Audiobook Review: Frances and Bernard

13429680Thank you very much to AudioGo and Audiobook JukeBox for allowing us the listening pleasure of Frances and Bernard. This was a story that intrigued me to no end when I first heard of it. It was also something I posted about earlier, based upon the very nifty idea publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did surrounding the release of the book. I posted my lament about the long lost era of the love letter and/or letters. HMH created a way to share postcards to your loved ones on Facebook, and  also ran a contest to win your own personalized set of stationary. The National Post also wrote this article, ” Death of the Love Letter” also lamenting the loss of the love letter and that it is being replaced with frivolous texts and emails.

The premise of Frances and Bernard is a wonderful one and is done entirely in epistolary format. It was wonderful. Carlene Bauer pleasantly imagines an entire relationship between Frances and Bernard as developed through their correspondence over a number of years. The reader is taken on this curiously delightful journey through the birth of their relationship, all the way to its death and to the years beyond when the power, hold and passion their relationship held on each of them slowly diminishes.

I had the express pleasure of this story being told to me through audio, and it was definitely the right story to come along at just the right time. Since I was just coming away from the deeply disturbing (Daddy Love) and intense (The Absolutist) subject matter of my two previous listens,  this was definitely a delight for the soul. And again, I must tell you, listening to Frances and Bernard made it all that much better. Their pain, sorrow, their joy, tears, their frustration and anger all composed in their letters over time, came through perfectly by the two narrators, Angela Brazil and Stephen R. Thorne. Kudos to these two! It definitely enhanced the experience and made the book all the more enjoyable.

When Frances would write while she was upset, bitter, scared, crying, or delighted, it was read that way. It was read complete with the tears in her voice, or the frustration and anger she was feeling to the joy and delight she would share with Bernard or her best friend Claire. When Bernard was overcome during one of his multiple manic episodes, and exhausted and tired, or filled with passion, and when his writing would be a fast jumble of words and emotion, it was read that way. Wonderful. It brought to life these wonderfully written and descriptive letters so, so much greater than by just reading alone. If an advertisement is needed to extol the greatness of audiobooks, Frances and Bernard could easily be one used to entice beginners!

However, please note that if you are a staunch non-believer, and/or are sensitive to any discussion of God, faith, the Catholic church and religion, Frances and Bernard may not appeal to you. These subjects comprised the majority of their correspondence to one another as both were devout Catholics. They discussed, debated, glorfied and spoke often of their beliefs and faith in almost every single one of their letters.

From Goodreads:In the summer of 1957, Frances and Bernard meet at an artists’ colony. She finds him faintly ridiculous, but talented. He sees her as aloof, but intriguing. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can take over—and change the course of—our lives.

From points afar, they find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, rowdy cocktail parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson River as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.

Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. It explores the limits of faith, passion, sanity, what it means to be a true friend, and the nature of acceptable sacrifice. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose ourselves? How much should we give up for those we love? How do we honor the gifts our loved ones bring and still keep true to our dreams?

In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.

Frances and Bernard was a delight to listen to and again, another book I encourage you to try in audio. Without the inflection and emotion presented in these letters and as narrated by Brazil and Thorne, I honestly feel all the beauty of the wonderfully descriptive writing coming from a poet (Bernard)  and a writer (Frances) would be lost and not enjoyed nearly as it should. 4 stars.


Book Review: All This Talk of Love

all talkThank you to Net Galley for advancing a copy of All This Talk of Love. Unfortunately it arrived as an (unreadable) PDF and was a book I even scheduled in my Reading Schedule to read. It was the last book in the schedule! Alas, rather than fight through teeny tiny type of a PDF I waited for it to come to the library. I’m very glad I waited and read it, as it was certainly worth it.

All This Talk of Love is a lovely piece of fiction about families. It beautifully depicts each member as their individual selves and as part of their larger close-knit family. The Grasso family is headed by Antonio and Maddalena Grasso. They had left Italy as a very young married couple and immigrated to America over 50 years prior. They have three children, Prima (the Italian Princess), Tony, (their now deceased son) and Frankie (the son conceived years later and out of grief).

None of the children, or their children (Prima’s), have been back to the Old Country. As a surprise Prima has purchased tickets for the entire Grasso family to bring them back to Santa Cecilia one summer. It is this encompassing act that we read each of their individual stories and their place in the Grasso clan. This, and the shadow of grief that hovers over all from their son, brother and uncle that killed himself when he was just 15 years old.

