All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani – Book Review

All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press

Maddalena came to the United States with her husband Antonio 50 years ago, and by now she has given up any idea of ever returning to Italy. After all this time, most of the people she knew and loved are either dead or sick; Maddalena would prefer simply to remember them as they were. Unfortunately for the Grasso family peace, Antonio and Maddalena’s strong-willed daughter Prima has decided that it is in everyone’s best interest for the whole family – her parents, her husband and sons, and her younger brother Frankie – to return to her parents’ ancestral home. Antonio wants this trip just as badly as Prima does, but Maddalena and Frankie are dead-set against it.

It took me awhile before I connected to the story in All This Talk of Love. The novel opens on Frankie, and I found the story of him and his married lover to be the least compelling part of the novel. I continued reading, however, and before long I found myself completely caught up in the Grasso family. There is so much more to their story than meets the eye: illnesses, the loss of a child, even issues of sexuality. The farther you get into All This Talk of Love, the more realistic and fully formed the characters become. Some of the family members – particularly Antonio – hold views that bothered me. I’ll admit that this put me off a bit when I first encountered them, but they are very true to who he is, the age in which he was raised, and his background, all of which just makes him feel like an even more realistic character.

Ultimately All This Talk of Love is a realistic and moving book. Recommended.

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Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder – Audiobook Review

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder, narrated by Laurel Snyder
Published in audio by Laurel Snyder; published in print by Yearling, an imprint of Random House

Synopsis:

Rebecca knows that things have been rocky between her mother and father for some time now, but she doesn’t know how bad things really are until her mother packs her up – along with her younger brother – and drives to Rebecca’s grandmother’s house in Atlanta. In a new city and at a new school is not where Rebecca wants to be, but there is something that makes up for the inconvenience, at least a little. Shortly after arriving at her grandmother’s house, Rebecca finds a bread box in the attic. It quickly becomes apparent that there is something magical about the bread box when things Rebecca wishes for begin materializing inside of it. Soon Rebecca will find out, though, whether getting everything you want is really all it is cracked up to be.

Thoughts on the story:

I really enjoyed Bigger Than a Bread Box. Rebecca is a great character, just the right mix of stereotypical preteen and good who just wants to do the right thing. If Snyder had gone too far in either direction Rebecca might have been a bit hard to stand, but as it was, she was very sympathetic. The structure and pacing are just right, as well. The story always moves along when it needs to, and never before, making Bigger Than  a Bread Box a highly satisfying book.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This audio is self-published and read by the author, and it is GREAT! I’m not sure whether Snyder just had a great director (she at least had a very proficient producer) or whether she just has a natural facility for narration, but she voices Rebecca with a confidence that many authors-turned-narrators lack. Her voice is youthful and vibrant, and she knows her book so intimately that she captures Rebecca’s myriad emotions beautifully.

Overall:

I’ve previously always been skeptical of self-published audiobooks, but Snyder proves that it can be done very well – although it likely helps that the book was originally published by Random House’s Yearling imprint. I imagine it would be wonderful in print, but it was delightful in audio.

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

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: 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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Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin – Audiobook Review

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, narrated by Kathe Mazur
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Crown, an imprint of Random House

Synopsis:

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin discovered the ways to make herself happy. In Happier at Home, she reprises her attempts to make herself more happy, this time focusing on that center of a happy life, her home.

Thoughts on the story:

I’m starting to get a bit overwhelmed by Rubin’s attempts at happiness. Not the projects she undertakes, but her lists. She has personal commandments, splendid truths, and rules of adulthood. These were, by and large, laid out in her first book, The Happiness Project, and simply referenced (and added to) in Happier at Home. This was, frankly, sort of confusing. Perhaps in the printed version these are listed in an appendix, but for the audio I would have liked to have them all listed out at the beginning. It has been two years and probably 400 books since I read The Happiness Project, so I really didn’t remember what all of Rubin’s splendid truths are, which had a tendency to make them seem a bit out of left field when she mentioned one.

Something about Happier at Home seemed much more personal than The Happiness Project. In The Happiness Project I more got the idea that we were looking at broad ideas and then how Rubin fit them with her commandment to “be Gretchen.” Happier at Home seemed to be closer to “here are things  that will make me happy.” That is all well and good and does make for interesting reading, but there seems to be less that is directly applicable.

