Audiobook Review: Life of Pi

Can you be a better person because you read a book?

This is a story that I have been digesting for a few days.  I finished it almost a week ago, and am still enthralled by the question that is left with the reader. Yann Martel’s literary accomplishment has been widely recognized for years, with stellar reviews and the Man Booker Prize.  I’m a little late to the game. Shame on me for taking so long.

Life of Pi is many things.  It’s zoology… it’s adventure… and most importantly, it’s faith.

I’m sure you already know that Life of Pi is the story of an Indian teen who survives the sinking of a ship as it’s moving the boy and his family from India to Canada.  Indian political unrest forced the family’s move, and the family of Zookeepers from Pondicherry chooses Winnipeg for their new home.  They sell many of their Zoo’s animals, and decide to transport several with them on their voyage.  The ship sinks.  Pi manages to board a life boat… and winds up at sea with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and an enormous Bengal tiger.  The zebra, orangutan and hyena do not survive.  Pi, and the 450-pound tiger, do.

The two are at sea for 227 days.  They have emergency water and food on the lifeboat, but not enough for their length of time as castaways.  Pi learns to fish, and he also manages to clean seawater with the provisions on the boat. He manages to keep himself and the tiger alive, but barely.

The lengths that Pi goes to to keep the tiger alive beg the question, why? Why sustain this on-board predator, when he consistently represents such a threat? The answer is crystal clear while you’re reading the story.  The tiger, also known as Richard Parker, is kept alive by Pi for the company that he provides. The threat of solitude is more frightening than death.

Pi, an incredibly spiritual youth, is a devout Hindu, Christian, and Muslim.  Why all three?  He discovered at a very early age that he just “wanted to love God.”  Who could argue?  Pi’s devotion to God, and his extraordinary intellect make him one of the most fascinating characters I’ve encountered in a very, very long time.  It’s impossible not to feel affection for Pi, his plight, and his hope.  Martel created a character so human, so complex, and truly — so innocent, he will warm your heart.

The adventure on the Pacific cannot be summarized in a paragraph; I won’t even attempt it.  In order to appreciate the suffering, and the triumph of the survival, it needs to be read.  I can say with certainty that there are scenes that will make you grimace because of the ferocity, and scenes that will make you swoon because of the beauty.  It’s all there.

Martel has a gift when it comes to the art of description.  Thanks to his prose, you will see radiant sunsets at sea, will feel nourishment when edible algae is discovered, and will experience the discomfort of saltwater on your skin.  There wasn’t a scene that lacked detail.  Everything was communicated with grace and exemplary imagery.

A friend highly recommended the Life of Pi audiobook, and I’m so glad that I listened!  (Pun intended – sorry.)  Jeff Woodman reads the bulk of the novel, and his range is astounding.  He effortlessly moves between the accents of an Indian youth, to a French Cook, to a Japanese investigator.  His tones are beautiful, subtle, and they bring great joy to the story.  Hats off to Mr. Woodman for an incredible narration, and for breathing life into each and every character.

Overall, what struck me about this novel the most was the potential for the reader to miss the boat, so to speak.  I’d like to think that I didn’t, but perhaps this is a boastful claim.  I’d like to think that I heard Martel’s message loud and clear, and that his symbolism and the meaning behind his characters were not lost.  This is a story that needs to be read with an open mind, and an open heart.  Simply put, you’ll get out of Life of Pi what you put into it.  The question at the close of the book will either confuse you, or will inspire you.

Will you believe one story, or the other?

Will you lean toward the lyrical, or the rational?

Personally, I’m going with the lyrical.

And I’m giving it 4 stars.

Parting thought: Life of Pi will be released as a feature film in December 2012. I’m not sure how the film will properly encapsulate everything in the book, but judging by the photo below, it will certainly be worth a look.

Book Review, Discussion Questions & Answers: A Bitter Truth

Well Bess Craword certainly finds herself embroiled amongst seriously screwed up English families with all their issues and secrets! A Bitter Truth gives us the most tumultuous and secretive yet! And perhaps this is the reason why I enjoyed this one so much more than all of the others? Or perhaps it is because we see so much more of the “pluck” of Bess and learn more of her family history? There is more recognition of her father and everyone’s willingness to assist Bess once they learn of the relation.

At any rate, A Bitter Truth is the Best Bess Yet!

