Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

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.

Wordless Wednesdays #49

Written By: amodini - Apr• 06•16


Audiobook Review : The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Written By: amodini - Mar• 16•16

Title : The Good Girl
Author : Mary Kubica
Narrators : Lindy Nettleton, Johnny Heller, Tom Taylorson, Andi Arndt
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 38 minutes
Rating : 1/5
Narrator Rating : 2/5

Mia Dennett is the daughter of influential Judge James Dennett. When she is kidnapped, the incident makes headlines, but only one of her parents, her mother, the stunningly beautiful Eve Dennett, is truly distraught. The high priority search has Detective Gabe Hoffman on the case. And with the media and the condescending Judge Dennett watching his every move, he has to get it right.

The book is narrated via 3 voices – Gabe’s, Eve’s, and the kidnapper’s. Each of their narratives is either a “before” or “after” – i.e.; before or after the kidnapping. So we hear the detective’s side of the story, his personal insecurities, the inter-office politics, the fact that Dennett is hobnobbing with Gabe’s boss, the condescending attitude that Dennett supposedly reeks of. We hear Eve’s tale, the cracks in the Dennett marriage, the fact that Judge Dennett is not quite the morally upstanding citizen, and that among his children he has favorites. And then we hear from Colin Thatcher, the poor commoner kidnapper with a hard life. Mia herself is painted only via these narratives.

“The Good Girl” has a pretty good star rating on Amazon, and in the beginning I bought into the hype, because this was going along at a nice pace. However the story soon begins to flag when the romantic angle kicks in. Kubica’s writing is clunky and verbose, but that isn’t enough to sink the book. What does do it is the fact that I don’t like any of the characters, even the kidnapped Mia; she appears to be the poor little rich girl who doth complain too much. And she has major daddy issues; she’s been waiting all her life “to find a man to take care of her”. The characters are thinly sketched, with shades of black or white, no grey in-between. Cliches abound. The romance angle is a tad disgusting.

I was bored with this book. I wanted to get to the end, so I fast-forwarded the audio. The Good Girl is a book which has not been fully thought through, and it shows. It has been compared to Gone Girl, but Gone Girl it definitely is not. I highly de-recommend “The Good Girl”.

This book had multiple narrators, but I didn’t like them too much except for Tom Taylorson, the narrator who did Colin Thatcher’s voice. Nettleton voiced Eve, and she made Eve sound weary, which kinda sounds reasonable. But Eve also sounded affected which didn’t endear her to me any.

Wordless Wednesdays #48

Written By: amodini - Mar• 02•16


Audiobook Review : The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Written By: amodini - Feb• 17•16

Title : The Girl on the Train
Author : Paula Hawkins
Narrators : Clara Corbett, India Fisher, Louise Brealey
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Penguin Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 59 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

This book is based on an intriguing premise – woman on passing train sees something shocking in a split-second! That is why I picked this up, and have to say that it does live up to all the hype.

Rachel is a recently divorced alcoholic. Her ex-husband Tom has married again and now has a child, something he couldn’t do with Rachel. The three, Tom, wife and child, now live in the home that used to once be Rachel and Tom’s. Rachel’s train to work skirts through her old neighborhood every day, where she is able to look into the backyard of another home, seeing a handsome couple breakfast together everyday. Rachel fantasizes about this couple as a perfect pair, both so much in love, and even concocts up a name for them – “Jess and Jason”.

One day though, eagerly looking for her “Jess and Jason”, Rachel instead sees something unexpected and shocking. Subsequently when she sees a missing woman’s face on the news, and realizes it is “Jess”, she goes to the police and tells them what she has seen. Rachel is, from then on, embroiled in a mystery that will change her reality as she knows it.

The book is told from three viewpoints – Rachel’s, Anna’s (Tom’s current wife), and Megan’s (the missing woman). Rachel is quite the unreliable narrator – she is an alcoholic with very little will-power, forgets stuff in her post-alcohol episodes, omits the truth when convenient, and generally doesn’t walk the morally upright path. Even when she pours out her story to the police they are loath to take her seriously. Anna, the “other woman” turned wife, considers Rachel to be an anti-social psychopath who wants to poison her happy life with Tom. And Megan or “Jess” has her own little convoluted story to tell. All three women have reason to hide their action and the motives for those actions. So you have a nice little set-up. Who do you believe?

Rachel’s isn’t a pleasant person but you do feel sorry for her, and she, with all her flaws and her unhappy circumstances, seems real. It is Rachel’s narrative that draws me in, and keeps me there. Hawkins paces her novel well, so there is a fresh new twist at every turn. And the end is quite unpredictable. “The Girl on the Train” is a very well-done mystery, and is made even better by the 3 narrators.

Highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #47

Written By: amodini - Feb• 03•16

Verdant green