The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – Book Review

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Published by Random House

The Burgess siblings are close and yet far apart at the same time. The boys, Jim and Bob, live mere blocks from one another, but emotionally they are light years apart – although closer both literally and metaphorically than either of them is to Bob’s twin sister Susan, who still lives in the small Maine town in which they all grew up. Bob dogs his brother’s  steps, but it seems that nothing would make Jim happier than to deny everything about his early life, including his siblings.

When Susan’s son Zach throws a pig’s head into a mosque during Ramadan, though, the family is forced back into a semblance of togetherness. Jim, a high profile attorney, knows that he has the skills to help get his nephew out of this. Not that this is an entirely selfless act; Jim is a big shot and and his nephew committing what seems to be a hate crime tarnishes his reputation.

I haven’t yet read Olive Kitteridge so I have very little to compare it to, but I loved The Burgess Boys. Jim and Susan are a bit hard to side with, but Bob is drawn in a way that makes it incredibly easy to empathize with him, and he seemed the key to the entire situation. I assumed, when I learned what the act was that this book hinges on, that I would have a very difficult time caring what happened to Zach, but I found myself caring about Bob enough that I could have an open mind about Zach’s motivations, and ultimately have my heart break nearly as much for him as for the victims of his crime.

There are a lot of things going on with each and every one of Strout’s characters, all this subplots would feel overly busy in the hands of a lesser novelist, but Strout puts all the pieces together beautifully and creates a book which can envelope its reader. 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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Quiet by Susan Cain – Book Review

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Published by Broadway, an imprint of Random House

America is the land of the extroverts, or so our national mythology goes. In truth, some 1/3 of Americans are introverts, and the number is even higher in other countries. In Quiet, Susan Cain addresses both the problem of how introverts can succeed in a world that values extroversion, and the ways that introverted leadership benefits companies, as well as the issue of introverted students in schools that value participation and group work.

Quiet is an absolutely fascinating book. Cain quite ably makes the case for the value of introverted leadership, and the problems that come from shutting it out (such as some of the behaviors that led to the most recent economic crash). Perhaps what is most valuable is the explanation of how we got to this place. The American population is already more extroverted than many (perhaps due to immigration patterns), but we have not always been as enamored as the extrovert ideal as we are now.

This is a well-reasoned and informative book. If you aren’t an introvert yourself, you likely have one in your close family or one close to you at work, and Quiet can help you understand the way that (or those) introvert(s) can contribute. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

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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Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman – Audiobook Review

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman, narrated by Kathe Mazur
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly set off to travel around the world in less than eighty days, an attempt to break the record set by Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg from the novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Bly’s travel was paid for by the paper she worked for, Joseph Pulitzer’s World paper in New York. Although the idea originated with her, by the end of the day Nellie Bly was not the only young woman traveling around the world. The publishers of The Cosmopolitan decided to send Elizabeth Bisland, who wrote a books column for the magazine, on her own journey heading west instead of east, in at attempt to beat not only Phileas Fogg, but Nellie Bly as well.

Thoughts on the story:

I love it when authors find fascinating historical events about which I know nothing and tell it really well. I knew a bit about Nellie Bly before Eighty Days, but interestingly not about her race around the world. My knowledge was limited to her expose on the insane asylum on Blackwell Island, a reference it is possible I learned from my massive The West Wing marathon earlier this year. Goodman lays his story out very clearly, alternating between the two women’s stories in a way that is faithful to the timeline while still maintaining a good flow. While the book itself is rather long, it has a good pace and is continually interesting.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kathe Mazur does a wonderful job narrating. Like Goodman’s writing itself, she maintains a good pace and, while she doesn’t do much vocal differentiation between the stories, it isn’t really necessary or called for here, and there is no problem keeping the narrative straight.

For more, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

A long book, but well worth the read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

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.

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.

 

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Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon – Book Review

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon
Published by Random House

The big bad wolf in the raising of teenagers today is cyber bullying. If you believe Emily Bazelon, however, cyber bullying is not a new thing. It is, she claims, essentially nothing more than plain old bullying, moved to a new venue. What, then, is bullying? In Sticks and Stones, Bazelon unpacks the issue of bullying through three case studies, discussing interventions, suicide, and, of course, the role of the internet.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have ever picked this one up had I not been interviewing Bazelon about it for the SheKnows Book Lounge. I expected Sticks and Stones to either be self-help-y or to be a dry recitation of the facts of bullying. Happily, it is neither. Instead, Sticks and Stones is a book that realistically delves into a difficult and complex issue. The case studies bring real people and real faces to the problem of bullying, and on both sides of the issue. It helps her unpack the school cultures that contribute to bullying, as well as what, if anything, can help in such situations.

Beyond being a well organized informative book, Sticks and Stones is also simply a compelling read. Bazelon has a great style, and knows exactly how much she can insert herself in the story without detracting from the facts she hopes to impart. Even without any current personal vested interested in precisely what goes on in high schools, I did not want to put Sticks and Stones down. Between Bazelon’s engaging prose and her ability to get to the heart of why exactly this issue is important, she had me hooked.

Very highly recommended.

For more, see my interview with Emily Bazelon in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author’s publicist.
* 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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Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio – Audiobook Review

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio, narrated by Leslie Carroll
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Doubleday, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

Of course it would end like this, with May on trial for extortion. After all, she has been named the “Most Dangerous Woman” by the Pinkerton Detective Agency and one Pinkerton in particular seems to be trailing her. All May has ever wanted was to provide for her family and get out of her small Michigan town. Chicago had promise, and was so close to home, but that damned Pinkerton Reed Doherty first targeted her there, necessitating a life on the move, always looking for the place she could settle down and be secure.

Thoughts on the story:

Love!

May is a fabulous, if possibly unreliable, main narrator. She’s smart, sly, and self-assured and her story is an absolutely fascinating one. Biaggio leads her readers all over Europe and the continental United States at the turn of the 20th century. Is May really a con woman? Does she just want a good and secure life? Both? Neither? Biaggio has a great sense of pacing, moving back and forth deftly between the trial and the years leading up to it, never losing her reader’s interest. This is the whole package: lovely writing, great story, amazing characters, and vivid settings.

Thoughts on the audio production:

If you pick up the audio, you actually get the whole package plus, because Leslie Carroll’s narration captures May beautifully. Like Biaggio, she has great pacing, and the voices she creates for the secondary and tertiary characters bring listeners even more fully into May’s story.

For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Such a fabulous book and, as good as I’m sure it is in print, the audio production adds that extra je ne sais quoi. I adored it, very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

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.

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.

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