Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Wordless Wednesdays #39

Written By: amodini - Mar• 25•15

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Audiobook Review : Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Written By: amodini - Mar• 18•15

Night Film: A NovelTitle : Night Film
Author : Marisha Pessl
Narrator : Jake Weber
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 23 hours 9 minutes
Rating : 3/5

I’d read many wonderful reviews of this book and was attracted by the “mystery/psychological thriller” bit. Unfortunately, what I’d missed, was that this novel was part horror. By the time I realized that I was already 8 hours in – way past quitting-time.

Night Film’s main character is investigative journalist Scott McGrath who’s lost some of his credibility years ago, by throwing up an unfounded accusation against horror film-maker Stanislas Cordova. Now he lives alone, sharing custody of his little daughter with his ex-wife. When Cordova’s 24 year old daughter Ashley commits suicide in an abandoned Manhattan building, McGrath decides to investigate. He finds unlikely co-investigators in a coat-check girl and a dubious drug-dealer.

The title of this novel, “Night Film” refers to the cult horror films that Stanislas Cordova is famous for making. As we delve into Cordova’s private world and the unnatural influence he had on family and fans, the story gets creepier. The initial listening hours pass by very quickly, because there’s mystery and eerie suspense. The tone is sinister with talk of black magic, curses, witches etc. The story goes on in a procedural fashion with the three investigators rooting about for clues to Ashley Cordova’s disturbed life and her father’s philosophy, habits and whereabouts; Stanislas is reticent and never appears in public.

Pessl develops her story well. The initial build-up sets you up for something big. Unfortunately, that something big never comes, and I was disappointed by the ambiguous ending. Her characters are interesting. I actually liked McGrath because he had a sensible head on his shoulders, but as time passes, he starts to get uncharacteristically imaginative, wondering if his theories are grounded in the real world or the occult.

Night Film is an atmospheric novel, so full points to Pessl on setting the mood. Her descriptions are detailed, so you get a good sense of the settings and the people in them. I’d been anticipating a literary thriller, and although it starts off all right, Night Film gets too pot-boiler-ish for that. Post-read I’d liken this book to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code; if you liked that you will probably like this.

Night Film is narrated by Jake Weber, and his raspy voice is similar to Jeremy Iron’s. Weber tone was well suited to portray McGrath, and he did well in playing out the other characters too. I would look forward to other books narrated by Weber.

Audiobook Review : Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Written By: amodini - Mar• 11•15


Three WishesTitle : Three Wishes
Author : Liane Moriarty
Narrator : Heather Wilds
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Tantor Audio
Listening Length : 11 hours 31 minutes
Rating : 2/5

From the Goodreads blurb:

Australian triplets Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle are about to turn thirty-three and one is pregnant, one has just had her life turned upside down, and one is only just keeping hers from skidding off the fast lane. Meanwhile, their divorced parents have been behaving very oddly indeed.

In this family comedy by Liane Moriarty, we follow the three Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year — as they deal with sibling rivalry and secrets, revelations and relationships, unfaithful husbands and unthinkable decisions, and the fabulous, frustrating life of forever being part of a trio.

The above blurb attempts to lure you in with talk of a “family comedy”. Know that this is definitely not a family comedy; it is a tale of the three sisters, and they go through life’s ups and downs, more downs than ups; the book reeks of gloom and doom (those happy, colorful flowers on the cover are deceptive). So I did know what I was getting into; I just didn’t expect it to be this listless, given Moriarty’s reputation and obvious skill. The events in the trio’s lives happen in no particular order, and they do not lead to some big conclusion or poetic ending. The book then, is kinda choppy, flitting from one sister to the next, just one thing happening after another, with nary an end in sight. There is no plot, so to speak.

If you’ve been following my reviews, you know that I loved Moriarty’s “The Husband’s Secret” - it made my Best Audiobooks of 2014 List. That book had three main characters, tenuously connected. This book also has three main characters, very overtly connected, being triplets and all. But there end the similarities. While that book had well-developed characters, this one has them trite, cliched and too smart-alecky for my taste. Character development is so shallow that I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about any of the sisters at all.

This book is narrated by Heather Wilds. I haven’t heard her before, and I will give her the benefit of the doubt seeing the poor material she had to work with, but even so, I am unimpressed. Wilds has a nice melodious voice, but I couldn’t quite distinguish between the different character voices when they conversed – they all seemed just the same, which was a bummer, because there are so many characters and you would like to “feel” them differently.

