The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

22860181 Another blind library pick. The description sounded good, so I gave it a try. Real mistake!

Stats: Audio book is 10 CDs, or approx. 12.5 hours. Print is 368 pages, first published in 2014

Blurb: Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project–an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past–Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.

What I liked: The narration by Fiona Hardingham was very good. She gave you a feel for every character, and there were many of them, including the dead people.

What I didn’t like: I’m sorry to say, Ms Hunter, but most of it. I was going to stop listening many times and at about disc 5 or 6 it started to pick up a bit so I thought, okay, here goes… but then it went nowhere. I kept going because I was curious where Ms Hunter was going to ultimately take the story but she didn’t take it anywhere. Jane was a portrayed as a real person but I never understood Jane’s quest and by the end, neither did anyone else. It was hard to figure out the point of it all. Jane was focused on finding out who “N” and how N fit in with  the lives of the people in an old asylum and the rich family that lived close by. Once she found out, it made no difference to the story, and as far as I could tell, no difference to Jane.  This was on top of Jane trying to come to grips with an old love and the lost daughter of that love, who she was responsible for. Hunter never ties any of this together so it’s hard to understand the point of it all. And then there are the dead people who come and go in the story and are following Jane on her quest – dead people who lived and worked in either the asylum or the home of the rich family. The concept of the dead watching and talking about us live ones is an interesting one, but again, I couldn’t see the point of their presence in this story and particularly in Jane’s quest. Hunt uses these dead people to reveal some information about the past, but otherwise they were mostly just annoying to listen to.

Rating: 1/5 – Sorry Ms Hunter

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 11:26am05  Leave a Comment  
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And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

I had seen this in movie form (Title was Ten Little Indians – don’t know the year, there were a few of these made over the years) but had not read the book, so I was curious if they were the same or different. The ending was much different!

17070123Stats: Audio book is 5 discs or 6 hours, narrated by Dan Stevens – Matthew Crawley of the famed Downton Abbey fame! the print version is 264 pages.  This edition was created in 2013. The print edition was first published in 1939!

Blurb: (Goodreads): Considered the best mystery novel ever written by many readers, And Then There Were None is the story of ten strangers, each lured to Soldier Island by a mysterious host. Once his guests have arrived, the host accuses each person of murder. Unable to leave the island, the guests begin to share their darkest secrets; until they begin to die.

What I liked: For once, the blurb for a novel is not overstated. I think this is the best mystery and best Agatha Christie novel I have read so far. I loved how it was impossible to figure out. I had seen the movie, so when it started to veer away from the movie story line (toward the end) I was interested to see what Agatha had done. I had no clue who done it! And the answer was just as interesting. With ten people, there are lots of things of stories to juggle, but even listening to it, I manage to keep most of them straight, most of the time. Dan Stevens does a wonderful job with the narration. Each person has a personality and a definitive voice.

What I didn’t like: It was just a bit hard to believe the murder (won’t say who) managed everything so smoothly and the weather even cooperated so well to keep them on the island, but it is a fiction story, after all.

Rating: 5/5 highly recommend you listen to this one!

p.s. I just found out that this book was altered (even by the author) to make it more PC. I don’t know the details but I’m not surprised. Now I have to find the original. I guess the original was “Ten Little Indians.” I do understand this, but the reader has to be given a bit of a brain to know that something written in 1939 is not going to be the same as stuff written today (as the original Nancy Drew is not PC, but I wouldn’t want them to change those originals either – though they did. You can still find the originals, though).

Published in: on May 18, 2017 at 11:26pm05  Comments (9)  
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The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell

After listening to a couple known authors, I’m back to trying some blind library audio book picks.

The Annunciation of Francesca DunnStats: Published in 2004, discs – I think there were 8, print is 336 pages. The audio book was narrated by 4 different people: Tyler Bunch, Dristen Kilian, Beth MacDonald and Mia Pitasi.

Blurb: (from Goodreads) Told from the viewpoints of four unforgettable characters, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn is the story of an ordinary girl who is believed to be a modern-day Holy Virgin. At the heart of the story is Francesca: a shy and moody teenager hungry for her absent father’s love, she is frightened and intoxicated by her sudden elevation to the rank of divine. Chester is a visionary homeless man who first ‘discovers’ Francesca and makes himself her protector. Anne is Francesca’s no-nonsense mother, whose religion is Darwin and biology. Sid is Francesca’s troubled friend, who keeps a few secrets of her own.

