Life after Life by Kate Atkinson – Book Review

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

It is 1910 and one of the snowiest nights in memory in England when Ursula Todd is born. Unfortunately, little Ursula is not long for this world, dying almost before her mother even realizes she has been born. Luckily for Ursula, she is born again, the same day to the same family, and this time with another result. So Ursula is born time and time again, as she succumbs to the perils of early 20th-cenutry life but is repeatedly granted another chance, as if her life is building towards some grand purpose.

So, basically Life After Life is brilliant. It isn’t immediately apparent, especially as the child Ursula dies repeatedly. The first hundred pages or so can be difficult for parents, as it almost seems a catalog of everything bad that can happen to a kid. It is when the Spanish Flu hits Ursula’s household that Atkinson’s dark comic genius shines through. It is also at this time that the reader realizes that Ursula is semi-aware of what is happening to her. From that point forward, Ursula dies with a little less frequency and the intricacies of cause and effect are writ large on her life.

To call Life After Life an absorbing book would be to undersell it. It is an astonishingly good novel, one I could not stop talking about during and after reading it. It is also an innovative look at the way our choices – as well as events beyond our control – shape our lives, and how the smallest change can make a huge difference.

Life After Life is the book that everyone is going to be talking about for the rest of the year, and it absolutely deserves that honor. Very highly 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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Blackout by Mira Grant – Book Review

Blackout by Mira Grant
Published by Orbit Books, an imprint of Hachette

Blackout is the third book in the Feed trilogy and, as such, this review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series, Feed and Deadline.

Everything started going wrong when After the End Times followed the Ryman presidential campaign. Now they’re on the run, hunted down by the CDC. Actually, Shaun and his team are being hunted. His sister, Georgia, is dead. Well, she was dead. Now she’s alive again in a CDC facility. Sort of alive. Actually, she’s a clone, and not the first one they made of the original Georgia Mason, just the most realistic one to date. Can the After the End Times team reunite and break the biggest story of their lives before being take down by the CIA – or by zombie bears?

You GUYS. I preordered Blackout on my Nook. PREORDERED. And then I waited six months to read it. WHY? WHY I ASK YOU? WHY? Okay, but seriously, Blackout was perhaps my favorite of all of the books in the Feed trilogy, despite the fact it had been 18 months (and, oh, 300 books) since I had read any of the previous installments in the trilogy, so I had forgotten things.

But really, this is quite possibly the best book in the Feed trilogy. I adored the first one for the world building more than anything else (well, that and the politics and blogging angle…okay, I really just liked it a bunch in general), but even though Grant plays with her reader’s brains and sense of right and wrong, Blackout is just amazing. It all works, it all comes together. It also makes me want to go back and reread this entire series from the beginning, including the prequel novellas and the novella that is chronologically between Feed and Deadline. And then I want to sit patiently at Mira Grant (a pen name of Seanan McGuire)’s feet and wait for her to write more zombie things.

I love when the end of a trilogy validates my having started the trilogy in the first place, and Blackout does that in spades. Very highly recommended.

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Source: Personal copy.
* 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.

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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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Changeless by Gail Carriger – Book Review

Changeless by Gail Carriger
Published by Orbit, an imprint of Hachette

This is the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, I have previously reviewed the first book, Soulless.

Just because Alexia is now the Lady Woolsey, wife of Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, doesn’t mean that Conall necessarily bothers to tell her much of anything. When Conall marches out of the house yelling at the top of his lungs, he neglects to tell Alexia anything that is going on, leaving her to discover for herself the regiment of werewolves camped out on their front lawn. In addition to the soldiers, it seems that the British Isles have suddenly been plagued by something that is negating the powers of supernaturals, including exorcising ghosts. As an adviser to Queen Victoria, Alexia is tasked with uncovering the secret behind why everyone is Changeless.

I thoroughly enjoyed Soulless, the first book in this series. Changeless, however, held a bit less magic for me. Part of the issue, I think, is the lack of interplay between Conall and Alexia. The two spend much of the novel apart, and the frolicking fun of Soulless, which depended so much on their tumultuous relationship, is much less evident in Changeless.

Overall, Changeless just really failed to grab me. For most of the book I was planning to give up on the series here, although some events at the end of the book do have me tempted to go on to Blameless. Still, I think I need some convincing from those who have read this series as to whether or not it is worth continuing.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal.
* 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 Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling – Book Review

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown and Company

When Barry Fairbrother dies of an aneurysm in a parking lot, the town of Pagford is thrown into chaos. Not only are the gossip mills working overtime, but Barry’s death throws into disarray the Pagford town council, which now has a casual vacancy. Barry was one of the leading supporters of the Fields, the low-income housing at the edge of town and the nearby addiction clinic. Without him, Howard Mollison may just be able push through the reassignment of the Fields to the larger town nearby and the retraction of the addiction clinic’s lease. In the days following Barry’s death, many long-dormant hostilities flare up, as the election to fill his seat forces people to examine their own beliefs and relationships.

At its heart, The Casual Vacancy is about the politics of small town life, both the actual governance and decisions made by a (theoretically) elected few and the politics of interpersonal relationships in a place where everyone is connected to everyone else in one way or another. There is a strong theme of social responsibility and the social contract in The Casual Vacancy, as citizens of Pagford debate what should become of the Fields. Opinions run the gamut, as prominent characters include the old guard such as the Mollisons, as well as a young woman growing up in the fields with a drug addicted mother, a social worker, and many others.

It is this thread that makes the timing of the The Casual Vacancy release in the United States so interesting, as many similar issues are being debated in the lead up to our national election. Obviously with a world-wide English release this is unlikely to have been calculated, but I can see this working both for and against The Casual Vacancy, depending on the reader. Many US readers may not want to indulge in political rancor and electioneering during this final stretch of a seemingly interminable political cycle; others, however, may have a heightened appreciation of just what the stakes are in this fictional election due to the high profile of political decisions in the US at the moment.

All this is not to say that civic politics is the be all and end all of The Casual Vacancy, relationships are just as crucial to the story Rowling is telling. There are tense relationships between parents and children, affairs, relationships that have changed over time so they are no longer recognizable to the people within them. There are friendships and mentoring relationships as well. Although not unendingly bleak, there is certainly more darkness and less support in most of these relationships than in Rowling’s Harry Potter wizard world. There are times that Pagford seems to have echoes of her Muggle world, Howard Mollison called to mind Vernon Dursley occasionally, albeit the more complex Vernon Dursley of the later books.

The Casual Vacancy probably has much less universal appeal than Rowling’s Harry Potter books, both for the cynical look a life and for the focus on politics. The writing is not going to blow anyone away – and Rowling uses parentheses strangely to indicate that characters are recalling something, sometimes with up to half a page contained in a single pair – but it is strong enough that it generally does not distract from the fascinating story Rowling is telling.

Buy this book from:
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Source: Library.
* 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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