It is ironical that I chanced upon a wonderful read, “The Chaperone”, because I thought that Liane Moriarty had authored it, and the book that Moriarty had actually authored (this one) turned out be such a dud. I guess Moriarty has improved over the years; “Three Wishes” was her first book, published in 2004, and “The Husband’s Secret” was published 9 years later. I still remain a Moriarty fan, although I will be careful from now on to only read her later books.

Audiobook Review : The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Written By: amodini - Mar• 05•15

The Paying GuestsTitle : The Paying Guests
Author : Sarah Waters
Narrator : Juliet Stevenson
Genre : Historical
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 21 hours 28 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5

It is the 1920s and Frances Wray and her mother live in genteel poverty in their South London home. Their financial situation has forced them to take in paying-guests, a young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber. The Barbers are happy to have a home in such a “posh” location, and the Wray women must get used to the idea of sharing their home with veritable strangers.

The Barbers appear nice enough, although it is made clear to the reader that there is a difference of class between the Wrays and the Barbers. The ever practical and pragmatic Frances Wray, considered an aging spinster at 26, becomes friends with Mrs. Barber, but that harmless friendship is just a prelude to the unexpected events around the corner.

Let me say, from the get-go, that Sarah Waters is a wonderful, wonderful writer. In a historical novel, such as this one, I look forward to learning about that time-period – the dress, customs, norms, practical little things like what they ate, and whether they used candles, or lamps or electricity at night. Waters did not disappoint here; this book contains many descriptions of the people, the places, the social mores and societal expectations, all beautifully done! Because of the minuteness in the way these descriptions are provided, the book moved languorously, but so skilled is the author, that I waited on every word.

“The Paying Guests” is written in the third person, but told from Frances’ point of view – we hear what she thinks, because it is around her that the plot revolves. The characters are solid and consistent, and we get to know Frances, her mother, Mr. and Mrs. Barber very well. Waters’ prose is meticulous and lyrical, detailing out for us the nooks and crannies of each character; I feel like I would recognize them, were they to come face-to-face.

I will say that this book, laden with atmosphere, developed in a very unexpected way. From the reviews I read before I picked this up, I had expected romance, intrigue and a murder mystery, but I was taken completely by surprise at the events which led to this intrigue. If that were not enough, we are fortunate to have it narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who does an exceptional job. She brings to life all the characters in the book, (and there are many) male, female, young, old, and doubles the pleasure of this excellent novel.

I am so pleased to have listened to this remarkable work. Highly recommended.

Audiobook Showcase: Brandon Sanderson’s Firefight

Written By: amodini - Mar• 01•15

Firefight (The Reckoners)I’m a little late to the party here, but did want to showcase the recent release of Brandon Sanderson’s audiobook.

Here is a short clip from the audiobook, and below is the Goodreads blurb:

From the #1 “New York Times” bestselling author of Words of Radiance coauthor of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and creator of the internationally bestselling Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson presents the second book in the Reckoners series: Firefight, the sequel to the #1 bestseller Steelheart.

They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Wordless Wednesdays #38

Written By: amodini - Feb• 25•15

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Audiobook Review : The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Written By: amodini - Feb• 04•15

The Woman Upstairs (Vintage Contemporaries)Title : The Woman Upstairs
Author : Claire Messud
Narrator : Cassandra Campbell
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 11 hours
Rating : 3/5

The book blurb seemed to indicate that “The Woman Upstairs” would be about a lonely spinster and her life as influenced by one charismatic family. Well, it is a pretty fair summary of the book, although post-read I don’t think I got what I expected.

Nora Eldridge is a primary school teacher, a spinster at 37, with nary a boyfriend or family in sight. Nora has once had dreams of becoming an artist, but here she is, stuck in small-town life, as her mother once was. Into her life come the charismatic Shahid family – the son Reza, who is Nora’s student, the mother Sirena, who is a “true artist” with a reputation and established art installations, and the father, Skandar, a good-looking, intelligent scholar pursuing a fellowship at Harvard.

Each member of the Shahid family possesses appealing characteristics, and Nora is drawn to each one in a different way. She becomes a mother figure to Reza, caring for him protectively at school, a fellow artist to Sirena, and a friend to Skandar. Nora’s life is told in first person, by Nora herself. And her telling is detailed, minutely detailed and pretty philosophical. Nora considers herself “the woman upstairs”, the well-behaved, sensible, middle-aged spinster, closeted with her secret desires, living on the fringes of other people’s lives, but never a part of them. Thus begins the story. And on it goes.

