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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Coal House

by W.S. Barton

I’ve been a reader all my life and at 51 find myself mostly reading contemporary women’s fiction about mid-life set in the United States.  It’s comfortable, sometimes enlightening and, certainly, plentiful.

And then I discovered Coal House by W.S. Barton.  Set in post World War II Wales, the book doesn’t pigeon-hole itself into a time period.  If you didn’t pay attention to details, it would be hard to say if this was late 19th century or mid 20th.  To me, it was the language of the book which transports the reader into the past.  blog

As an adult I’m reading fiction set in my time period, but as a teen my favorite books in the world were Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  A chapter or two into Coal House and I felt like I was visiting an old friend.  The prose captured my attention and drew me into the tale, keeping me up late quite a few nights – apropos for a ghost story.

The premise of the novel centers around a married couple undergoing typical marital strife who, while on holiday trying to get past said strife, get caught up in the possibility of new beginnings and purchase an unbelievably well priced house at an auction.  Here’s a little wisdom learned from my five decades – if something seems like too good a deal, it probably is and will end with you having to battle demons, ghosts and murderous intent.

Much time is spent learning about the house, grounds and community which surround Coal House.  I am just floored by Barton’s use of language to captivate the reader.  I could pull any quote to share because I adored the feeling crafted by the words.  So that you may understand Barton’s prose, here is one short paragraph:

A quite marvellous feature of the library was the huge coal fire and although I had seen it earlier it was only on truly embracing the cold that I observed the true functionality.  It was a centrepiece worthy of it’s eponymity.  It would have looked wonderfully majestic when used for purpose and with the proximity to the mines, at some point, coal would have been in plentiful supply. I considered the lunacy which must have possessed whoever decided to remove all the trees, precious fuel, and I couldn’t fathom it.  It couldn’t be helped.  I realized the the outhouse must have been used to store coal.

Barton managed to write a comfortable, flowery, good old fashioned ghost tale but one which kept me guessing as to the plot.  Each chapter built upon the last and I kept changing my guess as to what was to come.  When the book came to a close, I took several days to begin this review.  It was a journey and I need time to process what I’d experienced.  I would highly recommend Coal House and hope to see more of Barton’s writing in future.

 

 

In the Garden Room

by Tanya Eby

Some book reviews are easy to write and I bang them out quickly.  I read the book, the plot was (good or bad), the characters (were, were not) fully developed, I (do or do not) recommend the book…..

And then there are the rare books like “In the Garden Room” by Tanya Eby which punch you in the gut and leave you stunned.  These are the books which you don’t stop thinking about after the cover is closed for the final time.  The one which makes you feel so many feels, that processing and being able to adequately express an opinion is nearly impossible.  blog

I confess to being an Eby superfan, but as a narrator.  When she is associated with an Audible book, I don’t hesitate to add it to my library.  I was unaware she was also an author and was both excited and a little jealous to find this out.  How can one person have such a variety of talent?  I started Garden Room much the same way as I do most books nowadays, with absolutely no clue the subject matter.  This has proven to be a wonderful way in which to find treasure I might otherwise have not chosen had I known ahead of time what the story explored.  That said, if you are reading a review prior to reading the book, I assume you are actually looking for guidance or opinion on it.  This one is tough.  It’s not a book about rainbows and unicorns, and the subject matter could be a trigger for some women.

The story centers around two women in the early 1900s.  We meet mother, Cora, and daughter, Lillian when the women lived a boring, but safe life.  Having married a fisherman with dreams of creating a good life, but reeking of the stench of fish, almost 30 year old Lillian sees her future only as doom and gloom.  She was unhappy, never content and easily swayed by the charms of a vagabond who ends up being a talent scout for a Chicago brothel.

And the ladies lives go downhill from there…..Lillian creates a fantasy life in her head and sneaks away with her young daughter while her husband is away working.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what is coming.  In the early 20th century, a 30 year old woman was OLD, but her very innocent young daughter was a great commodity.  As I said, this subject matter might be difficult, but Eby presents it so smartly, that as a reader I was drawn into the story despite the un-comfortableness of it all.

