The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

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Got this out of my local library when I was looking for a new audio book.

Stats: Published in April 2020, Audio book is 9 discs, narrated by Heather Masters, print book is 349 pages.

Blurb: It feels like a fairy tale when Alberta ”Bert” Monte receives a letter addressed to “Countess Alberta Montebianco” at her Hudson Valley, New York, home that claims she’s inherited a noble title, money, and a castle in Italy. While Bert is more than a little skeptical, the mystery of her aristocratic family’s past, and the chance to escape her stressful life for a luxury holiday in Italy, is too good to pass up.

At first, her inheritance seems like a dream come true: a champagne-drenched trip on a private jet to Turin, Italy; lawyers with lists of artwork and jewels bequeathed to Bert; a helicopter ride to an ancestral castle nestled in the Italian Alps below Mont Blanc; a portrait gallery of ancestors Bert never knew existed; and a cellar of expensive vintage wine for Bert to drink.

But her ancestry has a dark side, and Bert soon learns that her family history is particularly complicated. As Bert begins to unravel the Montebianco secrets, she begins to realize her true inheritance lies not in a legacy of ancestral treasures, but in her very genes.

What I liked: The premise of the book was very fun. Who wouldn’t like to get something in the mail telling you you have a castle in the Alps, holdings in a tree plantation, and a home in Paris! I also enjoyed the narration. Heather Masters does a wonderful job with all the characters. And Alberta – the new heiress – seems real person in a real situation until strange things start to happen and she starts to act strangely too.

What I didn’t like: Alberta does things, little by little, that just don’t ring “true.” She is dropped off at this castle, being told she’d be picked up in a week. Three weeks go by when she finally realizes they aren’t coming back to pick her up – sorry, no way. No cell service in the mountains (sounds right), but they have a land line (okay, maybe), but she doesn’t insist on using it to leave, even though she is told she’s the new owner of the place. She tries to run away to a local (deserted?) village in tennis shoes without gloves or hat. She lived in the Hudson Valley, so she knows what winter is (not a realistic). And when she okays a murder… (nope) I kept reading because I was listening in the car, otherwise I might have stopped. And Trussoni tries to make it more spookier than it has to be. It could have been a strange and thought-provoking story, but it seems she tried too hard to make it something else

Rating: 3/5

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

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan

24350633I picked this one up from the library because I have been looking at MG (middle-grade) books, and the internet took note of this fact and put ads up for MG stories and this one caught my eye. I started out listening to it, but the last disc was defective so I had to end the story by reading it, which was fine. It gave me the opportunity to see what the printed book looked like – the size, the inside formatting… Since I am working on those things now for my Agnes book: Intrigue in Istanbul, it was helpful to see the print book.

Stats: Published 2015, Can’t remember the number of CD’s, print is 368 pages

Blurb: (Goodreads)Eleven-year-old Nell Warne arrives on her aunt’s doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows. If her Aunt Kate rejects her, it’s the miserable Home for the Friendless.

Luckily, canny Nell makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate…and not just by helping out with household chores. For Aunt Kate is the first-ever female detective employed by the legendary Pinkerton Detective Agency. And Nell has a knack for the kind of close listening and bold action that made Pinkerton detectives famous in Civil War-era America. With huge, nation-changing events simmering in the background, Nell uses skills new and old to uncover truths about her past and solve mysteries in the present.

Based on the extraordinary true story of Kate Warne, this fast-paced adventure recounts feats of daring and danger…including saving the life of Abraham Lincoln!

What I liked: The book was quite good, overall. It kept my interest, was well written, and illustrated that time period the the real history of the few women who worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It’s nice that the main protagonists are female.

What I didn’t like: It was slow in parts. There are a few cases Nell and Aunt Kate have to investigate, which slows the book down in between cases. The narration was very good, but I listened to it a while ago and don’t know the female narrator’s name (sorry).

Rating: 4-/5

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

22402972I have been reading/listening to MG stories lately so this is another one that was recommended to me.

Genre: MG fiction

Stats: 288 pages, published in 2015, audio version read by Kathleen McInerney

Blurb: (from Goodreads) “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

What I liked: It was a well-written story with good and believable dialogue and a good story overall but it had one big hurtle I had trouble getting past. Kathleen McInerney did a good job.