Messud provides detailed descriptions of her characters from Nora’s point of view, so Reza, Sirena and Skandar are fleshed out very well. Nora is a bit of a mystery – and an unlikeable one at that. I couldn’t quite fathom why she’d given up on life at 37, and resigned herself to the position of “the woman upstairs” with, hopefully, more than half her life before her. She might have been angry, but I was unmoved by it. I didn’t feel for her, or her situation in life. Moreover, her obsession with the Shahid family has a vaguely incestuous feel to it. Her professed infatuation with every Shahid, with the blurring of edges between each relationship, is uncomfortable to read about. You’d think that knowing about a woman caught in such a predicament would elicit some sympathy, but as it was framed, I couldn’t even bring myself to do that.

If you’ve guessed at my disappointment with this book, you’re spot-on dear reader :-) ! I struggled with this book, almost giving up on it, half-way in. I keep waiting for something to happen, but unfortunately “The Woman Upstairs” is a lot of book without any plot. The end when it comes, is a bit of a twist, but not enough to justify the minute intricacy of the book.

I give this novel 3 stars because of the quality of writing, even if that writing failed to have its desired effect. Campbell is a good narrator, and I would listen to her again, and hopefully, that will be a better book.

Wordless Wednesdays #37

Written By: amodini - Jan• 28•15

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Best Audiobooks of 2014

Written By: amodini - Jan• 20•15

As I said earlier, this was the year of the audiobook for me. I got started in 2013, and really got going in 2014. I have to thank the local library for all this, because that’s where I get all my audiobooks for now. It is extremely convenient, and great for when you want to rest your eyes, or when on a long drive, or when you find yourself on a treadmill and must find some way of staying on.

Anyway, here are the Top 3 Audiobooks I listened to in 2014:

 

The Husband's Secret#1. The Husband’s Secret : This was my first book from Liane Moriarty and I’m a fan of hers now (I’m listening another of her books currently). The stories, and there are a couple, are about a bunch of vaguely connected people, who endure love, hurt, pain, anguish, relief, closure and betrayal. There is also suspense as Moriarty keeps us on tenterhooks for the big reveal. The book is a great balance of pacy writing and great, gorgeous description, so deftly inserted into the prose that I am not aware of listening to copious paragraphs, but only of the picture it creates.

This was un-put-down-able, and I listened to this book every moment I got.

 

#2. Gone Girl : This story of a young woman’s disappearance and subsequently, the strong noose of suspicion settling around her husband’s neck, is now a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike; some of you might have seen it already. I highly recommend this book on audio because of the fabulous narrators.

 

Gone GirlMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand : This nice tale of mature love between two older folks is a gentle, feel-good listen. Helen Simonson’s culture-spanning romance is wonderfully brought to life by Peter Altschuler – highly recommended.

The Best Books of 2014

Written By: amodini - Jan• 07•15

This has been the year of the audio-book for me, but more on that later. I did actually read some books, and here are my Top 4 out of all them.

The Martian#1. The Martian by Andy Weir

This was without doubt the Best Book of 2014, and I knew it as I was reading it. It is that fantastic; I didn’t want to do anything else save read that book, until it was finished. “The Martian” dethrones my favorite sci-fi novel of all time “Ender’s Game” from the top spot.

This book is now being made into a film starring Matt Damon – and that is well-cast, because I can see Damon as a fine Mark Watney. The film releases November 2015, and I do hope that director Scott Ridley won’t mess it up, like they often do (the film version of “Ender’s Game” was a disaster).

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad)According to IMDB, Chwiwetel Ejiofor is playing the character of Venkat Kapoor. Ejiofor is a great actor, but they couldn’t find an Indian guy for the role? Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes, Shor In The City) would have made an excellent Venkat Kapoor.

Anyway, the point is – you MUST read this book. The audiobook is supposed to be quite good too.

#2. Safe Harbor by Tana French

French is quite marvelous. And dependable. You know you are getting a nice psychological mystery out of her books. Always. The proof is in the pudding/writing. If you haven’t read her previous books (Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Likeness), get to it. Please.

And yes, I can’t link to the full review because I haven’t reviewed it yet. But I will, I will. Soon.

The Weight of Blood: A NovelLock In#3. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

This is McHugh’s debut, and what a debut it is. This sinister haunting novel set in rural Missouri will stay with you for a long time. It is a mesmerizing book; it pulls you in and keeps you there.

#4. Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock-In was my first Scalzi, and a very good book. Two of my Top 4 books are sci-fi books. I must like sci-fi very much. And the other two are dark, psychological mysteries. Ergo, I must … Ah well!