Monday, March 28, 2011

Audio Books Potpourri

Below are a few audio books I've listened to primarily while driving.  I never got around to writing full reviews but thought I'd mention them, particularly Testimony which I really liked and No Graves as Yet which you should avoid at all costs.

Firefly Summer by Maeve Binchy, BBC Dramatization, 2hrs, 49 minutes (Abridged) Read by David Soul. If you’ve read and liked Binchy in the past, you’ll recognize her work – idyllic depictions of life in small towns in Ireland, good always triumphing over evil after some initial adversity, and characters galore. I did not think it a great story but if you’re looking for less than 3 hours of diversion it might do.

Testimony by Anita Shreve (Unabridged) 9hrs. 6 min. Read by Laurence Bouvard. This is a very compelling story. The setting is a private prep school in New England. The plot centers on the consequences of actions taken in a single night of teenage sex and debauchery. The story is told through multiple narrators but primarily Mike the headmaster of the school, Silas a local boy who attends the elite school and Noelle a fellow student and girlfriend of Silas. The ethical issues that are raised and the heartbreak that occurs will occupy your thoughts long after you finished this story. The narrator is excellent and I think listening to this story was better than having read it.

No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry (Unabridged) 12 hrs and 19 min. Read by Michael Page. This is the first novel in the new Anne Perry series about WWI. There may be more novels in this series but I will not be listening to them nor reading them. The mystery was lame; the characters were cardboard stereotypes of upper class Brits whose conversation was stilted beyond belief. The narrator was way too emotional for the material. Why did I continue to listen you ask – I’ve no good answer, skip this stinker.

Shades of Grey by Jason Fforde (Unabridged) 13 hrs, 34 min. Read by John Lee. I can’t summarize this fantasy novel in a short paragraph. I started to read FForde’s Thursday Next series and really enjoyed them. This book has elements of that fantasy world but really has gone completely over the top. You’ll need to enjoy satire and fantasy to step into Fforde’s very creative mind. Check out this Goodreads summary if you are thinking about listening to this one. I did love the reader, the very talented John Lee.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Wave

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean
by Susan Casey, narrated by Kirsten Potter, 10 hrs, 30 min., September, 2010

Susan Casey has written a thriller of a nonfiction book 

If I had read this book a month ago I would have thought the author was given to hyperbole, but reading it the weekend of the horrific Japanese tsunami disaster I was riveted to the story. Susan Casey has written a thriller of a nonfiction book. She alternates her story between the history and science of rogue and tsunami induced waves and the lives of the “tow surfers” – extreme athletes who are towed by jet ski onto the face of enormous (50 feet plus) waves .

Casey has traveled the world to get her story. She opens with a scientific expedition caught in a storm off the coast of the Scotland. For a week the researchers are pummeled with waves over 75 feet high. The only recourse for the ship is to face the waves bow first and ride it out. What a nightmare! She outlines maritime disasters from history with a trip to Lloyds of London where all ship losses are recorded. She visits South Africa where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic and the turbulent waves have wrecked havoc on shipping for centuries. We get details about the mega tsunami that hit Litya Bay in Alaska. That tsunami wave was 1791 ft. high, for comparison the Empire State building is 1431 ft. high – how’s that for scary! Throughout this riveting history Casey explains the science (as much as is known) about oceanography and geology that causes these freak waves. Her ability to translate these physics based concepts for the layman is exceptional. The impacts of rising seas that well may cause more and more extreme weather and potentially an increase in earthquake inducing tsunamis is thoughtfully presented.

The other half of Casey’s story features the tow surfers. Calling this sport a dare devil activity way underrates the risks that these people take with each ride. She tells the story of Laird Hamilton, a Hawaiian surfer who was one of the pioneers of this sport. Riding the storm created giant waves off the coast of Hawaii and Tahiti Hamilton is fearless in his approach to riding these waves. Casey gets the jargon and atmosphere of this group just right, her writing has an authentic feel to it. Despite all this I was left thinking that these tow surfers were an enigmatic group, hard to know, hard to understand. Possibly this is due to the fact that I have trouble understanding why they take these risks. I can’t think of anything more scary that surfing down the face of a 100 ft. wave, let alone doing it when a spouse and a couple of children are involved.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition of this book narrated by Kirsten Potter. The narration was excellent but I longed for photos of both the waves and the people who were part of this story. I sometimes think that these nonfiction books that have real characters are best to have in hard copy for that reason alone. Oh well you can always google to see pictures.

I do strongly recommend this book. I love writers who are talented enough to take difficult science and make it understandable to the rest of us. Casey is surely one of those and the story she has to tell is one we all would benefit from knowing.

