Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Wordless Wednesdays #33

Written By: amodini - Jul• 09•14

Interesting Building, Madrid

Audiobook Review : Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Written By: amodini - Jul• 02•14

Fahrenheit 451Title : Fahrenheit 451
Author : Ray Bradbury

Genre : Dystopian
Narrators : Stephen Hoye
Publisher : Tantor Audio
Listening Length : 5 hrs 37 min
Source : Library
Rating : 2.5/5

Guy Montag is a fireman. In this future, firemen don’t extinguish fires, they start them. Books are banned. If they are found they are burnt along with the home they are found in. Society is placid and pleasure-seeking and discouraged from thinking too hard – fast cars, video walls and entertainment parlors are the rage these days. Montag finds himself rebelling against this dumbing-down after a conversation with his young, perceptive and questioning neighbor Clarisse, but has his awakening come too late?

This is one of the rare cases where I disliked the book and the narrator. I’d been wanting to read this book for so long, it being hailed as a classic and all, that I probably was expecting a bit too much from it. Even so, I found the book boring and tiresome, although I appreciated the lesson it underscored.

Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” in 1953, and then, told a story of a future which looks imminent now, as I read this in 2014. Everything around us is being dumbed down for the lowest common denominator and the shortest attention span. Pictures replace words. News becomes flaky and frivolous, and the television is really transforming into the idiot box. It is not too far to the entertainment parlors and the video walls described in the novel. Fahrenheit 451 is indeed to be commended for this interesting premise and train of thought.

However interesting the initial premise, the book had a sparse plot and laggard pace; I could probably sum up the entire book in a few sentences. The characters – Montag, his wife Mildred, his neighbor Clarisse and Montag’s captain Beatty are shallowly described, and we never quite get to know the kind of people they really are. Besides that, I found the language and the (archaic?) phrasing quite tiresome.

This was narrated by Stephen Hoye, and he has a peculiar style to his voice (like a snooty British-German butler on too much wine), which remains regardless of the character he’s portraying. That, along with the sing-song lilt in his tone made it quite tempting to give up this listen midway but I stuck on because this book has classic status and because it is a fairly short audiobook. I’m glad it’s over though.

Wordless Wednesdays #32

Written By: amodini - Jun• 25•14

Gran Via, Madrid, Spain

Audiobook Review : Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

Written By: amodini - Jun• 18•14

Everything Changes: A NovelTitle : Everything Changes
Author : Jonathan Tropper
Genre : Contemporary
Narrators : Scott Brick
Publisher : Books on Tape
Listening Length : 10 hrs 8 min
Source : Library
Rating : 4/5

Everything Changes is told in the first person by our hero, Zachary King, a young executive in a supply chain company. Zach thinks of himself as a glorified middleman and hates his job, but does not have the guts to break out of his comfortable niche. He has two brothers, angst-filled musician Matt and autistic Peter. Peter lives with their mother Lela, their never-do-well father Norman having been out of touch with their family after the divorce. Zach is also engaged to the lovely and rich Hope, but in his heart of hearts finds he has feelings for Tamara, his best friend Rael’s widow. When Zach gives us a short introduction to his family and his life, he has no idea that his world is about to be upended very soon.

What we are treated to then, is a blow by blow account of this unraveling. When Zach’s father, whom he doesn’t address as dad but as Norm, returns, we expect upheaval. Norm has made a career of running away from his responsibilities. And Zach has lived through Norm’s many betrayals braving the worst along with his mother, and taking the brunt of it trying to shield his younger brothers. Understandably he has strong feelings, none of them polite, where Norm is concerned. Then there is the small matter of his tiresome job, and his upcoming engagement to a woman he’s not wholly committed to.

Now this summary of things might leave you cold; Zach is not, after all, facing anything really dire – he lives a comfortable life with a cushy job and blue-blooded fiancee who dotes on him. Still his life is interesting – I have it to commend Tropper’s skill – and beautifully built-up.

