Saturday, December 28, 2013

371 (2013 #55). Manfish

by Jennifer Berne,
illustrated by Eric Puybaret

I borrowed this e-book from my local public library mostly to test out Overdrive, the system used for e-lending, to see if it would work alright on my Kindle before an upcoming cruise.  I needed a short book for the test and this fit the bill.

Manfish is subtitled "A Story of Jacques Cousteau."  This picture book biography focuses on his younger years, especially his childhood, and less on the time after he became famous.  The writing is poetic at times and the illustrations are gorgeous.

I was curious how well a picture book would translate to the electronic format.  So, I picked up a print copy of the book at my local public library to compare them.

Below is a screenshot of the title page in the e-book version.

Below is the double-page spread for the title page (to the right) and the verso (copyright information, opposite the title page in this case).  Click on it to see it in a larger format.
You will notice that the same illustration that just takes up a few inches in the Kindle version is a double-page spread in the print version.  ALL of the illustrations in this book are double-page spreads, some turned vertically to emphasize the depth of the ocean, so being able to view them in their full glory is important, in my opinion.

I don't think this particular e-book was published with the Kindle Format 8 (KF8) feature, also referred to as Kindle Text Pop-Up.  This might better replicate the experience of reading a print picture book.  For now, though, I plan to stick with the latter.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I borrowed and returned both versions of this book, print and Kindle, from my local public library.]

Friday, December 27, 2013

370 (2013 #54). Golden State

by Michelle Richmond

I was excited to win this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, because I'd read Michelle Richmond's The Year of Fog and really enjoyed it.  The description for Golden State was intriguing, as the background event going on in the book is a vote by the residents of the state of California on whether or not to secede from the United States.  I had no idea some Californians are actually proponents of this.  I thought my state of Texas was the only one talking about it - although for many (but not all) different reasons.

The action in this story takes place on the day of the vote, June 15 of an unknown year.  Protests and ensuing traffic jams provide the obstacles for Dr. Julie Walker, on her way from her soon-to-be-ex-husband Tom's radio station, to a small hotel near her employer, the San Francisco Veterans Administration hospital, to deliver her still-somewhat-estranged half-sister Heather's baby.

After a brief prologue (tied in nicely at the end of the book), the story starts around mid-day on June 15, when Julie has just arrived at the hotel.  Her sister has barricaded herself in a room, as a crazy man - who knows Julie - is holding hostages across the parking lot in her hospital office.

The story then flashes back to about six hours earlier, near the beginning of Julie's day, when she gets a text from Heather.  Additional chapters fill in the back stories about Julie and her relationships with Tom, Heather, and the crazy man, Dennis.

Early on, the reader learns that Julie and Tom lost a son, Ethan, and Julie blames Heather.  Wanting  to find out how and why (as well as the hostage situation) kept me reading, and I finished the book in one sitting.

There is one rather unbelievable plot point, and some issues are not resolved, but they are immaterial to the main story.  Richmond does a masterful job creating suspense and developing her characters with realistic interactions that are tenderly described.  Plus, she has a nice message to impart about life.

Definitely recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

369 (2013 #53). Cleopatra's Daughter

by Michelle Moran

This is another historical fiction about the life of Cleopatra's and Marc Antony's daughter Cleopatra Selene II, the only one of their four children who apparently survived to adulthood.  As mentioned in my review of another such novel, Cleopatra's Moon, Cleopatra Selene is a perfect subject, since so little is known about her real life, and it is easy to build a novel around those facts.

This book begins a little later than Cleopatra's Moon, on August 12, 30 BCE, in Alexandria, Egypt, with the defeat of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony by Octavian.  There is very little about Alexandria and Egypt in this book as compared to Cleopatra's Moon.  The book ends in 25 BCE, the year Cleopatra Selene married Juba.

Author Michelle Moran visited many sites in Rome that appear in the book, including the recently-restored villa of Octavian (Augustus Caesar), where Cleopatra Selene likely spent much time growing up.  Her descriptions of these places and of life in ancient Rome are the best part of the book.

The book focuses on what it was like for Cleopatra Selene and her twin brother, Alexander Helios, to grow up in the homes of Octavian and his sister Octavia (Marc Antony's rejected previous wife), mostly treated equally with the other children in the household.  However, they were always in fear that their lives could be ended at any time, either through execution or slavery.

A subplot involving an unknown abolitionist called the "Red Eagle" was just silly.  I think this was a plot device to justify the (otherwise mostly negative) behavior of Juba, Cleopatra Selene's eventual husband, and make her acceptance of the match more palatable.   It's highly unlikely that either of them, or any upper-class Roman for that matter, would have led a slave revolt, much less have abolitionist leanings. 

It also was not very realistic to have Cleopatra Selene more or less apprenticing under well-known Roman architect Vitruvius.  Roman women of that era had no careers other than being wives and mothers.  They didn't even merit having unique names in that time period.  I think that this was also a device used by Moran to incorporate her interest in and research on Roman architecture.

I did appreciate the inclusion of a timeline, maps of the Roman Empire and Rome during Augustus' reign, a list of characters, an afterword explaining what happened to the real ones, a "historical note" that explains some of the changes in reality that Moran made in her story, and a glossary of unfamiliar Greek and Latin terms.

In an interview, Moran stated that, "I like to begin my novels during the time of greatest transition in a person’s life. And in the ancient world, the greatest transition in a woman’s life was often the time when she was married. Because women married at much younger ages two thousand years ago (twelve years old was not uncommon), my narrators have all been very young girls. In fact, [publisher] Random House will be making a concerted effort to market Cleopatra's Daughter to young adults as well as adults."

Because of some of the things that happen in the book and some of the issues it raises (about slavery and abandoned children, for example), I think the book would not be appropriate for many ten-to-twelve-year-olds, even though Cleopatra Selene is ten when the book starts.  Although she is 15 when the book ends, I think that's a better age for the youngest readers of this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was borrowed and returned via interlibrary loan.]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

368 (2013 #52). The Christmas Companion

with Garrison Keillor

I don't listen to A Prairie Home Companion and am not that familiar with it, but I picked up this audiobook at the library as something short to transition me from audiobooks to the Christmas music I'm now listening to on my commute - the last day of work until 2014.

Subtitled "Stories, Songs, and Sketches," it's just that.  Musical performances are average; Christmas carols done, in some cases, by well-known actors, although I could only recognize the voice of Sarah Jessica Parker singing "The Christmas Song," and that only because her name was listed on the blurb on the back of the audiobook - liner notes either didn't exist or were missing from this library copy.  I've since found out that "December Waltz," and "Wise Man Blues" were perforned by Pat Donohue,"Count Your Blessings"  (very pretty) by John McDonough, and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Diana Krall.  There was also a bluegrass-style rendition of  "Christmas Time's A-Coming" that's now (annoyingly) stuck in my head, and a version of the traditional "Christ Child's Lullaby" (one of my favorites) that I did not care for (mangled Alleluias), as well as a version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" that I also didn't like.  Host Garrison Keillor also sings a very funny (but abbreviated) version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

The stories and sketches were the best part. A recurring character, the private eye "Guy Noir," is subbing at an office Christmas party for someone who works offsite and is not very well liked.  The Christmas Fire tells what happened when a house in Lake Wobegon puts up too many Christmas lights. "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (a parody of the original about a puritanical Baptist family), was quite funny; as was "Santa," about a modern-day Mr. Claus who operates Christmas like a business, and "Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie," on what happens when a gift-buying expedition goes wrong.  He waxes nostalgic (in a humorous way) on "Green" and "Four Christmases."

