Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Wordless Wednesdays #45

Written By: amodini - Dec• 16•15

Tree in edit

Audiobook Review : Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Written By: amodini - Dec• 02•15

Title : Love May Fail
Author : Matthew Quick
Narrators : Cris Dukehart, Jim Meskimen, Lorna Raver, Timothy Fannon, Tonya Campos
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Harper Audio
Listening Length : 12 hours 5 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Portia Kane is fed up with her false life. She leaves her wealthy, cheating husband and heads back to her mother’s home in the small town she grew up in. Her sense of self is dented but not broken, because of the positivity she received years ago from her high school English teacher Mr. Nathan Vernon. She believes that she can put her life in order, if she saves someone else’s. And that someone is Mr. Vernon, who Portia learns, has become reclusive and just about disappeared after a traumatic incident with one of his students.

Energized, Portia resolves to give Mr. Vernon back all the help and support that he gave her when she most needed it. Mr. Vernon, when Portia tracks him down, throws a spanner in the works by declaring he doesn’t want to be saved. What is Portia to do?

Quirky and feel-good is how I’d describe this book. It is populated by a host of interesting characters – Portia’s pornographer husband, her hoarder mom, an ex-drug-addict, a rock-loving mom-son pair – not to mention Portia herself. Most of the characters are well-sketched, and I especially liked Mr. Vernon’s character, drawn with such goodness and empathy. Mr. Vernon is almost the ideal teacher, who gives selflessly of himself to all the young people he thinks he can infuse with hope and self-worth. I wish every teacher was like him.

This book has a plot, but it not a plot which I can stake out for you very clearly. Things happen, bound together by a bunch of coincidences. It runs along pretty smoothly until about 75% and then it becomes a bit of a mess. Thankfully it recovers, so I can finish it and still get the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from good books/films. I like the coincidences in the book because they give the book this feel-goody vibe. And I like the book because it ponders (in some very poignant moments) about life, it’s ups and downs, goodness and idealism, hope and despair, and that thing which makes us tick.

The title of the book is from Kurt Vonnegut’s quote “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail”.

The book is narrated by a bunch of people who do a very good job. The narrator who portrays Portia sounds a little like Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame). And the actor who plays Mr. Vernon’s part is fabulous – he gave his character the depth, gravitas and goodness Mr. Vernon’s portrayal deserved. Beautifully done.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Written By: amodini - Nov• 18•15

This is not going to read like a review because it is not one. Because I could not finish this book.

However I feel compelled to tell you why I had to give up on it more than half way in. And before that I must submit to a little ranting. About how I’m having trust issues. With book reviewers. You hear about this book and it’s got glowing reviews and then I can’t even force myself to finish it. It seems like all the books are so overly hyped these days – you are never quite sure whether to actually trust the review. I might have to start using Amazon reviews and judge the book by the naysayers.

This audiobook is long; more than 18 hours of listening time. I gave up sometime after the 10th hour. Not to say that I hated the book or it was atrocious – no. It wasn’t bad. It started with a great premise – that of a young pastor, Peter Leigh, going to another planet to spread his message of religious faith to the indigenous population. He’s been chosen after a rigorous set of interviews (we’re talking days here) by a mysterious corporation called USIC. He’s leaving behind his wife Bea, and their cat Joshua, but we assume that he will return to them.

This new planet, Oasis, is in another galaxy (there is a “jump” involved in the travel) and has a human colony living in sealed bunker-like buildings which keep out the cloyingly humid atmosphere. The native population live in their own settlement, and are short, thin, robed-and-cowled. Sorta humanoid except for their faces which Peter describes as looking like two fetuses, side by side. Peter, impatient to spread the word of God, goes to live among the Oasans, and finds them hungry for religion and scripture from “The Book of Strange New Things” – the Bible.

And that’s as far as I got. At this point the book is fairly slow-paced and plodding. I picked this up because of the sci-fi premise, and while the world-building is interesting, the pace is so slow that it felt more like alien anthropological non-fiction. I just couldn’t take the non-happening and any more of the descriptive detail of the Oasan’s life.

This book sounds similar to Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”, which I finished and liked. They are very different though, as is the world-building. This one spouted a lot of religion :-). Faber is no doubt a very skilled writer, because even with much of Peter’s inner musing in the throes of philosophical detail, the book is interesting. I’m not sure I’ll listen to his work again though if all his books feature the non-plot like this one.

