Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Audiobook Review : The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

Written By: amodini - Apr• 20•16

Title : The Girl With All The Gifts
Author : M. R. Carey
Narrators : Finty Williams
Genre : Sci-fi
Publisher : Hachette Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 4 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Melanie is a 10 year old girl. She is considered special. That is why she, and others like her, are being educated in an elite, fortified environment. Melanie is intelligent, with a very high IQ, and loves learning, especially when Ms. Justineau is doing the teaching. The other teachers remain distant (just like they have been told to do) and answer her questions a little vaguely. Terms like the “breakdown” and “hungries” float about, and Melanie gets a sense that all is not well.

“The Girl with all the gifts” is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the UK. It is primarily a fast-paced thriller – the thriller part starts when Melanie’s heavily protected world comes crashing down and she is left to fend for herself – although there are bits of horror in here too. Yes, there are zombies, and there is some description of gory feeding frenzies. Zombies are not my thing. Normally, I would not even attempt such a book, but there is much more to this one that just the walking undead.

For starters, there is Melanie, an intelligent child, who picks up enough information despite the stonewalling to infer that she is not a normal 10 year old. Then there are adults who stand for and against her. This book has compelling characters, very well fleshed out, and that was one of the reasons I liked it. They have their flaws, but they also have strongly redeeming characteristics. They try to do the right thing, even if it is hard and goes against the very grain of their being. Carey provides enough backstory to each character to enable us to get a good handle on their personalities and temparements.

Carey’s descriptive-to-eventful ratio is just right. There is adequate detail about the people and the locales that I can almost picture them in my head, and there is more than enough going on to propel the story forward. I also liked the scientific detail the author provides, the explanations of the whys and the hows. Structurally, this has been thought through, so there aren’t any “gaps” – which is a plus, in a novel which has so much going on.

The story is fast paced and unpredictable. Once Melanie is out there by herself, pretty much anything can happen, and you can’t really anticipate where the narrative will go. Carey puts his characters in lots of tight spots; you hope they will get out of them. This continues, with you hanging onto every word. And very soon, you’re at the end of the book – a sure sign of a good one.

Narrator Finty Williams is marvelous. Beautifully paced, and does great voices and intonations for both male and female characters. Made this great book better.

Wordless Wednesdays #49

Written By: amodini - Apr• 06•16

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Audiobook Review : The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Written By: amodini - Mar• 16•16


Title : The Good Girl
Author : Mary Kubica
Narrators : Lindy Nettleton, Johnny Heller, Tom Taylorson, Andi Arndt
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 38 minutes
Rating : 1/5
Narrator Rating : 2/5

Mia Dennett is the daughter of influential Judge James Dennett. When she is kidnapped, the incident makes headlines, but only one of her parents, her mother, the stunningly beautiful Eve Dennett, is truly distraught. The high priority search has Detective Gabe Hoffman on the case. And with the media and the condescending Judge Dennett watching his every move, he has to get it right.

The book is narrated via 3 voices – Gabe’s, Eve’s, and the kidnapper’s. Each of their narratives is either a “before” or “after” – i.e.; before or after the kidnapping. So we hear the detective’s side of the story, his personal insecurities, the inter-office politics, the fact that Dennett is hobnobbing with Gabe’s boss, the condescending attitude that Dennett supposedly reeks of. We hear Eve’s tale, the cracks in the Dennett marriage, the fact that Judge Dennett is not quite the morally upstanding citizen, and that among his children he has favorites. And then we hear from Colin Thatcher, the poor commoner kidnapper with a hard life. Mia herself is painted only via these narratives.

“The Good Girl” has a pretty good star rating on Amazon, and in the beginning I bought into the hype, because this was going along at a nice pace. However the story soon begins to flag when the romantic angle kicks in. Kubica’s writing is clunky and verbose, but that isn’t enough to sink the book. What does do it is the fact that I don’t like any of the characters, even the kidnapped Mia; she appears to be the poor little rich girl who doth complain too much. And she has major daddy issues; she’s been waiting all her life “to find a man to take care of her”. The characters are thinly sketched, with shades of black or white, no grey in-between. Cliches abound. The romance angle is a tad disgusting.

I was bored with this book. I wanted to get to the end, so I fast-forwarded the audio. The Good Girl is a book which has not been fully thought through, and it shows. It has been compared to Gone Girl, but Gone Girl it definitely is not. I highly de-recommend “The Good Girl”.

This book had multiple narrators, but I didn’t like them too much except for Tom Taylorson, the narrator who did Colin Thatcher’s voice. Nettleton voiced Eve, and she made Eve sound weary, which kinda sounds reasonable. But Eve also sounded affected which didn’t endear her to me any.

Wordless Wednesdays #48

Written By: amodini - Mar• 02•16

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Audiobook Review : The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Written By: amodini - Feb• 17•16

Title : The Girl on the Train
Author : Paula Hawkins
Narrators : Clara Corbett, India Fisher, Louise Brealey
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 59 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

This book is based on an intriguing premise – woman on passing train sees something shocking in a split-second! That is why I picked this up, and have to say that it does live up to all the hype.

Rachel is a recently divorced alcoholic. Her ex-husband Tom has married again and now has a child, something he couldn’t do with Rachel. The three, Tom, wife and child, now live in the home that used to once be Rachel and Tom’s. Rachel’s train to work skirts through her old neighborhood every day, where she is able to look into the backyard of another home, seeing a handsome couple breakfast together everyday. Rachel fantasizes about this couple as a perfect pair, both so much in love, and even concocts up a name for them – “Jess and Jason”.