If you are a fan of "A Prairie Home Companion," you will probably love this collection.  For me, it served its purpose in moving me into the holiday spirit.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

367 (2013 #51). The Starlight Bride

by Paul Owen Lewis

I don't remember holiday books from my own childhood so much as I remember books I read to my own offspring about 20-25 years ago.  One that I still have in my Christmas box is this one, The Starlight Bride, written and illustrated by Paul Owen Lewis and published in 1988, when my son was two.

This book isn't really about Christmas, but it is set during Advent - which right there makes it rather unique for children's books!  A prince must marry before taking over the kingdom from his old father the king, and (as in Cinderella), noble women from the surrounding area are invited to come and stay the month of Advent, during which time the prince (Bachelor style) interacts with each of the ladies in a variety of social environments.  When it comes time to make a choice, though, he cannot make up his mind.  He asks God to give him a particular sign to indicate the right woman.

On the book jacket, Lewis says the book was based on a friend's dream, "in which she saw me with an elderly man in a courtyard surrounded on three sides by little houses with different-colored doors.  At each we knocked, and each opened to reveal a different young woman who invited us in to visit.  The dream fascinated me, and I couldn't help but see it as a story of father and son, or King and Prince, seeking the perfect mate.  Reflecting on my own experiences and desires, I projected myself into the scene and the story practically wrote itself."

This beautiful book has a lovely message and gorgeous illustrations, full of rich, vibrant color.  I especially like the border designs around the main picture on each page. I also like the fact that the story is set in a place that does NOT have snow at Christmastime.  For a girl who grew up in a Gulf Coast climate, that is important!

© Amanda Pape - 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

366 (2013 #50). Cleopatra's Moon

written by Vicky Alvear Shecter,
read by Kirsten Potter

Cleopatra's Moon is a well-written young adult novel (that will also appeal to adults who like historical fiction) about the only daughter of the famous queen Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra Selene II.  In ancient Greek, Selene means "moon," hence the title of the book.

The novel begins with the 16-year-old title character, despondent, on a Roman ship heading to Africa in 25 BCE.  Then we flash back nine years, to Egypt in 34 BCE, when Marcus Antonius announces the Donations of Alexandria that probably led to his (and queen Cleopatra's) downfall. 

I loved the descriptive passages of life in beautiful, civilized Alexandria, Egypt, during this time (34-30 BCE).  The contrast is marked with dirty, ugly, barbaric Rome, where Cleopatra Selene and her brothers, twin Alexandros Helios (helios means "sun") and younger sibling Ptolemy Philadelphus, are taken by Octavianus (Caesar Augustus) to live in his household.  They are raised by Octavianus' haughty wife Livia and his sister Octavia - whom Marcus Antonius divorced to marry Cleopatra - along with the various children of these people, most notably Octavianus' daughter Julia (by a previous marriage), Octavia's son Marcellus (by a previous marriage), at that time presumed Octavianus' heir, and Juba, the son of a conquered Numidian king, brought to Rome as an infant.

As the cover illustration implies, this novel is aimed at young adults, so of course there is romance - and a triangle.  The beauty is, so little is known about the real Cleopatra Selene, that what author Vicky Alvear Shecter has written is plausible.  It's also refreshing to read a viewpoint of this era that is non-Roman - history from the loser's perspective, so to speak.  The author adds to the appeal for young adults by including lots of Egyptian mythology.  The book also raises some relevant questions (especially for the young) about fate versus free will, acceptance versus acquiescence, and the power to choose.

Shecter had previously written two nonfiction biographies for middle-graders, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen, and Alexander the Great Rocks the World, as well as the nonfiction Anubis Speaks!: A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead.   I'll be reading all of these soon, as well as her upcoming Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. Shecter is also a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta, and writes a blog on ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece called "History with a Twist." She knows her stuff.

Although there are some minor anachronisms in the dialogue, they did not bother me, and likely make the book more readable for its intended audience.  The only problem I had was with the reference to a father as a "tata" (pronounced tah-tah).  While the word does mean father or daddy in Latin (and other languages), I think I would have chosen something else, especially for the audiobook.  I can imagine a lot of adolescent males sniggering each time the word is mentioned, with its slang meaning in English.  That, and some references to nudity and sex, probably make this book more appropriate for a slightly older audience, perhaps high school and up, although younger but more mature girls will likely enjoy this novel.

On the audiobook, actress Kirsten Potter turns in a great performance as narrator Cleopatra Selene.  The audiobook also includes some wonderful musical interludes between chapters, incorporating drums, finger cymbals, and a gong. I really appreciated the inclusion of an author interview on the final disc, and the PDF that includes a helpful list of characters (identifying who is real and who is not), as well as a section on "facts within the fiction."

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Thursday, December 05, 2013

365 (2013 #49). Becoming Josephine

by Heather Webb

In 1814, Empress Josephine learns of the arrest of her former husband, Napoleon I of France, and begins to reminisce about her life.  We flash back to 1779 on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean, and meet 16-year-old Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, daughter of a Creole sugar plantation owner.

The book follows her life over the next 30 years, through her tumultuous first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais and the birth of their two children, their imprisonment in the Reign of Terror and Alexandre's death, and her efforts to survive as a widow with children, often using her sexuality to get what she wants or needs.

She meets Napoleon Bonaparte, six years younger, during this period, and marries him about a year later, in 1796.  Although she doesn't love him, she is 33 and she knows she isn't getting any younger, and Bonaparte is crazy about her.  He starts to call her Josephine - and indeed, she has reinvented herself.

As the ambitious Napoleon rises in power, Josephine finds herself falling in love with him, despite her despicable Bonaparte in-laws who are out to discredit her any way they can.  Eventually Josephine's love leads her to agree to step aside when she is unable to have more children and Napoleon divorces her in 1809, when she is 46.  She retires to her beloved estate, Malmaison.

This is an excellent debut by Heather Webb, a freelance editor who majored in French and cultural geography.  She really humanizes this woman of history and makes her into a person I cared about.  Her descriptive passages evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of Josephine's tropical homeland, the Paris of her era, her horrendous prison during the Reign of Terror, and the rigors of travel (by land and by sea) in that time period.  I was already very familiar with Josephine's life story, but this book gave me some insights into her character.

On both her website and in an author's note at the end of the book, Webb lists what's true and not true in her novel, and it's clear she's done her research.  She also has some great resources for book clubs, including discussion questions and a suggested menu for the meeting, photographs of places and paintings of people mentioned in the story, fun facts, and suggested further reading.