Audiobook Review : The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Written By: amodini - Nov• 04•15

Title : The Big Sleep
Author : Raymond Chandler
Narrator : Elliott Gould
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Phoenix Books
Listening Length : 6 hours 11 minutes
Rating : 3/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

I’m not a big Raymond Chandler fan, but everytime I listen to a not-so-good book, I strive to try something new. And in this case, I thought something classic would do me good. Hence Chandler, circa 1939.

The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first novel featuring detective Philip Marlowe. This is told from Marlowe’s perspective; he speaks in the first person and narrates to us everything as he sees it, and then some. I imagine that Marlowe is the typical detective of the 1930’s – dapper, sardonic with a dry, acerbic wit. The ladies like him, and he likes them in a cool-headed sort of a way, as in, he keep his wits about him. He drawls, and some of that drawling dialog is pretty swashbuckling and a little sexist – machismo of the time, I imagine. Marlowe is street-smart, skeptical and cynical. He makes a good detective.

The novel starts off with Marlowe being summoned to General Sternwood’s large and wealthy home. Sternwood has been contacted by a man called Geiger. Geiger is attempting to collect gambling debts, which he says have been incurred by Sternwood’s younger daughter Carmen. Now Sternwood wants Marlowe to get to the bottom of things and actually figure out who this Geiger character is and what he has on Carmen.

Attached to this mystery are several other mysteries like why the Sternwood girls (there are two – Carmen and Vivian) are always in and around gambling houses, and the mysterious disappearance of Vivan’s husband Rusty Regan. Marlowe’s sleuthing uncovers several surprising facts.

The book moves through the many events pretty fast. There is a lot happening too, because Marlowe tends to get about – he is not the stay-home-and-think type of detective. It does feel dated, like a Bond of old. There is a lot of emphasis on description and atmosphere and you get a good feel for the characters. Eventually this boils down to a neat little story and Chandler connects up the links very believably. Even so, I can’t say I am a fan. This is too much action and too little of an actual mystery to suit my taste.

I did like the narrator. Goulding’s warm, timber-y voice suited the character, and brought interest to the story. I would listen to him again.

Audiobook Review : The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Written By: amodini - Sep• 09•15

The Double Bind (Vintage Contemporaries)Title : The Double Bind
Author : Chris Bohjalian
Narrator : Susan Denaker
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Books On Tape
Listening Length : 11 hours 27 minutes
Rating : 2/5
Narrator Rating : 4/5

You win some, you lose some. This is one of the latter. After Laline Paull’s The Bees which had been on my to-listen list for a very long time, and turned out so well, I took a chance on “The Double Bind”, and am sorely disappointed.

The Double Bind is about Laura Estabrook, a young social worker, who has had a majorly traumatic event in the past. The trauma haunts her to the present day, and when she encounters through her work, a homeless man, who has photographs which could be related to the events of that horrific day, it turns her life upside down.

Bohjalian’s writing is mesmerizing, it sucks you in and doesn’t let go – and this from me, who’s only actually only heard the book, not even read it. I emphasize the distinction, because it is harder to focus on an audiobook than a regular book. While listening to an audiobook, and I listen in the car, amid teeming traffic, it is easier to get distracted and drift off, because the eyes are not focussed on a particular object. An audiobook is a true test of how good the book actually is. In that “were-you-hooked sense, Bohjalian’s book passes with flying colors.

So you wonder – why the 2 stars? I do not wish to give away the book, so all I can say is this – The Double Bind uses a literary trope, which when done well, makes an outstanding, suspense-filled, didn’t-see-that-coming book/film etc. Unfortunately, Bohjalian’s use of this trope is shoddy and fraught with holes. He changes the rules of the game to suit his end, and I as a reader/listener feel like I’ve been taken for a ride. This is especially annoying also because this happens pretty much at the end, when I’ve already listened to most of the book. The Double Bind is humming along nicely, and there are some great plot twists, a nice sense of mystery, and then it all goes splat. That’s 11 hours and 27 minutes of my life I will never get back.

I did like the narrator Susan Denaker. I think she did a great job and I would listen to her again.