In previous discussion questions posted by BookClubGirl, she asks about new words, phrases, etc. we learned. This time I paid closer attention and did need to look up what “suttee” meant. It was used in the context of Indian women throwing themselves on to their husband’s pyre so as to not live a desolate life alone. And Suttee is the Hindu custom where a wife will burn herself, most likely by throwing herself on to the funeral pyre at her husband’s funeral.

Also, there was a saying used that I also had to look up, as I’ve never heard of it: “running someone to earth”, as Bess said she “ran Lydia to earth, finally, in the room above the hall.” It means to find someone after searching for them.

I also just loved the small mention of Canadian history with Lieutenant Colebourn and his black bear, Winnipeg – aka Winnie the Pooh! ❤ !

Without further ado, on to the discussion questions posted by BookClubGirl:

1.) How did A Bitter Truth stack up for you against Bess’ previous two adventures?

I found A Bitter Truth to be the best so far of the Bess novels! Bess certainly finds herself embroiled in messy family situations doesn’t she? But I loved the Ellis family and all of their issues so much more than ever! This one kept me glued to the pages and interested in the story the whole time.  Although, I did find that Lydia is extremely manipulative and takes advantage of Bess almost immediately upon first meeting her. But, I adored, adored Bess’ flirtation with the tall and handsome Aussie Sgt. Larimore !!! Loved it! And wow – doesn’t he pull some tricks to “help” Bess eh?!

2.) I really enjoyed the mystery in this novel, and confess I was quite confounded as to who the killer was, until the very end. How about you?

Absolutely. This was a fine mystery! And I as well was left completely confounded until the very end too! Lots of twists and page-turners in this one!

3.) The plight of orphans in the war is brought to the forefront in this novel – what do you think of Lydia’s and Bess’ feelings and plans for Sophie?

Well, I’m not sure the plight of the orphans would have come to any of their attention, if not for the search to find this little girl Sophie in one of the French convents. Even Bess herself says that she had never thought of this side of effects of the war before learning of this little girl. I still see Lydia as a selfish and manipulative person that used everyone for her own gain or her own personal needs and desires. But…..I understand that Bess is a product of military protocol and therefore her incessant need to return the girl to France and follow the proper channels was her constant stance. However…..given that so many children were left as orphans and the kindness and care for the children could only be stretched so far, I was sort of siding with the Ellis family here, despite my dislike for their weird & selfish manner (especially Lydia). What harm would it possibly do to keep this beautiful child as their own and provide her with a life of comfort and care and love? They were going to see that the convent was well looked after in terms of money and supplies. ??? I see both sides, but honestly, I leaned towards the Ellis’ viewpoint here.

I do have to say though, the more books I read that take place in WWI, the more of it I learn. And the plight of the orphans is for me the same as it was for Bess – something I never really knew of before. I liked the many mentions of concern for what kind of people these children would grow into in the future. It is a fascinating and heartbreaking subject.

4.) I was struck by the passage in chapter 15, when Todd speaks of the evolution of the war: “The days when men lined up in their dozens to be the first to enlist had long since passed. Now the reality of the trenches had scoured away that bravado, and in its place were these recruits, afraid of shaming themselves in front of their mates but probably wishing themselves anywhere but here.” How did you see the war changing people and events in the novel?

From reading so many other books in the WWI period, I knew that the men came back no longer as heroes or treated with the bravado they once were. It went on for so much longer than anyone anticipated and I’ve only always read how they were shamefully treated upon their return home, etc. I suppose we are guilty of the very same to this day in the here and now as well.

5.) Simon Brandon plays an even greater role in this book than the last, though I don’t think Bess sees his interest as more than professional or familial. What do you think his intentions are? And do you think Bess recognizes them?

Well, to be honest, I think his role was the same, or he made the same number of appearances as in the previous two, in my opinion? I wasn’t overly aware that his intentions were more than familial, actually, I was thinking he had more of a presence or had more concern and had a larger part in Bess’ adventures in An Impartial Witness than here.

On to the next one! If A Bitter Truth was this good, I’m quite anxious for this one! To be released in June: An Unmarked Grave. It even comes with this awesome Book Trailer!!! Bess battles the Spanish Flu epidemic and falls ill to it herself!

(side note: I found out that the Spanish flu was responsible for killing more people post-WWI, than the War itself did. Amazing.)

Audiobook Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

Another superb Southern debut!!

Good + evil + snakes + two brothers = an excellent read!

It is just as JC Patterson, writing for the Madison County Herald, has to say, “His debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, will grab you in its clutches like a boxed-up rattlesnake at a church healing.”