Zach feels like a real person with the hundred different thoughts in his head, his neuroses and worries. While I find him a bit of whiner, much like all of us, shirking the right way in favor of the easy road, he isn’t really a bad guy, and I find myself sympathetic to his plight. All the characters are sketched from Zach’s point of view, and delineated believably – you get a feel for the good guys and the bad guys – not that there are any clear cut bad guys; it is just like in life, there are just lazy, unthinking, selfish people who leave the innocent ones to clean up their messes.

The book is narrated by Scott Brick, and he does a fantastic job of it. Upswelling emotion where required, and great story-telling otherwise. His reading added to the pleasure of this well-written book.

Everything Changes stays with you, much after the read/listen. It is a heart-warming tale of family and supporting the ones you love, in good circumstances and bad. It might seem dour at times, but it is also moving and funny and witty and feel-good. Highly recommended.

Miss America Nina Davuluri at Macy’s

Written By: amodini - Jun• 11•14

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Ms. America, Nina Davaluri, the first Ms. America of Indian descent, was in Houston recently and made an appearance at Macys.

 
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The desi hordes turned up of course, moi included :-) . Well, she really is very pretty, poised and well-spoken as she looks on television, and appears to have a good, strong head on her shoulders too from the way she spoke.

She plugged her twitter account, her clothes sponsor, and spoke about the challenges she faced, her experience with racism post-win, and how she got interested in the beauty competition in the first place. On a specific question, she also spoke of her faith Hinduism. She has, she said, won $92,000 of scholarship money from competing in various beauty competitions, and plans to use it to get her MBA in the future. A great role model for desi girls growing up in the US (I lapse into desi mommy mode)!
 
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Her appearance was flanked before and after by dance performances (on Bollywood songs) by dancers of the Rhythm India School. The desi population in Houston is large, but it was still surreal to be standing in the Michael Kors section of Macys, and listen to the sounds of “Lungi Dance” wafting over into the general melee.
 
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Audiobook Review : The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein

Written By: amodini - Jun• 04•14

The Door into SummerTitle : The Door Into Summer
Author : Robert Heinlein
Genre : Sci-fi
Narrators : Patrick Lawlor
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 6 hrs 47 min
Source : Library
Rating : 4/5

Whenever I come across a tiresome book, a book I abandon midway, or stop listening to because the narrator’s voice grates, I return to my safe haven – science fiction. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein are the cure for any bad book, and so it is that I have recently listened to “The Door into Summer” – a rebound from having listened to about an hour or so of Kate Atkinson’s “Life after life”.

Heinlein writes science fiction, but he writes juicy science fiction, this one juicier and “lighter” than his other works. It might appear that way because his books were written about 50 years or so back, and science fiction has since become starker, shorn of lascivious details. I could almost see Bollywood films being made of his books – he has a strong (almost swashbuckling) hero, a “bad guy”, betrayal and romance – all the requirements for a good potboiler. “The Door into Summer” also has time-travel, and you know what they say about time-travel: you can go back (to it).

In this book, our hero is Daniel B. Davis, intelligent engineer-inventor. Dan owns “Hired Girl Inc.” with good friend and partner Miles Gentry, where Dan invents and designs labor saving devices for the home. Their bookkeeping is done by the efficient and pretty Belle Darkin, also Dan’s fiancée. Life is good.

Of course it all changes very soon. When Dan finds out that he has been swindled out of his control in the company he founded, he decides to take the “cold sleep”, a new fangled technology which puts the human body into a state of hibernation for the requested time. This is 1970 and Dan decides to sleep for 30 years. When he wakes up it will be time for revenge.

This book was written in the 1950s and projects the story into the “future” of 2000, when Dan will wake up. Dan does wake up and finds the world a different place. It is interesting now in 2014, to read Heinlein’s predictions for the year 2000 – we haven’t started inter-planetary travel, time travel has not been invented yet, there is nothing like “cold sleep” and human-like robots are not the norm at work or the home.

