Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Audiobook Review : The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Written By: amodini - Dec• 12•14

The ChaperoneTitle : The Chaperone
Author : Laura Moriarty
Narrator : Elizabeth McGovern
Genre : Historical
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 18 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5

I must confess that this book caught my attention because I thought the author was Liane Moriarty. I realized my mistake soon enough but by then the book blurb seemed interesting. I have to say that I’m glad that I came across “The Chaperone” because this is a gorgeous, gorgeous book.

The book’s main character is Cora Carlisle, a well-to-do housewife in 1920s Kansas, who accepts the responsibility of chaperoning a 15 year old girl to New York city where the girl, a Louise Brooks, wishes to attend classes at the famed Denishawn School of Dance.  Cora has her own reasons for making the trip, but she must suffer the insouciant, irreverent Brooks for the trip. The trip affects Cora’s life profoundly, and she return to Wichita a markedly different person.

While Louise Brooks is based on a real person, Cora is a fictional character. But the book is about Cora, spanning about 50 years of her life in great detail. The pace is leisurely, giving the author time enough to go into those details. The Chaperone is well crafted and the story quite unpredictable, although there are subtle clues here and there. It starts of in the 1920s, and spans many years, so we get little snapshots of society via Cora’s eyes, especially about women’s issues. Quite interesting!

The book is narrated by Elizabeth McGovern. Fans of Downton Abbey will recognize her as Lady Cora Crowley, Countess of Grantham. Initially I found her reading a tad slow, but as the book picked up steam so did McGovern’s reading. Now post-read, I think McGovern was very well-suited to this book, and she does do a marvelous job.

I enjoyed this graceful book very much! Highly recommended.

Audiobook Review : Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Written By: amodini - Dec• 04•14

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A NovelTitle : Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Author : Helen Simonson
Narrator : Peter Altschuler
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 8 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5

I came upon this very interesting audiobook on my library’s website. I thought it interesting because this is a romance, a mature romance between two people who are both beyond 50. We do have a South-Asian-Brit character here – and that adds to the interest, but the book is about Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), a widower of 68, living alone in his home “Rose Cottage” in the small village of Edgecomb St. Mary.

The Major is very British, as in stiff upper lip and all that. He believes in old-world courtesies, gentlemanliness and decorum. He is often appalled by the new-age dandy that his son Roger seems to have become. He also shies away from the perpetually-altruistic band of village ladies, but finds himself enlivened by the company of one Jasmina Ali, the 50-something widowed shopkeeper of the village store. Mrs. Ali appears to return the interest, but cultural and societal baggage (pun intended) gets in the way of their nascent friendship.

This is a lovely, gentle, graceful book. It is a romance, with a lot of other flavors added in – the pull and tug of familial relationships, the onerous burden of keeping up traditions which make no sense anymore, the courage required to fight the internal and external battle, although battle might be too strong a term here. Simonson has the skill of a seasoned writer, she draws you in and keeps you enthralled. Her prose is descriptive and lively, and laced with wit and humor. Her characters are wonderful, and drawn with much affection. We feel that affection for the Major and Mrs. Ali too, and really, what better proof of a writer’s skill than that?

I must also give credit to the narrator – there is no one who could have read this book better. Altschuler’s voice is perfect for the major’s character and brings through his personality. The Major is often sarcastic, and Altschuler’s narration superbly underscores the emotion from which it springs. It is true that the Major is Simonson’s creation, but the affection I feel for the old codger is at least somewhat due to Altschuler’s gorgeous portrayal of him.

This is a must-read/listen.

Audiobook Review : Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Written By: amodini - Nov• 26•14

LandlineTitle : Landline
Author : Rainbow Rowell
Narrator : Rebecca Lowman
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Macmillan Audio
Listening Length : 9 hours 3 minutes
Rating : 4/5

I’d only ever heard of Rowell by way of her YA book “Eleanor & Park”, and I’m not very enthused about YA literature in general. But after this book, I actually might go back and read/listen to that one. Anyway, I think I noticed Landline because of the slightly fantastical concept of talking to the past (more on that soon). It is not exactly time-travel (which I love) but it’s close enough. Hence the book. And am I glad.

Georgie McCool is a comedy writer for television show “Jeffed Up”. When she gets an opportunity to pitch a new television show during the Christmas holidays she takes it. The downside here is that she’ll have to miss going to Omaha with the rest of her family – husband Neal, and daughters Noomi and Alice. Neal doesn’t like the situation, and Georgie knows it. Their relationship is already suffering through Georgie’s long, erratic work hours and Neal’s brusqueness as house-husband, and this new turn of events makes Georgie think that this might be it.