I listened to this book via Audible and must give kudos to the narrator, Christa Lewis.  She had me believing in the spoiled Cora, the defeated Cora, the regretful Cora as well as the unfortunate personality changes of naive Lillian to warrior Lillian.  There is one scene in the book detailing the inauguration of this child into the dreadful world of brothel life which literally caused me tears.  Lewis WAS that young girl.  Between the words Eby penned, and the voice Lewis spoke, that was one of the hardest paragraphs I ever heard on an Audible book.  It was not gratuitous. and was completely essential to the character development, but it was hard to hear.

This was also one of those audio books where you found yourself wishing you had pen and paper to jot down some of the lines because they were so impactful.  This one especially summed up the idea behind life as a woman:

So much of a woman’s happiness depends on what type of a cage she was kept in.

I’m glad I listened to this book and would not hesitate to try another Eby novel or listen to more of Lewis’ narration.

 

For the US State reading challenge – this one is set in Illinois.

 

The Fragrance Shed by a Violet

by Lin Wilder

If you follow my personal blog, https://newoldgirl.wordpress.com/ you are aware that I am NOT A FAN of the medical profession and feel great disdain for Big Pharma.  This attitude change occurred in the last 4 years and one additional side effect of the trauma of my iatrogenic illness was losing an entire genre of books.  I used to read every single medical thriller I could find, and laugh at the memory of my one overnight hospital stay where the book I was reading was by Robin Cook.  As a sort of exposure therapy, I decided to delve back into medical fiction and see if I could separate my own trauma from a fiction book.  I am so glad I discovered new indie author, Lin Wilder.  She was the perfect author to pull me back into my old stomping grounds.  blog

“The Fragrance Shed by a Violet” is not your typical medical thriller.  I would probably not even add “thriller” to the descriptor except that most books set in the medical industry do involve mayhem – murder, espionage, the evils of the industry, etc.  Wilder has written a book which involves the medical profession, but truly I felt this book was character driven.  Yes, Dr. Lindsey McCall is a brilliant researcher employed by a large Texas medical center, but there are so many pieces to this story, it felt more like contemporary fiction involving relationships rather than subterfuge.  This, I think, was key for me truly enjoying the work.  Wilder presents us strong, driven, intelligent female characters like McCall and investigative reporter Kate Townsend.  As the foil to those strong women, we also spend time with Lindsey’s sister, Paula a nurse with a troubled past who proves prominent in the direction Lindsey’s life takes.

As the sister of two alcoholic brothers who passed very early because of their disease, I felt a real connection to the siblings in this book.  As a reader, finding connections to characters brings the story to life and Wilder wrote a good story.  Wilder pulled me in not only with her writing but with the use of prophetic quotes at the start of each chapter, and the presence of spirituality in the story.  This did not read like smack-you-in-the-face Christian fiction, but as in many real lives, faith plays a role for some of her characters.  Reading this book was comfortable and enjoyable.

I did read the author bio prior to starting the book and I appreciated throughout my reading the fact that Wilder spent decades employed in the medical field.  Somehow, to me, knowing she had real life experience behind her gave a sense of legitimacy to her writing, especially during the parts where research and drug development was explored.  It was also quite clear that Lin Wilder is one smart cookie.  The novel is very well written, the characters are fleshed out and the story felt complete.  This was a great first medical book for me to start with and I highly recommend “The Fragrance Shed by a Violet.”

 

 

For the US Map Reading Challenge, this one is set in Texas.  Yes, I’ve read another Texas book this year, but it’s a big state so I’m recording this one as well.

Tupelo Honey

by Lis Anna-Langston

Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship.  If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage.  Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain.  And it is good.

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Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall.  She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime.  As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted.  Loved.  This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.

Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing.  Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave.  I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.

My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers.  I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise.  Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo.  Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.

This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief….  To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.

I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful.  “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.