The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudcyz Lupescu – Audiobook Review

The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu, narrated by Xe Sands
Published in audio by Iambik Audio, published in print by Wolfsword Press

Synopsis:

From Iambik Audio:

In Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, Nadya Lysenko has built her life on a foundation of secrets. When she was sixteen, Nadya snuck out of her house in Western Ukraine to meet a fortuneteller in the woods. She never expected it to be the last time she would see her family. Decades later, Nadya continues to be haunted by the death of her parents and sisters. The myths and magic of her childhood are still a part of her reality: dreams unite friends across time and space, house spirits misplace keys and glasses, and a fortuneteller’s cards predict the future. Nadya’s beloved dead insist on being heard through dreams and whispers in the night. They want the truth to come out. Nadya needs to face her past and confront the secrets she buried. Too often the women of history have been silenced, but their stories have power-to reveal, to teach, and to transform. This is one such story.

Thoughts on the story:

Lupescu weaves together Nadya’s past and present in an almost seamless manner. It was fascinating seeing how her choices in the past affected her life in the present. The Silence of Trees was given additional depth by the addition of Ukrainian traditions, folklore, and superstition. These details make Nadya’s life and family come vividly to life.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sands’s narration generally takes me a bit of time to get used to, because she has a much breathier style than most narrators I tend to listen to. Her sentences tend to drift off a bit, forcing the listener to really pay attention. I can see this bothering some people, but if you listen long enough to get the full force of emotion she puts into her narration you are likely to be hooked. Sands also does an amazing job with the different voices and accents in The Silence of Trees.

Overall:

The Silence of Trees is a multilayered story with equally complex narration. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Iambik Audiobooks

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: Publisher.
* 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 Vanishers by Heidi Julavits – Book Review

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
Published by Doubleday Books, an imprint of Random House

From the publisher:

Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?

Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother’s suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.

Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia’s emerging gifts, and soon she’s recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.

From plot to characterization to prose, Julavits has a mesmerizing writing style, something that makes her particularly well suited to telling the story of a woman with psychic aptitude slowly regaining her talent. The Vanishers is intriguing, unexpected, and difficult to put down. Julia is woefully unaware of the direction her life is taking, in a manner that would be obnoxious in most protagonists.

Given my repeated failures to intuit when danger awaited me, it should come as no surprise to learn: I went. -p. 219

Perhaps it is because of the completely unexpected plot Julavits has introduced. Readers are not often asked to accept a world populated by characters with genuine psychic abilities, particularly in literary fiction. Somehow Julavits manages to put her reader squarely in the realm of suspended disbelief, enough so that even Julia’s nearly aimless wanderings do not grate. Or, perhaps it is the themes of female relationships and the tension and love that can ensue and even coexist that universalizes the story Julavits is telling about Julia’s life, even as most of her specific  experiences do not resemble those of the average reader in the least.

The Vanishers is at times jarring and, as such, is certainly not for everyone, particularly with the threads of suicide, radical surgery, and people going missing on purpose running through it. However, for those willing to approach it, Julavits has magic to work. Highly recommended. 

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* 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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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung – Book Review

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

In every generation of Janie’s family, one sister is lost. Her aunt, for instance, was ostensibly kidnapped from her college dorm by North Koreans, never to be heard from again. Even worse, the family could not attempt to look for her, because the insinuation that one had dealings with North Korea could ruin a Korean family. Janie, at least, has the freedom to look for her sister Hannah. For one thing, their family now lives in America, having moved there when the girls were young for fear of repercussions from Janie’s father’s politics.

When Hannah disappears without a trace – although clearly voluntarily – it would certainly be possible for Janie to track her down and, initially, she contemplates doing so. After their father is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, though, Janie begins to feel increasingly frustrated with and betrayed by her sister. Hannah is not their for their father, their family, so why should Janie expend energy on trying to draw her back into the fold? When the girls’ parents return to Korea in hopes finding a doctor who can cure their father – or at least prolong his life – Janie is forced to track Hannah down, whether or not she actually wants her sister to return.

With Forgotten Country Chung has created a beautifully sad portrait of a family. That they are Korean and have immigrated to the United States and return to their native land is in some ways incidental to the universal story of family love, jealousy, and betrayal. At the same time, it is their cultural heritage and immigration status and the authentic ways that these aspects of who they are inform their lives that brings Chung’s characters so vividly to life.

Chung’s writing is beautiful and her characters are alive, so I can recommend Forgotten Country without reservation.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* 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 Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – Book Review

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published by Farrar, Straus,and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan

From the publisher:

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Madeleine is a fantastically familiar character to book lovers, and the connection becomes particularly poignant as her situation mirrors the marriage plot, that hallmark of her favorite literature. By reviving that form and making an English major the heroine, Eugenides creates in The Marriage Plot a fabulously meta narrative. Meta, though, is not enough to carry a book, and fortunately in The Marriage Plot, it doesn’t have to.

In many ways, what Eugenides is attempting here is quieter and less ambitious than Middlesex (really, how could it not be less ambitious than a multi-generational epic with a hermaphrodite as the main character?), but no less wonderful. Eugenides brings all three of his main characters to life in a wonderful, flawed way. For much of the book, I found myself greatly preferring Madeleine and Mitchell, as they narrate the majority of the story. Leonard, with his bipolar disorder, is a much tougher character to get a good feel for, but once Eugenides allows him to tell his own story, he becomes just as human and accessible, even in his mania. The writing is constantly engaging, by the second section The Marriage Plot becomes increasingly difficult to put down, as infused as it is with human emotion, and as invested as the reader becomes.

Do not pick up The Marriage Plot unless you are ready to become emotionally involved in the lives of the characters, but do pick it up if you are looking for a fabulous read. It is a very strong, well-written book, sure to appeal to book lovers.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy.

* 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 Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – Book Review

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

In the early 20th century, many immigrant men living and working in the United States desired wives from their native lands. Matchmakers, armed with pictures of the men who were unable to travel home to find a bride and recommendations from family members, paired couples and sent the girls, frequently referred to as “picture brides” to America to meet their mates.

It is a group of these picture brides whose lives form the basis for Julie Otsuka’s anticipated second novel. As with her debut, When the Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka follows the fortunes of persons of Japanese descent living in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Interestingly, her trademark style is very impersonal. In When the Emperor Was Divine, most of the story is told in third person limited omniscient. The Buddha in the Attic is told in first person plural, attempting to convey the variety of responses of the picture brides to their new life, resulting in passages such as the one below, which describes the women’s first nights with their husbands:

That night our new husbands took us quickly. They took us calmly. They took us gently, but firmly, and without saying a word. They assumed we were the virgins the matchmakers had promised them we were and they took us with exquisite care…. They took us greedily, hungrily, as though they had been waiting to take us for a thousand and one years. They took us even though we were still nauseous from the boat and the ground had not yet stopped rocking beneath our feet.

Coming from most authors, this would be distancing, but from Otsuka it is universalizing. We see a variety of responses from the different women in different situations that shows both their individuality and the commonalities between them. The result is a beautiful and surprisingly emotionally work culminating with World War II and the “Instructions to all Persons of Japanese Ancestry.” Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* 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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