Audiobook Review: The Asylum

aslym  This isn’t going to be my most lovingly-written review, unfortunately. I’ll apologize upfront for that. Perhaps it was read at not the right time, however, can that really be? That seems an ill-fitting excuse, for the description and ability to have it read in audio by Rosalyn Landor certainly held great appeal. I had also previously read The Séance by John Harwood so was definitely intrigued when I saw his new gothic suspense was available.

Unfortunately, and right from the start, The Asylum was a suffering bore and bordered on the absurdly predictable. The lead character, Georgina Ferrars, also bordered on the ridiculous. She was ridiculous in her complete callowness and by the background story presented as to how she came to find herself locked away in the Tregannon House, a private asylum in England. The teaser of hidden family ties and secrets were not thrilling at all. Again, Georgina’s naivete was more like complete stupidity. I fought with myself often to stop the deep sighing and eye-rolling committed when bit by bit the mystery was being unveiled.

What I thought would be a delicious tale of  injustice put on Georgina in the asylum and the reasons discovered as to why/how she became locked away in the first place, fell seriously and completely flat on its face. The first part of the story was insufferable in its droning on of irrelevant descriptions and background information. At first I chalked it up to Rosalyn Landor’s narration. I’m sorry for this Ms. Landor, as it became apparent half way through that this was not the case. I continued to listen to this story only because of Ms. Landor’s narration. She did a wonderful job, she had wonderful tone and she gave every one of the characters a perfectly suited voice. Alas, even a terrific narration could not get me to change my mind about The Asylum. 😦

I’ve given The Asylum 3-stars. That’s generous, I know, given my statements above, but if I were to consider the Literary Hoarder’s ranking on the right, it states “Good, recommend with reservations”, and that sounds about right.

Thank you to Blackstone Audio for providing a copy of The Asylum. This was read for the Solid Gold Reviewers program with Audiobook Jukebox.

Description of The Asylum:

A brilliant new Gothic thriller from the acclaimed author of The Ghost Writer and The Séance.

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor Maynard Straker tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before and then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.”

Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary. Who is the woman in her uncle’s house? And what has become of her two most precious possessions: a dragonfly pin left to her by her mother and a journal that contains the only record of those missing weeks? Georgina’s perilous quest to free herself takes her from a cliffside cottage on the Isle of Wight to the secret passages of Tregannon House and into a web of hidden family ties on which her survival depends. (from Audible)


Audiobook Review: Shine Shine Shine

A heartfelt thank you, thank you, thank you to Audiobook Jukebox and Macmillan Audio for sharing Shine Shine Shine with the Literary Hoarders.  What a wonderful story, and what a marvelously written debut novel!

First, I must warn you not to be fooled by the simplistic phrase “epic love story.”  To do so would be to grossly underestimate this book’s charm, and its power to resonate.  This was, for me, more than a love story.  It swelled and burst with life, and the characters surged from the story with brilliance and enviable candor.  I struggle now to recall a key person in this novel that I did not want to meet.  Each one was deliciously complex, and beautifully flawed.

Shine Shine Shine orbits around Sunny and Maxon Mann, childhood best friends who eventually married and had a child of their own (affectionately nicknamed “Bubber”).  Sunny, now pregnant with her second child, has shoehorned herself and her little family into Virginia’s ideal version of suburbia.  These three exhaust themselves fitting in to the perfect Stepford small-town.

Alas, they are different.  Sunny, born in Burma during a full eclipse, was born strong-willed, wildly intelligent, and completely hairless.  Sunny is bald, has no eyelashes, eyebrows or hair of any kind.  In order to fit in to her perfect world, Sunny has disguised herself with a beautiful blonde wig, and an impeccable taste in craft fairs.  Paired with her pretty cardigans and granite countertops, Sunny passes as everywoman, and blends beautifully with her surroundings.

Maxon (hands down my favorite character) is a genius.  His off-the-charts brilliance has him working for NASA.  As the book kicks off, Maxon is on his way to the moon, for the purposes of robot colonization.  Having been coached how to behave properly by Sunny and Sunny’s mother, Maxon knows when to nod, grimace, respond quietly, or offer scripted condolences.  Typically equipped with an erasable marker, Maxon is always ready to solve any of life’s problems with striking mathematical accuracy (and a completely stoic demeanor).  If you’re not crazy about Maxon by the halfway mark, then you’re not reading carefully enough.  Would love to give the man a bear hug, but chances are excellent that he would have no clue what to do with it.  Besides, he only has eyes for Sunny.

Bubber is an autistic child.  Thanks to Sunny’s effort to control his outbursts, head-banging, and repeated jabbering, he’s heavily medicated.  Bubber must fit in too, just like his father.  His preschool would like Sunny and Maxon to consider more medication.  They don’t like what happens when Bubber doesn’t “get the blue chair” during art class.  They aren’t equipped to deal with… difference.

