Peach

by w.s. barton

I received an advanced readers copy of the book, Peach, by the author W. S. Barton.  Because of a brain injury several years ago, I cannot read Kindle books or look at screens for long periods of time and Barton was kind enough to mail me a physical copy from the U.K.  Knowing about my illness, he warned me the type was very different and he wouldn’t want me to struggle to read.  I assured him all would be fine and then my jaw dropped when I saw this book was printed in an unbelievably small font (perhaps 3-point) with room above and below each line for comments and corrections.  I started reading knowing I would NEVER finish the 500+ pages as it was just too difficult for my poor brain.  A few chapters in and I knew I would not stop without knowing how Peach ended. It is that good. blog

Barton is unique as a writer in that he uses words the way a painter uses colors. Every sentence has meaning and adds to a picture created in the mind of the reader. And it is beautiful. Reading at night next to my sleeping husband, I often had to stop myself from reading aloud as Barton’s writings deserve to be spoken out loud for the brain to truly absorb the beauty of his pen.

Barton writes for readers – those who truly invest themselves in the plot and characters created. Peach isn’t a lightweight beach read to be read quickly and just as easily forgotten. This is a novel that will own your soul while you absorb it, and for many days after you are finished.

The story of Freddie Ward is an onion with layers requiring a slow peel. One chapter is full of life, excitement, possibilities as the song writer and musician begins a fast paced life with an industrious and companionable new love, Ailie. Their story, at the start, is like many new beginnings and pulls you in and then….the next chapter leaves the reader guessing as to what has happened. What has changed that even the words in your head come out maudlin and heavy and you can’t go faster to discover the …. tragedy? Surely it must be a tragedy because a life full of rainbows and unicorns would not merit a 500 page novel.  Keep in mind I read this as an arc, with that small font, so the final published work will likely be shorter.

Freddie did of course alter his history, reacting to a loss by sabotaging the relationship which had spurred him from neer’-do-well busker to up and coming song writer. At the first opportunity, his poor decision making left him alone and on a plane to the fields of Idaho to work for an aging, former singing sensation.  Peach is a novel about finding oneself and redefining self perception and appreciation.

Peach isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s heavy; life questioning, introspective. There is death, dying, soul searching …. and at the age of 52, an orphan child with children who have outgrown my parenting, I found myself sad during periods of this story. When in despair, one of the characters says, “What is this life? What is this life?”, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a conversation rather than an uninvolved person reading about fictional people. Again, this is from the arc and quotes can be cut or altered in the final version.

Much of this story is set in Idaho and centers around young Freddie at the start of his life, afraid to commit and convinced of his own valuelessness. His employer Hal had a successful career, but a personal life of emptiness after becoming a widower at a far too young age. Now facing death, Hal shares his life with the young songwriter and through their long talks, the reader inevitably must examine his own life. This is a heavy novel but well worth the time and emotion the reader will invest.

Freddie is a man who moves in and out of relationships with blurred lines and complications. Barton’s writing ability is such that the reader isn’t a disinterested third party, but an emotionally connected member of each relationship. And, as in real life, bumps in the road cause heartache. Just as I thought Freddie was catching a bit of good luck, things would change…and it made me sad.  I found myself reading this book with my breath held, and grief at the ready.  Time passed, my own life was on my mind while I lived in this novel and I’m once again impressed by the ability of Barton to create visual worlds which draw a reader into the story.

Read Peach; you’ll be better for having experienced it yourself.
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This is my second work by Barton and I’m completely astounded at how different Peach is from his earlier work, Coal House. I would not have known the same author wrote both books. Here’s my review of that work which I absolutely adored:

 

The Wife Between Us

by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

I never do this.  If you go back and read old book review posts, you can confirm I just do not do this.  But I’m doing it for The Wife Between Us.

My review is this: GO READ THIS BOOK NOW.  blog

That’s it.  Go buy, beg or borrow this one and read it.  Don’t read the back cover.  Don’t read blog posts.  Just open it up and start reading.

