NW by Zadie Smith – Audiobook Review

NW by Zadie Smith, narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Thoughts on the story:

In classic Zadie Smith fashion, NW is a challenging book, one which falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of linked stories. Leah and Natalie’s stories are very much intertwined and inform one another. The girls grew up together in the Caldwell housing estates and have achieved varying degrees of success. Felix’s story is only tangentially related to the women’s stories and, for me, was more of a distraction than anything else. It was quite a long digression in the middle of the book that nearly made me lose interest. Overall, though, I thought that the stories Smith told did a wonderful job showcasing the diversity of urban life in NW London.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Let’s just be honest, Don Gilet is probably the only thing that kept me interested in Felix’s story when it interrupted those of Leah and Natalie, he did a truly wonderful job. I am slightly more conflicted about Karen Bryson’s performance. On one hand, she is practically a chameleon with voices and accents. She is able to differentiate between characters and bring them fully to life. On the other hand, she has a tendency to make wet mouth noises, which have a tendency to give me the creeps. At least one time when she smacks her mouth it is a conscious choice in voicing a character, but it seems much of the rest of the time that this is just her natural inclination between words, which bothers me a bit.

Overall:

NW is challenging, but worthwhile. I am certain that the audio helped me make it through what might have been a more difficult read in print, but listeners overly disturbed by wet mouth noises in narration may want to give this a miss.

For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – Audiobook Review

I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Hogarth Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

Thoughts on the story:

There are times early on in I am Forbidden when the reader may wonder exactly what is going on and have trouble following the threads of relationship. By the time the family moves to Williamsburg, however, Marouk’s narrative straightens itself out and becomes increasingly engaging. That Satmar society is not one I am familiar with, and it was fascinating to learn more about them through Mila and Atara and their differing views on their faith. Markovits seems to be very respectful of the culture, even when he seems to disagree with some of the specifics – or at least his characters do. As a result, I am Forbidden is filled with genuine emotion and a quiet drama.

Thoughts on the audio production:

In I am Forbidden Rosalyn Landor is, as always, fabulous. She brings poise and a quiet dignity to the story, which works very well with the world Markovits creates. Landor is one of those narrators I could simply sit and listen to for hours, she’s just that good, and I am Forbidden is no exception.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I am Forbidden is a lovely, quiet novel that works very well in audio, largely thanks to Rosalyn Landor’s performance. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer – Book Review

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

This is the story of an astronaut who was lost in space, and the wife he left behind. Or this is the story of a brave man who survived the wreck of the first rocket sent into space with the intent to colonize the moon. This is the story of the human race, who pushed one crazy little splinter of metal and a few pulsing cells up into the vast dark reaches of the universe, and the hope that the splinter would hit somehting and stick, and that the little pulsing cells could somehow survive. This is the story of a bulge, a bud, the way the human race tried to subdivide, the bud it formed out into the universe, and what happened to that bud, and what happened to the Earth, too, the mother Earth, after the bud was burst. -p. 2

The Mann family is going through a difficult time: Sunny is hugely pregnant with their second child; their autistic first child Bubber is increasingly having trouble at preschool; Sunny’s mother is in the hospital slowly dying; and Maxon is heading to the moon to set up robots for a future moon colony. Everything is already chaos when Sunny and Bubber are in a car accident that knocks Sunny’s wig off of her head and into the street. Bald since birth, Sunny has been wearing a wig ever since she and Maxon moved to Norfolk, Virginia while she was pregnant with Bubber as part of her attempt to be the perfect wife and mother. Now that her cover has been blown in front of her neighbors, Sunny must once again discover and decide exactly who she is.

There was only one thing that I didn’t love about Shine Shine Shine, and that is the fact that with every sentence I realized that I would never be able to write like Netzer does. Nearly every sentence surprised me with plot, turn of phrase, or characterization. Shine Shine Shine is definitely quirky – after all, the main character is a bald Caucasian  woman born in Burma during an eclipse – but it manages to be so while still maintaining a real and realistic quality. Most of us may never have any of Sunny’s particular problems, but the way she questions her identity is universal.

Shine Shine Shine is wonderful and difficult to put down. It is a wonderful book and one I highly recommend.

For more about Shine Shine Shine, please see my review and my interview with Lydia Netzer for SheKnows.com.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Red House by Mark Haddon – Audiobook Review

The Red House by Mark Haddon, narrated by Maxwell Caulfield
Published in audio by Random House Audio; published in print by Doubleday, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

The set-up of Mark Haddon’s brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.

But because of Haddon’s extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.

Thoughts on the story:

Haddon’s plotting in The Red House was fairly good, and he told his story well. Unfortunately, none of his characters really had any redeeming characteristics, and he never managed to make me care about any of them, or what happened to them. This lack of caring about the characters in any way made me not care about the book, either. If I had not been reviewing this for Audiofile Magazine, I would likely have just stopped reading, and I don’t think I would have missed anything had I done so.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Caulfield did a fine job narrating in many respects, but he didn’t really differentiate between the voices of different characters, which made this book – with its eight points of view – just really not work well in audio, which really just killed it. The right narrator might have imbued the characters with increased humanity and made me feel empathy for them, but it just didn’t happen here.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Maybe just go re-read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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GirlChild by Tupelo Hassman – Audiobook Review

Girl Child by Tupelo Hassman, narrated by Tupelo Hassman
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn’t got a troop or even a badge to call her own. But she’s checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Uniforms, disposing of outgrown; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost) for tips to get off the Calle: that is, the Calle de las Flores, the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory’s been told that she is one of the “third-generation bastards surely on the road to whoredom.” But she’s determined to prove the county and her own family wrong. Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified, she struggles with her mother’s habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good. From diary entries, social workers’ reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother’s letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world even as she searches for the way out of it.

Thoughts on the story:

Hassman’s debut is both beautiful and tragic. Rory is an extremely endearing character, she is both old and young for her age, which is not terribly surprising, given everything she’s been through. GirlChild doesn’t have a traditional structure, Rory doesn’t tell her story in a strictly linear fashion, and it is often interspersed with the lessons she has learned from the Girl Scout Handbook. This structure works very well for the story, however, Hassman weaves the strands together beautifully, and these diversions may actually keep Rory’s life from seeming too brutally horrid, as they might if she told parts of it straight through.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Honestly, I wasn’t completely sure about Hassman’s narration initially. Her voice is reminiscent of Sarah Vowell’s, not exactly a typical narrator. There were three things that worked in Hassman’s favor, however. First, her voice and delivery fit her character very well, naive and too grown-up at the same time. Second, Hassman is highly connected with the characters and story she created and narrates with feeling and empathy. Third, although her voice is not that of a typical narrator, Hassman gives an incredibly professional performance, only the relative squeakiness of her voice tells the listener that she is likely not a professional narrator. Overall Hassman makes a great narrator for GirlChild.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

There are many points when GirlChild verges on devastating, but it is always worthwhile, whether in print or audio.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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