Tag Archive | Book Blog

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.

 

 

 

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.


			

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Siege

By James Hanna

Part of the excitement of discovering new authors is appreciating the fact that each of us lives such disparate lives.  If I had to write my author bio on the back cover of my probably-never-will-be written book, it would be very boring.  52 year old woman, married to one man for almost 3 decades, homeschooled 2 sons, retired to West Virginia mountains = snooze fest.  New indie author James Hanna has led a life which looks anything but boring: wandered Australia for 7 years, employed in the world of criminal justice, counselor in the Indiana Department of Corrections and probation officer in the San Francisco domestic abuse and stalking unit.  Wow.  My trips to Safeway would not lead to a novel worth reading.  To me, understanding how Hanna lived his pre-author life is notable because he has penned a psychological thriller set in an Indiana correctional facility involving riotous prisoners holding guards hostage.  Clearly Hanna followed the age old advice to write what you know.  blog

Hanna creates a varied cast of characters including a charismatic pedophile, power hungry guards, rival gangs drawn together by shared ideology, employee unions exercising totalitarian control, and the central character, dorm counselor Tom Hemmings chosen by the prisoners to conduct negotiations during the siege. Hanna does an excellent job of providing the viewpoints of many in the story, never dwelling too long on one character.  Use of flashbacks move the story forward and keep the reader guessing as to the true motives of the individuals.

The book is well written, with dialogue far above what I would have anticipated from a novel set in a prison.  Hanna is a storyteller who demonstrates above average skill at painting a picture with words.  For example:

The light in the kitchen was still burning,  illuminating the crowded bookcase that supported the television set.  He stooped, searching compulsively for something to read, but was uninspired by the contents of the shelves: detective digests, more Harlequin romances, and two narrow hardbacks whose titles – The Land Fish and Father Flanagan, Friend to Youth – convinced him to leave them unopened.

“The Siege” is a complicated, character driven tale of a world most of us will never experience.  Hanna does such a stellar job of detailing this hostage situation, I actually googled to find out if this was based on a true story.  While I could not relate to many of these personalities on a personal level, for the several days I lived inside that prison setting in my head, and appreciated how human nature battles itself and institutional politics, Hanna successfully sold the story.

 

US State Map Challenge – set in Indiana