I'd like to suggest another book for the latter list.  Désirée, by Annemarie Selink, written in 1953, is actually about Napoleon's first love (Désirée Clary, who went on to become Queen of Sweden), but Josephine is a major character in the story. Readers of Becoming Josephine would like it because the style is similar - a first-person narrative covering most of the main character's life, who lived in the same era as Josephine and encountered many of the same people.

I would recommend Becoming Josephine as an enjoyable way to learn more about the fascinating woman who was Napoleon's first and most beloved wife.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

364 (2013 #48). Guests on Earth

by Lee Smith

I requested this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because I'd read another of Lee Smith's books (On Agate Hill), and the premise of this one sounded interesting.  Smith did a lot of research for this psychological fiction set in the past, and she notes her sources at the end of the book.

The protagonist and first-person narrator is the fictional Evalina Touissant, who is a 13-year-old orphan in 1936 when she is sent to the (real) Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental institution, due to some self-destructive behavior after her mother's death.

Although Zelda Fitzgerald is mentioned in the blurbs, she is not a major character.  Besides Zelda, the other real people in the book are psychiatrist Dr. Robert S. Carroll, who established Highland, and his wife Grace Potter Carroll, a concert pianist who takes Evalina under her wing and provides the one constant (piano playing) in her life. 

Initially, Evalina gets "well" rapidly and becomes a favorite of  the Carrolls.  They send her to the (real) Peabody Institute, and the years from 1940 through 1946 are rapidly covered in a series of postcards from Evalina to Mrs. Carroll.  Evalina suffers a major loss and setback, and finds herself back at Highland, initially a patient again but rapidly moving into a halfway house and a staff position serving primarily as an accompanist.   The story culminates with the (real) 1948 fire that destroyed the main hospital building and killed nine women, including Zelda.

The reader isn't really sure if there is anything really wrong with Evalina, until the end of the book.  Evalina seems oddly disassociated from the tragedies in her life, and perhaps that is intentional of Smith; a mark of Evalina's unrevealed illness. 

The most interesting parts of the book for me were when Smith described the treatments and life at Highland Hospital, and real features of Asheville (such as the Grove Park Inn) and surrounding areas (like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Lake Lure).  Some of the treatments Highland used, apparently innovative for the day, included music, art, drama, shopwork, and "hortitherapy" (gardening), as well as more invasive and dangerous treatments like electroshock and insulin coma therapies.

I felt a bit let down by the end of this book.  Although the hospital and its patients strove mightily to be "normal," ultimately there was sadness and tragedy.  Smith says in the acknowledgments at the end of the story that "I always knew I would write this book," perhaps because of her personal experiences with Highland (her father and son were patients there) and her fascination with Zelda.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received a hardbound copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my university library.] 

Ironic that the 1912 Report of the North Carolina Board of Public Charities (page 49) described the sanitarium as having "excellent fire protection."

Friday, November 29, 2013

363 (2013 #47). The Memoirs of Cleopatra

by Margaret George

Written in much the same style as her Autobiography of Henry VIII, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is a biographical novel told in first person narrative format.  Like Margaret George's other similar works, it's huge - 964 pages in the library's trade paperback format.

This book also uses a similar device to that of Henry VIII - another narrator, her personal physician Olympos (a real person, although his name is usually spelled Olympus), writes an "eleventh scroll" to follow Cleopatra VII's ten "scrolls" (a device for dividing the book into sections), that tells of her death and what happened afterwards. 

The illustration on the cover is from a portion of an 1887 painting of Cleopatra depicting her the way most of us picture her, especially from the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.  The novel, like the nonfiction Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, presents the Egyptian queen as a highly intelligent woman and powerful leader.  Much of its length comes from details about the beautiful city of Alexandria in Egypt, its famous library and lighthouse, temples throughout Egypt, and life in that time and place, as well as similar details for Rome. 

There's a map at the beginning of the book which is extremely useful, as all the countries referred to in the novel either no longer exist today or have different names and boundaries.  George has an author's note at the end that tells who is and isn't real, what's factual, and enumerates many of her sources.

George makes Cleopatra into a character I cared about, despite some minor anachronisms and bringing some more modern ideas into this Egyptian time period.  In the author's note, she said she has "a fascination and commitment to Cleopatra that goes back to ...childhood," and the rich details she provides make that obvious.

I've added a label/tag for Margaret George, as I now know I'll be reading all of her biographical novels.  Who should be next - Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth I, or Mary, Queen of Scots?

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

362 (2013 #46). Wolf Hall

by Hilary Mantel,
read by Simon Slater

This 2009 winner of the Man Booker Prize (for "the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland") was also, in audio format, winner of the 2010 Audie Award for Literary Fiction.  It is a novelization of the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540.  This book is the first in a trilogy. Bring Up the Bodies (2012 Booker winner and 2013 Audie for Literary Fiction) is next, followed by The Mirror and the Light, in progress.

Written in the third person, present tense, everything is seen through the eyes of Cromwell.  The first chapter is set in 1500, when Cromwell is about 15, and briefly covers his background and youth.  Then the book jumps ahead to 1527, shortly before the death of his beloved wife "Liz," Elizabeth Wykys.

This book ends with the beheading of Thomas More in July, 1535, and with the words, "Wolf Hall," which was the Seymour family home.  In the novel, Cromwell takes notice of the young Jane Seymour, a lady in attendance to Henry VIII's first two wives, and later Henry's third wife.  In a December 7, 2012 interview in The Guardian, Author Hilary Mantel said, "The title arrived before a word was written: Wolf Hall, besides being the home of the Seymour family, seemed an apt name for wherever Henry's court resided."

Perhaps Austin Friars, the name of Cromwell's home, would have been a more appropriate name for the book, given its focus on Cromwell and his family.  This novel really "humanizes" Cromwell - it makes him seem to be more than the "Prince of Darkness" I'd always thought him to be.  Conversely, the novel - especially the audio version, with the voice narrator Simon Slater used for him - demonized Thomas More, who Roman Catholics canonized as a saint.  But, everyone has two sides, and I appreciated getting to see the other ones of these two historical figures.  In addition, Mantel's research has resulted in her novel painting a vivid picture of Tudor England in the early 1500s.

Slater, an actor and composer, does an outstanding job as the narrator.  He creates distinct voices for major characters (Cromwell, Wolsey, More, Henry VIII, etc.) and minor characters as well.  As mentioned, his More sounds particularly snobbish.

There were some times when I wasn't sure who was speaking.  Slater's narrating voice was similar to his Thomas Cromwell voice, and it does not help that Mantel sometimes uses "he" and other pronouns vaguely.  In the same Guardian interview, Mantel explains this device:

The events were happening now, in the present tense, unfolding as I watched, and what followed would be filtered through the main character's sensibility. He seemed to be occupying the same physical space as me, with a slight ghostly overlap. It didn't make sense to call him "Cromwell", as if he were somewhere across the room. I called him "he". This device, though hardly of Joycean complexity, was not universally popular. Most readers caught on quickly. Those who didn't, complained.

