Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Audiobook Review : Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Written By: amodini - Oct• 11•17

Title : Commonwealth
Author : Ann Patchett
Narrators : Hope Davis
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 33 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

Deputy District Attorney Bert Cousins gate-crashes Franny Keating’s christening party in Torrance, California,, with an inappropriate gift – a bottle of gin. Also, he kisses Franny’s mother, the beautiful Beverly Keating. She, apparently, kisses him back. When the divorces happen, Beverly and Bert marry and move to Virginia with Beverly’s two daughters Franny and Caroline. Bert’s ex-wife, Teresa, is left to bring up her four kids single-handedly, and Francis “Fix” Keating, Beverly’s LAPD cop ex-husband moves on with his life stolidly.

The Keating and Cousins children live together every summer when the Cousins kids visit their father in Virginia. Bert, as always, makes himself unavailable, and the children’s responsibility is shouldered, almost unwillingly, for the most part by Beverly. When she balks, which she does often (turning up the air-conditioning in her car and lying down in the back-seat to escape), the six children are left to amuse themselves. One such time, a tragedy occurs, and they carry the weight of it around all their lives.

Patchett spins this domestic drama in a non-linear fashion. We start off at the christening party, jump to a grown-up Franny’s affair with much older, renowned novelist Leo Posen, and then skip back to vignettes of childhood as remembered by any one of the children. From these different perspectives, we piece together the complete story, and so masterful a storyteller is she, that Patchett manages to make us feel for every heart-breaking twist. It is not like she tells us of every single happening, but just the right ones, with enough emphasis on tone and emotional tension so that we can make up our own minds of the unfolding drama.

Commonwealth is poignant, and Patchett wrote much of it to reflect her own experience as the child of divorce. The fact that I, having had a very different childhood, cannot identify with it at all is of no matter; Commonwealth is still a powerful story of all the unnecessary, hand-wringing heartbreak that life ensures.

The last novel I read by Ann Patchett was State Of Wonder. I adored that, partly because of the Indian-American protagonist and partly because of the scientific slant to the story. While Commonwealth delves deeper into relationships than “State of Wonder”, it is a harder read and not as engrossing. Patchett is still fabulous, and if you need familial drama, Commonwealth will give it to you.

Narrator Davis is fantastic. Her voice lends itself to the everyday tragedy that is Commonwealth. Her inflections carry weight, and convey the angst, fear, sadness and humor as Patchett, I imagine, intends it.

Wordless Wednesdays #68

Written By: amodini - Sep• 27•17

Festina Lente, window detail, Lucerne

Book Review : Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Written By: amodini - Sep• 13•17

Title : Big Little Lies
Author : Liane Moriarty
Pages : 512
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Berkley
Rating : 4/5

Big Little Lies is about Jane, Madeline and Celeste and their lives. All three have children going to Pirriwee Public School, and that is how they meet and become friends. Each of them has problems and secrets. While shy Jane’s little boy Ziggy is accused of bullying, extrovert Madeline has ex-husband problems, and gorgeous Celeste needs to face up to some unpleasant truths. Also, when “established” moms Madeline and Celeste take newcomer Jane under their wing, they realize that her troublesome past has unwholesome ties to their little, well-bred community.

Like “The Husband’s Secret”, Big Little Lies is a page turner. It starts off with kindergarteners and their protective, cliquish mothers, hints at a murder at a school event, and then takes us through the days until the fatal event. The three moms are the main characters; their husbands, children, other school parents and the school staff make brief appearances.

Moriarty tells her stories from a female point-of-view. You could call them chick-lit but she goes deeper, having the knack to depict moving, poignant events skillfully; really chick-lit with substance. “Big Little Lies” felt a little lightweight when compared to “The Husband’s Secret”. Some situations felt just a little too pat, and worked through kinda conveniently. Still, this is a great read;I finished it quickly and in a single sitting.

Wordless Wednesdays #67

Written By: amodini - Aug• 30•17

Hofkirche St. Leodegar, Lucerne

Audiobook Review : Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Written By: amodini - Aug• 16•17

Title : Underground Railroad
Author : Colson Whitehead
Narrators : Bahni Turpin
Genre : Historical
Publisher : RandomHouse
Listening Length : 10 hours 44 minutes
Rating : 3.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

This book imagines the underground railroad, to be an actual railroad, instead of what it actually was – a network of secret escape routes for slaves to escape to the north or to Canada. Here we follow Cora, who is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora’s cruel master dies and his even crueler brother takes over, which makes living conditions worse. When Caesar, a new slave, broaches the topic of escape, Cora grabs her chance and the two of them make their way up north via the railroad.

