Astray by Emma Donoghue – Audiobook Review

Astray by Emma Donoghue, narrated by Kristine Hvam, James Langton, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren, and Dion Graham
Published in audio by Hachette Audio, published in print by Little, Brown and Company, both imprints of Hachette

Synopsis:

None of  the characters in Emma Donoghue’s Astray are homebodies. Perhaps some of them would like to be, but they are all being propelled in different directions, moving to, from, and throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Thoughts on the story:

It isn’t every author who can pull off a collection of stories that begins with a piece in the second person addressed to an elephant, but Emma Donoghue rocks it. Astray opens with a story about Jumbo the elephant’s sale to P.T. Barnum, from the perspective of his keeper. The characters in the rest of Donoghue’s stories are all human, but by opening with a story about an elephant she signals just how diverse the rest of her stories will be. Indeed, the genders, nationalities, and situations throughout the rest of Astray are exceptionally varied. There are Yukon gold miners, an American slave, a young middle class British woman forced to support her brother and child through prostitution.

Each of these stories actually has a basis in the historical record. After every account Donoghue explains the inspiration behind the story, where it came from and the facts behind what she wrote. The stories vary greatly in length, but besides the general subject matter, the one thing that all of the stories have in common is the fact that they are all incredibly compelling. Of course different situations will appeal more or less to different readers, but all of the stories are well-researched, well-told, and based on fascinating true stories.

Thoughts on the audio production:

The casting of Astray is just perfect. First of all, five absolutely fabulous narrators were chosen. All five have the ability to help the listener get lost in whatever story they are telling. Second of all, the pairing of narrators and stories is perfect; never once did I feel that a narrator didn’t fit a given story. I really appreciate that Hachette Audio decided to go big with five narrators. They could have simply had a male and a female, or even just had a single narrator, but they seem to have been determined to find the absolute best narrator for each story. Dion Graham, to the best of my recollection, only narrated a single story in Astray – and a short one at that. Robert Petkoff certainly could have narrated that story, even though he didn’t quite fit casting-wise. However, a decision was made to bring in a narrator who was a better fit, even if he would only be used for that one brief story. It is attention to detail like this that takes Astray from a good production to one that is really top-notch.

Overall:

Big thumbs up all around. The collection is wonderful and the narration equally fantastic. Do yourself a favor here and pick this up in either print or audio.

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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Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress- Book Review

Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

The past few years in particular have seen a plethora of Jane Austen retellings and adaptations. Many of these adaptations are beloved almost as much as Austen’s original stories are. It is gratifying to see an author who has been dead nearly 200 years inspiring such love and devotion that an entire subgenre has developed out of her work. Laurel Ann Nattress, a lover both of Austen’s original books and the “Austenesque” novels, decided to bring together some of the very best authors in the Austenesuqe subgenre – as well as some other authors who have been heavily influenced by Austen’s work – for a collection of original short stories: Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Sometimes I’m not sure if there has ever been a review written of a short story collection that does not include the word “uneven.” Unfortunately, there are few short story collections that manage to avoid needing such a designation. That reality becomes particularly obvious when the collection is pulled together from the stories of twenty-two different authors. With the exception of Brenna Aubrey, a new writer whose story was included after she won the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest, most of the featured authors are beloved in their genres.

However, though they are incredibly well-respected, these authors are primarily novelists, and many of them did not transition well into the short story form. The second story in particular, Waiting, read as if it were a scene from a novel, rather than a story in its own right. Waiting stood out the most for this issue, but it was evident in other stories to a lesser degree as well. Interestingly, Aubrey’s story, the one submitted through the short story contest, was one of the best.

Certainly, though, there are bright spots in Jane Austen Made Me Do It, in addition to simply Aubrey’s story. Lauren Willig and Jo Beverley’s stories stand out in particular. The casual fan of Austenesque stories might do better to pick a novel by one of these generally esteemed writers, but die hard fans will find enough to love in Jane Austen Made Me Do It that it is worth buying.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* 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 Book of Life by Stuart Nadler – Book Review

The Book f Life by Stuart Nadler
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

The Book of Life is the debut story collection of Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate Stuart Nadler. His seven stories are on the themes of faith and family, of coming of age and growing old. Each takes places in the Northeast, generally New York or Boston, and each is captivating.

