That Time When a Book was More Than I Thought….

That Time When a Book was More Than I Thought….The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird
Narrator: Bill Nighy
Length: 6 hours 6 minutes
Published by Random House Audio
on October 27, 2015
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 240
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
I was hoping against hope that the penguin would survive because as of that instant he had a name, and with his name came the beginning of a bond which would last a life-time.'

Tom Michell is in his roaring twenties: single, free-spirited and seeking adventure. He has a plane ticket to South America, a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school, and endless summer holidays. He even has a motorbike, Che Guevara style. What he doesn't need is a pet. What he really doesn't need is a pet penguin. Set against Argentina's turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Perónist regime, this is the heart-warming story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by Tom from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom's side, the young teacher has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school.

Whether it's as the rugby team's mascot, the housekeeper's confidant, the host at Tom's parties or the most flamboyant swimming coach in world history, Juan Salvador transforms the lives of all he meets - in particular one homesick school boy. And as for Tom, he discovers in Juan Salvador a compadre like no other... The Penguin Lessons is a unique and moving true story which has captured imaginations around the globe - for all those who dreamed as a child they might one day talk to the animals.

Okay, I admit it. I picked this book for the cover. So sue me. In my defense, LOOK at that cover. Is there anything cuter than a penguin wearing a long scarf? Okay, I could probably go for an owl or a fox wearing a long scarf, or a Doctor (wink), but not many animals, or people, can pull off this look.

Judging by the cover, I was expecting a sweet, slightly whimsical, and completely charming story of a man and his penguin. I got all of that. But I also got so much more, for during the time Michell owned his pet penguin, he lived in Argentina and it was an Argentina in turmoil. It is the post-Perón years and it is a time period I absolutely knew nothing about. So, intermingled with adorable stories of a penguin who rules a boarding school in Argentina are stories of coups and all the problems of living in an impoverished country where violence, deprivation, and uncertainty run rampant.

Now really. Is there a better way to learn some history about a time period and place you know little about? Surround any history lesson with stories of a cute penguin (or an owl, fox, or octopus to name a few others) and I think one could teach anybody anything.

The absolutely icing on the cake, for me, was Bill Nighy’s narration. Yes, ole Davy Jones himself reads the book and he reads it masterfully. He can read to me, anything, anytime. Loved it.

Thoughts on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Thoughts on The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston LerouxThe Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Narrator: Ralph Cosham
Length: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Genres: Classic
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.

I know I said all I was going to say about this book was that “it stinks,” but I feel moved to say more. So.

You know how when you pick up a classic, you’re expecting something special? I mean, there must be a reason a classic is a classic. It’s either brilliant, to a glimpse into another time, or excellent writing, or excellent characters….there is something defining about a book that has stood the test of time.

This is why I’m left baffled by The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. I found it absolutely horrible. Feeling left out and confused, I mean, WHY? WHAT AM I MISSING? I took to the internet for insight, reviews on what is so great about this book? Why has it endured? What am I missing?

So, what’s my problem? What’s NOT my problem.

Also, probably spoilers. Watch out. 

1. The Phantom/Angel/Erik/who ever he is this minute, is decidedly bi-polar. He loves Christine; he kidnaps her. He sets her free; he stalks her. He wants to keep her from Raoul; he gives her to him. MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND. Keep her or don’t keep her, but DO SOMETHING.

2. Christine is an idiot. She’s terrified of the Phantom, yet she pities Erik. She loves and wants to marry Raoul, but she refuses to run away with him. She is kidnapped by Erik, she continues to see him after he sets her free. I know we all want to believe everything our beloved parents tell us, but she actually believed her father would send her the Angel of Music? SHE HAS NO FACULTY TO MAKE DECISIONS AND ALSO; NAIVE!

3. The love of her life, Raoul, knows about the Phantom, knows how scared she is of him, yet allows her to continue down her crazy path instead of saving her from herself. MAN UP RAOUL AND BE A FREAKING HERO ALREADY. Get her the hell out of that Opera.

4. Gaston Leroux had brief moments of brilliance. Yet, honestly, I want to introduce him to Wilkie Collins and say here, THIS IS HOW YOU WRITE A SENSATIONAL NOVEL. He tried, Lord love him, but his plotting is haphazard and slower than a snail, his characters are one dimensional and boring, and his sense of style is poor in-comparison to my Wilkie. If you’re going to rip off someone else’s style, please DO IT WITH STYLE.

