Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Wordless Wednesdays #54

Written By: amodini - Aug• 24•16

As far as the eye can see

Audiobook Review : Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Written By: amodini - Aug• 10•16

Title : Eleanor and Park
Author : Rainbow Rowell
Narrators : Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Listening Library
Listening Length : 8 hours 56 minutes
Rating : 3.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book (YA, I’d assume) because this book’s tale is a romance between 2 high schoolers. I only picked it up because I’d listened to Rowell’s Landline, and I’d read heard good things about this one. He, Park, is a half-Korean kid with eclectic tastes, owing to which he’s too much of a wuss to his sports-enthusiast father. She, red-haired Eleanor, is one of 5 kids in her family teetering on the brink of poverty.

When they meet on the bus, because Park grumpily shares his seat with her, they can barely tolerate each other. But slowly, they bond over Park’s X-men comics and mix tapes. Park’s family is not too happy with his “weird”, unsmiling, badly-dressed girlfriend, and Eleanor does not have the guts to tell her parents of her relationship. When push comes to shove, Eleanor must trust Park, but she’s not quite sure how this all will end.

I did enjoy this book, although I looked at it from a non-teenager’s point-of-view. It is kind of sweet and sad, and I felt for Eleanor because of the terrible situation other adults had put her in; I was tsk-tsking all the way. Rowell does well in this book what she did well in Landline – she exposes the underpinnings of a relationship, and manages to get us the readers to root for her protagonists.

Truth be told I wouldn’t have listened to this if I’d realized how “young” this was (not the book’s fault). Still, this will please its target demographic: teens and young adults.

I have listened to Rebecca Lowman read “Landline”. She does a great job, although I will say that her voice sounds a bit melancholic. Sunil Malhotra, whom I’d never heard before was really good. He brought Park’s character to life, and even did Park’s Korean-accented mom pretty well.

Wordless Wednesdays #53

Written By: amodini - Jul• 27•16


Audiobook Review : The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller

Written By: amodini - Jul• 13•16

Title : The Bridges of Madison county
Author : Robert Waller
Narrators : Kelli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Hachette Audio
Listening Length : 3 hours 50 minutes
Rating : 2.5/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

Francesca Jones is a housewife living in Madison County, Iowa. She meets Robert Kincaid, a freelance photographer who has come to the county to photograph its bridges. Francesca and Robert are attracted to each other, and in a whirlwind romance of 4 days (husband and kids out of town) realize that they are soulmates. Robert wants her to come away with him, but can Francesca leave her family?

So I haven’t seen the movie, but I’d heard so much about it that I decided to listen to the book first. I’m not very impressed.

I couldn’t get a sense of the book’s characters. Kincaid is painted in as a rather swashbuckling cowboy of sorts with sensitivity, intelligence, good taste and a decent sense of humor; the ultimate fantasy! Francesca, a farmer’s wife is apparently way more than that; she is worldly, with far more sophisticated sensibilities than her farming neighbors. I think of this as Francesca’s story but I can’t fathom what she feels. What makes her tick? Why is this the love of a lifetime? She gets him and he gets her. I don’t get either one.

I take this book at face value. While I get the enormity of the romance, I have rather flat characters to tie it to. I can’t root for either one. Yes I feel for them but in a rather distant way. The book doesn’t evoke any feelings – good or bad – in me. The ending makes me roll my eyes. Enough said.

Wordless Wednesdays #52

Written By: amodini - Jun• 29•16

Inside the Qutb Minar complex

Audiobook Review : The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Written By: amodini - Jun• 15•16

Title : The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author : Rachel Joyce
Narrators : Jim Broadbent
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 9 hours 57 minutes
Rating : 3.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Harold Fry is an ordinary man living out his retirement in Knightsbridge. One day he receives a letter from ex-colleague Queenie Hennessey bidding goodbye; she has cancer and does not expect to live much longer. On an impulse, and a gut feeling that Queenie will survive if he walks to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Harold, quite unprepared for such a task, begins walking the 500 odd miles. This book is about this modern day pilgrimage, the people he meets on it and how his life changes because of it.

I’ve had this book on my to-listen list for quite a while, but have always shied away from it because I thought it’d be too predictable/preachy. I finally decided to give it a listen when I heard it compared favorably to one of favorite books, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”. Well, it is predictable. But, it isn’t preachy. I’d describe it as the book of a thousand little heartbreaks, heartbreaks so little they only make a tiny dent when they occur, but collectively and accumulatively amount to a lifetime of corroding grief.

At the beginning of the book, we know very little about Harold. He’s 65, retired and lives a low-key life with his wife of 47 years, Maureen. Harold and Maureen’s marriage is held together with threadbare ties. Disagreements and disappointments have crept in. When Harold suddenly leaves to go to Queenie, Maureen isn’t sure whether he is coming back.