This is Cora’s story, and her journey to freedom. Through her eyes, we get to see the horrors of slavery. Extreme cruelty, debasement, humiliation, sexual exploitation is the norm, not the exception. As Cora makes her way through South Carolina and North Carolina, she has slave-catcher Ridgeway nipping at her heels. Her flight to freedom has many ups and downs, when she believes she is safe, but finds later that she is not.

This was a good book, but it got more documentary-like as it progressed. Whitehead sketches his characters well – we get to know Cora, her mother Mabel, the only slave to have escaped the plantation and Ridgeway’s net, and her grandmother Ajarry who was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. He does a great job chronicling the cruelties meted out to slaves via this inhuman institution – that to me was the most important part of this book – to realize that breath-taking cruelty wasn’t a one-off punishment, but a way of life, and meted out by the slave-owners just because they could. Whitehead describes the emotional turmoil, the loss of control and dignity the slaves experience, and it was harrowing just to read the descriptions.

Narrator Turpin has a slightly nasally, humid voice. Her sedate and calm reading is excellent, and helped me enjoy this book even more.

Wordless Wednesdays #66

Written By: amodini - Aug• 02•17

St. Peterskapelle, Lucerne

Wordless Wednesdays #65

Written By: amodini - Jul• 05•17

Kapellbrucke, Lucerne

Audiobook Review : Still life by Louise Penny

Written By: amodini - Jun• 14•17

Title : Still Life
Series : Inspector Gamache (Book 1)
Author : Louise Penny
Narrators : Ralph Cosham
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 9 hours 37 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

In the small village of Three Pines, Montreal, a woman has been found dead, shot by an arrow. Jane Neal, a painter of uncertain regard, was on the brink of showing her first painting at the village art show. Her friends mourn the accident, but Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete de Quebec thinks it willful murder.

I’m always floored by authors who do their descriptions and characters well. And I’m floored now. Penny has a way with words. Her characters are nicely fleshed out, seem real and consistent. Inspector Gamache is a wonderful hero. He isn’t as quirky or as flamboyant as Agatha Christie’s Poirot, but he does have his own quiet thoughtful ways, and is remarkably keen and perceptive. He is also just and firm, and fair-minded, which makes him a very easy protagonist to like. I feel like I know him well. In my mind’s eye I could almost picture him, or the actor that would play him were this book to turn into a film.

The mystery is also well-crafted, and logical. Penny sets a nice pace, springing surprises and introducing doubt and red herrings along the way. The end when it came, seemed a reasonable denouement, although I couldn’t have seen it coming. I was completely engrossed.

Narrator Cosham is remarkable. His audio performance exhibits a restraint and dignity of manner, qualities I imagine Gamache would possess. His narration helped me picture the village and its inhabitants better – and what better compliment for a narrator than that?

It is a relief after wading through much-hyped books which promise but do not deliver, to find a book as good as this one. Its been a while since I enjoyed a mystery this much. And it gets better – this is the first of a series of books, presumably all just as excellent. I’m literally rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of all the glorious Inspector Gamache mysteries I have in store for me.

Needless to say, this book is highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #64

Written By: amodini - May• 31•17


Audiobook Review : The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Written By: amodini - May• 17•17

Title : The Couple Next Door
Author : Shari Lapena
Narrators : Kirsten Potter
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 8 hours 40 minutes
Rating : 3.3/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

Babysitter having bailed last minute, Anne and Marco leave baby daughter Cora at home alone while stepping out for dinner at the neighbor’s house. They take the baby monitor with them and come home to check on her every half an hour. However, when they return home from the party the front door is ajar and Cora is not in her crib. When Detective Rasbach makes an entrance he finds the couple wan, bereft and apparently grief-stricken. He considers them prime suspects in Cora’s kidnapping.

This mystery begins very well, and keeps up the pace and the quality around about halfway. There are a couple of suspects and enough reasons to motivate them to do the deed – financial hardship, class disparities, a mental aberration, headstrong characters out to prove a point etc. In short plenty of red herrings, and juicy characterizations to liven up the proceedings. However a few hours into the book the narration devolves into too much telling and not much showing – we, the readers get handed “knowledge”. The construction of events in the latter half of the book is sloppy, and not very well thought through. The real criminal is easy to guess. The ending is hackneyed.

The characters were unlikeable but that didn’t bother me. But they were also inconsistent and THAT did bother me. Its like the book couldn’t keep its own story straight. I picked up this book after rave reviews, and mentions on bestseller lists, but post-read I have to say it doesn’t deserve the hype.

Narrator Potter doesn’t have the best material to work with, but she does well. I would listen to her again.