The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

This was a new historical fiction audio book in my local library, so I snatched it up.

29214753Stats: Published September, 2016, print 320 pages, audio books: 9 discs read by Adenrele Ojo.

Blurb: In the years following the Civil War, Mariah Reddick, former slave to Carrie McGavock–the “Widow of the South”–has quietly built a new life for herself as a midwife to the women of Franklin, Tennessee. But when her ambitious, politically minded grown son, Theopolis, is murdered, Mariah–no stranger to loss–finds her world once more breaking apart. How could this happen? Who wanted him dead?
Mariah’s journey to uncover the truth leads her to unexpected people–including George Tole, a recent arrival to town, fleeing a difficult past of his own–and forces her to confront the truths of her own past. Brimming with the vivid prose and historical research that has won Robert Hicks recognition as a “master storyteller.”

What I liked: I liked the idea of the book. I was looking forward to leaning about how Mariah Reddick acquired her fortune – the setup in the first chapter of the book. For a woman born into slavery, it is an intriguing question.

What I didn’t like: Sorry to say, Mr. Hicks but most of what came after that first chapter. I don’t know if this fictional story is based off a true story or a fictional story set in a historic post-civil war background. I think Hicks portrays the times and the people (white and black) well, but not so that I care much about any of them. I try to want to find out about Mariah and Mr. Tole’s story, but it is so slow and so poorly edited, that I can’t get past disc 4. I tried, I really did. It just seems like Hicks tried to weave a much smaller story, much larger and the suit doesn’t fit. Adenrele Ojo’s voice as narrator works well, but it’s a bit sing-songie too much of the time for my taste.

Rating: 2/5, though I do like the cover!

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Published in: on August 10, 2017 at 11:26pm08  Leave a Comment  
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The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

18655870I saw the author name on this audio book at my local library and enjoyed the one mystery I had read of hers and my daughter really likes her Maisie Dobbs series, (Maisie Dobbs – the first in her Maisie Dobbs series) so I thought this was worth a go.

Stats: Published in 2014, print is 319 pages, audio is 8 discs – 9.75 hours read by Nicola Barber

Blurb: (Goodreads) By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained—by Thea’s passionate embrace of women’s suffrage and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea’s brother, Tom, who runs the family farm. When Kezia and Tom wed just a month before war is declared between Britain and Germany, Thea’s gift to Kezia is a book on household management—a veiled criticism of the bride’s prosaic life to come. Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield herself, the farm becomes Kezia’s responsibility. Each must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.

As Tom marches to the front lines and Kezia battles to keep her ordered life from unraveling, they hide their despair in letters and cards filled with stories woven to bring comfort. Even Tom’s fellow soldiers in the trenches enter and find solace in the dream world of Kezia’s mouth-watering, albeit imaginary, meals. But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face-to-face with the enemy?

What I liked: It was well written and does a good job portraying the life of those in England and somewhat at the French front in WWI. Winspear does a good job with the bad guy in the book – the sergeant who has singled out Tom as his whipping boy. Nicola Barbar does a wonderful job with the narration.

What I didn’t like: Winspear didn’t really get me to care about most of the characters or their lives, except maybe Tom – the farmer and the main protagonist’s wife. Kezia is a wonder in that she takes to farm life like a duck out of water despite not having set foot in a kitchen before this. I think this is possible, but it’s just too tiddy – she really hardly has any hiccups with this new roll, even when she does it without her husband, hitching up the horse and everything!  (Not likely!) And Winspear uses a nice device of connecting with her husband in France through the recipes she makes (or pretends to) but it is way over used. I found myself fastforwarding through the 3rd and 4th and 5th time she uses this device. I won’t give away what happens at the end, but the sergeant does something that seems extreme even for the nasty man he is. It is supposed to be shocking bu just isn’t believable. She also lets you in on the life of their neighbor, who ends up being Tom’s superior, but she ends is participation in the book in a odd way, I think.

Rating: 2.5/5 If you want to read Winspear, stick to the Maisie Dobbs books.

Published in: on July 5, 2017 at 11:26pm07  Leave a Comment  
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Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland by Ace Atkins

I needed a short book for a car trip and picked this one.

Robert B. Parker's WonderlandStats: Audio book is 6 CDs, narrated by the actor Joe Mantegna, print is 306 page, published in 2013

Blurb: Henry Cimoli and Spenser have been friends for years, yet the old boxing trainer has never asked the private eye for a favor. Until now. A heavy-handed developer is trying to buy up Henry’s condo on Revere Beach and sends thugs to move the process along. Soon Spenser and his apprentice, Zebulon Sixkill, find a trail leading to a mysterious and beautiful woman, a megalomaniacal Las Vegas kingpin, and plans to turn to a chunk of land north of Boston into a sprawling casino. Bitter rivals emerge, alliances turn, and the uglier pieces of the Boston political machine look to put an end to Spenser’s investigation.

Aspiration, greed, and twisted dreams all focus on the old Wonderland dog track where the famous amusement park once fronted the ocean. For Spenser and Z, this simple favor to Henry will become the fight of their lives.

What I liked: I liked listening to Joe Mantegna. His voice was perfect for the New York area characters. The story fit the area as well. I have never read any Robert Parker so I can’t say how close Atkins is to Parker’s style, but I did enjoy the humor of Spenser’s character – note: Ace Atkins is apparently trying to write in Parker’s style, though I don’t know if he is using Parker’s outlines or why it’s titled Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland since Parker is dead and Atkins wrote this story. The story itself is entertaining enough though not one in which I couldn’t wait to get back in the car to listen to. The subplot of Spenser and his sidekick “Z” is semi-interesting and adds a bit more depth  and humor to the story, so that was helpful.

What I didn’t like: The real story takes a while to take form. It starts out with Spenser helping a friend with an issue related to his condo being bought from underneath him. Not anything that makes you particularly interested. Atkins throws in some tough guys beating up on each other, but still, it doesn’t peek my interest. When this finally uncovers the real things that are happening – the political involvement, the gambling interest, the dead guy in the trunk – it starts to get a bit more interesting, but the story kind of just plods along. It’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either.

Rating: 3/5

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 11:26pm06  Comments (2)  
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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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