Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple – Audiobook Review

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite
Published in audio by Hachette Audio, published in print by Little, Brown and Company

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle – and people in general – has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Thoughts on the story:

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is charmingly told, the story of a young girl and her missing mother. There is a series of improbable events that seem like they should be ridiculous, but which instead become a lovely story that will captivate readers. 

Thoughts on the audio production:

I may be the only one who feels this way, but I don’t totally love Kathleen Wilhoite as a narrator. She is talented and does pull off the voice of a young girl well, but – in a totally nitpicky way – I find her voice almost TOO little girl-like here, and it sorts of grates on my nerves. This is a totally subjective thing, objectively she’s good, but there’s just some quality in her voice that doesn’t thrill me.

Overall:

A good production and a wonderful book, but I didn’t love the audio as much as some others do.

For more information on this book, check out the publisher’s page.
Source: Publisher

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.

 

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The Smart One by Jennifer Close – Book Review

The Smart One by Jennifer Close
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

Okay, so, I love Jennifer Close’s The Smart One. In fact, it was my Bloggers Recommend pick for April. First, a little about the book (from the publisher):

Weezy Coffey’s parents had always told her she was the smart one, while her sister was the pretty one. “Maureen will marry well,” their mother said, but instead it was Weezy who married well, to a kind man and good father. Weezy often wonders if she did this on purpose—thwarting expectations just to prove her parents wrong.

But now that Weezy’s own children are adults, they haven’t exactly been meeting her expectations either. Her oldest child, Martha, is thirty and living in her childhood bedroom after a spectacular career flameout. Martha now works at J.Crew, folding pants with whales embroidered on them and complaining bitterly about it. Weezy’s middle child, Claire, has broken up with her fiancé, canceled her wedding, and locked herself in her New York apartment—leaving Weezy to deal with the caterer and florist. And her youngest, Max, is dating a college classmate named Cleo, a girl so beautiful and confident she wears her swimsuit to family dinner, leaving other members of the Coffey household blushing and stammering into their plates.

As the Coffey children’s various missteps drive them back to their childhood home, Weezy suddenly finds her empty nest crowded and her children in full-scale regression. Martha is moping like a teenager, Claire is stumbling home drunk in the wee hours, and Max and Cleo are skulking around the basement, guarding a secret of their own. With radiant style and a generous spirit, The Smart One is a story about the ways in which we never really grow up, and the place where we return when things go drastically awry: home.

And here’s what I had to say about it:

Weezy’s parents always said that she was “the smart one,” but it is hard to feel brilliant when all three of your adult children have returned to live at home. In her sophomore novel, Jennifer Close creates a vivid and realistic portrait of a not always functional, but still loving, family and explores both the parent–child relationship and adult sibling rivalries.
Jennifer Karsbaek, Devourer of Books
Pre-order now: Indiebound | Amazon

Editor’s Pick – I just love Close’s ability to insert laugh-out-loud moments in a book otherwise filled with some very serious life events. It is this balance that makes her work truly special. – Jen

A few additional thoughts:

  • As someone who also loved Close’s debut novel, Girls in White Dresses, one of the appeals of The Smart One for me was that it seemed to be the next step in adulthood. In Girls, everyone was pretty much young and single and out on her own. In The Smart One, Claire starts in this place, but ends up taking a step that many would consider backwards: moving back in with her parents.
  • Weezy’s mother is wonderful and horrible at the same time. She says some pretty terrible things, but she is totally the elderly relative that you either have in your own family or have met at a friend’s family dinners. She is so life-like that you can’t help but laugh in recognition.
  • If you read Girls in White Dresses, know that this is a bit more of a conventional style. The point of view switches from character to character, but in a more traditional way, less jumping around.

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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Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – Audiobook Review

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, narrated by Kristine Hvam
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Books, both imprints of HarperCollins

Synopsis:

In the middle of a hugely important client meeting, Kate gets a call about her daughter. Amelia, always an exceptional student and a good kid, has been accused of cheating on an English paper and is being suspended. By the time Kate arrives at the school an hour later, there are emergency vehicles everywhere and Amelia is dead after ostensibly jumping off the roof. Kate is bereft at losing her daughter and finds herself overwhelmed by her grief, until she receives an anonymous text claiming that Amelia did not jump. As Kate begins to investigate her daughters life, she realizes just how much Amelia had been keeping secret from her, and becomes increasingly sure her daughter did not commit suicide.

Thoughts on the story:

Reconstructing Amelia alternates between Kate’s point of view after Amelia’s death and Amelia’s leading up to her death. Amelia’s sections in particularly are heartbreaking because she is a great, funny girl with some serious problems that are really not her fault and knowing that her story is going to end with her tragic death is often very difficult. I actually found myself hoping she had committed suicide or that she had fallen off the roof by accident because I just couldn’t bear the thought of anyone killing her. The way this whole thing is plotted worked very well for me. Kate’s discoveries often connect with what Amelia is going through in the alternate chapters, but not so much that anything feels redundant. It is overall a very well put together story.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This is the first time I’ve listened to Kristine Hvam in a full-length production and I was very impressed. She introduces slight variations in her voice to differentiate between Kate and Amelia, so that even if you miss the chapter tag of the character and date you can still figure out easily which character’s point of view you are in (even without the fairly obvious context clues). About the dates in the chapter titles, though… That was the one thing that didn’t work for me as well consuming this as an audiobook versus a print book. I did not pay enough attention to the dates when I heard them that by the next time around I could remember what they were, and audio of course makes it more difficult to go back and check. Luckily both story lines progress in a linear fashion, so the only real issue was not knowing quite how much time elapsed over the course of the story.

Overall:

Loved! This is a good one if you want to cause some obsessive listening. The book is well put together and the narration is top-notch. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio*
Indiebound: Audio*
Downpour Audio

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.

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.

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The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – Book Review

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Published by Random House

The Burgess siblings are close and yet far apart at the same time. The boys, Jim and Bob, live mere blocks from one another, but emotionally they are light years apart – although closer both literally and metaphorically than either of them is to Bob’s twin sister Susan, who still lives in the small Maine town in which they all grew up. Bob dogs his brother’s  steps, but it seems that nothing would make Jim happier than to deny everything about his early life, including his siblings.

When Susan’s son Zach throws a pig’s head into a mosque during Ramadan, though, the family is forced back into a semblance of togetherness. Jim, a high profile attorney, knows that he has the skills to help get his nephew out of this. Not that this is an entirely selfless act; Jim is a big shot and and his nephew committing what seems to be a hate crime tarnishes his reputation.

I haven’t yet read Olive Kitteridge so I have very little to compare it to, but I loved The Burgess Boys. Jim and Susan are a bit hard to side with, but Bob is drawn in a way that makes it incredibly easy to empathize with him, and he seemed the key to the entire situation. I assumed, when I learned what the act was that this book hinges on, that I would have a very difficult time caring what happened to Zach, but I found myself caring about Bob enough that I could have an open mind about Zach’s motivations, and ultimately have my heart break nearly as much for him as for the victims of his crime.

There are a lot of things going on with each and every one of Strout’s characters, all this subplots would feel overly busy in the hands of a lesser novelist, but Strout puts all the pieces together beautifully and creates a book which can envelope its reader. 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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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.

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.

 

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