Maddalena; the beautiful and stunning, still, vibrant matriarch of the Grasso clan. She has absolutely no intention of returning to Santa Cecilia ever. What is there is only the country of when she was young and beautiful. The place where her mother was still alive, her sister was not suffering from Alzheimer’s and where she loved another man. Going back would only destroy those memories. That is what they are, that is what they will remain. Maddalena however, is beginning to show disturbing signs of this horrible and hereditary disease that will soon steal her mind.

She’s never been back to Santa Cecilia, not even for a visit, not once in the fifty years since Antonio married her and brought her to America, and she’s not about to start now. Unlike him, she still has her people in that village. She remembers them how they were when she left them in 1946. Now most of them are bones in the ground behind the church…She has only one brother left, Claudio and one sister, Carolina, but she hasn’t spoken to them in twenty years. She won’t see them old and sick, not after working so hard, every day, to keep them young and beautiful and full of life in her mind. She won’t let that happen. ….Santa Cecilia was the one place on earth where she was young. What belongs to her and her alone is that village during those nineteen years, her memories of it, of who she might have been…Go back now, to see it all changed, and that, too, will be taken away.

Antonio: the patriarch of the Grasso’s. He brought Maddalena over and started a family restaurant with the name from back in the Old Country so that she would always have that place where they met and he fell in love. He aches, longs, yearns, dreams of returning to the Old Country. He wants to go back and live what he feels are his final moments of this long and love-filled life he’s lead. Antonio believes that if he were to go back there, the deep, deep regret and loss and grief over losing his son, Tony, will disappear there. For Tony never set foot in Italy and should Antonio go back he would finally be able to let go of his grief, and the secret he’s kept about Tony’s death and his reasons for taking his own life, from everyone.

Take me to Santa Cecilia, where I belong. I can count on one hand the years we have left together.

He is the only person alive who knew the secret of Tony’s heart. He keeps it closer than any he’s ever known. It’s like a heavy stone in his pocket, one he takes out day after day, turns over, rubs with his thumb, as if it’s beautiful and precious, when – he almost has to remind himself – it was the one bit of ugliness in Tony, and it proved powerful enough to kill him.

Prima: she is the Italian Princess, the spoiled rich girl that married the Irish man. She is approaching middle-age in despair and is not looking forward to living in an empty-nest when her four sons move on. She tries very hard to be the “cool mom” and boasts her job is to raise four sons and care for their large home and family. She wishes with everything to bring all of the Grasso clan together for this trip to Santa Cecilia so that they are all together, delaying the inevitable for just a little longer. She is the control-freak that needs to arrange for everything in order to hide her desperate loneliness.

Frankie: is the wandering intellectual of the family. He knows he lives in the shadow of Tony yet holds his mother in the highest esteem, adoration and love. Never one night goes without their 11:01 p.m. phone conversation following the viewing of their favourite soap opera. Frankie is pursuing his PhD and seems to flounder a bit here and there, in love, in his dissertation, in his place in the family. After finally ditching the dead-end love affair with his married advisor and finding a new advisor as well, Frankie meets another girl and returns home to find the focus he so needs to get himself on track.

And then, just as they have finally convinced Maddalena to make the trip to Italy, all done in hopes it helps to reverse the quickly advancing destruction of her mind, tradegy strikes the Grasso family again. This greatly delays their trip by a number of years, but the trip is finally made in the end. Unfortunately, it does not hold the magic or promise that was so hoped for before. Maddelena is all but lost in her mind now and no longer recognizes her family. It is these incredibly touching moments that the book ends.

All This Talk of Love is a wonderful, wonderful story about family and is filled with love, loss, longing, regret, grief and secrets. I’m really glad I kept it on my planned reading list/schedule. I’m glad I did not forget about reading it or returning it to the library before actually reading. It’s really a beautiful story, filled with many poignant and touching moments, all of which are meant to touch upon what it is to be a part of a family in all its glory, madness, sadness and frustration, despair and love, its great, unyielding love.

Penny’s New Reading Schedule

So back in January, the Literary Hoarders posted their Reading Schedules, as one way to manage the books that needed to be read. I found this to be an excellent organizational tool to focus my reading! So….I’m going to do another one!

Below, are the cover snapshots of the books I want to read, to knock off my list, etc. for the next coming months. The book’s description will be shown when you click on the cover.

all talk  LoveStar  Red Joan  Smoke Portrait  The AFtermath  The Lion Seeker  Pictures at Exhibition  Zelda  Studio

Okay, that’s a lot…there are many, many more to add, but I’ll start with these! It should keep me going for a touch! Again, I did not deviate much at all from my January schedule so I’m sure to continue on with this schedule. There are I’m certain to be more books scheduled throughout the month for the Critical Era and Wink 3 book clubs, but this does tremendously help focus my reading.

