Audiobook Review: Sacred Hearts

heartsFirst, accolades need to be offered to Sarah Dunant for a novel that is beautifully written.  There is no question that she writes with incredible attention to detail, and eloquent prose.  Her material is well researched and her characters are perfectly drawn.  By the close of the book, you know the people inside as though they have been in your life for an extended length of time.

Ah…. there’s the word I’m politely trying to avoid…… length.

Good heavens, this novel was long.  If I were to encapsulate my experience with this audiobook in one sentence, I would have to admit that “it was 12 CDs long, but didn’t get interesting until disc 11.”

The novel’s description was promising.  The story takes place in 1570 in the convent of Santa Caterina (Italy).  The Nuns inside this convent are quiet, kind, pious, and vehement in their pursuit to follow the guidance of their Abbess.  It’s a community complete with its own stories, quiet dramas and long-standing rituals.  What was supposed to shake the convent up was the arrival of a new novice, Serafina.  Serafina is young, defiant, emotional, and desperate for escape so she can be with the man she loves.  Her family has placed her in the convent to separate the two, and Serafina is determined to pursue a life that she alone chooses.

What follows is a lengthy description of her relationship with Suora Zuana, the convent’s Dispensary Mistress (apothecary). Zuana recalls her own start at the convent, and takes to Serafina the way a mother takes to a child. Can she keep this novice calm?  Will Serafina relent and embrace her new life, or will she succeed in her plans to escape?

What was remarkable to me as I listened to this audiobook was that nothing actually happened for the bulk of the story.  While the details were at times interesting, and the characters were clever, the plot meandered.  Nothing seemed to propel it.  Serafina was defiant, then obedient, then calculating, then hopeless.  Her emotions ran the spectrum, while her only “friend” in the convent wondered what to do.

Hands down, Zuana was my favorite character.  I liked her temperament, how she quietly questioned authority, and how she came to understand that politics were ever-present in a convent, just as they were in the outside world.  I enjoyed her back story with her father who had the foresight and faith to teach her about medicine, and how to heal.  I liked her scholarly attitude and her inner strength. Truly, she was a lovely protagonist.

Unfortunately, the novel’s length and slow pace marred my enjoyment.  It was just too slow.  If you’re going to write a long novel, then you can’t wait for the end to thicken your plot.  Readers don’t like challenges to their patience, and I’m afraid that while I loved the style of writing, I found the story wanting.

Now, a note about the narrator of this audiobook, Rosalyn Landor.  She was exquisite!  Her voice was like silk.  The voices she associated with the characters were unmistakable, and the depth of emotion in her tones was astounding.  I believe that Landor was one of the reasons I found the novel so beautifully written.  She didn’t just read Sacred Hearts, she embodied it.  Well done!  I will certainly look for her work again.

Overall, 3 stars for Sacred Hearts; a pretty novel that just needed more story.

Book Review: Glow

GLOWThank you so very much to Penguin/Viking for allowing us the opportunity to read and also to giveaway a copy of this wonderful novel. Glow is Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s first novel (!) and she is now easily an author that I will look to in the future. Hopefully her next novel is not too far off! (Seriously!)

I’m also very happy to have read it in paperback version and not on the e-reader. Glow has a wonderfully detailed family tree at the beginning of the book, and with all its characters and family history, being able to flip quickly back and forth between the page you were at and over to the family tree(s) was wonderfully helpful. Without being able to flip back to see where the characters connected would surely mean you lost out on so much of the bonds across many generations, and their three, intertwined races. Glow is, in the very least, a fantastic tale of connection and how each of these characters – white, black, native Indian – are intertwined with one another.

The promotional material for Glow states it is “Lushly conceived, cinematically detailed, and epic in historical scope.” Absolutely! Glow was a very beautiful and stunning book to read. From the very first pages I was drawn right in. It’s fantastic reading! Ghosts, spirits, evil, slavery and also the hope, promise, joy and love among these characters.

The description of Glow is taken from Tuccelli’s website: October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century.

Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the eve of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community.

So you can see how everything about this description sings of a novel that I knew belonged on my shelf. A multi-generation saga, a tapestry of family secrets, multiple voice/perspective and a good old southern read. Yup. Sign me on. And it was everything I anticipated it would be and more. Tuccelli is a very gifted writer! Gorgeous prose, beautifully described, heartfelt and touching emotions pouring out on every page, the words flowed like a beautiful, rippling stream of water.

I strongly encourage you to read Glow, you will surely not be disappointed. It was a read I savoured, it seemed to take me longer to finish than my normal reading progress. This was not due to any dislike of it at all, I was merely lost in it and savouring the words of Glow. Basking in the glow perhaps? I did find myself stopping many times and just enjoying the words and the emotions she’s written. Many times. It was something that touched me, is so emotionally written and will stay with me for quite some time for certain. Right up to the very, very end you are completely invested in this story. It simply won’t let you go. It’s also an incredibly emotional story that decidely confirms history’s unfortunate way of repeating itself.  4.5 stars.