What I liked: I liked the 4 different points of view, especially the homeless man who initially “discovers” Francesca’s divinity. Listening to what is happening from these 4 different characters read by 4 different people allows the reader to understand how something like this could happen. Hallowell even makes you wonder if the child really does have this divinity, which is a real trick, I think. As odd as things can get in the world these days (or maybe it’s just that we get to see the oddity more because of the internet and media), this story’s premise isn’t that far out there.

What I didn’t like: The supposed intellectual mother of Francesca is conveniently unaware of what is going on until it has gotten way out of hand. Hallowell makes her out to be self-centered and so much into her own life and work that she ignores what is going on with her daughter – which is plausible, but it’s a bit hard to believe when they are living under the same roof. I also didn’t believe that this very independent woman runs to her ex when things get really bad. This too, seems unreal given the way the author has portrayed her up to that point.

Rating: 4/5

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets of EdenI had been hitting the reject button for the last three audio books I picked up at the library lately, so when I say this one, from an author I have always liked, I went for it.

Stats: Published in 2010, Audio book is 11.5 hours/9 discs, narrated by Mark Bramhall, Susan Denaker, Rebecca Lowman and Kathe Mazur. Print is 370 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) “There,” says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going home to the husband who will kill her that evening and then shoot himself. Drew, tortured by the cryptic finality of that short utterance, feels his faith in God slipping away and is saved from despair only by a meeting with Heather Laurent, the author of wildly successful, inspirational books about . . . angels.

Heather survived a childhood that culminated in her own parents’ murder-suicide, so she identifies deeply with Alice’s daughter, Katie, offering herself as a mentor to the girl and a shoulder for Stephen – who flees the pulpit to be with Heather and see if there is anything to be salvaged from the spiritual wreckage around him.
But then the State’s Attorney begins to suspect that Alice’s husband may not have killed himself. . .and finds out that Alice had secrets only her minister knew.

What I liked: Every book of Bohjalian’s that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed, even though not all of them have been great. Mostly this is because of Bohjalian’s skill at writing. There was a section or tow of this that was a bit slow and I’m not sure why they were included, but it didn’t make me want to stop, just because I enjoyed the writing. I also did enjoy this story, however. It wasn’t hard to figure out, who did it, so to speak, and I’m sure Bohjalian knew this, but there was a slight twist at the end, so I’m sure that’s why he wrote it as he did. Along with that good writing is the author’s skill at character development – most notably the Reverend, who starts out this book. And having Mark Bramhall narrate his voice (I always enjoy listening to Mr. Bramhall) really made it that much more entertaining and believable. The other narrators did fine as well, by the way.

What I didn’t enjoy: As mentioned, there was a section or two that was too long, but not enough to make me want to stop. It was a bit unbelievable the way the daughter – Katie’s – reacted to her parent’s deaths, but again, not so much that it ruined the story. It was a bit more unbelievable the State’s Attorney’s reaction. I won’t say more as not to give anything away.

Rating: 4/5

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451I had listened to this a while back but I wanted to listen to it again. It was a bit disturbing how some of it rings true to today.

Stats: Audio book – 4 discs, read by Christopher Hurt. 174 page print, published in 1953

Blurb: (Goodreads) Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

What I liked: Bradbury really makes you care for Guy Montag and you’re releaved that he things turn out (though I won’t say too much if you haven’t read it.) though do they really turn out? That would be something to debate for sure. It is a bit hard to believe we could function without books, but in this digital age, it isn’t like it couldn’t happen. And, of course, there would be hold outs. The neighbor girl is interesting and I’m not sure how “they” would have an excuse to get rid of her, so that is left vague. And I really don’t like the mechanical hound. A good – bad character. And Christopher Hurt does a great job with the narration. His voice was perfect for the story and he did well with the different voices, especially the fire chief.

What I didn’t like: Guy’s wife, though I know I’m not supposed to like her, so I should say, Bradbury did a good job in making her annoying and vacuous. So I should say there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the story other than it’s not very upbeat, but it’s not supposed to be.

Rating: 4+/5

Published in: on March 15, 2017 at 11:26pm03  Leave a Comment  
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Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley

My daughter bought this and she shared it with me once she was done with it.

StatThrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)s: published in 2016, hardcover is smaller than most hardcover, it’s 331 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.

What I liked: Flavia is her usual, enjoyable self, even after eight books. Bradley has a good end to the murder mystery. Why he ended the book (not the mystery itself) is a big question, but I’m not going to discuss that so I don’t give it away. I listened to part of this (with the talented Jayne Entwistle as narrator, as usual) and read part, which confirmed that listening is more enjoyable to me. I also notice I miss less or remember more (not sure which) with audio.