And then one day, there’s a fender bender in this quiet town, and just as Sunny’s airbag goes off, the wig flies out the window, and into a puddle.  Her neighbors see her for the first time.  Really see her.

And that’s when the story actually starts.  You are then privy to everything from the courtship of Sunny’s mother, to early life in Burma, to a move to the U.S. where a chance meeting with a neglected child from down the street pairs Sunny with the man of her dreams.  There are secrets, longings, love in its purest form, and yes, even a little bit of murder.  See?  I told you it wasn’t just a love story.

Truly, however, I understand this classification.  Because this book is love.  Love through pain, through differences… love between husband and wife…love between parent and child.  It’s also love and acceptance of one’s true self, which is no small feat.

Lydia Netzer’s writing is remarkable.  On more than one occasion, I was pretty convinced that she too must be an astronaut.  How else could she describe Maxon’s complexities with such agility?  How could she hop from discussing robotics, to the umbrella of autism, and then over to the pain of saying goodbye to an ailing parent?  She made it seem so effortless.  Of course, it isn’t.

I could keep waxing rhapsodic about Shine Shine Shine, but instead, I’ll recommend that you get your copy today.  I promise that you’ll be taken aback by Lydia Netzer’s intellect, and her gift for telling a unique and unparalleled story.  If you happen upon the audiobook version, I also promise that Joshilyn Jackson will do justice to the characters, with affection and understanding.  I was surprised at this narrator’s pitch at first, but she then became the perfect fit for everyone in the book.

4.5 enthusiastic stars for Shine Shine Shine, and a plea for Lydia Netzer to hurry and publish a second!

Audiobook Review: The Light Between Oceans

Thank you to Audiobook Jukebox and Simon & Schuster Audio for sending the audio book, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This was reviewed for the Solid Gold Reviewer’s Program at Audio Jukebox. (9 CDs for 10.5 hours.)

You can watch a trailer here describing this lovely debut novel.

Thomas Sherbourne has returned to Australia following his time served in WWI. He considers himself one of the very lucky ones, as he’s returning physically unscathed. The war medals he’s won mean nothing to him after knowing the state of many friend and fellow soldier. Mentally… well no one came out of that war of complete sound mind anyway, did they? In order to settle his mind some he agrees to the job as lighthouse keeper on Janus. Janus is quite isolated and Tom enjoys his time alone, studying the stars, quieting his mind.

The responsibilities and duties of a lighthouse keeper stipulate honour above all and the strict keeping of records with critical detail, no lies, no misrepresentation. Failure to follow the keeper code results in immediate termination. These are the duties and responsibilities that Tom abides by and takes very seriously. Every few months, Tom is collected so he may return to the mainland and here meets the flirty and forthcoming Isabelle. He can hardly believe his luck when Isabelle returns to Janus with him as his wife.  Their life on Janus is a simple yet very happy one. However, it begins to turn to a burden for Isabelle following two miscarriages and one stillborn birth. It has only been just a few weeks since Isabelle and Tom buried their little boy when a small boat washes up. Inside, a dead man and a very small infant girl. Isabelle is astounded at the find, could her prayers really have been answered? Has this beautiful and perfect little girl been sent to save her? Since it’s only been a few short weeks, the baby quickly takes to Isabelle’s breast. Tom is incredibly torn at his duty and the request from his wife to keep this child as their own, and makes and agrees to the decision going against everything Tom has honoured in his job as lighthouse keeper, to accept and keep this miracle as their own. No one will be the wiser, right? After all, who on earth would allow a man to make off with an infant? This mysterious man has died, surely the same fate has met the mother? They decide to name the baby Lucy and the light, shine and vibrancy has returned to Isabelle, surely they made the right decision in not reporting this to anyone.

Alas, this baby girl was a miracle and an answer to another woman’s prayer as well. Upon return to the mainland for Lucy’s christening, nearly two years following the discovery, the Sherbourne’s learn a terrible truth about Lucy. A woman is known to haunt the shores anxiously looking for clues to the whereabouts of her husband and infant child. Her husband left in a moment of anger and took baby Grace with him, out to sea. For you see, Hannah had married a man that her wealthy father disagreed with, disowned her and it was only following this child’s birth where family relations were repaired. It was a terrible misunderstanding that led Hannah’s husband to flee and take Grace, only around 2 months old at the time with him. Again, this child had performed a miracle, such a special child she was.

Tom becomes increasingly ill at ease with their decision as the years continue to go by, knowing the state Hannah, the girl’s real mother, is in. He feels he must set the situation straight, even if it means losing everything that has become so important to him. Releasing small clues to Hannah results in disasterous consequences for himself, Isabelle and dear little Lucy.

So dear reader, which woman is now to be forced to make an ultimate sacrifice? Should the woman that carried and gave birth to her daughter be allowed to have Grace as hers once again? But what of the woman that has raised and loved Lucy over the past four years, should she be able to continue to call her daughter? This is something I will not spoil for you must certainly pick this one up to discover on your own. Here is another stellar debut novel that shouldn’t be missed!

