The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein – Audiobook Review

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein, narrated by Xe Sands
Published in audio by Dreamscape Media, published in print by W.W. Norton & Co

Synopsis:

Leonora is a good, proper girl, with a good, proper family. Even so, even though she knows exactly what to do when presented with a stranger approaching, she disappears. Vanishes, without a trace. She is not the only one, either. Leonora’s story and the stories of two who go missing willingly – Judith and Paul – grow increasingly intertwined as characters grapple with issues of family, parenthood, sex, and personal reinvention.

Thoughts on the story:

This was decidedly not an easy story to follow. Characters enter and exit with great frequency at the beginning and no particular indication of when they will return. However, for the reader who perseveres will be rewarded by a beautiful book with increasingly meaningful connections. The way that the characters interacted at different points in their individual timelines was fascinating and superbly crafted.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Xe Sands narration was a perfect match for this potentially difficult-to-follow text. For my full thoughts on the audio, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

This is definitely a challenge. Books that jump around in time and place – and then again between characters – can be even more difficult in audio than in print, but this one is worth a listen for the adventurous, because it is simply – albeit occasionally disturbingly – lovely.

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: 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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Trespass by Rose Tremain – Audiobook Review

Trespass by Rose Tremain, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Published in audio by AudioGo, published in print by W. W. Norton & Co

Synopsis:

We know the ways that our pasts, flaws, and foibles change the courses of our own lives, but perhaps we think little about the ways in which they can influence, and even devastate the lives of others, even when our paths cross only tangentially. Such is the case when two pairs of siblings, both with painful and damaging pasts happen to have their lives intersect in the south of France. Veronica and her lover, Kitty, have been living in Cévennes for years, but their simple domestic life of painting and gardening is disrupted when Veronica’s brother Anthony, who is having financial troubles in England, comes down to stay. When he decides he would like to relocate to France, tensions get even higher. Equally fraught is the relationship between Audrun and Aramon, natives of France. Their childhood was, shall we say, less than ideal after the death of their mother, and their interactions grow even more tense after Aramon declares his intention to sell their family home. With Anthony looking to buy and Aramon to sell, it is only to be expected that their paths should cross, but the results of that crossing are decidedly atypical.

Thoughts on the story:

Although not exactly a mystery, Tremain tells a suspenseful yet character-driven story in “Trespass.” We know from the opening scene that something terrible has happened, although what exactly that is will only slowly become apparent over the course of the book. It is a complex tale, but not overly so. The pacing, plotting, and prose were all extremely well handled, but the real highlight of the book was the character development. Not a single one of the characters in “Trespass” was a particularly likable human being. They were selfish, self-involved, rude, snobby, and occasionally abusive. In such a psychological, character-driven novel such as this, that can be quite a problem. However, they were so realistically and tragically flawed, that their petty incivilities failed to be a turn-off. Instead, the reader is drawn into their story to find out exactly what bad thing happened, and why.

Thoughts on the audio production:

At the beginning of “Trespass,” I had a bit of a hard time keeping all of the characters straight in audio, because Tremain included a number of relatively short scenes with each of them. I must say, I really wasn’t sure what was going on – actually, I’m not sure I would have been with print, either – but it didn’t matter one bit, because of Juliet Stevenson’s amazing narration. For more, see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Fascinating and suspenseful, “Trespass” is a masterful psychological novel, although not one for those easily offended by sex and dysfunction.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: 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: 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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Madre by Liza Bakewell – Book Review

Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun by Liza Bakewell
Published by W. W. Norton & Company

Madre means mother, right? Well, technically. Madre may mean mother in Spanish, but it means a whole lot else besides that in Mexico. There is an extensive list of madre idioms, nearly all of which have negative meanings along the lines of disaster or whore. How can this be, when mothers traditionally hold a very high place in Mexican society, in a land where the Holy Virgin, the mother of Christ, is so venerated? What question could be more fascinating to a social anthropologist with an interest in linguistics and feminist leanings from the United States living in Mexico? It was this first question, in fact, that turned Liza Bakewell from a social anthropologist into a linguistic anthropologist with a particularly interest in madre and the intersection of gender and language.

“It can be dangerous to say madre in Mexico. Underscored and italicized. His words would blow fire across the screen. A kind of watch-out fuerte, not only powerful, but really powerful. Like a match to gasoline, or a blow to the face.” -p. 47

Out of this fascination came Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun. The subtitle of Madre is really the best description of what this book is. Far from a strictly academic treatise, Madre is more of a travelogue/memoir combo by someone who is simply very intelligent and likes to think deeply about issues of language and society. In spite of this, the chapters are organized topically within the larger subject of madre: talking about piropo and albur, the grammatical dominance of maleness even in a room predominantly female, las mentadas de madre.