I think it might have been easier to follow this device in print.  The print version has the advantage of a table of contents, list of characters, and family trees for the Tudors and the Yorkist claimants to the throne.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I purchased the audiobook and will be donating it to my university library.  I borrowed and returned a print copy belonging to my local public library.]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

361 (2013 #45). The Autobiography of Henry VIII

by Margaret George

I've read lots of historical fiction about the wives and daughters of Henry VIII, mostly by Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, but little seemed to be written about Henry himself.  I bought this book some time ago, but its sheer size (939 pages!) kept me from reading it until I got caught up in all my "have to" reading for the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fictionalized autobiography/journal "by" Henry VIII.  It was interesting to read an interpretation of his behavior that paints him in a better light - a deeply flawed but basically well-meaning man, always searching for the love he seemed to lack in his early life, and not finding much of it, perhaps because few can behave as their true selves around a king.

The subtitle of the book is "With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers."  The premise of the book is that Henry VIII kept a private, mostly undated journal during his life, and Somers snuck it out of his chambers after his death and sent it to Catherine Carey, daughter of his former mistress Mary Boleyn (and possibly Henry's daughter as well).  Will inserts comments here and there throughout the book, which some reviewers found distracting.  I thought they highlighted inconsistencies in Henry's account and provided insights.  Furthermore, "Will" is able to tell us what happened after Henry's death, something "Henry" couldn't do in an autobiography or journal.

I decided to read this book because I wanted to borrow Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra (to compare it with Stacy Schiff's biography), and I wanted to see if I liked George's style first.  I do, despite the lengths of her biographical novels - I know now I will read them all now.  George provides a family tree and four pages listing the references of her well-researched novel - the only thing lacking that would have been helpful is a map depicting the places discussed in the novel.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

(I bought a used copy of this book.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

360 (2013 #44). The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway,
read by William Hurt

I didn't particularly care for this book, a character study of the "Lost Generation," the post-World War I expatriates who congregated in Paris and seemed to spend their time writing or pursuing the arts, traveling, and drinking (a LOT), while living off inheritances or other people's money.

However, after reading The Paris Wife  about a year ago, a biographical novel about Hemingway's first (of four) wives Hadley, and discussing it earlier this year, our book club agreed to read The Sun Also Rises, the book that Hadley received all the royalties from in a pre-divorce settlement.

British socialite Lady Duff Twysden and her two lovers, writer Harold Loeb and Pat Guthrie; Hemingway's boyhood friend Bill Smith; and writer Donald Ogden Stewart were among the group that accompanied Hemingway and his wife Hadley on their third trip to Pamplona, Spain, in June 1925.  They (and their actions) inspired the characters of Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, and Bill Gorton (a combination of Smith and Stewart) respectively.  Hemingway of course, is the narrator and main character, Jake), while Hadley does not appear in the book at all (other than possibly in the guise of Jake's impotence that prevents him from having an affair with Brett/Duff).  The young matador Cayetano Ordóñez was the inspiration for matador Pedro Romero in the book.

Brett is a woman who wants sex without love, while Jake can only give her love without sex.   That's more or less the gist of the story.  Brett is living with the alcoholic Mike, and has an affair with the Jewish Robert.  Bill seems to be a pretty normal guy; he and Jake go on a fishing trip on the way to Pamplona.  The other three join them there, and there's a lot of tension, because both Jake and Robert are in love with Brett, but Robert is an annoying third wheel to Mike.  Meanwhile Brett seduces Romero.  None of these characters are especially likeable.

It was interesting to see how much Brett was like Duff in The Paris Wife.  Hemingway biographer  Michael Reynolds said, "Duff Twysden used men like library books, checked them out, browsed through them and returned them late without paying the fine," (Hemingway: The Paris Years, 1989, page 289), and that's a pretty apt description of Brett.

The title of the book is tied into the twin epigraphs at the beginning, one a quote from Gertrude Stein, part of Hemingway's Paris group, that "You are all a lost generation," and the other from Ecclesiastes 1:4-7, which begins: "One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. The sun also rises..."

Well-known movie actor William Hurt read this audiobook.  I thought he was pretty effective, especially with the voice of Mike Campbell, who he gave a Scottish burr (although a very drunken one).  He was very good at making all the characters sound drunk when they were drunk.

I'd definitely recommend this book as a pair with The Paris Wife.  I'm also interested in reading Hemingway's take on his Paris years, A Moveable Feast, to see how they compare.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Friday, October 11, 2013

359 (2013 #43). On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

by Barbara O'Connor,
read by Suzy Jackson

I was rather disappointed in this story.  Perhaps it's because I don't have a very high opinion of pigeons, homing or one-legged or otherwise.  Barbara O'Connor does a good job conjuring up the look and feel of a timeless small Southern town (the fictional Meadville, South Carolina), but I didn't care about Sherman the pigeon or any of the kids trying to catch him, or the grown-ups in the story.  I found myself getting impatient for the book to just end.  There's a lot of repetition, in the plot and in the text, but that might be good for beginning or struggling readers.

However, the quality of the audiobook was outstanding!  Recorded Books does what many audiobook producers don't any more - tells you when the disc is beginning and ending, and which disc you are on.  Actress Suzy Jackson is an excellent narrator with a youthful sound who does a credible job with Southern accents and creating variety in the voices of the characters.  My only quibble is that I believe the audiobook is longer than 2.75 hours - more like 4 to 4.5, given the length of my commute and the fact that it took three days to listen to it.


© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this audiobook from Recorded Books via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be donated to my university library.]

Sunday, October 06, 2013

358 (2013 #42). Good Dog. Stay.

written and read by Anna Quindlen

This was a very brief unabridged audiobook (45 minutes) that was an extended eulogy for Quindlen's beloved black Labrador retriever, Beau, and an essay on mortality.  I especially liked the end, where Quindlen summarizes (with some quavering in her voice) the lessons she learned from Beau's long life:  "to roll with the punches, ...to take things as they come, to measure myself not in terms of the past or the future but of the present."  Otherwise, though, the shortness of this book probably makes it most appropriate for someone grieving the loss of a dog.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Monday, September 30, 2013

357 (2013 #41). Cleopatra: A Life

An acquaintance gave my husband this book about three years ago after we'd observed him reading it over a number of weeks, and I finally got around to reading it myself.  I've always wanted to know more about this famous woman, beyond Shakespeare's play and Liz Taylor's portrayal in the movies. 

Cleopatra: A Life, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff, is a nonfiction biography, despite the (beautiful) cover's implication that it might be historical fiction or a fictionalized biography.

On the other hand, since so little was written about Cleopatra during and just after her lifetime (and what WAS written has to be taken with a grain of salt, given that her enemies were the historians), Schiff has to speculate and make assumptions quite often throughout this book.  I felt Schiff was fair and did her best to present both sides on Cleopatra, pro and con.  Forty-one pages of end notes show that Ms. Schiff certainly did the research to back her conclusions.

The book sustained my interest, probably mostly because I was very intrigued by the subject.  Schiff's writing style did not always help.  There were times when her phrasing was awkward, or she used dozens of words when half that amount would do.  I have to wonder if the fact that she'd won the Pulitzer made editors less likely to suggest changes in her prose.