I listened to an audio download from the Free Library of Philadelphia

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Lesson in Secrets

A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
by Jacqueline Winspear, Harper, March, 2011

While this book is a little light on the mystery it is a worthy addition to the series

This book is the eighth in the Maisie Dobbs series and can easily be read as a standalone book but I really suggest you start at the beginning if you are new to the series. The two hallmarks of this series are period detail and character development. This story like the previous ones is set in Britain between the world wars. Maisie, a psychologist and private investigator is now an independent woman with an inheritance from her mentor Maurice.  She is asked by the government to investigate subversive activities at a pacifist college in Cambridge. Since this is a mystery there is the requisite murder but that story line is almost secondary to the descriptions of British life. Maisie encounters the nascent fascist movement among her students. In typical fashion the government is not worried about the Nazis but about potential communists. In the midst of the murder investigation Maisie discovers a government cover-up of a WWI mutiny where British and German soldiers refused to continue the front line fighting.

While the lasting effects of the First World War on the British has been an integral part of this series, the coming war gives the series and this book a sense of dread that is palpable. On a more optimistic note things are going very well in Maisie’s private life, her love affair with the aristocratic son of her former employer is advancing nicely, her assistant Billy and his family are recovering from the death of a child and her elderly father has a girlfriend.

While this book is a little light on the mystery it is a worthy addition to the series. The author has a talent for realistic descriptions of characters at all levels of British society from her assistant Billy a working stiff to her former employers, Lord and Lady Compton. In this book Maisie for the first time works for the government security forces, a relationship sure to continue as the country moves towards war. Maisie is really the linchpin of these books, daughter of a costermonger (love that word) a former parlor maid who has risen to independence without sacrificing her integrity – she is one of my favorite mystery detectives!

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
by Diane Setterfield, narrated by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner, Audible Audio Edition, 15 hours and 40 minutes.  Published 2006

...if you would like to lose yourself in a true Gothic mystery The Thirteenth Tale is for you. I was sorry to see it end.

This is a genuine Gothic tale. Margaret Lea, daughter of a London bookseller, comes to Yorkshire to write the biography of a dying Vida Winter. Winter is a world famous author beloved for her many books but mysterious about one story that has not yet been published – the thirteenth tale. She has notoriously never been truthful about her personal life. Lea listens as Winter relates her life story. The story is of the Angelfield family, a mostly dysfunctional group of people; twin girls of the family, a governess, a housekeeper, gardener and at least one ghost all living in a Brontë type mansion in Yorkshire! Winter relates the strange tale, full of mistaken identities, madness, secrets, and sexual obsessions. Margaret travels to the abandoned Angelfield estate to try and confirm the truthfulness of the story.

I really don’t want to give details of the plot as the mystery is central to enjoying this book, but let me make a few comments about the novel. The writing is richly descriptive. The two main characters Miss Winter and Margaret Lea are very well developed and very believable within this book. Margaret is a throwback Jane Eyre type character. She is an intellectual, very well read and with a world of repressed feelings but a true romantic at heart. The pacing of the story is also first rate, just enough information is revealed to keep the reader engaged and off balance in trying to discern the mystery. Lastly the plot itself is excellent. The story just flowed, plot twists were believable, characters remained in character and the conclusion was very satisfying including the wrap up detail given to even the minor characters in the story. I realize this is not a very extensive review but if you would like to lose yourself in a true Gothic mystery The Thirteenth Tale is for you. I was sorry to see it end.

I listened to audio CDs borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Monday, March 7, 2011

13, rue Thérèse

13, rue Thérèse: A Novel
by Elena Mauli Shapiro, Reagan Arthur Books; February 2011

The concept for this novel was quite good but the execution just wasn’t there for me

Trevor Stratton is American academic newly arrived in Paris for a sabbatical at a Parisian university. Unbeknownst to him, Josietta a secretary at the university, places a box in his desk drawer. Upon finding it, he discovers memorabilia that belonged to Louise Brunet, a young Parisian girl who was born at the turn of the twentieth century. Stratton studies the pictures of WWI battlefields and other items and invents a life for Louise that includes a young lover, Camille who dies in battle, an unhappy arranged marriage with Henri, a potential lesbian lover in her student Garance, and an assignation with a neighbor at their apartment building 13, rue Thérèse. He shares portions of his imaginative story with Josietta who has been judging his worthiness as a romantic partner based on his reactions to the items in the box. The book is beautifully illustrated with the pictures and other items from the box. There are also links to a website where the box memorabilia can be viewed in 3-D.

Unfortunately I could not join in the generally euphoric reviews of this book on blogs and in print. It held a bit too much fantasy for me. Somewhere in the middle of this story Stratton began to confuse his life with Louise’s life and that’s about where I got off the boat. I had trouble following the narrative unsure if we were in the 1920s or present day.  The concept for this novel was quite good (a story told around newly discovered intriguing items) but the execution just wasn’t there for me. So can the true romantics out there who loved this book comment and tell me where I’ve gone wrong?

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