The Light Between Oceans is narrated by Noah Taylor (perhaps recognized from role in Shine. Remember that great movie? He played David Helfgott as an adolescent).  Noah is Australian and therefore leant great authenticity to the story and dialogue between characters. However, I’m giving his narration only 3 stars as I found it somewhat annoying to find he spoke with a lisp and when it came to the descriptive, non-dialogue sections of the story he would quiet his voice and mutter. The mumbling made it at times difficult to fully understand what he was saying! Other than these two factors, he did do a wonderful job with the dialogue and gave everyone genuine and different accents. However, I do have to say I think I may have enjoyed listening to it (despite the faults) over reading the paper version? The authenticity of the Australian accents made it worthwhile as it set a great, great tone to this very interesting story. 4 stars for the tale, 3 stars for the narration!

Audiobook Review: Bring Up the Bodies

With many thanks to Audiobook Jukebox and Macmillan Audio, I had the opportunity to listen to Hilary Mantel’s remarkable new novel, Bring Up The Bodies.  You may have encountered books about Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell previously, but I challenge any reader to find a richer depiction of the Tudors’ intrigue.

Historical accounts of the demise of Anne Boleyn have repeatedly examined the weeks leading to her death with an unflinching eye.  This rendition by Mantel brilliantly shares Anne’s fall from grace through the calculating eyes of Thomas Cromwell.  I found this take on Tudor history captivating, and would be remiss if I did not note that Mantel’s exhaustive research was evident throughout the story.  Her attention to detail is meticulous and unwavering.  The dialogue is sharp, the plotting is merciless, and the physical descriptions are reminiscent of art.  If the period were not so long ago, you might be convinced that the author witnessed everything first hand.

With the exiled death of the discarded Queen Katherine, Queen Anne’s bloom quickly fades.  King Henry’s chase of Anne is long over.  Anne’s sharp tongue is now regarded harshly.  Most importantly, Anne has yet to produce a male heir.  Henry’s inevitable wandering eye has fallen on the soft-spoken Jane Seymour, and while that family prepares itself for riches, promotions and royalty, Henry directs Cromwell to annul his marriage to Anne.  Considering the lengths that were reached to destroy his first marriage, this will be no small feat.  Lies that were constructed to help Henry rid himself of Katherine must be dismantled and repurposed, and broken relationships must be mended as a means to an end.  To be effective, Cromwell needs to create the ultimate blueprint of disloyalty and treason.

Would Norris understand if he spelled it out?  He needs guilty men, so he has found men who are guilty.  Though, perhaps not guilty as charged.

Treading for air in a sea of half-truths, Master Secretary Cromwell carefully navigates the waters.  As Anne grips the pearls around her neck and vows vengeance, Cromwell steadily prepares the case against her honor.  While gents on the Court’s perimeter offer everything from witchcraft to previous marriages as reason for exile, Cromwell sets his sights on adultery.  Anne’s cunning and sexual confidence were traits which helped her secure position as Queen, which made them obvious tools for her downfall.  As recorded by history, Cromwell’s efforts were successful, resulting in the executions of innocent men, and the public beheading of Anne.

By chronicling the challenges that were presented to Cromwell by King Henry, the reader is quickly introduced to the Master Secretary’s loyalty, and his guarded character.  Mantel’s Cromwell is shrewd, methodical and deliberate.  Something as nondescript as the raising of an eyebrow is purposeful.  But, as shared by this story, Cromwell was also a haunted man, which was an observation that I found to be refreshing.  His childhood reared its head on more than one occasion, and he could not wash the blood of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey from his hands.  While he gained power and riches, he knew that ultimately, the story would continue without him.  With every success he secured for the King, Cromwell was keenly aware that he was only leading himself to an inevitable demise.  To say that Mantel drew an exceptional portrait would be a gross understatement.

I also had great appreciation for Mantel’s portrayal of Henry VIII.  He was precisely as I would have pictured him: spoiled, self-entitled, impatient and insolent.  The word ‘ridiculous’ also comes to mind, but this description seems too simplistic to describe a tyrant of this significance.  Regardless, the petulant Henry was perfectly drawn here, and it served the drama effectively.  I was also pleased to see that Anne Boleyn was not overdone; while she was undeniably haughty and scheming, she was never offered up as melodramatic.  By recognizing that Anne was as intelligent as she was manipulative, the reader is permitted a glimpse of the woman behind the name.

This audiobook was narrated by Simon Vance, who masterfully represented every character.  Mr. Vance’s range offered many surprises, from a booming resonance to a demure whisper.  Thanks to his skill, there was never any confusion regarding which character was holding the floor.  Considering how many people were present in Henry VIII’s Court, this was no small accomplishment.

Overall, this novel was a beautifully written account of a tumultuous time in history.   4 stars for Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies!