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A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet - David Timson,  Arthur Conan Doyle


I first read A Study in Scarlet as a teenager. I was a fervent mystery fan and read all the “classic” mystery writers with enjoyment. But Arthur Conan Doyle was a craftsman and a superb storyteller. His tales of Holmes and Watson absorbed me, fired my imagination, and gave me hours of entertainment.

This time around I opted for the Naxos audiobook version. I’d forgotten how dramatic and fantastic the story was – a tale of revenge and evil Mormons! But the magic was still there, greatly enhanced by David Timson’s reading, which I really can’t recommend highly enough.

The Aviator's Wife

The Aviator's Wife - Melanie Benjamin


The Aviator’s Wife is a fictionalized account of the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Melanie Benjamin explains that her motivation was to tell Anne’s "entire" story and try to understand the nature of her marriage to Charles Lindbergh. She wanted to make Anne the heroine of her own story, to bring her out from under the shadow of her famous husband so that we, the readers, could appreciate the “truly operatic scale” of her life and marriage.

It's difficult for me to judge how much creative license the author may have used; I know very little about the Lindbergh’s. My overall impression, however, is that Benjamin’s interpretation is not totally convincing. I don’t feel that she succeeded in conveying Anne’s thoughts and motivations in a way that adequately explained her behavior. I think all the pieces are there, but not pulled together in a complete characterization. It was also disappointing that the Anne of this story remained overshadowed to the end because she continued to believe that Charles Lindbergh was a man above all others.

The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice - Karen Cushman


1996 Newbery Medal winner.


Nice message about the value of perseverance, but awfully lean overall.

These Is My Words

These Is My Words - Nancy E. Turner


In a short piece at the end of the edition I read, Nancy Turner explains that Sarah Agnes Prine was her great-grandmother, and that the book was inspired by the real-life tales she heard of her as a child.

The simple diary format of the book gives insight into Sarah’s thoughts and conveys the feel of life in the Arizona territories. In spare and unsentimental prose, Turner effectively captures the spirit of the pioneer era. I’ve heard many stories about relatives on my husband’s side of the family who lived through those times in similar circumstances.

I loved Sarah’s goodness, toughness and indomitability. I loved the romance between her and Jack Elliot. This is the kind of story that draws you in and holds you fast until the end. Perfect for a rainy day when you just want to curl up in a quiet corner and lose yourself in a good book.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender


An unusual coming-of-age story about a girl with an unusual gift.

Rose Edelstein can taste emotions in the food she eats - whatever the person who prepared the food feels, and all the way down to the individual ingredients. At nine, she discovers her mother’s emptiness and despair in a slice of lemon birthday cake. As her ability develops, she becomes privy to secrets that puzzle and overwhelm her, and for awhile she takes refuge in processed foods that have less contact with human hands. But in the end, of course, Rose must come to terms with her "gift" and learn to accept who she is. Through Rose, Bender examines the intricacy of family relationships and the shock of growing up and realizing that the people you love may be seriously flawed, and that everyone has his/her own personal demons.

The climax of the book involves the disappearance of Joseph, Rose’s brilliant and anti-social brother. It turns out that Rose is not the only one with a gift. But Joseph’s case is much more extreme and he has no choice but to isolate himself from people as much as possible. In desperation, he works out a way to escape permanently (i.e. into a chair). I know some people feel this part of the book is simply too bizarre, but I think it’s essential to the plot because it opens Rose’s eyes and shows her that she’s unmistakably connected to her family. This is also reinforced through her father’s revelations. It’s really the thread that pulls the whole story together.

To enjoy this book, I think you have to go into it with no expectations and be willing to follow wherever the story leads. I read it in an afternoon and found myself thinking about Rose for a long time afterward.

Peyton Place

Peyton Place - Grace Metalious, Ardis Cameron


This is actually a decent read, less sensational and more literate than the typical "trash" novel. Grace Metalious tells a compelling story and offers some surprising insights into human nature and small town dynamics. I breezed through this book and the sequel, Return to Peyton Place, over a weekend. Not bad for a book that spawned a notable prime-time TV soap opera.

Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh


It’s difficult to review a book like this. The themes are huge and there’s so much packed into a mere 350 pages.

The story is told in flashback by Charles Ryder, an army officer who comes across the Brideshead estate while moving from one camp to another. He knows it well, having been close to the Marchmain family and having spent much time at their home years before.

Charles meets Sebastian Flyte (second son of Lord Marchmain) while studying at Oxford. The two quickly become inseparable. Sebastian is a charming but tragic figure who resists growing up and drinks heavily to rebel against the expectations of his family, particularly the strong Catholic values of his mother, Lady Marchmain. Charles is eventually introduced to the family and seduced by the life of ease and privilege offered at Brideshead. The closer he gets to the family, the more distant he gets from Sebastian. Eventually, Charles transfers his affections to Sebastian’s sister Julia, but they are not destined for happiness either.

Among other things the story deals with homosexuality, the decadence of the aristocracy, and the death of unspoiled youth, but “grace” is, I think, the central theme of the book. Waugh himself had been converted to Catholicism and his characters struggle against it in vain. Over the years Charles witnesses the decline of the Marchmains, followed by each member’s return to faith in one way or another. In the end even Charles, a determined agnostic, can’t seem to escape it.

This is a book I will read again (probably very soon) for its wit and beautiful prose, as well as its thought-provoking themes.

The Custom of the Country

The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin


An excellent book. I can see that Edith Wharton and I will be spending a lot more time together.

The heroine of the story, Undine Spragg, is a spoiled, shallow, self-centered, conniving social climber. She is supremely unsympathetic, equally as fascinating as she is repellent. Her goal is to position herself within privileged society and she pursues this end with ruthless determination. But as the saying goes, you should be careful what you wish for. Undine finds that marrying into "the right" family or even having access to fabulous sums of money doesn’t bring satisfaction. Her restless, acquisitive nature always drives her to seek more and better.

She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.

The Custom of the Country is a pointed commentary on the role of women and the acceptable social norms of the time. Wharton shows that Undine is both a product of the prevailing culture and a victim of it. In the context of a society that offers women few choices and values the creation of wealth over all else, her behavior becomes understandable and even pitiable.

The Real James Herriot

The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father - James Wight, Jim Wight


This book is for anyone who has loved the All Creatures Great and Small stories by James Herriot (i.e. James Alfred "Alf" Wight). The biography is written by Wight’s son, who is also a veterinary surgeon. It tells of his father's childhood years, his training at the Veterinary College in Glasgow, and his partnership/friendship with the Sinclair brothers (aka Siegfried and Tristan Farnon). But the last third of the book was the most interesting to me because it describes Alf Wight's early attempts at writing and how he turned his years of veterinary experience and humorous observations into a series of beloved books.

Eighth Moon

Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China - Bette Lord;Sansan


The "Sansan" of the book is Bette Bao Lord's sister, youngest of three children. When their father left China in 1946 to take a position in the US, he had to leave his family behind. Eventually, their mother was able to join him and brought the two older daughters with her. Sansan, who was barely a year old, was left with an aunt. The family thought the separation would be for a year or two at the most. But after the revolution and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, it was impossible for them to return or for Sansan to leave the country. The family was not reunited until 16 years later.

The story was simple and touching. It’s not anything I hadn’t read before about life in China under Mao Zedong, but I was reminded again of what happens when ideology becomes more important than individual lives and how precious personal liberty is.

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas  - Dean Koontz


Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old fry cook who sees dead people... ghosts with unfinished business that he sometimes helps. He can also sense evil and pretty much knows when people are going to die. When a stranger he calls "Fungus Man" shows up in town, Odd has about 24 hours to figure out what’s going to happen and how the mystery man is involved. This was my first Dean Koontz book, and pretty good as horror stories go. Parts of it were truly creepy.