Wordless Wednesdays #44

Written By: amodini - Aug• 26•15

Decoration on building, Lucerne

Audiobook Review : The Bees by Laline Paull

Written By: amodini - Aug• 12•15

The Bees: A NovelTitle : The Bees
Author : Laline Paull
Narrator : Orlagh Cassidy
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Harper Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 15 minutes
Rating : 4.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

This book was on my to-read list for many, many weeks before I actually checked it out at my local library. I was skeptical about the luxuriant praise showered on this book – it was about bees, how interesting could it get? Very, as it turns out.

The book’s main character is Flora 717, a lowly sanitation worker-bee in a beehive. She lives with, and is surrounded by, hundreds of her sisters in a close knit community. Each bee has her station and calling. Some are sanitation workers like Flora, some are foragers, while some are high priestesses. All are united in doing their best to “accept, obey and serve” working for their hive and their Queen mother, whose love keeps them motivated.

Although low-born, Flora 717 is intelligent, strong and resourceful. As she rises among the ranks, she breaks the one Sacred Law governing the hive, one which makes the Queen’s High Priestesses her enemies. Now she must fight for her own, and a hard fight it will be.

The Bees is an unusual book for me, since I have never read a fiction novel featuring animal characters. Of course Paull’s bees aren’t just insects, because she imbues them with human traits – love, hate, sisterhood, jealousy, self-preservation. After a while you forget that Flora 717 is a bee, so interesting is Paull’s story-telling. I also enjoyed learning about bees, because the author in her narrative, tells us about how a bee-hive functions from season to season, and how the different job functions promote its smooth running.

This book also works because Flora 717 is a very likable character, and we root for her. The Bees is anthropomorphism done very, very well. The audiobook is made even more enjoyable by Orlagh Cassidy’s narration. Cassidy has a smooth, velvety, mellifluous voice, perfect to portray bees, because I imagine them speaking (if they did) as sweetly as the honey they make. Cassidy also has great tonal shift, and conveys moments of happiness or strife very well. Her narration kept the pace interesting.

Highly recommended.

Wordless Wednesdays #43

Written By: amodini - Jul• 29•15

Zunfthaus Pfistern restaurant, Lucerne

Audiobook Review : The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Written By: amodini - Jul• 15•15

Remains of the DayTitle : The Remains of The Day
Author : Kazuo Ishiguro
Narrator : Simon Prebble
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Tantor Audio
Listening Length : 8 hours 13 minutes
Rating : 5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

This is one of those books that you come across every once in a while, harried and unsatisfied by all these other tomes that have come much recommended, and resolving to read only Booker and Pulitzer prize winners :) hereon. I chanced upon this audiobook when I really wanted to read something surefire – something so outstanding, that it would keep me from wandering off mentally while it played.

It did, and how.

The Remains of The Day is the story of Stevens, a very proper butler at Darlington Hall, a great English Manor. Darlington Hall is now owned by an American Mr. Farraday, who seems to be a very nice man. Steven has served at Darlington Hall from its heydays under Lord Darlington himself, and now muses over the shut-off rooms and the reduced staff. When the egalitarian Mr. Farraday offers him the use of his car for a road trip, Stevens decides to avail himself of the opportunity to travel and meet a female associate Ms. Kenton.

The narrative is first-person, and the story is told via Steven’s reminiscences as he ponders over the past, while traveling through the English countryside. Stevens considers his life well spent in the service of Lord Darlington. He seems venerable and as he ruminates in his most proper English about professionalism, dignity, courage and life-changing decisions, we almost take him for his word. As the novel progresses, Ishiguro reveals Stevens’s character layer by layer so we come to understand his life better. And so beautifully is this done, that you are drawn into this lovely tale of self-realization, empathizing and feeling for this lonely butler.

This book talks about life, a profound subject, in a simple and dignified manner. Very few authors manage to convey themselves as elegantly as Ishiguro. It is then truly wonderful then that the narrator is just as accomplished. Simon Prebble’s stately voice lends dignity and poise to Stevens’s very proper butler. Prebble talks very calmly since Stevens himself is very conscious of diction and decorum, and is quite spectacular in his rendition.

This beautiful book has my highest recommendation and regard.

Wordless Wednesdays #42

Written By: amodini - Jun• 24•15

Rathaus, Lucerne