I'm also not too crazy about the cover, despite its beauty.  It reminds me of the fictionalized accounts of other queens and historical women by Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.  I would have rather seen a more early-Egyptian cover design - although it is true that Cleopatra wore pearls woven into her hair.

I'm glad I read the book as I learned a lot about Cleopatra (she was a clever and powerful leader), and especially about the Egypt and Alexandria of her day.  It's definitely not a light read, but I would recommend it to anyone wanting a serious biography about this fascinating woman.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[My husband received this book as a gift.  After he reads it, it will be donated to my university library.]

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

356 (2013 #40). The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate,
read by Adam Grupper

What a fabulous book, and most deserving of the 2013 Newbery Medal!  I was both laughing and crying by its end.

"The One and Only Ivan," as the billboard on the interstate calls him, is a silverback lowland gorilla who's been living in a cage (he calls it his "domain") at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 9,855 days (as recorded by Ivan - 27 years).  His best friends are Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who shares his cage at night.   He also interacts with Mack, his (and the mall's) owner; George the janitor; and George's daughter Julia.  He is an artist, drawing with crayons and paper Julia shoves through a hole in his cage, and later with markers and fingerpaints.

One day, though, a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, and everything changes...

Ivan narrates this touching story in very short chapters and sentences.  The print book is easy to read as a result, and is scattered with charming black-and-white illustrations by Patricia Castelao.  Actor Adam Grupper is marvelous on the audiobook as Ivan, with his rich, deep voice, but also creates unique voices for the other characters.

Katherine Applegate, probably best-known for the Animorphs series so popular with kids when my son was young (1990s), based Ivan on a real animal - the infamous "Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla," who spent 27 years alone in a small cage in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington.  I was living in the Seattle area when Ivan was in the news, with a public outcry for a better home for him.  He eventually wound up in Zoo Atlanta and died in August 2012, just a few months after this book was published, at the age of 50 from a chest tumor.  The real Ivan did in fact fingerpaint.

This book was an excellent choice for the 2013 Newbery Medal.  The audiobook is recommended for ages 8-13, grades 3-7.  That's probably about the right age range, as some of the themes of the book might be difficult for younger children to handle.  The short chapters would make it work well for a read-aloud, and yet should not frustrate struggling readers.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook and a print copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Friday, September 20, 2013

355 (2013 #39). The Tilted World

by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

The Tilted World is a historical fiction / thriller set in 1927, during Prohibition and the great Mississippi River flood of that year.   Twenty-two year old Dixie Clay Holliver is a bootlegger, taking over making moonshine for her philandering husband Jesse after their baby boy dies.  Ted Ingersoll is a revenuer, a federal agent who, with his partner Ham Johnson, has been sent into the Hobnob Landing area on the river, both to find out who murdered two other revenuers as well as locate the local still.

Ingersoll and Ham (why they are referred to this way, instead of Ted and Ham, or Ingersoll and Johnson, is not clear), stumble on a robbery gone bad and a newly-orphaned infant.  Ingersoll is an orphan himself, and, rather than place the baby in an orphanage, he takes it to Dixie Clay (always referred to this way, and not just as Dixie) when he learns from a local storekeeper about her lost baby.  Predictably (but unrealistically), they fall in love.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi River is rising, higher than it's ever been before, and Hobnob worries about a breach in the levee protecting the town - either accidental or intentional.  Hobnob was offered money by New Orleans investors intent on saving their town from floodwaters to let its levees be destroyed, and sabotage is still a possibility.

While some of the plot (and the love story) is rather predictable, I enjoyed this book, as it's the first I've read about this great flood, of which I knew very little.  Most people don't know much about it - its major effects were on poor Southerners, "white trash" and black sharecroppers, so most of the country didn't care.

Also interesting is the fact that the book was written by a husband-and-wife team.  Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly had written a collaborative short story, which their agent suggested expanding into a novel they'd co-write.  Franklin has the thriller/fiction experience, while Fennelly specializes in poetry and nonfiction.  Some of the descriptive language, while quite lovely, was a little *too* purple for me, but they are spot on with experiences with a new baby (they'd just had their third while writing this book), and, as residents of Mississippi, are familiar with the setting and history of the area.  Like all good historical fiction, this book makes me want to learn more - this time, about the 1927 Mississippi flood.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I won this advance reader edition in a contest by the publisher, William Morrow, with no expectation of anything in exchange.  The Tilted World will be published on October 1, 2013.  After that, I will pass my copy on for someone else to enjoy.]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

354 (2013 #38). Mindless Eating

by Brian Wansink

This is NOT a diet book, and the advice it gives really isn't anything new.  What is fascinating about this book is reading about all the scientific studies author Brian Wansink and his Cornell University Food and Brand Lab have done on the psychology of our eating habits (and how marketing affects them).

For example:  they did a “bottomless soup bowl” test. When a bowl was secretly refilled with tomato soup — using a tube hidden beneath a table — people ate far more of the soup than usual. That is because people use the amount left in the bowl as a measure of how much they have already eaten.

In another experiment, they found that office workers sitting near clear (see-through) dishes filled with Hershey’s Kisses ate 71 percent — or 77 calories — more a day than those sitting near white (opaque) dishes of the candy. Over a year, that would be more than five pounds of extra weight. Also, they found people ate less from dishes located even as little as six feet away as opposed to candy dishes on or in their desks.

In the first nine chapters of the book, Wasnick concludes summaries of his research with a number of related "reengineering" strategies to help eating move from mindless to mindful.  For example, simply using smaller plates - 9.5 to 10 inches in diameter, rather than 12 inches - results in less overserving and consumption of food.  Even the color of the dishes can make a difference - higher contrast between the plate and the food results in you noticing the size of the serving more.

The tenth and final chapter has Wasnick's plan for mindful eating.  Most diets don't work (in the long rung) because the body recognizes ti's being deprived when you drop your daily intake down to 1500 calories or less.  But, a daily reduction of 100 to 200 calories isn't noticed by the metabolism, and the weight will come off, albeit very slowly.  He calls this 100-200 calories the "mindless margin."

Next, he says to focus on reengineering small behaviors that will move you from mindless overeating to mindless better eating. Common "diet danger zones" include
  • Meal Stuffing (eat fast, cleaning the plate, second helpings) 
  • Snack Grazing (eat whatever’s available, often out of nervous habit)
  • Party Binging (easy to lose track)
  • Restaurant Indulging (ditto)
  • Desk/Dashboard Dining (convenience, eat fast, multi-tasking)

Food trade-offs ("I can eat X if I do/don’t do/eat/don’t eat Y") and food policies, like many of those described at the ends of the previous chapters, can help you eat some of what you want without a belabored decision. 

Finally, he recommends picking just three behavioral changes to start with (for example, drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, chew gum when you want to snack, eat fruit when you want something sweet) and track them on a simple calendar, as it typically takes about 28 days to develop a habit.