Unnatural Death

Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Carmichael


It's been awhile since I indulged in a Peter Wimsey mystery. These days I seem to prefer the ones without Harriet Vane. This audiobook version was expertly narrated by Ian Carmichael. Such a treat!

Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber (Amber Chronicles, #1) - Roger Zelazny,  Alessandro Juliani


This series is different from anything I've read before. But then I'm not a big fantasy reader, so maybe this is typical of the genre and just unusual to me.

The world of Amber, as the story goes, is the only "true" world. Other places are merely "shadows" that exist in parallel. Amber was once ruled by King Oberon, but he mysteriously disappeared (believed dead) and his sons are now vying and/or plotting with each other to replace him on the throne. The first five books of the Amber Chronicles follow the adventures of Prince Corwin. Nine Princes in Amber opens with Corwin waking up in a hospital in the shadow land called "Earth". He must regain his past memories and find his way back to Amber whilst fending off a myriad of enemies, including some of his siblings.

The books are curiously addicting. The dialog is an odd mixture of old-world formality and modern slang that works with the story and adds a bit of humor. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions narrated by Alessandro Juliani, whose voice and delivery seem ideally suited to the character of Corwin.

Very enjoyable. I’m up to the third book, Sign of the Unicorn, and have the remaining two waiting on deck.

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book CD - Neil Gaiman


An unusual coming-of-age story about a boy who grows up in a graveyard, adopted by ghosts. The audiobook is skillfully and charmingly narrated by Neil Gaiman.

The Gun Seller

The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie, Simon Prebble


Like most people, I was interested in this book because I’m a fan of Hugh Laurie and I was curious to see if his comic talents extended to his writing.

The Gun Seller is a spoof on the classic spy novel. The protagonist, Thomas Lang, is an ex-military man who gets himself caught up in a conspiracy of murder and espionage because he’s basically a decent guy… and there’s a beautiful girl involved, of course. I doubt that the book would appeal to those not familiar with the spy genre or who don’t appreciate the kind of British humor that’s pointed, sarcastic, and absurd all at the same time. In fact, the tone is exactly what one would expect of Hugh Laurie, famous for the hapless Bertie Wooster and the misanthropic Dr. House. It’s an insistent, over-the-top kind of humor that makes you wince rather than laugh out loud because there’s a seriousness behind it. I think that must be the point of the book, because the plot is a little vague and hard to follow, and the characters are a little too distant for likeability.

But there are some memorable lines. For example:
Because, what does it mean, to say that things aren't going well? Compared to what? You can say: compared to how things were going a couple of hours ago, or a couple of years ago. But that's not the point. If two cars are speeding towards a brick wall with no brakes, and one car hits the wall moments before the other, you can't spend those moments saying that the second car is much better off than the first.

Overall, it was an entertaining audiobook. Simon Prebble is an excellent narrator and delivers the dialogue with the right amount of restraint and dry wit. Through him, I found myself rooting for Thomas Lang. I doubt I would have enjoyed the book as much if I’d read it in print.

Title: The Gun Seller
Author: Hugh Laurie
Narrator: Simon Prebble
Publisher: HighBridge Company
Abridged or Unabridged: Unabridged
Length of Production: 10 hrs, 41 mins
Year of Publication: 2012

I received this audiobook for review from HighBridge Company via Audiobook Jukebox.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel - Carol Rifka Brunt


This is really a story about growing up, told through the voice of 14-year-old June Elbus. June is an odd, intelligent, dreamy, socially awkward girl who feels isolated from most people, including her immediate family. Only her Uncle Finn is a kindred spirit and June cherishes and romanticizes their relationship in the way that only a young girl can. When Finn dies of AIDS, events begin to unfold and June discovers that she doesn’t know her uncle (or indeed the rest of her family) nearly as well as she thought. The book explores the complexity of family relationships and how we inadvertently hurt those closest to us through our choices, and sometimes even our sacrifices.