Thoughts on the audio production:

The structure of Happier at Home is not the easiest to discern in audio. There are subsections within each chapter, but it took me a few chapters to figure out that at the beginning of each chapter Mazur was reading a list of the subsections before she delved into the first topic. There isn’t much that Mazur could have changed about this, as a narrator, and I’m not entirely sure what I would have liked the director or producer to do, but this confusion definitely hampered my listening experience. Other than that, the audio is a good way to experience Happier at Home if you are not looking to take notes on what Rubin did to try for yourself. In this way I think Happier at Home is a better listen than The Happiness Project would be because of its seemingly more personal nature.

Overall:

Despite Kathe Mazur’s good narration, I think the organization of Happier at Home would make print a better choice here. You also may only want to pick this up if you are reasonably familiar with The Happiness Project.

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: 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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The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – Book Review

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random Houseox

For as long as he can remember, Will Schwalbe’s mother has been almost a super-human figure. She was Harvard’s first female director of admissions, then later the founding director of International Rescue Committee’s Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Nothing could slow Mary Anne Schwalbe down, except stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Even cancer didn’t slow Will’s mother down as much as it would most people. Still, though, there were those periods of enforced rest, the doctor appointments, the chemotherapy treatments. Will is lucky enough to have the flexibility and proximity to attend many of his mother’s appointments with her. When they are together, the conversation frequently defaults to the same thing it has throughout their lives: books.

The End of Your Life Book Club is as much – or more – about Mary Anne’s life with and death from cancer than about the books that the two read together. It is a chronicle of the last months of her life, a testament to her strength, and Will’s coming to terms with the way his family’s life will be forever changed.

This is an emotional book, and yet I personally failed to connect to it emotionally. I believe that this has more to do with the circumstances – I started it immediately on the heels of another extremely emotional book which also dealt with hospitals and death and I believe I was just wrung out.  Honestly, I also thought that the books themselves would be a bigger and more integrated part of Schwalbe’s story.

Although each chapter is given the title of the book they read at that point in time, the books themselves are discussed to varying degrees and do not always seem particularly important to what they are going through. I do appreciate that Schwalbe is trying to be faithful to what actually happened and it would be disingenuous at best to make individual books seem more important to this process than they were. I suppose the difference is that I was expecting more about how the specific books helped the Schwalbe family cope and The End of Your Life Book Club is more about how the process of reading brought comfort to Will and Mary Anne during Mary Anne’s illness.

People who have dealt with the terminal illness of a loved one will likely find much to connect with in The End of Your Life Book Club, even though I personally did not.

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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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The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy – Book Review

The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy
Published by Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Jonathan and Theo Anthony did not have the most conventional of childhoods. Living in their ancestral Welsh home with an alcoholic and depressed mother and a father they are told died shortly after splitting with their mother, the figure who looms largest in their imaginations is their grandmother, Eve. Absent for much of their childhood, Eve is a former politician and a philanthropic hotel mogul, whose ideas of what their family is and should be set her at odds with the somewhat flighty Theo. As their live of privilege puts them at odds with the residents of the neighboring village, the ways that Theo and Jonathan cope and acclimate – or fail to do so – begins to drive them apart, until all that remains between them is the pull of blood, which is itself countered by a family secret bigger than Jonathan could imagine.

Told from Jonathan’s point of view, The Other Half of Me is part family mystery, part coming of age story. The life of the wealthy young man, essentially a modern lord of the manor, is not one that most readers will be likely to commiserate with, but McCarthy humanizes Jonathan, even as she makes him a ladies man who no girl can resist. Despite the occasional cliche character trait, Jonathan is easy to relate to because he has struggles with family and finding his place in the world that are similar in kind if not particularly in substance to what nearly everyone experiences at one point or another. Perhaps the most realistic and convincing piece of his character is his relationship with Theo. The siblings are very different, and Jonathan is protective of and dismissive towards his sister in turn.

It is the combination of the complex but easy to relate to Jonathan and the hint of a family mystery to be revealed – along with McCarthy’s strong prose style – that makes The Other Half of Me such a compelling read, despite the fact that most of the other characters are mostly just sketches that the reader understands only so far as Jonathan does. 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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