What I didn’t like: This is gives away part of the story, so if you don’t want it to be spoiled, don’t read farther. The big thing I couldn’t get past was the fact that Ally was in 6th grade and her parents or any of her teachers up to this point missed that she had dyslexia. I know teachers, so this is highly unlikely. Hunt tried to make this work by having a mostly absent father (in the military) and a mom who was very busy and that the family moved a lot (because of the military father) but it still doesn’t work for me. Especially since the older brother ends up having the same problem. Yes, there are parents that don’t participate in a child’s life but all those teachers up to 6th grade? – I really doubt it. The teacher that did discover her issue was a little too odd for me, as well – his pet names for the students…, but that’s just me.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

 

Flint and Silver by John Drake

6467836Another of my audio book library roulette picks. Note: This is not a child’s pirate story. This is for adults.

Stats: Audio book – Narrator: Tim Gregory, 9 or 10 discs – I don’t remember, print 359 pages, published 2009

Blurb: John Silver had never killed a man. Until now, his charisma, sheer size and, when all else failed, powerful fists had been enough to dispatch his enemies. But on a smoldering deck off the coast of Madagascar, his shipmates dead or dying all around him, his cutlass has just claimed the lives of six pirates. Finding himself surrounded by their revenge-thirsty crewmates, Silver fears his promising merchant navy career is at an end. But then the pirate captain makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

On the other side of the world, Joseph Flint, a naval officer wronged by his superiors, plots a bloody mutiny. Strikingly handsome, brilliant but prey to sadistic tendencies, Flint is regarded as the most dangerous bandit on the high seas.

Together these gentlemen of fortune forge a deadly and unstoppable partnership, steering a course through treachery and betrayal while amassing vast treasure. But the arrival of Selena, a beautiful runaway slave with a murderous past, and Flint’s schemes to secure the pieces of gold for himself trigger a rivalry that will turn the best of friends into sworn enemies.

What I liked: I think Drake did well in capturing the feel of swash-buckling pirates and the time period and making up a good story for John Silver and Captain Flint pre-Treasure Island. He probably makes John Silver a little to good, but he does well with the nasty Mr. Flint. It really makes you want to read Treasure Island again, and I probably will. I just picked up an original book at a estate sale last weekend. He also makes Selena – the woman Silver loves – more of a character and more sexy than she was in  Treasure Island, which would make sense since TL is a children’s book and this is not. Tim Gregory does a fine job narrating this tale. It must have been fun doing the pirate voices, especially Flint, who he makes the typical growly pirate voice – arrrg.

What I didn’t like: It was a bit slow to get into – partly the story was slow but also it took a bit to get into the pirate lingo.

Rating: 4/5

John Drake has a sequel – Pieces of Eight, which I will probably listen to as well.

 

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

16028966Another blind library find. I have not read any of Terry Pratchett’s other books (and there are many) so this was a surprise.

Stats: 11 discs for the audio, 360 pages for print, published in 2012

Blurb: (Goodreads) A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

What I liked: Most everything. I am a Dickens fan so when I started this, I thought I had started a book that was written in Dickens time. It was supposed to take place in the mid-1800s. I came to find out it was published in 2013! Pratchett does a wonderful job with the language – I enjoyed all the old English slang: tosher -a person of the sewers, Richard – from kind Richard the third, which rhymes with ____, Peelers – the name for a policeman after Sir Robert Peel, head of police in London… (As a writer, I would like to know how one finds out what the slang was in 1800 London!) Then Pratchett puts Dickens and Sweeny Todd in the story in such an artful way, it just ups the comedy. Much as Dickens novels, it’s a commentary of the hard times and inequities of the different classes, though he has you wanting to join Dodger in the sewers much more than hobnobbing with the upper class. It also has a happy ending. The book couldn’t go any other way for such an upstanding young man. I listened to this and I took it back to the library before I could note the narrator, but he does a wonderful job.

What I didn’t like: Honestly, I can’t think of anything. (See, Rachel, I can find books that I’m not critical of!)

Rating: 5/5    I’ll have to try more of Terry’s books, though I don’t think he has any more like this one from what I can tell.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

This is another one of my library grabs in the YA section.

3388865Stats: Audio is 7 discs narrated by Julie Dretzin, published in 2007, book is 324 pages.

Blurb: It is 1943, and 11-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is traveling west on a train to live with her scientist father, but no one, not her father nor the military guardians who accompany her, will tell her exactly where he is. When she reaches Los Alamos, New Mexico, she learns why: hes working on a top secret government program. Over the next few years, Dewey gets to know eminent scientists, starts tinkering with her own mechanical projects, becomes friends with a budding artist who is as much of a misfit as she island, all the while, has no idea how the Manhattan Project is about to change the world.

