The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams – Mini Book Review

The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams
Published by Hyperion Books

From the publisher:

July 1840: The young Queen Victoria has just entered her third year on the throne when a major recession brings London’s desperate and destitute into its sweltering streets. While the city crackles with tension, orphaned Catherine Sorgeiul stays locked away in her uncle’s home, a peculiar place where death masks adorn the walls and certain rooms are strictly forbidden. Nineteen years old and haunted by a dark past, Catherine becomes obsessed with a series of terrible murders of young girls sweeping the city. Details of the crimes are especially gruesome–the victims’ hair has been newly plaited and thrust into their mouths, and their limbs are grotesquely folded behind them, like wounded birds–and the serial killer is soon nicknamed the Man of Crows.

Catherine begins writing stories about the victims–women on their own and vulnerable in the big city–and gradually the story of the murderer as well. But she soon realizes that she has involved herself in a web of betrayal, deceit, and terror that threatens her and all those around her. A remarkable fiction debut, The Pleasures of Men is a gripping and spine-tingling thriller.

The most interesting thing about The Pleasures of Men is not the Man of Crows, but Catherine and her backstory. Williams keeps the reader in the dark as to Catherine’s true secret for much of the book, offering tantalizing hints throughout. Catherine’s past has stressed her personality and even her sanity, giving The Pleasures of Men an occasionally choppy and distressing quality, in order to fully represent Catherine’s state of mind. It can be a frustrating storytelling technique, but it is also quite effective and adds to the suspense of the murderer’s identity.

For more, please see my review for the SheKnows Book Lounge.

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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Sutton by J.R. Moehringer – Audiobook Review

Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, narrated by Dylan Baker
Published in print and audio by Hyperion

Synopsis:

Christmas Eve, 1969, notorious bank robber Willie Sutton is released from prison thanks to the poor health that seems likely to kill him at any time. Willie is not released straight into the world, however, but thanks to a deal his lawyer made he is transferred into the custody of a newspapers reporter and photographer. They are promised his exclusive story about the murder of Willie Schuster, but Willie has plans of his own: he wants to tell his story his own way, from the beginning.

Thoughts on the story:

Willie’s story alternates between the ‘present’ of 1969 and his past from childhood onward to his final arrest. The frame of the reporter and photographer is helpful in giving Sutton’s story context, but it is somewhat too prevalent, to the point where it distracts from the bulk of Willie’s story. I would have preferred for present story to have remained primarily at the beginning and end, used only sparingly throughout. I think I found the 1969 portions of the story particularly distracting because Moehringer decided not to give the reporter and photographer names. Willie refers to them as Reporter and Photographer. This is actually something that is done throughout the novel, starting with Willie’s own family, including the siblings he refers to as Big Brother and Bigger Brother. I understand why many of the characters are referred to in this way, and it is relatively unobtrusive when it pops up in the story of Willie’s past, but it becomes painfully obvious when Willie uses the appellations Reporter and Photographer over and over.

Despite not particularly liking the sections that took place in 1969, I found Willie’s story to be absolutely fascinating.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sutton is the number of parallels between the time when Willie was ascendant and this age of the Occupy movement. The country is in the midst of depression and banks are the villain du jour. People so hate banks, in fact, that by robbing banks Willie becomes a folk hero. Although this is a fictional account and there is always the question of how reliable a criminal – even fictionalized – might be about his own life of crime, it is still instructive to see how Willie became one of the century’s greatest bank robbers.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This was my first time listening to Dylan Baker’s narration and, with any luck, it won’t be my last. This was simply top notch narration. Baker did distinct voices for each and every character, with an ease that would almost make you think you were listening to a full cast recording. The production is solid, but I do with there had been more of a pause or some other indication when the scene switched between Willie Sutton’s past and the ‘present’ in which he had been released from jail, as occasionally the switch went more or less unnoticed for a few beats.

Overall:

Sutton is a fascinating story well-told. I think I might have found it a bit overly long in print, but Dylan Baker’s phenomenal narration brings Willie’s Depression-era exploits to life so that the hours fly by. Highly recommended.

