Into The Water, Paul Hawkins, author; Laura Aikman, Rachel Bavidge, Sophie Aldred, Daniel Weyman, Imogen Church, narrators When the story begins, a young girl is being immersed into “the drowning pool” in order to discover if she is a witch. If she floats, she is one; but if she sinks she is not. Although the child sinks and pleads for them to stop, there are some in the crowd who are merciless. The description of her experience will immediately capture the reader. As the book then enters the present, in the year 2015, the reader discovers that the pool is still the stuff of local legend. Over the years, others have drowned there, either by accident, design or under a cloud of suspicion. The Abbott sisters, Julia and Danielle had been estranged for years because of an incident that occurred in their teens. When one suddenly drowns, the events surrounding her death grow more and more curious. At first, it was believed that while investigating the area, Nell (Danielle) slipped and fell into the water accidentally. She had been conducting research for a book she was planning to publish on the town’s unusual history of drowning deaths and had been at the site of the “drowning pool”. When her sister, Jules, (Julia) returned to become the guardian of her daughter, Lena, the situation became fraught with tension. Lena was defiant; she disliked her aunt immensely based of stories her mom had told her. Aunt Jules was still resentful and angry with her sister, because of how Nell had treated her when they were young. She believed Nell had a mean streak. Jules had been overweight and unattractive. Nell had been a beauty who made fun of her sister. She thought Nell was cruel and designing, and as the investigation into her death began, it became enmeshed in tangential theories which created disharmony in the community and conflict in families. The community wanted their secrets kept. There were a great many characters to sift through as the mystery developed, but each chapter in the book is labeled with the name of a character so that it was relatively easy to sort them out and follow the thread of the story as it proceeded or to refresh one’s memory about the circumstances surrounding each character’s place in the novel. There was a feeling that evil was lurking behind closed doors, and there was definitely an overlay that hinted at elements of the supernatural as some characters appeared to be communicating with the dead who provided them with clues about the unnatural circumstances surrounding some of the deaths. What started out as a simple investigation into the death of Nell Abbott, surrounded by a bit of controversy since her project was widely resented by the residents of the community who did not want the drowning pool’s history published or used for personal gain, soon evolved into a mystery concerning other deaths and affairs of the heart. Many of the characters harbored deep resentments toward each other, and many seemed to be hiding secrets or were withholding information. Because of the existing biases toward some of the townspeople, clues were misinterpreted and false assumptions were made pointing fingers in all different directions, accusing some of crimes they did not commit and misdirecting those involved, preventing them from discovering the truth. The misinterpretation of events created chaos. In the end, there were two connected crimes that were revealed. Both were related peripherally, but they were separated by more than four decades. In the end, the loyalty and devotion of parents and children was examined and the lengths to which a parent would go to protect an offspring was exposed. The narrators were wonderful, creating mind images so that the story played out like theater in the mind. I do have a preference for narrators with British accents, as I find that the Brits seem to portray the characters very well without getting in the way by putting too much of themselves into the story. I have both the audio and a digital copy, without which, I would have been a bit lost because of the different themes and numerous characters introduced. Although I loved the audio, I recommend the print copy for that reason. It is simply easier to refer back to a print copy.
This is a tale about characters that led unconventional lives, following their hearts more often than their heads. It is a powerful story about four women who came from completely different backgrounds, backgrounds charged with controversy and conflict. As young women they made drastic decisions that altered their lives completely. Each one lived in Las Vegas, a city they hoped would allow them to realize their dreams and forgive their own sins.
I recommend that the book be read as if it was four separate novellas. It covers many decades. Each story can really stand on its own; each one is riveting, except perhaps for Engracia’s, the final character introduced, because she is not as fully developed, but she is very important since she is the catalyst that unites them all, in the end. I found that treating each character as separate and apart from the other, it was easier to keep track of who they were and easier to follow the thread of their lives that eventually knitted them all together.
June Stein was a young Jewish girl who was both non-traditional and non-conventional. When she was 19 she entered into an unsuccessful marriage. After a year, she left him. At 21, she ran to Las Vegas to seek a new life. She liked excitement. When she met Odell Dibb, her life took a turn in a different direction. They married and ran his casino, the El Capitan, together. When Del hired Eddie Knox to sing in his casino, her life turned full circle, sucking her into a scandal Del hoped to squelch before it got out. Del and June both loved each other and both accepted each other’s idiosyncratic ways. Both loved Eddie Knox. In the 1940’s, a relationship between a white woman and black man was illegal in Las Vegas.
Coral was an illegitimate child. She was brought up in Las Vegas by Augusta. She wanted to know her true parentage but could not discover anything. She made all sorts of assumptions about her mother and father, but none were realized. Her non-biological family was loving and so she survived the confusion and the “not knowing”. She was of mixed heritage in a time when black/white relationships were forbidden. The woman who raised her, and became her one true mother, was strong and defied the stares of others as she pretended that Coral was her own dear child. Her siblings accepted her and loved her unconditionally. Eventually, Coral fell in love with Koji, a man who was Japanese. Their relationship eventually flourished producing children of mixed race, but the times had changed, and in some places, society accepted their marriage and their offspring.
Honorata was from the Philippines. As a teenager, she fell in love with Kidlat. She ran off with him. He betrayed her, refusing to marry her, and further, he influenced her to make a porn film that brought shame to her and her family. Because of the humiliation, she was forced to leave her home. Her uncle betrayed her. He basically sold her to a man in America named Jimbo. He made Jimbo believe that “Rita” wanted to come to him, that she had been the one corresponding with him, instead of the uncle who was pretending to be her. Jimbo believed that she had been complicit, although she had known nothing of her uncle’s schemes. At first, he had been kind to her and intended to marry her, but when he found out about her past he felt betrayed; he became cruel and would no longer honor his pledge. One day, he decided to take her with him on a visit to Las Vegas. While there, lady luck smiled upon Honorata and she won a major jackpot at the El Capitan. Now Jimbo wanted to marry her, but June explained her rights to her. If they were not married, the money was hers alone. She escaped from Jimbo’s control to begin a new life. When she discovered she was pregnant with his child, she kept it a secret. She believed that he was evil. She did not love him. She wanted to begin again.
