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.

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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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

 

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

This wThis Body of Death (Inspector Lynley, #16)as another blind library pick.

Stats: Published in 2010, print book is 692 pages, audio book is 21 discs/24 hours. Narrator: John Lee.

Blurb: (Goodreads) On compassionate leave after the murder of his wife, Thomas Lynley is called back to Scotland Yard when the body of a woman is found stabbed and abandoned in an isolated London cemetery. His former team doesn’t trust the leadership of their new department chief, Isabelle Ardery, whose management style seems to rub everyone the wrong way. In fact, Lynley may be the sole person who can see beneath his superior officer’s hard-as-nails exterior to a hidden–and possibly attractive–vulnerability.

While Lynley works in London, his former colleagues Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata follow the murder trail south to the New Forest. There they discover a beautiful and strange place where animals roam free, the long-lost art of thatching is very much alive, and outsiders are not entirely welcome. What they don’t know is that more than one dark secret lurks among the trees, and that their investigation will lead them to an outcome that is both tragic and shocking.

A multilayered jigsaw puzzle of a story skillfully structured to keep readers guessing until the very end, This Body of Death is a magnificent achievement from a writer at the peak of her powers.

What I liked: The writing was very good so it was easy to get into the story. The odd thing was that even though the story is set and uses UK English slang, George is an American writer – born in Ohio. I have never lived or even traveled to England but I felt like I was there. She is also very good at making characters and the story around them creepy, especially the backstory of three young delinquents that killed a little boy. All of her characters were all very real. This came out even more through John Lee’s wonderful portrayal and voice work. His accent helped put you in England as well.

What I didn’t like: That creepy backstory was a bit long. I’m not sure why she gave it so much text since the book is very long as is. This backstory plays a role in the main story, but I don’t think it needed as much copy as she gave it. George also over does some details – e.g., the landlady going on about recycling – that I’m guessing was to flush out her personality, but since she plays a minor role, it really could have been relegated to one sentence or two.

Rating: 4/5  It’s worth your time, if you have time, because it’s a long one. I’d recommend listening to it.

Published in: on November 2, 2016 at 11:26pm11  Leave a Comment  
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Odin’s Promise by Sandy Brehl

Odin's PromiseI picked this up at a book sale event I was part of in West Allis Library earlier this year. I had a lovely talk with the author. It was just the kind of book I was looking for – about Norway, since I’m working on the research for book II of my Agnes Kelly series, which takes place in Norway! Serendipity helping again 🙂

Stats: 237 pages, published in 2014

Blurb: ODIN’S PROMISE is a historical novel for middle-grade readers, a story of the first year of German occupation of Norway in World War II as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked under the wings of her parents, grandma, and older siblings. After Hitler’s troops invade Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. As the year progresses, Mari, her family, and her neighbors are drawn into the activities of the Norwegian underground resistance. Readers will cheer for Mari as she develops her inner strength – and the courage to help celebrate Norway’s spirit of resistance.” – Kathleen Ernst, author of American Girl’s Caroline Abbott series. “Beautifully written, emotionally taut novel of one girl’s coming of age during war time.” – Gayle Rosengren, What the Moon Said. Sandy Brehl is a teacher and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. She lives in Muskego, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee.

What I liked: The story does a nice job making the reader feel how it was for the Norwegians in 1940 and shares the history without being boring, which is good since it’s written for a middle grade audience. Having a dog as part of the story also makes it more interesting and real for that age group. Helpful to me (and perhaps teachers too) was a bibliography.

What I didn’t like: I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like 🙂 It’s a nice story for a middle grade reader.

Rating: 4/5

Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 11:26pm07  Leave a Comment  
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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I had wanted to read this, so when I saw the audio book at the library, I grabbed it!Orphan Train

Stats: The audio book is 7 discs or 8′ and 35″ worth. Narrated by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren. Print book is 278 pages and published in 2013

Blurb: (Goodreads) Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

What I liked: The story goes back and forth between Vivian early years and present day when Vivian come in contact with Molly. Kline connects the two characters in present day and in life situations in such a way that is seems very believable and not just to fit the story. She has obviously done her homework, so to speak, in that there is a lot of detail related to the various time periods – dress, food, lifestyle, situations… – that makes the story that much more real. It is heartbreaking to think that some of these “train kids” were treated as small slaves or at minimal very poorly, but I’m sure it occurred more times than we would like to think since child labor laws weren’t enacted until 1938 and these trains were to have run between 1854 and 1929.  Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren do a fine job with the narration. I don’t know who did what voices, but I enjoyed listen throughout.

What I didn’t like: The only thing I can say on this count is that Molly foster mother was overly sensitive – throwing Molly out for really no good reason. Having Molly do or say something a bit more deserving of getting the boot would have made it more believable. Though I suppose this could have happened if her idea of foster care was more for the money vs helping a child. I would guess this happens in real life as well.

Rating: 4/5

The Moving Finger – Agatha Christie

The Moving Finger (Miss Marple, #4) I wanted a light read (listen) so I picked this up at the library. After reading it, I’m not sure where the title comes from, other than maybe the moving finger are the fingers of the townspeople pointing at different people related to who done it (?).

Stats: First published in 1943, I think it was Ms Christie’s 4th book. The audio version is 5 discs, 6′ 10″ worth, narrated by Martin Jarvis. Print is 299 pages

Blurb: The placid village of Lymstock seems the perfect place for Jerry Burton to recuperate from his accident under the care of his sister, Joanna. But soon a series of vicious poison-pen letters destroys the village’s quiet charm, eventually causing one recipient to commit suicide. The vicar, the doctor, the servants—all are on the verge of accusing one another when help arrives from an unexpected quarter. The vicar’s house guest happens to be none other than Jane Marple.

What I liked: Agatha was able to distract me – put up a good smoke screen as she describes in the story – to make me think of everyone but the true murder, so the ending was satisfying.

What I didn’t like: This is a Miss Marple mystery and the incomparable Marble didn’t show up until the end, which was unfortunate in my eyes. I enjoy Miss M.’s personality. This isn’t one of Christie’s best stories – the beginning drags and when listening to it, it’s hard to keep all the characters straight, but I’m not sure that is an issue for the written book (the way it was originally published). Martin Jarvis’ narration was well done.

Rating: 3.5/5