Kristen Hannah's Winter Garden is one of those books that picks up a little late in the page count, but absolutely pays off for eager readers. The sto...moreKristen Hannah's Winter Garden is one of those books that picks up a little late in the page count, but absolutely pays off for eager readers. The story is told on and off from the point of view of two sisters, Meredith and Nina, as their lives descend into emotional turmoil after their beloved father dies. Suddenly, the care of their estranged mother is forced on them, and while one instantly takes off, the other finds the care of their mother overwhelming when it seems mom may be slipping into madness. They both independently realize that they know almost nothing about their Russian mother. Compelled by a deathbed promise Nina tries and eventually succeeds in getting her mother to tell a childhood fairytale from which they learn the amazing story of a woman during the siege of Leningrad and a lot about their mom.
Meredith and Nina are the weakest part of the story though both are successful women neither seems to know what they want in the romance department. Their story can't stack up against what we slowly learn about their mom. However the subject matter of the fairytale is undeniably fascinating if at times vividly sad--be prepared to cry. If Hannah could have been persuaded to cut down the first part of her book some, and avoided tying up her ending a little too prettily, this might have been one of the best books I have ever read. (less)
In Sue Miller's The Lake Shore Limited, not a lot happens. Instead we get character's that are so convincingly difficult that it becomes tough going f...moreIn Sue Miller's The Lake Shore Limited, not a lot happens. Instead we get character's that are so convincingly difficult that it becomes tough going for the reader to find anything redemptive about them. Basically a group of spoiled adults surrounding a play hurt each other. The roundabout and jerky narration, absent plot and humor, wisdom, doesn't help matters. Though Miller's use of language is at times striking, I still struggled to finish this one. (less)
Didn't like. The audio version had Kingsolver reading and she read the novel like she was telling the story to a five year old. Just because she is an...moreDidn't like. The audio version had Kingsolver reading and she read the novel like she was telling the story to a five year old. Just because she is an amazing author, doesn't make her an amazing narrator. I literally could not take another second and had to abandon an otherwise good story. Skip the audio and get the hardcover.(less)
As many times as I have traversed the saga of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn, I have never focused in on Walter Cromwell. That Cromwell’s rise was as...moreAs many times as I have traversed the saga of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn, I have never focused in on Walter Cromwell. That Cromwell’s rise was as fascinating as any of the heady ascensions in the Tudor period is a given, but I can’t say that I’ve ever wondered what it was like around his dinner table. And this is what Mantel does for more than 500 pages. And the novel feels like 532 pages. We get Thomas Cromwell as a young man to Cromwell as Cardinal Wolsey’s servant to Cromwell power grabbing courtier. We take a break from the political arenas to get a little Thomas Cromwell family man, and Thomas Cromwell romantic. Before you pick up this book, you may want to ask yourself if you care? Through Cromwell’s rise to power we get a locker room rehashing of some events and motivations but the major plot points are skipped over or summarized in a line or two. So it is more successful for those already familiar and interested in this critical time period for England who can read it is an indulgent luxury. (Others may find Mantel’s style choppy and the plot line pointless).
Cromwell as a character is constantly upstaged by the key players Henry, Anne, Katherine, Wolsey. Norfolk, Suffolk, etc… And to so thoroughly examine events from Cromwell’s perspective, but then not mention how he accomplishes some of his major advancements seems weird, but then again maybe Mantel did, and I had stopped paying attention—she does tend to ramble on about minutiae and insignificant imaginings; such as Mary Boleyn’s lusting after Cromwell or Cromwell’s lusting after Jane Seymour. The book’s major redemption is the complete vilification of Thomas More. Finally, More is portrayed as a man of the character who had so many burned alive for their religious beliefs. Mantel treats his fall as the comeuppance it deserves to be. And still, is it saving enough to wade through the endlessly witty conversations to the novels awkward ending? Barely. (less)
When I picked up Bright Shiny Morning on audio, I was elated to find out Ben Foster was reading it. If you’ve seen Foster’s movies, you’ll know he nev...moreWhen I picked up Bright Shiny Morning on audio, I was elated to find out Ben Foster was reading it. If you’ve seen Foster’s movies, you’ll know he never does anything half way (except for maybe the Disney Channel’s Flash Forward). And he brought that intensity to this reading even when it didn’t suit the material. This disjointed effect is the very least of the novels issues for me, and what Ben brings to the more serious packages is brilliant. But as much as I enjoyed Ben’s reading, audio is not the way to go on this one.
