Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

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.

Wordless Wednesdays #63

Written By: amodini - May• 03•17

Pillar detail, Qutb complex, New Delhi

Audiobook Review : The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Written By: amodini - Apr• 19•17

Title : The Breadwinner
Author : Deborah Ellis
Narrators : Rita Wolf
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Listening Library
Listening Length : 2 hours 59 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

Parvana lives with her parents and siblings in Taliban-ruled Kabul. Parvana’s learned father ekes out a living as a reader-writer in their neighborhood market, and Parvana, yet too little to wear the required “chador” accompanies him to work everyday. When the Taliban takes him away one day, Parvana, her mother and her siblings are left without any means of sustenance; by Taliban rules, no woman can step out of her home unaccompanied by a male escort, and thus, even Parvana’s well-educated mother cannot go out and earn a living. There is only one thing to do to survive, and little Parvana must summon up all her courage to do it.

I’d seen this book featured on quite a few book web sites, and the premise seemed interesting so I picked it up. It is a simply told tale, but really engrossing. There aren’t any big words, or literary flourishes, just characters and events and stuff happening, and it is kind of upon you, the reader, to take in the import.

Ellis describes the day-to-day grind of living under an oppressive, cruel, narrow-minded regime, where free thought and learning is forbidden and the population must live in fear of being branded an enemy, without recourse to law and justice. Life for women is doubly hard; they are restricted to remaining inside their homes, and cannot get an education or work, thus being severely dependent on male protectors. We get a full sense of this dependence when Parvana’s father is taken away – how does a woman or her household earn a living, buy necessities or do the basic chores of living a life, when she cannot even step out on her own? We also get to see it from Parvana’s point of view, as she ruminates about the freedom of running around like boys, without having the strictures of being a “good” Muslim woman thrust upon her.

This book is targeted towards a younger audience, but I really enjoyed it. Initially I was a little skeptical of Wolf’s accented reading, but her calm, unaffected treatment of the material grew on me. The Breadwinner is a fascinating listen – highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #62

Written By: amodini - Apr• 05•17

Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi

Audiobook Review : A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

Written By: amodini - Mar• 22•17

Title : A Man Called Ove
Author : Frederik Backman
Narrators : George Newbern
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Dreamscape Media
Listening Length : 9 hours 9 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Ove (pronounced Oova) Lindahl is a 59 year old Swedish widower who has recently been laid off from work. He misses his wife Sonja desperately, and in his depression has decided to commit suicide. His many attempts at suicide though are routinely thwarted by his new nosy neighbors, and other hapless mortals who need his assistance at inopportune times.

This book, as you might have guessed :), is about Ove. Ove is a curmudgeonly fellow, allergic to technology and the dim-witted. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly which is a pity since in his opinion most young people are fools – they can’t build homes, fix unstuck windows or drive properly. A family comprising of such idiots has just moved into the neighborhood, and the lady of that house, a pregnant Iranian woman named Parvaneh is more than a match for Ove’s dry demeanor.

The book takes us through Ove’s suicide attempts. Interspersed between the descriptions of each attempt are the descriptions of events in Ove’s life, both past and present. By and by, we get to know the man behind the crusty exterior pretty well. He’s had bad times and good times, and in both we are with him, sympathizing when he is down and rejoicing when he is happy.

This is a book about the human condition – it does end well though. It is simply told, without embellishments and flourishes – the facts are placed before us and we are left to make what we will of them. It is also very moving, mostly because of the main character, who is good, but bad things still happen to him.

“A Man called Ove” has a certain good-humored charm. It rubs a little thin because of some repetitiveness; one can countenance the stupid-neighbor-needing-help plot only so much. I’d compare this book to “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” – better than the former and not quite as good as the latter.

Newbern is an excellent narrator. He brings Ove to life, and does a great job of the other characters too. He made this already pleasant book a joy to listen to.

Wordless Wednesdays #61

Written By: amodini - Mar• 08•17

Isa Khan's tomb, Humayun's tomb complex, New Delhi

Audiobook Review : 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Written By: amodini - Feb• 22•17

Title : 11.22.63
Author : Stephen King
Narrators : Craig Wasson
Genre : Sci-fi, Time-travel
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Audio
Listening Length : 30 hours 44 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

I picked up this book because this was described as a time travel story (am a sucker for time-travel tales), which it is, although it was much more. Stephen King is also a great writer so I had no doubts that this would be a good book. In 11.22.63, English teacher Jake Epping is persuaded by friend Al, to go back in time to prevent a great catastrophe, a catastrophe that if prevented (Al believes) will change the world for the better. In 1958, Jake becomes George Amberson, and waits for the opportune time. In the meanwhile, he grows roots, makes a life and falls in love.

11.22.63 is a long, long book and took me a while to finish. Most books are about 12 hours or under, but 11.22.63 was around 30. Its long because King describes every event and character in the book in great, expansive detail. This is nice when Jake travels back in time, and King takes the time to describe the place, the people and the atmosphere – keeps us (the readers) invested and interested. On the con side though, there is so much detail that one can get bogged down in it, especially if you are used to a faster pace.

The story itself is very well fleshed out, and he ties together the fictional narrative with the historical facts quite nicely. There are a few side-stories which seem unnecessary, but then do add to the sum total. I think of this novel, long though it is, as a painting with every little detail exquisitely sketched out. Besides, Jack Epping himself is a great hero, a swashbuckling English teacher and a kind, good man willing to go the extra mile to do the right thing.

Narrator Wasson is an absolute marvel; he brings Jake Epping and Al and other characters, even the female ones, to life. This was a great listen – highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #60

Written By: amodini - Feb• 08•17

Qutb complex