Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos – Audiobook Review

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, narrated by Jack Gantos
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (BYR), both imprints of Macmillan


Growing up can be difficult, especially when you live in an exceedingly quirky town called Norvelt that was originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt that consists mostly of elderly people. It is even harder when you’re Jack Gantos and you’re grounded for the summer thanks to conflicting directions from your mom who loves Norvelt and your father who hates it. It looks like it might be a boring summer for Jack, until he is apprenticed to the town’s arthritic obit writer and medical examiner. Suddenly, being grounded has never been so interesting.

Thoughts on the story:

Quirkiness abounds! Gantos seems to have a great love for the absurd, but at times while listening, I felt that the goal was absurdity for its own sake, which I did not find particularly endearing. In fact, I was nearly halfway into Dead End in Norvelt before I determined that I would, indeed, continue through to the end and not simply abandon the book. Eventually, though, the town of Norvelt and its inhabitants grew on me and, by the end, I was even a bit sad that the book had ended.

One interesting thing about Dead End in Norvelt is the way it blends events from Gantos’s own life with those that occurred only in his imagination. I often wondered exactly where that line was.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Like the story, Gantos’s narration took some time to grow on me. He came across initially as a somewhat less funny David Sedaris. In general, though, I do think he was the best person to tell his own story, as he was able to perfectly give voice to some of the oddness contained therein.


Although I am not overly enthusiastic about Dead End in Norvelt, I do think it is worth picking up if the synopsis interests you, or if you are in the mood for a quirky listen.

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: .
* 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 Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen – Book Review

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen
Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of Random House

Twiss and Milly may not have much, but they have one another. These days even their business of tending birds has mostly fallen by the wayside, and when people do bring birds for them to heal, they often cannot even manage to save the creatures. It hadn’t always been that way, just the two sisters on their own. At one point,  they were part of a family, and Milly still believed she would one day marry and have children. It was the summer of 1947 that changed everything. In 1947, Milly was prim and Twiss was wild, but they were best friends, until their cousin showed up for the summer. Bett was older and endlessly fascinating to Twiss, and her presence would shatter their already fragile world.

The Bird Sisters is lovely and charming story. It takes place in rural Wisconsin, in a post-war world that seems to have been oddly untouched by World War II, giving the place an oddly innocent and naive feel. The story was well set up, alternating in each chapter between present day and 1947. While this constant switching did occasionally break up the flow of the story and keep me from becoming fully engrossed, the consistency of the switching did help, because the reader is never forced to guess from chapter to chapter which time period the story is in, it is simply whichever one the previous chapter was not in. This kept me from being pulled out of the story more than I already was with the switching of time periods.

Lovely and charming as The Bird Sisters was, something about it didn’t completely work for me. I admired Rasmussen’s writing, as well as the world and characters she created, but I was never fully engrossed in the story. It simply failed to captivate me, although it was an enjoyable read.

Take a look at The Bird Sisters, look at the storyline, go to a local physical bookstore, pick it up, read a couple of sample chapters. If you like what you see, rest assured that the same quality remains throughout the book and give it a try. Just because it wasn’t for me, doesn’t mean it isn’t for you.

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.

Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mockett – Book Review

Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Matsuki Mockett
Published by Graywolf Press

Life is not easy for a single woman and her daughter in post-war Japan. Satomi and her mother are making a living, but Atsuko’s presence as a smart, engaging, unmarried woman is seen as threat to the other women in their small, rural community. As such, Atsuko and Satomi were always made to feel as outsiders, a situation that was perhaps not helped by Satomi’s status as a musical prodigy. Atsuko is determined that Satomi’s life will be richer and more fulfilling than her own has been, discouraging her from a domestic future in favor of a life that will incorporate Satomi’s artistic abilities. When the unexpected happens, however, Satomi must learn how to make a new life for herself, because the life she has known is gone. The story picks up again with Satomi’s daughter Rumi living in San Francisco, having never known the mother she believes is dead. As new people come into Rumi’s life, however, she finds herself forced to examine her past and learn about the mother who has always been notable only in her absence.

Picking Bones from Ash is a lovely story of identity, family, and fitting in, among other things. The title comes a passage – relatively early in the book, this really isn’t a spoiler – after Atsuko passes away in Satomi’s absence:

I had missed my mother’s cremation and so had not been present when Mineko, Chieko, and the rest of their family had stood around her still-hot remains to remove her bones from the ash. They would have used chopsticks to do this, culling only the most essential parts of her body and placing them inside an urn, which was then set inside a box. – p. 98

Not knowing anything about funerary practices in Japan, I found this passage both shocking and beautiful. The thought of a family gathering around the remains of a loved one and doing something so intensely personal as picking out the bones with chopsticks is somewhat mind boggling, but at the same time, what better way to reiterate the loving bond of family, that you take care of one another even after death. And yet, if this is your own mother, one who you loved dearly, how heartbreaking to have missed such a ritual, to have it attended to only by your stepsisters and their families.

The place of women in the world over the last 50 years, the relationships between mother and daughter and their effect on the relationships of the next generation, the interaction of East and West. Add these things to a compelling story and sympathetic characters and you have a great novel. You also have Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mockett. Recommended.

We will be discussing Picking Bones from Ash on March 22, 2011 at Linus’s Blanket.

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 Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard – Book Review

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
Published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins

On Halloween night, 16 year old Norah Lindell disappears. This disappearance colors the lives of the boys she left behind, her school mates, for years to come. Norah’s sister becomes suddenly tantalizing in the year following Norah’s disappearance, a product both of her own coming of age and of the boys’ fascination with all things Lindell. Even as the boys continue to grow into adulthood, they never stop thinking about Norah and what might have become of her. Of course, her fate might have been the tragic end of so many disappeared young women, violated and killed. But perhaps she left on purpose, and ended up creating a life out West. Then again, she might have traveled the world, ending up in the midst of the India in time for the bombings in Mumbai. The boys – and the reader – will never know, but that does not stop them from wondering, from imagining.

At well under 300 pages, The Fates Will Find Their Way is a slim volume that packs a huge punch. Pittard’s writing is not only lovely, but absolutely captivating. Interestingly, this is the second novel I read this year told in the first person plural (we, etc.). It is never completely clear in The Fates Will Find Their Way whether it is one boy speaking for the group, but I like to think that it is something akin to their collective memory. The boys were always more of a group than individuals, although individuals were often named. I never felt that I got a good handle on most of them as individuals, but as a group they had an amazingly strong identity that their weaker individual identities was not a stumbling block to enjoying the story.

There is so much to this little book that it is difficult to do it justice. Suffice it to say that I think you should read it. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | 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.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow – a woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via 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.