Engracia Montoya loved Juan. He loved her, as well. They entered America illegally. They moved to Las Vegas. He was arrested and served time in prison. They had a child, Diego. Juan felt unsafe in America and returned to Mexico, but Engracia wanted a better life for her son and remained in Las Vegas where tragedy struck their lives.
There are several common themes expressed in the narrative. Women’s rights, civil rights, family, infidelity, illegitimate children, civil disobedience, immigration issues, affairs of the heart, secrets and betrayals appear throughout. No life was perfect, but each developed with its own purpose and character. All four women were brave, in their own way. They had dreams and forged their futures independently.
Although the reviews seem to emphasize the importance of the Midnight Room at the club, I thought the women’s backgrounds, choices, decisions and lifestyles spoke far more to me. I have both an ARC and digital version of the book.
Camino Island, John Grisham, author, January LaVoy, narrator
Mr. Grisham has written a book that will work well as a serialized television program once it is spiced up a bit with the romance and violence emphasized. Essentially, priceless manuscripts have been stolen from Princeton University by a gang of five men. The book is about the search for them and their ultimate return to the rightful owner. The very beginning and the very end were more interesting than the middle which was very thin with some brief mentions about the value of rare books and manuscripts and the nefarious behavior that some booksellers engage in as collectors.
There was often too much extraneous information about silly romantic moments, binge drinking, and character backgrounds that added nothing to the story. Many scenes were contrived, emphasizing the emotional dysfunction, rudeness, and alcohol dependence of the writing community. The characters, by and large, appeared either empty headed or overly impressed with their own ability. The women were portrayed very negatively as greedy, rude, sex-seeking shallow individuals. Amorality or immorality was very much alive and well!
The FBI, after their initial success in the investigation, was made out to be a bit incompetent, failing to recognize obvious clues or to pursue obvious leads in a timely way. Stupid errors were made allowing for the crime to actually pay. Insurance companies were driven by greed, not right or wrong. The criminals sometimes seemed to be the brightest bulbs, although some did, although rarely, actually pay a high price for their shady behavior.
Most of the characters were self serving and unlikable, and the story was unbelievable. Basically, it is about a young, out of work writer who is broke and having a dry spell. She is past due on a book for her publisher and in need of money. When approached by an insurance company to help find the stolen manuscripts, she suddenly becomes a well known writer and capable investigator/spy. Although I thought she seemed hopelessly naïve and immature, she is portrayed as competent and sure of herself in very compromising situations. She neither had the experience or talent to be the spy she becomes. I found the story silly, the romance manufactured, the characters shallow, and the relationships totally artificial. The best part about this book was the narrator who gave the weak story vitality.
Once again, it will be a very good television series, but as a book, it left a lot to be desired. This author seems to be writing his books more for the entertainment world than the literary one.
Before We Were Yours: A Novel, Lisa Wingate, author, Catherine Taber, narrator
Based on a horrific truth in our history, this is a story that vacillates between heartbreaking and hopeful. It begins in 1939 with Rill Foss narrating her family history and ends in the present day with Avery Stafford telling her family’s story. It is based on the crimes and cruelty of the very real Georgia Tann and her involvement with the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. According to the author “Georgia Tann was once heralded as the “Mother of Modern Adoption” and was even consulted by Eleanor Roosevelt on matters of child welfare.” Truth is often stranger than fiction!
The early story is about the Foss family: Briny, Queenie, Rill, Lark, Fern, Camellia, and Gabion. The oldest was Rill who was 12. The youngest was Gabe who was 2. Rill was in charge of keeping all of them safe when their dad Briny took their mom Queenie to the hospital to deliver her twins. At that time, the children were all spirited away, basically kidnapped by the police who were working with Georgia Tann. Their parents were tricked into giving them up, unaware that the papers they signed in the hospital gave up their rights to them. The year was 1939 and for the next several decades, each of their lives traveled in different directions. They were taken to an orphanage, eventually adopted and separated. Because the story is based on facts, on a cruel hoax that was actually perpetuated by someone who stole children and made money basically selling them for adoption to wealthy and/or famous people, it steals the heart of the reader. Georgia Tann’s prominence kept the truth about her adoption scheme from coming out for at least three decades, from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. The cruelty to which the children were subjected often resulted in tragedy. They were fed poorly, treated very unkindly, often abused in the most awful ways and punished unmercifully, except on those occasions when they were cleaned up and paraded out for adoption. The stories about their backgrounds were made up out of whole cloth, and their names were changed to prevent them from being traced and retaken by their birth parents. Hospital staff and law enforcement was often in collusion with her. Records were sealed to prevent the discovery of the truth. Oddly enough, some of the children were actually rescued from abusive homes and many of the stolen children did relatively well in later life, in spite of what they experienced; some were adopted by decent families, some by prominent families; but some also suffered in their new environments. Some achieved an education and life they would not have otherwise been able to, but nothing can change the fact that they were basically kidnapped and ransomed to strangers leaving their families in despair.
The present day story takes place when Avery Stafford meets May Crandall in a nursing home. She is struck by the difference in the level of care that her grandmother receives in another facility, but pleased that this place is well staffed and well maintained. When May mistakes her for someone else, the wheels begin to turn that lead to the discovery of her grandmother’s secret past. Although she is warned to let sleeping dogs lie, in order to protect the reputation of her father, a Senator up for reelection, and her own political future, she keeps trying to unravel the mystery. When she does, it changes her life’s path in almost as dramatic a way as that of the Foss children after leaving the Arcadia. Her investigation uncovers the story of the Foss children and her family’s involvement and connection to their lives. Will the ramifications of uncovering the truth be worth it?
I have read some reviews that said the author missed the mark in some aspects of the book, but I can't help feeling that those reviews may have been written by men who identify with books on a different emotional level. I felt totally immersed in the lives of all the characters and felt as if I knew each and every one on a personal level. The audio narrator portrayed each voice authentically and with just the right amount of accent and emotion. I highly recommend this website for further very enlightening information.
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, author, Bahni Turpin, narrator
Starr and her brothers straddle two worlds. In one world there is a strict code of behavior and an excellent education with kids from wealthy families and in the other there are gangs and drive-by shootings and poverty. Starr lives in the ghetto and attends school in a bubble neighborhood of privilege. Her mom is a nurse and her dad, Maverick, runs a market where Starr helps out. He is an ex convict. He covered for another gang member who would have been a three time loser, sacrificed himself, and spent three years in prison. He is respected and has a lot of positive influence in his ghetto community of Garden Heights. He has no intention of ever going back to prison.
Starr is a senior at Williamson, a posh private school. She has created two personalities for herself. One is her ghetto half in Garden Heights, and the other is the one she takes to Williamson. The two worlds do not mix and even her mode of speech changes from place to place. What is cool in one place is definitely not cool in the other. No one in the private school world knows much about the Starr from the ghetto, not even her boyfriend Chris, a very wealthy white teenager who is also a senior. She keeps the two worlds separate and apart, unwilling to expose both sides of her self in either place, unwilling to expose herself to ridicule.
Chris’s world is completely different from Starr’s. Her house could fit into one of the rooms in his house! He took her to the prom in a Rolls Royce. He believes that they have been totally honest with each other and is surprised when he learns that he knew so little about her, that her world is so different from his. He is hurt when he discovers the secrets she has kept from him. When he learns that her ten year old friend, Natasha, was murdered in a drive by shooting, and that she witnessed the recent shooting death of Khalil, her close friend, by a police officer, he wants to be there for her, but she is not sure she wants him to let him into her worldview or to experience her lifestyle.
The author highlights the differences in the lives of Starr and her family when compared to her private school friends. How can the differences, injustices and misunderstandings in our “bubble” communities be addressed? Why are there so many misinterpretations and over-reactions by those in the two communities and those charged with protecting them? Why do police officers assume that a person of color is immediately suspect? Why do minorities distrust authority? I haven’t walked in the shoes of those who live in oppressed neighborhoods, although I am part of a minority, as a Jew. My background’s oppression has been different, although horrific as well. I don’t believe that I can fully comprehend the mindset or the prejudice that exists in poor minority communities. I haven’t watched as my friends were harassed by law enforcement or seen their unarmed friends senselessly gunned down. Living “while black” is not a condition a white person can understand or judge alone. For an honest assessment of the issues and concerns presented in this book and perhaps an honest approach to changing them, an honest dialogue between all parties is required, honest being the watchword. Some responsibility exists on all sides of the dilemma and must be acknowledged.
I had questions, as I read, that still remain unanswered, questions that a person of color might mock, i.e. why would a black person want to sound uneducated to be cool? Why is that cool? I wanted to lose my Jewish inflection as fast as I could so that I would fit in with the mainstream of America and open locked doors. Why wouldn’t a person of color dress for success? I can understand why some turn to lives of crime, almost as if they have no choice, because they need money, but why do so many turn to a life of crime? Why are the gangs in charge? Why is education mocked? Why is crime glorified in the so-called “hood?” How did the gangs get so much control that even the residents live in fear of them? Why are policeman so afraid in those neighborhoods, that when they are confronted, they become trigger happy? As a white person, I can’t answer those questions? My initial impulse is to respect authority, not to ignore it, to obey police officers and not to defy them. So if I am told to stop, I stop. If they tell me to keep my hands in one place, that is where my hands stay, if they speak to me in a way that I do not like, I generally swallow my pride and hold my tongue, I do not run because I am afraid to show defiance or resist their authority, but I am not afraid that I will be shot or hauled off because of my color.
The author has left me with the impression that the teenager was wrongfully murdered and had no responsibility in the outcome that took his life. His personal behavior seemed to have no bearing on what happened and was not interpreted to represent a threat to the officer. Only he was guilty, period. It didn’t help that the officer was portrayed as a blatant liar. The author wanted the reader to believe that the officer was totally guilty and the victim totally innocent. I believe that there has to be some gray area between the black and white of guilt or innocence.
The community wanted respect, once and for all, and when a verdict came down that they disapproved of, that wasn’t what they expected or hoped for, they took to the streets looting and rioting. Then when the police came to maintain order, they cried police brutality. If respect was demanded from the police, why wasn’t it also given to the police? If unlawful behavior like looting and rioting was the common practice everywhere, our society would be chaotic, and law enforcement would be completely powerless. Anarchy would prevail. There would be no safe space for anyone. Why, in protest, should a neighborhood’s lifeblood be destroyed to show disappointment? Why disabuse the merchants of their positive reasons to serve the community by destroying their investments?
Still, overall, I found the novel to be eye-opening. No one deserves to be murdered by a policeman or a rival gang member, but the aura of false bravado that is being elevated to acceptable standards seems to be a false solution. The author has done a wonderful job of showing how a community can come together to fight against what is destroying it. She reveals and explores the layers of distrust that exist. I don’t think enough emphasis was placed on the broad fear that the police officers’ have for their own safety. Denying the reality of the danger in their community won’t correct the situation that exists, let alone eradicate the outright bias on both sides. Still, beyond the shadow of a doubt shooting an unarmed man is problematic, but what should a policeman do, if his authority is mocked, if he is disobeyed and fears for his own life? Should he presume someone running away is innocent of criminal behavior? Should he let the suspect get away? I wondered which came first, the community’s fear of law enforcement or law enforcement’s fear of the community. Then I had one final thought, if a policeman is harassing a victim, does the victim have the right to fight back and if so, how?
The author’s political persuasion was pretty obvious, even though the dialogue in the book was subtle. She referred to one news network that she thought was prejudiced, and it was easy to guess which one it was. Why is an alternate opinion so difficult to accept and address? How can the problem be resolved if it is unaddressed?
The “hate u give” of the title refers to the idea that the minority community is underserved. It does not prepare anyone for a successful future. So, why is it that when alternatives are offered, there is resistance, especially if it is not offered by the left? Why not improve conditions regardless of how the offer is advanced?
I hope this book opens up some meaningful dialogue to help bring all people to the fount of success. This book cries out for discussion. In some ways it was flawed, i.e., the interracial nature of the relationship was really shown as a problem for Starr’s family, while Chris’ got barely a mention. He seemed to have pretty much free range to date whomever he pleased. However, overall, the main message of the story seemed authentic as it represented the collision of two disparate worlds. The narrator expertly portrayed each character in terms of personality and dialect and I was truly immersed in the book, feeling all of the emotions of the characters, all of the tension and all of the frustration. What I didn’t feel so much were the kumbaya moments.
The unimaginable, blatant corruption involving blackmail, theft of records, possibly murder, certainly payoffs is mind boggling and is evidence of that same kind of entitled liberal behavior we are witnessing today. To gain control, it would seem that nothing is beyond the pale. The fixing of elections, falsely attacking opponents and arranging positive personal publicity has been a long standing practice in the politics of the Kennedy family, and now, it seems it has spread to the party at large. The Kennedy’s obviously believed that they were above the law, and their contacts insured that they were able to project and maintain that image. They slept with strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively. Somehow, their money and influence controlled all of the powers that be and their willing co-conspirators, a team of “good old boys”, went along with all of their schemes. Their friends were in high places, and they respected and revered the Kennedy name, yet it would seem, in retrospect, that it was an undeserved homage. The book centers its focus on the scandals of the Kennedys and all of the people associated with them. They lived their lives with abandon, chewing up people and discarding them. They disregarded the laws that most people feel compelled to obey. Drugs and alcohol, sex in any form, and outright lies, seemed to be de rigueur for all of them. There was no law that was inviolable, no rule that they wouldn’t break, no lie that was beyond them in order to protect themselves or each other. There certainly was honor among those “thieves”. They seemed impervious to normal standards of decorum. For me, the worst observation about their lifestyles was the fact that those who could have exposed them for what they really were, actually supported their horrific behavior; they were actually in cahoots with them, colluded with them to protect them from scrutiny and appropriate verdicts and sentencing even when laws were broken beyond the shadow of a doubt; they prevented them from being punished and their victims from attaining appropriate retribution and justice. They painted a picture of the Kennedy’s that was indeed a fairytale, that truly was a fictional Camelot, but surely it did not exist in America. Yet the myth pervaded the country, especially after the death of JFK. They and the people surrounding them were dishonest, corrupt and corruptible. They were sycophants, plain and simple; but how could there have been so many, so willing to cover for them for their own fifteen minutes of fame? There are secrets revealed in this book that are titillating, but today these same kinds of stories are not secrets, but are worn as badges of honor. President Clinton wore his badge named Monica Lewinski among others, without real detriment, and he still enjoys the praise and respect of his party and his followers, even as they cast aspersions and condemn those who have done far less. The Democrats were apparently corrupt for years under the Kennedy dynasty’s leadership, fixing affairs of the heart, hiding affairs of the heart and arranging affairs of the heart. They dealt with anyone who could advance their causes, bar none, and that may be ultimately what brought them down, in the end. You lie with dogs, you do get up with fleas. The patriarch, Joe Kennedy was the worst one. Among other things he was a bigot. He began the crusade of lies, secrets and threats that invaded the family history. He used his money to buy influence and peddle it. He bought the office in the Senate for his son and later the Presidency as well. Still, those on the left don’t own up to this charade and still honor the memory of the Kennedys as superheroes, even though they were no better, in retrospect, than the mob. They were thugs. They were lords of the manor and had their own personal fiefdom. They also had more than their share of tragedy. This first of a two volume tell-all book, will be an eye opener and a shocker for most readers who were brought up with the absolute fairytale idea of Camelot and JFK. Their collusion with mobsters, the bribes and the strong arm tactics they used seem quite truthfully, horrifying, and even more so today, because they are the stuff of reality, not fiction. One has to wonder if this kind of corruption continues. I am not sure that this book will be fully comprehended by those who have no real knowledge of politics in Massachusetts. In some cases, it felt as if the author assumed everyone who was going to read it was from Massachusetts and was familiar with the commonplace corruption and shenanigans still ongoing today in the party as a whole, a party that has, by and large, not played by the rules for years, as evidenced by their underhanded tactics in our most recent Presidential election of Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. The book is not a fast read because there is so much “dirt”, that turns out to be real that it is hard to absorb it all at once. On a practical note, I thought the heft of the book itself was too heavy, and it made it hard to handle easily. My advice for the second volume is to try and use paper stock that is lighter and more pliable. Also, since I couldn’t recognize all of the cartoon caricatures on the cover, I suggest they print a name underneath, or include a footnote identifying them. Also, after attending a very entertaining presentation of the book by Howie Carr and then reading the book, I realized he presented too much about the book in the public forum, so that when reading it, it felt repetitive. It would be better if he simply hinted at information in the book because exposing it with a detailed powerpoint presentation. It almost made it unnecessary to read the book, and it would be a shame if it didn’t get the readership it deserves.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, author; Joanne Whalley, Dennis Boutsikaris, Rosalyn Landor, Martin Jarvis, Robin Atkin Downes, Jim Ward, narrators
Does Vlad Tepes, Count Dracula still live? That is the subject of this book. The reader will travel all over the world with the characters as the search for his tomb begins. Will it be discovered?