5. I’m left wondering, was ULTRA-CLINGY and BULLY SPARKLE PONY VAMPIRE EDWARD really Erik in disguise? Because dudes could be abusive lover twins.

I know this is a beloved book and I hate to bring on the wrath of its faithful fans, but Good Golly y’all, I hated it. I sped through the end. The only saving grace was Ralph Cosham’s excellent narration. He deserves better yo. Much, much better.

Care to take a stab at making me understand what’s so great about this book? I’m willing to let you try!


Audiobook: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, read by Amanda Ronconi

Audiobook: Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, read by Amanda RonconiThirteenth Child
Series: Frontier Magic #1
by Patricia C. Wrede
Narrator: Amanda Ronconi
Length: 9 hours, 32 minutes
on 06-05-13
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he's supposed to possess amazing talent -- and she's supposed to bring only bad things to her family and her town. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that separates settlers from the beasts of the wild.

If I could tell you about this book in a mathematical sentence, it would be:

Harry Potter + Laura Ingalls Wilder = Thirteeth Child.

OR, if you listen to the audiobook:

Harry Potter + Laura Ingalls Wilder + Firefly = Thirteeth Child.

To my tired and angsty ridden summer induced coma of a brain, this book was a breath of fresh air. The magical aspects aren’t really as IN YOUR FACE as they are in Harry Potter and the frontier life isn’t as IN YOUR FACE as Laura Ingalls Wilder. They come together in a brilliant way that I found highly enjoyable though.

Eff comes from a large family. So large in fact, that she is a thirteenth child and her twin, Lan, is a fourteeth child. If you know your magic, you’ll know that seventh sons are typically a powerful bunch. Lan, is a seventh son. He’s also the seventh son OF a seventh son. This makes him extra special powerful in the eyes of all the magicians around him. Also, if you know anything about the number thirteen, you’ll know it’s typically considered unlucky.

Eff is considered unlucky. Very, very unlucky.

The prejudice surrounding Eff in the town and her own aunts, uncles, and cousins, who are certain she will “go bad”, aids in prompting her parents to move out to the frontier with the children who haven’t left the family home. Here is where “Laura” meets “Harry”; Eff’s father takes a job as a professor of magic, at a frontier school. For magic. So the family heads off to the wild frontier where mammoths roam, steam dragons soar, and where Eff will learn just who she is and what she will become. I loved the way Wrede played with prejudice and preconceived notions and how the ideas of others can interfere with the idea one has of oneself. Poor Eff. She’s called unlucky, evil, and even told that her parents should have killed her as a baby before she can barely talk. She has no confidence in herself or in her abilities. She’s terrified to let anyone know what she really is. What happens in the course of the story, which is basically a coming-of-age-story for Eff, is, well, I can’t exactly tell you that, can I? Do you want to know if Eff finds the courage to accept herself and to see if she tries to find out what she can become?

You know the drill. Read it!

Or better yet, listen to it! Amanda Ronconi was the PERFECT choice for reading this novel. Her voice had the perfect amount of midwest twang. I swear, she reminded me so much of Kaylee from Firefly, which, yeah, made me love it more. Just a fantastic read and I can’t wait to listen to the next one.

Audiobook: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

Audiobook: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer WorthCall the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times
Series: The Midwife Trilogy #1
by Jennifer Worth
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Length: 12 Hours and 2 Minutes
Published by HighBridge Company
on September 10th 2012
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.

Finding Call the Midwife was exciting for 3 reasons. One, I found an awesome new reader. Two, I found an awesome story. And three, now I have something to watch on Netflix!

If there is one thing I have learned in 2014, it is that I love narrative nonfiction. I completely adore it. Coupled with a fantastic narrator, a good narrative nonfiction book can be a thing hard to put down. Call the Midwife was a thing very hard to put down. Jennifer Worth’s life working as a midwife and nurse in post-World War II London, in the slums no less, is nothing short of fascinating.

Oh dear. I’m gushing. Let’s get into what the book is about, exactly, and why you should read (or listen to!) it.

