Audiobook Review: Seasons’ End

17780306Will North’s Seasons’ End was an audiobook read for the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer’s program. Thank you to them and to Blackstone Audio for the pleasure of listening to this story.

The cover quote from the Seattle Times states,

“North’s knack for endearing characterization creates a memorable cast across the generations.”

This was immediately evident after listening to the first few minutes of the story, as I quickly became involved and part of Colin’s tale. Continue reading

Audiobook Review: The House of Silk

11093329The game is afoot Watson!

But could this case mean the demise of Sherlock Holmes? Is this case too involved, too complex and could it mean the end for Mr. Holmes?

Told from the perspective of his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, he sits to tell the one final case about the House of Silk that had many years prior.  Watson fondly remembers his now passed friend Holmes. He sorely misses him and feels that now is the best time to put pen to paper to give the public one last Holmes adventure. But the tale of the House of Silk could not be written until this time, as it is a story that was far too despicable, far too shocking to share at the time it happened.

The case of the House of Silk is very complex, with many wishing that it remains highly classified and top secret. Holmes risks a great deal when he becomes involved in trying to uncover the what, who and why.

This was an exceptionally entertaining audio book to enjoy during the commute. The theatrical narration provided by Sir Derek Jacobi was positively perfect for a Sherlock Holmes tale. The final chapters leading up to the discovery, the chase and the confrontation are exceptionally well-delivered with Jacobi’s theatrical presentation. It builds to exciting and fast-paced solution and results in fantastic entertainment!

“The House of Silk”, with its true purpose is a disturbing discovery and one that will leave an indelible mark upon its readers, just as much as it left for Holmes himself.

The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate hand selected Anthony Horowitz to pen this tale “because of his proven ability to tell a transfixing story and for his passion for all things Holmes. Destined to be an instant classic, The House of Silk brings Sherlock Holmes back with all the nuance, pacing and almost super-human powers of analysis and deduction that made him the world’s greatest detective.

I couldn’t agree more with the choice of author and the description of the tale itself. Watson’s retelling of the case and of his fond love for his trusted colleague is very well done. Excellent read. Wonderfully entertaining. Again, the enjoyment this audio book presents makes it one very worthy of the listen for its enhanced enjoyment over reading the print version. Jacobi takes the fantastic and detailed description from the pages and breathes tremendous life into it. A 4.5 star read!

Audiobook Review: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

ruthieThe Little Way of Ruthie Leming is a heartfelt ode that author Rod Dreher wrote for his sister.  This book gives new meaning to the word sincerity, and I would be remiss if I did not commend the respect that this man demonstrated for his entire family.  In his quest to discover what made his sister tick, the author took an unflinching look at himself, which is never easy.  The book opens its heart to the reader, and reveals truths that were both sweet, and sometimes unkind.

Living in a small Louisiana town of 1,700, Ruthie Leming never felt the need to leave.  She was a simple girl, and her aspirations revolved around her town, her family, and her community.  She knew from the start that home is where the heart is, and her personal goals never took her far from her parents or her neighbors.  She married her High School sweetheart, and had three lovely children.  She became a school teacher, and by all accounts, was a gifted one at that, inspiring her students to be the very best that they could be.  She was a devoted wife, mother, and daughter.  She was happy.

Her brother, on the other hand (the book’s author), was not happy with small town life.  His aspirations took him away from home, and he became an accomplished journalist.  He lived in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.  His parents and his sister did not take kindly to his departure, and on more than one occasion, I was very disappointed by the accounts of their behavior.  His sister thought that he was too big for his britches, and would toss comments his way during family dinners, to ensure that he knew in no uncertain terms that his leaving home was wrong.  At one point, the author and his wife visited his Louisiana family and decided to make everyone dinner.  Because the dinner had a fancy name, however, no one would touch it.  I found this so disappointing and childish that it colored my view of the family.

In her early 40s, Ruthie was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lung cancer (a surprise for someone who never smoked).  She fought the horrific disease for 19 months, and during the battle, she was surrounded by the extraordinary love of her family and her friends.  There was no question that this was a remarkable town.  Everyone knew everyone. Neighbors were always ready to lend a hand, or a shoulder to cry on.  It was a community of faithful, and it was clear that Ruthie was blessed to be part of it.  It was impossible not to be moved by her fight.  Her determination to keep her family safe from fear while the disease sapped her strength was valiant; she tried to protect them to the end.  When cancer finally robbed this community of their beloved Ruthie, the heart of the town stopped beating for a few moments. Everyone was devastated, and this portion of the book was completely heartbreaking.

After the death of his sister, Rod Dreher wanted back in to the community that he left so many years ago. Seeing first hand the warmth of a tight-knit town propelled him to move his own wife and children “home.” (I thought very highly of his wife for doing this, as she had her own hometown in Texas that she left to be with Rod.)  Regardless, the move was made, and here Rod was forced to come to terms with a troubling discovery, that his sister had unkind words to say about him when he was not around.  I found this to be terribly sad, because life is just too short to pay heed to petty issues.  Love your family for who they are.

The author repeatedly chastised himself for pursuing selfish dreams, and for forsaking the love of his hometown for his own interests.  (The author does eventually note that he does not regret the life that he led before returning to his roots, and for that admission, I say thank you.)  Overall, however, he maintains that there is no true happiness to be found in large cities, because neighbors don’t know neighbors.  The gist here is that people essentially live in bubbles of self-indulgence while missing out on true happiness. That happiness, according to the author, can only be found in the zip code of your youth, where roots have been growing for generations.  You should know everyone that surrounds you, and you should always be ready and willing to be there for them in their time of need.

Is this a nice message?  You bet.  I agree that people today are too busy to know one another.  I agree that we could do more to be present for those who love us the most.  I agree that a simple life can certainly be a happy one.  Material wealth isn’t impressive, and shambling up corporate ladders will leave many feeling hollow rather than accomplished.  Where the author and I part ways, however, is the assertion that a town of 1,700 is the only place to find true fulfillment.  That it’s selfish to want more for yourself or your children.  That’s it’s indulgent to pursue a career that takes you away from you parents. None of this, in my opinion, is true.  People leave home all the time for academics, for employment, for love.  It does not mean that they don’t adore, or miss the extended family that they have left in the community of their youth.  It also doesn’t mean that they don’t get homesick.  I think that a successful life is one where you find love, intellectual fulfillment, and spiritual health.  It’s a life where you not only cherish your family, but are there for them in their time of need (even if you have to travel a great distance to be there).  That’s my version of perfection. Is it the case for everyone?  No, of course not, and I would not determine that this is right for you. Everyone has their own path, and strong extended families support one another during life pursuits.

Do I think that Ruthie Leming was a good person, who had faith in God, and a wonderful family?  Of course.  She was blessed.  Cancer robbed this family of a loving member, and they will forever be changed.  Such loss is also true of many, many other families.  The one thing about cancer is that it steals lives indiscriminately.  Thousands of people could write similar tributes to their missed loved ones, and each would be full of unyielding heartbreak.  I do hope, however, that the people who are left behind on this earth are not blanketed by guilt for having lived their own lives.  Because that would be another tragedy.

3 stars for The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.  While I don’t agree with the book’s takeaway, the pages are full of heart, and any sibling would be lucky to experience this kind of devotion.

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!)