At her mother’s house during this time, Georgie tries to call Neal from the landline and discovers that she is speaking to the Neal of 1998, a time when they were only dating and had had their first big fight for almost the same reasons. As present-day Georgie and 1998 Neal go back and forth airing hopes and fears (Neal not aware of the time difference) Georgie knows that this conversation will decide their fates.

Landline was a very romantic book. This is not gushing, tripping-over-your-feet romance, but a more measured, mature love. Neal is quite swoon-worthy – a husband who takes care of the home and kids, lets Georgie follow her dream, tolerates Georgie’s close friendship with handsome co-writer Seth, and is unfailingly romantic. Georgie and Neal’s relationship questions actually hit home, because you find yourself identifying with the many problems in their marriage, as the stuff of real life.

This deals with a lot of stuff but is not “heavy”. Also I quite like the narrator Rebecca Lowman. I have heard her earlier (when I listened to Nicholas Spark’s Safe Haven), and she doesn’t disappoint. Lowman’s voice is a little husky and can seem almost dry sometimes, but she uses it to good effect. A very good listen, this one.

P.S. : I wonder, had the genders been reversed, had Georgie been the housewife and Neal the busy writer, would we have tolerated Georgie throwing a hissy-fit over Neal’s absence on the Omaha trip, or would we have expected her to just lump it?

Audiobook Review : Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Written By: amodini - Nov• 20•14

Sycamore RowTitle : Sycamore Row
Author : John Grisham
Narrator : Michael Beck
Genre : Contemporary (Legal thriller)
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 20 hours 50 minutes
Source : Library
Rating : 3.5/5

This book has lawyer Jake Brigance unwittingly caught up in a legal wrangle involving a dead wealthy man and his living children. Seth Hubbard hung himself from a Sycamore tree, but not before willing away most of his property to his African American maid Leticia “Lettie” Lang. Expectedly, the children and the grand-children contest this second holographic will, and it is up to Jake to ensure that the old man’s wishes be carried out as stated.

I haven’t read Grisham for a while, although there is no one better to turn to for legal thrillers. If you have read “A Time to Kill” which also featured Jake Brigance, you know what you are getting with this book – good, solid writing, and a storyline which touches on the racial undertones of the South. I did see “A Time to Kill” although I haven’t read the book. Many references are made to it in this book, as in the “trial three years back”, but “Sycamore Row” is not strictly speaking a sequel; it stands alone quite well.

Cortroom drama forms the bulk of the book, but we also get to see snatches of Brigance’s personal life and how it has changed after the previous trial. The fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi and its residents are described quite well. I like that Grisham looks at the race angle from both sides, as in people will be people, and there are good and bad folks all around; skin color no bar.

Grisham delivers yet another engrossing legal thriller. And narrator Michael Beck makes it better. This is the book to read/listen for Grisham aficionados.

Wordless Wednesdays #35

Written By: amodini - Sep• 24•14

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Book Review : Trouble Has a New Name

Written By: amodini - Sep• 18•14

Trouble Has a New Name (Mills & Boon Indian Author Collection)Title : Trouble Has a New Name
Author : Adite Banerjie
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Harlequin
Pages: 192
Publish Date : July 15th, 2014
Source : Author
Rating : 3/5

This is author Banerjie’s second romance novel after “The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal”. And in this novel, she has model Rayna Dutt meet arrogant hotel owner Neel Arora at a big fat Indian wedding in the Andaman Islands. Not theirs of course. Rayna has recently been dumped by her boyfriend via text message, and Neel might just be the antidote for her bruised ego. Especially when smarmy ex-boyfriend Sid Verma shows up with a new girlfriend in tow.

“Trouble Has a New Name” has all the ingredients for a smoldering romance – a beautiful model and a “Greek God with washboard abs”. Rayna and Neel both come with a lot of baggage and Banerjie does a nice job fleshing that in. Rayna is an orphan, who’s got her disapproving brother and bhabhi looking over her shoulder. Neel has had traumatic events happen in his own family, and the past has scarred him so badly that he is wary of getting too involved. And since the venue for all this is a lush Indian wedding, we have nosy wedding guests including royalty, scurrilous media reporters and a smidgeon of Bollywood all mixed in.