As I said, Call the Midwife is about Jennifer Worth’s years of working in the London slums as a midwife. She meets such a colorful cast of characters, almost exactly the sort of people you would expect. My favorite was the Spanish woman with the English husband. Neither one spoke the same language, yet they had 24 children together. 24. (to quote: “Quite suddenly, with blinding insight, the secret of their blissful marriage was revealed to me. She couldn’t speak a word of English and he couldn’t speak a word of Spanish.”) Wow!! Right? What!?! Jenny meets prostitutes, dock workers, cockney barrowmen, and more. And oh, the nuns. THE NUNS. Just like in the Sound of Music, you can’t help but adore the nuns. Sister Monica Joan, a 90-year-old nun who is a wee bit batty is a delight.

I absolutely loved Jenny’s voice. She doesn’t pull punches, but tells it like it is/was. Life was hard in the slums. Women couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, or the hospital, when the time came to give birth.

“Obstetricians also doubted the female intellectual capacity to grasp the anatomy and physiology of childbirth, and suggested that they could not therefore be trained. But the root fear was – guess what? – you’ve got it, but no prizes for quickness: money. Most doctors charged a routine one guinea for a delivery. The word got around that trained midwives would undercut them by delivering babies for half a guinea! The knives were out.”

These midwives were desperately needed and did so much to help turn the tide of death for those women, and the babies, alike. She goes into the history of the times. How the pill wasn’t introduced until the 1960s and the changes that introduces:

“The Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer going to be tied to the cycle of endless babies; they were going to be themselves. With the Pill came what we now call the sexual revolution. Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month on our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!”

Jenny doesn’t sugarcoat it childbirth. The blood, the pain, the smells…poor Jenny had a sensitive stomach. Yet, she soldiers on and through her one comes to appreciate the lives of the East End women and the way they all soldiered through their rough lives in the slums. Through it all, and most amazingly, Jenny never loses her humor, her wit, or the knowledge that each child is a stunning miracle, a gift from God, and something to be treasured.

Nicola Barber is the narrator for all of the books in the Midwife Trilogy. It was my first experience with her. I only wish I had found her much sooner. She has a marvelous, soothing voice, with just the right amount of British accent and perfect for the voice of Jenny. She sounds young, but not too young, and she does a marvelous job of changing her voice for different characters. She gained a hardcore fan with me. If you find you can’t get into reading the book, definitely give the audio a try. Or, just give the audio a try. You will not regret it.

Bits I liked:

“Their devotion showed me there were no versions of love there was only… Love. That it had no equal and that it was worth searching for, even if that search took a lifetime.”

“Now and then in life, love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind, and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault.”

“Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine? Yet midwifery is the very stuff of drama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust is born in pain, followed by joy or sometimes remorse. A midwife is in the thick of it, she sees it all.”

“Why aren’t midwives the heroines of society that they should be? Why do they have such a low profile? They ought to be lauded to the skies, by everyone.”

About Jennifer Worth

Jennifer Worth RN RM (25 September 1935 – 31 May 2011) was a British nurse and musician. She wrote a best-selling trilogy of memoirs about her work as a midwife practising in the poverty-stricken East End of London in the 1950s: Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to The East End.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, read by Jenna Lamia

9780670025831_p0_v1_s600Requisite disclaimer: I know Beth. She’s been a commenter on my blog for years. I love her. And she loves my dog.

Also: The publisher sent me this book.

This is my unbiased opinion of her new book, Looking for Me.


Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.


There are a few things in life I just completely love with all my heart. Family. Books. Food. My Country. Being Southern. Southern Novels. Art. Antiques. Fixing Up Things (at least I want to, as many can tell if you follow me on Pinterest).

Basically what I’m saying is this book was written for me.

Looking for Me is the story of Teddi Overman, and the lengths she does to, well, find herself. Growing up with an unhappy mother, with little indication as to why she is so unhappy, and a somewhat emotionally distant father, and a brother who is a nature prodigy (seriously, the boy LOVES The Great Outdoors), Teddi struggles to find herself and her place in this world, to get away and just go find what she wants. Early in life, she discovered a love for restoring furniture, or, one could say a knack for putting things to rights. Her mother has other ideas for Teddi, but her father and his gift of a car and a map help her escape. As she finally breaks away from her family, she journeys to Charleston, SC, and there, she finds some sembelance of what she wants. In the time she is gone, her father dies, her brother disappears, and her mother continues to be her mysterious, unhappy self. It is when her mother finally agrees to come visit Teddi in Charleston, that Teddi begins to learn new things about herself, and about the family she left behind.