Like any short story collection, there are high and low points, but in the case of The Book of Life, the high points are so very high, and the low points leave nothing much to criticize. Certainly I’d have liked more from Visiting, more resolution, a longer story in general, but it was only among my least favorite because I was so intrigued by the premise and simply wanted to stay in that world a little longer.

Nadler shows great skill in universalizing the lives of his characters. I do not have alcoholic parents, nor have I ever shared the house with an alcoholic, but still, this line from The Moon Landing, which was one of my favorite stories, just ran so true as I was immersed in the life of the man who spoke it:

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I remember the way my mother did those things, or anythings, except, of course, how she drank. -p. 72

If you are a fan of short stories, do yourself a favor and pick up The Book of Life. If you are not a fan of short stories, keep Stuart Nadler on your radar, in the event that he attempts longer fiction in the future.

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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You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon – Book Review

You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Penguin

At one time, I swore off short stories, at least to review. They are always so uneven and difficult to talk about comprehensively. And then I had a chance to talk to Amy Einhorn, the publisher of an imprint I adore at Penguin, and she told me about this short story collection she would be releasing called “You Know When the Men are Gone.” She told me that short stories don’t usually call to her, but these did, and she found herself more captivated than she would have expected by the stories of men and women whose lives are touched by enlistment in the Army, men and women who live at Ft. Hood in Texas – at least when they are not overseas in Iraq.

Short stories about army families. The concept doesn’t immediately grab me and demand to be read, but because of Amy Einhorn’s enthusiasm, I knew I wanted to try “You Know When the Men Are Gone.” If anyone else had published this, if I had not had a chance to sit down with Amy and hear her talk about it, I would likely never have picked this book up, it would not have even been on my radar. If that had been the case, my reading life would have been poorer for it.

You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

The passage above, located on the first page of the first story, stood out to me in particular, partially because it is the title passage from the title story. However, as I reflect back upon the book, it stands out to me again, not because it is the highlight of Fallon’s writing, but because it is indicative of the strength of this collection. The first story starts out strong, and stays strong, and the same is true of the rest of the stories. There always seem to be stories that are weaker than others in collections such as this, it is such a truth that to say so has become a cliche to mention it in a review. This is not the case for “You Know When the Men Are Gone.” I’m sure each individual will resonate with some stories more than others, but none of the stories can be denigrated as a weak link, all are incredibly well-written, and the character development is top notch. Story arcs are not rushed, but still come to a satisfying – if not always tidy – solution at the end of 30 or so pages.

Siobhan Fallon has been compared to Jhumpa Lahiri on the back cover of the book, a daunting claim since Lahiri’s stories seem t be the only ones read by people who aren’t really fans of short stories. In some ways, this may do a disservice to Fallon, whose stories don’t have the same bleakness that characterizes “The Interpreter of Maladies,” a trait which does turn some readers away, despite Lahiri’s brilliant writing. Certainly some of the stories in “You Know When the Men Are Gone” are full of despair, but many also contain kernels of hope. People expecting the same sort of stories that Lahiri tells may not be immediately satisfied – in my opinion that was more closely achieved by Sana Krasikov’s collection “One More Year” – but readers searching for the strength and beauty of writing and storytelling that Lahiri possesses will be very pleased with “You Know When the Men are Gone.”

I read “You Know When the Men are Gone” over the space of a single day, even pausing between stories, making myself read something else or step away from the book for awhile, to make the experience last longer. At the end, however, I simply couldn’t keep myself from returning to it time and again, until I found myself at the end of the collection, and experiencing my first disappointment brought to me by Fallon’s book: that there are only eight stories.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, via a trade show.
* 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.

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman – Book Review

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

“What He’s Poised to Do” is a lovely, intriguing collection of short stories by Ben Greenman. What makes this collection unique is how many of the stories were set up as stories or monologues for one of the characters to ask questions of or explain actions to an often-unseen other. The collection was very well-edited, placing the stories in such an order that the more epistolary stories didn’t all stack up on one another and begin to seem redundant.

There is a very clever blog that has been set up to help promote “What He’s Poised to Do” called ‘Letters With Character,’ based, obviously, on the epistolary nature of many of Greenman’s stories. ‘Letters With Character’ allows real people to write letters to fictional characters. The most recent letter is written to the Quiet Old Lady Whispering Hush from “Goodnight Moon” and definitely made me laugh when it showed up in my feed reader.

Take a look at ‘Letters With Character,’ maybe submit a letter, and then pick up “What He’s Poised to Do” to see how Greenman uses letters in this collection.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the 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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