Wasnick concludes the book with the statement, "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on," and that's certainly true.  I will be trying some of the recommendations in this book!

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Friday, September 06, 2013

353 (2013 #37). Pinning Your Family History

by Thomas MacEntee

Genealogy guru Thomas MacEntee has written a helpful guide to using Pinterest and other image and map based websites in family history research. Thomas provides some ideas on Pinterest boards you can create, as well as advice on copyright and terms of service issues. While I am already an avid user of Google Maps, one of the other sites he recommends, and am familiar with Historypin, I appreciated learning about other sites I was unfamiliar with, like What Was There (love the slider through time!) and uencounter.me. There's also a link to a free webinar on genealogy pinning at the end of the e-book. Thomas practices what he preaches, providing visibility for many family history blogs by pinning blog posts -- many on boards visible at his GeneaBloggers website. I will be trying some of his suggestions on my own Pinterest boards, and on the other sites he recommends.

Click here to download the book and remember, you don’t need a Kindle to read it! Check out the Free Kindle Reading Apps that let you read Kindle books on your computer, tablet or smartphone.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[Disclaimer:  I received this e-book for free during a promotion.  Currently the cost is $2.99.]

Saturday, August 31, 2013

352 (2013 #36). Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat

I picked up this book at a Friends of the Library fill-the-box-for-$5 sale, probably grabbing it because of the intriguing title.  It had been sitting in my TBR shelves for a while, and as it was short, I decided to give it a try.  I was extremely disappointed.

The book is set partly in Haiti and partly in the eastern United States, and focuses on three generations of women:  Sophia, her mother Martine and aunt Atie, and grandmother Ife.  The characters are one-dimensional and the plot is boring.  Danticat works in all sorts of feminist issues:  rape, genital mutilation, virginity, sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough description of Haiti and life there, which might have redeemed the book for me.  Not recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This book was purchased at a Friends of the Library book sale, and it will be donated back to be re-sold.]

Thursday, August 29, 2013

351 (2013 #35). The Guy Not Taken

by Jennifer Weiner, 
read by Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges, Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister

This is a collection of short stories by popular chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner. I've never read any of her books before, so I listened to this audiobook with an open mind.

I enjoyed the 11 stories in this book.  The first three are linked, featuring Josie Krystal, her mom, and younger siblings, the spoiled Nicki and the sullen Jon, at three different times in her life (age 18, 20, and 26).

My favorite story was the next one in the book, "Swim," about a single young female writer with a face badly scarred in the accident that killed her parents, who earns a living helping rich kids prepare their college applications, essays, and interviews.  Soon she’s hired to polish an online dating profile.  Ruth swims countless laps in her free time, something I did when I was single and lonely like she is.  I found the ending to this one a little predictable, yet still satisfying.

The narrators in the stories get older as you proceed through the book, moving from young singles, to middle age and married, to mature narrators, one about to be divorced, one widowed.  Two of the narrators (in "Good Men" and "Oranges from Florida") are men.  All of the narrators are flawed people in some way - no perfect-sized, stunning women (or men) here!  I was bothered by how some of Weiner’s female characters are rather weak-willed and let others walk all over them (like Josie, Jess from “Buyer’s Market,” and Dora, the widow from the last story, "Dora on the Beach").  I wanted to shake them at times and yell "grow a spine already!"

The story I liked least was "Tour of Duty," about a mother visiting colleges with her high- school senior son, the youngest of her four children, right before telling him that his father has left the family.  I liked the characters, but I felt the ending was rather abrupt, confusing, and unsatisfying - but it was also the first story Weiner ever sold for publication.  I also felt rather neutral about the two stories narrated by men.

Most of the stories are funny (especially the title story, "The Guy Not Taken," with its fantasy twist), and many are quite poignant (especially "Buyer's Market" and "The Mother's Hour").  Weiner has some recurring themes - the absentee dad (Weiner's father left their family when she was 17) is one, and characters who are writers (or swimmers, or both) is another.

The audiobook I listened to (pictured at left) had five narrators:  Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges (of the famous Bridges acting family - his father is Beau), Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister.  These last three read the last three stories in the book - all older narrators, age 40+.  Bridges does the other male-narrated story, and Garrison does the remaining seven.  She was excellent, especially with the flippant Nicki.

I did not originally intend to listen to this audiobook.  I'd picked up a paperback of this title (pictured above) years ago at a Friends of the Library book sale.  However, I was trying to read and review five books this August, and due to time crunches, one of them needed to be an audiobook!  I'm glad I had both, as the audiobook lacks the author's notes on the stories (at the end of the paperback), where she explains when each story was written and some of its background.  THAT was fascinating!

Bottom line - I'm glad I listened to this book, and I'd recommend reading or listening to it as an easy, fun summer read.  I'd be willing to try more of Jennifer Weiner's books.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  I will be donating the paperback I got at a Friends of the Library book sale to them as well, as I think they need a print copy.]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

349 & 350 (2013 #33 & #34). Two Books About Being Female and 60+

I Feel Bad About My Neck
by Nora Ephron

Subtitled "And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman," I Feel Bad About My Neck is a collection of mostly-funny essays by famed screenwriter Nora Ephron.  She was 65 when the book was published in 2006, and many of the essays deal with aging (gracefully).

I'm probably not the right audience for this book.  There's an essay "On Maintenance," about all the things women do to keep aging at bay, but (at 56) I am and have always been very low maintenance.  Yes, I dye my hair, but the about the only other thing I do is put Oil of Olay on my face.  No manicures or pedicures, thank you.  I feel pretty good about how my neck looks at my age.  I only have two small purses (albeit Coach leather), and the contents are very well organized.  I also couldn't relate to the essays on life in New York City (such as renting a $10K apartment there).  Other essays address cookbooks, parenting, Bill Clinton, and JFK.

The final essay, "Considering the Alternative," is a rather morbid one about death.  Rather poignant, considering that Ephron died of complications of leukemia, just six years after this book was published.  She wrote the essay about turning 60, which I just don't think of as old anymore.

Bottom line:  this was a 137-page quick, fun read; but not especially deep.

No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club
by Virginia Ironside

Subtitled "Diary of a Sixtieth Year," No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club is a humorous novel in diary format narrated by a British woman who is turning sixty.  Marie Sharp is happy to be doing so, and rejoicing in all the things she no longer HAS to do.  She feels no pressure to do the things others think they should do just because they now have the free time, like volunteer work, or long-distance traveling - or joining a book club.  She's also thrilled about all the privileges she gets (at least in Great Britain) from being an official senior citizen.

Her amusing friends include a gay male couple and a hypochondriac girlfriend.  The plot revolves around the announcement of and arrival of her first grandchild, but the illness of one of her friends is also a primary storyline.

Like I Feel Bad About My Neck, I did not relate to much in this book.  I'm still a number of years from retirement, don't have any grandchildren (other than steps who are age 8 and up) and am NOT looking forward to getting any, and I'm not British and have never been to England.  (You might need a British slang dictionary to learn, for instance, that a dummy is a pacifier, although most of the slang eventually becomes clear in context.)  As mentioned above, I don't think of 60 as old - maybe 80, but definitely not 60 - perhaps because it's less than four years away for me!

