Saturday, October 28, 2017

767 (2017 #65). The Rose of Sebastopol

by Katherine McMahon,
read by Josephine Bailey

This book sounded interesting from its description - historical fiction set in 1854 during the Crimean War.  Due to a family crisis, my listening to this audiobook was interrupted, and the library loan for it expired.  However, I found the characters so unlikeable and their predicaments so unrealistic that there was no motivation to borrow the book again to finish it.  A too-speedy reading by the narrator didn't help - it was hard to keep track of the shifts in time.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

765-766 (2017 #63 and #64). Two Children's Picture Books

Where Oliver Fits, written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, is a wonderful picture book about "fitting in."  Oliver is a jigsaw puzzle piece who adjusts his shape and color in an effort to fit into various jigsaw puzzles - all unsuccessful, of course.  He ultimately changes himself so much that he becomes unrecognizable.  He fits in, but is unhappy.  The ending is a happy one, and the message is great.  It's also a good lead-in to a discussion about disabilities.  The fun and colorful illustrations, made in Photoshop, will attract age-appropriate children.  Definitely a great book for kids, parents, and classroom use.

Cinderella and the Furry Slippers is another "fractured folktale" retelling of a classic fairy tale by the pair of Davide Cali and illustrator Raphaëlle Barbanègre, who teamed up on Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs.  Once again, Swiss-born Italian Davide Cali has written a slightly feminist take on the traditional tale with a twist at the end.  French-Canadian artist Raphaëlle Barbanègre's colorful, whimsical, digitally-rendered illustrations add a lot to the story - especially the facial expressions!  I could definitely see using this book in a second grade classroom in my state, where students are supposed to "compare different versions of the same story in traditional and contemporary folktales with respect to their characters, settings, and plot."

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received these hardbound editions from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  They will be added to the curriculum collection at my university library.]

Sunday, October 08, 2017

764 (2017 #62). Inside the O'Briens

by Lisa Genova,
read by Skipp Sudduth

When I saw this audiobook version of a novel by Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, I knew I had to hear it.  That book put a face on early-onset Alzheimer's.  This one tackles Huntington's disease (or HD), another early-onset genetic illness.

Joe O'Brien is a 44-year-old Boston police officer with a wife and four adult children, when he starts having some unusual symptoms and behaviors. Actually some of these started seven years earlier, but were attributed to stress.  Eventually he sees a neurologist, and receives a devastating diagnosis:  HD, which has no cure.  Worse, his kids each have a 50/50 chance of having inherited the disease.

The second part of the book focuses on Joe's youngest daughter, 21-year-old Katie, and her struggle to decide whether or not she wants to be tested for the gene that causes the disease.  Impacts of Joe's illness on the whole family, including her siblings, highlight her internal struggle, as she also strives to find direction in her life as a yoga instructor.

The third part of the book goes back to focusing on the whole family, including what happens to Joe, and leads to Katie's ultimate decision.

Actor Skipp Sudduth was the perfect narrator for this book.  He has one of those deep, gravelly voices that I'd expect a blue-collar guy like Joe to have.

Lisa Genova has a doctorate in neuroscience from Harvard, and obviously knows her stuff.  She also researched the work and lives of police officers, going on ride-alongs and into jail, and underwent the training to become a yoga instructor.  I would love to see her write a novel with a protaganist suffering from frontotemporal dementia or primary progressive aphasia next.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook, and print book for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Friday, October 06, 2017

763 (2017 #61). The Other Alcott

by Elise Hooper

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women was one of my favorite novels growing up, particularly because Alcott used herself and her three sisters as inspiration for Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.  The "real" Amy was Alcott's youngest sister, Abigail May Alcott Nierriker, known as May, who really was an artist, and really went to Europe to study.

Elise Hooper has taken the facts about May and created a novel with them.  Particularly interesting for me were little details about life in Victoria-era Boston and Concord, Massachusetts, as well as in London, Rome, and Paris.  May knew artists like Mary Cassatt, and they too are part of the story.  It's obvious that Hooper did a lot of research for this book.

There is, of course, tension between the talented sisters - Louisa is the family breadwinner, and Hooper paints her as somewhat bossy and domineering, but May is certainly not perfect either.  That's what makes this historical fiction and not simply a biography, however.  Definitely worth a read.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Thursday, September 28, 2017

762 (2017 #60). The Heretic Queen

by Michelle Moran,
read by Cassandra Campbell

This book is about Nefertari, the chief wife and beloved of the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II.  The title is misleading as Nefertari was not a heretic; rather, she is portrayed in the book as related to Nefertiti, who was called the heretic queen because of efforts by her and her husband, the pharaoh Akhenaten, to establish a new religion. 

