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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Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman – Audiobook Review

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, narrated by Abby Craden
Published in audio by Random House Audio, an imprint of Random House; published in print by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin

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Synopsis:

Pamela Druckerman is an American woman married to a British man and living in Paris. When their daughter was a year old, the family took a vacation that necessitated eating out in restaurants every night. As most parents of a one year old can probably imagine, that didn’t go particularly well, particularly since they were eating nice places, not the the French equivalent of family chain restaurants. As she sat there, trying to figure out how to  keep her child entertained, Druckerman began to realize that the other toddlers in the restaurant were waiting calmly for their food and eating whatever was put in front of them. Since French parenting is not mythologized like their wine and cheese, it took her some time to realize what was going on, but eventually she began to pay closer attention to what the French parents around her were doing.

Thoughts on the story:

Bringing Up Bebe is a fascinating look at cultural differences in parenting, but it is not, strictly speaking, a parenting book. Druckerman is not holding French parenting up as the be all and end all of parenting, but as a consistent ideology that produces relatively consistent results, the results that are desired by these French parents. I can definitely see why this book has been somewhat controversial: many of the French parenting techniques are anti-attachment parenting, which is a huge trend in the United States at the moment; in addition, many of the stories she tells of American parents in Manhattan and Brooklyn are ridiculous in the extreme, and not really the norm of American parenting. Of course, since she is primarily studying Parisian parents, perhaps comparing them to New York parents of the same general social strata is, indeed, fair. Overall, though, Bringing Up Bebe offers interesting insights and ideas and is also fascinating simply as a cultural comparison of parenting styles.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Abby Craden does a wonderful job narrating Bringing Up Bebe. Her accents are good and her narrative style engaging, but most of all, I frequently forgot that I was listening to a hired narrator, and not simply Druckerman relating her observations. The ability to seamlessly blend into the story is, perhaps, the highest praise that I can give a narrator of memoirs. In becoming Druckerman, Craden brings this personal and parental account vividly to life.

Overall:

A fascinating book, you may want to have Bringing Up Bebe in print to refer back to some ideas, but I do recommend listening to Abby Craden narrate.

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

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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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson – Audiobook Review

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, narrated by Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, and James Kyson Lee
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Thoughts on the story:

Jun Do’s story is, at times, a bit of a tangled web, particularly as part of The Orphan Master’s Son is narrated by a voice over the loudspeaker that broadcasts to all North Korean citizens, and part comes from the point of view of a prison interrogator. It is not that Jun Do is an unreliable narrator precisely, it is that the nature of narrative in North Korea is, by definition, unreliable. This becomes increasingly evident during Jun Do’s time with Sun Moon, as identity and reality shift based on what people allow or force themselves to believe. Jun Do knows that power of belief and blind obedience better than most, having been an orphan who was not really an orphan, and thus he is one of the privileged few who is able to make this quirk of North Korea society work for him – at least for a time.

It is this contemplation on reality in North Korea that makes The Orphan Master’s Son so very brilliant. At the same time, however, Johnson has also created a story that keeps the reader interested, even before this theme becomes so strongly apparent. From Jun Do’s time as a state-mandated kidnapper of Japanese citizens, to his time manning a radio on a fishing vessel, his inclusion on a diplomatic trip to Texas, and then finally his relationship with Sun Moon, every aspect of Jun Do’s life offers the reader tantalizing and often horrifying glimpses into life in North Korea.

Thoughts on the audio production:

The best part of this audio production is that it uses multiple narrators to fully differentiate between the multiple points of view in Johnson’s story. Kang is the primary narrator, telling the majority of the story from Jun Do’s point of view. Lee and Lee voice the loudspeaker and the interrogator, giving additional definition and clarity to the story. I must say that none of the narrators completely wowed me, but all were solid narrators and they told the story adequately and in an interesting manner.

Overall:

I might lean slightly towards recommending this in print over audio, but the audiobook also works perfectly well. Either way, this is definitely a book to pick up.

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: 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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Sister Queens by Julia Fox – Audiobook Review

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox, narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

Thoughts on the story:

Fox recounts the stories of Katherine and Juana in a clear and straightforward manner, making Sister Queens both fascinating and easy to understand. One thing I particularly appreciated was her nuanced view of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine is generally portrayed as a saint in historical fiction, a woman completely beyond reproach who would never let a falsehood cross her lips for fear of offending her God. Fox disputes this stereotype, while still acknowledging the importance of religion in Katherine’s life, and the religious implications of her fight to save her marriage and her adopted country from Henry’s break with the church and Anne Boleyn’s Protestant leanings. Juana’s story is also put forth in an interesting manner, but as less that Fox recounted shocked or surprised me I was slightly less captivated by it. Fox is not afraid to admit where the historical record is lacking enough that nothing can be said with certainty – was Juana mad? did Katherine and Arthur consummate  their marriage? – and reevaluates such questions throughout the narrative as events continue to unfold, encouraging readers to consider the entirety of the evidence, rather than simply the propaganda put forth throughout the centuries. Fox keeps the sisters’ stories moving forward, while still engaging in a good amount of historical depth, it is really very well done.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Rosalyn Landor fit this history very well, with her elegant and poised narration. For more, please see my AudioFile Magazine review.

Overall:

A fascinating history, and a well-produced audiobook. Either way you win, I think.

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

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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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – Audiobook Review

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, narrated by Tara Sands
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books

Synopsis:

Abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has been a ward of the State of California her entire life. She has, of necessity, learned to be hard and guarded, expressing her feelings – typically of hate and misanthropy – through the Victorian language of flowers, taught to her by Elizabeth, the one women who was nearer than anyone else to being her mother. Now that she has aged out of her last group home, Victoria must learn to live life on her own. She finds she can make a living arranging flowers; her bouquets are imbued with meaning as she chooses flowers based on the hopes each customer has for the effect of the arrangement. Just when she thinks she is gaining stability, however, she is forced to both let down her guard, and remember in excruciating detail what went wrong in her life with Elizabeth.

Thoughts on the story:

Vanessa Diffenbaum has created in The Language of Flowers a beautiful and moving story that nearly gave me a heart attack more than once. Victoria is a worrying character, initially, seeming very hard and closed off, but it is not long before the reader is sucked into her life, experiencing her 18 years of pain, and the slim hope that she has for the future. Her growth is really, it happens organically and, although it experiences setbacks, it produces beautiful results. The language of flowers is woven perfectly into the story, enhancing both plot and character development, and giving the book an extra something special to really set it apart.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Narrator Tara Sands was perfect for this part. For one thing, she sounded age appropriate for Victoria, which is always something that worries me in audiobooks with young protagonists. More importantly, however, she was able to capture the contradictions in Victoria’s character, the fragility under her crusty veneer. For more information on the audio, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

This was a beautiful book and an lovely audio production. Enjoy it in print or in audio! Highly recommended

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.
* 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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