Amen to that! It opens with a hiss and a rattle and ends with a bang!

Wiley Cash’s writing is simply marvelous. He pays such close attention to those finer details, giving you the sights, the sounds, even the smells of the deep South. My very favourite part, aside from hearing about the sounds of the crickets, the smell of the mud, the look of the Blue Gum trees, the darkness of the sky and the sound of thunder in the distance, was the description of the hundreds of snake skins being rustled by the breeze coming through the slats on the barn wall and that sound being compared to the sound that dead corn stalks make swaying in the wind.

I was very, very pleased (and so impressed with) I listened to this on audio.  It is superb on audio as there are three different narrators voicing the three perspectives from which this story is told. Fantastic narration by all three and truly, truly makes this novel sing! This audiobook was the winner of the  J.L.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award. Absolutely worthy of the award! Mr. Cash’s book itself is worthy of the heaps of praise that it is receiving.

Adelaide: is the first person you hear from when opening A Land More Kind Than Home. She is the elderly midwife & moral historian in town. Addie is whom provides all the background and history and is the one to know straight away what evil lurks inside Chambliss.

Lorna Raver is exceptional as Adelaide Lyle! Those first few chapters grab you with the story she starts to tell you and with that amazing voice!

Jess: Jess is the 7-year-old brother to Christopher, or Stump. Stump is a mute autistic boy that has never spoken a word in his life. Jess witnesses the tragic loss of his brother one afternoon and the subsequent crumbling of his family because of those events. The most touching moment for me (well outside of Stump’s death) was when Jess takes down Stumps “Quiet Box” (a box that his mother gave him to go off and sit with when he was feeling overwhelmed) from the closet and finds a little treasure Jess made him for Christmas resting on top of everything else in the box. So, so, so touching. The guilt with which Jess must live with after everything that happens to Stump will make you ache.

Jess is narrated by Nick Sullivan and not only does he do a fantastic job of becoming Jess as a 7-year-old (never ever once are you annoyed at a “boyish” voice being read by a grown man) I felt he brought the voice of the evil Pastor Chambliss to life with such greatness!

Clem: Sheriff Clem Barefield, still recovering from his own painful past and working to get to the bottom of this tragedy.  Mark Bramhall narrates Clem and you can just SEE with amazing clarity what this old southern sheriff looks like.

And of course, at the heart and centre of this story is Stump and Chambliss. Innocence and goodness vs evil.

This is an amazing debut (this is his first book??!!) – fine, fine, fine writing – I will be very interested in reading more from Mr. Cash! You can find more about him, and read those piles of praise on his site: He’s on Facebook and Twitter too! He’s also making the rounds at book signings and readings in the South – if you’re nearby I hear he’s a real gem to listen to in person!

A definite Literary Hoarder’s approved book! If you are interested in reading other fine Southern reads, I highly recommend the following:

1.) If you want to stare evil straight in the face (and have nightmares!) once more like you do with Chambliss here above, you must, must pick up The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, by Jenny Wingfield. This is a must read!

2.) Another excellent Southern debut novel that came out this year and also deals with the incredible bond between two brothers is The Lost Saints of Tennessee, by Amy Franklin-Willis . You definitely will not be disappointed in this one either!

3.) And of course, the great one: Pat Conroy. His most recent, South of Broad is another goodie too!!

4.) If you’re looking to listen to a fine, fine audiobook about life in the South, I highly recommend listening to The Dry Grass of August, read by Karen White. Excellent!

Audiobook Review: Elizabeth The Queen

Well, I was glad I listened to this one rather than read because I think there would have been a lot of skimming. Not that her life has not been an interesting one it is just the book read like a high-school history text– very informative but a bit dull in the narration. “The Queen went here, the Queen went there; she met this person, she met that person; the public approved of the Royal Family, the public no longer approved of the Royal Family”. Some of the stories I knew, some I didn’t, but in the end you can’t help but admit that no one is cooler than the Queen! This year is her Diamond Jubilee and she has remained constant in her duty to England and The Commonwealth for the last 60 years! It is going to be VERY weird when she is gone!

Pictures speak louder than words when it comes to The Queen– here are some fun things you may or may not know about Liz:

No one rocks a horse like the Queen!

She is a lover of the Corgi dog breed

She has met a lot of U.S. presidents

She has had her portrait painted several times

She has been married to Prince Philip for 63 years

She thought Diana was a media whore (according to this book anyways)

The Queen was pretty hot as a young woman…

…and then she got old

3 stars.