The whole heretic business was confusing, but it creates a great base for a story of court intrigue, as Nefertari maneuvers to become Ramesses' chief wife with the help of his aunt, Woserit, the high priestess of Hathor, and the vizier Paser (who was real).  Her competition is Iset, Ramesses' other wife (also real), the protegee of Woserit's evil sister Henuttawy (the high priestess of Isis) and the evil high priest of Amun, Rohotep.  A strength of the novel is the author's attention to details that make the reader feel what life was like in ancient Egypt.

Michelle Moran's website provides a lot of background information for the novel, including a family tree (albeit not interactive as the website indicates).  A Q&A page answers some questions about the inspiration and research for the book, and what the author changed or conjectured.  The wonderful Cassandra Campbell read the audiobook, with a soft but firm voice for Nefertari, the narrator.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This electronic audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

760-761 (2017 #58-59). Two Books on Senior Care

Back at the end of July, I found out my 88-year-old mother had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), specifically the nonfluent / agrammatic variant of the primary progressive aphasia (PPA) subtype.  Since then I've been doing a lot of reading to try to help me figure out what to do next.

The 36-Hour Day, by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, was updated to a fifth edition in 2011.  It does address FTD, but is primarily about Alzheimer's and dementias in general.  The first eight chapters define dementia and discuss getting medical help, characteristic behavioral symptoms of the disease (two chapters), problems in independent living and daily care, and medical problems and symptoms that appear as changes in mood.  The next six chapters focus more on the caregiver and the family.  The last five chapters address financial and legal issues, nursing homes and other living arrangements (but not really the settings that have come to be known as "memory care"), preventing or delaying cognitive decline, and more detail on brain disorders and causes of and research in dementia.  Although it is now somewhat outdated, I was glad to receive a mass-market paperback copy of this book for reference.

Stages of Senior Care, by Paul and Lori Hogan, was published in 2010.  It provides brief descriptions of the different options for caring for aging relatives and friends, ranging from aging in place, family care, senior centers and day care, non-medical and medical in-home care, and retirement and independent living communities, to more intense or later-stage care such as assisted living, skilled nursing centers, and hospice.  The book also addresses funerals, bereavement, financing care, and complications and difficult issues (such as parent-child antagonisms and sibling disagreement).  The book ends with suggestions for caring for the caregiver as well as planning your own future.  It's a good overview with some helpful sidebars with tips and questions to ask.  The authors are the founders of a prominent in-home care company, but they are upfront about this, and pretty fair presenting other options.  Considering the book's publication date, any quotes on pricing or government policies need to be updated or double-checked for relevance.  Nevertheless, I found this book to be helpful.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[Both books were originally borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  I later received The 36-Hour Day as a gift.}

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

759 (2017 #57). The Last Tudor

by Philippa Gregory,
read by Bianca Amato

This book is about Lady Jane Grey, queen of England for nine days between Edward VI and Mary I, and her lesser-known two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary.  Each girl tells her story in successive parts.

Philippa Gregory combined her Tudor Court Novels and Cousins' War series, as well as this and her previous book, into what she now calls "The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels."  There are 15 of them.  In an interview when this book was published in August 2017, Gregory said "This is, I think, going to be my last book on the Tudors," and that she wants to move on to write about "fictional characters in a realistic historical setting."

This book reads like the author is tired of the subject.  It does not help that not much happens in the book, because the three Grey girls spent much of their lives imprisoned, either in the Tower of London or under house arrest.  They seem to spend most of their time speculating about whether their cousins (Mary I and the always-suspicious Elizabeth I) will execute or free them, and about other goings-on at the time, such as Elizabeth's affair with Robert Dudley and the saga of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The trouble is - Gregory has told all these stories before.  It was interesting to learn more about Catherine and (especially) Mary Grey, about whom I knew very little, but their stories could have been told in far fewer pages.  I found the audiobook was making me sleepy while I was commuting - NOT a good sign.

Even the veteran audiobook narrator, South African actress Bianca Amato, seems tired of the series.  I did not note any real difference in the portrayal of the three sisters - they all sounded the same to me.

Besides the brief author's note that the audiobook has, the print book does include a short bibliography (two pages) at the end, and family trees as of 1550 for the Stuarts/Tudors, Seymours, and Dudleys at the beginning of the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]