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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Source: Publisher.
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The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin

After a romantic disappointment, Honor Bright is ready for something new, a change of scenery. As such, she has agreed to travel with her sister, Grace, when she leaves England for her wedding in Ohio. If Honor ever had any idea that she might one day go back home, her catastrophic sea sickness on the voyage over puts an end to that train of thought very quickly. Even so, that might not have been a problem if Grace had not gotten very ill after they reached America. Now Honor is all alone and mourning the death of her beloved sister, with nowhere to go but on to Grace’s fiance, a man who may not have even known that she was coming. America is very foreign to Honor: the people, the scenery, and perhaps most of all the institution of slavery. Before long, she finds herself drawn by her convictions into the world of the Underground Railroad.

The Last Runaway ended up being less about the Underground Railroad than I had thought it would be. Certainly that was an aspect of it, but I think I learned more about 19th century Quakerism and immigration to the United States than I did about the Underground Railroad. Honor herself does not know much about what was happening. She knows what she believes, but not what is really happening as people attempt to escape slavery. She also has a difficult time initially understanding the complex motivations of those around her.

Despite the fact that this was not quite what I expected, it is an interesting and enjoyable book. Chevalier brings Honor to life, her ignorance perhaps doing more to make her realistic than any amount of courage of her convictions ever could. Recommended.

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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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Astray by Emma Donoghue – Audiobook Review

Astray by Emma Donoghue, narrated by Kristine Hvam, James Langton, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren, and Dion Graham
Published in audio by Hachette Audio, published in print by Little, Brown and Company, both imprints of Hachette

Synopsis:

None of  the characters in Emma Donoghue’s Astray are homebodies. Perhaps some of them would like to be, but they are all being propelled in different directions, moving to, from, and throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Thoughts on the story:

It isn’t every author who can pull off a collection of stories that begins with a piece in the second person addressed to an elephant, but Emma Donoghue rocks it. Astray opens with a story about Jumbo the elephant’s sale to P.T. Barnum, from the perspective of his keeper. The characters in the rest of Donoghue’s stories are all human, but by opening with a story about an elephant she signals just how diverse the rest of her stories will be. Indeed, the genders, nationalities, and situations throughout the rest of Astray are exceptionally varied. There are Yukon gold miners, an American slave, a young middle class British woman forced to support her brother and child through prostitution.

Each of these stories actually has a basis in the historical record. After every account Donoghue explains the inspiration behind the story, where it came from and the facts behind what she wrote. The stories vary greatly in length, but besides the general subject matter, the one thing that all of the stories have in common is the fact that they are all incredibly compelling. Of course different situations will appeal more or less to different readers, but all of the stories are well-researched, well-told, and based on fascinating true stories.

Thoughts on the audio production:

The casting of Astray is just perfect. First of all, five absolutely fabulous narrators were chosen. All five have the ability to help the listener get lost in whatever story they are telling. Second of all, the pairing of narrators and stories is perfect; never once did I feel that a narrator didn’t fit a given story. I really appreciate that Hachette Audio decided to go big with five narrators. They could have simply had a male and a female, or even just had a single narrator, but they seem to have been determined to find the absolute best narrator for each story. Dion Graham, to the best of my recollection, only narrated a single story in Astray – and a short one at that. Robert Petkoff certainly could have narrated that story, even though he didn’t quite fit casting-wise. However, a decision was made to bring in a narrator who was a better fit, even if he would only be used for that one brief story. It is attention to detail like this that takes Astray from a good production to one that is really top-notch.

Overall:

Big thumbs up all around. The collection is wonderful and the narration equally fantastic. Do yourself a favor here and pick this up in either print or audio.

For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

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: 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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May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy – Audiobook Review

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy, narrated by John Keating, Barrie Kreinik, Allyson Johnson, and Adam Lazarre White
Published in audio by AudioGo; published in print by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

If you reviewed an audiobook today, Monday June 25th please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth-century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature—famine, war, love, and family—as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom.

All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of the characters, and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life’s great meaning amidst its various tangles

Thoughts on the story:

I don’t always enjoy American historical fiction, but May the Road Rise Up to Meet You is a phenomenal novel. Each of the four storylines is wonderfully written and plotted in and of itself, but they mesh beautifully and authentically. It is  obvious that the lives of the four characters will have to cross or connect at some point, but it is not always clear exactly how they will do so. The intertwining of the stories could easily have been very forced and contrived, but Troy draws his characters together naturally. In addition to the four strong and compelling characters, each with fascinating backgrounds, Troy’s writing is very good, combining to make May the Road Rise Up to Meet just a wonderful historical novel.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Troy’s novel is wonderful in and of itself, but the cast of narrators put together by AudioGo elevates May the Road Rise Up to Meet You to an even higher level. Each of the four main characters is voiced by a separate, talented narrator. Each of them manages to completely become their character and, perhaps even more impressively, each is able to seamlessly switch accents when one of the other characters engages in dialog during one their character’s sections.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine:.

Overall:

A wonderful historical novel, no matter how you experience it, but if you have the option I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which will only enhance the experience. Very highly recommended.

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

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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Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan – Book Review

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Pub

From the publisher:

For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.

I was expecting Bijan’s memoir to focus more directly on her mother based on the title. There was definitely a strong thread about her parents and their life in Iran and attempts to adjust to life in America. However, more than anything, Maman’s Homesick Pie is about Bijan herself, how she came to create her unique blend of Persian, American, and French food.

Despite Maman’s Homesick Pie not being what I expected, it was still a lovely, heartfelt memoir. It is a slim tome, so Bijan does not always go into great depth of detail about people, places, or events, but what she does write is so evocative, that the sparseness of some of the details doesn’t really matter.

Foodies and those who love stories about identity will greatly enjoy Maman’s Homesick Pie.

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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