A person got to wonder at the misery one human being inflict upon another. Got to wonder what the Lord intended (Willie Mae Cotton).

Audiobook Review: Little Wolves

13536606Thank you to AudioGo and Audiobook Jukebox for advancing a copy of Little Wolves in audio. This book was (and again I fear I’m sounding like a broken record here) also advanced to us via Net Galley, however (here we go again) it came in PDF format. Therefore, it was great to see it come available in audio. Although the audio version wasn’t the very greatest, overall,  Little Wolves was a satisfying read. It’s a story of redemption, mystery, mythology, small town and old family resentment and myth.

It is beautifully described, lyrically written, and slow building and Little Wolves does come to a fairly satisfying finish. It wasn’t at all what I anticipated the story to be about, and there were times when I was slightly confused – confused either by the purpose or by the seemingly lack of connection between all the characters and their stories. Perhaps it was how the ties were sewn up or the tenous threads that bound their stories together that didn’t quite sit right with me?  The story builds, slowly, with small pieces revealed over time. And then in those few final chapters you do edge forward in your seat and hang on to find out how it all comes together and end. However, again, I was still left thinking there seemed to be a lack of connection or just that something that would tie everyone and everything together.

From The Reading Room: Set on the Minnesota prairies in 1987, during a drought season that is not helping the demise of the family farms, the story features two intertwining narrators, a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town America, reminiscent of Russell Banks’ “Sweet Hereafter” or “Affliction,” driven by a powerful murder mystery, “Little Wolves” is a page-turning literary triumph.

The description and cover of this book are great right? Still, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, and the “powerful murder mystery” falls a touch flat.

Clara is a motherless child, who grew up listening to her father’s mythical, fantastical tales about wolf children, about a baby being rescued in the valley fields and protected by the wolves and another about a child born with wolf-like features (body covered in dark hair). All these tales were told to Clara by her father as a way to cover up the truth about her mother and what happened that evening so many years ago, leaving her father without a wife, and Clara without a mother. Clara is somewhat obsessed with the stories and dreams of wolves and coyotes and is determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

Clara marries a pastor and has a hand in guiding him to work in this town in Minnesota where she thinks she’ll find the truth concerning her mother. Here, Clara becomes a teacher and continues the teaching of these mythical tales. She teaches her students Beowulf stories, legends and myths. One student that is keen to Clara is Seth Fallon, also a motherless child.

In the opening of the novel, Seth comes to Clara’s home dressed in an long oil-cloth cloak and armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Something inside tells Clara to stay hidden from sight and she does not answer the door. Seth eventually walks away, but then kills the town’s sheriff and then turns the gun on himself. The town is left in turmoil and despair and the long tempered resentment amongst the townfolk bubbles to the surface following these two events.

It’s all this in-between of Seth’s opening actions and Clara’s wolf stories, where things remained in a constant convoluted state for me. Even at the end, the reasons given, the long-simmering hatred between two families, and the mystery surrounding Clara’s mother and her part in this town’s history weren’t fully realized, in my opinion. I was still left with some confusion or understanding when all was revealed.  I got it, I mean, I got the role Clara’s mother played in the town’s history, the probable reason for Seth coming to Clara in the opening, I think, but it was really cryptically explained and the ties that bound Seth and Clara (outside of their love for wolves and coyotes and being motherless) and the reasons for Seth becoming involved and doing what he did on that fateful day, are quite tenuously explained, at best.

By the end and after putting aside my frustration with the narrator’s voice, I just lost myself in the beautiful descriptive writing of Maltman. This is where I became most entranced and willing to continue with the story. Everything really is beautifully described, I’m thinking I may have enjoyed this more had I just read the book, instead of listening to the audio.

In regards to the audiobook: This is one of those rare times when I say, just read the book instead. I know right? I never say that! I’m always singing about how you just must listen to this one instead of just reading it. In the beginning I was a little confused to find they chose a female narrator for the story, as there is only one female voice – Clara’s. The whole rest of the cast are almost entirely men, or, it’s told in the male voice. Therefore, when a female narrator attempts to speak in a grovelly, deep, raspy manly voice – it fails. Oh it’s awful. And that was so very distracting for me and very frustrating. Other than that, she did narrate the non-speaking parts fine and I found that it was a much better experience when I put my frustration about her voice aside and just tuned in to the lovely descriptions and details that Maltman uses when he writes.

So, overall,  a 3.5 for the story, as it was a satisfying read, but 3 for the narration. Read it, don’t listen to it.


