Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

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!

Wordless Wednesdays #36

Written By: amodini - Dec• 24•14

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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.