Thursday, November 30, 2017

771 (2017 #69). The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots

by Carolly Erickson,
read by Rebekah Germain

I'm calling this book a historical romance because it strays so far from the historical record as to be almost a fantasy.  Author Carolly Erickson, in her author's note at the end, describes her book as "historical entertainment" or "whimsy," and gives no other details about what is true and what is fiction. The trouble is, many readers who know nothing about Mary Queen of Scots will be very misled by this book, especially with the word "memoirs" in the title, which to me implies that although fiction, it is more based on fact than this book is.  Erickson has Mary traveling to Rome (!) and hiding with her grandmother and secret daughter (!) in France, and her last husband, Bothwell, witnessing her execution.  Rebekah Germain is fine as a narrator, but this novel is NOT recommended.

I said two years ago, after listening to my third Erickson audiobook, that I would not read any more of her "historical entertainment."  I've been doing a lot of traveling lately (six hours on the road most weekends) and listening to a lot of audiobooks, so I made an exception this time, but I definitely need to give up on Erickson's fiction.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

770 (2017 #68). Mrs. Hemingway

by Naomi Wood,
read by Kate Reading

The title is clever, as this book is actually about all four Mrs. Ernest Hemingways - Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh - told from their points of view.

In an interview, author Naomi Wood says, "I decided to show the dying days of each marriage, with flashbacks. I wanted each wife to give her account and for us to see how people remember and sometimes misremember their past."  But she also writes about "the love that got them there in the first place."

Of course, for the first three wives, the "dying days" include Ernest's affairs with the next wife - and for Mary Welsh, the "dying days" occur after his suicide.

This is a well-researched and very enjoyable read - or listen-to.

Kate Reading (a.k.a. actress Jennifer Mendenhall) is (as usual) outstanding as the narrator for the audiobook.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This e-audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to local public libraries.]

Sunday, November 19, 2017

769 (2017 #67). Before Versailles

by Karleen Koen,
read by Grover Gardner

Before Versailles is historical fiction set in France in just six months, March through September of 1661, early in the reign of Louis XIV.  The book portrays the young king coming into his own to outmaneuver an advisor who has become too powerful.  The novel also provides a glimpse into the complex relationships between the king, his mother and brother, his brother's wife, and various government officials and members of the royal household - including many flirtatious ladies.

Karleen Koen's novel was quite interesting to me, but a bit hard to follow at times, because the narrative viewpoint shifts between so many characters.  I thought Grover Gardner was fine as the narrator.  The list of characters in the print book and on Koen's website was extremely helpful.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

768 (2017 #66). Love Anthony

by Lisa Genova

Love Anthony is an interesting book.  The title implies it's about a boy named Anthony who had autism and died at age eight.  His mother, Olivia, comes to Nantucket to start over when Anthony's death also ends her marriage.  Meanwhile, another woman living on the island, Beth, has to start over too, when she learns her husband is cheating on her with a local woman.  Beth goes back to her first love, writing, inspired by a little boy with autism she observed on a Nantucket beach some years before.

You can probably figure who that little boy was.  While I liked many things about this book, the premise that Beth could write so accurately about a child with autism without knowing anything about it was both unbelievable (I'm not much for the concept of channeling), and puzzling, as it lessened the importance of Beth returning to an earlier passion (was she writing or channeling?).

I didn't like this one as much as Lisa Genova's Still Alice or Inside the O'Briens.  It works much better to have the afflicted person tell his/her own story about one's illness, but that's not really possible with autism.  Still, it's obvious this neuroscientist author knows her stuff.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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.]