Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne – Audiobook Review

Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne, narrated by Ali Ahn
Published in audio by Recorded Books; published in print by Plume, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Life has not been easy for fourteen year old Elizabeth Reid and her sister Jaimie. Things got better for awhile once their  mother left their abusive, alcoholic father. The man she brought into their lives next, though, was worse. Terrance is a convicted sex offender who has been jailed more than once for the crimes of exposing himself to and assaulting women. Although Liz’s mother swears up and down that Terrance poses no threat to her adolescent daughters, the lascivious looks and glancing touches he gives Liz tell her otherwise. Worse still are his threats that if Liz pushes back too hard on his flirtatious advances he will turn to her sister. It is almost a relief when Terrance’s parole officer decides that he can have no unsupervised visits with the girls, meaning he can no longer live in the same house as his stepdaughters. The only problem is that Liz’s mother chooses her new husband over her daughters, leaving the girls’ housing to the whims of friends and family.

Thoughts on the story:

With Hand Me Down, Thorne has created a story that draws in the reader immediately. Within less than half an hour of starting the audio, I was tweeting about how incensed I was on behalf of the main character, because the adults in her life put her in such a terrible position. Liz’s mom, in particular, is barely worthy of the title. Thorne does explore her backstory a bit, so that the reader can get an idea of what may have made her so monumentally stupid in this situation, but it isn’t so much that I ever really gave up hating her for her willful blindness. The hate didn’t make me dislike the book, though. On the contrary, the hate just showed me how completely invested I was in Liz’s story, and I, well, devourered Thorne’s story.

Now, yes, the protagonist is fourteen. No, this is not a young adult book, although it certainly has crossover appeal. Why is this an adult book? Well, partly because that is just how it is marketed. Partly also because the setting makes Liz more a contemporary of mine (perhaps even older than me), rather those of kids who are teenagers today. It also just feels as if it was written with an adult audience in mind, which is sort of an intangible quality, but there nonetheless.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I was quite impressed with Ali Ahn’s narration. She does a fabulous job differentiating between voices young and old, male and female. Her portrayal of Elizabeth in particular is quite moving. My only qualm about the audio production is that there were occasionally slightly odd pauses, seemingly the result of imperfect editing. The pause would seem as if the scene had ended, but it would quickly become clear once the narration resumed that the same scene was still ongoing. This happens just a handful of times so it isn’t enough to impede the overall enjoyment of this production – particularly with Ahn’s masterful narration – it is just enough to notice.

Overall:

A moving book paired with an equally moving performance, Hand Me Down is a fabulous listen.

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

Source: Author.
* 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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Little Gale Gumbo by Erika Marks – Book Review

Little Gale Gumbo by Erika Marks
Published by NAL Trade, an imprint of Penguin

In 1977, Camille Bergeron fled New Orleans and her abusive husband with her daughters Dahlia and Josie. A Creole woman willing to work a little voodoo didn’t exactly go over well on Little Gale Island in Maine, but the Bergeron women made it work for themselves, made at least some of the inhabitants of the town love them – enough to bring them into the fold a bit, as well as to get them into trouble. Now, in 2002, their pasts have caught up to them and suddenly their father is dead and the man they always thought of as their father is in a fight for his life.

Dahlia and Josie are rich, complex characters who lead very interesting lives as fish out of water in Maine. They are mostly accepted by townspeople, but truly welcomed by very few, even after having lived on Little Gale Island for 25 years. Marks draws them realistically, especially considering that their present selves are only the stars of half of the book, since the other half deals with the time from when Camille met her husband up through the girls’ lives in Maine. In addition to having wonderful characters, the plot of Little Gale Gumbo pulls the reader right along, trying to figure out what really happened between the two men, as well as what might still happen for the sisters and their love interests.

A quick and satisfying read. 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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Tethered by Amy MacKinnon – Book Review

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
Published by Broadway, an imprint of Random House

Three years ago, a young, unidentified girl was found sexually abused and dead, another body for Clara to prepare. Clara, who survived her own childhood only by the grace of a God she no longer believes in. The one place Clara was able to find solace as a child was in the funeral home where her mother’s wake was held, although she still had to hold herself at a remove from those around her to function, touching only the dead. When a young girl named Trecie begins hanging around the funeral home Clara’s first reaction is annoyance, which is quickly replaced by worry, when it becomes apparent that Trecie may be involved with the same people who murdered Precious Doe.

Tethered has some hallmarks of a mystery: the main character becomes involved to a certain degree with a law enforcement officer and tries to solve a crime before someone else gets hurt. What Amy MacKinnon has done with Tethered, though is so much more. She has created a beautiful literary and psychological novel with the interest value of an extremely compelling mystery. Clara’s character is particularly interesting. Her own childhood abuse gives her a rich, complicated persona, which lends depth to the storyline. Equally deep and deliciously complicated is MacKinnon’s writing.

I’ve often thought there’s something reptilian about Mike’s eyes. No, not the coldness, it’s more about the layers. There’s a certain ambiguous quality to them. Like an alligator before it slips underwater, hiding its intent beneath the transparent shield that covers the cornea, allowing the animal to see as it protects itself from harm. It’s the same with Mike.

Tethered is a beautiful, occasionally painful novel and an absolutely compelling read. 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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Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck – Audiobook Review

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck, narrated by Martha Beck

If you posted an audiobook review today, Monday June 21st, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

In Beck’s first book, “Expecting Adam,” she told the story of her chaotic second pregnancy while she and her husband were in graduate school at Harvard. I was fascinated by the story she was telling, until she started feeling mystical presences everywhere, then the book gave me a major case of the eye rolls. This memoir comes after “Expecting Adam” chronologically and details their move back to Utah to be nearer her family and away from the anti-family culture they felt pervaded at Harvard in the 80s.

Beck and her husband were both Mormons and, in fact, Beck’s father is a big deal Mormon scholar. When the two of them returned to Utah, they both quickly got jobs at BYU, but both of them also began to feel the pressure of the church censoring what they taught – or at least strongly suggesting that they stay within certain lines in their teaching. Both of them begin bumping up against those lines set by the church and,eventually, Martha begins to feel inexplicably ill, until she has a revelation about her past that changes both of their lives.

Thoughts on the story:

Beck tells her story in “Leaving the Saints” in a very fitting format. She alternates between a scene in a hotel room in which she is confronting her father about something – we don’t find out what until some way into the book – and a chronological telling of the rest of her story. She actually starts with her marriage in the temple, glazes over their time in Harvard, and then goes more in depth as she moves into their return to Utah. I appreciated that she was relatively respectful of Mormonism – or at least of Mormons – despite her personal problems and issues with the religion. For instance, she was relatively reserved as far as sharing most of the rituals of the marriage rites, which are supposed to be sacred and secret. Now, I’d understand completely if people inside the Mormon church didn’t fully agree with me about her respect because things are obviously different when something is directed at something else near and dear to your heart, but I felt like she tried to be respectful of Mormons-as-people even though she had problems with the political structure of the church.

I did have a little bit of trouble with the memories that Beck uncovered. I didn’t want to be that person who just didn’t believe her but, at the same time, it was just the way she remembered. She was living more or less happily in ignorance then – bam! – uncovered repressed memories. The evidence she presented for her memories made total sense, but the sudden and complete nature of the memory retrieval that seemed…odd…to me. It brought up my own memories of the eye roll-inducing moments in “Expecting Adam,” which probably made it all the more suspect for me. Even so, I decided to suspend judgement and just let Beck tell me her story as she wanted to.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Martha Beck narrated her own story in “Leaving the Saints.” At first, I thought this was an extremely bad decision by her publisher, because her voice drove me absolutely insane. It was scratchy and rough and did not make for a very good listening experience. However, I do think it ended up working in favor of the story because, as things got more and more personal and painful, it was very moving to have her narrating. Even so, I’m glad it was a short audio – under 5 hours – because I’m not sure I could have take her voice much longer.

Overall:

If you are interested in Beck’s story of coming to terms with difficulties in the religion she was born into, then the audio could be a good way to go. Just make sure you are willing to to go through a little auditory annoyance to get the added value of having the author tell you her own story.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*
Amazon: Audio/Print*

This review was done with a book borrowed from the 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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