Audiobook Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeAfter listening to about three minutes of Life After Life I became entirely baffled as to how this wonderful, wonderful work was completely (and disturbingly) overlooked for the Man Booker Prize 2013? Why oh Why and How on earth did some of those other titles appearing on the long-and-shortlists rise above this stellar achievement? It is baffling and disturbing to say the least! Luckily those over at The Guardian’s “Not-the-Booker” awarded Life after Life the award. And, recently it was appropriately named a finalist in The Costa Novel Award.  (I think I’ll start following the Costa Awards more closely!) I believe I’m safe in saying that for all of us here at the Literary Hoarders we are pulling for it to take the prize. Certainly, Elizabeth, whom named Life After Life as her very favourite of the year, will be anxious to hear the announcement and the crowning of Atkinson as the (rightful) winner.

Life After Life is a marvellously crafted tale about Ursula Todd, born in 1910 during a winter storm and dies during childbirth. Ursula Todd is again born in 1910 during a winter storm and survives. Then, once you’ve caught on to this game, you are pulled way, way in and find yourself never, ever wishing to leave. What if you could go back in time and alter your path? What if you could go back in time and save those that are closest to you from an unfortunate and early demise? What if you could go back in time and make tweaks to your life and those around you so that only the best is the result? For Ursula Todd, this is precisely what she is able to do after every time “the darkness falls” upon her. She is never able to shake the ever-present feeling of déjà-vu, and Ursula takes us through an incredible journey where those feelings shape and alter how she approaches major events in her life. Time after time. It’s marvelous.

The originality of the tale aside, what I really enjoyed as well was Atkinson’s writing of the Todd family dynamics. I loved spending time with this family, and the love with which she writes for them. She gives you wonderful family characters that you either want to throttle or hold tight. Despair for some will grip your heart and you’ll wonder and be left highly intrigued as to how Ursula may change the course of events that befall them. She gave us Sylvie, Ursula’s mother (the woman that pissed me off regularly) and her best-friend and elder sister Pamela (Pammy) and the beloved younger brother Teddy. She even perfectly presents the despised by all, including his parents, the eldest son/brother Morris (and Derek Oliphant will be a name that sends chills down your spine!)

What heightened the enjoyment of this story to glorious levels is the (amazing, incredible, fantastic, fabulous, splendid) narration by Fenella Woolgar. Words cannot expressfenella-woolgar-profile how freaking fantastic her narration is. She gave every character a rich, satisfying and distinct voice. Truly, I believe this is the very best audiobook narrator I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. Elizabeth and I have continued to say how desperate we are for Fenella to follow us around and babble on about the goings on around us, to read us a bed-time story, honestly, she could read the telephone book to us and we would be entranced and begging for more. I don’t know to where or whom we write, but there needs to be a campaign started where she is given the job of narrating every single audiobook recorded.

“Startingly imaginative, darkly comic, deeply poignant – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.” A great quote about Life After Life. You really should read this before it is crowned the Costa Novel Award. 4.5 stars – near perfection*!

And honestly, if you can, please, please, please treat yourself to this audiobook. If you listen to only one audiobook in your life, make it this one.

(*I found there was the overuse of the word “salubrious” and the part(s) concerning Eva Braun and Hitler I felt to weaken the story. But those are just very minor details for me in an overall fabulous tale!)

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Audiobook Review: Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

rabid_smallWHAT? Is what Penny asked me when I told her I was listening to this book. Yes! I saw the title at the WPL available on audio and it sounded soooooooo interesting that I had to have a listen. It was definitely a fascinating read.

Co-authors Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy do a fantastic job tracing this deadly virus historically, socially, literarily (is that a word??), scientifically and culturally. There were also real life survival case studies that had me on the edge of my seat more than any old horror novel would have!

Fascinating points that I learned about rabies while listening to this book:

1. The scientific name of the virus is Lyssavirus rabies– named after Lyssa, the Greek goddess of animal rage. This viral infection goes back a loooong way!

2. Any mammal can contract rabies and (even in this day and age) it is most commonly spread by unvaccinated dogs.

tumblr_m34i0w9JTA1r6etako1_5003. The rabies virus is shaped like a bullet and lives in the saliva and brain of infected mammals; it is not found in the blood.

4. Foaming at the mouth and fear of water (hydrophobia) are actual symptoms for all victims of rabies (humans and animals). An additional symptom for males only = multiple, spontaneous ejaculations until death. WHAT??