I’m a firm believer in the right book and the right time. My timing for this book could not have been more perfect. It showed up in the mail (thank you Penguin, for sending the audiobook!). I read the description, saw that Jenna Lamia (I looooove Jenna Lamia) read it, and having been promising myself for AGES to read one of Beth’s books, so in the car it went. Jenna’s magical voice brought Teddi to life. I LOVE Teddi. I love her family. I love her shop. I want her shop. I even love her dog. And Beth’s writing is a perfect example of Southern Literature. The cadence of the Southern accent, the cadence of Southern life, are there. The love of family, the pain of loss, the search for ones own identity, within the family and without. And the slightly ambiguous ending, the not knowing for sure…about….something (I’m not telling) made it a perfect read for me. And geez, now I really, really, REALLY want to go to Charleston.

Now, back to Saving Ceecee Honeycutt for me. I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
Read by Jenna Lamia
ISBN-13:  9781611761702
Publisher: Penguin Group
Publication date: 5/28/2013
Time: 12 hours 14 minutes
Rating: 5 out of 5

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


I don’t know about you, but I get nervous when books are compared to others. I get REALLY nervous when books are compared to books I love. I find that, for the most part, this leads to a letdown.

Between Shades of Gray has been compared to The Book Thief.

I completely and totally love The Book Thief. With, like, most of my heart. So, naturally, I was also completely and totally nervous about Between Shades of Gray.

I’ll say this right now. I needn’t have been. While in many ways, Between Shades of Gray is not like The Book Thief, in others it is. And I have nothing but love, now for both of the books.

Between Shades of Gray has war, and prisons camps, and family, and strength, and hope, and love. So much love. Oh geez, I’m going to cry again. Just let me get to what the book is about:

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously-and at great risk-documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

That last part? About how Between Shades of Gray is novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart? THAT IS SO TRUE. I was slightly surprised by just how much. On the surface, it seems like I wouldn’t have a lot in common with Lina. She’s 15. I’m 35. She’s Lithuanian. I’m American. She has a loving family life with her parents and brother. I had a loving family life with my grandparents, and now my husband and children. She was sent to a labor camp in Siberia. I’ve never had such treatment. We DO have art in common, and we’re both girls, but that’s about it. Yet, thanks to Sepetys gorgeous writing, I felt I came to know Lina so well. I could understand her. I could imagine what I would do in her place. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be nearly as strong as she was.

After all I’ve said, I bet you’re thinking, “But Heather, this book will make me cry!” Well, yes, it probably will. Books about war are sad, especially when told through the eyes of a young person. However, there is so much HOPE in this book. Lina. Never. Gives. Up. Through the worst things that could happen to a person, she never gives up hope, she never gives up love, and she never, ever, gives up her strength. I’m telling you; Lina will steal your heart, just as surely as she stole mine.

Frankly put, this book is not to be missed.

Notes on the reader: Emily Klein was perfect. Her voice was soft, young, and just absolutely perfect for Lina. At first, I wasn’t too sure, but she completely won me over.

Favorite bits:

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”

“I left the jutra to chop wood. I began my walk through the snow, five kilometers to the tree line. That’s when I saw it.

A tiny silver of gold appeared between shades of gray on the horizon.

I stared at the amber band of sunlight, smiling.

The sun had returned.

I closed my eyes. I felt Andrius moving close. “I’ll see you,” he said.

“Yes, I will see you,” I whispered “I will.”

I reached into my pocket and squeezed the stone.”

“Sometimes kindness can be delivered in a clumsy way. But it’s far more sincere in its clumsiness than those distinguished men you read about in books. Your father was very clumsy.”

“Andrius, I’m…scared.”

He stopped and turned to me. “No. Don’t be scared. Don’t give them anything Lina, not even your fear.”

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Read by Emily Klein
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 4/3/2012
Pages: 368; Time: 7 hours, 47 minutes
Acquired from the NC Digital Library

Enclave by Ann Aguirre, read by Emily Bauer

Title: Enclave: Razorland #1
Author: Ann Aguirre
Read by: Emily Bauer
Published: April 2011
ISBN: 9781427211200
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Acquired from the publisher


This dystopian novel has a lot going for it. And little bit NOT.


