Sunday, June 26, 2011


Faith: A Novel
by Jennifer Haigh, read by Therese Plummer, Harper Audio Productions, 10 hours, 4 minutes, May 2011

...the author gets these characters pitch perfect.

Faith is billed as a story about the sexual abuse scandals in the US Catholic church, but it’s really a family drama with the abuse scandal as a key part. Set in 2002 in the Boston diocese, ground zero for the scandal in the US, this story centers on the McGann Family- a lace curtain Irish brood with a myriad of dysfunctional behaviors. Sheila, the daughter has been long estranged from most of the family but has remained close to her elder brother Art, a popular pastor in a suburban Boston church. Sheila’s younger brother Mike and her parents Ted and Mary round out the family. Sheila returns to Boston when her brother is accused of sexual abuse of a child from his parish. Sheila finds her mother in denial, her brother Mike believing his brother guilty and Father Art himself strangely reluctant to defend himself from the accusations. Sheila arrives in Boston convinced of her brother’s innocence but slowly that faith wavers.

This is a character driven novel with some mystery to it. Sheila narrates the story and presents a slow but steady stream of information that is enlightening. The descriptions and back story of each of the family members is fascinating and helps explain the behaviors of these folks. The author gets it just right. The mother Mary is a deeply repressed soul unable to cope with situations that don’t fall within her very straight-laced world view. The role of her alcoholic husband and his slow steady decline to a shell of himself is tragically told. Mike, the younger brother very different from Father Art is impulsive in all things. The most interesting character for me was Father Art. His boyhood, entry into the priesthood and parish activities are examined. I can’t help but feel that there were a number of younG boys  like Art who ended up as priests with no idea exactly how they made that life choice. Don’t want to give away too much of the plot here but let me say that the author gets these characters pitch perfect. While I don’t exactly know people who would match up to this family, I have seen parts of these personalities in a number of people I know. This story takes a look at the abuse scandal from a very different view and actually left me with some compassion for all of the victims here.

I listened to an audio reading of this book by Therese Plummer. It was a very good production and I’d recommend it.

I listened to an audio copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
by Karl Marlantes, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, Blackstone Audio, April, 2010

Don’t miss this one!

Matterhorn is a memorable novel. Parts of it will stay in my head for a long, long time. It is the story of Waino Mellas, a newly minted Marine second lieutenant and the men of Bravo Company. Amazingly, the book covers only the first three months of Mellas’s thirteenth month tour in Vietnam. Mellas narrates the story. The writing is so authentic I had to keep reminding myself that is was a work of fiction. For those of us who thankfully have never had the experience of front line fighting in a war this novel could be as close as you will ever come to experiencing what these men experienced. Mellas is a great character- frightened, arrogant, brave, inexperienced, and in the end very likeable.  Mellas matures through the three month time period into a leader of men. The other soldiers in the company take a while for their characters to develop but also are equally well crafted by the author.

Throughout most of the novel the North Vietnamese Army is not encountered, far more deadly to the men of Bravo Company are the dangers in the jungle, the hatred between black and white soldiers, the incompetence of the battalion leadership and the lack of good medical care and decent food. The few fighting scenes though are intense. This book does more to explain how men are able to overcome fear and give their lives to protect their friends than anything else I’ve read. In the scene I quote below Lt. Mellas is charging a protected grenade position.

“He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.”

Powerful writing! Throughout the book the author subtly brings out the pointless nature of this war. Armies did not fight to control territory but to inflict casualties and then inflate body counts. The dehumanization of the soldiers is strongly felt.

“The day was spent in weary stupefaction, hauling dead American teenagers to a stack beside the landing zone and dead Vietnamese teenagers to the garbage pit down the side of the north face.”

Throughout this novel I kept thinking of my friend Johnny, a Vietnam vet, dead too young from the effects of Agent Orange. What a life altering experience he must have had serving in the bush in that war.  He never talked much about it and after reading this story I can understand why. If you weren't there it would be hard to believe.  Thanks to the author for taking me "there".

Karl Marlantes a Vietnam era Marine wrote this book over the last 30 years. It’s his first novel and clearly his life’s work. We should all be able to tell a story this well. He captures it all – the horror, the courage, the cowardice, the camaraderie, the confusion, the exhilaration and the sorrow of war. Don’t miss this one!

I listened to an audio copy of this book read by the very talented Bronson Pinchot. I’d recommend listening to this one, while it was long I thought the narrator enriched the experience over what I would have felt just reading it.

I listened to an audio copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trader of Secrets

Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel
by Steve Martini, William Morrow, May 2011

...little or no character development, an implausible plot (asteroid hurling!) and insipid prose

I now officially feel about Steve Martini books the same way I feel about Circus Peanuts (orange colored marshmallow candy) – I have trouble passing them up but really don’t enjoy them much when I am done and all in all sorry I indulged.

Martini has moved from legal procedural crime novels to international thrillers and it hasn’t been a successful transition at least in my opinion. In his earlier novels the settings were primarily in California and the characters and plots had some depth to them. In Trader of Secrets the three main characters – Paul Mandriani, his law partner Harry Hinds and his girl friend Jocelyn rocket around the world (DC to Bangkok to Paris to Mexico) chasing Liquida the villain who has stalked the Mandrianis’ for at least the last two novels. Mixed in with the chase is a story about two NASA scientists who have sold a secret weapons system to the Iranians. The weapons system maneuvers asteroids so they can be sent hurling into specific locations like say Phoenix or Israel. The good guys chase Liquida and the other bad guys to a remote location in the Mexican jungles where aided by a full contingent of Israeli Defense Forces a 40 page battle ensues.

So in summary, little or no character development, an implausible plot (asteroid hurling!) and insipid prose. I really wonder if this book was ghost written as it is so off the mark from Martini’s earlier courtroom dramas.

I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Report

The Report: A Novel
The Report: A Novel
by Jessica Francis Kane, Greywolf Press, August 2010

  ...a small gem that is both educational and moving

This is a fictionalized telling of a true story – the death of 173 Londoners on March 3, 1943 and its aftermath. In entering the Bethnal Green Tube station to shelter from a German air raid people were trampled when for unknown reasons the crowd pushed forward and crushed and suffocated many of them. The government asks a respected London magistrate, Laurence Dunne to investigate the tragedy and write a report. He does so in three weeks, interviewing over 80 witnesses, local politicians, engineers and others. The story is told primarily through the eyes of 8 year old Tilly, her mother Ada, Warden Low the shelter manager, Reverend Mc Neely the pastor, and several others. As the thirtieth anniversary of the tragedy approaches, Paul Barber works with the now retired Dunne to film a documentary of the event. Barber was orphaned as an infant when he was saved but his mother was not.

I read this book straight through and couldn’t put it down or get it out of my head. It was good on so many levels. The writing is clear, concise and wonderfully descriptive – there are no wasted words here – kudos to the author and her editor! An example

           …talking to him was like talking to any young person about the war years; they spoke from a background of black-and-white pictures, while your memories were very much in color. They asked about the rationing, while you saw coupons. They spoke about the public morale, when what you remembered were the faces. Try as they might, they only heard a chord or two, while the whole symphony still roared in your head.

The research is impressive. The details of life in war time London enrich the story – there were no weather reports for Londoners throughout the war, sewing circles making topographical maps of German landscapes for the RAF to cite two examples that were new to me. The author gives an authentic feel to the Bethnal Green community and their feelings after this event.

Dunne wants to avoid scapegoating one person or one group so he makes some interesting decisions as he completes his report. The questions that the author raises as Dunne finishes his report are universal and have applicability far beyond this time period. In times of war are decisions that support civilian morale justifiable? Do all tragedies have a responsible party? Is it even possible to determine exact circumstances when witnesses have conflicting views? Do people act differently in a crowd than when alone?

In a story that could easily have been melodramatic and given to sentimentality the author has delivered a small gem that is both educational and moving. A great read!

