City of Women by David Gillham – Audiobook Review

City of Women by David Gillham, narrated by Suzanne Bertish
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Amy Einhorn Books, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

By 1943, Berlin is essentially devoid of men. Those who are left are mostly far too old or far too young to go to war, or they’ve been left behind for some other reason. Sigrid Schroder is just one of the many women left in Berlin, living with her bitter old mother-in-law while her husband is at the front. Although she may seem like a good German wife, Sigrid is not satisfied with her life as it is, first beginning an affair with a Jewish and then befriending a somewhat odd young girl nannying for a family in her building.  Before long, Sigrid’s world view – particularly her understanding of her country and the war in which it is engaged – has been turned on its head, making her do things she would have never previously considered.

Thoughts on the story:

You may be “ho-hum”ing about yet another World War II novel, but Gillham does come at the subject with a fresh set of eyes by concentrating on the German home front. There is a quiet, slow build to City of Women that can make the early pages somewhat of a slow start, which may cause some readers to have difficulty getting into the story, I certainly did. It took me twice as long to listen to the first half of this as the second half, because I just didn’t find myself making time for it. As Gillham’s story unravels, though, I became increasingly invested in Sigrid’s life, and curious to see how her character would continue to develop. There is a pretty major character arc throughout the book, but it is all set up very well and is quite believable.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Suzanne Bertish is, I believe, a new-to-me narrator, but she does a wonderful job narrating City of Women. Part of the believability of Sigrid’s character arc is attributable to Bertish’s excellent vocal characterization. Bertish also does a great job of making clear which pieces of text are dialog, so that it is easy to follow what is happening at any given time.

For more, see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Quite enjoyable after the slow beginning. I do think I might have connected earlier in print, but I suppose that isn’t something I can really know.

By the way! If you’re now thinking you want to read this book, but not listen, the ebook will be $2.99 on all ebook platforms on Sunday, October 21 (or so I’m told).

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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The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian – Book Review

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

Laura Petrosian is an author of light-hearted women’s fiction who also happens to be 1/4 Armenian, although for most of her life she gave her heritage little thought. When an old friend calls, claiming she has seen a picture of Laura’s grandmother from the time of the Armenian genocide in the newspaper, she decides to delve more deeply into her family’s past and write a book completely different than anything she has written before.

In 1915, Elizabeth Endicott of Boston arrives in Syria with some minimal nursing training and the blessing of the Friends of Armenia in order to help the refugees and witness and report on the genocide occurring in the Ottoman Empire. While there, she meets and falls in love with a young Armenian engineer named Armen Petrosian who lost his wife and infant daughter to the marches across the desert.

Chris Bohjalian has called The Sandcastle Girls the most important book he will ever write, but it is not strictly didactic. Instead, The Sandcastle Girls is beautiful and sad; Bohjalian walks a fine line, sharing the realities of the tragedies of the Armenian genocide without being too clinical or engaging in emotional manipulation. His characters are realistic, flawed but likable. Particularly impressive is how he keeps even the most minor characters – the American consul, a pair of German engineers, an Armenian woman and the orphaned girl she has taken into her heart – engaging. Their stories are interspesed with Laura, Elizabeth, and Armen’s and Bohjalian manages to do this without slowing down the story. If anything, these additional stories add richness and layers toThe Sandcastle Girls, layers that help make it such a wonderfully epic and meaningful novel.

I’ve never read another work of fiction that has more completely and almost effortlessly captured the Armenian genocide of the early 2oth century. Bohjalian manages to capture both the emotional impact of the events in question as well as the facts and background, all smoothly within his narrative and without resorting to any info dumps. The Sandcastle Girlsis a truly wonderful and important novel. Very 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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Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky – Book Review

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky, translated by Tim Mohr

Sascha’s life is…complicated.

She is a teenage Russian girl living in the slum Broken Glass Park in Germany with her little sister and brother and her ex-stepfather’s cousin. Saschas’s mother is no longer around because Sascha’s ex-stepfather brutally murdered her and her boyfriend.

Despite the fact that her family is now shunned by neighbors superstitious that Sascha’s family tragedy might rub off on them, Sascha has big plans for her life. She believes these plans make her unique in Broken Glass Park, where most people’s dreams are either shallow or non-existent.

The opening lines of “Broken Glass Park” both summed up Sascha’s character perfectly and sucked me immediately into the book:

Sometimes I think I’m the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother. I already have a title: The Story of an Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened to Her Smart Oldest Daughter.

I loved “Broken Glass Park.” Translations can be awkward at times, if the translator isn’t well versed in idioms and nuances of both languages. Happily, that was not the case here. “Broken Glass Park” was both beautifully written and beautifully translated. Sascha was a compelling character, her murderous dreams not withstanding. Although she and I have very different backgrounds (and I have no plans to murder anyone), Bronsky and Mohr made Sascha absolutely real to me, and I empathized with her completely.

Sascha’s world was a difficult one, which meant that this was not always an easy book to read in terms of subject matter, but I also wasn’t able to put it down. This is my first book from Europa Editions and if they are all nearly this good, I can’t wait to read more. Highly recommended.

Note: There is some sex, drug use, and domestic violence.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from Regal Literary.
* 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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