A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama – Audiobook Review

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by St. Martin’s Press, both imprints of Macmillan

Synopsis:

“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” – Chairman Mao

In 1956, Chairman Mao encouraged the Chinese people to share their real thoughts and feelings about his regime, in order to continue to improve the country. For about a year, no one did so, but then the floodgates opened and Mao clamped down. One man caught up in the crack down is Sheng, a teacher who lives with his wife, son, and father. Sheng is accused of writing a critical letter and is dragged off in front of his young son, Tao. Before long, Sheng’s letters stop coming and his family must live with the uncertainty -and in some cases guilt – of his absence.

Thoughts on the story:

Despite the fact that A Hundred Flowers is set at the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it is really more character-driven than plot-driven. For quite some time I was wondering when things would really get going, but by the halfway point, I relaxed and just reveled in the lives of this family who had lost their son, husband, father to Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign. As such, this is not a flashy, exciting novel; instead it is contemplative and sadly lovely, giving readers a peek into mid-20th century China.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This was classic great Simon Vance narration: good pacing, maintaining interest in the story. I do think I might have done a bit better with A Hundred Flowers in print, however. This is not the fault of the narration or the overall audio production, both of which are strong. It is more an issue of my own issues with character names, which I tend to not may much attention to. With Western names I don’t need to pay as much attention and in print I can more easily go back and forth to make sure I know who is talking or being talked about with non-Western names. Luckily there weren’t too many characters, but since I tend to zone out on their names that even the six or so primary names occasionally threw me. Still, Vance’s narration kept bringing me back into the story when I got a bit lost.

Overall:

I might have appreciated this a bit more in print due to my own reading idiosyncrasies, but the book is interesting and Vance’s narration is great. 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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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks – Audiobook Review

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks, narrated by Matthew Brown
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by St. Martin’s Press, both imprints of Macmilllan

Synopsis:

Budo doesn’t know any other imaginary friends who are as old as he is. He’s been alive more than five years, when most imaginary friends don’t last even a single year, perhaps partly because his imaginer Max has Asperger’s Syndrome. It seems inevitable that one day Max will stop believing in Budo and then Budo will cease to exist, but until then Budo will continue to help and protect Max.

Or so he thinks.

It turns out, that there is really only so much Budo can do to help Max, particularly when Max doesn’t want to listen to him. Budo has always been somewhat leery of Max’s aide, Mrs. Patterson, but he has no idea just how dangerous she really is, until she kidnaps Max. Only Budo knows what happened to Max, and only Budo can save him. There’s just one little problem, though: nobody can hear or see Budo except Max and other imaginary friends.

Thoughts on the story:

I know some people will be hesitant reading a story told from the point-of-view of an imaginary friend, but Budo is an incredibly inventive and engaging main character. He’s particularly interesting for the way he is stuck between childhood and adulthood. Max imagined him looking incredibly human and having more knowledge than Max himself, but there are a number of situations where Max’s own literalism and lack of context clearly impede Budo’s understanding of situations. This dichotomy works well as Budo is not overly precocious which can grate on some readers. but his occasional misunderstandings serve to remind the reader or listener of the pair’s vulnerabilities.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Matthew Brown does a fabulous job narrating Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. Budo is somewhat ageless, so the fact that he does not sound like a child is not an issue. What he did bring believably to the story was an ability to be utterly convincing when Budo is experiencing wonder, sorrow, or confusion, each of which appear in the novel with some regularity. Brown’s characterizations are spot-on and, in my opinion, make the novel even stronger – perhaps particularly for readers who are somewhat skeptical of the premise.

Overall:

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is unlike anything I have read before and I absolutely loved it. So much so, in fact, that I listened to the entire 10 hour audiobook over the course of a single day because I just could not bear to put it down. Highly recommended.

A note: although the main character is an imaginary friend, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is absolutely geared towards an adult rather than child audience. There is some strong language and some scenes and concepts would likely be scary or confusing for young children.

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: 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 Survivor by Gregg Hurwitz – Book Review

The Survivor by Gregg Hurwitz
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Between the PTSD that caused him to lose his family the Lou Gehrig’s disease that promises to make him lose himself, Nate Overbay no longer has much to live for and he doesn’t intend to look for anything else. Nate has every intention of killing himself by jumping from the upper window of a bank and is on the verge of doing so when the bank is overrun by vicious masked robbers. Nate’s military training serves him well and he ably thwarts the crew, but not before the ringleader gets a good look at him and delivers a threat. Before long, Nate discovers that the threat is by no means an empty one; he has been recruited by a Russian mobster to obtain what the crew was at the bank to steal or lose his beloved but estranged daughter in an extremely painful way.