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 Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly – Book Review

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Published by Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group

This is the second book in the Rose series. I have previously reviewed The Tea Rose. This review may contain spoilers for The Tea Rose.

When I settled in with The Winter Rose, I was expecting to settle back in with Fiona and Joe and the family they were finally able to create. Although that does happen, they – and in particular, Fiona – are almost secondary characters in The Winter Rose.

Instead, Donnelly features Fiona’s older brother Charlie, best known to the citizens of London as Sid Malone, infamous crime boss, and India Selwyn-Jones, a woman of a good family who has defied her mother in order to follow her passion and become a doctor. Worse still than simply becoming a woman doctor, India will not even deign to be part of a fashionable practice in a good neighborhood, but instead is determined to practice in Whitechapel, and eventually set up a clinic there. India’s work in Whitechapel brings her into direct contact – and conflict – with Sid very quickly. As much as they grate on one another, though, Sid is impressed with India’s occasionally misguided but strongly-held desire to help the people of the East End. India, in response, cannot help but see that Sid, too, cares for these people she assumed he was only exploiting. It might seem logical for love to bloom here, but between India and Sid stands India’s fiance and childhood friend, Frankie Lytton. Frank is also an ambitious Member of Parliament who sees the capture of Sid Malone the one thing that could best guarantee his political future.

In some ways, the Rose series is getting formulaic. Donnelly focuses on a new couple here, so she can again wrench them apart, divided by a different partner, in a way that seems utterly insurmountable. That somehow true love will prevail is obvious from the very beginning – as is the fact that India and Frankie for all their bickering will fall in love in the first place. Frankie Lytton is a much more insidious dividing partner than Millie Peterson was, but they serve much the same function.

Here’s the thing, though. In the middle of the book, the reader is likely to recognize the pattern that Donnelly is falling into, but is equally unlikely to care. She is such a strong writer, creating such vivid characters and settings that she allows the reader to simply get lost in her romantic historical epics. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the fact that she is successfully able to supplant her beloved main characters with characters who were minor or completely missing from The Tea Rose. Fiona and Joe are, of course, still around to give the story continuity, and we do stay within the Finnegan family, but having Fiona take a minor (and eternally pregnant) role could have easily been disastrous in the hands of a less able author.

With The Winter Rose, Donnelly gives us a strong second book in the Rose series. I can’t wait to read the third book, The Wild Rose. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: .

* 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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Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore – Audiobook Review

Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore, narrated by Hillary Huber
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Hyperion

If you posted an audiobook review today, Friday June 10th, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Lost and unsure what she is doing with her life, Jiminy leaves law school in Chicago, and heads back to her grandmother Willa’s house in Mississippi. While there, she discovers that she is not the first Jiminy in the town. Her grandmother’s housekeeper, Lyn, had a daughter named Jiminy as well, a girl who was murdered with her father by members of the local arm of the Klan. Jiminy the current can’t let this case rest, and becomes determined to solve the cold case, stirring up long-buried trouble in the town in the process.

Thoughts on the story:

This plot has all the hallmarks of a story I would love. Somehow, though, it managed to be utterly unengaging. Part of the issue was that Gore simply introduced far too many characters, many of them unimportant, like Willa’s friend who likes guns and gaming consoles. She added little or nothing to this relatively slight book, and took up space that could have been better used to further develop the story of either of the Jiminys. The other issue was that none of the characters – the current Jiminy in particular – were particularly deeply drawn, leaving the whole thing feeling incredibly shallow, with no emotional investment on the part of the reader.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Hillary Huber is a highly competent narrator, and she certainly did the best with the mediocre material she was supplied. She brought Sweet Jiminy up to the point where it was fairly enjoyable, at least during the listening. It wasn’t until after I finished and reflected on the story that I realized just how mediocre it really is.

Overall

I really can’t particularly recommend this at all, but if you want or need to read it for some reason, I highly suggest you grab the audio so that Huber’s narration can improve your experience.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*

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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