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book for its humor and for its sympathetic treatment of dealing with friends through illness and loss.  At 231 pages, it's a light, easy summer read.


© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I won I Feel Bad About My Neck in a book blog contest.  I purchased No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club used at a Friends of the Library book sale – the title and cover art caught my eye.  Both books will be donated to Friends groups.]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

348 (2013 #32). Letter to My Daughter

 by George Bishop

This slim (126-page) novel is the 2010 debut of George Bishop, a former actor and teacher from New Orleans.  Set in Baton Rouge and in Zachary, Louisiana, the book is mostly a long letter written by a mother to her runaway 15-year-old daughter in 2004.  Laura, the mother, looks back at herself at age 15 in 1970, hoping that her experiences will convince her daughter Liz that Laura is capable of understanding her.

In 1970, Zachary was a pretty rural town, just undergoing desegregation in the high school, and Laura's parents are rather strict and conservative with their only child.  They are somewhat bigoted, too, looking down not only on African-Americans, but on the poor whites of the area too - like Laura's older boyfriend Tim.

An incident causes Laura's parents to send her to Baton Rouge to board at an all-girls Catholic high school there, and Tim joins the Army, at the height of the Vietnam War.  The story follows Laura through the rest of her high school years in her letter to Liz, interspersed with updates in 2004 on hers and her husband’s wait for Liz to return.

I read this book in one day, as I was very engrossed in Laura's story.  I was, however, a bit disappointed in the ending.  I would have liked to know more about how Laura met and married Liz's father, and what happened AFTER the ending (but I don't want to give away any spoilers!).

I was also rather amazed at what a good job George Bishop, who is male, did in writing from a woman's viewpoint.  I would recommend this book as an easy, light read, that might be particularly enjoyed by anyone who was a teen in the early 1970s (like me - there were references to some of my favorite songs from that era), as well as girls who went to Catholic school (like me) or who grew up in the South (like me).

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This advance reader edition was sent to me by Goodreads.com.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Monday, August 05, 2013

347 (2013 #31). Sweet Thunder

by Ivan Doig

Sweet Thunder is rollicking historical fiction, set in Butte, Montana, in late 1920 and early 1921.  Main character Morrie Morgan (aka Morgan Llewellyn) returns from Doig's earlier novels, The Whistling Season and Work Song.  He and his bride Grace, a boardinghouse owner/operator in Butte, are near the end of a yearlong worldwide honeymoon (and Morrie's 1919 Black Sox betting winnings), when they find they've "inherited" a mansion in Butte - along with its former owner, city librarian Sam Sandison, as a boarder.

Soon after they move in, Morrie is contacted by old friend Jared Evans, a state senator and union organizer, to write editorials for his start-up pro-labor newspaper.  Called Thunder, it's meant to rival the mouthpiece of the town's main employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company-controlled Post.  Morrie adopts the (clever) pen name Pluvius, and attacks the mining company for its labor practices and the lack of taxes it is assessed and pays.  The Post brings in a competing editorialist from Chicago and the war of words begins.  Meanwhile, Morrie also tries to stay ahead of his somewhat-shady past.

I enjoyed this book for its frequent use of Latin expressions, quotations from the classics, and homage to books and libraries.  I liked learning about journalism and newspapers, mining and bootlegging, and life in Montana in the early 1920s.  Ivan Doig can turn a phrase, and knows his home state well.

The characters fell a little flat for me, and I realized it was because so much of their back stories were missing.  Although it's not required to follow the entertaining plot in this book, I'd recommend reading The Whistling Season first, followed by Work Song, to enhance your enjoyment of this new novel, which will be published on August 20.  

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

346 (2013 #30). Bossypants

written and read by Tina Fey

I purchased this audiobook for my university library because it won two awards at the 2012 Audies for audiobooks:  best Biography/Memoir, and the big one, Audiobook of the Year.  It was also nominated for a Grammy.

Actress, comedian, writer, and producer Tina Fey reads her own work.  Although she reads a bit too fast (in my opinion) and speaks a hard-to-hear sotto voce for some asides, I can't imagine anyone else as this audiobook narrator.

This memoir outlines Tina's life through humorous anecdotes from her childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, her early jobs at a YMCA and with Chicago's Second City comedy group, her years with Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, and her personal life (for example, her honeymoon and being a mother).

For me, one of the funniest parts was that honeymoon, which Tina and her husband spend on a cruise because he doesn't like to fly. I love cruising, but some of her observations about it are spot-on.

Fey doesn't pretend she's not on an audiobook, even helpfully referring, at appropriate times, to the PDF file on the final disc that includes photographs from the print version.  The photos have brief captions, but would best be looked at while actually listening to the audio, as some are directly related to the text.

On the other hand - the audiobook has both an audio of the famous Sarah Palin - Hillary Clinton opening sketch from Saturday Night Live in September 2008, AND a video (on the last disc) of the same sketch.  I borrowed a copy of the print book from the local public library - the sketch script is typed out (with handwritten corrections), but I think hearing it (and seeing it) is much better.

I would recommend this fun, light-hearted audiobook that also has some profound observations about being a woman.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

345 (2013 #29). New Found Land

by Allan Wolf

After listening to Allan Wolf's wonderful The Watch That Ends the Night, about the Titanic, I ordered a copy of his now-out-of-print New Found Land, a similar novel-in-(free-)verse, but this time about the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Like the former, New Found Land uses the alternating voices of twelve members of the Corps of Discovery, as well as President Jefferson and Lewis' dog Seaman, to narrate the story.

While not packing quite the emotional punch of the tragedy of the Titanic, this was still a wonderful read.  The title is a play on words, as Seaman was of the Newfoundland breed.  He is the omniscient narrator in this book, and is called Oolum, supposedly his private or "true" name.  And like The Watch, I found myself most drawn to the less-famous characters, such as young George Shannon and carpenter Patrick Gass.  Quotations from the letters and journal entries of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark are used in many cases for their voicings.  Maps at the beginning of each of the seven sections of the book help orient the reader to the locations mentioned in the novel.

As with The Watch, Wolf did extensive research for this novel, documented in 22 pages at the end of the book, including what became of his 14 narrators.  His website also includes a curriculum guide.  Due to the length of the book (478 pages without the notes at the end), I think it would be most appropriate for older students, although the free verse used in most of the novel makes it easier to read than most books of this length.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I purchased this book and will be adding it to my university library's collection.]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

344 (2013 #28). The Round House

by Louise Erdrich,
read by Gary Farmer

I can see why this book won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.  Besides being a well-written story, it highlights a major issue in Native American tribal law - the "difficulty of prosecuting crimes of sexual violence on reservations," according to author Louise Erdrich, who is Native American herself.

This story is set in 1988, and is told by Antone Bazil Coutts Jr. (known as Joe) as an adult, looking back on that spring and summer of his 13th year. 