5. Once the symptoms have manifested rabies is 100% fatal.

6. Approximately 55 000 people die of rabies every year (mostly in Africa and Asia).

image7. Most commonly known as the SADDEST DISNEY MOVIE EVER, Old Yeller was based on a book by Fred Gipson about a frontier boy’s pet dog who is bitten by a rabid wolf. The Disney writers originally changed the ending and saved the dog but Walt Disney, himself, vetoed the idea. He realized that it would be a much more powerful story if Yeller died. Who didn’t freaking BAWL THEIR EYES OUT at this movie!!??!!

8. It is suspected that the “madness” that killed Edgar Allen Poe was actually a rabies infection; he showed all of the signs and symptoms.

9. The only way for a vet to officially diagnose rabies is to have a brain tissue sample sent to the public health lab for testing. It is a very grizzly process that involves the decapitation of the animal in question.

10. In literature the first stories of werewolves, zombies and even vampires (non-sparkly type) may have been born out of the actions of rabid humans.

Rabies211. Louis Pasteur’s first human test subject for the rabies vaccine was a young boy who had been bitten repeatedly by a rabid dog. His frantic mother brought him to Pasteur’s laboratory and he reluctantly took him in (Pasteur was not a doctor and could have gotten in huge trouble by doing this). The boy, Joseph Meister, spent months at the facility under constant observation and treatment and never did contract the disease. He was so grateful to Pasteur for saving his life that he became the care taker of the Pasteur Institute when he grew up. One story tells how Joseph bravely kept some Nazis from desecrating Pasteur’s tomb during WWII.

12. The island of Bali was rabies free until 2008 when a man smuggled his pet dog that was (unknowingly) infected with rabies to the island. A nationwide epidemic broke out because of this one dog and rabies continues to haunt Bali to this day. The organization BAWA started vaccination and educational programs to help eradicate the virus and they are hoping to be rabies free by 2015.

I found that reading this book made me consider the growing trend of anti-vaccination campaigns. We have come a long way in medicine, disease treatment and prevention– so much so that generations have never experienced the terror, devastation and death toll that a little virus can cause. Years of vigilant vaccination have only kept these viruses at bay but we should not be so complacent as to think that they are not just not lying dormant until they can infect again. I know many educated people who do not get their pets vaccinated for rabies and, even worse, some who refuse to have their children vaccinated for diseases that have the power to kill. We are beginning to see some of the diseases that were thought to have been eradicated (with the help of vaccination) returning– I just hope it does not come to the point of a full-blown viral epidemic before people wake up and realize that vaccines save more lives than cause harm. Seriously, better to be safe than DEAD! 

Rabid was narrated by Jonny Heller who told the story in a creepy, almost macabre voice worthy of the latest suspense/thriller. It kept the story moving even during its most scientific of descriptions. Great job! Absolutely fascinating! 4 stars from me! 

Audiobook Review: How the Light Gets In

17167084Splendid.

Ms. Penny has truly blessed us with her masterpiece in How The Light Gets In. And that should sum it all up right there – honestly, this was an incredible read. However, you cannot “start” reading these Inspector Gamache series with this one. This one is so deep into the past story of Gamache and his right-hand man, Beauvoir that starting the series here would not allow you the full appreciation of their story and of this instalment in the series. But, I get away from my gushing about this instalment in the Inspector Gamache series. Not only does this one receive my enthusiastic accolades for the story, but again, for the incredible and amazing narration of it by Ralph Cosham. He has taken the beautiful and poetic prose of Ms. Penny and brought it to such life you feel as though you are watching it unfold on the big screen.

On the cover of the audiobook case are these words of absolute truth and wisdom “Not enough praise can be accorded Ralph Cosham, who has served as the reader for all the audiobooks in this series. His voice is simply magnificent.” – Star-Ledger (but said about The Beautiful Mystery).

Ralph Cosham is pure genius in his narration. He IS Chief Inspector Gamache and he continues to share his gift by bringing to life all the personalities involved, not just Gamache. He will leave you laughing and crying and revelling in his expertise. Indeed, there is one highly charged and emotional moment between Gamache and Beauvoir where I had tears streaming down my face (and I hide no shame in sharing that!). Part of this story takes us back to the community of Three Pines and we are blessedly graced with the presence of Ruth, the acerbic and drunken old poet. Oh how Cosham can read Ruth! He’s even given Ruth’s pet duck an incredible and hilarious voice! He’s embodied the caustic voice of Ruth into the duck’s quack. It’s brilliant.

However, in order to narrate this story, it had to be created by Louise Penny. And wow, is this one fantastic. I absolutely loved, loved, loved how she weaved events that are significant in Canadian folklore into an expert whodunit. I was completely giddy when she started to spin a tale that gave us a fictitious Dionne quintuplet story, as well as the intricate care she took to shine light on an issue between police brutality and cruelty in the Native communities. She also tackles the corruption of the construction industry in Montreal. All of this is woven so seamlessly into this incredible story that also still leaves you guessing to the end.

