Sunday, April 17, 2016

544 (2016 #10). The Dressmaker's War

by Mary Chamberlain, 
read by Susan Duerden

Historical fiction, beginning in 1939, about a talented English would-be modiste who makes some bad choices and is trapped by the Nazis into making dresses for German women at Dachau.  Unfortunately, Ada continues to make some bad choices after the war ends and she returns home, but they are complicated by postwar conditions in England (that were particularly unfriendly to working-class women, as was the judicial system) and an unsupportive family.  Mary Chamberlain's novel is compelling.

Sadly, I cannot recommend the audio version.  British actress Susan Duerden's reading drove me nuts.  She ended EVERY single sentence with the same emphasis on the next to last syllable, making the reading almost sing-song.  I had to quit listening and switch to the e-book to finish the novel.  The e-book did have the historical note and acknowledgements the print book has at the end.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The audiobook, as well as an e-book and a print copy, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, April 08, 2016

543 (2016 #9). The Blue Jackal

by Shobha Viswanath

This book is a retelling of a fable from India.  The illustrations by Dileep Joshi were inspired by the art of the Warli tribe in western India.  Their paintings use only white (from rice flour) on a mud background that is often the reddish-brown color of most of the pages of the book.

The story, about a jackal who is bullied until he falls in a vat of blue dye and is treated like a king, is told in rhyme, making it more accessible for younger children.  This will be a great multicultural addition to a traditional literature collection for teachers and libraries.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this hardbound through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

542 (2016 #8). Blood and Beauty

by Sarah Dunant,
read by Edoardo Ballerini

Interesting historical fiction about the Borgia family of Renaissance Italy.  I'd heard of this family, but knew little about them.  Sarah Dunant tells their story from 1492, when Rodrigo Borgia is elected Pope Alexander VI, to about 1502, when he marries off his daughter for the third time.

Yes - his daughter.  This pope fathered four children (by the same woman) while just a cardinal, and at least one more while he was pope by a different woman.  The book, in fact, really focuses on two of Rodrigo's children, his second child and son Cesare, and his third child and oldest daughter Lucrezia.

The intriguing cover is a montage of two paintings - one of Cesare, and the other traditionally described as Lucrezia, only it has been flipped vertically to face in the opposite direction than it really does, and conveniently placed behind her brother to hide some

I've read two of Dunant's other three novels set in Renaissance Italy (in Florence, Venice, and Ferrara), and I feel she has done her research.  Apparently this book is the first of two that will tell the story of this infamous family.  I am definitely going to read the sequel.

Edoardo Ballerini, who was so good reading Beautiful Ruins, also set in Italy, is also wonderful here with the Italian pronunciations.  However, his voice is not amplified enough to hear well in a car moving at high speeds.  That, however, is more likely the fault of the production company or the e-audiobook provider.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Monday, March 07, 2016

541 (2016 #7). Boys in the Trees

by Carly Simon

Singer Carly Simon's memoir was...interesting.  A little disjointed, but interesting.

I was surprised to learn that Simon was a rather awkward little girl with a stutter, who found she could overcome the latter problem by singing.  Also unforeseen was her mother's apparent taking of a younger lover, right within the family home for her husband and children to see.

Not too surprising was the lack of love and attention (at least as perceived by Carly) from her father (of Simon and Schuster fame), the apparent molestation by an older "friend" starting when she was seven, and the name-dropping of various celebrities, including most of the men she slept with.

The book could use some heavy editing; however, it's also lacking in many areas.  For example, it ends shortly after her marriage with musician James Taylor broke up.  That was in 1983, but there was very little in the book about her life after that.

The book is enhanced with a number of photographs of Carly and her family members over the years, including the cover photo.  Too small in the e-book, but apparently not a whole lot bigger in the print book.  While this memoir is somewhat disappointing for me, I *am* looking forward to listening to the companion CD collection, "Songs from the Trees," with most of the music referenced in the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my university library's collection.]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

540 (2016 #6). America's First Daughter

by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

It took me a long time to get through this historical fiction advance reader edition.  Partly because it was very long - 584 pages.  Partly because, other than the title character, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph, important figures such as her father Thomas Jefferson, and his slave/mistress Sally Hemings, just did not quite come to life for me.  Nor did the era, although it was set in a time and place and about people who aren't the "usual" subjects of historical fiction.

I did learn a lot about the life of Patsy, who served as her widowed father's hostess for most of his years in the White House.  Authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie did a lot of research, and each chapter begins with a quote from one of many letters written by Jefferson and his family members Dray is self-described as an "author of historical fiction and fantasy", while Kamoie's experience is in romance (writing as Laura Kaye).  Jefferson himself, as well as Sally, remain enigmas.

I'm not quite sure of my opinion of this book.  To add the detail I think it needs to make it come alive would make it far too long.  Yet I am glad to have read it, as the main character is one I knew little about.  I'd be interested to read the authors' next book, which is about the wife of Alexander Hamilton, as well as Dray's other books.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

539 (2016 #5). Parachute

by Danny Parker,
illustrated by Matt Ottley

Toby has a fear of heights, so he always carries his parachute around with him.  One day, though, his cat gets stuck in a tree....

Matt Ottley's colorful illustrations, rendered with "virtual oil paint, oil pastel, and pencil" (from the verso), exaggerates the perspective so the heights seem even more so for Toby.

Danny Parker's text is simple enough for both a read-aloud and an early reader, demonstrating how one might deal with fear.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Monday, February 15, 2016

538 (2016 #4). Sashenka

by Simon Montefiore,
read by Anne Flosnik

Sashenka is a fascinating work of historical fiction set in three time periods in twentieth century Russia - 1916, 1939, and 1994.  The title character was born in 1900 to a wealthy Jewish family in St. Petersburg, but decides to follow her uncle and become a Bolshevik.  By 1939 she and her husband are part of the Communist elite, but then Sashenka makes a mistake that brings her world crashing down around her.  The third part of the book is set in 1994 with a historian of the day trying to find out what happened to Sashenka and her family.

The story is quite long (over 500 pages in print), but I learned SO much about Russian history.  Author Simon Montefiore has written a biography of Stalin as well as other nonfiction works about Russia,  His extensive background (and research experience in formerly-inaccessible Russian archives) serves him well in providing the settings and atmosphere of this story.  I truly felt I was *there* along with the characters.

The main weakness of this first novel for Montefiore are the amazing number of coincidences that make the third part of the book a reality.  Two major characters from the 1916 era have to live to very ripe old ages to make the events in the 1994 section possible.

I also found Anne Flosnik's reading of the audiobook to be problematic.  Her British accent is not an issue, it was her attempt to provide Russian accents that caused difficulty.  It was much harder than it needed to be to understand what many of the characters were saying.  I would have preferred for her to just use her normal voice and not try to (poorly) do accents.

Oh, but I do absolutely love the cover of this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library's digital collection.]