It is I Have No Idea How Many Years into the future. Humanity has taken to living underground, it was appears to be the subway system of New York City. Humans don’t live long. The age of twenty-one is considered old age. Deuce, our heroine, was born underground. She has never seen the sun, by all appearances has never even heard of it. Deuce is a Huntress. She takes to the tunnels to hunt meat and protect the enclave from what they call “Freaks”. Freaks are, best I can tell, something of a cross between zombies and feral humans. Her hunting partner, Fade, was not born in the enclave. He was found, young and alone, in the tunnels, and the enclave took him in. Deuce is a loyal member of the enclave. Fade, maybe not so much, but, since he’s her partner, she is also loyal to him. Yet, when Fade, and circumstance, make Deuce stand up and take notice, she realizes things are maybe not what she thought.

When Deuce and Fade are exiled from the Enclave, and forced to go “topside”, Deuce learns, well, a lot. More than she ever dreamed possible.


Deuce is excellent. She’s strong. She’s smart. She relies on herself and with good reason. She can kick ass! She’s a little naive (what female character in YA isn’t any more?) and a little too trusting. She is ignorant, but only because everyone in the Enclave (except for perhaps the Word guy) is ignorant.

Fade was weak, especially compared to Deuce. The basics (and this really doesn’t give anything away!) is that he’s two years older than Deuce. He was born above ground (where the people of the enclave believe you’ll burn up if you were to walk up there) and he knew his father. He’s a wicked good fighter, he has a tendency to go feral when fighting, and he’s quiet. He’s fiercely loyal to the few (like, one, maybe two) friends he has.


  • Liked the main girl, Deuce, very much. She was very appealing in a Katniss/Katsa kind of way.
  • The world building, while sometimes a little far fetched (I have a hard time believing that the same world that is so far gone that paved roads are little more than rubble also has canned food that is edible), is also (besides that) rather well done. For instance, I liked that Aguirre made sure to make Deuce very sensitive to the sun and she doesn’t just let that go. Deuce has to worry about the sun constantly and I think that’s very true to how a girl who has only lived underground would be.
  • The story was good, if not as strong as I’d like. I kind of wonder if this isn’t a symptom of an adult writer writing a YA?
  • Strong, fast pace, which is good for the genre
  • The girl knows how to fight!


  • Could improve on character development. I felt Fade was weak; well, really every character was weak besides Deuce.
  • The plot could have been better developed. It is compelling, but I was left wanting more meat in the story (no pun intended), it’s a case of show me, don’t tell me.
  • The “love triangle” was weird. I haven’t mention the other guy. There is ALWAYS another guy. I don’t even remember his name, only that I didn’t like him. I mean, I REALLY didn’t like him. See next bullet.
  • Didn’t like the serial-rapist-and-rape-accomplice-suddenly-turned-good character (THIS is the other guy. I know. Gross.). You don’t just flip a switch on a personality like that. He makes creepy Edward Cullen look like a saint.
  • The world building is a little weird. It feels like the event-that-is-not-defined happened a very long time ago, long enough for streets to be rubble from rain and erosion, yet they can still eat food from cans? That food should be beyond rancid if it’s been that long ago. Not that we would know.
  • Didn’t care for the reader that much. She sounded way too young.


While it had some problems, Enclave was a decent dystopian novel. I am intrigued enough to read the next in the series. I think Deuce is a terrific character and I’m anxious to see if some of the problems I had with Enclave are resolved in Outpost.

The Bookseller by Roald Dahl

The Bookseller
By Roald Dahl
Read by David Ian Davies
Published:  1987
Length: about 45 minutes
Downloaded from NC Digital Library

This…is not your typical Roald Dahl book. If you’re like me, you associate Dahl with magical flying peaches, chocolate mixed by waterfall, prankster geniuses, bald witches with ‘wig-rash,’ and other such fantastical and beloved things. I read Dahl through my childhood. I adored him. I still adore him. I have introduced him to my own children, through his novels and the movies made from his novels. His stories are part of the food of our lives.

So, it took me completely by surprise to find he had written so many things for adults. So many adult things for adults.

The Bookseller is completely different from anything I’ve ever read by Dahl. The two main characters are… just…smarmy. Completely smarmy. They put the smarm in smarmy. Mr. Buggage and his “secretary” Miss Tottle (their names even sound smarmy, don’t they?) run a bookshop in London, England, called Buggage’s Rare Book Shop. And they DO actually sell books. It’s just not their main source of income. It’s what goes on in the backroom that pays the bills. It is…unsavory. There is unexpectedness of a fraudulent, and sexual, nature going on back there. Uh huh. *eyebrows up and down*

Let’s just say it involves the newspaper and letters, going out every day, to grieving widows of the dearly, and wealthy, departed.