  1.  All This Talk of Love: I’m about half way through this one. A great story about families.
  2. LoveStar: Not my genre ever, but it’s for Critical Era book club. That club always expands my horizons, so here I go off to read a Sci-Fi novel.
  3. Red Joan: this gem just appeared in our mailbox one day thanks to our book bestie at Random House, Lindsey. She said it was something she thought the LH’s would love.
  4.  Smoke Portrait: I don’t remember how I came across this book, but our library got it in and it’s next up after I read All This Talk of Love.
  5. The Aftermath: a book I had marked as wanting to read, and again Lindsey, the best book bestie ever just threw it in the mail!
  6. The Lion Seeker: another Random House ARC that looks very, very good.
  7. Pictures at an Exhibition: the author contacted us and it’s a book about letters, so you know I’m all in!
  8.  Z, from Net Galley. Yes, it’s another unfortunate PDF but I’m going to get to it because it looks wonderful.
  9. Studio Saint Ex: from Edelweiss.

I haven’t even touched the Audio Books yet!

All I know for certain in those will be:

  1. Frances and Bernard: I’m about 60% through this one.
  2. Souvenir: This one is also from Audiobook Jukebox and will get to that one once I’ve finished Frances and Bernard.

13429680  Souvenir

Audiobook Review: God’s Spy

spyBlood.  Child abuse.  Murder.  More blood.  More child abuse.  A psychotic killer. Dismemberment.  Blood.

I’m happy it’s over.

God’s Spy, a thriller that has averaged well on Goodreads, had a promising plot:


In the days following the Pope’s death, a cardinal is found brutally murdered in a chapel in Rome, his eyes gouged and his hands cut off. Called in for the grisly case, police inspector Paola Dicanti learns that another cardinal was recently found dead; he had also been tortured. Desperate to find the killer before another victim dies, Paola’s investigation is soon joined by Father Anthony Fowler, an American priest and former Army intelligence officer examining sexual abuse in the Church, who knows far more about the killer than Paola could possibly imagine.

As Paola and Father Anthony struggle through a maze of tantalizing clues, they begin to question whether someone in the Vatican is aiding their cause or abetting a murderer. And when evidence leads them to powerful figures within the Church hierarchy, their own pursuit of the truth may make them the next pawns to be sacrificed in a terrifying and deadly game.

I suppose I should have felt warned.  Gouged eyes, torture, hands cut off… indeed the details of each murder scene left little to the imagination.  What originally intrigued me was Paola Dicanti.  I had guessed that she would be a formidable protagonist, with such a remarkable skill set.  Touted as a gifted criminal profiler, she was to provide details of the killer that would facilitate his capture.  I can say “his,” because his identity was revealed shortly after the book’s start.  The story was instantly transformed into a cat-and-mouse chase, as opposed to a mystery.

The “mystery” that was unveiled throughout, however, was the killer’s background.  No surprise that anyone who was capable of such atrocities had an unpleasant childhood.  (To put it mildly.)  The reader is supplied with ample detail of why the killer became a monster; some of which was overdone.  The question eventually (and I mean eventually) became: was he acting alone, or was he a soldier of something far more sinister?  By the time this reveal was unearthed, I no longer cared.  I just wanted out.

Paola Dicanti was a disappointment.  While highly intelligent and skilled, she second guessed herself too often.  Father Anthony Fowler proved much more interesting, but his back story was offered via tidbits, and in the end I still had questions about his character.  The killer was a twisted creature who was so badly damaged by his childhood, his adulthood and his questionable therapy that he was a lost cause right from the start.  The surrounding characters were drawn well, but I could not connect to a single one.

Beyond the story’s repeated (and grotesque) violence, I had trouble with the dialogue.  It felt forced and predictable, and too often, made the characters appear as though they were simply going through the motions.  Even when Paola offered what was supposed to be a heartfelt soliloquy beside her slain partner, the words had a canned quality that I could not overcome.  Without beating around the bush, it was terrible.  I winced through the entire speech.  The plot just could not break through such distractions.

Was the story original?  Not exactly.  Catholic conspiracies, cover-ups, meddling journalists, questionable cops…. the book has also been described as being written in complete admiration of The Da Vinci Code. For this Hoarder, the novel could have used an enormous dose of originality.

This audiobook was narrated by Kate Reading, and I must say that she did a very good job, considering the material.  It could not have been easy to narrate such a story, but I found her voices well suited. Next time, I would very much like to hear her read something pleasant.

2 stars for God’s Spy.