What I liked: It was an interesting perspective of life in Los Alamos in 1943. Most people will know what was going on there in 1943 but children won’t. As with the last kids book I reviewed, this is a book that a teacher might use to discuss what was going on at the time and what created the “green glass sea,” which you don’t learn about until the very end. The writing is well done and appropriate for a child’s perspective. I like that there were woman scientist at the Los Alamos facility. That was something I didn’t know and interesting for the time.

What I didn’t like: It takes quite a while for me to get into it – it wasn’t until the third disc that I actually cared to listen on. Not the best for a book for youth. Klages also does something with a significant character that I don’t understand. (I won’t say so as not to give anything away). And she doesn’t really resolve this issue in the end, which is odd, especially because it involves the the main character – Dewey. The narrator, Julie Dretzin, does a fine job.

Rating: 4/5  – It’s a good book but I’m not sure a child would read it unless they had too. It’s a bit slow for kids.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

22693905This is the 7th in the Flavia de Luce Series

Genre: Murder mystery

Stats: Published January 2015, 392 pages, 9 discs – 11 hours, read by Jayne Entwistle

Book Blurb: (Goodreads) Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.

What I liked: Alan Bradley always makes a good mystery that you can’t figure out but this is not his best book. I really enjoy his names i.e., Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy – wonderful. Jayne Entwistle was as good as usual. Book spoiler: I’m surprised he is bring Flavia back to England so soon. I figured there would be a few books at this institution. Maybe he didn’t like it (someone at his publishing house maybe told him he has to change the scene) and that’s why the book isn’t the best.

What I didn’t like: The story seemed a bit disjointed. It wasn’t as tightly written with clues and characters as his 6 other books, but hey – 6 good books in row is a good record. I can’t complain too much.

Rating: 3.5/5

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Audio)

potter 1I have already read this story but I hadn’t listened to it and someone recommended the audio version to me. I am also emersing myself in good middle-grade fiction as an inspiration for my Agnes story so this had to be on my list. I had read it when it was first out – after my daughter read it – so it’s been a while.

Genre and stats: fantasy, published in November of 2003, 310 pages,audio is 8.5 hours

What I liked: It’s hard not to think of the movies when I was listening to the book, but maybe because the movie used so much of the book that it is hard to keep them apart, which I think is a testament to Rowling skill as a writer. I like how Rowling uses well known myths (goblins, wizards, witches, magic) and plays off them but not too much. As I mentioned about the Artemis Fowl books, I think Colfer went too far with his playing off of some of these same myths, making them harder to “believe.” And then there are just the fun parts – taking on a troll by sticking a wand up it’s nose, playing the game of quidditch I also enjoyed how Rowling used love as one of the most powerful “magic” tools used to keep Harry safe, again, using very real ideas mixed with magical spells. The audio books are narrated by  Jim Dale. He does a wonderful job with all the different voices, not making them too odd, but just different enough.

What I didn’t like: Um… I’m not sure. I guess it’s a little far fetched to have Voldemort (spelling?) on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head but most of the other magical things and ideas were very creative – drinking unicorn blood for strength, flying keys, invisibility cloak, Dumbledore’s mirror charm…all wonderfully creative.

Rating: 5/5

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

fowlGenre: middle-grade fantasy

Stats: Audio runs 6′ 7″, Published 2004, book

Blurb: (Goodreads) Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius—and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories—they’re dangerous! Full of unexpected twists and turns, Artemis Fowl is a riveting, magical adventure.

What I liked: I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee between characters. Colfer isn’t afraid to use puns, language and quips that some kids might not get, but make it entertaining for those who do (as well as adults like me who are reading/listening to his books). The underworld fantasy world is very rich and well thought out. This always makes me wonder how much a author has mapped out future books in a series when he/she starts the first book. The characters are very real, especially when you’re listening to their different voices from the wonderful  Nathaniel Parker.

What I didn’t like: Colfer takes a lot of liberties with the mythical creatures in his story: fairies, dwarfs, elves and last but not leas leprechauns of the LEP-recon squad. Some of it is very inventive, some of it is just over the top, but I guess it’s written for middle-grade readers so I can see why he did it, in part. I personally like stories that play off the known myths a little more closely.

Side note: As it says in the blurb, Artemis is a criminal, from a family of Irish criminals. no less. I think it is interesting that the book publishers picked up a story that has a criminal as the main protagonist. He’s a genius, yes, but still a criminal. I wonder how many times it got rejected before it was picked up just for this reason. It’s also interesting that the name Artemis is from a female Greek God. Granted, it sounds like a boys name to me too, but Colfer must have known kids would find this out. Maybe he didn’t care.

Rating: 4/5
I am listening to the second one already.