NW by Zadie Smith – Audiobook Review

NW by Zadie Smith, narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprints of Penguin


From the publisher:

This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Thoughts on the story:

In classic Zadie Smith fashion, NW is a challenging book, one which falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of linked stories. Leah and Natalie’s stories are very much intertwined and inform one another. The girls grew up together in the Caldwell housing estates and have achieved varying degrees of success. Felix’s story is only tangentially related to the women’s stories and, for me, was more of a distraction than anything else. It was quite a long digression in the middle of the book that nearly made me lose interest. Overall, though, I thought that the stories Smith told did a wonderful job showcasing the diversity of urban life in NW London.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Let’s just be honest, Don Gilet is probably the only thing that kept me interested in Felix’s story when it interrupted those of Leah and Natalie, he did a truly wonderful job. I am slightly more conflicted about Karen Bryson’s performance. On one hand, she is practically a chameleon with voices and accents. She is able to differentiate between characters and bring them fully to life. On the other hand, she has a tendency to make wet mouth noises, which have a tendency to give me the creeps. At least one time when she smacks her mouth it is a conscious choice in voicing a character, but it seems much of the rest of the time that this is just her natural inclination between words, which bothers me a bit.


NW is challenging, but worthwhile. I am certain that the audio helped me make it through what might have been a more difficult read in print, but listeners overly disturbed by wet mouth noises in narration may want to give this a miss.

For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

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: 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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The Black Count by Tom Reiss – Book Review

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
Published by Crown Books, an imprint of Random House

Alexandre Dumas is the author of some of the best-known works in Western literature. What little boy doesn’t have some concept of the three musketeers? Heck, The Three Musketeers has lent its name to a candy bar, and The Counte of Monte Cristo inspired the popular tv show Revenge (which I love). Dumas did not, however, create these stories from whole cloth. Instead, his novels were at least partially based on the exploits of his beloved father Alex Dumas, a man of African decent who went from slave in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) to general in the French army during the revolution.

The novelist tried to make light of the racist insults, but they must have stung. The greatest sin of all, however, was that his father, General Alex Dumas, was forgotten. The son never managed to discover the full truth about his father, or to restore his place in the history books. But he avenged his father in another way, by creating fictional worlds where no wrongdoer goes unpunished and the good people are watched over and protected by fearless, almost superhuman heroes – heroes, that is, a lot like Alex Dumas. -p. 14-15

In The Black Count, Reiss gives a full picture of Alex’s life within the context of Alexandre’s adoration of his father and the socio-political changes undergoing France. As might be expected, Reiss has much to say about race and slavery in France and its colonial possessions. Alex Dumas had the rare opportunity to arrive in France at the height of freedom for persons of color in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

With the Revolution in 1789, the dream of equality in France suddenly seemed almost limitless. Dumas was not the only black or mixed-race Frenchman to rise up.. -p. 10-11

Revolutionary France was even more egalitarian, as is evidenced by the fact that Dumas managed to rise to the rank of general; his son would be less lucky as France would become again more hostile towards people of color under Napoleon’s reign.

In addition to shedding light on race relations in 18th century France, The Black Count is also the best account of the French Revolution I have ever read. Not only are the events of the Revolution laid out clearly and concisely, Reiss also addresses the root causes, including some I’ve never heard before. I now have a better understanding of the French Revolution, as well as Napoleon’s ascendancy than I ever have before. Best of all, Reiss kept The Black Count interesting, even when getting into the nitty gritty of battle campaigns against powers hostile to Revolutionary France.

If you have even the vaguest interest in Alexandre Dumas, the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, or the history of slavery and race relations, The Black Count is a must-read. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* 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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Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen – Book Review

Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen
Published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House

Lena is determined that she is going to win the school’s Bible verse recitation. As the only African American student in the school, a member of the only non-white family in town, she knows that, as much as most members of the town are not hostile towards her and her family, they only see her skin color and not her mind. Getting what you wish for is not always a good thing, though. Between Lena’s success over the white male student who everyone thought was a shoe-in and her father rising in the estimation of his employer, racial tensions begin to surface in their small town. Now, Lena must decide whether she believes in vengeance or forgiveness.

Words by Heart is a great look at faith and racism for young readers. Sebestyen walks a line very well of not shying away from the realities of hatred and the negative consequences, without writing a book too overwhelming for middle grade readers. Largely this is done by the strong message of faith and forgiveness. Lena’s father, in particular, is a proponent of forgiveness and attempts to teach her to forgive as he tries to do.

This is the sort of book I wish I had found when I was younger. While I could definitely appreciate both the story and the message, I know it would have meant quite a bit more to me if I had approached it as a pre-teen. I’m glad I read it, though, if for no other reason than that now I know about it to read with my own children when they are at an age to learn about the horrors of hatred and freedom of forgiveness.

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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