You deserve to read it without anyone else’s input because it is that good.  I even thought the publisher should just have a blank back cover because the little they wrote there influenced this most excellent adventure in reading.

And….yes, I read the book prior to its publication because I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced reader copy from St. Martin’s Press.  This goes on sale January 9th and you should ask for a gift card as a holiday gift so you can get it the day it releases.

 

 

 

the end of miracles

by Monica Starkman

Narrated by Jane Oppenheimer

To be completely honest, I requested this book from the narrator because 25 years ago I battled infertility.  The subject is a tough one, and I thought as a reader who has lived some of this, I could relate to the character. And I did. blog

Starkman has penned a debut novel that hits home with any female who struggles to become a mother.  Something so “natural” that when denied, our center is knocked off balance and we swim upstream to find ourselves, define ourselves.  The main character in the end of miracles is every woman.  She’s in the prime of life, solid marriage, goes to work every day, has friends, and for her, giving birth is the ultimate dream.  We watch as she deals with feelings of jealousy for friends to whom pregnancy comes easily, self hatred as she thinks her soul is defined by an empty womb, guilt that she cannot give to her husband the child that will have his same nose…..

I became absorbed listening to narrator Jane Oppenheimer voice Margo’s pain and her ultimate psychological decline.  Starkman’s writing is spot on and she managed to convey through Margo the plethora of suffering infertility can bring.  The story moved quickly and I was easily engrossed in the plot which has some unexpected turns.

As an audio book listen, I give huge kudos to Oppenheimer.  Her voice was perfect for this novel.  Several hours in I realized this didn’t feel like someone was reading the story to me; it felt like I was listening to my girlfriend Margo and aching for her as she shared her suffering.  This isn’t an easy skill that all narrators possess.  I would not hesitate to listen to another Oppenheimer audio performance.

the end of miracles, to me, felt like a book in three parts – before, during and after.  I never like to give away specific details because as a reader I believe you should unwrap the present yourself and enjoy each layer without advance warning.  That said, my only ugh was the “after” part of the book.  I didn’t love the ending.  I understood the ending.  I appreciate how Starkman wrapped it all up, but for me, I wasn’t sure that was how Margo’s story should have ended.  Then I read a brief bio on the author and learned she has a medical degree and spent much of her career working in the field of psychotherapy and infertility.  I’m guessing her vast experience makes the ending choice far more appropriate than anything I could have devised.

Great book and a great audio performance.

To please the lawyers, as I mentioned above: “I was given this free review copy audio book at my request and have voluntarily left this review.”

 

Haven

by Tom Deady

First time author Tom Deady has penned a solid debut horror story, which is far more than a simple horror novel.  This quite lengthy tale (for me as an audio listen it was almost 15 hours; the paperback is over 500 pages) takes the time to fully develop its many characters and provide the reader great detail into the mystery surrounding old and new disappearances of residents of the Massachusetts town of Haven.  The story begins in the 60s but much of the tale concerns what feels like present day following the release of previously convicted felon Paul Greymore, with remembrances used to flesh out important details.  blog

Every author is a reader and if I were guessing, I’d bet Deady is a Stephen King fan.  His work felt very familiar as I grew up on King, and I noticed the timing of the release of Haven with the renewed interest in the 1986 King book, It, now that a new movie has been made.  I can appreciate stylistic similarities while at the same time enjoying the tale Deady weaves about small town, murders, supernatural possibilities, friendships, etc.

If you read my reviews you know I don’t go into a lot of plot description because I’m not in 5th grade and this isn’t a book report. Because I listened to this via audible.com, my perspective on the book may very well be different than a traditional reader because as a listener, the narrator influences my enjoyment.  I’m now 52 and have been an audio book listener since the 80s when I had to have my mom drive me to the library, peruse in person the cassette books available and be skilled with a pencil to fix the tape malfunctions on that, now generations old, medium. So, I have experience listening and loving narrated books.

There are some narrator voices I cannot tolerate past the sample track on audible.  Won’t even try.  Matt Godfrey, narrator of Haven and about 10 others available at audible, does a nice job of speaking the story.  His voice is soothing and attractive and I would gladly listen to more of his work.

