The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau – Audiobook Review

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

After the destruction of his home and death of his family by a rogue U.S. military operation, Jonas leaves his unnamed Muslim country to start a new life in the United States. Only fifteen when he first moves, Jonas has a fair amount of anxiety stemming both from trying to adjust to living in a new place, and from what he went through in the time immediately after the attack. Mandated by his school to see a counselor, after beating up another boy who was giving him a hard time, Jonas begins to open up, although slowly. A story comes to light about a soldier, Christopher, who saved his life after the attack, a soldier who never made it home and whose body was never found. After Jonas spends time with Christopher’s mother, a woman who has created a support group for families of missing soldiers, the reality of what happened begins to fester inside him, until he cannot help but let it out.

Thoughts on the story:

The story Dau is telling is particularly affecting. Interestingly, Jonas, the main character, is held at somewhat more a reserve than Christopher, whose words come to us only from a journal he left. Jonas is clearly damaged by what happened to him before he was brought to the United States as a refugee, it shows in his behavior both in high school and college and with his girlfriend. Christopher, too, was damaged by his time in the war. His journal shows a man who knows that much of what he has done is wrong, but can’t see that he might have acted any other way, due to the psychological pressures of dealing with an unhappy occupied populace. Their damage and experiences make their time together after the attack particularly unusual and poignant.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I tend to really enjoy Simon Vance’s narration, but I’m not entirely sure that The Book of Jonas was his best work. For one thing, he seemed to rush the story a bit, many sections would have been better served had he simply slowed down, and the American characters were not always easy to distinguish from one another. Of course, Vance being not at the top of his game is still much better than many narrators, but I did find his performance slightly disappointing because I felt that he could have done better. An additional hurdle for the audiobook listener is the addition of what I believe was Christopher’s journal woven throughout the story. Although Vance’s narration of Christopher’s point of view is easily recognized, it isn’t entirely clear for much of the book where this perspective is coming from, which may bother some (although certainly not all) listeners.

Overall:

This is definitely a book worth experiencing. It may be a bit more challenging in audio than it is in print because of the challenges conveying some of the book’s structure orally, but it can definitely work either way.

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.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin – Book Review

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House

In P.T. Barnum’s over-sized world, Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was both the biggest and the smallest thing around. Born a normal size, both Vinnie and her younger sister Minnie simply stopped growing as young children, Vinnie eventually standing only 32 inches high, and Minnie even smaller. Vinnie, however, was determined never to let her height define her or hold her back and set out to make sure that she had access to nearly everything life could offer.

Melanie Benjamin has a special talent for ferreting out fascinating women who most people would never think to wonder about and bringing their stories to life, first with Alice Liddell, the real Alice behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and now with Lavinia Bump. Benjamin’s Lavinia was strong and determined, although fallible and occasionally naive. There were times that her voice seemed a bit too reminiscent of Alice’s in Alice I Have Been, but the women did, at least how Benjamin wrote them, have somewhat similar, at times almost imperial, personalities.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb provides a much different perspective of the 1850s and 60s than most readers are probably familiar with, but Benjamin makes both her characters and the time period come to life. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

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.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011

American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen – Book Review

American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

In 1811, in the relatively laid back and peaceful time between Christmas and Mardi Gras, a group of slaves in Louisiana rose up violently against their masters and turned their sights on the city of New Orleans. According to some sources, as many as 500 men may have been involved in the rebellion, which was headed by two men who had been raised in a marital environment in Africa, and yet the revolt is hardly mentioned in the history books, glossed over for the smaller slave uprisings of Nat Turner and John Brown. In “American Uprising,” Daniel Rasmussen both gives this event the attention it deserves, and explores the reasons that it has been largely disregarded in the story of American politics and slave relations.

Rasmussen has fabulous style for a writer of nonfiction. He is clear and concise – the entire book is under 300 pages – managing to support his assertions well, without getting nitpicky. In addition to all that, his prose is incredibly engaging, and he makes the most of his thrilling subject matter to keep the reader turning the pages, without giving way to sensationalism. The lead up to the revolt itself is almost nail-biting, engendering both intense sympathy for those rising up against enslavement and fear for the possible death toll. That being said, the story of why the history of this rebellion was de-politicized and suppressed was perhaps the most fascinating part of “American Uprising.” It was also the section that ran the greatest risk of being dull, but Rasmussen built on the interest he generated in the rebellion earlier in the book to make this less action-packed section equally compelling.

