn’t like: It is a bit slow getting into because of the different style, but easily overlooked.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

83083 I saw this was available in audio from my libraries e-audio company, so I had to listen.

Stats: First published in 2004, the print is 320 pages. The audio is 10’21” narrated by Kim Hicks.

Blurb: It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. When three of the heiress’s old friends are found dead, Maisie must race to find out who would want to kill these seemingly respectable young women before it’s too late. As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War.

What I liked: Winspear doles out her stories in a very relaxed manner but usually not so slow as to put you to sleep. And all the character are created so they come across as very real – Maisie and her side kick in particular (I forget his name). The narration by Kim Hicks only adds to this with her exceptional rendition of the book. Each voice was very distinct and personal. The story itself seems very plausible as well, and illustrates an aspect of the “Great War” that we don’t hear a lot about. I couldn’t figure out “who done it” until the very end, which is always preferred.

What I didn’t like: Maisie’s intuitions are a little to spot on but it’s easy to overlook, since it does take her a bit to figure out the mystery. And it’s a bit hard to believe that the small clues that she finds at 2 of the murder scenes would have still been there to be found by Maisie (I won’t give away what these were because they are integral to the story), but it is fiction, after all.

Rating: 4/5

 

Old Tune Tuesday + Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage Review

40212914Thought I’d get two birds with one stone, as they say. Listen to this Old Tune while reading a book review!

Stats: The print book is 304 pages, published in 2018, audio book is 11′ long, narrated by Gabra Zackman.

Blurb: Sweetness can be deceptive. 
Meet Hanna.
She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.
She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

What I liked: Stage does a good job at pulling you back and forth about who you are rooting for. Most times it is Suzette, but not always. Stage makes the character believable, more so Suzette than Hanna, but maybe only because I don’t know anyone like Hanna. I can’t quite figure out Hanna’s age from the story, which might help me decide if she was smarter than she normally would have been, but the narration and text makes me think she is 6 or so. The narration by Zackman is very good, btw, for all the characters. They sounded like very distinct people – and the text helped with that as well. The ending, which I won’t give away, was interesting.

What I didn’t like: Despite how real the characters are, I didn’t really empathize with any of them to any degree. I suppose that is part of the risk of making the reader go back and forth on who they were rooting for. The ending… well, I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. I think it was probably best left the way it was. Now you have to read it and decide for yourself!

Rating: 4/5

Bones on Ice by Kathy Reichs

25734320I saw this was available for an e-audio loan from my library system and I grabbed it. Always like Reichs’ Temperance Brenner books.

Stats: Published in 2015, the audio book is 3’28” long, narrated by Katheryn Borowitz (spelling?). The print book is 104 pages. It’s a novella.

Blurb: It is called the “death zone”: the point on Everest, nearly five miles high, above which a climber cannot be rescued. More than 250 souls have lost their lives there. Most of the bodies remain, abandoned, frozen in place. When an earthquake leads to a miraculous recovery, Dr. Temperance Brennan is hired to identify the frozen mummified human corpse. The victim is the daughter of a wealthy Charlotte couple who never got the chance to say goodbye. But far from offering solace and closure, Tempe’s findings only provoke more questions. What happened on Mount Everest? Was the young woman’s death an accident? Why aren’t the other climbers talking? And how far will those hiding the truth go to make sure the past stays buried?

What I liked: Of course, there is something fishy about the death of this young over achiever, but it’s not exactly what you might suspect. As usual, Reichs does her homework and you get to learn a bit about mountain climbing besides being entertained by Brennen’s/Reichs’ quick wit. And the story seemed very plausible. What’s not to like?

What I didn’t like: Can’t really say there was anything. I think that might be a first for me! See Rachel (my daughter), I don’t find fault in every book I’ve read – yes, most, but not every!

Rating: 5/5

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

7047094Looked good so I picked it up.

Stats: Audio book is 17 discs, it doesn’t tell me the hours (a lot). Read by Treat Williams, Anne Heche “and a full cast.” Print book is 565 pages, published in 2010.

Blurb: Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

What I liked: The question behind Robert Oliver’s action in the beginning is well hid, along with the connection of the people around him to this man. The information is doled out slowly. I like how the artwork is an integral part of the story, so much so that I wanted to see it for real. Alas, this is fiction. I imagine some of the artists she mentions in the Washington’s National Gallery are real, so I’ll have to try and find those. The surprise at the end was good. I was expecting something else, of course. The narrators did a fine job.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, the information about Robert Oliver is doled out slowly, too slowly at times. And other information is not needed, like stuff about Mary, who is connected to Robert (I won’t say how so as not to give anything away). Kostova tells of Mary’s childhood and life as she grew up, something that really didn’t add anything to the main story, in my opinion. Then there is the question of why doesn’t Robert speak? It’s never really shared and it is the only way the story can be told as it is. And it’s not to realistic to believe his psychiatrist would travel to Jamaica (I think that’s where he went) and France just to find out the mystery, whether it’s for his own curiosity or for his patient, or for both. And low and behold – they find the missing information! Really?! But these things are not enough of a problem to make the story a problem to read.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

61 Hours by Lee Child

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I like Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series so when I saw this audio (#14 in the series) was available online from my library, I checked it “out.”

Stats: Published in 2010, print is 383 pages, the audio was narrated by Dick Hill, who narrators many of the Reacher stories (as far as I can tell). 13′, 13″ for the audio version

Blurb: A tour bus crashes in a savage snowstorm and lands Jack Reacher in the middle of a deadly confrontation. In nearby Bolton, South Dakota, one brave woman is standing up for justice in a small town threatened by sinister forces. If she’s going to live long enough to testify, she’ll need help. Because a killer is coming to Bolton, a coldly proficient assassin who never misses.
Reacher’s original plan was to keep on moving. But the next 61 hours will change everything. The secrets are deadlier and his enemies are stronger than he could have guessed–but so is the woman whose life he’ll risk his own to save.
In 61 Hours, Lee Child has written a showdown thriller with an explosive ending that readers will talk about for a long time to come.

What I liked: I liked the writing as usual, and the narration as well. Dick Hill does his usual wonderful job with characters and flow and drama. I actually am not sure how the 61 hours plays into the story other than it’s a count down to an explosive end a writer’s trick to add drama (not sure that exactly worked). I like the setting and the laid back life of the South Dakota town in winter. The setting for the prison was very true to it’s impact on the community. The characters are easily relateable, even the bad guys and Child’s details always make you feel like you are right there. I like what was in the building (though how likely that is is debatable). Child has changed it up a bit, as far as what happens to some of the characters Reacher is supposed to be helping, so that’s a nice twist.

What I didn’t like: It got a little slow after the first prison event (I won’t mention what that was) but it wasn’t enough to want to stop. I’m not sure I like the end. It’s fairly obvious what happened in general, but I would have liked to know specifically what happened to Reacher. Maybe you have to read the next book (#15) to get the answer.

Rating: 4/5