I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Audio Book Week

I am participating in Audio Book Week that Jen at Devourer of Books is hosting this week on her very interesting blog.  If you haven't visited you should.  Today's questions are listed below.

Current/most recent audiobook: I am listening to Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Impressions: This is a long audiobook nearly 26 hours but very intense. Some of the scenes in this Vietnam War novel will haunt me for a long time.

Current favorite audiobook: What is the What by Dave Eggars is my all time favorite audiobook. I am sure I never would have read it on my own but got hooked on a ,long car trip to Florida. The narrator Dion Graham (The Wire) is wonderful and really added to the enjoyment of this story of the Sudanese tradegy.

One narrator who always makes you choose audio over print: I usually don’t choose an audiobook based on the narrator but have come to like John Lee, Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin

Genre you most often choose to listen to: I listen to primarily non fiction and memoirs on audio. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was a favorite.

If given the choice, you will always choose audio when: Memoirs especially when read by the author.  Current favoite here is Bossypants by Tina Fey, very funny

If given the choice, you will always choose print when: Novels with large casts of characters and time shifts. I need to go back and reread and keep everyone straight, especially in the early pages. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

4:50 From Paddington

4:50 From Paddington: A Miss Marple Mystery (Miss Marple Mysteries)4:50 From Paddington: A Miss Marple Mystery (Miss Marple Mysteries)
by Agatha Christie, read by Joan Hickson, 7 hours, 7 minutes

It's been a long time since I read an Agatha Christie mystery and I had forgotten just how good they are.  This is a Miss Marple mystery that was read by the wonderful Joan Hickson who has played Miss Marple on stage and screen.  The murder takes place as two trains slowly pass one another on the track.  A friend of Miss Marple's sees the strangulation and reports it .  Only Miss Marple believes her and follows with a thoughtful investigation.  The setting is a large family estate Rutherford Hall (so many Christie's have this setting)  with a family - the Crackinthorpes (love the name) with many members.  No more of the mystery from me!  If you are looking for a good read or a good listen Agatha Christie is always a good choice.  Some of the BBC full cast productions of Christie are also good options - try One Two Buckle Your Shoe.

Today's question on the Audio Week list is do you like sound effects in audio books.  With out going into a rant let me just say no!  It's a book not a play. 

I listened to a copy of this story downloaded from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Sunday, June 5, 2011


by Tina Fey, April 2011, Hachette Audio 5hrs. 35 mins.

Fey is witty, intelligent, sarcastic, surprisingly serious, and self deprecating – her memoir is all of the above.

I will be participating in Audiobook week hosted Jen at Devourer of Books this week so I will post a couple of reviews of audio books I’ve listened to. I just started listening to audiobooks last year.  Here is a link to some of my favorites last year.  I'll post later this week on this years favorites.

Bossypants is far and away the funniest of the books I've listened to recently. Tina Fey reads her memoir herself and her comedic timing as always is excellent. The memoir is part comedy, part life advice and part assessment of social mores. On more than one occasion I found myself laughing out loud at the comedy. She relates stories, with great characters and descriptions from her experiences in the Summer Stage program at Upper Darby HS (full disclosure Fey grew up near me and went to high school near my parents’ home in Drexel Hill, PA). Her Greek parents, her time at Second City in Chicago, and her work at Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock all have segments in this story. Some of the funniest sections are the descriptions of how the Sarah Palin role came about.

Her life as a female comic in a male dominated world is fodder for much comedy but also many insightful suggestions for women facing gender discrimination. She draws some universal life lessons from what she learned in improve theater, also very funny. Soooo, in summary this audiobook is worth your time. Fey is witty, intelligent, sarcastic, surprisingly serious, and self deprecating – her memoir is all of the above.

I listened to a copy of this story that I downloaded from the Free Library of Philadelphia and there was an annoying problem with this production. At the end of Fey’s sentences the volume would become lower for the last two to three words. Not sure if it was a function of the download or the original production