Frey tells the stories of Los Angeles residents up and down the food chain, but in-between every narrative passage or profiles of a resident (some of which go no where), we get LA history, trivia, facts, lists. It is almost like he grabbed a travel guide to intersperse with the novel, or he included all of his research on the cities setting just so we’d know that he did it. The lists are the worst. Frey lists something like gang names or LA disabled veterans or prestigious artists, and these lists drag on for minutes. And since it was audio I was held captive as I could not skim some of these lengthy inclusions as I know anyone who read this book must have done at some point. The lists are interesting and at times moving, but I don’t want to read one every ten pages or so in a work of fiction.
One of my other pet peeves is the use of repeated phrases for emphasis which Frey worked to exhaustion in this novel. Try using skill in diction instead of hitting us over the head with the same phrases. When the language calls attention to itself it dissipates the tension of otherwise incredibly gripping or moving passages.
Frey it seems can’t help call attention to his rendition in his gimmick and overworked novel. This is a shame because some of the stories are very engrossing particularly an American maid of Mexican decent coming into her own and a closeted A-list movie star who falls in love with an emotionally distant up and coming agent. These narratives were not enough to save the construction which was not cohesive. I do understand that the novel is everything LA and the detailing and criticizing of LA culture is more important then any one story or theme, but a good novel should offer some narrative direction. This chief complaint could be why some will rave about the book, so Frey fans, anyone who lives in or around LA or those fascinated by it, will probably enjoy it. Give yourself an out though by skipping the audio version just in case some serious skimming is in order. (less)
Solar is called "the literary event of the spring ion the back page of the advanced edition which is further evidence that expectations are running un...moreSolar is called "the literary event of the spring ion the back page of the advanced edition which is further evidence that expectations are running unchecked for Ian McEwan's latest. And after being deceived by Briony in Atonement, and shocked at the turn a long-time friendship takes in Amsterdam (two novels that still rate with me years after I've finished them), I too, could not wait to grab this book.
McEwan portrays a Nobel Prize genius past his prime, Michael Beard, who struggles to hold his marriage together. He has just come to realize that his fifth wife is the love of his life as she is gearing up to leave him. And although he has coasted his entire life on his youthful brilliance, he is also beginning to worry he is becoming irrelevant in the ever advancing world of Physics. Nothing short of saving the world from apocalyptic climate change can possibly revitalize his existence, and the key to that may have fallen at his feet.