This book was interesting, a juicy potboiler as I’ve said before. I will say here, that maybe it the perception of fiction that has changed, but I do find older SF writers like Heinlein a little sexist. Women in his novels – those that I’ve read at least – seem to function as secretaries/bookkeepers/doers of lighter work/non-users of the intellect, and Heinlein’s heroes seem to regard them as people requiring saving/coddling/protecting.

The narration by narrator Lawlor made it an entertaining listen. Lawlor gave Dan a compelling personality, and did justice to other major characters like Gentry and Belle. Recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #31

Written By: amodini - May• 28•14

Spain street view

Audiobook Review : Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

Written By: amodini - May• 21•14

Invasion of the Body SnatchersTitle : Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Author : Jack Finney
Genre : Sci-fi
Narrators : Kristoffer Tabori
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 6 hrs 39 min
Source : Library
Rating : 4/5

I’ve been a fan of Jack Finney’s since reading his time-travel tale “Time and Again”. “The Invasion of the body snatchers” is a little more fantastical than Time After Time. In this book, our hero is confident, young Dr. Miles Bennell of Mill Valley, California. He is visited by old girlfriend Becky Driscoll who requests his assistance with a weird problem. Her friend Wilma has gotten it into her head that her (Wilma’s) uncle Ira, who is like a father to her, is not really Uncle Ira. She believes the man in his place, the man who looks and behaves like him, is an impostor.

Wilma, is also known to Miles (this is a small town and everyone knows everyone else) and well regarded by him. She is a mature sort of person, sound of mind and body, and quite well imbued with common sense. Miles and Becky are sure that Wilma is mistaken but she is sure in her belief. She agrees to see a psychiatrist anyway, on Miles’s advice.

Soon there are more patients streaming into see Dr. Bennell with the very same misconception – they think that a family member, or friend is not really that person. Of course all these people have no proof, and the good doctor, puzzled, sends everyone off to see his friend psychiatrist Dr. Kaufmann. Then, Miles gets called by good friend Jack Belicec offering some substance, maybe even proof of this strange hallucination.

If I’d been reading this book, I’d describe it as a solid page-turner. As a listen, this made me want to remain in the car, or go for extra long walks. Narrator Kristoffer Tabori has a a deep, gruff sounding voice (kinda like william Shatner) and he uses it to good effect here, drawing out the tension and the paranoia. Very enjoyable.

Audiobook Review : The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Written By: amodini - May• 15•14

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (LARGE PRINT)Title : The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author : Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Genre : Contemporary
Narrators : Paul Baymer, Susan Duerden, Roselyn Landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 9 hrs 39 min
Source : Library
Rating : 3.5/5

Juliet Ashton, a young author, has been offered an assignment from the Times, to write about the “love of reading”. As she is scouting about for material, she is contacted via letter by Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer on Guernesy, who has found Juliet’s name and address in a book of Charles Lamb she once owned. They begin a correspondence, and she learns of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which came into being because of the German occupation. The story gets curiouser and curiouser, letter by letter, and very soon Juliet is drawn into Dawsey’s world, familiar and fond of each of the Society members, as though they were her own dear friends.

Juliet’s friendship-by-letter is frowned upon by her then beaux, handsome publisher Mark Reynolds. Old friends Sophie and Sidney Stark lend their contrasting views and after all, Juliet must do as she thinks – such is her character. The Guernsey Society makes a great subject for her essay in the Times, but is that it? And what will come of this long-winded friendship, if it survives?

This book was written by librarian Mary Ann Shafer, and completed after her death by her niece, children’s author Annie Barrows. It comes as no surprise then that this is a book about book-lovers, and the love of reading, people bound together by the power of the written word. And as befits this theme, our heroine Juliet Ashton is an opinionated young lady, who prizes her books above all; an engagement to a non-book-worshipper has been hastily averted in the past. Now she has her friends, Sophie and Sidney, and writes and reads and travels to promote her latest book “Izzy Bickerstaff goes to war”, a compilation of her war columns.