At the beginning of the book, Joe's mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist, is violently raped.  She retreats into her bedroom and for a long time, won't talk about what happened.  Joe and his father, a tribal judge, discuss the case and try to determine who did it from previous case files.  Joe and his friends, Cappy, Angus, and Zack, do some exploring on their own and turn up more possible evidence.

Eventually Geraldine talks and it's clear who committed the crime.  It's also likely he murdered a young Native American girl and her baby.  The problem is, Geraldine can't remember exactly where she was raped.  It was near the sacred tribal round house, but it may have occurred on nearby state or federal land rather than on tribal lands.  This is important, because in 1988, a tribe could not prosecute non-tribal members who committed sex crimes within the boundaries of the reservation. The rapist looks like he's going to get away with it.

This evolving storyline is interspersed with tales of life on the reservation, and with Native American legends, the latter told mostly by Joe's grandfather Mooshum (who I understand was a character in Erdrich's earlier novel, A Plague of Doves).   There are many other interesting characters in the story as well, such as Sonya, the former stripper who lives with Joe's uncle; Father Trevor, the Catholic priest, and Linda Wishkob, a white woman adopted into a Native American family.

The story is suspenseful and the characters are fascinating, which kept me going despite a slow reading with unusual pauses by Native American actor Gary Farmer.  On the plus side for the audiobook, the print version of Erdrich's novel doesn't use quotation marks around speech, and Farmer's narration helps make it clear when a character is speaking.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and interlibrary loan, respectively.]

Sunday, June 30, 2013

343 (2013 #27). Freud's Mistress

by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman

What's known:  Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, corresponded with his sister-in-law Minna Bernays,  a spinster who moved in with Freud, his wife Martha (Minna's sister), and their six children in 1896, and lived with them for the next 42 years.

What's suspected:  Freud may have had an affair with Minna, who may have even become pregnant by him. 

This book takes these pieces of information and constructs historical fiction around them.  Unfortunately, it's so little information, and the novel is so long (351 pages), that I lost interest about halfway through.

The characters aren't particularly likeable.  Freud is a pompous, self-centered jerk.  His wife sometimes seems to know more than she lets on, and sometimes seems clueless.  Minna spends most of the novel feeling guilty.

The novel does do a good job of presenting life in turn-of-the-century Vienna and Europe, including the limited options for a single woman of that day (ladies' companion or governess, it seems).

Perhaps if this book was around 200 pages long, I could recommend it.  As it's not - I'd give it a pass.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This uncorrected proof was obtained through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, and will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

342 (2013 #26). The Watch That Ends the Night

by Allan Wolf
read by Michael Page, Phil Gigante, Christopher Lane, Laural Merlington, and Angela Dawe

I purchased this audiobook for my library's collection because it won the 2012 Audie Award for Distinguished Achievement in Production, and was a nominee for the award for Multi-Voiced Performance. This audiobook is absolutely incredible, and I can't recommend it enough.

We're all familiar with the story of the Titanic, but poet Allan Wolf creates suspense by focusing on people and not so much the disaster itself.  Subtitled "Voices from the Titanic," the book has 25 narrators, 20 of them being real passengers or crew on the Titanic.  The other five include a ship's rat, the iceberg itself, and a (real) undertaker from the aftermath.  The narrations of the latter proceed each of the nine sections of the story, a prelude and postlude, as well as the seven "watches" of a traditional ship duty system. These span the period from April 1, 1912, when the Titanic prepared to sail, through April 18, 1912, when the rescue ship Carpathia docked in New York City. The title of the book comes from a verse of the hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," sung at a religious service on board the Titanic on the Sunday it struck the iceberg.

Laural Merlington and Angela Dawe voice the two female passengers, as well as the two-voice poems about the first-class and third-class promenade (some of the few rhyming verses in this work; most is free verse).  Merlington also voices the Iceberg (the most "poetic" voice in the novel, written entirely in iambic pentameter).  This means Michael Page, Phil Gigante, and Christopher Lane handle the other 22 male narrators among the three of them, including the ship's rat (which sometimes provided a bit of levity in an otherwise sad tale).  These three narrators do a good job distinguishing their myriad characters.  The fact that each character's part begins with his/her name and role helps.

I was riveted listening to this audiobook.  I listen during my commute, and there were days I didn't want to stop to go into my office or my home at the end of the work day!  I think it's because I wanted to know whether lesser-known characters lived or died.

It's hard to pick a favorite character.  The rat sounds just like I'd imagine, the postmen (I didn't know the Titanic had postmen!) sort and shuffle and slot the mail.

Well-known Titanic victims and survivors are here, such as Captain E. J. Smith, millionaire John Jacob Astor, "unsinkable Molly" Margaret Brown ("the socialite,), shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, and White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay.  Wolf presents another side to the stereotypes of these characters and makes them more human.

Even more interesting, though, were real characters I'd never heard of before:  immigrants like Olaus Abelseth, Jamila Nicola-Yarred, and Frankie Goldsmith; con man George Brereton, second-class passenger Louis Hoffman (aka Michel Navratil, kidnapping his children), and various crew members - the baker, the postman, the musician, the boiler stoker, the lookout, the navigator, the junior officer, telegraphists - who provided much insight into the operations of the ship.

Different formats are used throughout the book.  Abelseth's pieces are mostly in the form of letters to a girlfriend back in Norway.  Most sections of Harold Bride, "the spark" - the junior wireless man on the Titanic - begin with a Morse code message (dots and dashes signaled in the audiobook, symbols used in the print version with translations provided at the end).  Actual telegrams sent and received by the Titanic are included, as well as transcriptions of records of bodies and effects found afterwards. 


In an author's note at the end of the book, Allen Wolf said his intention in writing this book "was not to present history, my aim was to present humanity.  The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved.  They were as real as you or me.  They could have been any one of us.  And that is why, after a century, the Titanic still fascinates." (p. 435)

By far, the most moving poem for me was a (mythical) telegram from the Titanic near the end (page 36), where a message repeating the Titanic's call letters (MGY) and distress calls (the new SOS and the then-standard CQD), "MGY MGY SOS CQD," slowly loses letters as the ship's power supply fluctuates during its sinking, eventually spelling out something else entirely.

I loved Wolf's descriptions of historical fiction in his author's note (page 435):  "history is the birdcage, fiction is the bird," and the process of combining research and story:

Writing a historical novel is like making soup.  You spend a lot of time gathering ingredients, but eventually you've got to start cooking, even if you are missing one or two spices....But if you are a connoisseur of all things Titanic, please be kind to the cook.  And just enjoy the soup.

Despite his stated regrets on not being able to explore all sources and apologies for errors, the book has an impressive end notes section, with 14 pages of notes on the characters, clarifying what is real and what is not (also read on the audiobook), four pages of  "RMS Titanic Miscellany" (also read on the audiobook), and an extensive 10-page bibliography.

I can't say enough good about this book.  Suffice to say I'm ordering the print version of The Watch That Ends the Night for my library as well, and I just bought Wolf's New Found Land, which uses the same format to tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Too bad that's not available as an audiobook; I bet it would be excellent.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and interlibrary loan respectively.]