Book Review: The Map Maker’s War

You receive an email from Leyane at FSB Media asking if you would like to review The Map Maker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue (Atria Books; March 2013). You read the GoodReads description:

This will be the map of your heart, old woman. In an ancient time, in a faraway land, a young woman named Aoife is allowed a rare apprenticeship to become her kingdom’s mapmaker, tasked with charting the entire domain. Traveling beyond its borders, she finds a secretive people who live in peace, among great wealth. They claim to protect a mythic treasure, one connected to the creation of the world. When Aoife reports their existence to her kingdom, the community is targeted as a threat. Attempting to warn them of imminent danger, Aoife is exiled for treason and finds refuge among the very people who had been declared her enemy. With them, she begins a new life surrounded by kindness, equality, and cooperation. But within herself, Aoife has no peace. She cannot share the grief she feels for the home and children she left behind. She cannot bear the warrior scars of the man she comes to love. And when she gives birth to their gifted daughter, Aoife cannot avoid what the child forces her to confront about her past and its truth. On this most important of journeys, there is no map to guide her. In this tale—her autobiography— Aoife reveals her pain and joy, and ultimately her transformation. The Mapmaker’s War is a mesmerizing, utterly original adventure about love and loss and the redemptive power of the human spirit. Watch for its epic sequel, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, in 2014.

You think it sounds intriguing. You reply yes, thank you.

You receive the book 2 weeks later | it has a beautiful cover |


You forget that Elizabeth said she wanted to read it and you start reading. You are VERY distracted by the second person narration but you figure you will soon get used to it | you don’t | A 225 page book that should take you no more than 3 days to read takes you a month to finish. It’s lack of certain punctuation also distracts you | move on to the story |

You meet Aoife when she is young and her BFF is the boy who will one day be king | he arranges for her to apprentice as a map maker because she likes to draw | You are only on page 25 and she is all grown up | her map apprenticeship is over; there are no details | You follow her as a full-blown map maker to a distant settlement | she has never felt such a sense of peace before; she cannot get the settlement out of her mind | Upon her return to her own kingdom she reports that the people of the peaceful settlement are guardians of a mysterious treasure | a dragon hoard of gold and jewels | You soon realize that the king-boy, Wyl, is in love with her | she has the hots for him too | You know that he will ask for a map to the dragon hoard kept by the Guardians | she has no map but will help him to find the treasure via magical amulet instead | You follow Aoife who is following Wyl to the hoard | after they find it they finally have sex | You understand that he is supposed marry someone else for the sake of the kingdom but because she gets pregnant they get married instead | it makes her mother extremely happy to have a daughter married to the king but Aoife stopped feeling any attraction to Wyl immediately after the sex | You witness the traumatic birth of their twins and watch Aoife struggle with living with a man she doesn’t really like or respect and with motherhood | the twins have no names; she feels no affection for them |

Eventually you see that Wyl’s brother, Raef, is evil | moustache a-twirling |  You suddenly realize that he wants to start a war with the Guardians | he convinces Wyl and the kingdom that they are war mongers but he just wants to take the dragon hoard treasure | You see that Aoife cannot bear this | because she has been there once and felt peace | You witness her trying to put a stop to the war and her inevitable exile | she is to be taken out of the kingdom and killed for saying the Guardians are not full of war but full of peace | Wyl does nothing to stop this and you hold your breath but the killing doesn’t happen | one of the guards has a pang of conscious and lets her go | You know she will go and warn the Guardians of the coming war | there is guilt because she was the one who mentioned the dragon hoard in the first place and showed Wyl where it was |

You are happy to learn all about Aoife’s new life in the Guardian settlement | they accept her without question because they are so at peace and so modern; she becomes a baker | Eventually you see that she will hook up with a Guardian warrior, Leit | he has a sad and troubled past and a pet wolf | You follow the story through a second pregnancy | the Guardians have a way different philosophy on childbirth and child rearing than the other kingdom; the men help– go figure | As you read you come to have more interest in the baby, Wei, who turns out to be a Voice | a violet eyed, blind understander and translator of all languages; a trait that is extremely valued in the Guardian settlement | You are glad to see that there is a bit more detail of Wei’s Voice training than there was for Aoife’s map making training | but she is all grown up and gone to have her own life in a matter of 25 pages or so | You witness all of Aoife’s old friends dying off, including Leit, and you realize that she will soon be joining them. You see that Aoife is too sad and bothered to die so Wei must talk her into making peace with her step brother and sister | which she does– the end |

You don’t hate this book but you don’t love it either. You appreciate what the author was trying to do but you just don’t think there is enough development of the story or character detail to make this a great read. You attribute the failure to do so mainly to the distraction and limitation of the second person narration style. You give this book a 3 star rating and realize that you will more than likely take a pass on the sequels. You wonder if Elizabeth would have liked it better | maybe she will take a stab at it too just to see |