Not only is the above storyline fantastic, she also continues to shape, mold, and give loving attention to her characters. Three Pines remains a place I want to run to, hide away and just sit and spend my time in. I want to sit in the bookstore or café and have a conversation with Gamache and the friends in Three Pines. In How the Light Gets In, we continue to discover the tortured and fractured relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir. We are also left breathlessly wondering if this will mark the end of Gamache’s career. Is the corruption he is becoming so painfully close to unveiling going to mark the end of Gamache himself? It is an edge-of-your-seat mystery all the way along.

It was an audiobook/novel I never wanted to hear end. 5 glowing stars. I’m certain this will be a story I read again in the future. I just want to wrap my arms around it once more and never let it go.

And, many thanks to Audiobook Jukebox and MacMillan Audio for the pleasure of the audiobook. This was read for the Solid Gold Reviewers program.

Here’s a fantastically worded synopsis, taken from Goodreads:

The stunning, ingenious and sinister new novel in the internationally bestselling Inspector Gamache series.

A DETECTIVE

As a fierce, unrelenting winter grips Quebec, shadows are closing in on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department and hostile forces are lining up against him.

A DISAPPEARANCE

When Gamache receives a message about a mysterious case in Three Pines, he is compelled to investigate — a woman who was once one of the most famous people in the world has vanished.

A DEADLY CONCLUSION

As he begins to shed light on the investigation, he is drawn into a web of murder, lies and unimaginable corruption at the heart of the city. Facing his most challenging, and personal, case to date, can Gamache save the reputation of the Sûreté, those he holds dear and himself?

Evocative, gripping and atmospheric, this magnificent work of crime fiction from international bestselling author Louise Penny will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Book Review: This House is Haunted

17621098This House is Haunted was read just around the Halloween time – I thought it would be a nice ghost story to help set the mood. I’ve only read one other John Boyne novel and it was the splendid audiobook and novel, The Absolutist. This gothic ghost tale is vastly different from The Absolutist. Jackie also recently read a John Boyne title, another very different read as well from both The Absolutist and This House is Haunted. (She read The House of Special Purpose.)

A few chapters into This House is Haunted and I already began to appreciate the breadth in which Boyne writes. This novel is very well written in the female voice and with considerable Dickensian flair. Again, it is also considerably different than his other recent novels in voice and context.

It is 1867, and Eliza Caine ‘s father dies rather suddenly and tragically following their night out at a reading given by Charles Dickens. Reeling from despair and the realization she is now utterly alone she makes the quick and snap decision to accept the position of governess at Gaudlin Hall. While the ad is very sparsely written and mysteriously signed only using the surname Bennett, she still accepts.

Following a few strange and unsettling events during her travels to Gaudlin Hall, Eliza arrives to find her two charges appear to be living on their own. The mysterious Bennett turns out to be the former governess, a person that seem to have fled in a hurry. She is also actually the frenzied person Eliza accidently bumps into at the train station in Norfolk.

Perplexed by the lack of information or guardianship available in Gaudlin Hall, Eliza must rely on the family lawyer, Mr. Raisin. However, Mr. Raisin is none too forthcoming with information either. Following even more harrowing experiences and near brushes with death, Eliza demands to understand what the true situation is at Gaudlin. Finally, she discovers there were four other governesses before her and only Miss Bennett has escaped with her life.

Although every instinct is telling Eliza to turn and flee this place, she cannot help but stay and continue to care for her two charges, Isabella and Eustace. While Isabella is a head-strong girl, Eliza’s love and tenderness cannot be denied for Eustace. Eliza and Mr. Raisin also have those certain feelings for each other simmering under the surface. 😉

There is an evil and dark presence inside the walls of Gaudlin, but also there seems to be one that acts as a protector to Eliza in some way. Narrowly missing her demise too many more times to count, Eliza fully uncovers the story behind this evil presence and its hold on Gaudlin Hall. It is a tragic and unsettling tale and is one that only cements Eliza’s determination to remain and care for the two children.  It ends in a fierce battle between good and evil, the true identity of the “good spirit” and an epic evening that puts Isabella, Eustace, Mr. Raisin and Eliza in great peril. I cannot give anything away as it would only ruin the ending!

This House is Haunted was a very good read, it was a quick one and also one where I truly appreciated and respected the Dickensian tone in which this tale is told. It’s a 3.5 star read: very good.