Haven is a difficult tale to narrate because there are so many characters. Like a ton. As an audible book listener, I am different than the paper reader who sits and concentrates on only the story.  I would guess I am not alone in saying when I am listening to a book I am also doing something else.  My house gets cleaned, laundry is folded, errands are run.  When you have a ton of characters in a story, especially one which doesn’t stay in one timeline, and chapters are short, it’s important that the voice be unique for each character.  My only suggestion to Godfrey would have been to mix it up more. But, that is my personal opinion and I have zero experience in production.  Perhaps soothing and calm and not being all over the place with the frequent character changes was by choice.

Haven is a solid experience and I would recommend it.

To please the lawyers, I now say I was given this audio book by the narrator in exchange for an honest review unaffected by the gift.

 

 

 

The Thing About Leftovers

by C.C. Payne

True confession time: I’m a retired woman, on a budget in a town of 600 people with a teeny library.  To feed my book habit, I enter EVERY contest I can find.  Every Single One. Most times I am unaware of the author, and often don’t even bother to read the book description.  There was over a year of my life when a brain injury meant I was unable to read, and once healed I vowed to read like a maniac. So, I contest like mad.  blog

I won The Thing About Leftovers and eagerly began the book several days ago.  A few pages in, I became suspicious and started looking closely at the book information. I was saddened when I read: Penguin.com/Young Readers Ages 10 up.

FYI, I am way up past 10 years old.

Sigh.

But, I’d won the book, the author had kindly personalized it and mailed it quickly.  I determined to stick it out. I figured at 52 I could read faster than a 10 year old and would zip through to ease my guilt.

A funny thing happened….I became absorbed. I actually read it in two days, not to get it over with, but because I couldn’t put it down.

Payne wrote a novel with a compelling main character, Fizzy, a sad young girl who had her life ripped from her when her parents divorced.  Mom relocated to another town.  Dad found another woman. Fizzy became the new student (outcast) at an unfamiliar school.  Most teachers were uninterested, old friends abandoned her, Mom began a new relationship and Fizzy was lost.  Leftover from an old world, unsure of her place, feeling unloved, this is the story of pain, loss, rebuilding.

The Thing About Leftovers punched me in the gut.

I lived much of Fizzy’s life. My mom was married and divorced three times. There were multiple dads among the siblings, and by marriage number three I was one of the last remaining kids at home.  I had the stepfather who moved in and took over.  I lost my older siblings who fled and remained away for decades.  The only other sibling who stayed was drinking at 19, an alcoholic in his 20s and dead at 37.  My purpose as a youngster was to be the peacemaker.  To make people laugh. To be good and not cause problems.

My entire childhood was fractured and upon my parent’s deaths I was freed and packed away (much) of that pain.  I worked very hard to create a different life for my kids where they were loved unconditionally and my marriage was strong and filled with joy.

Payne crafted a novel which caused me to remember.  I remembered through Fizzy and I cried.  Several times I actually had to stop reading because I felt so much pain for a fictional character, and for me who had forgotten how hard my childhood was all those years ago.

I am sure my reaction to Fizzy’s mom is much more vitriolic than the author intended, but I felt anger any time she was in the story. Every “yes, ma’am” uttered by Fizzy hurt me.  Even though the book ended on a positive note, with some moral (hopeful) lessons for other readers, this reader hurt and felt lots of discomfort.

I am glad I won this book.  I am glad I’m polite enough to have stuck with it because the catharsis was liberating.  It’s amazing how much I’d packed away and completely forgotten.  It says a lot about the writing skills of the author that she was so spot on describing the angst experienced by many of us during our formative years.

 

 

 

Eden: A Novel

by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

Confession, I grew up in the 70’s when books were produced by a few big publishing companies.  This meant there were not as many new books available in a year compared to today where self publishing and indie publishing are very popular.  It also meant, given the expense of publishing and marketing a book, authors tended to be judged and edited by professionals with skills and money on the line.  I love the current world where more than a chosen lucky few can share their wordsmithing skills.  If you follow my other blog, https://newoldgirl.wordpress.com/, you’ll remember I was seriously ill for 17 months and for most of that time I lost the ability to read. Words did not compute, and my short term memory did not work.