One day though, eagerly looking for her “Jess and Jason”, Rachel instead sees something unexpected and shocking. Subsequently when she sees a missing woman’s face on the news, and realizes it is “Jess”, she goes to the police and tells them what she has seen. Rachel is, from then on, embroiled in a mystery that will change her reality as she knows it.

The book is told from three viewpoints – Rachel’s, Anna’s (Tom’s current wife), and Megan’s (the missing woman). Rachel is quite the unreliable narrator – she is an alcoholic with very little will-power, forgets stuff in her post-alcohol episodes, omits the truth when convenient, and generally doesn’t walk the morally upright path. Even when she pours out her story to the police they are loath to take her seriously. Anna, the “other woman” turned wife, considers Rachel to be an anti-social psychopath who wants to poison her happy life with Tom. And Megan or “Jess” has her own little convoluted story to tell. All three women have reason to hide their action and the motives for those actions. So you have a nice little set-up. Who do you believe?

Rachel’s isn’t a pleasant person but you do feel sorry for her, and she, with all her flaws and her unhappy circumstances, seems real. It is Rachel’s narrative that draws me in, and keeps me there. Hawkins paces her novel well, so there is a fresh new twist at every turn. And the end is quite unpredictable. “The Girl on the Train” is a very well-done mystery, and is made even better by the 3 narrators.

Highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #47

Written By: amodini - Feb• 03•16

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Wordless Wednesdays #46

Written By: amodini - Jan• 06•16

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Wordless Wednesdays #45

Written By: amodini - Dec• 16•15

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Audiobook Review : Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Written By: amodini - Dec• 02•15

Title : Love May Fail
Author : Matthew Quick
Narrators : Cris Dukehart, Jim Meskimen, Lorna Raver, Timothy Fannon, Tonya Campos
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Harper Audio
Listening Length : 12 hours 5 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Portia Kane is fed up with her false life. She leaves her wealthy, cheating husband and heads back to her mother’s home in the small town she grew up in. Her sense of self is dented but not broken, because of the positivity she received years ago from her high school English teacher Mr. Nathan Vernon. She believes that she can put her life in order, if she saves someone else’s. And that someone is Mr. Vernon, who Portia learns, has become reclusive and just about disappeared after a traumatic incident with one of his students.

Energized, Portia resolves to give Mr. Vernon back all the help and support that he gave her when she most needed it. Mr. Vernon, when Portia tracks him down, throws a spanner in the works by declaring he doesn’t want to be saved. What is Portia to do?

Quirky and feel-good is how I’d describe this book. It is populated by a host of interesting characters – Portia’s pornographer husband, her hoarder mom, an ex-drug-addict, a rock-loving mom-son pair – not to mention Portia herself. Most of the characters are well-sketched, and I especially liked Mr. Vernon’s character, drawn with such goodness and empathy. Mr. Vernon is almost the ideal teacher, who gives selflessly of himself to all the young people he thinks he can infuse with hope and self-worth. I wish every teacher was like him.

This book has a plot, but it not a plot which I can stake out for you very clearly. Things happen, bound together by a bunch of coincidences. It runs along pretty smoothly until about 75% and then it becomes a bit of a mess. Thankfully it recovers, so I can finish it and still get the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from good books/films. I like the coincidences in the book because they give the book this feel-goody vibe. And I like the book because it ponders (in some very poignant moments) about life, it’s ups and downs, goodness and idealism, hope and despair, and that thing which makes us tick.

The title of the book is from Kurt Vonnegut’s quote “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail”.

The book is narrated by a bunch of people who do a very good job. The narrator who portrays Portia sounds a little like Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame). And the actor who plays Mr. Vernon’s part is fabulous – he gave his character the depth, gravitas and goodness Mr. Vernon’s portrayal deserved. Beautifully done.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Written By: amodini - Nov• 18•15

This is not going to read like a review because it is not one. Because I could not finish this book.

However I feel compelled to tell you why I had to give up on it more than half way in. And before that I must submit to a little ranting. About how I’m having trust issues. With book reviewers. You hear about this book and it’s got glowing reviews and then I can’t even force myself to finish it. It seems like all the books are so overly hyped these days – you are never quite sure whether to actually trust the review. I might have to start using Amazon reviews and judge the book by the naysayers.

This audiobook is long; more than 18 hours of listening time. I gave up sometime after the 10th hour. Not to say that I hated the book or it was atrocious – no. It wasn’t bad. It started with a great premise – that of a young pastor, Peter Leigh, going to another planet to spread his message of religious faith to the indigenous population. He’s been chosen after a rigorous set of interviews (we’re talking days here) by a mysterious corporation called USIC. He’s leaving behind his wife Bea, and their cat Joshua, but we assume that he will return to them.

This new planet, Oasis, is in another galaxy (there is a “jump” involved in the travel) and has a human colony living in sealed bunker-like buildings which keep out the cloyingly humid atmosphere. The native population live in their own settlement, and are short, thin, robed-and-cowled. Sorta humanoid except for their faces which Peter describes as looking like two fetuses, side by side. Peter, impatient to spread the word of God, goes to live among the Oasans, and finds them hungry for religion and scripture from “The Book of Strange New Things” – the Bible.

And that’s as far as I got. At this point the book is fairly slow-paced and plodding. I picked this up because of the sci-fi premise, and while the world-building is interesting, the pace is so slow that it felt more like alien anthropological non-fiction. I just couldn’t take the non-happening and any more of the descriptive detail of the Oasan’s life.

This book sounds similar to Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”, which I finished and liked. They are very different though, as is the world-building. This one spouted a lot of religion :-). Faber is no doubt a very skilled writer, because even with much of Peter’s inner musing in the throes of philosophical detail, the book is interesting. I’m not sure I’ll listen to his work again though if all his books feature the non-plot like this one.