Of course, I found the first part of this book, Beard's domestic drama far more engrossing then the subsequent parts where I felt the novel began to lose steam and the reader just short of waited for the inevitable. Still I can't think of anyone but McEwan who could inspire me to pick up a book detailing high level physics and global climate politics. While not my favorite McEwan, it won't disappoint his clamoring fans, and is likely to become, well, the literary event of the summer. (less)
Meyer imagines the life of Marie-Antoinette as a young girl through her death giving us a Queen who was not entirely rotten but self absorbed, shallow...moreMeyer imagines the life of Marie-Antoinette as a young girl through her death giving us a Queen who was not entirely rotten but self absorbed, shallow, and inept at public relations. All of the chapters begin from a rule that was likely given to the monarch, and the bulk of the rules refer to her rampant unchecked spending. Which Meyer details and then lets the young monarch rationalize. Meyer clearly went out of her way to give an impartial view if the notorious Queen. She does play to Antoinette's spoiled and thoughtless reputation, but balances those fatal flaws with the struggles of young girl trying to fit in amongst the anti-Austrian climate and furthermore portrays Antoinette a loving mother her mother and a dutiful wife. My only complaint is that Meyer shifts the narration from Maire to her daughter, Maire Therese, over the last hundred pages, and I am not sure why. I can only guess that she wanted to keep the narration flowing from a youthful perspective. It only serves to alienate the reader from our narrator during the most critical events of her life. Otherwise, though much of the historical details are fashion and court custom based, readers are also given insights into the American and French Revolutions. Plus the author gives a historical note and a bibliography which many of my "adult" fictionalized novels of actual historical figures do not even bother with. The story is an instantly engrossing choice with a tragic appeal that young ladies should devour like cake. (less)
Imagine that your husband is transferred to New Zealand in the late 1800s and you and your small children have no choice but to accompany him. Once in...moreImagine that your husband is transferred to New Zealand in the late 1800s and you and your small children have no choice but to accompany him. Once in your remote locale, you find that tensions between settlers and the native tribe are increasingly hostile. All of which culminates in an attack on your home in which you and your children are kidnapped and forced into slavery. You manage to escape and try to desperately find your husband, but he has left New Zealand. Desperate you are able to track him to California, and arrive at his doorstep penniless. Anticipating the best moment in the 6 years of torment you knock on his door and are confronted with his new wife, Nancy. With no other options you move into their farm with your children only to be persecuted by society and tried for bigamy. Such is the soap operatic fate of Meg Oades who is actually based on a real person and an actual court case that tested the laws of bigamy and spotlights Victorian society and values. Meg’s take is surprisingly well- balanced by Nancy’s account. Nancy is a young widow with a child of her own and a cruel victim of extraordinary circumstances. This strange but true story is deftly fleshed out in Moran’s debut even if the women and their husband are heavily idealized, but their story is unforgettable and an interesting back drop to explore family, love and loyalty. As page turning as a thriller, The Wives of Henry Oades is a thought provoking book club selection. (less)
Antonia Fraser briefly profiles dozens and dozens of those women who however briefly captured the attention of Louis XIV. And there are A LOT of ladie...moreAntonia Fraser briefly profiles dozens and dozens of those women who however briefly captured the attention of Louis XIV. And there are A LOT of ladies. Which makes keeping all the of these ladies straight difficult, and the material would be better suited by several charts to establish the hierarchy and family tree of the French Court for reference. The print edition may have included such resources, but the audio book did not. Had Fraser focused her scope somewhat that may have not been necessary, but as the book is written, it is hard to follow. I also wouldn’t have minded some historical context to encapsulate some of these romances or amusements, nor would I have been against a little more focus or detail on some of those ladies who were more important to Louis life and reign. Instead we get brief profiles and scant details on almost everyone whom the king has a flirtation with, those who marry within the upper echelon of the court, or can claim descent from Louis. I feared it would get to the point where Fraser would introduce Louis’ maids, cooks or those who walked through the room briefly were not introduced to the King.
Eyre delivers an impeccable French read (at least to my ears) but at times her inflections, pauses and pronunciations tend towards snobbery. Even if that was the point, I found her unlikable. And though Eyre’s performance did not curb my enjoyment of the book, she didn’t bring anything special to the material either.
I can’t get enough details on the scandalous courts and love lives of European Monarchic figures, so of course I did really enjoy the book. However it may not suit more discriminating listeners. (less)
Though sure to please those who love to curl up with a big thick historical romance, The Queen’s Lover may frustrate some with its meandering plot lin...moreThough sure to please those who love to curl up with a big thick historical romance, The Queen’s Lover may frustrate some with its meandering plot lines and shifting points of view. Too long, too detailed and yet somehow never managing to clarify the political contexts the characters find themselves in to a reader unfamiliar with the early to mid fifteenth century. Vanora Bennett describes much of the life of Catherine de Valois a young princess struggling to survive the neglect of her father’s war ravaged France. Her father is mad and her mother is too self absorbed to care. When her cherished younger brother declares war on what is left of the royal family, Catherine vows to escape at all costs, and her best option seems to be marriage to the enemy, the English King Henry V. Only she finds her greatest challenge will be to fight her feelings for the handsome Welshman, Owain Tudor, who depends on but offers her a love that can never be.