Once I regained my health and ability to read, I wanted all the books.  I discovered indie authors and spend more than my share of time reading and listening.  I also have learned that just because you CAN put pen to paper, doesn’t mean you should.  I have not loved every indie project I have read.  Time is short and if I’m not embracing the material, I put it aside and move on.  blog2

That said, I happily declare I loved every second of the audio book, Eden: A Novel.  Written by new author Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg, this is a book which moves seamlessly between time.  Blasberg tells the story of a wealthy family going from past to present, generation to generation.  During one moment we hear the intricate details of a young woman, war-time America, moments of indiscretion ….. then fast forward to modern day and see the now-grandmother and her progeny dealing with current life situations.

This method of storytelling can sometimes be confusing to the reader as tracking past and present, and age of characters is complicated.  In Eden, however, Blasberg is so talented, her storytelling is easy to follow.  I wouldn’t label this a casual “beach read” however as the nuances and layers of humanity call the reader to become fully invested; the actions of a grandmother contrasted with her modern-day granddaughter are compelling.  I found myself staying up too late each night because I wanted to know what comes next.

In addition to the clever use of time as a distinct part of the character of Eden, Blasberg utilized location as an integral part of the narrative.  The reader is easily transported between the richness of life in the early 20th century steel town of Pittsburgh and then flows quite naturally to days on the New England beach where the wealthy family vacations through the ages.  The use of a life-changing hurricane was particularly successful as a story telling device and the beach house itself came alive through each chapter of the tale.

Audiobooks are made or broken by the talent of the narrator.  Performance counts and Marnye Young delivered. Every character was easy to picture and she brought them each to life.  Hers is a comfortable voice which helped flesh out the story.  Knowing this is the debut novel for the author, and having never come across Young on an Audible.com book before, I looked her up and was very pleased to see a selection of books she has narrated which I can now enjoy.

I was gifted this audiobook by the author, and am pleased to share this honest review and highest recommendation of Eden: A Novel.  Blasberg is a talented writer and I hope she continues to write.  And write.

 

 

 

 

Deadly Shore

by Andrew Cunningham

Narrated by Greg Hernandez

Audio books are a different breed. Unlike traditional books which require the reader to stop, sit and concentrate, an audio book coexists with your life. They are typically enjoyed while the listener does other things – drives, chores,  errands, etc.  While some audio books keep me company as I work, in the case of “Deadly Shores” I was finding things which had to be done just so I could continue listening.  If you knew me and chores, you’d understand this is truly high praise.  blog

As a child of the Jersey Shore (the actual place, not the ridiculous reality show), I love fiction set on islands and the excitement of an impending hurricane is a great plot device.  “Deadly Shore” gave me both.  Summer on Cape Cod is crowded with tourists and a category 4 hurricane barreling towards them provides high intensity excitement.  Then, the kicker, terrorists blow the bridges and hold the island captive.

Cunningham crafted some interesting characters including a former CIA agent now working as a PI, a “disgraced” local female cop, a feisty senior citizen prepared to battle storm and man (that was me in my head), terrorists and even Hurricane Chad.  Just a really well written, fast paced tale.  The kind of book you could read in a weekend, and be satisfied.

Narration is critical for any audio book.  Although I have never listened to a Greg Hernandez performance, I was immediately attracted to the cadence of his voice.  It was familiar and comfortable and brought the characters to life.  I’m a narrator snob and believe the quality of the voice can make or break even the best storytelling. I will even choose a book based only on the narrator; for example Scott Brick. He reads it, I’m listening.  Hernandez has made that list now.

Disclaimer to make the lawyers happy – I was voluntarily provided a free copy of this audio book by the narrator and this is my honest and unbiased review.  I wouldn’t hesitate to read another Cunningham novel and would gladly choose to listen to anything Hernandez narrated.

For the US book reading challenge, this was set in Massachusetts.