The book is an epistolary novel, narrated via letters, and later in the first person, from Juliet’s point of view. At the beginning this is a little confusing, since I’m listening to, not reading this, and am trying to sort all the letter-writers out, from Sophie and her brother, to Juliet, to all the many characters from Guernsey. It does settle down when you get a handle on the many characters – I greatly appreciated the different narrators for the different characters – but it takes a while.

Even though this is a novel of the 1940s with the Second World War recently ended, the authors manage to create quite a balmy, pastoral setting for the book. Juliet is ensconsed in her London flat, and since she requires little more than books to survive, finds herself pleasantly happy with a few new clothes, some travel and the company (and letters) of good friends. She has a pleasant, curious personality, a quick wit and good humor. Her friends from Guernesy also come across, via their letters, as good, considerate people, some more eccentric than others. Of course there is the war, and we have constant reminders of its catastrophic fall-outs and the cruelties meted out on innocent people.

With that said I did find the characters, except maybe Juliet, shallowly etched. We never quite get to see what they think, only how they appear to Juliet. These nuance-less characters are also a little too good and sweet. It is not that I don’t believe that such people exist, but to have all characters in the book (except one or two) be this full of the milk of human kindness, and live within shouting distance of each other, is a little hard to believe.

Juliet herself, while a good person, is glib and nosy and forever engaged in “smart” conversations; “smartness” is good in small doses, but when every other letter from her begins with a flippantly clever remark, it can be a bit much. It is almost like the authors suffered from a childlike suspension of belief, refusing to acknowledge the less charitable aspects of their characters, creating  a fantastical society populated only by the very, very good, and writing a story that ends with “happily ever after”.

Still, this remains a largely pleasant novel. I was drawn in mostly by the strength of the characters, their beauty and grace and courage under hard circumstances, and the way they still keep their goodness intact even after all they have been forced to endure. It is in that sense, hopeful even, because you know from these characters that the human spirit finds a way; it bends but it does not break.

Book Review : Then and Always by Dani Atkins

Written By: amodini - May• 08•14

Then and Always: A NovelTitle : Then and Always
Author : Dani Atkins
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Ballantine Books
Pages: 320
Publish Date : 20th May, 2014
Source : Netgalley / Publisher ARC
Rating : 2.5/5

Rachel Wiltshire is living a sad life after a disastrous accident. No, she is fine (save for a scar) but saving her life cost dear friend Jimmy his own. Rachel has since broken off with steady boyfriend Matt, and has almost cut off ties with other friends of the same group. One day Rachel has an accident in the subway. When she comes to in the hospital, she wakes up to an alternate reality. She is not the same person when was before, and nor is anyone else. Try as she might, Rachel is unable to get used to this reality; it is like living an impostor’s life.

“The Time Traveller’s Wife” is one of my favorite books and “Sliding Doors” was a great film. So yes, the time-shifting/alternate reality concept does appeal to me. No wonder then that I decided to review Then And Always. Unfortunately, inspite of the tantalizing premise this book didn’t work for me.

The characters seemed clichéd and trite, and we never quite get to know them very well. There is some insight to Rachel’s character, but I didn’t like her very much. She was a wilting, whining heroine, given to faints and swoons, and the general concept of belonging to a man – quite surprising given that she is a full-fledged adult holding down a job and earning her own keep. She seemed to depend on men, to fetch and carry and help in all tasks.

The book read like a Young Adult novel, with the love triangle, and the adults sounding like emotional, lovesick teenagers. The book also suffered from awkward construction of the plot and plot devices. In the scene where Rachel sees a car approaching, headed for the restaurant where they are seated, the car seems to take forever to get to them – which is odd, considering that this is a town, and the car would have to be pretty close to be even seen. Next Rachel finds her path being blocked by a chair, impeding her escape. This again was problematic, because a chair is not a wall; chairs and tables can be jumped over, especially in life threatening situations. Logistical oddities like these created believability problems. I am surprised that editing did not catch many of the superficial problems.

That said, I did continue on till the end, because I was curious to see how the author would resolve the alternate reality issue. The ending did not meet my expectations, however. This book might work when perceived as a Young Adult romance; as a full fledged story on alternate realities, it falls short.