This book is a fun beach read, although it is a tad cliched with the fake fiancé romance formula. Banerjie does Indianize this theme with the familial “what will everyone say?” attachments, and the whole “fair vs. dark” skin debate (Rayna is a dusky beauty) – so that was nice. However with this book, we get closer to the Page 3/beautiful people/Karan Johar-esque romance formula (I think this book would make a great Bollywood film, especially with the sheen and the glamor of the beautiful locales), so I’m hoping that in her future work she breaks out and gives us a distinctive voice with more character development; I’d like more of Rayna and Neel.

As before, the author does well on the attraction-that-can’t-be-denied theme, and the blow hot-blow cold storyline keeps things rolling. If you are looking for an entertaining romance read, this is it.

Audiobooks that failed me (and other sad stories)

Written By: amodini - Sep• 10•14

Ready Player One: A NovelYes, this is that kind of a tale, so you might grab a box of tissues before you sit down to read this.

This blog post is a story – a story of how “mainstream reviewers” can fail you and of how the most raved about book might not be for you. Yup – boohoo and all that. The book here is “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

I’d heard so much about “Ready Player One” that I was ready to read/listen to it like now. The other book I’d heard so touted, had been Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” which I loved; it remains one of my favorite books. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with “Ready Player One” either. The library had a waiting list (of course) and so I waited, until I could put on my headphones and Wil Wheaton’s voice would deliver to them a story I’d love, love, love. Well, my turn came. I checked out the book. And listened. And am so not moved. Ah, disillusionment!

RPO is a treasure hunt of the future (2044 to be precise), a dystopian future where our intrepid young high-schooler hero, one Wade Watts, lives in the “stacks” – the vertical trailer parks of the future. The internet has spawned a virtual world, the OASIS, where one can immerse oneself, for hours on end, completely free of charge. The creator of the OASIS, an ubergeek named James Halliday, is dead and has left behind a great puzzle for the world to solve. The prize to this puzzle is Halliday’s massive fortune. Wade, along with scores of other treasure hunters (called gunters) have devoted their lives to treasure hunting for Halliday’s famed “easter egg”.

Sounds interesting enough, right? I thought so too. So what went wrong? Firstly, this is probably a Young Adult novel, written in a very YA fashion. The language isn’t too sophisticated, but I don’t think I would care about that as much if the characters had been interesting and not so annoyingly infantile. So, yes you say, the hero is a high schooler – what did you expect? Valid point, I rebut, but could he have been a little less cloddish?

Wade is your average bombastic, braggart-ish young man and I found him aggravatingly puerile. He’s an underdog, no parents, lives with his nasty aunt and is dirt poor – I want to root for him, I really do. But I can’t. His attitude puts me off. Wade and his friends are a bunch of nerds (great) who may not take kindly to you if you express disinterest in their geekfest (not great). They are not grown-up, considerate, tolerant people (like all brainy geeks should be), but shallow and a little mean-spirited. The fact that they bandy about juvenile-sounding insults like “suck”, “shit”, “f*ck” doesn’t endear them to me either.

Then there is a female gunter, Art3mis, for whom Wade has feelings. But, she, smart and self-deprecating, is described from the male point of view as “hot”, “all curves” etc. (you know, because the gaming industry doesn’t objectify women enough). Within seconds of meeting her (in a virtual world), Wade wants to propose marriage. Indeed.

The writing is clunky and there is a whole lot of “telling” (not showing) going on in this book, as Cline fills us in on Halliday’s treasure hunt. I had to give up on this book, after about 4 hours of listening, when I realized I didn’t care about Wade anymore.

I’m going to chalk this one up to lad-lit. And really, lad-lit is so much worse than chick-lit.

Book Review : The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

Written By: amodini - Sep• 04•14

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: A NovelTitle : The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet
Author : Bernie Su, Kate Rorick
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Touchstone
Pages: 400
Publish Date : June 24, 2014
Source : Netgalley / Publisher ARC
Rating : 2.5/5

I am a certified fan of Pride and Prejudice. I have read the book too many times to count. I have listened to the audiobook a number of times. And I have watched/tried to watch all tv/film adaptations of the novel. My favorite one is the 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. So ofcourse when I see this Lizzie Benett spinoff, touted to be a modern interpretation of P & P, I am all over it.