As the novel progresses we realize that Harold is the self-deprecating kind of person who is afraid of impinging on the world, of taking too much space, of causing pain or conflict. As he walks he remembers old, painful memories. It is a rare book that describes anguish movingly. This one does; I was at times moved to tears, listening to Harold recount his trying times. Joyce has the gift of description, description which is simple, but in such minute detail that you know exactly what the protagonist feels. Jim Broadbent’s voice adds to this because he portrays Harold so well. He brings through Harold with all his innate insecurities, diffidence, hesitancy.

This is a good book. I will say that I listened to it in spurts over the course of a month, with long pauses because I wasn’t compelled to come back to it after stopping for a while. It is kinda predictable and it is kinda sad. Still, a decent listen.

Wordless Wednesdays #51

Written By: amodini - Jun• 01•16

IIn retrospect

Audiobook Review : Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

Written By: amodini - May• 21•16

Title : Unbecoming
Author : Rebecca Scherm
Narrators : Catherine Taber
Genre : Mystery/Thriller
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 30 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Unbecoming is an unusual coming-of-age novel. It is told from the point of view of the main protagonist, young, amenable, sharp-witted Grace, who’s moved from the small town she grew up in, to Paris. Here she lives and works under an assumed name, and waits for the day her boyfriend will come for her.

The novel starts off with “Julie/Grace” in Paris, and delves into the storyline with “flashbacks”. We get to know of Grace’s distant parents, and of her affection for the Graham clan, of which boyfriend Riley is part. Then there are Riley’s friends Alls and Greg, and the rest of the suffocating small town society where everyone knows everyone else. There is a great need for money, and a lack of opportunities, as Grace sees it, in their small world, and she longs to get out of there with Riley. So she hatches a plan, but the aftermath of the plan will be hard to deal with.

Grace was such an interesting character. She’s smart and has aspirations, but she also has flaws and clings to Riley and his family for emotional succor. Her self-worth is so tied in with being Riley’s girlfriend, and being the daughter kind Mrs. Graham has always wanted. She changes herself to “fit” the “good girlfriend/daughter” roles, and then some. Props to the author for so beautifully bringing out Grace’s personality, especially because the narrative is in the third person, and I’ve always thought that doing a point-of-view telling in the third person is hard.

Unbecoming stands out because of the excellent character development. The book, while suspenseful, is not quite thriller-paced, but I really enjoyed the way the story is drawn out, bit by bit. Scherm weaves in present day events and the past seamlessly. I also loved Catherine Taber’s narration. Taber’s unique voice is slightly nasal, a little sibilant and a tad humid, if you can call a voice humid. It is well-suited to Grace’s personality, and Taber does a great job communicating Grace’s temperament and state of mind through the inflections in her voice.

This was an excellent, engrossing listen. Highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #50

Written By: amodini - May• 04•16


Audiobook Review : The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

Written By: amodini - Apr• 20•16

Title : The Girl With All The Gifts
Author : M. R. Carey
Narrators : Finty Williams
Genre : Sci-fi
Publisher : Hachette Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 4 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Melanie is a 10 year old girl. She is considered special. That is why she, and others like her, are being educated in an elite, fortified environment. Melanie is intelligent, with a very high IQ, and loves learning, especially when Ms. Justineau is doing the teaching. The other teachers remain distant (just like they have been told to do) and answer her questions a little vaguely. Terms like the “breakdown” and “hungries” float about, and Melanie gets a sense that all is not well.

“The Girl with all the gifts” is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the UK. It is primarily a fast-paced thriller – the thriller part starts when Melanie’s heavily protected world comes crashing down and she is left to fend for herself – although there are bits of horror in here too. Yes, there are zombies, and there is some description of gory feeding frenzies. Zombies are not my thing. Normally, I would not even attempt such a book, but there is much more to this one that just the walking undead.

For starters, there is Melanie, an intelligent child, who picks up enough information despite the stonewalling to infer that she is not a normal 10 year old. Then there are adults who stand for and against her. This book has compelling characters, very well fleshed out, and that was one of the reasons I liked it. They have their flaws, but they also have strongly redeeming characteristics. They try to do the right thing, even if it is hard and goes against the very grain of their being. Carey provides enough backstory to each character to enable us to get a good handle on their personalities and temparements.

Carey’s descriptive-to-eventful ratio is just right. There is adequate detail about the people and the locales that I can almost picture them in my head, and there is more than enough going on to propel the story forward. I also liked the scientific detail the author provides, the explanations of the whys and the hows. Structurally, this has been thought through, so there aren’t any “gaps” – which is a plus, in a novel which has so much going on.

The story is fast paced and unpredictable. Once Melanie is out there by herself, pretty much anything can happen, and you can’t really anticipate where the narrative will go. Carey puts his characters in lots of tight spots; you hope they will get out of them. This continues, with you hanging onto every word. And very soon, you’re at the end of the book – a sure sign of a good one.

Narrator Finty Williams is marvelous. Beautifully paced, and does great voices and intonations for both male and female characters. Made this great book better.