Bennett fails to cash in on the spirited heroine stereotype, but instead portrays a rather bland and ineffective princess. She seems more concerned about her honor, happiness and political survival then that of the ones she claims to love. She is continuously upstaged by other historical figures Queen Isabeau, her Father Charles VI, her brother Charles, Johanne of Arc, Warwick, etc… The bones of the story are grounded in fact which is fascinating as any in history, but the meat of the story and motivations read at best highly fictionalized and at worst far fetched. Recommended only for Bennett fans interested in her take on the time period and events, or those whose definition of a great read is a period romance with a love conquers all theme. (less)
Bradley ups the ante with The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, his second Flavia deLuce novel in which our spunky heroine (an eleven year old budd...moreBradley ups the ante with The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, his second Flavia deLuce novel in which our spunky heroine (an eleven year old budding chemist with a passion for poison) investigates the sudden death of a celebrity puppeteer. And of course, the mystery she sets out to solve twists and turns along adding another possible victim, and quirky hilarity ensues.
I usually approach the second installment of any series warily. After finishing The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and being effortlessly captivated by the precocious but brilliant Flavia de Luce, I was certain that the unique voice Alan Bradley had created would be at best too sugary and at worst stale in further installments. However, I was please to find that after a page or two—I was as instantly as engaged with Flavia’s voice as previously, and the premise was still pleasantly fresh. Bradley has created a kind of mysterly-lite niche that is devoid of any edge whatsoever. Instead he relies on dynamic characterization, tangible mood, and wit to provide dramatic tension. I can’t put a finger on why a book is not remotely suspenseful can be so hard to put down. And so maybe that is its appeal. Anyone who enjoyed Sweetness (and who didn’t?) should be delighted. And if you haven’t read Sweetness (you should), but it is not necessary to take pleasure in this mystery. Only then you too (like me) find yourself eagerly awaiting deLuce’s next debacle. (less)
In The Kids are All Right, four siblings produce a fresh take on the familial memoir. This book billed for lovers of The Liar’s Club and The Glass Cas...moreIn The Kids are All Right, four siblings produce a fresh take on the familial memoir. This book billed for lovers of The Liar’s Club and The Glass Castle stands on its own against these genre standards, not so much for its dramatic subject matter, but more for the unique way it is constructed and the instant affinity the authors inspire. While peppering every page with nostalgic 80’s references, the Welch children (Amanda, Liz, Dan and Diana) alternate their points of view detailing their losses of virginity, their parents, and almost each other. No narrator lasts more than three pages and they proceed to correct each other’s recollections or share the same memory from another point of view. The result is a memoir which feels more like brothers and sisters recounting family lore at the kitchen table. This brisk conversational read reminds readers the importance of family and describes a deep love that helps these Kids weather affecting tragedy. (less)
I usually have at least 3 books going at a time as a matter of habit. But once I got a hundred pages or so in to Sophie Hannah’s THE WRONG MOTHER, it...moreI usually have at least 3 books going at a time as a matter of habit. But once I got a hundred pages or so in to Sophie Hannah’s THE WRONG MOTHER, it was all I wanted to read. The story centers around Sally Thorning who in a moment of selfishness escapes on an indulgent vacation and extramarital affair. It is only months later she discovers her lover is not who he said he is, and her indiscretion will have life threatening consequences beyond her imagination. The story shifts between Sally, the police investigating the crime, and excerpts of a diary detailing the day to day life of murder victim who is finding mothering her young child excruciating.
Shifting narrators is one of the most overused literary devices today and it is to Hannah’s credit that the reader barely notices. Instead the story was so compelling and lively that these characters inspire and evoke emotion from the very first to the very last page. Although readers are kept in the dark throughout much of this murder mystery and only doled out tiny fairly useless clues, the book stayed thoroughly suspenseful. Hannah’s deft exploration of modern motherhood and its expectations deliver a scarily relatable must read for all crime, mystery and literary fiction fans. (less)