Gregg Hurwitz is a master of exciting and suspenseful books, and The Survivor is no exception. As an indicator of just how absorbing it is I began reading it while in the hospital being induced with the girls and read fully half of it while undergoing increasingly intense contractions. Although you might expect that giving birth – plus the nurse coming in and out and the fact it was the middle of the night – might be distracting, but The Survivor did a fabulous job keeping my attention. Nate is a very realistic and sympathetic character put in an impossible situation who reacts with loyalty, bravery, and humanity, all of which causes the reader to invest in him and his family.

The Survivor is a wonderfully engaging and human thriller, able to keep a reader’s attention even in the most distracting circumstances.

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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Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer – Book Review

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

This is the story of an astronaut who was lost in space, and the wife he left behind. Or this is the story of a brave man who survived the wreck of the first rocket sent into space with the intent to colonize the moon. This is the story of the human race, who pushed one crazy little splinter of metal and a few pulsing cells up into the vast dark reaches of the universe, and the hope that the splinter would hit somehting and stick, and that the little pulsing cells could somehow survive. This is the story of a bulge, a bud, the way the human race tried to subdivide, the bud it formed out into the universe, and what happened to that bud, and what happened to the Earth, too, the mother Earth, after the bud was burst. -p. 2

The Mann family is going through a difficult time: Sunny is hugely pregnant with their second child; their autistic first child Bubber is increasingly having trouble at preschool; Sunny’s mother is in the hospital slowly dying; and Maxon is heading to the moon to set up robots for a future moon colony. Everything is already chaos when Sunny and Bubber are in a car accident that knocks Sunny’s wig off of her head and into the street. Bald since birth, Sunny has been wearing a wig ever since she and Maxon moved to Norfolk, Virginia while she was pregnant with Bubber as part of her attempt to be the perfect wife and mother. Now that her cover has been blown in front of her neighbors, Sunny must once again discover and decide exactly who she is.

There was only one thing that I didn’t love about Shine Shine Shine, and that is the fact that with every sentence I realized that I would never be able to write like Netzer does. Nearly every sentence surprised me with plot, turn of phrase, or characterization. Shine Shine Shine is definitely quirky – after all, the main character is a bald Caucasian  woman born in Burma during an eclipse – but it manages to be so while still maintaining a real and realistic quality. Most of us may never have any of Sunny’s particular problems, but the way she questions her identity is universal.

Shine Shine Shine is wonderful and difficult to put down. It is a wonderful book and one I highly recommend.

For more about Shine Shine Shine, please see my review and my interview with Lydia Netzer for SheKnows.com.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* 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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Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – Audiobook Review

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by Henry Holt & Co, both imprints of Macmillan

Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall.

Synopsis:

His attempt to marry Anne Boleyn irrevocably changed England, but now Henry VIII is growing disenchanted with his wife. Her one living child is another mere girl, like his child with his first wife, Katherine, and although Anne has conceived since she has failed to carry any more babies to term. In addition to feeling cheated in the return on his investment, Henry also finds himself increasingly intrigued by shy, quiet Jane Seymour. There is only one man who the king trusts to do his bidding and make sure that his ends are achieved: Thomas Cromwell.

Thoughts on the story:

In Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel continues telling the story of Cromwell and his machinations on behalf of Henry VIII. She clearly took to heart the criticisms of Wolf Hall, particularly that it is at times difficult to follow in the myriad of “he”s. In Bring up the Bodies, Mantel frequently clarifies when talking about Cromwell, the phrase “he, Cromwell” is sprinkled liberally throughout the text. It is actually present to the extent that it seems a bit overdone, almost as if she was attempting to prove a point about her choices in Wolf Hall. Bring up the Bodies is shorter and, in general, much more accessible than Wolf Hall while still being incredibly well-written.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Simon Vance was ON with his vocal differentiation and accents in Bring up the Bodies. I was initially put off by his voices for both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but shortly after each of them first speak, Mantel describes their voices/accents and Vance’s interpretations match perfectly.  The audio format does bring out Mantel’s “he, Cromwell” more prominently to the point where it is almost annoying, but Vance’s appealing narration smooths over that minor textual irritation.

Overall:

As much as I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I found Bring up the Bodies to be even better. I highly recommend it in general, and even more highly recommend having Simon Vance whisper Mantel’s fascinating words and stories into your ears.

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

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: 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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