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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.

 

 

 

 

A Price for Genius

by Lin Wilder

This is my third Lin Wilder book in the last 4 months, and I’ll be reading her Dr. Lindsey McCall series as long as she writes them.  Although each book could stand alone, as a methodical reader, I really appreciate reading a series sequentially. Watching characters grow and develop make or break any series, and Wilder is proving herself adept at stretching the boundaries for her characters.

Book 3 in the McCall series, “A Price for Genius” is very different than books 1 and 2. Reviews for those books can be found here:

https://eyesandearsbooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/the-fragrance-shed-by-a-violet/

https://eyesandearsbooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/do-you-solemnly-swear/

This book is primarily set in Switzerland, and much of the plot centers around a kidnapping. Wilder keeps the material fresh by introducing new characters, and they assemble to form a rescue team. Unlike the McCall we met in book 1, by book 3 a small community (more accurately a family) develops and we get to enjoy relationships growing deeper. It will be interesting to see how the group grows in book 4.  Yes, book 4 is in the works already.  blog

One thought which runs through my brain while reading all of Wilder’s books is that she must be very, very intelligent. Her writing is not dumbed-down and she manages to use her own previous experience in the medical field to write material which is interesting as fiction, but which also is informative to a reader.  I read a wide variety of material and I really am drawn to that which challenges me, rather than simply turning pages to finish. Wilder writes for a smart audience.

Here is an example of the level of intellect found throughout the novel:

But the threats to twenty-first-century man can rarely be solved by fighting or fleeing. Rather than dissipating through extreme physical exertion, these hormonal and neurochemical products are built up over time and can be toxic. The consequences of severe stress and adrenal exhaustion over prolonged periods of time can be fatal, leading to the belief that stress is considered one of the top contributors to the leading causes of death in the twenty-first century, heart disease and stroke, cancer.

The only thing I did not like, and I didn’t even realize it until the last chapter, is that one of my favorite characters didn’t get much time in this novel.  Max.  A Doberman. Yes, I missed the dog.

 

 

Taking on Water

by David Rawding

This was another book that was given to me, so I started out having no idea of plot or genre and was pleasantly surprised to find this a very good Audible listen. Set in a small fishing town in New Hampshire, this is a mystery/thriller novel involving the decline of the blue collar worker and the influx of illegal drugs.

blogAs a debut novel, Rawding was very successful in penning characters who seemed very real. Having grown up in a small fishing village on the coast of New Jersey, I was impressed with the attention to detail about fishing, and appreciated the time spent explaining the industry. Rawding also was very accurate (not speaking to the drug running, lol), but I certainly saw my share of fisher-families devastated by bad seasons, acts of God and industry regulations.

The main character, James Morrow, is employed as a social worker who has lived, and seen, his fair share of abuses. He is more than a 9-5 worker and because of his off work hours spent with young teen Kevin, Morrow is drawn into the underside of this “quiet” fishing village. A mixed race marriage to a police woman adds to the investment Morrow makes in the mystery of fishing and drugs and ultimately leads to traumatic loss and questionable choices.

“Taking on Water” is a very solid mystery worthy of a read. Having listened to this via Audible, my experience with the material, as always, is influenced by the ability of the narrator.  I’d never heard Curt Simmons before, but instantly connected with his voice. If you are an audio book listener, you likely know that it’s sometimes a hit or miss. There are some voices, inflections, pauses….which can ruin good writing. In my new world order, if I don’t enjoy a book, I’m out. Life is too short to waste on bad material. Simmons helped make this novel pleasurable and the time passed too quickly. His voice choices for each character were fitting, and aided in my own visualization of who was speaking which brought the work to life for me.

I recommend “Taking on Water” and would read more by Rawding and would definitely listen to another Simmons narration.

 

For the US Book Challenge – this was set in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

all we had

by annie weatherwax

Many of the books I read and review are given to me, and I’m grateful for the chance to experience such a wide variety of material.  I’m not complaining.  But there is something wonderful about selecting a book, anticipating the story and immersing yourself in the novel.  For Christmas a friend gave me a B&N gift card and I spent HOURS perusing the online store and was like a kid picking up, and putting back, the new toy until I found exactly the ones I wanted.

The first of my treasures I chose is “all we had” by annie weatherwax and, to be completely honest, I selected it because I was entranced by the cover. Yup, I judged this book by its cover and I’m so glad I did.

This is a story about a transient, underemployed, kindhearted mother Rita and her daughter, 13 year old Ruthie.  Rita has led a hard life becoming a mom at 16 and forced to use sex as a tool of power to find men willing to take them in and provide shelter and food.  This lifestyle is unimaginable to me, but Weatherwax managed to pen the character in such a way that she seems like a tragic human caught in a terrible situation doing what she has to in order to survive. She also understood the circle of poverty which can trap a person and she was determined to ensure her daughter got into an Ivy League school and made a better life for herself.  Commendable especially as a 29 year old having to resort to using, and being used, by men.  blog

Mom and daughter hit the road in a barely drive-able car and head from California to Boston, home of many top colleges. Despite the fact Ruthie is only 13, Rita is working toward the future and wants her daughter educated in the best schools and nearer to her future freedom from poverty.

…..and then things take a turn for the unexpected.

The women end up at a diner in a dying town in New York state and a cast of characters become the family they never had before.  Rita ends up waitressing, Ruthie works part time as a dishwasher and we get to watch a life build as money is made, housing is secured and friendships blossom.

I really loved the time in the diner. Weatherwax fleshed out each character, and as a reader, I was impressed with her ability to hook me despite my own initial misgivings.  One of the waitresses is transgender and not someone I’ve ever experienced in my own life but by the end of the book, Peter Pam was my favorite. I felt an attachment I wouldn’t have thought possible and was invested in her character.

And like many great novels, there is more to the story than just the adventures of a mom and daughter. Weatherwax was writing a fictionalized account of what much of America suffered during the sub-prime mortgage crisis in our country. People wanting to create their own American dream and instead ending up worse off than before.  Dreaming of home ownership but instead becoming caught even further in a cycle of poverty.  Besides the main characters, this is represented throughout the novel as factories move, diners disappear, neighbors going from frequent Walmart truck deliveries to destitution and, of course, Walmart encroaching on mom & pops which used to be a way of life.

I read this book in 2 days and had to force myself at 3am to put it down. I hope Weatherwax writes many more books. She is stellar.

 

For the US Book Reading Challenge – this was set in New York.

 

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.