What I didn’t like: This wasn’t my favorite Flavia story. It didn’t seem quite as tightly written – meaning there were things in the book I didn’t know why Bradley put it in and some odd things with the writing. For example – Flavia meets a significant character (a stranger to her) and Bradley doesn’t fully describe what he looks like until she meets him (Hillary) the second time. And when she meets him the first time, she ends up rubbing his shoulders. This seems out of character and in addition, an odd thing to do to a stranger. Another odd addition is the Horn Dance that apparently happens in town each year. It just seemed like it was stuck in there just so a character can sing at it (the reasoning of which is part of the plot). I assume Bradley didn’t tell the reader why Flavia was ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada because he’s mention this more in the next book, but it was something that felt was missing, along with the secret organization (forget the name) and what that groups goal/work is, which I thought would be discussed. I thought that was a line in his other books that he was working toward, but not with this book.

Rating: 3.5/5  As I said, not my favorite Flavia novel but still entertaining. From the ending, Bradley’s obviously going to write another one.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdI am working on book II of my Agnes Kelly Series and someone had compared Agnes (in the first book) to Scout in To Kill a Mocking Bird. I thought that was an apt description so I wanted to reacquaint myself with the famous story and character. I took the audio book of Harper Lee’s classic out of the library and listened to it. I have not read Lee’s Go Set a Watchman but I will, even though it hasn’t gotten the best reviews.

Stats: First published in 1960, print is 324 pages, audio is 9′, narrated by Roses Prichard

Blurb: (Goodreads) Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.
(Cliffnotes) To Kill a Mockingbird is primarily a novel about growing up under extraordinary circumstances in the 1930s in the Southern United States. The story covers a span of three years, during which the main characters undergo significant changes. Scout Finch lives with her brother Jem and their father Atticus in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama. Maycomb is a small, close-knit town, and every family has its social station depending on where they live, who their parents are, and how long their ancestors have lived in Maycomb.

A widower, Atticus raises his children by himself, with the help of kindly neighbors and a black housekeeper named Calpurnia. Scout and Jem almost instinctively understand the complexities and machinations of their neighborhood and town. The only neighbor who puzzles them is the mysterious Arthur Radley, nicknamed Boo, who never comes outside. When Dill, another neighbor’s nephew, starts spending summers in Maycomb, the three children begin an obsessive — and sometimes perilous — quest to lure Boo outside.

What I liked: Roses Prichard does a wonderful job with her narration. She is the perfect Scout, making you feel like she’s right there telling you her family’s story. Much has been said about this story and I’ve read it before, of course, but listening to it as a writer vs a reader I think it is a story of a time in history and the lives in this small southern town that Lee captures so well. Everyone remembers the high points: the trial, Boo Radley, but there are many other slower moments that illustrate the everyday lives of these characters.

What I didn’t like: When the book first came out, I wonder if anyone criticized Lee for the large words Scout uses throughout the book. As an adult, it’s entertaining to hear Scout use these words, but as a practical point, I’m not sure a six-year-old would have really known half of them. I understand her father had been reading and instructing her way before she started school, but still… The Cliffnotes explanation is that Scout is older when she’s recounting the story, but it’s not written from an adult perspective, so I don’t buy that.

Rating: 4+/5

Published in: on January 23, 2017 at 11:26pm01  Leave a Comment  
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The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

This was a new audio book at my local library so I picked it up. It was marked  as YA.The Gallery

Stats: Published in June of this year. 321 print pages, 7 hours of audio. Narrated y Jorjeana Marie

Blurb: It’s 1929, and twelve-year-old Martha has no choice but to work as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. But, despite the Gatsby-like parties and trimmings of success, she suspects something might be deeply wrong in the household—specifically with Rose Sewell, the formerly vivacious lady of the house who now refuses to leave her room. The other servants say Rose is crazy, but scrappy, strong-willed Martha thinks there’s more to the story—and that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message detailing the truth. But in a house filled with secrets, nothing is quite what it seems, and no one is who they say. Can Martha follow the clues, decipher the code, and solve the mystery of what’s really going on with Rose Sewell . . . ?

Inspired by true events described in the author’s fascinating note, The Gallery is a 1920s caper told with humor and spunk that readers will love.

What I liked: I really liked the idea of Rose, the woman who was closeted away from everyone, communicating via her paintings. How she would know anyone would get what she was trying to say through those paintings is another matter, but the idea is really unique and allows Marx Fitzgerald to educate the youth this book is written for without being too obvious. I have no complaints about Jorjeana Marie’s narration of the story. I cover is a little busy, but I like it.