Perhaps this begins to explain the origins of the symbolic dilemma of madre in Mexico. The Church believes the bride, once married, is Eve, not the Virgin. -p. 175-176

Maybe it is just me, maybe I missed my calling as an anthropologist, but I think that the intersection of gender, culture, and language is a fascinating place to linger and observe, and I’m so grateful that Bakewell brought me to this particular intersection. Even better, she does not manage to lose a non-Spanish speaking, non-linguist on her journeys. It could be occasionally disconcerting to have the very personal style interacting with the linguistic and anthropological insights, but overall it worked very well.

A very interesting book, if the concept interests you, then I can recommend Madre.

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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Blood Work by Holly Tucker – Book Review

Blood Work by Holly Tucker
Published by W. W.  Norton & Co

If you need a blood transfusion, you just head to the hospital, get your blood typed, and lay back and have a nice sterilized needle send some nice, compatible blood into your veins, right? Certainly this is the case now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 17th century, you might have been infused the blood of a cow, dog, or sheep through a long tube. And, too, you might not get the transfusion because you lost blood in an accident or something similar, you might receive one in order to treat your mental instability.

The men had agreed that the cooling effects of blood transfusion could be very promising treatment for “extravagant” minds. At the time, humoral imbalances were still understood to lie at the root of madness. -p. 159

Blood transfusion was not fully accepted during the 17th century, however. In fact, the conservative physicians of France were wholly against the entire proposition. For one thing, it ran counter to centuries of medical based on the works of Galen. For another thing, it offended the strict Catholic beliefs of most of the country.

To imagine transfusion meant to dismiss biblical dictates such as in Deuteronomy 12:23, “Eat not the blood, for the blood is the life.” p. -209

Not all French physicians felt the same, however. Jean-Baptiste Denis was captivated by stories of transfusion reaching France from across the English Chanel, and decided that he too wanted to attempt transfusions. To this end, he tracked down Antoine Mauroy, the most notorious madman in Paris, and attempted to transfuse him. The first transfusion went well and even seemed to cure his insanity temporarily. A later transfusion, however, went very strangely and ended very badly, leading to Denis being accused of murder. It seemed clear that he was framed, but by whom?

Blood Work is not only the story of this medical mystery, the death of Antoine Mauroy and the framing of Jean-Baptiste Denis. Tucker also provides a background to the history of early transfusion. In doing so, she sheds a great deal of light on the culture and beliefs of 17th century France and England, as well as explaining the previously omnipresent custom of bloodletting.

Holly Tucker has written absolutely fascinating book. It is an extremely compelling read. Even with a stack of books in my bag and an even bigger pile on my Nook,, when I picked up Blood Work on the airplane I did not put it back down until I had turned the last page. Part of this is simply Tucker’s writing style. She has clear, concise prose that makes even convoluted 17th century medical beliefs easy to follow. In addition, she clearly has a great command of her subject matter. When the author understands her material so well, she can explain even the most complex subjects with ease.

Blood Work is a fascinating medical and social history written with a clarity that brings the reader greater understanding. I highly recommend it. And now, let me just leave you with the questions Tucker poses at the end of her introduction:

For now I simply ask readers to keep two questions in mind as they enter the teeming streets and cluttered laboratories of seventeenth-century Paris and London: Should a society set limits on its science? If so, how and at what price? -p. xxix

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for a blog tour.
* 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 Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn – Book Review

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn
Published by W. W. Norton & Company

Daughter of the Earl of Amherst, Emily Dickinson does not always have an easy time at Mt. Holyoke. She is secretly in love with Tom, the groundskeeper to whom no teacher or pupil is allowed to speak, but the differences between her and the other girls are staggering: she never receives Valentines, and she has no good friends to speak of, she primarily only associates with the daughter of a stable hand. Upon her return home, she is the darling of her father, a father who wanted nothing more than to keep her by his side.

He is Bluebeard with red side-whiskers, serving up daughters instead of wives. I will never leave this castle. He will decline whatever suitor I bring to West Street. Father might let Lavinia escape, but not me. It’s not my Indian bread per se. He could find another baker. But Father seems to count on the little storms I crate. Perhaps he imagines my face in his mirror – the hobgolin with red hair whom he cannot live without. Such an imp can shatter his isolation. I am his Dolly, sentenced to serve him puddings for the rest of his natural life and most of mine.

Jerome Charyn’s writing is absolutely lovely. Everything was so evocative,  so Dickinson-esque. The entire novel had a wonderful, wild, poetic feel. Charyn’s Emily, too, was a fascinating creature. She was alone partly because of her father’s prejudices, partly because of her own. And yet even when she had become a complete recluse, she still hungered for romance, for the touch of a man. She was no love-struck girl or withering flower, though. Emily could be bossy, manipulative, she had a full range of human emotions and desires.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson may have actually inspired me to read some of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Since I’ve never before had that desire, I think we can safely say that this book is a big hit.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound | Amazon*

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.