Professor Bartholomew Rossi has decided to revisit his research on Dracula. He advises Paul, a graduate student, who has come to him to ask about an odd book containing a dragon symbol that he has suddenly discovered in his possession. It turns out that the book is related to Rossi’s research on Vlad Tepes. He also has a little blank book with a dragon symbol on it. He begins to explain his research to Paul and gives him some papers to read on the subject. When Rossi suddenly disappears under suspicious circumstances, Paul searches for him, and in the course of events, he meets the Professor’s illegitimate daughter, Helen Rossi, from Romania. Together, they both try and find the missing professor before it is too late, albeit for different reasons. They fear he will be terminally infected by Dracula and condemned to the life of the undead. Their search takes them to several countries and places where they believe Vlad Tepes may have been buried, where they believe he has hidden the professor. They believe that Dracula still lives. Will they be successful?
Years later, Paul is traveling with his daughter. When he suddenly leaves her a note telling her to return home, but does not tell her where he has gone, which is totally out of character, she searches through his papers. The secrets she discovers are intriguing and she sets out to attempt to find him. She believes that he may be in danger. Apparently he is searching for her mother, yet she believes her mother is dead. She did not know anything about her, however, until she found letters and papers that her father had hidden away and never shared with her. Will she find her father? Will he find her mother?
There are three parallel stories that are covered. One takes place when Paul is a student, searching for his professor, one takes place when his daughter is a high school student searching for him as he searches for her mother, and than a third takes place, years later as his daughter, now a professional herself, discovers an odd book is suddenly in her possession.
Although the story is not believable, it is well written and very interesting as Dracula’s history is related. I was drawn into it. In my audio, there were several narrators, all of whom I enjoyed. I found it advantageous to have different voices for each character, which kept them distinct. For science fiction fans, this book will be a treat.
David Sedaris has compiled a book consisting of his diary entries from 1977 to 2002. This is the first volume. A second is to follow. In the past, I have appreciated his dry humor and enjoyed his poignant stories. This audio book, however, was beyond my ability to complete. Although he reads it well, in his deadpan manner, the subject matter and language is simply too low class and vulgar; the people he encounters and describes are simply all bottom feeders. Everyone is troubled, doped up, hostile and violent. He denigrates everyone on the basis of color, religion and sexual orientation. His portrayal of his life experiences in the first 2 ½ hours that I was able to listen to him was beyond what would be acceptable in polite company. I am not sure why he selected the particular incidents he did, perhaps for shock effect, but for me, it really fell flat. The content simply got too gross. Perhaps someone more open minded will enjoy it. Perhaps as the author gets more mature and more grounded, with a realistic direction for his life, his entries in the diaries will be more palatable, rather than a sample of a variety of trashy anecdotes which are unpleasant to learn about. For those faint of heart, stay clear.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar, David Grossman, author; Joe Barrett, narrator, Jessica Cohen, translator
The book is well written, but I don’t think it will be universally enjoyed. I believe it is for a narrow audience that is familiar with Jewish humor and its universal ideas about guilt and shame. A stand-up comedian in his mid fifties, Dov Greenstein, is performing in a small nightclub that seems a bit second rate, in Netanya, Israel. He has invited a former school chum, a judge, to attend his performance as a special favor. He has not seen Ashivai Lazar for years, but he has followed his career. Dov has asked Ashivai to come to his performance and tell him honestly how he perceives him. In the audience, possibly by chance, there is also a woman who was a neighbor of his from his childhood. She is now a manicurist and a medium. He calls her Pitz. Each of these three characters has a defining characteristic which is important to the story. How does each of them “see” Dovela? How do they see themselves?
I did not find the story funny, although it features Dov’s entire stand up routine of the night. Interspersed between jokes Dovela relates’s, the background of his life. The two characters who knew him are privy to some of his memories and are affected by them, but the audience experiences frustration when the jokes stop and the monologue grows serious. Some get up and leave, some become drawn to his story. Readers will experience the same ups and downs. All will be forced to think about how things are perceived and how that perception shapes their lives and the lives of others.
This odd little book examines how we all see each other and ourselves. It examines how that perception effects how we all turn out. The humor is often dark and inappropriate. Dr. Mengele, “the angel of death” from the Holocaust Concentration Camp, Aushwitz, is referred to as his family doctor. His mother was a survivor who did not survive wholly well. It is intimated that she is emotionally unstable. Dov walked on his hands to escape from reality and to protect his mother from the stares of others. It drew attention away from her making him the subject of ridicule, instead. It offered him a way to escape from his life, as well. Upside down, he was smiling, not frowning. His father was a brute who physically abused him.
Dov’s jokes and language are crude, even vulgar. His physical description is unpleasant. His performance concerns subjects we don’t usually consider funny. He jokes about cancer, the Holocaust, death, sex and a horse that walks into a bar, which is a joke begun by a driver who is taking him to the funeral of someone who has not yet been identified to him, but he knows there has been some kind of a tragedy he will have to experience against his will.
All three of the people that the story focuses on have had difficulties because of how people saw them, without really seeing them. They made people uncomfortable. Was this performance meant to expose the shared frailties of everyone? He wonders what people think of when they see him! Do they really see him? Do we all wonder about that? I would describe the book as a comedy/tragedy. The reader will decide which takes precedence.
The Women in the Castle, Jessica Shattuck, author; Cassandra Campbell, narrator
I won this book from Early Reviewers on librarything.com, and I am so glad I did. What a relief it was to read a book that made me laugh, chuckle or smile on every page, a book I hated to put down because it was such a pleasure to read.