What I didn’t like: The main thing is the author never really gives me a reason to care about Martha or Rose much. I care a bit more for Rose because she is obviously (spoiler alert!) not wanting to be where she is. I kept listening because the book wasn’t too long, and I was listening vs reading it. I can listen a lot longer to something that doesn’t particularly interest me than I can read the print version. The fact that Rose complains about her food being salty – things like tea that shouldn’t be salty – and the young maid, Martha, is the only one who checks how Rose’s food actually tastes is a bit unbelievable to me. Also at the end, everyone is so easily on Rose’s side when they have not been in all the years leading up to the big reveal. You could perhaps believe Martha’s mother, who takes care of Rose and believes Rose’s husband can do no wrong, but not all the other people in the house. And for Rose to do what she did with the paintings in the end also seems odd. I won’t give that away, but any lover of art, and art that ends up being part of why she is saved, wouldn’t do what she did, in my opinion. Overall the plot is a bit slow for the young audience it is written for (and for me!).

Rating: 2.5/5

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 11:26pm12  Leave a Comment  
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The Beautiful Mystery – by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #8)I read my first Louise Penny novel – the first one she wrote (Still Life) – thanks to an old college friend of mine. She is a big fan so she sent me a book. I did enjoy it, so when I saw this audio book in the library, I grabbed it up.

Stats: Published in 2012, print is 400 pages, audio is 11 discs (it didn’t give me the number of hours), narrator is Ralph Cosham

Blurb:
No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

What I liked: I love the setting and the idea of the setting, though a bit unrealistic perhaps, it can be overlooked for the sake of the story mostly. Gamache is a wonderful character, as is his side-kick, Jean-Guy. But the real stellar character in this story is the nasty, nasty head of the Surete du Quebec, Francoeur – though it’s really never clear why he’s there because the man doesn’t seem to know how to do anything but lie. This fact might be revealed in the next book, because things were left unresolved related to appearance. I thought Mr. Cosham did a fine job with the narration and the accents. Very enjoyable to listen to. I also love that the monks make chocolate covered blueberries!

What I didn’t like: Since I’ve only read one of Penny’s novels, I don’t know her writing style real well and I think this book is her 13th, but in this novel Penny repeated the story facts a bit too much for my liking. I get that the story was set in a place where time slowed and small things meant more than in the “normal” world – part of the appeal of where this story takes place. But I didn’t need to hear the same facts perhaps said by different people at different times. It slowed an already naturally slow story down too much. And to have the mystery resolved in part because the “inquisition” in the form of a Dominican Monk just happens to find the abby at this very time (even though the reason he has found it is because of a recording that seems to have been out a little while – time enough to hop on a plane). Again, for the sake of the story line, it can be overlooked, but it just seems a bit contrived.

Rating: 4/5 (despite the flaws)

Exposure by Helen Dunmore and The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

Exposure was new at our library so I thought I’d give it a try. The author is a “Sunday Times” best seller. The Poe Shadow was a blind library pick because I needed an audio book to listen to and I like trying authors I’ve never heard of.

Stats: Exposure: Published in  2016, print book is  400, audio book is 10′, 22″ (8 discs). Narrated by Emma Fenney,
The Poe Shadow: Published in 2006, print is 367 pages,  audio 14 discs. Narrated by Erick Singer

Blurbs: (Goodreads)
ExposureEXPOSURE: London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets.
When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested.
His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall.
She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

The Poe ShadowTHE POE SHADOW:Baltimore, 1849. The body of Edgar Allan Poe has been buried in an unmarked grave. The public, the press, and even Poe’s own family and friends accept the conclusion that Poe was a second-rate writer who met a disgraceful end as a drunkard. Everyone, in fact, seems to believe this except a young Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, an ardent admirer who puts his own career and reputation at risk in a passionate crusade to salvage Poe’s.
As Quentin explores the puzzling circumstances of Poe’s demise, he discovers that the writer’s last days are riddled with unanswered questions the police are possibly willfully ignoring. Just when Poe’s death seems destined to remain a mystery, and forever sealing his ignominy, inspiration strikes Quentin–in the form of Poe’s own stories. The young attorney realizes that he must find the one person who can solve the strange case of Poe’s death: the real-life model for Poe’s brilliant fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, the hero of ingenious tales of crime and detection.

 

What do these two books have in common and why have I put them together?
I couldn’t get past the first two discs for either book. I tried. I don’t believe all books have to capture my attention in the first few pages. I’ll even give the writer a whole chapter or even two if the up front material is inviting enough. For these two books I listened into the second disc, even though there was nothing in the first one to make me want to “read” on. But when part way through the second disc, I still was wondering why I was listening, I just gave up. I know there are so many good books out there, so I honestly don’t want to waste my time listening to something that doesn’t interest me.

I had no issues with the narrators of these tales. They seemed to be doing a fine job.

Ratings: 2/5