Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Audiobook Review : The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Written By: amodini - Jul• 31•14

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)Title : The Goldfinch
Author : Donna Tartt
Genre : Contemporary
Narrators : David Pittu
Publisher : Hachette Audio
Listening Length : 32 hours 24 minutes
Source : Library
Rating : 4/5

The Goldfinch in print is 775 pages long. In audiobook form this comes in at a whopping 32 hours! The longest audiobook I’ve listened to before this is Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance which was a long 24 hours, although so finely written that one didn’t quite notice the hours slip by. I listen to these audiobooks on my phone, and a 24 hour long audiobook is pretty large sized; my trusty little Samsung would take a minute or two just to start and stop the audio reading – so it’s not something I did thoughtlessly :-) . When I noticed the length of the Goldfinch, I shuddered to think of my poor phone struggling with the file size. Regardless I went ahead – because what’s a minute or two of load time when listening to a thing of beauty. Because thing of beauty it is – a long, long deliciously wrought and painstakingly explained thing of beauty.

Theodore Decker is our hero, and he’s only a boy of 13 at the beginning of this novel. When a tragedy leaves him an orphan he floats from one home to another, surviving childhood to grow up into an almost respectable member of society. However the mistakes of his youth have followed him into present day, demanding a high price.

That’s the nub of it really and the center of it all – Theo Decker’s rather colorfully varied life. Theo himself is not an unlikeable character. For a lot of the novel, he is a figure to be pitied, an orphan at the mercy of other adults. He is also the underdog as we see him struggle and sometimes succumb to situational pitfalls. But then there’s this other side to him, a desperate side hungering to fill the hole inside of him, not to picky about the means he chooses to fulfill this need.

I like Theo because Tartt sketches him so well, well-meaning but weak, striving to do the right thing, but getting side-tracked along the way; life is such a slippery slope. In my mind’s eye, Theo is a real person, so well has he been sketched. And not just him, the entire novel is proof of Tartt’s firm hold on her subject and story-line. She writes with such surety; her characters are rock-solid. You could come at them 10 different ways and they wouldn’t budge because they are who they are. We know them so well, that when they act, we just nod and go along with the flow.

As good as it was, I do think this tome of a book could have used some editing. In many places Tartt seems to go on and on, describing fairly esoteric experiences like Theo’s drug proclivities or descriptions of places and people. Normally I love description – a fulsome description helps the emotion sink in – but there has to be a balance and this book did not have it. If I had been reading these passages, my eyes would have glazed over. Since I was not reading but listening to it, I tended to drift off and lose the flow, only alighting back on earth when her ethereal description seemed to come back to the present point in the story. Not quite ideal – this drifting off, but there you have it.

The narrator David Pittu is exceptional. Consider that there are quite a few characters in this novel – Theo, his mother, the Barbour family, Theo’s friend Boris, furniture maker Hobart, and Theo’s lady loves – and Pittu gives each one an almost unique voice and style of speaking. Quite amazingly done!

Despite it’s length, this still remains a remarkable book. Recommended for people with the patience gene.

Audiobook Review : The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Written By: amodini - Jul• 25•14

The Husband's SecretTitle : The Husband’s Secret
Author : Liane Moriarty
Genre : Contemporary
Narrators : Caroline Lee
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours and 44 min
Source : Library
Rating : 4.5/5

This is a story of three women. Cecilia Fitzpatrick is the Tupperware queen, managing her wholesome family and her flourishing business quite well. When she inadvertently finds a letter from her husband John-Paul, she opens it, and her well-settled world turns on its head. Tess O’ Leary is married to Will, and considers herself fortunate to have a good friend in Felicity. When Felicity and Will confess that they have fallen in love with each other, she is shocked and goes off with her little son Liam, to her mother’s home in Sydney where she has grown up. Here she meets old boyfriend Connor Whitby, and also Rachel Crowley, an acquaintance of her mother’s who has sunk inwardly into a depressive stupor after the death of her daughter 3 decades ago.

Cecilia, Tess and Rachel are the three vertices of this triangle. Each one’s life is going through the wringer, facing catastrophes so real and immediate that even a semblance of normality is unthinkable. Though them, Moriarty questions our beliefs on morality, grief and guilt and wonders if these ever come with any disclaimers.

The Husband’s Secret has a very interesting three-pronged plot line. On the surface these seem to be three totally separate stories, but of course, they are connected. Very tenuously at first, but as we go on, (and go on we do; we are but putty in Ms. Moriarty’s hands) things get much clearer. Moriarity weaves in the three stories in parallel, so we get to hear a little of Cecilia’s , then a little of Tess’s and then a little of Rachels’s. As the characters get into closer contact, we also get to hear of them from the the other two points of view – we see them as perceived by others. Moriarty takes her time telling her tale, squeezing out the tension to the last possible moment. Cecilia’s husbands secret, for example, is revealed fairly late in the novel and I was racing to get to that point.

I haven’t read Moriarty’s work before but it is quite obvious that she is right at home telling us about middle class Australian women faced with their very own Waterloos. I have to say that this book was extremely engrossing. I couldn’t wait to have a spare moment to listen to it. Moriarty writes in the third person and accomplishes what I’ve always though only writing in the first person could do – she gets you to dwell in the minds of her characters. Her characters are transparent to us, we see every frisson of worry that crosses their foreheads, every nagging thought that flits through. And her astute observations are interlaced with wit and humor. She has a knack for description, description so relevant, so detailed and immaculate that you can almost see the scene and the people in it.

While this exceptional book stands on its own merit, the jewel in the crown was Caroline Lee’s fabulous narration. Lee’s narration made the story come to life with her great Australian accents. I enjoyed this very much indeed. Highly recommended.

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.