As this short novel explores the kindergarten year in the life of Maximilian Dixon through his mom’s hilarious portrayal of the class mom, the personalities and relationships she encounters are examined and exposed with all of the human frailties “that flesh is heir to”. Jen Dixon is the class mom extraordinaire, although at first that is not a universal opinion. The reader will witness the interaction of all of the Dixons, with their friends, fellow kindergarten parents, kindergarten children and their teacher. Life’s little pleasures will pop out of the story in expected and unexpected places. If nothing else, the book surely proves that we are all young inside our heads, no matter how old we are on the outside, and we all have our little secrets and dreams. It will prove that our lives shine no brighter than when we are happy and taking life in stride.
Jen Dixon is lucky and she knows it. She is enjoying the dessert of her life, as she describes her youngest child, five year old Max, who has just begun kindergarten. She has two older daughters who are already away in college. Her friend Nina who heads up the PTA has leaned on her to become a class mom. She certainly has had world class experience having been one for both her daughters. She provides a laugh a minute with her sarcastic emails, requests and expectations of the other moms, although some take umbrage at her style and do not laugh at all.
Anyone who has ever been a class mom or school volunteer will nod in agreement compulsively as Jen relates her activities and the pages fly by; they will find their lips turning up into a knowing smile as requests are made and duties are performed. Anyone who hasn’t had any experience in being a class mom will thoroughly enjoy her experiences vicariously, taking pleasure in being a voyeur into the life of Jen Dixon as she navigates her home life as a wife and mother and her outside life with all of its various temptations!
Max’s teacher is unusual. She presents a persona that alternates between a sex pot and a puritan. She is full of surprises, and she confounds some of the parents when they try to understand her. There is a parent and a child who never appear for the entire year; no one has met them! There are show offs, flirts and chronic complainers; in short, the book presents a picture that represents a slice of all of our lives, warts and all. The novel was nostalgic for me. It took me back to my days of being a school parent, my PTA days, my fundraising days, school party days and play date days. It reminded me of the camaraderie of neighbors, of watching each other’s children, of car pools and overnight sleepovers. It also reminded me of the friction that sometimes displayed itself which was followed by unity and friendships that blossomed when necessary to support a common cause. It brought back memories of happy children, school yards and school dances. The book reminded me of the dessert of my life.
Jen Dixon was what every parent might want to be even though she could be abrasive at times, because her tongue in cheek dialogue and messages were genuine, she was sincere. She spoke her mind; she was involved, and she was really a nice person when you scratched her surface. She was a joy to discover.
Shadow Man, Alan Drew, author, Will Damron, narrator
There are two major themes running parallel in this novel. One is about serious abuse by a parent, and the other is about serious sexual abuse, of women and of minors. At the hands of authority figures, minors are often confused about what is acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior. Women are often overpowered by men who go unpunished for their behavior. Irresponsible, reprehensible parenting often goes unnoticed or unreported. Ultimately, all abuse has serious consequences for its victims. Hopefully, there will also be serious consequences for the perpetrators of such heinous and criminal behavior. There is a third more subtle theme about illegal immigration and the plight of the families.
On one side of the equation is a child who has been seriously abused and totally neglected by his father. He was kept locked in a basement for six years. Although someone had to have known something evil was going on in his house, no one spoke up to encourage an investigation which would have stopped the child from being tormented and destroyed. He grew up hoping to be set free, wanting to escape from his prison of darkness in the basement; he grew up angry; he grew up severely damaged. He grew up very disturbed, mentally and stunted physically. His childhood memories haunted him. He learned to live in both the world of the present and the world of his past with detrimental consequences. His childhood self was in control of his evil behavior. He enjoyed experiencing the fear of others because it helped consume his own. He lived a secret life. Who witnessed his torment? Why did they keep silent?
On the other side of the equation we have Ben. He and his wife Rachel have shared custody of their only child, Emma. They were once high school sweethearts. Ben had been a star swimmer as a high school student, but not a star son. His father had died when he was thrown from a horse while they were both out riding. Although he was only a young child, Ben felt responsible. When his mom remarried, he did not get along with his stepfather. He threw himself into swimming, and his high school swim coach became his mentor and father figure. However, his experiences during those teenage formative years led Ben to want to escape, and he altered the course of his life when he gave up swimming. He continued to suffer mental anguish from his memories. He harbored secrets that he was too ashamed to share with anyone. What happened to Ben? Was anyone aware of his teenage suffering? If so, why did they remain silent?
While the abused child lived in the shadows after he was freed from his basement hell, Ben chose to live in the public eye as a decorated police officer. When his quiet California neighborhood was terrorized by a serial killer on the loose, Ben was called in to investigate it. With the Medical Examiner, Natasha, who had her own secrets, he discovered clues that could lead him not only to the serial killer, but also to face his memories that have haunted his subconscious since his teenage years. The story is mostly about these two men. One turns to murder, the other to fighting crime. One turns to madness, the other tries hard to remain sane. Both men suffer from their personal ordeals, both are haunted by their memories or should I say nightmares.
The author does a good job of getting inside the heads of the tormented and the tormentors. I thought that some parts of the story seemed to parallel the sadism often found in Stephen King novels. The author seriously proved the point that how you are treated really affects how you turn out. Cowards do not face their problems and confront them. Brave people do face them and deal with them. They do not turn a blind eye to evil, hoping someone else will address it. They deal with it even when it means they must face humiliation and shame to correct it. They do what they must to prevent others from suffering the same ill gotten fate. Secrets create problems that cannot be resolved. Adults must be the examples.
The narrator portrayed each character well. The reader feels the tension created and anticipates the action that is coming at them, sustaining their continued interest.
I read an uncorrected proof of this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. The writer has a knack for keeping the reader hungry for more. I didn’t want to rush to the end because I so enjoyed the story’s evolution.
It is the year 2012. An infant’s skeleton has been discovered at a construction site. Whose baby is it? How did it get there? There are so many questions raised, but there are no answers. The novel revolves around the lives of four women united in some way by this terrible event.