I don’t want to give much more away. I think it’s best left as a surprise. It was completely unexpected, for me, and didn’t jive with my previous experiences with Dahl AT ALL. I suppose adding that this story was published in Playboy should pretty much clue you in. This is not to say that THIS brand new experience with Dahl was BAD. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed this story. Very much so, and I think that is partially because it was SO unexpected. Dahl’s trademark sense of humor was very much intact, if a bit darker than I’m used to. Which is fine, I have a dark sense of humor.

The audiobook was read by David Ian Davies, who did a serviceable job. I enjoyed his performance very much. He has a lovely, deep voice that fit perfectly with the story, I thought. I wasn’t bowled away or anything, but I really enjoyed it all the same. How’s that for contradictory? Anyway, the audiobook was great fun and I hope to read more of Roald Dahl’s adult stories soon.

Warning: be careful how you look up information on this story. The first link I came to gave the entire story away. On a Roald Dahl Fan site too! The shame!

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

I received this book twice. Once as an audiobook, pretty much unsolicited, and once as a hardbook which pretty much was. It wasn’t hard to pick which one to read. My decision to listen was pretty easy, when I saw that Elizabeth McGovern, Cora from Downton Abbey, read the book. I mean, really, the choice was so completely EASY. And, when I started the book, it was love at first listen. Publishers, please get Elizabeth McGovern to read all the books.

The Chaperone starts in 1920s Wichita, Kansas with Cora Coffman Carlisle escorting a 15-year-old aspiring dancer and actress named Louise Brooks to New York to attend a dance class with a prestigious dance school. This is Louise Brooks:

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Yes, she was a real person. Louise Brooks was a silent film star in the 20s and 30s, whose career petered out with the advent of talkies. Louise was a wild, arrogant, beautiful girl who cared little for what people thought or said about her. Cora, 36, with a peculiar innocence one wouldn’t expect from a married 36-year-old mother of twins to have. Cora is extremely naive. She’s very…trained…in how she should act, how she should dress, what she should think…the way most women were in these times. Louise is a shock, or a breath of fresh air, depending on how you look at it. As they travel to New York and as they move through the city, the narrative flashes back and forward between present and Cora’s past and we learn just why she is so innocent, so…complacent. The summer brings unexpected changes for Cora, thanks to her experiences with Louise, unexpected changes that will have affects for years to come. Without a doubt, Louise changes Cora for good.

I honestly don’t want to say much more than that. Cora is a completely amazing, complicated, stubborn character, who undergoes what I think is best called a coming-of-age in New York. Her worldview shifts into something unexpected and completely fascinating. Elizabeth McGovern’s narration is so perfect. She IS Cora for me. If they ever make a movie of this book, they should get her. Being from the mid-West, she has the accent and I know she could pull of Cora’s poise. Her voice is so soothing, yet can deepen and roughen depending on the sex of the character in a convincing way. Simply put she is marvelous and I’m already bemoaning the fact that I can only find two more audiobooks she’s read. McGovern outshines any problems I have with this novel.

Because there are a couple. Moriarty’s writing has come a long way. I read her first book ages ago and, while I enjoyed that book (The Center of Everything), I wasn’t bowled over by it. The Chaperone shows a lot of growth, in my opinion. A few of her characters feel a little one-note in this novel, but Cora shines in such a way that it almost doesn’t matter. Several fade to the background; Alan, Cora’s husband in particular feels forgotten at times. The twins, so important to Cora and her character, rarely appear in the story. I would have liked to have seen them more, but, since this IS about Cora, it’s a minor quibble. Honestly, I think my opinion of the book is strongly influenced by just how much I enjoyed Elizabeth McGovern’s reading, however all in all, The Chaperone was an great read that I’m pretty sure will stay with me for quite awhile.

Many thanks to Penguin for sending me both copies of this book! I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club for my review but all opinions expressed are my own.

