Saturday, April 30, 2016

548 (2016 #14). Garden Spells

by Sarah Addison Allen,
read by Susan Ericksen

A fun blend of magical realism and romance set in a small town in the South, Garden Spells was a delight.  This is the first book in what is called the Waverley Family series, and I'm certainly planning to read any subsequent books.

Claire Waverley is a 34-year-old single woman running a catering and baking business specializing in edible flowers and floral flavorings - and the magical effects they can produce.  She lives alone in a large Queen Anne that belonged to the grandmother she grew up with, in the fictional small college town of Bascom, North Carolina.  Claire's mother abandoned her there along with her six-years-younger sister Sydney, and disappeared.  Sydney too left town in imitation of her mother, but comes back at the beginning of this story along with her five-year-old daughter, Bay.

It's not a deep book and is rather predictable (particularly the romance), but the plot is enjoyable and the characters are quirky yet endearing.  This was author Sarah Addison Allen's first book, and her others sound interesting to me, too.  Susan Ericksen does a fabulous job as the audiobook narrator.  I especially liked her voices for Claire's and Sydney's elderly cousin Evanelle (who is compelled to give people things they later find useful), and the evil wealthy Southern matron Ariel Clark.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

547 (2016 #13). Behind the Canvas

by Alexander Vance,
read by Erin Moon

A fantasy/mystery with a 12-year-old narrator/heroine, Behind the Canvas has an interesting premise - another world behind the scenes of famous paintings.  While I'm not much for either fantasy or mystery, I did enjoy some of the funny characters (especially Cash, the bulldog from the Dogs Playing Poker painting series), as well as the entertaining (and educational) quotes from the fictional art encyclopedia that separated many chapters.  Erin Moon was a perfect narrator, as I really felt she could be heroine Claudia Miravista.

Author Alexander Vance has a helpful chart on his website listing the artists, artworks, and art topics that appear in the book, down to the page number.  A real art encyclopedia would best accompany this audiobook so the listener could take a look at the images and concepts described in the story.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

546 (2016 #12). A Very Dangerous Woman

by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield

A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves and Lies of Russia's Most Seductive Spy is a biography of Maria (Moura) Ignatievna Zakrevskaya Benckendorff Budberg (ABT 1891 - 1974), a Russian aristocrat turned spy, who had affairs with various famous men:  British diplomat Bruce Lockhart, Russian writer Maxim Gorky, and British author H. G. Wells.  I'm not sure I'd describe her as "very dangerous," though, as it seems her "spying" consisted mostly of passing along gossip.

The subject is not a particularly likable woman, and between that and the excessive detail about her life, I had a hard time finishing this book.  It just didn't grab me.  However, the authors certainly did their research, with 43 pages of end notes supported by an eight-page bibliography (most of Budberg's letters to Lockhart, Gorky, and Wells had been preserved), and there is also an eight-page index.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

545 (2016 #11). The Light Between Oceans

by M. L. Stedman,
read by Noah Taylor

I had a tough time putting this book down.  Author M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia, influencing her descriptions of the fictional settings in the story, the Janus Rock lighthouse and the town of Point Partageuse (apparently located near the real town of Augusta and the mainland lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin. In Australia, the Cape is considered the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.).

In an interview, Stedman had this to say about her setting:

The theme of duality runs right through the book, and location is a physical manifestation of that duality. It reminds the reader that there’s always more than one way of looking at things: without giving away too much about the plot, there are two aspects to the baby’s story, and two locations – Janus Rock and Point Partageuse. The two oceans have (or perhaps are) very different characters – the Great Southern Ocean is icy, fierce and treacherous, and the Indian Ocean is warm and calm in comparison. This duality is echoed, too, in the island named after Janus, a Roman god who has two faces looking out in opposite directions. He stands for beginnings and transitions, so his image was often found on doorways and thresholds (the state of ‘between’ alluded to in the title). The doors of his temple in the Roman Forum were open in times of war and closed in times of peace: Tom retreats from war to find peace in solitude, but is confronted with conflict on a deeper, more intimate scale.

The book starts on April 27, 1926, when a rowboat washes up on Janus Rock.  Tom Sherbourne, the lighthouse keeper, discovers a dead man inside....and a living baby girl.  His wife Isabel has just had a stillborn child after two miscarriages, and she persuades Tom to keep the baby, against his better judgment.

Part I then gives the backstory.  It flashes back to December 1918, when World War I veteran Tom takes the keeper job at the remote lighthouse that is half a day's boat ride from the mainland.  On his way there, he meets Isabel Graysmark in Point Partageuse.

Part II returns to that fateful day in April 1926, and then what happens after, when Tom and Isabel learn the truth about baby Lucy.  The book ends in August 1950.

This is a fascinating story with a moral dilemma with no clear answers.  Highly recommended!

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

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 her not-supportive 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.]