Highly recommended

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

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.

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – Book Review

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

When Dr. Harvey Burdell is discovered brutally murdered one morning at 31 Bond Street, his boarder and household manager, Emma Cunningham is immediately suspected. When a secret marriage certificate is found dating to two weeks before the murder, her fate seems to be sealed, until she manages to hire Henry Clinton as her lawyer. Alternating between the months leading up to the murder and the time after the murder leading up to the trial, “31 Bond Street” is grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t let go.

If you know my reading well, you know that I am often less than enamored with historical fiction set in the United States. There are a fair number of exceptions, but as a rule it doesn’t interest me – which is odd, because I have always loved American history. Happily, “31 Bond Street” was precisely one of those exceptions.

I was drawn to every aspect of “31 Bond Street.” First of all, real life murder mystery! It is a bit gruesome if you are squeamish about that sort of thing, but the details aren’t too pervasive, so you could probably sort of gloss over them. I loved the way that Horan drew the setting, I truly got the feel of mid-19th century New York. Then there was the way that the characters and their stories were unraveled: slow enough to keep me in suspense, fast enough that I didn’t get bored or annoyed.

I also thought the story and structure were fabulous. Horan did a wonderful job interweaving the historical facts as they are known with her own conjecture and conclusions. It kept the story moving and allowed for some sort of resolution to the mystery, instead of being left with the questions in the historical record. This is the kind of thing that breathes life into a story, and it was done perfectly. So too the decision to alternate between the time before and the time after the murder. Each storyline was told chronologically, and they both ultimately were leading to the same conclusion reached at different times, which lent a nice sense of balance to the story, while constantly building suspense.

Really, the only thing that disappointed me about this book is that it is Horan’s first, so I couldn’t pop out and grab another one to read. Even so, it was the kind of book that left me so high on the experience of reading it that I just wanted to keep reading anything I could get my hands on, even if it was completely different.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the author.
* 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.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2010

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor – Book Review

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor

Verna Krone’s family has very little money and her father is of a very advanced age. In order to help support her parents and younger siblings, she has to leave school at the age of 14 in order to be the hired girl for another family. Unfortunately, the man of that house is completely unable and unwilling to keep his hands to himself, and Verna finds herself ‘in trouble.’ Although a potion from a midwife keeps the neighbors from finding out what was done to Verna at the hands of her employer, this was all simply the beginning of her trouble with men.

Verna pretty much has one crappy job after another – and during the Great Depression – and one crappy boyfriend after another. Eventually, though, she manages to make it through nursing school and ends up employed by a a black doctor, Dr. Crampton, who is not only in the center of political life, but also the purveyor of ‘illegal surgeries’ to end unwanted pregnancies. As  Dr. Crampton’s political influence begins to wane, Verna’s life begins to fall apart.

This was a very interesting story, made even more interesting based on the fact that this story was based largely on the story of the author’s grandmother – right down to her name. Knowing that this was a largely true story gave it much more power. That being said, I thought it got just a little bit slow in the middle. I think that much of her soul-destroying work history could have been elided, as I thought her early story and her time working for Dr. Crampton were the most interesting aspects of her story.

Although I think the work could have been a little shorter, the storyline was very interesting and the writing was fantastic. Taylor writes “The Blue Orchard” in present tense which can occasionally pull me out of the story, but I think that in this case it lent itself to a feeling of immediacy and envelopment in Verna’s life. I was so engaged in the story that I actually had to go back after finishing the book to see whether or not Taylor had continued to use present tense throughout the entire novel, because I honestly had no idea.

A very interesting novel about a woman trying to make her way in the world during a very difficult period, and constantly questioning her own beliefs about the prevailing mortality of her time. Recommended.

Buy this book from:

Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the 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.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2010