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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.”

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.


			

Attuc

by Jeffrey Koval

If you are a regular reader here you know my story and know I suffered a brain injury which took about two years of my life.  During that time I was unable to read or listen to books because I couldn’t process plots or retain information.  Following that awful period, my mantra has been GIVE ME EVERYTHING to read. I’m making up for lost time, and celebrating the return of a skill even 5 year-olds manage.

That said, I am always on the hunt for new material, authors, narrators and I happily volunteer to read and review work.  I go into things blindly and very rarely have any idea of the material genre until I begin.  I came across the narrator for “Attuc” on Twitter and he kindly sent me this audio book from Audible.com.

And then I saw it was a 45 minute short story. Sigh.

I HATE short stories. I’m the 10-20 hour book listener and believe it takes an hour to properly introduce a character. I want to immerse myself in every detail.  I learned to hate short stories in high school when it felt like literature was dumbed down to fit the class period.

But I had agreed to listen to this so I turned up the iPod and busied myself with New Year’s resolution #86 – pantry organization.

And I was sucked into this story by Koval, and especially Skyler Morgan’s narration.

This is the story of a man attending the funeral of a college roommate, and speaking of the times they shared long ago, with a horror twist.

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By happenstance, I am actually from central New Jersey as is the author, and I attended Rutgers where the story takes place. That upped the creep factor of this chilling tale for me as a listener.

This 45 minutes ended far too soon.  I got mad at the last sentence when I realized it was over. Morgan has a soothing voice and his narration was well done.  I would not hesitate to listen to him in more works.  Checking now to see if Koval has written more, which is the highest praise I can give a writer.