Audiobook Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night
By Deborah Harkness

Read by Jennifer Ikeda
ISBN: 9780670023486
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 7/10/2012
Pages: 592 (or 20 disks)
Series: All Souls Trilogy, #2
Source: the publisher was kind enough to send me a copy

You know that feeling you have when a book you’ve been looking forward to for months finally comes out and you have it in your hot little hands and… and… it disappoints you?

Yeah? You do?

That’s how I feel about this book.

You see, I read, and adored A Discovery of Witches last year. It had a few problems, least of which was its slight Twilight feeling, but I forgave the problems because of the characters, in particular, Diana and Matthew. I reread A Discovery of Witches by listening to the audio book and delighted in it even more. The reader was fantastic, the characters every bit as fascinating as I remembered; so my excitement for Shadow of Night was doubled. When I got it unsolicited in the mail, I was beside myself.

Then I started listening to Shadow of Night. I read it with Andi and we burned up the internets. Shadow of Night picks up right where A Discovery of Witches left off, so yes, this review does contain spoilers for the first book. Diana and Matthew have traveled back in time to 1591, Elizabethan England, in order for Diana to find a witch who can teach her how to use and control her magic and to hide from the Convention who so desperately wants to harm her and use her to gain control of a magical book called Ashmole 782. Diana and Matthew land in the middle of Matthew’s old life as a spy, member of the mysterious School of Night AND avowed witch hater.

Dum, dum, dummmmm….

So, um, yeah, that does sound exciting, yes? And it was…to a certain extent. It was all the useless details on dress, on food, on this famous person and that famous person and yes! Matthew knew that famous person too! This book is so bloated with useless, inconsequencial, and pointless to the plot information that it eventually became an eye-roll bonanza. If I heard one more time about Matthew’s garters, or all the many layers of clothing Diana had to wear, I was going to scream. I’m all for building the scene, but I can picture a few things in my head myself. I’m surprised my eyes didn’t roll out of my head. At one point, I emailed Andi to say it felt like someone just had to show off how much she knows about the time period. Harkness is a professor and researched the history of magic and science in Europe , especially during the period from 1500 to 1700. Andi agreed.

My biggest complaint is that this trip to the past few pointless. I don’t see where they did anything in the past they couldn’t have done in the present. They go back to find Ashmole 782 and, as a result of their visit, the book is damaged as it was when Diana found it in the present, so basically, they caused the damage. They do find a witch to help Diana, which takes eons (!) (it felt like, really, it was half the book) but I figure they could just as easily have found one in the present. The only thing they couldn’t have done is met the School of Night (again for Matthew) and HOLY RUSTED METAL BATMAN, I could have lived with out Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe is another beef, but a purely irritating one to even discuss. Let’s just say I didn’t like him and still don’t understand Matthew’s tolerance of him. If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand that I hope. There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo about alchemy, which honestly, I didn’t really understand at all. And if I hear one more reference to the Goddess Diana, I cannot be help responsible for my actions.

And then, there is the Big Thing that Happens at the End and then is Never Explained. *grumble* I really can’t say anything more about that. Spoilers!

That’s not to say the book didn’t have any merits. It did. I still LIKE Matthew and Diana. I probably don’t quite love them like I did, but I do still like them. I’m still invested enough to read the last book, which Andi and I have already agreed to read together as well. A new character was introduced, Matthew’s vampire nephew Gallowglass, who *really* captured my imagination (purr…), so much so that I would read a book dedicated to his character in a heartbeat. I enjoyed meeting Matthew’s father Philippe. And the witches from Elizabethan London were interested, especially Goody Alsop, if they did seem slightly pointless. Queen Elizabeth herself makes an appearance (of course she does…. eye roll) and she is just as I always imagined her and is a lot of fun. And Diana finally starts stand up for herself to the control freak Matthew.

In the end, this book really could have used some editing to cure the extreme case of MiddleNovelitis (trademark pending) this book had. Just a wee bit of editing really could have made all the difference. Okay, a little more than wee.

As for the reader, Jennifer Ikeda returns from A Discovery of Witches and she does just as great a job in this one as that. She has a nice, measured voice that is really pleasant to listen to. Plus, she has an excellent command of accents! In this book she uses American, English, French, German, Southern American, and Scottish; and that is just the ones I remember! And I can’t be completely sure if it was the fact that I was listening to the book or the fact that I was reading it with Andi, but I’m pretty sure one of the two (or possibly both!) kept me reading to the end. So thank goodness for Jennifer Ikeda and Andi!