Angela is mourning the loss of her baby, although it occurred almost three decades ago. Shortly after she gave birth, she decided to have a shower. She left the baby sleeping in the room for only 10 minutes, but when she returned, the baby, Alice, was gone. How could a baby disappear in the safest place, the hospital? The baby was never found, and Angela was never the same. Could this baby’s skeleton be her daughter?
Emma is childless. Her husband is much older than she is, and he worries about her when he sees her growing more and more distracted. When she learns of the baby’s discovery at a building renovation site, it throws her completely off balance. She grows more and more concerned about the child who was buried at the site and cannot do her work properly. She is a book editor. Her husband worries about her mental state because she has had severe emotional problems in the past. He worries that she may have a relapse.
Jude is Emma’s mother. She is very selfish. She was once a practicing lawyer. Emma does not know her father. She and her mom had been estranged for years, but Emma reached out to her mom and they reconciled. About two decades before, Jude had sent teenaged Emma to live with her grandparents. Emma was threatening her relationship with Will, the man she professed to love. However, Emma hated him, and Jude would not let her come between them. She chose Will over her daughter. What kind of a mother would do that?
Kate is an investigative journalist. She is having some family problems. Her son dropped out of school, and he now wants to travel to Phuket. She has her own problems as well. When she reads about the baby she is completely intrigued. She wants to find out everything she can and begins to pursue information from her sources and contacts. She attempts to contact and visit the tenants who live on the street where the baby’s remains were found. The trail leads her in many different directions. As it twists and turns to the conclusion, surprises unfold often.
All four women have a secret that they harbor in their hearts from the outside world. Rape and abuse were crimes that went undiscovered. All four will make major discoveries about themselves and each other as the baby’s identity is sought.
The chapters are short and keep the suspense heightened. It bounces from one character to another revealing bits and pieces slowly to the reader so that the reader is never overwhelmed but always drawn back into the story.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, author; Cathleen McCarron, narrator
Eleanor Oliphant can only be described as somewhat strange and unlikable when you are first introduced to her. She seemed to be neurotic and unapproachable. Although she seemed quite intelligent, she was socially unskilled, often abrupt, always formal, and usually abrasive. She rarely thought before she spoke and her judgments of others were sometimes painfully critical, showing little regard for their feelings. She interpreted everything literally, but seemed naïve or completely unaware of how her responses were affecting those with whom she interacted at work or in public places. She seemed unaware of most things that others took for granted, like concerts and McDonald’s. What a manicure entailed was foreign to her. Her hair hung down to her waist and had not been cut for years. She required little in the way of vanity.
The narrative hints at some evil doing in her past, but it rolls out slowly as the story evolves and nothing is elaborated or explained until very late in the book, although, early on, it is obvious that Eleanor’s childhood home life was not stellar. She had little memory of her past, although she might be unconsciously refusing to bring it to the light of day. She had been abused, and as a child she learned exactly how she was expected to behave at the hands of a very disturbed parent. She carried the same lessons into adulthood, and she spent most of her time alone seeking refuge and company from the vodka bottle rather than other human contacts. She was friendless, except for a plant that was a childhood gift. She had no physical contact with any other human being. She followed the same routine, day in and day out. She did not believe that she was worthy of respect, but rather she believed she was incapable of success or of having a normal happy life. In addition, her face was somewhat scarred from a previous event in her life which is not revealed until late in the book. Early on, though, it became obvious that her mother was and she had an adversarial relationship. It was she who was responsible for Eleanor’s lack of confidence and odd behavior. Although at first she was not a character that you became endeared to, by the end, as she blossomed with the help of her friend and co-worker, she became a far more sympathetic figure.
This co-worker, Raymond, was walking with her, one day, as they left their place of work. Although she was trying not to encourage this conversation, when they both suddenly witnessed an elderly man taking a bad spill in the street, Raymond insisted they help the unconscious man. He ran over to see what he could do. Eleanor wanted to flee the scene and mind her business. She did not like social interaction and preferred total privacy. Soon, however, Raymond shamed her into helping him and a friendship of sorts developed between the two of them and, eventually, the family of the man they helped to rescue. It was about this same time that Eleanor discovered a musician that struck her fancy, and she fantasized a love affair and life with him sometime in the future. She convinced herself that it was written in the stars for both of them to be together. She was sure that once he met her he would be as smitten with her as she was with him.
It felt like a tragic story, but Eleanor and Raymond brought a certain amount of humor and levity to the novel with their camaraderie. Often Eleanor’s comments were so outrageous, they filled the pages with an awesome, unintended wit. She had no understanding of the nuance of certain of her remarks. As she began to “come of age”, with the help of her first, and pretty much only, friend Raymond, she experienced a period of self-discovery and began to remake herself, finally letting go of her painful past and welcoming others into her life; She discovered that she might not be so bad after all. She morphed from a wallflower that remained outside the perimeter of life, into a more communicative human being as she learned how to share feelings and experience emotions and love, without fear.
Her character was completely and authentically developed by the author. She began as a kind of tragic heroine but with Raymond's kind heart and his attention and friendship, which he almost forced upon her, Eleanor discovered her own heart and capabilities and saw a path to happiness.
One lesson of the novel is that relationships can be both positive and negative and can change the outcome of a life if allowed to flourish for either good or evil. It is up to you to improve your circumstances and leave excuses behind. The positive support and concern of professionals, friends and family is very important and influential!
The Shadow Land, Elizabeth, Kostova, Author; Barrie Kreinik, Fred Berman, Barbara Caruso, George Guidall, Narrators
It is springtime in 2008 when Alexandra Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria, to begin teaching at the Central English Institute. She looked forward to being there because she and her brother Jack had often played a game in which they picked a place they would love to travel to, and this was the place he had loved. After an argument with him, while hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains with their parents, he disappeared and was never found. At the time, he was 16, and she was 14 years old. Her thoughts of him are often complicated and emotional.
As the story unfolds over a period of several days, it alternates between her youthful memories of growing up in North Carolina and her present day experiences in Bulgaria. She is now 26 years old, and she is standing in front of a hotel in a country she does not know, where they speak a language she does not understand. She is in a quandary. Her taxi driver has taken her to the wrong place.
As she stood looking up the steps of this unknown, foreign hotel, she spied a few people having some difficulty descending. One of them was in a wheelchair and was quite infirm. A woman she presumed was his wife, stood behind him. A younger man, she presumed was their son, was trying to figure out how to negotiate the stairs with both of them and their luggage. Attracted by that handsome younger man’s demeanor, she offered to help and hurried to their sides. The younger man, Nevin, spoke some English. After their taxi pulled away, she discovered that she was still in possession of one of their bags, a bag which turned out to contain the remains of a cremation. Since Nevin had mentioned that they were going to a monastery, she assumed they were going there in order to bury the urn with the remains of someone called Stoyan Lazarov. She was determined to try and return the urn to them. With the help of another taxi driver, an enigmatic young man named Bobby, she begins her pursuit of the family.
The search for the rightful owners of the urn begins in earnest as they traverse many countrysides and roads in Bulgaria, in what seems to be an unending, unfruitful effort to return the bag and its contents to the Lazarovs. The search often seems to put them in danger. It also seems to endanger the others they have come in contact with who try to help them. Soon there are some violent and frightening moments.
Some parts of the book are much more interesting than others. The first half of the book seems to be about Alex and Bobby and their backgrounds. The second part is about the family that owns the urn and the man whose ashes are in the urn. It was the history of Bulgaria that drew me in and kept me interested when I might have given up on the book. There were several descriptions about the brutality of the Communists after they took over Bulgaria at the end of World War II. Their prison camps and the false accusations and charges presented against the accused will surely remind the reader of the very violence and ferocious viciousness and sadism of the Nazis that they had just defeated. Still, knowing that the Bulgarians had sided with the Nazis, at first, gave me mixed feelings of sympathy for their plight.
Eventually, all of the loose ends are knitted together and the mystery of the bag and its owners is resolved, but it takes a bit too long. The dialog of one of the main characters about his horrendous experience in captivity is too drawn out, too descriptive, and often repetitive. Also, since several characters are telling a piece of the background, it adds to the redundancy of certain parts of the story. I found Alexandra’s character to often be annoying. She tended to melodrama and overly emotional responses. Bobby, on the other hand, seemed more authentic and stable. As the story moves back and forth between the narratives of the different important characters, it also sometimes grew confusing as to where and when the action was taking place. Still, the author does have a way of painting visual images with her sentences which made the book a worthwhile read.
Except for the moments of overdone melodrama, the narrators did a very good job of portraying the individual characters, although a few times, the voice of a character changed suddenly and seemed to become a different character, although the character speaking had not actually changed. Perhaps the age of the character being presented had changed from young adult to older adult or the time had changed from the present to the past, but in those parts of the narrative, it was hard to determine what had just occurred!
House of Names, Colm Toibin, author; Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson, Pippa Nixon, narrators
I really enjoyed the narration of this short novel about a famous Greek myth. In order to retain power and success in battle, Agamemnon has arranged for the murder of his own first born daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods who have demanded it. The elders agree that this must be done to save their own lives and protect their families. They agree to tear asunder his family and to take the life of an innocent young girl to save their own. This they believe will turn the tide of battle in their favor. So begins a cycle of deception and violence.
Clytemnestra was deceived into preparing her daughter to be the bride of Achilles. Unwittingly, she brought her daughter to her place of slaughter. When her husband, Agamemnon, returns victorious after battle, she is ready to take action to avenge her daughter’s death. Clytemnestra teams up with a prisoner, Aegisthus, to carry out her deed. One murder leads to another in a cycle of violence and betrayal.
Meanwhile, Elektra, sister to Iphigenia, draws her own conclusions about her sister’s death, blaming her mother. Orestes knows his father ordered her murder, but is unaware of anything else that has happened. Both sister and brother have been temporarily neutralized by order of Aegisthus and are imprisoned.
As Toibin reimagines how these characters feel and react, the reader is drawn into the palace and their lives. The secrets that are kept and the deceptions that are planned lead to more and more confusion, rumor and disloyalty. Toibin breathes life into their introspection and behavior.
In this retelling of the story, the characters deal with all the pain of human suffering and the duplicity of those around them. The narrators brought them to life as their performance was not only insightful, but their portrayals felt genuine. I could actually see the shade of Clytemnestra walking in the corridor, feel the blade plunge into the neck of Agamemnon, hear the cries of Iphigenia as she was brought to the slaughter, feel the fear of Orestes as he tried to pretend to be brave and grown up when he was kidnapped and didn’t fully understand his position, and the deceitfulness of Elektra as she carried out her own plans.
I wondered how it would have turned out if Orestes had been a more active participant in the entire process of the palace intrigue. Although he is not, and is rather an observer forced to be on the sidelines, it felt to me like Orestes was the dupe, the foil, the Job like character who was the catalyst for bringing about the events that would take them all into the future. At the end of the novel, there is a germ of greater freedom planted and the yoke of slavery begins to be questioned.
Each character modeled his/her behavior on someone who may or may not have been worthy. Power was constantly changing hands. Fealty was questioned, people were murdered. Elektra’s character was hard to read as she seemed to be part heroine and part villain, as did Aegisthus and even Leander. Orestes seemed to be caught in the trap each laid. I believe the author has done a wonderful job of reimagining this myth, making the inner workings and feelings of the palace and the characters real, rather than objects of imagination.
I am not sure if it is as good a read in a print book, but as an audio, I found it captivating. I could not stop listening and felt regret when I was forced to put it down for awhile by other earthly needs.