This book is an adaptation of the web series which is availale to watch on Youtube here. You know the story of course. This book follows the original plotline, where all situations have been upgraded to a more modern version.

Lizzie here is a student doing a bunch of video blogs for her thesis project. Her elder sister Jane is still nice and kind, and gentle and considerate and works for a pittance in the fashion industry. Lydia is still the trouble-making and boy-crazy younger sister to the prudent and smart Lizzie. Bingley is now Bing Lee , a soon to be doctor, who has taken up residence in a mansion. He has brought along with him his sister Caroline and his standoffish and icily rude friend William Darcy. Bad guy Wickham is a semi-sleazy swim instructor.

The characters are a little younger than in the original, or maybe they just appear younger. In Victorian England our Lizzie is a veritable old maid at 20, but their comportment and the formality of the era might have added to us perceiving them to be older. Nevertheless I was a little perturbed to see Bing Lee a young medical student (no one has any sense at that age!) and his friend Darcy, the owner and brains behind a computer gaming corporation.

The book reads like it is geared towards the YA market. The characters seem a little underdone and rough around the edges, and it seems post-read that the book has been contrived to fit around the P & P storyline. While the original Lizzie was a character in her own right, the book’s interpretation of her just seems like a superficial copy – which is a pity, since in the web series she does seem to possess a witty, sparkly personality.

I remember years ago that an Indian tele-serial had been based upon P & P. That had actually done quite well, because in modern day Indian society, marriage to a suitable young man is still the supposed goal of every young woman. In present day American society, the “man in want of a wife” scenario does not fit quite as well. I have watched a couple of the vlogs this book is based upon, and Mrs. Bennet’s Victorian mindset is much easier to take on film rather than in print.

This book might work as a companion to the web series (which is quite fun), but unfortunately (for me and all other readers) this does not work on its own. The authors seemed to have a fairly vivid imagination; I wish they’d put it to work on an original storyline.

Book Review : Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth

Written By: amodini - Aug• 27•14

Flying ShoesTitle : Flying Shoes
Author : Lisa Howorth
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Bloomsbury
Pages: 336
Publish Date : June 17, 2014
Source : Netgalley / Publisher ARC
Rating : 3/5

Mary Byrd Thornton has received an unsettling phone call from a reporter seeking details about her little brother’s unsolved murder. The police are apparently reopening this 30 year old cold case. Mary and her family have since moved on. She now lives in a small Mississippi town with her art-dealer husband Charles and two kids. Since the police want her and her family back for questioning – they apparently have new leads – she must go back for a meeting. An unexpected ice storm is moving into the area, and Mary, petrified air-traveler, must find some way of getting from Mississippi to Virginia in really bad weather.

That’s the beginning of the novel, and it hooks you right in. However, right after the introduction of the murder mystery, the novel sidetracks into full-blown description mode, detailing for us various eccentric characters in Mary’s life. There’s Mary, her husband, her kids, her husband’s old schoolmate Mann, who’s a rich chicken farmer of sorts. Then there’s Mary’s help, an African American lady called Evagreen, with whom Mary has an odd relationship. There are also other characters around town – an odd-job man called Teever, and Ernest with whom Mary has a semi-flirtatious relationship. All these characters are in the novel because they influence Mary’s life. All are well-drawn.

From the book blurb I was expecting a murder mystery, and while that is present it is given very little space, and appears almost like a backdrop against which the character descriptions are set. Lisa Howorth writes beautifully, and her writing flows. I was quite content to go along and listen to her descriptions. It took me a while to realize that the descriptions and the vignettes of Mary’s life formed the bulk of the book, and that was a little disappointing. This novel is not for those of you who expect a straight-forward crime thriller or police procedural. This isn’t one; rather it is a novel detailing the aftermath of a terrible tragedy and the plight of a family-member desperately seeking some form of closure.

Given Howorth’s obvious talent, this book should have been an absolute must-read, for the right kind of audience. Publicizing this book as a murder mystery (when it isn’t one) does it a disservice and places this book in the hands of the wrong audience – an audience whose expectations it won’t meet. That said, I have to give credit where credit is due, and it goes to the author for pouring her heart out on paper (the book is based on a true unsolved murder).

Even though this book doesn’t deliver on it’s blurb’s promise, this is a good read for all those folks who enjoy a well-written, exquisitely described story of healing and closure.

Wordless Wednesdays #34

Written By: amodini - Aug• 20•14

Gaudi's Casa Mila, Barcelona, Spain